Today was the 2010 Vancouver Camera Show, held by the Western Canada Photographic Historical Association at the Cameron Rec Centre in Burnaby, near Lougheed Mall. I wasn't planning to go, but it turned out that my daughter Marina's new lenses for her glasses, which we got yesterday, were flawed, and needed to be replaced by the optician at that mall, so the two of us were in the area and had some time to kill.
Marina was enthusiastic—she was interested in looking at old Polaroid cameras and to see what the event was like. We walked from the mall, and I paid my $5 admission. (Marina was free.) And wow, it's a heck of an event.
The rec centre gym was filled with dozens of tables with thousands of items of photographic and movie equipment, most of it of some vintage, like the Nikon FE I bought the other day (or a bit newer, or a lot older). Cameras, lenses, flashes, tripods, bellows, enlargers, filters, parts—a photo geek's dream.
It was still very busy, even though we were there barely an hour before closing time. The crowd skews heavily male, and older, but Marina and I had fun poking around at the various obscurities, most in black and chrome, or maybe even leather. I didn't bring much money, nor did we buy anything, yet we hardly noticed the time pass before her glasses were ready and we had to leave. I didn't even take any pictures!
I'll plan to attend again next year, if I'm healthy, and to go earlier. Both Marina and her sister might like to come along, if their photographic interest persists until 2011. Honestly, if I'd gone myself, I probably could have browsed all day. But like a gambler, I'd have to bring cash in advance and set myself a hard limit.
A couple of years ago, I bought an old Nikon F4 film camera (introduced in 1988), and I've enjoyed taking pictures with it, especially in black and white. It's a pretty big beast, though, and over time I've been thinking about the first camera I bought for myself in the early '80s, a manual-focus Nikon FG. Then I spotted a surprisingly cheap deal on eBay, and this week it arrived:
It's a Nikon FE, a slightly older (introduced in 1978) and slightly higher-end model than my FG, and it came with a manual-focus 50 mm Nikkor lens. For many years, the electromechanical FE, its companion mechanical FM, and their successors the FE2 and FM2 were often the backup camera bodies of choice for professional photographers—less expensive than the top-of-the-line F2, F3, or F4, but still rugged and simple to use.
Like my F4, this thing feels like a brick, because unlike the digital cameras most people buy today, the FE is almost all metal, including the lens housing. It's also surprisingly small, since it lacks the rubberized covering and big handgrips that digital SLRs like my D90 have. (Since film is out of fashion, the FE also cost me a tiny fraction of the price of the D90.)
Besides my general Gear Acquisition Syndrome and the dirt-cheap price, another reason I bought the FE is that my younger daughter L has been wanting to learn a bit more about photography, and the principles are much easier to demonstrate on an old film camera. With a fixed (non-zoom) lens on it, there are really only three things to adjust: aperture, shutter speed, and focus. DSLRs let you change ISO (sensitivity) and white balance too—among many, many other features—but with the FE those are determined by the film you choose.
I've loaded the FE with some 400-speed black-and-white film, and we'll see how the first photos turn out, and how the photographic experience compares to the F4 and D90. A nice feature of film cameras (despite the inconveniences) is that, whenever you buy new film, you're effectively putting a new sensor inside, so they don't really become obsolete the way digital cameras do.
On Saturday, April 17, 1965, my parents were married in St. Andrews Wesley Church on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver. They held their reception that evening, in a building constructed as the Stanley Park Sports Pavilion in 1930. Today it's the home of the Fish House restaurant.
Last night, 45 years later, also on a Saturday, they returned to the Fish House for an anniversary dinner:
My wife Air, our daughter Marina, and I were happy to join them. (Our younger daughter was at a friend's birthday sleepover.)
I haven't been to the Fish House in at least 15 years, but I won't wait that long again. The food was great—with the added benefit of legacy dishes imported from Vancouver's legendary and recently-closed seaside restaurant, the Cannery. The salmon, prawns, and scallops I ate were excellent, but the rare tuna steak that Air ordered (and which she let me try) was extraordinary.
In August, Air and I will mark 15 years since our wedding in 1995. I hope we can make it to 45, however unlikely my health makes that seem right now. In the meantime, happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. Thanks for inviting us along.
P.S. Here were my parents later in 1965, in Berlin, on their honeymoon:
I can almost see the place where my daughter Marina slept last night, and will again tonight. But not quite. She and her school classmates in grades 6 and 7 are at Camp Jubilee for a two-night, three-day outdoor education adventure.
The camp sits near the tiny shoreline community of Frames Landing (which I'd never heard of until I looked it up just now) on the west shore of Indian Arm, the fjord whose mountain boundaries I can see from my front window. But those mountains are so steep and packed together that, though the camp is closer to our house than the ski slopes of Grouse Mountain that we can see clearly every day, it is entirely hidden behind several tree-coated ridges.
