Saturday, December 31, 2011

It has been a good year ...

Where did the year go? This was a good year in a lot of ways … maybe the best part is that everyone in the family is okay. The other highlight this year was visiting Scotland and the village or Morar where my paternal ancestors came from back in the 1800s. And maybe I have some regrets that right now I am not in Edinburgh. It is said, that Edinburgh is the best city in the world for New Year's Eve celebrations. This past week was excellent because I got to spend a lot of good time with Jennifer, her family and my son Neil. Neil is headed back south to Toronto for a day or two with friends and then back home to Vancouver. I say home because he is quite certain that the west coast is where he wants to be. He was NOT impressed Thursday morning when the temperature was minus 35! He doesn’t even have a winter coat. He wore a heavy fall rain jacket (popular in Vancouver) and dressed in layers, and then added a scarf and toque. I offered him any coat in my closet but he said he was fine. It was a great visit. I mentioned to Jennifer this morning that I stocked up on groceries and vegetarian stuff that Neil likes, but we managed to find a lot of restaurants. It was more fun for Neil as he was able to see people he hasn’t seen in four or five years. Either way, I have a fridge full of fresh vegetables, which I suppose is a good thing.
Tomorrow, Timmins celebrates its official centennial as a municipality. I am amazed to think back to the people who built this community and how they managed to carry on and survive 100 years ago. The Northern Ontario wilderness is very unforgiving, but when people search out gold, they don’t hold back.
It was on this day in 1910 that Noah Timmins was trekking through the bush for his first ever visit to Timmins. He had grubstaked Benny Hollinger and Alex Gillies to work some claims, which eventually became the world famous Hollinger Mine, one of the world's richest gold mines. It was the next day, on January 1, 1911 that Mr. Timmins first arrived to see his new property. Obviously, his mine had an impact on the city that bears his name. Quite the history in this town.
In a couple of weeks from now, I will be marking my own anniversary of the day I arrived here back in the 1970s. I figured I would stay maybe six months. But the people here are nice. So I hung around.
So I will sign off for 2011 and wish everyone the very best in the coming year. Tonight I will think of all those I love, and I will toast you, as I enjoy the warmth of a great whisky.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A perfect Christmas ...

