Saturday, January 31, 2004

My Blotchy Visited States Map

create your own visited states map
or write about it on the open travel guide

Another map, this time of the United States. I've been on umpteen road trips through the States in my lifetime, many with my parents and brothers in our trusty Volkswagen campervan when I was growing up in Winnipeg, and -- thankfully -- many without them!! When I was young, most of the trips were for the purpose of visiting relatives in Michigan, Illinois, and Kentucky, but we did cover a lot of territory in the surrounding states. Counting the cousins, aunts, and uncles, it was a large-scale production for all of us to head to one place, but when you're a kid, all you have to worry about is coercing as many relatives as possible to buy you loot -- candy, souvenirs, clothing -- without them cottoning on just how many of them you've hit up.

When we moved to B.C. when I was 13, that campervan sadly took its last journey from Winnipeg and did not survive a rather spectacular highway accident near the Saskatchewan/Alberta border. (I was spared, but my younger brother ended up in Regina hospital for a month and my dad had stitches in his head.) You don't see those Volkswagens much anymore, but I have fond memories of that combi-van, as they call them in Oz, the ones with the pop-up top. I travelled with a Dutch guy and a Scottish guy from Melbourne to Sydney in one of those. I've been told you can drive that stretch in 12 hours, but we took two weeks. See, we kept having to stop because we'd have to keep refilling the little fridge with beer. Then we'd deplete our stock in a matter of hours and would be too drunk to drive, so we'd stop again... stories for another day...

In 1988, my dad bought this great '83 Volvo wagon and the five of us took a road trip to Southern California. We were older then, teenagers, and not having the space of the campervan made everyone squirrelly and the three of us in the back were constantly on the verge of maiming each other.

Something possessed my father to buy a Jeep Cherokee SUV some years back -- something evil I say -- and I acquired the Volvo wagon. I did a big favour for him, but I got the better end of the deal, I'm certain. Seven-odd years later, I still have the Volvo, having poured a fair amount of dosh into it after 2000 when its age started to show. My mechanics in Sechelt know it intimately, but say it's still a great vehicle and it's built like a tank. Two years ago I was coming home from L.A. and the plane was late arriving into Sea-Tac Airport, so I was caught in a snowstorm in the middle of the night near Bellingham, spinning out on black ice on the I-5 and crashing headlong into the steel highway girders. Amazingly, very little happened to the car, and nothing happened to me. The headlights remained intact, the hood was only slightly crumpled, although the grille was nowhere to be seen -- Idaho, maybe? ICBC covered it, and I made $50 out of the deal, since my deductible was $200, and the adjuster cut me a cheque for $250 for the cosmetic damage on the bumper (read: barely a scrape on the rubber). When the car's 20 years old, you're not about to send it off for something you can barely see. I got my money's worth out of that Volvo, though, taking it on road trips, camping, moving furniture, people, animals, you name it. I take it on forest service roads to go camping, which is why there are so many pock marks on the windshield. My friend Serg says it looks like someone tried to assassinate me.

The Volvo's also got another seat in the back that fits two people -- kids, ideally, or stunted-growth adults -- so it can legally take seven people, better than any SUV. Plus, it's got a turning circle that I have never seen on any other vehicle -- it can turn on a dime. OK, at the risk of sounding like a Volvo used car dealer, I would say it's the ultimate all-purpose vehicle. It's running fine, but I can't bear to part with it, even though I'm in the car co-op now and have a transit U-Pass. So I've assigned my brother as the principal driver as the car is better suited to their growing family in Surrey, not here in downtown Vancouver, where it sits in a parking stall for a week at a time.

Back to the U.S. road tripping -- I've seen a lot of the U.S., but I haven't included the states that I mainly just passed through to get to another state. I've rented cars, rented cars with other people, caught lifts with other travellers, taken the Volvo, but didn't hitchhike anywhere (only a bit in Canada, and *LOTS* in Australia and New Zealand). Also, I didn't do any driveaways -- the system where you sign up with a driveaway company and you take a vehicle from Point A to Point B -- as it was never convenient for me, but I know of lots of people who've used them. I never seem to have enough time off to take a leisurely drive, so I usually fly. What I would like to do is drive all the way across the country, all the way to the Atlantic provinces, but I would need a helluva long time for that trip.

The Granola King

Now, I'm often poking fun at Kits people -- the neighbours on the other side of the Burrard Street Bridge -- calling them granola (I'm really asking for it now), but I actually like granola, and this stuff is the absolutely the best I've ever had. I don't even put milk in it, I just eat it with a spoon. It's 80% organic, according to this article, and for the past few weeks I've been including it with my weekly order of organic fruit and veg that comes every Thursday. Until yesterday, I was ordering it in smaller bags so I wouldn't go overboard -- that's how addicted I am to the stuff -- but I broke down and got it a larger bag this time... that's like sending an alcoholic off on one of those booze cruises... save me from myself!!

Friday, January 30, 2004

New Year's Resolutions

We all make 'em. We all break 'em. It's nearly the end of January and -- surprise surprise -- 2004 is bearing a stinky resemblance to the undisciplined ways of 2003, at least here at The Balcony. I didn't make any resolutions this year, not just because it is perennially futile, but also because there's nothing more fun than a weekend of debauchery, say, and having all those resolutions go to pot in one fell swoop.

At some point over the holidays, I even considered making up some mock resolutions to be more uncouth, self-indulgent, and adopt a more devil-may-care attitude than in 2003:

** SWEAR MORE **... not that I'm self-censorious on my blog -- this is the way I talk normally -- but in a recent spate of nostalgia I cast my mind back to my Australia days in the early '90s, when I was swearing like a sailor, living communally on a campground, sharing a tent with this wacky French guy named Bruno (with the wildest dreadlocks and teeth that threatened to fall out of his mouth when he spoke his very limited Aussie slang bastardized English), laying around swimming pools and the beach all day to escape the heat and playing pool all night to win free beer. At that juncture in our relatively carefree lives Berit and Jez were picking tobacco in Mareeba during the week and would hitchike into Cairns on Saturdays to meet me and play volleyball so we could get a free BBQ... Those were the days!!! I would phone home occasionally, and after six months I had this bizarre broad northern Queensland accent and it was all I could do to spit out a sentence without danger of offending my parents. Not that swearing more today would evoke a magical nostalgia and miraculously draw me out of my current funk, but sometimes a little swearing goes a long way to making one feel better. In those days the phone calls home would usually end with either party hanging up angrily, so swearing became not only habitual but as natural as breathing. After 13 months in Australia, my speech was so deep in the gutter it was in danger of never seeing the light of day again. (Then I went to Scotland for two years... ha! ha! -- where it got even worse at one point.)

As far as the usual resolutions go, there are certain items that appear on every New Year's Resolutions list because self-improvement is drummed into us from birth (especially those of us who are the children of the '80s):

* exercise more
* eat more fruit and veg

--blah blah... -- for others, that might include 'watch less TV', 'read more', 'drink less', 'shop less', 'save more money,' what-have-you. However, these are behaviours that wouldn't necessarily impact our lives in a major way if we didn't follow them. We could just carry on as is. Then, there are the things that bear influence on work ethic and our ability to self-finance or advance ourselves vocationally:

* be more disciplined
* stop procrastinating
* put more effort and energy into work/school/etc.

Then there's the stuff that pertains specifically to me, and anyone who knows me will recognize my bad habits and tendency to self-neglect:

* go to bed earlier, get up earlier (or, go to bed at all!)
* don't be late for appointments of any kind
* spend less time on the computer and go out more (believe you me, this wasn't the case until I started working from home then going to uni)
* be a bit more girly, like maybe get my hair done professionally more than once per year
* look after my feet (when boyfriends lodge complaints, it's time to get out the pumice stone)

I mean, I pride myself on being low-maintenance, but sometimes I take things a bit too far...

