Saturday, 28 February 2009

Final NaBloPoMo post...for now

This morning, as I awoke into the half-light, I was beset by gremlins and remnants of dreams. I'd dreamt of endless bus rides, broken up by transfers in bleak corridors. As I tramped towards an overpass, I saw a man with young children who was a dead ringer for the Resident Fan Boy when he was younger and I descended to the platform to wait for the next bus, weeping for my lost youth.

Actually, very few of my dreams are so clearly about what is going on in my life. Most of them are confused, illogical, and just plain weird. Not unlike me, I suppose. I could write them down and apply Gestalt Therapy to them to determine their meaning, but that's so seventies...

This morning's dream doesn't really need any interpretation anyway. Obviously the uncertainty and worry of choosing a middle school for younger daughter is weighing on me. We've seen two private schools: one is attractive and easily accessible by transit, but it may not be a very good fit for younger daughter's particular blend of social and learning deficits. The other is a three-bus-commute that will take a two-hour bite out of younger daughter's day and a four-hour bite out of mine. It's rather grim and will cost twenty-five hundred dollars more than the other school, but seems to be aimed at students like younger daughter and is recommended by the developmental psychologist who has done two of her assessments, including the latest one. We can't really afford either, but we can't really afford to abandon younger daughter into the special hell that is the public middle school.

Anyway, this will be my last post with NaBloPoMo, at least for now. It's certainly been an interesting exercise in forcing me to write the equivalent of a short essay every day. My readership has gone up, although I harbour no delusions of grandeur about that. According to my site reader, most visitors stay less than a second. A depressing number of them are looking for that photo I posted of Princess Diana (with my fifth cousin India Hicks, name-drop, name-drop), let her go, girls..., and every winter, the Alice Munro short story "How I Met My Husband" is evidently a literature requirement in learning institutions across the eastern half of the United States. Others are really looking for Post-it Notes in various colours and shapes (including "rude-shaped"). Yesterday someone entered the search term "girlfriend wants to be tied to posts and gagged - youtube", but that's not exactly representative...

However, more and more, over the past six months most of the search terms have been variations on "post-it notes from hades", so dare I hope some people are searching for me? During this NaBloPoMo month, there have been more links to my blog and a few more regulars.

On the other hand, I'm not crazy about being a slave to my blog. It seems a good chunk of my time over the past four weeks has been spent planning and composing posts. I think my comfort level is about two posts per week. It's been instructive to push past that boundary for a while, but I need to get back to actual living and trying to accomplish things in a more tangible environment. The house is a mess, for one thing...

Will I try it again? Possibly. Hard to know when. Having tackled the shortest month, the logical next step would be one of the four "thirty days hath". April is birthday month madness; June is end-of-school insanity; September is beginning-of-school hysteria; and November is the beginning of the slippery slope to Christmas.

I'll think about it. In the meantime, I'll be checking at NaBloPoMo to see who's posting there.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Walkin' on broken ass

I think there's only one thing more terrifying than freezing rain in Ottawa. That's rain that falls on packed snow and ice and freezes overnight. This means countless commuters, pedestrians, etc. setting off to their appointed destinations in street shoes. I've mentioned this before, but if you're on a hill in Ottawa in such conditions, it's a bit like that scene in Titanic as hapless inappropriately shod people hurtle past you to their doom.

This morning, mere seconds after his departure, the Resident Fan Boy stuck his head back inside to warn me about the sidewalks.
"Should I put on my Yaktrax?" I inquired.
"No, there's nothing for them to grip on..."

Well, that brightened up the morning's prospects. I set out for the speech therapist's with younger daughter and soon realized the full terror of our predicament. It was sheer ice, making the pavement look wet when it's in fact a slick death-trap. We penguin-walked down to the bus stop, as the rain intensified.

Outside an apartment block on Cobourg Street, I saw a women on all fours, trying to find a foothold on the slippery square. Our eyes met, and the bus whisked me around the corner, leaving her to her predicament. As I went over contingency plans in my head, I forgot to ask for a transfer for younger daughter, and saw I couldn't fight my way back to the front of the bus through the slouching students immersed in their separate I-pod worlds. Luckily, the Transitway bus driver, who kindly waited as I waddled rapidly up to her bus at the transfer point, told me I didn't have to show my pass as she'd just seen younger daughter and me emerge from the bus ahead. It was at this moment that I realized that younger daughter had left the house without her backpack containing homework and lunch. I decided we would not be busing back.

On the cab ride back home to retrieve the backpack en route to school, I noticed this month's bulletin outside Les Bergers de l’espoir, a homeless centre: "Blessed are the flexible; they shall not break."

It's an art walking home in the pouring rain as the gutters fill with cataracts of rushing muddy water. I've lived here long enough to know not to try to walk through puddles; the puddles mean that the ice on the bottom has blocked proper drainage. It's also a hard-learned skill to recognise the difference between water flows that are following ice flows, and water flows that have cut a path through the ice. You can safely walk on the latter.

I wonder how treacherous the walk back up the hill will be after three hours of rain.

While I'm ruminating, dreading, and gingerly picking out my footwear, here's one of my very favourite Annie Lennox songs. It always reminds me of elder daughter; the music video was a big hit when I first brought her home from the hospital. Keep an eye peeled for Hugh Laurie who wasn't nearly as famous then (although I knew who he was...).

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Frozen in time

I'm posting this as quick as I can because: a) we've been viewing another possible school for younger daughter today and b) Google denied me access to my blog earlier because it thought I was spyware or something. I did my "mommy" approach to computer glitches; I switched the damned thing off at the source and started all over again. ("If you can't play nicely, we'll forget the whole thing.) That has seemed to work for the nonce, but I'm posting before Google gets cranky again. After all, I only have three days of posts to do; it would be a shame to stumble at the finish line.

A couple of days ago, I was talking about how I was introduced to the music of Dar Williams through my Launchcast station which is still playing for me here in Canada. As this shortest-but-still-the-damn-longest month draws to a close, my mind has been very much on her song "February". It's not my favourite of her songs (that would be "It Happens Every Day" or "When I Was A Boy"), but the sentiments of the song go with the Ottawa weather of this time of year which rolls from frozen moonscape wastes to dirty, agar-like slush and back again.

I found a rather nice video on YouTube set to the song, but it's very rural (as is the song, I guess), so I'll follow up with some rather more urban snaps I took early in the month and yesterday on Ash Wednesday:
I threw your keys in the water, I looked back,
They'd frozen halfway down in the ice.
They froze up so quickly, the keys and their owners,
Even after the anger, it all turned silent, and
The everyday turned solitary,
So we came to February.

First we forgot where we'd planted those bulbs last year,
Then we forgot that we'd planted at all,
Then we forgot what plants are altogether,
and I blamed you for my freezing and forgetting and
The nights were long and cold and scary,
Can we live through February?

You know I think Christmas was a long red glare,
Shot up like a warning, we gave presents without cards,
And then the snow,
And then the snow came, we were always out shoveling,
And we'd drop to sleep exhausted,
Then we'd wake up, and it's snowing.

And February was so long that it lasted into March
And found us walking a path alone together.
You stopped and pointed and you said, "That's a crocus,"
And I said, "What's a crocus?" and you said, "It's a flower,"
I tried to remember, but I said, "What's a flower?"
You said, "I still love you."

The leaves were turning as we drove to the hardware store,
My new lover made me keys to the house,
And when we got home, well we just started chopping wood,
Because you never know how next year will be,
And we'll gather all our arms can carry,
I have lost to February.

It takes a lot of love to survive February, and I suspect that that particular love didn't because her new lover has made her keys for the house. That's my challenge for today; not losing to February. Oh well, it will be over soon. And then it will be the horror that is March in Ottawa. Sigh....

