Wednesday, May 30, 2012

OFKAR, the early years

Her perfectly round, perfectly bald head was a great source of wonder and comment amongst the friends and neighbours.  One couple, who were not fond of children, told us that she was the only child they had ever allowed in their house, because she was cool and because she had the roundest head they had ever seen.  Fortunately the pumpkin eventually morphed into a normal shape, or the OFKAR could very well have spent her life being mistaken for Karl Pilkington.

Fortunately her mother quickly learned to make much cooler birthday cakes.  Losing the eighties hair took considerably longer.  Ditto for her dad's seventies porn stache.

Always a water-baby.  Even for naps.

Checking out Oma and Opa's stereo, perfecting the judgmental look of a future East Van bike hipster. 


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

here's the thing, or three

I started volunteering on a regular basis when the OFKAR began junior kindergarten.  It was the standard mom-gig, helping out in the classroom and the school library.  I wasn't all that interested in being part of the inner sanctum of the school hierarchy, to be honest, but it was something I did for the OFKAR and her classmates.  

Once I was no longer needed at the school (because what junior high kid wants their mom hanging around), my volunteering lessened to occasional things like canvassing.  Eventually, though, I found myself saying yes more and more often, especially once I began working freelance.  Turns out that everybody wants someone who can do some pro bono writing for them.  And frankly I would rather write than go door to door asking for money.  The organizations were more in line with my interests, as well.  The arts were calling.

And a funny thing happened as I become more involved with my community.  I became more passionate about my community.  Calgary may have a million plus people, but the arts community is tight-knit, incestuous almost, with many over-lapping circles.

A while back, our mayor launched a civic engagement initiative - Three Things for Calgary - in which you decide on three things that you want to do for your community, do those three things, and then encourage three more people to do the same.  Simple concept, but deciding (especially for a Libra) was surprisingly difficult.

But decide I have!  My Three Things for Calgary will be:

1.  Become more involved with the Calgary Drop-In Centre - I have huge admiration for the selfless work the people there are doing to address homelessness in our city.  Although I have written some short articles about the DI for one of my clients, I want to do more to make sure that the voices at the DI are heard.

2.  Volunteer with WordFest - I've been asked to become a coordinator and am planning to accept. I'm already a coordinator with the Folk Festival, so I have some idea of what I am getting myself into.  Don't I?

3.  Participate in the Calgary 20 Minute Makeover - this is an easy one that I just signed up for - spend 20 minutes cleaning up an area in your community, take pix and such.  My back lane could sure use a makeover!

And now that it's out there, there is no turning back.  Now, three of you get out there and do something!

Friday, May 25, 2012

cook you something that you'll really love

It's a working weekend, the polar opposite of last weekend when family descended from across the great gap and down the trail.  So instead of eating and talking and eating and IKEAing and eating, I'll be raking in the shekels.  Two shifts at National Music Centre and putting the final push on a project for East Village will keep me out of trouble and at a safe distance from the fridge.

The OFKAR will also be working this weekend.  Papers and midterms are compressed during summer session, so trips to the beach will be on hold.  We can commiserate together.

Getting to work on Sunday will be interesting, as I have to be downtown after the Calgary Marathon has started.  Scads of roads will be closed, so I am not entirely sure how to get there from here.  Perhaps a personalized gyrocopter.  Better yet, a jetpack.

Have you ever been stranded by a marathon or a parade?  Tell me about it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

two lads writing

 Nick Hornby and Karl Pilkington are two very different writers.  One's a zeitgeist-capturing novelist; the other is a hapless whipping boy for Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.  Both, however, are very funny Brits, and the authors of the last two books I read.  And that, my friends, is enough of an excuse for me to cover them in a single review. 

How to Be Good - Nick Hornby 

Nick Hornby is my comfort food author.  I mean that in a good way.  His novels are immediately accessible and imminently readable, and yet, they contain rather profound insights about human behaviour and motivation. 

