Dad@Italy: 20 Years Apart!

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The pushing over/holding up the leaning tower of Pisa joke is obviously a timeless classic, spanning two generations of Tysowkis. Please focus on that… and not on how fat I look in this photo from 1998. Could those pants be any baggier? Did I make them myself out of a tarp?

You know you’ve visited somewhere special when you promise yourself “someday, we MUST go back!” For us, that place was Italy. In September 1998, Lianne and I… still kinda-sorta newlyweds, made our first big trip to Europe and it was fantastic.

We hit all of the hotspots: the Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Tuscany, Rome, The Vatican, Positano, Pompeii, Venice, Varenna on Lake Como and Milan. The people, the sights and sounds, the history, the FOOD… it all beckoned us to someday make a return trip. So, earlier this year we decided it was time for a sequel, but this time we would have two more passengers in tow – our teenaged kids.

Could we recapture the magic of 1998? Would Italy still be as awesome as we remembered? Would the grown-ups still have a wonderful time saddled with edgy teens at every turn? Would the kids even appreciate it? The collective answer is: YES. Yes to all of it.

We wanted to avoid the heat and the crowds of the summer, so we thought Spring Break in Italy would be the perfect getaway. Twenty years ago, my wife Lianne planned a fabulous vacation itinerary and because we enjoyed the first go-around so much, all of the stops on our 2018 Tour were repeat performances.

But, how would they all compare to our first taste of Italy? Well, just like Italia’s fine wines; they keep getting better with age.

We landed in Milan, but we did not stay long… just enough to see a few late afternoon sights and share a lovely 15th birthday dinner with our daughter Abby. The real vacation would start the next day when we hopped on the train to Venice! Our two days in the city of canals were a lot of fun. Right off the bat, the kids seemed especially impressed with this city surrounded by water! What? ALL OF THE STREETS are water? Much like 1998, we visited St. Mark’s, the Campanile, Doge’s Palace and Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. The one thing we DIDN’T do twenty years ago was probably the most touristy thing you CAN DO in Venice, and that’s take a gondola ride. Back in 1998, we were much more thrifty, and couldn’t justify the exorbitant cost. Fast forward to 2018, and bringing along two more humans cut the “per person” cost in half! Let’s do this! The ride was lovely.

Advantage: 2018 Venice visit.

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On the left – 2018: our lovely evening gondola ride… exploring the many canals of Venice. On the right – 1998: we decided to cheap-out and take a traghetti, which is basically a water bus that takes you right across the Grand Canal in about 90 seconds… standing up the entire time, next to a handful of strangers. Can you guess which one we enjoyed more?

We bid Venice a fond farewell and trained it to beautiful Florence, where we once again gazed upon Michelangelo’s David, then saw all of the sites the Duomo has to offer… including climbing the dome for spectacular city views and then visiting the church, baptistery and museum.

Advantage: Um… I can’t decide. It’s actually a tie between 1998 Florence 1998 and 2018 Florence! A TIE!

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Only a very keen eye can spot the very minor oxidation on Michelangelo’s David that has occurred over the past 20 years. Don’t even bother looking for it… you very likely don’t have a very keen eye like me. I said don’t bother!

The next day, we left the hustle and bustle of Florence behind to take a guided day trip to the hills of Tuscany. We stopped in Siena where the highlight was a visit to the stunning cathedral. Then we toured the Poggio Amorelli winery, tasted several great Chiantis and were treated to a delicious lunch. Our final stop was the small town of San Gimignano, which dates back to the 14th century, but is famous for having the world’s best gelato. We tried it, but could not confirm or deny it was indeed the finest on the planet.

Advantage: 2018 Tuscany visit. We got to visit a winery this time. Wine always wins.

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Just look at how the Piazza del Campo in Sienna has changed in 20 years. Wow… just wow.

After bidding a fond farewell to Florence, we hopped on the train and ended up in Pisa, where we took in the many attractions of the Square of Miracles, including a climb to the top of the leaning tower and visits to the Cathedral, Baptistry and cemetery. After that, we walked the busy Pisa streets and had even more Italian food for dinner. In 1998, the tower was actually leaning TOO MUCH, so it was closed. The base had to be reinforced and the tower itself was “straightened” slightly… from 5.5 to 5 degrees. This time, we made it to the tippy-top!

Advantage: 2018 Pisa visit.

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OK, no kidding around people. This time, there’s actually a pretty noticeable difference when comparing the Baptistry in Pisa twenty years apart. The roof in 1998 looks TOIGHT! The roof in 2018 looks DUMB.

We bid a warm Arrivederci to Pisa and rode the rails to Roma! Our first order of bidness was to secure our reserved tickets to Easter Mass at the Vatican, so off we went to St. Peter’s Square. After wandering the streets of this bustling city, we then paid a visit to the fabulous and ancient Pantheon, which is right next door to our hotel. Day two in Rome found us up bright and early to take a guided tour of the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. The crowds were crushing, as it was Easter weekend, but the sights did not disappoint.

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Um… this isn’t even a fair fight. 1998 St. Peter’s was covered in scaffolding while 2018 St. Peter’s looks glorious. 1998 St. Peter’s, you LOSE. Deal with it.

In the afternoon, our luck with the weather finally ran out! The skies opened up on our afternoon tour of the Coliseum and the Roman ruins of Palatine Hills, but that didn’t slow us down. It totally soaked us, but it didn’t slow us down. In 1998, Lianne and I didn’t tour the Coliseum when we visited Rome, but we didn’t make the same mistake in 2018. It was actually one of the highlights of the trip. Day three in Rome found us smack dab in the middle of a sea of humanity… along with 50,000 faithful to celebrate Easter mass with the Pope. Sure, Papa Francesco looked VERY small from our vantage point, but the experience was still very rewarding and well worth arriving almost two hours early! Fortunately, we did get a closer look when Francis hopped into the Popemobile to take a spin around St. Peter’s Square after the mass ended.

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Any questions?

After Easter Mass at the Vatican ended, we took to the streets for a self-guided tour (courtesy of Lianne) visiting the Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish steps, the column of the Immaculate conception, the Trevi fountain, Piazza Colonna, Piazza di Montecitorio, Piazza Navona, and Campo de’Fiori.

Advantage: 2018 Rome visit. Come on! We saw the POPE people!

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Legend has it, throwing a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi fountain will ensure a return trip to Rome. Hey, it worked for Lianne and me!

The next day, we escaped the massive crowds of Rome only to find everyone LEAVES Rome the day after Easter for the “Bank Holiday”. The massive crowds found us! Our first stop of the day was Mount Vesuvius, famous for erupting in 79 A.D. and burying Pompeii under seven metres of volcanic ash. When Lianne and I toured Italy in 1998, the ancient but incredibly preserved city of Pompeii was our favourite stop, and while our afternoon visit in 2018 was still enjoyable, we were part of a tour group and found we were kind of rushed through the ruins. In 1998, we spent a lot more time exploring on our own and found we enjoyed the site that much more. For that reason…

Advantage: 1998 Pompeii visit.

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When a city is already over 2,000 years old, would we see a big difference 20 years later? Not really. But the pristine condition of some of the ruins was still mind-boggling.

The next morning we were once again riding the rails, back to where we began our Italian family vacation… wonderful Milan. The day’s highlights included visits to the Castle of Milan, the spectacular rooftop of the Duomo and a very special viewing of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper.

Advantage: 2018 Milan visit. Seeing the Last Supper in person gives it the edge.

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The Cathedral in Milan is third largest in Europe and is spectacular. But wait… you’ve just been PRANKED people! You see, the picture on the top is actually from 1998 and the photo on the bottom was actually taken in 2018. Ha! Sorry for making you feel ridiculously DUMB! I can’t believe you all fell for that.

And, there you have it. While our 2018 tour of Italy was a few days shorter than 1998, and we visited fewer areas and attractions, it was definitely a great vacation. You must be asking… which trip had the overall advantage? A quick check of the score shows 2018 has the edge in 5 of our stops, while 1998 took the honors only once and of course, Florence was a tie. Does that mean our second time around automatically wins the day?

Does the 2018 Italy tour take the cake?

The numbers scream YES, but you have to understand that our 1998 Italy tour was our very first big trip as a young married couple, and that will always make it feel extra special. Sometimes you have to go with your heart over your head. So, let’s go with 1998. Sorry to lead you on this way.

Would Lianne and I go back to Italy a third time? Absolutely.  Would we take the kids? Um… I think we’re good. They can find their own special place… a place that impresses them so much it makes them promise themselves that someday they MUST go back.

