Tuesday, August 31, 2010

their own release

Last year at this time, I was at the height of helicopter parentism - hauling out every available suitcase, buying every whimsical office supply item that crossed my path, drawing up emergency contact information, and making list upon endless list. There was no way I was sending the Resident Offspring out into the big world without a suit of armour, a javelin, and her mama peering over her shoulder.

It's hard to believe that it's been a year. But what a difference that year has made.

Thirty-six hours before we leave to take the Offspring back to university, there's a sleepover happening at Casa de la Zombie. I have not yet located my suitcase, nobody has done any laundry, and the only nagging I have accomplished has been to haul the jumbo suitcase up from the basement and suggest that the RO start to fill it with any clothes she plans to take with her for the year.

It certainly helps that most of her belongings are in storage in Vancouver, so it's really just a matter of hauling back the clothes that we hauled out here in the spring. But mostly, I've learned that the RO is a resourceful young adult, capable of fighting her own battles. She has proven time and again that, although she may need the odd bit of advice and the occasional cheer-leading, mostly she just needs to know that there's a safety net if she needs one.

It's seriously challenging my list-making expertise.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

built this balustrade to keep you

I'm very glad that I am currently sporting a dark aubergine polish on my toenails, because that will nicely hide the hematoma that is no doubt forming right this very second. When moving that china cabinet out of the way so that you can start painting the living room/dining room, it's a bad idea to drop it on your toe.

But sweet baby Jesus, is that room ever going to look great! Gone is the fugly wallpaper, and soon to be vanquished is the tad too bright yellow that battled the wallpaper for domination of the room for the last dozen years.

It was so satisfying to get that first coat of rich dark olive grey on two of the walls tonight, and I can't wait to roll that calm stone grey on the other four walls. It's going to look so incredible that I may just need to break down and clean the carpet. Either that or burn it. Because that cooty-infested rag with the wine, coffee and cat barf stains is going to look even more nasty once the walls are beautiful.

I could just be talked into showing you some photos if you play your cards right. Of the walls, that is, not the carpet. Nobody needs to see that.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

wave your hand and they scatter like crows

It's always dangerous when all the Marthas descend upon the same town. Throw in a train trip and you are just asking for trouble, my friend.

Those bandits didn't stand a chance.

Friday, August 20, 2010

the whistle knows my name

There was an abandoned railway track at the end of our street, when I was growing up. It made for a great walking trail to traverse our way through the forests and fields to get to the low lying area where in the summer we used to float on rafts made from old doors and in the winter we would toboggan.

For a few years, the Prairie Dog Central ran on these tracks. It was a vintage restored locomotive that ran short excursions from our neighbourhood to the edge of the city. I rode on it once, and I remember high-backed wooden bench seats and open windows through which you could wave (or make other gestures) at the groups of kids on bikes gathered at the bottom of each street we passed.

After high school, I travelled through Europe by train. In those days you could buy a student Eurorail pass for next to nothing. Unlike Canada where so many of the smaller railway lines have been disassembled, in Europe rail travel thrives. My friend and I took full advantage of our passes, boarding any passing train at the spur of the moment to destinations that needed discovering. I recall swapping stories all night long with a couple of friends on the night train from Basel to Milan. On another excursion we hid out in the sleeper car on the overnighter to Munich, when it became clear that we needed to escape those overzealous German lads.

I remember some magnificent train stations. There were four in Paris alone, all of them cavernous and ornate, reminiscent of a time when train travel was for the well-heeled, not for backpack-schlepping kids like us. In Switzerland, of course, the stations were spotless and paragons of efficiency.

Tomorrow the Marthas and I are getting together for a mini-break and it too will involve train travel. We are heading to Stettler, in central Alberta and there we will board a vintage steam engine for a trip to Big Valley and back. Apparently we are in danger of being held hostage by train robbers, but I have it on good authority that Gabriel Dumont, hero of the northwest rebellion, will be on board to protect our honour from the invaders. There will also be a roast beef dinner.

It should be a hoot. Without question there will be much merriment, as there always is when there are Marthas in the equation. But I refuse to be held accountable for any untoward Martha behaviour, besides my own.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

picking out drapes while the house burns down

If it's not post-hole diggers, it's nail guns. As soon as one neighbour finishes cutting down a tree, the next one will replaces a fence. Just as that's wrapping up, somebody else decides it's time for a new roof, and no sooner has the final nail been driven in, then someone else parks a dumpster in the front yard and beings ripping out kitchen cabinets.

It's been a noisy summer on our street. Not only noisy, but noisy with a purpose. The sort of noise that says I am on a mission to elevate this neighbourhood to sublime beauty and you are not co-operating. Those noises are self-righteous and accusatory when your own yard is falling into disarray. Dying hedges, rickety fences, warped garage doors, overgrown trees and neglected flower beds do not instill confidence that these residents are team players.

