Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas music revisited

  Last month I mentioned my personal tradition of buying a new Christmas CD every year, and later mentioned four CDs that were on my short list of considerations this year. Here is the result, along with a short review of each of the CDs I chose. Yes, I said CDs (plural). I couldn't decide between them all, so I bought two. On Wednesday I picked up Boogie Woogie Christmas by The Brian Setzer Orchestra, and Verve Presents: The Very Best of Christmas Jazz by Various Artists.
  It was a difficult decision. I really liked all four choices. The cut came down to style rather than quality. I rejected the
Barenaked Ladies and A Canadian Christmas CDs because I had purchased albums of contemporary music the last several years running. I decided to go with something more traditional.
  The Verve disc encompasses recordings made between 1937 and 1997 of such standards as Here Comes Santa Claus, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! and Winter Wonderland. All the older recordings, and there are several from the fifties and sixties, have been carefully restored and remastered, and for the most part sound really good. Apart from the 1937 recording of Good Morning, Blues by The Count Basie Orchestra which has some scratchiness in the vocals, you would need a really practiced ear to discern the fifty year old recordings from the eight year old ones. Stand out tracks include Silent Night by Dinah Washington, A Child Is Born by Oscar Peterson, and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer by Ella Fitzgerald. My personal favourite: Merry Christmas, Baby performed by Kenny Burrell with Richard Evans and Orchestra from the 1966 recording Have Yourself A Soulful Little Christmas.
  Boogie Woogie Christmas by The Brian Setzer Orchestra was originally released in 2002. It was re-released this year with several bonus tracks added to the line-up. Only after I got home from the store did I realise that I did not get the re-release, but the original (pout). Nevertheless, Setzer's big band swing arrangements, with nods to Les Brown, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington, cannot help but get your toes tapping, and even your hips swinging. But it is his rockabilly guitar work that adds just the right amount of goofy fun to the mix to ensure you won't be able to sit back down until it's over. On Baby It's Cold Outside, guest vocalist Ann-Margret surprises with a beautifully sweet, yet soulful turn, and on Blue Christmas, Brian himself raises eyebrows with a vocal that would not be out of place alongside Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra. But what we are really here for are the full out boogie renditions of (Everybody's waiting for) The Man With The Bag, and Boogie Woogie Christmas. It is too bad I am missing out on the extra tracks, which included Run Rudolph Run, and a Setzer original: Santa Drives a Hot Rod. There's always Kazaa. (oops, did I say that out loud?)
  I am very happy with the selections I made this year. Though I wish I could have afforded to buy them all, I know these two were the right choices to make. Just don't ask me to choose between them.

The very next picture...

Le castagne di Shadow

Shadow spent the day at the Vet's office yesterday. Poor fellow will never be a father. Suffice it to say he no longer has a heart on for you.

Merry Christmas

I would like to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. I hope you are all spending time this coming week with people special to you. May Santa Claus bless you with munificence, and may Old Father Time hand his hourglass to the Baby New Year in the presence of both yourself and your favourite party accompaniment. Behave responsibly, and remember the Golden Rule: do unto others, and then split!

Monday, December 20, 2004

How about that weather?

  OK, so it is officially cold outside. Yesterday, I was talking to my sister on the phone, and she asked me how cold it was here. I told her that I was looking at the thermometer outside my kitchen window. It had full sun beating down on it, and it read -13C (that's about zero for you Fahrenheit folk).
  No, that's not what I was talking about. I took the dog out for a walk at the dog park, and almost froze the tip of my nose off, but that's really not all that cold.
  This morning, that same thermometer reads -27C (again, for you Celsius challenged people, that's almost -20F). Now that, is damn cold! I am not even remotely stupid enough to try and go over to the dog park today. Unfortunately, I do have to go out shopping. This morning may be the only opportunity I have all this week to get out without my son tagging along. I hope my car starts.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

I hate these things

Oh, what the hell...

This is from Rachel. She got it from who IS dangero. Where he got it from, I don't know.

