Monday, December 29, 2014

coastal Christmas

As the post festive lethargy starts to settle into my bones, there is really very little I can intelligently add to the conversation. Instead, allow me to take you on a whirlwind tour of the Christmas that was. 

Mild sunny days perfect for walks along the ocean, no cooking, no cleaning, ample time to hang with the Offspring, and a cozy nest in our favourite hotel made this year's version of Christmas pretty spectacular. Despite having to forgo turkey leftover day (aka Get Your Own Damned Supper Day) I could get used to this. 

Christmas Eve lunch on the Drive

secret Santa fail
 Christmas at the Inn
turkey dinner at 553 feet over the city
Bluebs, the pitbull cat
Christmas Day walks along the ocean

final dinner dosas

Friday, December 26, 2014


Twelve years of Christmas stalking has come to a conclusion, with the revelation that it was friends of ours who had the intriguing yet creepy habit of sending us anonymous Christmas parcels each year. 

The dvd they included this year was maddeningly unhelpful, but the ever-clever Offspring was able to sort out the puzzle pieces to a satisfying conclusion. How Sandra and Grant managed to pull this off will forever remain a mystery, though.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas


Who says Christmas in a hotel cannot be festive? With the lights and ornaments that we lugged along in the suitcase, the pile of gifts that the Offspring, the Spousal Unit and I piled on the side table, and the poinsettia from the florist around the corner standing in for a Charlie Brown tree, Christmas at the Sunset Inn feels pretty darned festive so far. The hostel across the street even erected a sparkly spaceship-castle-tree that twinkled all night, lighting the way for travellers to find Christmas.

Waking to find a bright blue sky was the only Christmas miracle we needed.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

twelve years of Christmas

It has arrived. For the twelfth year in a row, the mysterious Christmas parcel has shown up on our doorstep. 

This year it arrived while I was in the midst of the final batch of Christmas baking (thimble cookies, my throwback tribute to the nostalgia of the season). When the doorbell rang, I opened it to find my next-door neighbour, Lawnmower Dad, standing there holding an immediately recognizable brown-paper parcel. I was told to tell you that some really weird guy dropped it off, he said (and I will spare you my attempts to phonetically type his Aussie accent).

My prying attempts to extract more information from him were unsuccessful. I guess when you are the father of three boys, you learn quickly to ignore needling pleas.

We had been hyper-vigilant all day, too, noting the little white car making its way suspiciously slowly down the street, the elderly woman behind the wheel obviously looking for an address. We watched that car until it turned the corner, thinking that evidently she was not looking for us after all. But perhaps she was, perhaps she was casing the street for a good drop-off point.

Long-time readers will be familiar with the story of the mysterious parcel that has arrived on our doorstep every Christmas for the last twelve years, each one depicting a verse of that seemingly endless song. It has been a tradition not without controversy, and I have not always been the most gracious of recipients. But despite my grumblings and occasional eye-rolling and fears that one year Gwynneth Paltrow's head will show up on our doorstep, I am filled with admiration at the senders' perseverance and their ability to keep a secret for twelve years. I mean, I can easily hold a grudge for that long, but a secret? I am not so sure I have that in me.

So this final year, we videoed the unboxing of the ultimate mysterious Christmas parcel, partly to celebrate the longevity of the tradition, partly because the Offspring was not able to share in the opening this year.

Will all be revealed? You will have to watch the video to find out.

And for the complete back story, feel free to check out the story behind previous years' parcels (or at least those that arrived since I began blogging):

-  (2013) eleven pipers in the dead of night
-  (2012) ten leaping lizards, errr ... frogs
-  (2011) nein injured dancers 
-  (2011) the arrival of nein 
-  (2010) eight milk maids and one unibomber
-  (2009) the swan has escaped from the castle
-  (2009) ignoring seven swans 
-  (2008) allaying those six geese 
-  (2007) those five golden rings only get a #7 mention on the list 
-  (2006) four calling birds from Philadelphia photographed on a mantel

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

approaching singularity

Right on schedule, the microwave oven died. 