How to Be Good deals with the unraveling marriage of Katie (a physician) and David (a writer who pens a column, The Angriest Man in Holloway).  When the spiritual healer DJ GoodNews enters their lives, David loses his anger and tries to make amends for past wrongs that he and the world have committed.  The results are troublesome.  And hilarious.  

I had an odd experience while reading this book, a feeling that I had read parts of it previously.  It was rather discombobulating, and I thought that perhaps I was becoming physic, until I realized that I had likely read a preview somewhere.  It did not affect my enjoyment of the novel.  

Hornby is well-known for his ability to capture the psyche of the modern male, so it was interesting to see him use a female protagonist in this How to Be Good.  He does an credible job of speaking from the female voice as well.

Highly enjoyable!

Happyslapped by a Jellyfish - the words of Karl Pilkington

Poor Karl.  Things never quite seem to work out for him, whether he is going round to his mam and dad's for bank holiday, or being dragged on vacation by his girlfriend Suzanne.  He knows no good can come of these endeavours, and he is right.

Karl may be the most reluctant and pessimistic of travellers, but his pessimism is surprisingly insightful.  Happyslapped by a Jellyfish is touted as a travel book for people who don't particularly like traveling.  Karl Pilkington is the patron saint of that demographic.

This is a very short book - 200 pages of large font, interspersed with cartoons, diary entries, poems and photographs from Karl's ill-fated vacations.  Over far too soon, this book was.

You must read this!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

got a feeling my mind's in the sky

We have a winner!  Three winners, actually.

The lucky recipients of the Jack White Blunderbuss album give-away sponsored by With A Bullet, were chosen randomly from the big black sorting hat over the weekend.  The winners of the album are:

John - CD 
Kathy - CD
Sean - vinyl

Congratulations, folks!  I will be getting in touch shortly to arrange shipment of your prizes.

Thank you to everyone who entered. You all rock.  There were some spectacular menus submitted, some of them delicious, some of them whimsical, all of them imaginative.   

If you didn't have the luck of the draw on this contest, take heart.  More give-away contests are coming up shortly, so keep your ear to the ground, keep your pencil sharp.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

in the battle of man and machine

If the filter ever rips, we are hooped.

We've been using the same filter in the canister of our central vac for the past two years, as they no longer make filters for our model.  The canister also cannot be removed from the wall for emptying anymore, so cleaning it out involves removing the filter very cautiously, shaking the dust off it, and then reaching into the canister with your hand to remove all the crap you vacuumed up last time.

This is the only central vacuum that I have any experience with, it having come with the house, and I have never liked it.  There is only one outlet for the hose and consequently that hose does not reach all the way into the upstairs en-suite bathroom.  Which, stupidly, happens to be carpeted.  Plus, when vacuuming carpets, you have to stop every five passes and pick all the hair/dust off the vacuum head and feed it into the hose manually because the vacuum cleaner doesn't have adequate suction to pick up hair by itself.  I guess it's no wonder it takes two hours to vacuum the house.

Losingest.  Vacuum cleaner.  Ever.
We tried buying a small vacuum cleaner a few years ago, but the motor burned out.  Evidently vacuum cleaners hate us as much as we hate them.

I cannot wait to rip out these nasty gross carpets and replace them with something that is not carpet.  I don't care what.  I would prefer dirt floors, to be honest.

Do you have an appliance that continually defeats you?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

libraries I have known

I am immersed in books these days.  It's charity book sale season around these parts, and I just finished my stints with the CBC / Calgary Reads book sale, my first go at actually attending the event.  I've been doing communications for the sale for the past three years, but this is the first year I have been in situ for the sale itself.  

There are no excuses left when you no longer have to help your Offspring move home for the summer.

Being surrounded by all those books, and the fact that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Public Library, has got me thinking about all the libraries that have passed through my life. 

The first library I remember was an empty classroom across the hall from my new Grade One class.  When the mean old teacher left abruptly about a month into the school year (I have no idea if she died or just jumped ship), our class was divided amongst the two remaining Grade One teachers and our old classroom turned into a library.  If I recall correctly, it was even open after school let out for the day.  Even back then I remember thinking it was a pretty sweet deal.

