Saturday, April 30, 2011

cherry blossom sherpa

As usual, the OFKAR summed it up perfectly. Vancouver looks photoshopped.

The intensity of the colours in this city really are quite surreal and almost startling, especially when you have just flown in from Calgary, where you spent an hour sitting on the tarmac waiting for the plane to be de-iced because there was a snow storm raging. Vancouver is always a happy surprise but even more so under those circumstances.

Also a happy surprise was the level of preparedness that the OFKAR demonstrated in moving out of her rez room. I was expecting to walk onto the set of Hoarders, like I did last year, but instead found things obviously in some disarray, but really quite manageable.

It was really quite bittersweet to observe the OFKAR bidding farewell to the jolly band of adventurers with whom she became so tight this school year. I was glad that I had a chance to meet a handful of them, those names and faces that had become familiar to me over the past months. Very sweet kids they are, who joined us for a final coffee outside the campus Starbucks, and who didn't even mind succumbing to a hug from someone's mom.

The rest of this whirlwind trip has been a blur of activity. Lots of sushi feeds to tide us over the summer. A quick trip to Granville Island where I almost talked myself into buying a hammock. Meeting a dear friend downtown, which culminated in colourful drinks at a Japanese restaurant where the wait staff group chanted loudly at us and our waiter resembled an Asian Thom Yorke, more sushi next door, and surprise first-time meeting with another blog friend. And walking. As always, lots and lots of walking.

And yet, so much I didn't get to do, so many friends I didn't have a chance to see this time.

One more cup of coffee and I will say goodbye, see you in the fall to Dave and Michael at the front desk. We'll pack the suitcases into the trunk, ask each other for the hundredth time why it is we are going back to Calgary, and head to the airport.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: done with all this measuring of truth

Prompt: RANDOM FIRST SENTENCE (Grab the book closest to you. Open to page 70. Choose the 7th sentence. Use this pseudo-random sentence as your start sentence.)
Genre: OPEN, though hard-boiled, noir, crime action would be nice.
Word Count: UNDER 700 WORDS
My opening sentence is from Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes.

There would be plenty he could say before such a thing was allowed to happen. He could tell them about the times that she had tried to turn them all against him with her lies. Lies about drinking, lies about how tight he was with money, lies about him hitting her. He had never once, never in his life, laid a hand upon her, although god knows she deserved it.

He worked hard to provide for them. They were the only reason he stayed in this soul-destroying backwater town. They were the rope that kept him tethered, grounded, even while it tightened imperceptibly around his neck.

Years ago, before the kids, before the failure of the business, they both had dreams of something better. We'll go to Toronto they told each other, with our talent, our vision, we'll create amazing things. We'll have to fight off the press, and the offers, and the accolades. Maybe someday we'll go to New York, San Francisco. Nothing was out of reach.

Nothing was out of reach, but nothing was ever within grasp either. After the first one was born, he could feel the dreams loosening their hold. Suddenly there were overflowing diaper bins, never-ending wails that shattered his concentration, another mouth to feed. His work suffered. Where he was once so sure of each step, he now questioned every movement. Nothing looked right anymore.

By the time the boy was born, he agreed to take that job in her brother's garage.

He did it for them, and now he was losing them. For the longest time now he had seen the disdain in her face when he came home exhausted and spent the evenings on the front porch with bottle and a glass filled with ice. He hadn't stepped inside his studio in years.

Shortly after she started her evening course at the community college, the lies started. At first they were lies to him. She always had a ready answer, of course, when she arrived home late at night looking flushed. There were so many assignments, their study group had met after class. That young fellow driving her home? He was in their study group, of course, the only one heading home in the same direction as her.

Later, the lies became about him. He could see the veiled glances aimed at him as he parked the car at the Liquor Mart, could hear the conversations abruptly stop as he rounded the aisle at the drugstore. Until finally, that young fellow from her evening course stopped him in the street and admittedly, in a halting voice what he had suspected all along, that she was leaving him.

And now she was filing for divorce. Well, there would be plenty he could say before such a thing was allowed to happen. Plenty he could say, but only one thing he could do.

He glanced over at the boy and the girl, bound and gagged in the corner of the living room, but he avoided their eyes. Their terrified whimpers had not ceased since he had surprised them after school, since they had burst into the house where he was waiting for them with the ropes and the bandanas. His children, but more importantly, her children.

As he heard her turn the key in the front door, he reached down and picked up the rifle that lay at his feet.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

feeling your fingers let go

With the return of the sun and with spring gently creeping up on us, I reached into the back of the closet yesterday, past the heavy leather jacket, past the wool coat, to encounter a light spring blazer, to wear grocery shopping. Evidently I had not worn this blazer since early November, if the poppy pinned to the lapel was any indication.

