Friday, September 28, 2007

Da Count - Trio of Friends

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, this past weekend, my buddies Steve and Pete were in Hamilton, visiting as part of our continued Rush concert ritual. Together, we've been geeky Rush fans for most of our lives -- from the time that we used to play air drums, bass and guitar in Pete's basement to eventually growing up and saving up cash to see the band in concert. The three of us have gone to see Rush on four tours now -- twice in Ottawa and twice in Toronto.

Like the band-mates from Rush (Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart) who have been playing together for over 30 years, our friendship spans over three decades.

There was a line from Stephen King's novella "The Body" in which the narrator, who is reminiscing about one summer during his childhood writes something along the lines of: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve; Jesus does anyone?" That always comes to mind when I think about how blessed I am not only to have such a wonderful group of friends surrounding me, but also to be enriched with friendships like Pete and Steve that span almost my entire life.

This blurry picture of the three of us taken at about 3 or so in the morning after the Rush concert last Saturday is the only relatively decent recent photo that I have of us three (I took it just after we finished watching the special feature video on the DVD version of Rush's latest album Snakes & Arrows -- yes, the title is a brilliant combination of the children's game Snakes and Ladders and Hamlet's famous soliloquy about the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" -- is it any wonder that a geek like me has been enthralled with the combined talents of this band for so long?).

Sure, it's a blurry picture -- but sometimes defining friendship, particularly an evolving friendship between three guys that span over three decades and three corners of the province of Ontario (we each live in Hamilton, Ottawa and Sudbury) is a blurry thing.

I just know one thing. Steve, Pete, entre nous (just between us), I love you guys. And that's why this week I'm counting our unique little trio and occasional nerdfests.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

HNT - You Will Believe A Dad Can Fly

This past weekend my buddy Steve was in town (to join myself and our buddy Pete at the Rush concert at the Air Canada Center on Saturday night) -- during the day on Saturday we played in the front yard, then headed down to the waterfront where we all played on a toy ship and play structure, the adults goofing around just as much as Alexander was. (Okay, well, at least I was goofing around as much as Alex was)

The whole time, Steve, a talented graphic artist, designer and photographer, was snapping pictures with his new camera. On Tuesday morning, Steve sent the following image to me. I'm still giggling at the hilarious little story he threw together.

The story features Alexander, his buddy Gavin, me (being my usual goofy self) and Francine. The photos, design and script are from the bizarre mind and talent of my buddy Steve Gaydos.
(Click on the image to see an enlarged view of it)

(Want to believe that on Thursday lots of bloggers get nekkid? Click below to learn more)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Run For The Cure 2007

Francine is doing the CIBC Run for the Cure again this year on September 30th.

She is dedicating the run this year to her mother, who we lost February 2007.

Not a single day goes by that Francine or I don't reflect on how great a loss this was to us.

Dianne was an incredible woman who completely broke the stereotype of "mother-in-law" -- she was a dear friend I could joke and laugh with and I loved her like my own mother. Her love and unique sense of energy and fun live on in our hearts, but we still miss her daily presence in our lives.

If anyone was considering making a donation to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Francine and I would greatly appreciate you doing so via the quick and easy online sponsor method for Fran's run this coming Sunday.

You can donate as little as $1.00 via the easy and secure online form, and every single dollar raised in the fight against breast cancer is a dollar well spent.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Da Count - Tell Me A Story, Dad

It's a ritual I look forward to every single night -- that bath time/bedtime father and son bonding time that I have with Alexander.

And lately, though I hear the words every night, I thrive on them. They are as powerful and as moving as hearing the words "I love you" come from my son's lips. They are the words: "Tell me a story, Dad."

The Dad stories always happen after Alexander and I have finished reading a pile of storybooks and are both snuggled down in his big boy bed and have kissed Mom goodnight and had half a dozen family hugs. The lights are off and our eyes still haven't adjusted to the dim orange glow night light in the one corner of the room. We can make out the digital clock on his bookshelf and in the background is one of three favourite bedtime CD's playing softly.

Alexander will roll over in bed and face me just as our eyes are starting to adjust to the dark and he'll say. "Tell me a story, Dad."

