Friday, January 29, 2010

muffins for my Marthas

I'm off on a Martha weekend! Holed up in a cabin in the woods with my looney friends, a scary movie or two, and way too much food and drink.

There will be giggles aplenty. At least until the ax murderer shows up.

Enjoy your weekend, my pretties. I'll let you know how I fared without any internet for two days.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

near singularity

The dishwasher, which has always required a cautious little dance of precision button-pressing combined with a sort of door-rattling action in order to start, has recently upped the ante. It now insists upon a new and more complex series of button pushes to accompany the door-rattling before it will even consider starting. I fear that a demand for human sacrifice cannot be far away, but I am going to try to contain its thirst for blood to a goat sacrifice or two.

I suspect that the dishwasher has been communicating with the furnace humidifier while our backs have been turned. The steady leak dripping from the soldered join looks suspiciously conspiratorial. Buckets have been recruited.

So far I think the humans are still in charge of the house. I did after all manage to fix the garage door that refused to close this morning. But I am not taking any chances and I plan to leave at least one escape hatch open at all times. You know it's only a matter of time before they rise up and revolt.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

the essence rare of retail therapy

Socks and lightbulbs are the lemmings of the personal consumption world. When they decide to commit suicide, it's never alone in a bedroom with a bottle of pills. No, socks and lightbulbs like to go out with mass cliff leapings. The minute you spot that first hole in your favourite puppy socks, you know that it won't be long before you are scrounging about in the sock drawer desperately searching for a mate to that last argyle.

Which is why I found myself sock shopping on album release day. I had planned to pick up a couple of new releases, I fully admit, but when Sears was practically giving socks away and I found myself walking out of the store with a sackful of socks and a mittful of money still clutched in my fist, well I had to spend it by the Best Before date, didn't I?

Five new pairs of socks, five new CDs. And a healthy dose of justification.

How have you been honing your self-justification skills lately?

For the record, if you have not yet picked up the new Eels album, End Times, I strongly advise you to run, don't walk, to the nearest record store to buy it this morning. It's that good. Here's a taste:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

the Januaryists

I thought I was okay with it still being January. We are past the third Monday of January, so we should be over the hump of despair and coasting into the flat stretch of resignment. I have gotten rid of most of the considerable Christmas lard that I accumulated this year and am starting to feel fit again. And I have some projects lined up that have me pretty pumped.

I was pretty okay with it still being January.

And then I read the Calgary Folk Festival volunteer newsletter that landed in my inbox last week, complete with a link to this montage from last year's festival. I don't think I spotted myself (thank god for small mercies), but I am pretty sure I saw a fellow Record Tent volunteer shaking her groove thang. Now I am counting the sleeps till the Folk Festival again and watching the clock tick backwards.

Is there something that you just can't wait for?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

people who do stuff

I was wandering through the Market Collective one weekend last fall, picking up a few handmade cards, feeling some scarves, when a table near the stage caught my attention. Behind the table, which was piled with gleaming jars of preserves and dotted with luscious ripe tomatoes, were two guys cheerfully offering samples of their hand-crafted salsa. Salsas with names like Ghandi in Sixty Seconds, Jon Bon Fire, and Screaming Hippie.

Naturally I was intrigued. So I sampled. And I was impressed. And then I thought, there's a good story here.

In fact, I have been finding that there are a lot of good stories amongst the inventive entrepreneurs who forge their own paths in this city. To celebrate the gumption and the inventiveness of entrepreneurs, I am writing a series focusing on some locals who are doing cool things with their small businesses. You will be able to read them at New Canadian Modern over the next few weeks.

I'd like to invite you to riffle through The Salsa Boys of Summer, the inaugural story in the series, which is now available for your reading pleasure.

Bring your appetite.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

there's a song that will linger forever in our ears

It was my sister who first introduced me to the McGarrigles, back in the day when I used to invite myself over to her house on the weekends. I would luxuriate in the warmth of their kitchen, watching her bake muffins on many Sunday mornings, while the coffee brewed and CBC radio provided the sound track to our weekend.

