Before you ask, the interview starts at 8:08. And no, I do not usually blink that much. And no, I am not willing to part with that super-sweet schooner painting behind me (it's actually a card table). Lastly, for the record, I deeply regret not getting at least one "Go Flames!" in.
I’ve always known that working from home is a double-edged sword. What I didn’t know was that I was willfully ignoring one side of the blade.
The benefits of my kitchen-table office remain enjoyable and pleasingly practical despite COVID-19. Where once I partook of solitary barbecued lunches and midday baths — sometimes simultaneously — I now grill for the brood as a reward for changing out of their pajamas. Where once I was instrumental in getting my wife and daughters out of the house, and rarely sported my Lebowski-esque housecoat to greet them when they returned from school and work, I am now instrumental as Lebowski-esque tech support for the endless virtual meetings and lessons on tap each day.
Pre-pandemic, I attributed the drawbacks of working from home more to the demands of my chosen profession than to my workplace environment. Toiling late into the evening, my face illuminated by the glow of my laptop’s screen, was the price I paid for my own ambition and the flexibility that working from home affords.
The shuttering of my wife’s downtown workplace, and my kids’ nearby schools, has displaced my rose-coloured glasses. Don’t get me wrong: I like working from home with my kids around, even if their TikTok videos have inadvertently contravened several non-disclosure agreements. I also like working alongside my wife, even if her piles of binders and duo-tangs threaten to crush the tiny potted succulents that were once my only lunchtime companions.
While relatively little has changed for me, my wife’s work days have been turned upside down. This was expected to a certain extent — what with all-day childcare and home-schooling added to our plates — but neither of us expected the drastic change in Angela’s office hours.
When the figurative whistle blows at her downtown digs each afternoon, Angela is usually able to leave work behind with the kind of yabba-dabba-doo-style aplomb I can’t help but admire and envy. The occasional text or email requires her attention, of course, but for the most part work-life balance has been a non-issue for her. For me, however, it is always an issue because work has fewer boundaries, physical and otherwise. “Job creep,” as it’s known, comes with the territory.
Now, with those 9-to-5 boundaries removed, Angela has joined my nocturnal kitchen sessions. Her advice to office staff who hope the COVID-19 crisis will lend legitimacy to working from home: Be careful what you wish for.
From what I can tell, Angela’s schedule shift is being caused by various pandemic-related factors to which many of our peers can relate. For one thing, newly well-attended virtual meetings seem to last much longer than they should because someone can’t figure out how to turn their microphone on — and their camera off. Pajama buttons are there for a reason, people! For another, proper adherence to social-distancing allows employers to know where you are, or at least where you should be, at any given time. If you’re not at home, you could be out coughing on someone! Besides, even if you wanted to leave the house, there isn’t really anywhere to go or much to do. No wonder #Caturday is now trending on Tuesdays. No wonder Angela is suddenly receiving work emails after 9pm.
All this affirms my assertion that the best part of working from home is also the worst part of working from home. As long as you’re meeting deadlines and exceeding expectations, employers have no need to know, and no reason to care, where you are or what you’re doing at any given time. That’s why there’s nothing stopping you from carrying your laptop to a nearby park or combining a 2pm coffee break with an axe-throwing competition.
At the same time, watching all seven episodes of Tiger King is close to impossible when an Australian client schedules a midnight Zoom meeting mere seconds after you bid your offspring goodnight. Fact is, freelancers are hired precisely because they can respond at any hour. There is no slipperier slope when it comes to work-life balance.
This slope is getting crowded, and not just because of the pandemic-fuelled office exodus and rise of the gig economy. Nap rooms have become common workplace amenities. Pet-friendly, foosball-equipped offices aim to emulate the comforts of home. Enormous mixed-use real-estate developments have corporate headquarters at their hearts. While these conveniences may improve employee productivity — an endgame that itself is being called into question amid COVID-19 — they also show how the line between work and life is being blurred like never before. Do they make it easier to achieve a healthy work-life balance? Or do they ensure that productivity will always triumph over personal time? To paraphrase a Metric lyric: “Buy a condo to live at work, live at work to pay for this condo.”
