Thursday, December 31, 2009

Random thoughts at the end of the decade

It's too much pressure to try to sum up the past decade. At the top of my head, I would say that technology has been the most revolutionary thing about the 00's (I don't even begin to know how to say that); more specifically, the internet. It has changed the way people do business, interact with each other, and even think. For instance, I know that my attention span has been tragically shortened, thanks to the internet.

However, it was thanks to the efficiency of the internet that I was able to Google a random thought that lead to three years of college in the most impractical of studies, plan my wedding, and most recently. search for a house. The internet has made me the vague approximation of a normal adult that I am today.

I look forward to finding out how technology will exert its svengali-like influence over my life in the coming decade (oh please, let it be cyborgs). Happy new year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Friday Night Play List: one week extension

I'm back from Hong Kong and Bangkok, just in time for Christmas madness. We visited a lot of malls, in both cities, where Christmas music and decorations were always in the background, but the festive season never registered with me due in part to the warm temperatures and occasional palm tree. So, Christmas is currently overwhelming, along with the jet lag.

In the coming week, I expect to add another layer to the back fat that I acquired in Asia, so until the next post, I offer this evidence that Madonna can still power a party. It is worth noting that it is great music to exercise to.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Friday Night Play List: 2 week intermission

I will be away from this blog for the next two weeks so here are some songs that will hopefully tie readers over until new content appears.

I thought this song was a parody of hip hop music when I first heard it but it is being taken seriously enough to warrant a Grammy nomination (!). Drake reminds me of Alanis Morissette in that both have gained recognition as serious musicians in the US while Canadians can't fathom how a rich kid who was on "Degrassi: The Next Generation"/"You Can't Do That on Television" can have any credibility.

"Stop Me" - Mark Ronson featuring Daniel Merriweather
I love the original by The Smiths but Ronson's soul-inspired remake is surprisingly good.

"See You on the Moon" - Great Lake Swimmers
This catchy song was included on a children's compilation disc meant to relieve their parents of the homicidal thoughts that can come from listening to the Wiggles for the umpteenth time. It definitely ranks right up there with Raffi's "Bananaphone".

"Just Dance" - Lady Gaga
This song has been overplayed and it is still an instant party maker. Lady Gaga's success is heartening after her gracious response to Christina Aguilera stealing her style then claiming not to know if Lady Gaga was even a woman.

Finally, this is for that special threesome, Bella, Edward and Jacob.

Monday, November 30, 2009

New Moon: sparkling young flesh on parade

New Moon was number one at the box office for a second week in a row and I kind of contributed to that. Technically, I did not pay to see the movie since a friend kindly provided a movie pass but I was in the audience, and, boy, did I have a good time! I laughed until I cried.

I had fears for my safety when I saw the pack of tween girls unloading from a stretch limo outside the cinema but the 9:30pm showing proved to be the smart choice. Half the audience in attendance were also treating the movie as a comedy, including a group who cackled loudly even when the only thing on screen was a character standing in a field, while the other half were probably fans of the series who were too ashamed to express outrage. Nevertheless, we sat in the back row to prevent anonymous vigilante justice from coming down on our heads.

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) continues to be the worst literary role model for young girls as she spends the whole movie either pining after pedophile vampire, Edward (Robert Pattinson), or sending mixed messages to underage werewolf, Jacob (Taylor Lautner). Ageism is added to Bella's many neuroses on her 18th birthday as she expresses fear of looking like a "grandma" to the perpetual 17 year old, Edward or acting the "cougar" to the 16 year old Jacob.

New Moon takes any cheap opportunity to have an overly ripe Lautner parade around topless: a cut to the head, a heavy rain shower, joining a pack of werewolves. The fact that the movie sexually objectifies men would be refreshing if Lautner was not truly 16 years old, thereby making any viewer over the age of 19 feel like a pedophile. The alternative is Pattinson, a safe 23 years old, but whose skinny, pale chest drew sounds of pity rather than desire from the audience.

I will admit that the bigger budget is reflected in a better looking movie, but more importantly, New Moon exceeded my expectations, which after the first movie, were quite high. The second installment delivers all the inane conversation and psychotic wish fulfillment of the first one but adds young flesh and romantic suicide to its list of goodies. How can anyone hate this series?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Better than Christmas

The One of a Kind Christmas Show and Sale starts today and runs until December 6.

My response towards this event has been muted because the recent acquisition of a house means I won't be able to run around the Show like a kid on Christmas morning. I have decided to go to the Show anyways but have already demonstrated more restraint than usual by choosing to leave work early instead of taking the day off. The prospect of being forced to purchase something at the Show both thrills and worries me. If there is no followup to this post, readers can assume that finances have not been 'unexpectedly' diverted.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Home Hardware - fail

As a downtown inhabitant, my reaction towards big box stores tends to be contradictory: I rail against their wasteful parking lots and sometimes shoddy customer service and yet, I plan day trips into the suburbs in order to explore the wide range of products that big box stores offer.

Recently, two fruitless expeditions to Home Hardware reminded me of the frustrating retail status quo that existed before the dominance of the big box stores; you would search for equipment or supplies at your local hardware store only to find out that they did not carry it and could order it in for you with a projected delivery time of a few weeks.

I found out that an item that we needed was on sale in the Home Hardware flyer (priced at less than $20). I took the flyer with me to Wiener's Home Hardware (432 Bloor St W, Toronto), and was told that they did not carry the item, but they offered to order it in for me. I turned down the offer, assuming that I could easily find the item at another store. I then went to the College Home Hardware (306 College Street, Toronto) and was again told that they did not carry the item. This time, they did not even bother offering to order it in.

There are still two more Home Hardware stores within walking distance but I am quickly losing patience. It is ridiculous of Home Hardware to advertise an item that two of their downtown stores do not even carry, and never even considered stocking, if only for the duration of the sale or the holiday season.

In contrast, a recent visit to Lowe's (Warden Ave. & Eglinton Ave. E., Toronto) required a 30 minute bus ride but was made worthwhile by a helpful employee named Mycal who gave us an equivalent product at the sale price when the sale item was out of stock. Wow!

I usually prefer to purchase items in boutiques and smaller stores because they tend to carry unique products and it feels good to support local businesses. However, when it comes to a hardware chain that markets itself as a neighbourhood store and functions just as inefficiently as one, I prefer to put my money in big box stores.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Latest obsession: Dragon Age

BioWare has invested heavily in advertising so chances are, anyone who watches TV has seen the ads for Dragon Age: Origins, which are pretty enticing. However, I remained skeptical because the last time I played a RPG (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), I became frustrated by the plodding story line, weak characters, and realistic consequences of being a kleptomaniac.

I started playing Dragon Age: Origins last night and, next thing I knew, it was 2am. Besides looking gorgeous, the game can boast engaging characters - even the minor ones - interesting dialogue, and a well-paced storyline. Touching on a personal pet peeve, the outfits have not been ridiculous, though the hair styles could be improved.

While Joe and I were playing the game, on two separate computers, I noted aloud that it was the first time since September that we were able to completely forget about house related worries. Joe had no response because he was too busy killing darkspawn.

Quick note: I can accept Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as entertainment and I can even understand lining up outside of big box electronic stores the night before the game's release, but who are the idiots who decided to dress up in battle fatigues while waiting outside of Best Buy at Bay and Dundas? Playing at war while Canadian troops are dying overseas is borderline tasteless but dressing up like a soldier to show your enthusiasm for a war game during a time of war is the tipping point. Congratulations, COD cosplayers, you are officially ignorant douches.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Old and hot

Between the declining health of my son (read: cat), Rusty, and the acquisition of a mortgage, I feel the need to focus on silly things so you have been forewarned about this post.

I have been sporadically watching "Battle of the Blades", the CBC competition show that has paired retired NHL players with retired figure skaters. What sounds like a freak show arena has actually been a surprisingly sexy showcase of mature athletes.

For a while, it looked like Tie Domi, the freakiest competitor, would coast through the competition on his hockey skates, having refused to challenge himself by using figure skates like the other competitors. Thankfully, voting viewers came to their senses, and the final three are all deserving of their place. Craig Simpson and Jamie Salé appear to be the front runners due to their combination of good looks and solid performances, thanks to Salé's task master approach. Shae-Lynn Bourne and Claude Lemieux have also demonstrated great chemistry and solid technique.

