Friday, April 30, 2010

waving at pets

I was drinking coffee this morning, waiting for the OFKAR to wake up, and watching the two ginger cats that live in the apartment across the street playing together on the window sill. There's a lot of foot traffic on the street, and as two men walked by on their way to work, one of them spotted the cats, pointed them out to his friend, and then, in a move that utterly melted my heart, waved at the cats.

Here I thought I was the only person who ever waved at cats.

A few hours later, I stood gazing in satisfaction at an empty and immaculate residence room, one that was completely unrecognisable from the rather terrifying sight that had greeted me the day before.

We did it. We got the OFKAR packed and moved out of residence in the time alloted. And it looks as though everything that we are schlepping back to Calgary will fit into the four suitcases and three carry-ons that we have available. Tonight we redistributed all the books amongst the suitcases, in the hopes of avoiding paying an overweight baggage charge. Tomorrow we will find out how good we are at guesimating what a 50 lb bag feels like.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

here's your ticket, pack your bag, time for jumping overboard

It's a little breezy here, and if you are strolling on the shady side of the street, you sort of wish you had worn a sweater, but the trees are all fully bursting with verdant greenery and cherry blossoms are starting to give way to the next bout of blooms.

Even though we spent the day in a pretty filthy residence room, I would far rather be here in Vancouver than dealing with some of the horror stories I am hearing from storm-battered Calgary. Evidently it's not too bad in the south, where we live, but people in the north part of the city have been paralyzed by 4 foot snow drifts.

In the OFKAR's rez room, meanwhile, the drifts only ever got about waist height.

It took us about 4 hours of pretty solid slogging to get her stuff packed and loaded into the storage unit. Around about hour two, it got a little overwhelming, but nobody died and nobody said anything they would regret later. As a bonus, it looks as though all the stuff that we are schlepping back with us will indeed fit into the allotted suitcases. Hopefully we won't have to pay any overweight bag charges, but we will worry about that later.

For now, we are looking forward to dinner and a relatively early night.

We have a big day of dorm room decontaminating in store for us tomorrow, but with a little luck and good planning we will have enough time left at the end of it for a final stroll down Davie. We're hoping to come across the old guy in the leather Planet Hollywood jacket again. He was sure pimping for his lady friend last night and one can only imagine his Friday night (cane-assisted) swagger.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

the art of jammin

Mere hours in front of the winter storm that we have been warned is set to pummel the city, I am making my escape into an area being hit by a storm of a different nature. Instead of 20-25 cm of snow, I will be helping the OFKAR shovel the detritus of the past eight months out of her residence room and into either a storage locker or a suitcase.

I can foresee it requiring a great deal of tactical manoeuvering, which, if we are being honest here, actually rather warms the cockles of my warm-mongering Teutonic heart. I am sure my insistence on a strategic and orderly approach will drive the OKFAR absolutely bonkers though. We have polar opposite approaches to things such as storage and packing.

It will be a rather whirlwind trip, with time for only one quick meal with a couple of friends, but hopefully by Saturday, all that did not fit into the storage locker will find a space in one of those four suitcases instead. Hmmm, rolling or folding? I tend to favour the rolling method myself.

I will try to return with a camera full of images to accompany the stack of suitcases. Stay tuned for the feel-good photos of hilarity and fellowship that will no doubt accompany the resident room de-occupation. To keep you from missing me too much, I invite to read my latest No Depression post about blurring the boundaries between performer and audience.

What is the best way to pack a suitcase anyway?

Monday, April 26, 2010

fighting City Hall (redux)

It feels slightly surreal to be talking about taking on City Hall twice in one week, particularly for someone who is not all that involved in municipal politics, but sometimes these things come in waves.

This time though, the victory was rather more meaningful than my simply battling the cursed ParkPlus system. Today's victory was a stay of execution for my favourite theatre spot - Pumphouse Theatre - the hidden little gem, home to my beloved Sage Theatre, which is tucked away between the railway yards and the river, the playhouse that feels like my own private Idaho.