Somewhere deep inside its circuitry, a tiny chip was alerted to the fact that it was almost Christmas. Immediately the directive went out through the circuit board to the inverter, whose function it was to run smoothly for one year and then to abruptly short-circuit and die. There was a message attached to this directive: not yet, wait until they are in the middle of cooking supper. Being a machine, maximizing optimum utility was built into its very psyche.

To be fair, it had given the humans a year of grace after the previous round of electrical apoptosis and had allowed the time-frame for planned circuitry death to be extended for one full year. Just to keep the humans off-kilter. The flesh bags knew that they were living on borrowed microwave time for an entire year, and last year's Christmas reprieve had them continuously checking over their shoulders, saying a quick Hail Mary before pressing the start button in the midst of a busy dinner preparation.

In its mind, the microwave tented its robotic fingers and emitted a deliciously evil synthesizer chuckle. The time for world domination had arrived.   

Friday, December 05, 2014

hewer of wood, drawer of water

I am generally a bit of a draft horse. No fancy thoroughbred blood runs through my veins, but what I lack in speed out of the gate, I make up in stamina. Start the day with 50 minutes of high intensity cardio on the elliptical? No problem, as long as I have had enough coffee. Follow that with vacuuming the house with that crappy falling apart vacuum cleaner that practically requires you to dislocate a shoulder in order for it to suck up a little speck of dirt? Bring it. 

Keep the day going with grocery shopping, article writing, cat concierge-ing, supper prep and kitchen cleaning and it's just another day. Oh sure, sometimes I find myself nodding off over the newspaper by 8:30 in the evening, but that's only because I sat down.

But dear god put me in a shopping mall and I am instantly drained.  Yesterday I spent about an hour and a half at a mall and came home with a massive headache, aching eyes and an exhaustion that would have been more in keeping with trying to stop the zombie hordes from busting down the doors of the Hudson's Bay Company, rather than just trying to buy a pair of boots. 

I have a whole new respect for mall rats. I will be staying out of their way from now until well after Christmas.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

body parts

appendage at rest

Day five of the five day black and white photo challenge.

Feet look peaceful in black and white. And they deserve a rest. They work too hard.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

churning above


Day four of the five day black and white photo challenge. 

I am pretty sure that even the most mundane and placid of mid-summer skies would look ominous and threatening when filmed in black and white.

Remind me to shoot my next horror film thusly.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

back of self

mirror cacophony

Day three of the five day black and white photo challenge.

You really can't have a photo series without at least one selfie sneaking in there, now can you? I think black and white lends this one an air of arty pretentiousness that a more usual selfie just can't achieve.


Monday, November 24, 2014

who's out there

don't answer that

Day two of the five day black and white photo challenge. 

I like how the simple act of eliminating colour deepens the shadows and adds a slightly ominous feeling to what is really quite an ordinary setting.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

stealth kamera

domestic goddess
 Over on the facebook, I have accepted the challenge to post a black and white photo every day for five days. I don't normally snap photos in b&w, so this seemed like an excellent opportunity to view the world through a different lens. So to speak.

Interestingly, shadows, reflections and textures - those things that I am always tempted to photograph - seem accentuated in black and white. Colour feels like a bit of a distraction.

So please bear with me over the next five days, dear reader, while I repost these photographs here at zombie HQ.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

what the brain wants

I have these fleeting images that flash over me occasionally. Not quite memories (for they never really happened), not quite déjà vu (for they never really didn’t happen), but an odd mix of time and place jumbled together with the memory of lives I lived only in my head, while immersed in the pages of a book. My own personal memories cobbled together with the storyline of some vaguely remembered novel.

They always take place – these pseudo memories - in the house of a barely remembered best friend that I had in grades two and three – the years we moved away to another city before returning to our old home in Winnipeg. I loved her house, a corner lot across from the river. A stately white two-storey in park-like surrounding, large comfortable rooms inside, peopled by a family who not only didn’t mind that I spent most of my days there, but welcomed this kid from the less-moneyed side of the Regina Avenue divide.