The only way to reach Camp Jubilee (or the homes at Frames Landing) is by boat. The camp has one to ferry visitors back and forth from Deep Cove, the urban harbour about 15 minutes to the south that is the easternmost part of North Vancouver. The kids have been incredibly lucky this week: the weather has been sunny and unusually warm, and looks to remain so through tomorrow when they come back.
I'm sure they've had a great time, and Marina will be pooped when I pick her up at school in the afternoon. Her younger sister will be returning from her own day trip with her classmates snowshoeing on Grouse Mountain. I expect they'll be a couple of sleepy girls come Friday night.
There's some great logic in these conversation snippets with kids. They reflect straightforward thinking and plain speaking, which we adults often spend a lot of time overthinking around.
A few weeks ago, my daughter Marina, who's 12, asked me to start mentioning her by name on this website, and when I link to her blog, photos of her on Flickr, the new blog she just set up with her sister, and so on.
Until now, I've been pretty careful about just calling her "M" or "Miss M," because while I'm personally comfortable putting my own name and information on the Web, that's not a decision I should have been making for my kids, especially before they were able to understand what its implications are. (For similar reasons, here on the blog I generally refer to my wife by her nickname Air, at her request.)
But Marina has started to find that annoying, because when she searches for "Marina Miller," she nearly always finds other people instead. She's starting to build herself an online profile—and the first component of that is establishing her online existence.
I was online around that age too, but at the turn of the 1980s it was a very different thing. In fact, no one expected to be themselves: we all used pseudonyms, like CB radio handles. And it was a much smaller, geekier community—or rather, communities. I had no Internet access until the decade was over, so connections were local, and each bulletin board system (BBS) was its own island, accessed by dialup modem, often by one person at a time. The Web hadn't been invented, and the concept of a search engine or a perpetual index of my online life was incomprehensible.
On a recent episode of CBC Radio's "Spark," Danah Boyd, who researches these things, noted that today's adults often look at our online exposure in terms of what can go wrong, while our younger compatriots and children look at it in terms of its benefits, or what can go right. It's not that they don't care about privacy, but that they understand it differently.
Marina is now closer to adulthood than toddlerhood, and her younger sister, at 10, is not far behind. I think that's a bit hard for any parent to accept, but in the next few years both our daughters have to (and will want to) learn to negotiate the world, online and offline, on their own terms. Overprotective helicopter parenting is a temptation—or today, even an expectation—but it's counterproductive. Just like we all need to learn to walk to school by ourselves, we all need to learn how to live our lives and assess risks eventually. I'd rather not wait until my kids are 18 or 19 and only then let them sink or swim on their own.
I think I share the more optimistic view about being myself on the Web because, unlike many people over 40 today, I have been online since even before my teens, and I've seen both the benefits and the risks of being public there. I hope my experience can help Marina and her sister L (who hasn't yet asked me to go beyond her initial) negotiate that landscape in the next few years.
That is, if they continue to want my help!
Last week, around 3 a.m., there it was.
Somewhere in the house. Was it electronic, or alive? Probably electronic, but it didn't sound like any of our cordless or mobile phones when their batteries die. Then again, a few seconds later.
I got out of bed and stood in the hall, in the dark.
It seemed everywhere and nowhere. Was it upstairs or down? Living room? Kitchen? Bathroom? Downstairs office? In the walls?!
Nothing. It had stopped before I could isolate it. Was it a battery not quite depleted enough? Or something that heard me? No way to know, so I went back to bed.
In the morning I saw that our new PVR was full, deleting the oldest recorded programs to make room for new ones. Perhaps it had chirped a warning? I purged some archives, leaving lots of room. Taken care of, perhaps.
I'm not sure if it was the next night, or maybe two later. 5 a.m.
I was up immediately, head cocked to the side. Where was it? What was it?
Maybe it was a phone after all, left out on a table or sucked inside the couch cushions. Or some other device we have that I'd forgotten about, an old Tamagotchi or McDonald's Happy Meal promotional toy, perhaps?
Silence again. Nothing. Back to bed, until the next night, only 1:30 a.m. this time.
Wait, it was quieter in the kitchen and bathroom. More to the front of the house.
Downstairs! I crept down our creaky steps, not wanting to wake everyone else.
In the carport? That didn't make sense.
Nope. Laundry room.
And I was staring at it, right over my head. The basement smoke detector, whose 9-volt battery was weakest late at night, when the house is coldest and electron-moving chemical reactions slowest. I pulled it down, removed the battery, and stomped back to sleep.
We had peace at night now. Until a couple of nights later, 2 a.m.
What the hell?
I immediately went downstairs. No, it wasn't the laundry room smoke alarm. That still lay on the dryer, dead battery beside it. Pushing its test button did nothing.
