Monday, May 30, 2011

say you wanna dance

I will always see that cute, funny, and clever little kid
peeking out from inside the lovely, witty and intelligent woman that you have become.

You may no longer be a teenager today, but that doesn't mean you can't party like a four-year old.

Happy Birthday, Resident Offspring!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

the lady's choice, the hissing of summer lawns

I'm girding my loins for lawn mowing season. I have yet to cut the decidedly scraggly-looking grass, despite the fact that some of the neighbours have cut theirs twice already this season.

I can't deal with the thought of being stalked by the lawnmower kids. It has been two years since I first wrote about their creepy and unnatural obsession, and you would think that by now I would have become accustomed to the unwanted attention. But no. In fact, the dread deepens with each passing year.

Perhaps this will finally be enough to spur me to rip up that Kentucky blue and replace it with carrots and potatoes. We all know the season around here is too short for tomatoes.

What would you do?
What's growing in your yard?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: purple haze

Prompt: use a song title from this short list of commonly misheard lyrics as the title and inspiration of the story.

I consider myself to be somewhat of a mondagreen expert, having inadvertently invented a few too many of them myself, so this week's Flash Fiction Friday prompt really spoke to me. Jimi Hendrix' Purple Haze was my immediate choice from the offered list, the only choice, really, as Benny and the Jets is my least favourite Elton John song, and I flat-out refuse to use a Nickelback, Good Charlotte or Fall Out Boy song. I do have my reputation to consider, after all.

Fortunately Purple Haze offers a lot of creative potential. Next time I will leave myself more than an hour to complete the task, though.

~~ * ~~ * ~~
Purple Haze

"Hey." I touched his forearm, giving it a little shake, and asked again. "Where did you go anyway?"

The first time I had asked him, at the dinner table over mom's welcome home roast chicken, he had brushed off the question with an easy laugh, a light punch on my arm, and a request for another slice of mom's world famous rhubarb pie.

But now, after the table had been cleared and we had been excused from dish duty, I had him to myself. As we strolled down the gravel lane toward the silo, grasshoppers leaping into the ditch banks at our approach, the sun beginning its slow descent over the wheat field, I tried again. "Scott, where did you go?"

I was referring primarily to his unexplained absence, the manoeuvers for which he had volunteered that were supposed to last the weekend, but which had inexplicably stretched into two weeks. But I was also trying to figure out where my brother had retreated to inside his own head.

I peered into his face and saw only a blank canvass of skin and flesh and bone stretched over a cavernous void. Scott's eyes fixed unblinkingly on the horizon, a million mile gaze, registering nothing at all. It was the same blank stare that I had seen him slip into a few times at the dinner table, a trance from which he would visibly shake himself when the conversation was aimed at him.

I tapped his arm again and at long last, he blinked a long slow stretch of his eyelids, and gave his head an almost imperceptible shake. He turned to look at me, a wide easy grin spreading slowly over his face. "You know I can't tell you anything, Brenda." He winked at me, and raised his index finger to his lips. "Classified information. If I told you I would have to kill you."

"Don't patronize me, Scott." My curiosity and concern were giving way to anger. "And don't bullshit me, either. I've been hearing rumours about the stuff that's been going on at the military hospital. Are you involved with that? Have you been letting them test chemical weapons on you or something?"

Even I couldn't believe I had voiced that last question. It had been a secret fear that had been niggling at me, but the very idea was so preposterous that I would never entertain it as a legitimate possibility. My big brother may have joined the god damn army but he would never be so stupid as to let them mess with his body like that.

Scott slowed his long stride to a near shuffle. "They weren't weapons," he whispered, "yeah they probably were originally supposed to be, but ... they were kinda the opposite of weapons, to tell you the truth." He stopped and turned to face me. "Where did I go, you wanted to know? I'm not really sure, kiddo, but I think it might have been heaven."

I was too dumbfounded by this statement to do anything but stare, slack-jawed, at my brother. The level-headed boy who had taught me to fight, to shoot a rifle, to drive the old station wagon, the voice of reason who always had my back, was now earnestly spouting some mystical claptrap at me. "What are you talking about?" I hissed.

"I dunno, Brenda," he sighed, "I really don't. I can't explain it, but when they gave me that stuff, I went somewhere. It may have looked like I was just sitting in a room at the barracks for two weeks, like they tell me is what happened, but I wasn't."

