Monday, December 27, 2010

Four Day Christmas

In about twenty minutes, Christmas will officially be over for me. In about twenty minutes, my stepmom, Baby Bro and I will be done watching A Child's Christmas in Wales and with it we will have finished all required Christmas traditions.

It was lovely to spend time with family both in Victoria and Nanaimo. I also got everything I asked for: a housecoat (which I put on hold for my mom to go pick up) and a copy of Romeo Dallaire's They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children (I'm so uplifting in my non-fiction choices). I wanted so much this year ;) We started Christmas Day with our traditional waffle breakfast. Waffles always taste better on Christmas morning, it's a scientific fact! The day was very relaxing and I managed to almost finish The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest before dinner.

On Boxing Day, full of good food and still humming the tunes of the Chieftan's the Bells of Dublin, my mom and stepdad drove me up to Nanaimo for my second Christmas with my stepmom and Baby Bro. I finally got to play Christmas carols on the piano which pretty much made my Christmas complete.

I've spent the last twenty-four hours relaxing in a very rainy Nanaimo watching BBC's Sherlock (which I can not say enough good things about although the second episode is a little lacking but the first and third totally make up for it and I can't wait for the next mini-series to be released in roughly 10 months because OHMIGAWD can you say annoyingly awesome cliffhanger?!?!? Plus it totally makes me want to read the originals which I'm a little ashamed to say I've never won. Very strange seeing as I love mysteries. At any rate, I'll be checking out some second hand shops for cheap copies.  However, as always, I digress so I'll close these parentheses now) and letting my stepmom win at rummy. It's only fair being Christmas and all that I let her have a little joy when it comes to cards.

We had plans to head out today but when we learned that the Dinghy Dock Pub was actually closed on Mondays, we opted instead to stay inside, drink copious amounts of tea, and make fun of each other because that's how we interact as a family unit.

I would have various pictures to include of all this but, of course, the one thing I forgot when packing was my camera cord. C'est la vie! I guess I'll just have to drown my sorrows in another cup of tea and an episode of Doctor Who. That's right. We've just officially finished Christmas so now it's back to regular family programming: dinner and then Doctor Who. Some things never change.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

...And To All A Good Night!

The problem with not being at work this week is that I keep forgetting what day of the week it is. More specifically, I have routinely been a day early. On the downside, I'm a little disappointed that tomorrow isn't Christmas Eve. On the upside, I have very little left to do because, well, I thought I had less time. Yay extra day for all those chores I was hoping I could somehow 'forget'. Sorry, did I say upside?

Obviously, with it being Christmas, I'm not going to be online much... well, for me, anyway. It will be good to unplug for a few days and just enjoy being with family. I'll expect that to last for about three hours and then we'll all be dying to get away from each other... which is when you open gifts to distract yourself for a few more hours.

I hope you all have a fantastic holiday weekend.

Merry Christmas
Joyeux Noel
Frohe Weihnachten
Feliz Navidad
Nollaig Shona Dhuit
Mele Kalikimaka

and in case I'm not back before then, Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Two decades later...

Baby Bro is 10 years, 8 months and 16 days younger than me. It's easier to just say 10 years. I still remember seeing him for the first time in the hospital. On the one hand, I was so excited that I was no longer 'the baby' in our family. On the other hand, he was another brother. I already had a brother who tickled me until I peed my pants, made me lie to my parents that I still believe in Santa under the threat of no more presents, and yelled at me when I got Junkyard (the dog in G.I.Joe) stuck in the hovercraft. Okay, maybe I deserved that last one. But did I really need another brother?

Family from out of town meant that I was sleeping in the cot and Baby Bro was on the ground.
He had a nightmare so he joined me in the cot.
In the end, I wouldn't trade Baby Bro for all the sisters in the world. He is, as I often often described him, me in male form. We share the same love of Star Wars, Stargate, and Doctor Who. We never cease to find the humour in South Park, Simpsons, or Monty Python. We have a shared language only we understand like twins separated by 10 years of cryogenic freezing. He tried to explain to his mom once "you don't know what it's like to always have a song in your head, to hear a phrase and have it immediately remind you of some obscure song, then to feel the need to sing that song out loud." That is every social interaction I've ever had summed up in one sentence.

