Monday, March 31, 2014

no lamb, all lion

Never one of my favourite months, this March has been particularly brutal. Aside from a brief couple of days that actually exceeded seasonal temperatures, this March has been bookended by cold, ice and never-ending snow. No, not just bookended: the whole damn bookshelf is spilling over with winter. The lambs didn't even bother to show up.

March is also a month that is permanently coloured in loss. Thirteen years ago this month, the Spousal Unit and I both lost our fathers, a mere two and a half weeks apart. We had barely unpacked from a trip halfway across the country to lay his father to rest, when we were hauling our funeral clothes back out of the closet and into suitcases. We were getting good at eulogies, too good.

Today is the actual anniversary of my own father's death. We joked that he would have been exceedingly annoyed that he missed dying on April Fool's Day by one stinking day. He would have considered that to be the very height of humour.

I am more than ready to kick this month to the curb, if I could find it under those endless snowbanks, that is.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tippi Heddron Day

I should probably be terrified, but I am charmed. And more than a little awed.

You know the cautionary tales you've been hearing about how the North American swallow is disappearing? I'm pretty sure I know where they all went. They are alive and thriving and evidently vacationing at our lake place.  

When we trekked across the prairies to spend some time there a couple of summers ago, we discovered two swallows' nests tucked into the rafters of our deck roof. They are built of twigs and mud and the avian contractors had left a bit of a mess on the deck, bird contractors evidently being no different from their human cousins. I actually thought they were wasp nests at first and cheered the Spousal Unit's suggestion that we knock them down. But when we realized what they were, we figured nah, leave them be. Especially since the siding of the Manitoba place is made of a concrete-wood composite. If the owners of the bird dwellings tried to drill holes into our siding, like the woodpeckers who have been plaguing our house in Calgary have been doing for the past dozen years, they would just suffer massive headaches and considerable dental bills.

So the swallows nests stayed intact, and we enjoyed watching the aerial acrobatics of the little birds, as they swooped bat-like across the horizon.  

It was after we returned home that I first heard stories on the radio that the North American swallows were disappearing at an alarming rate. I cheered the handful of winged gymnasts living at the lake, wishing them well in repopulating their kind from the comforts of their lakefront homes.

Evidently they took my wishes to heart.

As we stood on the deck during the final trek that summer, unwinding from cross country drive and watching the sunset on the lake, we were thrilled to see six, no seven, no at least a dozen swallows darting and diving across the sky. So what if one of them flew in a straight trajectory at the Spousal Unit while he was peeing off the deck (what's lake life without taking a little not-suitable-for-city-living license)? No harm done. No doubt just playing chicken.

When I woke the next morning, I lay in bed watching swallows hover and freefall. They all seemed to be congregating outside my window, which faces not the lake, but the stand of trees and abandoned barn across the road. There seemed to be a few more than the dozen we had seen in the evening. Exponentially more, as it turns out. When I got up for a better look, I was stunned to see that there was not a spot to be had, not even for the skinniest swallow, on the hydro lines that stretch along the dirt road. I counted at least ninety swallows.

Time to make a movie, I think. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

the story of how the story came to be told

MaddAddam - Margaret Atwood

When I realized that I was about four-fifths of the way through MaddAddam, I got that little wave of sadness that you get when you realize that soon you will have to leave a world that you are not quite ready to leave. Until that point, I didn't even realize that I was as engrossed in the story as I actually was, to tell you the truth. So I slowed down, trying to stretch out the book for as long as I could. But it is hard to slow down when you are in the midst of a final battle for revenge led by intelligent pigs.

The world that Margaret Atwood has created in MaddAddam and in the two preceding books in the trilogy (Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood) is so fully realized, with every detail of genetic programming fleshed out, that takes a bit of time to adjust to the real world again. Atwood claims that all of the technologies that exist in this dystopian world either already exist or have the potential to. It is a chilling reminder of the consequences of playing God.

In MaddAddam, the survivors of a man-made plague that decimated the earth are eking out a living amidst a rapidly re-forresting earth. They have a nice little enclave, where they keep Mo'Hairs (a species originally engineered for growing replacement human hair) for their milk and, while gardening and foraging for the world's dwindling supplies, they offer protection against pigoons and Painballers to the Crakers (a bioengineered species of gentle vegan, mosquito-repellent semi-humans) who graze on kudzu and mate with glee. 

