One Month Done

It has flown past but I’ve been on the job for a month now. After a rough first couple of weeks of 12 hour days, I think I’m getting the hang of it. And now the team is expanded to three people so the workload will be a little more evenly distributed.

There is still a ton of things I don’t understand but that will, I hope, come with time. And I really need to adjust my working style. I’m really content to sit in my office and produce analysis but for this job to work, it’s really about the face to face meetings and selling the partners and associates on what I’m doing. So suddenly I need to become more social and start working on relationships. This isn’t my strong suit but when in doubt, I can always act like it is.

I was in Toronto this week to finally meet my boss and other co-workers. He works in Calgary. Our mutual boss works in Toronto, as does my counterpart. Prior to that I’ve only spoken to him on the phone and in videoconferences. One thing I’ve gotten used to is that, now that I’m 45, my bosses are just going to be younger than me unless I suddenly start moving up the ranks but that’s never been my career goal.

As we were waiting to leave in the Porter lounger at Billy Bishop Airport, a colleague from the Montreal office asked me, “As tu remarqué que les gens de Toronto sont vraiment ‘into customer service.?’ C’est comme, ‘Just give me my double espresso. You’re too happy for six-thirty in the morning.'”

Now that I’m back in a job, and a rather demanding one at that, it’s important to use the downtime well. Tomorrow we’re going to see Les Géants downtown and camping trips are planned for the summer. I may not get a summer vacation this year but I’ll need to make sure I’m spending time with friends and family and getting to the gym when I can.

 

December Catch-Up

I’ve often been told by my homeowner friends that the first few years of owning a house is a bit of a strain on the finances, unless they’re my loaded homeowner friends who are simply allowing their lives to unfold as they expect them to. So we’re broke and facing a much more modest Christmas than years past. So far, presents have included a new hot water tank as a gift to each other.

In general, for every birthday, anniversary, and now Christmas, we’ve just been saying to each, “Happy Birthday/Anniversary/Christmas! I bought you a house!”

Still, we do see a light at the end of the tunnel when cash will be flowing a little more freely and we’ll just need to be frugal until that time comes.

In the meantime, renovations on a budget have begun. The downstairs powder room has been repainted Tardis blue. Our winter project is to tear up the carpet in the rec room, paint the walls, and put down a new floating floor and moulding. Further down the line, more rooms will be painted and the kitchen will be spruced up (without actually replacing the cabinets until a later date).

Now repeating kindergarten, James is now getting help for his dyspraxia from the Mackay Centre on Friday afternoons. But there is some concern from his teachers about his ability to handle a mainstream school. This a big worry of mine because I want him to manage his developmental delay enough to do regular schools with his friends. He has gross motor skill issues, some emotional issues, and an almost violent obsession with screens. But he loves books and our nightly reading of The Hobbit. But all of this will be discussed with his doctor in terms of options for the future. It’s a source of a bit of stress but we’re managing.

akta

On a happier note, we are now obsessed with a TV show call Real Humans that just finished its first season on Space. Broadcast in Sweden as Äkta människor, Real Humans takes place in an alternate present in which humanoid robots (or Hubots, as they’re called) are integrated in society as a servants and workers. This leads to a number of issues with regards to labour, friendship, politics, discrimination, and sexuality. Some Hubots, thanks to an obsessed scientist, have become free and wish to free other robots. These Hubots are lead by a Chrissie Hynde lookalike.

The show works really well when it presents the social issues and not quite as well when it gets down to the actual plot of the series involving a government conspiracy. It felt as though the writer was more interested in Hubots like Rick, the creepy personal trainer model who is altered to become his owner’s boyfriend and then starts behaving erratically. Some plot threads get dropped (or perhaps put off until season 2) but overall, it’s an engrossing series.

I’ve also been attending a writers’ class at the local library and as a result, have been writing a bit of fiction here and there that may, one day, get sent to a publisher. Maybe. I write about 500 words here and there, when I can steal time. Over the past couple of sessions, I’ve been presenting a science fiction story as I’ve developed it. One participant kind of sniffed and suggested it wouldn’t pass muster with the Quebec Writers Federation who prefer more literary efforts.