I usually respond with: "What kind of story?"

"A story about me and Mister Bunny." He usually also insists the story be about some sort of fun activity here like 'playing in the backyard, going to the park, at the fair, going shopping' -- usually whatever we did that day or plan on doing the next.

Mister Bunny was a dwarf rabbit that Francine and I had for over ten years. He died just a few months before Alexander's 2nd birthday, but not before they had a chance to play together. We realize, of course, that Alexander's actual memories of Mister Bunny will not last, but he quite enjoys hearing fictional tales of The Adventures of Alexander and Mister Bunny.

There are often 3 main elements that each story contain:

  • First, there's usually some sort of activity that Dad and Alex or Mom, Dad and Alex plan to do. Then, when it's decided and the family is off to start doing whatever, Mister Bunny is heard clearing his throat. (At this point in the story, only after hearing the convention once, Alexander chimed in with: "Mister Bunny!" -- the throat clearing is Mister Bunny (who used to live in our kitchen in the epicenter of all activity in the house) reminding them that HE wants to be a part of the fun too.
  • Second, there's the detail about Mister Bunny getting whatever he needs to participate. One time it was trying to find all four of his rubber boots for an excursion in puddle jumping -- another time it was trying to find his tiny little toolbox so he could help Dad and Alex fix the railing on the deck.
  • Third, there's usually some sort of cute little thing that Mister Bunny does either based on his confusion about what they're doing (usually some sort of word play -- example, Alexander's daycare is called "Pumpkin Patch" and on a visit there Mister Bunny mistook the trip as a trip to a real live pumpkin patch on a pumpkin farm), or his desire to go do something bunny-like in the middle of the adventure. It either gets him in trouble that Alexander has to rescue him from or it teaches the humans that there's more than one way to look at things.
  • Fourth, the stories always end with the words "and they laughed and laughed and then they went home, had a fun bedtime snack and snuggled down to sleep."

I've also tried leaving cliffhanger endings from one night to the next, which Alexander is excited about. He quite enjoys them and is eager to hear the conclusion of the story -- and each time he's great at reminding me exactly where the last story left off. But I don't do that too often, as the idea is to have a solid conclusion to each tale with a happy ending and a hint that "okay, we've had some fun, now it's time to get some rest"

Of course, every night Alexander says the words that Daddies and storytellers long to hear: "Tell me ANOTHER story, please!" But I limit it to one Mister Bunny and Alexander story per night; though it is tough not to keep telling them. He usually spends a few minutes regurgitating to me the high points and details of the story, such as "Mister Bunny and I hammered nails in the deck and Mister Bunny lost his hammer in the bushes" -- the excitement in his voice is on par with just having been handed half a million dollars.

Francine insists that I start writing as many of the 40 or so tales I've told so far down so I can possibly turn one or more of them into a story book. So far, the tales exist only between my son and I (the first writing I've done anywhere close to the Mister Bunny stories is right here on this blog post) -- perhaps when Alexander is older he can help me regurgitate the best of The Adventures of Alexander and Mister Bunny and we can craft them into book format -- who knows, maybe with HIS illustrations. That would certainly be a fun father/son project to work on when he gets a bit older.

In any case, this week I'm counting how fortunate I am to have this ritual with my son, and to enjoy the captive storytelling audience that I have with him before he grows up and discovers how big a nerd I really am.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

HNT - TiT - To The Farm

Terror in Toyland (TiT) - An HNT Adventure
by Mark Leslie

Continued from this post

At first Mark thought he was going to be brave enough to turn and see what was causing that creaking noise, but his legs took over and he ran like a bat out of hell away from the messy pile of spaghetti-like Play Doh.

Terrified that whatever had destroyed the Play Doh man was going to get him next, Mark ran until he could barely stand.

When he thought that he might finally have put enough distance between himself and the unknown threat, he stopped and looked around. "Hey, a play farm!" Mark said. "I could likely find a good hiding spot here."

As he was looking around for a way to get into the farm, he started thinking about Susie. It seemed like ages since he'd seen her and when he thought of her, he kept worrying that something terrible had happened to her.