I shrugged on the jacket and my hands automatically dug deep into the front pockets, where my hands always reach of their own accord. I pulled out a slip of paper, jaggedly ripped, one-sixth of an 8.5x11. On one side was a Will Call receipt for some forgotten concert, on the other, the ubiquitous grocery list.

I picked up the current grocery list from the kitchen table and compared it to the pocket list. Also a raggedly ripped sixth of a letter sized piece of paper, this one lined, this one bearing income tax calculations on the non-list side. But the grocery list side was nearly identical to the November list - eight items on each, four of them identical.

It makes me wonder why I bother with a list in the first place, if I just keep buying the same items. Especially when I have been known to walk into the grocery store, armed with a list that reads only supper x 2.

What's in your pockets?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

just sun and bread

Aqua Bunny now sports a large purple bow tie, but still holds court in the corner of the kitchen window sill, near the coffee maker. He's a fixture in the house, one of those geegaws that insinuate themselves into permanence for no particular reason besides longevity. But I have always loved this retrospective of Aqua Bunny that the OFKAR produced a few years ago.

She has an artist's eye.

Easter celebrations have been postponed until next weekend here at casa del zombie, when the OFKAR returns home for the summer and resumes the moniker of Resident Offspring for four months. Finding a post-Easter turkey could be challenging, but I fully expect a glut of sales priced chocolate eggs on the market.

I am heading off to the coast on Thursday to help the OFKAR drag a few 700 lb suitcases home on the plane. It will be a bit of a whirlwind trip, but I will manage to squeeze in a wee bit of visiting with friends. I hope there will be some cherry blossoms left for me.

The Spousal Unit and I will not be ignoring Chocolate Zombie Jesus day entirely today. We do have plans to eat a baby animal, after all. I will be attempting to braise some lamb shanks, which all the recipe books tout as a wonderful way to cook a cheap cut of meat. Except that lamb shanks are, in actuality, shockingly expensive for a cheap cut of meat. I guess outfitting all those little lambs with wheelchairs gets costly.

Do you have a traditional Easter/Passover meal?

Friday, April 22, 2011

the taste of copper in your mouth

I rolled pennies during the flood of 97.

Having grown up in Winnipeg, I was not unfamiliar with spring floods. The annual cresting of the Red and Assiniboine rivers were expected rites of spring. Sandbagging, the opening of the floodway, drives to Lockport to see the ice break up on the river were just another season of the year, tucked in between the ice ruts of winter and the mosquito bites of summer.

In the spring of 97, I was living in Ontario, watching the news reports from the prairies grow increasingly grim. The flood of the century, they were calling it. And I couldn't even help fill sandbags.

I spent a lot of time volunteering at the neighbourhood school, where the Resident Offspring was in senior kindergarten. I can raise a little money for flood relief, I thought, and give the kids an opportunity to practice a little altruism. I can ask them to bring in pennies from their piggy banks. I don't mind rolling a few pennies.

Famous last words, these turned out to be.

I can't remember how many days I sat in the school library with piles of brown paper penny wrappers littering the table in front of me, inwardly groaning as yet another student brought in the offerings from their classroom. We ended up raising $350 for flood relief, which was then matched by the Spousal Unit's employer. I haven't rolled pennies since.

Of course the flood of the century is now being surpassed by this year's Red Sea, as they are calling it. And my heart aches for the place that raised me. It's not just the rivers this year - the Red, the Assiniboine, the Souris - it's also overland flooding from the massive snow melt. Tracking the flooding is akin to watching a slowly unfolding horror film from behind spread fingers. You know what's coming and you can't do a thing about it, except wait.

Somehow I don't think that pennies are going to cut it this time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

another Canadian musician you should know: Kyla Hanna

Sometimes the nicest things are found in the most unexpected places. Recently a friend attended a coffee house musical evening in Rossland BC, where she was smitten with a performance by Kyla Hanna, a singer-songwriter from the Kootenays. Knowing that one of my missions is to shine the spotlight on struggling Canadian musicians, my friend thoughtfully sent me Hanna's CD Bell.

One of the first things that strikes you upon listening to Bell is the lilting quality and clarity of Kyla Hanna's voice. She could easily pull off those vocal gymnastics that plague prime time singing contest shows and most Super Bowl renditions of the American national anthem. But although she certainly has the ability to do so, thankfully she doesn't. Instead she offers a much more tasteful and pleasingly restrained showcasing of her vocal talents. A lot of lilting melody, a bit of layered harmonizing with herself, all against a simple and restrained guitar and piano accompaniment, with a soupcon of horn thrown in for emphasis.

