Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Colds Suck

If you've been following on Twitter (@stevebaric1), you're probably already aware that I owe Paul a Chinese dinner.

Yes, I missed a workout. Actually, I've missed several; but not without good reason.

Last week when my parents were down, I ended up busier than I expected to be. That's not much of an excuse, mind you, but it turns into one when you have less than a week to tackle projects, keep guests entertained, watch your toddler (who you've taken out of daycare so she can visit her grandparents) and spend some time with your girlfriend...all while your air conditioner is completely broken down during one of the worst heat waves on record.

Add to that the fact that I do my TACFIT workouts at home instead of a nice air conditioned gym, and you can see a picture emerging. Plus, the Man Cave isn't finished, so I ended up sleeping on a love seat in the living room.

Add sleep deprivation to the whine list.

I know, I know. If I was really a tactical operative I would still have to train under harsh conditions. I suppose I could have gotten up at 5 a.m. and done the work outside.

Um. No.

So then (oh, it gets better), both my girlfriend and I wake up Friday morning with sore throats. By Saturday we both have something like a cold; her's knocks her flat, while mine is just starting to move into congestion as I write this.

Too bad. The problem with getting sick at the same time is you can't blame the other person for making you sick. Where's the fun in that?

Anyway, the a/c was fixed on Friday, so that's a plus. But as I explained to Paul, it's not easy to do a hypermetabolic workout when the indoor temperature is 92°, the relative humidity is 88%, and your head and chest are so full of goo that you get winded scratching yourself in bed.

Solution: write off Mission 2 and start it over again on Monday. That will give me time to recover my lungs, get the basement finished, and refocus my efforts on my long-term goals.

Assuming, of course, we don't suffer another major disaster in the meantime. Excuse me...I need to find some wood to knock. And down another Advil Cold & Sinus.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Reno Update

First of all, I need to apologize for not posting in a while. My folks came down for a visit, which usually means I'm busy doing tons of stuff around the house I didn't realize I needed to do. Plus, it's been about a million degrees all week, and my air conditioner has been on the fritz, so that needed a complete replacement.

Not fun.

And for some reason, Blogger has been running really really slowly the last little while, so this post has actually taken me three days to type!

So anyway, the reno project in the Man cave has been progressing really slowly. I'm not sure why, but apparently it takes forever to order and paint quarter round to cover the ends of the floorboards.

Even though this project was supposed to be completed by July 1, and then by July 15, and then by last Friday, there's a guy in my basement installing a bench to cover the water services. He's also supposed to finish the trim today. They can't find the electrician who has the trim rings for the pot lights.

The owner of the company went on vacation this week. So I'm unimpressed.

We did some painting in the back entrance to match, since the contractors are only doing the basement. There was no problem with the primer, but it was too humid for the surface paint so it bubbled.

At first we thought it was a latex on oil problem, but the primer was latex an two coats of that ought to have done something. Plus, with two coats of primer, I wouldn't expect any reaction between new and old paint.

My theory; and the concensus at the paint store; is that the primer adhered properly to the old paint, and the new paint held to the primer. But when the new paint buckled from the humidity, it was the old paint that let go of the plaster.

Luckily it's only a few spots. So once the a/c has a chance to dehumidify the house and allow the paint to cure, I should be able to sand those spots flat, patch, re-prime and get the walls painted again.

Isn't reno time fun?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Drywall Lessons

"I friggin' hate sanding drywall."

That's been the refrain from every drywaller and carpenter who's been down in the Man Cave the past few weeks. Of course, you have to sand drywall...or the mud at least...if you want a wall you can paint. But the solution is to do the best job you can getting it smoothed and the edges feathered from the outset. This will save you hours of nasty, messy sanding.

I myself have had to do a bit of mudding. At the back entrance there's an old milk service that, unbeknownst to me, was merely covered with a flattened cereal box before the wallpaper was pasted over it. Removing that box and the super construction adhesive that held it in place removed some of the plaster from around it (I was stupid and didn't get any pictures, sorry). When I asked for a solution, the drywaller said, "sheetrock is the new plaster."

So there you go. Some pre-mixed drywall compound and we're ready to roll. This is what I've learned in that process:

1. Drywall mud is not paint. Getting a nice smooth surface that you don't have to sand a lot is easier you use a LOT of mud and put on a thicker coat. If it's too thin, the surface dries at a faster rate, and you end up pulling stuff off and getting a really rough application. Spreading it on thick gives you the material you need to get it nice and smooth. The smoothing process will remove the excess to create a thinner coat anyway.

2. Drywall compound is not fond of water. I'm used to spackling, so you sand and clean the wall with a damp cloth. DON'T do this with'll wash it right off.

3. BUT...drywall compound can be corrected with a damp cloth or sponge. That makes cleanup easy, and it makes it really easy to flatten out any little bubbles or imperfections in the surface.

4. Plan on getting messy. Just give up on the idea that you can do this work and keep your hands clean. Some would suggest wearing gloves. I'm a purist. I'd rather scrape mud out from under my fingernails.

5. Sand your tools. Washing your putty knives and trowels will make them rust over time, and then they're useless for creating a clean finish (paint doesn't play well with rust spots on your wall). Just set them aside for 20 minutes or so, then take them outside and sand them clean. It's a few extra minutes vs. washing, but it's worth it for a nice clean set of tools that will last.

So there you have it. Five lessons in drywall mud application. Still not my favourite task, but with the right approach and a little patience it's not all that difficult to get a nice clean finish on your walls.

Follow Up:

Timothy Ferriss' Great Principle for Dealing with Haters #2: 10% of people will find a way to take anything personally. Expect it.