And I would peruse their album collection, listening to Mike Oldfield and Genesis, Stringband and Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

Kate's death yesterday was not only a huge loss to Canadian music, but it felt like a personal loss of someone who opened my ears and who whet my appetite for all manner of Canadian music in the decades that followed.

Peace, Kate.

Monday, January 18, 2010

dear sir, I have a complaint

Evidently the third Monday of January has been named the most depressing day of the year.

Firstly, it's a Monday, obviously. Secondly, it's long enough after Christmas that all the seasonal bonhomie has worn off (although frankly, I thought that happened a lot sooner). The credit card bills are becoming a reality, and New Year's resolutions have either been ditched or are getting really tough to stick with. Oh yeah, and there's still another three months of winter to survive. Five if you live around here.

So, Happy Official Most Depressing Day of the Year!

We certainly have every excuse to wallow in self-pity today, but you know what, let's not. How about if we concentrate instead on what is good and precious in our lives and celebrate that? Let's look for the beauty and ignore the shit. And if you need a little help getting started, please watch this clip that the always stylish Ms Beth sent me the other day. I've been saving it up for a day just like today.

This man, who happens to be homeless, lets loose with the most powerful interpretation of Creep that I have ever heard. Move over Thom. Much as I love you, this man now owns your song.

Mustard sings Creep from Rex Kramer on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

by the numbers

I'm feeling more numerical than wordy today, which is a tad worrisome as I have a bunch of writing to get done.

Here's my life, in numbers:
*Blog posts = 1,241
*books on the to-be-read pile = 5
*listeners on BLIP = 2,035
*emails in the trash folder = 226
*days till the RO comes home = 29
*CDs in the Magic Box = 33
*Facebook friends = 58
*upcoming concerts for which I need to find a date = 5

total = 3,532

Provided my cyphering skills aren't too rusty, that's my life right now.

What's your life number?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

something holy on the edge of the mountain

I peed at the CBC.

You will be shocked to know that the bathroom looks nothing like the one in the picture. It's actually very utilitarian - no Wendy Messley wallpaper, no Barbara Budd hand lotion - just two stalls and a couple of lockers with some gym bags piled on top of them.

It was not the Valhalla that I had always envisioned it being.

I used to drive past the building on Memorial Drive on my way to work every day, thinking
there's the place where the magic happens. I've been in the building a few times, mostly just in the lobby during the annual food drive, but once in the inner sanctum of the on-air studio, but even then it was only to sign a poster.

Last night I had a meeting there, a sub-committee meeting for the CBC Calgary Reads book sale, for which I recently signed on as a volunteer. It's going to be a fun gig and I am pretty excited about it. I'll be writing stories for placement in community newsletters, press releases in local publications, online content, that sort of thing. It's a really good cause, raising money to provide one on one tutoring for grade one and two students who have trouble learning to read.

And speaking of reading, I'd like to invite you over to New Canadian Modern to read my latest article - Greyhound Nation. It's based on my interview with the roots artist, community radio DJ, and record store goddess, Allison Brown, on a whistle stop during her recent western Canadian Greyhound bus tour.

I won't say it makes for good bathroom reading, but I do think you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

all I ever wanted was to pick fleas off my next of kin

One bonus of having a Resident Offspring in university is the opportunity for vicarious learning. The linguistics course this semester sounds pretty intriguing, like a course I wouldn't mind taking if I could teleport myself back a few decades.

During last night's Skype session, the RO educated me about Nim Chimpsky - the chimp which was taught American sign language. We both agreed that it was a pretty fierce name.

cute chimp, awful song

Sunday, January 10, 2010

crawling back to the starting gate

Did you know that if you install a Sims XP game on a computer that's running Windows 7 the universe explodes? At least that's what it feels like.

Let me set the record straight by telling you that I never wanted WIndows 7 in the first place. I was completely happy with XP, which I thought was a pretty decent operating system. But when the old computer died a couple of months ago, I had no choice but to upgrade. I don't hate 7, but Jesus Christ on a cracker, I sure hate having to find upgrades for everything from my printer to my scanner to my webcam just so I can run the damn things.