Because he'd last seen her as they were getting into a giant toy train wreck, he imagined her unconscious, lying on the tracks with some viscous terro
rland toy version of Thomas and friends barreling down the tracks toward her.

"I have to go back to the train wreck and look for Susie," Mark said.

Just then he heard a strange creaking noise again, this time from directly above him. He also heard the distinct cackling of Farmer Jones from up in the hayloft. "We've got you now!" Farmer Jones said.

Mark looked up to see a hay bale being dropped down on his head.

To Be Continued . . .

(Hay! Did you happen to visit Os and learn more about HNT?)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Disposition: Cheerful & Energentic

Yesterday was Alexander's first day of school. Okay, so it wasn't actual grade school -- he's only three years old. It was a preschool daycare. We're starting him out with 3 full days a week.

It was a pretty emotional evening and morning as both Francine and I bemoaned the fact that our little boy is growing up. I had to pause and take a picture of his Winnie-The-Pooh backpack and yellow jacket hanging by the front door the evening before his first big day.

I can only imagine how it might feel when he's a young man and heading off to University somewhere to seek his own path, his own destiny. Working at a University it's easy to imagine how it might be, particularly when in late August I start seeing parents arriving on campus with their seventeen year old children, scouting out the campus and checking things out.

I can't help but remember my own visit to Ottawa with my parents to register at Carleton University back in 1988. I'll never forget the view of the city at night as we came over that one giant knoll between Kanata and Nepean that first time we drove out there and I could see the glow of the city and the stretch of lights across the horizon.

That very memory was the genesis for a recurring theme that I explore in my novel Morning Son -- the theme of new beginnings and of venturing into new territory both in the physical world and in the mental landscape. (Oh, if you're reading this and thinking you'll want to check out Morning Son don't start looking for it yet -- as of the writing of this post it is still being considered by a publisher and hasn't yet been accepted for publication -- but I do have all my fingers and toes crossed. When a publisher finally agrees to publish the novel you'll find me imitating Lionel Ritchie and dancing on the ceiling and, of course, blogging endlessly about it here)

Francine and I both took Alexander to the preschool daycare yesterday morning. He was a little nervous and pretty excited about the whole thing. He did great, of course. His "report card" described his first day's disposition as "cheerful and energetic" -- no big surprise there.

On our way out I, of course, made him pose for pictures, wanting to capture the moment. It's funny, because each year on my own first day of school my Mom made me pause and pose near her flowers to capture the moment. I always found it frustrating -- I just wanted to catch up with my buddy Pete Mihajic and head off to school. I didn't want to be standing there posing for pictures -- but now that I look back on those pictures, I have to smile and thank my Mom for having the patience and foresight to take those shots. It's amazing to flip through the book of my grade school and even high school years and find a picture from each of the first days of my school years. Would make an interesting photo essay.

In any case, Alexander wasn't frustrated with my picture taking. As usually he was a ham, yelling out "cheese" and trying to do all kinds of poses for me. Lord knows when he is away in University Francine and I will likely be sitting at home, listening to Baby Einstein music and bawling our eyes out while flipping through a photo album which includes pictures like this.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Went Hiking With Joe Spivy

On Sunday, Francine, Alexander and I went hiking in Ancaster. We followed the Heritage Trail (which, includes visiting The Hermitage) from the Old Mill parking area and when we reached a section of The Bruce Trail that dissected it, we followed that for several kilometers.

We had an absolute blast, met lots of nice people on the trail and are looking forward to doing this again. The leaves have only just started to change colour, but it will be fun to see how the scenery changes as the next few weeks pass. Alexander enjoyed himself but spent so much time running ahead that by the time we were heading back I had to carry him. Oh well, hauling a 40 lb boy on my shoulders for several kilometers was useful in terms of getting some additional and much needed exercise.