Oh, and before I let you go… here’s one more picture from wonderful Milan.

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Good Lord! Why was I so fat in 1998? And again with those giant pants? Did I call up the professional clown supply store and ask for the biggest clown pants they had… but in khaki??? Why did I post this photo…

Ah Grazie.

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The 5 Absolutely Funnest Things You Can Do That Only Take 3.5 Hours!

How you utilize your free time says a lot about you.

Some of us have all of the time in the world while others are so darn busy they won’t even give you the time of day. Some say life is really just a race against time, but is time really on your side?

Time is precious! Time is money! Time is of the essence! Time is a flat circle?

OK enough already! I think I’ve made my point. I say we all need to slow down and take a TIME OUT every once and a while, and lucky for you, I’m here to help.

If you’ve got some time to kill (three-and-a-half hours to be exact) then check out my list of the TOP 5 activities that will prove once and for all that time truly flies when you’re having fun.

Fasten your seatbelts and get ready to have the time of your life!

Number 5: Sit through 3.5 hours of the opera Der Rosenkavalier.

Der Rosenkavalier - Richard Strauss - Opera North - 17 September 2016Marschallin YLVA KIHLBERG    Octavian HELEN SHERMAN              Baron Ochs HENRY WADDINGTON                      Sophie von Faninal FFLUR WYN                  Herr von Faninal WILLIAM DAZELEY                        Marianne VICTORIA SHARP                          Valzacchi ALED HALL                  Annina HELEN ÉVORA                      Italian Tenor JUNG SOO YUN The Marschallin’s Servant DURASSIE KIANGANGU                    Leopold MARK BURGHAGEN Police Commissioner Dean Robinson   Marschallin’s Major-domo Graham Russell           Faninal’s Major-domo Ivan Sharpe               Notary					Jeremy Peaker				                  Innkeeper				David Llewellyn				                  3 Noble Orphans			Rachel Mosley					                                                                             Cordelia Fish	                                                                         Hazel Croft			                                         Pet Seller				Warren Gillespie                                                                                  Dressmaker				Miranda Bevin					  Marschallin’s footmen 			Alexander Banfield				                        	                                                          Tim Ochala-Greenough                                                                        					Garrick Forbes				                                                                                   Gordon Shaw                                                                          4 Waiters				 Alexander Banfield				                                                                                                  Ivan Sharpe                                                                                                                                                                      Ross McInroy	                                                                                                   Garrick Forbes                                                                         Flautist					Ivan Sharpe					     Hairdresser				Christopher Nairne				                       Hairdresser’s Assistant			Nicholas Butterfield				     Noble Widow				Claire Pascoe					     			              
Children				ARCHIE BRADLEY, BEN KELLY, BLOSSOM PALMER,  FAITH PALMER, INDIA THOMPSON Conductor				ALEKSANDAR MARKOVIC Original Director			DAVID MCVICAR Revival Director				ELAINE TYLER-HALL Set Designer				DAVID MCVICAR	 Costume Designer			TANYA MCCALLIN					 Lighting Designer (original)		PAULE CONSTABLE Fight Director				WILL TRISTRAM
Transport yourself to Vienna, during the last years of the Habsburg Empire. The Marschallin, Princess von Werdenberg, has spent the night with her young lover, Octavian, Count Rofrano. He hides when a page brings breakfast, then again when loud voices are heard in the antechamber. The unexpected visitor is the Marschallin’s country cousin, Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau. Oh SNAP! Can you imagine 3.5 hours of this?

Yes! What could be more fun and exciting than hours and hours of opera… but here’s the kicker, it’s being sung in GERMAN. Not just some of it, but all of it! All three-and-a-half hours of it! FUN FACT: there’s no intermission, so you won’t have to press pause on the action for even a moment! Have fun! Or rather…Viel Spaß dabei!

Number 4: Try qualifying for the Boston Marathon by running 42 kilometers in 3.5 hours.

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TALK ABOUT FUN!

This could be you! Over 24,000 people try and qualify for the Boston marathon each year, but not to worry, less than 10% actually run it under 3.5 hours and make the cut. Once you start, you won’t believe how much fun running 42 consecutive kilometers can be! FUN FACT: in 2017, over 1,600 Boston Marathon runners required medical assistance and could not finish the course. What fun!

Number 3: Turn on your TV at 2:49 AM and watch 3.5 hours of high-quality infomercials.

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Just think, you could use your ShamWOW to wipe off any excess “hair in a spray can” after you finish working out with your shake weight! Is there anything more fun than buying useless items at an ungodly late hour?

Let’s face it. We all get green with envy whenever we hear a friend or co-worker tell us they just couldn’t sleep and spent 3.5 hours watching late-night infomercials. Am I right people? If this isn’t the definition of fun, then you have no idea what’s what and should really be arrested by the fun police! FUN FACT: I have no idea what that creepy yellow serial killer mask actually does, but I bet you it’s super FUN and you should definitely buy it.

Number 2: Fly the Concorde from New York to London in just 3.5 hours!

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Supersonic travel has never been more luxurious, more convenient and more FUN! Just look at this menu on a typical British Airways Concorde flight: it features extravagant treats like grilled fillet steak, caviar and lobster canapés, palm heart salad with Roquefort dressing and fresh strawberries with double cream, Dom Perignon 1969 champagne, and even Havana cigars!

OK, full disclosure. Some of you may not have completely loved my first three fun suggestions on how to make the most of 3.5 hours, but you gotta admit, I really hit this one out of the park! Flying in the Concorde at supersonic speeds? Are you freaking kidding me? Oops! Dang it! Um… I TOTALLY FORGOT that the Concorde stopped flying in 2003. Sorry to get your hopes up. But wait, I have another fun idea! Why not fly on a regular (and much, much slower) aircraft from Regina to Hamilton, with a three-and-a-half hour LAYOVER in Winnipeg?  FUN FACT: Winnipeg was recently voted Canada’s worst place to have a three-and-a-half hour layover.

AND FINALLY…

The Number 1 FUN thing to do in 3.5 hours:

LISTEN TO AN AUDIOBOOK!

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Just look at these lucky people! Every one of them is having so much fun listening to a 3.5 hour audiobook. Wow, check out that old lady in the bottom right corner! She looks downright orgasmic! I wonder what audiobook they are all listening to?

It’s funny you should ask, but all of these people are actually listening to Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated, and you can too! At a running time of just over three-and-a-half hours, my new audiobook will be over before you know it.

Listen to it in the car on the way to work, or at the gym, or on a hike… the possibilities are endless, and all of them are so much FUN when you hear my soothing voice talk you through my hilarious adventures of stay-at-home-fatherhood.

FUN FACT: Only time will tell if my book will stand the test of time as one of the all-time greats, but I do know this – it’s actually a really fun book. So, if you’re into the increasingly popular practice of listening to audiobooks, then by all means, please consider purchasing Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated

There’s no time like the present.

Click here to buy it from Audible.ca!

Click here to snatch your copy from Amazon.ca!

Click here to secure this audiobook on iTunes!

 

Oh… and one more thing!

Because the process of recording, editing and uploading this audiobook has been such a nightmare from start to finish, why not put a cherry on top of it all with ONE MORE TECHNICAL GLITCH!

When I uploaded the files, I had a jazzy little musical number running under my opening credits and book dedication. It turns out, they don’t allow mixing music under any spoken word, BUT they didn’t tell me this when I submitted my files and they didn’t instruct me to fix it. So, they simply ran the music track on its own… without informing me.

So, please don’t be surprised to find 45 seconds of uninterrupted jazzy music before my audiobook actually begins. Oh well. I say just enjoy it!

You know you’ve got the time.

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Finally, an AUDIOBOOK UPDATE!

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This image of me struggling to enter my very professional recording booth has become a world-wide phenomenon. Anyone who sees it immediately knows just how difficult recording and editing their own audiobook can be. I am proud to be the poster boy for this very important issue.

I know what you’ve all been thinking.

“Why hasn’t Greg given us an update on his much-anticipated audiobook version of Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated?”

I also know that many of you have become very invested in my trials and tribulations after reading about my numerous difficulties recording it… (click here to revisit that nightmare.)

Countless others have become equally intrigued and enthralled by the editing process that almost drove me mad… (click here to refresh your memory on that infuriating time in my life.)

The last time we spoke, I was just over two-thirds finished editing my book. Fast-forward to one month later, and I am overjoyed to report that I have finally completed my audiobook this past weekend!