In a long convoluted chain of twists and turns, Pumphouse Theatre was today successful in having a vote overturned in council, a vote which resulted in having $2 million funding reinstated for planned expansion. Part of the success lay with the Pumphouse plan being more clearly laid out prior to this vote, but a large part of the victory came from the tremendous groundswell of support that Pumphouse was able to garner recently. Aldermen were inundated with lobbying from a grassroots movement (yours truly included) to reconsider their position on the funding vote. And for today's vote, council was filled with supporters (yours truly shamefully absent).

The final vote was a heartening 14-1. Ever forward, Pumphouse, to the next hurdle!

Calgary council reverses course, approves $2M grant for Pumphouse Theatre

In addition to singlehandedly saving the arts community in Canada, I also wrote another post over at No Depression, about the Calgary Folk Festival's often zany weather.

It's been a busy day, for a tired superhero.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

never really been a joiner but ...

sometimes something quite appealing comes along. Which I why I have become a card-carrying member of the Americana and Roots music community, No Depression.

Okay, so it's a virtual card that I carry, but I have now contributed my first blog post to the site, which kinda makes me brethren. If the spirit moves you, please wander over to have a glance at my blatherings about poisoning musicians and other memories of the Calgary Folk Festival.

Check out the rest of the site too, if you are interested in roots music. There's scads of information, various member groups, posts by people other than me, and even new music to check out. To hold you over while you wait for festival season.

What festivals are you waiting for? How many more sleeps must you wait? (You know you have already counted them...)

update: more yammerings about my folk fest wish lists now added to the No Depression blog.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

the thrill of the hunt: discovering rare books at the CBC Calgary Reads book sale

To most of us, it’s as fundamental as learning to walk, as elemental as our ability to speak, as natural as breathing. Most of us cannot imagine life without reading. It’s a tool, a diversion, a pleasure to be anticipated.

But learning to read does not come easily to everyone. Without adequate literacy skills, children struggle with low self-esteem, reduced academic achievement and ultimately, given limited career choices, face a life of poverty.

Early literacy programs, if administered during the magic window between Kindergarten and Grade 2, are highly effective at improving the ability and confidence of children struggling with reading. Calgary Reads, an early literary initiative, was designed to identify and support children struggling with reading. The program piloted in 1998 with 25 trained volunteers providing individual tutoring to 40 students. Today 350+ volunteers work with 500+ students and their families in over 75 Calgary and area schools, to ensure that each child is given the tools needed to instill the confidence to read.

The CBC/Calgary Reads book sale has become a major annual fundraiser for the program, and an essential event for book lovers. Last year the book sale raised $98,000 for Calgary Reads. Every year thousands of book enthusiasts return home with arms laden with high quality used books. Some have even been lucky enough to scoop up a rare edition or two for the insanely low price of $2.

With the exception of books denoted as rare and valuable, all hard covers sell for $2, while paperbacks sell for $1. Most of the rare and valuable books donated to the CBC/Calgary Reads book sale are priced at between $4 and $80, with exceptionally valuable books sold by auction. Long-time book sale volunteer Gerry Morgan, who has the challenging task of separating the rare and collectible books from amongst the thousands of books donated annually, estimates that 12 to 20 books whose values exceed $100 are placed on the auction table annually.

“One of the highlights was a Cree dictionary, found one or two years ago,” Gerry recalls. “When I researched it on the internet, it was worth $700 or $800.” Stumbling across these sorts of discoveries is what Gerry cherishes most about what he refers to as his “privileged position of dealing only with rare books” in his capacity as a volunteer.

As a retired geophysicist and former academic, Gerry has always maintained a library well-stocked with books from his technical field. As his interests expanded into palaeontology, art, and antiques, so too did his book collection. And in the six years since his retirement, he has branched out from merely collecting books to becoming a book dealer and in the process has become something of an expert in identifying rare and valuable books.

Prior to the annual book sale at the Triwood Arena, Gerry Morgan scours the dozens of boxes of potentially valuable books that have been set aside by the other volunteer book sorters, and he separates those elusive and often innocuous-looking rare books from the regular offerings. Some of the rare finds are unmistakable, such as the 18-volume leather-bound Canadian history set, circa 1910, which was donated last year. Because of the value of those books, estimated to be between $1500 and $2000, Gerry recommended that a reserve price of $1200 be placed on the bidding for that set.

