Steakatarian

** Originally Published April 18, 2010 **
** Updated January 18, 2020 **
** Updated December 31, 2020 **

So when my son started eating real food, he was very particular about eating meat, probably because he didn’t have his molars yet and it was challenging for him to chew.  My daughter, on the other hand, has never shared those concerns.  She’ll eat steak any day of the week.  One day we were all sitting at the dinner table eating a steak dinner with steamed broccoli and potatoes and Alexander was being fussy about the meat.  Jodi puts more broccoli on his plate and comments, “Our little vegetarian.”

Upon hearing this, Avery, head buried in her plate and her elbows up and flapping like a Dodo bird looks up with a mouth full of beef and another piece on her fork and says, “Not me.  I’m a steakatarian!”   She routinely eats an 8oz of steak in a sitting and asks for more.  Daddy’s little girl.

This brings us to…

The Top 5 Steaks I’ve Ever Eaten

Steak

Archie MacDonald52 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

It was bloody cold out last night and upon finding the Yuk Yuk’s comedy club not yet ready to welcome us inside (we were going to see a friend I played hockey with back in the day perform. Dave Hemstad. Check him out) we needed something to eat that was nearby. Not wanting pizza, we happened into this hoity-toity place that looked like it had steak. Entirely underdressed and unprepared to spend a mortgage payment on a meal, my date for the night convinced me it would be an adventure. The freight elevator had an oriental rug in it. The meal was fancy. I did not enjoy the amuse-bouche (roe and caviar on a miniature cracker-sized pancake thing with a dollop of some sort of cream ooze). The bleu cheese with apple and fancy lettuce was good, though the cheese was a bit much for me (I tried it though!) I ordered a glass of Malbec (9oz, of course) and then came the steak. Good golly Miss Molly was it good (hence, the update to my Top 5 steaks list). I finished off my meal with a single serving of tarte tatin. The total? One Million dollars, and worth every penny.

Here’s the new list:

  1. The Fifth Grill & Terrace (Toronto, Ontario)
    Both my dining companion and I had the filet on a 3-course prix fixe menu and we both agreed that it was an absolutely fantastic piece of meat. He doesn’t have a Top 5 list, but I do, and this steak jumped right to the top.

     

  2. Merlot (Ottawa, Ontario – now closed)
    Thick and juicy with a subtle onion and cheese crust on top…. absolutely perfect.

     

  3. Charcoal Steakhouse (Kitchener, Ontario)
    Was halfway through it before I realized I was cutting it with the dull side of my butter knife.

     

  4. Le Papillon (Toronto, Ontario)
    Not known for their steak, but cooked perfectly, nice and tender… I licked my plate clean.

     

  5. St. James’ Gate (Dieppe, New Brunswick) *New to the List*
    Great steak. Thick and perfectly cooked.  Wonderful flavour. On its own, this steak was juicy, tender, and tasty, but I added fried mushrooms and onions and was not disappointed with how this married so well with the flavour of the steak. 
 

Americans Welcome

Americans, you may want to sit down for this. Are you sitting? No, please. Sit down. This is serious. Ready? Okay, here it goes: Your country is broken.

“We can fix it!”

No, sorry, you cannot. You’re terribly broken. Gangrene is has set in and it’s bad.

“How can this be?”

Good question. I first noticed it back in 1990 when you bombed the living hell out of Iraq (to depose a dictator the U.S. helped put in power). Five years later it was the Oklahoma City bombing – an act of domestic terrorism I could hardly fathom. Four years after that came Columbine. That one really stood out. Then another war with Iraq (this time over weapons of mass destruction which we now know for certain was just a cover up to finish the job daddy couldn’t do a decade ago). Sandy Hook. Holy crap on a cracker, Sandy Hook. The religious right. Rampant racism, misogyny, class warfare… The list goes on and on (and on and on and on…) Oh, and every single level of government AND your Supreme Court is bought and paid for. It’s also worth mentioning the last four years *gestures at everything*.

“But…”

The overwhelming response to all of this? Absolutely nothing, unless you count pithy memes on the Internet.

“But lots of people care. We want to change. We CAN change.”

Nope. I don’t think you can. If you were capable of change you would have a Congress that looks a lot different than what it looks like today.

All that red has you blue


“There has to be something that can be done. Come on, doc, throw us a bone here.”

Well…

“Yes, please, tell us!”

If gangrene gets too bad there’s only one thing to do.

“Please, tell us, what is it?”

There are two steps involved with this. Step 1: You see those two black squares up in the Senate diagram up there? Those need to turn blue. The good news is there’s a chance to do just that on January 5, 2021. The bad news is it’s going to be an uphill battle, especially if Georgia Republicans do the only thing they can do to prevent that from happening. If the Democrats can take both of those Senate seats then we move on to Step 2, which is to amputate.