So, here I am, tomorrow is the last day of January, and I am one day behind on my first assignment of the term. There's no REAL excuse for it. In fact, I was discussing this with a colleague today, how hard it seems to get my act together on a paper similar to one I wrote a year ago with perceptually less difficulty. Here I am, typing into my blog, NOT doing the paper. She suggested to me that I've got a case of the 3rd-year-unmotivated blues. I think she's right, but for different reasons -- it's not that I'm down on getting this degree, it's not that I don't think it's worth it, or that I'm even wondering what I'll do at the end of it... I've come to the conclusion that I'm still mentally burnt out from the end of 2003. I thought the Christmas break would cure me, would revitalize me, would give me a renewed sense of resolve. I was hoping it would recharge me, and I did show a glimmer of promise when I did cover some of the assigned reading a couple of weeks ago, but then -- POOF! -- it was gone, and I'm back in my bad old procrastinating ways. My brain just doesn't seem to want to co-operate. I procrastinated plenty before, but I always managed to get the assignments done ON TIME. I never handed in anything late, and by the marks I received, I kept the calibre of the writing consistently decent. But now...


Do I need to check myself into an ashram or something? Go to a spa? What?? (I'm not going to a spa, though, that's too far a leap into high-maintenance territory.) Maybe when I hit 40. Am I going through some kind of pre-mid-life-oh-no-I'm-past-30-crisis??

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Stephen Savage in Merry Ol' England

After a long hiatus, The Savage Files Journal has been updated. Looks like Steve has been busy renovating houses and staying out of mischief, although he couldn't help taking off his clothes to run through the mere dusting of snow they got in the south of England (unlike the big dump in the north), and giving the locals a fright... I can just hear the twittering going on in Bletchingley now:"Mary, Mary, take a look outside! There's a young man scooting about the neighbour's garden with work goggles and barely a stitch on!"

Sheesh, these Aussies, always wanting to show off! I posted this cheeky piece on his messageboard:

English Pasty (not to be confused with Cornish pasties! er, maybe yes!)
Posted on January 29, 2004 at 02:36:23 PM

Steve, do they make paint in that fleshtone you appear to be sporting nowadays? It's beyond white, it's incandescent. Put some of that in a tin and it will look brilliant next to 'bright jade'. Oh, I'm so cruel. But, in all seriousness, I'm loving the updates -- UHT milk and Portuguese sardines!! I will bring along whatever treats you want at Easter, a big pack o' finger plasters, and shout you some of that warm stuff the Poms call beer.

I arrive in London on Sunday evening, so the plan is for a catch-up with Steve -- a big boozy gab session -- before making my way to Wolverhampton on Monday for the bridesmaid dress fitting.

Time for Some Good News

About bloody time! I am finally the bearer of good news.

1) My mother was released from the hospital this afternoon, after two months in Surrey Memorial.
2) Cheryl's readings were normal today, and she will be released tomorrow afternoon from BC Women's Hospital, pending good results on another test.

By the way, the twins were named some time ago. Maribeth (aka Twin B on the ultrasounds) is smaller than her sister, Megan (Twin A). I know their middle names both start with J, in keeping with my brother's bizarre -- but consistently bizarre -- desire to have all his children's initials as MJE, but I can't recall at the moment what their middle names are.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

EasyPay Scare

A panicky end to a rather long day was courtesy of Shell's EasyPay tag. I stopped by a station to fill up before racing to BC Women's Hospital to take a bag to Cheryl that Allan had packed. It was nearly the end of visiting hours (10pm) and I had to return the co-op car by 10pm.

TAG NOT ON THE KEYCHAIN! Where the hell was the tag?? Did I give it to Allan? Did it fall off the keychain on Saturday when I was fumbling in the dark with the lockbox on the co-op car??

What to do first -- phone Shell/EasyPay and cancel it? Get gas? Phone Allan? Skip gas, go straight to hospital? I decided I might as well get gas since I was standing there parked beside a pump, and was quickly reminded why I use the tag in the first place -- I had to get out the credit card and the Airmiles card, swipe the damn things, get the cap off the tank, and make sure I didn't do anything stupid, like put the wallet on top of the car. It's so much quicker with the tag, and the wallet doesn't come out. After all that malarkey, the screen at the pump told me to go inside, anyway, for the receipt! While I was in there, I grabbed the EasyPay brochure to phone the number on the way to the hospital.

While speeding along Oak Street, I phoned the EasyPay number and tried to remember the last time I'd used the tag, trying not to imagine how many tanks of gas a person could buy in what could be WEEKS. The fuel is included in the use of the co-op car, so I could easily find out from the mileage logs, but with a sinking feeling I realized I hadn't filled up on the last few outings.

One thing they should do is make the tag look nondescript. According to the other Shell sites, like in The Netherlands, the fob is just gray. So if someone picked it up, they wouldn't necessarily know what to do with it. It would reduce fraudulent use.

Dialling, dialling, dialling, EasyPay answering service, 'Thank you for calling Easypay', blah blah blah, press 1, press 2, blah blah blah, office hours are -- OH CRAP!!! -- then... 'If you are reporting a lost or stolen tag, press 1'-- YES YES YES!

I got a live person while I was maneouvring past 12th and Oak, so I had just enough time to tell the operator what was going on, cancel the tag, and order another one before reaching the hospital at 29th. It was, in fact, very simple, unlike the brouhaha a year ago while I was sitting in Grand Central Station, NYC, trying to explain to the EasyPay operator that my tag was stolen along with my keys, which were stolen from my friend's car parked in an underground in Vancouver, and no I was not in Vancouver but New York, and no the person who called Shell to report it was neither in Vancouver or New York but in Calgary, since I didn't have the number and I had to reach someone who could look it up for me and give EasyPay instructions to call me in NYC to verify I was indeed the keytag owner!

[An aside: not five minutes after that phone call at Grand Central Station, my accountant called, very confused to be drowned out by announcements for trains to Poughkeepsie... he still tells me that's how he remembers me out of the scads of T-2200s he does taxes for, so that's probably a good thing.]

Anyway, this was a relatively simple phone call to EasyPay, and they report it was last recorded to have been used on Jan 16th, but it didn't include today's activities. So, unless someone picked it up and used it today, I was more or less convinced it was not being used to thieving ends, filling up getaway cars, stolen armoured trucks, or joyride vehicles. What a relief.

That's all I need after today, a day that started off far too early -- before 6am -- then wandering down an alley off Denman Street in the pre-dawn darkness, in the rain, peering at a piece of paper which was supposed to tell me where the co-op car was parked. It all looks so clandestine. I think this was my 6th co-op car, another Mazda Protegé, this time a teal 2001 model. (My favourite is still the Toyota Prius, even though it isn't as zippy on hills.) Most of the time I use the cars to go to the office, so I catch the first ferry -- 7:20 -- out of Horseshoe Bay. Which means when I use a new car I am running around the West End in the early morning darkness to find its location, trying not to appear shifty as I strain to look at parked cars and license plates and trying to make out the Co-operative Auto Network logo on the back of the car. When it's that early in the morning, I am not usually 100% awake -- yeah, a bit dangerous where driving is concerned -- and unless they're parked under streetlights or lit spaces, it's pretty hard to make out colours. There are, after all, 40,000 people living in the West End, and while not everyone has a car, there are still a lot of cars!! I wouldn't be surprised if one of these days I'm going to have a run-in with a police officer in a back alley as I mistake someone's sedan for a co-op car.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

A Bucketful of Boo

The prognosis for the twins, while not dire, is far from good. We await further word from BC Women's Hospital. Meanwhile, my father flies off to New York in the morning for his sister's funeral, and I'm behind on my first assignment of the term. All in all, not a good start to the week. Or the year.

So I thought I would post a photo of the twins' big sister Melissa (age 4 -- my brother's nickname for her is Sweet Baboo, from Charlie Brown), who is happily oblivious and wiling away the days in rural Maine with her doting grandparents and three aunts:

Bucketful of Boo. Posted by Hello

Monday, January 26, 2004

Hospitals and Funerals

My father's eldest sister, the matriarch of a very large family, died at the age of 84 (?) in upstate New York yesterday morning. Was considering going with my father to the funeral, but felt it best to stay put. My aunt had a series of strokes, the first one even before her husband passed away in 1995, and was never told that her son, daughter, and brother also passed away in the last few years. She managed to outlive them all. But her kidneys were failing, and in the end, which we knew was coming, her health gave way.