And that's just the view from the outside. Eventually we will no longer be able to ignore that increasingly spongy bathroom floor, that tub surround that never worked, the crumbling window sills.

Which is why, with the two free buckets of paint that I have left-over from the cottage, I am stripping that god-awful wallpaper off the living room walls and repainting. I figure a beautiful grey room with olive accent walls will draw the eye up and away from the stained and rippled carpet. Yeah, that'll work.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I am curious multi-coloured

Just in time for my annual bout of back to school envy, the clearance pile at the local big box book purveyor yielded a gem that catapulted me right back to those heady days of grade one, if in grade one we had been permitted to colour in the human musculoskeletal system instead of those crudely-rendered mittens hanging on a clothesline.

You have no idea how tempted I am to indulge in a fresh new pack of pencil crayons right now. Maybe even a new pencil case to keep them in.

This could very well displace the internet, perhaps even bubble wrap, as the ultimate time-waster. And with over 150 labelled diagrams, complete with informative captions, my new colouring book could very well force me to finally commit to memory all those anatomical details which I learned in only the most rudimentary fashion in university. And then promptly forgot after the exam.

What tools do you wish you had been given in school?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

dust that moves

I do it all the time, and I am sure that it's happened to you once or twice too, but isn't it rather unusual for a cat to trip and fall whilst running up the stairs?

Ramona, sweetheart though she may be, is doing nothing to negate my suspicions that she may be slightly retarded.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

who you gonna call

Mary Roach is rapidly becoming one of my favourite writers. She has a gift for not only explaining complex scientific concepts with clarity, but also for tackling her subjects with real humour and in a manner that allows her delightful personality to shine through. She is nearing the top of my list of Famous People I Would Like to Sit Beside at a Dinner Party.

If you recall how, a few months ago,
I gushed over my initial exposure to Roach’s writing, the intriguing
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, you will appreciate how thrilled I was when the RO located a copy of Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife in our local library.

It was well worth the overdue fines.

Stiff, Roach touched briefly upon the search for the human soul, primarily upon historical attempts to pinpoint the anatomical home of the immortal spirit. In Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, she expands vastly upon the initial inquiry. She hearkens back to her mother’s attempt to instill religious faith in her as a child, and how those catechism classes were eventually bested by her need to understand how those bible stories were scientifically possible.

Mary Roach approaches her investigations into gathering evidence for the presence of a spirit that continues its existence after the body has shaken off its earthy presence, with an open mind and scientific detachment.
She is not a debunker, nor is she one of the faithful; rather, she is an impartial scientist with a sense of wonder, who admits that she would like to believe in the afterlife, but that for her, belief requires evidence.

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Roach travels to India to observe investigations into reincarnation claims, recounts historical medical attempts to pinpoint the loci of the soul and the start of life, chronicles the lengthy and often bizarre glory days of the spiritual medium and the whole ectoplasm thing, with all its absurdity. She travels to Britain for a crash course in a medium school, allows herself to be subjected to electromagnetic and infrasonic haunting, reopens a legal dispute won by a ghost, and recounts current investigations into near death experiences.

I admit that I found the subject matter in
Stiff more compelling than that in Spook, but that is a reflection of my fascination with all things physiological, as opposed to the strengths of Roach’s respective books. The first chance I get I will grab copies of Mary Roach’s other books, the charmingly entitled Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex and her new book Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void.

You may enjoy this video on Mary Roach's website, chronicling the issue of minimal personal hygiene examined in
Packing for Mars.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

talking smack to the kids

The hunter becomes the hunted. Twice, actually.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a couple of journalism students from Mount Royal University. They were both writing articles about various aspects of the Calgary Folk Festival for the Calgary Journal, and they wanted to pick my squirmy brain.

Mayan asked me for my thoughts on the workshops, which everybody knows is where the magic really happens. I'm pretty sure I was just fantasizing when I talked about African drums harmonizing with bagpipes, which she mentions in her article, Small stages, big opportunities for unpredictable harmonies, but I'll throw that out there as a suggestion for next year's festival.

Meanwhile, Sean-Paul contacted me for my perspective on the environmental initiatives undertaken by the folk festival. In his article, Folk Fest treads lightly, he even does me the honour of giving me that final quote, that final all-important zinger line, which wraps up the entire piece.

For the record, that damned composter is still stonewalling.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

dark of the matinee is mine

It hasn't been a particularly cinematic summer for me but I have managed my share of celluloid images. While some films have been imminently forgettable, a few recent viewings were definitely worth sharing:

District 9
This South African film opens with visually impressive news footage of a massive alien spacecraft hovering above Johannesburg, apparently stranded. Months later, when troops enter the space craft, they find an emaciated alien species, whose crustacean-like appearance causes them to be dubbed "prawns". The prawns are confined en masse to a government compound (District 9), which rapidly becomes a ghetto, a hotbed of poverty, unrest and violence.