However, my favourite pair is Marie-France Dubreuil and Stéphane Richer, who were, inexplicably, in danger of being eliminated at the beginning of the series. Dubreuil is unbelievably sensual and she has brought out the romantic side of Richer, resulting in smouldering performances that made me blush at the level of intimacy on display. It has been refreshing to watch sexy men and women in their thirties and forties performing, since the majority of athletic performance and reality television are dedicated to adults barely out of their teens. There is something to be said for mature adults who exude easy confidence, based on experience of both success and failure. Intellectual reasoning aside. when Richer easily lifts Dubreuil's lithe body over his head during a routine, that's hot!

Speaking of old and hot, Viggo Mortensen is doing the press rounds to promote his latest movie, The Road. Joe knew better than to change the channel or distract me when Mortensen was on "The Hour" recently. The actor is a Habs fan, politically aware, and drives himself into Canada to promote his movie. Intellectual reasoning aside, that nude bath house brawl in Eastern Promises was hot!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

My cat, Rusty

My cat, Rusty has been in questionable health this past year, having developed diabetes and the neurological damage that can accompany the disease. When his condition deteriorated rapidly this past week, we rushed him to the vet and was forced to seriously consider euthanasia. The need to make a life decision on the spot was traumatizing, to say the least, and in the end, we decided to take Rusty home in order to make a clear headed decision. Fortunately for us, Rusty appears to be doing better with a higher dose of insulin, as he is eating, sleeping and moving comfortably for the time being.

To say that I was devastated at the prospect of losing Rusty would be an understatement. While I am able to maintain control of my bodily fluids, I thought that I would share what has made the last 14 years with him so enjoyable.

The thought has occurred to me that if Rusty were a human, I would not like him very much. Without a doubt, he is a handsome cat, and he appears to be very aware of it since he maintains his coat impeccably. However, Rusty has a trigger temper and suffers from the absence of a sense of humour, which has often made him a source of amusement. When laughed at, Rusty becomes indignant, lowering his head slightly and pulling back his ears. The next step is for him to stand up slowly and display his body in a threatening manner. It is at this point that I usually smack his bottom, then laugh some more. No matter how many times he has been teased, he always appears shocked to have been insulted this way, his eyes widening and his whole body thrown back slightly. He quickly starts swearing in his own language. It is usually at this point that I have to encourage him to walk it off, before the situation escalates to violence (ie Rusty attacking my ankles).

Rusty's short temper, especially with visitors, is infamous, but few people have been exposed to his gentler qualities. Rusty has always preferred being petted on the head. Though he dislikes having his body touched, he will patiently tolerate it after running to greet you at the front door. His need for dignity and independence should not be confused with an antisocial nature. He enjoys hanging out with people, just out of reach, and will act sulky (ie refuse to greet you or be petted) if he is left alone at home for more than 12 hours.

Rusty was briefly an outdoor cat. In one summer, he brought back two mice and a robin still flapping in his mouth. However, after staying out until 6am one night, my mother vowed never to let him out again. I regret that Rusty did not have a more stimulating life. When he was younger, he was always trying to get someone to play catch with him, dropping a stuffed mouse in front of you and whining about it. However, the activity was always more work than the usual game of catch since you had to both throw and retrieve the mouse; Rusty would only exert enough energy to 'kill it' then position himself expectantly for the next throw.

I took Rusty from a friend's litter at the age of five weeks, and have often taken his presence in my life for granted. Now, as Rusty enters his twilight years, I expect to adopt another cat sometime after he is gone, but I doubt that I will know another like him again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A weekend in Montreal

Thanks to the VIA Rail 60% off mea culpa, I was able to get a discounted ticket to Ottawa in August and Joe and I were able to visit Montréal this past weekend for just over $100 per person.

While the travel time to Montréal was longer than a trip to Ottawa, the experience was more pleasant due to our preassigned seating in Comfort Class. Comfort Class entails more leg room, an overhead compartment that is accessible from your seat (though some passengers still insisted on standing in the aisle while putting away their bags), and better head support. A satellite issue also resulted in complementary Wi-Fi for all passengers, which pretty much guaranteed five hours well wasted.

As usual, Joe and I walked until our feet hurt all three days that we were in Montréal. Here's a brief recap of our tour.

Heavy rain and a midday arrival in the city made us decide that we should 'take it easy' but our concept of the phrase differs from most other people. Joe and I had an average brunch, the highlight of which was a half-pint of Boreale beer. I had raved about this brand to Joe after my last visit to Montréal about seven years ago only to be let down by the six pack that I had hauled home for his tasting pleasure. Boreale from the tap still failed to live up to my golden memory, but the bitter taste dissipated with each drink and the aftertaste proved to be very clean.

We explored Rue Sainte-Catherine, starting in the bustling shopping district with all the usual brands (H&M, Futureshop, Old Navy, etc), passed the Université du Québec à Montréal, looked around the student friendly Quartier Latin, then stopped by La Grand Bibliothèque, whose gift shop featured an inordinate amount of Tintin products. Actually, Tintin products could be found throughout Montréal.

That night, instead of going out, we stayed in our hotel room to watch UFC 104. We are ashamed to admit how lame we were but we really enjoyed lying on the king size bed, watching men beat the crap out of each other.

We stopped first in Chinatown, which boasted a charming pedestrian only street, and bought some Vietnamese subs for lunch despite the fact that they were more expensive ($3) and less tasty than the equivalents in Toronto. We then spent a whole afternoon exploring Old Montréal's attractive buildings and cobblestone streets. We were pleasantly surprised when Notre-Dame Basilica allowed visitors in during their Sunday service, and Joe was quite impressed with the interior of the church in spite of his pagan ways. When we arrived at the Marché Bonsecours, we inadvertantly came across a bi-annual designer fashion sale, La Grande Braderie de Mode Québécoise. Only in my wildest dreams had I hoped to find Eve Gravel clothing while in Montreal and, without planning to, I bought a skirt that I had been lusting after at a discount!

For dinner, we ate at St-Hubert, a chain that once competed with Swiss Chalet in Toronto but now only reigns supreme in Quebec. Joe had never eaten at St-Hubert so we gave it a try and Joe's conclusion was that it tasted like Swiss Chalet.

As attractive as Old Montréal had been, I was not been impressed with Downtown Montréal, which featured many 'Louez moi' signs in empty store fronts, and extensive fields of parking lots, where buildings had been torn down. Fortunately, we saved the best for last when we visited the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood. We had our best meal in the Plateau at Universel Déjeuners et Grillades (3630 Rue St-Denis), which we knew was promising from the large number of hipsters dining there when every other establishment was either closed or empty. The Plateau was a combination of Queen West and the Annex but spread over several blocks. It was great to finally find a vibrant neighbourhood full of local colour, characteristics that were sorely missing in much of Downtown and Old Montréal.

Final thoughts
I found myself happy to be home in Toronto, even after a train ride that lasted two hours longer than it should have. Montréal is similar to Toronto in many ways, superficially because Toronto's fashion sense has caught up. Customer service is pretty much on par with Toronto, which is to say that it was usually mediocre. I'm not sure if part of the reason was that Joe and I are anglophones though that would explain but not excuse the poor service. However, Montréal beats Toronto in some respects; the pedestrians are crazy fast to the point where I found it hard to overtake people in front of me as I usually do back home. Montréal pedestrians have to be fast because Montréal drivers are aggressive, but pedestrians are ready to throw down when necessary, as we witnessed first hand in the middle of Sainte-Catherine. The upside of Montréal's widespread urban decay is the amazing graffiti, which can be found not only in the safety of alleyways but also on main streets. No crappy, half finished black and white tags for Montréal; everything was multi-coloured and energetic.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Like an obstinate child

Watching some reality television recently, I was annoyed by two instances of attractive blonds who whine like children when the going gets tough.
  1. "Dancing with the Stars" contestant, Joanna Krupa was doing an elaborate lift and smacked her wrist against the floor during the dismount. She then whined, "I don't want to do this" before stalking away sulkily.
  2. A preview of next week's "Amazing Race" showed a blond contestant refusing to go down a steep water slide, which was mandatory to advance in the competition. "I don't want to do this!" she cried. Her male partner then screamed at her for potentially losing the $1 million dollar prize.
It has never occurred to me say "I don't want to do this" whenever I have been faced with a dangerous or undesirable task. Even the phrase "I'm not doing this" would elicit more respect since it indicates an independent decision. Perhaps if I was cuter, I, too, would have the confidence to regress to childhood, knowing that chances are good that I'll eventually get my way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Latest obsession: dirt bags

During our recent house hunt, financial constraints limited our search to up-and-coming neighbourhoods as opposed to established ones that had been cleaned up and made desirable by artists, who were then sent packing to deacidify the next rough neighbourhood.