Bell is a charming little album, leaning toward symphonic metal (September) in its dramatic imagery, touching on celtic folk (Sailor's Life and All I Am) in its storytelling sensibilities, all the while remaining firmly grounded in clearly enunciated Canadiana. I hear touches of Joni Mitchell somewhere in So This Is. I can't quite put my finger on it, but something in Hanna's words, or perhaps the way she pronounces them, conjures up visions of the girl from Maidstone, Saskatchewan. But Kyla Hanna really showcases her versatility and her vocal chops when she throws the saucy blues number, Black Matthew, into the mix.

Bell is a very strong debut release. Kyla Hanna may currently be a coffee house staple in the Kootenay region, but I expect it won't be long before the secrets of her talent reaches past those encircling mountains.

Monday, April 18, 2011

it's quite pretty actually, once the sun comes out

pretty enough for the Slightly Retarded Kitty to leave her stuffy,

look startled,

and venture outside

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ma and Pa Kettle in the kitchen

Me: The weirdest thing just happened. I forgot how old I am.

Quizzical look from him.

Me: And it wasn't just a passing flash either, I could not for the life of me remember if I am 51 or 52. I finally had to do the math to figure out that I'm 52.

Slightly concerned eyeball roll from him.

Me: I don't think this is a dementia thing though. I think it's just that after you have lived so many years, a year one way or the other simply doesn't matter anymore. I have too many other, more important, things to remember. Yeah, that's it.

Pause, and then slightly sheepish chuckle from him.

Him: Actually ... when you first said started telling me this, I couldn't remember how old I was either. Not till you said you were 52 and then I knew that I had to be 51.

Sometimes you have to use the buddy system.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: night bus to the coast

This week's Flash Fiction Friday prompt is a themed wordlist - fist, jab, knuckle, spirit, fighter, rhythm.

Although not a requirement, I tried to embrace the principles of flash fiction by using the wordlist in as brief a narrative as possible, while hopefully still telling a coherent story. I'm not sure how successful I was, but it was fun.

Since Regina she had been fixated on the diminishing smudge of light on the horizon, the last echo of daylight. Beyond it lay her destiny.

Cheek pressed against the cool glass, she fought to ignore the persistent jab of conscience. She should have left a note. But as she had stood there in the kitchen, the roll of twenties in her fist, she knew that she could never explain why she was leaving, not really, not so that he would understand.

She never was a fighter. Cut your losses and run was more her style.

As the man in the seat next to her shifted and grumbled in his sleep, she rubbed her knuckle against her temple, trying to loosen the band of anxiety that was once again tightening around her head. It was important that she remain focused, that she maintain her spirit if she was to pull this off.

She concentrated again on the final vestige of light on the horizon and slowed her breathing. Eventually the relentless rhythm of the Greyhound bus churning through the prairie night lulled her to sleep.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

keep my place in the arcane

But sometimes I don't understand in addition to not caring. For instance:

a) which way the toilet paper roll hangs
- I really don't give a rat's ass; the only thing that matter is the presence of the toilet paper.

b) Extreme Couponing
- I felt slightly ill watching this. I don't care how little you paid, nobody needs to buy 150 chocolate bars or 35 bottles of Malox in one shopping trip. I do however appreciate the endlessly self-fulfilling loop that occurs by scheduling this show next to Hoarders.

Everything else I either understand and don't care, understand and care, or care but don't understand.

Honk if you don't care.

Monday, April 11, 2011

broken heads in Belltown

How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets
- Garth Stein

I would not have stumbled upon this book, had it not been for the titles you offered when I was looking for some new fiction to read. Although none of your suggestions were available at my local library, this novel by the author suggested by Kelly the Fireman captured my attention for a couple of reasons - it takes place primarily in Seattle and the main character is a musician.

I really enjoy books that take place in cities that are familiar to me. They transport me with names and places that I know and heighten the enjoyment I derive from the story. I would have enjoyed this book had it been set elsewhere, but not quite as much.

Evan, a highly gifted guitarist and former member of a one-hit wonder band, has epilepsy and he has a lot of difficulty dealing with that. The fact that his infliction resulted from a head injury which should never have happened has coloured his relationship with his uptight family throughout most of his life and has made him wary of others and guarded of what he considers to be his dirty little secret. And then he discovers, at the funeral of a former girlfriend, that he has a fourteen year old son.