We then moved to Regina, and the library I used there was a bus that came around every two weeks, parking in front of the strip mall with the confectionery. There weren't a tonne of books available in the book mobile, and by Grade Two I was a pretty greedy little reader, so I went through the kids' section pretty quickly.  I still recall the day that the librarian let me check out The Yearling, although she did subject me to a brief psychological exam beforehand.  Evidently I passed, although I am sure I didn't understand half of the book.  At least she didn't tell me that the deer dies.

In graduate school, I spent a fair bit of time in the ramshackle stacks of the old Agriculture library, doing literature searches for my thesis in musty old bound journals, ordering obscure journals through interlibrary loan, and filling out endless reprint requests on little slips of paper.  The late 80s seem so archaic now, don't they?  Many trees died for my thesis.

We had the most amazing library in our neighbourhood in London, where the Offspring and I would spend countless hours when she was a toddler.  It was a 15 minute stroller walk from our house, down leafy streets of red brick houses with big front porches.  The library wasn't large, but it was a new mom's paradise, with a kid's area complete with puppet theatres and puzzles and story hours.  The sidewalk out front was always crammed with strollers.  Fortunately this was in the day before Hummer strollers, which kept the parking rage to a minimum.

I remember the first trip the Offspring and I made to the nearest library after moving to Calgary (a 10 minute car ride replacing the leisurely stroller walk).  I had been talking up how great this big new library was going to be, how much fun we were going to have in this new city.  We followed the arrows up the stairs to the kids' section on the second floor, and as we approached, the Offspring ran excitedly toward it, expecting to find all manner of kids to play with, just like in London.  Instead, she stopped short, confronted with a wall of nothing but books, and turned to me accusingly. "Where's the play area?" she demanded.  No puppet theatre, no puzzles, no kids playing, nothing but books.

Despite that, the Offspring quickly became an even bigger fan of libraries than I am.  Many of her first solo C-train trips were to the downtown library, where she could shake off the taint of the suburbs, immerse herself in the anonymity of the city, and lose herself in books.  We still go to the library whenever she comes home for a visit.  Probably always will.

What are your favourite library memories? 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

black hat, white shoes, red all over

It's album giveaway time again, friends.

Our pals at With a Bullet have offered up some copies of Blunderbuss, Jack White's impressive debut solo album, to a few lucky blog visitors.  Unfortunately they can only open up the offer to Canadian residents, but if you are fortunate enough to live on the right side of the 49th parallel, don't miss this chance to get your Jack White freak on.  For free.

I have two CDs and one vinyl copy of Blunderbuss on offer.  All you have to do is tell me what you would feed Jack White for dinner, should he drop by your house.  Because eating those saltines is definitely not healthy for him.
Winners will be chosen by random draw from the big black sorting hat. Contest closes May 18, so you'll be free to get out there and enjoy your May Two-Fer weekend. Nobody wants homework over the long weekend, after all.

Need some inspiration?  Check out the video for the single Sixteen Saltines. And start cooking.

Monday, May 07, 2012

back here on earth

I would never want to work in a hospital.  The recent eight day bout of daily hospital visits has reinforced that conviction.  Sure, I was on my way to becoming best friends with the parking lot attendant, and the nursing staff were caring and compassionate, but all that standing around in clusters at nursing stations would drive me bonkers.  I won't even get into the most obvious drawback of the occupation, the dealing with bodily fluids of others aspect.

I realize that I used to be in the hospital on a near daily basis, back in my former life in stroke research, but I was really more of a tourist, making quick trips up to the boss' office or to meetings, being careful not to touch anything with bare hands. It's different when you are carrying a file folder.

Last week, I was at the hospital often enough to be able to choose a favourite nurse,  a slight man with an uncanny resemblance to Moby, only brown.  His gentleness and quiet thoughtfulness were enough to bring me to the verge of tears at times.  I'm grateful that there are people like him in the health care system.  Almost as grateful as I am to not be dealing with it on a daily basis any more.