I received this response today from a reader and thought it was worth commenting on:
"Seriously.... why would you even write this? I should be thanking you because the more people that read stuff like this, the more work there is from mistakes by homeowners. Most drywall guys I know took 2-3 years to get good at the trade, sometimes longer. To suggest that someone just has to go to Home Depot and pick up a pail of mud is as absurd as it is insulting.
'Getting a nice smooth surface that you don't have to sand a lot is easier you use a LOT of mud and put on a thicker coat'; Bullshit Steve. Complete and utter bullshit. You want a surface you don't have to sand? Try 3 coats, with a properly filled joint and a very, very slight crown on the seam. Gobbing compound on and suggestion [sic.] people can somehow avoid sanding is rediculous [sic.]. I know guys that can do it, and it takes 2 coats, and they have 40 years in the trade. 
I do this for a living. I have for a long time. Don't present yourself as an expert when anybody who has done this for a living can see you know very little about what you are talking about."
Excellent input. Here's my simple response:
  1. I didn't say I was an expert. In fact, I said the exact opposite.
  2. I didn't say I was taping or making a joint. I said I was plastering; or, more specifically, repairing plaster.
  3. I didn't say you wouldn't have to sand. I said you wouldn't have to sand a lot.
  4. I did it in three coats, just like the reader suggests. It just takes a thicker coat than you might think.
  5. It worked.
So, to correct it for the sake of corrective editorialism, let me point out that what our friend here is talking about is layering relatively thin layers on a surface that is already flat (i.e. applying drywall compound to tape to make a clean joint). What I'm talking about is using the compound in place of a traditional plaster (on the advice, and following the instructions, of a drywaller with 20 years experience in the trade). When you have to use this stuff as plaster, starting out with a thin coat won't work because it won't be enough to fill the holes and texture in the damaged plaster. Once that application is set and level with the wall face, of course you go to thinner coats to smooth and feather the patch.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Men We Admire: Mark McGuinness

Mark McGuinness writes one of the best business anywhere devoted to the field of creative enterprise and the art of dealing with the business of being an artist. His free "Creative Pathfinder" course is a godsend to creative professionals unsure of where they are going or how to navigate the commercial realities of their work. We seldom receive such training in regular education as creative professionals, and Mark's work really ought to be required reading for university students. It is for my private students.

Name: Mark McGuinness
Occupation: Coach and trainer for creative people
Education: Too much. :-) The last formal education I did was an MA in Creative & Media Enterprises at the University of Warwick, UK. But every day is an educational experience, if we pay attention.

I'm a poet so I prefer qualitative measures. :-)  If I'm excited to get to work every morning, and making a difference to the people I work with, that's the awesomeness box ticked for the day.

How did you get started on your current career track? 
I started as a psychotherapist, then noticed my favourite clients were the artists, writers, actors and other creative types, so I decided to specialise in coaching them.
Did you have any mentors who helped steer you on this path?
Yes, John Eaton is the most visible online. Check out his blog at 
What motivates or inspires you in your work?
The opportunity to do things I personally find meaningful and to help others succeed at doing the same. Also what Yeats called 'the fascination of what's difficult' - if it's never been done before, I'm itching to do it.
Do you have a personal work philosophy?
Very similar to Gurdjieff's: 'Whenever I do something I do a lot of it.'  I tend to focus on one thing to the point of obsession, then move on to the next one when that grips me.
If you weren't doing this, what could you see yourself doing?
I've never seriously considered an alternative.
What are you working on right now?
A new product for creative business owners, to help them deal with the point where their creative ambitions collide with commercial reality. 
To stay in shape, what's your basic diet look like?
I'm pretty omnivorous. I don't really think of food as a way to stay in shape.
What sort of fitness plan, if any, do you follow?
I run around the park. 
What one piece of advice would you give to your own son (hypothetical or otherwise) in the hope of making him a better man?
Question everything - but don't forget to listen to the answers. 

What's next for you? What's your next big idea or project?
I've got several projects stacked in various stages of completion at Lateral Action, about creativity, business or both. And a new poem I've started tinkering with...
What's the one thing about you that never turns up in interviews:
I'm not sure I've ever confessed my admiration for Daddy Pig before. A true gentleman and a great role model for fathers (if not necessarily for children).

Creative Coaching at Lateral Action
(be sure to check out the "Creative Pathfinder" course. HIGHLY recommended!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Women We Love: Tricia Lee

Tricia Lee is a Toronto-based filmmaker whose fun and fresh project work is reflective of her personality. But don't let her quirky cinematic spins on real life fool you. She's on fire with focus and determination, and her business savvy is quickly becoming its own force to reckon with.

And she rides a motorcycle.

Name: Tricia Lee
Occupation: Film Director
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Video from York University
Stats: I quantify my awesomeness by how happy I feel.  I measure my success by the number of days I wake up happy in the morning.

How did you get started on your current career track?
When my parents took me to Universal Studios at age 11 and I found out how movies were made, I decided that I wanted a career in the media.  I made my first documentary about Street Kids when I was in high school and went to film school at York University.  Every year since, I've directed something, whether it be a short film, a webmercial, a PSA or directing exercise.
Do you consider yourself more filmmaker or musician? Which gives you more satisfaction as an artist?
I studied piano when I was young and I teach piano to adult beginners now, but I am a filmmaker at heart.

I quantify my awesomeness by how happy I feel.  I measure my success by the number of days I wake up happy in the morning.