He pointed at the deepening purple of the horizon, to where the rim of the sun had dropped below the ripening heads of wheat. "I know what it's like on the sun." His voice shook a little. "I've seen the hydrogen flares and I've been pulled into the magnetic fields. I've ridden the solar winds to the Orion Arm. I've been doused with the interplanetary dust of the astroid belt and I've swum in the galactic tides. I will never forget that feeling as long as I live. To tell you the truth..." He returned my perplexed look with a steady unshakable gaze. "I didn't want to come back."

"Apparently I was one of the last soldiers to volunteer for this mission, they're terminating the operation. They were starting to clear out the lab as I was being discharged." He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small folded envelope. "Come here," he urged. As I reached his side, he carefully opened the envelope to reveal a single tiny square of purple paper. "Here," he held it out to me, "I brought you home a souvenir."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

if the bottle weren't empty

half asleep. half awake
- Wallscenery Demos

It's been raining here for days. Lo-fi weather.

A prolonged grey soak is actually the perfect condition under which to really immerse your senses in Wallscenery Demos' newly released third album half asleep. half awake. Conjuring up images of the Jesus and Mary Chain on an unusually reflective day, the album wallows in introverted shoe-gaze splendor.

The opening track, gotta watch out for a year, is a beautifully subdued number, vocals just verging on decipherable, which builds into a satisfyingly fuzzy anthem. I could easily find myself hitting repeat on this one, and staying lost in the fuzz. Happily the fuzzy lo-fi goodness continues on the title track which follows and indeed comprises the underlying sensibility of the entire album, although a couple of the tracks, most notably 14 and falling and wrote, do look up from their shoes a bit and substitute vocal clarity and strumminess for the mumbles and fuzz that predominates. I found these two tracks to be the least compelling.

Halfway through the album, the strangely mesmerizing money lebowski offers up a wild card. A sampling of sound bites from The Big Lebowski, interspersed with what sounds like a 1960's cautionary lecture on alcohol, are set against some lazy beats and pretty picking. This is no mere interstitial oddity, rather it operates to change the direction of the album.

The bottom half of half asleep. half awake is distinctly more experimental. The instrumentation becomes less lo-fi and more intricate, the satisfyingly vocal fuzz is not only maintained, but become further obscured. The drum beat, although never shaking its laziness, becomes more insistent on rest my mind.

By the time half asleep theme song/ plays, I find myself surrendering all attempts to discern lyrics, instead losing myself in the flow of the sound. The Jesus and Mary Chain are stepping aside, giving up the stage instead to Portishead in a pensive mood. On the album's final track, the club is open, vocals are abandoned entirely in favour of a nicely reverberating jangle of beats and swells of sound.

half asleep. half awake is definitely not a road trip album. It is, however, a satisfyingly introspective recording that draws you in and encourages you to wallow in the mood.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Saturday, May 21, 2011

home for a rest

At the information session I attended at Cantos Music Foundation yesterday (free lunch!), I learned the details of the plans that are underway for the establishment of a National Music Centre on site in the historic King Edward Hotel.

The King Eddy, a once vibrant home of the blues in this town and former haunt of longtime premier Ralph Klein, has been boarded up for a couple of years now. Located on the east end of downtown, the King Eddy is one of the far too many boarded up buildings in the area, giving those few blocks a strangely neglected feel. Just a few blocks removed from the glass and steel towers and the trendy restaurants and shops of downtown proper, the area that is destined to become the East Village feels a world removed from the prosperity a stone's throw away.

Incorporating the King Edward Hotel into the new National Music Centre will not only give a permanent home to the artifacts of Canada's musical history, but it will also breathe new life into the area. The National Music Centre will house, among other things, twelve artist in residence studios, recording studios, a 300 seat concert hall, a radio station, education spaces, and 21,500 square feet of gallery space. In addition to a restored King Eddy, the NMC will incorporate an east block, across the street and joined by a bridge that will feature indoor and outdoor installation space.

There will also be a rooftop patio.

It all adds up to a pretty sweet sounding deal, not only for Calgary, but for the whole country. Because our music needs a home.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

but the eyes, find the eyes

I have a strong hankering for a matinee.

Sometimes you just need to sit in a dark theatre in the middle of the afternoon, shortening your life expectancy with a bag of movie theatre popcorn. I realize how privileged I am to have this option, and believe me it is not a privilege that I take lightly. Not like driving or voting.

All the stars are aligning for a long overdue movie afternoon tomorrow. The Resident Offspring has the day off from her summer gig at Value Village where she has been retrieving unmatched stilettos from the sweat pants aisle, staring down unruly kids whose mothers have dumped them in the furniture section while they try on blouses in Housewares, and acting as de facto Keeper of the Washroom Key - a role that wields a great deal of power, as you can imagine. It's also supposed to rain.