My Auntie Jane practically raised my father, being nearly 20 years older than he, and I think her firstborn came along even before my grandmother had my father. This was back in the day when bigger families were economies of scale -- that is, mass production brought good results at a lower cost. Big families also met the demand for labour. I've heard enough hardship stories from my father to last a lifetime, but in pre-war agricultural northern Philippines, how much did one really need? There was no television to remind you of what you could have, wear, eat, or otherwise covet from other people. Nobody even kept track of birth dates. My father only knows the season he was born in, because everything revolved around farming cycles, i.e. planting, harvesting, rainy seasons, and other agrarian concerns. So when it came time to produce a birth date for documents, he picked one he found scratched into the bottom of the house -- March 8. As good a date as any.

I was in upstate New York a year ago for a brief visit before getting back to Manhattan for New Year's Eve, and discussed with my cousin how she would live after her mother passes away. I'm hoping she takes another job and moves closer to Manhattan to get back to the life she had before she became her mother's caregiver. As admirable as she has been in this role, for so long, I recognize it's been a major sacrifice.

Then I heard from my brother this afternoon, who was with my sister-in-law for their regular testing at BC Women's Hospital today. The test results were not as positive as they should be, so now Cheryl is admitted full-time, and a caesarean is planned, the timing of which will be determined by further observation.

My mother is still in Surrey Memorial Hospital. Her WCB claim was denied, so ICBC had better cough up for her home care.

Hey! Do You Know What Time It Is?!?!

The phone rang at 5:45am. Perchance, I was awake and on the computer sending out a report, but by the time I got over to the mobile phone to check out the number, it went to voicemail.... ????

By the number, I knew it was from Germany. The last time I got a late-night call -- 2:30am -- it was from Crazy German Chicken (Iris), but it wasn't Iris this time, it wasn't the code for Hamburg. I didn't think it was Michael in Bavaria, either, since he often goes to the U.S. for work and deals with North American time zones on a regular basis. I was going through a mental list in my head of German friends while I was waiting for the voicemail to start playing, but I really should've known it was...

Crazy Berit! Nutter... the message was that she was going to the States and wanted to see if I could meet up. We did this before in San Diego, which turned into a bit of a palarva as Jez was immediately deported back to Germany from San Francisco (he'd overstayed his American visa 12 years before), and Berit had to work a trade show in Las Vegas with their son Vinny in tow, while nursing a broken leg in a recent and rather spectacular skiing accident. By the time she met me in San Diego, she had had enough of the States. What a trip... anyway...

I spoke to the nutter a little later this morning and she sheepishly told me she calculated the time from the East Coast, where she goes for business meetings, instead of West Coast time. Also, her meeting is in Orlando. Florida. It's about the furthest point away from me that she could be. That's the thing about Western Europe -- time zones and distances are a non-issue, unless you get shipped off to Russia or the Middle East for a business meeting. Here, on this big land mass in the New World, pathetic creatures like me who work from home in practically the last time zone on the planet have to contend with phones ringing at ungodly hours of the morning. In Canada we have bloody FIVE time zones. Count 'em, five. If I wasn't such a deep sleeper, who can snooze through registered seismic rumblings, I would never get any sleep at all. I've got my direct line (home) as part of my e-mail signature to our (200-odd) clients, and nearly all of them are based in the East, the financial centres: Toronto, Montreal, New York...

Not long after getting off the phone with Berit, to make arrangements to possibly meet in Spain instead, the phone rang again at 7:15am. It was a double-ring this time, the intercom. Sitting in my shorts and t-shirt, I wondered if I really wanted to know what this was about. Then I remembered the UPS slip stuck to the intercom with my apartment number on it on Friday. Then I fuzzily recalled getting buzzed on Saturday morning, too, then rolling over and going back to sleep. Curiosity got the better of me, so I picked up the phone.

"It's UPS. I have a package for you."
"You deliver this early????"
"Oh yes."
(grumble grumble)"OK, come up."

The UPS driver was much too good-looking. I mean, it's not as if UPS is at an advantage hiring attractive people to deliver their goods -- are they?? -- except maybe for regular customers who put in standing orders. (Or flirty receptionists who have some say in which courier to use.) Residential recipients like me have no idea who's bringing stuff unless I could be bothered to turn on the telly and scrutinize the CCTV image.

The UPS guy was holding a largish box stamped Thermopak and I realized it was a cooler. A market research company I get paid to provide consumer opinions for had sent me a product to try. He told me he was given instructions to deliver by 8:00am. Why, oh why??? Meanwhile, I was feeling rather self-conscious standing there in my flannel shorts making small talk with the very attractive UPS man, who has probably been awake for hours by then, while I was only half-awake. I was just happy to be able to write my signature on his screen without too much trouble. I made him laugh, too, so I couldn't have been that out of it.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Sex Education... in Vancouver and Amsterdam

Five of us went to the Everything to Do With Sex Show at the Vancouver Trade and Exhibition Centre earlier. I took a photo, but can't post it here as the friends would kill me -- we were checking out the vast array of vibrators on hand (pun intended).

My cousin gave me four tickets to the show last week. That was very thoughtful of her, although I had to laugh when it occurred to me that:

a) perhaps I was her only (or best?) candidate for actually using the tickets?
b) I was the only person she knew who knew three other people who would go, too?

Hardly, I thought afterwards, surely there would be other people in her social circles who would go to a sex exhibition?? Some friends I mentioned it to had to know more about it before they would consider going. I can understand that, but it wasn't like we were shuttling off for a stag at the infamous Number 5 Orange, or even Brandi's (the even more-famous site of Ben Affleck's alleged infidelities to his now-ex-fiancée, J.Lo). Even if that were the case, who cares?? Is prudishness replacing curiosity these days? (More on this in a mo'.)

We didn't go to the show until after dinner, around 10pm, and even two hours before it closed for the day we found the Exhibition Halls at the Trade & Convention Centre jam-packed. For all intents and purposes, it was like any other trade show, except for the X-rating. No sprogs running about. Demonstration videos were of devices that located G-spots instead of, say, GPS positions. Instead of filling out draw slips for home improvement gadgets, it was for reading material with titles such as Book of Dicks (I flipped through it -- amusing, not titillating).

My friends and I were definitely amused, and a wee bit enlightened as well. And no, not because of the beefy (in all places) exotic male dancer over by the show stage, or by the dizzying array of sex gadgets, peek-a-boo clothing, battery-powered devices for every imaginable orifice/s, and what-have-you. There, bobbing conspicuously alone in the sea of toys and lube and videos, was a Sexual Health booth manned by, well, a man. Who seemed only slightly discomfited by our questions of, "So, which is more effective, the diaphragm or the cervical cap?" or, "Can you show me how you insert the diaphragm into this plastic model?" I wonder if this guy was hired by the Ministry of Children and Families or he was just one of the workers in a muncipal outreach office who picked the short straw when they drew lots for the booth. What a way to spend a weekend, filling up the baskets of giveaway condoms and lube, fanning out pamphlets on planned parenthood, and trying to be serious and professional while flanked by hangers of bondage outfits and fur-lined thongs.

Here are some random snippets of our conversations:

"How can the Diving Dolphin have 'Device Not Waterproof' on it??"
"I like this one, it feels more like the real thing."
"Look! You can make your own dildo! It comes in a bucket, just like Play-Doh."
"A mini-vibrator disguised as lipstick (I think it was called Powder Room Fun or something like that)... the next time someone says she has to go powder her nose..." and "I'll never look at lipstick the same way again."
"How on earth do you wear this??" (I couldn't figure that out, myself, and I have a pretty good imagination)

When it came to the stage shows, it wasn't anything to write home about. I supposed I'm a bit spoiled for quality (ha ha!) after seeing a live sex show in Amsterdam. It was a real eye-opener, that. I was there with a couple of friends, a Brit and a German. It was just before Christmas 1997, my first time in The Netherlands, but both friends had been there lots before and persuaded me that no first-time visit to Amsterdam would be complete without seeing a bonafide sex show. How could I argue with that? I'd already seen the Sex Museum -- including the Back Room with the prominent disclaimer -- and that left absolutely zero to the imagination. (If it were not for my inability to get nauseous from visual displays, I would have lasted 5 seconds.) They bought tickets to Pink Elephant, which my friend assured me was more upscale and worth the money. It even included a free drink (a requirement, I suppose, or a necessary accompaniment, like crackers with brie or melon with prosciuttio).