What motivates or inspires you in your work?
My passion is telling stories that touch, move and inspire audiences around the world.  I am forever exploring what it is we have lost between childhood and adulthood.  I recently discovered the answer.  It's "wonder".  I am currently directing a film that I co-wrote called "Searching For Wonder" which is a culmination of all the themes in my previous short films.  What also fascinates me is vulnerability.  That is something we never lose, as much as we try to hide it or mask it.  I want my films to let people know that they are not alone in their fears, joys, secrets and pleasures.
Do you have a personal work philosophy?
Work shouldn't be hard.  It should be fun.  So instead of calling it hard work, I've taken to calling it Funwork.
If you weren't doing this, what could you see yourself doing?
There is no Plan B.  This is it.
What are you working on right now?
I just shot my first feature film called "Clean Break".  It's in post production right now.  I'm shooting a BravoFACT funded short film "Searching For Wonder" in August.  I'm writing a feature called "Ministry of Parenting", a satirical comedy about licensing for parents and another feature called "30 Days to 30" based on my most recent relationship.  Also, I have TV series I created about paramedics has been optioned by a production company and is being shopped around.  Always moving upward and forward.

What do you first notice about a guy?
Kind eyes.

What gets you interested?
Confidence.  Interest in me.

What keeps you interested?
Connection over same values, interests, adventures and openness to try new things.

What's your number one deal breaker?
Disrespect and smoking.  Sorry, that's two.

Kisses on my forehead.

Being mean / rude to me or others.

One thing guys should know when talking to a beautiful woman: Listen.

To stay in shape, what's your basic diet look like?
Eat whatever is fastest to make.  Although, I'm starting to meal plan and cook once a week so I can actually eat some healthy home-cooked food that doesn't come out of a box or a can.
What sort of fitness plan, if any, do you follow?
Hot yoga, spinning, boot camp, pole dancing as often as I can.

Favourite workout tip: Breathe.

Favourite recipe: Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon
iPhone or Android: iPhone has changed my life!
What are you driving: Toyota Corolla

Absolute WORST experience on set/shoot: Breaking up with my boyfriend in the middle of a shoot.
One quirky thing about you that never turns up in interviews: I ride a motorcycle.

Untitled from Tricia Lee on Vimeo.

I have always thought of myself as an independent filmmaker, but now I'm focusing on being an entrepreneur and creating several businesses that will earn me passive income while I make my films.  These monkey business ventures include:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Barbeque Maintenance Tips

Char-Griller 5050 Duo Gas-and-Charcoal GrillWhen purchasing your barbeque grill, think of it as an investment rather then just another item for your outdoor entertainment. You should expect this item to become a large part of your outdoor activities for many years to come. But like any other investments, proper maintenance and care is needed to ensure that your barbeque grill will work for you for many years to come.  While some maintenance and cleaning is specific to the type of barbeque grill your own (gas, electric, charcoal or smoke barbecue grill), the majority of maintenance that should be carried on does not change from grill to grill.

Step 1- Gathering The Necessary Items

You will need some common household items on hand when it comes time to clean your barbeque grill.

  • Brass wire grill brush
  • Steel wool pads, preferably that contains soap already.
  • Mild dish soap
  • Sponge or dishcloth
  • Spray cooking oil
  • Dry baking soda
  • Aluminum foil

Step 2- Brushing Your Grill Off

The first thing that should always be done to your grill is a routine brushing. Using your brass wire grill brush (or other brush suitable to your type of grill) you should brush off all the surfaces. By routinely brushing your barbeque grill, you will prevent any type of buildup. If buildup from food is left to long, it can become increasingly difficult to remove.

Step 3- Spray Cooking Oil

Once you are sure that your grill is free of all buildup and debris, and that your grill is completely cooled off, you will want to spray it down with a light layer of cooking oil. Spraying it down with cooking oil will prevent your barbeque grill from rusting. It is especially important to make sure your barbeque grill is completely cold, as spraying cooking oil on a hot surface may cause the oil to heat up and ignite, which could be potentially dangerous to you and your barbeque grill.

Step 4- Use Baking Soda and Aluminum Foil on Your Grill 

Baking soda is a very nice cleaning and polishing agent. Once you have removed any extra debris and buildup, lightly scrubbing your barbeque grill with baking soda will give it that extra shine, similar to the day that you brought it home from the store. This can also be used on handles and knobs to remove any extra buildup that cannot be taken off with a wire brush.

Aluminum foil can also be used to keep your grill looking nice. Gently rub the aluminum foil on your grill, and you will notice that it removes grim and buildup.

Step 5- Clean Your Racks

The racks in your grill are especially important as this is where the food touches when it is cooking. You will have to use the wire brush to remove as much buildup as possible. Once you remove as much as possible, start washing the racks with dish soap. If the racks are really dirty, you may also want to use the steel wool pads. Be sure to completely rinse off all soap and residue before cooking on these racks again.

Step 6- Preventing Problems

The majority of problems that arise from barbeque grills come from lack of cleaning and maintenance. That means if you notice something does not seem quite right with your barbeque grill, chances are it can be fixed with just a simple cleaning. Even if you clean it, and still find that it is having problems, at least you saved yourself the potential embarrassment of taking it to a professional only to find out all it needed was to be cleaned.

Finally, one method of preventing problems with your barbeque grill is protecting it from the outdoors. Covers are available for grills in all shapes and sizes, so chances are, you will find one that fits your grill. If you have a cover for your barbeque grill, then all you will ever need to do is do the regular maintenance listed above.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Square Foot Garden Update: Tomatoes and Beans Galore!

So, that last update with the tomato plants was apparently only half the story. Those bloody things have reached the lilac branches above the box, and are still growing!

I'm told the trick is to keep new shoots trimmed back so the plant puts more effort into growing the fruit. At the moment though, it looks as though we're not going to have any trouble there at all:

In the first two pics, you can see there are lots of flowers already on the plants. In the third pic, though, are the first fruits coming in. They're pretty densely clustered, so I'm not sure whether these are the beefeater or cherry tomatoes, but for sure this is going to be a good crop if the weather holds up.

Again, I think that answers the question of whether or not there's enough sun in that part of the yard. Remember, this is without any added fertilizer...just a few bags of manure mixed in with the gardening compost. That manure has led to some mushroom growth around the edges (mostly where it stays a little cooler than the middle), but nothing that can't be handled with a little plucking.