There’s some good news, though.

“Well, there’d better be. Has anyone ever told you your bedside manner sucks?”

I’m sorry, That’s very un-Canadian. But onto the good news. Remember 1812? Specifically, the war.

“Yes, we kicked your lily asses.”

Well, there’s some debate on how that ended, and we did torch Washington (which is actually the reason the White House is painted white – to cover up the fact that we burned the heck out of it) but that’s neither here nor there.

The deal with the War of 1812 was this: North America was being colonized at a phenomenal rate and you guys wanted a bunch of “British” land and decided to come take it. We were all like, screw that, and fought back. It’s way more complicated, of course. We can’t ignore the genocide of millions of indigenous peoples made in the name of “progress” (hence, the quotes around “British” land). But, the whitewashed history books will sum it up into a battle for the stuff between the 40th and 54th parallels with the resulting borders ending up looking more or less like they do now.


“So, what’s your point?”

Well, I propose we annex a slice of the northern United States. Literally cut it out and stitch it onto the south end of Canada. Not quite as far down as the 40th parallel, but close enough. Everyone living in those areas would either stick around and live in a country that’s not completely off their rocker or get the hell out of Dodge and head South.

“If a bunch of Americans start migrating south, won’t that crowd up everywhere below the 40th parallel?”

Nope, because we’d open up the new border to accept American refugees from the south too! Call it a citizenship swap. Off your rocker? South of 40. Not off your rocker? North of 40. We’re already bringing in a metric tonne of Syrians and have a pretty good track record with this sort of humanitarian peacekeeping stuff. Okay, we had a really dark period there between 2006 and 2015, but we’ve fixed that problem and we’re just about good as new.

“Would you take whole states or just cut a swath across the top all nice and straight?”

We’ll take whole states and make a straightish line. We’ll assume control of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming (reluctantly), both Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. We’ll also take California off your hands because they’re super cool, the weather is fantastic, and there are already a whole bunch of Canadian folks in showbiz there anyway. Just think, you could have Ryan Reynolds ALL THE TIME!

In tribute to the native peoples who were slaughtered, we’ll immediately rename two states south of Ontario “Lower East Saskatchewan” and “Lower East Saskatchewan South” – maybe New Hampshire and New York but we can sort that out later. We’ll also talk about renaming some of the others once everyone gets settled.

“What about Alaska and Hawaii?”

OMG, I completely forgot about them! We’ll take those too, but only under the condition that Sarah Palin gets out of Alaska and Barack Obama becomes Premier of Hawaii (Canadian version of a State Governor). Also he’ll get to be Prime Minister after Justin Trudeau.

“This could work.”

Don’t worry, this will be epic. Canada will absolutely OWN potatoes, maple syrup (even more than it does now), wheat (tonnes of wheat – so much wheat), marijuana (even more than it does now), entertainment, cheese, and whatever the heck Wyoming is good for.

“You know, this idea is actually kind of good.”

I know!

“One question: why do you keep using the word ‘tonne’? Isn’t it ‘ton’?”

Oh, that. It’s metric. You’ll have to start using a system of measurement that’s used in every country except the United States, Liberia, and Myanmar. It’s actually quite easy to…

“Screw that. No deal. [mumbling] And you think we’re off our rockers? Metric system. Pfft.”

Aw man, this sucks. What am I supposed to do with this flag?

The Only Way Georgia Republicans Can Win The Runoffs

You may have heard by now that on November 3rd there was an election in the United States. It was a hotly contested affair in which Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, won the popular vote by over 7 million and in the count that actually matters when determining the winner, they won the Electoral College by a count of 306 to 232 over the incumbent Donald Trump and his Vice President, Mike Pence. Or did they?

2020 Election Results

In the weeks since the election, President Trump and members of the Republican party have launched more than 50 lawsuits contesting the results of the election. Unfortunately for them, it’s not going very well, with only one of the cases going their way. They allege that the fraud was rampant but concealed so well as to be undetectable. Indeed, one of the lawsuits that was dismissed (with Trump & Co. planning to appeal) alleges that in the state of Georgia voting machines allowed Democratic officials to add votes for Biden.

Now, because of the Electoral College, Georgia’s votes alone won’t overturn the election, but if they can prove there was fraud at the hands of the Democrats and the voting machines they used, it would open up a veritable pandora’s box and potentially change the outcome. On the downside, they’re having a hard time proving their case. On the upside, there’s an opportunity in January for them to blow it wide open. You see, in addition to voting for their President, Americans also voted for members of Congress, including much of the Senate, and two of those races were too close to call and were sent to a runoff election.

