Thursday, May 21, 2015

the road to St. John Cantius

I wear my city boots on these gravel roads. Red patent leather coated in dust kick up stones like they own the place. Like they invented walking. 

There is a world of difference between the Portland airport and the main drag of Shoal Lake, PDX versus rural MB, “keep it weird” meets "git ‘er dun”. 

Although I could never live here, the lines and the light fire the Broca’s area of my brain, where words are said to live. It notes the way perfectly spaced rows of stubble crest at the sky, where the silhouette of a pair of nesting geese keeps guard over the sunset. It ponders the way the gravel road curves down from the abandoned homestead, around the lake, to the old Polish graveyard where strange names hide the hopes of generations. 

My feet refuse to switch from city to rural time. My boot heels continue to strike the gravel as forcefully as they once did the pavement. My mind, though, crawls back to another time until the gravel turns to memories under truck tires headed west.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

no stepping back

 Week two of the great reno adventure did not see any letup in productivity. The addition of a nail gun compressor for the installation of the hardwood floors did, however, ramp up the decibels in the environment. The finesse work that is going into these stair runs is making for a slow start to the flooring, but once the stairs are complete, just watch for nails to start flying. Figuratively only, one hopes.

In other flooring news, the back hallway and back powder room tiles are now laid. Grouting shouldn't take long, and since the brothers started ripping out the back bathroom not five minutes after telling me that nah, there was no need for me to clear it out because they weren't ready to do it yet, I expect that very soon we will no longer have toilets in our living room and our back yard. 

The painter is nearly finished his work, with just the stair rails and some touch ups left to do. The red bedroom is now officially in the history books. I am still processing the colour that I picked to replace it - a sort of browny-greeny-greyey-taupey melange.
We kept the upper cabinets in two of the bathrooms, painting those tired old oak cabinets white in the main bathroom and dark chocolate brown in the ensuite. I am not afraid to tell you that I have been strutting around like a boss for thinking of that one, because they look amazing, if I do say so myself.

I can't wait to see what this week brings. Stay tuned for more transformations.

Monday, May 04, 2015

five day fixing

 What a difference a week makes. To your left you see the same view that headed up the previous post, taken four days later. And that's just one room. I may be shopping for a new shower curtain before the week is out.

The brothers continue their no holds barred assault on leaky plumbing and buckled linoleum. With barely enough time lapsed between removal and rebuilding for me to snap a few progress photos, the rebuild is happening at an exhilarating (and accelerated) pace. The latest surprise was the back hall flooring; I returned home from running some brief errands to find it gone. The same thing (but opposite) occurred today, when I returned home from running a brief errand to find it had been tiled.
The brothers are known for their fast, but high quality, work. They are an exercise in efficiency, sometimes too efficient, it seems. Legend has it that one time a guy for whom they built a deck refused to pay them because they got it done too quickly. 

They say of renovations that there are three options: fast, cheap, or good. You can only pick two. I think we picked the right two. 

And with painting started on the bathrooms today and a couple of toilets sitting in our living room waiting to be installed when that is done, I have high hopes that the house guest we are expecting this weekend will not have to pee in the back yard after all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

zombie smash

 We expected that day one of renovations - bathroom demolition day - would involve exactly that. We didn't take into account the perfect storm of the no-nonsense efficiency of our contractors, combined with the revelation that there was no mold behind those bathtub walls after all. Bathroom demolition - which no longer necessitated any structural restructuring - was therefore complete in a couple of hours. So they kept going.

Before we knew it, huge hunks of carpet had been ripped from the upstairs hallway and staircases and hauled to the dumpster. Spindles and newel posts and handrails were disassembled and stacked for painting. Debris was swept up and spirited away almost as quickly as it was formed.

And then came the query. Is it okay if we go ahead and rip out the bedroom carpet now, too? A few seconds of panic and holy shit glances passed between the Spousal Unit and I, and then the git-er-dun attitude kicked in. Mattress, bed frame, dressers and book shelves were wedged into any spare nook we could find. Clothes were pulled out of the closets and jammed into half-full closets in other bedrooms. Some articles of clothing even remained on the hangers. Twenty minutes and that bedroom was empty. Twenty minutes after that, the carpet was gone. 

We have never used a contractor before, but judging from six day per week, 7:00am to 5:00pm renovations that stretched on for six months at the Heisenberg house next door last summer, our contractors are a bit of an anomaly. The two brothers were here from 8:30-3:30 and did not take a single break. No lunch, nothing. Not even sure if they peed.

Today, subfloor day, is perhaps a wee bit less dramatic, but so far seems to be every bit as productive.

Perhaps the resident kitty won't spend the entire summer hiding behind some boxes under the deepest corner of the basement stairs after all. Stay tuned for updates.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

ode to the lepus

Age keeps you tucked into your shallow bed most days, under the neighbour’s spruce tree where you camouflage with the landscaping of boulders and river rocks and mulch. For weeks you have been ignoring the posse of younger hares as they pose and cavort and defy gravity - a thousand slinky-toys leaping and spinning down the centre of the road.

They have never met fear, these young upstarts, thumbing their twitching noses at automobiles that pause for them,ignoring the house cats who give them a wide berth.

But you have seen too much to be that carefree. Your caution has served you well, made you the doyenne of the lepus townsendii campanius of the Fish Creek region.

I see it in your chiselled face, sharply angular even by jack-rabbit standards. I sense it in your bulging eyes as you survey me warily, standing your ground but ready to bolt at the first sign of danger - watching me as I sit on the front steps watching you, happy that you have emerged from your shallow bed to sample the fresh growth of the spring lawn.