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Feeling like an ash hole

I'm eating cold sausages and bacon rashers left over from last night's pancake feast. Ash Wednesday today, so the Resident Fan Boy will give up coffee for the next forty days and compound his sacrifice by making coffee for me after dinner. This evening, if the weather is not treacherous, he will take the dried out fronds of the palm leaves that have been stuck behind a picture frame above the computer and get smudged with the ashes at church.

In the meantime, I climb the hill to younger daughter's school, trying to take arty pictures of February devastation.As I bring younger daughter to her locker, I take the opportunity to congratulate Guardian Angel on her award.
"What award?"
"The book review award."
"I won an award?"
At this point Russian Prodigy, a rather nasty piece of work who has been known to speak to younger daughter as if she's an imbecile when people are watching and stuff snow into her boots when they're not, appears from nowhere, fixes me with an alarmed stare and declares: "She's not supposed to know! We were told not to tell her!"
I return her stare and say: "But the parents got an email about it yesterday! There was nothing in it about it being a surprise!" Indeed, the lengthy and rather poorly punctuated message had appeared on my monitor the previous morning. Why on earth would they send such a notice and try to surprised the recipients more than 24 hours later? All the same, I leave the school under a cloud, and feeling rather upset and disgruntled, am halfway home before I remember I was wanting to take pictures of the stuff I missed en route to school.

While I'm snapping, I see a regular on my street, a book under one arm and her trusty dachshund under the other. It's a mystery, of course. The book, that is.
"They end well," she shrugs apologetically. "That's why I like 'em, I guess."
"Yes," I say, being a P.D. James fan and of not much else in that genre, "Justice prevails."

I wind up in the coffee shop to scribble and sort. I'm re-examining two of my favourite books about writing, both by Henriette Anne Klauser: Writing on Both Sides of the Brain and Put Your Heart on Paper. She's since come out with two more books and all are available at my library. A guy in one of the booths making business calls is intrigued and asks if I'm a writer. "Not for money," I smile ruefully. I've just read in one of the books: "The difference between a writer and an author is Page 53."

The coffee shop seems to be tuned to an easy-listening satellite station this morning; they're playing The Carpenters and that ghastly "I Am Your Lady" song from the Eighties, which would easily make the Songs I Loathe list. Before I'm driven out, though, a James Taylor ditty that I do like comes on (I don't like all of James Taylor's stuff, but he did write some lovely songs), and it just happens to be another one of the songs Launchcast sent me when I first began listening to my station. Here's the video for it, and check out who's singing back-up! Feeling a little less ashen, I make my way into the salty morning.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Anticipatory Grief for Launchcast, Part Two (with some double-dipping)

Shrove Tuesday, so the fridge is stocked with sausages and bacon to go with the pancakes this evening. I want to continue my elegy for Launchcast (which is still playing for me and letting me rate songs here in Canada). Here are some more songs and/or artists that I only came across when Launchcast sent them to my player:

6. - from the 1994 album The Snake, Shane MacGowan and the Popes. Love the song; the video is pretty, but makes me feel quite chilly, watching Sinéad tramp through waterlogged sets in her bare feet (and golly, she's heavily made-up for such a pretty girl). Purists undoubtedly prefer the 1986 Cait O 'Riordan/Pogues version: which is a bit meatier, but I think one usually prefers the version one hears first.

7. From Shane MacGowan without The Pogues, we go to The Pogues without Shane MacGowan: There was a rather splendid Doctor Who fan-vid of the second season set to this song, but it seems to have disappeared from YouTube.

8. Here's another double-dip: That's the version I first heard on Launchcast, but I can't resist this earlier 1989 version with a very Eighties video: Bit Proclaimer-ish, isn't it?

9. - from the 1981 album Face Dances. Don't know how I missed this Who gem the first time around which actually sounds very un-Who-like, although it sounds a lot like Pete Townsend.

10. - from the 1981 album Making Movies. Yes, I know. Perhaps it's because I'm not that crazy about Dire Straits (I don't mind them, but I don't turn up the radio when they come on), but I never heard this one until it turned up on Launchcast. Heartbreaking and beautiful.

11. - from the 1988 album Modern Lovers 88 A song that expresses exactly how I feel about Harpo Marx:
Well when Harpo played his harp, it was a mystery
All the laughing stopped back to the balcony
Chico, Chico, sure to please
Now let's watch him shoot the keys
When Harpo would play his harp, all was still

When Harpo played his harp, it was a dream, it was
Well if someone else can do it, how come nobody does?
Groucho, Groucho, fast as light
Some talk like him but not quite
When Harpo would play his harp, all was still, still

Well Harpo Harpo
This is the angels and
where did you get that sound so fine?
Harpo Harpo
We gotta hear it
One more time

Harpo Harpo
We're in the galaxies and
where did you get that sound so fine?
Harpo Harpo
We gotta hear it
One more time

Do you remember what he would do sometimes before he played?
Well he'd look up to the sky and he'd look the angels' way
Harpo Harpo, when you start
Tears of joy inside my heart
Harpo would play his harp and all was still

I gotta hear it one more time. Here's Harpo in Horse Feathers, the first Marx Brothers film I ever saw. I was seventeen and instantly smitten; all Harpo's mania disappears, and the real man appears before our eyes: The lovely lady is Thelma Todd who also appeared in my very favourite Marx Brothers flick Monkey Business. She was brutally murdered a short time later.

12. Finally (there's more, but I'll only do them if I run out of post ideas before my last day of NaBloPoMo on Saturday), Dar Williams: There's a fan-vid featuring the original recording from the 2000 album The Green World, but it focuses on a Big Brother participant for some reason, so I'm sticking with this live version. Dar Williams was someone I was almost completely unaware of before Launchcast sent her along to me, but I just love her songs with their marvelous lyrics:
I wonder if Yoko Ono
Ever thought of staying solo
If she thought of other men and
If she doubted John Lennon
Worrying that he'd distract her art

Sitting in the Apple sessions
Giving John her music lessons
Challenging the warring nations
With her paper installations
Did she guard her Yoko human heart

Well, they could talk about me
Yeah, they could talk about me
Throw me to the velvet dogs of pop star history
But I won't be your Yoko Ono
If you're not good enough for me

Some will give their love for fashion
Others trade their gold for passion
I don't have the goods to start with
Never had the reins to part with
Still, I hope you take me seriously

'Cause I think I could go
Deep as the sea of Yoko
You don't know a person like me
I could sell your songs to Nike
And for all you know
I could save your soul
As only true love can change your mind
Make you leave your screaming fans behind

When John called the wind an opera
Making love with every chakra
When he said her voice would carry
And when he whispered old Chuck Berry
Only then would Yoko set him free

Fame will come and vanish later
Transcendental love is greater
I think if we had this somehow
We'd be feeling famous right now
We'd be saying love is all you need

Sounds a bit like a riposte to The Barenaked Ladies, doesn't it? Good. Managed my Can/Con for today...

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Oscars go MTV

I'd thought I'd seen the ultimate surreal Oscar moment. It occurred in 1989 when Rob Lowe did his infamous opening musical number with Snow White. Watch it if you can bear it: See, I think it was meant to be ironic and a bit over-the-top, but instead...

Then there were last night's Oscars, also meant to be ironic and a little-over-the-top. Now, I like Hugh Jackman. I'm familiar with him as a musical actor (I've never seen him as Wolverine) and enjoyed his hostings of the Tony Awards on Broadway. I think the opening "financial cutbacks, so I made it in my garage" musical montage was quite funny and certainly well-performed (with some very able assistance from Anne Hathaway). Not quite up to Billy Crystal, but entertaining. But people, what the hell was that "tribute to musicals" thing in the middle? Okay, Beyoncé has the musical chops, but the kids from High School Musical and Mamma Mia? Dear gawd, no.

