Friday, February 5, 2016

This Canadian Loves America

There is no other country in the history of the world that has provided more wealth, more technology and more global-scale influence than America. Rome and Great Britain come close, and the old Soviet Union was certainly no weakling, but the USA is in a different league altogether.

This isn't why I love America, however. I don't care about size of armies (although as a Canadian I do like living in "Fortress America" under the US defensive umbrella), and while there are major problems in the US, particularly with racism, violence, political corruption and obesity, I am able to see through these individual trees at the majesty of the entire forest.

Let me break it down:


There is no denying that America is beautiful. Where else in the world can you get EVERY SINGLE TYPE OF ECOSYSTEM within one country's borders? China? Please!

Here in Canada we have some beautiful landscapes too...for 4 months in the summer. The prairies are nice, until it snows. Cape Breton is beautiful, that is, until the first Atlantic blizzard dumps 6 feet of snow on it. Vancouver, when it's not soaking wet, is covered in fog while the Great Lakes flip between scorching humidity and bone-snapping freeze.

America has something for everyone. You like desert? Enjoy New Mexico! Want some palm trees? Florida beckons year-round. Bayou in Louisiana and mountains in Colorado. Heck, even if you are a masochist who likes Canadian-style climate, the US has New York, Minnesota and Alaska!


Let's admit it: when it comes to genius inventions the Americans have a near-monopoly on smarts. Sure the British were good engineers who gave us the steam engine, and the Japanese are great at fiddling with US-made products and improving them, but it is America's culture of free enterprise that cultivates and spurs creativity.

All the best tech comes out of America. All the best movies come out of America. The best music comes out of America. Even some of the best food is American! 

Many of the people who have created these things were not American per say, but America gave them the freedom and opportunity to use their smarts in ways that would have impossible in their home countries. Einstein is one example. Today NASA employs the best space engineers and astrophysicists from around the world. Even Russian cosmonauts prefer to work for NASA!

This is because America's insistence on freedom, whether that be a free market or the free exchange of ideas, provides the most fertile ground for these developments. Thanks to the free markets young entrepreneurs and inventors are able to access a myriad of different funding options to get their ideas realized. 

Here in Canada there is a bureaucratic wall thrown up which is meant to protect the incumbents. At its heart Canada is a very conservative country (no matter what our Prime-Minister looks like). We don't like change. Got a great tech idea? Great! First make sure you register with three different regulatory bodies. Oh, and forget about funding, unless your investors already have more than $1 million in investment returns. Want to incorporate so you can attract a top-tier team of advisors and managers? Well, so long as they are immediate family only (or said millionaire-investors). 

Forget about getting money from a bank. There are only four of them, and they have their sphincters buttoned-up so tight that toilet paper won't even fit there. 

For the true geniuses and entrepreneurs, America is where it's at.


America was founded with the opening words "We the people...". That says a lot about this country. 

Compare that to Canada's myriad of constitutional documents. The first words are "Whereas the Provinces of Canada have expressed desire to be federally united into one Dominion under the Crown..."


All joking aside, the 3 equal branches of government in the US and their corresponding checks and balances are superior to Canada's Winstminster-styled Parliament. In the US the President, although powerful, has zero control over Congress. In Canada a Prime-Minister with a majority exercises near-dictatorial powers over the executive AND the legislative branches.

In the US a member of the House of Representatives is elected with a majority of the votes. In Canada the awesome powers given to the PM is under a "first past the post" system, meaning that whichever party gains the majority of seats in the House of Commons also gains the key to unbridled power, even if it was only with 40% of the votes (which has been the case for the past thirty years). 

In the US Senators are elected. Heck, judges, Sheriffs and District Attorneys are elected! In Canada these are appointed positions for the "specalists" (aka "elites") who are chosen by political cronyism. 

Can you imagine that in 2016 we STILL DON'T ELECT OUR SENATORS???


Look at the photo above. See all the different smiles? That's because Americans are, on average, friendly people (at least in my experience). America is a multicultural, multilingual nation with a diverse range of opinions, religions, colors, styles and everything else. In fact, there is no way you can say "Americans do this" or "Americans are like that" because there is no one single "American" archetype.

Canada is much like America in its ethnic diversity, but when it comes to personalities Canadians are prudes. Smug prudes, at that. Our obesity levels, racism and academic ignorance are reaching parity with the US. We've taken the worst parts of British culture and melded them with the worst parts of American culture. That's Canada for you.

In the US not everybody is friendly. You're more likely to be killed in the US, whether by a thug, a lunatic or a cop. Or even a hurricane, or a flood, or a flying cow in a tornado. But overall most of the Americans I've met have been friendly, approachable and courteous (except for you, Seattle. What's your problem?). When I've gone to the south I've been blown away by the food, the over-the-top friendliness and those hot southern girls. South Carolina? Yes please!


America ran into some trouble in 2008, but they've since got out of it and even expanded their economy to higher levels than before the recession! Although job numbers in early 2016 shrunk, the US economy as a whole is chugging along in a rather healthy manner.

The same can't be said for Canada. We're the only G7 country in a recession. Eight of our ten provinces are in more debt than the entire country's combined GDP. Jobs are scarce.

In the US salaries have been rising across the board (despite what the "Occupy" protesters say...damn facts getting in the way of a narrative and all). The US not only created the largest middle class in the history of the world (a key factor in a free and healthy economy), but has also, for the most part, maintained it. 

Canada has seen its middle class shrink by more than 11% since 2000, whereas the US has actually grown its middle class by 4% in the same period. Salaries in Canada have stagnated, while prices have risen with the inflating dollar. In America the dollar has risen strongly and overall salaries have gone up with it. For instance, between 20012 and 2015, the average salary in the US rose from $37,500 to $44,700. In Canada the average salary actually declined in the same period, from $35,000 to $33,800! 