My younger daughter L's room. I'd forgotten that we'd bought two smoke detectors, of the same brand, with the same batteries in them, on the same day when we renovated her bedroom so she could move downstairs.
I wanted to rip it off the wall, but L was asleep right there, so I gingerly rotated it out of its mount, took it to the laundry room, tore out the battery, and left it in a heap beside its twin. In the morning she asked me why it was missing from the wall, and I explained.
Both alarms have new batteries now, and next time I hear that chirp, I'll know exactly where it's coming from.
February 14 has many meanings for me. It's Valentine's Day, of course—the 16th my wife Air and I have spent together. It is also our daughter Marina's 12 birthday. But with the Winter Olympics here in Vancouver, including Canada's first gold medal of the event, there's extra resonance, since one of our athletes won gold on the day Marina was born back in 1998 too.
Air had a long, hard labour that February, and with the Nagano Olympics half a world away, we were able to watch many events live as a distraction in the middle of the night. Now our daughter is nearly a teenager, with her own mobile phone and Twitter account. (I got my first mobile phone when Air was pregnant that first time. I was 28. And getting on Twitter? I was 37.)
Happy birthday, Marina. Happy Valentine's Day to my lovely, wonderful, resourceful, smart, sharp, and stylish wife Air. Happy Olympics to all of you too.
I had another CT scan today, to see whether my current chemotherapy is doing any good to slow or reverse or do something to the ever-expanding tumours in my chest. I'll find out the results, and what that means for my chemo regimen, next week.
In the meantime, following my most recent chemo treatment last weekend, the side effects continue. A relatively new one is that if I haven't eaten for an hour or two, the first thing I pop in my mouth causes the salivary glands on either side of the back of my tongue to ache as they kick in. I can almost feel them pumping. It's not really painful, just bizarre.
And there is the endless fun with my digestive system. Last night I was in the bathroom for nearly an hour, then, when I thought I was done and was brushing my teeth to prepare for bed, suddenly my GI tract decided things needed to clear out from the other end as well, and I puked into the sink.
Next, to top it off, the sink clogged. I stared at it in disbelief for a moment, then searched our closets for the plunger at 1:00 a.m.—and I'm sure glad it worked once I found it. Very pleasant, I must say, especially in my chemo-nauseated state.
I didn't sign up for this. But at least I'm alive to complain about it, and I have a wonderful sleepy wife and puppy to keep me warm once I do get into bed tonight. They should help me sleep very, very well.
Our daughter L turned ten today. She was born at St. Paul's Hospital, as was her older sister, and as was I.
She had a party on the weekend, but unfortunately I was so doped up on chemo and antinauseants that, as expected, I slept through the whole thing. Fortunately, my wife took some great pictures, so I have some idea what it looked like.
Happy birthday, L. I'm glad I made it to see her hit two digits.
More than 30 years ago, I was a Star Wars–obsessed kid, like most of the pre-teen population at the time. I had a ton of action figures, as well as a large Millennium Falcon playset for them (which I'm pretty sure is in our attic somewhere).
My parents indulged my obsession in a pretty cool way. In our basement we had a ping-pong table we didn't use much. Because my dad's job involved installing and repairing vending machines and video game consoles of various sorts, he also had access to extremely large and sturdy cardboard boxes. We took a number of those boxes and connected them with duct tape to form a series of tunnels around the table—for me and my friends, they made corridors like the ones in the Falcon, though we had to crawl through them rather than walk.
The central area under the table was like the lounge where Chewbacca and the droids play 3D chess and Luke learns to use his lightsaber. To top it off, my dad installed a modified old broken video game console at one end of the table. It included an aircraft-style steering console and a radar screen with lights behind it, as well as buttons to generate laser-like noises.
As you can imagine, this was pretty much the Coolest Thing Ever when I was nine or ten years old. My friends and I played in that spaceship so much that we had to replace the boxes periodically, because they tended to get destroyed as we thrashed our way around the cardboard hallways, perpetually escaping asteroid fields and attacking Imperial forces.
I can't remember playing ping-pong even once on that table.
Okay, I'm back. I slept almost solidly for three days after chemotherapy, and right now I'd say I'm feeling about 60%. Maybe less. It depends on how well the Gravol is working at any particular moment.
My mom made some soup, and I think I will eat it now. End of report.
Ten years ago, as 1999 ended, things were different for all of us. Yes, I was living in the same house with my wife and daughter, who was close to two years old—but we had another daughter due in a few weeks, whom we didn't know was a girl yet. I had kept the same stable job at a software company for over three years. The dot-com boom had not yet bust. I wouldn't end my five-year hiatus from my band for almost 11 months.
The big news in digital cameras was the Nikon D1, which had a 2.7 megapixel sensor and cost $5500 USD. At work, we had a Coolpix 950, which had similar resolution and took photos good enough to convince me that digital would eventually be the way to go for photography. Eventually.