Bridesmaids is in the cards, I think. Chick flick with fart jokes? Perhaps, but I am willing to find out.

What movie would you see if you were given the afternoon off,
with express orders to go to the movies?
What was the last movie you saw at a theatre?

Monday, May 16, 2011

offing and eating: two book reviews for the price of one

A Long Way Down - Nick Hornby

I am an unabashed fan of Nick Hornby's particular style of boy lit. The easy and comfortable way in which he melds pop culture references with glimpses into the psyche of the modern male are entertaining and entirely satisfying. Reading a Nick Hornby novel is the literary equivalent of an afternoon spent at the movies, ruining your dinner with buttered popcorn and contraband Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. In an entirely good way, of course.

A Long Way Down is in no danger of becoming my favourite Nick Hornby book, but it's still a very fun read. The tale revolves around Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ, four strangers who encounter each other on a roof top in London on New Year's Eve, each intent on flinging themselves off the roof. They end up agreeing to postpone their suicide plans until Valentine's Day and, despite not having any real affinity for one another, form a club of sorts. A club of misfits, bound together only by the inability to off themselves properly.

The story is told in the first person, with each of the characters taking turns relating their versions of ensuing events. It is here that I encounter the only problem with the book. The narrator will sometimes speak directly to the reader, critiquing their own telling of the story, in the manner of you may not like how I am telling you this, but that's too bad, it's my story sort of approach. I found that approach detracted from the story, and actually erected a barrier between narrator and reader, which I am sure was not Hornby's intent.

But despite that quibble, A Long Way Down is an entertaining book and an enjoyable read. It may not be the pop culture classic that High Fidelity has become or the male psyche discourse that About A Boy can claim to be, but it is a ripping good yarn and I would certainly sneak some chocolates into a matinee to watch a film adaptation, should one ever be made.

Liquor - Poppy Z. Brite

This book was a gift from the Mutford family, a souvenir from their recent trip to New Orleans. As John explains it, they picked out this book for me, not because they had read it themselves, but because I had earlier expressed an interest in the author's evocative name and personal history (a transgendered gay man married to a New Orleans chef). That's as good a way to pique someone's interest in reading as I can think of.

Liquor is the story of Rickey and G-Man, life-long friends, long-time lovers, who both labour as line chefs in the trenches of New Orleans restaurants. Tired of periodically losing their jobs, of being under-appreciated by a series of sketchy bosses, they hit upon a brilliant idea for a restaurant - a high-end dining establishment in which every single dish is based around liquor.

With no money of their own, Rickey and G-Man attract the attention and ultimately the backing of a celebrity chef, resulting in a some old enemies emerging from the shadows to wreak revenge upon the couple, as they struggle to open their restaurant in a very competitive food scene. Murder and intrigue ensue.

Liquor is a fast-paced, funny novel that verges at times on food porn in its intricate depictions of culinary experiments. It's clear that Poppy Z. Brite has a great deal of affection and understanding of New Orlean's ever evolving restaurant culture. I was particularly intrigued by descriptions of life behind the scenes in the kitchens of high-end restaurants, and I finished the book feeling that, not only had I been entertained by a high-energy tale of intrigue, but that I had learned something about an industry with which I had previously only had familiarity with as a clueless consumer.

Frankly, I would kill for some of Rickey's cognac cheese straws right now.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

vernal shift

With the earth tilting its axis increasingly toward the sun, the entire northern hemisphere cranes its face toward the sky and laughs. I am feeling this spring more than I ever have. Or perhaps it was just the winter that I felt more than usual. All I know is that I have finally crawled out of this self-imposed hibernaculum.

I love how the quality of light shifts with the change of seasons. No longer does the stark winter sun hover endlessly on the horizon, a giant glare at the end of the road. Spring light is subtle; shadows stay long later into the evening, earlier into the morning.

The birds feel it too. Their endless morning chatter wakes me around 5:30 these days, soon it will be 4:00. 5:30 is not a bad time to contemplate an early morning walk along the ridge, watching the sun strike the snow-capped peaks in the distance. It never gets past the contemplation stage, though. Several hours of coffee need to be savoured first.

Later in the day, I will throw open all the doors and windows. I love having nothing but a wooden screen door between me and the world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

the return of Lake Agassiz

That's too much water.