Canadians were smug at one point about being wealthier and having a more stable middle class than America, but that's not the case anymore. Canada has gone back to being a second-rate country, and has begun to fall into third-rate territory!

I could go on (and on, and on) but the fact of the matter is that the US is literally the best country in the world to live. It has the best weather, the best economy, the best people and the best government (in theory). The idea of America, that of a free and independent people who can decide their own fates and forge their destinies like adults, is wonderful. 

America was founded by revolution and remains revolutionary even today. Canada was founded by lawyers. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Hello Uber

I turned the ignition on, like I had a million times before in my black Hyundai with silver trim, and took a nervous breath. My Nexus 5 was secured firmly in its goose-neck mount, facing towards me but low, below the radio so it couldn't be seen from outside. I nervously hovered my hand over the screen, and then tapped the "Go Online" button on the Uber app.

Half expecting a SWAT team, helicopters and a crowd of angry cabbies clutching crowbars, I looked around nervously, but there was nothing going on. The app glowed warmly, the car's motor hummed smoothly and I tried to force myself to relax. I was now an Uber driver.

Uber has caused a storm of controversy around the world, with vicious legal battles culminating in several taxi strikes in Toronto. The service operates in a grey area, using ultra-modern technology to connect riders with private drivers at more than half the price of a regulated taxi. The company started in San Francisco and within 5 years could be found in 54 countries in the world, making it one of the biggest tech giants in the world, up there with Microsoft, Google and Facebook. It is wildly popular with customers and offers a more grassroots, democratized transportation system then the outdated taxi cartels that have existed up until today.

But despite more than 84% public approval of Uber in Canada, municipalities have been fighting to maintain their transportation monopolies. 

The Taxi System

Bylaws across Canada prohibit unregulated transportation in exchange for money, but Uber gets around this by not actually exchanging transportation for money. Instead it charges users (passengers) to use the app, and pays its partners (drivers) a commission as a sort of "thank you". No money is exchanged between the passenger and driver, and in September 2015 an Ontario Superior Court ruled, after the City of Toronto tried to get an injunction against Uber, that Uber was not violating any laws.

Nevertheless bylaw officers and police in some jurisdictions have been going after Uber drivers as if they were hardened criminals. In Guelph the police own and manage the taxi medallion system, so they have a vested interest (perhaps a conflict of interest?) in getting rid of Uber. Uber drivers have been charged up to $500 when caught.

Down the road in Kitchener-Waterloo, which is Canada's technology hub and home Blackberry and Google's Canadian offices, the police are fully in support of Uber as is the city government, and the taxi unions have been left with vigilantism as their only recourse in their fight against Uber. Calgary and Vancouver both outright banned Uber, and we'll see how that works out in the next municipal elections. 

The taxi system in Canada today is a replica of the New York City system implemented in 1937. Regulators issue "medallions" which authorizes someone to drive passengers for pay. The regulators set the prices and control the supply of drivers, which drives up prices. In every city where this system is in place, one or two big monopolies have gained control of all the medallions, which has artificially inflated medallion prices. For instance, in Toronto the price of a medallion reache $800,000 before Uber brought them down to a mere half-million dollars. This means that cabbies fork out their entire life savings, or get expensive high-interest loans from medallion brokers (legal taxi-industry loan sharks) to drive. Then there is taxi insurance which ranges between $12,000 a year to $20,000 a year. This means that taxi drivers are forking out nearly $1,000 a week just to drive. They spend half the week just paying for the privilege to drive, and still need to feed and house their families.

It takes 15 minutes to drive across Guelph. One day last summer Katya and I hopped in a cab to meet my uncle and aunt at the pub (Shakespeare Arms...or Shakeys). It was only a 15 minute trip but the fare came to $42! We actually had to not order dinner because Red Top Taxi had practically robbed us. We decided to never take a taxi in Guelph again after that.

Then Uber arrived this past summer, and I tried it out. The exact same trip only cost me $18, and the car was clean and the driver was friendly (and spoke English), which is opposite to most taxis.


Driving with Uber is somewhat nerve-racking because of the confusion around Uber's legal status, but what is pretty black and white is the issue of insurance. 

In the US insurance companies were quick to spot an opportunity and created a "rideshare" add-on to people's personal insurance, which allows someone to be completely covered when using the Uber system. Not so easy in Canada, where all insurance policies and prices have to go through provincial regulators (which is why you don't see very much difference in prices in Canada,the commie bastards). 

Uber is apparently partnered with Intact Insurance to create something similar, but it is being held up by the Ontario provincial regulatory body. The Ontario Progressive Conservative party, in opposition in the legislature, has tabled a bill which has already passed a second reading which will create new regulations and insurance mechanisms for the "sharing economy" (Uber and AirBnB, specifically), but it can take months to be passed and that's only if the majority Liberals accept the final version. 

Until then, every Uber driver in Canada is technically without adequate insurance coverage. 

Uber has stepped in and offered up to $5 million in "contingency third-party insurance", which means that if an Uber driver gets into an accident and their insurance drops them (as they will, because driving passengers for commercial gain voids their personal policy), the Uber's insurance will cover any passengers and the other people involved in the accident, but NOT the Uber driver and/or their vehicle. 

Despite what the taxi industry claims, Uber does indeed do background checks on their drivers. I had to go through a 7-year criminal background check and a 5-year driving record check. My car needed to be inspected at an Uber-approved garage (they've partnered with Canadian Tire so this was easy). 

