Now What?

So yesterday was the big day. Talk about Antique Antics!

Convocation. Cap ‘n gown. The ceremony. The walk. It was a day of pride and satisfaction, and reflection, and even as I was seated in the auditorium enjoying the speeches and the parade of talent crossing the dais, I was thinking about the journey. 

And what a journey! From orientation to classes, from research, methodology and the finer points of my assignments I cannot overstate the personal importance of this journey. My trip through the minefields of communications and culture has brought me to a far greater understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of modern technology. We all know what we like about it, but do we really understand the price that we pay for our freedoms? Anyway, that’s a subject for another time.

The ceremony went off without a hitch – I managed to get across the dais without tripping and falling flat on my face. It was nice. I was never nervous. I felt good in my cap and gown. I have to say that a strange sort of calm settled over me during the ceremony which I identify as pride, at being there, and getting it right. I missed distinction by a hair’s-breadth in my GPA, but that doesn’t really bother me. I still got it done, and with room to spare.

As I climbed up on the dais my favourite prof was there, giving students instructions. She smiled wide when she saw me, said “hey, look who’s here!” and actually gave me a hug. Later she told me there were only two students she hugged – me and a PhD student she’s also rather fond of. She hunted me down after the ceremony too, and just about the first thing she told me – in the presence of my loving friends and family – was that she really thinks I should carry on with my Masters and a PhD.

Well, let me tell you: when I went out the door yesterday morning I was not thinking about further education. I was trying to figure out my work future – how to get a job with my eminent but quirky combination of degrees and experience. I was thinking about what I would need to do to either negotiate with the system and find employment, or blow right past it and create something for myself. 

But now the idea of a Masters is oddly intriguing to me. Hearing that I can do it from a distance (technology makes this possible) means my family’s plans to move don’t have to change. Understanding how willing my Prof is to supervise me makes me feel really, really appreciated – frankly, more so than I’ve felt in years. Believe me, it’s a recognition far beyond what I expected to enjoy yesterday, and it is causing me to revisit some of my other, less positive relationships.

We’re going to have coffee sometime soon to discuss it a little more. Meantime I’m researching the cost and the availability of grants, and even without them I’m trying to figure out how it would look for me, financially and logistically.

So maybe this blog isn’t winding down after all. Perhaps there’s a whole new process about to unfold. Having secured the Bachelor’s, maybe there’s something a little more in-depth coming. If I do it, it will be thesis-based and I’ll start sooner rather than later – I don’t want to forget everything I learned chasing down the Bachelor’s. But there’s information to gather and I need a lot of answers before I make that commitment. 

Here’s the Old Fart on Convocation Day. Not too bad for forty-nine. I’m twice as old as the students I graduated with, but my mind is still young. 

Thanks for joining me on this exhilarating journey. If we all hold our tongues just right, there might just be more.





The Last Paper

What can I say? It’s all done, now, but the crying. I always said I’d get it done, and I did. Here’s the final paper:

I actually had trouble whittling my way down to a thesis statement on this one. I had so much material on my desk and in my mind that I just couldn’t narrow it down sufficiently to the kind of paper it was supposed to be. So I spoke to Dr. L and in about fifteen minutes all my stuff was lined up in my mind and my ideas were focused. 

At least, I think they were. 

At that point it took shape quickly. Two solid days for extra reading, two for a rough first draft, then concerted hacking, slashing, groaning, picking, head-shaking, corner-rounding and tightening, until I thought it was fit for ink. 

I emailed the prof – huzzah! – and went in to the university to drop it off in the office – four days early – and ever since then I’ve been cleaning house.

Now I wait to find out my final grades, await my convocation details (June 10th, 930am) and go and do what I skipped out on the first time around – trip on my gown going up the stairs to the dais to accept my prize flat on my face.

Things have felt different since I handed the paper in. At first I thought that was the old “oh my gosh, I’m on holiday now” thing, but that’s not it. I’ve been pondering, and I think I know what it is now. 

Once I graduate, I won’t be young anymore. 

The kids I worked with were overwhelmingly good and patient and welcoming, and appreciative of the old fart back in school – they made me feel like I belonged. Sharing in the pressures of the work, it seldom occurred to me that I was nearly thirty years older than them. I was always just one of the kids. 

But now, with the completion of this paper, with this passage, I have to return to my own time of life. Sure, there’s hope in my outlook, and excitement, and ambition, but let’s face it: the world is not my oyster. The decisions I make are not setting the course for an entire life, only for what I have left. The stakes are lower for me, and yet because retirement looms they might actually be higher.

One thing is for sure: with graduation and convocation this little journey is winding down, and so is this blog. It’s never been the busiest of blogs, but I think it said what needed to be said – when it needed to be said. 

So what’s next? We’re moving. The idea was born about a year ago and has been growing ever since, and frankly I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a graduation than with a truly fresh start. The process and the result will be the subject of my next blog.

I do hope you’ll tag along. 


Do I feel like an old fart, or what? 

Today I actually had to shush a couple of students who just would not stop talking in class. And it wasn’t one of those friendly, grandfatherly “now-now-children-pipe-down” shushes either – it was a full-blown, steam escaping from the train, air-brakes bleeding, angry dragon fire breathing, horse snorting on a foggy morning kind of shush. 

To use the parlance, I gave it to them good. I flashed them the grampa glare.

What do you think? Was I grumpy? Was I rude? Or was I right?