I then started the process of exporting each chapter out of GarageBand and uploading them to ACX.com. While that tricky operation doesn’t warrant another epic blog rant, I will tell you that I did manage to completely screw it up and waste several hours by incorrectly exporting the files! Why did I assume any part of this horrific ordeal would go smoothly? WHY?

Let’s just say I finally figured it out and and am currently waiting for the audio files to be processed by ACX. It could take over a week before my book is released on Audible, Amazon and iTunes but I promise you it will be worth the wait.

You might also be thinking: “Why should I even care at this point?”

Well, I will tell you. When we started this process back in early November, who would have thunk it would be this painful… this frustrating… this long and drawn-out… this eventful?

The struggle is real.

We’ve all come this far together, so don’t you want to find out how it all ends? Don’t you want to see (or listen to) the finished product? It won’t be long now.

It’s so close I can smell it.

 

 

 

 

NO! I Still Haven’t Finished My Stupid Audiobook! (But Thank You For Asking)

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This is me… having the time of my life spitting stupid regions at playhead, pasting and replacing stupid clips, mixing in a stupid music bumper and moving stupid tracks around. #TheStruggleIsReal

The last time I blogged about my forthcoming audiobook of Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated, it was hailed around the world as a hilarious cautionary tale of how NOT to record one. People really seemed to enjoy reading about (and laughing at) my incredible ineptitude. It was one of my most popular posts of 2017. Go figure.

There’s no need to rehash the many things I did wrong, or how I would have done things differently. Let’s just say I’m a complete imbecile who royally screwed it up and leave it at that. Looking back, I feel fortunate that I had the mental and physical fortitude to finish recording it in a cat-pee-scented, claustrophobic, wobbly play structure that doubled as my “very professional recording booth”.

I didn’t actually keep a detailed report of my recording time but if I had to guess, I’d say it took me 20 to 24 hours to lay down just over 4 hours of spoken word. When I finished recording, I gleefully dismantled my dumb booth (which was constantly on the verge of collapsing every day I used it) and felt a huge sense of relief and accomplishment.

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#NeverAgain

The weight of the world was finally off my shoulders, as I was certain that the worst was over and I could now get cracking on the easy part… editing the audio.

Um… yeah. About that “easy” part.

Here’s the thing. It was clear I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing when I was recording the audio, so I have no idea why I assumed it would be so easy to edit that 4 hour and 12 minute jumble of mumbled words into a very professional-sounding recording. Oh yeah, I remember googling “record your own audiobook” and reading about another self-published author who promised me I would really enjoy the editing process. You know what? I actually DID enjoy the editing process… for about five minutes… until it really sunk in how tedious, mind numbing and repetitive the process is.

Again, I’m not keeping meticulous records of my editing time, but I am positive that I have SURPASSED the total hours it took to record it, and I’m only two-thirds finished editing the damn audiobook! I thought the process of manipulating audio files would be relatively simple… I’d just “clean it up”! It’ll be easy; just shorten the odd sentence, adjust the master volume and remove a few breath sounds here and there.

I HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE WRONG ABOUT ANYTHING IN MY LIFE (and that’s saying a lot).

To give you an idea of what I’ve been going through these past couple of weeks, here’s a small sampling of what I have been painstakingly editing and CUTTING OUT of my recorded material. So far, over half an hour of crappy, unusable sounds have been axed from my audiobook.

Here’s a list of the Top 10 Most Unacceptable Noises I’ve removed.

  1. Loud inhaling at the beginning of a sentence.
  2. Loud exhaling at the end of a sentence.
  3. Loud breathing in the middle of a sentence that makes me sound exasperated.
  4. Loud sniffling of my nose throughout the recording.
  5. Loud throat-clearing every five minutes.
  6. Loud coughing for no apparent reason.
  7. Loud tongue-clicks at truly random intervals.
  8. Loud lip smacking at the worst possible time.
  9. Loud gulping sounds at the best possible time.
  10. Loud, extraneous mysterious thumping sounds.

You see, my extensive research taught me that you actually have to KEEP some breath sounds in your audiobook, or risk sounding like a robot! Have you ever heard Siri, Alexa or that bossy lady from Google Home take a breath? I didn’t think so.

Here’s the problem. My stupid my breath sounds are WAY too loud! How loud? Well, imagine you’re watching a TV show or a movie… and some unfortunate soul has just collapsed or has been pulled out of a lake after being found floating face down. You know that loud, gasping sound they make after the hero successfully performs CPR for a couple of minutes? You all know what I’m talking about… that first giant, deep, breathy gulp of air they take after they are miraculously revived from the dead?  Yup. That’s how almost ALL of my breaths sound on the unedited recording of my precious audiobook!

Am I exaggerating? Only a little bit.

This has become a very big deal, as I now have to scour my recorded files for that rare breath sound that actually sounds like it came from a normal human being. When I do find one, I squeal with delight and quickly copy it! I then use it for an entire chapter. But, then I get paranoid and start wondering:

“Will people notice that my breath sounds are all the same in any given chapter?”

That’s when I slap myself in the face and yell out loud:

“Dammit Greg! Stop overthinking it!”

I also have been struggling mightily with removing several breathy exhales that I inexplicably placed smack dab in the MIDDLE of a sentence! Why did I do that and why didn’t I notice all of them while I was recording the book and simply do a retake? Why indeed.

And speaking of retakes, some of you eggheads may be thinking to yourself: “Why doesn’t that idiot simply re-record parts of his book instead of spending 35 minutes trying to fix a few seconds of weird bodily sounds that ruined a take?”

I’ll tell you why!

For starters, I would have to recreate the exact recording conditions to ensure a consistent sound throughout the audiobook, and God knows I promised myself I would never go back! I can’t go back! I won’t go back! Never again!

I lived in a stinky, collapsing hellhole on and off for over a month, literally stuck in it for hours at a time, recording the same damn sentence over and over and over again every time an airplane flew overhead, a truck drove by, a dog barked, or my cat snored! The experience shook me to the core and when I finally finished, I said never again! NEVER AGAIN!

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#NeverAgain

So, that’s why I can’t simply restart the recording process. That’s why I am determined to make this work with what I’ve got. That’s why I must make sure the incredible sacrifice I made wasn’t in vain. I’ve been staring at a computer screen daily, taking 60 minutes to edit a measly two-and-a-half page section of my book. If I can survive this, I can survive anything. The good news is, I’ve actually been fairly successful in turning this pile of recorded garbage into a finished product that actually sounds pretty darned good.

I was starting to think that I might be able to pull this off. I was daring to dream that maybe, just maybe… all of my hard work… the 50-plus hours of recording and editing, just might be worth it! Then, the other day, my lovely wife Lianne asked me a simple question after I complained to her for ten minutes about how difficult this project has been since I started it in early November:

“What if you don’t sell any audiobooks?”

I didn’t have a response. I just stared straight ahead for a several seconds as my jaw dropped, my eyes bulged and my stomach churned. Thanks wife. That incredibly disappointing possibility had never crossed my mind… until now.  😦

But, that’s neither here nor there. If you would like to make sure that I won’t suffer the ultimate humiliation of producing an audiobook of Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated, and then not sell a single copy, then please stay tuned. If you help a brother out, I promise it will be a feast for your ears!

If all goes well, my “book on tape” will be available to purchase on audible.ca within a couple of weeks. Wish me luck!

 

Merry Christmas From The Tysowski’s! 2017: The Year In Review

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Old School meets New School. For the first time in history, our annual Christmas letter is online!

Well, here we are again. I know we are fast approaching the end of another year when I sit down to write the annual Tysowski Christmas letter. This is the 12th anniversary edition, and at this point, I’m not even sure why I’m keeping track. If it was the 10th anniversary, or the 20th… sure, I get it. But, this being only the 12th incarnation, it seems rather unnecessary and almost unnatural to announce the milestone. You know what, forget I even mentioned it. In fact, I won’t blame you if you decide to stop reading now.

But I digress… 2017 started off with a relatively uneventful January, but that all changed in February.

Unfortunately, the G.L.A.D.D.S. family tragically lost one its “D’s”. I’ll quickly ease any panic: it wasn’t Daniel! Rather, it was our furry feline friend Duff, who suffered what we believe was a deliberate poisoning by ingesting antifreeze while outside on his daily adventures. Once ill, he went downhill very quickly and the ordeal was extremely tough on all of us. But, just one day after our dear Duff departed, our family gained a brand new “D”! Enter Domino, a two-month old kitten adopted from the Calgary Humane Society.