In 2014 Uber turned away 26 Toronto taxi drivers because they couldn't pass the criminal record check. In fact, in 2014 Toronto cabbies were charged 226 times with counts of assault, sexual assault, theft, forcible confinement and a bevy of other charges. In the past 3 years, only 4 Uber drivers have ever been charged (and 2 of these were dropped as false sexual assault accusations after dashcams showed the drivers did nothing). Risk-wise, it is more dangerous to take a taxi than an uber!

One thing that makes Uber so safe is the app. Uber has the information, including addresses, of every driver and every passenger. Every trip is logged and the route is tracked on GPS, from start to finish. It is virtually impossible to rob an Uber driver and get away, or for an Uber driver to kidnap or hurt a passenger and remain anonymous. The passenger's credit card is automatically billed for the trip, so Uber drivers carry no cash on them, which reduces the threat of robbery. In fact, because no money actually changes hands between passenger and driver, the law isn't sure what to do about Uber.

In US cities that have embraced Uber, drunk driving rates have plummeted. Uber provides good-paying jobs to people with a low barrier of entry and provides passengers with affordable transportation options. Ultimately the real victims in the "Uber Wars" are the taxi drivers, who have been bled dry by corrupt cartels and city regulators and who ultimately have no future. Uber, or something like it, is here to stay.

With all of this in mind I became an Uber driver. Money is tight this month as my freelance contracts are on hold over the holidays and my business slows down for the Christmas break. 

Which brings us back to my first night as an Uber partner.

After about 8 minutes of waiting my phone suddenly went "Ping Ping! Ping Ping!" I had a passenger! The Uber app synced to my Google Maps and the turn-by-turn voice directions blared over my car stereo system as I made my way to the address given. It was a cute college girl and two guys who wanted a ride to a restaurant downtown. I offered them candy canes ("No way!" the girl exclaimed, taking four of them) and we made small talk on the 7 minute drive. 

After I dropped them off I looked at my app. I had just made ten bucks! Ten bucks for 7 minutes of "work". Wow! I was hooked.

Since then I've taken a stoner from Guelph to Kitchener (where I hung around and drove people), some drunks from Boston Pizza to their home and a student to his exams at Conestoga College. I avoid downtown at bar time. I figure "let the taxis have them". I don't want confrontation with cabbies, nor do I want drunks puking in my car. Instead I offer affordable transportation for students, to and from work and back and forth from Kitchener, and I help keep the roads safe by picking up drunks from the restaurants and Christmas parties that abound. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Family Guy

Changing diapers, making very weird sounds and funny faces, snatching dropped soothers out of the air in mid-fall like a baseball pro, trying to catch kicking feet with socks, rocking the baby to make him sleepy, hoisting a 2-ton car seat in and out of grocery stores, rocking baby to put him to sleep, making up incredibly ridiculous songs using common household objects as inspiration, changing more diapers, rocking the baby to at least make him a little sleepy, changing drool-and-spit-covered shirts (mine) twice a day, rocking the baby and thinking "Please go to sleep! For the love of God!"

These are just some of the joys of being a parent to a 3 month-old infant.

In August I was unceremoniously laid off from my crappy underpaid side-job. My own business, NLingua, had really picked up by then but was still in such an early stage that I needed to invest every dollar it made back into the company. I had found a shitty job with a sketchy company precisely because I didn't want responsibility outside of growing my business. When they laid me off I had to fall back onto freelance writing work and have since built up a clientele that is not too shabby.

Today I handle the social media and write blog posts and magazine articles for several different clients. I've found a niche market as a small business e-consultant, basically running the blogs and Facebook accounts for SME's (small and medium-sized enterprises), who can't afford the big marketing agencies in Toronto and New York.

This income, while it won't buy me a penthouse suite, or even a vacation to Cuba, at least pays the bills and allows me to continue to build my main work project, NLingua. Best of all, I've got to be home with my son from the day he was born to now, 3 months later.

He and I are bonded very closely and I feel like I am a lot more blessed than many fathers who have to spend 40-60 hours a week away from home, exhausted and missing their little bundles of joy. Instead of that, I get to be a big part of Maxim's life.

Maxim LOVES his daddy. When he's grumpy or restless or just bored, Katya will bring him to me for instant smiles and fun. We bought a "baby gym", basically a mat the baby can lay on with all sorts of toys dangling from overhead bars that he can swat at. I lay with him and play with all the toys, making animal sounds and imitating his cute babbling and cooing. I'll sit him in his bouncy chair in front of me when I'm working or eating and talk to him. He'll stare at me with wide-eyed wonder as I describe my plans for the day or tell him what I'm doing, then he'll crack a big smile and declare "Oooaaaah!"

Maxim has also latched on to hockey. I was watching my poor Toronto Maple Leafs get blasted by the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin, with the baby on my knee, when I realized that he wasn't squirming or making any noise. I looked down at him and he was watching the hockey game! He sat like that through the whole first period, until TV commercials ruined it and he got annoyed. Today he watches hockey with me every Saturday, at least for one period. Come to think of it, I haven't actually seen the end of a game this season!

Katya has started reading to him, which he absolutely loves. He stares at the pictures and listens to him mommy's voice as she excitedly goes through the story. Katya also recently taught him to raise his arms towards us when he wants picked up. It's actually amazing. He'll look at us with frantic eyes and raise his arms up towards us while kicking his legs.

Katya has been an amazing mother. Once the initial shock and confusion of having a baby and waking up every two hours to feed it passed, Katya fell into a nurturing mother role. She reads to him, plays with him, bathes him, feeds him, rocks him and takes him walks every day. Recently she took him to the Ontario Early Years Center, which is a free parents center funded by the provincial government. There she played with him on a mat, surrounded by mothers and their infants doing the same. A health nurse and an ECE worker were there, offering advice and answering questions while mommies and babies got to socialize. She starts a "baby massage" class there next month.