One of Gerry’s favourite discoveries was a first edition series of books written by Winston Churchill. Aside from the monetary value of this particular set of books, what he found particularly compelling was the historical significance of the inscription he discovered on the fly leaf of each volume. “The person who had originally bought these books in the 1940’s or maybe early 1950’s had written on the title page of each book ‘I purchased this book on the very first day that this book was published and appeared in bookshops in England.’ I thought that was historically interesting,” Gerry recounts.

Even amongst the rare books being sold at the CBC/Calgary Reads book sale, there are real bargains to be found. Gerry estimates that all the collectible books are priced at one-half to two-thirds of the asking price at any antiquarian bookshop. “When people come to the sale, they expect a bargain,” he explains. “They don’t expect to pay bookstore prices. If I think a book would sell in an antiquarian bookshop in Calgary for $100, I usually price it at $50 to $60, because we don’t want books left over.”

Bargain seekers and rare book aficionados alike will be heartened to hear that not all the valuable books uncrated make it onto the specially priced or auction tables. Many books worth $50 or more are left on the regular tables, priced at $2. Much of this is due to the time and space crunch facing Gerry and the other volunteer book sorters. “There is not a lot of time between when all the books are put on the table and when the sale opens to the public,” he explains, “but I go through the tables and I find dozens of books that the sorters haven’t picked out, which should be marked rare and valuable. I go through as many tables as I can, but I can’t look through the boxes underneath the tables, which are still packed.”

Other times, though, the oversight is deliberate, an incentive to those who enjoy the thrill of the hunt. “Half the fun is looking at the regular tables and finding books for $2 that should be $30,” Gerry maintains. “There are always a few valuable books left out on the general tables. Some of those are worth $40 or $50. I hope I don’t leave too many, but I leave enough to make people want to come back the next year.”

So do come to the 8th Annual CBC/Calgary Reads book sale, to be held April 30 (4-9pm) and May 1 - 2 (9am-4pm) at the Triwood Arena. You never know what treasures you may unearth while helping to raise the funds needed to assist a child in learning to read. You can also help by donating your quality used books by dropping them off at the CBC from April 12-26 or at any RBC branch in Calgary from March 30 – April 21.

For further information about Calgary Reads or about volunteer opportunities, please visit or call 403.777.8254.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

futon revolution

I have a history of conflict with the Calgary ParkPlus system.

The first time I used one of the new machines that don't take coins, only credit cards, I ended up paying $27.00 to park for less than 10 minutes.

Then I tried to use one of the machines in an unlit parking lot at night and discovered that the screen is not backlit. That time I ended up only paying for 2 hours of parking when I really needed 4, because I had no idea what buttons I was pressing. But that time I got away with it.

The way the ParkPlus system is set up for on-street parking, the streets are divided up into numbered zones, each zone depicted by a different 4 digit number. There is a ParkPlus machine somewhere in the vicinity that services several of these zones.

Your job, once you park, is to:
a) find out what zone you are parked in
b) find the ParkPlus machine
c) on the screen, find the correct arrow pointing to the time for which you want to pay
d) remember the zone number
e) remember your license plate number

This is trickier than it sounds, when you are trying to decipher the various options on the machine and there is a line forming behind you, everyone waiting to pay their money before the Parking Authority guy drives by taking photos of all the license plates.

A few weeks ago I was in Kensington fumbling with the ParkPlus when I blanked on my license plate number. I couldn't see the urban assault vehicle from the machine, I had already swiped my credit card, and there was a guy standing behind me rattling his keys. So with panic rising, I took a wild stab at the number.

Three days later I got a parking ticket in the mail.

After questioning the parentage of the entire municipal government, I remembered that I had taken the optional receipt from the ParkPlus machine that afternoon, so I rummaged through my purse and uncovered the wrinkled but legible parking receipt from underneath a fistful of shopping lists. There, it clearly indicated that I had 8 minutes still left on the machine at the time the photo of my license plate was taken. It also showed a license plate number that was not mine. It was kind of close to mine, and it was the sort of number that someone in a panic to remember their number might come up with, but it was definitely different from the plate on my car.