He certainly has been a handful, but he has also been a great fit in the Tysowski household. Even Sasha seems to like him, despite his annoying penchant for pinning her down and biting her neck, all vampire-style.

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Merry Christmas from Domino, the newest member of the GLADDS family!

Spring arrived, and with it a couple of March birthdays. Daniel’s transformation into a fine young man has begun, as he turned 12, while Abby turned 14 and is quickly becoming a lovely young woman. (Fun fact: I always update the kids ages, but this year I’ve also stealthily changed a single word in this oft-used classic Tysowski Christmas letter phrase. Any guesses as to what I altered? Does anyone even care?)

Our first family adventure came in April, where we spent spring break in the hustle and bustle of Toronto. In eight days, we hung out and went sightseeing with David and Gaeil, spent a couple of nights in the cheesy glory that is Niagara Falls, and were absolutely perfect T.O. tourists: visiting museums, aquariums, a “Broadway” show, the CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame, plus Blue Jays and Raptors games. You name it, we did it.

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The mostly hat-wearing Tysowski family wishes you all the best in 2018!

With the arrival of summer came another epic family vacation, and yet again, we teamed up with Mark, Dona and family. This time, we continued our quest to explore our great nation with three full weeks in La Belle Province! Or, in other words (that sound more English), beautiful Quebec! Landing in Montreal, we stopped in Trois Rivieres on our way to Quebec City, which was very busy but super cool. From there, we moved on to the Isle D’Orleans, then Montmorency Falls, the Charlevoix Region and Isle Aux Codres. After that, we spent some time in beautiful Tadoussac, the only place outside of the Artic with Beluga whales, on to Rimouski, and then hung out at a relaxing resort called Domaine Valga.

But wait, there’s more! After sightseeing at Bic National Park, we visited the Irish Memorial National Historic Site at Grosse Isle. Then came the vacation within the vacation, as we set up shop for a week at a cottage on Lake Memphremagog, which actually crosses the Vermont border. Lake life agreed with us, as we enjoyed spacious accommodations equipped with a dock to swim and fish from, all manner of kayaks and canoes to use, a dry sauna, nearby nature trails and some really great weather to boot. We finished off our tour of the province in Montreal, where we enjoyed some famous bagels, took a tour of the old city, and ate plenty of smoked meat.

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Seasons Greetings from Quebec City, where we briefly discussed permanently swapping various family members to really shake things up!

Lucky Daniel managed to take TWO summer vacations, as he hopped on a plane to Kelowna the day after we arrived home to spend a week with Angie, Andy and Erika in the BC interior.

With the arrival of fall, we all turned our attention to the beginning of a brand new school year. Abby was very excited to start her final year of junior high, as Daniel was extra-eager to kick off his first year of junior high. Wow, not one but TWO kids in junior high! If that doesn’t make us feel, look and act really old, then nothing will! Oh, who are we kidding? It seems everything in this life makes us feel, look and act really old.

Moving on… another year of swimming, piano, debate club, soccer, volleyball, basketball and hockey made sure our kids are well rounded, and also totally exhausted by the weekend. (Apologies yet again, as this tired, recycled line is also considered a Tysowski Christmas letter classic, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The kids won’t be involved in this many activities for that much longer, so take heart.)

For those very few of you looking for an update on my beer league hockey team, here it is: we still play, I still suck, but I’ll never quit the game I love, no matter how many of my teammates suggest it or petition the league to force me out. I guess that’s one of the perks of being a co-general manager with my brother Mark – they can’t get rid of us.

In last year’s letter, I boldly announced that my long-time pet project… my BLOCKBUSTER BOOK Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated, had finally been published and was ready for purchase at Amazon. Well guess what? It’s a full year later and it’s STILL for sale at Amazon, so for those of you who bought a copy, I sincerely thank you for your support. For those of you who haven’t bought a copy: congratulations, you’re now dead to me. But don’t despair, I’ve been spending hours voicing my book and will soon be releasing the audiobook version of Dad@Home on audible.ca! You will find more details right here on my blog… stay tuned!

And that brings us full-circle to December where we already have the mid-winter blues and are desperately waiting for Christmas holidays to save us all. Unfortunately for us, there will be no winter escape this year but we are already looking forward to a spring break getaway to Italy! That’s right, Italy, where I can finally say “Ah Grazie!” dozens of times a day with impunity. Our summer adventure has yet to be officially confirmed, so you will have to read my blog to find where we go this year. And while you’re visiting my blog, you might as well buy my book. OK, I apologize for the multiple book plugs, but we hope you had a wonderful 2017 and look forward to hearing from you in 2018.

All the best this holiday season! Love,

Greg, Lianne, Abby, Daniel, Domino & Sasha (the all-new G.L.A.D.D.S. family)

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Best wishes for 2018!

Audiobooks have never been hotter! Here’s how NOT to record one at home.

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I did the research and decided that recording an audiobook would be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. I was a complete idiot for thinking that.

Audiobooks are on fire.

Not literally of course, because it’s simply not possible for sound waves to spontaneously combust. I’m talking about the sales explosion of books you can listen to with your ears, thus avoiding the annoying practice of reading them with your eyes. Audiobooks have come a long way since the crappy, cumbersome “book on tape”. These days, audio files can be downloaded in an instant, and take up very little space on a computer, tablet or smartphone hard drive.

Since 2013, sales of audiobooks have been increasing between 20%-30% year-to-year, while e-books have experienced a slow and steady decline in popularity. Why is this happening? Why are people turning away from the written word? Why are they downloading audiobooks and podcasts instead of reading novels and magazine articles?

I don’t know, and to be honest… I don’t care. As a self-published author, I just want in on the action! (I’ve only sold about 125 copies of my book, so maybe THIS is my chance to make some real cheddar!)

When I released my non-fiction masterpiece, Dad@Home about a year ago, I toyed with the idea of turning it into an audiobook but never got off my lazy ass… until now. I figured, “how hard could it be?” Well, according to the internet, it would be a snap!

I watched a couple of YouTube tutorials, downloaded another self-published author’s audio “template” to copy his recording settings and started assembling the tools required for completing this smooth, straightforward, uncomplicated, elementary, unproblematic task.

Here’s the good news. I already had everything I needed to start and complete the project from home. Every iMac comes with the app GarageBand, a great piece of software to record, edit and mix both music and vocal tracks. So, I at least I had that requirement checked off my list. My daughter has her own YouTube channel where she records a running commentary of the online games that she plays. So, I borrowed her fairly decent quality microphone, headphones and “pop filter” to record my dulcet tones.  I decided to use our home office to record my book, as that’s where the iMac was, and I figured I could simply sit down at the desk and leisurely lay down my tracks.

After conducting some initial sound tests, the recordings sounded like I was sitting in a gymnasium, with awful-sounding echoes bouncing off every corner of the room. I needed some kind of enclosed recording booth to really improve the sound quality. I looked online and saw plenty of do-it-yourself suggestions.

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This is just a sampling of what I found on the Internet. If I wanted great sound quality from the comfort of my own home, I really needed to step up my sound booth game!

After scouring the entire house for materials to create my own very professional recording studio, this is what I ultimately came up with.

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I used my kids’ wobbly styrofoam play tent kit and a fitted bed sheet to enclose myself around the iMac and create a very professional recording studio. I wanted to use a heavier fabric to further muffle any and all sound, but my very professional recording studio kept collapsing in on itself. As you can see, getting in and out of my very professional recording studio is really easy and super convenient.

Despite the incredibly awkward entrance to my studio, and the incredibly tight quarters once inside, new sound tests revealed a very decent recording quality. Unbelievably, the thin bed sheets were actually doing their job. Everything was set. I could monitor my recording tracks on the iMac while reading my book from my laptop. I was ready to rock.

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It may not look like much from the outside, but have you ever seen a more professional set up on the inside? I didn’t think so.

I started recording my audiobook one evening about two weeks ago, and things actually went fairly smoothly that first night. The sound quality was fine, I had very few distractions and I wasn’t getting very much ambient sound to ruin my takes.

It all went downhill from there.

The following is a list of mistakes I have made while trying to produce my audiobook. Don’t do any of this stuff, unless you want to lose your mind on a daily basis.

MISTAKE #1. DON’T SET UP YOUR VERY PROFESSIONAL RECORDING STUDIO AT THE FRONT OF YOUR HOUSE!