Standing beside an elephant skull in Tarangiri NP, Tanzania

Twenty years ago today, my best friend was born. Happy birthday to my 6" tall, rugby playing, baby brother.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Traditional Traditions

There are certain things I need to do to really feel like it's Christmas. I'm a sucker for traditions and I have a lot of them all year round but especially at Christmas. I am, after all, a self-proclaimed Fauxman Catholic. I started one of the traditions Saturday night by watching White Christmas and another one on Sunday by baking Grandma's Molasses Cookies with my mom.

The scene with the bells leading up to this scene used to terrify me.
Actually, it still does.

My step-mom always watched certain movies leading up to Christmas. Eventually these films became a must for our family: White Christmas, A Child's Christmas in Wales, Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Carol/Scrooge (depending on what country you're in). We have certain rules that have to be followed for each movie. The order in which we watch them is carefully selected as only White Christmas or A Child's Christmas in Wales are allowed be watched after Christmas. A Christmas Carol has to be watched as close to Christmas Eve as possible. On Christmas Eve is the best night but with two households to plan around, that's not always possible. Unfortunately, my step-mom moved up to Nanaimo earlier this year so many of these films are being watched alone.

They're about to fulfill their destiny of being tasty, tasty cookies!

Grandma's Molasses Cookies recipe goes back to at least my great-Grandma. My grandma always had them year round in her house (obviously not with Christmas designs like ours) but we only make them at Christmas. I like it more that way. Like Starbucks' seasonal flavourings, it builds the anticipation. I eagerly await for my mom to suggest a baking date every year and then I talk ad nauseum about how we're going to bake Grandma's cookies and how they're the best cookies ever (which they totally are!) and that the recipe is over 100 years old. It's not just that I love eating these cookies, I love making them. I love the process of rolling out the dough and fitting the cookie cutters to get as many cookies as possible. I love icing them and then adding sprinkles. There's something about that last step that just really seals the deal for me.

Best. Cookies. EVER!

My family is full of traditions, these are just two of them, but there's too many to talk about them all so I'll just leave it to the ones I actually participated in this year. Besides, who really wants to hear about my Baby Bro almost falling from the ladder with the chainsaw during our family tradition of cutting down our own Christmas tree?

Hiding a Full Moon With Something Other Than Pants

In case you've been living under a rock this past week (or on the moon *snort*), there's a full lunar eclipse tonight in a little under two hours (at the time of posting). Lunar eclipses are much different than a solar eclipse because a) you can view them with the naked eye and b) they take several hours to complete. There has been a fog cover over Victoria today and I can not see any indication of stars from my apartment at this time, but nonetheless, I will hike to Central High School and park myself out in the field to see if I can see anything. Please, please, please let the clouds be gone!

If the weather cooperates, I should see something like this.

Technically this lunar eclipse doesn't fall on the winter solstice because that happens at 3:38pm tomorrow, but in the grand scheme of things, most of North America will be seeing this eclipse on the 21st so... The last time this happened was 372 years ago. If you plan on raising nerdy offspring--I can't be alone in this plan--this will be something you can tell them about for years to come. Of course, there will be another lunar eclipse in approximately four years time but not on the solstice!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go brew a big batch of hot chocolate!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Photo Presentation

I had mentioned a few weeks back that I was going to be displaying some of my photos at work. My office was looking at leasing artwork from the AGGV but at the suggestion of one of the employees decided to display employee artwork instead. Having seen some of the work of other people who've put their name forth, I'm very excited to see the different displays over the coming months.