How Evan Broke His Head grapples with questions of memory and truth. As Evan tries to deal with his new reality as the father of Dean, he is forced to re-examine his own history and his own interpretation of the truth of the incidents that shaped his life.

We never truly get to know Evan. Despite his position as central character and despite his internal struggles for truth and understanding, as well as his conflicts with the people in his life, he remains shrouded in secrecy. Evan is easily the most complex character in the novel; most of the other characters are slightly cliched. Evan's father is a controlling physician, his mother is a doctor's wife who refuses to acknowledge conflict, his brother is an over-achiever, his band mates all display some form of rock n roll stereotype.

Evan's new-found son, Dean, is rather more multi-dimensional, with the fluctuations between scared child and rebellious asshole that you do often see in a teenage boy, especially one who just lost his mother and whose whole world has changed in an instant.

Unfortunately there is no justification for the depiction of Evan's new girlfriend, Mica. She's not just a talented recording engineer, she's the very best in the business, a legend. She's also gorgeous, kind-hearted, wise, multi-lingual, a fantastic cook, attentive lover, and spouts deep insights. She knows exactly why Dean begins to rebel against Evan and why Evan reacts the way he does. And not only does she explain it all to Evan, but she understands and feel sympathy for him when he reacts badly to the information she is giving him and kicks her out. Yeah.

Despite my issues with Mica's believability, I really did enjoy this book. It was enormously readable, moved at a good pace, told a compelling story, and really did raise some complex and almost certainly unanswerable questions about what we remember and why. That said, a few of the conversations did ring falsely with me. Certainly nobody actually talks that way in real life, and these exchanges felt forced, a convenient way for the author to explore certain theses. One conversation in particular, near the end of How Evan Broke His Head, felt as though Stein was trying to wrap up the novel quickly, and therefore felt to me like lazy writing.

Despite my quibbles, I did enjoy How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets and would recommend it as an enjoyable read, especially if you happen to like Seattle.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

heard you missing steps in the street

Spring arrived today.

In a nanosecond bipolar shift, the city shed its quilted parka, removed its gloved hands from where they had been shoved deep into pockets of gloom, and walked a little faster, a little taller, shoulders back, face raised to greet the sun.

At casa del Zombie, there were some unmistakable signs that we have turned that corner, finally put the doc martens to winter:
1. The antarctic shoreline that is defining the back lane has melted enough that no longer do we live in fear of getting our tires permanently lodged in an ice rut as we attempt to egress our garages.
2. I wore no gloves while driving and my bare hands did not freeze to the steering wheel.
3. The trampoline kids are out trampolining next door. Could the lawn mower kids on the other side be very far behind?
4. The hoodie that I wore last night as a shirt served as a outer jacket this afternoon.
5. The Slightly Retarded Kitty is giving up nocturnalism in favour of spending the afternoon outdoors.
6. The neighbour across the street has a brand new rake and is poking around at the bare grass on his front lawn. I suspect this is partially to thumb his nose at those of us on the other side of the street whose lawns are still blanketed in two feet of white.
7. My bedroom window remained open all afternoon and nobody complained that they were freezing to death.

It all makes watching the finals of the Men's World Curling Championship feel a trifle surreal. Spring curling does serve to make us wary of the vagaries of weather, reminds us that a sea change can occur in the blink of an eye. We keep an eye to the sky, not just to embrace the warmth of the sun and to avoid looking any longer at the mounds of ice and snow, but to remain on guard. Spring in the prairies keeps us humble.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

nobody fools with Mavis

Below is my inaugural submission to Flash Fiction Friday, the community that encourages us to flex our fiction writing muscles by penning a weekly piece of short fiction.

This week's prompt - caught with one's pants down.


Buona Sera, Kiss Me Goodnight

What does she need that ring for? She's dead. It's not like she's going to go flashing it around in anybody's face now.

Always waving her hand around in front of your face, she was. Didn't matter if she was at the beauty parlour or the grocery store or the bank, as soon as you but glanced in her direction, there she would go, flapping her damned hand around, making sure that the whole town knew that she had a genuine Eternity diamond.

It is pretty though, isn't it? See how it catches the light?

I notice you admiring that bracelet. Why yes, it was Wendy Poirier's. You have a good eye for baubles. She hardly has any use for it now, does she, being six feet under? I don't see why Emily Novak should be wearing those emerald earrings that you are reaching for either, not while she's feeding the worms, rest her soul.

Turn myself in? Oh I don't think so, my dear. You should be giving me a medal instead. If I hadn't rescued those baubles from the funeral home they would have been moldering on maggoty corpses now, instead of bringing a bit of sparkle and joy to the world. Nothing wrong with that.