Oh my God. Somehow, I had lucked out during my first few sessions and didn’t experience that many annoying extraneous, exterior sounds infiltrating and ruining my recording process. But then, it almost seemed non-stop… every single time I sat down to record! After a few practice takes with little to no background noise, I would hit the record button and be immediately hit with a barrage of traffic sounds, screaming from a school playground across the street, police helicopters overhead, airliners at 10,000 feet, my neighbour’s giant diesel flatbed truck idling two doors down, garbage trucks, and dumb dogs barking. Why is the world so damn noisy!!!

You have to realize that any decent-quality microphone is very sensitive to any ambient sound. I would be laying down a track, then suddenly hear the low, rumbling sound of a pick-up truck that was probably a block-and-a-half away… and yet, I was hearing it as clear as day through my headphones! I would take off my headphones and could barely make out any sound at all. Then, I’d put them back on, and there was that low, rumbling sound again! To make matters worse, when I was playing back a vocal track I had just laid down to see if I liked it, my “hot mic” would still pick up any extraneous sound, so I really couldn’t tell if it was on the track or was happening right then and there. It has been beyond frustrating, but it’s my own damn fault. I considered moving my very professional recording studio to the basement, but I was already well into the project, and I didn’t want my book to suddenly sound very different halfway through. I also didn’t want to start over from scratch, as the recording process is a slow, tedious slog.

MISTAKE #2. DON’T LET PETS RUIN EVERYTHING!

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Meet my constant recording companions. This is what happens when one of them breaks down one of the pillowy side-sound-barriers.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my two cats. They’re actually quite fun to have around the house, but they have also been very obsessed with my very professional recording studio right from the get-go. When I set it up, of course they wanted to be right in there, stepping on the keyboard, screwing up my recordings, knocking over my water glass, and pouncing though the little side-sound-barriers I had set up. One morning, I discovered one of them had been walking on the keyboard in the middle of the night and somehow had added a keyboard track to my audiobook. Whenever I kicked them out of my little enclave, they would poke at me through the bed sheets, and try to pull on the fabric with their razor-sharp claws.

You might ask, “why don’t you simply kick them out of the office?” Well, I tried that, and all of a sudden I wasn’t just dealing with outside traffic noises, but the constant meowing of Sasha and the constant thumping sound of Domino pushing on the office doors with his paws. So, I have let them in, knowing that within 15 to 20 minutes they will eventually stop trying to destroy my hut, settle down and sleep on the office desk, just outside my very professional recording studio. You would think that would be the end of it, but no. More than a few of my audio tracks have been ruined by a weird, alien-breathing sound in the background. I would poke my head out of my studio to see what it was… and it was Sasha snoring. Oh well. If you can successfully ban your felines from the recording process, that would be ideal. If you can’t? Good luck with that.

Oh, and here’s one more little tidbit of information about how my cats have marred the entire recording process. When assembling my very professional recording studio using the kids styrofoam play tent kit, I discovered that one of the cats must have peed on said kit. After a vigorous cleaning session where I took all of the styrofoam pieces into the shower with me, I found they all came out relatively clean. However, my studio still has a faint but recognizable whiff of cat urine.

MISTAKE #3. DON’T HAVE A TERRIBLE VOICE THAT SEEMS INCAPABLE OF ENUNCIATING SIMPLE WORDS LIKE “AND” & “THE”!

Have you ever heard the saying, “He has a face for radio”? Well, that’s me. Unfortunately, I don’t have the voice for radio either. When doing my research before recording my audiobook, I came across multiple articles that strenuously stressed authors should NOT voice their own book. Rather, they should hire a professional voiceover artist to do it. However, there was an exception to this general rule that worked in my favour. They all conceded that if the book was autobiographical, having the author voice the audiobook actually made sense. I also don’t want to spend any more money on Dad@Home, because I have already dropped at least a couple of thousand dollars self-publishing it.

Dammit, I was going to do this myself, and do it as cheaply as humanly possible! I actually have a broadcasting background, so I figured that I should be able to pull off voicing a script that I knew very intimately.

Again, I was dead wrong.

I don’t know how many times I would lay down a vocal track, think in my head that I NAILED IT and then play it back. Good Lord! Why am I slurring so many words together, constantly cutting off the “d” in the word “and” and actually inserting words that aren’t even in the damn book! Until I actually made an effort to speak the English language in a succinct and efficient manner, I had no idea how sloppily we all pronounce words and sentences when simply conversing with one another in our daily lives. The concentration level required for me to sound semi-professional was astounding, and I found I could only voice a half a paragraph at a time before flubbing, slurring or mispronouncing a word. I give voiceover professionals full props. This gig ain’t easy for a civilian!

So, this is my process… trapped in my claustrophobic, urine-scented tent for hours at a time: cursing the constant traffic noises, cursing my rambunctious cats, and cursing my own dumb vocal deficiencies. You should hear some of the salty language emanating from behind that fitted sheet with every blown take.

Surely this is it. Surely I won’t point out any more of my boneheaded mistakes? Right? Wrong.

MISTAKE #4. DON’T SIT DOWN WHILE RECORDING YOUR AUDIOBOOK!

OK, I was obviously too lazy to move my very professional recording studio to my basement. But if I had transferred all of the computers, microphone, headphones and the entire stinky styrofoam structure, I would have set it up to allow for a standing position while recording. I know it’s more tiring, but standing opens up the diagram and promotes a better breathing technique while voicing the material. I would often take huge breaths before starting a sentence, but found I’d have to take several mini-breaths to keep from running out of steam.

Some voiceover professionals also say that standing reduces the amount of phlegm that can build up in the back of your throat and wreak havoc with your recording process. It sounds crazy, but after finishing a take that sounded just fine through my headphones as I recorded it, I’d play it back to reveal random words that were completely wrapped in phlegm!

After flubbing several takes in a row or having them ruined by external noise, a part of me wanted to just say SCREW IT, and use the phlegmy take, “as is”. But, hearing those random, weird-sounding words pop right out of an otherwise pleasant-sounding sentence would drive me crazy. The affected words stuck out like a sore thumb, as they sounded like the offspring of Chewbacca and Kermit the Frog had voiced them!

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Pro tip: this combination is NOT the sound anyone should be going for when voicing an audiobook.

So, despite the incredible trials and tribulations of voicing my audiobook, I am almost finished. I’ve recorded 20 of 21 chapters and I am so looking forward to the editing process… for many reasons.

Reason #1: I can finally dismantle my very professional recording studio, breathe in fresh air and see the light of day again.

Reason #2: The supremely annoying extraneous sounds of our stupid, stupid noisy world will no longer be a problem.

Reason #3: I am going to enlist the services of my tech-savvy 14-year-old daughter to help edit the audiobook. She’s already somewhat of an expert at editing video, so this should be a walk in the park for her.

Fingers crossed, the finished product will be available on audible.ca within a couple of weeks! Look for it, and always remember how I suffered to bring you yet another format to enjoy Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated.

Never forget the sacrifices I made for all of you.

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Calling All Book Clubs! Make Dad@Home Your Next Topic Of Literary Discussion… For Dirt Cheap!

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I promise you a quick read! No more excuses for not reading the book! And, even if you don’t read my book, just fake it. All you really have to do is chime in with this semi-intellectual-sounding nugget: “I really thought his hilarious take on stay-at-home fatherhood was… hilarious!” Then, sit back, relax and keep drinking wine. There. you’re welcome.

Book clubs are great.

They’re an excuse to get together, drink some fine wines and chat about the hottest new titles in the world of literature. While Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated is not exactly a hot new title, and the jury is still out if it can truly be called “literature”, it does have something going for it that other books do not: I’m practically giving it away to book clubs.

But please be warned – this offer is for legitimate book clubs only, and by “legitimate” I mean any club that falls into the following three categories that I read about on HuffPost:

a) Category 1 – Read it or die.

b) Category 2 – Read it, then drink it.

c) Category 3 – Read it, don’t read it… who cares? We’re really only here for the booze.

Like I said right of the top of this blog, I’ve already given you an “out” if you really don’t want to read my book, but really want to go to your book club. But hey, as long as you buy it, what do I care what happens after that? Speaking of what actually happens at book clubs, allow me to describe the five types of people you’ll encounter at your little booky gabfest, courtesy of a funny article I read on litreactor.com:

a) So, what did everyone think of the book?

b) I only read the first 25 pages, so don’t spoil anything for me.

c) Ugh, god, enough talk about the book. Here are pictures from my vacation.

d) I didn’t get the book because it didn’t come in at the library, and I’m not going to buy it on Kindle for $5.99? Ridiculous!

e) I’m really only interested in talking about the ending. So…

All kidding aside, Dad@Home is sure to be a hit with your book club. It’s 40,000 words that should really take less than four hours to plow through on a Saturday afternoon. In this masterwork of non-fiction, I bear my soul, I talk about my insecurities, I tell you all about my incredible wife, and I describe the unbreakable bond I’ve forged with my kids. I promise that after you finish reading it, you will either:

a) Secretly want to marry me.

b) Very publicly propose marriage to me.

c) Tell others to try marrying me.