"Lady Marmalade???" I said to elder daughter in bewilderment. "Since when is that from a musical?"
"Moulin Rouge," she replied.
O-o-o-oh. Baz Luhrmann. There's yer problem. He put this together and as far as I can tell, you either love Baz Luhrmann, or you just don't. Guess where I end up...

Then there was the dog's breakfast that was the nominated songs medley. They were meddled so well that I couldn't tell where one song ended and the other began. No wonder Peter Gabriel steered clear of it.

Things I thought worked (kinda):
a) The presentation of the actors' awards by five previous winners, each of whom addressed a different nominee. It probably went on for too long, but it gave each nominee a part of the spotlight and the impression that they too were winners in a way that simply hasn't been accomplished before.

b)Steve Martin's and Tina Fey's presentation of the writing awards. Mostly very witty and articulate, as writers are, y'know.

Not so much:
a) Ben Stiller's rather unfunny comic turn in a fake beard, that ended up taking attention away from the nominated cinematographers. (I think that was the award in question; I was somewhat distracted by Stiller's antics.)

b) Queen Latifah's tribute to academy members who had died in the past year. Not her fault, but the camera was undecided whether to focus on her while she sang, or the accompanying video, which really should have been what we were watching. The camera seemed to try to solve the problem by swaying back and forth in front of the monitor showing the deceased academy members (why? to the music?), making it difficult to read names and titles. Surely not the point of a memorial, right?

c) James Franco's and Seth Rogan's weird MTV-Awards-type skit of two dudes watching movies in the basement, and laughing inappropriately at movies like The Reader. James Franco's response to footage of himself as Harvey Milk's lover was a bit of a giggle though.

d) Framing the introductions and the winner's speeches with a construction of scenes from all nominated films. Thus, we'd be listening to rather a moving tribute, and Ku Fu Panda would be leaping into slow motion just below...

e) Having the orchestra launch into something under the presenter's introductions. Meant to be an accompaniment and mood-setter; ended up sounding like an interruption.

All in all, "A" for effort, guys, but "C" for the end product. If they're trying to be that hip and with it, why don't they just invite good-looking fans in and have them stand around the stage, like the various MTV awards and imitators? (Gawd, I'm getting old...)

I've deliberately kept from reading others' impressions in the newspapers and the blogs. I'm off to see if anyone agreed with me. (You'll notice that I failed to say anything about the winners. That's because, like the dresses and tuxes, there were no surprises.)

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Not-so-bleak midwinter

Last summer the Resident Fan Boy and I took younger daughter to a production of Romeo and Juliet in Strathcona Park. We liked it so much that I joined the Facebook group for The Fools, and receive online announcements of the various productions --- none of which we've been able to attend, mostly due to the bus strike.

However, the bus strike is over; we had Saturday afternoon free, and we were able to catch the final day of their winter production A Midwinter Dream's Tale, a frothy concoction borrowing elements from A Midsummer Night's Dream (obviously), A Winter's Tale (less obviously), and the clowning tradition.

The Resident Fan Boy and I haven't been to the Gladstone Theatre in about five years, when we saw a production of Wit put on by the Great Canadian Theatre Company which has since up-staked and moved to their own theatre in Westboro. These are tough days for the arts, and the fellow who took over the Gladstone has spiffed it up a treat, and courts the patrons shamelessly. I was phoned back twice after placing my ticket order, and I was told I would not need to bring anything to the theatre, just to give my name at the door. I did, and was presented with programmes with our seat numbers on it, then directed to the free coat check. All went swimmingly until the volunteer usher misread the numbers on our programmes and directed us to occupied seats. Luckily, I had taken the precaution of bringing my computer print-out, and thus spared the innocent occupants of Row C an unpleasant bickering over seats they had every right to be in. The concession featured splendid things to eat and drink; too bad there wasn't quite enough time to consume them and line up for the washroom.

The Company of Fools seem to have the gift for making entertainment that appeals to the sophisticated and the unsullied. The audience involvement was a big part of the charm: The RFB and I enjoyed the ad-libbed responses to comments from the peanut gallery and younger daughter loved the physical comedy which often had the actors racing through the aisles, and told her dad at bedtime: "I've had a very exciting day!" When I told her the day before that we were seeing a play with the same people who did Romeo and Juliet last summer, she was delighted. We recognised Jesse Buck and Emmanuelle Zeesman from that production.

The set was really quite lovely, a winter forest landscape with sparkling balls hanging from the ceiling of the stage and the first few rows of the audience. The story follows 'Restes and Pommes Frites who are wandering through the winter forest looking for ice cream and evidently not waiting for Godot. 'Restes is child-like and dressed in what appears to be a smoking jacket. Pommes Frites is supercilious, dressed in a turtleneck, iridescent turquoise leggings and a kilt. He speaks like Inspector Clouseau and transforms the words "ice cream" and "focus" into jokes for the adults and adolescents in the audience. They run into Oberon, a heavily pregnant Titania, Puck, and a merry band of attendant fairies. Oberon doesn't believe the baby is his, and when it is born, gives it to the clowns to throw into the ocean. A magic flower that causes people to fall in love with the first thing they see is involved, complete with Barry White music. There is a snowball fight with balloons dropped from the ceiling, a painful encounter between a tongue and a frozen pole (any Canadian kid would sympathize), a chase scene, and a happy ending complete with song-and-dance number, culminating in everyone in the audience getting a free dollop of ice cream as a bribe to prevent their telling Titania what Oberon wanted to do with the baby.

The only thing lacking was a mass exeunt pursued by a bear, but that, perhaps, would have been impractical...

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Anticipatory Grief for Launchcast, Part One

In a recent post I mentioned my Launchcast Station, and a fellow from Minnesota calling himself CPL Poker Podcast and League wrote in to tell me that Launchcast is no more. This was a surprise as I was listening to my Launchcast station at the time, but I checked the internet and it seems Yahoo has sold Launchcast to CBS stations and they've merrily dismantled all the US personalized stations. Although this news appears on the financial news page, there's no word yet about whether the Canadian Launchcast stations will be dismantled.

I have to assume that they eventually will, which would mean my five years of rating 961 artists, 634 albums and over 15,000 songs will disappear in a poof, so I've been listening to my station as never before. My station has a mix of rock, folk, and classical with a some hints of jazz and show tunes. I'm not likely to find anything like it anywhere, am I? Furthermore, the Launchcast system sends music it thinks you will like based on your ratings. Often, they're horribly wrong (ever had books recommended to you by Amazon?), but often they send gems. I hear music I might not have heard otherwise, and songs from established artist that I've managed to miss. Damn.

Anyway, I thought this morning, I'd post some songs I first heard on my Launchcast station, provided they are available on YouTube. I think it makes up about a baker's dozen, so I'll do roughly half this morning:

1. -- from the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I find the fan-made video provided with this song a bit distracting and not much to do with the song. I imagine it being more about street people, but I'm probably wrong too. This song came up on the Billy Bragg fan station at Launchcast, and eventually led me to purchasing both the CDs Billy Bragg did with Wilco covering Woody Guthrie songs.

2. I completely missed The Stone Roses and their psychedelic sound the first time around, possibly because I was having babies. "Waterfall" is merely representative; I like a whole bunch of their songs.