And don't even think of trying to open that door. This pistol may be jewel-encrusted but the bullets aren't, so just sit back down and finish your tea. I'll pass you another date square.

That's a lovely watch you're wearing.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

the way shadows colonize snow

I'm not going to be buying any jugs of milk or sacks of potatoes anytime soon. All my grocery shopping and other errand running will be done by foot until the Antarctic shoreline that occupies the back lane recedes a bit. I'm not sure I can get out of my garage.

This afternoon my across-the-back-lane neighbour got stuck in the enormous water-filled crevice that spans the length of the Lassiter icefield that lies directly in front of our garage doors. I just happened to be in the backyard, chipping away at the edges of the three-inch thick ice that covers half of it, so I took my ice chipper and shovel and went out back to "assist".

I'm not much good at pushing a minivan out of a penguin lap pool, but I am very good placing traction mats and cheerleading with encouraging chatter. Twenty minutes of me sliding back and forth across the ice in my rubber boots, checking on the progress of the one tire that was not submerged, while he alternated between rocking the van and gunning it, and we blasted free.

Can we have spring now please?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

extracting and liking they

Phishing attempts appear to be getting more creative. Not necessarily any more believable, but certainly more amusing.

Hello Man,
I don't know how to say it, but I've tryed before a long time to send you some photos, but I've thought that you aren't interested to see me.
But now I'm going to send you the Photos in the Attachment.
Download the pictures and extract they, I'm sure that you will like they. The password is: 123456
Have a great day.

Now I feel badly that I wasn't interested to see they.

Monday, April 04, 2011

bright moon, well met

Meet Me at the Moon
- Emma Hill and Her Gentlemen Callers

With the release of Meet Me at the Moon, Emma Hill and her Gentlemen Callers travel further down the dusty road from the folk pop inclination of last year's Clumsy Seduction to delve ever deeper into the roots of country music. Along the way, the band solidifies into a cohesive unit. No longer are Her Gentlemen Callers (in the running for best ever band name) mere backup musicians; on Meet Me at the Moon they have become essential partners, a move that is reflected on the album cover where Her Gentlemen Callers get artist billing.

The genuine country feel of Meet Me at the Moon is due in no small part to the sweetly weeping steel pedal, the gentle touch of banjo. Emma Hill's rich smokey voice, always a powerful force of nature, melds seamlessly with Her Gentlemen Callers' crying guitars, poignant banjo and soulful keyboards on these melodies of love and hurt, hope and uncertainty. This is an album that shows great respect for authentic country music, paying homage to the pioneers of Americana, interspersed with touches of alt-country. For every Johnny and June reference, there is an echo of Cowboy Junkies or Neko Case's Furnace Room Lullaby.

Meet Me at the Moon is both steeped in tradition and full of discovery. From the toe-tapping infectiousness of Gold Stars All Around, to the irresistible old-school country singalong of All That Might Have Been, to the beautifully restrained bittersweet longing of Which Way to Go, the album is chockablock with nuggets that keep drawing you back for another listen.

I'll Never Be Her builds wonderfully from a torch song to a dark climax of guitar and piano, a perfect showcase for the impressive level of talent within this band. The slowly seductive You're My Man is the ultimate tribute to Leonard Cohen, masterfully channeling the poet's muse in its sultry flow. And since no Emma Hill album would be complete without something entirely unexpected, the addition of Capture Your Heart turns the finale on its head, as it free-forms its way back to the jazz era.

With Meet Me at the Moon, Emma Hill and Her Gentlemen Callers build on the strengths of their previous album, Clumsy Seduction, and continue their ascent through the ranks of emerging artists toward wider recognition.

Saturday, April 02, 2011


Is it wrong that the first thing I do upon successful completion of March NaBloPoMo is to not blog? While some would say that's actually a blessing, I do have a valid reason for this blogging neglect. And it was a fun reason too.

Yesterday the lovely and talented Mutford clan graced us with a sleepover visit on their way home from New Orleans. While they slept, we managed to drum up a pretty impressive snow storm in a valiant effort to keep them with us for an extra day, but alas they outsmarted us and kept those planes flying somehow.

Naturally we forgot to dig the camera out from its home in the junk drawer, so all we have are the memories tucked into our grey matter. Those, and the thoughtful gifts they brung - a novel, Liquor, by the New Orleans author who sports the delightful moniker of Poppy Z. Brite, and an intriguing art of train hopping DVD.

Now I feel sort of bad about trying to steal John's watch.