When you consider that I only have the last three years of my life captured in photos on my computer, I have a lot of photos (as opposed to alot of photos, which I secretly wish I had). After much deliberation (and perhaps some cough syrup) I decided to go with photos that played with light and was some how able to narrow it down to five (again, cough syrup).

Morning Sunbath
Magi y Chai, Tanzania

Dhow and Sunset
Nungwi, Tanzania

Gary Oak Sunshade
Victoria, BC

Shell Centrepiece
Victoria, BC

Barrel and Vines
Victoria, BC

I made the pictures as large as I could for the post but if you click on them you get ginormous size!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

GBC Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

First off, multiple people recommended this book to me because I've lived in Africa. Little geography lesson: this book is set in Botswana, I lived in Tanzania. Not the same place. Botswana is in southern Africa, Tanzania is in east Africa. Although they share more in common than they do with many west or north African countries, it's like telling someone who lived in BC that they should read Anne of Green Gables because they spent time in Canada.

Having said all that, one of things I did really like about The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was its imagery of Africa. Without going overboard on the sentimentality, Alexander McCall Smith did a good job on creating a vivid image of Botswana. There was a balance of both the good and bad aspects of living there which I appreciate. It is so common for books, both fiction and non-fiction, to sway to either end of the spectrum when it comes to life in Africa. Smith does tend to look more at the good, but he doesn't shy away from talking about the bad.

Given all the talk and praise I had heard for this series, I actually wasn't that blown away by the first book. A series of unconnected mysteries which are often solved with very little fuss are held together by the overarching story of Mma Ramotswe, who has opened Botswana's first detective agency run by a woman. I love a good detective novel. I love trying to solve the crime before the protagonist but this book didn't really allow for that and that stopped me from really getting into it.

I have the second book in the series and I'm sure I'll get around to reading it, but it has moved down my list in order of importance. Overall, if you're looking for a light read for the beach or your daily bus commute into work, this is a good mindless diversion. If you're looking for a gripping whodunnit that you can sink your teeth into, stick with Agatha Christie.

One Flu Over The Christmas Nest

Sign Number One that I'm not over the flu... I think my title is hilariously punny!

I've been laid up with a nasty, nasty flu for the last four days. Today is the first day that I woke up and actually wanted to get out of bed... as opposed to the other days when I only got out because I get better Internet reception in my living room and without cable, that's my only way to watch TV.

Don't get me wrong, I still sound like I should be in some sort of quarantine, but I can hold a thought for longer than five minutes so that's a win in my books. I've been meaning to post stuff (hey, I'm stuck at home, why not write?!?) but instead, I'd open a post, stare at the screen until I was done my cup of tea, and then just watch another episode of Being Human. Very productive few days around here, let me tell you!

I wasn't scheduled to work today so instead, I'm going to tackle the Christmas shopping while the stores are (hopefully) still relatively empty.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Recommended Online Reading

I'm writing another post as I type this but the hour is creeping closer and closer to my Boozy Brunch with my three favourite ladies so I really should get off my butt, shower and put on some pants [EDIT: Actually, with these fine gals, pants are optional]. So instead of my post, I'm going to give you a link to an awesome site I discovered thanks to WilWheaton and BadAstronomer.*

It's called The Big Picture and everyone should have it in their RSS feed. (I also think everyone should have an RSS feed but that's another post). It's a daily story told in pictures. From current news stories to collections for a retrospective, the photos are Ah. Maze. Ing. There was a recent one about the sulphur mines in Indonesia. It's both breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time (the lack of gas masks for the miners just tears at me). But my favourite part about the Big Picture? This is the third year they have done a Hubble Pictures Advent Calendar.

Merry Dorkmas to me!

*Everyone with a passing interest in science should also have the Discover Blogs in their RSS feed. Then you get to follow awesome people like Bad Astronomer, Science Not Fiction, and Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Frohe Nikolaustag!