But even ten years ago, we lived in a world without Mac OS X, iPods, and iPhones, with Napster but without an iTunes Store. "Wi-Fi" was a strange new word—those of us who networked our computers all used plugged-in wires, and I spent a good amount of time running Ethernet cables through our house for that purpose. Most of them are still there.
The term "hanging chad" had yet to be invented. As a society, we were worried less about international terrorism than about the Y2K bug. The World Trade Center towers in New York City still stood, bustling with people. You could take your own drinks aboard commercial airliners, not to mention more carry-on baggage than was strictly allowed. Cockpit doors were nearly always open to the cabin. Almost no one in the West had heard of Kandahar (in Afghanistan) or Banda Aceh (in Indonesia), substantial cities though they are.
The International Space Station was in early construction in orbit, very small compared to its current size. It was sometimes serviced by the space shuttle Columbia, which would only exist for another three years before breaking up on re-entry. Only a few extrasolar planets had been discovered. The Human Genome Project had not yet completed its sequencing.
People were wondering when James Cameron would make a follow-up movie to Titanic, since it had already been so long (two years). Guns 'n' Roses' new album Chinese Democracy was supposed to come out any old time. Justin Timberlake was still a member of N'Sync. The X-Files and Ally McBeal were still on the air; Survivor and CSI had yet to begin. Charles Schulz was still alive and drawing new "Peanuts" comic strips. The Concorde was still flying.
I'd already had and managed my diabetes for almost nine years. My varicose veins were under control. I thought that any form of cancer I might get would be many decades away. There were lots of things I didn't know. And lots I still don't.
I still have a wonderful family. My wife and I both made it past 40, and our kids are now almost 10 and 12. Our family now includes our first-ever puppy. Have a happy 2010. I hope to see you again for New Year's 2011. Fingers crossed.
When my mother was a little girl, she received a copy of the classic children's book Heidi, printed in 1945. This year, she dug that same copy out and gave it to my older daughter M as a Christmas present.
The chances that my Kindle will still be around and working in 65 years, to give away to a grandchild? Virtually zero, of course.
P.S. I should note that, as public domain works, Heidi and Johanna Spyri's other books are available for free online too. You can put them on your Kindle as plain text files that work just great, instead of spending the $3 for digitally-locked DRM versions.
We're off to a European-style dinner with my side of the family tonight, Christmas Eve, before we join Air's side of the clan tomorrow. I hope you have as much fun as we will.
The weather at the beginning of this winter has been nothing like last year; the only snow locally in Vancouver is on the mountains. So I'll post our family Christmas card (the first to include our new puppy Lucy) a bit early:
From left you have my daughter M with Lucy, my mom, me (top) and my dad (bottom), my wife Air, and my daughter L. Oh, and my parents' etchings, of course.
I hope you're all warm and safe, and will be well fed this week.
Yesterday my wife Air and her co-host KA posted their 150th and final regular episode of Lip Gloss and Laptops, the podcast they started way back in 2006. The blog will continue, with frequent updates about the cosmetics and beauty industry, but the podcast had become too much work.
As for the vast majority of podcasters, the LGL show was a hobby, not any kind of paying job, and so was only worth continuing while it was fun. When KA left as regular co-host earlier this year (she started grad school), the podcast became a lot more work for Air, even with other guest hosts in the interim.
And then my latest new cancer growths dropped our family into a yet more intense pit of chemotherapy and medical treatments and side effects and general hell, so that not only takes more of Air's time, but also makes it more difficult technically, since I've been the engineer and producer of the show since the beginning.
Nearly four years and 150 episodes is a pretty long run for a podcast. Lots of people will miss Lip Gloss and Laptops, me included, but it was a good time while it was going. And you never know—some one-off special episodes might yet appear from time to time.
What with all the new cancer and chemo (more this Friday!) and stuff, I've neglected to upload new photos in quite a while; they've just been accumulating on my camera's memory card. Time to fix that. Here are a few of my recent favourites:
Yes, there are many many puppy pictures. Get used to it.
I'm back in the world of the living again. It was a pretty rough weekend, I tell you. I had chemo like this back in 2007 and 2008, but I don't think I had all three of these chemicals (oxaliplatin, leucovorin, and 5-FU) all together previously, and the infusion bottle I had from Friday to Sunday at home also dispensed more of the 5-FU in it than I'd received before, so I was getting a larger dose than I'd encountered in earlier rounds of chemo.
So, in short, it suuuuuucked. I didn't actually throw up, but I basically doped myself up with prescription anti-nauseants and Gravol so that I slept most of the weekend, and felt like death when I was awake. I was out of commission and useless to my family for three full 24-hour days at least. It was only this morning that I felt anything like normal again, so I'll rest today and may get back to some sort of functional life until I do it again in a couple of weeks.