We also enjoyed the first green and yellow beans of the season, which was also a surprise. I actually went back to get some lettuce, but it was my daughter who pointed out that there were beans already on the bushes. The bushes are quite short actually...maybe a foot high or so. But the beans are coming in thick!

In fact, the only thing I'm worried about right now is the pepper plant, which isn't growing very quickly (though it is growing). When it went in, it was about 3/4 the size of the tomato plants. But because of their rapid growth they've shaded it almost completely. My hope is that this will give it an incentive to fight for some sunlight:

Still, I'm pretty happy with the way things are turning out in this garden project. The spinach is's too hot now. I think next year I may plant the tomatoes separately; although realistically, everything else is doing just fine. Even the morning glories have figured out what they're supposed to be doing. My thinking is that the tomatoes will do well along the side of the garage, though I'm not fond of the soil there. The sunflowers seem to like it. And if I'm still in this space next season, I may build up another box for herbs (the parsley is the only thing that hasn't survived).

All-in-all, not a bad crop for a first-time veggie gardener:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Men We Admire: Hubert O'Hearn

When I met Hubert O'Hearn, I was just a pup coming up in the arts sector in Thunder Bay. Hubert had the role of antagonist in a cheesy melodrama production I had the dubious honour of directing music for. One thing about a man who knows his craft; whether as an actor or as a writer; is he knows when the upstart who "outranks" him in production needs a subtle nudge in the right direction, and when to stand back and let the upstart's training speak for itself. When a master ends up working for a student, the master's strength shows in his ability to let the student work confidently.

Of course, being a writer, Hubert's interview took on a prose of its own. So I left it. The answers are all here.

Name: Hubert O’Hearn
Age: 53
Occupation: Writer
Relationship status: Engaged/Common-Law Spouse to Kimberly McInnis
For how long?: 6 years
Kids: Two Step-children: Amanda age 22 and Bradley age 15
Pets: Stella Belle - 2 year old border collie (some Labrador was involved with a grandparent, but that’s a family scandal we don’t discuss much in public)
Car(s): Are fine things. I prefer cycling for exercise, or buses as it is much easier to read while riding rather than driving. Grateful pedestrians endorse this decision.
Gadgets: I’m getting less gadget-y ever since I awoke to people’s bizarre obsession with smartphones. My cell phone died last week and I’m seriously thinking of NOT replacing it. Two reasons: One, I’m not a big fan of brain tumors and the warnings about cell phones in 2011 remind me of cigarette warnings from 1948. Everybody laughs them off now.... Second reason: I hate phone conversations at the best of times, with the exception of friends who live in distant places. And with them even, it makes more sense to arrange a mutually convenient time.
Stats: 6’2” 173 lbs., eyes blue, hair hanging (and I do mean hanging, we’re getting to WWE length) in there nicely
Favourite instruments: I sing with words, baby.
Sports: The aforementioned bicycling. When I finally get time to do nothing, I’ll define nothing as golf and fishing.