Why is this important? It is because if the Democrats win both contests then they will control the Senate (with VP Harris casting the deciding vote). If they lose one or both then Republicans keep control of the Senate and will maintain their grip on power even without someone in the White House. With one lawsuit already filed and ready for appeal regarding the results in Georgia, these two runoff elections provide the perfect chance for Republicans to prove voter fraud.

But how?

This is where it gets interesting. Remember how votes just “appeared” for Biden in Georgia? This was done with an undetectable hack to the voting machines to switch them over from imperial measurement (i.e. American) to metric. The voting machine company has one of their head offices in Canada and Canada uses the metric system. When they send a machine to the U.S., the programmers make a small programmatic change, akin to flipping a switch, so it works properly in America, and someone in Georgia figured out how to flip it back.

Elections are often called races and this nomenclature invokes images of distances, like a running event. Well, in the metric system it takes 1.6 kilometers to make up a mile so when an American voting machine is set to metric, with the right hack it will set one of the two options, Democrat or Republican, to count for 1.6 times more. This is what Georgia Democrats did in the general election and this is what they’re going to do in the runoffs.

So what can Georgia Republicans do?

The answer is: NOT VOTE.

I know it seems counterintuitive, but it’s the only way. Because those voting machines were used in states where Trump won it’s really hard to prove that certain machines were tampered with while others weren’t. If it wasn’t for a record number of Republicans voting in Georgia the fraud would have been as apparent as the nose on your face but the razor-thin margin made it look close. So close that all the fraudulent votes were undetectable.

In order to bring this malfeasance to light, the only way is for Georgia Republicans to stay home and not vote in the runoffs on January 5. This way, when the margin of victory for the Democrats exceeds the total number of votes actually cast, the proof will be irrefutable. When the Supreme Court sees this evidence and calculates the difference to be exactly a factor of 1.6, not only will those two Senate seats go to Republicans, so too will the presidency.

Game, set, and match.

Find The Beginning And Start There

Recently, I did a talk at a local public school for kids in grades 6, 7, and 8. It was about finding and sustaining your passion. I started with the sustaining part because I don’t feel that there’s a formula for finding one. Indeed, I just happened upon mine in an odd sort of mildly terrifying way.

Do you ever wonder how you get superpowers, and say to yourself, “Maybe if I just think about getting them I can get them,” as if you can will it into existence? Deep down, or likely not even that deep down, you know that just thinking it doesn’t actually work. Well, when I’m writing, it does work. If I can think it, dream it up, make it up, play make believe, I can make it real.

I asked the kids a question: Can anyone tell me the difference between a writer and a non-writer?

I spoke to two groups of two classes and in both talks one of the kids got the answer. Writers write. What I shared with them after that seemingly obvious nugget of information was what I felt was the best part. You don’t have to have dreamed about doing it since you were an infant in order to do it. It does not need to be woven into your DNA. It does not need to be your raison d’être. This applies to any endeavour, too.

With respect to writing, there’s an even better than best part. You don’t even need to be any good at it. I didn’t get my first “A” in English until the 12th grade – and that was an 11th grade class. True story. I still can’t tell you much about subordinate clauses, dangling participles, split infinitive, or gerunds. No word of a lie, I had to look that last one up.

What I tried to impart on these young, impressionable minds was that a lot of people don’t know where or when their passion developed because it’s always been there, but I argued that there are more people out there who discovered it quite deliberately, and probably even more still who can tell you the precise moment that sent them off in that direction.

Do you know the story of Andre De Grasse, the Canadian sprinter? He joined the track team on a bet and had to be convinced there would be girls at the meets (aside: I wonder how many people in history have found their passion because they were looking to score a little action?) He ran his first race in basketball shorts and shoes and didn’t use starting blocks. Ten years later he won the silver medal in the 200 m and bronze medals in the 100 m and 4×100 m relay at the Olympics. His best time in the 200 m is a Canadian national record. Had he not made that bet, it’s a good bet he wouldn’t have any of those accomplishements.

I had a similar moment that didn’t involve wagers or basketball shoes or girls but was nonetheless exciting and it was the moment that started this crazy journey I’ve been on ever since.

It started shortly after I lit myself on fire. NOT on purpose! No, no, no, that is a terrible idea. I know, because I happened to do it by accident and it sucked. It sucked on a galactic level. But it happened, and since I managed to get lucky I could laugh about it. So I did.

The next day all these people at work kept asking me what happened and I was tired of telling the story, so I wrote it out and sent a company wide email. Keep in mind this was back when email wasn’t what it was now. It was still relatively new and special. Anyway, this got me in trouble with the C.O.O. at the time for “misusing company resources”. One person who read the mail, though, said I should submit it to the Darwin Awards as a personal account. I did, and promptly forgot about it.