This past week has been the best week of the year I think. In the past some Christmas weeks have been too stressful and too much of a headache. Not this time. For some reason, everything was just right and spending so much time with people was just perfect.
It was a week ago today that I arrived in Sudbury to catch some much anticipated Rest and Relaxation at Jenn and Scott’s place in the Valley. Denise and Don had arrived from Westree. Nathan and Tyler were being the best grandsons I can imagine and I was ready to unwind. I was able to enjoy Jennifer’s latest cooking effort of Chicken Kiev which she mastered. Well, that was just the beginning of a week long bash of really good food, delicious desserts, really great company and a few fine drinks. It wasn’t long after arriving at Jenn’s that we got a call from Neil to let us know he would be on the overnight bus from Toronto after flying in from Vancouver. As good as that news was, we also discovered that Victoria would be arriving on the same overnight bus. Cool. So we all went off to bed that night looking forward to more company in the morning. Don and Denise were up bright and early to get to the bus station and before long Neil and Vic had arrived for Christmas. I was just pleased to see Jennifer and Neil again. I thank God I am blessed with two wonderful children. So that Friday was just perfect. Jennifer went all “Martha Stewart” again cooking up a fabulous breakfast for everyone. Neil slipped off to grab a snooze but he was up again by noon so we could do some father-son shopping. That was good and before long we were in a pub enjoying brewski’s and having a late lunch. We even managed to get some shopping done before heading “home” to Chez Alexander. I should mention that Nathan and Tyler were perfect hosts. Nathan let me stay in his room while Neil stayed in Tyler’s room. The boys were able to sleep in the “fort” they created with furniture in sleeping bags in the rec room. And as you can see in the photo, Neil enjoyed seeing Buddy again and said he was amazed at how big Buddy has become. On Christmas Eve, the boys and I carried on what might now be a tradition. We headed off to Perkins to for pancakes, just like last year. Neil came along and so did Victoria. It was great. We all ordered huge breakfasts and really mucked out. Then we went shopping on Christmas Eve! Which every man knows is the best day of the year for shopping. We walked and shopped and shopped and walked so much!!!
I was having fun except for the fact I had twisted my knee the night before playing a bit of ball hockey with the boys. So I was limping a bit, but still having too much fun to complain.
I remember giving Vic, Tyler and Nathan some spending money so they could run off by themselves. And then they did something amazing. They came back with a fabulous photo of themselves with Santa. I nearly had tears in my eyes. I have never seen them look as perfect as they did in that photo.
I should mention that going back to the Valley was excellent. Up until this point, it looked like it was going to be a green Christmas in Sudbury. But then it started snowing. Nice big fat fluffy snowflakes were coming down and covering everything.
Back at the house it was time to wrap gifts and munch a bit. I should mention that Denise created a fabulous seafood chowder and cheese tea biscuits that are too good to describe. I won’t waste words. I wolfed down four biscuits and two bowls of chowder. As the evening wore on, it was nice to sit back and enjoy the conversation. I got such a kick out of seeing Jennifer playing the perfect hostess. You have to remember it was only two years ago that Jenn was still at the cancer centre and they let her out with a two-day pass for Christmas. She was in the wheelchair then and wearing a bandana because she had no hair after her chemo treatments. What a change.
By the way, Jennifer gets a bit stressed about the fact that she had another birthday just a few weeks ago…I would never give away her age, but being a normal woman, Jennifer frets about it. The best part is that she was at the liquor store recently and the clerk carded her! Yup, she got asked for her I.D. How nice was that? Jenn tells the story with a big smile. And she’s no baldie anymore. Her hair is long and wavy and she looks as fabulous as the day she was married.
At 10:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I was able to declare that Christmas had arrived in Canada (in Newfoundland right!). That was the occasion I needed to open up the bottle of single malt whisky I brought back from the Isle of Skye in August. We kept it at Jenn’s place so I wouldn’t be tempted to open it before then. It was a litre of Talisker. It’s the only whisky made on Skye. It was warm and wonderful and so very, very, very smooth.
Anyway, Christmas morning was normal. Tyler was first up the stairs from the rec room. I could hear his feet thumping up the stairs and into the living room. So I got up and sure enough he and Nathan and Vic were all standing by the tree with big smiles. Yes, Santa remembered them. But it was 7:00 a.m. and still dark, so I told the kids we had to wait. Each year I snap a photo of the children by the tree. This year, Victoria declined. She’s a teenager now and her hair wasn’t quite right! Once we got the coffee on and cracked open the Bailey’s, the adults were ready and so it went smoothly and with great fun and joy. I was amazed at the wealth we Canadians all enjoy and I am pleased and thankful we are all so blessed. CHRISTMAS MORNING!Later, the children and I enjoyed some chocolate cake for breakfast!
Christmas Day turned out to be nicer than expected. The snow kept falling and the temperature was mild. Scott headed out with a few friends for a special tour of the Xstrata copper smelter, since there was a minimum staff on. The lucky guys got to see them pouring a million dollars worth of molten nickel from the huge ladle crane. The ladle is about the size of a house. I didn’t mention that in Timmins you can pour a million bucks worth of molten gold into something the size of a breadpan!
Scottie brought home his good friend Ritchie, who always shows up on Christmas. And Ritchie brought along fishing pal Howard, a genuine Bay Street lawyer. Howard was amazed to get such a warm welcome, but the best part was that he was a cool guy and so the warm welcome wasn’t wasted!
Before long we had a nice ball hockey game going in the backyard rink with all the men and the boys. My twisted knee ached, but the whisky was soothing and warm, and took my mind off the pain. I was goalie and took a few hard shots, but am happy to say I stopped a few hard shots. And yes, I actually have the bruises to prove it. It was a good game until poor Tyler took a slapshot in the face. He went down. We thought he was faking, but then realized he wasn’t. We put the sticks away and after a few hugs and atta-boys, Tyler was okay. He has a nice little scar near his eye to show off to the gang at school.
As the afternoon progressed, we got wind of the wonderful smells from the kitchen where Denise and Jennifer were hard at work creating the perfect Christmas dinner of turkey, potatoes, turnip, stuffing, ham and salads.
Howard and Ritchie didn’t need much coaxing as they agreed to stay for dinner. How nice was that? Vic, Tyler and Nathan got to sit at “the kid’s table” as they ate from the coffee table in the living room. Doesn’t get much more Canadian than that eh?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Too many holidays, too much housework.

I have too many holidays. Really. The Boss told me this week I have more than five weeks to use up between now and my birthday next spring. Then I have another four weeks after that. Sheesh. I took three weeks in August! Now, I have to take Fridays off until I use up my extra time. I like my work. I have been doing it so long that's it's not a chore any more. Maybe that's why I don't mind being at work. I get to meet lots of new people every week. When something really important and interesting is going on, I get a front row seat. Oh well, today I have the day off. I was bored. So I cleaned the bathroom. Still bored. I cleaned the fridge. Then I vacuumed the little tracks at the bottom of the window sills. How the dirt gets in there I will never know. And they're brand new windows too. Oh well, gonna do the floors next. And it's just after 9:00 a.m. Good thing I have to do some Christmas shopping. That should take about half an hour. I chatted with Jenn yesterday and told her I will probably finish my shopping at the mall on Christmas Eve. She said "Yeah, you and all the other men!"