(We are also, of course, interested in taking part in the Haunted Hamilton Ghost Walk of The Hermitage -- yes, because I'm not terrified enough of the dark or of the woods)

And next time, I'm NOT forgetting the camera.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Da Count - Mastercard Commercial Rip-off

Taking your 3 year old to McDonald's for a chicken nugget Happy Meal.
Price: $5.89

Driving to an entirely new neighbourhood park and exploring and playing on the new play structure.
Price of gas: $1.03

The heartwarming feeling that comes from spending time with and seeing your 3 year old's beaming smile: Absolutely priceless


Thursday, September 13, 2007

HNT - Sport Theme

The great and powerful Os, everyone's favourite master of HNT, has decreed today's HNT to be a sports theme. Admittedly, I haven't been an avid fan for any particular team for quite some time. In fact, I haven't been much of a sports watcher for a long time either.

My "sports" consist of three main things: Reading, Beer and Horror.

And these pictures illustrate all three of them.

In them you'll find books, my skull companion Yorrick, and some of the specially collected beers (the ones visible are the Deathly Pale Ale brews a friend from California got for me -- Mortality Stout, Deathly Pale Ale and Redemption Red Ale -- as well as the still unopened German beer my Dad was given when I was adopted and the German beer friends of ours got me when my son Alexander was born). I also thought, just so I didn't stray from Os's sports theme plan, that I should plant the McMaster Marauders logo in the background -- no slight intended against my alma matter's Carleton Ravens, but McMaster does help me keep food on the table and pay the bills.

(Okay, this time I really mean it
I'm really hoping to return to the continuing saga
of "Terror in Toyland" next week)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering The Lives Of Two Heroes

Last year I participated in Project 2996 -- a collaborative effort made by bloggers all over the world to remember and celebrate the lives of the 2996 people who lost their lives on Sept 11, 2001.

As part of participating in the project last year (which was the 5th anniversary of the tragic events) I did my research and celebrated the life of fallen firefighter Raymond Meisenheimer.

On Sept 11, 2001 Raymond Meisenheimer was two months away from retiring after 20 years of serving the public on the New York City Fire department. You can read the full tribute to Raymond here but I can't help but think about him and the life he led before he died and I certainly didn't want this year to pass without mentioning him.

Despite the fact that I never met him, or his family, I feel for them on this anniversary of the date that Raymond Meisenheimer gave his life to protect his fellow citizens .

For this year, I thought I might also highlight the memory of somebody who did not end up getting a write-up as part of last year's Project 2996.

Deora Frances Bodley

Age: 20
Residence: Santa Clara, CA
Occupation: Student, Santa Clara University
Location: United Airlines Flight 93

Deora was returning from a visit with friends on the East Coast when she boarded United Flight 93 on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Her friends describe her as a vibrant young woman and a person who made the world a better place. She was an active volunteer and demonstrated a consistent view that if we all tried harder, we could make the future work out. At the age of 11 she wrote in one of her journals the following: "People who ask who, what, when, how and why. I ask peace."

Deora was majoring in Psychology at Santa Clara University and planned on becoming a child psychologist. This was a natural decision for her given her energy, thirst for life and love of children.

"If I would just live for the moment, and make every moment count, maybe the future would work out. Maybe that moment would be a doorway to the future." - Deora Frances Bodley (Age 13)

In the two decades that Deora lived, she touched many lives and injected a sense of spirit and positive energy that those who knew her will never forget. Indeed, just reading about her life, about the enthusiasm and hope that she generated is inspiring and something that she continues to give to the world.

More information about Deora:

Deora's Biography in the Flight 93 Memorial website.
Deora's Candles - website celebrating Deora's life. This website features a jazz composition that Derrill Bodley, Deora's father, wrote in her honour. It was record by Dave Drubeck and the beautiful, moving melody can be heard on the website.

You Don't Give A Hand Bomb To A Baby!

Last night while waiting for the much anticipated late shipment of a first year James Stewart Calculus textbook (and yes, in the academic world the eagerness and excitement to pick up a $171.95 textbook package was rivaled only by the hype surrounding a new Harry Potter release by J.K. Rowling) we met with many obstacles that I am glad to say we overcame.