1. What's your main source of music (radio, MTV, CD, Cassette player, etc)?

At home, I'm generally listening to one of the satellite digital music stations. No commercials, no talking, just the music I want to hear. In the car I listen to the radio or play CDs

2. What is currently in that source or what station/channel is it set to?

The Satellite music usually jumps between new rock and classic rock. Right now it's on holiday music a lot.

3. What channel would your TV be set on,  from the night before, when the TV is turned on in the morning?

The night before I was probably either listening to music, or watching a DVD movie, so there wouldn't really be a TV channel to speak of. Maybe Space:The Imagination Station, if we were watching Enterprise, or Firefly.

4. What book(s) are you currently reading right now? .

I just finished A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. It's a short little read, but a lot of fun. I'm currently in the middle of Robert Heinlein's Time Enough For Love (thanks John) and Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling.

5. What TV shows do you always stop on no matter what?

I can't think of one.

6. What TV shows do you never stop on no matter what?

Survivor, or any similar reality show. The only exception would be The Big Break on The Golf Channel.

7. What movies do you always stop to watch no matter what?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

8. Whatmovies do you never stop to watch no matter what?

Anything with Madonna in it. No wait, Desperately Seeking Susan wasn't bad.

9. What songs/groups do you always stop for?

Right now, whenever I hear 'Nobody' by Skindred, I crank it up.

10. What songs/groups/music do you always switch off/away from?

Top 40 pop drivel.

11.What song(s) always makes you get misty/cry?

There isn't one. Music doesn't do that to men. It's a chick thing.

12. What TV show episode(s)/movie scene(s) make you get misty/cry?

ET phone home.

13. What TV show episode(s)/movie scene(s) make you laugh no matter how often you've seen it/them?

ET phone home.

14. What's the scariest scene/movie you've ever seen?

The mother and daughter are safe. The movie is over. And then Cujo comes through the kitchen window. I swear I nearly crapped my pants.

15. What movie/scene really offended you?

The Master of Disguise. It was so bad I was offended that it ever got made.

16. What movie that you thought you would dislike/or avoided altogether completely took you by surprise?

Moulin Rouge. I didn't know it was a musical when I rented it. When it started, I thought I would hate it. Halfway through I thought it sucked. By the end I was knocked out. I think it is one of the best movies ever made.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Exclusionary tactics

Where was I?
You had bats in your belfry.
Hey, no comments from the cheap seats!