MaddAddam tells the story behind the stories of the earlier two books. There is the ongoing narrative, of daily life in the compound and of the larger concerns of attack from sadistic former prisoners. There is the evening story - full of ritual - that Toby, a former God's Gardener, tells the Crakers who hunger for tales of their creators and their own creation. And most intriguingly, there is the story that the hacker Zeb tells Toby, of his life in the time before the waterless flood, of his escape from a murderous depraved father and his religion of petroleum. For me, Zeb's stories were the strongest part of the book - rivetting and intense. I couldn't wait for these sections.

MaddAddam is not a perfect book. There were times when the voice used did not really work for me, particularly when Blackbeard, the young Craker, took on the mantle of Toby's voice. But generally, I was enthralled with this book and it made me want to re-read the previous two, just to get back into that world.   

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

know your local zombie

The Mutfords have picked a heckuva time to come to Alberta on spring break. Sure they have been having a blast skiing in the mountains, but they slide into Calgary today on the heels of political turmoil and bringing with them - so it is forecast - a late winter snow storm. As I recall, the last time everybody's favourite Yellowkife family was in town, they brought a wild late winter storm down upon us then as well. This can't be mere coincidence.

But even if we agree not to discuss politics or the weather when the Mutfords break bread with us tomorrow evening, I am confident that we will find plenty to talk about. After all, John now knows all about my issues with geography, thanks to my recent Canadian Book Challenge participant profile that he hosted on his long-running blog, The Book Mine Set. Do check it out, and discover for yourself just how many gut-wrenching (literally) attempts it took me to finally discover that I have a sensitivity to squid.

Guess what I will not be serving for dinner?

Friday, March 14, 2014

oatmeal friendly

I am more excited than I probably should be to never again burn my fingers on my bowl of oatmeal. But anyone who has ever snatched a steaming bowl from the microwave - only to be faced with the split second dilemma whether to let the blistering dish filled with molten lava smash onto the stove-top two feet below or risk forever losing their fingertips - knows of what I speak. The Bowl Buddy, made by the grandma of a work colleague, is absolutely ingenious. Evidently there is quite a black market for the simple but clever little mats spreading throughout the office towers of the Beltline. I'm not surprised - grandmas are smart. I'm glad I got in on the ground floor.

I was chuffed to have a short story of mine appear in the spring issue of Latent Image. A bit of a nasty brutish story, it is, but it somehow feels at home amongst the evocative and provocative images that the fledgling magazine excels in. Do check out Latent Image, read it as a download or, if you are so inclined, order a print copy for your coffee table. 
Also in the shameless self-promotion department, my byline has once again darkened today's Friday Showbiz section of the Calgary Sun. In this issue, I find out from the project manager just what makes the new National Music Centre building so special anyway. 

Grab a copy, YYC!


Sunday, March 09, 2014


Come melt season, I am my father's daughter. In the Offspring's castoff rubber boots and ratty hounds-tooth jacket, I take up the ice shovel.

A keen eye is required, and a strategic understanding of the ice-pavement-air-water interface. I chip where the ice-face has lifted imperceptibly from sidewalk. I scrape where the frost-sheath has fragmented into crystalline skin. I crack the loosening grip of the glacier's edge with one well-placed smack of the shovel after another. 

You have to know when the ice is ripe for destruction.

And when I start shaping carefully plotted trenches into the remaining snowbanks, noting sun angles and flow patterns, I know I am a product of my genes.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

wherever I lay my wrists

One of the sweetest perks of freelancing is that your office can be wherever you want it to be. Today I am looking out on a frozen vista from the dining room table.  Tomorrow I may head back to the green chair in the corner, provided it has not been transformed into a feline fortress. Someday, who knows, I may even use the actual office.

The SRK makes frequent hops up onto the dining room table slash desk today, to nibble on her cat grass and to encourage me to rub my face in the fresh greenery. Belly rubs are dispensed freely, vigourously and often.