Job creep may be disconcerting, but it hasn’t curbed my enthusiasm for working from home. As much as I’d like to be more assertive with clients who throw my work-life balance out of whack — and risk losing income in the process — the pros of working at home still outweigh the cons for me.
But not for everyone. Ask my wife about returning to the office, and she’ll tell you she’s looking forward to it. Ask me about having the kitchen table all to myself again, and I’ll tell you that summer is just around the corner.
An incomplete list of the travel destinations I've covered that will be, or are already being, severely affected by climate change
That's right: ALL OF THEM.
Now that Didcot Power Station has been mostly levelled, with its remaining three cooling towers demolished in spectacular fashion last Sunday, I can’t shake the feeling that something has been lost.
The feeling intensified when I stumbled upon Kit Wright’s wonderful 2014 poem, An Ode to Didcot Power Station:
What vasty thighs outspread to give thee birth,
DIDCOT, thou marvel of the plain?
Colossal funnels of the steamship EARTH,
Thy consummate immensity
Enshrines the rare propensity
Of fumes to form eternal acid rain!
While, in their pious hosts, Romano-Celtic ghosts
Are knelt to worship thy
And shadows of thy sacrificial breathing fill the sky!
DIDCOT, thou bugger!
Thou teaser of the mind
And recollection-tugger! Thee I find
To replicate the days when I was small
What time my mother, sweet and kind,
The fragrant Friar's Balsam did infuse.
A towel placed upon my head
And loving care did use
That pulmonary perils might not wake me with the dead.
DIDCOT! To one more
Soft eidolon thou steam'st ope mem'ry's door ...
For in thy hanging shrouds I view return
Far other blue-grey clouds;
My father's pipe-smoke I in thee discern,
That followed him all days
And ways he ventured through this singing maze,
To take that turn
All entrants in their bafflement and grace may not eschew.
What links of tenderness are forged by thee,
DIDCOT, thou ever-burning core!
Insensate lover of the loves that flee!
Thou glade of past felicity,
Thy sap of electricity
Complicit in our veins for evermore!
Struggling anent the storm, thy children ghost the form
Of all our quickenings may ever be ...
DIDCOT, thy billows pour,
Connatural, contiguous, familial as the sea!
The power station was never pretty, aesthetically or environmentally. To be honest, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of a blot on the landscape, what with the landscape in question being so pleasing to the eye. My late grandfather Harry, for one, despised the power station. An avid painter of English landscapes, he resented its grey brooding presence.
As a child visiting from Canada, however, I grew to associate the plump concrete smoke stacks with summers of non-stop fun. I spent much of my childhood bouncing between the homes of grandparents, cousins and summer friends in Drayton, Sutton Courtney, Steventon, and the other villages and towns on and around England's rolling Wiltshire Downs.
I've been back several times as an adult — twice as a father — and still revel in revisiting the diversions of my youth: The Uffington White Horse prehistoric hill figure; Wittenham Clumps, a pair of wooded hills and ancient forts that once afforded superb views of the power station; the footpaths around the Thames weirs at Sutton Courtney; and even the modest Sutton Wick duck pond in Drayton.
This is one of the most underrated parts of England. Millions of visitors take day trips from London to the Cotswold Hills and Stonehenge — both less than an hour's drive from the Drayton Triangle, as I call it — as well as to Oxford, the world-famous university city 20 minutes north. It could be that Didcot Power Station has caused tourists to bypass the area. If so, I owe it a debt of gratitude for the uncrowded pubs, serene villages and countryside, and relative lack of tour buses in the Triangle.