It's St. Nicholas Day. In Germany and Switzerland (and other parts of Europe, but they're the ones I know) this is the morning you walk up to gifts from St. Nick placed in the stocking at the end of your bed (or just the end of your bed if it's too large) and then Christmas is just gifts from your family.

My ex's family used to send me separate gifts for today and Christmas but now that they no longer work in the post office, they just send them all at once so I don't have the little surprised to look forward to in early December. I was feeling a little bummed about that this morning until I found this link.

Oh NASA, thank you for the St. Nikolaus Day present.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Open the Gates and Seize the Day!

What is sure to be an incredibly busy weekend (meeting in Shawnigan tomorrow morning, staff party tomorrow evening, hangover on Sunday...) kicks off with a good old fashioned girl's night tonight. Tonight I get to introduce two of my best friends to one of my all-time favourite films of my childhood: Newsies.


This movie defined my tween years. My best friend (whose name I will keep hidden for fear she will hunt me down and beat me) and I would rent it almost every Friday night for a year before my mom finally bought me my own copy. We knew all the words, sang along with the songs, and incorporated some of the choreography into our own dances. It was, in all honest, a wee bit of an obsession for us. We may have even created back stories for some of the characters, and continued the story line after the movie. May have. I refuse to actually admit to that in print.

I was a little shocked one night to discovered that neither of these friends had seen it. These were girls who knew lyrics to all the same musicals that I did. These were girls who had squealed with me when Patrick Swayze appeared in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (still waiting for #3 The Swim to Miami). These were girls who joined our facebook group "Christian Bale's Chompers Anonymous" (muh teef). In short, these were girls who should have seen Newsies multiple times!

Luckily, one of their sister's (who has seen Newsies and has loved it as much as me) totally agrees. We discovered our mutual love of the film when I made a comment about it on facebook. I had just received the DVD for Christmas (my love for Newsies is well documented in my family so when someone saw the DVD while shopping, they knew it had to be in my stocking on Christmas morning) and, of course, had to watch it immediately upon returning home. I still remembered all the lyrics despite not having seen the film in at least 10 years so I worked the lyrics into a status update thinking no one would get it.

Someone did.

We've been planning this evening since that comment. It's finally going to happen.

Dese is for da Newsies!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tonight

The very first non-symphony concert I ever went to was Leonard Cohen. It was on 'The Future' tour and I was still in elementary school so I was still very young. It was at the Royal Theatre and I just remember it being awesome!

Tonight, I will see him for the first time in roughly 20 years.

It will be awesome!

Update: It was awesome!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ode to the Hot Water Bottle

As if the small dump of snow this morning wasn't enough, it is howling in Victoria tonight. My deck chairs are no where near where they were this morning and my windows are rattling so hard I keep thinking they're going to break. I know that a few people will probably throw a couple of curses my way for saying this, perhaps even burn an effigy from some leftover hair in their bath tub, but I like snow. I'm not a huge fan of the negative temperatures that come with it, but I like snow.

Given the dip in the temperature, I got out my hot water bottle a few nights ago. My dad lives in an old house with an old furnace and just-as-old radiators. My friends referred to it as 'the cold house'. Two fire places at either end of the building supplied most of the heat which left the bedrooms in the middle of the house with a mean winter temperature of about 5 degrees... on the Kelvin scale. Hot water bottles were a must in my childhood.

I no longer need a hot water bottle but it's a ritual that I can't break. The return of the hot water bottle heralds Christmas for me in a way that TV, radio and print ads never will. It is winter, I must have a hot water bottle. As I filled it up last night, I remembered a writing project from last year. Our professor would give us a topic once a week and we had to write 100 words on it. No more, no less. On the topic of 'winter', this is what I wrote:

The hot water bottle creates a small area of warmth at the end of my bed. I creep my feet towards it until I hit that spot where it gets too hot and I pull them back just a little bit. I don’t need a hot water bottle but it wouldn’t be a winter night without it. My feet dance to find that perfect location. I find it; my stillness signals my cats and they jostle each other for the best position on this heat source.  Tomorrow morning it will be cold, but tonight it is a comfort to us.
Oh, hot water bottle, thank you for holding not just heat but so many wonderful memories.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Getting Creative

The weekend is finally here!! YAY!! I'm especially excited because in just over an hour, I'm going to see my Baby Bro for the first time in 7 months. He took off to Europe last April to travel and spend some time with our family in Ireland. We're going for Thai food because the only Asian food he could find in Europe was "crap Chinese" (his words, not mine).