A full two years later i got an email from Darwin herself, Wendy Northcutt, saying that my story was in the top 20 ALL TIME for a personal account and did she have my permission to use it in her next book. I said yes.

When my signed copy came in the mail and I opened it up and saw my story in there it was the greatest feeling in the world. THAT was the moment, even though they spelled my name wrong (that error by the publisher stopped the press, also a true story, but they fixed it for the paperback edition).

The date is also wrong. I gave her permission to use the story August 2002 but the story happened in 2000.

Since then I’ve written so many things for so many reasons and no matter how long writer’s block or a drought lasts, I always end up scribbling something down or making a note in a pad that sits on my desk, because you never know, it might just spark another moment and bring me one stride closer to the literary equivalent of an Olympic medal.

~ Andrew

Remember That Time?

Memories are fascinating. How do they work? In asking myself this question it became clear that I didn’t have the foggiest idea. I thought it was sort of like a hard drive where your brain would accept sensory input and then some sort of fancy synapse thing happened and, voila!, memory. Turns out that while this is a gross oversimplification it’s not actually that far off. There’s a lot that goes into encoding, storing, and retrieving a memory, and the science behind it will blow your mind (multiple times if you can remember it all). One thing the big foreheads in the science labs found out was that for the vast majority of people, their brain decides if it’s important enough to be worthy of remembering and if so it encodes and stores it for future reference.

For those in the memory game, they talk about building a Memory Palace; a visual story around what you want to remember, and the more absurd the better. Absurdity is memorable! This is likely also one of the reasons our memories are extremely fallible. Our brains don’t necessarily pick up on the details that are actually important. That said, there are some aspects of our day-to-day lives that are surefire memory triggers: songs, smells, and foods. I’d be willing to bet that these triggers factor more into whether or not you remember something than how “significant” the event is. Think about all the, “Where were you when…” moments that are supposed to be significant and then analyze what you actually remember about the event. I’m willing to bet that the other sensory details that were happening at the time are what’s driving the memory.

Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

Songs, smells, and foods.

I know tonnes of people who have memories triggered by music and I am no exception to that. Here are just a few of the hundreds of songs that invoke a strong, specific memory for me:

  • Bootsauce, Everyone’s a Winner:
    • I spent eight hours on a bus with a bunch of teenagers travelling from Toronto to Killington, Vermont for an epic ski trip. This song was played more than any other.
  • Angels and Airwaves, The Adventure:
    • When my wife was pregnant with our second child I worked 45 minutes from home. When I got the call that she was in labour I put the pedal to the metal and hauled ass home. When I was a few minutes out this song started playing. The lyric “Life’s waiting to begin” hung in the air as I pulled into the driveway.
  • U2, any song off the Joshua Tree album:
    • I have lots of memories of this album but one, in particular, comes to mind when I hear any song off this album and that’s the craft hut at my old summer camp. I wandered in one day and the final riff from The Edge’s guitar on the opening track of Joshua Tree was playing and when track two stared I began to sing along, quietly, as I made my craft. A few of the girls from Cabin 2 started to sing as well, and soon it turned into a full-blown singalong. We spent the rest of the hour singing and crafting with that album playing. In fact, I can’t recall a single piece of conversation that happened in the hour I was there. I’m sure there must have been some, but it sure didn’t feel like it. It was just me, ten girls from cabin 2, a couple of counsellors, and U2. Thirty years later I had the privilege of taking my daughter to see the band play the album in its entirety.

As someone with a boatload of seasonal allergies who is scent sensitive (you know, “scentsitive”. I’ll see myself out.) I find my olfactory system triggers memory more often than anything else. In fact, I can even think of an instance where someone once described something to me and associated the smell of instant maple and brown sugar oatmeal with it and now I can’t smell brown sugar without that visual coming to mind. A few other notable smellmories:

  • Lilacs
    • At some point in my childhood, my mom planted a lilac bush in the backyard and since we didn’t have air conditioning the windows were often open. In spite of my severe seasonal allergies I never really minded the smell. Lilacs remind me of home.
  • Fresh-baked tea biscuits
    • My father’s mother always struck me as being very proper. She never swore like my mum’s mum and she never let me win at cards or crokinole. Whenever we’d visit she’d make tea and biscuits and then she’d read my tea leaves.
  • Weed
    • My first experience with smelling the Devil’s Lettuce was at the Canadian university football championships, the Vanier Cup, which at the time was played at Varsity Stadium in Toronto. My dad and his friend took my friend and I and we were way up in the bleachers and all the university students around us were smoking it. Not long after I went to my first concert, The Rolling Stones at Skydome in 1989, and while I was not accompanied by any adults, all the adults around me were getting high!
https://static1.puretrend.com/articles/5/50/97/5/@/511189-le-festival-de-woodstock-en-1969-opengraph_1200-4.jpg

