Friday, November 25, 2011

Airways, Railways and Highways

The four of us watched "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" tonight; first time for the girls, latest of many for Audrey and myself, though I haven't seen it in years. Set during American Thanksgiving, the timing was spot on, so I'd requested it from the library earlier in the week.

It's still a darned solid comedy, especially for something nearly a quarter-century old (ugh). I'd stayed home with a blinding headache today that 600mg of ibuprofen could only dull, but thirty minutes of John Candy and Steve Martin banished it nearly completely. I wasn't sure how a nine and twelve year old would like it, but both Fenya and Glory laughed almost continuously and found the ending a little moving, which is as it should be.

I feel like PT&A should have at least a slightly higher rating in iMDB than its 7.5 out of 10, but that's me speaking as a fan and not necessarily critically. Most of the laughs are pretty broad and include topics like body odor, testicle injury and homophobia, but anyone who doesn't laugh at the "those aren't pillows!" scene the first time they see it is running a fairly serious risk of being wound too tight.

That being said, I remember trying to watch the film with my father years ago, but he found it unbearable because it was too similar to business or training trips that he had actually taken in his life.

Watching the movie this time, it occurred to me that I probably have more in common with John Candy's Del Griffiths than Steve Martin's Neal Page. I'm a heavy chatterbox more inclined to diners than bistros, and more likely to wear hats with earflaps than a snappy fedora. A first I found this a little upsetting; you naturally want to identify with Neal as the protagonist, who is smart, smooth, successful, and has a lovely family to boot.  But when Neal has his first set-to in the motel room with Del, the response is sincere, humble, and borders on the eloquent:

Del: You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I'm an easy target. Yeah, you're right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you... but I don't like to hurt people's feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I'm not changing. I like... I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get.

I'm certainly not going to try to paint John Candy's boorish shower curtain ring salesman as some sort of role model, but upon reflection, there's worse fictional characters to share some attributes with.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's Not the Water

Six children were baptized in my church today. This always has the potential for chaos, but James did his usual wonderful job of keeping things low key, up tempo and on track, and the children were largely cooperative.

I have terribly conflicted feelings about this particular sacrament. On the one hand, as a member of a faith community I believe there is a lot of merit in formally, ceremonially bringing them into that community. Whether that community is the local parish or congregation, or the national or worldwide denominational church, or even something as comprehensive as Christianity, I think there is an undeniable power and affect behind a public declaration of faith or a statement of belief.

But I know that isn't what brings every parent in to baptize their child. There are some who do it to appease their family, others who do it out of a sense of tradition. To me, this feels a bit disingenuous, but I don't think it precludes a positive experience or invalidates the solemnity of the occasion.

What does upset me is wondering how many people are there because of a belief in magic.

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the blessings in my life that I am most grateful for are my friends who happen to be atheists. Neither of us are terribly interested in proselytizing anyone, but I appreciate their perspective and how it helps me to view my faith with a critical eye, and I hope they get something out of my ramblings and anecdotes about my attempts to live with some degree of organized religiosity.

Critical thinking means seeing the Bible as a divinely inspired work in spite of contradictions and often overlooked historical context and translation issues; a source of ancient wisdom and moral guidance, not a combination rulebook, instruction manual, scientific text, and set of comprehensive templates for aiding in the judgement of others. I believe in prayer as a means of reestablishing my connection with the infinite, not as a means of petitioning a supernatural being to intervene on my behalf.

I watch baptisms in my church knowing full well that there is a distinct possibility of never seeing that family in there again. They've scratched that supernatural itch, and are comfortable moving back to their normal environs. I find this regrettable for a number of reasons; on a strictly personal level I intensely dislike other people wiping their superstition all over my spirituality, but I don't get to make that call. I think something really special can happen in the course of baptism, but it has little or nothing to do with the special properties of magical water; after all, it's a church, not a homeopathy clinic.

More tragic to me is the sense of lost opportunity. As society grows more and more insular, real community seems to be getting hard to find, especially a community so well equipped to help people at the most trying times in their lives, like birth, marriage, and even death (or as is sometimes said, 'hatch, match and dispatch').