It's been a very busy week for me and this weekend isn't going to be any different. The only change is that I've been busy being creative and that's much better than being busy cleaning the house. My employer is going to be showcasing various employee's artwork or other visual art. At the suggestion of a friend, I put my name forward for my photographs and received a very positive response back. On one hand, that's really flattering. On the other, I've never actually shown my photos as works of art (other than on my wall) so I'm now trying to narrow done my thousands of pictures into 10 which I will post on here and ask you to help me narrow it down to 5. So far I've narrowed it down to 49 possible photos. Getting closer...

The other creative thing I've been doing is writing. I submitted the following for a "What Does Dance Mean To You" competition at MoonDance. Your submission could be writing, drawing, photo, sculpture, any creative medium you wanted but it had to capture the love of dance. The song I'm talking about is Beethoven's Peasant Dance in Eflat major.
I take my place on the stage as she sits at the piano. I love dancing to live music--so much better than pre-taped in my opinion--and I hope my joy and excitement about it transfers to the audience. She looks at me as she places her hands on the keyboard. It begins. It's a song I've heard so many times I could hum it backwards in my sleep. I have lived this music; every note, every nuance, speaks to me and directs me across the stage, long and flowing with the legato, quick and lively with the staccato. I give my all to the audience and when the final chord plays I have no regrets. Every emotion in the music was transformed into a physical manifestation through my body and I became the dance; it is the best performance not just of this piece but of my life.

She gets up from the piano and moves to the kitchen for a cup of tea. I pick up my audience, my beloved bear Pola, and follow her.

"Perhaps it's time we enroll you in some dance classes."

It is the happiest day of my eight year old life.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It Was a Weekend Fling But I'd Never Forget It...

I spent this past weekend in Vancouver visiting my dear friend, Carolyn, who had the misfortune of moving there roughly six painfully long weeks ago. Carolyn is not only a fantastic friend but she was my running buddy so it was a real Boo-urns moment for me. Yay for Carolyn for going after what she wants in life and all that, but if it's okay I'm just going to sit in the corner and be a little bitter about it. Originally my plan had been to surprise Carolyn by just showing up on her doorstep on Friday night (with a little help from the Boy, of course, because I didn't even know how to get to their place) but then she started saying things like 'come to Victoria' and 'visit' so I quashed that idea the only way I knew how: blowing the first surprise of the weekend.

I would have posted my own pictures but when I got home, I realised that the only pictures I took
were of wine bottles because they talked about Sheila having a few roos loose in the top paddock. Classy!

I still managed to surprise her with a little trip to the spa to get our mani-pedi's on because if anyone deserves a little spa time, it's her. It was great to be waited on by four women (even if one of them did nick my big toe and drew a little blood) but it was even better doing it while watching Sex and the City 2. Cheesy, girly good times! Other than a little stroll that same afternoon, we spent much of our time just hanging out at her apartment which is really want I wanted: spending time with an awesome friend. She lives sinfully close to Max's so we were never without good food to go with our good alcohol!