3. I can't embed this next one which is "Dark Eyes" sung by Judy Collins and written by Bob Dylan. His version appeared in his 1985 album Empire Burlesque, and according to Wikipedia, he needed to write a simple track to close the album:
He returned to his hotel in Manhattan after midnight, and Dylan apparently said later:

"As I stepped out of the elevator, Sarah Bernstein was coming toward me in the hallway - pale yellow hair wearing a fox coat - high heeled shoes that could pierce your heart. She had blue circles around her eyes, black eyeliner, dark eyes. She looked like she'd been beaten up and was afraid that she'd get beat up again. In her hand, crimson purple wine in a glass. 'I'm just dying for a drink,' she said as she passed me in the hall. She had a beautifulness, but not for this kind of world."

The brief, chance encounter inspired Dylan to write "Dark Eyes," which was quickly recorded without any studio embellishment. Structured like a children's song, with very rudimentary guitar work and very simple notes, it's often quoted for its last chorus: "A million faces at my feet, but all I see are dark eyes."

Once again, this fan-vid doesn't seem to have much to do with the song, but when I first heard it, with Judy Collins' vocals, I imagined Europe just after the First World War. So there yer go; we hear what we hear.

4. -- from the 1980 album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School (Zevon also had just the best album titles). I was vaguely aware of the song "Werewolves of London", but Warren Zevon, rest his soul, is another singer/songwriter I managed to miss. I just love his stuff, and it's all because Launchcast kept sending it to me on my radio station. I've not the only one who loves Warren Zevon, this next offering is a tribute:

5. -- from the album Bark. I bought this CD based on two songs that appeared on my Launchcast station: this one and "I've Had Enough of You Today". Blackie and the Rodeo Kings is a kind of super-group comprised of Canadian alternative rock/folk/country artistsThe quality of this weird and rare video is highly dependent on whether you click the "watch in high quality" option, so you may want to click on this video and go do that.

That'll do for now. I'm sure I'll be scrabbling for post topics later as I head into the final week of marathon posting for NaBloPoMo, so I'll post the rest later.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Avoiding Obama

So Barack Obama hit town yesterday, and it was all over the news: how he picked Canada for the first foreign visit (very diplomatic of him, George Bush kept forgetting we were there); how he dropped into the Byward Market for treats and souvenirs, and picked up a personally-made "Obama Tail (a variation of the Beaver Tails I was dissing a few posts ago).

The excitement accompanying this visit has been described in the media several times as being "rock-star-like", particularly considering the cruddy weather yesterday with large wet flakes plopping in an ankle-deep slushy mass on the sidewalks. Indeed, the Resident Fan Boy and I have been cudgeling our brains to recall a similar response to a foreign dignitary. Certainly not George Bush, who remarked at an Ottawa banquet that he was pleased to see people waving at him and using all five fingers. The Resident Fan Boy noted how close Obama had been to his government office and mourned at missing Obama again

Of course with most of the downtown core blocked to traffic, this was the very day that we needed to: view a possible school for younger daughter way the hell over in Nepean; attend an appointment at the Civic Campus of Ottawa General to check the state of the Resident Fan Boy's shoulder which was separated the same time his head was concussed by a cyclist last November; escort younger daughter to her weekly drama lesson; and meet elder daughter's second semester teachers. This involved:

1. Being stranded in the Queensway Transitway stop, which is in the middle of bloody nowhere, when the bus scheduled in the online OC Transpo Travel Planner simply failed to materialize;
2. With ten minutes remaining until our scheduled interview at the prospective school, our frantic grabbing of a possible bus which took us all the way to the bloody Baseline station, where we frantically tried to phone a cab, only to discover we had no quarters and were offered a cell-phone by a young man who asked me for bus tickets (which I was only too happy to give) and kept chatting on while I tried to help my husband describe where we were...
3. Being fifteen minutes late for the interview;
4. Failing to use the facilities before leaving the school;
5. Tramping for twenty minutes through aforementioned ankle-deep slush in leaky boots over bridge crossing the godforsaken Queensway;
6. Which is a highway, for those of you who don't know Ottawa;
7. Catching the eternal and endless #85 bus which crawls up Carling;
8. Which deposited the Resident Fan Boy for his appointment at the hospital which was delayed for more than two hours;
9. While I stayed on the crawling bus, contemplating about a dozen firetrucks blocking Bronson Street and the bus was detoured over the MacKenzie King Bridge due to downtown being closed off to protect Barack Obama;
10. Not being able to catch the next connecting bus because I had to trek deep into the Rideau Centre to use the washroom (see #4);
11. Getting off the bus several stops early to buy bite-sized brownies for younger daughter because I always get some for her when she's on the way to drama lessons;
12. Dropping off and picking up stuff at house before climbing the slushy hill in my leaky boots to retrieve younger daughter from school and escort her to her drama lesson;
13. Learning that the Resident Fan Boy was stuck at hospital, reading him the list of elder daughter's teachers, while instructing elder daughter when and where to pick up younger daughter;
14. Getting back on the bus to race downtown to elder daughter's school where the meet-the-teacher event was scheduled to start at 4:30;
15. Realizing at 4:15 that the bus was going to be rerouted because of Obama's visit, and so abandoning the bus at the Laurier Bridge;
16. Trying to run like stink against a wall of people walking the other way who had given up on their buses.
17. Arriving at 4:31 to discover that the scheduled teacher would not be coming because of being held up in traffic.

And so on. You know you're tired when you find yourself sleepwalking in the same crosswalk in which your husband was knocked down and concussed by a cyclist three months earlier. I got home and asked elder daughter what her English teacher was doing stuck in traffic when he supposed to be at school when I'd run across the Laurier Bridge to try to meet him, she fixed me with that looks that sixteen-year-olds do so well, and said: "He lives in Chelsea, Mom. He was picking up his kids." Oh, all right...

Elder daughter, incidentally, had gone over younger daughter's spelling words with her and younger daughter got a perfect score today. And David Tennant was on TV in Blackpool. We bought the DVD last December and our local educational channel is showing it uncut this month...

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The Wall

. . .But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. . . .
- Desiderata, Max Ehrmann, (Sept 1872 - Sept 1945). Copyright 1927.

Ten more posts to go on this NaBloPoMo thing. The last thing I want to do this morning is to post, but if I don't write something, this overloaded day will trample me and I won't get anything blogged. Do you know when you wake up one morning and you know you have the flu? This morning I woke up with a bad case of black despair. It will pass. Desperation is a luxury I can't afford. I'm taking double doses of evening primrose oil, grasping the lifelines of FlyLady and any positive thought I can catch without crushing. I'm having an interview with a private school for younger daughter today. I don't know how we'll afford it or even if it's not going to be a huge mistake. Then we have to meet elder daughter's teachers this evening. Prayers and warm thoughts welcome.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Bad songs say so little

Okay, the snow banks are crusty and filthy and the edges are littered with doggy-do. I dropped off younger daughter at school really late, and her last words to me, delivered over her shoulder as she stood in the middle of her classroom were: "It's not going to be a great day..."

Seeing as I'm in a crappy mood anyway, I thought I'd adopt a really poor attitude and muse about songs I hate. As almost none of you know (because this was from a really early post when no one was reading my blog), I have a Launchcast station. Usually I concentrate on how it delivers my favourite songs, along with songs it thinks I will like, but it also has a feature where you can, with a click of your mouse, tell it "Never play this on my station again". Of course, if I'm feeling particularly cruel, I'll rate the song at 30 or lower which accomplishes the same thing, just to show how much I dislike and disdain a particular thing-purporting-to-be-a-song.

I thought I'd run a few selections past you today. Now, usually I provide a link or a YouTube video to illustrate musical selections, but these are songs I can't stand, that set me diving at the radio to switch it off, so why torture you? If you're determined to torture yourself, you're welcome to google these things...