Just think of it. You can spend the entire evening debating which one of your book club members loves me more… and why. And if you think I’m being sexist, assuming that all book clubs are exclusively populated with members of the fairer sex, you would be sorely mistaken. I firmly believe any man who reads my book will also want to marry me… no matter which side he bats for.

Wow! That’s some bold and brash talk for a book that’s currently sitting at #277,859 in Amazon’s best seller rankings, but trust me, it will be worth it. Your book club will read it, love it, discuss it at length, then start a campaign demanding I write a sequel. So, now that I’ve sold you on why every book club on planet earth should choose Dad@Home, here’s how you can get your hands on the multiple copies required for your get-together.

If you go to Amazon, you’ll find my paperback on sale for $9.99 US or $12.65 CAN. You are more than welcome to buy a whole bunch for your book club… OR, you can contact me directly and I’ll sell you Dad@Home for just $4.99 each! It doesn’t matter if you want to pay in US or Canadian dollars, the price is still the same… $4.99! For those hard of reading, I’ll repeat that one more time. $4.99!

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I know what you’re thinking. These prices are INSANE! However, I’m not going to use metal illness as an excuse to sell my product. I just really want to sell a few more books and keep spreading the word. Trust me, I’m not crazy.

There will be a shipping and handling fee for all orders within North America, but with the low, low price I’m offering you’d be a FOOL not to take advantage of this once-in-a-millennium offer. However, before you leap out of your chair to contact me, there are some ground rules.

Rule #1: if you contact me and order only one book, I’ll assume you don’t really have a book club, and you’re simply trying to save BIG on Dad@Home. Scammers need not apply! I can sniff out a scammer from a mile away. We all know there’s no such thing as a book club for ONE. Well, if there is… then I feel really bad for that sad little club and I apologize profusely.  But, you’re still not getting the book club price. (Sorry.)

So, let’s set the minimum order at three books.

Rule #2: if you contact me and order one hundred books, that will also raise some red flags. I’d be very surprised if there’s a book club that has a hundred committed members who all cram into a two bedroom bungalow once a month. Who would want to host that gargantuan get-together? And what about all of that wine? I’d go bankrupt keeping everyone well lubricated.  I’m assuming any super-large order would come from someone desperate to cash in on the worldwide phenomenon that is Dad@Home… someone who would simply resell my book for twice the price! Not on my watch. Again, scammers need not apply!

So, let’s set the maximum order at twenty books.

There are almost too many ways to contact me. For starters, try clicking on the contact me link at the top of the page! You can also email me directly at dadathome1970@gmail.com. Or, if you found this link to my blog on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Google+, simply send me a direct message from any of those social media platforms and I’ll get right back to you. Payment will be easy! Just send me an interac e-mail transfer, or pay me through PayPal. If you live in Calgary, you could even pay me in person with several rolls of quarters.

Good luck and Godspeed with your decision to add Dad@Home to your prestigious book club reading list. You won’t regret it.

Oh, and one more thing. If you want to buy the Kindle version, it’s only three or four bucks… so there’s no special book club deal. It’s already dirt cheap.

Am I A Bad Dad? Maybe…

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Unfortunately, this is considerably more accurate than those dumb “World’s Greatest Dad” mugs. Honestly, who would be so presumptuous?

I’m sorry, but I don’t trust parents who claim they are actually doing a bang up job raising their kids. Anyone who thinks they have all of the answers or feels they are simply “killing it” when it comes to prepping little humans to become productive adult members of society is either completely delusional or a big, fat liar suffering from a fairly common condition known as pants on fire.

The fact is, parenting can be the most rewarding job on the planet, but it can also be the toughest job… because screwing up means you’ve disappointed one or more of those little humans who you’ve been charged with caring for. Trust me, I’ve disappointed plenty of people in my day (just ask my wife!) but nothing beats that sinking feeling when you’ve let your kids down.

When something bad happens and it’s my fault, I will own up to it, ask for forgiveness and hope I get a chance for redemption. It’s a bold new concept I’m trying to instill into my offspring, with admittedly limited success.

I now have two kids in junior high, so I am all too familiar with the annoying phrase:  “How is that MY fault?”  It amazes me to no end how literally nothing they do can realistically be considered… their doing.

This has probably been the biggest source of friction between us as they both enter their edgy teen phase and I enter my cranky old man phase. That’s why when I make a bonehead move that negatively affects the lives of my kids, I always try to show them that I’m sorry, and explain how I’m going to fix the mess I made. Very recently, I made two very unforced errors within a week of each other. Because I believe in equal opportunity, I made sure both of my kids felt the wrath of my misdeeds.

Bonehead move #1:

My past struggles with doing the laundry have been well documented, so I won’t rehash my issues all over again… but for those interested in how I really feel about one of my primary household duties, click here.

But I digress. Lately, I’ve been trying to teach the kids how to use the washer and dryer, help me out with this mundane chore and thus earn more monthly allowance. Last week, I asked my son Daniel to round up his soiled school uniform and put it straight into the washing machine, as I was about to start a new load of laundry. He complied, and I fired up the machine. Almost immediately, I heard a small “thump” as the load of clothes made its first rotation. I half-heartedly peered into the glass of the front-loading machine, but didn’t think much of it. Just a few minutes later, I was still puttering around upstairs when I walked by the laundry room again and sure enough, there was the thump. Once again, I thought to myself: “Ah, it’s probably nothing.”

I regret to inform you all… it was something.

About fifteen minutes into the wash cycle, I overheard Daniel and Abby arguing. From my room I could hear them yammering on and on, both claiming to be right about something dumb so I finally yelled at them from across the house: “one of you just Google it on your phone already!” That was my attempt to help settle the issue without actually having to leave my room.

That’s when I heard the primal scream, and that’s when it hit me.

Dear god. I immediately knew what that mysterious thumping sound was in the washing machine! Daniel and I ran from opposite ends of the top floor of our house, arriving simultaneously in the laundry room situated right in the middle. We looked at each other with wide, wild eyes.

Daniel’s new iPhone was IN THE WASHING MACHINE!

Oh the humanity! I immediately shut down the machine, frantically threw out the soapy, sopping wet clothes from the washer, flopped them onto the floor and found his phone sloshing around near the bottom of the pile. Oh thank god, it was still working! I knew from past experiences what to do and what not to do with a waterlogged phone. My struggles with dropping iPhones into oceans have been well documented, so I won’t rehash my issues all over again… but for those interested in what happened, click here.

But I digress. The first thing we had to do was back this bad boy up on iTunes… like not now, but right now! Daniel was moaning and writhing around on the floor like he had been shot, but I kept telling him to stay calm, apply pressure to his imaginary wound, and he would surely survive this ordeal. It seemed like it took an eternity for the iTunes software to rev up, and we both held our collective breath as I plugged the phone into the computer. Would it sync? We waited, we watched, we waited some more… and… whew! Success! I was relieved we managed to back it up, as a few hours later the phone was toast, with multiple cracks and water completely clouding the touch screen. Not even the famous rice trick could save it.

While Daniel was very upset with himself for depositing his new phone directly into a washing machine, I made it very clear I was not upset at all, and promised him I would make it right.  If I had only checked on the thump immediately, I could have pulled out the phone before it was damaged… and THEN I would have made a point to take Daniel to task for being so careless! I would have taken his phone away from him for a few days as punishment for his actions. But, with my overwhelming guilt over being so damn lazy, I only had one option. I simply had to apologize to my son, hope for forgiveness and fix the mess I made. Within a few days, my son had a new iPhone, completely restored to its former glory.  I was happy to put the incident behind me, because little did I know that I was about to make another dumb mistake.