As a daddy, and a daddy who works from home at that, I've got a pretty hectic schedule. I wake up around 7 am, after Maxim's morning feeding, and I take the baby while Katya gets another hour or two of sleep. We'll play and talk and smile at each other, and recently I experienced the highlight of being a parent when I made Maxim break out into the most hysterical laughter! Maxim's first laughs were the cutest and funniest thing I've ever heard, and I broke out into laughter, which just egged him on, and soon we were both howling like monkeys!

Here's the video I managed to take. It cracks me up every time I watch it.

After Katya wakes up I'll get to work on NLingua and my client's portfolios. I've also gone back to school through correspondence, so I'll fit those lessons in as well. I couldn't do it without Google Calendar, Evernote and ToDoist!

When noon hits I'll make lunch for Katya and I and then spend a couple of hours more playing with baby in the afternoon. Because its winter the sun sets earlier, so Katya will take him for a walk and I'll go back downstairs to my office and continue working.

I'm usually the cook in the family so for dinner I'll whip together interesting. I've been trying to make more nutritious meals, especially ones with lots of protein for a breastfeeding mother, but sometimes I'll just fall back on frozen meals from M&M Meat Shops.

Evening rolls around and I'll spend it with my family, playing with baby and helping with bath time. Katya and I will attempt to watch a movie on the weekend, but we've found that it takes a couple of days to get through a whole film (Lord of the Rings took 4 days), what with baby waking up, needing feeding, needing entertaining and constant attention, etc.

Once Katya and baby go to bed for the night, around 10 pm, I'll go back to my office and spend a few hours finishing up any outstanding work.

It's a busy schedule and a hectic lifestyle but it beats the soul-crushing, useless-existence of working in a dreary sweatshop, er, I mean shithole company like the one I was at before. I hope that I can keep the money coming in (December has been tough, I'll be honest, but January should pick up again) so that I can continue to be a huge part of Maxim's life!

Monday, November 16, 2015

You Can't Spoil An Infant

How do you raise a child? How do you care for a baby and make sure that you are providing a good home for him? How do you know if you're doing a good job?

I don't have any answers to these questions. Katya and I aren't wealthy and, like everyone tells us, "Babies don't come with a handbook", so trying to find the best way to raise a human being seems like a daunting task.

Which is why I've decided not to stress and worry about all those questions, and simply to give him all my love and affection instead. When he cries, I comfort him. When he's fussy, I entertain him. When he's gurgling and cooing and talking to me, I play with him, and when he's sleepy, I rock him to sleep and make sure he's tucked in and warm in his crib. 

It's impossible to spoil an infant. They are completely dependent on their parents for EVERYTHING. The most they can do is wave their arms and kick their chubby little legs and cry. I don't want Maxim to be stressed that he won't be fed or that he's been abandoned, so when he starts to cry, he knows that mommy or daddy will be there.

I recently read on (why is it only for mothers?) that "...infants aren't actually happy when they're smiling. They are displaying a trained response to stimuli. Babies don't actually feel happy until they are a year old." Bullshit.

Just one look at Maxim's face light up when he sees me after crying in his crib alone shows me how happy he is. Or when I play the "airplane game" with is soother, flying into his mouth and, upon landing, he gives the biggest toothless smile and squeals with delight, kicking his legs excitedly. Or when his mother lays him in her lap and makes all the animals sounds and he smiles and gurgles with pure joy. One look at his face and I can tell you that whatever psychologist-du-jour that dug up knows jack s**t about infants.

You can't spoil an infant, but you can provide a loving, warm and secure home for them to grow up in, and that's exactly what we're trying to do. 

How can I tell if this is the right way to raise a healthy, confident and happy baby? Here's how:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How Katya Is Becoming More North American Then She Will Admit

Although I consider myself cultured and well-traveled, having lived in far-flung places and experienced a tea ceremony with geishas in Asia and a Tchaikovsky ballet in Moscow, in my heart I'm still North American (at least I'm not American, chuckle chuckle).

This means I enjoy classic rock music, muscle cars, gridiron football and baseball, and barbecuing steaks. As a Canadian I'm also prone to enjoying shitty beer and freezing hockey.

As a Russian, Katya is much more culturally enlightened than I am. She loves classic literature and devours the Russian classics like Dostoevsky and Gogol (she can't stand Tolstoy), but also British classics such as Dickens. She listens to classical music and knows which composer wrote which piece (hint: Zeppelin didn't write any of them), and she always has her eyes open for well-dressed women and admires shoes and sensible yet feminine ensembles, which is a rarity in Guelph.

Russian architecture

With me being so Canadian and her being so Russian I was afraid that we would have a difficult time living together in Canada. It was easy for me to open my horizons in Russia and enjoy the cultural beauty that is their museums and galleries and ballets and literature, but I was afraid it would be difficult for Katya to "dumb" herself down to Canadian standards. I was mistaken.

Katya has surprisingly become more Canadian than she would like to admit. Here's how:

1) She Loves Tim Horton's

Tim Horton's, or Timmies, is the fast food of coffee. It is sugary brown crap water and their selection of pastries and donuts are churned out from an in-store assembly line. In short, Timmies is shit. Nevertheless every Canadian loves Timmies not only for their low prices but also their incredible convenience and market penetration.

I was surprised when Katya first had Tim Horton's and declared she loved it. Now, whenever we pass one (which is every 500 meters in Canada), she asks "Do you want to get Timmies?" How Canadian is that?!?

2) She Loves Baseball

I've been a baseball fan ever since the Jays took home the World Series in 1992. By the time they won it again in 1993 I was totally on the bandwagon, so much so that I blew out my shoulder celebrating their win that night!