Still, it could be worse. I'm gratified when anyone shows an interest in sharing my faith and it's trappings, even if it's just a transitory experience. Who knows, that parent, or godparent, or uncle, or friend might hear or see something that makes them think about things from a different perspective. Maybe they'll come back, or visit another church, or explore some entirely different faith expression. Maybe they will come to understand, as I've begun to, that we are all capable of blessing one another, and that a church is just a really good place to be reminded of it. These blessings make our lives better despite not making us more resistant to disease, making us immune to bad luck, or even giving us a +2 on our saving throws.

And this is also why atheists should not feel awkward saying "bless you" when someone sneezes.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back to Bass-ics

This may be old news to many, but a recent poll by New Music Express has pronounced Muse's "Hysteria" as having the best bassline of all time.  I'm a big fan of Muse, and having developed many a hand cramp from trying to keep up with this bassline in RockBand2, I find no reason to disagree with this finding.

Like all such lists, this one is incredibly subjective and designed to evoke passionate discussion, if not outright bloodshed.  I found it highly interesting that Canadian prog-rockers Rush took silver with "YYZ", another entry which I find personally agreeable.

1. Muse – 'Hysteria'
2. Rush – 'YYZ'
3. Queen – 'Another One Bites The Dust'
4. Queen and David Bowie – 'Under Pressure'
5. Pink Floyd – 'Money'
6. Metallica – 'Orion'
7. Michael Jackson – 'Billie Jean'
8. Yes – 'Roundabout'
9. The Who – 'My Generation'
10. Tool – 'Schism'

Likewise for the two entries by Queen, although I probably would have reversed the order myself.  Depending where you draw your borders, it's a very decent turnout for progressive rock, with 4 of the top 5 sewn up, and another one or two besides.

But what defines "best" in this context though?  Is it the speed or the difficulty, or something harder to define, like catchiness or funk?  Is it resonance, or the length of time the riff takes to leave your head?  Is it standing the test of time, like "My Generation", or abandoning conventionality like "Schism"?

Any list that makes me crave headphones has done its job, and this one has certainly done that.

Monday, November 14, 2011

First Snow of the Year

Edmonton has never seen a winter where it didn't snow in either September or October...until this year. We got a little dusting on Saturday morning, but nothing to worry about. Tonight we got our first solid flurries, and of course they turned the streets into chaotic miasma of inertia which quickly divided most of the population of Edmonton into two camps: reckless death-wish jackholes and plodding overcautious obstacular types.

Trying to find a middle way like an erstwhile Itto , I got home without major incident, although I did glide though one corner on a largely ballistic basis. The radio, meanwhile, was telling listeners that the downtown was gridlocked, and city buses were struggling to get up some of the hills, and not always succeeding either.

I was still feeling the effects of having spent the majority of Saturday laying facedown on the floor, installing a dishwasher. In fact, my new boss asked how my weekend was, and I said "biblical". When pressed, I explained how in the story of the Garden of Eden, Satan always gets blamed for tempting Eve with the fruit, but it was actually the serpent, and God punished him, by making him 'crawl on his belly and eat dust'.

"And?" he queried.

"And that's how I spent most of Saturday; crawling on my belly installing an appliance, and eating three decade old dust from underneath the old one. Now I know why snakes bite so many people: they're cranky."

After supper though, I knew the sidewalks would have to be cleared, lest they partially thaw then re-freeze and turn the area in front of my house into a litigious deathtrap. I reluctantly dug my snowboard boots out of the basement (no, I don't snowboard; they were on sale and hella warm) and prepared to head outside. It was only a little below freezing, but the wind was brisk, so a hat with ear coverage was mandated. As I zipped up my jacket, Fenya happened by and asked where I was going. When I told her, she immediately asked if she could help, which made me both happy and proud; happy for the company, and proud that she and her sister are generally so eager to help.

One of our neighbors had already done half of the sidewalk in front, so in very little time, the two of us had finished the front and side sidewalks as well as the driveway. I withdrew to the house for some hot chocolate, and Fenya donned her snow pants so she could join Glory and her friend Brynn playing outside. I'm glad she is still able to enjoy simple play like that, even if she mightn't have gone without some sisterly cajoling.