A world removed from the basic struggles of hospital life is my latest contribution to BC Musician Magazine.  It's the summer festival issue, and in this short piece, I have speculated on the future of music festivals.  Space Fest, anyone?   

Friday, May 04, 2012

what's in a name?

Would Radiohead still sound as cool if they had kept their original name - On A Friday?  I have my doubts.  Sure the music could very well have sounded the same, but the expectations of this  band would have been completely different.  Instead of thinking that we were going to hear the deep thoughts of some savvy souls channeling a twisted Talking Heads sensibility, we might very well have expected to hear the whinging of middle school lads who didn't want to prepare for a maths exam.  Names are important.

With the Cantos Music Foundation making the switch to the National Music Centre, the opportunity is ripe to clarify the image, to present a fresh face to the music community and to Canadians in general.  Not that there was anything wrong with the name Cantos Music Foundation.  But it does conjure up a certain image that is perhaps not really in keeping with the reality of the organization. 

The Cantos part of the name gives the impression of a staid institution dedicated to classical endeavours, or perhaps the poetry of Ezra Pound.  The Foundation part of the name corroborates that impression. 

Of course anybody who has ever visited Cantos Music Foundation/National Music Centre knows that there is so much more.  Regular events like Blue Mondays, First Thursdays, Music@Noon, and public tours of that incredible collection are just some of the events that showcase what a dynamic institution this truly is. 

Such widely-ranging activities make for a very full slate.  All that fullness needs a more expansive name to contain all the parts.  A name like the National Music Centre.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Judge Judy and Executioner

It's a testament to their courage that the finalists in Sunday's Untapped Newcomers songwriting contest did as well as they did, with those judgmental mugs staring them down.  The charming mugs belong to my fellow judges who, like me were recruited by the Calgary Folk Festival to come out to the Ship & Anchor on Sunday to listen and to pronounce.  For the record, they are actually very nice people.

I know from personal experience that the live finals of the songwriting contest are a big draw.  After all, who wouldn't want to spend a Sunday afternoon, sipping a couple and listening to all that talent?  When the OFKAR tried to treat me to a Ship and Anchor brunch during one of the finals on Mothers' Day last year, it was standing room only when we arrived.  Since the need for eggs was stronger than the lust for music that day, and since we are both crap at eating eggs while standing, we headed down the street instead.  So on Sunday I was doubly glad to not only have the privilege of inflicting my opinion upon others, but to have a reserved booth with great sightlines from which to do so.
It was such a fun afternoon. Rock god and man-about-town Mike Watson kept things hopping between performances with banter, performances of his own, and periodic declarations of adoration for one of my fellow judges.  There's a prize in it for the first reader who correctly picks which judge. 

Meanwhile, his paramour and the voice of the Calgary Folk Festival, Johanna Schwartz,was kept busy with judge wrangling (we all had pretty demanding riders) and prize awarding. There were some rather sweet prizes too - cash, recording and performance opportunities, folk festival and boot camp tickets, and Ship & Anchor bar tabs.

In all, sixteen musicians performed that day, some of whom made us chuckle, some of whom wooed us, and many of whom had us boppin our heads.  And let me state, unequivocally, that the fact that two of the judges, including yours truly, are coworkers at National Music Centre with the second place winner had absolutely no bearing on the decisions.  As a matter of fact, I am a bit disappointed that I did not receive one bribe, although a tequila shooter was hinted at by RapX.  There is also no correlation between this and their winning Best Performance.  Just a lot of coincidences and many small circles.

Congratulations to the winners:
First place: Kevin Maimann - Pretty Things
Second place: Everett Rottingham - New Device 
Third place: Paige Leigh Tyson - Poplar Roots
Best Performance: RapX - Chuck Norris

Well done, Calgary Folk Festival and Ship & Anchor.  Call me any time you need some decisions made!