Chemo is no fun, that's for sure. I recommend avoiding cancer just so you can not have chemotherapy, entirely aside from all the other reasons.
Thank you everyone for your outpouring of support and more than 50 comments on my last post, about the resurgence of my cancer. I'm pleased to know so many of you are thinking about me and my family. But it's also a bit of a bummer to have that be the thing sitting at the top of my blog for days and days, so now on to something else.
While surfing around the Web in the past week, I've come across a few banner ads from TD Canada Trust, presumably targeted at me because I have a Canadian IP address. Here are a couple of examples:
They're pretty run-of-the-mill bank ads, except for one thing: the couples in them are all men. (Well, in the vertical one, I think they're both supposed to be men.) The ads are presumably aimed at gay couples—who, as you will recall, have been legally able to get married across Canada since 2005—but the photos are the only element specifically focused at them.
Clicking on the ads doesn't take you to any special place on the TD site; indeed, once you get there there are just single individuals in the trademark green TD armchair.
Fifteen years ago, IKEA received bomb threats when it included a same-sex couple in a TV ad. Even this year, the company faced controversy in Poland for a similar print campaign. Including male or female homosexual couples in non-gay media advertising (however innocuously) has long been a hot-button issue, especially in more conservative areas.
But look at what's happened here in Canada. Same-sex marriage has been legal for almost five years. Many of us old-school straight couples now know gay people who are married (and yes, some who have gotten divorced). For all of us, life has gone on as normal. Yes, I admit that for me, even in Vancouver, I still notice a gay couple holding hands or leading their young children down the street—it hasn't yet faded into the background completely. Obviously, neither have these TD Canada Trust ads.
But for TD on the Web, including gay couples in their ads seems to have become routine, just part of the regular range of ad campaigns. That's a good thing, and our Canadian experience in general is good evidence against those elsewhere who claim that legalizing same-sex marriage will somehow ruin life for the rest of us. Even the big old conservative Canadian banks don't think that anymore.
I found out yesterday that there are new cancer tumours in the centre of my chest—several of them, each 2 to 3 cm in size, near where my lungs meet. They showed up on the CT scan I had Monday, and they were not there on the scan in September. That means they've grown quickly, which is fucking bad news.
After meeting with my doctors at the B.C. Cancer Agency yesterday, I've stopped using cediranib, the drug that had kept my existing lung tumours growing only very slowly over the past year. I'll likely return to more conventional and aggressive chemotherapy again sometime in the next couple of weeks.
Since I found out about my cancer almost three years ago, it has never been in remission. Some people who read this blog or know me in person have, mistakenly, thought otherwise, because I've often appeared in good health.
But my cancer has never shrunk, only slowed down. It started in my large intestine, then spread to my lungs from there. The bowel tumours came out with surgery in 2007—otherwise I would probably have died later that year. But the lung metastases can't really be tackled with surgery or radiation, because there are too many, too widely spread, and too deep in my body. Chemo is the best option.
This is serious. Faster-growing metastatic tumours near my lungs, my heart, my trachea, and my esophagus are dangerous and potentially lethal. In addition to attacking them with chemo, in a few months there may be some clinical trials of MEK inhibitor drugs available to me, but that's not certain. Those experimental medications operate on the kinase cascade metabolic pathway that helps cancer cells grow. So we'll see about those too.
New, fast-growing cancer is not what anyone wants in my body, but I can't say it's unexpected, or a genuine surprise. This is how cancer often goes. Treatments work, sometimes better, sometimes worse—and then sometimes they stop working. It's always a fight, and one I might lose.
We had some visitors yesterday: four-week-old Aiden Schweber and his mom and dad. Holding a newborn is special, because they are that small and squirmy for a very short time. (It seemed like forever when our kids were infants, but I have a different perspective now without the sleep deprivation.)
For instance, every time I see Simone, who's now almost two, I'm amazed, because I still think of her as a tiny, chicken-legged thing like Aiden. Even my cousin's daughter A remains a baby in my mind, though I see her reasonably often (most recently not even two weeks ago), and she's already turned five.
I'm still—just barely—able to carry my nine-year-old daughter L downstairs to her bedroom if she's fallen asleep. I had to give up on that for her older sister M, who's eleven, several years ago. And yesterday was another milestone too: M went to her first movie with just her friends, no grownups present.
You know, I'm glad I've been able to stick around long enough to see all this.
Puppies, it seems, are easier than infants, at least if my ten-years-removed newborn recollections of our kids remain accurate. A puppy needs lots of attention, yes, but it can eat independently, move around by itself, and learn to go to the bathroom outside.
However, I've discovered the sleep deprivation can be similar. Until we've figured out Lucy's nighttime patterns, we're all a little on edge, sleeping with one eye open to make sure she's okay and not doing anything untoward.