As I sipped my hot chocolate and wrote this post, I was routinely interrupted by squeals and screams of unmitigated delight from the yard. What is it about snow, especially fresh snow, that appeals so much to the child in us? Tomorrow we will have to rise a little earlier so we can leave a little earlier and still arrive on time, but our household has already gotten a toehold on enjoying this season which makes up so much of the Edmonton year.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Long Weekend

I've been serving in an acting manager role at work since June, which has been a real mixed bag. On the one hand, it was quite a compliment, but it was not a position I was entirely comfortable with, despite my previous leadership experience. Still, the place didn't catch fire before the new manager showed up last Monday, and another team lead the week before, so I am chalking it up as a victory; a tiring, taxing and occasionally terrifying victory. Sometime in the next week or two I should be able to start working within my new Quality Coach role, which should play much more to my strengths.

Whatever hopes I had for this weekend being one of reflection and recuperation went right out the window, however. My sister, her beau, his son and the four of us went to Ainsworth Dyer Bridge in Rundle Park to help place the crosses for Remembrance Day; one for every Canadian killed in Afghanistan, ending with Byron Greff, who lost his life in a suicide bombing just a week or so back. It is a very casual, yet respectful ceremony, that brings out a fantastic cross-section of Edmonton: the young and old, men and women, military and civilian. This was our second year attending, and although I would like to attend the services at city hall or the University of Alberta Butterdome, I am sure it will not be our last.

After lunch, it was time to try installing the dishwasher we had bought earlier that week. The three-decade old Kitchenaid that came with the house finally packed it in, and after a month of hand washing, we finally came across an Inglis on sale at Canadian Tire. I'm terrified of projects involving wiring or plumbing, but my frugality has been sufficient to overcome my trepidation in the past, and the thought of paying $200 for what an experienced person could probably do in an hour bolstered my chutzpah enough that I was (mostly) willing to make an attempt.

The first setback came when I realized a significant part of the plumbing attachment was not actually included, and raced off to Rona to procure it. Only later did I discover that where the water supply in the installation diagram ran parallel to the floor, mine came straight up out of it, meaning the elbow I had just purchased had 90 degrees too many. I dashed back to Rona, arriving ten minutes prior to closing, but the helpful lady who'd assisted me beforehand had gone home, and the lad looking after the area was adrift even before they turned off the lights in the aisle at five minutes to six.

After returning home and explaining to my remarkably understanding family why they couldn't use the taps or flush the toilet until the following day, I finished what work I could and returned to Rona early the next morning. And then did that two more times in fairly rapid succession, wondering if I should let the girl at the return counter know I wasn't actually stalking her.

After sorting out a shutoff valve so the rest of the household could resume using water, I was very nearly completed when I broke off the shunt connecting the new drain hose to our ancient garburetor. This had happened once before, and I had been able to patch it up using PVC cement I had actually bought for model building (score one for the hobby nerd!), but alas, I had no more of that product, and the Tamiya extra-thin plastic cement just wasn't up to the task.

Visiting Rona and then attempting to find an open plumbing supply store proved to be fruitless and time consuming, and even Home Depot had none of the brush-on cement I was looking for. They did, however, have a PVC reducer I was able to carve to fit and clamp into place for a total cost of $1.89; it's nowhere near watertight if the garbage disposal should hold up the water drainage, but it should serve as a stand in until I am able to find a more proper replacement.

Audrey and the girls were out visiting as I prepared to finish hooking up the dishwasher and rolling it into place, envisioning how happy she would be to see it done when she returned, and how glad my daughters would be at not having to wash the supper dishes by hand any longer. Anxiety over the install had compromised my sleep the night before, and with a little luck, I could perhaps squeeze in a nap before Audrey and Fenya came back.

Unfortunately, this took quite a bit longer than anticipated, as the new dishwasher has quite a bit less space underneath than the old one, which meant that after all the hookups were made, I then had to unhook them three times in order to make sure there was clearance over my newly installed shutoff valve. It also took me an inordinate and embarrassing length of time to figure out how to use the wiring connectors.

By 5:00, with plumbing reopened and power restored, nothing flooded or caught fire so I ran a light load through the new dishwasher. While it worked it's way through the various cycles, the growing smugness I felt within faded away as I glanced around the kitchen and the assortment of tools strewn across the counter, floor and table. In the living room, the box and packing material awaited recycling, so I sighed and got down to the actual final stage.

Glory was sleeping over at a friend's, but when Fenya and Audrey returned at around seven, they agreed with my assertion that the money we'd saved on having someone else install the dishwasher was certainly sufficient to merit their taking us to the new Fatburger franchise near our house for dinner. A enormous and tasty burger, some onion rings and a $3 pint of Whistler lager, had a tremendously positive effect on my disposition. My knees and back were a mess, and I was completely knackered, but had accomplished enough that I felt confident I could coast for the remainder of the weekend without getting called on it.