This was also the weekend where I met a bunch of strangers. Okay, it wasn't a bunch, it was two: Stacey and Shannon. Are they still strangers if you know them through the Internet and they're not part of Nigeria's royal family*? We had plans to meet at the flower stand at Granville Island Market. I arrived a tad early after lunch with another Vancouver friend so I wandered aimlessly around the market trying to eat up some time. In wandering, I realised that such a busy time at such a sizable location when they don't really know what I look like and vice versa might not have been the best idea. Oh well. I wandered back to the flower stand and hoped for the best. Not only did we find each other, but we had a really pleasant afternoon. The girl's were lovely to chat with as Stacey ate her cinnamon bun (Your secret's out, Stacey. Sorry.) and I drank my coffee. The conversation flowed, I never once looked at my phone to see my twitter updates (although I did look once to check the time), and I would gladly hang out with them again. If all blogger meet ups are this awesome, sign me up for more! Especially if they're part of the Nigerian Royal Family!

I was a little surprised how many photos of accidents appeared when I googled 'BC Ferries' but
then I thought of all the accidents I remember times by the number I probably don't...
I realise that I'm very trusting of a corporation which has crashed more times than Super Dave Osborne.

Of course, all good things must come to an end so I woke up Monday morning, packed my bag, figured out my schedule and then headed off for one last coffee with Carolyn in a downpour of epic proportions. I would just like to take this moment to give a shout out to the awesomeness that is Gore-Tex. My jacket is four years old and it has kept me dry in Tanzania's rainy season and in Victoria/Vancouver's mini-monsoon season. Worth. Every. Penny. The ferry ride was exciting as it was the first time I had ever used the wi-fi. I was thinking I would write a quick blog just say 'dudes, posting from the ferry!' but by the time I made it through the 100+ blog updates in my reader, I had 10 minutes before we docked. Egads, that was a lot of reading.

It was fun, Vancouver, if over a little too quickly. Here's hoping we get to do it again real soon.

*My favourite scam email was 'someone in Benin with a last name that is the same as yours has died leaving no relatives and we need someone to claim the money'. Honey, there's very few people in Ireland with the same last name as mine (my own family has two different spellings, true story!), never mind a small West African nation.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Posts Are Brewing... Shortly

I had an awesome weekend in Vancouver. I have a lot to write about but a couple of things need to be tended to first. Blogging is my fun time so I'm holding it ransom until I'm done the other stuff. It won't be long but I just wanted to let you know that nothing happened to me so I can avoid worried phone calls a la my dad who left me a message about an hour after I planned to be home wondering if I made it home okay. That's the last time I joke that I'm meeting strange people as he and Big Bro drop me off at the ferry!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dork in the Key of G Major

I am very excited because this time tomorrow I will be in Vancouver and I will most likely be drinking. I say 'most likely' because there is an off chance that Carolyn and I won't bust out the alcohol as soon as we see each other (it's totally cool to drink in a Skytrain station, right?) but I figure it's pretty slim... like Kate Moss slim. I'm so excited about this weekend and seeing Carolyn that you'd think it had been six months, not just six weeks, since I last saw her.

I may or may not be posting over the weekend (it depends on how much writing I get done tomorrow morning), but I wanted to leave you with some music geek humour before I check out. After hearing about my mom phoning me to laugh about the Corb Lund video, a friend asked if my mom was a fan of country. Prior to six months ago, the closest my mom ever came to listening to country was Beethoven's 6th.

I'll let you all go google that so you can see why I think I'm funny.

Good night, folks!

The Least I Can Do

Last year, I stepped out of the elevator and came face-to-face with #408. He was decked out in his dress uniform with all his insignia and medals carefully placed on his left breast from his time served in Korea. He had a small bag of what I assumed was garbage hanging off his cane handle. We smiled at each other as I stepped of the elevator. I put my hand out to shake his and said 'thank you'. He grabbed me in a hug, "no, thank you." With a lightness of foot I've never seen from him before, he jumped onto the elevator as the doors closed and was gone before I could react. I managed to keep my composure until I got to the door of my apartment and then I started crying.

A simple thank you will never be enough for all the men and women who served and who continue to serve our country. They do a job which I am far too selfish to ever do and they do it day-in day-out without question. Unfortunately, thank you is all I have. May you see many Remembrance Days and know how much you are appreciated.