When the Resident Offspring thought she would play a bit of Sims over the Christmas break, she prudently checked online first to download any upgrades needed so that the old game would run on the new system. Except that it corrupted the computer and I had to take it in to get wiped. I guess the reason that the operating systems are changed every few years is to give the game developers a built in audience for new versions of the games that we already own.

I have the computer back now, after just over a week in the shop, and have almost finished reinstalling everything. I am getting much faster at this sort of thing. I cannot reinstall my anti-viral program, though, as I have exceeded my allowable downloads. Again. So I will be calling up my Semantic boyfriend tomorrow and spending some quality chat room time with him, watching him control my computer by remote, which I have always found rather fascinating.

As I was reinstalling all my bookmarks yesterday, I stumbled up something I found rather bizarre Apparently this blog had been nominated for a Canadian Blog Award a couple of months ago. I had no idea. I also assume I had no votes, since I doubt I was the only person completely ignorant of this development. And that's fine, it was an honour just to be nominated and all that.

But it did pique my curiosity. Why wasn't I aware of this? Just how does one find out about these sorts of things? I know that some of you were also nominated (and fared far better than yours truly). The always news-worthy John Mutford, who runs the fine book blog, Book Mine Set, placed third in the Culture and Literature category. And Wandering Coyote was nominated for her other blog, the delicious ReTorte. Obviously these intrepid bloggers are much more on the ball than I am. Water under the bridge, but food for future thought.
Now if you'll excuse me, I must go wash my hair to get ready for my online date with the Symantec tech.

Friday, January 08, 2010

S.O.L. - but in a good way

A full week behind the rest of the world, as usual, I have finally decided upon what could be loosely termed New Year's Resolutions. Aside from gaining 25 lbs and taking up meth, there are three things that I will strive to do this year - SAVOUR, OBSESS, and LISTEN.

This morning, all the usual gigantic coffee cups were in the dishwasher, so I grumbled and took a lovely but rather tiny cup made by a talented potter, a good friend of my sister's. Somehow the act of sipping coffee from that small cup made each mouthful seem more precious. Rather than a seemingly bottomless well of coffee, there was a finite amount (which actually stayed hot). And having to get up three times as often to refill the cup made me a little more cognoscente of just how much coffee I was actually ingesting.

In light of that revelation, I am going to try to take the time to appreciate things, to be fully engaged in the moment. If this means I have to curtail the rampant multi-tasking, then so be it.

A character in a John Irving novel (I think it was The Hotel New Hampshire) once explained his success at body building by stating that you have to remain obsessed. There is some truth in that; it's easier to be successful at something when you maintain a certain degree of obsession. It's what drives you to improve.

So I intend to actively cultivate an obsession with the good things in life, with those things that are good for me. Friends, family, music, writing, art, exercise, my so-called career, they will get my full attention.

This could take some work, but I am going to actively try to shut off those voices in my head when I am listening to someone else. Those voices that are ten steps down the road already, babbling away about what needs to be done and did I turn the stove off. They are always trying to drawing my attention away from is actually being said. From now on, those voices are just going to have to wait until the conversation is done. It might just help me beat this ADHD that I suspect I have as well.

Looking back on this list, I realise these are sort of lame resolutions. Nothing concrete, nothing measurable. But so be it. I'm not going to obsess over that.

How are you doing with your resolutions, if you made any?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

fear and loathing in the Rockies

Avalanche Awareness Days are coming up this weekend. This is an annual event that is held in forty mountain communities across Canada. I'm not sure just how effective these awareness days actually are, considering that there were 26 avalanche deaths in Canada last winter.

If you know me, you know my distrust of mountains, so you can probably see where I am going with this.

Yes, I understand that some people do love the mountains and mountain sports, and I agree that people who live in mountain communities should be well versed in avalanche survival. But a high proportion of avalanche victims are not actually people who live in the mountain communities, so maybe these awareness days should be held in the cities from which these thrill-seekers arrive. I am always reminded of the crusty old guy in Barrie who commented once that he knew which people were from Toronto, because "they're the ones with their skies and their brains strapped to the roofs of their cars".