That instantly reminded me of Tom Gauld‘s famous cartoon.

jetpack

Other than that, work is good. I.T. is a whole other world from where I was. I do conference calls with Mumbai so that’s new. I have another week and a half of In work before Christmas and then we’ll be spending the back end of the holidays in Saint John. Hopefully we’ll meet up with some friends we haven’t seen in a while.

On memories, Switchback, and Chubby Checker

On Monday, I received the above Twitter notification and was surprised to find I had been mentioned in a blog piece by Taddle Creak editor-in-chief and founder Conan Tobias. Conan was a childhood friend back in Saint John. We both shared a love of comic books, science fiction, and broadcasting in general.

Back in the early 80s, CBC aired a Sunday morning sort of free-wheeling variety show for kids called Switchback that aired different editions, depending where in Canada you lived. The Atlantic Canada edition was hosted by Stan Johnson. Imagine the CBC of today attempting to air four or five independent versions of one show.

The piece recalls how Switchback came to our elementary school as they often interviewed kids for various bits. I got on camera responding to the question, “Insecurity is…” (which was “Getting your test back and your teacher has an evil look in his eye.” I was a witty 11 year old, no?).

Aside: This was the beginning of my broadcasting career. The end of my broadcasting career was in 2000 when I appeared on the briefly lived CTV cable channel TalkTV (it became MTV in 2006). A friend who knew the producer invited me on to be part of a panel doing an “armchair review” of a Drew Barrymore movie. Despite my comfort doing campus radio for years before that, as soon as the camera went on, I froze. After that point, beyond a few additional appearances on the channel via webcam, I avoided broadcasting and even today, the thought of speaking in front of people gives me anxiety. But I got to meet Ben Mulroney and Seamus O’Regan so there’s that.

Anyway, the piece recalls how we also went to the mall as the crew was making an appearance there as well. It goes on to explain the importance of mentors in young lives and how this meeting with the show’s producer led to Conan’s own career in publishing. The thing is, I don’t remember this trip to the mall at all.

I guess that makes for a good reason to stay in touch with your childhood friends. They can help access memories that have been locked away for years.

I do remember our other brush with greatness.

Around the same time in our lives, a local car dealership was advertising an appearance by Chubby Checker. I liked 60s music thanks to another friend who listened exclusively to late 50s/early 60s rock n’ roll (specifically Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys). So we rode our bikes the five kilometers it takes to get there where waited for Chubby to arrive. And we waited. And we waited. Then his bus arrived. And we waited some more. Finally, he got out, signed his autograph for us and….went back into the bus.

Later, we learned the station was giving out tickets to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. There may have been a trivia question involved. Anyway, we won them and went to the movie and saw Kirk destroy the Enterprise. This was sad but also cool because we just assumed they’d get the Excelsior after that. Instead they got another version of the Enterprise. But hey, Sulu got the Excelsior so it’s not all bad.

On Memory and Identity and Lost Supermarket Chains

lanceetcompte
(image via nous sommes folklore)

The other day, I went to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning (no cavities, mother!). The dentist’s office is located in a mall that is celebrating its 60th anniversary. In the mall, there were signs detailing the history of the mall, showing when it opened in 1954, and the new dining sensation of barbecued chicken available at Miss Montreal diner. The supermarket attached was Steinberg’s, naturally, as the Steinberg family owned the mall and adjacent car dealership. All that exists of Steinberg’s these days is the Pik-Nik in the mall’s food court.

“Oh yeah,” I thought. “I remember Steinberg’s.”

Which was not true at all. I came to Quebec in 2003, eleven years after the chain declared bankruptcy and got sold off to the Provigo chain. I had vague memories of being aware that it was a chain in Quebec in the 80s just from watching Lance et Compte and Rock et Belles Oreilles on Radio-Canada.

But I don’t “remember” this place as though I’ve always lived here. Maybe after having a kid born in Lasalle, getting married, and buying a home here, I finally see myself as a Montrealer/West Islander/Quebecker. So much so that my memories start pretending I’ve always been here.