This is not a comprehensive list. There are millions of songs I hate. These are titles that occurred to me while sitting in the coffee shop this morning, paying bills. (Another mood-killer.) The seventies are over-represented. Maybe my next post should be There really was good music available in the seventies; it just won't be evident by perusing this list.

Here we go, hold your nose and plug your ears:

1. Hotel California by The Eagles. One of the most pretentious songs ever written, with a melody that goes nowhere. Launchcast has something called "Fan Stations", and I made the mistake of playing The Beatles Fan Station. It played "Hotel California" three times. In half an hour. (A really good idea when selecting a "Fan Station" at Launchcast, by the way, is choosing someone you like who isn't that popular. Stone Roses work well, as do Billy Bragg, or Lyle Lovett. Forget The Proclaimers, their fan station just plays eighties drek. Not that all eighties music was drek -- uh another possible post: There really was good music available in the eighties... I think I'm getting side-tracked because I don't want to list the next one...)

2. Double-whammy here. Kashmir and Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. I actually used to like these songs, but they've been played to death, and they go on and on and on...

3. For the Love of Him by Bobbi Martin. I feel guilty even mentioning this song, because it's sunk into obscurity and it needs to stay there. Trust me, it was awful. Syrupy, banal, anti-feminist. (Shudder)

4. Another double-whammy: Feelings and My Way by anybody. Cheap shots, I know. Why, why, why are these songs popular?

5. Any song about oral sex. I'm looking at you, Aerosmith. Yeah, yeah, it feels good, it's natural and without it, life would be less pleasant, but the same can be said about taking a dump. I don't want to hear a song about it, okay? Maybe mention should be made of "Going Down" by The Stone Roses, which, admittedly, is a lovely melody; in fact, it's the prettiest little ditty about cunnilingus ever. The problem is... It's about cunnilingus, people; let's not sing about it.

6. Black Water by the Doobie Brothers. I didn't much care for this song in the first place, but there's a really, really disturbing scene in St Elsewhere which is otherwise one of my all time favourite TV series: It's when Boomer is trapped in his apartment with a psychotic rapist/murderer who has been released from prison. Boomer is tied up and gagged in a chair, while his wife is bound and gagged to the bed and the creep starts singing "Black Water". (Double shudder.)

7. Crazy by Gnarls Barkley. Because it drives me cra-a-a-a-ze-e-e-e...

8. The Reason by Hagendaz Hoodenhof Hoobastank. Never has a group name suited a song so well. This is one of those songs that spoiled a summer for me. The radio just kept playing it, and those over-grown adolescents kept whining, whining, whining....

Can we stop now? Looking at this highly unscientific and disorganized list, I see that it consists of songs that I loathed from the get-go, and songs I grew to despise through overexposure. Now, just because I hate to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth and a buzzing in your ears, I'll offer you a song that falls into the second category --- but has been redeemed by my very favourite fan-vid creator The Big Blue Meany. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this woman is a genius, and only she could take an over-blown, overplayed song like "Drops of Jupiter" and turn it into the perfect musical rendition of what happens to Donna in the fourth season of Doctor Who:
Hope your day is shaping up into something better.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Golden arches sell your fries...

Volly from This is my secret hiding place has remarked: "I'd love to hear some "inside" stories about how they run things (at McDonald's). One can only imagine!" This was in the comments field of one of her recent posts, and I could respond there, but this is Day Seventeen of NaBloPoMo for me, so I'm not using up a post-sized comment on someone else's blog. Sorry, Volly, you'll have to read it here, but thanks for the post topic...

In keeping with this month's emerging theme of unpleasant recollections of Februarys past, I was a McDonald's employee for five miserable months a very long time ago. Never mind how long, pilgrim, suffice it to say we didn't sell Happy Meals. A year or so after my time of trial and tribulation, a friend of a nemesis wrote a freelance undercover report of what it was like working at McDonald's for Monday Magazine, Victoria's local indie weekly news magazine. She described the pecking order of McDonald's employees as being something like a big Mac: the sesame seeds on top, the middle meat part and the heel of the bun. Guess in which category I would fall. Just guess. (Oh yes, and McDonald's wrote the magazine a pretty aggrieved letter about the friendly and family atmosphere of its working environment, and the values instilled in its employees.)

I was seventeen, and when you're seventeen, you're trying to jump start your life, because you think it's never going to begin and everything is passing you by. I got in a panic because I was in my graduating year and still didn't have a "real" job, outside of babysitting. I applied to McDonald's and Dairy Queen, and the McDonald's offer came through first. I often wonder if things would have been different if I'd gone for Dairy Queen which was in my neighbourhood and run by women with a female staff.

Perhaps not. I'm not sales or cashier material. In those days, cash registers didn't figure out everything for you, and we had to tote the figures up by hand. I'm not quick at calculations, nor at giving change. At one point, I was accused of stealing because of discrepancies in my cash drawer. We were coached to sell to every customer: "How about some fries with that order? Care for a drink?" I found this embarrassing and phony. The irritation in the customer's voices when you tried to sell something else was palpable.

Here's a brief list of what made five months at McDonald's among the most unpleasant of my life:

1. When the restaurant was quiet, we were expected to look busy, wiping down spotless counters, restocking stocked supplies.

2. Crew meetings, an artificial gathering of pep talks and group chants convened half an hour before the restaurant opened, were mandatory. It didn't matter that they were scheduled before the buses ran and I had difficulty getting in. It didn't matter that they were a total waste of time. A schoolmate of the Resident Fan Boy was fired for failing to turn up at a crew meeting. He had broken his leg. His furious parents had him reinstated before he quit. (He's a doctor now.)

3. It was a largely male crew. The guys got the coveted grill positions. Ambitious girls might get "shakes and fries". The rest of us were at the tills, and if we were really lowest of the low, sent out for "Lot and Lobby". I got sent out for "Lot and Lobby" a lot.

4. If you fit in well with a high school mentality, that is, attractive, and good at sports, you tended to fit in well at McDonald's. You might be surprised to learn that this wasn't me. (Oh, go on, pretend.) Someone sidled up to me at some point and told me the managers were looking for ways to fire me because I was too "intellectual". Considering the state of my intellect when I was seventeen, this is a little hard to fathom. On the other hand, you might like to have taken a look at my managers. Well, no, you wouldn't...

5. Harassment and embarrassment were daily tools of management. I was often spoken of, in disparaging terms, in the third person while I was sitting there in the crew room. The grill guys thought it was hilarious to come order at my till on their time off, requesting a "grill order" (that is, an order with changes to it) of "Fillet O' Fish, hold the ketchup". I'd call the order back, and the derisive shout would ring throughout the restaurant. "There is no ketchup on the Fillet!" Roars of laughter. Oh, stupid me. The girls were routinely critiqued on their attractiveness, or in my case, lack thereof.

6. I was constantly being taken aside and criticized for clocking out on time. Yes, on time. We were expected to show up early for shifts and clock out at least five minutes late to show our eagerness and enthusiasm.

I could go on, but we've had enough, hadn't we? Why did I hang on for five months? Because it was bloody McDonald's, that's why and I couldn't figure out why I wasn't getting any better at it. Eventually I got mononucleosis, as did a couple other crew members. I'm pretty sure I picked it up at the Golden Arches.

I've heard many people say that McDonald's teaches work ethic, salesmanship, and team work. I learned all about humiliation and pecking orders, but you can learn that just as effectively at high school. I haven't set foot in the place since, which is probably the best thing I ever got out of it.