And then there are foods. These are often a combination of sight, taste, and smell for me, though if I had to divide it up I’d say that sight ranks lowest, followed by smell, with taste at the top. Maybe it’s because food incorporates so many of the senses (all of them, if you’re fortunate enough to experience them all to begin with), but for me, this one paints the most vivid picture. Off the top of my head:

  • Cilantro
    • This one is funny because it brings me back to the time when there was a salad made, I won’t say by who, and instead of whatever was supposed to be the base for the salad cilantro was used instead. After everyone had a bite it was determined that a grave mistake had been made and the salad was removed from the table.
  • Lasagna
    • I used to work as a busboy for this banquet hall / private club and once a month was Italian Night. Around 400 people would pack the large hall and a dozen old Italian ladies would take over the kitchen. Normally we’d have our own kitchen staff but not on Italian Night. The smell of the lasagnas cooking in the giant 3′ x 3′ metal pans was amazing. All the hall staff would get to eat once we’d served all the guests and it was absolutely scrumptious. Of course, all the busboys had to clean up so it wasn’t 100% enjoyable, but it was definitely worth it.
  • Grapefruit
    • I was going on my first plane ride, alone, to visit my grandparents in Florida and at the airport, I was nervous and nauseous. Back then you could get farther in without a boarding pass and my mum was with me and she went and bought me a grapefruit juice. She said it would calm me down and settle my stomach. Of course, she was just making that up and hoping that the placebo effect would kick in. It did, of course, and now every time I have a grapefruit juice (or an actual grapefruit) I remember that moment and feel a sense of calm.
By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41054604

What about you? What are some of your biggest memory triggers? Keep it positive, if you can, since the world needs more of those memories being shared these days.

Rest in Peace, Professor

Here we are, again. In the midst of all the chaos and confusion of life, we have lost another great musician. The last decade has seen many greats shuffle off this mortal coil and some have hit me harder than others. This one is near the top for me, and I know it’s way up there for many others. What is it about music and musicians that have this effect on us? I think it’s because music breaks down barriers. In a world hell-bent on dividing us, it brings us together. It’s part of our every day. It’s there for the good times and bad. It makes us feel. It transcends. My wife absolutely loves music and everything about it and that’s one of the things I absolutely love about her.

NeilPeart

Back in September or October of 1988, I was sitting in the first-floor hallway of my high school when my friend Jeremy plopped himself down beside me. He had a Walkman and he was air drumming. He said something to the extent of, “You GOTTA listen to this.” He rewound the tape a bit and handed me the headphones. Once I had them on, he pressed play and I heard the opening chords to Limelight. By the ninth measure, the thump-da-thump of Neil Peart’s drums kicked in and I was completely hooked on RUSH not 20 seconds into the first of their songs I’d ever heard. For the next twenty years, they were my #1 band. Even today, thirty years later and a good five since they retired, I’d put them in my top three.

I can remember back in 1993 my friends and I would huddle in front of computers in the math building at the University of Waterloo and connect to The Internet. We’d hit the newsgroups and bulletin boards searching for nuggets of information to sate our fanboy desires. Some of my friends would go to alt.music.nirvana and others to alt.music.pearljam. I went to alt.music.rush and even then the internet consipirators were out in full force.

“Neil Peart has cancer. That’s why he wears that beanie on his head!”

– Early Internet Trolls

Five years later daughter died in a car crash and ten months after that he lost his wife to cancer. Twenty years after that the Early Internet Trolls’ prognostications came true, and as off base as they were back then I can imagine they, like so many of us today, are crushed by the news.

Neil was the soft-spoken one. Neil was the lyricist. The quiet brooder tapping out “YYZ” in Morse code in the studio because he saw the Toronto airport tag on his luggage (“YYZ” is the transmitter code for Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport) and liked the beat. That would later become an instrumental of the same title that was nominated for a Grammy (losing to The Police’s “Behind My Camel”).

I haven’t tested the theory yet but I am certain that there is a lyric that he’s written that maps perfectly to every moment in my life. He wrote books as well as lyrics. He made a number of instructional videos. He used his fame and recognition to bring styles of music to the masses that we would have otherwise ignored.

“He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: We all learned from him.”

Dave Grohl

If you’ve been on social media for the past 18 hours you’ve no doubt seen all the messages, condolences, and tributes come rolling in. There are a lot of them. The most well-known musicians in the world today are talking about it. That’s the type of influence Neil Peart had on not just music, but the music industry. He touched so many, myself included, and my heart goes out to his family, his friends, and of course to Geddy and Alex.