They haven't done anything great since then, but I've always been a Jays fan (even when they had that crappy big "J" logo for a few years). This year the excitement over the Toronto Blue Jays mounted to fever pitch as they played some of the most entertaining baseball in the major leagues and made it to the American League Championship Series.

Katya started watching games with me in May, and by August she was hooked. She knows the names, like "Encarnacion...he's the guy with the invisible parrot" and David Price "His pitches go Whoo-whoo-whoo" and Kevin Pillar "Is he superman? I've never seen them in the same room together!"

When the Jays went down to the Kansas City Royals in game six of the championship series she was upset, the first time she's ever been upset about a sports game, according to her.

3) She Loves Camping

Katya had never been camping before until I took her in British Columbia. We went again last year in Ontario. She LOVES it! She loves roasted marshmallows and sleeping in a tent and walking around at night with a flashlight and cooking everything over an open fire.

4) She's Proud of Canadian Health Care

Katya would often criticize things in Canada and compare them to Russia, and proclaim how much better the Russian way of doing things are. Not anymore. Ever since the birth of Maxim and the amazing care she received, as well as the regular home visits by a community health nurse and our fantastic family doctor, all of which cost her ZERO dollars, all criticisms have dried up.

Katya even goes on now about how great Canada's health care system is. I used to do that but have toned myself down. I don't need to do anything now. Katya is the biggest champion of our health care system I've ever met!

5) She Likes Chinese Food Buffet

I'm not talking about real chinese food. I'm talking about American-style Chinese buffet, with the chicken balls, egg rolls and chicken-fried rice. They don't have that food in Russia (or anywhere else in the world). It is a uniquely North American food, and Katya loves it!

The Mandarin in Guelph: waaay overpriced, but delicious!

There are a bunch of other, small things that she can't deny:

  • She tends to get into the excitement of Canadian Football games, especially the last quarter when the losing team starts to get desperate (she likes the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, to my dismay). 
  • She likes watching hockey to a certain extent: Vancouver Canucks games are her favourite, but she doesn't really care for the Toronto Maple Leafs (traitor!). 
  • She LOVES Halloween!

  • She like Steam Whistle beer and Hawaiian pizza, and 
  • she's always worrying about budgets, investments, savings, credit cards, etc, which people in Russia generally don't give a toot about (they have a saying: Rubles are for spending, dollars are for saving).
  • She loves the city of Toronto. She loves the buildings and the lights and the awesome variety of restaurants and the way people dress nice...I guess it reminds her of Moscow.

I guess, after nearly 4 years of living here, Canada has begun to wear off on her!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

One Month With A Baby

**Edit: This post is already 3 weeks old, thanks to Google's Blogger platform deciding to crap out for a couple of weeks. Although I was going to delete it, I decided to stick with it and post it anyways, because one month with a new baby is special.

Today Maxim turned 1 month old. I always made fun of people who, when asked how old their child was, answered with "14 months" or "8 months". Now I get it.

Maxim is absolutely wonderful. He's sleeping in the other room right now, tucked into his soft wool blanky that his great-great-aunt in Australia knit for him. He sleeps with his head to the side and his arms up, bent at the elbow, as if though somebody were sticking him up but he's too cool to care.

He's very inquisitive and stares at his mother and I with big, love-filled eyes that are a dark grey colour. I really hope his eyes don't change but they probably will. He likes to gurgle and hear his own voice, although he's not a cryer. He makes a frantic "Bwaaaaaa" sound when he's hungry and not being fed immediately, but we just find it adorable.  Other than that he's not colicky and not very fussy. He's actually a pretty chill baby.

Our first week was hard. Katya was recovering from labour, and her stitches were becoming extremely painful. My uncle Jon bought her a sitz bath and that seemed to do the trick. By the beginning of the second week all the pain was gone and she was able to sit and walk without difficulty, which is a good thing because the first day of the second week as a father I ended up in an ambulance.

It's been 21 years since I dislocated my shoulder, and I had all but forgotten it, but that morning I sat down at my computer with a cup of coffee, prepared to work on NLingua for a little, stretched with my arms up and BAM! My left shoulder popped out.

Unlike a subplex, which is a dislocation that goes back in, my shoulder dislocations require hospitalization. "Katya! Katya!" I cried out, my arm bent at a disgusting 80-degree angle from the shoulder. She rushed in to the office and saw my arm. "Oh my god! Oh my god!" she started frantically saying, and ran out, and then in, and then out, and then back in again. I remembered that she is a panicky type and that one of us had to be calm, so I forced myself to slowly say "Get my phone and call 9-1-1..please".

Within a few minutes we had the Fire Department and the paramedics here. There were about a dozen guys in uniforms and boots hanging out in our living room. A thought did occur to me: the last time I dislocated my shoulder the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series, so I shared it with all the people in our living room and they laughed. Maxim slept through it all.

To make a long story short, they took me in an ambulance to the hospital, where Katya had just been released from the week before. They put me on oxygen and an IV, and put me under (such awesome drugs they have I drifted off I vividly remember chasing a cartoon cat through some trippy 1960's orange-coloured world).

I awoke with my arm in a sling. They released me, my uncle and aunt picked me up and I went home to continue my second week as a parent (now one-armed, at least temporarily).

The Guelph paramedics were awesome and professional, although I didn't expect that ambulances were so bumpy (might have just been my dislocated arm)

While waiting for my 'relocation', I was messaging Katya with Google Hangouts. I sent her this selfie, just so she didn't feel she was missing out on all the fun.
After returning home the next couple of weeks blew by.

Maxim has been the life of the party. He's visited his great-grandad Steele, his Oma and Opa VanderKooy, his family doctor and even Zehrs grocery store!