Writing was a hobby for me, a nice little earner, a side order of chips to whatever the catch of the day happened to be. I’d first realized I was potentially reasonably good at it all the way back in elementary school. We had these ‘Spellers’ - skinny hard-covered textbooks where each week there was a list of 20 words running down the left-side column of the left-hand page. I’m pretty sure we had these from Grade Two through Grade Seven, possibly Grade Eight. There was always the weekly assignment of writing a short essay using as many of these ‘new words’ as possible within it.
They weren’t new words to me. Our family home had a small library in it, plus bookshelves holding up the walls in the living room and all the bedrooms. I liked to dip in and no one, least of all my mother, ever told me a book was ‘too old’ for me. (That, by the way, was a lesson I brought with me when I directed Children’s Theatre for 4 years in the 1990s and a one year comeback in 2006 - the people who most under-sell children’s abilities to learn great things in huge gulps are their parents.) Anyway, I’d been through mist of Dickens, Hemingway and - in a mighty feat one summer - The Brothers Karamazov by the age of 11. So to find the words ‘suspense’ or ‘indigo’ halfway down the Speller list was no purple-shaded mystery at all.
The challenge was to make these essays interesting. So I turned them ino little one-person plays: mimicking in dialogue Jimmy Cagney, Dean Martin, Humphrey Bogart (I still do an absolute killer Bogart) and whomever else was starring on The Tonight Show that week. The other kids in the class would clamour for me to read these essays and the teachers at St. Mary’s School (since turned into a classroom for hair designers) learned to hold me back for last, or near to last as they must have worried that my ego would burst out of proper Catholic confinement like a baby peacock kicking out of its shell.
So I was good and I knew it. High school was the triumph of style over research. I freely admit this; as the statute of limitations has to have run out by now and regardless I ain’t giving back my Grade 13 diploma. I recall a Grade 12 English class where we were to analyze a Canadian poet - except for Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen at that time in the mid-70s this was the literary equivalent of a Soviet hard labour camp - and I wrote, and got away with, a very nice essay examining the literary merits of Muhammad Ali, who I falsely claimed had been born on a train outside of Oshawa which gave the great heavyweight dual citizenship. 
Did I say high school was the triumph of style? Sorry, I meant bullshit.
Writing though remained a hobby for 25 years. I didn’t want to ‘be a writer’. Or I did and I didn’t. My father had been a  newspaper columnist for 30 years and Dad was a terminal Irish alcoholic. I did NOT want to look in the mirror one day and see his face smiling back. Granted, he was brilliant, but I was fearful of his weaving path.
I stumbled into ‘proper writing’ when I was close to 40. I’d been doing theatre in Thunder Bay - first with Cambrian Players and then with my own Actors Repertory Theatre (ART) when Cambrian and I had a mutual hissy fit. The Chronicle-Journal needed an arts reviewer and I waved my hand and got the freelance gig.
Now at heart, I’ve always said that I am a sportswriter. Sports lays open the whole gamut of passion, adventure, drama, humour and fantasy. When i was assigned to write the weekly golf column around 2000, I had an absolute hoot with it. From there, the C-J asked me to write a weekly TV column and the rest is history - from that end of it. 
But, as to the present, two things changed my world. First, on February 7, 2010 my darling fiancee Kimberly fell to the kitchen floor before my eyes with a burst brain aneurysm. As of this writing, her physical health is pretty good - however she has no short-term memory. None. You could tell her God’s middle name in one second and she will absolutely know it, until a butterfly flaps its wings and then the memory is gone.
I’d started reviewing books for the C-J at the prompting of Elle Andra-Warner just a month or two previously. Through endless weeks, first in Toronto then in Thunder Bay, I quite literally had no other recreation than reading books on teh streetcar or bus, then writing up the reviews on a $300 used laptop I’d picked up on Queen Street East. That started my habit of reading three books a week and writing up the two best. (Except in the rarest of circumstances - when a fraud is being foisted on the public - I won’t do a negative review. Why waste people’s time?)
But then, in February of this year, a true angel appeared in my life. Make no mistake, I adore Kimberly and she is the love of my life and the joy of my heart. But my recent run of success - I am not going to call it luck; I’ve worked way too hard for this - I owe it all to Lydia Cornell.
Lydia starred on Too Close for Comfort in the 80s. While Twittering one day I ran across a tweet of her that had been retweeted and I thought she’d be an interesting interview subject. Well, several hundred emails later, she has become my closest friend and confidant, my inspiration, the person who pulled me out of a depression that I didn’t even know I was in until I came out the other side and looked back. 
Lydia taught - or reminded me - to believe in myself, to act with love, and to always give. The story is way too long to encapsulate here - I could do a book on Lydia and if she doesn’t get hers out on the market soon, I may have to. But the long and the short is that I learnt to let go of fear.
So where am I now? Just since STARTING TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS, my marketplace has expanded from Hooterville (pardon me, I mean Dogpatch, er, Thunder Bay - I hate Thunder Bay with a passion, in case you couldn’t tell. That too may be a book, but Sibclair lewis already wrote Main Street, so the material is covered there) to San Francisco, Sacramento, Denver, Winnipeg, an on-line literary review and another large US market about to be announced.
I am planning the Sheer Boredom Tour of Western Canada and the Western US for winter 2012, plus I have received in the last week an invitation to guest lecture at the University of Wolverhampton a year from this fall. From nowhere to everywhere in the space of a month. can’t all be for me. First it is for Kimberly - when/if...let’s say when...she recovers she has quite a life ahead of her. But even more important, thanks to Lydia and her personal example of giving to others first, I want whatever influence I have to be for good. My plan is for the Tour to be in support of libraries. When interviewers start to ask me what I think of things other than hot new novels, I want to urge a message of peace and dialogue. I want to ‘get people over’ who are great writers not yet noticed.
And I intend to have one Hell of a good time doing it.

Visit Hubert O'Hearn's Blog

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Popular Backyard Activities for Toddlers

It has been said that the early years of a child’s life is important to developing lifelong skills.  If you are the parent of a toddler, this means that you will want to instill good habits in them early on. One of those good habits may involve love for the outdoors. While playing outdoors is fun, it is also great way to stay healthy and fit.  That is why you may want to start encouraging your child to play outdoors. To increase their appreciation for the outdoors, you may want to familiarize yourself with some popular backyard activities, especially those that are designed with toddlers in mind.

When it comes to backyard activities for toddlers you will find that you have an unlimited number of options. The wide range of options is mostly due to their age. Unlike adults or older children toddlers are pretty easy to please. This means that whatever backyard activity you organize for your toddler, it will likely be something that they enjoy. However, it is important to remember that toddlers are just like everyone else: after a while they may get bored with the same activities. To prevent this from happening, you will want to think about a wider range of different backyard activities.

One backyard activity that most toddlers enjoy is playing on a swing set. Swing sets come in all different sizes and styles.  Most swing sets not only have a swing, but slides, monkey bars, and more.  If you do not own a swing set, you may seriously want to think about purchasing one. Depending on your budget, you can purchase an expensive, elaborate swing set, or a plain one for low price. What is nice about most swing sets is that they are able to accommodate children of all ages.  This means that as your toddler grows, they should still be able to enjoy their swing set.

Swimming is another popular backyard activity that many toddlers enjoy.  What is nice about swimming is that you do not have to have a full size pool. In fact, kiddie pools are a safe way for toddlers to swim. Kiddie pools are ideal for toddlers because they usually have less than two feet of water in them. As with in-ground and above-ground pools, there are also pool accessories that are available for kiddie pools. These accessories include swim rings, beach balls, and small floating toys.

Another popular backyard activity is playing in the sand.  Sandboxes are not only fun, but they may help your child develop other skills such as cause and effect. If you do not have a sandbox, you can easily purchase one (or build one, like THIS great I plan on implementing next spring). Like swing sets, sandboxes come in a wide variety of different sizes and styles. If you are looking for a small sandbox, you should be able to find one at your local department store. Many plastic sandboxes sell for around thirty dollars. Sandbox toys can also be purchased from most retail stores, often for a low price. And don't forget to check out the dollar store for plastic toy sets under $5.00.

Swimming, swinging, and playing in the sand are all fun backyard activities that you and your toddler can enjoy together. While your toddler may have fun playing with you, you may also want to give them the opportunity to play with other children. By contacting the parents of a child the same age as yours you could give your toddler a buddy to play with. In addition to being fun, play dates are also a great way to further develop your child’s social skills.

