Tag: memories (page 1 of 22)

Early careers: The programmer and the artist

Dear Wendy,

This morning I was reading a post on Diane Tolley’s blog, about a little fellow whose aptitude for things mechanical started showing through at an early age.

It got me thinking about my own kids (because of course it did!), and I realized that both of them began their early careers before they were even out of diapers.

The little programmer

alt="IMAGE-fixed-computer-early-careers-after-the-kids-leave"When Adrian was about 2 years old, Mitchell acquired a “word processor.” (This is what they used to call home computers, in case you’d forgotten.) A brand new shiny Kaypro4, with not one, but two floppy disk drives! Wowzas.

Now, you must remember that back in the early 1980s, a “portable computer” was a gigantic metal box of a thing, and should have come with a “some assembly required” label. Oh, and it cost a bleeding fortune…because the idea of a personal computer was practically brand new.

We’d only had the Kaypro a few days, when we got up bright and early one morning to find that Adrian was already wide awake. He’d unpacked the Kaypro from its zipped carrying case, laid it out carefully on the floor, unhooked the keyboard from the monitor, and plugged the thing in.

When we found him, he looked up, eyes full of the wonder of the thing, and pointed a chubby little finger at the blinking green cursor.

“Look at the beep-beep!” he exclaimed, delighted at his new find.

Mitchell freaked out. I gathered up our little programmer and hustled him off for breakfast, while Mitch reassembled the precious equipment (which, I should mention, powered our home business for the next couple of years).

Four years later, the Kaypro4 was toast; we’d graduated to the next Big Thing in computing, the PC. Adrian had never lost his interest in computers, though, and Mitchell and I were constantly shooing him away from our work stations, where he’d hover as though drawn by the hum of the machines.

Then one morning, I turned on the computer, only to find it doing…odd things. On the formerly blank opening screen, a tiny digital clock was blinking back at me. There was now a calendar at the bottom of the screen, and somehow the type looked larger and clearer.

When Adrian got home from school, I asked him whether he knew anything about it.

“Oh, yes!” he beamed. “I went into DOS and added some things to make it easier for you to work. Do you like it?”

Um. “How did you figure out where the opening menu was?” I asked (since I had no idea, myself).

“I just poked at it until I figured it out,” he replied.

Well, sure you did.

The small artist

alt="IMAGE-artist-early-careers-after-the-kids-leave"Rachel wasn’t much interested in the inner workings of computers, but like her big brother, she showed herself early.

From the time she was about 2 (this seems to be the magic age?) she would draw or paint on any available surface: paper, walls, her own stomach….

To save our walls (and my sanity) we bought her what we later realized was the Best Gift Ever: a wooden easel from IKEA, with a giant roll of foolscap so Rachel could pull down as much paper as she wanted.

That easel was a godsend. Many mornings I’d wake up and discover that our little artist had been busy during the night—her tempera paints would be open, her brushes wet, and a new creation would be on display on the easel.

When she was about 4, Rachel, Mitchell, and I were walking through a local mall. The place was under renovation, so some walls had been replaced with sheets of plywood. As we walked past, we realized that the artist was covering the ugly plywood with murals: a painting of the Rideau River, some swans, some people riding past on bicycles. Rachel insisted that we stay to watch, so we waited patiently while she watched the artist at work.

She asked him something about his brushes, and he smiled, obviously pleased that this cute little girl was interested.

“You know,” he said, “one of these days when you grow up, you might decide to become an artist!”

Rachel’s smile froze. She drew herself up to her full height. Looked at him sternly, her blue eyes steely with indignation.

I already am an artist,” she declared.

Well, then. Of course you are.

Fast forward….

Of course, you know where both kids ended up.

Adrian’s official title is “Senior Developer/Operations” at Shopify, though I’m damned if I have even the slightest clue what his job entails. When I asked one of his co-workers a couple of years back, the best answer I received was, “He makes everything go.”

Right. Good enough for me.

Rachel is about to enter her third year in her Bachelor of Interior Design (and woe betide you if you call it “interior decorating”), and has started thinking about a master’s in architecture.

The Kaypro II and that old wooden easel are both long gone, but I think of them fondly now as precursors to greater things—the beginning points of a couple of early careers.





A weekend visit to Denmark

Dear Karen,

This weekend, while you were breaking your back, I was in Denmark, attending a 90th birthday party.