Upon returning home though, more chores loomed; we had already scheduled the following day as when we would put up our Christmas lights, and as brisk as it promised to be, it would only get snowier and colder from here on in. We thus got caught up on our Glee viewing while we removed and replaced the bulbs from about forty feet of icicle lights.

After church the following day, we realized that the late arrival of our first snowfall meant that we could not count on the snow going away so we could rake up the leaves. While Audrey and Fenya ran errands, I got several piles of damp leaves gathered up, and cleared the front eavestroughs of pine cones. When everyone was home again, we all ventured outside so the girls could bag the leaves and get the canine droppings off the ground before they too were covered by snow until their inevitable and gruesome resurgence in the spring, while Audrey and I got the lights hung.

At long last, it appears that everything we needed to get done is out of the way. Sipping a Goldschlager mocha as I write this, I recognize what a privilege these chores actually represent, as the 'burdens' of home ownership and fatherhood.

Returning to work tomorrow will be a lot easier knowing there are others there now to help bear the yoke of leadership, and I am taking a couple of days off prior to helping out at a job fair next weekend. Even this pleasant sort of tired can make a work week feel longer than it actually is!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, November 7, 2011

Big Hairy Deal

Glory had her first feis of the year this past Sunday, which saw three of us head out to the Marriott Hotel at River Cree while Fenya joined some of our friends (and 1500 other people!) at the Edmonton Down Syndrome Society Buddy Walk.

She is taking her dance a little more seriously this year, and putting more time in to practicing.  A lack of suitable floor space within our domicile has seen her practicing with her hard shoes out in the garage, which is none too warm. It was cold enough that I could see my breath as I was out starting the barbecue for supper a week or so back, and peeked in the garage window to see how she was doing.

She was prancing about in good form, an expression of totally focused concentration on her face, her cheeks flushed from her exertions.   She certainly didn't notice me grinning in the window, even though she passed close enough for me to see her lips moving as she silently counted ONE twothree, ONE twothree, and worked her way through her various jigs and reels.

I entered the garage as she was finishing up.  "Good work," I told her, "I can see you're working hard."

"Thanks," she puffed.  "I forgot my CD player in the house, but I still went through all the steps."

"You did all that from memory, with no music?"


We turned off the garage lights and headed back towards the house.  "That's very dedicated of you, Glory.  You make Mum and I proud when you do that."  That got me a big grin,and I asked her,  "Do you know what it reminds me of?"

"What?" she asked.

"When you were just starting out, and having a little trouble with the basic steps, we would push all the furniture out of the way in the basement, put The Best of the Chieftains on the stereo,and you'd hold my hand while we skipped around in a big circle, couting ONE twothree, ONE twothree until you were comfortable with the steps."

Glory was incredulous.  "Really?"

"Hell, yes!" I responded indignantly.  "How can you not remember that?  D'you think it's easy for a man my size to skip for that length of time?  To say nothing about how silly-feeling it left me! I can't believe you don't remember it."

"Maybe a little..." she hedged.

"Pfft," I said.  "It's a good thing you don't need that help now..." Truth be told, I can barely follow her feet now, let alone discern the steps.

Before opening the door to the house, she stopped from a step up to give me a big hug.  "Thank you for practicing with me Daddy, even if I don't remember."

And just like that, everything was fine again.

Glory's been fascinated by Irish dance ever since seeing it at Heritage Days when she was three years old.  For weeks and months afterwards she talkd about the dancers with the bouncy hair, and she hadn't stopped two years later when we finally got her started in lessons.  We learned that the bouncy hair was almost always a wig, and the springy curls were designed to accentuate the height of the jumps, and to make it appear they were leaping even higher than they actually were.

We got Glory a small bun-style wig for her first feis a couple of years back, but this summer, Nanny gave her some money for Irish dancing 'stuff', so she got her first proper bouncy hair wig.

While it's hard to be conclusive about what sort of affect such an accoutrement might have, Glory ended up getting 5 medals in 7 dances, including two gold, one of which was in her very first hard-shoe competition.
Glory only won one medal in her last feis, so she was thrilled to have gotten five this time around, and with two gold to boot.