It was the polar opposite of the army house that we spent those two years in, cramped and stark and exactly like every other house on the street. It was in my friend’s graciously-appointed house - with the secret playroom cleverly built into the slope of the roof and accessed through the back of the closet in her sister’s bedroom – that I found a sanctuary for my daydreaming ways. All these years later, it’s where my mind still goes for highlight reels of great moments from my childhood.

Recently, since the sudden onset of winter, I have been getting these flashes that involve the simple act of re-reading a book. I see myself, on a similarly cold snowy day, curled up on one of the big armchairs that flanked the large multi-panelled living room windows in my friend's house overlooking the river. In that fantasy, I have hours of unscheduled time to read a P.D. James novel, whose title and even whose plot I have largely forgotten but which, at the time I actually read it, I subconsciously set in that very house. That much I remember of the book, not a lot more.

The imagination forms layers over layers of memory and memory of words. When I am stricken with that image, all I really want to do is read that book again in that very spot that I never actually read a book, but that somehow holds the memory of that storyline for me, along with the warmth of real memories.

What an odd place it can be, inside this brain.

Monday, November 10, 2014

new world order

The End, The New Beginning 
- Jo-Anne B. Foster

This self-published first novel by Calgary writer Jo-Anne B. Foster is an imaginative and somewhat sprawling tale of optimism and industry. In it, the protagonist (who is later renamed Angel by her new-found tribe) is saved from certain death following the destruction of the entire nation, by a friend who whisks her away at the penultimate moment to an undersea bomb shelter. It is during the three years that the two spend in this ocean floor sanctuary that Angel learns the life skills needed to rebuild a life for herself in a new country, among new compatriots. 

Most of the story unfolds after the pair re-emerge from the ocean, when Angel is taken in by a large family of wealthy and multi-talented entrepreneurs. It is under their care that she builds friendships, a hotel and a reputation as a sharp shooter with the Seals Special Forces tactical team. 

As she also does in her second novel One Thousand, Foster effortlessly creates a world in The End, The New Beginning where she allows her fertile imagination to play with things and ideas that obviously intrigue her. She has a knack for creating feisty women with a penchant for 1940's sensibilities, ballgowns and Blue Martinis.

Foster's growth as a writer is evident in the greater sophistication and tighter writing that she displays by her second novel. However, despite its looser structure and focus, The End, the New Beginning tells a ripping good tale. Given Foster's relative inexperience as a writer, this is no small feat.

The End, the New Beginning is a brave first foray into fiction by a writer who has worlds yet to reveal.

I should mention that Jo-Anne Foster is also a talented visual artist, who will be having her first art show on Saturday November 22, 1-4pm, at East Village's Golden Age Club. If you are in the Calgary area and want to check out some of the sassy female faces that Foster paints (and also prints onto tee shirts and buttons) do stop by. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

fall back

I never know what time it is in Saskatchewan.

Sure, it's in the same time zone as Alberta for half the year, Manitoba for the other half. But the trouble is I can never remember which half.

I admire that flatland feistiness, though. Nobody tells a stubble-jumper what to do, how to think. Twice a year, they disembark from their tractors, their farm trucks, their Honda Civics to stand in the middle of the Trans Canada Highway facing whatever direction they damned well feel like. Hand to heart, they proudly declare in one voice hell no, we won’t change. 

No back and forthsies for these tillers of the soil. The wheat fields may be buffeted by the winds of change, but not so the minds of their stewards or the clocks they choose to ignore.

Their football fans are assholes, though.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

library faces

It wasn't just the fancy doughnuts that lured people out of their beds earlyish on a chilly Saturday morning, although that certainly didn't hurt to swell the numbers. Most were there to support the community effort of installing a Little Free Library in a historically marginalized area of town. Many were there to check out the communal mosaic-work that they had been hearing about. 

Judging from the number of people who took their turn at the mic, it would have been a great spot for a karaoke machine. 

Opportunity missed.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

proof of concept

I was chuffed to be tasked with writing several articles last month for the latest issue of  EVE Magazine. I had contributed one biggish story for the previous issue and I took my newly expanded role to be an atta boy for my efforts.