And we're housetraining her, of course. So while we don't have to get up nearly as often as you do with a baby, at least with a baby you can stay in the nice warm house. Training a puppy means trekking into the rainy yard at 4:30 in the morning. That can take a toll on your state of mind the next day.
But, just like a newborn, Lucy makes up for it by being almost painfully cute. In fact, my wife Air figured out that our dog looks disturbingly like an Ewok.
We've called her Lucy. She was born around August 25, 2009, and is half shihtzu and half toy poodle, making her a shih-poo, or, as I prefer the term, shpoo. Housebreaking Lucy appears to be the first challenge, but she has adjusted to our house and family shockingly fast otherwise. She is also surprisingly quiet for a little dog, which is nice.
She even kept me company in the bathroom during one of my bouts of intestinal side effects from my cancer medicine today.
Oh yeah, I also finally got an iPhone yesterday. But it doesn't seem like a particularly big deal now.
When I saw the footage of people hammering away at the Berlin Wall 20 years ago, I cried. I've never been there (the closest I came was Frankfurt Airport, three years earlier), but it's where my dad was born in 1939. Berlin has always loomed large in my family's history—through stories from him and my aunt, from my grandmother and step-grandfather, of the War, and the Blockade. And in the phone calls and letters to and from the city, where we still have relatives.
Berlin is where my grandfather Karl, my father's father, died in 1947. Thin and weakened in a Russian PoW camp, he returned to his family when the War ended, but never regained his full health. In the ravaged city, medical care wasn't quite good enough, or medicine available enough, to save him when he caught an infection—perhaps pleurisy, perhaps something else. With modern antibiotics and intensive care, he would probably have lived. And I would almost certainly never have been born.
My parents will be in Berlin again this week, able to cross back and forth across the city. The Wall is only shards now, the city and Germany itself now whole, if sometimes awkwardly. I visited Moscow and what was then Leningrad in 1985, while Russia was still fully Communist, though waning. Where today there are billboards, then the signs were only massive revolutionary slogans. To my children, the Cold War is history, long gone before they were born.
But it's not really gone. Current events emerge from what happened then. And my father told me that, a few years ago when he visited the village in the former East Germany to which he'd been evacuated late in the War, the buildings still had bullet holes in the walls.
(Cross-posted from Buzz Bishop's DadCAMP.)
Back in the mid-1970s when I grew up in Vancouver, almost all the stores were closed on Sundays, because of a piece of legislation called the Lord's Day Act. Every day before class in elementary school, we said the Lord's Prayer. These were vestiges of a general assumption, made since British Columbia was colonized a century earlier: even if everyone in B.C. wasn't Christian, the province would still run as if they were.
But Metro Vancouver has become remarkably secular in the three decades since then. In the 2001 Census, 40% of the population identified itself as having "no religious affiliation," and the proportion is probably even bigger now. (That's two and a half times the average across Canada.) My wife and I fit the trend: we have raised our two daughters, ages 9 and 11, in a non-religious household. Like us, few of our friends attend a mosque, temple, or church.
Buzz asked me to write this post because he saw that I just joined the Facebook group for Parenting Beyond Belief, a website run by Dale McGowan from Atlanta, Georgia. I signed up not because I needed much advice about raising children without religion (something many of us now do, especially in Vancouver), but to note publicly that it's been the approach in my family since our kids were born.
Today my parents flew to Frankfurt for a couple of weeks in Germany. They're staying with friends in Bad Zwischenahn, as well as visiting some of my father's relatives in Berlin, where he was born and lived until 1955. They had enough airline points to travel First Class, which I don't think they've ever done before.
Their trip is shorter than they had initially planned. My parents live next door to us in our duplex, the same house where I grew up, and they offer us a lot of support, especially with the kids, and particularly since I've been ill over the past few years. I told them a few weeks ago that their initial trip seemed too long to me. It was hard to admit that—I'm 40 years old and don't like having to depend on my parents again.
Yet it wouldn't have been fair not to ask. I have a lot of side effects from the cancer medications these days, and while we can handle not having my mom and dad nearby for a week or two, longer than that is likely to put a lot of pressure on my wife, and my daughters, when I'm not feeling well.
The three of us, Mom, Dad, and I, drove to the airport today, and had a fancy lunch in the Fairmont Hotel overlooking the jetway. I dropped them at the gate, then walked around the airport a bit and watched the planes some more. Then I drove home and spent an hour in the bathroom, as happens these days.
I'm sure they'll have a fun trip, and I'm glad they could go. I'll be happy to pick them up when they return too.
I've never owned a dog, not even as a child. I've had fish (we have them now), and back in the early '90s, my roommates and I had a smart black 24-toed cat named Guildenstern, who died too young and is buried in the back yard. But never a dog.