  Ok. So, I have bats. You can't kill them; for two reasons.
  One, bats are good for the environment. They eat insects; and not just any insects: insects that are commonly referred to as pests. There are two common species of bat in my area: the large brown bat, and the small brown bat. The small brown bat likes to eat mosquitos. Really likes to eat mosquitos.
Individuals can catch up to 1,200 insects in just one hour during peak feeding activity. You can imagine the effect of a colony on the local mosquito population.
  The large brown bats prefer beetles. Not just any beetles.
Not Beauregard the Christmas Beetle. What large brown bats consider to be a particular delicacy are potato beetles and cucumber beetles. In fact, a colony of 150 big brown bats can consume enough adult cucumber beetles in one summer to prevent egg-laying that would produce 33 million of their root-worm larvae, a major pest of corn. Big brown bats clearly rank among America’s most beneficial animals.
  The second reason you can't kill them has to do with the fact that it's really hard to do. Bats are quite resistant to the types of poisons one might use to kill other similarly sized animals, like mice. So you have to use lots of it, or stronger poisons; both things one doesn't want to do in one's own home. It's also against the law. You know, to protect the stupid from themselves.
  So they are good for the environment. You want them around. Why even bother trying to get rid of them? That is a very good question. You don't want them in your home for a couple of reasons, as well. First, they are common carriers of rabies. Outside, in their natural environment, bat bites are virtually unheard of. Inside, if they manage to get into the living areas of your home, they are frightened and confused, and bites can occur. Second, there is an undesirable property to their feces. Yes, their crap. If it builds up enough, it starts to ferment, and a toxic gas is created. Definitely a good reason to get them the heck out of there.
  So, it's the old conundrum: can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em. What to do? Well, you have to perform a bat exclusion. Don't worry, it doesn't involve sitting in a circle, holding hands and chanting. What it does involve is finding a way of letting them get out of the attic without letting them get back in.
  Enter Charles Robertson, bat exclusionist extraordinaire. An exclusionary procedure involves four steps. Step one: locate all points of bat egress. There are always two, and sometimes three or more. Step two: Using high quality caulking, combined with physical barriers if the openings exceed one half inch in width, seal all possible openings into the structure, with the exception of the two primary points of egress. Step three: place exclusion shields over the two remaining openings. wait for all bats to exit premises. Step four: seal remaining openings.
  I know, I was going too fast. I'll go back to step three. An exclusion shield is a device that allows the bats to exit, but not to re-enter. The most common exclusion shields are simply plastic or nylon netting hung down over the holes they use to enter and exit the building. Bats have a somewhat unique way of taking flight. When they take off, they drop for about a foot until they get their wings open. An exclusion shield like the one shown here allows them to "fall" out of their doorway, but when they try to fly back in, following a more direct flight path, they encounter the net and are unable to get to the opening. This wasn't good enough for Mr. Robertson, though. He likes bats. He didn't want any of them getting caught up in the netting and hurting themselves.
  He wanted to determine the exact species of bat living in my attic. If he could identify them, he would know what frequency their sonar-like sounding system worked on. Then, he could pick a netting with holes of a very specific size, that would present itself as solid to the bat's sonar. As the bats approached where they thought their door was, they would not be able to "see" it, and would veer off. Very humane.
  To that end, he clambered up into my attic and started his scouting around. He had a tiny microphone contraption he pointed around and listened for the amplified sound of leathery little wings rustling. Once that pointed him in the right direction, he used a low intensity light to suss out where the creatures were roosting. After several minutes, he climbed back out and announced that we had a small colony of "Big Brown Bats" in our attic; only about 100-150 bats. Yeah. Small. He told us he had worked on some colonies of up to 1500 bats.
  The netting had to stay in place for three days, to be sure that all the bats inside the building had left. Apparently, a bat can go without feeding for as much as 48 hours, but on the third day, they absolutely have to come out and eat. After 72 hours he sealed up the two "bat doors" and presented me with a bill for $1500.00. No that is not a typo. There are the correct number of zeros in that amount. One thousand, five hundred dollars. Expensive, but we felt it was worth it. According to everyone we had talked to, he was the guy to get it right, and he gave us a two year guarantee of bat freedom. It's been ten.
  There was still the question of how the bats had been getting into the house in the first place. "Oh, that's easy," he said. "Through the basement." Our blank stares and drool must have clued him to the fact we didn't understand, so he filled us in.
  Your basement is unfinished, right? Right. They only got into the house in late July, right? Right. And they were only two to three inches long, right? Right. They were babies, he tells us. Here's the deal. The mama bat is taking her youngster out for his early flying lessons outdoors. This usually happens about the third or fourth week of July. She leads him to the edge of the attic, and hops over the space between the inner wall and the brick. The young bat misses the hop, and falls down into the stud bay. Well, bats almost never climb up. To a bat, down is out, so the baby bat climbs down, and down, and down. He can worm his way through openings only 1/4 inch wide. Eventually, he finds his way all the way down to the basement, where the walls are open and he can escape into the house. At some point, in his search for a further escape, he finds his way under the basement door and into the main floor of the house.
  In my expert opinion, I'd say our incredulity showed on our faces, because he led us down into our own basement, where he scouted around for a few seconds and picked up something from the floor.A really small, black something. He held it out on the palm of his hand for us to see. "What's that," I asked. He smiled. Bat dropping. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Bats in my belfry

  I used to have bats in my belfry.