What I did expect -- for the guilders we forked out, anyway -- was attractive and well-endowed performers. Details such as a revolving stage on a turntable so you had a 360-degree view. Cheesy sketches with nurses and everyday situations that inevitably led to the requisite clothes-shedding and subsequent shagging. What I didn't expect was how well-choreographed the whole thing was. It was ballet-like in its dynamics and the performers were agile and lithe, even the silly fella in the Batman costume. It would not be fair to attribute this opinion to one drink playing with my brain, either, I'm not that cheap a drunk.

What we didn't necessarily expect (and I have no idea why, since nearly all manner of shows have it) was the audience participation segment. You can imagine the horror when my German friend was dragged unceremoniously onstage along with nine other men to "play" with a lady dressed like Carmen Miranda. My Brit friend and I nearly collapsed with a fit of the giggles, we felt so badly for him. She lay down on the stage, plucked one of the bananas from the bunch she had on hand (she was, after all, Carmen Miranda), and inserted it lickety-split, her athletic legs splayed with complete control. Each of the participants had to take a bite out of the banana, which doesn't sound all that difficult until you imagine she was gyrating and writhing about the stage.

As each participant took a bite, we glanced over at my German friend, who was becoming increasingly more anxious as each poor sap before him -- with his hands tied behind his back -- had to dart to and fro, trying to chomp a piece of banana that was getting too short way too fast... Our eyes tearing, our guts aching, we couldn't take our eyes off our friend, who had the lucky position of being the 10th, and last, in line for the banana. It was every man for himself in this event, too -- each guy was more intent on nabbing that banana than taking small bites to leave enough for the next guy...

We did other things in Amsterdam, of course. My German friend and I continued what was becoming our habit of sneaking label beer glasses in our coats as souvenirs (although when we did this a year later in Germany, I felt a bit guilty and asked the pub worker, and he just gave them to me! I even had the cheek to ask for the gold-rimmed ones, and he fetched them from the dishwasher. I have those, still).

One night my Brit friend begged off the late night shenanigans, and my German friend and I carried on walking the streets near our hotel off the Amstel river in search of a pub that was still open. We zigzagged down the side streets, and eventually he spotted a little place called Cupido Bar, with thick velvet drapes covering the frontage. I said promptly, "it's a gay bar, are you sure you want to go?", to which my friend replied, "How do you know?" Geez, man, the fact that you can't see inside?? We went in. We'd already closed the gay clubs with the transvestite bartenders sporting giant purple bouffant hair, so we figured we'd just keep on going. It was that late, but somehow having tins of Heineken from the vending machine in our hotel lobby didn't hold the same appeal.

Well, it was like walking into the Old Saloon in the archetypal Western flick. We swung the door open, stepped in, and of course everyone in the tiny place -- mostly old, gay men -- stopped all their chatter and stared at us, as if to say "You ain't from around these parts, are ye?" We just ignored them, and tried to order a beer. The bartender just ignored us and kept serving everyone else. After everyone else was served, he took our money and gave us beer. We acted like we just didn't care. After all, it was a local place, and this wasn't our neighbourhood. We were like a couple of cheerleaders at a Star Trek convention. After being ignored so long, I wondered if anyone would notice me looking for a ladies' room. Was there even a ladies' room?? All eyes were on me as I ventured off to search for one, leaving my German friend to fend for himself. I did find a toilet, but there was no lock on the door. I had to go badly enough to ignore it, and when I returned, my friend told me that when I left, the old geezers were giving him the nudge-nudge-wink-wink, saying, "Hey, why don't you go join your girlfriend, there's no lock on the door." Then we witnessed something that told us it was time to ditch the draft in favour of our hotel vending machine: there was a lover's quarrel between a young black guy and his old geezer, who was convinced the young guy was diddling some other guy at the bar. Next thing we knew (the exchange was all in upper-decibel Dutch, so we didn't have quite all the warning signals), the accused infidel's alleged lover wound up and socked the accuser in the nose, his nose smashing with a very audible *crack* and his head rebounding off the wall like a basketball with the force. Needless to say, the sounds of bones breaking and skull on wall was not a pleasant one, and everyone winced and froze. I have never seen a nose broken like that before, even at a hockey game. It was suddenly on one side of his face and bleeding like the dickens. We just stood there, only a few feet away, horrified... The bartender was ready to get rid of his regulars just to avoid the fall-out, so we took that as a cue to leave. We spilled out of the Cupido Bar and headed towards our hotel, still reeling from the sight of a nose that would probably never be restored to its former... ehm, glory?? Each trip back to Amsterdam I find myself walking around that neighbourhod; I try to head over to the straat to see if the Cupido Bar is still there, but I can't quite recall the zigging and zagging pattern we followed to get there, so I'm not sure if it has new proprietors or I'm not zigging or zagging properly.

My Dutch friend, who at the time was still living in The Netherlands (now he's in Brussels doing contract work for Mastercard), couldn't stand Amsterdam -- the traffic, the lack of parking, the hassle, the prices, the glut of tourists. He picked the three of us up one day and took us to the countryside for some sightseeing, checking out villages, the seaside, and played classical guitar for us in his houseboat. I recall that time fondly... I think we were pretty tired by then -- too many late nights, loud venues, and neon lights. We were ready for a time-out from the assaults to the senses.

I found myself in Amsterdam again last April, and took a little canal cruise to admire the Dutch architecture in the warm sunshine. Then I took a train to Utrecht to visit some friends who'd just had a baby. No sex museums, sex shows, or coffee shops. I'm sounding like an old geezer, myself!

Which brings me back to my talk of prudishness, much earlier in this post. We're pretty prudish here, although I don't think we're quite as prudish as Americans. We don't use that little fuzzy thing over nipples, for example. The old joke is that American kids grow up thinking the fuzzy bits are part of the female anatomy. (The same way that Alaska and Hawaii, shown as insets on maps of the United States, have no real geographical location, they're just floating somewhere in the ocean near the continental U.S. in inset boxes.) Moses Znaimer, founder and producer of Toronto's Citytv, was cited to have said that on American television, you can't show a nipple. But, you can show a nipple with a bullet hole through it... (a nod to American acceptance of violence)... OK, I'll save this topic for another day. Back to prudishness.

Last night when three of us were having dinner at the restaurant Manhattan in the Fairmont Delta Suites Hotel, every time our cute (their word, not mine) waiter came by to attend to us, everyone would lower her voice to a whisper when talking about going to the sex show, or just say "the show". It seemed more like an involuntary reaction than feeling unable to say sex in a regular tone of voice. What's with that? The other people dining were far away, it's not like they could hear us. And even so, what did it matter? My point is, it did matter, and we were taught that it matters. I think it has more to do with context than anything else. If we were at some diner on Commercial Drive, like Wazubeez, we'd let 'er rip. Sex! Sex! Sex! (It's pretty loud in there, anyways.) No such thing as impropriety on Commercial Drive, proud bastion of alternative lifestyles and home to Womyn's Ware. This also goes back to when I mentioned that some friends wanted to know more about the sex exhibition, eg. location. Somehow, the fact that it was at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, which also houses the famous sails from Expo '86 days (part of the Vancouver skyline and ubiquitous on postcards), the cruise ship terminal, and the tony Pan Pacific Hotel in Coal Harbour commanded more cachet and lowered the sleaze factor. I'm sure that's what CanWest Shows had in mind when they booked the venue.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Gluttony in Vancouver

It's that time of the year again! Visit Vancouver | Dine Out

Last year was the inaugural year of Dine Out Vancouver, Tourism Vancouver's foray into city-wide promotion of local restaurants during the seasonal downtime. From what I read last year, this event is popular in American cities such as New York and San Francisco, under different names such as 25 for 25 (25 restaurants for $25). It's based on a 3-course meal, usually with two or three appetizer and entrée options. It doesn't include drinks, but it's still a fantastic deal because the restaurants are generally upscale (read: way out of my preferred price range).