The first obstacle might be that the publisher promised them to us on August 15th, then changed that to August 31st. After that the only shipments we received were due to the publisher's sales reps driving them in to us in small quantities of about 150 or so copies of the book -- which was what they could fit in their mini-vans. (Those lasted maybe an hour - the term a snowball's chance of lasting in hell fit quite nicely as I had to face many a scowl from first year students who kept returning to the store to find the stock depleted)

The next challenge was that the shipment which was supposed to arrive by late morning had gone MIA. I worried for the longest time that the poor truck driver had driven his vehicle into some mysterious sort of Bermuda Triangle of the GTA and disappeared forever -- because the truck never showed. My text buyer, Sue was trying desperately to determine what was going on, all the while I stood on the sales floor in the empty spot where the textbooks were supposed to be, holding off ravenous first year math students with a box cutter as my only defense (okay, I had my box cutter AND my stupendously silly sense of humour)

At about 4 PM, we received a phone call that the trucks weren't coming. That, of course, was unacceptable, so Sue got the publisher's customer service rep to order a special courier. I said I wouldn't leave the store until the truck finally showed up. (We are open until 9 PM)

Near 6:30 or so, the truck driver called one of our other buyers, Rick. He was on campus. But lost. Rick set off from our loading dock to find the poor fool. After several minutes Rick disappeared and never came back, and I worried that Rick and the trucker met their fate in that Bermuda Triangle thingy . . .

So I took off heading in the opposite direction on campus and finally found the poor lost trucker guy sitting in his giant rig trying to figure out where he was going. I jumped into the cab and was able to lead him across campus to our loading dock. (Not that any of the other vehicles were even close to being considerate -- the poor guy was trying to maneuver through some tight turns while attempting NOT to squish all the little cars that tried zipping around him. Seeing this from a trucker's perspective, I'm surprised that more idiots don't die while stupidly trying to challenge such large vehicles in a battle of wills)

When we finally arrived at the loading dock, we found out that the loading ramp wasn't working. So we had to hand bomb them off the skids in the back of the truck and onto skids on the ground. Which leads to the whole purpose of this rambling post -- a tiny lesson in phrase and language.

Hand bomb is NOT synonymous with hand grenade (although the frustrations surrounding getting the new edition of this textbook into our store might have inspired some grenade throwing or use of artillery of some sort), nor does it mean the same thing as hand-job.

"Hand bomb" is a trucking industry term used when a worker has to unload a vehicle without the help of a forklift or palate jack. Although I wasn't able to find anything about this phrases origin in the half dozen etymology and word origin books I have on my shelves (yes, I'm a giant nerd - so sue me) if makes sense that the phrase could originate from the boxes being loaded or unloaded securely -- as in being "bonded" by hand. It might also refer to one of the definitions of "bomb" in my Oxford English Reference Dictionary of bomb as a slang term for "move or go quickly" -- because when you hand bomb something you tend to move the cartons more quickly than when you're taking them down a really slow palate jack.

Or perhaps someone else out there has a cool idea of where this phrase came from . . . I'm all ears.

Oh, in case you're wondering about the final fate of these textbooks - we DID get them to the sales floor by about 7:30 or so, and many students were happy and excited and we all lived happily ever after (particularly Mr. James Stewart, the author of the textbook, who will receive tons of giant royalties on sales of this book and will feel so indebted to us that he'll donate a couple of million dollars so we can open up the James Stewart Wing on our store and give our store a permanent home for our first year textbooks -- one with a loading ramp that works 24/7.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Wiki Me? (Reader Participation Request)

I made a boo-boo recently.

I added a stub article about myself on Wikipedia -- I just meant for it to be a placeholder for myself as a horror/sci-fi writer. When I posted it, I didn't realize it counted as a conflict of interest. Wiki, of course thrives on 3rd party sources and material as a way of ensuring that items written there aren't just a form of spam.

So I'm asking anyone reading this who is interested in helping legitimize the Wikipedia listing of "Mark Leslie" to please visit my Wiki listing and go ahead and edit it with whatever information seems fitting.

Anyone can contribute to, add or edit listings on Wikipedia. Global participation and collaboration is what it's all about. So here's your chance to help me out and participate in the improvement of a dynamic and evolving online encyclopedia. And then you can go and move on to update other articles in areas where you are an expert or perhaps have some additional information to share (additional web links, interesting sidebars, content info, etc) -- but be careful, it can get addictive . . .