Lest We Forget.


If you'd like to send a letter or postcard of thanks: Any Canadian Forces Member

Sunday, November 7, 2010

GBC Book Review: The Universe in a Mirror

Robert Zimmerman's The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and Visionaries Who Built It is a look at the minds and politics behind the Hubble Space Telescope written for those of use who are not rocket scientists. It begins with a quick look at how the atmosphere has always been a hindrance in the study of astronomy before moving into how the Hubble came to be.

Again, all photos are property of NASA and their "you can use it as long as you give credit" awesomeness.

I picked this book up as after seeing the Imax: Hubble and hoping to learn some more about the impact that Hubble has had on our understanding of the universe. On that front, I was sorely disappointed as the book skims over Hubble's contributions to our understanding. Truthfully, it's my own fault because the book very clearly states what it's about, I just didn't read it that closely. I did, however, garner a greater understanding of exactly how difficult it was to even get Hubble made in the first place.

I posted this picture before but an explanation is in order. To test the Deep Field Infrared, it was
decided to point Hubble at an 'empty' part of space, one that had no readings on any system ever used.
This is what Hubble was able to show us.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. There were parts I felt like I had to slog through usually when three new people were introduced within a paragraph of each other and I found I had to go back to try and remember who worked where on what with whom. I occasionally found that I was learning more about people's personal lives than I felt I need to for the purpose of the story, but it was also the intent of the author to show how pursuing the dream that would become Hubble destroyed more marriages, careers and lives than we will ever fully understand.

The book takes an incredible amount of data and condenses it into an easy 240 pages (with the afterword which was added to the paperback) and it was clear that the author had the support of pretty much everyone he was writing about as the majority of the non-universe pictures are listed as 'from the personal collection of...'. Zimmerman does a great job of showing the number of people who were instrumental but also at showing their own flaws and limitations. These were ordinary humans after all trying to do what many in their own field of study thought was impossible. He was also very good at showing all the errors which led up to the wonky lens being given the okay. It was fascinating to see how it all played out and when it came time for 'second light', I found myself feeling giddy knowing how well it was all going to turn out.

This picture of the Eta Carinae was taken at 'second light', the moment when the scientists would learn
if their plan to correct the flawed lens worked. Astronomers had know for hundreds of years that
Eta Carinae was dying. What they didn't know was why it didn't appear to respond like a regular Supernova.
This picture answered what 300 years of study could not.

If you have an interest in astronomy or the Hubble, this is a great book to read. In the end, it made me both laugh and cry which is not an easy feat for a science book. In the words of John Bahcall, one of the lead scientists, "[w]e all have a deep desire to know what exists out there. A desire so basic, so beautiful, so much fun, that it unites all mankind." This book is a fantastic 'thank you' to everyone who made it possible.

Alberta: Part Two

Part One

Summer in Alberta meant driving to see family; Christmas meant seeing them all in one place. It was a mini-reunion for us every year we were there. This house which was so large and empty in the summer suddenly seemed too small. The adults took over the upstairs, spilling from the kitchen to the dinning room into the living room. Discussions of family updates since the last time they had seen each other, confirmation on who was doing what for Christmas dinner, shouts of 'Ernest' and 'Julio' while bottles of wine were being opened all filled the space not taken up by people.

Ernest! Julio! Uncles Dave and Phil at Writing-On-Stone.

Not everyone actually stayed at the house--some had other family to stay with, some lived close enough to drive--but it seemed like everyone would come each day in the lead up to Christmas Eve. Fourteen cousins would take over the basement, sometimes we'd be a cohesive unit playing 'what time is it, Mr Wolf?' but usually it was a free for all of games, TV, noise and fun. We'd escape upstairs to refill our snack stashes from the goodies table in the backroom and to make sure we weren't missing anything exciting upstairs before getting shooed back downstairs.