We're probably going to get a dog. It has to be hypoallergenic, since my wife Air is allergic to most furry things. But our experience with a couple of friends' dogs (including dogsitting Podcast Puppy) has shown us that a few breeds, usually poodle crosses, don't set off her immune system.
I've always been reticent to adopt a dog because our family likes to travel, but with my cancer, I can't and don't travel very far these days, and with my wife at work and the kids at school, I'm often home by myself. The right dog would make a good companion for me, and get me out of the house more. I need that. And most dogs seem to like me. Plus caring for a dog is something new to learn.
I've warmed considerably to the idea. We visited some puppies today. It probably won't be long. I'll keep you posted.
It's Sunday night and I'm not sleepy. Well, I am, but I can't sleep, don't really want to yet. Everyone else in the house is down for the count until morning. I've always enjoyed this time, taking me back to being an only child alone with my thoughts—except my wonderful wife is breathing beside me in bed, which is much better, and endlessly comforting.
But tonight's not happy, or sad. It just is. Every day is a fight. Every. Fucking. Day. And every night too. Not a fight with a person, but with my own cells, useless greasy tissues that don't belong where they're growing in my lungs. I never know how much of my pain and fatigue is from them, and how much from the punishing medicine that slows the rate of cancer cell division inside me.
I spent a lot of this weekend in the bathroom. I don't know if that's a pattern yet, or just a rough few days of side effects. (But not as rough as some have been.) I cooked a pretty nice tikka masala dish tonight, and my wife brought home a lemon meringue pie for dessert. Our dinner with the kids at the kitchen table was my best part of Sunday.
Sometimes, like now, I don't want to sleep because I don't know what I'll be like when I wake up. Will I feel better, worse, the same? I can't predict, but at least I'm confident I will wake up. Will I sleep well, and rise rested, or toss and turn? Or will I be in the bathroom again, perhaps for hours? I don't really know.
I try to live day by day, but you have to plan something, even if your plans fall through. I have a few plans for tomorrow, and maybe I'll get to some of them. Or at least one. Or, just maybe if tonight goes poorly, none. These are my days and nights, more than three years after I developed cancer, and almost three years after I found out about the first (but not the worst) of it.
A fight. Every. Fucking. Day. And night. And more tomorrow. Time to sleep now, I think. To be ready.
I've been digitizing some of our old home videos (using a DVD recorder and a Video8 camera borrowed from Paul to replace our long-broken one). Footage of my daughters as babies prompted me to hunt for a particular old scan—this one:
I think I took the two pictures in 2002, when my daughter was about two and a half. She's nine years old now. And I doubt she'd let me get away with taking a similar photo today.
All during the 2008–2009 school year, construction crews performed a seismic upgrade to the building. The school district set up some portable classrooms on the upper field, and the kids rotated through using them while different classrooms in the structure were rebuilt. By June, the crews seemed to be finishing up, reaching the last class.
But then, over the summer, the building was further gutted, and even this past week there were still heaps of construction materials fenced off in the schoolyard. Old light fixtures littered the grounds and interior, the gym was filled with workers and dust and mess, and there were ominous pits dug here and there.
The men have been working furiously, including Saturdays, to get the school ready for tomorrow's onslaught. I'm sure there was a lot of overtime paid this Labour Day weekend. Yet I'll be interested to find out what state the school is in tomorrow. Maybe they worked some miracles.
I've come to realize something in the last few days. My cancer treatment drags on, keeping me alive but not really getting me better. I continue to manage my diabetes and live with an artificial IV port in my chest. I take lots of pills and shots, get medical tests, and see doctors all the time. I can't safely travel very far.
More to the point, I hurt, and I'm tired. Many parts of my body simply don't work the way they're supposed to. Most of the time, I'm nothing close to genuinely well. I may never return to my great job. I've been like this in some form or another for more than two and a half years.
So here's what I realized. I'm a 40-year-old man whose body has become much older. I'm a youngish guy in an oldish container. There are plenty of people three decades beyond my age—including my own parents—who feel better than I do, and can do more. And the hard part (for all of us) is knowing there's a good chance they'll live longer than me too.
For the vast majority of human history, living to age 40 was an achievement in itself. Even a hundred years ago, Type 1 diabetes like I have was a death sentence too—I would have died in my early 20s, before I had a chance to marry my wonderful wife or have two great children. I'm glad I've had those chances.
If I were (for instance) 75 years old now, it would be easier to accept what cancer has done to me, and to acknowledge that living (for example) another five years would be a pretty good achievement. I'm trying to think more like that—not to be fatalistic, but to be pragmatic, to know that while I'll keep fighting, without radical new treatments or some very good luck, it's probably a losing battle. But that's not a failure.
I'm sitting on the back porch in the sun, drinking a coffee. In a few minutes I'll help my kids make some cake. It's a good life.