These days, I also derive great pleasure from bringing my daughters along, and watching as they gaze wide-eyed at the White Horse's 110-metre-long chalk body, or hurl crusts of bread into the swirling Thames, drawing ducks by the dozens.
Relatives who still live in the Triangle chuckle when I outline our repetitive itinerary. It probably seems quaint — boring, even — when compared with the sights of London or even those of Oxford. But I will never tire of the Triangle, or of reliving those halcyon days and sharing them with my family.
I would have liked to have been among the thousands of spectators who turned out for the final implosion. My grandfather, however, would have been there no matter what. Harry would have cheered loudly, no doubt, having invariably excluded the power station from his bucolic watercolours.
But next time I snap a photo from the top of Wittenham Clumps, I may just Photoshop it in.
You came into our lives one night
By waddling down our street
We knew you were a duckling
You had a beak and cute webbed feet
You ran under a parked Toyota
I found a box to put you in
Some guy used a broom to nab you
He was like Gretzky with that thing!
My daughters were beyond excited
“A duckling! In my room!”
I told them that they couldn’t touch you
As that would seal your doom
A nest was fashioned, tout de suite
From towels and serviettes
I’m pretty sure, were I not there
They would have fed you Chex
A Google search soon revealed
A duckling-friendly menu
So milk, and peas, and boiled egg
Were added to your venue
You started swimming in the milk
And churned it like a blender
Then scattered peas and egg around
Like Bieber on a bender
We needed Animal Services
I dialed the free hotline
And as I did, “Can we keep him?”
Was repeated 16 times
“Ducklings are wild animals,”
Came my stern reply
“He’d be unhappy living here
He’d never learn to fly.”
“What about the duck on Friends?”
Asked Grace, full of defiance,
“If Joey can look after one,
It can’t be rocket science.”
“Rest assured, my daughter dear,”
I quickly bantered back
As soon as “Joey” leaves the set
Duck wranglers pick up the slack
“That’s it!” cried Ava, eyes aglow
“Duck wrangling is my dream!
Father, please don’t kill my hopes
Like adamantium killed Wolverine.”
Just in time, the Muzak ended
A real person came online
“It’s after-hours,” he said politely,
“Five hours is the wait time.”
Given the lateness of the hour,
I guessed this meant next morning
So after closing Ducky’s box
I joined my family in withdrawing
I awoke, saw on my phone
The voicemail tab alight
Cameron from Animal Services
Had come by after midnight
So I called and left a message
Then I took the girls aside
“When you get home from school,” I said,
“Ducky may not here reside.”
“Ontario Wildlife Rescue
Will provide his new abode
He’ll be much happier there, my dears
Not waddling down the road.”
“‘We saved him!’ That’s the takeaway!”
Were my parting words
Disconsolate, they turned away
Thinking me absurd
So I waited, with my ringer on
For Cameron to return
He prefers to go by “The Avian Assassin”
As we would later learn
It could be that’s the reason
Our duck guest seemed quite neurotic
Leaping against his cardboard walls
He was almost robotic
Eat some egg, jump for thirty
Drink some milk, make nest dirty
Jump for thirty, eat some peas
Ducky, quit this jumping, please!
Then wee Ducky, he started peeping
As first I felt my eardrums bleeding
But as I listened to his pleas
My urge to keep him did increase
This went on for about six hours
What eating, jumping, and peeping powers!
Then in the door came Ava and Gracie
Followed by Evie, Pam and Stacey
After them came Peg and Sue
Then a minute later, Ivy Blue
Not Blue Ivy of Queen B fame
You get the idea just the same
My kitchen was crammed full of kids
The duck was starring in 14 vids
Eating peas, then jumping lots
Was going to kill it on Tik Tok
At dinner, Ducky, half awake
Seemed to be resigned to his fate
And resolutely hunkered down
In his makeshift apartment brown
Then at the door there came a knock
Cameron, adding to his flock
“Evening, all,” he said, quite plucky,
“Now tell me, girls, WHERE’S THE DUCKY?”