This sort of thing must happen ALL THE TIME because when I called the city, I was quickly told exactly what information to fax in to have the ticket reviewed. When I sent in the information I admitted that there was a discrepancy between the license plate number on the receipt and my actual license plate number. While I refrained from calling the ParkPlus system a stinking whore, I did use the opportunity to point out the inadequacy of the system by rather unnecessarily adding "I suspect my confusion was brought about by the pressure of having a line of people behind me waiting to use the machine".

Yeah, they cancelled it. Seems like a tremendous waste of time and resources for a situation that would never have arisen with a parking meter, or even with a machine that spits out a receipt that you put on your dashboard.

I'm thinking of getting my license plate number tattooed on my arm for next time.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

beautiful and drunk and singing softly to yourself

I'm going out on a limb here and predicting that Iggy Pop will be one of the headliners at Sled Island Music Festival this year.

Okay, it's a pretty sturdy and secure limb, in the face of other recent news, but I am still giving myself kudos for having figured it out early. I know for a fact the Sled organizers snared a couple of big names when they were in Chicago a few months ago, and hey, doesn't Iggy Pop still live in Chicago?

I really need to buy my Sled tickets pretty damn soon if I don't want to miss out on the chance to hobnob with Mr Osterberg.

Do you know who I really wish would come to town though?


Anywhere in North America would be close enough for me, actually. I'm up for a roadtrip.

This video is for Charlie, because Dick Clark won't play it:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Kick-Ass kinda kicks ass

There's a lot to love about Kick-Ass, the latest in a long list of comic book adaptions, which opens in theatres tonight. At the basis is the sweet nerdy kid in high school story, which melds nicely with the colourful hyper-violence of the comic book genre, and which is all swept along on a wave of Kill Bill-esque female revenge tale.

Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski, an entirely average high school comic book nerd, whose only power is the ability to be invisible to girls. He and his friends lurk in the background of the teen dramas that are played out daily in school and on the streets, but eventually, tired of being victimized and witnessing others being victimized by thugs, Dave feels the need to assert his sense of morality. So he orders a scuba suit on-line and begins his transformation into the super hero, Kick-Ass.

After being seriously injured in a knife fight, he becomes a mascot of sorts for the family super-hero duo of Big Daddy (played with delicious bat-shit craziness by Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (a tiny but incredibly foul-mouthed assassin portrayed by the intensely watchable Chloe Moretz). By day, Big Daddy is a tortured comic book artist, and Hit Girl his far too worldly daughter. They live in a secluded world of weaponry and planning, preparing to exact vengeance with a glee that is at once disturbing and, well, gleeful.

I particularly liked the social realism of Kick-Ass' rise to fame via the internet, starting when his defence of a lone man against a gang of thugs is captured on dozens of cell phones, a moment which quickly goes viral. And like everybody, Kick-Ass spends far too much time tending his website.

I enjoyed Kick-Ass quite a lot. Not as much as the guy who laughed boisterously at scenes that only caused me to smile or snicker, but quite a lot. Kick-Ass strikes a nice balance between morality tale and revenge story, with a humour that is at times sweet and at times brutal. But even though Chloe Moretz steals the film, Nicholas Cage's cheesy mustache should get top billing.
Of course, Friday's aren't only for movie premiers; they are also for Random Playlists. Here's mine:

The Shoot First, Dance Later Friday Random Ten:

1. I don't have time to stand here with you fighting about the size of my dick | Ballboy
2. Folkloric feel | Apostle of Hustle
3. Why don't you find out for yourself | Morrissey
4. In the modern world | Jesse Malin
5. Nighttime anytime it's alright | the Constantines
6. Only love you for your car | Immaculate Machine
7. Skyway bridge | Melissa McClelland
8. To Pluto's moon | My Brightest Diamond
9. Sister lost soul | Alejandro Escovedo
10. Dance. dance. dance. | Lykke Li

Have a brilliant weekend, everyone. Leave the knives and guns at home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

whisper your arrival

While cleaning out the linen closet yesterday, a displacement activity to writing an article that was due, and itself displaced by other activities in the eight months since I put it on my to-do list, I discovered something that made me smile.