Because Joe and I are cautious home buyers, we tried to find neighbourhoods that were clearly on their way to gentrification. The biggest clue was a yoga or pilates studio side by side with a dirt bag establishment, and the key to identifying a dirt bag establishment was the grouping of working age adults standing outside in the middle of a weekday.

I have become fascinated with the dirt bag's communion with the great outdoors. Not only do they insist on standing outside, regardless of the time or weather, but they are also frequently seen riding around on SuperCycle bicycles. One can only speculate where they are so determined to get to since the only other time I see them is hanging around outside of taverns or greasy diners.

A crass individual would guess that the dirt bag is riding a bike because his DUI charge won't allow him to drive and he spent his cash advance at the tavern last night thus barring out public transit as an option so he is using his friend's bike to get to court on time. That crass individual might be me.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Online inspiration for the house poor

As I sit at home to prevent myself from spending money, I have found some great websites for home decorating ideas.

A photo blog capturing the homes of creative types. One of my favourite interior decoration books is Living Large in Small Spaces by Marisa Bartolucci, because it features stylish homes occupied by real people as opposed to sterile, art directed spaces. The Selby is the more current and constantly updated version of the book so, of course, I'll be using it as inspiration for my own house.

A photo blog of inspiring home design. More traditional in its approach to interior design than The Selby but at least it saves you the cost of buying a home design magazine.

This was recommended to me by friends who naturally assumed that I would find people's disastrous taste in interior design amusing. And I do! However, I prefer design that moves to the beat of a different drum (even if it resonates solely in one's head) to cookie cutter, tasteful home design.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Now, I can, wait...

With the launch of Google Maps Street View for Toronto, house hunters can now do even more research from the comfort of the home they want to leave. This really useful tool would have alerted us to problems in the neighbourhood of a few listings that we have visited. Unfortunately for us, the day before Street View was launched in Toronto, we bought a house. I will hereafter refer to our house as The Big One.

In the hours before staying out all night for Nuit Blanche, Joe and I decided to spend a relaxing afternoon visiting open houses. The attractive semi-detached that was at the top of our viewing list was as beautiful as the listing had promised but it was also crawling with buyers who had crazy in their eyes. Without a doubt, the listing price was low and would contribute to frothing at the mouth and itchy chequebook syndrome.

While wandering away from the dream house, we came across an open house notice for The Big One. It was a listing that we had already written off because its starting price was $40,000 higher than the dream house. Apparently, everyone else had, as well; the Big One was completely empty. We noted that The Big One was well executed, though not as perfect as the dream house, but, what really sold us was the private lane parking and the backyard dominated by a cedar deck (no lawn mowing!).

On the night of the offer presentation for The Big One, we encountered something unprecedented: zero competing bids. In a real estate market where bidding wars are regularly driving prices to 120% of the list, we managed to get The Big One below asking. Joe and I were in a state of shock after signing the Purchase and Sale documents; we went for a drive and we returned with massive debt.

The shock continues as we sit in the condo that we never really wanted to leave and contemplate a considerable downgrade in our lifestyle for the next 25 years. I blame low interest rates for the insanity of it all. Fortunately, we can comfort ourselves with the news that the dream house ended up selling for $28,500 more than The Big One (115% of list). It was a predictable outcome; the key was the crazy in the eyes.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Recap of a never ending night

Please see here for the official recap.

To that, I would add some less PR friendly anecdotes.

The visitors were actually quite hilarious. One guy rode the bike in a kilt then insisted that pedaling was "easier in a skirt". Another group of men, wearing top hats and cradling a poodle, screamed sexual innuendos to each other while pedaling, like "My stream is bigger than yours!" and "Pump harder!" However, families with young kids were in steady attendance right up until 10:30pm, which made me regret not installing at least one child sized bike.

I suspect that there were more than a few alcohol fueled individuals as some got way too excited over their results ("Look at my lightbulb! Loooook at it gooooo!"). Yet, the behaviour never got so rowdy that I was forced to intervene and the pedal generators were surprisingly hardy.

My greatest source of worry turned out to be technical malfunction. The decision to leave the invertor batteries at half-charge in order to allow cyclist to charge up the fountain was a bad one. There was never enough pedaling to power up the batteries sufficiently. I found myself desperately cycling whenever a bike became available in order to prepare the battery for an actual visitor.

My thighs and seat were soon exhausted from the exertion but my adrenaline kept me going strong, without the assistance of caffeine, from 4:30pm to 7:00am. I ate whenever I remembered to but never actually felt hungry. Another basic bodily function that was absent for my entire stay at the park: the urge to urinate. That's right; I did not hear the call of nature for over 15 hours.

The event was a good experience, and made up for the months of drawn out stress. I had vowed never to do this again previous to this past Saturday but a good ending can bestow a rosy glow on prior memories.

P.S. I wore thermal tights under track pants with zippered venting panels on the side. On my torso, I wore two dri-fit t-shirts under a thermal dri-fit top then my waterproof jacket from Iceland. Finally, I chose to wear my waterproof hiking boots with excellent arch support. The outfit was a good choice as I pretty much stood the whole time and was drenched during the thunderstorm.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The anticipation is driving me insane

The sooner Nuit Blanche is over, the better. I have not had a good night's sleep in the past week and a half, due in equal parts to adrenaline and the cold from hell.

Last night, I become convinced that the car housing my entire project would be stolen or broken into while slept, so I pretty much didn't. My cold symptoms came back with a vengeance, but I eventually passed out. When I did regain semi-consciousness, I became convinced that my head was a deflated bike inner tube and that my breathing kept the pedal generators going. As I struggled to breathe through my nose, my whole head spun like a bicycle wheel.

You have been forewarned. See you all on Saturday/Sunday.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dress to impress or to kill

Now that the planning and organizing of my Nuit Blanche project is almost over, my mind is left to dwell on more superficial logistics, like what to wear for the duration of the event.

Here is the list of activities that I will be engaged in during Nuit Blanche:
  • standing
  • cycling
  • wading in a fountain with 1.5 feet of water
  • walking
  • running (possibly for my life if things take a turn for the worst)
Standing around in near freezing temperatures for more than 12 hours limits the wardrobe selection. If I were to be strictly practical, I would wear a water-proof parka, cozy sweat suit and hiking boots with arch support. But, how freaked out would attendees be to meet someone who looks like they're suffering from cabin fever during an urban art event?

Feel free to leave outfit suggestions in the Comments.

By the way, that's Charles Ray in the picture. His outfit looks innocuous enough but he actually handmade every part of it: jacket, shirt, pants, shoes, and even the glasses. He was aiming to be a modern day Robinson Crusoe. No, I will not create my outfit by hand, with only three days before the event.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nuit Blanche 2009

The 4th annual Toronto Nuit Blanche will take place this coming weekend, starting at 6:55pm on October 3 and ending around 7:00am on October 4.

In previous years, I plotted out my course with military precision, to ensure that I squeezed every last bit of art out of the event. This year, I have only one project on the agenda: my own. I hope to check out nearby exhibitions if my project slows down at any point during the night, but my experience of 2009's Nuit Blanche will probably be myopic.

Friends have been loathe to commit to visiting my project, perhaps due to timing or because they hate art, so I can only hope that I find comfort in the kindness of strangers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Latest obsession: bad dancing

Two sessions into my ballet class and friends are already expecting twinkle toe routines on demand. Unfortunately, I have learned nothing more than correct posture and prancing to count (or not). Introduction to Ballet is exactly where I belong, with my classmates showing about the same level of coordination and musicality. Last week, my smile spread to Joker-like proportions as I watched everyone destroy the art form, before I followed suit.