As we (and many fellow Vancouverites) do every year, my family visited the Pacific National Exhibition yesterday, and had a lot of fun. My kids had already been there with my parents, and we're going again next week, but that didn't stop anyone:
Despite some medication side effects, I even made it through the whole day. I no longer go on the rides myself (I've been prone to barfing from spinny rides for at least 15 years, and the cancer meds certainly don't help), but my wife and kids used their all-day ride passes to full effect.
I helped a little, but only with some of the heavy pot-lifting and slicing of bread for dipping. She did all the difficult stuff, like chopping and measuring and timing and setting the table.
I think I'm liking this trend. The mussels were damn good too.
My wife and daughters went with my mom to see Julie and Julia the other day, and my older daughter M was inspired. Seeing the efforts of an inexperienced blogger cooking up the famous recipes of Julia Child, M has decided to put her mind to cooking, which she hasn't done much of yet. (She's eleven.)
You can follow her progress on her blog. Her first step was simple, a poached egg, and she's since moved on to chopping onions and more. When my wife, a teacher, returns to work in a few weeks, M and I plan to work on dinner together each night. Since I'm not much of a cook either, I'm sure we'll both learn something. Will we ever get to beef bourguignon? I doubt it, but you never know.
I've lived in Vancouver all my life, and anyone who has knows about Splashdown Park, the most famous of our local waterslide parks, in Tsawwassen (and surely named after the heyday of the space race). I've driven by the place dozens of times on the way to the ferry terminal to Vancouver Island, which is a couple of minutes further down the road. Yet somehow, I'd never been to Splashdown until today.
While it's not quite the heatwave it was last week, today was sunny and warm. My wife Air said she last went as a teenager, but I suspect little has changed about the experience: I'm sure Rock 101 radio was blasting pretty much exactly the same songs (Rush, Ted Nugent, The Doors, Steppenwolf, more Rush) and the seagulls were just as marauding in the 1980s.
It was great, and different from waterslide parks I've been to in Chilliwack, Kelowna (where Alistair got a terrible sunburn a couple of decades ago), and elsewhere. I do regret never visiting the water park that sat behind Coquitlam Centre when I was a kid. It's been gone for years.
You know what's weird about Splashdown Park? The washrooms have water-saving dual flush toilets. Of all places. Is that sort of like a carbon offset?
The past two days were the hottest ever recorded in Vancouver: over 34°C (94 Fahrenheit) at the airport at sea level, and at least 40°C (104 F) at our house a little bit inland. Since that kind of weather is so unusual in Vancouver, very few people have air conditioning (we don't), and our home was becoming unbearably hot, except for some of the basement. We chose what turned into a wise alternative:
That was the view from the pool deck at the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown Vancouver, where my wife and I stayed with our two daughters—with full air conditioning—for the past two nights. We returned home (by public transit) this afternoon, after the worst of the heatwave broke, to a house that is now a much more tolerable temperature.
Our tropical fish in the aquarium at home seem to have survived just fine.
On the way down to Workspace to visit the Blogathon crew yesterday, my daughters and I passed by the Crumpler store at the edge of Gastown in downtown Vancouver. After nearly losing my wallet on a chairlift in Whistler earlier in the month (I did drop a snack bar), I realized that my old Hedgren shoulder bag/man purse, at least five years old, needs replacing.
I've been searching for something that can hold all the stuff I haul with me (insulin, blood glucose meter, Leatherman tool, wallet, emergency sugar, mobile phone, etc.), plus my monster DSLR camera and whatever extras I might grab for a particular day. Something bigger than I had been carrying, in other words:
Since I sling my bag over my shoulder everywhere I go, I know what I need. I like my bags, and have blogged about them a couple of times before. But none of my current other bags would do the job. I had no luck finding a replacement along Vancouver's outdoor-gear row on Broadway near Cambie Street, but Crumpler had something I liked: the Barney Rustle Blanket shoulder bag.
Yes, Crumpler has pretty weird names for its products. Check out the names of the various bags John Biehler has bought over the years, for instance. You can pick up the Barney Rustle in green on Amazon for $125 USD, or some other colours for less, but even Crumpler's own site doesn't offer prices as good as the real-world store. I got my Barney Rustle for $89 Canadian, plus tax.
Yeah, it's a lot bigger than my old bag. I could stuff my SLR into the old bag, but it was then completely full, and prone to unzipping and falling open. The new one takes the camera with a big lens, plus my flash, with room to spare. I could drop a laptop inside if needed. The thing is built like a medieval fortress in nylon. I'm still figuring out just how I prefer to pack it, but I definitely like it so far.
Drama! Excitement! Evil croissants!
Labels: animals, band, birthday, cartoon, family, food, geekery, insidehomerecording, linksofinterest, moon, movie, music, mythbusters, news, paulgaray, photography, politics, space, transportation, usb