It was so popular last year it was a bugger just trying to make reservations, since a lot of them either didn't take reservations or were sold out... it's like the airlines, though -- these places don't want a restaurant full of patrons on a deal card -- but hey, they make a killing on the beverage mark-ups...

Last year I did eat my fair share around the city on this Dine Out promotion, at places I'd been meaning to check out like Wild Rice and places I probably would be too frugal to try out otherwise, like Vistas, the revolving restaurant at the top of the Renaissance Hotel. One time there were NINE of us, and trying to get nine people in a restaurant for this event was like trying to find a parking spot during a hockey night in Vancouver -- not easy!! Eventually I got us all into Brix in Yaletown, and everybody was happy... although if anyone was unhappy after all that phoning around I did, I would've throttled --well, you get the idea...

This year there are more more restaurants participating -- 111, compared to last year, which was around 60 (?) or so, and this year it's running for two weeks, a few days longer. This year there are hardly any restaurants on the $15 list, and many of them are outside of Vancouver, like North Vancouver, Bowen Island (!), and lots of pubs like Doolin's (Granville St.) and Irish Heather (Gastown). I noticed some of the restaurants, like Wild Rice, have migrated over to the $25 list -- which is to be expected, I guess, but I also made note that their menu offering is almost exactly the same as last year. Hmmm... not such a great deal, after all, then.

Tonight a bunch of us are off to my choice of Manhattan, in the Delta Suites Hotel. I've been meaning to go there since a while back, when they were kind enough to donate a dinner certificate for a World AIDS Day Luncheon I was involved in co-ordinating for A Loving Spoonful. Also, since my early travelling days and working in tourist hubs I've become quite bullish towards hotel restaurants. At least, the upmarket ones.

I'm nearly off to get my annual haircut. Yes, I said annual. I really can't be bothered to go more than once or twice a year. I can't remember the last time I went three times in one year. It's not that I pay a lot of money each time -- I go to a Japanese lady's home way out in South Vancouver who charges $14 and is more meticulous than a lot of the hoity-toity salon folk. In fact, she used to work in Suki's, which is a high-end salon, and I hate going to those... I don't find the experience particularly satisfying. For one thing, parting with the kind of money they charge is not easy for the likes of me, who would much rather cut my own hair if I could manage to climb out of my body to do the back part. I know they are professionals, ar-TEESTS, and therefore charge prices commensurate with their training (and I realize neither their equipment nor training is cheap), but.... still... I hate the feeling of being trapped in one of those chairs and forced to make conversation with someone who also feels forced to make conversation all the live long day. Plus, since they are supposed to be the creative professional, a lot of the time it's a case of making excuses for why your hair is the way it is. It means slinking into the salon, getting scrutinized, and bracing yourself for the assessment of "(tsk tsk) Oh dear, we do have our work cut out for us now, don't we?? (some of them can get extremely condescending) or, "Hmmm, tried to cut our own hair, have we?" Then they ask you what you want, only to have them override everything you've just said for something they've had in mind all along.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Dinard to London

... is now booked on Ryanair, the base ticket price was 20 euros. That means all my flights are now reserved:

Apr 17 - Vancouver-London
Apr 20 - Birmingham-Barcelona
Apr 27 - Malaga-East Midlands
May 2 - Liverpool-Paris
May 7 - Dinard-London
May 8 - London-Vancouver

I was waiting for my friend Nolwenn to reply, as she doesn't have a computer and lazy-arsed Gail couldn't get off her tod to write a letter. Fortunately for me, Nolwenn beat me to it, and got onto a computer to tell me that they would be happy to see me, and to fly from Dinard rather than Brest as it's easier to get to. I fly into Paris on May 2, after the wedding, and meet up with another friend who lives in northern France, before heading off to Brittany on the TGV to see Nolwenn, Gilles, and their new baby Chanelle.

When I met Nolwenn, we were both young and skint and staying at Saint Simeon in South Kensington, London. It was February 1993, and I had just arrived from Bangkok and was still a bit rattled from the 2.5 hour interrogation at Customs... (to be continued)

Monday, January 19, 2004

Bridget Jones-ing

So that brings me to two of the books I dug into over the holidays, about the fictional 30-something Londoner, Bridget Jones. I read them in order, Bridget Jones' Diary first and then Edge of Reason. I'd heard a great deal about these books when they were first published. But I was in no great hurry to read them. A few years ago, I went to see the first film with a male friend, who gave me a hard time about a comment I'd made about finding Colin Firth attractive. After reading Bridget Jones' Diary, which is a much more-detailed narrative -- as any book-turned-into-movie is when held up against its own movie -- it dawned on me recently how many "truisms" (or "truistic" concepts) about relationships between men and women sprang up in those books. Since it's Bridget's diary, it's supposed to capture her thoughts in a confessional way: blinding insecurities, obsessing about seemingly trivial things unnecessarily (ummm, is there a necessary way to obsess about the trivial?), unreformable tendency to procrastinate, etc. etc. etc. I've had these thoughts and tendencies, maybe not enough to fill a feature film, but certainly these ideas have paraded through my non-verbal brain on more than a few occasions.

I was discussing with a female friend recently how interesting it was that seeing Bridget Jones' Diary with a longtime male friend precipitated a discussion with him about... of all things, sexual tension. How did I broach the topic, you might ask? Well, firstly, it was 14 martinis later. (I thought I'd add this rather important detail. Not 14 martinis to myself, mind you, it was between the both of us... and they were all different...) See, I had this nagging feeling that my remark about Colin Firth's assets unexpectedly struck a nerve, and I felt compelled to ask my friend if he would either confirm or deny these nagging feelings of mine. But how does one do it?? Especially when you've known each other for a long time?

Well, that is why it took 14 martinis. Talk about procrastination! Finally, I could stand it no longer!

ME, blurting out at random: "Is there sexual tension between us?"
HIM, bursting out in laughter so forceful the empty martini glasses are rattling on the table: "Are you talking about me??"
ME, exasperatedly: "No, the guy behind you! Of course bloody YOU!"
HIM: "Well... yes... for me, at least..."
ME, totally bewildered: "Since WHEN??"
HIM, after seemingly interminable pause: "Since Day.... 2"
ME, even more bewildered: "What happened on Day 1?"

You might ask whether it's possible to have any clarity of situation after 7 martinis apiece, but I can assure you that if your longtime friend of significant years has just revealed something like that to you, you are very likely to remember it, rivers of alcohol coursing through your bloodstream notwithstanding. To make a long story short, or rather, end here, I shall say this friend and I have never entered the public domain of coupledom, but the feelings remain (I had the same feelings, and I admitted them to him), and those feelings remain unresolved. Or at least not pursuant to any sort of public declarations. Admitting sexual tension is one thing, acting on it is another, and making the private suddenly public is yet another! Some things are best left alone!

Anyway, my point here is relationship CONFUSION in the real world, poked fun at by the fictitious world. The Bridget Jones books, while at first glance might seem cotton candy fluffy, have this confessional quality (and popularity) that affirms the collective confusion of 30-somethings amidst the social pressures of modern society. Or, at the very least, Bridget sparks confessional utterances in its film viewers or novel readers (martinis not required). And the books and first film were rollicking good fun, despite some quibbles from me. They are fictional novels, after all. One is supposed to suspend disbelief. But I have to bring up some of my (unsuspended) disbeliefs:

** Bridget, as an underling in an office, wouldn't be pulling enough of a salary to buy a flat in what appears to be central London;
** None of the core group of friends -- Jude and Shazzer and Tom, for that matter -- seem to work that much in these books (reminds me of the show Friends that way; people living in sizeable apartments in New York with piddly jobs, spending lots of time sitting around in coffee shops);
** Why doesn't Bridget ever mention her brother in Edge of Reason?? Did Ms. Fielding suddenly forget Bridget had a brother?
** London is a huge city, but everybody keeps bumping into each other all the time;
** -- and this is a pet peeve of mine -- the American edition of Edge of Reason uses units of pounds instead of stone (14 lbs), which is the common measurement for a person's weight in Britain; the copy I have of Diary is the UK edition, so everything was as expected, then I get this Americanized version of Edge of Reason... it's annoying, like a bad translation...
Anyway, back to the regularly scheduled program, the suspension of disbelief and the acceptance of gaping plot holes, unrealistic scenarios, or inconsistencies for sake of entertaining story...