There on the third shelf, behind the jumbled pile of towels that had become ratty and were no longer used, was tucked a box that had once held chocolates some long ago Christmas. It rattled slightly, was sealed with tape, and had a sign written on it in the OFKAR's hand - Don't Open Till 2002.

We will certainly have a time capsule opening ceremony when she returns home for the summer at the end of the month, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I should schedule these closet cleaning sessions more often.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

today we escape

Exit Music - Ian Rankin

I started at this all backassward, reading the 18th and final book in Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series, with only one other Rebus book under my belt. But despite the flimsiness of my familiarity with Detective Inspector John Rebus of the Edinburgh police department, I was immediately drawn into the troubled world of this often rebellious detective.

Merely days away from a decidedly unwelcome retirement, Rebus is thrown back into active police work by the discovery of the badly beaten body of a famed Russian poet, a dissident poet highly critical of the Russian establishment. Simultaneously, a delegation of Russian businessmen are being wooed by the top echelon of Scottish parliament and the Scottish national bank, keen to trade local interests for bags full of rubles. The pressure is on to close this case quickly and quietly.

And then a business associate of the poet is also brutally murdered.

John Rebus is a compelling character. Definitely not a team player, and evidently quite flawed, he has a troubled relationship with his job and with the lines of authority within the police department. Retirement is not going to sit well with DI Rebus, who has sacrificed his marriage and his personal relationships for the job to the point where, aside from his whiskey bottle and his stereo at the end of the day, it is the only thing that defines him.

I found myself quite interested also in the character of Rebus' presumed successor, Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, and concerned for the similar path which she seems set to follow. Equally galvanized by police work, she seems to exhibit much of the same professional drive as Rebus, and I would be interested to see how she fares years down the road, in what state she allows her personal life to be usurped by the demands of the profession.

This is a mystery that is satisfactorily peppered with leads which may or may not be red herrings, and that draws on situations gleaned from the news headlines of the day, which bring a sense of historical placement to the fictional events. The real-life incident of the polonium poisoning of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko acts as a running plot point in Exit Music. It's an incident that provides a backdrop to the underlying concerns of Russian-British diplomacy in the novel, and adds a degree of historical significance and realism to the novel's story line.

The highly controversial Scottish parliament building, renowned for the criticism it has elicited for its unusual architecture, also plays a role in the novel. It would be next to impossible to set a novel in Edinburgh, particularly a novel in which members of Scottish parliament are placed under scrutiny, without making mention of the building meant to be representative of a nation but which has actually turned out to be a highly divisive element. It makes rather a good statement for the hidden interests and the power struggles at play within Exit Music.

I enjoyed this book enough to make me want to go back and read some of the earlier DI Rebus novels, to get a better feel for this flawed and troubled, yet ultimately likable protagonist.

Friday, April 09, 2010

into the light

I have pretty much regained control of my lacrimal glands, and the raw pain has transitioned through the heavy aching phase and is starting to settle into sweeter reminiscences. The phantom shadows are being kind.

I am still not able to remove Sputnik's leopard hat from the corner of the living room in which she spent much of her last days; that's still a little too immediate.

I'm also still not able to close the bedroom door completely at night. Like most cats, Sputnik could not tolerate a closed door, so rather than having her scratching at the carpet trying to get in or out, I used to tuck a slipper under the door to hold it open a few inches. The past two nights I have tried closing it all the way, but it just felt so wrong and I had to resort to the slipper trick. Just in case.

Sputnik would have hated the spring blizzard that blew through the area last night. I think she would much rather see these photos of my recent jaunt to Vancouver:

~city of bridges~

~and rather specific regulations~

~and disembodied heads~

~and random strangers huddling on the beach~

~and meeting friends from long long ago~

~and giant cheesy grins~

~and strolling down to the waterfront with friends~

~and a backdrop of blossoms~

~and glorious water, everywhere~

Back in the rain shadow of the Rockies, we're playing music to melt the recent snowstorm.