Since living in Europe, one of our greatest joys is the ability to travel 90 minutes and be in a totally different country and culture.  Having family only an hour and a half away is such a blessing.

We drove from Copenhagen to Grindsted, in Jylland (Jutland), where Lars was born.  We paid a visit to the graveyard outside Grindsted Kirke, where grandparents and parents reside.  It’s a beautiful site, very peaceful, and well maintained.


We got married here in 1984 and our eldest was christened here as well, in 1986.

I get a great kick out of the signs here.  In their original Danish, they’re quite normal and sensible.  However, if spoken in English, they’re stupidly funny.


Danish: periodic speed control.  English: periodic fart control.

We were staying with family at the summerhouse on the west coast.  The summerhouse has been in the family since the early 1900s, and was occupied by the Germans in World War 2.  Concerned that the allies would attacking Europe through Denmark, they closed down Vejers and turned it, along with the summerhouse, into a German military zone.  Officers commandeered our house and they didn’t take very good care of it.  There was a pot-bellied stove inside, which they used to burn every bit of available wood possible, to keep them warm in the winters.


Building on a sandy hill: not always the easiest thing to do. Also note the outhouse on the right.


The patio is now the living room.  The outhouse is now indoors, finally.  I love how formally dressed the men are.  It’s a beach, fellas, not an office!


The house expands to fit a growing family.


How it looked when I first visited.


Our morning view – can you guess which room we’re in?


Nordliden today: comfortable, cosy, hyggelig (that word that no Dane can ever adequately translate into English). We love it.

Once the war was over, the summerhouse went back into family hands and, with each generation, repairs and renovations occurred within and without.

One thing no one counted on, though, was the strong winds and sand, creating 10 metre high dunes to the west of the house.  At one time, one could stand in the house and view the North Sea.  Even in my 30 years of visiting, I can sense those damn dunes getting higher and higher with each visit.  It’s great exercise tromping up and down for a morning and evening swim.


Lars’ mother and aunts on the beach, with Nordliden in the background.



So where’s the house gone? Each year, this dune gets higher.

Each morning, someone rises with the sun and bikes or walks to the local baker, where bread is bought for the breakfast table.  This weekend, Lars and I took on the job.  We ordered rolls called rundstykker (rolls, literally translated as “round pieces”), wienerbrød (in Denmark, they call it Viennese pastry), franskbrød (white bread) and rugbrød (rye bread). When it came time to pay, we discovered we didn’t have enough money.  The woman serving us shrugged her shoulders, handed us the receipt, and told us to come back later to pay, no rush.

We were back within 30 minutes, but still, we liked her attitude.


Breakfast:  first course.


A Danish breakfast table is not for the faint-hearted: boiled eggs, breads, cheese, Nutella, honey, coffee and hot milk. It’s hard to control your eating when faced with this in the morning.

The birthday party was a huge success, celebrated in a nice hotel in the countryside.  I’m embarrassed to say, I was more tired at the end than the birthday girl, who was in no mood to see her party come to a close.

We drove back to Nordliden with more family members, and we enjoyed the setting sun while eating Danish pizza and drinking Italian wine.


I wasn’t the least bit hungry…until the pizza arrived.


The sun sets on a very happy day.

The following morning, it was time for us to return to London.  We said good-bye to our family and Nordliden with love in our hearts and a strong determination to never eat again stay longer next time.



Early morning swim before breakfast.


British Invasion bands of the 60s

Dear Readers,

alt="IMAGE-bands-british-invasion-after-the-kids-leave"Yep, time for another Saturday List! And today we have a treat for you: if you were alive in the early to mid-1960s, you’ll remember cranking up the radio when these songs came on.

Following its raucous, unruly birth in the 1950s, rock and roll had begun to emulsify into a smooth, syrupy kind of pablum by the early 1960s. Despite injections of energy from the surfing craze, it seemed to be in danger of collapsing into a sad, pop parody of itself.

In short, it was becoming a snooze-fest.

But help was on the way, and from a most unlikely quarter: while American kids were nodding off to songs like “Soldier Boy,” bands in Britain had begun to experiment with American blues, and were giving it their own interpretation. Skiffle, a blues and folk-based music with a DIY sensibility, made way for Merseybeat, music that started in the gritty industrial cities in the north of England. The best-known of these bands was a little foursome known as the Beatles.

By 1964, kids in North America had begun to catch on. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit the top of the US singles charts in January, and launched what became known as the British Invasion.