As lacking as my dance skills are, they do not sink so low as to swing back up into the 'entertaining' category like the current season of "Dancing with the Stars". I would tune in for Chuck Liddell alone but Tom DeLay is exceeding all expectations. Watch the video below and keep tissue handy for the tears.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I am Malene Arpe

I have been a fan of Malene Arpe since her days as a columnist for Eye Weekly back in the 90s but it was only when she started her Stargazing blog with The Toronto Star that I realized that we are practically the same person. See the evidence below:
  • She is nerdy enough to give updates on the TV adaptation of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones; I love the series.
  • She adores Viggo Mortensen; I dream of Viggo Mortensen, too (no proof on this blog but, ever since Lord of the Rings, it is true!)
  • She posted a mash up video of "True Blood" with Depeche Mode and labelled it "Overwhelmingly awesome"; I cannot agree more (here and here)
  • She lives on internet detritus; I am a cultural bottom feeder, too! (see any part of my blog)
Admittedly, the evidence that I have provided is scanty, but I believe that Arpe is the more successful, cooler version of me. Joe cannot believe that two of us exist in the same time continuum.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You can't beat crazy

Joe and I thought we were being clever by entering the real estate market recently in order to take advantage of the low mortgage rates. Of course, when everyone else in Toronto is doing the exact same thing, our actions cease to be clever, or even sensible.

In the week and a half since we started our house hunt, we have made two offers and in both cases, we lost out to the crazy rich (aka "eccentric"). The first house, a 100 year old semi-detached that was well maintained but definitely required $30,000+ worth of work, went for over half a million dollars; 129% of the asking price. The second house, a slightly younger semi-detached that was recently gussied up went for 112% of the asking price. Considering that the new wall-to-wall carpeting covered a world of trouble yet could not muffle the extremely squeaky floor, the absence of a home inspection condition was an "eccentric" choice.

We begin to despair over ever finding a well maintained and well located property that will not be immediately snatched up or fought over by the mysteriously wealthy. The media outlets are now reporting strong GTA home sales yet it was only back in March 2009 that Toronto Life was touting a "Buyer's Market" on its cover. I begin to wonder about the credibility of any 'high' and 'low' reports made by the media, including the state of the economy and Lindsey Lohan's career.

The slough through the Toronto real estate market will continue, at least until our locked-in mortgage rate expires.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Two ends of the spectrum

A quick review of excellence and mediocrity:

Excellent: Cabbagetown Festival - The Festival took place this past weekend and for the second year in a row, I found it excellent. The food is cheaper than what is offered at comparable street festivals like Taste of Little Italy, and far less crowded than Taste of the Danforth. The accompanying Riverdale Park Arts & Crafts Festival is surprisingly high in quality, with many vendors that you usually see at the One of a Kind Show, participating in the Festival.

Mediocre: Crank: High Voltage - Possibly the worst movie that I have ever seen. Seemingly written by a stupid, oversexed teenager, the movie features ADD editing style, gratuitous nudity and violence, outdated racism, and callous misogyny. Some might claim that this is a parody of the action movie genre of the 1980s, but that would require irony, which is absent in Crank: High Voltage. The movie pretty much wallows happily in its own filth.
Usually, I laugh at bad movies (Twilight is currently my favourite comedy), but only a psychopath would find amusement in the explicit depiction of a gang member cutting his off own nipples or a stripper's large breast implants leaking from bullet holes to the chest.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Because I don't get enough excitement

In addition to preparing for an art event and starting ballet classes, I decided to take on another hobby: house hunting! After seeing Vicki purchase the house of her dreams, and hearing of other friends joining the hunt, Joe and I decided to do it, too (yes, monkey see, monkey do, ha ha ha).

It has been a whirlwind three days since we first made contact with our real estate agent, and we have already seen four properties. We would have seen more but the real estate market appears to be picking up again with listings being taken off the market just as we request a viewing; one house was snatched up on the first day of listing.

Hopefully, as I become an old pro at this, I will stop dreaming of houses and waking up to a racing heart at 6am.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Vive le veg!

I submitted my story of temporary vegetarianism to the Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) a while ago in the hope of winning a prize. The prize has yet to be received but my story has been posted! I think the fact that my story is at the very top of the page is very promising, n'est pas?

25th Anniversary Vegetarian Food Fair
September 11-13, 2009
Harbourfront, Toronto
Free Admission

TVA will be launching phase two of the Veggie Challenge, which involves going vegetarian for 25 days. That sounds like a challenge, TVA! I'll let it stew in my mind until September 11.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

An anonymous rant...hopefully

At the risk of being discovered by Google, I am going to rant about an art event that I am slated to participate in, without actually naming the event. In short order, the experience has been a test of my patience.
  • Submitted my proposal a few days before the deadline in February but never received the 'automated confirmation'. Ended up having to bother the organization on the day of the deadline before receiving an affirmative.
  • Awaited the organizers' decision on my proposal, which was supposed to be issued by the end of March. Waited until the middle of April to contact the organization regarding their decision. Organizers responded at the end of April to say that my sponsor had bailed on me and so they had assumed that my sponsor would tell me the bad news. In reality, my sponsor had not bailed on me and it was a case of miscommunication between the organizers and my sponsor. Organizers welcomed me into the event with open arms.
  • In spite of a month's delay in delivering the good news to me, the organizers still expected me to meet the content submission deadline within the first week of May. In a mere week, I submitted all project information for the media, found a new venue for my project, and applied for the relevant permit.
  • By the end of May, I had done the research on the equipment needed for the project and gotten the quote from a supplier. I requested that payment be issued by my sponsor, despite feeling that I was way ahead of schedule. Little did I know that the supplier would not receive the cheque until mid-July, and, after cashing the cheque, the supplier would go on a month long holiday.
  • I finally received the equipment on August 20. Now, with just over a month before the event, I will have to complete the project and begin promoting it furiously. However, I have recently discovered that I am not listed properly on the event website.
I supposed things could be more stressful. For instance, I could be a high profile individual charged with criminal negligence causing death. I will also comfort myself by thinking that the chances of me creating another project of this magnitude in the future are low. Crochet and other relaxing crafts are the way of the future.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Night Play List: For the love of Flocons

Flocons was kind enough to take over Friday Night Play List during my internet rehab. I didn't even know that anyone reads my Lists so thanks, Flocons, for being the single follower of my media suggestions. So, this double bill is for Flocons; a targeted wag of the finger. Enjoy.

The Hurt Locker (2008) - This intense film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, was released last year but has been a sleeper hit this past summer. It is an apolitical, ground level look at the chaos in Baghdad and the soldiers who either thrive or falter in those conditions. I figure that Flocons will enjoy this because he likes crazy situations and reckless individuals, as long as he is not the one being reckless.

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) - On the off chance that Flocons has not seen this film, I'm going to recommend it because it has become one of my all-time favourites. It features the hilarious violence that Quentin Tarantino is known for and has stood up to repeat viewings. I think Flocons will enjoy this because he loves weddings (Uma Thurman stars as The Bride) and he enjoys time travel (the non-linear story line makes you feel like you're being ripped out of the time continuum). Of course, there are the crazy situations that are a staple in Flocons's movie diet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A weekend in Ottawa

Thanks to VIA Rail's 60% discount mea culpa at the end of their worker's strike, I was able to visit Ottawa over the weekend without having to resort to a Greyhound bus. The train trip was no faster than a bus but it definitely catered to a far classier crowd (read: no drunken dirtbags reading over the shoulder because everyone had a digital device to keep them occupied). The only book that I managed to finish during 10 hours of train travel was Slowness by Milan Kundera, which was, indeed, a slow read in spite of being a slim publication.

I was charmed by the extensive wild park lands throughout Ottawa and the widespread preservation of historical architecture - both of which Toronto tends to lack. I also had the pleasure of experiencing local businesses exclusive to the Ottawa area, which made the city seem a lot further than a five hour drive from Toronto.

Bridgehead - A coffee house along the same vein as Second Cup and Starbucks, except their coffee is all organic, fair trade, and shade grown.