Ok, so I don't really have a belfry. In my attic, though. And they got into the house from there pretty frequently.
  I remember the first time it happened. My wife and I were sound asleep one sultry July night when we were jolted awake by our cat doing the Daytona 500 on our bed. After about 7 circuits she left the bed and careened down the hall into the living room. We could hear her bouncing off various pieces of furniture. This definitely fell into the category of What The Hell
  Stumbling down the hall and flicking a light switch revealed two small bats fluttering around our living room in that remarkably unbirdlike way of flying bats have. A peeping tom, had one been peeping, would have got quite a kick out of watching us, myself with a tennis racquet, my wife with a broom, trying to herd these little creatures towards a propped open front door. It was a good twenty minutes before we could manage to get both of them to escape into the night. A bizarre experience, to be sure.
  The next day we told our neighbour about it, and he informed us that it was not the first time it had happened. The previous occupants of our house had experienced the same nightly visitations on occasion. How they got in was a complete mystery to me. We were worried about it for some time, but the event did not reoccur and we eventually stopped thinking about it.
  Fast forward approximately one year to another late July evening. The wife and I were sitting in the living room enjoying a movie: Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I kid you not. We had just got to the scary part, if that movie can be said to have a scary part, when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. You guessed it. Two more bats flying around in our living room. We were suitably freaked out. The same broom and racquet dance ensued until we could return to the conclusion of our movie bat free.
  This time around we were renovating our kitchen. We assumed the bats had somehow got into our attic, and come out through the rather largish gaps between the walls and ceiling. Again, it was a one-off incident,and the kitchen was finished in short order to prevent a recurrence.
  You know what's coming, don't you?
  Again, it is one year later, and this time we have a four month old baby sleeping upstairs. Again, it is late on a July evening. Again, we discover that we have bats flying around in our house. One flies up the hallway and into our son's bedroom. Obviously, this is a situation we are no longer able to ignore. We have to call the bat man.
  We said that facetiously, but upon doing some research, we find that there is only one person we can call; and they call him the bat man. You see, bats are protected species. They are not endangered, but due to man's rapid development of our natural areas, they are certainly threatened. And we want bats around. Lots of bats. They eat literally thousands of mosquitos a night. Pest control agencies must be specially licensed to deal with bats, and under no circumstances are they allowed to chemically exterminate the animals.
  The only way to get rid of bats in your home is to do what is called an exclusion. And the only person in the Greater Toronto Area, at the time, who could do a bat exclusion was Charles Robertson. Charles was a research assistant at the University of Toronto, and worked with the Ontario Conservation Authority. He was one of the foremost authorities on bats in Canada, and had worked with them around the world. He even kept one as a pet; one of the big ones they call flying foxes. And everyone who knew him, everyone, called him The Bat Man.

Stay tuned for the next installment: The Exclusion.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Weekend Assignment #38

Well, it's that time again. It is the weekend, and time to play everybody's favourite game: John Scalzi's Weekend Assignment. This week's game makes us all think about our favourite Christmas stories, and then take it a step further.

Weekend Assignment #38: It's the Holidays! Create your own festive Holiday Character and give him, her or it at least one seasonally appropriate magical ability (or use its native traits and skills to save the holiday season).

Extra Credit:
Provide at least one stanza of your Holiday Character's theme song (to help you out, you may borrow the music of any familiar song).