And what an invasion it was!

I still remember the furor when the Beatles landed in New York for their first tour—the frenzied hysteria made Justin Bieber’s fans look like rank amateurs. The Beatles were followed by Dusty Springfield, whose “I Only Want to Be with You” caused quite the sensation…and next thing you know, you couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing one of the British Invasion bands.

Beatles, Stones, The Who, the Kinks…it was glorious, and I’ve barely scratched the surface with this list. So tell me: who were your favourites? You can vote right on the list, add your opinions, or even add a band I’ve missed…have fun, go nuts!

And most of all, enjoy the music. That’s what it’s really all about.



British Invasion Bands of the 60s

KarenWendy Irving British Invasion Bands of the 60s

KarenWendy Irving | 14 items | 150 views

Bet you can't read this list without starting to hum a tune or two!

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  1. 1. The Yardbirds - For Your Love (1965) (Full version)

    The Yardbirds - For Your Love (1965) (Full version)

    Live H.264 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU5zqidlxMQ&fmt=18
    Ever wonder where legendary guitarists Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page all got their start? Yep, it was right here. With their adorable bowl haircuts and fuzzed-out sound, the Yardbirds were a blues-based group that expanded into rock in a big way.

  2. 2. A Hard Day's Night Screenings Info

    A Hard Day's Night Screenings Info

    Yep, they've digitally restored the movie and they're re-releasing it. Let's face it, the Beatles are legend. And A Hard Day's Night, their first movie, is a rollicking, ridiculous, and utterly engaging look at the band in their early days. If you've never seen it, what are you waiting for?

  3. 3. The Rolling Stones

    The Rolling Stones

    These days they're not so much a rough-edged blues-based rock group with a bad-boy reputation, as an ongoing franchise juggernaut that shows no signs of slowing down. But let's take a moment and remember the Stones as they were: rock and roll at its absolute best.

  4. 4. The Who - My Generation

    The Who - My Generation

    Wendy's all-time favourite band. Ever. Period. And if you try to contradict her, she will fight you.
    Also part of the Big Three, along with the Beatles and Stones. Their Mod sensibility included smashing guitars onstage and wearing British flag-patterned clothing (why? because it was the 60s!), and their iconic song, "My Generation" defined the growing dissatisfaction we all felt back then.

  5. 5. Herman's Hermits - I'm Henry Vlll I Am

    Herman's Hermits - I'm Henry Vlll I Am

    Emerging from the Manchester beat scene shortly after the Beatles, Hermans Hermits specialized in lighter fare, with an emphasis on a British music hall sound. They were meant to be a non-threatening alternative to the Beatles, Stones, and the Who...but that also meant their repertoire, and ultimately their appeal, was limited. Fun fact: "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" was written by Trevor Peacock, who played Jim Trott in "The Vicar of Dibley."

  6. 6. Dusty Springfield - Son of a preacher man

    Dusty Springfield - Son of a preacher man

    Dusty Springfield's sultry, evocative voice and her blonde bouffant hair made her instantly recognizable--and this song is one of my all-time favourites by anyone, ever. She manages to capture the laconic table chatter of a Southern family, and their blindness to a mysterious tragedy, in a few simple lines. Simply beautiful.

  7. 7. The Troggs - Wild Thing

    The Troggs - Wild Thing

    The Troggs--if you remember them for nothing else, it'll be for this song. Garage music at its finest, and if you listen carefully, you can sing "Louis, Louis" over that fuzzed-out bass line.

  8. 8. The Zombies - Time Of The Season

    The Zombies - Time Of The Season

    My favourite memory of this song: driving with Mrs. Auchterloney and my friend Mary, I noticed Mrs. A. singing along--to a rock song! Our parents wouldn't have done this in a zillion years, and I instantly decided I wanted Mrs. A. for a mother, since she was obviously much cooler than the one we had. Probably not a bad choice on my part, all things considered.

  9. 9. Animals - House Of The Rising Sun (1964)

    Animals - House Of The Rising Sun (1964)

    Okay, it's a little incongruous, hearing an old American folk-tune like "House of the Rising Sun" in a British accent...performed by fresh-faced kids in suits, no less. But what they lacked in blues cred, they made up in enthusiasm and a yes, musicianship. In fact, over the years, this has become the definitive version of the song.