Bonehead move #2:

Before we dive right into my second screw-up within a week, let’s set the stage. When it comes to volunteering at our kids’ school, I’ve always prided myself on being pretty “on top of things”. Over the last ten years, I’ve driven countless kids to swimming lessons and field trips, flipped pancakes, assembled playground equipment, quizzed students on their times tables, listened to struggling young readers try to get through their first chapter books and even helped coach junior high basketball. In the past couple of years, Abby’s class has had several taco-in-a-bag potluck lunches and I’ve always been one of two parents to provide the ground beef. When I got the email from the school about the latest lunch, I promptly added my ground beef commitment to my phone’s iCalendar. I can be forgetful, so I added not one but TWO reminders for the morning I was to cook up some beef and drive it to school.

So, the fateful day arrived and I was already back at home after morning school drop-off. I was sipping my coffee, staring out the window at a drizzly, cold landscape and I was thinking that my daily jog/walk to the river did not look particularly appealing. My mind turned to our new exercise machine that I had barely touched since we bought it six months ago. I thought to myself, “this will be the day I go to town on the treadclimber”…  and go to town I did. I left my phone on the kitchen counter and made my way down to the basement, where I set the machine to its highest incline setting, ramped up the speed and sweated-out a very invigorating 45-minute workout. After a lengthy, refreshing shower I made my way back to the kitchen and started thinking about what I wanted for lunch. I was feeling pretty good about myself, then I noticed my phone buzzing on the kitchen counter with a new message. It was 11:20 and Abby had just sent me text in all caps.

“DAD! WHERE IS THE BEEF?”

For a split second, I actually found Abby’s message funny as I remembered that old Wendy’s advertisement with the little old lady bemoaning the small amount of beef in her hamburger. Ha! Where’s the beef! I remember that… ah that’s funny… and then my stupid grin slowly morphed into a gaping mouth, my eyes widened and that’s when it hit me.

“Dear god! I FORGOT TO MAKE THE GROUND BEEF!”

I immediately called Abby’s cell phone and I was about to ask her if the other parent had brought so much ground beef that it wouldn’t matter that I forgot to make mine. But, before I could get the words out, she yelped:

“Dad! We are already running out of meat! When will you be here?”

Dammit! There was no way in hell I could buy raw ground beef at Safeway, fry it up at home and drive it to Abby’s school. That would take minimum 45 minutes to an hour! Gah! My mind was spinning but I knew I had totally screwed up (again) and somehow I had to make it right. I asked her if arriving in 20 minutes with more beef was still OK, or was that too late? She paused for a moment to ask her teacher, and I had my answer: because it was raining, they were going to stay indoors for the entire noon break and if I could get there in 20 minutes, they could still make their taco-in-a-bag potluck lunch work.

I told Abby I’d call her from the road when I was close to the school. Then, I grabbed a large plastic Tupperware container, sprinted out the door, jumped into my Subaru and drove off like a bat out of hell. I had a plan, and by god, I was going to make it work. I immediately got on my iPhone and demanded that Siri call the nearest Mucho Burrito. She politely complied and within seconds I was talking into my hands-free bluetooth speaker with an employee of the Mexican fast food chain. I quickly blurted out:

“Hi there! I’m on my way to you right now. Can I buy just a whole bunch of ground beef? Just ground beef?”

Her answer made me want to scream: “Sorry, but we don’t have any ground beef…”

Before I could utter a “What in the hell are you talking about!”, she finished her sentence:

“We actually serve shredded beef at Mucho Burrito”.

Relieved, I breathlessly replied: “Great! See you in five minutes!” and hung up the phone before she could respond. Beef was beef. Shredded would have to do.

The drive there was nerve-wracking, as I seemed to miss every traffic light and somehow got stuck behind cars that were inexplicably traveling at the posted legal speed limit. How dare these people slow me up with their perfectly reasonable driving habits! I pounded my fist on my steering wheel with each missed light and I cursed every law-abiding citizen around me.

Finally, I arrived and I know the woman behind the counter immediately figured out who I was. Who else would dash into a Mucho Burrito with wide, wild eyes, carrying empty Tupperware? I asked if I could fill the container about half the way up with shredded beef but she seemed momentarily confused by my request. She wasn’t sure how to fill my order, so she asked the manager for assistance. I grew more anxious as the “beef conference” dragged on. I noticed a third Mucho Burrito employee move closer to the meeting of the meat minds, and I wanted to shout out: “Step back bro! Let the manager deal with this! These are the hard decisions he’s trained to make!”

My right foot was now tapping furiously, and I almost stepped in to say: “Listen, I’ll pay whatever you want!” Thankfully, the manager made an executive order to charge me two bucks per “scoop” of shredded beef. It took eight scoops to fill the container half way up. When I paid my sixteen dollars, I thought to myself: “Geez, I probably would have paid a hundred bucks for this stupid beef!”

I dashed out as quickly as I dashed in, and hit the road. The route to the school was much faster, with only two traffic lights to deal with. I hit them both perfectly and celebrated with fist pumps. YES! I was absolutely flying now, zipping in and out of the two lanes, speeding, and passing cars at will. Then my phone rang again. It was Abby.

“Dad! It’s been 20 minutes! WHERE ARE YOU?”

I was actually on the home stretch, so I instructed her to wait for me in the parking lot, as I was almost there. We made the shredded beef exchange in record time, and I watched Abby dart back into the school. I looked at my watch. 22 minutes. Whew!

It took 22 minutes from the time I hung up the phone in my kitchen to the critical completed shredded beef delivery at school. Taco-in-a-bag potluck lunch was miraculously salvaged. I was more than relieved as I slumped back into my car seat for a few minutes… letting the stress of the ordeal slowly evaporate. Did I screw up? You bet I did. Was my daughter totally pissed at me? Absolutely. When I asked at after-school pickup if it had all worked out in the end, she replied with a very terse “it was fine”. I also asked if her classmates were mad at me, and she said: “No! I was the one calling you dumb and they were actually defending you!” I’m glad some of those girls had my back. I guess it pays to be their assistant basketball coach.

In the end I apologized, was forgiven… but most importantly, I fixed the mess I made.

So, what can I take away from this week of misadventures? Am I the “worst dad ever”? No, I don’t think so. However, I have come to the conclusion that while I’m not a bad dad per se, I’m definitely a lazy dad and a forgetful dad… and that lethal combination most certainly led to a couple of bonehead moves that wreaked havoc on our household. That being said, I have learned my lesson and have introduced two new personal directives that I swear to faithfully follow from this day forward to ensure this never happens again.

 

  1. NEVER ignore a thumping sound in your washing machine.

  2. NEVER exercise.

 

 

 

Back To School: Is It Still “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”?

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This commercial first aired in 1996. It actually holds up pretty well, but I don’t think any self-respecting dad would be caught dead wearing white socks and black leather slip on shoes.

I bet dollars to donuts most of you remember a certain Staples television commercial featuring the cheerful Andy Williams Christmas carol: “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”. Of course you do! The TV spot has been running during every back to school season for over two decades.

But, if you’ve been living under a rock for twenty years, or are simply a youngster who has no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll provide you with the Cliffs Notes. A positively gleeful dad is dancing, or rather PRANCING through the aisles of Staples. He’s filling his shopping cart with back to school supplies while the most “wonderful” soundtrack punctuates his joyful jaunt through the store. Meanwhile, his two clinically depressed, nearly catatonic kids slowly trudge behind him, hit by the crushing realization that their coveted summer vacation is almost over. (Oh geez, I just realized that young people may not know what Cliffs Notes are either, but I digress.)

It’s not only funny, but it’s a very memorable ad, and for many years it perfectly encapsulated my own feelings of elation, relief and triumph after I survived another summer with two very demanding kids constantly underfoot. You see, as a stay-at-home parent, I truly believe those first few years with toddlers and crawling babies squirming between your legs are the years where we really earn our keep. When I’m having a particularly lazy day, I’ll think back on those first five years of craziness, and I’ll say to myself: “self, don’t sweat it. Don’t feel guilty, you’ve earned this.”

So, when both of my kids finally reached the golden age of six-years-old, it really felt like a gift from God. Hallelujah! Abby and Daniel were at school, five days a week, from 8:30AM to 3:30PM. It finally felt like I had regained some semblance of my OLD life  – you know, when you could run errands without carrying a kid on your hip, when you could visit a friend without bringing extra diapers with you, when you could go grocery shopping without having to referee a shoving match taking place inside the cart, or simply go for a coffee and just read the newspaper for twenty minutes… uninterrupted.

Of course, 3:30 pick-up at school always seemed to come WAY too quickly, and my life would go back to normal, with my primary caregiving responsibilities once again taking centre stage. That’s why summer vacation was always a time I never really looked forward to. Yes, we would always take a couple of weeks for a fun family getaway, and with Lianne off work, it was always a special treat for me to have both of us on full-time parent duty. But, after that all-too-brief respite was over, it was back to the grind… a grind that I was no longer accustomed to after the precious ten-month break school provided me.