There's this funny bit in Diary in which Bridget asks why Smug Marrieds ask Singletons at every possible opportunity: "How's your love life? Got a boyfriend yet?"... it's not like Singletons ask Smug Marrieds at every opportunity: "How's your marriage? Still having sex?" That line just cracked me up...

Note: this post sort of breaks my quasi-cardinal rule about never discussing my love life on my blog site. But seeing as this friend never officially became part of my love life, I wouldn't technically be discussing my love life, right? Guess I won't be giving him the URL... or, I'll see what he thinks of Part II - Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which is filming now... (no remarks about Colin Firth this time)

The Current State of Affairs

Haven't posted for nearly a week. A garden variety of reasons behind that, starting with countless instances of "do I really want to reveal that thought because I might change my mind about it later?" to "do I really want to reveal that thought because the embarrassment would either kill me or haunt me forever" and everything in between. So I'll stick with the banal, and that is -- for now -- current reading material. First of all, I should mention that I used to read voraciously as a kid (part of it was to escape from my parents), and that burning passion for reading was quashed in one fell swoop by university. Ah, the irony.

Also, I think my personality conspires against me from time to time. If someone tells me what to do, the rebellious streak kicks in and makes it awfully hard to motivate myself to complete the task. If I choose to do something out of my own free will, neither hell nor high water will keep me from noncompletion (ehmmmm, except time and money, but even then I've not always let those get in my way, either). The task, without changing one iota in difficulty or scope, will suddenly appear totally different. I think that would probably describe most people to some degree (self-motivation being the best kind of motivation), but I think it has woven itself into my DNA or something... the mysterious stubborn-as-a-jackass-strand. Until the press release by the scientific community, I can content myself with the theory.

Anyway, I digress. I was talking about reading. I was saying that I stopped reading for pleasure when I was told to read. Suddenly the mountain of very, very expensive university textbooks was one filled with words that became THE ENEMY rather than my familiar childhood friends called the letters of the alphabet and their support groups, sentences and paragraphs. The more they screamed for attention, the more I ignored them and left them to rot until the night before something was due. They then sought their revenge by deliberately ganging up to confuse the professor or tutor marker when I tried to use them to write my own theses and arguments, or better yet, their favourite trick: writer's block, i.e. words just not showing up for roll call. Ohh, that's the worst -- not even a good excuse for that.

So, when my friend gave me a bunch of novels to read over the holidays, I thought, "well, here's my chance to make peace with the printed word." I have more time now, you see. My current term schedule (see left panel, scroll down) has been scaled down from my usual pace of the previous 2+ years. There is far, far too much going on in the next few months to juggle my usual 3 courses. For one thing, the office is in transition. My employers have (mostly) retired and my colleague is now my boss. Besides Kevin and myself, the new associate/analyst was only hired 6 months ago, and the bookkeeper/receptionist only started in October. Plus, we will be moving to a new office space in Gibsons, which is on the same property as Kevin's new house, which hasn't been built yet!

Also, my sister-in-law is expecting twins in the next 4-8 weeks. The two new babies will share the same initials, M.J., with their brother and sisters, who are 2, 3, and 4 years old. Yes, believe it or not, my brother will have 5 kids under 5 years old very soon. And Melissa doesn't even turn 5 until July! Cheryl is now 30 weeks along, and managing very well, considering she nearly lost them both in the first trimester due to complications. One twin is still a great deal smaller than the other (yes, they're both girls, poor Michael), but both are growing and Cheryl is ENORMOUS. She is easily the same size as she was full-term with the first 3 kids. She's only on partial bedrest now, which is fantastic since full bedrest is both boring and isolating. Doing nothing and lying in bed sounds tantalizing when you're super busy, but it wears thin quickly.

As well, my mother will be released from the hospital later today, depending on what the doctor says. Her car accident was November 30.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Emm Gryner

Came across an online article in the Vancouver Sun for singer-songwriter Emm Gryner. I wasn't familiar with her name, but the moment I saw her picture, I was 99% sure she was at least half Filipino. (Love this outfit, too – it's pretty obvious my favourite colour by far is blue.) I did some more surfing, and discovered that she is indeed Filipino, through her mum (her dad is German-Irish). This is one talented woman, a real Do-It-Yourselfer from Ontario who has worked with the likes of David Bowie, The Cardigans, Ron Sexsmith, and other musical glitterati. I've been on Kazaa-Lite (well, what's left of it now) and downloading Emm's creative output instead of being the fiscally responsible person who promised to get her papers together to ring her accountant at 9:30 the following morning with a bunch of figures!! The irony here lies in the fact that I was keen on posting about Ms. Gryner because I feel there is a dearth of Filipino role models (male or female) in the public eye – independent and strong-minded individuals who are fully in charge of their affairs... ahem... *OK, time to get back to being fiscally responsible!!*

Check out Emm's official site. Click here to listen to her piano and cello arrangement of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me". I'm not a Def Leppard fan, but this version is almost unrecognizable from the original.

Emm toured with David Bowie in 1999, singing backup with Holly Palmer, who is a versatile musician in her own right. If you go to Holly's site, there's a pop-up player (you will have to turn off your pop-up blocker to launch it) that plays three songs, and I've been listening to it while I've been surfing her site. I tried to get past my first impression of comparisons to Kylie Minogue, and I'm glad I did... Holly Palmer is much more talented. I really like two of the songs: "Did Your Mama?" and "I Confess", neither of which I can find on Kazaa-Lite right now. Have a listen. If you're a guy, there's a good possibility you might ignore the music altogether once you see her home page (Muckdog?), but if you can remember to turn off your pop-up blocker, you might remember why I drew your attention to her website in the first place... it's about the music (Muckdog), the music!

Eliza's Birthday

Eliza with her babies.

I couldn't really post about my activities last night because they were related to making some things for Eliza's birthday, notably a CD I titled A CD for Cat Lovers and this photo collage for the cover. I took these photos nearly two years ago when Ebi was a kitten and a couple are from last year. Eliza's birthday was actually yesterday, but Kristin returned from Switzerland last night, so tonight four of us went to Maurya, an Indian restaurant I've been wanting to try for some time, and I gave Eliza the stuff, so now I can post the playlist:

1.   Smelly Cat - Phoebe from the TV show Friends
2.   Honky Cat - Elton John
3.   Cat's in the Cradle - Harry Chapin
4.   Cat's in the Kettle - Weird Al Yankovic
5.   Stray Cat Strut - Stray Cats
6.   Year of the Cat - Al Stewart
7.   Burying the Cat - a bit from a Monty Python sketch
8.   What's New Pussycat? - Tom Jones (of course I had to put this in)
9.   The Alley Cat Song - Peggy Lee
10.  The Cat Came Back - Fred Penner
11.  Alley Cat - Liberace
12.  Stray Cat Blues - The Rolling Stones
13.  Wild World - Cat Stevens
14.  The Cat Came Back - Sonny James
15.  Theme from The Pink Panther - ? (this is a jazzy version, not Henry Mancini)
16. a short track for Ebi and Tako (meowing and purring)

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Laksa is On the Menu!!

FINALLY heard from Matt! Thought he'd dropped off a cliff skiing in Whistler in all his excitement to experience a "real" Canadian winter (as close as we'll ever get, anyway). As soon as Matt mentioned to Serg and me at Jupiter's how much effort he puts into making laksa from scratch, I told Eliza and we've been thinking about this for the past month! In fact, Eliza's going to invite herself over and bring a container...

hi Gail,

i'm so sorry i havn't been in touch but we just got the internet on at the place i am living. I am living at Whistler Creekside and working at *** in the kitchen LEARNING HEAPS!!! Havn't had a day off in 20 days so life has been pretty hectic but all is good as im nearly broke.haha. But loving Whistler so much i have cancelled my ticket home and am staying untill april or so 2005 then off to the uk for a year!