Monday, 16 February 2009

This may (or may not) help you in your decision to view Slumdog Millionaire or Coraline

With less than a week until the Oscars, I checked the lists of nominees to see how we're doing. We usually try to have seen at least two of the films in each major category, if only to have something to root for/throw potato chips at during the televised ceremony. Most years, the best-watched category for me has been the Best Actress nominees, usually because the nominated films are often too violent for my squeamish little soul. This year, however, I've only managed to see Kate Winslet's turn in The Reader. I'd really like to see Rachel Getting Married, but it's no longer playing in any cinema in Ottawa, and the DVD will not be released until next month.

To my astonishment, we've managed to see four out the five nominated films. This hasn't happened for years. I've no desire whatsoever to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; everyone keeps saying Forrest Gump, which is enough to put me off anything. Of course, word of mouth, catch-phrases, and publicity spins can be misleading. Take Slumdog Millionaire for example.

I usually check reviews carefully before attending a film, which is an expensive proposition these days in terms of time, money and popcorn. The impression I'd gotten from blurbs, reviews, etc. were "feel-good film", "Cinderella story", "Dickensian". None of which particularly sold me on the film, but it's been winning awards right and left, so the Resident Fan Boy and I decided to take advantage of a relatively quiet weekend.

Okay, "feel-good", "Cinderella" and "Dickens" did not prepare me for the spectacle of our young protagonist being systematically tortured by the Mumbai police in the opening scenes. Nor did it prepare me for a massacre involving people being immolated, a blinding, and a charming scene of a young boy covered from head to toe in excrement. At the end of this horror-show which reminded me of Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance (which I read last summer), the cast breaks into a Bollywood-style dance number in a train station which left me disoriented and stunned because it was so jarring in the context of the movie.

So, no one's asking me, but Slumdog Millionaire does not get my vote. It's not a terrible movie, but it's unsettling, and not in an instructive way. I enjoyed The Reader, but I simply don't think it's a best film of the year. That leaves Milk and Frost/Nixon. I don't think I'd be throwing fatty snack foods if either won, but I think I have a slight preference for Frost/Nixon at this point. A film that has you on your seat with suspense even in the absence of violence has to be doing its job. But as I've said, no one is asking me.

We also took the girls to see Coraline today, it being Family Day, a new holiday that gives the day off to everyone except federal government workers. The Resident Fan Boy had a few discretion days available. Haven't read Coraline in about five years, so felt confident that I'd forgotten enough to enjoy the film. It's in 3D; I think it will be difficult to see animated films in anything but this format soon, by the look of things. We liked it, and if you're planning to see it, we recommend you hang around for the end of the credits and keep your special glasses on.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Beware the Ides of February

Who can explain it? Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons; wise men never try.

As it happens, I have an excellent reason to by-pass Valentine's Day. I actually fell in love with the Resident Fan Boy on February 15th, so we ignore the 14th and exchange hostages chocolates and/or cards the next day.

Actually, saying I fell in love on the 15th is misleading. That was merely the evening (some enchanted) that I knew for sure. The preceding three weeks had been a slow increment of evidence. About a week after I'd met him, for example, I saw him walking toward me across a crowded room the third floor of the UVic library, and a small voice piped up inside my head, from somewhere behind my left ear: "He's....tall..." (My limbic system didn't make those kind of comments about my other guy pals.) We'd go for 3-hour lunches and not realize how much time had passed.

On the evening of the fifteenth, we met at a University of Victoria eatery of the time call The Raven's Wing, where you could get cheap chewy rare steak with garlic bread and a salad. We'd met, ostensibly, so I could analyze his handwriting (one of my old party tricks), and I remember being oh, so aware of how close he was, as he leaned over to watch my work. While I talked, I spit out a bit of salad, and he being the gentleman that he is, pointed at the green blob and said "What's that?" I returned to the library on my own to (ostensibly) do more homework and found myself in the deserted women's washroom in the basement of the library singing:

And that's how it begins. And that's how many people think it should stay, forever and forever and forever. It doesn't, of course, because love eventually has to to move from where it's something that happens to you to where it's something you must do every day. So it's especially appropriate that we don't celebrate Valentine's Day, the day of flowers, romance, sex, and love songs. There's nothing wrong with the aforementioned (God knows), but popular culture seems to think that that's all there is. No. We celebrate the day after. This was one of the readings at our wedding and I think it says it best:

When Love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the North wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so he is for your pruning
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns to you his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.
And these things shall love do unto you that you know the secrets of your heart,
And in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's Heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of Love's threshing floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.

For Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For Love is sufficient unto Love.

When you love you should not say " God is in my heart", but rather " I am in the heart of God."
And think not that you can direct the course of Love, for Love if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
- Kahlil Gibran

I have been on the threshing floor of the days after. Most women with children know it all too well. It ain't pretty, although there is much startling beauty.

And as Rick Redfern once said in the comic strip Doonesbury: "The world needs grown-ups, Zonker."

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Love in the time of cholera

I'm not a fan of Valentine's Day. It's not just the fact that I'm the mother of one child still in elementary school; any mother of elementary school students hates Valentine's Day unless she's crazy. Or Martha Stewart. Which amounts to the same thing. (For the record, we distributed hand-made valentines until second daughter hit Grade Three. At that time, I gave up and went for cheap drug store valentines.) It's the commercialism, the forced, fake romanticism, and the underlying idea that it's imperative to get laid on that date. I don't mind the chocolate aspect; I am a fan of chocolate.

So it was with some relief that I headed off for the first post-bus-strike meeting of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO -- members pronounce it "Bufizgo") this morning. I arrived at the National Library and Archives, and the meeting area was packed. I'm not sure whether this was because the bus strike is over or because Alison Hare was speaking.

Alison Hare is a professional genealogist and she has spoken to BIFHSGO (and many other family history societies and organizations) before. Her talks always get high ratings. She's not a flashy speaker, but she is thorough and clear. This morning she was speaking (apologetically, given the subject matter and the date) of the cholera epidemics that hit Great Britain several times during the nineteenth century, in particular the epidemic of 1854 and of a pump in Broad Street in the Soho district of London that became a turning point in the understanding of how cholera was spread. This has been written about extensively and I can link you to Stevyn Colgan's recent blog for a quick overview.

Alison Hare's interest in the Broad Street cholera epidemic is personal. See, the British physician (and anaesthesia pioneer) John Snow demonstrated that the pump on Broad Street was contaminated by mapping out the deaths from cholera during those few, terrible September weeks in 1854 in the streets surrounding the water pump on Broad Street. Each death appeared as a line, and sure enough, the houses closest to the contaminated pump had the highest number of lines. One of the lines in nearby Bentinck Street should represent Alison Hare's ancestor Harriet Iddiols who fell ill with cholera while heavily pregnant, but she was hastily evacuated to Gravesend with her family. She died within a few days and the particulars of her death appear in John Snow's notes, although she is not named.

So Alison Hare set out to provide some names for the lines on John Snow's maps, using her skills as a genealogist. With the birth/marriage/death index, the censuses, some strategically-ordered death certificates (it would be hideously expensive to order more than a few), and other online documents, she hunted down the name of the baby who was the starting point for this terrifying breakout that decimated the neighbourhood. Her name was Frances Lewis; she was six months old and when she fell ill with cholera, her mother rinsed her diapers into the sewer which was only a couple of feet from the water pump. Cracks in the lining of the sewer allowed the vibrio cholerae bacterium to enter the well that supplied the pump. Baby Frances died hours later. Towards the end of the epidemic two weeks later, her father succumbed as well.

Alison made up her own maps and charts for her presentation and instead of lines or dots, there were names, and with the names came stories of families trying desperately to care for one another, suffering and fear, love and loss, pieced together from the data and from contemporary accounts, particularly those of Henry Whitehead, the local Church of England minister trying to comfort the living and dying in his parish. He didn't give names either, but because Alison Hare knew the circumstances of Harriet's neighbours on Bentinck Street, she could figure out which families Whitehead was visiting in those frantic days.

