Go Fly a Kite


It was windy today, and Kate discovered a kite stashed up high in the roof of the garage. After much cajoling, she dragged us all down the local park and we spent a half hour or so watching the kite flutter around on the breezy air. It actually was a bit of fun for the afternoon, and it's been years since I've flown a kite!

A Family Affair


We've spoken about the whole "cottaging" concept before in this blog. I'm so impressed with the way so many Canadians have a cottage outside the GTA and how they use it to escape the city into peace and tranquility by a lake somewhere. And in the warmth of summer, these cottages become more than just weekend escapes, and instead become a temporary home away from home as many people spend their entire summers at "the cottage".

As our 2 month summer break draws to a close, last weekend we were invited by Sharilou and Mark to join them at their family cottage in Orillia on the shores of beautiful Lake Couchiching. We drove up on Sunday and arrived around lunchtime. The cottage is a family cottage, making it a great gathering place for the whole family. As well as Sharilou and Mark and their kids Rebecca and Trevor, we also met Sharilou's parents, Sharon and Lou, (now I get it!), her sister Shannon and husband Adam, other sister Shelly and her kids Taylor, Brett and Caitlyn, as well as grandparents Jack and Kay. It was really nice to be invited into someone else's family for the weekend and to be treated so warmly.

We spent the afternoon relaxing, swimming and waterskiing, as well as being given a wakeboarding demo by Trevor. It had been years since I'd waterskied, and even longer since Donna had done it. In fact, the last time Donna had waterskied she was on the Greek island of Korfu with a young lady she'd just met on a Kontiki Tour called Sharilou. That was 20 years ago, and here they were again waterskiing together... quite a coincidence, no?

We enjoyed our time at the Couchiching cottage. It was nice to sit around, having a few beers and chatting. Most of the family had either been to, or lived in, Australia at some point so we had plenty to talk about. Adam and Shannon are very well travelled and have lived in both Australia and Singapore. They have also travelled extensively and have just returned from a trip through Mongolia and Russia so they had lots of interesting stories to tell. We boated across the lake to watch a sunset waterskiing show put on by the local resort, before coming back home to a DVD movie.

On Monday we went for a walk down to Jack and Kay's place, more people dropped in, and more chatting, drinking and swimming was done. Hard to take. A family friend and horse breeder, Sharon, dropped in with a tiny little miniature horse for the kids to play with. The weather was perfect the whole time we were there, and I think everyone had a lovely time.

We finally said our farewells late on Monday night before heading back down the 400 to Oakville. Thanks again to Sharilou and Mark for allowing us to be part of their family for the weekend. We had a great time.

There are more photos from the weekend here.

Beginner's Luck


I had a phone call the other night from Clark, one of my teaching buddies at Trinity, inviting me to a poker night at his place with the boys. Although I've never played poker before, you may recall that one of our guiding principles during this year away from home is "say no to nothing." When you do an exchange, you should take every opportunity offered to you; a night playing poker with the boys sounded like an opportunity, so I took it.

I'm not normally much of a one for card games (or gambling generally) and the last time I played poker was in high school so I really had no idea what I was doing. Besides, this was 5 card Texas Hold'em poker, which I'd never even seen before. After meeting everyone and settling down at the Giant Tiger $49.99 poker table, another teacher from HT, Jeff, helped me out by explaining the rules of the game. It took a few rounds of the table, but eventually it started to make sense. Kind of.

Playing poker successfully seems to rely a lot of good luck and on your ability to bullshit people well. I watched Mike P play for a while and figured out the bullshitting part. After that it was just a matter of holding out for a bit of luck. As the evening wore on, people around the table gradually started to run out of both luck and bullshit and ended up out of the game, but through a series of complete flukes I was somehow still in it.

It only takes a couple of really good hands to turn things around in poker, and we ended up in a three-way battle between members of the HT Business Department - Ange, Mike and myself. Lord only knows how, but I somehow ended up with a big pile of chips in front of me, and after an epic battle and great comeback from Mike it ended in an all-in bet that didn't pay off for him. To my enormous surprise, I walked away from the game as the winner, and $100 richer. Talk about beginner's luck!