Hopefully i will be in Van soon as i have to go and see JAL to confirm my cancellation so maybe i could cook laksa for you guys then???

chat soon

*** (don't want to implicate any place willing to hire an Aussie here on holiday, if ya know what I mean)

Malaga to East Midlands

Decided not to fart about any longer with the flight from Spain back to Wolverhampton. Gotta get back for the second fitting – yuk – on Wednesday, and was considering flying back from Faro (Portugal). Rang Erich to ask his opinion, and he said go for Portugal, but I think seeing as returning to England on time (no arsing about in Spain) is rather critical towards ensuring the smoothness of the wedding planning, I'd better stick to Malaga. Hey, if I decide to give Malaga a miss and continue on to Portugal, I can always go all the way and get back to Malaga for the flight. However, knowing myself, could get into all kinds of mischief with all that rushing around, and don't wish to be remembered at the Sullivan-Nicholson nuptials as the bridesmaid wearing crutches and arm in sling or some such embarrassing thing.

All flights booked now, except for one: France back to London on May 7.

Why Are Mondays So Bad??

I ended up getting a lot of things done eventually, but had to jump through mega-hoops today...

* postponed calling the accountant, who rang on Saturday looking to get some stuff done early; haven't even done any tax stuff yet, and normally I do it as soon as my last December salary form is ready!

* discovered that a cheque I'd written for my mother was from a chequebook with an old account number, so therefore did not exist! Nothing like a bit of raw panic at the bank... wouldn't have figured this out except I was wiring money off to U.K. and gave the bank teller the chequebook to reference the number – he pauses and says, "umm, this number doesn't match the one I have on the screen..." YIKES!!

* had to pick up my course materials at SFU, but forgot my book so tried to stay awake on the Skytrain with only coffee to prop me up

Of course, it gets worse, but I'll spare the gory details for now. I'm still getting past the gory details.

Monday, January 12, 2004

More Science World

Michael in the wind column.
Melissa is going to be so jealous... I keep taking her brother and sister to Science World while she's in Maine, and this time I printed off some of the photos and Cheryl will send them to Melissa in the post. Cheryl says Melissa's homesick, but they're due to fly back next month, so I'm sure the folks in Maine will have plenty to keep her occupied until then -- there are, after all, five of them!

Michael was feeling brave and climbed into the wind machine. The air was swirling all around him and enveloping him like a cloud - he loved it!

There was some infighting today by the train - even though it was under repair and it had derailed! - but it probably had something to do with the fact that both Michael and Maddy have their own train set, so they're both used to being the engineer! Hope these kids aren't getting spoiled... Say, ever tried buying Thomas the Tank Engine gear? It's expensive! Of course, isn't that what everyone says - how much cheaper it was for your own generation to be a kid, blah blah blah... well, it's true!

in the giant tree
Michael and Maddy in the treehouse. As you can see, it's a massive tree that was carved out. That's one thing I always wanted when I was a kid - a treehouse. We had one briefly when we were living on 16th Ave in Aldergrove on five acres, but it was more like a platform and my brothers pretty much hogged it. Also, by then we were teenagers and the platform couldn't hold all of us.

This tree, however, is super sturdy and has its own built-in stairs! More photos here.

Bumped into some friends of mine, people I used to work with three companies ago, long before any of us had children in our lives. It's funny because the last time I bumped into them I had Melissa and Michael, they had Simon and Jasna was pregnant with their second boy, Benjamin. We were all at Maplewood Farm in North Vancouver, and they were on their way home and we were on their way in. I think we only managed to grab 5 minutes of conversation, and this time Zoran was trying to make sure they wouldn't get a parking ticket and Michael and Maddy were racing each other up the ramp in the opposite direction, so we didn't even get 20 seconds of conversation. We always have this idea that we'll all take the kids out together and catch up on things, but realistically, if the kids are with us we will never finish a complete sentence without someone needing attention.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Liverpool to Paris is Booked!

Base fare: £7.99!

Easyjet has a big seat sale on for flights before March 27, and they finally posted their Summer 2004 schedule.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Running (Ringing?) in the Family

Maddy on Attie Gail's phone.
Seems the kiddies are showing a fascination with technology pretty early these days... Maddy is 2 years old and is already flipping open that mobile phone and calling her pals! In case you think Attie Gail is fearless when it comes to letting Maddy handle electronics, this is my old handset -- I got another one the other day... but I'm still transferring phone numbers from one to the other, so carrying both around for now.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Dalai Lama in Vancouver

Does that mean Richard Gere's coming to town again?

I got this in my SFU inbox:

Educating the Heart; Educating the Mind
Tuesday, April 20, 12:30-5:15 pm

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue, to participate in a roundtable dialogue on Combining Educating the Heart with Educating the Mind. Other invited guests include Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, and Jo-ann Archibald, Canada. Michael Ingham, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster will chair the discussion.

This dialogue will be simulcast to SFU's Harbour Centre campus (Terasen cinema), 515 West Hastings Street, and to the Chan Center at UBC and possibly other locations. The simulcasts are free and open to the public. Seating is limited and reservations are required for the SFU Harbour Centre location. Please call 604.291.5100 or to reserve your seat.

For further information on the Dalai Lama's visit to Vancouver:

Hmmm... I just had another look at the date. I'll be flying to Barcelona that day... so much for seeing the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu for the first time in my life...

(Somewhat Misleading) Map

I got this map from RamonStoppelenburg's site. It's one of the projects from this site (check out the other projects), and it plots the countries you've visited in red. It's rather (unintentionally) misleading because it colours the entire country, even if you've only been to a little corner of it, plus it marks all the territories, too. Looking at the map, I don't feel like I've travelled much, really. 19 countries is only 8%. There's still an awful lot of green there, but this map will have a bit more red on it by May, anyway.

[EDIT Jan '05: The link got broken, so this map includes Spain, which wasn't on the original map because I didn't travel there until April. There's a conspicuous gap where Portugal lies, so maybe I should go there this year!]

create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Nickel & Diming – or is it Pounding??

It's true what IR Dingo commented on an earlier post, though, about the Brits being charged up the bum for everything, even though they have all those cut-rate airline deals at their disposal.

Here's an example: the bridesmaid dresses. What Lucy has gone through to get these dresses in the first place... well, I won't even go there. Personally, I think the costs involved in throwing a wedding seem like such a SCAM by the wedding industry... but anyway...

Anyway, once Lucy did arrive at a decision that pleased both her sisters (*I'm not going to complain that the dress is in fact the one colour that I dislike -- pink -- and it's a style that is harshly alien to my current wardrobe*), they are forcing her to bend to their ridiculous ideas of customer service. Is it just me, or is a 3-month waiting period for 3 dresses a bit much?? Plus, they are charging her an absolute fortune for alteration, e.g. £12 per seam!! I mean, what for heaven's sake is that?? I'm sure when the dressmaker's noticed the choice of a two-piece dress, they went cha-ching!

So, what I have suggested is that Lucy courier the dress to me when it arrives -- at the end of February! -- and I will get it altered here at a fraction of the price, and I won't have to muck around at the dressmaker's TWICE when I'm there. I can think of plenty of things I'd rather be doing than standing idly in a bridesmaid dress, like sitting in the sun on a Spanish beach!

Birmingham to Barcelona for a Fiver!

I found a deal on Ryanair to fly to Barcelona from Birmingham for a base fare of 4.99 GPB!! It's a good thing I waited until today to ring Lucy, because I was prepared to book it two days ago, when it was 19.99 GPB!!

I'm not a gambler, but I get a kick out of online auction-type sites like (I've found incredible deals on hotels this way, like a suite in San Diego for 40 USD). I also love surfing the web-based cut-price airline sites like and for deals. I flew from Zurich to London last year for 20 CHF (about the same in Canadian dollars) on Easyjet, and I think the flight from Liverpool to Geneva the year before was even less! Sure wish we had that here, but we just don't have a big enough market. There are 55 million people in Britain, an island not that much bigger than Vancouver Island, and we've got around 30 million people for this expansive piece of land...

Winter Wonderland Has Melted

winter wonderland
This is what it looked like when it stopped snowing. My building managers have kept the Christmas lights on, so it looked like a fairyland down in the garden.

Meanwhile, it has been raining since Tuesday night, so the snow -- at least downtown -- disappeared within 24 hours.