A distant relative heard of her search and sent her photographs of Harriet Iddiol's husband John who remarried five months after his wife's death ("He had to," Alison told us, "There were young children."), and subsequently moved to Nova Scotia. There was also a portrait of one of Harriet and John's daughters. "They look like nice people," said Alison. "They had gentle faces." The faces looked almost exactly like her own.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Hello my baby frog

Yesterday's thaw melted layers of snow away and like an archeological dig took our front yard back in five weeks back in time. The needles left from the Christmas tree that waited forlornly for the chipper after Epiphany are now resting on top of the snow as if the beaten balsam was hauled away only yesterday, and a paper coffee cup that someone apparently tossed by our porch sometime before Christmas slowly emerged from the snow bank throughout the day. Today, the temperatures have plummeted back to -12 Celsius, and the streams of water leaking from underneath the drifts have frozen into hazardous C-shaped patches of ice across the sidewalks.

I've been traveling back in time too. Despite the pain of reliving past Februarys, (that's why they call it "nostalgia" - νόστος nostos "returning home", and άλγος algos "pain" ), I have been unable to resist following February from about 1989 to now. Some events I remember, some I have forgotten but the entries bring them back, and there are things I don't remember even though I made a note of them at the time, a shame because they are happy memories that I wrote down to preserve. One was of watching the Resident Fan Boy standing in a beam of afternoon sun streaming into our bedroom. I was sick, and he had taken elder daughter to the park and was enthusiastically regaling me with their adventures. Another was of returning home down the boulevard from a Shrove Tuesday dinner at Christchurch Cathedral in Victoria on a clear night under a sky brimming with stars. Elder daughter, about three or four at the time, was balancing along the walls and singing "Twinkle, twinkle, little star". Little gems of life that have been pushed completely from my mind, but they must have happened; I wrote them down. I watch myself moving sightlessly through the past towards my present. I can't help but feel compassion for her, my hopeful, clueless past self. She won't know what hit her.

Here's a memory I hadn't lost. To understand it, you may need to see this classic Warner Brothers cartoon from the 1950s:

It's a cold February afternoon without the slightest hint of melting, our first winter in Ottawa (I don't recall a Winterlude thaw that year). Younger daughter is four, and I'm still raw and wounded from the result of a team assessment by the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario the previous month. February means phone calls, forms, slipping into the basement to cover my weeping under the hum of the washing machine. And consultations. On this particular afternoon, the consultant is a Speech Language Pathologist, making a home visit to observe younger daughter. She turns up during lunch, and younger daughter is doing what she does best --- under-performing. One of the aches of having a special needs child is being forced to see the little person under your care through others' eyes, particularly professional, assessing eyes. Every beloved quirk becomes a symptom, every endearing idiosyncrasy becomes a note on a pad and later, a line in a report. My heart sinks as I hear younger daughter murmuring to herself in unintelligible syllables. At one point during lunch, the SLP remarks brightly, "That sounded like noodles!"

"She can say 'chicken noodle soup', I say as lightly as I can manage. But I know I'm Just-a-Mother-in-Denial. After lunch, the consultant pulls out her bag of tricks, and tries to guide younger daughter through some matching games involving animals and numbers. She also attempts to get younger daughter to join in the various verses of "Old McDonald's Farm". Finally, she packs up, smiles encouragingly at me and leaves with a few supportive comments and suggestions.

"May I have some chicken noodle soup?" asks younger daughter. That evening, she will inform her father that she "played wit' an'mals an' money", and, sitting on the stairs after an outing, launches into several verses of "Old McDonald's Farm" with all the animal noises. I shovel the walkway, singing under my breath: "Send me a kiss by wi-yah; Babee my heart's on fi-yaaaah..."

("Ribbet," says younger daughter. Everywhere a-ribbet, ribbet?)

Thursday, 12 February 2009


I didn't take my camera with me as I walked younger daughter up to school this morning, but as it was pouring rain, it would have been difficult for me to have the correct number of hands free to capture the mists rising from the steaming snowbanks and the piles of dog mess in said steaming snowbanks. (Besides, we needed all of our faculties to dodge the curtains of filthy water generated by the wake of SUVs cruising through the puddles and inundating the sidewalks.) Instead I offer a photo from last winter to give you an idea of the muddy cataracts streaming downhill into whatever outflows are not blocked by ice.

Has spring come to Hades? Not on your Nelly. This is what residents of Ottawa wryly refer to as The Winterlude Thaw. You see, for two to three weeks in February, Ottawa host a festival called Winterlude, which features ice sculpture competitions, snow chute playgrounds for the kids, winter sport demos, concerts, Beaver Tails (Bleech! But of course, my girls love them), and most important of all, skating on the Rideau Canal. I understand people actually plan vacations in Ottawa to visit Winterlude. I find this difficult to fathom myself as I find it a rather lame festival, but what happens to those who pick the wrong weekend to turn up is this: the Winterlude Thaw hits, the ice sculptures melt into deformed frozen lumps, the ice shutes drip away, and the Canal is closed to skating. Brave souls slog through this to get to the concerts and Beaver Tail concessions.

This is our ninth winter in Hades; there have been Winterlude Thaws in seven of those nine. The most depressing one featured (sweet Gawd, no) winter smog. I mean, the chief comfort of the hibernal Ottawa experience is the absence of smog, so this was the supreme insult. Remind me to tell you what regularly happens to the Tulip Festival in May some time.

If I'm really smart, I'll hide this blog, change my name and go underground before the National Capital Commission tracks me down for civic treason...

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

February makes me gibber

One of the reasons I started this blog in the first place is that I spend the first few weeks of the new year doing a quick rundown in my journal of the past year. It gives me a snapshot of a given year month by month, and each year, it seems to take me longer and longer to do. Last night, I decided to glance at some of these yearly rundowns, focusing on the February of each year (and perusing some actual February journal entries while I was at it).

Bad idea. The basic impression I got was that I was way happier, even in bloody February in the years when I first began keeping track. Is the unexamined life really not worth living, Socrates? Sometimes I think that the refining fires of suffering would be a lot easier to take, if I could actually see some improvement in myself as a person....

Drastic measures are needed. I checked my Facebook page where my favourite songs are on rotation, and I'm choosing three of the five of today's featured songs to cheer me up.

First, "New Age Girl" by Deadeye Dick. I never watched the movie Dumb and Dumber so never heard of this song until The Q radio station in Victoria had an Alphabet Weekend while I was packing up the house to move to Ottawa. This was early in the weekend, under "D", of course. I can't embed it, but I can give you a slightly higher quality link.

Next we have some Can/Con. I love this number by Jeremy Fisher( Binns) who was born in Hamilton, Ontario and spent some time on Vancouver Island where I grew up:
She runs guns; everyone wants guns; she runs guns everyone wants -- there she go-hoes!

Now I don't care much for the Deadeye Dick video, and the Jeremy Fisher video is kind of cute. Both videos are new to me, although I've loved the songs since I first heard them. However, "Downtown Train" by Tom Waits is a classic, both as a song and as a video. What do you think?

Now, isn't that evocative? I mean, I've never been to New York, but this says "summer night in Brooklyn" to me. Longing, yearning, beautiful.

Okay, I feel a bit better. Maybe tomorrow I'll summon up the courage to tell you what this is all about. Maybe not.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Eyes on the prize

I won a contest at a blog not long ago. Actually, I've won a few blog prizes (all via highly entertaining and informative blogs): from P., from Jaywalker (who has actually sent me a couple of prizes -- she's so generous) and any number of non-existent prizes from Medium Rob in his ongoing and totally mad Sitting Tennant competition. However, the prize I wish to talk about today is the one I won from BlueStalking Reader. I got second prize, so I got two books, and I just finished reading one of them today.