Pushing Back the Shadows Friday Random Ten:
1. Kamera | Wilco
2. Peek-a-boo | Siouxsie & the Banshees
3. Judas | the Verve
4. So tonight that I might see | Mazzy Star
5. Fat city | Twilight Singers
6. Black water | Watermelon Slim & the Workers
7. Southermost | the Lucksmiths
8. Sorglopur | Sigur Ros
9. Credit | Buzzcocks
10. Swans | Camera Obscura
I like how this starts with a Kamera and ends with a Camera (Obscura).
What's on your Friday random playlist?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

somewhere the angels are being bossed around

We lost Sputnik today.

The cancer had spread everywhere and there was nothing further that could be done, other than approve an extra dose of isofluorane, and let her pass.

Although she had been spending most of her time lately sleeping in her leopard skin hat,
last night she came downstairs and curled up on her old blanket on the chesterfield and watched a little tv with us. And later, the Spousal Unit brought her upstairs to Skype with the OFKAR. She even gave the webcam a few big face-rubs, just like old times.

And even though she stopped sleeping in my bed a few weeks ago, last night she came upstairs with me and watched me brush my teeth and then waited for me to fill the sink with a couple of inches of water, so that she could have a nice big drink of bathroom sink water, just like she used to do every night.

Yesterday she did not go outside at all, but this morning, she demanded it. Although we were due at the vet in a half hour, I wasn't particularly worried that she would take off for the entire morning like she used to. I'm glad she had that final chance to get out into the world as she always loved to do. It's a shame we didn't have her ratty old lounge chair out on the front deck for her to relax in. She was the poster cat for relaxing in a lounge chair.

Sputnik was one of the fiestiest, fiercest, smartest cats I have ever known. I still can't believe that I tried to talk the Offspring out of adopting that funny-looking little Tortoiseshell,
the very last kitten that was available at the Humane Society, that winter day twelve years ago. Because she turned out to be the very best cat of all.

R.I.P. Sputnik

Monday, April 05, 2010

hope, springing eternal

Despite her illness and her weakness, Sputnik, in true Tortoiseshell fashion, is not about to go out without a fight. In the past few days, she has hopped up onto desks and rolled about in the dirt and discovered the joys of cream cheese and yogurt. She still has too much life in her to just let her go without giving her every possible opportunity to beat this thing.

So we are opting for surgery.

Because the cancer is on her intestine, the vet can remove the mass and the affected section of intestine and sew the good bits back together again, with a reasonable expectation of success. Her surgery is scheduled for Wednesday.

Of course there is always the chance that the vet will find more cancerous lesions once inside, and if that is the case then of course we will have to let Sputnik go. But at least we will be able to sleep nights, knowing that we have explored every reasonable option. And if the procedure will give us a few more years with her, then it is worth the risk.

And as the vet confided to me the other day, the bitchy fiesty breeds like Tortoiseshells are just too tough to simply roll over and die. There's something to be said for being a Type C personality.

I will keep you posted.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

novocaine to fill the hole

I haven't been writing much lately. I have lots of pictures to show you from the most recent Vancouver mini-break, but my heart just hasn't been in it.

When I returned home from Vancouver, we discovered that Sputnik has cancer. We knew something was wrong. She was continuing to lose weight despite the anal gland expression a month ago, so we knew it was something more than just a sore bum.

And this time, the vet found a mass. Quite large, so obviously it is quite an aggressive growth. Our hearts ache so.

We told the OFKAR yesterday and she is going to try to get home to say goodbye, but the poor kid has a particularly brutal schedule at school right now, with major papers and presentations and then with final exams starting in a couple of weeks. She is going to try to travel home in two weekends from now, but of course nobody knows how long Sputty actually has.

She is so thin, but still quite alert. And she still fixes you with that gaze, that look of intelligence and understanding, that tells you this is a cat that you don't mess with. She sort of sleeps most of the time, but it's a light sleep, not the deep obscenely comfortable sleep that cats are so renowned for.

Today when I returned from grocery shopping, she jumped into the back of the urban assault vehicle, just like she always used to do. And part of me rejoiced and wanted to believe that she was getting stronger, but in my heart I knew this was a last hurrah.

I wish I could help her.