Maxim and I have grown very close in the past month. From the first day he was born he tried to look at me with one eye (he hadn't figured out how to open both of them at that time). Now he gets excited whenever he hears my voice and tries to look around to find me, so much so that whenever we're trying to make him sleepy or Katya is feeding him I have to speak in a whisper.

It comes from all the time I spend with him. Katya is exhausted and spends most of her day in sleep-deprived zombie-like daze, waking up to feed him every 2-3 hours (sometimes every hour). She's growing more attached to him now but for her he is a lot of work.

That means I get to spend lots of time playing and cuddling with him. I read that at this stage of development kino awareness is important, so I've been playing games that involve his body with lots of touch. He loves it when I play "This little piggy went to market" and stares at me intensely until the tickling part comes, when he'll breathe excitedly and flail his arms and legs around uncontrollably. I hold his hand in front of his face and tickle his little fingers, and he stares with amazement.

He also lays in my arms a lot, just staring at me with those dark grey eyes of his, usually sucking on a pacifier. I can't remember any lullabies, so I've been teaching him The Beatles, The Doors, Third Eye Blind and others. He really digs Pearl Jam but hates Led Zeppelin.

To help Katya out I've been bottle feeding him pumped breast milk from time to time. This gives Katya an amazing 5-6 hours of sleep at a stretch, but it's really hard for her to find the time to fill a couple of 5-ounce bottles. I love it, because Max and I get to spend more time together, with him just sucking on the bottle, staring up at me and making satisfied little mousy sighing noises.

Maxim looking at his grandmother

My view of Maxim, staring up at his daddy
After one month of having this little pampushka around, I can say that I absolutely love being a father. It's impossible to describe the love I feel for my little guy; it's like nothing I've ever felt before. He's so defenseless and dependent on us for everything, and he is full of unconditional love, yet his future is so bright and shiny and I am already daydreaming about taking him camping, fishing, canoeing and to Toronto Blue Jays baseball games!

My little family out for an October walk

Maxim's "poop" face; that is, he's pooping

Max and daddy cheer on the Blue Jays. Go Jays Go!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why I Might Vote Liberal This Election

It's been four years since Canada's last federal election. Four years in which Katya and I were apart while we waited for her visa, I lived in Halifax and then moved to Victoria and started working on boats at sea. Four years since I blew my knee out on a boat and then brought Katya to Canada.

Back then, in 2011, Prime-Minister Stephen Harper won his third election and the Conservative Party of Canada destroyed the long-ruling Liberal Party for the first time in Canada's history while the New Democratic Party became the Official Opposition for the first time in its history.

It's been a long four years. Now we have another election on our hands.

Because Katya doesn't have citizenship yet, she's not eligible to vote, which means the vote I cast this year will be on behalf of Katya, Maxim and I. We have weighed the options carefully and as it stands right now both Katya and I are coming out on the side of Justin Trudeau and the Liberals, and here's why:

For a while I wasn't sure who to vote for. I'm not one of those rabid anti-Harper left-wing loonies who thinks that as soon as Harper is gone all my problems will vanish and rainbows will shoot out of my nose. There are some things I respect and admire about the guy and some of his policies have been good.

He managed the Canadian economy, especially the banks, rather well during the world financial collapse of 2007-2008. As an educated economist and natural leader he knows where he stands and he doesn't put up with bull. He's also an incredibly savvy political scrapper and brought down the greatest political party in Canada almost single-handedly. Despite the rhetoric from the "hate Harper" brigades, he has governed pretty much from the middle much like Jean Chretien before him.

On the other hand, there are the underhanded scandals including attempts at election fraud during the last election. There are the Senate scandals with millions being pilfered by Conservative Senators and the Prime-Minister's Office attempting to cover it up. There's the secret trade deal with China that was somehow signed but never ratified by Parliament. Then there's the current miserable state of Canada's economy, with a stagnant market going into recession, unaffordable housing prices and more people out of work now than anywhere else in the G7. These are signs of bad decisions at the top.

Tom Mulcair and the NDP are historically the home of the Harper-Hate Bandwagon. The NDP is Canada's democratic-socialist party which is normally modeled after northern European parties of similar bent. It's the party of big unions, soft Marxists, progressives and social justice warriors. Under the late Jack Layton they surged on a wave of popularity dubbed the "Orange Crush" and won the second most seats in Parliament, forming the official opposition. After "Friendly Jack" passed away, "Angry" Tom Mulcair was elected the party leader.

Their plan to cut small business taxes, bring in a national affordable child care strategy and increase the federal minimum wage to $15 all sounds nice, and Mulcair definitely has a charming and enigmatic personality. In fact, of the three main contenders in this election, I think Mulcair the man would make the best Prime-Minister. He's politically savvy and experienced and not afraid to scrap. He's well-spoken and intelligent and has that lust for power that a Prime-Minister requires. He is, in short, another politician.

That's what I don't like about Tom Mulcair. I don't trust him. He used to be a Liberal cabinet minister in Quebec, then tried to join the Conservatives when they were surging, and then settled on the NDP. His plan for Canada, although nice-sounding, is basically the same as Harper's: a bunch of boutique goodies to woo voters with no real substance and no real concrete plan to fix the problems Canada is facing.

Then there's the rabid left-wing loony bin side of the NDP. Tom Mulcair's personal chief of staff told the Pope to "F**k off!" in a public tweet. The NDP candidate for a Toronto riding blogged that Canadian World War 2 veterans were "bourgeouis, rapist scum fighting other bourgeouis, rapist scum.". The NDP candidate for my own riding here in Guelph put a meme on his Facebook that said "Christians are mentally ill."

It's hard to vote for a party that condones such out-of-control actions from it's candidates, and despite Mulcair's attempts to make the NDP a softer centrist party, its membership is still filled with Marxist groupthink loonies who repeat the same tired old social justice talking points.