The Works - A gourmet burger joint that offers endless options for both meat eaters and vegetarians; the menu must be seen to be believed. I had the Portobello Mushroom Cap topped with Curry Crunch on a whole wheat bun with a side of sweet potato strings. Delicious!

BeaverTails - These fried dough pastries can be accessed locally through the Canadian National Exhibition and at Blue Mountain in Collingwood, but I will always associate them with skating on the Rideau Canal during Winterlude. However, eating BeaverTails in the Byward Market on a hot summer night is still a great experience.

Lost Marbles and Mrs. Tiggy Winkle's - Lost Marbles is the grown-up kids branch of the Mrs. Tiggy Winkle's toy store. They carry a wide range of clever Fred products as well as KidRobot collectibles. I bought a mystery Futurama figurine for Joe at a Lost Marbles located in The Glebe, an interesting neighbourhood in Ottawa. (Joe got Fry.)

Victoire - A boutique at 246 Dalhousie St. that features the most amazing clothing and accessories. It hurt not to buy anything, but my personal budget has run into the red for months. Victoire's neighbours are also worth checking out: Workshop (242 1/2 Dalhousie), a crafty clothing store, and Young Jane (203 Dalhousie), featuring vintage clothing like its location predecessor, Attic.

My experience of Ottawa did not consist solely of eating and shopping. We enjoyed the free Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill, which practically poured maple syrup, Mounties and Bryan Adams from the Peace Tower. The propaganda was so insulting that it became fascinating. This was not my first visit to Parliament Hill but it was on this latest trip that I discovered the tiny estate that houses the fat cats. To be clear, I refer to the feral cats that are maintained by volunteers and donations, and not the politicians.

Give in to the ongoing advertising onslaught and visit Ottawa this summer. Strangely enough, Ottawa residents are being encouraged to visit Kingston. One can only speculate where Kingston residents are being funneled to.

Sweet sweet internet

I'm back and not a moment too soon! Without the internet, my life felt a little emptier and a lot more inconvenient.

My first frustrating moment came on the first morning of my internet rehab when I realized that I did not know what to wear since I could not check the Weather Network's hourly forecast. So, I stood in my underwear in front of the radio until the weather report came up.

A trip to Ottawa over the weekend suddenly became less predictable since I could not correspond with my friends via email to confirm arrangements. In this case, I resorted to texting and using Joe as a proxy to check my email and Facebook accounts for any important messages.

Joe became my reaching stick as I frequently ordered him to take my place in front of the computer to do what I could not; for instance, look up the band behind "Me, Myself and I," because not knowing the answer to random trivia is no longer acceptable in the age of internet. (The answer is De La Soul.)

The worst part of not being able to access the internet was losing touch with friends. Some people claim that they don't email or have a Facebook account because they are too busy, and now I wonder if they are either too busy to have friends or if they are not really busy at all because they enjoy the luxury of regular face-to-face or phone contact with friends. With growing responsibilities and busy schedules, I find it hard to meet up with friends as often as I would like and telephoning people seems like a presumptuous infringement on their time. Email hearkens back to snail mail, when each correspondent could read and respond at their convenience. And social networking sites like Facebook allow you to keep up with the daily lives of numerous people; to bridge the awkward silence that would otherwise come up when you finally meet up face to face and realize that you have no clue about their lives.

With some new boundaries (i.e. do not check email once every 15 minutes), I hope to enjoy the internet in a healthy and productive manner from now on. I am a recovering internet addict.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Internet rehab

I laugh at people who are clearly addicted to caffeine; those who experience headaches and general feelings of unwellness when they skip their daily cup of coffee. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that I suffer the same way when I am deprived of regular access to the internet.

The usual scenario in which I experience internet deprivation tends to be while on vacation. Even in the midst of such rousing experiences, I feel the urge to type on a keyboard, check my email and read up on nothing important.

In the tradition of self-improvement through self-deprivation, I will be restricting my internet access to work related endeavors for the next week, starting at noon today. This may well be harder than my previous week-long foray into vegetarianism or even my kichadi diet. However, I feel that it is necessary to force myself to disconnect from the computer and reconnect with real life extracurricular activities.

Just as Renton prepared for his break from heroin in Trainspotting (bucket, beans, porno - check, check, check), I have bought some books from BMV to help me stay the course:
Slowness by Milan Kundera
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Naked by David Sedaris
I am a fan of both McEwan and Sedaris, and the Kundera book looks promising.

Here's hoping that the sweating and suffering can be kept to a minimum. Radio silence starts now.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Latest obsession: Eric Northman

Eric Northman is the title obsession but, truly, my feelings extend to the second season of "True Blood", which has a mere three episodes left to air.

The show has only improved since Season 1, with quicker pacing, more focused story lines, and further development of secondary characters like Tara (Rutina Wesley), Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and especially Alexander Skarsgard's character, Eric Northman. When Eric was introduced in the first season, he was clearly a significant character but Skargard's depiction lacked the intimidation that is to be expected of a 1000 year old vampire. However, the character improved considerably with the premiere of Season 2 in which Eric ripped a man in half then worried that the shower of blood had ruined the highlighting foils in his hair.

My only complaint about Season 2 is that the relationship between the main characters, Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Bill (Stephen Moyer), is starting to become a parody of itself with repeats of Sookie acting sassy and Bill attempting to save her. No wonder fans are frothing at the prospect of Sookie hooking up with Eric, which was made into virtual reality with a dream sequence in last Sunday's Episode 9.

At the 2009 Comic Con "True Blood" panel discussion, Skarsgard was clearly the most popular panelist. If you're going to scream for a hot vampire, let it be for a morally ambivalent 6'4'' man and not some petulant, perpetual teenager with sparkly skin.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Doppleganger update: first contact

Emboldened by the happy ending of the two Kelly Hildebrandts, I finally sent a message to mein doppleganger through Facebook. I tantalized her with the fact that we might be related and she responded, pretty much right away.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that mein doppleganger recognized my grandfather's name because he was the only one of her father's siblings that she was acquainted with. She also claimed not to be weirded out by my extensive knowledge of her life, harvested by Google.

Turns out that previous to our Facebook chat, mein doppleganger was aware of my existence since she, too, often gets mistaken for me. The mistaken identity made sense since her husband attended the same obscure clown college program I did, so many assumed that she held the same hilarious occupation.

We made moves to meet up some time to talk over drinks but have yet to settle on concrete details. However, I am pretty satisfied with the progress of our interaction, and hesitant to take the next step of meeting face to face.

There is a crazy streak in my extended family that I fear is genetic. Already, mein doppleganger has not been fazed by my stalker tendencies, which speaks to a similar mindset. The last thing I need is to add another festering branch to the family tree. We shall see if the spirit of discovery overcomes irrational fear of familial ties that not only bind but choke.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The frustration of watching "SYTYCD? Canada"

Hopefully, this will be my last post about anything "So You Think You Can Dance?" related because any newcomer to this blog would suspect that I am a pubescent dance enthusiast by now. I just cannot hold back my disappointment over the Canadian version of the show, which started its second season this past week.

In short order, these are my complaints about "So You Think You Can Dance? Canada":
  • Leah Miller - I find host, Leah Miller disingenuous. When she is not beaming at the camera, she is either acting condescendingly or actively snubbing the dancers that she interviews. Every time Leah shows up on screen, I have to plug my ears, close my eyes and shout, "Lalalalala..." until she passes. That's a lot of effort for a passive pastime like television.
  • No HD wide screen - This is actually a complaint of Joe's. I understand that budgetary constraints may be behind this decision.
  • No playbacks - In the American version, when a judge makes reference to a particular move that was just performed, the audience is treated to a playback as the critique is given. The Canadian show just hopes that its audience possesses a photographic memory in addition to an extensive dance vocabulary. Can the absence of playbacks also be attributed to budgetary constraints? I really want to know.
  • Mediocrity unacknowledged - The quality of the dancers during audition week has been less than stellar. There is an embarrassing lack of polish in their transitions and little originality in their choreography. I suspect that the judges know this because while their words are encouraging, their energy levels barely register a pulse. Even the occasional excited yelp betrays relief that someone has finally shown some potential.
About the only thing I like about the show is judge, Jean-Marc Généreux, who is still a big perv. Unfortunately, the other judges choose to politely ignore this rather than play it up.