Correct me if I am wrong, but it's never the guy who's walking home from the library in Canmore or driving to his job at the Safeway in Banff who gets buried in an avalanche. It's the skiers, and increasingly the snowmobilers, who chose to leave the groomed paths and venture out into the backcountry who get swept down the mountainside by a rapidly descending wall of snow.

Just don't go there! Not only are you putting yourself in danger, but you are also straining the resources of the rescue teams who have to come out there and dig your stupid ass out of your snowy grave. Your death is 100% preventable and completely unnecessary.


On a more positive note, Merry Christmas to my Eastern Orthodox friends! It must be tough to celebrate Christmas long after everybody else in the world is so thoroughly sick to death of the whole idea. So props to you for sticking with it. Enjoy your varenyky and zalabee.

Monday, January 04, 2010

people of the year

You're the reason that I blog, you know. It's not so much that I have anything terribly profound to say or even that I have a burning need to express myself. For me, it's all about the connections.

And much as I enjoy our online exchanges, what I really love is when I get to meet some of you in person. Granted my first blogger meetup was a bit of a wank-up, but I am really glad that I didn't let an encounter with a deranged person stop me from agreeing to meet more bloggers, because it's all been gravy since then.

2009 was a boffo year for meetups. My most bountiful year ever. Not to rub it in or anything, but I put ten notches on my blogger meetup belt this year. (disclaimer: although I technically have two belts - blogger and BLIP - for the purposes of this braggy post, my scores will be tallied on a single belt.)

My bloggies, let me show you them, in chronological fashion:

Allison - We've been close friends for a couple of years, we even staged a coup and quit a blog together, which was awesome fun and very empowering, but until February had never met in person. To have Al and her gentleman friend stay with me for a couple of days on their cross-country odyssey was a dream come true. To get together again in November, was aces.

Mel - Just as vivacious and bubbly in person as she is online. Since we had three trips to the west coast this year, this meant an unprecedented three Mel meetings. And there is no such thing as too much Mel. It sure would be nice if she still blogged, but I guess Facebook counts too.

668 the Neighbour of the Beast - I didn't even know we were going to have the chance to meet, until Mel managed to wrangle her into joining us for a massive meat feed at the barbeque restaurant that seems to have become one of our destinations in Vancouver. There is no bullshit about this lady and she's got a wicked sense of humour to boot.

Toccata - Not only did we bunk in at her place in Victoria, she even gave us her room. Her cat was a little freaked out by our presence, as was evidenced by the little clue she left on the living room floor, but other than that the hospitality was above and beyond. I wish she would start blogging again though.

Jen - We go back a long way in the blogosphere. Jen was the first blogger that I ever put on my blogroll and yet she has never even shown me her dill pickle ornaments. She makes up for that oversight with a delightfully filthy mouth though. And she picks good Japanese restaurants too.

Susan / Jeff - They are actually BLIP friends of mine, who are married to each other. They both have incredible taste in music and when we met briefly at the Calgary Folk Festival this summer, they absolutely enchanted me with their charm and cuteness. Since then we've been concerting with Susan and dined with both Jeff and Susan and their charming brood. I love when people live in the same city as me. You should all move here.

John - The whole Mutford clan, actually. And all the way from Yellowknife too. Quite possibly the cutest family who ever sat in our backyard and swapped lies with us. And discussed books, of course. Canada Reads really dropped the ball by not getting John on the panel, is all I am saying.

Sean - We quickly became close friends when we found we were constantly admiring each other's musical choices. Sean has demonstrated his generosity time and again, but when we were called out to London for a funeral this fall, he truly went beyond the call of duty, to the point where we no longer tied our own shoelaces without first phoning Sean to see if he wouldn't mind coming over to do it for us. And naturally, he didn't mind. To discover that his family is just as warm-hearted and hospitable as Sean was a bonus, especially since they appear to be a doppelganger of our family unit. Only nice.

Matthew - It's always great to meet someone whose musical tastes I admire, and to be able to attend a concert with them is the tops. A very thoughtful and open person, who also appreciates a good bowl of Irish stew.