Which brings us to Justin Trudeau and the humbled Liberal Party of Canada. I was a card-carrying Liberal for many years under Jean Chretien and again when Bob Rae was interim leader after the 2011 election disaster. I used to believe in the centrist, fair and historic position of the party. I loved how they were on the left on social issues and on the right on economic issues. The Liberal Party was in power for 90 years of the 20th Century, managing the Canadian Pacific Railroad, two world wars, the Cold War, two Quebec separation referendums, the 1990's, gay rights and multiple balanced budgets running massive surpluses while the rest of the G8 was in deficit.

When Justin Trudeau, celebrity son of famous Canadian Prime-Minister Pierre Trudeau, was elected leader of the Liberal Party I wasn't too impressed and saw it as a mistake, so I let my membership expire and have since been non-affiliated.

But during this long election campaign Trudeau has risen steadily in the polls and the fortunes of the Liberal Party are looking quite good. I was surprised to see the Liberals topping the Conservatives in the polls for the first time since 2004, and so I checked it out, and I liked what I saw.

The Liberal platform is classic Liberal. Tax cuts for working Canadians and small businesses, so people will actually keep more of their paycheque, while increasing taxes on the top 1% to bring it up to the same levels as other G7 countries.

Get rid of the various different childcare programs, which are currently taxed, and create one national child benefit program that will help families with the cost of child care, including daycare, based on their income.

Protect the oceans and coastal waters by allocating 17% of it as off-limits to fishing, commercial transport and development.

Tackle housing costs by eliminating taxes on development of rental units and end offshore property speculation in Canada.

My favorite, and what I've been saying needs to be done for years, is a massive $60 billion transit infrastructure program across the country. Modernize highways, create more rapid transit, subsidize and lower the cost of public transit, relieve gridlock in Toronto and Vancouver. It would be the biggest infrastructure project in Canadian history since the railroad was built to the Pacific.

Trudeau is also the only one telling Canadians like it is: deficits will need to be run in order to invest in the economy. When in recession is not the time to bring in austerity measures (I guess it depends if you believe in Keynesian economics or not), and while interest rates are low is the time to borrow.

As you can obviously tell, we're backing the Liberal platform. It is the only one that we believe is honest and, most of all, will actually bring about long-lasting change to the country.It's about as centrist as any party, which is exactly where I like it!

Polls as of September 14 2015

Thursday, September 17, 2015


On September 6 at 5:30 in the morning my son was born. Maxim Drescher came into the world weighing 8 lbs after a fairly easy pregnancy and a fairly easy labor.

On Saturday morning Katya woke me with a cute smile. "I made crepes for breakfast!" she told me. I got up and put on a pot of coffee and prepared the juicer to make some fresh orange juice.

As I was getting out some oranges, Katya, who was hovering over the stove cooking crepes, suddenly said "I'm leaking." I wasn't sure what she meant and for the past couple of months of what I called "deep pregnancy" she was always complaining of aches and leaks and other annoyances, so I pretty much ignored her.

She went to the toilet and came back a minute later. "I'm leaking a lot of clear fluid. It won't stop."
The six weeks of prenatal classes came to me. Clear fluid? "Does it have an odor?" I asked.
"No, it's just like water." Katya replied. It occurred to me that today was the official due date.

We decided to go to the hospital, but Katya wanted to eat her crepes first. Sitting at the table, leaking amniotic fluid, she gobbled down a plate of crepes with berries and whipped cream, then we got dressed and went to the hospital.

I have to tell you at this part of the story that we didn't believe it was labor yet. A few days before Katya had leaked some blood and we had gone to the hospital. Guelph General has the Family Birthing Unit up on floor 6, complete with their own triage and nursing staff and on-call OBs. They checked her out and told her she was fine. This time around we thought it would be the same deal. After all there were no contractions or other signs of labor. We didn't grab the hospital bag we had prepared because we thought we would be home in a few hours.

So we went to the hospital and parked around the block (free parking) and made out way up to the sixth floor.

At the triage desk Katya said "I'm leaking clear fluid". The excellent nurses there already had the file for every mother who was due at that time ready on the counter. They took us to a room and made Katya put on a hospital gown. They hooked up the baby heart monitor so we could hear his little rabbit-like heartbeat. The entire time the nurses were friendly and talkative and explained everything as they did it.

"I'm just going to swab you. If this stick turns purple that means amniotic fluid." The nurse swabbed Katya and held up the stick as we watched it turn from cotton white to neon purple. "Congratulations! Your water broke!" the nurse said, genuinely happy.
"What does that mean?" Katya asked, rising panic in her voice. The nurse calmly replied "It means you're having a baby today!"
"I can't!" Katya exclaimed, distraught. "My app says not until the 9th!"

They hooked Katya up to a pennicillin IV (with no amniotic fluid the baby was at risk of infection) and told her to walk around the hospital to get the contractions started. We went and got coffee and donuts at the hospital's Tim Horton's, and we paced up and down the hallways. After a couple of hours Katya began to notice a mild tightness that came and went, deep inside her. "If these are contractions then this is easy!" she declared. If only it were to be.

Katya hooked up to an IV, roaming the halls of the Guelph General Hospital.

I left her for half an hour to go home and get our hospital bag, her tablet and my phone charger (damn Nexus 5 won't hold a charge for more than a few hours). When I got back she was starting to feel real contractions. "These hurt." She said during one increasingly intense contraction.