This photo was taken recently in Brandon MB, near the banks of the overflowing Assiniboine River. I heard tonight that the sandbanks surrounding the city are holding back a wall of water that is twelve feet higher than the adjacent roadway.

It was a cold winter on the prairies, no question, but not quite enough to produce a post-glacial lake. It has been 13,000 years since Lake Agassiz covered the area; we're in no rush to see its return.

The whole situation is rife with superlatives and extreme measures. The biggest flood in over three hundred years, over a thousand roads closed in the province, the planned breach of a dike resulting in the sacrifice of many to save many more. I would not want to be the one making the sorts of decisions that are required to deal with this flood.

It's another world around here, two provinces over.

For the first time this year, temperatures have breached the 20C mark. I bared my feet and slipped on sandals. And then I crawled out of the winter hibernaculum and raked lawns, swept a winter's worth of grit and spruce needles out of the garage, turned the outdoor tap back on and attached the hose; it's as leaky as it ever was.

The patio furniture is now in place, the big patio umbrella awaits the call for summer drinks and shady havens.

I can't help but feel a little guilty, and a lot blessed.

Monday, May 09, 2011

gold stars all around

She became pretty distressed as we plopped her into the cat carrier, and she vocalized loudly all the way to the vet's and until she was let out of her carrier in the vet's examining room. In fact she was so loud while she was being weighed at the front desk that the woman who was waiting for her dog started to mock her, echoing the SRK's every meow.

I was ready to clock her up the side of the head. The mocking woman, that is, not my poor brave Slightly Retarded Kitty.

But even though she was obviously distressed by her visit to the vet and even though she likely thought that, for some reason, we were going to abandon her at the the humane society, the SRK never once lost her good nature.

The vet, who well remembered Sputnik - the SRK's predecessor - and the extreme protection measures (chain mail gloves, thick blankets) that were required to protect the veterinarian staff from Sputnik's rage, was delighted. With a wide smile and while rubbing her hand fondly over the SRK's thick glossy coat, she declared the Slightly Retarded Kitty to have received an A+ in her examination.

She's put a little bit of girth onto her womanly belly over the winter, but I think a switch to some less calorically dense food and a little more outside time, she will be squeezing back into her bikini before summer.

I wish my own annual examinations were that rewarding.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

in Jane's shoes

I am so chuffed at the multitude of Jane's Walks to choose from this weekend in Calgary. We've picked a walk through the Mission/Cliff Bungalow area of the city. Mere minutes from downtown, it is, and one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the city.

It also seems to be one of the most economically diverse neighbourhoods - modest apartment buildings rubbing shoulders with riverside condos, well-preserved heritage homes nestling amongst quaintly-painted wartime houses. There are shops and cafes aplenty and a river park. Many dogs live in the area. I could certainly live there.

It is heartening, though, to see the Jane's Walks extend their reach beyond the obviously walkable and livable inner city communities this year, to be offered in one of the far-flung suburbs and in an established rail corridor community. While it is important to celebrate the livability and sustainability of the older inner city neighbourhoods, it's equally important to walk the less walkable. By walking the neighbourhoods that are dominated by cul-de-sacs and traffic corridors, we can start to determine how to make these places more humane, more livable, less vehicle dependent.

Maybe I should offer to host a Jane's Walk in my neighbourhood next year.

How walkable is your neighbourhood?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: sanctum sanctorum

Prompt: any phrase under the "S" heading of the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable becomes the title
Genre: any
Word Count: 1000 words


The scent of lavender greeted her as she cautiously opened the door. It wasn't an over-powering scent, the way lavender often is. In fact you could hardly call it a scent at all. It was more of a suggestion, the lingering ghost of her grandmother's fragrance, which clung to the chintz drapes and to the doilies placed so fastidiously on the slightly frayed armchairs.

Into each of the lower drawers of the ornate china cabinet that dominated the parlour, her grandmother had always tucked a bar of handmade lavender soap. It kept her collection of table linens, family heirlooms handed down from generation to generation, free of the moths and other vermin that plagued the house. These will be yours eventually, she always reminded Diane, whenever she chided the young girl on her haphazard towel folding techniques, you'd best learn how to care for them properly.

In front of the china cabinet, three overstuffed armchairs faced each other at precise angles around a mahogany table, whose dark surface had been buffed to a deep glow. Layers of wax, applied diligently over the decades, reflected the room back at Diane, the dainty flowered wallpaper, the portraits of dead ancestors anchored in heavy gilt frames.