Follow-up on Jehovah's Witness Post

I posted something on Prince and Jehovah's Witnesses back at the end of October and I got this comment in December, a couple of days before Christmas. Hmmm... are they now proselytizing on the web by using Google searches these days?? Certainly a lot easier than door-to-door, and the most anyone can do is delete comments.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

A Sight to Behold: Snowstorm in Vancouver!

This is so unusual I had to take a photo of Beach Avenue. It's chaos in the Lower Mainland today. It's times like this I am ever so glad that I work from home. No bundling up! No commuting!

People are stranded all over the place, though. It's chaos because hardly anyone has snow tires, and even if they do, unless they just moved here from some other part of the country, they don't know how to drive in snow. Vancouver has probably next to no budget for snowplowing, and by the time the snowplows do arrive, you have an unholy mess of cars and buses and other vehicles thrown together like Lego pieces.

Eurotrip 2004

Booked a flight today to London on Airmiles.

My best friend, Lucy, is getting married on May 1 in Wolverhampton, near Birmingham in the West Midlands. What I need to do upon arrival in London is make my way north, get my bridesmaid dress fitted first (I'd better start hitting the gym asap), then head off to Barcelona and meander down the Spanish coast. Haven't decided yet how far to go -- Alicante? Malaga? I think Faro (Portugal) would really be pushing it... I have to be back in plenty of time for the wedding. John's big family from Northern Ireland fly in on Friday the 30th , so I'd like to pre-empt the mayhem.

After the wedding the plan is France for about 5 days, maybe a couple of days in Paris, then take the TGV to visit my friend Nolwenn and her husband Gilles and their new baby Chanelle near Vannes in Britanny, then fly back to London from either Brest or Dinard. Brittany looks beautiful and Brest and Dinard are both coastal towns. Coastal Spain then Coastal France sounds good to me, especially with a big English-Irish wedding in between!

So here's what it looks like thus far:

Apr 18 - Vancouver -> London
Apr 19 - London -> Wolverhampton
Apr 21 - Birmingham -> Barcelona
Apr 21-28 (Barcelona, then to Malaga? Alicante? Murcia?) Spain
Apr 28/29 - Spain -> Birmingham

*wedding Saturday, May 1*

May 2 - Liverpool -> Paris
May 5??? Paris -> TGV -> Vannes??
May 6??? Vannes -> Brest? Dinard?
May 7 - Dinard? Brest? -> London
May 8 - London -> Vancouver

I tried SO many different options I was beginning to despair:

- open-jaw Vancouver-Barcelona-Birmingham
- open-jaw Vancouver-Birmingham-Barcelona
- Vancouver-Birmingham
- Vancouver-Toronto-London-Cardiff! (it was as close as I could get to Wolverhampton!)
- Vancouver-Ottawa-London...
- crazy routings with American airlines such as NorthWest that forced me to go through San Francisco and New York before even leaving the continent!

It was pretty crazy. What it comes down to is that the airlines that are available through Airmiles out of Vancouver are showing almost no regional flights, mostly hub cities like Amsterdam (on KLM) and London (on Air Canada) so it's not so bad getting to London, it's how to get to Wolverhampton. The outbound flight was particularly nutty, as I could not get a single non-stop flight on any of the airlines to depart on April 17, I was getting sent all over the map. The best I could do, because I have an exam on Friday from 7:00-10:00 in the evening, is to leave on a red-eye flight from Vancouver to Toronto, then connect to London. This isn't so bad, because I leave at nearly midnight on April 17, and get some sleep time before Toronto, to make the connection to London and get in after 9pm. I don't really lose that much time, with the connection, only a few hours total. I'm just happy I was able to get the last seat on a non-stop London-Vancouver flight.

Ouch! Those Nasty Air Duties Hurt!

OK, for all those who complain about Canada's $24 Security Charge, you will choke when you scrutinize your U.K. air ticket:

U.K. Air Passenger Duty 46.10
U.K. Passenger Service Charge 21.50

This are *FLAT RATES* but apparently even those rates vary from airline to airline. This is what British Airways has to say on their website to justify the additional fees:

Security and insurance surcharge

British Airways has introduced a passenger surcharge on all flights to help recoup some of the costs of additional security and insurance measures which have been taken, in line with government guidelines, since 11 September 2001. The airline joins more than 124 airlines worldwide who have introduced a security and insurance surcharge since the US attacks.

The surcharge applies, as detailed below, to all tickets issued from 9 November 2001. It applies to all passengers, including children and infants, on both international and domestic flights.

Additional measures that have been introduced since 11 September include extra baggage searches, increased security around aircraft while on the ground and reinforced cockpit doors. The airline's insurance premiums have also gone up significantly.

Surcharge rates - British Airways mainline operated services
For tickets sold in Surcharge per BA sector per person

UK £2.50
USA US$4.00
Australia US$3.30
Brazil US$6.00
Colombia US$7.70
Italy US$3.00
Irish Republic US$1.50
Japan US$5.00
New Zealand US$3.30
Portugal EUR 5.00
Spain EUR 5.00
All other applicable countries US$4.00

OK, that doesn't explain the hefty duties shown at the beginning of this post, but does anyone really feel any more secure than they did before September 11, 2001?? Are these airlines buying our confidence, or just taking advantage of our perceptions of the cost of security??

Sunday, January 04, 2004

A Little Scrabble for 2004

Pholph's Scrabble Generator

My Scrabble© Score is: 21.
What is your score? Get it here.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

I'm in Love

... with Mac! No, not a guy, a computer. (How pathetic is that??)

I've always liked Mac, but I only really use it at SFU in the library. Kevin dropped off this eMac before Christmas so I could edit the retirement movie using iMovie, and to try using VPN on it to work on our office files. I didn't have much opportunity to use it over Christmas, but when I upgraded the OS on my PC last week I spent more time on it, which luckily for me didn't have to be hooked up to my home network for ADSL as somebody near my apartment (on my floor, even?) has an unprotected wireless network. Now that my PC is back and humming along beautifully (it's like having a whole new computer, even though I didn't boost the processor or RAM or anything), it seems to realize there is an interloper in the other room... it's like I had a Mac affair, and the PC is back from a holiday, feeling insanely jealous...

But, really, the Mac is a beautiful machine -- uncomplicated, unlike the PC, who insists on rather a lot of attention and was acting up so much it's no wonder I sent it away (be off with you, PC! and don't come back until you're in a better mood!).

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Happy New Year!!!

shelf and bathroom bamboo
So it's early afternoon, and I'm about ready to pass out for a much-needed nap... For a New Year's Day, I was up uncharacteristically early -- 10 o'clock! This might not seem early, except that the red wine was flowing last night and I ended up going to sleep around 6am or so. After a benny brunch, I slipped into a heady state of slow motion... ah, recovery...

I did actually DO something on New Year's Day. I put up a shelf! See?? Yes, that means I was hammering into the wall on New Year's Day, but I *believe* -- but I'm not entirely sure -- that the other side of my bathroom wall is the inside of my neighbour's closet. I'm beside a stairwell, but my building is round (yeah, it makes for an interesting layout!), so from what I can tell, there is a recessed area beside the bedroom and I actually share very little wallspace with anybody. The apartment is shaped more like a wedge. My bedroom/office has six angled walls and there are no right-angles anywhere in the apartment. The length of the living room is shared with my city-side neighbour, but from what I can tell, he keeps even wackier hours than I do. How do I know this? I bumped into him once at around 4am in the hallway and we were so surprised to see each other we were struck a bit speechless. After a moment we managed a simultaneous "hi" but was more like a startle than an opening to a conversation.

Before putting up the shelf, I hung a glass flower vase from a nail that was already there on the bathroom wall. I was a bit dubious about the nail, especially once I put in stones and water and bamboo into the vase... I tried to get a sturdier wall bracket hook thingy, but could I find one??? I guess my next question is: will bamboo stay alive in my bathroom when there is zero natural light?? Lest I be called a bamboo killer, let me make clear I have Eliza as my witness that I really made an effort to find a plant that can live in a window-free bathroom... alas, the shopkeeper shook his head, so we'll see how the bamboo gets on in there.

Well, after rather copious amounts of red wine on New Year's I was happy to bloody well get out of bed, so actually this is progress indeed.