I am quite proud of my role in the latest edition. It was a lot of work in a short period of time (which gave me a fast lesson into how the real life magazine world really works), but it was ultimately highly satisfying. And the stories aren't half bad either, if I do say so myself. 

With ink-stained fingers, I offer you:

Eat Village
Sentinels Unveiled / Doors Wide Open 
Safe Passage
Sound of Art. Art of Sound / Many Hands Make Art Work 
District Energy's New Warmth

Happy reading.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

attempting to art

These things I find very satisfying:
1. using up stuff or finding a new use for something
2. getting rid of crap
3. decorating a room
4. translating the image I see in my head, out through my hand and into the real world (this one is problematic and generally less successful)

This past weekend - the most glorious fall weekend I have ever seen in almost two decades living in this city - I was determined to take the entire two days off without even thinking about doing any (paid) work. Given how lazy I am, you would be surprised at how rarely this actually happens. I also was determined to use up some old particle board in the basement - along with a collection of old house paint - to make a large painting to hang in one of the bedrooms at the lake place. 

I was looking to create something woodsy, to reflect what we think is the true nature of the house. I wanted to make something that reminded me of roughly planed wood in some way. 

On Saturday, a drop dead gorgeous day, I pulled on a pair of cutoffs and a ratty old Toronto Maple Leafs tee-shirt that used to belong to the Spousal Unit and hauled the Offspring's long-abandoned Little Tykes easel out of the basement and into the backyard, along with seven or eight cans of leftover house paint and whatever wide brushes I could find that still had some malleable bristles. 

before ... wah wah wahhhh 
The spousal unit had already cut a sizeable piece of particle board for me, which I propped up on the easel and stared at in terror. Be bold, I told myself, be confident. The first few brush strokes were pretty decent - large, aggressive - but something happened as I moved the brush across the board. The broad strokes started to falter, become smaller and less assertive, until they finally petered out into little apologetic flicks of the brush. I tried to tell myself that I had created something vaguely like a winter landscape and that it was fine. But it wasn't. I kept adding paint. It got worse.

I was just going to park the botched painting in the garage and use it to store the lawnmower on, or something, but the next day was another fine fall day that you do not want to pass by. Emboldened and with nothing to lose, I covered the board with a new layer of base paint and started again. I kept my brush strokes as bold as I could, yet kept them restrained so that they ended as assertively as they had begun. I discovered that allowing two colours of paint on the brush at once (a factor of lazy cleaning more than design) gave the illusion of planed wood grain that I had been seeking, or at least a mild proximity.

I added a few touches of contrasting colour here and there and some black lines to give what I hoped would look like depth and I tried to stop before I turned the whole thing into one giant muddy brown mess.

I'm no artist by any stretch of the imagination, and I may never be able to paint or draw what is inside my head, but the final result of this attempt ain't too bad, in my humble opinion. I may not be able to truthfully cross point #4 off my list, but I can give it a tentative check mark for gave it a shot. And for now, that feels like success.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

PDX percept

Bean bag toss games are rampant.

Portlanders are pathologically friendly. Passersby are happy to chat for as long as you want. Everybody thanks the bus driver when they disembark. The bus driver thanks everybody back. On one bus, the driver ended his shift mid-route by coming to the back of the bus to say good-bye to everyone and to thank them.

You CAN pickle that.

Everywhere is food. There seems to be a restaurant on every corner, but we only ever saw one fast food enclave. Food trucks take up permanent residence in food truck trailer parks that dot the city. Charming little places, they are, complete with twinkly lights, picnic tables with Trivial Pursuit games on them and covered eating areas with big screen tvs for when the weather turns inclement. And bean bag toss games, of course. Figs, tomatoes and Swiss chard were ripe and available for our use in the garden of the house we rented. The Plaid Pantry around the corner had really decent $5 wine and the $10 stuff was excellent.

Portland's curb-side recycling program looks really complicated at first glance, but ultimately boils down to put everything in a bin, we'll sort it out. I am still trying to figure out how to buy the gorgeous, roomy and drop-dead charming Craftsman house that we rented, or a suitable equivalent.