  Before I introduce you to my favourite Christmas story, let me bring you up to date on John's choice. John introduced us to Gerald the Christmas Marmoset, who's gum chewing antics delighted dozens of fans anually in the South American Television Special, Aieee, Papai Noel! Few people know that Gerald later went on to make other Christmas Specials, including the Caribbean themed 
Have An Irie Christmas, Mon. He became known in television industry insider circles as Gerald the product placement Marmoset due to his uncanny ability to always pick up a prop with the label side facing out. Sadly, Gerald's lifestyle led to a rapid decline into cola dependency and chronic gas, and he hasn't worked since 1983. But enough tragic tales. Let's move on to a happier story.
  This is the story of Beauregard the Christmas Beetle. Now Beauregard, as it seems is so common in these yarns, was not like the other Christmas Beetles. It was not that he was a purple beetle when the popular colours were gold and crimson. It was not that he preferred fruit to the more traditional leaves eaten by all the other beetles. He was simply not content to hang on a tree and be the object of a Christmas day beetle hunt by precocious Brisbane or Adelaide youngsters. Beauregard wanted to experience the true meaning of Christmas: getting free stuff. To that end he found his way into a nearby home and made himself comfortable under a discarded sugarplum wrapper. Salvaging threads from clothes piled up in the laundry room, Beauregard fashioned himself a small pillowcase to put out for Father Christmas to fill, just as the young children of the household would do Christmas Eve. Concerned that Father Christmas would not be able to find him on the big night, Beauregard took up residence in the wood hopper beside the fireplace so he would be as close as possible.
  Finally, the night before Christmas arrived, and all the children of the family were tucked into their beds. Mama and Papa, kerchief'd and capped, had settled down as well. The coast was clear. Beauregard began his trek from the wood hopper to the front of the fireplace, dragging his little pillowcase behind him. He arranged it beside the others, and stepped back to wait. 
  Time seemed to have stopped for Beauregard. It seemed he had been sitting in one place forever when he heard a sound. A sound from above. Coming clearly down the chimney was the sound of a clattering as of tiny hoofs on the roof. That sound was then replaced by the scratching and grating of a large object being pushed downwards in the narrow flue. Suddenly, a large canvas sack plopped onto the floor of the fireplace, followed by two sturdy, dusty black boots. In another moment Father Christmas himself stepped over the grate and into the room.
   He was a big man. Of course, every human was big to Beauregard, but even compared to the Papa of the house, Father Christmas was large; tall and solidly built. His rough brown pants and tunic were dirty, almost grimy. His face and beard were black from the soot of a thousand fireplaces. Covered as he was in ash, his boots made no print on the floor, and where the hem of his tunic brushed the sofa, no black mark was left behind. This bearded giant surveyed the living room of the house, and his eyes lit upon the line of pillowcases arrayed neatly on the floor just in front of the hearth.
  Beauregard, fearful of being missed, scuttled forward to be closer to his own tatty cloth bag. He tried to push himself up to his tallest, and spread out his shiny indigo wings. He didn't want Father Christmas to overlook him. Father Christmas, however, had looked away at that very moment. He turned back to the fireplace, hoisted his big bag of toys up and over his shoulder, and then stepped towards the empty, hopeful pillowcases.


  Father Christmas had stepped on Beauregard and his homespun pillowcase. He did not look down, nor even appear to take any notice. And yet... It is my understanding that Santa was heard to exclaim ere he drove out of sight, "oops, I guess I've been the naughty one tonight. Ho ho ho!"
  Like most traditional Christmas stories, there is a song about Beauregard the Christmas Beetle. Some say the song was written first, and the Christmas story was written afterwards, but no evidence can be found to support that claim. I have reproduced the short version of the Beauregard the Christmas Beetle song here. It is sung to the tune of Ave Maria.

Beauregard was a Christmas beetle
Purple and shiny and full of mettle
Wove a pillowcase for Christmas day
Got stepped on as Santa walked away
Oh yeah!

Merry Christmas

'dung beetle' artwork found at

Friday, December 10, 2004

The twelve emergency calls of Christmas

  Mike, AKA rescuesquad93, is an EMT, an Emergency Medical Technician, in an undisclosed US city. He recently posted The Twelve Days of Christmas-EMS style in his journal. It's a hoot, you should check it out. Unless, of course, you don't have a sense of humour about those kinds of things. If you're going to get all wedgied up over members of the essential services making jokes about some of the situations they get into, you should probably go here: The Washington Post. You'll be in good company.