Thursday, September 06, 2007

HNT - Books, Books, Books

Busy week at work. First week of school at McMaster. Selling lots of books. Endlessly restocking and helping students find their textbooks. While my body is busy schlepping books around, my busy mind is also working on books -- I have two novels in progress on the brain and am also formulating a novella that I plan on writing during NaNoWriMo in November this year.

I've got books on the brain, books in the back of my mind and books in my hand. When I close my eyes that's all I see. Thus, this week's picture my ghostly image surrounded by books.

'Nuff said?

(I'm hoping to return to the continuing saga of "Terror in Toyland" next week)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dianne Marzanek Memorial Award

The morning air is filled with a sharp yet delightful chill that forewarns of the coming fall season. Similarly, the air is charged with a sense of anticipation and excitement, not unlike the aura that a carnival coming through town might bring the day the carnival folk arrive and start setting up -- it is the sense that something magical and thrilling is about to take place.

I'm talking, of course, about the beginning of another academic year. From the time that I remember getting my coloured Laurentian pencil crayons ready with my thin three-hole punched notebooks and carefully printing my name on each book I have loved the sense of wonder and excitement and new beginnings that come with a new academic year.

This will be my second "September Rush" at McMaster University, and the feeling is not unlike the feeling I had when I was a student walking onto campus during my own University career. Although this year, there is also a sense of sadness and of mourning. For it was during the first week of "Rush" last year that Francine's Mom fell into a final heart failure that she never fully recovered from. She died in early February, but in a sense we lost her that first week in September.

I loved her dearly and continue to miss her. The pain is especially intense now that the first anniversary of her loss (a terribly painful 6 months of losing her when you look at it in retrospect) is upon us. Dianne was a woman talented in many things -- one of which was her love of music and her ability to play the piano. (Here's a link to a poem I wrote after the first time I'd heard her play the piano - it's called Music of Angels)

Because of her love for music, we decided to pool money from the sale of her house into an account and create a memorial fund in her name. The Dianne Marzanek Memorial Award was created for a student heading to post secondary education with a demonstrated passion and enthusiasm for music.

This morning, before coming in to work I paused to re-read the card that the first recipient of the award sent to us. We have kept it on the refrigerator since receiving it early this summer. He's a young man who is entering the music program here at McMaster University and specializing in the tenor saxophone. We were completely touched that he took the time to write a thank-you card to the family for the award, and particularly honoured that an Award in Mom's name helped him in his pursuit of music.

So, despite the sadness and loss, the air is also filled with a sense of hope that a young man now walking the halls of McMaster carries with him; and, as always, a sense of love that Dianne's family and friends continue to carry for her and her memory.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Idiots Among Us

They have always been with us -- creatures that defy explanation, myths that suddenly become frighteningly real. Yet despite the promise of natural selection and all of the Darwinian beliefs that their kind should have died off a long time ago due to their own lack of intelligence or wit, every day we come face to face with the terrifying fact that they are all too real . . .

. . . they are the . . . IDIOTS AMONG US!!! (if you haven't yet guess it, the following post will be a rant)

I encountered one of the idiots that walks among us today while filling up my truck at the gas station. I wasn't on an idiot hunt, I didn't have my special idiot-detector equipment with me either. But she reared her ugly face and displayed her uglier intelligence all the same.

Her husband had just finished pumping gas into their vehicle and went inside to pay for the gas he had just pumped. Wifey was sitting in the passenger seat immediately beside the pump and when she pulls out a cigarette and lights it. Yes, lights it. Despite the common sense, despite the signs all over the place indicating no smoking (for the obvious, explosion causing possibilities a spark could cause)

I suppose it's not enough that she's stupid enough to suck on those cancer sticks and slowly take her own life -- I'm all for freedom and liberty -- but no, she wants to take a whole whack of innocent bystanders with her selfish idiocy of not being able to wait 2 minutes to light up.

Of course, I imagined her husband might have said something to her when he returned to the car. But no, Tweedledee just sat beside Tweedledumb and they both drove off together, ever the blissfully stupid couple.

Here's hoping these two idiots don't procreate; or at least, that I can maintain my distance from them while they go on doing stupid things and risking lives.