Cam’s approach was poorly planned
He came across like Slenderman
The girls, now scarred, quickly retreated
Their tear ducts soon to be depleted
“Hold on, girls,” Cam said, polite
“Check out this FAWN from just last night
Her mom got hit by a passing Jeep
Then we found her in a yard, asleep.”
Cam produced his sticky phone
Revealing the mystery of this poem
A fawn, awake, its eyes imploring
Soon our Ducky became quite boring
Cam, he quickly grabbed the box
And said, “My work is done here, boss”
Then turned and ambled out the door
My family was duck-less, once more
The girls, dreaming of fawns, retired
Never thinking that Cam had conspired
To trick them with fawn stock photos
Good thing we were dealing with pros
Before she closed her eyes, Grace said,
“Can we get a dog instead?”
Then she started singing “Bingo”
I’m sure she’d take a rabid dingo
Dingos, I’d turn down these days
Along with pure-breds, pups and strays
Any pet is out of luck
With one exception: Any kind of duck.
“We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain
Moor and mountain
Following yonder star…”
The Crash Test Dummies’ baritonal rendition of the holiday classic jingles out of the rental-car stereo just as Sommet Saint-Sauveur’s starry lights come into view. It’s just past 4pm on Dec. 23, and as usual I’m driving from the Central Train Station in Montreal to the family chalet near Mont Tremblant.
Sauveur’s night-skiing operations, and others like them, have been lighting my way along the Laurentian Autoroute for years. But unlike the biblical Magi, who famously followed a star, I have always bypassed the valley’s beckoning beacons.
Not so this year. With ski gear in the trunk, fresh flakes on the highway and a few hours to spare, some warm-up laps sound like just the thing before hitting the slopes of Eastern Canada’s largest ski resort.
It turns out to be one of the best pit-stops I’ve ever made. So great, in fact, that I’ve taken three more detours along the Corduroy Highway, as I’ve come to call it, since then. There’s certainly no shortage of options: With a dozen impeccably-groomed hills lining the 70 kilometres of blacktop between between Sauveur and Tremblant, the Riviere du Nord valley is home to Canada's densest concentration of ski areas, all of which are making the most of 2019 spring skiing thanks to one of the best snowfall seasons on record.
This ski-area abundance goes back to the late 19th century, when the P'tit Train du Nord railway line — now Canada’s longest multi-use rail trail — first linked Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts and Montreal. This made it much easier for city-dwellers to explore the region, which became even more popular when one of North America’s first mechanical ski lifts was installed on Mont Saint-Sauveur in 1934. In those early years local hotels tended to operate their own lifts, many of which serviced single runs. No wonder more than 220 ski operations are said to have opened in the valley since 1900.
Another pleasant surprise: Despite their proximity and shared Laurentian setting, the four resorts I’ve sampled so far are pleasingly varied, with histories, personalities, terrain, cuisine and quirks all their own. What makes each worthy of much more than a pit-stop? Here’s what I’ve discovered so far:
The record-setting extent of Sauveur’s nightskiing hits home as I stand at the top of the L’Atomic Expresshigh-speed quad. Radiating outward like the spokes of a massive whitewashed wagon wheel, the six wonderfully groomed runs below me might account for the full extent of evening descents at many much larger ski areas. At Sauveur, however, more than 70 per cent of the 40 trails are illuminated, yielding 48 hectares of floodlit terrain — reputed to be the most extensive on Earth.