There are literally thousands of lyrics to choose from to close out my thoughts but one that was penned by Neil’s bandmates seems most apt. For me, it perfectly sums up what it was like having Neil behind the drum kit and I can imagine Geddy and Alex felt much the same way.

“You can take me for a little while
You can take me
You can make me smile
In the end”

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson

…in bed.

My brother gave me this book for Christmas a few years ago. I stuffed it somewhere “handy” and forgot about it until recently. In an effort to keep words flowing and provide some nifty blog content for my new and improved website, I thought I’d tackle all 642 writing prompts and see what happens.

From the looks of things, there are anywhere from 1 to 5 prompts on each page and the ones on each page are somewhat related. If I were to do one prompt a day we’d be here for almost two years, which is fine by me but also seems a smidgen ambitious. It might also make for some really short posts, which also might not be a bad thing, but I also feel like there needs to be a bit more on the page before I hit publish. So, one page of prompts per post regardless of how many are on the page. I won’t do one every day and I can’t even promise one a week, but I will try to do them with some regularity.

Prompt #1

“Write yesterday’s fortune cookie. It got everything wrong.”

  • Everything will go exactly as planned (in bed)

Prompt #2

“Write last year’s fortune cookie. It got everything right.”

  • You will be in awe of the resiliency and accomplishments of your family and friends and grateful to have them in your life (in bed)
Ksayer1 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Eight Sunsets, Four Books, and One Novella

I just finished my annual vacation at the cottage on Wasaga Beach, Ontario. I’ve been spending parts of the summer there since I was born a mere 45 years ago so there’s a lot of nostalgia that comes along with vacationing there. The cottage is where I spent a couple weeks recuperating from my concussion back in 2011. The cottage is for rest. There are very few timelines, no alarm clocks, the best sunsets in the world, and myriad opportunities to do two-fifths of sweet jack squat.

Lately, I’ve decided that I would benefit from writing fewer and reading more, words. I’m wrapping up my fifth book, the third one in a series for which the first should come out sometime in 2021 and instead of finishing it while on vacation I made the call to put the laptop away and do nothing but relax and read books. I read four books and one novella in the eight days I was on the beach and I’ll try my best to provide a short review of each.

Oh, one more thing. My grandfather (who built the original cabin with my great-grandfather back in 1938) worked a good chunk of his life for Kodak and was absolutely obsessed with taking pictures of the sunsets at Wasaga Beach. He’d convert his negatives into slides and keep them all for posterity. My mom has several thousand slides in storage and I bet if we were to count half of them would be sunsets. I have continued with this tradition and rarely miss an opportunity to capture one. This year Mother Nature blessed us with a record-setting (for me, anyway) eight sunsets in a row!

Sunset Day 1 – My son and his friend enjoying the waves

I started off by reading the novella, The Tudor Plot, included at the end of the Steve Berry book The King’s Deception.

The story takes place seven years prior to the novel that precedes it and it’s typical Cotton Mallone story. Berry is my favourite writer to bring with me on vacation. His books are somewhat formulaic but tend to be well written and tend to be easy to digest. The Tudor Plot was no exception. I wasn’t a huge fan of the number of characters he introduced but didn’t have any trouble keeping them all straight either. I can’t say I would have paid for an ebook version of just that novella, but it was a nice bonus on the end of a 400-page novel.

Sunset Day 2
Sunset Day 3

Next up was Poured Out Like Water by Ava Norwood. I’ve read another Norwood book, If I Make My Bed In Hell and while neither are happy-go-lucky rainbows and kittens novels, they are compelling stories that are incredibly well written.

I’m not sure I can adequately review the book without giving away any spoilers but I will say that it had very realistic characters and the plot kept me turning the pages. As I eluded to, this is a heavy read with lots of emotional conflicts, but it’s worth your time to read it. The climax will shock you and the conclusion will leave you satisfied and heading to Amazon to see what else Ava Norwood has to offer.

Sunset Day 4
Sunset Day 5

Next up were a couple of books from a friend of mine, Robert Chazz Chute. He writes apocalyptic fiction, among other things, and I had the pleasure of reading the first book in two different series (thanks, Robert. Now I have to buy the rest of them). First up was AFTER Life: Inferno (The NEXT Apocalypse Book 1)



This book takes place in Toronto, Ontario in the bowels of the highest level bio-engineering and virology building in the country. We follow a special squadron of police who are responding to a threat from inside. It’s a gripping start to the series and you’ll find yourself breathing more shallow and sweating along with the main character. It’s not an extremely long book, but after reading it I can say that it was the perfect length. There were no dull spots and it was very well put together. As with all things Chute, look for some well-placed humour to keep a smile on your face.

Next up was the first book in the Robot Planet Series, Machines Dream of Metal Gods.