So Classy




River Café Reflection

It’s not every day that the halls of learning move into the fields of life, but this is precisely what happened on October 30th, with our field trip to Calgary’s River Cafe. This is the kind of establishment I manage to visit only infrequently. It walks deftly the line between elitism and accessibility, making clever use of an outdoor motif to forge a dining experience that is at one and the same time familiar and rare.

“This is special,” I said to myself as I sat down at the plain wooden table near the fireplace. Blowing the cold off my hands I reflected on my journey there – my walk from the nearby Eau Claire Market, five minutes across the frigid Bow River and along the path to the restaurant’s welcoming sign.

From an economic point of view the River Café is strangely situated because it’s off the proverbial beaten path. It’s one of those places which would probably escape notice altogether if you didn’t know it was there, and you might never know it was there if it weren’t for its good reputation. It thrives despite its location – or perhaps because of it. Restaurant manager, Shelley Smith, explained that the location was chosen to allow patrons time to dedicate themselves to the upcoming experience; walking across the river and along the path under the canopy of huge trees allows the patron time to focus his mind.

As soon as I took my seat I started looking around. First impressions count for a lot, and in no small part because this was a school assignment, I was determined to be hyper-observant. From my space at the plain, wooden table I noted the large picture windows and the amount of light they allowed in. I marveled at the warmth of the room – not only as it emanated from the roaring fireplace, but as it grew naturally from the ambience – from the host of trinkets, ornaments, baubles and knickknacks carefully chosen to inspire sincerity. The ruggedness of the outdoor motif included all manner of boats, mounted fish, and fishing implements, all of which said “Canadian” in all respects. This modified shelving unit by the front door, for example, spoke volumes positioned with the open-concept kitchen in the background. And the breads on display there perhaps foreshadowed the gloriously fresh bread which the restaurant makes on site, every day. I saw no pretense, no gaudiness, and no ‘force’ in the way the room was laid out. Even the music – Acker Bilk, Natalie Cole, Ella Fitzgerald – said ‘relax, and embrace the moment’.

A quick glance at the menu told me I was in for a treat. Our four-course repast would not be outlandish by any means, but it promised some exciting taste experiences. The first of the four courses was the soup. Forno Roasted Carrot Soup – ‘forno’, of course, being Italian for ‘oven’ or ‘fire’. At the right time I noticed the wait staff marshalling quietly by the pick-up area, waiting for all dishes for a particular table to be ready before making their move. This ‘military service’, as Shelley Smith later called it, was deliberately instituted, and its precision was something I had not seen before.

After a most delicious soup course (“can I lick the bowl, or what?”) with the Lemon Preserved Yogurt still dancing on the tip of my tongue, I took a few minutes to watch the kitchen staff. I observed the uniforms – whites with a black cap. I noted the washing staff floating silently around the preparation area. I observed no rancour in the kitchen, no notable stress, although a sudden order for 35 meals plus the regular lunch crowd might be cause for stress in some kitchens. As a matter of fact, at one point I actually saw two of the kitchen staff dancing alongside each other to some imaginary tune. I identified the chef – a larger man, clearly in charge and most knowledgeable – and I decided that the tall young man was the sous-chef. There were also a number of other stations at work which just seemed to be part of a well-oiled machine. Clearly, I thought, this is a house in order. There was no back-room Bourdainian rough-stuff on display here.

The wait staff wore blue jeans and a dark blue shirt as their uniform. They were attentive, deliberate, but not intrusive. There was no ‘tunnel vision’ – that most annoying and mysterious of maladies which affects wait-staff at so many other establishments. There was no deflection of responsibility (‘I’ll send your waiter over’) either – and when I tested this with a request for a replacement beverage, the response was all but instantaneous.

The salad course, also militarily served, was a delightful fusion of unusual, if not unique, ingredients: Noble Farm Duck Prosciutto (aged three weeks on site) with Asian Pear, assorted greens, hazelnut, a sumptuous Burrata cheese (mozzarella stuffed with a locally-made ricotta and cream mix), and the Yukon Birch Syrup as a dressing. Apart from one suspect Arugula leaf I found this eminently satisfying. Everything disappeared anyway, including the slightly suspect leaf, perhaps in deference to if not in celebration of the ruggedness of the surroundings.

The main course was an absolute treat. Frankly, this kind of thing – the Bite Ranch Flat Iron Steak with smoked potato, Brussels Sprouts, Apple, and Chanterelle – mark for me the departure from food and the arrival at cuisine. Such intensity of flavour, not so much plated as artistically presented, makes me want to exclaim passionately. The jus, which is not described in the menu, but which forms a significant part of the flavour experience, was likely a reduction of balsamic vinegar with house flavourings – it was certainly intrinsic to the steak experience, memorable as only an excellent accoutrement can be.

With the smoked puréed potatoes and reduction still working gleefully on my palate, the dessert course was delivered. All I can say is that as a life-long pumpkin critic, I now consider my horizons well and truly broadened. The Sugar Pumpkin Panna Cotta, (once again made in-house), topped with candied pumpkin seeds and a huckleberry compote – a sinfully sweet coulis – was a surprising and memorable conclusion to a most excellent meal. The smooth, cool texture of the pumpkin pudding had me – most literally – closing my eyes to savour the sensations crossing my tongue.

There was for me an almost spiritual connection to the food at River Café, and the service, far from getting in the way, was an enhancement to this.

River Café has most definitely been added to my list of preferred dining locations.