I just want to say thanks to Clark and the rest of the boys for a really fun night. See you at the next one, which apparently is hosted by the winner. ;-)

Happy Snappy


I've just discovered a wonderful new online web photo album from Google, called Picasa Web Albums. It's easy to use, free, stores 250Mb of images and best of all it integrates directly with iPhoto on the Mac. I've just been uploading a few albums to try it out and I'll add some more later. It's a good way to add some of the many photos that don't make it to the blog. (I've taken nearly 5000 photos so far, and obviously only a small number of those get uploaded with each blog post)

You can view photos individually or as a slideshow, you can download them, etc; it's a very cool service. Thanks Google!

I've added our album to the Other Stuff links on the right, or just check it out by going to http://picasaweb.google.com/betchaboy

Little Miss Independence


You may recall that Kate has been continuing with her beloved Girl Guides while here in Canada. And so for her recent birthday she was very keen to attend a week-long Girl Guides of Canada summer camp at Camp Wyoka. She's a gutsy kid, and despite that fact that no one else from her Oakville guide unit was attending, she had no problem packing herself up for a week and heading off to the site in northwestern Ontario, about 2 hours from home. Oh, and she insisted on sleeping in a tent, not a dorm. Dorms are for wussy girls!

So we drove her there yesterday, and if she was at all nervous she certainly didn't show it. In fact, once the rest of the campers arrived by bus she enthusiastically entered into the whole campsite spirit and Donna and I were politely (and insistently) excused. "Bye mum and dad! Now go!" :-)

We won't be picking her up because naturally she wants to come home on the bus with the other girls. I'll try to get her to blog a little about it when she returns next week.

Logical, but not Intuitive


Here’s a question for non-Ontarians… Imagine you are driving along the QEW (a major freeway that goes between Toronto and Buffalo) and you see the road sign in the photo above. Based on your immediate impression, tell me what you think it’s trying to tell you.

If you’re anything like me, you may have thought it was saying, “Trafalgar Road continues straight ahead and the QEW curves to the right". After all, the QEW is a major six-lane freeway, so intuitively you would think the larger bold arrows curving to the right must represent the QEW. Trafalgar is a much more minor road, represented intuitively by the smaller non-bold arrow continuing straight ahead. To reinforce this line of reasoning, the name of the street, Trafalgar Road, is on the left hand side next to the non-bold arrow. That would seem to be the intuitive interpretation based on the common conventions that most people understand… a word written on the left ought to be associated with the arrow on the left, and the more important or dominant feature should be represented in bold. And if you’re anything like me, you’d be wrong in almost every respect.

The sign is in fact saying that the street name, in this case Trafalgar Road, is represented by the bold arrows. This is despite the fact that the bold arrows curve to the right and the name of the road is located on the left. The QEW, which is the far more major road of the two, is represented by the single non-bold arrow and continues straight ahead. Now I suppose there must be some logic in that, but to my mind it is certainly not intuitive.

When we arrived in Ontario I noticed these signs and thought it must just be me, but after having driven all over eastern Canada and the United States, I have not seen the same “logic” applied anywhere else.

The Barber from Brooklyn


A funny thing happened as we were leaving New York City. We had a bit of time to kill before we were due to arrive at Wendy's place so we decided to go for a drive, and as Manhattan is not a very conducive place to just "go for a drive" we headed across the Brooklyn Bridge and into Brooklyn. We had no particular place we were going, we were basically just following our nose and seeing where we ended up.

Well, we ended up in a place called Flatbush, a suburban area of Brooklyn. There appeared to be a few interesting looking clothes shops along the main street so I suggested to Donna that we stop and have a look around. After parking the car, we went for a saunter down the main street where we began to realise that we were pretty much the only white folk around. Everyone else - all the people on the streets, the shopkeepers, everyone - were all African American. Now, I pretty much take people as I find them, so being in a "black" part of town didn't strike me a particularly big deal. The people we spoke with were certainly friendly enough, we had lunch in a local store and we generally enjoyed our time there.

But here's the funny part... Donna had been at Alex for a while to get a haircut, so when we returned to the car and noticed there was a barber shop across the road, she started coaxing Alex again to go get a haircut. Al eventually gave in to the pressure and off we all went to the barber shop.

