June 04, 2017

The Quack, issue twenty-one

Oh hey! How are you? I'm glad to see you!

I maybe haven't told you something about me before, but I guess I didn't want to brag. There's something I'm really good at. Maybe even the best at. I'm really good at turning short, easy jobs into long and difficult jobs.

Yesterday morning, Alice and I grabbed our tool boxes to whip off a short, easy job (see where this is going?). We needed to install our new rain barrel under the downspout.

It started off easy peasy, but don't worry. I screwed it up pretty majorly by the end. The barrel is a nice one Erin bought from the city as part of its water conservation project. I read the instructions. We fastened the spigot. We attached the overflow hose. We screwed down the lid. Everything was going perfectly.

"Now it's time to cut the drainpipe," I said to Alice. "Can you hand me that hacksaw?"

Have you ever heard the sound of a hacksaw cutting through a metal downspout? It was loud enough I couldn't hear the jet that flew over our house.

But it cut pretty well. Nice and even. I was pretty pleased with myself. And then the drain pipe fell off the house. 

"Oh," I said, suddenly holding eight feet of downspout pipe in my hands.

"Dad, do we have a ladder so we can put that back up?" asked Alice.

I looked up.


"How are we going to get it back up?" she asked.

"Well... " I began. "We... are going... to...."

It's at this moment I saw my neighbour peek out of his yard.

"Mike!" I shout. "Good morning!"

We have a nice chat, which eventually arrives at the topic of me borrowing his extension ladder. I reattach the downspout, strap it to the house, level the ground for the barrel, and set it in place.

Another ten minute job completed in forty five. 

Time for the newsletter. Let's go! 


We started a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign a few weeks ago. As Dungeon Master, I tend to prefer a cohesive story where the adventurers need to solve a mystery and interact with their world in order to achieve some sort of goal, rather than just line up a bunch of monsters for them to fight over and over and over. That's probably why, until last week, I'd never sent them into a real, proper dungeon.

This dungeon was a surprise for the kids. They were in the process of breaking back into jail (it's a long story) when all avenues of exit were suddenly blocked. The only possible route of escape from the dozens of heavily armoured guards coming from all directions was down. That's when I pulled out the map of the dungeon I'd been working on that afternoon.

It may be  a cliche, but having the team explore a dungeon and fight all the creepy crawlies within is proving to be a lot of fun. It may take them a few weeks to get out. Just don't ever tell Henry what was at the end of the hallway that was loaded with booby-traps. Thanks. 


Within a day or two of getting the "all clear" from my doctor to start exercising again after a winter of my hernia/not hernia nonsense, I got down to business. I woke up early, dragged out my yoga mat, and worked through the poses I hadn't attempted in more than six months.

The pain in my gut later in the day told me I wasn't as all clear as my doctor had suspected. I was pretty frustrated. Almost as bad as the pain that I'd experienced all winter was the feeling that I had become a blob. Doing nothing does that to a fellow.

One thing that doesn't hurt me is walking. So I walk now. And it's kind of the best?

Anything worth doing is worth quantifying (this is not even remotely true) so I was delighted to discover my phone has been tracking my walking for more than a year. I try now to walk at least ten kilometres every day. The secret formula to hit the magic number seems to be:
  • walking to work and back
  • taking a long walk at lunch (or walking the dog when I get home)
  • Walk and Talk*
*I take most of my work calls on my cell phone. When my phone rings, I answer it and start walking.

It's interesting to scroll back through the walking data on my phone. There's an obvious lull beginning in October when my hernia/not hernia began. More surprising was the data for last July and August. I was walking an insane amount--an average of 12 kilometres a day. Some days I was walking over 15.

I wracked my brain trying to think of why that would be. We're all naturally more active in the summer, but this seemed like a preternatural bump. I wasn't running at the time. What could it be?

And then I remembered Pokemon Go.

Haha. Yeah.

In Praise of

Some people dream of riches. Other people wish for fame. My wife Erin has only ever wanted one thing: a rain barrel.

Here's to Erin. I salute you.

Mini Scores

These are my scores for the Daily Mini crossword puzzle from The New York Times. As usual, if this isn't your thing, skip to the story!

Monday:         0:37
Tuesday:         0:52
Wednesday:   0:46
Thursday:       1:08
Friday:            1:01
Saturday:       1:30
Sunday:         1:31


Last May, I participated in a fun evening at The Guild in Charlottetown called Playlist. Seven of us performed monologues that were connected, in some way, to music. Here's the script for mine. It's called: A series of open letters about my cello career, 1991-1997.