Thank goodness the American version of the show will return in September. In the case of this series, I may just have to 'Buy American'.

Friday, August 07, 2009

So I think I can dance

Just a quick recap of the Season 5 finale of "So You Think You Can Dance?": it catered to me perfectly! I screamed at every encore performance because every single one was a favourite of mine, including the one decent hip hop routine of the season performed by Jeanine and Philip, and the Mia Michaels butt dance. The crowning of Jeanine as 'America's favourite dancer' was more than agreeable to Joe and me, because she is not Evan. Now, we have less than a week to recover before "So You Think You Can Dance? Canada" starts, soon to be followed by Season 6 of the American version in September.

However, I refuse to sit on the sidelines this Fall. After watching four seasons of great dancing, I have decided to climb on the bandwagon and take a ballet class at the National Ballet School of Canada. This decision was also influenced in part by my recent Doors Open tour of the School. Reality will rear its ugly head as I struggle to keep time with the music or work my limbs in a pleasing manner. If anyone needs a clue as to what I might do next after crashing and burning on the dance floor, take note that I also watch "So You Think You Can Fight?"

Monday, August 03, 2009

Bring your boombox and wedding dress

Cameron Crowe's directorial debut, Say Anything is screening for free at Harbourfront Centre this Wednesday, August 5. I can't wait to watch John Cusack lift that boombox, blaring "In Your Eyes", above his head while I (hopefully) catch a warm breeze coming off Lake Ontario. The 1989 film is a preferable example of celluloid teen romance to the cringe-inducing dialogue and shameless wish fulfillment that Twilight fans seem to enjoy. I would mutter, "Kids these days!" but I've seen grown women in the mob.

On Wednesday, August 12, the finale of the Free Flicks series will screen and the feature is Labyrinth. It was easy to convince friends to mark the event on their calendar but will they wear their wedding dresses as budget cosplay of Jennifer Connelly's character? See you there!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Friday Night Play List: Better than a lap dance

With one week to go before the Season 5 finale of "So You Think You Can Dance?", I can say that one of my favourite performances this year has been the Travis Wall piece performed by Jason and Jeanine. I have not seen such smouldering since the Dmitry Chaplin samba danced by Danny and Lacey in Season 3.

Unfortunately, one style that has been sorely lacking this season has been hip-hop. The dancers just have not been up to the challenge of hitting hard then flowing with the music. I miss performances like the Shane Sparks routine that featured Dominic and Sabra (Season 3), and the Tabitha & Napoleon D'umo piece performed by Katee and Joshua (Season 4).

Here are the links to the videos on YouTube, while they last:

And because I love disco but apparently, few others do, here's one of the few Doriana Sanchez routines available: Brandon and Janette

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'm outside enjoy this because I certainly did.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Better from a distance

Second day of Comic Con and, already, exclusives are being released to the wider world, courtesy of the perpetually wired fanboys and fangirls in attendance.

Making use of Comic Con 2009 as a launching pad is the new Joss Whedon production, The Cabin in the Woods. The posters (see second variant and third variant) make me verrrry interested.

However, the biggest buzz is being generated by not one, but two separate clips of ripped boys without their shirts on from New Moon (find them yourself). The female hormones must have run so thick in that screening room that menstrual cycles will align.

As exciting as the cornucopia has been, I can confirm that viewing the images and videos on my computer, over 4000 km away from San Diego, is a sufficient splash guard from the aggressive fans that ruined my fun in 2008.

I wept like an idiot

Meaningful dance routines are featured every week on "So You Think You Can Dance?" but, this past Wednesday, I found myself tearing up as I watched choreographer, Tyce Diorio's piece, inspired by a friend's battle with breast cancer.

I hate to over hype the performance of Melissa and Ade too much so let me just preface this video by admitting that I cried through Wall-E and Up! - whatever that may tell you.

See the legit video here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Doppleganger dreams can come true

As shown in previous blog entries (The Doppleganger Dinner, Doppleganger update), I obsess about a woman who possesses the same name as me. She is back on Facebook but I have not had the courage to approach her.

If only I was as sassy as Kelly Hildebrandt, who not only connected with her doppleganger but is going to marry him, too!

There will be no such happy ending for me and mein doppleganger, since I am not interested sexually in women and any marital relationship could be construed as incestuous. However, even an exchange of pokes on Facebook would be considered a victory at this point. Give me strength!

Aim high or aim low?

My birthday falls on a Monday this year so I've requested a vacation on that day because, even though I mock Joe for taking the week of his birthday off, I would feel pathetic shuffling paperwork on my special day.

I have two strategies in mind for my birthday long weekend: high end or low end. High end entails taking advantage of a last minute flight and hotel deal. This will cost a few hundred dollars per person, at the very least, but remains appealing because we have never been so shotgun in our vacation planning.

If a good vacation package fails to pop up, then I will aim to spend as little money as possible on my birthday. Months ago, I noted that the Elmwood Spa offers a free three course lunch on your birthday as long as you eat between Monday and Thursday, which I can! There are also free birthday meal offers from Tucker's Market Place, Lick's, and Casey's, as well as free dessert at numerous other restaurants.

I would be happy to hear about any other birthday freebies since this could become a challenge to see how much I can milk a date that my peers are increasingly ceasing to acknowledge.

And it goes without saying that I would love some companionship since eating a free meal is hardly satisfying without a paying companion to gaze at you resentfully.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Disappointment at the cinema

In an effort to rest my ailing ankle, I have been catching up on the summer blockbusters and it has been steady disappointment since the only highlight of the season for me, Star Trek. Since I don't respect the following movies, there will be spoilers.

Terminator Salvation
Some viewers have complained that the movie is too dark. I had more of a problem with how stupid some of the characters were. For instance, John Connor and the rest of the humans are convinced that Marcus is a machine sent to spy on them but what kind of spy blows his cover by walking knowingly into a magnetic mine field? And I would posit that John Connor is a machine himself: what human survives a metal spike through the heart long enough to be carried then airlifted then operated on? Apparently, the original story had John dying from his injuries and Marcus taking on the guise of John Connor to lend hope and guidance to the resistance. This would have been preferable to the nonsensical Hallmark greeting card of an ending that director, McG bestowed on us.

The Hangover
Male bonding movies usually do a balancing act between boorish and hilarious. For instance, many of Judd Apatow's movies have been pretty funny, even if women end up playing two dimensional support to the male characters. The Hangover features female characters who are either happy hookers or frigid shrews, and worst yet, is not really that funny for all of its contrived wackiness. Throw in a little Chinese man who jumps out of a car naked to mount one of the main characters and an ignorant Black drug dealer, and we have ourselves possibly the most offensive blockbuster of the summer.

This movie only wishes that it could claim to be outrageously offensive as opposed to a sad misfire. I was a huge fan of Borat because Sacha Baron Cohen was so successful at catching people unaware in ridiculous scenarios, and revealing his targets' prejudices along the way. Unfortunately, Baron Cohen has become a victim of his own success and is clearly too easily recognized by potential targets this time around. The only time that Baron Cohen is able to create any truly ludicrous situation is in the Deep South but ridiculing rednecks is like shooting fish in a barrel. And I understand the concerns of gay activists regarding the movie's depiction of the gay lifestyle; too often the source of laughter is Bruno's stereotype and not the homophobia that is revealed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The lost weekend and Anvil!

The spraining of my ankle coincided perfectly with Joe's wisdom teeth being taken out a mere two days after the accident. I took the Thursday off work to recover as much mobility as possible in order to guide Joe from the dental surgeon's office on the Friday morning. The result was a never-ending weekend of discomfort, soft food, prescription drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

To clarify, the rock 'n' roll experience was vicarious as Joe and I watched Anvil! The Story of Anvil. The documentary charts the struggles of the two 50 year old members of Canadian metal band, Anvil, to recapture the glory of their promising rise to fame in the early 1980s. The story is a hilarious yet touching counterbalance to the winners who claim that all that is required to succeed is to dream big and work hard. More often than not, talented and hardworking individuals toil in obscurity, rewarded only by the exercise of their creativity. Anvil! is worth watching, even if you have the option of leaving the house.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Give-It-A-Tri - failz

One incident that I failed to mention from my weekend at Pine Haven was the rolling of my ankle. Even with hiking boots, my ankles are weak and less challenging environments, like a set of stairs, have caused my ankles to betray me.