Before we left, I told her how proud I was , but not because of the medals she won, which confused her a bit.  "What are you proud of then?" she asked.

"How hard you worked and how much effort you put into practicing for this feis.  And I know you will keep doing it and do even better next time, right?"

Even her nod made her hair bounce.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I'm pretty disappointed that I didn't dress up for Halloween this year; I haven't been to a Halloween party in years, but I usually like to throw on a costume for either handing out candy or joining the girls on their trick or treating rounds.  This year, with the exception of an amusing walrus-shaped hat ("I'm John Lennon," I told one curious parent.), I was an observer and not a participant.

Thankfully my girls are picking up the slack for me.  Fenya actually arranged two costumes this year; the first was a '50s girl outfit for the school day and the afternoon dance (!) that was planned:

With the mercury hovering around the freezing mark Monday evening as anticipated, she opted for something more practical for trick or treating, which was a 'crazy cat lady' costume she made with the assistance of the instructor from her sewing class.  Angela also helped Carissa with her Queen of Cards and Paper Bag Princess (from the Robert Munsch story) outfits.  The pirate was all Glory.

Glory got to wear two different costumes as well, since her class got asked to participate in a zombie-themed movie addressing homelessness.  I gather it was pretty easy to get her fellow 4th graders to help out after the director told them a key part of the movie would involve running and screaming down the school halls.  And that there would be pizza.

They were asked to wear costumes they wouldn't mind getting soiled or torn to Friday night's filming, since most of them would be getting zombiefied on day two.  A quick trip to Value Village and Glory was kitted out in a largely disposable bride costume.
It was a tiring but interesting experience for her over all, she and Fenya are both movie fans, and have shown unexpected patience and interest when I want to watch the "Making Of" features or listen to commentary tracks on DVDs, although there is an appreciable spike in desire that appears to relate directly to the proximity of impending bedtimes.  Getting to see what goes on behind the cameras, even on a small production like this has given her a greater appreciation for how much work is needed to put even a short film together.

Unfortunately, fake blood was divvied up on a 'first come, first served' sort of basis, and because she is reluctant to push her way into a lineup, there was no time for her to get any claret into her bridal whites.  She was pretty upset when I asked her about this at home, but at least they still did an estimable job with her undead pallor, I have to say:
She was also not quite as prepared as she could have been for just how much repetition is required.  The hour or so I got to watch revolved around the hallway shown in the clip above, and every scene ended with the director asking them to go back ten feet and do it again...then five feet... then back to the doors and let's go once more...and after we switch out these lenses, we'll do juuust one more, and so on.  To his credit, the director's energy never lagged and he was extremely patient with a group of tired kids, who I have to say were all real troopers as well.

As for the rest of our Halloween festivities, it was a little different.  As usual, we put on The Nightmare Before Christmas so we could listen to it as we carved the pumpkin (Boingo forever, yo), but for the first time ever, the girls did the bulk of the carving on our Jack O'Lantern.  All I did was cut the lid open and trace on the design Fenya drew, and they gutted, carved and poked out the rest of the details.

This was also the first year with canine participation, with both Carissa's Shiba Inu named Miyagi and our Nitti dressing up as Superman.  Normally I find pet costumes objectionable, because despite some of their less charming qualities, I do believe dogs have dignity, of a sort anyways, and because so many of the overdone dog get-ups I've seen seem to feature some miserable looking animals in them.  These outfits were fairly straightforward, and not that different from the coat we have for Nitti to wear in cold weather, so, you know, what the heck.
If I didn't know any better, I would swear these two hounds were enjoying themselves.

Fortified with mugs of hot buttered rum, Carissa's dad and I escorted Carissa and Fenya on their rounds, while Glory went trick or treating with her friend in St. Albert.  They petered out a little more quickly than I expected, and overall, there was a pretty small presence for costumed children in our neighbourhood.

This seems like a shame to me, as more and more people do their trick or treating in malls and community centres.  I've always seen Halloween as a fascinating social contract, wherein people trade candy for an opportunity to see children from their neighbourhood dressed in cute or scary costumes.  More and more people seem to be decorating their homes and yards for the event, but in spite of this, fewer and fewer kids seem to go door to door every year, and I wonder if my eventual grandkids will even get the opportunity?

Well, there's not a lot we can do about society, but at least I know some kids who will have fond memories of this once macabre holiday that I am sure they will want to share with the next generation.