Dear Mum,
Thanks for taking me to the symphony the other day. I loved it! 
I especially loved the cello.
I want a cello so bad.
I promise, Mum, if you get me a cello, I will work so hard.
It won’t be like the piano.
Or the recorder.
Or the 15 novels I started writing and abandoned.
Or school.
I will practice.
I know this is a crazy thing to say for a 13-year-old, but I feel very strongly that the reason I was put on this earth was to play the cello.
And one day, when I’m on stage with a major international symphony orchestra, I will think about you, Mum… and how you helped turn my dream… into reality.
Thank you for your consideration.
Yours affectionately,

Dear Mr. T____,
You are the perfect cello teacher for me.
I don’t mean to say that you are a great teacher. Or even a particularly good teacher.
But you nurture my two defining traits:
I have above average musical ability.
And I am extremely lazy.
You help me work these things to my advantage, and help establish a rhythm I will follow for years to come.
I will start something new.
I will show some aptitude at it.
That, plus my initial enthusiasm will fuel a rapid early development.
And then, I will stall. 
Because natural talent can only take you so far.
Work hard, or fail.
Mr. T____, you taught me a third path:
Faking it.
When you put the sheet music for Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nactmusik on my music stand, I thought you were out of your mind.
I didn’t think I was ready for Mozart.
The guy notoriously uses a lot of notes.
But you said I could do it.
You told me the cello part in this quartet was custom designed for a guy like me: put a tiny effort into learning the opening, then sit back and let the violins do the heavy lifting.

It becomes my signature tune.
For more than a year of lessons, it doesn’t even bother you that I don’t practice my scales, studies, or technique.
You don’t even ask me to get them out! We just sit down and play Eine Kleine Nactmusik for 45 minutes.
Then I go home!
Thanks for everything!
Yours respectfully,

Dear Mum,
I don’t know why you’re sending me to a new teacher. Things were going perfectly well with Mr. T____.
What if this new guy hasn’t even heard of  Eine Kleine Nactmusik?
I remain, yours affectionately,

Dear Mr. W____,
Thanks for taking me on as a student. 
I know you’re very busy as the principle cellist of the Windsor Symphony. 
I’m not mad anymore that you told me I bow like a violinist and my vibrato is like a guitar player’s.
It doesn’t even really bother me that you weren’t impressed by my rendition of Eine Kleine Nactmusik.
Because the first song you gave me sounds just perfect. Slow and easy, without too many notes.
I might even practice it before our next lesson!
Best regards,

(Take a pause here and listen to the Prelude from Bach's first cello suite.)

Dear Mr. W______,
You may not remember me.
I was your student about 20 years ago.
We started off really well together. I didn’t know it, but I was ready for someone to put the Bach cello suites in front of me.
That music kicked my ass.
It taught me that slow and melodic doesn’t always mean easy.
And that fast and impressive doesn’t always mean hard.
You taught me to bow like a cellist. And how to roll my forearm during my vibrato.
With you, I progressed really quickly. 
It’s amazing what a little natural ability and a bit of enthusiasm can do.

After our first year, you took several weeks to prepare a plan for the second.
It would be challenging, but you said if I put in the time, I mean really put in the time, you thought I could go all the way.

Mr. W_____, I’m sorry I didn’t practice.
Week after week, I’d sit in front of you… no further ahead than I was the week before.
You never said anything.
You didn’t really need to.

One week, I couldn’t stand the idea of another awkward lesson.
I parked half a block from your house. 
I opened my cello case.
I removed the bridge from my cello.
And I snapped it in half.
“It was an accident,” I told you.
You just looked at me.

Mr. W_____, I sometimes walk through your house in my mind.
Taped on the wall beside every light switch are copies of great paintings from Monet and van Gogh.
You homeschooled your kids. Sometimes they ran wild and barefoot in the yard. Sometimes they sat quietly at the table working on math sheets.
You and your wife were both members of the symphony.
It didn’t pay well, so you both taught to make ends meet.

Mr. W_____, I don’t know if I was meant to be a cellist.
Or whether I would have made it as far as you thought I would.
I do know that when I think back on my short career as a cellist, it’s you I feel bad about.

I liked you.
I liked your life.
In a lot of ways, I’ve tried to emulate it.
My wife and I homeschool our kids. She sews. I write. 
Our house is a lot like yours.

If you do remember me, you probably don’t think you managed to teach me much.
But you did.
Some of it was even about the cello.

Best regards,
Hey, you made it! Congrats!

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