Six hours after we had first arrived at the hospital Katya was being tortured from the inside. The contractions came just like they said in the prenatal class, as a wave. I had to remind Katya to breathe through each one, which went from lasting 30 seconds to a full minute. The public health nurse in our classes had told us to concentrate on breathing as a way to focus your mind off the pain. It worked somewhat for Katya but she couldn't completely avoid it. The public health nurse had also told us that breaking a bone was way worse pain than contractions, but as I watched Katya struggle through another contraction I thought it wise not to bring this factoid up.

One of the triage nurses took us for a tour of the birthing unit floor. We saw the room where they would move us once Katya was ready for the epidural and stage 2 (the "pushing" stage), and we saw the room where we would stay for the next few days after the baby was born. Katya had to turn back to her triage bed partway through the tour because she couldn't walk anymore.

The pain increased for another two hours. "Rub my back!" "Don't touch me!" "Blow on my forehead!" "Don't come near me!" "Say something!" "Stop talking!" 
My understanding is that there is no way to get comfortable when labor is in full swing, so I did what I was instructed to do in the classes: whatever the woman in labor tells you to do.

Eventually, just as Katya started crying and feeling nauseous, the triage nurse told us that it was time for the epidural. Katya was instantly relieved. 

We walked to the birthing room and the anaesthesiologist (even the nurse couldn't say it correctly) brought his cart in. He gave Katya a local and then did a bunch of stuff to her spine. I don't know what. I hate surgery shows and definitely wasn't watching this part of the fun. 

The epidural took a few minutes to kick in but the pain from each contraction subsided until Katya could only feel a tightness. They hooked her up to a monitor to check her contractions and the baby's heartbeat. The nurse showed us what it looked like on the monitor when a contraction was in full swing. After an hour she was smiling and chatting with the nurses, and asking me "Am I having another contraction?"

The "Contraction Contraption" (copyright 2015). The pink number is the baby's heartbeat and the blue is the contraction. During the last part of labor the blue was up to 98 and Katya was saying "I feel something". Also interesting: during the contractions the baby's heartbeat would slow down as he was squeezed from all sides, which you can see on the printout.
Around 1 am I got a message that my mother had arrived. She had raced down from Ottawa when I told her that it had started. The nurse told me that no other people were allowed in the delivery room so I went out to meet my mother and let her know what was going on. 

In the hallway I was surprised by my sister, brother-in-law and little nephew! They had driven my mother down from Ottawa in only 5 hours! 

It then became very awkward as my mother wanted to go into the delivery room but the nurse (and Katya) said nobody else. I ended up racing back and forth from my wife in one room and my mother sitting on a bench in the hallway, trying to keep everybody comfortable and happy. Eventually my aunt Joyce came to join my mother and keep her company and I was able to spend more time with Katya. 

Time flew by. I didn't even realize how long we had been in the hospital. We had arrived around 11 am on Saturday, September 5 and by 5 am on Sunday morning we were still there, but thankfully Katya had only been in severe contraction torment for only a few hours (not like some of those lunatic women who chose "natural birth" that we heard later on, screaming and hollering for hours on end). My mother and aunt eventually went home to sleep (there's no good waiting area for family at the Guelph Family Birthing Unit).

At around 5 o'clock the nurses suddenly declared "The baby's head is right there! He's knocking at the door!" and they called the OB, who glided casually in and sat down in front of Katya. 

One of the nurses then explained to Katya and I what was to happen next. 

"Okay, so push like you have to use the toilet really bad. When we say push, you do that. Daddy, you hold the pillow behind her head while she's pushing so she has some support. Okay, ready? Now push!" 

Some people push for up to two hours. For Katya, it was only 20 minutes of pushing that seemed like two minutes. She only had to give four good pushes and then, although I had promised her I wouldn't look at the nasty business going on "down there", from the corner of my eye I saw a little head coming out and I had to watch. With a slithery sound like a jelly fish sliding across a boat deck, a little human just slid out onto the table at the end of the bed!

I was spellbound! I couldn't even breathe! 

He laid there for a moment, covered in white vernix, and then with a jerk of his arms and legs the baby squirmed and then let out the cutest little "Meeeow" I've ever heard, followed by a little wet holler. Katya burst into tears and the nurses lifted the baby up and placed him skin-to-skin with his mother while the OB snipped the cord. 

Our baby was quiet but squirming, moving his little arms and legs in spastic swimming motions while Katya cried. It was the coolest and most amazing moment of my life.

After about an hour of skin-to-skin time, the nurse took the baby and weighed him. The vernix had mostly absorbed into his skin so he was starting to look pink. Then she swaddled him and handed the little guy to me. I held my son for the first time!

My son Maxim, an hour after he was born.

The nurse took us to our family room, wheeling Katya on a weird cart with no seat thingy, while I carried Maxim. The rooms here are private and large and include a washroom with shower and a little fold-down bed for partners to sleep on. 

Over the next couple of days the nurses were on call for anything and everything. Katya and Max had a hard time figuring out how to latch on for feeding, and Max was becoming angry, but the nurses and lactation specialists were there to calmly help out. They were friendly and professional and chatty and always so nice. Katya and I were blown away by the quality of patient care at this hospital. 

Over the next four days they taught us everything we needed to know. How to change diapers, how to bathe him, how to breastfeed, how to swaddle him and keep him warm, and on and on and on. Never once were the nurses curt or exasperated. I've travelled the world and ended up in a hospital in pretty much every place I've been, and Guelph is by far the best damn hospital in the world.

Katya's amazing private room, courtesy of Canada's universal health care!
The main entrance to Guelph General Hospital. This building has been here since 1887 and has had many additions and renovations. The sense of history is on display in the little museum.
On Thursday, four days after Max was born, I proudly helped mummy (that's Katya's name now) into the car and then put Maxim's car seat into the base, facing to the rear in the backseat (duhh), and drove home to start a new life!

Baby Maxim Nathan Drescher in his crib for the first time.