If you are looking for additional backyard activities or supplies, you may be able to find what you need online or at one of your local retail stores. For an affordable price, you should be able to find bubbles, water balloons, kites, balls, and t-ball equipment. These items may help to create a fun, but memorable backyard experience for your toddler.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Women We Love: EXCLUSIVE: Veronika London

"Women We Love" is a new feature where we explore the strong personalities and personal power behind the beautiful women we see. Our goal is to get at what makes beautiful women tick, and that includes not only tapping their advice on relationships and dating, but also thinking about what drives them in their work and professional lives.

We're thrilled to launch this feature with an exclusive interview with Canadian actress Veronika London. While anxiously awaiting the premiere of her new feature film and hopping back and forth over the Atlantic, this energetic and erudite lady was able to grace us with a few minutes to give us a glimpse into her amazing career.

Name: Veronika London
Occupation: Actress
Education: University: Marketing ( finishing up), Pro-Actors Lab: Acting
Highlights: International Maxim model, starring roles in Showtime’s American TV Series “Body Language” and the gritty feature film “Searching for Angels” alongside Vivica A. Fox.

How did you get started on your current career track?
I originally wanted to be a publicist in the entertainment or fashion industry. I have a huge passion for sales and promoting. My love for acting started in 2008 after shooting promotional pictures for the edgy rock band “The Ending” who had just signed with Universal. After the shoot I was tracked down and asked if I wanted to be the lead in their debut music video.  I shot the music video and everything just snowballed after.  That was my last “generic” modeling gig and my acting career started. (Check out the video HERE)
I don’t consider myself a model. I never really did. I think it’s such a strange job to get paid to play dress up and just stand there and have your picture taken. I am a very intense, in-depth, conflicted person. I am definitely an actress all the way. 

Of modeling and acting, which gives you more satisfaction as an artist and what is your take on it?
Both “jobs” feed different things in terms of personal satisfaction. With “modeling” I like being the Creative Director or working with the CD of the shoot to execute images that are congruent with the brand that is being sold. Acting is my therapy. I get satisfaction with being able to exploit my personal experiences and feelings in a positive way through characters. It’s almost become my salvation. In the end, truthful expression through the image via print or film is my greatest joy. 
What motivates or inspires you in your work?
Competition, love, living life outside my comfort zone and to its fullest motivates me. Brand creators like Lady Gaga and Victoria Beckham inspire me in addition to watching mind blowing, amazing performances on film or in theatre productions.
Do you have a personal work philosophy?
Yes: “What the mind can conceive, it can be achieved”. 
I am a very visual person. I look at my “wall of fame” everyday, twice a day. 
I am an intense workaholic, always have been. I remember I was the kid that would ask my teacher for homework in grade one despite having dance and drama class after school because I needed to have something to do all the time.  It’s just one of my natural traits. 

If you weren't doing this, what could you see yourself doing?
I would love to be a lawyer. I love presenting, persuading, research and selling. 
What are you working on right now?
I just received the script for a horror feature Canadian film called “SICK” that I will be shooting this fall. In addition, I will be shooting another Canadian feature film; more “Sin City” style; called “Lady of the Night” later this month. 
You've been hailed as something of a "scream queen" for your work in horror, and of course we know there's been a lot of style comparison between you and Megan Fox. But "Searching for Angels" is an important departure for you in terms of flexing your dramatic muscles. How does this sort of change in gears feel to you personally, knowing that this film is being hailed by critics as an artistic challenge for you; that many are seeing it as your first "serious" role?  
My role in “Searching for Angels” is more like me. Playing the role wasn't hard, but becoming aware of how similar I was and am like the character was a challenge. I had to open a lot of personal vaults that I had thrown the key out for in order to bring the character to life in full dimension. By nature I am a more intense, edgier person than a bubbly one. I am grateful that my career has steered towards roles that allow me to be more authentic.  
Given your "natural NYC street edge," how natural was Angel for you? 
Lol! I am her; she is me…in certain ways…
Being method trained, did you discover anything about yourself in developing this character?
Yes...I went pretty far to experience the real deal to bring it to life. I’ve got a lot more balls than I thought. 
Can we expect more of this kind of dramatic lead role from you in the near future?
Yes, these types of roles are my focus. It is currently in development. 

Note: "Jane Doe" was the original working title of "Searching for Angels." Ed.

What do you first notice about a guy?
His eyes or tattoos

What gets you interested?
Personality or motorcycles. If you’re a rock star you are automatically on my radar. 
What keeps you interested?
Besides mind-blowing sex, someone business smart, street smart, open, positive and edgy.
What's your number one deal breaker?

Turn-ons: Colin Farrell, Clive Owen. In addition: confidence, cologne, deep voice, tattoos, physically fit, driven. 

Turn-offs: Laziness and complainers

To stay in shape, what's your basic diet look like?
I used to be all about low carb but that just lead to binges. Now I just eat whatever but I box six days a week for about an hour and half or so.
What sort of fitness plan, if any, do you follow?
I’m at the gym six days a week for about 1.5 hours. 30 minutes cardio (skipping), 45 minutes boxing, and 15-30 minutes abs, legs, etc.
Favourite workout tip: Choose a sport you like!

Favorite recipe: I don’t cook anymore so I’m not familiar with a specific recipe.
iPhone or Android: iPhone
One thing guys should know when talking to a beautiful woman: Be authentic!
Absolute WORST experience on set/shoot: Shooting a horror film, the tube that was attached to the side of my mouth was displaced when I went down to bite the other character while shooting. The blood that squirted out all went up my nose.  This was worse than shooting in a tank top during -40 degree weather.

My office is filled with biographies and marketing books. I can read them non-stop. I like to study the bios and learn what drives them to become legends.