I pushed through the pain with exercise over the weekend and was pretty much recovered when I absentmindedly jumped over a knee high barrier on the way to work yesterday. That was when I landed on the same ankle but on concrete and with as much force as a jump will bring. It was as painful as it sounds.

As I gimped my way to work and then lunch, my injured ankle inflated to cankle-like proportions. When I finally left work early to see my personal physician, she started by suggesting an x-ray, to which I responded by clutching my head and wailing. The x-ray was ruled out since a breakage was highly unlikely, which meant that I was probably suffering from a bad sprain.

I casually mentioned the Give-It-A-Tri and my doctor's eyes grew wide. So, my bid at a mini-triatholon in August is out. If taking an injury before the event was a given, then the timing couldn't have been better since I can request the highest level of entry fee refund at this time. Still, it is disappointing to be forced to quit when so much progress has been made in the past five weeks.

I pray that a similar disaster does not strike my Nuit Blanche project.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Swim training update

As I enter the halfway point of my training schedule for the Toronto Island Give-It-A-Tri, I can cautiously say that I may survive the swim portion of the race. With the Toronto municipal workers strike preventing me from accessing lengthier public pools, I have been swimming up to 212m in my condo's 10m pool. This has done little to build confidence since Lake Ontario will not have a smooth tiled floor to stand on when fatigue sets in.

Fortunately, I was able to swim in Devil Lake during a weekend stay at Pine Haven campground. The grounds are beautifully situated on a narrow strip of land between two lakes, very close to Frontenac Provincial Park. In a mere day, we were able to see a sloth, a blue heron nest, turkey vultures circling around an unseen prey, a loon with a baby on her back, an osprey snatch a fish from the water, and listen to bull frogs at night.

Swimming in the lake was definitely a luxury in spite of the hard work required to stay afloat; the water was clean and refreshing. I was able to do my scheduled 265m swim twice, but resorted to rest stops with the assistance of a flotation noodle a number of times. I also switched from front crawl to backstroke repeatedly. The latter is not a recommended swimming style for a race since you could easily veer off course. My friend, Tony, serving as my lifeguard and guide, screamed "left" and "right" as needed to prevent me from ending up downstream.

Flocons and I are planning to brave a swim in Lake Ontario to continue acclimatizing ourselves to lake conditions. Lake Ontario will probably be less pleasant than Devil Lake but the fear of drowning can prompt one to do crazy things.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Canada Day drink and run

With the success of the Run for Liqueur last Canada Day, I decided to hold another beer mile. However, after our donation resulted in the Canadian Liver Foundation selling my information, I decided that the recipient of funds raised this year would be Vicki's Weekend to End Breast Cancer bid.

The 2009 Run for Liqueur was muted in comparison to last year's event, perhaps because most of the competitors still shuddered at the memory. Ignorance was bliss for first-time competitor, Attila, who completed his first lap before anyone else had even finished their first drink. However, by his third drink, Attila was slumped on the ground, because lying on his back made his discomfort worst.

My choice of chocolate soy milk over last year's chocolate dairy milk was only an improvement in the aftermath of the event as my suffering was shortlived but resulted in my disqualification. Joe's choice of Corona and Sleeman's proved to be less successful than last year's screwdrivers. Only Roger took a different strategy in his stubborn adherence to Grasshopper despite last year's disappointing results, and while his time did not improve, his overall ranking did. Ultimately, the only competitor who improved his overall time and ranking was Mike, who credits his nationalistic choice of Molson Canadian for his win.

It is questionable whether I will run another beer mile. In an event where the Masters level starts at 30 years of age, when most running events define Masters as being over 40, I feel that retirement may not be premature. However, I must admit that I am curious to see if a third drink choice will contribute to improved results. Until next Canada Day...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Art for a millenium

Artist and journalist Jonathon Keats has created the longest story ever told for Opium Magazine. Merely nine words long, the story has been printed in such a way that only long term exposure of the magazine cover to ultra violet light will reveal each word over the course of 1000 years.

Keats's work is a reaction to the quick-click publishing and consumption that dominates the internet and contemporary culture at large. That this work has captured so much attention, along with the slow food movement and the resurgence of craft (ie Etsy), tells me that people may be exhausted by the current speed of living.

Among my pet peeves about the fast and the furious are people who fail to read emails carefully before hitting 'Reply All', and friends who won't read my longer blog entries. Slowing down is desirable but, as a generation brought up on video games, I suspect that only heart disease and other byproducts of our lifestyle will force us to operate at a more leisurely pace.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Best case Monday

With summer finally arriving in Toronto, I'm finding it hard to go to work. Happily, today is turning out to be better than expected. Both my boss and my immediate supervisor are out of the office. While this scenario is conducive to slacking off, I have actually been productive because meeting a deadline has been compatible with listening to "Q" on CBC Radio, which featured an interview with one of my favourite writers, David Sedaris. I actually laughed until my spreadsheet became blurry, though my co-worker might have perceived sobbing stifled by hastily grabbed tissue paper. The podcast of the interview should be uploaded soon so check it out.

Quick notes on two street festivals that I visited over the weekend:

Taste of Little Italy - A smaller event than Taste of the Danforth that was heavy on food offerings from everywhere but Italy. My friend made a point of eating Italian food at the festival but was disappointed after his determined search resulted in some rather ordinary ravioli.

Big on Bloor - It was unfortunate that this one day festival took place during steady day-long rain on Saturday. The weather meant less crowding for Joe and me but we felt sorry for the sodden vendors, especially the ones without any shelter. One thing that I like about the Big on Bloor Street Festival is that it features up and coming crafters and artists that I do not normally see at bigger events. Eric Cheung had his Orphans Plush sitting in an old suitcase, open to the elements. He came out from the shelter of a store front to give us a whimsical tale about the dolls and explain how he had learned to sew in order to produce them. The Orphans were so appealing and well priced that we couldn't resist adopting one. We named him Walter and discovered that he longs to become a ballet dancer in spite of his footballer's build, which he attempts to camouflage with the vertical lines of his tight sweater.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Latest obsession: The Tawny Man trilogy

For the past two weeks, I have been sleep-deprived yet felt little in the way of exhaustion because of my raging addiction to Robin Hobb's fantasy trilogy, The Tawny Man series. I had previously attempted to read this series after finishing the Farseer trilogy that precedes it, but gave up, perhaps due to fantasy fatigue. When I recently felt the need to be immersed in something other than non-fiction, giving The Tawny Man series anther chance seemed like a good bet.

Overall, The Tawny Man series has less action than the Farseer trilogy. The same narrator, FitzChivalry Farseer, is now a 35 year old recluse who refuses to be dragged back into his previous life as a royal bastard turned assassin, a role that ultimately required him to sacrifice love and family for the sake of loyalty to the Farseer monarchy. Like its protagonist, the books are more slowly paced and the best moments are the ones that focus on character development and interaction. Hobb's ability to imbue her characters and their relationships with psychological depth and realistic complexity is as impressive as it was in the Farseer trilogy.

Cryptic spoilers to follow.

Book One: Fool's Errand
Possibly the most satisfying book of the series because of its consistent focus on the themes of civil and paternal responsibility. The reader fails to encounter any action until the 1/3 point of the book, hence, some may find the pacing slow but I was absorbed in the reunion of Fitz with the few who know that he lives, especially the Fool, now known as the ridiculously entertaining Lord Golden. A romantic tension between these two male characters becomes palpable, in spite of Fitz's obliviousness to the Fool's subtle affection. The threat of the Piebalds, a militant group originating from a marginalized community, feels very real. The novel concludes with the rocky start of Fitz's relationship with Prince Dutiful and the devastating end of another.