We both scoff silently at the folly of the teenaged hare fifteen feet away who feeds with his back toward me.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

what a wonderful world

Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You 
- Dan Riskin

We are all meat robots, nothing but transfer systems for our DNA, whose only goal is to replicate itself. That drives the actions of all living creatures and it can result in some utterly ruthless behaviour. Humans, despite our opposable thumbs and self-awareness, are not above this drive.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Dan Riskin's book. It's a rollicking good read, especially if you are fascinated (like I am) by all the wonderfully gory and ruthless methods that creatures use to stay alive and stay ahead of the competition.

Riskin - the co-host of Daily Planet (my favourite televised science show) - is an evolutionary biologist who grew up in Edmonton and who is bat-shit crazy about bats. He did his doctorate research on the mechanics of bat locomotion. Essentially, a man after my own heart. 

In Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You, Riskin mines much of his own life for examples of the ways in which ... well, mother nature is trying to kill you. He begins the book with the cheery little tale of the time he came home from a bat-studying expedition in Belize with a botfly maggot lodged in his head. For two weeks, the maggot (which his friends named Georgia) provided Riskin with a neat little party trick with which to amaze and gross-out his friends before he finally had it removed. Riskin uses this tale to demonstrate the cool life-cycle of the botfly and the complex strategy (using mosquitoes as carrier systems) that it uses to propagate itself. 

And that's merely the introduction. The body of the book is divided into chapters named for the Seven Deadly Sins, chock-full of examples of ways in which nature is greedy, lustful, slothful, envious .. well, you get it. Riskin provides fascinating examples of the ingenious and often deadly ways in which living creatures commit these sins in order to make sure that their own DNA is passed on to the next generation. Riskin, being a meat robot for DNA just like every other creature, even questions his own motives behind the love he feels for his young son. Is this fraternal emotion merely a technique utilized by his DNA to ensure that Sam (the recipient of Riskin's DNA) survives to propagate and pass that DNA to the next generation?

Not afraid to court controversy, Riskin occasionally editorializes, using his innate sensibility and scientific understanding to take the piss (sometimes gently, sometimes less so) out of delusional zealots, like the man who claims to have subsisted on nothing but sunlight since 1940 or the waitress with whom he used to work who would only take drugs that "came from nature". His thoughts on GMO crops were so sensible that I wanted to hug this well-spoken and thoughtful meat robot.

Meat robot or not, Dan Riskin has written a highly readable and fascinating treatise. From cannibal spiders to gang-raping ducks to fire-ants to parasites in all their clever guises, Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You gleefully covers all the good stuff.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

ring the bell

Hanging out in an unfinished National Music Centre lends itself to photo ops that are rife with compelling shapes and unexpected colours. 

Just wait until the place is filled with sound.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

the hunter and the hunted

I have started to crawl out of my office again. It's been a very productive two and half weeks, with a tonne of articles under my belt, as well as a rush website editting job. I've got a few more articles to write over the next week, but for the next few days it's going to be all reno decisions all the time. 

I've got a mitt-full of paint chips spread out on the dining room table, in the hopes that they will start speaking to me and assert themselves as the only possible choices. Right now they are still duking it out for my love. 

In a couple of days, the Spousal Unit and I are going on a reconnaissance excursion, which will hopefully result in some tough decisions quickly made - toilets, vanities, faucets, tiles, lighting and paint for three bathrooms, plus a bath/shower combo for the main. The contractor is drumming his fingers, waiting for our decisions. So, no pressure.

In more magazinely news, the new spring issue of Latent Image has hit the stands. I've contributed a story and a photo and - in a case of the hunter becoming the hunted - I also got a chance to dish on Calgary culture. Check it out.   

Friday, March 20, 2015


I am deep in the grips of magazine-writing, swirling in a world of interviews and type type typing. Every word is spoken for and I can't spare a single pronoun. I shall return soon.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

butterless in the burbs

The big gap over the stove is still waiting for a range hood, since we have sworn to never again get sucked into buying another over-the-range microwave. But the other new appliances are all installed and, although it still feels weird to not have to coax and cajole and caress in a certain way to get the dishwasher or oven to do its job, it's a mental adjustment I don't mind making. Not in the least.

We did end up throwing out the butter and a bag of sunflower seeds with the old fridge, apparently, something I discovered a couple of days later, when body memory had me reaching for the covered compartment in the right-hand door, which is where the butter resided. I am pretty sure I did one of those classic double-takes when my hand encountered no butter compartment, followed by a rapid internal conversation: hey there's no butter compartment, oh yeah new fridge, so where is the butter compartment in this one, there is no butter compartment, so where did I put the butter, I didn't, must still be in the old fridge.

In my defence, the delivery dudes did arrive hours earlier than I expected. At least they didn't get the kale or, worse, the cheese.

Monday, March 09, 2015

throwing rocks at strangers

Disclosure: the Spousal Unit and I did not actually win the Brier Tankard. 

But we did see some great shots made and greater opportunities blown. We saw diehard fans, some of whom travelled across the country to attend, some of whom have not missed a Brier in decades. We talked to people who attended all seventeen draws plus qualifiers and playoffs, over all twelve days, and who were still disappointed that there were no tiebreaker games on Friday afternoon. We saw group outfits, like Walls of Plaid and the ever-matching Sociables. 

We saw hearts broken and hopes dashed. We witnessed fist pumps and sticks raised in victory salutes.

And in the end, somebody won.