The skunkification of Shadow

  My in-laws are vacationing in Florida. I think I mentioned that before. Yesterday, I went over to their place with Shadow for an hour or so. I had to drop off their van (I had used it to drive them to the airport) and retrieve my car. I also had to do a few little things around the house for them, like feed and water the ducks, turn off the water in the house, etc. When I go over, my father-in-law likes me to hang around for a while, open the garage door, start a fire in the fireplace, make the place look lived in to people driving by.
  I left Shadow to wander around the property while I puttered. When I was ready to go, I couldn't find him. Oh, great, I thought. If I've allowed this dog to run away my wife is going to kill me. I started tromping around the approximately one acre lot whistling and calling. The little putz was nowhere to be found. Finally, as I approached the extreme back end of the property, I let out a particularly shrill whistle and Shadow's head popped up from out of some long grass about 200 yards into the field behind my in-laws' place.
  As soon as he saw me, he started off like a shot in my direction. To encourage him to keep coming, I started to run away from him, back towards the house. With a Border Collie, this is an almost guaranteed way of making sure he keeps coming to you. When I reached my car, I turned and sank into a crouch with my arms out to receive him. As he came barrelling into me I discovered, to my horror, as you may already have deduced, that he had been sprayed by a skunk.


  And I had to drive home with him sitting on the seat beside me. Possibly the most distasteful fifteen minutes of my life. Neither of the preceding two sentences are grammatically correct. One of them isn't even a sentence. But I digress.
  Needless to say, the planned activities for the rest of the day were immediately shelved in response to the sudden emergency that is a skunkified dog in desperate need of a bath.
  Now, if any of you have ever owned an animal that has been sprayed by a skunk, you have been through all this. Simply bathing him in a solution of water containing equal parts mango/papaya dog shampoo and baking soda, while it did manage to blunt the eyestinging sharpness of the odour somewhat, did not do the trick. Everybody has heard about tomato juice, but take my word for it; don't waste good tomato juice on bathing your pet. Use it to make Bloody Marys instead. When our cat was sprayed by a skunk a couple of years ago, we tried that. We bathed her twice in succession with tomato juice, and ended up with a smelly, pink cat. Tomato juice does not work.
  The other thing we discovered during our previous experience is that a wet animal smells exponentially worse than a dry one. If you think the stench of your skunkified animal is almost gone, don't give her another bath. Trust me, you don't want to be proven that wrong.
  Having, as I said before, merely blunted the offensiveness of the odour, I bestowed Shadow in his 'crate' and sallied forth to the pet supply store (I needed kitty litter anyway) to ask for advice. They sold me something called "skunk-off" (an inventive product name to be sure) and told me it was the best thing available.
  The instructions on the bottle said to mix the entire contents with two quarts of water and thoroughly saturate the animal with the resulting solution. Not wanting to simply dump a bucket of the stuff over him and risk missing a spot, I hit upon the plan of filling my wife's plant sprayer with the solution (yes, I washed it out first). That way I could target the specific areas of stinkiness.
  Picture, if you will: A man, a bathtub, a wet, smelly dog. The man clutches the squirming animal to his breast, struggling to hold him still while a ten year old boy sprays the poor thing in the face with a Windex bottle. The dog. He was spraying the dog. I ended up as wet as Shadow, and not having the benefit of skunk smell myself, I now bear the equal and opposite aroma of "skunk-off." Shadow? He just smells like wet dog again. Unless you go up and sniff really close to his face. Thankfully, everybody knows you never put your face up close to a dog.

Monday, December 6, 2004

Invocation revoked!

  I actually have an internet invocation story to tell you about. You all remember John Scalzi's Law Of Internet Invocation. Back in September, I wrote my own Internet Invocation entry (actually two) and I finally have a legitimate success to report. Well, sort of.
My Dad, it seems, has been reading my journal all along. He just never said anything before. I should have known better. He was the one who originally started me reading these silly things when he sent me a link to Jay's blog almost two years ago. He didn't mention it because he was trying to register an AIM account with a clever name in order to leave cryptic comments here. For three months. No word on whether it was the AIM sign-up part or the clever part that eluded him.
  I'm still waiting to hear from Mark Hamill.