Later, while listening to the game on TSN 690, I thought to myself, “I miss Dino Sisto calling the games on CJAD.”

Or maybe when you start pining for days long gone by in your adopted home, that’s when you’re part of the place for good.

A Different Kind of Blue

behrblue

Rhythmic Blue!

I thought I should let you all know that, because of a sale on Behr paint yesterday, we purchased the paint we’ll be needing to do the new house next month. Last month, I mentioned wanting to do the house in Yarmouth Blue but because that’s a Benjamin Moore brand and Behr was on sale, we got a relatively close approximation called Rhythmic Blue (with Steam White for the trim). It’s important that you are kept abreast of these colour changes.

We’re not particularly “on trend” when it comes to interior design. We just wanted something bright and cheerful for the majority of the house. That decision was as much in reaction against the paint colours that were already there as it was with regards whatever style we think we like. But then, we tend to make these types of decisions quickly anyway, rather than agonize over colours. I looked at a couple of dozen different iterations of blue and, in the end I basically decided I like lighter shades of blue compared to darker one because we have dark floors and dark furniture so the contrast would be nice.

We’ll have other rooms to paint, including the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the front hall, and the basement/tv room that currently has half the walls done with stucco.

I understand if these posts are a bit dull but other than my new job, this is literally all I am doing these days.

2013: The Shatnerian Review

I think like a lot of bloggers, I’m constantly on the cusp of being a former blogger. Social media ultimately serves a more satisfying purpose for link-sharing with limited commentary. I certainly spent a lot of time on Twitter and Tumblr these days and, to a lesser degree, Google+. Facebook is where I share light-hearted PG-rated stuff because my mother reads everything.

But if I want to take a little time and just ramble on for a spell, my blog is always here for me.

So this was 2013.

738071_10152384996280360_259442002_o

January

We rang in 2013 quietly, as has been the habit we’ve acquired this past few years, with curry and beer from the Indian restaurant down the road from our place.

I also interviewed for a job in Saint John. It was one of those remote interview things where I sit in a conference room and talk to people on a TV screen, Star Trek-style. Except Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and Janeway never had to deal with the video feed just cutting out. I didn’t get the position but over the past year, I noticed it kept getting posted and, twice, I was contacted via LinkedIn to see if I was interested in applying. The recruiter didn’t know I had already interviewed.

So I’m not sure who they think they need for the job. I hope they found him or her but somehow I don’t think they have.

February

We took a trip to Saint John in February to visit family and do some old school Maritime candle pin bowling. Seriously, It was like being back in the Maritimes in the 1980’s. I kept expecting Richard Hatfield to walk in and order a bottle of Moosehead Golden Light from the bar where people still smoke indoors.

567600_10152517804665858_1430432168_o

Pope Benedict XVI resigned and was replaced by an Argentinian who criticizes trickle down economics. And he was named Time’s Person of the Year.

So that was unexpected. That has pretty much been my reaction to everything he does as pope: “Oh, that was unexpected.”

But I’m not a Catholic, nor a Christian, nor a believer of any kind, really, but I do find these things interesting.

March

The first big concert of the year was Disney Princesses on Ice at the Bell Centre and en français. Hey, the tickets were free, the plastic souvenir sword was stupid pricey and James was afraid of Ursula.

The second big concert of the year wasn’t quite Disney on Ice but it was Sigur Ros.

By the way, that song is this:

In addition to Sigur Ros, I also got excited about some new music again. Frank Turner released his fifth studio album, Tape Deck Heart in March and it took up residence in the car for Spring and Summer.

In less edifying cultural news, Canada got its own version of Big Brother which was like all the other worldwide Big Brothers in that it started with a lot of promise and then you realize there’s no way you’re watching this for three hours a week.

I do know that a woman named Jillian from Nova Scotia won because the person casting the deciding vote messed up.

So that was a first. So..be proud, Canada?