My nocturnal opportunities feel limitless. To the left and right, beginner-friendly traverses lead to seven more of Sauveur’s lifts, as well as to the three that climb adjoining Sommet Avila. I charge down the single-black Côte 70 Est in front of me as if the world’s last remaining order of poutine is waiting for me at the bottom. Thankfully, Sauveur’s stylish T-Bar 70 restaurant has plenty of fresh cheese curds and gravy on hand, as well as the breaded chicken strips, crispy bacon and pepper sauce it adds to its signature version of Quebec’s famous dish. A crisp Griffintown craft pilsner caps my pit stop within a pit stop, and I head back out to carve down groomer after groomer.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE STORY IN SKI CANADA MAGAZINE
Last year, I learned a valuable lesson in Ellicottville: Craft beer is obliterating the stereotype that American brews are weak and watery.
Now, I'm learning something else: A private ski resort isn't always a private ski resort.
Eighteen months after our first visit to charming Ellicottville, the brood and I are back to check out nearby HoliMont, the largest private ski area in the United States (by membership). The good news for non-members like us is that HoliMont is open to the public on weekdays, which is how we've been able to ski there. The resort's 46 trails and eight lifts are providing some textbook spring skiing, with the welcoming atmosphere enhanced by stone fireplaces in the expansive main lodge and floor-to-ceiling windows facing the snowy slopes.
Spring skiing, especially with children who are learning to snowboard, provides a natural excuse to enjoy a beer or three. And as is the case with 12.6 percent of Ontario March Breaks, St. Patrick's Day just happens to be the very last day of this year's nine-day parental gauntlet.
Good thing the Ellicottville Brewing Co.'s wares are so well-represented at nearby Holiday Valley, the largest public ski area in New York State. The eponymous lodge's raucous T-Bar lounge pours a Ski Bum hoppy ale and a Blueberry Wheat Ale garnished with real berries. Next door, the fifth outpost of the Massachusetts-based John Harvard's Brewery is home to 20-plus taps, including a decadent Chocolate Cherry Bomb Imperial Stout produced by Ellicottville Brewing.
Craft beers multiply exponentially during the annual Holiday Valley Beer and Wine Festival, when more than 30 brewers crowd the resort's base area each November. For even more sudsy variety, EBC's stylish dining and entertainment complex serves up flights and brewery tours.
READ MORE OF MY CRAFT BEER-MEETS-SKIING STORY IN THE GLOBE AND MAIL
After years of bitter disappointment, my daughter Grace finally received a GT Snowracer from Santa this past Christmas. Then, after weeks of bitter disappointment, there was finally enough snow on the ground this weekend to use the sweet steerable sled.
Grace was fired up, but only slightly more fired up than I was. After all, I loved my 1980s Snowracer even more than I adored my Green Machine. The GT has got to be one of the most enduringly popular winter toys of all time. Since its invention in the early 1970s, the Snowracer's manufacturer, Stiga, has gone on to produce SX Pro models with BMX-style handlebars for more extreme sledding.
The GT model is the classic, however, and as I watched Grace and her buddies hurtle down the short-but-steep slope at Toronto's Rennie Park it occurred to me that I have no idea what "GT" actually stands for. A quick Wikipedia search reveals that the acronym typically means "grand touring" in the automotive industry, with GT models offering higher-performance engines and more comfortable interiors designed for long trips.
But with its hard plastic seat and gravity-based propulsion system, this doesn't really apply to the Snowracer. So, with Stiga ignoring my voice mails, emails and sky writing, I've developed a few theories as to the origin of the Snowracer's initials:
Golden Trousers: Swedish engineer Erland "Golden Trousers" Wikner is credited with having invented the Snowracer.
Guaranteed Terror: What you get when you put a nine-year-old on a Snowracer and send it down a snowy hill teeming with approximately 400 other excited kids.
G&T: What daddy needs after an afternoon of snowracing.
Generous THC: What daddy needs after an afternoon of snowracing.
Gaaah-Thunk: The sound of two Snowracers colliding (and their warranties being simultaneously voided).
Grace Tolja: Like when Grace said, "I tolja Santa knows how to make fast toys!"
.gt: The Internet country code top-level domain for Guatemala.
Good Thing: As in, "Good thing for the brake, or that sled would be in Scarborough by now."