Well, I suppose we should probably have expected that if you are in a black part of Brooklyn then you ought to expect the black barber's clientele would be pretty much all black guys. We all sat there in the shop - four skinny white dudes - waiting for Alex to get his turn. As we waited, a steady stream of young black guys wandered in and out of the shop, highfiving the barbers, saying stuff like "yo, wassup ma man!" and checking out the glass cabinet of Nike Air shoes on display at the back of the shop. It felt a bit like being in an episode of Good Times. As well as checking out all the people coming and going, we also watched those in front of us get their haircuts, and it struck me that a lot of African American men get their hair cut in a fairly similar way - very, very short with the clippers, trimmed right up close to the hairline, and often with very funky little sideburns or beards. Not only that, but it occurred to me that because the Barber - a nice enough fella by the name of Louie - cut his clients hair in pretty much the same way all the time that this was pretty much the only style he really knew how to cut. Fair enough I guess.

So when our shaggy-headed Alex finally got his turn, and Donna bounded up to Louie to say, "if you could just thin it out a little, don't lose too much off the length", he just kind of looked at her blankly. You could tell he was trying to figure out just how he was going to do this, what tools he'd need to do it, and why the hell these white honkies were in his shop anyway.

Louie left the shop for a couple of minutes and came back with a couple of extra combs and cutters - I think he must have run over to the women's hairdressing shop across the street and asked them what he needed. :-) Anyway, he did a mighty fine job on Alex's head, including the same trimmed hairline and funky sideburns that the rest of his customers got (take a close look at the photo above and check out the wannabe sideburns made out of adolescent bumfluff). I guess when you do something the same way over and over it's pretty hard to break the paradigm. We refer to it as Alex's "black dude" haircut. Yo, Alex, wassup ma man?

Louie handed us a couple of business cards as we left and said he'd see us next time. And you know, maybe if Brooklyn wasn't so far away he just might.

Television and the Ugly American


American television has a lot to answer for. Being so close to the US border, we get a clear reception of the northwestern New York state TV signals as they drift across lake Ontario.

So here's the disconnect... While we were travelling through the United States, we met a bunch of wonderful, friendly, helpful people. Even in New York City, supposedly reknown for being full of folk who only look out for themselves, I have to say that it was not our experience at all. I'm sure there are plenty of good and bad people in the world, but I was impressed with just how friendly, helpful and cheerful the people we met during our travels were. Even standing in the NYC subway, trying to make sense of a map, we had complete strangers come up and say "Are you ok, can I help you?". And things like that happened on more than one occasion. Despite the stories one reads about how uncaring and impersonal and rude and ignorant "people" are, the world really is full of nice folks.

So where does the bad rap come from? Why is there such a perception out there that there are so many people - especially, I hate to say it, American people - who only care about themselves, are ignorant of what goes on in the rest of the world, and generally act like redneck hillbillies? I'm sure the answer, at least partly, is television.

As I write this, I have the TV on. For the last couple of hours I've been seeing the worst of humanity parading across the screen on Jerry Springer, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis, Judge Judy, Divorce Court, (hmm, seeing a pattern here?) and several others, all of which feature incredibly stupid, ignorant, pathetic people who are totally out of touch with the real world. Punctuating these low points of human achievement are a steady stream of advertisements that really drag the bottom of the barrel of humanity... legal firms encouraging you to sue your doctor, firms that will help you sue anyone who you feel has wronged you, firms who will help you screw your ex-husband for everything you can get, companies that help people "looking for more" to arrange extramarital affairs, and so on... it's pathetic.

If you believed that people really were the way they appeared on TV, you'd just pull the plug on humanity right now. If that's a real indication of what people are like, then the human race has no future. Just give up right now. Trouble is, for so many people what they see on TV is reality. The people they see on TV are a true representation of who they think the world is filled with.

Television, you have a lot to answer for.

Birthday Girl


Our Katey turned 11 today. To celebrate we took her and her friend Courtney to the movies to see Talladega Nights, and then to dinner at Boston Pizza. Later, we came home to an triple chocolate icecream cake. ;-)

Kate received lots of well wishes from family and friends, tons of cards and plenty of phone calls. Oh to be young and popular!