April

Was it a shit winter? Yeah, it was a shit winter. Luckily, we were given a free stay in a small beach condo in Ormond Beach, Florida. So, of course that meant taking the wee lad to Disneyworld.
He didn’t know we were going until we got there, which is odd given that the minute you land in Orlando, you are reminded that the entirety of Central Florida is owned by that mouse.
disney

It was a last minute, unexpected vacation and I hadn’t been to Florida since 1981 and, really, after four months of winter, it was just nice to go somewhere with palm trees. Even without Disney or hand feeding giraffes at the Brevard County zoo, if I could sit quietly with a drink and look at the Atlantic Ocean, I would have been happy.

But Florida’s a weird state. On one hand it’s all tourist destinations like the theme parks, and the beach bars and Margaritaville and on the other hand, it’s places where you can pawn gold to buy a gun before hiring your “males only” divorce attorney. I avoided turning on the local news.

May

After spending a small fortune in car repairs, the old Corolla was finally retired and replaced with a gently used Mazda 5. I’m not sure how long I’ve lived this long without sliding doors and seats that lay down flat. The stereotype is that middle-aged men have a crisis about their faded youth and run out and get a sports car but a) current family budget does not allow for impulse purchases and b) I’ve always had a thing for practicality.

And that’s pretty much what I was doing in May.

June

In June, I received a beer kit for Father’s Day from the Brooklyn Brew Shop. Kerry thought it would be nice for me to have a hobby and well, I do enjoy the beer from time to time. Beer making is a actually a very relaxing process that requires a lot of patience and attention to detail.

Because this is me we’re talking about, naturally, the bottled beer exploded all over the kitchen. So that experiment failed. But I may want to do it again, perhaps with an easier kit until I know what I’m doing.

July

It has been one year since we got married. To celebrate, we went to the UK for the first time since James spent his first Christmas in Scotland. The main point of the trip was to attend Langholm Common Riding which is basically an old home week for the Borders towns.

IMG_2238

But we also spent some time in London, Somerset (to see Kerry’s childhood home), and Edinburgh.

Seriously, go see Edinburgh. It’s beautiful.

999394_10153091543640360_1017627566_n

I also turned 42 in a pub near Paddington station in London where I enjoyed some real ales while Kerry and James were passed out in the hotel around the corner after a full day of walking around Covent Garden and Hyde Park, not to mention the bus tour and boat tour on the Thames. When James started falling asleep face first into his fish n’ chips, we figured we were pushing our luck with an almost five year old. We were also around the corner from where Prince George was to be born but we missed it by three days, fortunately. I think our part of London would have been insane.

I watched the news of the royal birth from a hotel bar in Edinburgh (yes, pubs and bars often feature prominently in our trips to the UK). The Scots weren’t quite as excited by news as the English but it didn’t exactly go uncelebrated either. I did have an interesting discussion about progenitor laws with a gentleman in there. We both noted that Elizabeth is Elizabeth I in Scotland as they never had a Queen Elizabeth before. He bitterly pointed out that the mailboxes are all stamped “ERII,” even in Scotland. Perhaps now that the Royal Mail has been privatized, that policy may change.

August

In August, my sister got married at our family church, followed by a backyard reception at our other sister’s place. My new brother in law is a great guy and I’m very happy for them both.

September

A new chapter in our lives began as our child entered kindergarten. It’s more expensive than daycare, if that’s possible.

Over the past year, we learned our child has a developmental disorder called Dyspraxia which explains a lot. Now that he’s been diagnosed, he’ll be getting some extra help at school. It’s been a challenge and a bit of learning curve but now that we know how to approach it, we’ve already seen improvement.

He also has a renewed interest in Lego now that he can get his fingers to listen to his brain.

Also, Janelle Monáe released The Electric Lady and all was right with the world. It’s like she’s invented her own genre of science-fiction inspired R&B/Hip-Hop. More sci-fi concept albums, I say!

October

The Mazda 5 had its first road test when we drove it from Montreal to Saint John for Thanksgiving. It still astounds me how long it takes just to get off the island of Montreal but when you’re doing it at rush hour, you’re just asking for trouble. We stayed the night in Riviére-du-Loup and saw snow geese flying over the St. Lawrence River. That was pretty much the highlight of the journey. The stretch between Quebec City and Edmundston may just be the dullest in Eastern Canada.