This book takes a stab at a world where AI has taken over. Part Maximum Overdrive, part Terminator, part Hunger Games, there is a considerable amount of setup to this story, but the payoff in the second half of the book is well worth it. I don’t normally gravitate to sci-fi but I gotta be honest and say that I could get into this series.

Sunset Day 6
Sunset Day 7

To round out the vacation I picked up four books from the $1 table at a local store, with the proceeds going to a charity house in neighbouring Collingwood. One of them was The Collectors by David Baldacci.

I’ve heard his name before and recognize him as a New York Times best-selling author, but haven’t read any of his work before. I expected something similar to what I get when I pick up a Steve Berry book, meaning I figured it would be a good “airport read” or something suitable for the beach.

I was correct. There’s a definite style similarity to Berry and the plot was a textbook suspense/thriller. That said, I enjoyed it. It’s a tale of two stories that are actually woven into one, with a rich collection of characters to keep you interested and no shortage of action to keep you turning pages. I would have liked some section breaks when the point of view or timeline changed, but I won’t fault the author for that since an extra line instead of a “* * *” was the publisher’s choice in most cases (sometimes a proper section break was used, but other times it was not). As it was it was easy enough to follow along because this wasn’t Baldacci’s first rodeo and he knows what he’s doing. I’d be surprised if this book has won any awards, but it was a decent read and I’m glad I read it.

There you have it, the end of my vacation reading list. Granted, it’s not nearly as impressive as President Obama’s summer reads, but reading is reading and that’s all that matters. You know what they say, “Leaders are readers,” (which is more than you can say about the illiterate dumpster fire moron currently occupying the White House).

Thanks for reading. If you’re looking for some books I have a couple that you might like. Check ’em out on my books page.

Sunset Day 8

~ Andrew

Margaret E. Atwood Followed You

On November 14, 2010, I wrote a blog post titled Brick Walls, New Beginnings. In it, I wrote about Randy Pausch’s last lecture and inspiration from seeing Kevin Smith at Kitchener’s Centre in the Square. That was eight and a half years ago and recently I was at the Centre in the Square again, only this time I wasn’t there to see a foul-mouthed filmmaker for whom I have a giant man-crush. This time I was there to see award-winning, critically acclaimed, world-renowned author and Canadian icon, Margaret Atwood.

I’m going to be 100% honest here and say that I’ve tried to read a number of her novels and have had a hard time with them. She’s one hell of a writer, to be sure, but something about the books I picked up didn’t resonate with me. Then, there’s the Handmaid’s Tale. That one positively shook me (seriously, you have to read that book). I am also a huge fan of all the editorials and articles she’s written over the years, as well as her comic.

As a Canadian, a writer, an unabashed liberal, and an aspiring feminist, I could not pass up the opportunity to hear Ms. Atwood speak. I asked my 16-year-old daughter, who is also all those things (except she’s an actual feminist and helping me on my journey toward being one as well) if she wanted to go with me and her response in the affirmative came in the snap of a finger. The stage was set.

Waiting for Atwood.

How much was I looking forward to this? Time for a little backstory:

In 2012 I followed a boatload of accounts on Twitter. Of them, well over a hundred were writers. One day I noticed that only three of them didn’t follow me back: Amber Naslund, Neil Gaiman, and Margaret Atwood. In an effort to coerce the three non-following amigos to follow me on Twitter I sent out this tweet:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
And wouldn’t you know it, within minutes this notification popped up on my phone:

I am suddenly very aware of all the words I plan to use on Twitter.”

Suffice it to say, I lost my mind. The fact that she hasn’t unfollowed me since then is somewhat of a miracle.

(If you’re reading this, Margaret, please don’t unfollow me)

So, how did it go?

I’m actually having a hard time describing it because it was just that fantastic. Atwood’s sense of humour is razor sharp. The interviewer kept having to bring her back to the topic because she would run off on these wonderfully humourous tangents. Another thing that became apparent rather quickly, and it should be pointed out that this should be obvious to anyone who’s ever even heard of her, is that Margaret Atwood is one hell of a storyteller. Wow. I mean, just wow. It was absolutely amazing.

She’s also one of the most quotable people I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing speak. I was going to write them all down so I could tweet them or post them as captions on photos for Instagram, but there were too many.

Diaene Vernile (left) talks with Margaret Atwood

She talked about growing up in Quebec without any of the big city conveniences that were starting to take hold. There was a lot of talk about how she became a writer and her influences. Talk eventually turned to the Handmaid’s Tale and what was going on around her when she wrote it. Here’s an interesting bit of information. Everything that happened in that book has actually happened at some time or place in human history. Everything. And if that’s not enough to rock you to your core I don’t know what is.