That was my year measured in blogger meetups. There are far worse ways to measure the quality of a year, I think. I find it validating and life-affirming to know that very few bloggers (or BLIPpers) are ax-murderers in real life.

But if this keeps up, I am going to have to invest in a new blogger meetup belt. I would hate to turn down the chance to meet someone because there's no more room for notches.

So, tell me, do you have a blogger belt?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

who's that girl, she must be nearly freezing

Her plane should be starting its descent right about now. In a few minutes the Offspring, who for the past two weeks was once again the Resident but is now resuming her moniker of Offspring Formerly Known as Resident, will step onto the warm and wet soil of the coast, leaving behind the land of chinooks and winter-dry skin.

It was a glorious two weeks, a nice combination of slothfulness and activity. Lounging in pyjamas morphed seamlessly into snickering at zebra horse-hair stilettos with lucite heels at the mall. Video watching on the chesterfield was replaced with matinees at our favourite cinema. Okay, maybe the level of physical activity that was undertaken fell more into the category of window shopping and museum wandering, but once you have been pummeled by turkey and shortbread, it's important to start back with baby steps.

I am chagrined to admit that, although the crokinole board was hauled out of the basement, no crokinole games were actually played. We simply ran out of time, but holy moly what an oversight. I am not sure if we are going to be able to maintain our Canadian citizenship after this.

I also realize this blog has been unconscionably lacking in year end/new year lists, and I vow to make amends for that oversight. It's all kosher provided you do your listing before Russian Orthodox Christmas anyway, isn't it? So here's a mini-list:

Top five zombie-approved new traditions from Christmas 2009:

1. movie per day - notables include some old favourites like Anchorman, Pineapple Express, that great Christmas film Eastern Promises, and Hot Fuzz, as well as the film studies recommended Cache and La Haine, and the Cohen offering Burn After Reading, as well as the venture-out-to-the-art-house-cinema-on-a-snowy-afternoon bit of awesomeness Moon.

2. libelous Scrabble - Scrabble is always good, but only the Resident Offspring could make it even better by insisting that one uses the word that they just put on the board in a libelous sentence. Suffice it to say that Kanye West figured largely in the ensuing discussion.

3. snuggling on the chesterfield to contemplate the Christmas tree together before turning off the lights at bedtime - an activity that I have been doing in silent solitude for many Christmases, made so much sweeter as a mother-daughter activity.

4. shoe-shopping - which may not sound like a zombie-approved activity, but when you throw in being amazed at the overwhelming selection of leopard-print horsehair Oxfords with lucite heels in the stores this year, it rapidly descends into zombieness.

5. learning Russian by shopping at Winners - it's strange how certain stores seem to have become little havens of ethnicity. For example all the Russian women of south Calgary seem to hang out at Winners; we kept expecting a naked knife fight to break out in the faux leopard fur blouse section. But of course en route we all speak Scottish in the urban assault vehicle.

The house feels a little too empty and too quiet now, of course, but I am already planning activities (or what passes for activity around this house) when the Offspring comes home in February.

How was your Christmas? Did you start any new traditions?

Friday, January 01, 2010

9 9 9 for a lost god

I come dangerously close to breaking my own credo of "never apologize, never explain" when I tell you that 2009 almost overwhelmed me with the sheer enormity of noteworthy albums released in that calendar year. If I wanted to get really obsessive about it, I could offer you three different lists here - top albums of 09 that everyone is talking about that I can't comment on because I do not own, top albums of 09 that everyone is talking about that I can't comment on because I haven't even heard them yet, or the much safer alternative of top albums of 09 that I personally own and love.

I think we'll go with the latter.

Here then are my picks for the year. Not necessarily the best of the year, because I don't deem to be an adequate judge of that, but my personal favourites, those albums released in 2009 that I found myself playing again and again, those albums that kept revealing more layers with each subsequent listen, those albums that touched my heart and fed my soul. Those albums that get the most play in my personal music studio, the urban assault vehicle.