James is obsessed with superheroes. I may have nurtured that a bit. For Halloween, he got a Captain America costume and insisted on wearing it for days before the big day. Which was a good thing because Halloween night itself was kind of a miserable, rainy affair.

November

I interviewed for a new job which would see me moving into an IT-related role. I had two interviews in which I made the decision to be a little more frank than I usually am. That led to a second interview and that led to a third interview.

We’re also looking into moving to Saint John but I think the reality of that is that it will be a much longer plan. The career opportunities just aren’t as plentiful there as they are in larger centres.

For the first time since moving here, I wasn’t able to vote in the Montreal municipal election because I no longer live in Montreal. But Pointe-Claire got a new mayor. For the first time, I voted for the guy who won. It was between Morris Trudeau, a long time councillor and former cop, and businessman with little public service experience. I went with the former.

December

The Christmas season is full-swing at our house. The plastic tree is decorated with James’s homemade ornaments, 2012 Olympics Sydney Crosby, and Captain Kirk. James still believes in Santa Claus, which is nice. This, however, being his first year in school, some kids are trying to convince him the parents do it, like the mysterious American girl in Grade 2 who has no friends and is mean to everyone.

My parents are coming up for Christmas this year for the first time. I’m sure my father will somehow wrangle a trip to Chenoy’s for chopped liver.

Santa came early for us. The old PC and laptops were dying slow deaths (the latter was the result of an apple juice spill from someone who will not be named) so a new PC was ordered. And we got a Smart TV after 10 years of watching the old 27″ tube TV so we’re all technologically advanced these days. We’re running movies off the PC, we got the Netflix and YouTube and I’m getting caught up on movies I’ve been meaning to see.

Best science fiction movie of 2013? Pacific Rim. Hands down. I didn’t expect this much character development in a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters.

Or maybe Gravity is the best, but I haven’t seen that yet.

spock

Oh, yes. I also finally saw Star Trek: Into Darkness and Man of Steel because I will always watch Star Trek, even when I hate it (and boy did I hate it) and will always watch comics-to-film adaptations.

I don’t so much hate the new movies (although they are aggressively dumb) so much as what they represent which is a discontinuation of the universe built by the shows and movies up until 2009. I have a long, really nerdy blog post about it but I’ll leave it at that.

Man of Steel seemed almost embarrassed that it was about Superman so they made their title character kind of dick. It was also two hours of this:
mos

I’ve been a member of the NDP for the past couple of years but lately I’ve been thinking about giving up the membership and going unaffiliated again. But then Tom Mulcair went and sent me a Christmas card so now I feel guilty for wanting to leave.
1386968485590

How could I break that heart?

Nelson Mandela died. The only time I had ever been to Africa, he was still in jail but mere months away from being released. I was in Senegal, six thousand kilometers from South Africa but Mandela still loomed large there. I remember the taxis had one of two photos in their rear windows: Nelson Mandela or Marilyn Monroe.

Remember that third interview from last month? Sure you do. Well, that was the one that did it. I got me a job in a kind of/sort of I.T. field. It’s a completely different background from what I’ve been doing for the past eight years. But it’s a relief, in a way, to go into something that is completely new.

So there it is: 2013 turned out to be a pretty big year for us. Kid starting school, two big trips, a new career, and some new stuff. So what can we do in 2014?

How about a new member of the family?

A cat. I meant we’re going to the animal shelter to adopt a cat.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

On Cars, Vacations, and The Constant Uncertainty of Living Correctly

It’s been said that when you hit your forties and you’re settled down with a kid or two, nothing much happens to you anymore.