2010 À première vue (short) (completed)

2010 Black Eve

2010 Body Language (TV series)
Luz / Dancer
Fight Girls (2010) … Luz
Fresh Meat (2010) … Luz
Stripper Logic (2010) … Luz
Russian Roulette (2010) … Dancer
Stormy Weather (2010) … Luz

2010 The Elusive Man (short)
Senorita Peligro

2009 Love Kills (short)

2009 Lingerie (TV series)
Rags to Riches (2009) … Cindy
Model Girlfriends (2009) … Cindy
Picture Perfect (2009) … Cindy

2009 Stripped! (short)

2009 Love Court (TV series)

2007 American Pie Presents Beta House (video)
Miss Mexico Beauty Pageant Contestant

Behind the scenes on "Searching for Angels":

TACFIT Commando Recruit Mission 1 Post-mortem

Well, yesterday I completed the first 28-day Mission of the Recruit level of TACFIT Commando. I have to say that on the whole I'm quite impressed.

I've got quite a bit more definition in my shoulders, chest, and legs. I did add ab and biceps exercises to the system, so I'm sure those have helped a bit. But you do really see the difference in the shoulders and chest. The lats seem to get their share as well.

But what gets measured gets managed, they say. For this cycle I only took a morning waist measurement (no weight). The results are what they are:

Day 1: 40.5 inches.
Day 28: 38 inches.

So, that's a reduction of 2.5 inches. Not the fastest result for a month, but the most consistent result I've seen so far.

To manage the next mission, I will be tracking weight as well, so Day 29's measurements are:

Waist: 38
Weight: 200
Body Fat: 23.44%

For this last one, there's a simple formula for estimating body fat for men (the one for women is a bit more complicated). The formula, which I got from Gastelu & Hatfield's Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance, is as follows:

Take your morning waist measurement in inches (around the love handles, at the level of the navel).
Take your morning weight in pounds.
Calculate: (Total Body Weight x 1.082) + 94.420 = Weight Factor
Calculate: (Waist Measurement x 4.150) = Waist Factor
Weight Factor - Waist Factor = Lean Body Mass in Pounds
Total Body Weight - Lean Body Mass = Body Fat in Pounds
(Body Fat x 100) / Total Body Weight = Body Fat Percentage (BF%)
100 - BF% = Lean Body Mass Percentage

We're working on a calculator for the sidebar here so you don't have to do that much. However, if you'd like to do a spreadsheet version (I'll put one up later I'm sure), just set it up like this:

Column A:
Waist Factor
Weight Factor
Body Fat (lbs)

Column B:
blank [input your waist measurement]
blank [input your weight]

I know from using this and the Tanita scale at the gym that this method is accurate within about 4%. That's a big sweep, so if you're competitive you may want to be more accurate. For me, I need to track progress, so I can use a less accurate measure and a mirror to see if I'm getting there.

So there you have it. Only two more 28-day cycles to go at this level and I can take four days off. It's a long road, but it's working for me.

I have my reasons and my goals. How about you?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dating and Attraction: Get Her Age (without creeping her out)

This one is important.

Summertime can be a dangerous time for the guy on the prowl. When I was growing up, only certain types of high school girls wore bikinis. Parents in those days thought anything too revealing was simply inappropriate. So, you could tell at a glance which girls on the beach were in high school and which were in college. At the time, given my sixteen-year-old libido, the logic of those parental restrictions was simply lost on me.

Now in my thirties, I can certainly see the sense of it.

Please bear in mind, I'm in no way moralizing on this issue. The simple reality is that once you're down to today's trends in fashion and makeup, there's just no way to clearly distinguish 17 from 27. And in the summer, this is even harder. You can't take it for granted that if you see someone working at a department store in the middle of the afternoon they must be at least out of school.

So the safest pickup tip for summer is this: DON'T GO TO THE BEACH TO PICK UP.'s just a bad idea. The only thing that might play for safety is that if they're at the beach at 2:00 p.m. they're obviously not holding down a full-time job, and therefore are probably too young to consider. Don't believe me? Check out these pictures:

One of these models is 23. The other is 14. Think you could spot the difference on the beach? I doubt it.

What are you doing at the beach at 2:00 p.m. anyway?

Better bet: hit the pubs, patios, bars and clubs. At least you know they need an age of majority ID to get in. If they have a drink in hand, green light.

A reader emailed me this question last week:
"There's a really cute girl who works at the cosmetics counter at my drug store. Like REALLY cute. I can tell she's young, but she also seems to really know her stuff, so I'm thinking she must be in college. I'm 32. Can you find some tips on getting her age without looking like a creepy older guy who's just trying to hit on her?"
Derp...That's a tough question. For some reason it's still considered impolite to ask a woman her age (although it's easier with practice, and most don't really seem to mind). But how else are we supposed to know that we're not going to throw out a creepy vibe by flirting with someone who's too young?

Incidentally, in just my opinion, if this reader is 32 and she's 18, I still would probably suggest against'll still seem creepy.