Friday, December 3, 2004

Weekend assignment #37

  John Scalzi... You all know John Scalzi, don't you? He's AOL's professional blogger. That's right, he's good enough to get paid for it. Anyway, John's newest Weekend Assignment is a silly little exercise on the surface that, if you spend any time thinking about it, will slowly and surely drive you mad. It is, and I quote: We all know what our best personal quality is. What's your second-best personal quality?
It's that first line that is confounding. Do we really know our own best qualities?Without thinking first, I would  immediately say that my sense of humour is my own best quality. Yet if you asked me to think about it a bit, I would have to admit that most people I know don't get my sense of humour. Things I say that I think should be bitingly funny all too often end up being met with blank stares, or even hostility. At movies, I regularly laugh at things that nobody else in the theater found funny. In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding I thought the funniest line in the movie, by far, was the Mother trying, and failing, to say the word 'bunt.' My hearty laugh rang out through an otherwise silent theater. People started pointing at me and whispering behind their hands.
  So what, you say. He's not asking for your best quality, he's asking for your second best quality. But, how can one come up with one's second best quality if one does not know what one's best quality is? What if the quality I choose to tell you is my second best quality, isn't really my second best quality? What if it's really my best quality? That would be dishonest. What then? Huh? Huh?
  See, there it is again. The sudden silence. The single blink. The interminable stare.

  I asked my wife what my best quality was. She said it was my moral centre. Well, she said a lot of things that didn't sound anything like that, but that's what I got out of the conversation. I asked her what my second best quality was, and she said it was my ability to communicate ideas to people in ways they could understand. My wife thinks I've wasted my life because I'm not a teacher. Personally, I don't know how teachers do it. I went on a field trip with my son's class this week. An hour and a half in a school bus with 40 kids singing 99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall at the top of their lungs reminded me why I'm not a teacher. I've had larynx squishing dreams for the rest of the week.
  There was an 'extra credit' question too:
Note a personal quality you wish you had more of. That one I can answer for myself. Self confidence. To illuminate: We've been redecorating the kitchen. One of the tasks has been to replace a section of drywall on the ceiling where there had been some water damage. We ripped down the old drywall (demolition is always the easy part), and replaced it with new. We mudded and primed, and stalled. We now had half a kitchen ceiling that was stuccoed and half that was smooth. What to do? Nobody could give me any advice. We discussed it, and decided to paint it with a textured paint product, and, as long as it was close, not worry about it matching perfectly. It took me almost two weeks to do that because I was afraid of screwing the whole thing up. When I finally forced myself to go ahead and do it, it was dead simple, and turned out almost perfectly. No problem, I thought. But hindsight is easy, and foresight is always my problem. Not having it, just fearing it.
  John didn't ask for it, but my second quality I wish I had more of would be a better work ethic. Procrastination is probably my worst sin. I'm sure you've all heard the procrastinator's oath. If you haven't, it goes like this: Never put off until tomorrow something you can get out of doing all together. Welcome to my life.
  I had a witty closing line planned for this entry from the very start, but suddenly it doesn't seem quite so funny anymore. What the hell, I'll use it anyway...

  I wish there was something I was good enough to get paid for.

Thursday, December 2, 2004

The Politics of Family Christmas Gatherings

SHooser1 (Sheila) wrote on the J-land Bar and Grill message board: When do you celebrate Christmas? I apologise to those of you not on AOL, that is an AOL only link.