Giggle at Toronto: What the rest of Canada does whenever it snows enough to actually use a Snowracer here.
It’s too bad CBD massages weren’t as much of a thing in 2004, when I wrote several spa reviews for the Globe and Mail’s now-defunct “World of Wellbeing” column. After all, the two therapists who subjected me to my first (and last) "Mystical Water Ride" probably could have used one.
Then as now, I took great pride in telling it like it was. Exactly how moist were the towelettes? Did the shower jets tickle or sting? How well did the piped-in pan-flute complement the live mandolin? I had the spa scoop when it counted. But there was one isolated incident I never reported. For one thing, it wasn’t really review material. For another, it was spectacularly embarrassing for everyone involved. Then again, those tend to be best stories, so here goes:
Shortly after checking into Port Severn’s lovely Christie’s Mill Inn, I made my way to the 7,000-square-foot Avalon spa for my Mystical Water Ride. The brand-new treatment started off swimmingly: After stripping down and being vigorously scrubbed and slathered in warm seaweed — behind curtains that somehow maintained my modesty — I was wrapped in towels, placed on a gurney and left to marinate for about half an hour.
Next, the gurney was wheeled under the seven high-powered jets of a Vichy shower. The two female attendants unwrapped me with the greatest discretion and care, and momentarily left the room so I could cover my naughty bits with an adequate-seeming face towel. The idea was that the shower would exfoliate my skin and remove the seaweed.
But it also removed the face towel.
In my near-comatose state, I was initially oblivious to the kerfuffle this caused. I did notice that the flow of water had ceased, and out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the attendants scamper across the room to retrieve my terrycloth fig leaf. It was delicately repositioned, the shower was restarted, and the towel was again blasted to the far side of the room.
It turned into a strange kind of repetitive dance: Rearrange towel, turn on water, towel goes flying, retrieve towel. It didn’t bother me much: I’m not especially modest, and the water was warm enough to avoid the Seinfeldian shrinkage all men fear. The attendants, however, seemed mortified, even after I mumbled that I didn’t really care about the towel as long as the powerful shower jets weren't aimed at the area it was covering.
After about 15 towel retrievals the shower was over and I was quickly, and perhaps too securely, wrapped in several larger towels. I felt smooth, clean, tingly and generally wonderful. The bedraggled spa attendants, however, looked like they had been blasted with water cannons.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed that Avalon had stopped offering the "Mystical Water Ride." So I have to wonder: Was I the first, and last, Mystical Water Rider?
With my first full year of (borderline successful) full-time freelancing (almost) behind me, here’s how I see the eight days BEFORE Dec. 25 shaping up as I continue to work from home:
On the first day of Christmas, some guy emailed me
Asking that I work for free
On the second day of Christmas, the guy referred to me
As "Dear Allan Bixby"
And again asked that I work for free
On the third day of Christmas, three clients mailed to me
Greeting cards saying
"Dear Adam Bisby"
Means a lot to know they value me
On the fourth day of Christmas, the CRA sent me
Four HST forms
Three payment docs
Two veiled threats
And a note about interest fees
On the fifth day of Christmas, I read a nifty tweet
(About the) Five Golden Rules!!!!! (of freelancing):
Never miss deadlines
Always show up
Do good work and don’t do it for free
On the sixth day of Christmas, I had a lovely dream:
Five golden handshakes!!!!!
Four soaring stocks
Three health plans
Two pension funds
And a chalet near Lake Louise
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
Seven pounds of coffee
Six iPhone chargers
Five Golden Brooms!!!!!
Four "sick day" nooners
Three bath bombs
Two mental notes
And a new bathrobe already
On the eighth day of Christmas, my two kids gave to me
Eight playdate pickups
Seven missing backpacks
Six permission forms
Five (requests for) golden retrievers!!!!!
Four data overages
Three French tests
Two turtle deaths
And two reasons to rock 2019...
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