  10. 10. "Lola"- The Kinks

    "Lola"- The Kinks

    Okay, I admit I can't listen to this song without wanting to sing the Weird Al Yankovitch version, "Yoda." But still. It's good stuff, and worthy of a place on the list. The Kinks were latecomers to the British Invasion, mostly because the US censors kept banning their songs. Yeah, that would kind of put a damper on things.

View more lists from KarenWendy Irving



Slacker to try-hard ninja

alt="IMAGE-words-with-friends-try-hard-ninja-after-the-kids-leave"Dear Wendy,

I have turned over a new leaf. Given my attitude a hard look and found it wanting. Discovered that while “good enough” might be okay, “my very best” is a whole lot better. Yes, I have decided to become a try-hard ninja, at least when it comes to Words with Friends.

Here’s how it happened. When my old iPhone finally joined the choir eternal a few weeks ago, and I had to replace it, I also had to transfer over all the various apps that make my life worth living. You know the ones: 2048, Dots, Words with Friends…

And of course, technology being what it is, the transition wasn’t all lotus petals and chocolate bonbons. Words with Friends, in particular, decided to get all difficult and tetchy, with the result that I wound up erasing it and re-re-installing it. All fine and dandy, except that for reasons that still elude me, the game started treating me as though I’d never played before. As in, my previous rather dismal record was wiped clean.

At first I was annoyed, but then I realized that this could be an opportunity in disguise.

You see, up till a couple of weeks ago, I treated Words with Friends as a doddle in the park: if I could find a word that fit the board and got me a few points, good enough! In it went, and I considered my job done. Off to the next game!

But when I realized that I was starting fresh with a new scoreboard, something came over me. I started staring at the letters on my board, trying them in different permutations and combinations, calculating how many points I could scrounge out of 5 vowels, an X and a P. I stopped just accepting the first word that occurred to me, and started actually investing myself in the game.

My life as a slacker

This isn’t the first time in my life I decided to stop taking the easy way out, so it’s not an entirely new experience. Still, I’d forgotten how good it feels to really throw my all into an endeavour (even one as  trivial as Words with Friends).

Here’s my confession: I have a tendency to coast, to accept less than my personal best. I tell myself it’s okay, that I’m saving my brainpower for more important things, but that’s just an excuse for laziness, isn’t it?

Back in high school, I was quite possibly the laziest student in my class. I took a certain amount of (completely unjustified) pride in my ability to coast through classes without doing much of anything. Studying? That was for losers. Why bother, when I could drag myself out of bed, stagger to an exam, write it in my sleep, and still pass the course?

The fact that I was getting 60s and 70s didn’t faze me—what mattered was that I was getting promoted from grade to grade. It wasn’t until my Grade 12 English teacher, Mrs. Bolton, inexplicably saw fit to give me the English award for that year that I smartened up, at least somewhat.

Somehow, being told that someone had detected something award-worthy in me prompted me to up my game. In Grade 13, my final year of high school, I suddenly morphed from slacker to try-hard: I threw myself into my school work, started writing up a storm, memorized great honking swaths of Shakespeare and Tennyson, immersed myself in literary theory, and at the end of Grade 13, came away with two more awards.

Just as having my Words with Friends app mysteriously reset itself offered me a chance to redeem my old, lazy ways, getting that first English award seemed to ignite something in me.

It’s occurred to me recently that maybe my tendency to coast is only partly due to the fact that I am bone-lazy. Maybe it’s also partly due to a secret belief that if I were to give it my all and still fail, I’d reveal myself as not half as intelligent as people think I am. Which is ridiculous, of course. Smart people fail all the time.


I hadn’t thought of it that way before. This may take some adjustment.

Meanwhile, meet the new try-hard ninja on Words with Friends: I am kicking ass and taking names, and it feels damn good.







A visit to Hanoi

Dear Karen,

Have I told you about our visit to Hanoi?

We were living in Hong Kong in 2008, and had no plans for the summer.  Usually we’d fly to Canada or to Europe, but that year, I decided we’d do something different.  “We’ll go to Hanoi and then to Tokyo”, I told the family.

It was our Summer of the Cities ending in Vowels…owels…owels…

We’d booked 2 rooms at the Sofitel Metropole; what a thrill to discover, on arrival, that we’d been upgraded to the top floor, which included free breakfast, afternoon tea, and…wait for it…a butler.  Per room.  This poor woman didn’t know what to do with us.  We didn’t need her to unpack for us, or polish our shoes or check our food for poison.  She tried so desperately to buttle us, and oh, how we wished to be buttled, but I fear we were just too boringly middle class.