Happy Birthday KateyBel.

Lakeside Livin'


Thanks to an impromptu invitation from Sean and Kim, we flitted off to Muskoka again for a few days. It's very pretty up there, and we spent a day cruising to all three of the big lakes of the Muskoka region - Muskoka, Joseph and Rosseau. It was interesting because the lakes are at different heights, and have to be negotiated via locks. We'd seen the lock concept in action before, but on a much larger scale. The small locks that connect Muskoka to Rosseau were a much simpler proposition, but based on the same idea as the big ones.

After that we packed up and went back to the other lakeside property at Loon Lake, owned by Sean's family. We had a nice barbie and a few drinks around the fire before turning in for the night. Unfortunately Sean had to get up and go back to work the next day - honestly, work just gets in the way! We had a few very relaxing lazy days doing not much more than swimming, boating, sleeping, watching a few DVDs, a bit of waterskiing, then more swimming. Hard to take, eh?

These freshwater lakes that are dotted across the Ontario landscape really are a good thing. I love swimming in the ocean, but I must admit to having developed quite an affinity for these freshwater Canadian lakes.

15 Seconds of Fame


I think it was Andy Warhol who remarked that everyone would eventually be famous at some point in their life, even if it was only for 15 seconds. I'm still holding out for hitting the bigtime, but in the meantime you may be interested in this article that appeared in the NSW Independent Education journal, Newsmonth, about the exchange that Dave and I are doing.

The article focuses on the use of technology to help smooth the way for teachers on an overseas exchange program. I guess I've been hanging around the Web for so long now that I take most of this stuff for granted, but apparently the use of other web technology (beyond just email, which is over 30 years old) is a big thing. :-)

Anyway, enjoy the article.

Returning to Normal


I've been a bit slack updating the blog over the last week, but we are now back in Oakville after a wonderful five or so weeks away from home. We actually arrived back home late last Thursday, had a couple of days to catch out breath and then got invited back to Muskoka for a few days... how can you say no to that? So we threw a few bags in the car and scooted up the 400 for a couple of days of fun and sun on Muskoka and Loon Lake. Very relaxing (but no Internet access, hence a few quiet days on the blog.)

I'll gather a few photos tomorrow and write a quick update. I have been thinking about a few subjects that I'd like to write about, so perhaps the next few posts might be a bit random, but hey, it's my blog so I guess I can muse on whatever I like, eh?

Time for sleep now.

The Buffalo Redemption


If you've been reading this blog at all you may recall we drove across the bridge at Niagara Falls a while back to visit Buffalo, USA, and came away decidedly underwhelmed by it. The day we were there, a Sunday, it was almost as if the place was closed... there was little to do and we drove around in circles for a while before declaring it a waste of time and heading back into Canada.

Well, as it turns out, one of our Oakville friends, Beth, was originally from Buffalo (actually just south of Buffalo) and was a little perturbed by our poor experience. "Let me take you to Buffalo and show you around", said Beth. Fair enough. So when we received an invitation by Beth and her husband Grant to drop in for a couple of days to their cottage by Lake Erie on our way back to Oakville, we were keen to give Buffalo a shot at redemption.

And what a redemption it was! What a top spot! These guys have an amazing cottage (well, I'd call it a house myself!) right by the lake, and I mean right by the lake. You walk out their front door, cross the street and you're on the beach. It really is a great spot. We arrived there late afternoon after traversing New York state, and got to witness the most stunning sunset over the water. We got to meet Grant's sister Katrina, her husband Todd, his other sister-in-law Joanne, and more kids than we could poke a stick at. It was great to kick back a bit, sit by the water, catch a few rays, muck about on the jetski, and enjoy each other's company. We spent two wonderful days there, and would have liked to spend more.

We also got to explore the local area a bit too, went to dinner at Surfers, a cute little beachside restaurant by the lake, and followed it up with some go-karting at a nearby track. On our way back home, Grant and Beth took us into beautiful downtown Lackawanna for a look at Beth's home town... we got to visit an amazing bascilica, an amazing italian restaurant and an amazing frozen yogurt shop for desert. Yum!