  When I was a child, we always celebrated on Christmas morning. We'd get up and go down to the living room to see what Santa had left under the tree for us. In our household, Santa didn't wrap gifts, so there was one gift per child already open, set-up, ready to play with on Christmas morning. I think that was my parents' sleep-in strategy. They generally needed to sleep in because Christmas Eve every year we went to a Christmas party at the home of long time family friends.
  I attended that party every year until my mid twenties when I started getting serious with the woman who is now my wife. Her family is from Italy, and they traditionally celebrated on Christmas Eve, so my personal traditions had to change. It has worked out really well. I remember when I was a child, the political discussions that took place every year revolving around which set of Grandparents we would be visiting when. Both my Father and my Mother's parents wanted to entertain us for Christmas dinner, but only one of them could 'win.' Sometimes there were fireworks. Because of the difference in personal traditions between my family and my wife's family, we never had to worry about those kinds of arguments. It all fell out naturally and everyone was happy. Except that every year I would feel a twinge of regret that I could no longer attend the festivities with my parents on Christmas Eve.
  This year, for the first time in about fifteen years, my parents-in-law will be out of the country for Christmas. They have a relative visiting from Italy, and they have taken him to their Florida condo for several weeks. They'll be back for New Year's Eve, but my wife and I will be left to our own devices for Christmas Eve. I have been avidly looking forward to the opportunity to spend Christmas Eve with my parents and the family friends for the first time in over a decade, and I told my Mother so.
  "Oh," she said. "Well... I haven't spoken to Joanne (her friend) for several months. I don't know if they are even hosting that party this year."


extended pause...

continued uncomfortable extended pause...

"I'll find out and let you know then, shall I?"
  "Thanks, Mom."
  So I don't know exactly when I'm celebrating Christmas this year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Fa la la la la, a wop bam boom

  I felt guilty foisting someone else's content on you and calling it my Christmas entry. So here is my Christmas entry for this week, following up on my earlier entry about Christmas music. Last week I told you about four seasonal albums already in my CD collection. This week I will share with you the short list of CDs I am considering for this year's annual purchase.

The Brian Setzer Orchestra: Boogie Woogie Christmas

  What's not to like about Brian Setzer? Always on the leading edge of trendiness, in the 80s he re-introduced us to rock-a-billy with The Stray Cats. In the 90s he was way ahead of everybody else, leading the way to the swing band revolution. Whatever music Brian Setzer is playing, it is always about fun. Boogie Woogie Christmas was originally released in 2002, but this year it has been re-released with several new tracks. And because I'm in Canada, I don't have to got to Target to get it.

Barenaked Ladies: Barenaked For The Holidays

  A mix of original and traditional holiday songs arranged into familiar BNL harmonies. As usual with The Ladies, we are also treated to a mix of serious and more light-hearted melodies. This CD includes several Hanukkah themed songs, and the New Year's Eve standard Auld Lang Syne. Can anybody tell me what the heck that means?

Various Artists: A Canadian Christmas

  I'm attracted to this one for two reasons: 1) It's Canadian. 2) A portion of the proceeds go to charity. A Canadian Christmas includes songs from Diana Krall, Holly Cole, Jann Arden, Bruce Cockburn, Anne Murray, The Rankin Sisters, Randy Bachman, and Spirit Of The West. As an added bonus, it features The 12 Days Of Christmas by Bob And Doug McKenzie.Take off, eh?

Verve Presents: The Very Best Of Christmas Jazz

  What can I say. I like Jazz. And this album claims to be the very best of it. With Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Shirly Horn, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, and Mel Torme, they just might be right. Wait, Mel Torme?

  There you have it, folks. Barring some absolutely unforseen CD jumping off the rack at me, my annual Christmas Cd purchase will be one of the above albums. The choice is going to be a hard one. Any opinions?

Ho Ho Ho? Ha Ha Ha!

  John Scalzi is a very clever boy. The delicious piece of writing linked below made me laugh out loud several times, and I expect to find more funnies I missed the first time upon a second reading. I highly recommend it.
  This post will qualify as my second Christmas themed post this year. (I know, it's a stretch, but it's still early.) I intend to make sure there is always a Christmas themed entry somewhere on the front page from now until the end of December. My previous entry about Christmas music has been pushed off, so I offer you John's witty The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials Of All Time.