Here I am, displaying my boringly middle classness. In a tub.

After unpacking while our butler stood by smiling grimly, we went out to explore the city.  Very near our hotel is a beautiful lake.  We got up early every morning to run round it, hoping to offset the calories we’d eaten and imbibed the day before.


Hồ Hoàn Kiếm. The centre of the lake.


Same lake as above, this was within a 10 minute walk of our hotel.

Our hotel reminded me a lot of other elegant colonial hotels I’ve been in:  The Empress, Raffles, the Peninsula.  Once we set foot outside though, the vibrant street life of downtown Hanoi was buzzing with an energy seen only in crowded Asian cities.  This place was hopping!



Powdered paint for sale.



We need at least one embarrassing tourist photo, otherwise it didn’t happen.

Crossing the street became a game of Vietnamese Roulette:  Lars would lead the way, checking over his right shoulder, seeing a hole in the traffic and boldly taking his first step off the curb.  Michael and I would shuffle behind him, thinking if one of us got hit, the other two would keep the injured one upright until we got to the other side.  With no apparent slowing down or veering, the traffic managed to avoid us.


These motorcyclists are actually stopped for a red light – alert the media!



We had to take a rickshaw ride, just once! Certain family members were embarrassed. Not I.

We walked all round the city.  It was hot, about 30 degrees each day, but with plenty of stops at restaurants for cooling drinks, we were fine.  You soon learn to avoid the hottest hours of day when you’re in the tropics.  We spent most afternoons huddled in the tea room upstairs, swilling back fruit-and-alcohol-laden drinks and eating scones and sandwiches.  And taking dumb pictures.


Mummy got her drinkie!

A visit to Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I was determined we’d spend the night on a purpose-built junk, sailing around the islands.  We set off early one morning and came home late the next evening.  I felt like we were inside a postcard, one that was so beautiful, it just had to be fake.



Ha Long Bay


Lounging on our junk. We were 3 of 5 passengers that weekend.



Boozing it up on the junk.


All the junks come to the beach to drop off passengers.



The people who live here never touch foot on solid ground. They truly live on the water.



Selling us oyster shells and beads. She couldn’t speak English so we bartered in French instead. She totally whipped my ass.


See the look of total panic (and sweat) on my face? That’s because I’m about a million miles underground, in a freaking cave.



Sweet, blessed relief! And hey, doesn’t this look like we’re posing in front of a screen? It’s impossible to take a bad photo in Ha Long Bay.

Meanwhile, back in Hanoi…

Because we had a teenage boy with us, a trip to the Military Museum was in order.  There, we learned about Dien Bien Phu and the American War, as it’s called in Vietnam.  A fascinating visit, and I highly recommend spending the afternoon there.



An exhibit showing the most important thing a soldier had in the war: a bicycle.


There are so many tanks, helicopters, airplanes and cannons (yes, that right) in the museum. People wander about take a close look at them all.

We visited  Maison Centrale.



Such an innocent name for what was a prison and place of torture.  Built by the French in 19th century, it housed Vietnamese prisoners of war:


Models of Vietnamese prisoners in Maison Centrale.

Of course, most Americans would know this as the Hanoi Hilton, the name given by American Prisoners of War during the 1960s and 70s.  Most famously, John McCain spent time there as well.

I get told off by a guard

Lars and Michael played golf one day, leaving me to my own devices.  I spent it wisely, going to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to visit Uncle Ho.  Of course, he’s kind of dead now, but I queued up to get a look at him lying in state, before being herded along by the guards.  It was so cold inside the bowels of the building, that I hugged myself to stay warm.  Immediately a guard began poking me sharply on the arm, telling me with hand gestures:  no hugging!  No!  Apparently it’s disrespectful to hug yourself in the presence of their national hero.  Good to know.



The only photo I was able to take of Uncle Ho’s resting place.  No hugging!



Gravestones are sold on the street. This one has a photo of Britney Spears as the recently deceased, for some reason.

We loved our time in Hanoi.  In so many ways, it reminded us how Hong Kong used to feel, before it got all sophisticated and modern.  I’d love to go back again, to see what, if anything, has changed.

Somehow, I bet the motorbikes will still be there.



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