Ok Buffalo, you win, I apologise. We had a ball.

The Great Escape


We'd been promising the kids that we'd do a theme park at some stage of our travels. I know a lot of parents would probably take their kids to Disneyland when they come to North America, but frankly, Disneyland is a long way from Toronto, it's way to expensive to get down to either LA or Florida, and at the end of the day, even though it's a good theme park it's still just a theme park. Canada also has a world class theme park called Canada's Wonderland just north of Toronto on the 400 but we'd heard some real horror stories about crowds and waiting times during the summer months. We told the kids that if we didn't find another theme park somewhere along the way we'd try to fit a visit to Canada's Wonderland in.

Kate's teacher back in Australia, Mr Hidson, had told her about the Six Flags theme park and highly recommended it, and while we staying with Wendy and Willy we happened to see a brochure for Six Flags... as it turns out, Six Flags is not a single theme park, but a whole chain of theme parks. Since we were travelling through New York state, we decided to drop in to visit the one located at Lake George, NY, aptly called the Great Escape.

We left Wendy's and headed north into the beautiful Adirondack Mountains - stunning scenery. Lake George took us about an hour or so north of Albany, the capital of New York state, and is a lovely little village on a beautiful lake. It's pretty touristy of course, but still a nice place. After checking into a hotel, we walked around the town and the lake, had some dinner and did some shopping before heading back to our room.

Next day was perfect theme park weather - not too hot, not too humid, a little cloudy, but still patches of sun. The park was very affordable, had tons of great rides and the crowds were nearly non-existant! Apart from one ride that had a queue of about 20 minutes, the longest we waited for anything else was about 2 minutes, and mostly we just walked right on to the ride. It makes for such a more enjoyable day when you aren't fighting crowds and pushing and shoving in queues all day!

There was some amazing rides - the Boomerang, the Steamin' Demon, the Comet, as well a a full blown waterpark with water slides, wave pools, etc, etc... there was lots to do and we spent the whole day going from ride to ride to ride.

I think the kids would agree that it was one of the best theme park experiences we've had.

Relatively Speaking


Despite growing up with an extraordinarily large number of relatives on my father's side, it has been many, many years since I have seen most of them. I knew that one of my cousins was living near New York City and despite not having seen her for quite a few years, thought it would be nice to catch up with her if we could arrange it. Soon after our arrival in Oakville, I set about trying to contact cousin Wendy. When we finally made contact, Wendy was quite pleased to hear from me and offered that we all come to visit after we left our accommodation in the Big Apple.

Wendy, her husband Willy and children Tania and Erik live in Katonah in Westchester county, about 40 minutes north of New York City. This part of the world could almost be considered rural, with beautiful timber homes, many set on acreage's, its hard to believe we were so close to one of the busiest cities on earth.

From the moment we arrived, we were greeted with warmth and hospitality and many stories were shared about where our lives have taken us over the past 25 or so years. The weather was still quite warm, so a good deal of our time was spent in or around the pool or sitting overlooking the pool drinking wine and enjoying meals together.

There is something special about being related to somebody... Something which perhaps connects you in a subtle yet tangible way. Meeting Wendy and her family after so many years was indeed a wonderful serendipity of this exchange to Canada and definitely a highlight of our trip to New York City.

The City that Never Sleeps


Tonight we ventured up the Rockefeller Tower, a beautiful art deco skyscraper built by J D Rockefeller in the 1930s. The more well-known observation point for looking out on NYC is the Empire State Building... but if you observe the skyline from that vantage point then the one building that is missing from view is, of course, the Empire State Building because you're standing on it. So we decided instead to view the city from the Rockefeller, or the Top of the Rock, as it's known.

As you can see from the pictures, it's a great view, especially at night. Unfortunately, with the heatwave conditions that have gripped New York City for the past three days, some of the major buildings, including the Empire State and the Chrysler buildings, were not fully illuminated in an attempt to ease the strain on the NYC power grid.

It's still an amazing sight.

Email: chris@betcher.org
Skype: betchaboy

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