You can be forgiven for thinking that director Neill Bloomkamp watches a little too much South Park, but he was not, in fact, just ripping off the Crab People episode. District 9 is actually a scathing commentary on xenophobia and segregation. It has moments of dark humour, most of it via the highly sympathetic main character of Wikus van de Merwe, a cheerful devoted family man, whose task it is to lead the forced relocation of the residents of District 9. During a raid on the shack of one of the resistant prawns, Wikus is exposed to a mysterious dark fluid, which sets into effect a mutation process.

Despite the film then segueing into hyper-active violence, it remains an intelligent and unique commentary on apartheid. Wikus becomes a fugitive from his own employers, who want to harvest him for biological material that would allow them to develop the ability to use the alien's complex weaponry. He is forced to forge an uneasy alliance with Christopher Johnson, one of the leaders of the prawn species. Oh yeah, and the Nigerian gangs also pursue him, believing that devouring his mutating limbs will impart them with extraordinary powers.

There is nothing formulaic about District 9. It is an original and highly engaging film and you should watch it.

Date Night
Steve Carell and Tina Fey are comic geniuses. You already knew that, of course, but whoever thought to play them opposite each other, in a film where they are a highly believable time-stressed, permanently exhausted married couple from New Jersey, is some kind of casting genius.

The only thing I couldn't buy was Tina Fey's ability to run from the bad guys in those heels. Only Dana Scully can run in heels like that.

I'm not saying I want Phil and Claire Foster to be my next door neighbours, but I sure wouldn't mind going out for dinner with them on occasion. Just not that dinner.

13 Tzameti
The Resident Offspring, always the consummate film critic, picked out this 2005 French film on a whim. It's filmed in black and white and is subtitled, so if that bothers you, then maybe this isn't the right film for you. On the other hand, maybe it is, because if you've got a problem with black and white subtitled films, then you are missing out on a lot of good stuff.

Sebastian, a struggling labourer hired to repair the roof of a seaside house, overhears the owner discussing his monetary woes and his opportunity for a financial windfall. When the owner dies of an overdose and Sebastian stumbles onto an envelope containing a train ticket and some rudimentary instructions, he decides, in an act of desperation to recoup some of his lost income, to use the ticket and take the dead man's place.

What he finds himself embroiled in is a deadly lottery,where he is the 13th man in a sinister game, a pawn in a secretive world where fortunes are made and lost by men gambling on the lives of other men.

13 Tzameti is a really compelling and brutal psychological drama which had me holding my breath with the tension. Be sure to see it before the American remake, starring Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke, is released later this year. Yeah, seriously.

Friday, August 06, 2010


To get your summer weekend off to a roaring crawl, allow me to present
Top Five Insects/Arthropods That Creep Me Out

~ sow bugs ~

~ millipedes ~

~ earwigs ~

~ flying ants ~

~ right-wing hate-mongers ~

Enjoy your weekend, my preciouses! Get out there and shoot your mouth off!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

noted today

- my freckles have returned, after a multi-year hiatus. I rather like them actually, and far prefer freckles over melanoma as the consequence of forgetting to bring a hat to the baseball game.

- if you take the shortcut when walking home from the video store, it will actually take you 10 minutes longer. At least the route that I took.

- it's been two weeks since I forgot my reading glasses at the hotel. The only reason I am going to pick them up today is that they were expensive. Let's hear it for cataract surgery and expensive reading glasses gathering dust in a drawer.

Monday, August 02, 2010

missed by a mile(stone)

It slipped by unnoticed, in the crush of pan-prairie road trips, urban island tarp dancing, and Germanic houseguest hovering. But on July 25, this little blog, this bastion of boorish blathering, this inner sanctum of inane scribbling, turned five.

It's been very good to me, this little corner of the blogosphere, and it's been a passport to some incredible destinations. It's served as a calling card to all the fabulous people that I have met whilst floating about in the ether.

Sure, I get a little neglectful at times, and sure the rigours of the blog are sometimes passed by for the junk food mentality of Facebook or the musical lure of BLIP, but I will always be a blogger. Even if it gets to the point where it's only the spammers with their roofing and/or penile enhancement links who read and comment, I'll know I'll always feel that pull to let my scrambled thoughts pour out through my fingertips. It's what I do.

Besides, does Facebook have cool stuff like this? It's a translation of my blog into Persian that I found on my stat counter the other day. What a beautiful language.

To commemorate this fifth blogoversary, I'd like to hand out some presents. I managed to amass a considerable amount of new music at the recent Calgary Folk Festival, and, is my custom, I will be crafting a mix CD celebrating this year's artists.

Would you like one?

Just say the word, and I will put you on the mailing list. And if I don't have a mailing address for you, drop me a line at bbruederlin(at)shaw(dot)ca.

You know you wanna.