Anyway, I asked my friend Sam, who is a published relationship author and dating "guru" (his website will be relaunching soon...maybe we'll tap a guest article from him!) what he thought, and this was his response:

Wow, tough one. But you're need that info. There are a couple of fun ways to do this though.
First, if the guy is shy, he could engage one of her co-workers in conversation. Use a product question as a point of engagement, and casually point out the girl in question, saying something like, "I didn't realize you guys were tapping the grade school pool for summer staff! How old is that kid?" This will usually get the co-worker laughing, and you can ask them more directly without looking like a nutcase.
Going directly to the girl in question, he could use a product pretense as well, just to get her talking and build a rapport. The trouble is the way the information is gathered. Some experts think a C&F approach with something like, "I didn't realize they were hiring high school kids as cosmetics experts now," would be a great lock, especially if there's already a bit of banter going. If you're lucky, she might respond positively. However, what I've found is that women 18-24 (roughly, of course) like to be thought of as mature and responsible. This is especially true if they're being professional or working in management. So the high school crack might be offensive.
By the same token, women 25 and up tend to like to be seen as younger than they really are. If she's obviously 30, then it would be ridiculous enough to be funny, and you might have a good opener.
Sometimes direct is better, but not too direct. Veil it as a compliment, and you'll have more luck getting the info you're looking for. I tried this out with a server at a pub in Toronto just to see how it would work. She was obviously the younger of the three girls working that night, so I thought it would make a good test case. Here's how that went:
Me: Wow, you really know your drinks for someone so young. How old are you anyway? (this is called a "neg." It removes me as a possible pick up artist because it kind of lacks their typical flow; yet it still shows a bit of interest, even though it's so casual...remember, it's not "normal" to ask a girl her age...she won't expect it from a PUA)
Her: Haha...guess! (this is a "shit test" that she threw back to see if I would jump her rather than take the bait, I reversed it. Plus, this keeps her talking.)
Me: Should I guess high or low? (now I'm the one qualifying her...)
Her: Ummmm....low. (so now I know she's probably over 21, closer to 25, so I can ballpark it...but I'm still gonna swing wide)
Me: Then I'd say you're...nineteen going on twenty-five.
Her: Haha!! Nice...way to hedge your bets! I'm twenty-four actually.
Me: So I was right then.
Her: Looks like! (big smiles at this point...let her go)
When she came back to see if I needed another drink I said I had to go, but that we should get together for lunch the next day. After all, she works nights, right? So I left with a phone number and a date for lunch (which was a lot of fun by the way). I guess if your reader is interested, I'd suggest using either the co-worker approach or the conversation approach I just described. Just replace "drinks" with "men's cologne" or something (men's cologne is a good could some high school kid know lots about men's cologne?...nice context there too).
If he's still only 80% certain he wants to try it out, start with the co-worker. Then if she turns out to be underage, or too young for him, he can pre-filter and avoid the conversation altogether.
Hope this helps.

So there you have it. Rule #1: Daytime pickups (especially at the beach) are riskier in the summer, so they're best avoided without context. Rule #2: If there's any doubt at all, you must get her age. Rule #3: If you're not sure how to start, go with the funny co-worker conversation. Rule #4: If you have an established frame of reference (i.e., you know her age), you can still use the age conversation as a fun opener IF you handle it the right way.

Thanks to Sam Adrian for helping out with this one. We'll keep you posted on updates to Sam's site when it's ready to go...I have a feeling we're going to be picking his brain a lot!

[about the pictures: The top picture is 14-year-old Kendall Jenner, Kim Kardashian's half sister. The bottom pic is 23-year-old Canadian film actress Veronika London.]

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Canada Day!

Well folks, it's another beautiful Canada Day morning. Time for beer, barbecues, fireworks and friends.

Oh...speaking of beer...

One of my private music students got me a taster four-pack of Cameron's as an end-of-semester gift. As I unpacked the bottles, I discovered that one of the employees at the Cameron's Brewing Co. might have been taking the employee sampling policy a little too much to heart. See if you can spot it:

Yeah, that bottle's a keeper.

This seems like a good time to report on that most Canadian of outings, the Highland Games. Yes, I know they're Scottish. But the fact that all summer these events will be held all over Ontario, and probably the rest of the country as well, speaks to something uniquely Canadian: a heritage that blends these proud traditions, and peoples dedicated to preserving these traditions and sharing them with their neighbours.

To that end, here's Big Paul brandishing a solid piece of steel from Forth Art Scotland in Alliston, ON:

To give you a frame of reference, that man is 6'7" and has a 465 lb. bench press.

...that's a BIG sword.

The games themselves were the main draw for us, though. Not the bagpipe or dance competitions mind you, but the actual big-guys-throwing-stuff games. We missed out on the amateur competitions earlier in the day, so Paul didn't get to try his hand at the caber toss, but it was still fun to watch Kevin Fast and his crew of strong men fling hunks of metal and lumber around the field.

For those of you who don't know, Kevin Fast is a Lutheran minister from Cobourg who holds several world records in strength, including:

  • arm-wrestling a 16,000 lb. truck (moving it 12 inches with an arm-wrestling pull);
  • pulling a truck weighing 126,292 lbs. a distance of 137 feet;
  • pulling a 280 ton (416,299 lb.) C-17 cargo plane 8.8 metres.


I'm not going to go into detailed explanations about all of the various events at the games. Basically what's pictured here would be the "weight for distance" (a 28 lb. weight, thrown as far as possible) and the caber toss. This one is a bit complicated, but basically the goal is to flip a log end for end. Since the bigger log is some 24' in length, this is no mean feat. In fact, only the brothers Marcus and Christoff Ward were able to get a flip on the caber.

The same two brothers took the lead in the weight for distance as well, with Marcus tossing the ball and chain a whopping 69' 3", and Christoff coming in second just a foot shy of that at 68' 2". I don't know who's pictured here, but they're good pictures, so just enjoy them:

Paul and I had a bit of a running joke going throughout the day. Some of the events seemed like they were just made up on the spot. Like the Stone Put, where they hurl a big rock; hardly seems like an "event" considering it's, you know, a rock. Or the Keg Toss, where they hurl an empty beer keg.

Really? That's an event? OK. Actually it was pretty funny when one of the Ward brothers flung the keg and it rolled right out of the field and into one of the porta-potties you see in the background there. No more quintessentially Canadian pastime than bowling for outhouses with a beer keg! 

All in all, a good day. Here's hoping we can get some good shots of the Canada Day festivities to put up for this week. I'm off to pack my beach stuff.