I generally have three to four books going at once, which is why I'm not a particularly fast reader: one for the bedside, one for the bus, one in the bathroom, and an audio book in the kitchen. The bus book has been long neglected, due to the bus strike, but one of my "prize" books The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, started in the bathroom, then was promoted to the bedside. I've "read" a Sarah Vowell book before, an audio-book version of Assassination Vacation read by the author herself in all her flat-affect, nasal glory, with the help of several famous friends, including Conan O'Brien and Stephan King, and so I thought I'd probably find reading her rambling take on the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the seventeenth century more amusing, as opposed to listening to her voyage through the untimely deaths of four US presidents by assassins.

And indeed for the first part of this book, she is very funny (gotta love a girl who refers to the Second Book of Samuel in the Bible as an "R-rated chronicle of King David's serial-killer years"), with very topical humour, referencing recent events and lots of TV shows, which probably means this book won't age particularly well. As we soldier on into the horrors of massacres (the Pequot nation murdering English settlers because they think they're the Dutch settlers who have been murdering them, so the English settlers trap them in their village and shoot and burn them....), executions and mutilations, her humour starts to flag somewhat. However, this is understandable, and the book is interesting and accessible (for now; later generations probably won't get her crack about "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay").

As in Assassination Vacation she also goes for some easy (okay, cheap) laughs, that is, poking fun at Canada. "Why is America the last best hope of Earth?" she worries at one point. "What if it's Liechtenstein? Or worse, Canada?" Oddly enough, she also says: ". . . 'A Model of Christian Charity' is one of the formative documents outlining the idea of America. But dig deep into its communitarian ethos and it reads more like an America that might have been, an America fervently devoted to the quaint goals of working together and getting along. This America already exists. It's called Canada." Well, thanks for the compliment, Ms Vowell, but both statements neatly illustrate that you know dick about us...

Despite its clunky title and oddly detached conclusion, it's an informative read, particularly since I'd never heard of Anne Hutchinson until stumbling upon a biography about her last year, which (sigh) I failed to finish when it became due at the library -- as I've said, I don't read nearly fast enough. And thanks, BlueStalking, for the lovely book prizes. I should finish reading the other book...oh, in the spring sometime...

Monday, 9 February 2009

Finding perspective on a Monday morning

I would have preferred to watch the BAFTA awards this year, but no Canadian broadcaster seems to be carrying them, so I started on the Grammys instead.

Oh dear. The Grammys have always a bit of a mystery to me. The "stunt" duos and jams are always fun; this year they paired up Justin Timberlake and Al Green, for example, but they had Miley Cyrus making a big fuss over singing with Taylor Swift (gee, how can you tell that girl is under twenty?) "for the very first time!" Sorry, is this important? Add to this my mystification over the popularity of Coldplay...

After an hour of listening to people who seemed very assured of their importance in the scheme of things, I switched over to TVO which was showing the second half of When the Levees Broke, the epic Spike Lee documentary about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and the surrounding area. The third and fourth "acts" of the film cover the rage and grief of the displaced survivors, many relocated to 44 other states, and months later, unable to return.

The reasons for rage and grief are almost too numerous to mention: the painful inadequacy of the levees in the first place, the sluggish and in some cases, non-existent responses of the national government to the emergency and its agonizing aftermath, the refusal of the insurance companies to pay, drawing up ludicrous definitions and delineations between "hurricane damage" and "flood damage". ("There's a special circle in Hell for insurance companies," says one fellow, with a grim smile, "Dante would see to it.")

To me, though, the most interesting "rage button" is when the displaced survivors are referred to as "refugees" by the media. Al Sharpton, among others, is outraged: "They are not refugees! They are American citizens!" The objection seemed to be that refugees are from another country; they are homeless (and, dare I say, faceless?) "We weren't refugees; we weren't homeless people," says a survivor (I am paraphrasing, so I might not have the exact words), "We were taxpayers." Well, I guess that puts the refugees in their place. Definitely way below Grammy Awards attendees...

Every now and then, I'd flip back to the Grammys, but little had changed. Lots of people wearing sunglasses indoors. I went to sleep with the images of water-devastated Louisiana and fire-scorched southern Australia in my mind. One hundred and seventy-one people burned to death near Melbourne, last I checked. No more words.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Reading and watching The Reader

During the autumn of 2001, the Resident Fan Boy brought home about a dozen books passed along by a workmate of his, no doubt because she was trying to clean out her bookshelves. They were novels I normally wouldn't have read, so I viewed it as a opportunity, and dutifully started through them. It was hard going, especially in those weeks limping along after the shock of September 11th, when everyone seemed overwhelmed. As far as I can figure, all of the books were on Oprah Winfrey's reading list from her popular "book club". Gawd, they were depressing.

I'm glad I persevered, though, because I found two gems: While I Was Gone by Sue Miller (I've since read most of her novels), and The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. I maintain that good art is not depressing; these books were good enough to rise above their tragic story lines.

Yesterday, the Resident Fan Boy and I (in our continuing and doomed bid to see as many Oscar-nominated performances before Academy Awards Night as possible) went to see The Reader. This was the first day OC Transpo buses were running after a two-month strike, so in honour of the occasion, we missed the bus. The bus we did catch had a solicitous bus driver who allowed elderly and disabled riders to actually sit down before taking off. I wonder how long this will last before the drivers are back to their surly selves.

We arrived just in time to suffer through a Myley Cyrus video, but we had been prepared by Marie's preview (thanks, Marie!) to look away at the right moment. I mean the opening scene of David Kross's character getting violently sick, not the Myley Cyrus video, although, in the case of the latter, looking away [and industrial strength ear plugs] would be advisable.

It's been over seven years since I read the book, which is probably a good thing, so I didn't waste too much time comparing the two. I am reasonably sure that the book did not include the young protagonist touring Auschwitz (without a soul in sight --- is that even possible?), but on the whole, I found the performances satisfying and the plot feasible if unsurprising. (I had remembered the two revelations about Hannah [Kate Winslet's character] from the book.) What I don't remember is being puzzled and appalled by the young man's failure to intervene. I think the book may have outlined his motives, so I supposed I'll have to reread it. As it was, I spent a good part of the movie wanting to shake young Michael Berg. And also wondering why Ralph Fiennes fails to age between 1977 and 1995. Who does he think he is, Francesca Annis?

The movie left me wondering who was the most damaged, in the end. Hannah, for all her paradoxes, is oddly true to herself, with a moral code that is only slightly incomprehensible. I felt somehow that it's Michael who is truly emotionally and morally crippled. He tells Lena Olin's character towards the end: "She (Hannah) has done worse to other people," but I don't think it's Hannah who has broken him. Michael is fifteen in 1958 and so was born in 1943. In the uncommunicative and stilted family scenes, it seems that Michael has already been smothered by the heavy burden of shame and silence his generation inherited from their parents who somehow found themselves unable to halt the horrors in which Hannah has participated more directly, and perhaps with less hypocrisy.

I've been amusing myself with trivia from IMDB: David Kross, who plays the young Michael, had to wait until after his birthday to play the sex scenes with Kate Winslet. He was born in 1990 and is just two years older than my elder daughter. The Resident Fan Boy and I agreed that the early scenes would be a fifteen-year-old boy's dream come true, but we later amended that to include any male, period. Gorgeous or not (and she is, damn her), I'd have no problem with her winning the Oscar for this. It's a difficult character skillfully portrayed. Let's just hope she's prepared a better speech this time.