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Minus 22 this morning

Well winter has arrived in Timmins, finally. The snow is on the ground to stay and hopefully it can provide some nice trails for the skiiers and snow shoe crowd. And a local businessman is creating a public skating oval in the Hollinger Park. I also snapped a photo of my outdoor thermometer at 7:00 a.m. today and it was a pleasant minus 22. I guess I am going to have to start drying my hair more thoroughly ... it was crunchy this morning when I jumped out of the shower, got dressed and headed out the door. Had a nice phone chat with my brothers this week. Gary, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, celebrated in his 60th birthday on the weekend. And he was quite pleased there was a cake for him provided at the parish hall in Mira.
I spoke to Ronald Monday morning to get some background on a military story. He lives on Vancouver Island on the other side of the country. He should be a media researcher. He pointed me in the right direction to find all sorts of public information on the internet. There was also some exciting family news. Ron and Loni are also new grandparents! Daughter Christina had a baby girl several days ago and everyone is happy and healthy.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sunday and the shipping news

Sunday morning and I slept in until 10:00 a.m.!!! I was out last night, all evening actually, since it was the annual Christmas telethon at the local TV station. Myself and some of the other oldtimers get invited back each year to take part. So it was fun, if only to see some of the news reporters I haven’t seen for several years. Two out-of-town reporters, one from Hamilton and one from Kingston, actually drove nearly ten hours just to come back to Timmins for a visit. I thought that was fabulous. Jennifer sent me a text saying she and the boys saw me on the Bell satellite. Cool. As usual it was a good show with excellent work by so many people willing to help out some families in difficulty. The telethon provides grocery vouchers at Christmas.
It was around 2:00 a.m. when I finally got to be bed and I ignored my alarm this morning. What did awake me was a fire alarm call (I have a radio locked on the emergency frequency) in the west end. It was just after 10:00 a.m. The 9-1-1 call had a woman screaming on the phone that her kitchen on fire. So I was out of bed, dressed and ready to go out of the door when the fire commander called back saying it was a grease fire, the fire was out, the stove was unplugged. Wow, that was fast. I realized the house address was about three blocks away from the Mountjoy fire station. Good news. So I stayed home, put the coffee on and realized how glad I was not to go. I know there are always news photos of fires, but I really don’t want to see anyone lose their home or go through all the emotional trauma of a house fire.
So now for my addiction. I am a gamer! For nearly ten years, I have been playing a video game called Silent Hunter. It’s all about German u-Boats. It has great video graphics, campaigns and missions and it is a very relaxing passtime. The player, me, is a submarine commander attacking enemy ships. This year, I picked up a copy of a new updated version of the game, Silent Hunter-4. Oh my! The game is so technically improved that I couldn’t play it on my desktop computer, which is about four years old. I have to play it on my new laptop. The best part is that the game has an Artificial Intelligence feature. That means the better I get, the more challenging the game gets.(click on the pic for a periscope view) I read in a gaming website that I should expect hours of boredom in order to set up an attack. It’s just like a real submarine. It’s true. This week, I spent more than 60 hours creeping silently through the depths to complete an attack. Well, I really didn’t do the whole 60 hours, but it has taken about five days of playing to complete one attack. So everyday after work, I set up my laptop and proceed on a patrol beneath the ocean. I do other stuff, like read a book, wash the dishes, fold the laundry etc. while this is going on and if there is an alarm, I rush back to my computer to deal with it. This week I sank two Japanese destroyers and three cargo ships in the South China Sea! Sure beats watching TV!
One other thing. Yesterday was Gary's birthday!!! Happy day big brother.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Meeting nice people ... again

One of the best parts about my job is that I get to meet some of the most interesting people. That came back to me this week when I had to cover a speech by a fellow named Robert Deluce. He is the CEO and president of Porter Airlines. As I walked into the hall, Mr. Deluce turned, smiled and said hello. We shook hands. He's the same Bob Deluce I knew from many years ago in Timmins when his family ran Austin Airways. I travelled quite a bit with the Austin crews up north. Bob's dad was the legendary Stan Deluce who helped bring commercial aviation to Canada's far north. Bob was in Timmins to outline how Porter is going to bring three flights a day to Timmins from Toronto to be in direct competition with Air Canada Jazz. Bob put everyone at ease in Timmins when he said "it's nice to be back home." Here's the interesting part ... Jazz was born out of Air Ontario, which was born out of Austin Airways. The Deluce family bought Air Ontario and Air Manitoba back in the 1980's and then eventually sold the whole deal to Air Canada. I like free enterprise and I like that the Deluce family is still breaking ground in Canadian aviation. I am told that Porter offers deluxe service at an everyday price. What a difference from those days of bouncing around the Eastern Arctic in a DC3 or a Twin Otter eh?