 

 Oh, you might take a trip, like we did to Florida in April, or buy a house, which we haven’t and may never do. But barring any illnesses or misadventures, it’s a quiet, settled routine we’ve achieved.
We did buy a used car to replace the 11 year old Corolla, whose repair costs were getting larger and more frequent by the year. Eventually, a little math suggested a payment for a newer car would equal to or less than the annual cost of repairs. Or maybe a little more. I’m shit at math. Still, I got a decent amount for the trade-in and ended buying a 2009 Mazda 5 GT.
Image
You may only see the front.
It’s a little more updated in terms of technology than the Corolla, which didn’t even have power windows.Then again, my first car, a hand me down 1988 Pontiac Sunbird, didn’t have a window that rolled all the way down. Onwards and upwards for me then.
It has a Bluetooth connection for those important, 30 second “Can you get milk?” calls on the way home from work. It has power windows, a remote starter, and a sun roof, not to mention leather seats with the arse warmers. The in-dash six CD changer forced me to go down to the basement and find what CDs I had left. I can tell you that in 2000, I was listening to Wilco, Joel Plaskett, Ben Folds, Johnny Cash, and the Clash. I’m still discovering secret compartments to hide things.
I had actually been looking for the replacement for the Corolla for some time but always assumed it would be another Toyota, probably a Matrix or a Yaris as we knew we wanted a hatchback. But my cousin, who came to my wedding last summer, drove a Mazda 5 and it planted a seed. Eventually a mental Venn diagram formed in my head with the Mazda 5 appearing the shared section among Cars That I Want, Cars That Are Practical, and Cars That I Can Afford.
Anyhow, I like it a lot, even if it is a little noisy on bumpy roads. Retiring the Corolla was done quickly, in the end. It was only after it was gone that I realized that car represented the last bit of my New Brunswick life that has stayed with me since moving here ten years ago. It was the first car that I had purchase on my own and it was my late brother-in-law who sold it to me. When I was clearing my things out of the car, I found his business card and put it somewhere safe.
Ten years. I’ve been up here ten years. Every now and again, we get serious about moving to New Brunswick to be closer to family but despite a number of job interviews, it just never happens. At one point, I interview for a position, didn’t get it and then was called again about the same position as they hadn’t realized they’d already interviewed. But focusing on the move back has proven to be a distraction from our present lives and we often feel as though we don’t truly live here.
So we’re making friends with the neighbours, volunteering for things, and getting James involved in more activities. We’ve unpacked the figurative suitcases and canceled the actual Indeed.ca job alerts.
I never decided if I wanted to live in the city and vacation in the country or live in the county and vacation in the city so we live in the suburbs and vacation in Florida.
Last month, we went to Florida for surprise week’s vacation. My parents had a condo rental that was going unused in Daytona Beach so it was given to us. Daytona is a NASCAR and spring break kind of a town so it’s not really a place we would have chosen on our own. But after the winter we had, it was just nice to see palm trees.
 Image
We managed to get in a day trip to Disney World. I had been there once, when I was nine years old so it was nice to go back and see what’s changed and what’s the same. The Jungle Cruise is the same un-pc attraction its always been but the Buzz Lightyear ride was pretty cool. So, we took our kid to Disney World. We’ve done our jobs as parents, I guess.
And now when James throws a tantrum or whines about how unfair life is, I just pull the old “Yeah, your parents who take you to Disney World are terrible.” We plan to ride that one well into his high school years.
The thing that impressed our son the most about Disney? The monorail. He even asked for a souvenir of it when we left. If that’s all it takes to impress the guy, I would have just taken him to Seattle.
Florida as a state is pretty interesting. People are generally friendly and chatty and you see why so many people retire there. Then you see ads for places where you can pawn your gold and buy a gun, or divorce lawyers who who only take male clients and it all hints to something darker. The local news tends to support the state’s recent unsavoury reputation.
Still, if you’re ever in Daytona Beach, I recommend Dancing Avocado Kitchen as a nice, non-chain place to eat if you like vegetarian fare and craft beers.
This summer we leave for the UK for two weeks. This will be the first time since we started going there together that we’re not heading straight for Scotland as soon as we land at Heathrow. This time, we’re spending two nights in London, two nights in Weston-Super-Mare where Kerry partially grew up and two nights in Edinburgh before spending the rest of the trip with the in-laws in Langholm.
There will also be a trip to Cheddar. I intend to eat a lot of caved aged cheese.
In fall, our wee lad starts kindergarten. Over the summer, he starts soccer and in fall, Beavers. So between the soccer, swimming, minivans, and Beavers membership, and trips to Costco, we’re pretty much living the West Island Anglo stereotype.
So are we doing things right? Who knows?