It was at this table that Esther Lawrence had held court, the overstuffed chairs with their fussy doilies serving as thrones for neighbourhood royalty. It was at this table, under the watchful and judgmental eye of Grandmother Lawrence, that the restless grandchildren were coached in etiquette, pouring tea into delicate china cups, passing plates of sandwiches with crusts cut off.

How ironic, thought Diane, that she had once detested those sandwiches, those pretentious fingers of soft bread with watercress filling, the way they were arranged just so upon the tiered silver platter. She and Rob would take great glee in kicking one another under the table, at making faces at one another across the tea cozy. Tormenting one another, hoping to bring down Grandmother's wrath upon the other person was the only joy they could salvage out of those dreary Sunday afternoons when they had been summoned to Grandmother Lawrence's parlour. What Diane wouldn't give for one of those boring sandwiches right now, what she wouldn't give to see Rob alive again.

Her stomach rumbled at the memory of those high teas. It had been three days since she had eaten anything more than the granola bar and the apples that she had stuffed into her pockets as she fled. It had taken her three days to traverse the devastated city, three days of picking her way cautiously through deserted streets, giving a wide berth to the ravaged corpses that littered the sidewalks. She hadn't dared to enter any of the looted stores she had passed. They were in there, waiting, hungrier than she was.

She wasn't sure what she was going to find at Grandmother Lawrence's house, but it was the only place she could think to go. It had solid doors and heavy wooden shutters on the windows. It had a root cellar filled with preserves below the basement stairs, locked, but she knew where the key was.

She longed to collapse into one of the armchairs, if only for a few minutes, to rub her aching and blistered feet, but she knew she had to refrain from such luxuries. It was best to find her way down to the root cellar now, while there was still some light on the horizon.

Diane crossed over to the china cabinet that presided over the room, and crouched down, her thigh muscles shrieking in protest. She pulled open the bottom drawer and rummaged under the stack of neatly folded table linens for the root cellar key that she knew she would find there. Clasping the old-fashioned skeleton key in her hand, she painfully started to straighten up, then reconsidered and bent down once again to pull one of her Grandmother's lavender-scented tablecloths from the drawer. She could carry more if she used the table cloth as a rucksack. The more jars of pickles and jams that she was able to bring back with her to the parlour, the longer she would be able to barricade herself inside its flowered walls, against the hordes of undead that she knew would eventually descend upon the house.

The lavender scent of the tablecloth, which once - a lifetime ago - she had dismissed as fussy and stifling, would now be a godsend. She would press the linen against her nose as she stepped past the corpses that moldered in the kitchen. And she would not look down.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

I go forward, you go backwards

It's no wonder I feel as though my circle of like-minded souls in this city is very small. Add to the despair of last night's election results the fact that over 70% of the city voted conservative and I feel as though a handful of us are huddled on a small island, surrounded by hungry and very heartless sharks.

I need to insulate myself with music today.

Fortunately the full lineup for the Calgary Folk Festival is now public knowledge, and there is much joy in that list. Lightning Dust, Patrick Watson, the Head and the Heart, BRAIDS, the Felice Brothers, Bonnie Prince Billy, Cadence Weapon, Dark Dark Dark, Nanci Griffith, Imaginary Cities, k.d. lang, Joseph Arthur, Geoff Berner, etc. Prince's Island is going to sound pretty sweet this July.

A month earlier, and trading in the grass for pavement, Sled Island Festival promises to return to the indie awesomeness with which it began a few years ago, and which has been rather lacking the past couple of years. But with a lineup that includes the Raveonettes, Buzzcocks, Of Montreal, Lee Ranaldo, Zola Jesus, Kurt Vile, Blonde Redhead, Dum Dum Girls, Justin Townes Earle, An Horse, Chad VanGaalen, Hunx and his Punx, and with the full lineup to be released later today, there is going to be a lot of love downtown this June.

Of course with the kitten eaters now holding a majority parliament in this country, the Arts are not exactly going to be celebrated on an official level, I don't care how many Beatles songs Stephen Harper can play on the piano, nor how tight he is with the members of Nickelback. So as usual, it will be up to artists and musicians to use increasingly creative ways to scrabble for funding. Like using Kickstarter, the platform for funding creativity, for example.

I love the heights of creativity that I see demonstrated on Kickstarter. I received news from the good folks at Boca Chica that their recent Kickstarter campaign included the chance to commission a song of one's choice. The winner asked them to write a song about him nearly dying of malaria in Mali. For Jacob With Malaria, it's suitably called, and you can listen to the pleasingly fanciful track here.

Tis a rather suiting soundtrack for the day.