The thing about the whole evening was I learned as much about Margaret Atwood, the Canadian literary hero, as I did about myself, the struggling-to-make-it part-time writer, husband, and father of two.

I wish I could have recorded the entire session because I certainly would have been going back to it time after time to pick out those truly wonderful nuggets of inspiration or those key lessons about writing, which she didn’t hit you over the head with but rather sprinkled in here and there so only those paying attention noticed them. As it was, there were two takeaways that I am prepared to share:

  1. She wrote her first book when she was 7. It was about an ant, and in her words (mostly, I think I remembered them correctly), “Nothing happened until the fourth quarter! As an egg, an ant does nothing. As a larva, an ant does nothing but eat and sleep. As a pupa, an ant does nothing. The only reason to keep turning pages was to find out if anything ever happens. I tell people, if you’re writing a murder mystery, move up the corpse! People need to know about the dead body, or if there even is one, sooner than later.”
  2. Work with what you’ve got and never give up. She grew up without electricity in the middle of a remote area of Quebec. There were books though, so she read them. There were pencils and paper, so she wrote. Her first novel, still to this day unpublished, was handwritten (because at that time she didn’t know how to type) on blank exam booklets from the university where she was studying. “It just happened to work out that every chapter was exactly as long as one of those booklets.” 

So, there you have it. A taste of what I experienced Thursday night. To share that moment with my daughter was indescribable and I will cherish the memory of it for the rest of my life. What it’s also done is strengthened my resolve with respect to learning my craft. I have a story idea for something Margaret Atwood-ish. It’s more a cross between 1984, Farenheight 451, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Asimov’s essay The Last Question, but the point is I am not ready to write it yet. I need to learn more, work harder, and make a metric tonne more mistakes before I can tackle it.

So I will.

~ Andrew

Hard Truth – Stephen

Another excerpt from my first fiction novel, Hard Truth. Available now from Amazon (.com or .ca), Barnes & NobleIndigoWalmartiTunes, and Google Play

You can get excerpts like this, blog posts, lyrics, and videos over at my Patreon page a full two months before you will see them here. Affordable tiers ($1, $3, $5) and something for everyone. Don’t wait to see it on the blog, check it out on Patreon and stay ahead of the curve!

Stephen was a short man with thin shoulders, pointy elbows, and a ferocious comb-over. He sat in a leather guest chair and picked at his cuticles. He suspected the chair alone cost more than one of his mortgage payments. The monstrosity looked like it would swallow him at any second and his knee bounced up and down in quick staccato pulses. His business partner, Thomas, if you could call him that, was on the phone with someone who, based on the end of the conversation he could hear, was not his wife.

“Listen, babe, I’m going to have to call you back, all right?” There was a pause and then a high-pitched squeal. Thomas moved the receiver away from his ear and when the squealing subsided but the phone back in the crook of his neck. “Listen, babe… babe… babe, listen.”

His voice rose with each syllable. He pressed the mute button and muttered expletives directed at no one in particular. Stephen folded his hands in his lap and looked over his right shoulder out at the vast expanse of New York City. He tried to envision what the home of the mistress of a wealthy businessman looked like.

Unmute. “No, I’m sorry I raised my voice, it’s just that I have a client here and it’s important…” Pause. “No, you’re important too. It’s just that…” Pause. “I understand.” Pause. “I love you too, babe. I’ll be over after I hit the gym so you can get all sweaty and wet after I get all sweaty and wet.” Thomas hung up his phone, raised both his hands palms up, and shrugged. “Chicks, eh?”

“Yeah, I hate it when they get all up in my grill like that,” Stephen deadpanned.

Laughter echoed off the windows of the large corner office. “Did you seriously just say ‘get up in my grill’?”

“It’s urban. I can be urban.”

“No, Stephen. No, you can’t be urban. You’re about as urban as John Deere. You’re a wet noodle, man, but that’s okay. You’ve got a great idea and we’re going to make a green and yellow truck full of money together. Then we’ll get you a protein shake, a gym membership, and a high-priced whore. You’ll look and feel like a million bucks!”

“Only a million?”

“Now that’s the fucking spirit, Steve-O! Smack the table and yell it.”

He shrank into the chair. “What?”

Thomas slammed both of his hands down on the mahogany desk. “Only a million?” He brought his hands down onto the hard surface again, this time with a loud smack that shook the Tiffany lamp and elicited a flinch from Stephen. “Only a million? Come on, do it, Steve. Show me what you’re made of!”

Stephen reached out and smacked his palms down on the hard surface. “Only a million?” He sat back a concerned look as he stared down at his palms.

“Don’t worry, buddy, the cleaning ladies do a great job here. The best job. Now look here at the contracts and tell me what you think.”