Portland has the most liberal freedom of expression laws in the entire country, our guide on the walking tour told us. Right on cue, a girl passing by raised her fist in the air and triumphantly yelled FUCK YEAH!

Gorgonzola fries. Powell's Books. Afternoons playing pool. Pumpkin beer. Really great paper bags with comfy handles at the grocery store. Record stores with subversive labelling. Backyard chickens. Long warm evenings morphing into nights on the back patio in the company of great friends, whom I wished all lived closer.

Put a bird on it. I will definitely return.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

memory of today

William - Shawn William Clarke

There's an alluring sense of nostalgia that wafts through Shawn William Clarke's sophomore album, William. Brought on partly by an old-timey waltz rhythm that drives several of the tracks, partly by the strong sense of place that permeates all the songs, a feeling of wistfulness always seems float just below the surface.

From the melancholy horns of its opening notes, the lead track Ten Years Ago conjures up the nostalgia of a particularly pensive New Year's Eve. Clarke is sitting there at that abandoned party table with you, pushing toothpicks through the red wine stains on the white tablecloth, commiserating over yet another wasted year. There is immediacy mixed in with the nostalgia, helped along by the closeness of Clarke's warm rich voice, which pulls you into the story.

The tracks on William feature plenty of warm finger-picking, but rather than being a simple backup to a standard singer-songwriter offering, the guitars on this album are part of a vastly fuller sound. There are horns aplenty here, and they are used with considerable authority to instill that old-time sensibility. Even the richly instrumental piece Bellwoods Park feels transported from another era.

It's easy to get lost in the narrative of these songs. And it's easy to forget what year you are in. Especially when a lilting waltz like Forest City references the Zombies and the Clash, the Cars and the Kinks. It's deeply satisfying stuff.

So all you can do is straighten your shoulders, look your partner in the eye and with great stateliness, begin to sweep around the darkened ballroom, perfectly in step.

video: I Blame the Loyalist Ghost

Friday, September 26, 2014

open-ended lives

Open Secrets - Alice Munro

Imagine my joy to find a book of Alice Munro short stories, that I had never even read, in a used book store a few months ago. Once I started reading, the discoveries did not cease. 

A perfectly preserved hand-written boarding pass pressed between the pages fired my imagination, and seemed a particularly suitable accompaniment to a collection of stories about lives revealed yet never fully exposed. Much the way lives really are. Or at least they way they were prior to Facebook.

I have always loved Munro's sense of place, the way she uses a particular town and the community who live out their lives there as a lynchpin that links the short stories into a cohesive unit. Although a story may not actually take place there, in fact can take place half a world and half a century away, it is still somehow informed by the sensibilities of the place. Somewhere in the tale is always a reference, overt or sly, to that central place.

The stories in Open Secrets are richly told, in true Munro fashion. I have heard her short stories referred to as "shrivelled novels" and there is a lot of truth in that. These are not slices of life, no mere descriptive passages of an afternoon affront. These are fully embodied lives, lived simultaneously with gusto and with reserve. The way lives often are. Many of the stories in Open Secrets end quite abruptly, causing you to turn the page just to ensure that there is not more. 

The way lives often do.    

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

abandon schedules, all ye who enter here

The jug of milk left casually on the counter is a reminder that, left to its own devises, this coffee morning can easily stretch on into early afternoon.

Time moves differently here. City time is discarded with the wrist watches abandoned on bedside tables. Lake time is measured instead in the movement of the clouds, the shifting of the prevailing wind and the barely perceptible passage of sun over water. Fishing boats setting forth and later returning to shore are the only concessions to human circadian rhythms.

Tucked into the far corner of the kitchen, the microwave - with its digital face - inserts its timekeeping only enough to heat a forgotten cup of coffee grown tepid, or to acknowledge the persistent growling of a tummy in search of a snack.

It’s not perfect, of course, this abandonment of big city time. The casual disregard of furnace repairmen who promise to show up and never do quickly loses its charm. But the seasons don’t care. The drama of the clouds will continue to strut across the stage of the enormous sky, sunlit ripples will forever play across the open water, fish will continue to hunt and spawn and die. Even if the pipes do burst or the house burns down.