Book Two: Golden Fool
Fitz reacquaints himself with his childhood home, Buckkeep, while attempting to hide his true identity as a royal bastard under the guise of the outrageous Lord Golden's servant. The majority of the story is driven by intrigue brought about by a possible political alliance with a former enemy, the Outislanders, through an arranged marriage for Prince Dutiful, and Fitz's reluctant role in it. The romantic tension between Fitz and Lord Golden builds to a devastating clash that results in the sorely felt absence of the latter character for the second half of the book. This void is partially filled by a riveting sequence in which Fitz engages a group of Piebalds and nearly loses his life, but the conclusion of the novel is marred when the relationship between Fitz and the Fool comes to a dissatisfying impasse.

Book Three: Fool's Fate
Reading the first half of this book was an exercise in frustration simply because of the narrative's unrelenting focus on Fitz's thankless guardianship of half-wit, Thick. Thick becomes the 'JarJar Binks' of the series, nearly ruining the third book by forcing both Fitz and the reader to suffer his idiotic selfishness. It is only when Thick recedes from the spotlight and the Fool/Lord Golden returns that the story picks up again. The plot quickens as Fitz and the Fool face the latter's arch rival, the Pale Woman, and Fitz must seemingly choose between loyalty to the Farseers and his friendship with the Fool in deciding the fate of a long lost dragon. While the conclusion of Fitz's relationship with the Fool is heart wrenching, the rest of Hobb's plot wrap-ups seem overly convenient. Especially disappointing is the afterthought resolution of the Piebald problem. Fitz's life is determinedly set for a happy ending, with the notable exception of his relationship with the Fool, which ends prematurely and without closure for both men - sadly much like real life.
For a more detailed assessment of Fool's Fate, I recommend the review of J.Smith "ladyofthebooks".

I feel a little relieved that I have finally finished this series since it has distracted me from functioning as a productive adult. As dissatisfying as I found the ending, wishing that it had been as ruthlessly loyal to the characters as the Farseer trilogy was, the novels kept me riveted throughout, and I would recommend them without reservation.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Drinking and stumbling

This past weekend, I ran my first race since the Las Vegas Half-Marathon back in December and it was in keeping with my new, lackadaisical attitude towards running. The inaugural Twenty Valley Niagara Wine Country Run offered 21km, 10km and 4km distances and featured wine tasting stations roughly every 2 kms. I was thrilled to have an facsimile of the Marathon du Médoc offered so close to home.

The race atmosphere was the most relaxed that I have ever experienced. Despite claims to the contrary, personal bests are important to racers and competitive posturing is rampant before the gun goes off. Yet, none of the runners that I saw carried gels nor other nutritional supplements and few exhibited quiet intensity at the start line, since the savouring of alcohol already dictated less than ideal racing conditions. Runners joked about boarding the "elite runner's shuttle bus" and asked for recommendations on which wine went well with Gatorade. The route's scenic rolling hills prompted many runners to simply walk the inclines, especially after leaving a wine tasting station.

The only complaint that I have about the race was the time of day that it took place. Since alcohol cannot be legally served before 11am, all races started at roughly that time. Much of the route was unshaded and it was a hard run under the midday sun with alcohol sloshing in the system. My personal preference would be for the race to be scheduled in the evening, though that may be too much of an inconvenience from organizational and marketing points of view.

The night before the run, we stayed at Silver Birches by-the-Lake Bed and Breakfast. Besides being conveniently located, the hospitality was superb and the amenities demonstrated owners, Paul and Leah Padfield's attention to detail. One benefit of the late race start was that it allowed us the leisure to enjoy the hearty breakfast, which is not normally recommended before a race but provided a good foundation for the wine sampling to come.

Definitely a very enjoyable weekend of bacchanalian athleticism.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Not an infomercial for pillows

For the first time in 15 years, I am not suffering from a stiff, achy lower back. Why? Because I have discovered the body pillow! Just $99.99! Call now!

Actually, I am just using a regular pillow but it is supporting my upper leg when I sleep on my side and the result has been the disappearance of my lower back problems. Previous to my use of this body pillow equivalent, yoga exercises helped ease the tension in my back but it was a treatment rather than a solution. I am ecstatic with this seemingly magical product, to say the least.

Also making me happy at night is my buckwheat pillow, which I bought at the Christmas 2008 One of a Kind Show from Harvest Pillows. I was inspired to buy this product after using a traditional Japanese buckwheat pillow during my stay at an onsen. It took about a month of restless nights before I became comfortable with the buckwheat pillow, but now, it provides all of the neck support of my previous favourite, the Obus Forme Standard Cervical Pillow, minus the frustration of weakening neck support over time. Joe inherited my old Obus Forme pillow and, despite its slightly degraded foam, it has cured him of the headaches that were brought on by his regular pillow's lack of neck support.

The body and buckwheat pillows are not for everyone but a sleep aid of some sort can cure seemingly unrelated body and head aches. The solution can be as simple as providing limb support using an spare pillow. Wow!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Luminato 2009 = weak art

Now entering its third year, Luminato - Toronto Festival of the Arts + Creativity failed to interest me in its two previous years. The majority of their events are ticketed performances while their free programming is limited (Correction: by my count, 2/3 of the programming is free). However, I decided to check out the Luminato free visual art projects last Sunday and it was disappointing to say the least.

Red Ball Project Toronto by Kurt Perschke
Essentially a giant ball wedged into familiar city landmarks. On Sunday, it took up the main entrance of Old City Hall; this venue proved to be a more interesting contrast to the giant red ball than Friday's venue, Nathan Phillips Square. The piece easily engaged the general public, encouraging public interaction with the ball from kids and adults alike, but definitely lacked any depth. I worry that a piece like this will be used by those who fail to appreciate contemporary art as an example of how shallow the genre is.

long wave by David Rokeby and Primary Manifestos by Jason Baerg (Luminato Box)
After seeing Perschke's work, long wave's use of red balls appears derivative. Even considered on its own, Rokeby's string of red balls swirling through the galleria of Brookfield Place has the impact of Ikea home design: safe and unobtrusive.
Jason Baerg's Primary Manifestos was Sunday's featured artist in the Luminato Box and its total lack of consideration for the unique venue was off putting. Paintings and a projection that could have been shown in any gallery space did nothing to acknowledge the Luminto Box nor the location. However, I am more inclined to blame the curator than the artist for this sloppiness. With a different artist featured every day of the 10 day festival, one would think that the curator would have chosen more dynamic work that makes use of or references the Luminato Box.

Broken Arrow by Germaine Koh
This piece was hiddent deep inside the darkened Exchange Tower and was overwhelmed by its venue. Koh had moving words projected onto a wall, but the whole piece was barely noticeable above a pair of escalators and on a wide expanse of black granite wall. The result was underwhelming and the message was obscured.

Public art installation by Tony Oursler
Having had some of Tony Oursler's work burned into my memory more than a decade ago, I was disappointed by his contribution to Luminato. When we arrived in the middle of the day, Oursler's piece just outside Grange Park was not turned on. After a sufficient number of confused visitors had roamed around the piece, a Luminato worker finally got up to turn on the visuals and sound. However, it was hard to see anything in the midday light. Ousler's installation would have been better suited to a night time event like Nuit Blanche than a festival that takes place during some of the longest days of the year.

Based on what I have seen, I would characterize Luminato's free visual art offerings as conservative and/or insensitive to its surroundings. If the organizers of Luminato cannot offer provocative visual art in the event's rather limited repetoire, they might as well not offer any at all.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sucker for punishment

This past weekend, I watched Flocons participate in the Milton Try-a-Tri, as part of his quest to get fit or die trying. As I watched Flocons and the other competitors flop around like salmon during spawning season, followed by public disrobing, then some random silliness (ie running with a bike helmet on), I thought to myself, "This sport is becoming increasingly attractive..."

I have not participated in a running event yet this year, partly because I do not enjoy running in freezing temperatures, but also because running has become routine. However, with the injection of biking and the threat of drowning, perhaps my will to exercise will be revived.

To test this theory, I have signed up for the Toronto Island Give-It-A-Tri along with Flocons. We will try to support each other over the next 10 weeks of training. If our swimming does not improve by August 15, we will literally support each other as makeshift floatation devices. For once, I can honestly say that I am aiming to finish.

Monday, June 01, 2009

I want this

I could easily believe that this is a hoax or even an art project but the fact that it is a reality makes me grateful that I am alive in this consumer culture.