As any parent knows, when kids are young, they still like to get up early… WAY too early. They don’t care that it’s summer. They also want food. They also get bored. They also need sunlight and fresh air once and a while. Let’s face it; Abby and Daniel were totally cramping my style. They were completely squashing my newfound freedom!

Summers were always filled with exhausting trips to amusement parks, the science centre, the zoo, water parks, pools and sporting events. My kids wanted to do stuff! Always so much stuff! Why did they always want me to take them somewhere fun? Dammit, I wanted my 8:30AM to 3:30PM “Greg Time” back in the worst possible way! I needed it! I missed it! My body ached for it! But alas, summer time was not a time for lazy lattes and stress-free shopping. Summer time was a chance for the kids to have fun and go nuts in the absence of rigid school rules.

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Imagine in your mind’s eye, a cheesy 1980’s-style movie montage, scored with the equally cheesy but very catchy 1980 Kenny Loggins hit song, I’m Alright. Picture the montage… several scenes of me running around all over town with two crazy kids in tow, then periodically cutting to me wiping my sweaty brow and marking giant red X’s on my “countdown to back to school” calendar. Just imagine it already. What’s the matter? Don’t you have any imagination? C’man.

While I am exaggerating my aversion to actual parenting just a tad for “entertainment” purposes, I could totally relate to the dad in that famous Staples commercial. He was simply giddy with the thought of punting his kids out of the house and back to school for another ten months. I think that’s why the TV ad struck such a chord with me for so many years.

However, I have to admit… this year is different.

Starting today, both of my kids are now in junior high, and I gotta be honest: there is no feeling of elation, no feeling of relief and most certainly no feeling of triumph. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I’m actually going to miss them. You see, these kids of mine have been sleeping in until almost noon every day and they can usually make their own breakfast/lunch. They both express very little interest when I ask them if they want to go on a bike ride, or walk with me to the coffee shop, or go to the mall for a few hours.

I guess they have better things to do than constantly hang out with their dear old dad. There are YouTube videos to create, Xbox games to play and friends to text with. While the three of us did manage a couple fun outings this summer, most of their vacation days have been spent in their respective rooms, doing their own thing.

That’s why spending the day with my kids at an amusement park a couple of days ago brought back a flood of memories. It’s funny, but all of a sudden I don’t seem to remember our summer trips to the science centre, the zoo, water parks, pools and sporting events being all that exhausting.

At the time, I felt like the kids constantly begged me, bugged me and harassed me to do fun stuff with them, but now… I ultimately see it in a very different light. They weren’t tormenting me, they were counting on me to do fun stuff with them.  And dammit, do fun stuff we did, summer after summer after summer.

Looking back, one might even say those summers spent with my kids could be described as the most wonderful time of the year.

Dad@Quebec: Another Summer Family Adventure

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I’ve always said that writing is considered to be some of the most back-breaking work known to man. (Photo credit Zoe Tysowski)

OK, I’ll admit it. When it comes to maintaining this blog, I’ve been acting exceedingly and deliberately lazy since my last post.

I guess that’s not all that surprising, as my most recent entry of Dad@Home coincided with the beginning of summer, and a decidedly slower pace for most stay-at-home parents.

One might think that would leave me with more time to write my blog, but to be honest, I find that any downtime simply breeds an unquenchable desire for even more downtime. After a very hectic school year with the kids, rife with all manner of extracurricular stuff like swimming, piano, volleyball, debate, basketball, hockey, soccer and then even more basketball… this Dad@Home needed a break. And by break, I mean a break from everything, including writing.

The last time you heard from me was over five-and-a-half weeks ago, but today finds me very relaxed, sitting on a dock, looking out at beautiful Lake Memphremagog in southern Quebec, and it got me thinking: “maybe it’s time I get off my fat ass and write something”.

So, here it goes… although you’ll have to excuse me if my fat ass remains firmly planted on this deck chair, overlooking picturesque Lake Memphremagog.

We are officially two weeks into our three-week tour of La Belle Province, and I must say, we are loving every minute of Quebec.

We landed in Montreal, but almost immediately made our way to the provincial capital of Quebec City. We stayed in the old city, inside the old walls and yes, it really does feel like the closest thing to Europe we have here in North America. Established in 1608, Quebec is indeed the oldest city on the continent and it is chalk full of tourists come summer time. The cobbled streets are packed with people, and we could definitely hear a lot of English being spoken. One of our tour guides begged us to please venture outside the “safety” of the old walls, or as he calls it, the tourist trap. He wants visitors to see the rest of the city and indeed the entire province, as much of the central touristy area of Quebec City is feeling more and more like a manufactured main street you might find at a Disney resort. But, that being said, it is still very charming and fun to explore.

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I swear to God, this guard at the Quebec Citadel was a barrel of laughs until just before we took the picture.

We knew that staying in old Quebec City would be a safe haven for us English speakers. And, because we were saving Montreal (and it’s rather substantial Anglophone population) until the end of our trip, there would be a very large portion of our vacation where our obvious shortcomings speaking French could potentially become a serious issue.

So, has our lacklustre grasp of the French language been a big deal? Absolutely not, and I’ll tell you why. One of our tour guides in Quebec City stressed that all the Québécois people are looking for is a little effort to speak the local language. So, we have all tried to kick off every conversation with a “Bonjour! Est-ce que vous parlez anglais?”

We have found that asking a Quebecer if he or she can speak English (in the most polite way possible) has yielded great results. They usually respond with “a little bit”, and then proceed to display a very solid grasp of the English language. Even when the chasm between the two sides was wide, they would usually find a way to bridge the gap and we have been very grateful for that.

I have to take a few minutes of your time to poke fun at my older brother, Mark. We are traveling with his family for the entire vacation, and he has developed a slightly annoying habit of speaking in a French accent when encountering a Quebecois whose English is less than perfect. For example, instead of simply saying “We are from Calgary, Alberta” in his normal voice, he will sound something like this:

“Weee AAAAAAre from CAL-gah-REEEEE, AAAAL-ber-TAAAAAH!”

Am I exaggerating his accent just a tad? Absolutely, but he refuses to stop, no matter how much I make fun of him. He seems to think people from Quebec will somehow understand English better if they hear it in a familiar French accent. Personally, I think it kinda-sorta comes off like mild mockery, but what do I know? Maybe he’s 100% correct! Nobody we’ve met seems to mind when he does it, so perhaps I’m just making something out of nothing.

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The beautiful coastline of Tadoussac, where the minke whales frolic for the tourists just metres from the shore, free of charge.

Anyhoooo, after leaving the so-called tourist trap of Quebec City, we have tasted fancy jams on the Isle D’Orleans, zip-lined across Montmorency Falls, biked across Isle Aux Codres, dipped our toes into the cold waters of the St. Lawrence near Saint-Irene, went whale watching in Tadoussac, toured a decommissioned submarine in Rimouski, paddled various boats at a lake resort called Domaine Valga, hiked around rocky Bic National Park, visited the very educational Grosse Isle and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site, and finally ended up here… at gorgeous Lake Memphremagog near the Vermont border.

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Lake Memphremagog… completely unpronounceable, but exceedingly beautiful.

This part of the holiday is what we call “the vacation within the vacation”. After busting a move up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway, we have abandoned our hectic schedule to set up shop for a full week at a spacious lake house with all of the amenities. There are more bedrooms than we actually need, three, count ’em, three showers, a great dock, ample deck chairs, crystal-clear-warm-water, canoes and kayaks, and get this: a dry sauna. That was an unexpected bonus. We’ve been here for three days, and I’ve been feeling very relaxed. So relaxed that I finally decided to get off my twice-aforementioned fat ass and write something.

So, with three more full days of the “vacation within the vacation” to go, I’m looking forward to more sleeping in, more swimming, more booze and plenty more time in that sweet sauna before we hit the road for Montreal and begin the final, hectic leg of our Quebec adventure.

A week from now, we will be back in Calgary. That means a trip back to reality and the sinking realization that we are about three weeks away from the beginning of another crazy school year, complete with all of the kid stuff that comes with it… swimming, piano, volleyball, debate, basketball, hockey, soccer and then even more basketball,

And, oh yeah… I almost forgot. I also get to morph back into the international internet phenomenon known as Dad@Home once again.

It would seem a bloggers work is never done, (unless he’s on vacation.)