Bad Tempered Zombie's Favourite Nine of 09: Albums

1. Lost Channels - Great Lake Swimmers
- This stunningly beautiful album was on everyone's radar to take the Polaris Prize this year, and many of us are still resentful that Tony Dekker and company did not take home the hardware. In Lost Channels, Great Lake Swimmers maintain their signature heartfelt beauty, with swooningly lovely songs. And that voice. And yet this album also stretches somewhat past the band's signature sound into more upbeat ventures. The only album that I can listen to on repeat in the urban assault vehicle four times in a row without even thinking of ejecting.

2. Infinite Light - Lightning Dust
- From the first instance I heard the first note from this album, when played by an intrepid DJ on BLIP earlier this year, I was smitten. And when that same intrepid DJ later gave me this album, I knew that not only did I have to delve deeper into this band, but I also had to re-examine the music of Black Mountain, from whence Lightning Dust members Amber Wells (she of the astounding vibrato) and Joshua Wells spring.

3. The Hazards of Love - the Decemberists
- The Decemberists toyed with the idea of a concept album with The Crane Wife, but with the Hazards of Love they take this flirtation one step further and offer a bona fide rock opera to the world. At times harkening back to seventies' prog rock, at times travelling far further afield to English folk songs, The Hazards of Love is a complete experience. It is also a lovely reminder of the band's appearance at the Calgary Folk Festival this summer, where they played the album in its entirety, without song breaks and with costumes. Glorious.

4. Nice Nice Very Nice - Dan Mangan
- It is no wonder that Dan Mangan won a shit-load of Bucky Awards this year. The world-weary raspiness of his voice transforms his songs about life's minutiae into sublime statements of the human condition. This is one of the few albums that has the power to make me sing along heartily one minute and burst into tears the next. In a good way, of course.

5. Hometowns - the Rural Alberta Advantage
- How can you not love an album that contains rhythmically-driven songs about local places that are not normally celebrated in song, ie that proud stalwarts of southern Alberta - Lethbridge - and that most haunted of locales - Frank, Alberta? Proud Albertan meets Toronto hipster. In a rollicking good way.

6. Oh Maria - Jon-Rae Fletcher
- This darkly sonic solo offering from the former front man of the late great party band, Jon-Rae and the River, is a concept album of sorts about a serial killer in love. And according to the musician himself, it's slightly autobiographical. Presumably without the killing part.

7. The Eternal - Sonic Youth
- This vintage-sounding album is classic Sonic Youth, with its tasty combination of distorted guitars, catchy hooks and extended trance-inducing instrumentals. Highly recommended for road trips across the prairies, it practically eats up those miles, and makes the passing of those endless telephone poles feel trippy and hypnotic without actually contributing to unsafe driving.

8. Winter Hours - Deep Dark Woods
- I picked this album up on a whim after hearing a single song on CBC radio and was thrilled with the unabashedly mournful murder ballads, with sizeable doses of blue-grass. The Deep Dark Woods are putting Saskatoon on the musical map with their beautiful dark harmonies.

9. Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free - Akron/Family
- An album full of the unexpected - stuttering space rock at times, heartbreakingly beautiful guitar ballads at other times. It all meets to make a joyously glorious organic sound, that leaves me craving more.

That was fun, let's do it again. The next nine:

10. Yonder - Tin Star Orphans
11. Oh My God, Charlie Darwin - the Low Anthem
12. Vancouver - Matthew Good
13. Timber Timbre - Timber Timbre
14. If I Don't Come Home, You'll Know I am Gone - the Wooden Sky
15. Noble Beast - Andrew Bird
16. Too Slow for Love - the Constantines
17. My Maudlin Career - Camera Obscura
18. Dark Was the Night - Various Artists

But if music isn't your thing, perhaps books are. Or advertising. Or books about advertising. If so, I invite you to click over to the Bookworm Collective to read my review of Terry O'Reilly and Mike Tennant's book, The Age of Persuasion.

And you thought I was just being a lazy sloth this year.

Happy New Year, my preciouses! May the year bring you joy, fulfillment and prosperity. And lots and lots of music.