To get us out from under foot while dinner was being cooked on Christmas Eve day, we'd bundle those without other family to visit into as few cars as possible and head out. On one of those trips we went curling. I've never been very good at it, but I've had a love for the sport ever since. There were a few trips out to Writing-On-Stone. On one particular trip, there was no snow on the ground but the river was frozen so we had to walk on it.

Victoria and Taber Contingents on the Milk River

Usually we'd go to the farm. Trips out there were different when there was snow on the ground and cows in the barn.
Big Bro waves for the camera and incidentally covers my face. Thanks a lot!

I can't really explain why it always made me so happy to see the cows, but I loved it. It means, however, that there are a lot of these pictures:

I'm going to guess I was around 2 in this photo.

This wasn't at Christmas but while MTV was promoting the Spring Break beach theme,
I was spending my Grade 11 Spring Break in Milk River.

It was the lead up to Christmas that I enjoyed most. Don't get me wrong, Christmas with the entire family is pretty awesome, but you knew that was the beginning of the end. Everyone would dissipate back to which ever corner of Alberta they came from and it would be done for another year. It was that weekend or week before, with everyone under one roof, which were some of the best times in Milk River.

I liked spending time in Alberta in the winter. Not just at Christmas, but also when we'd come out at Spring Break or at Thanksgiving. It's so different to the Alberta of my summer memories. The fields are barren nothingness as far as you can see, there's no seeder or combine to break up the view, and yet I loved the feeling I'd get when I looked out at it. It's an emptiness which begs for you to walk through it, sit down for a spell and just watch the world go by. For better or for worse, I will always love Alberta.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Tableau to Taber Corn

While while pretending to research online for a blog post but really I was just procrastinating doing my dishes working on the Alberta: Part One, I came across a few interesting tidbits which I want to share.

First, I may wax poetic about how good Taber corn is (seriously, to die for. If you live within an 8 hour drive of Taber, do yourself a favour next August and go get some) to the point where my coworkers just walk away from me shaking their heads, but did you know that there are unscrupulous people out there who actually sell fake Taber corn?!?! That's how good Taber corn is: people are selling knock offs just to make some money on unsuspecting tourists. Apparently you should always ask to see their seal of authenticity. Or you can follow my method and get your family in Taber to go get it because, really, they should know where the really good dope corn is.

Second, the Senior Centre in Milk River is named Heritage Hall. Just think about that for a moment. These people are already aware that they're old, they're going to the Senior Centre to play bridge, do you really need to rub their faces in it by calling the place Heritage Hall. "Hey, old people. Go to the building about old things. Yay, we know there's nothing in there but tables. We want you to be our tableau vivant."

Third, I had forgotten that the river which runs through Lethbridge is called Old Man River. Guess what I've been singing all week.

Hopefully I'll dig up a few more tidbits while avoiding cleaning the bathtub researching for Part Two.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Highlights of an Otherwise Normal Wednesday

1) While at work I received a phone called from my mom who was in hysterics because I posted the Corb Lund video for 'The Truck Got Stuck' on my other blog and she had never seen it ("The part with the Hudderites, hahaha!" You're welcome, mom.).

2) I learned Gordon Campbell was resigning. Gordon Campbell is a bully. Nothing indicated that more clearly than the way the HST was introduced. Whether you support the Liberals or the NDP, his resignation is a good thing... albeit a little bit too late in my opinion. Man, I really wish I was in a Canadian Poli Sci class right now because no one at work wants to discuss the long term ramifications of this on BC politics with me.

3) I had Thai for dinner with a bunch of the fellow MoonDance people. I love living in a place where there are so many good ethnic restaurants to choose from. Variety is the spice of life!

4) My little brother agrees that we need to do a road trip to Seattle for the BSG exhibit at the EMP. I can't tell you how happy it makes me that I'm not the only dork in my family. I was worried for a while that I was going to be the odd one out because my older brother and stepbrother were always waaaaay too cool for me, but Little Bro totally gets it. He also gets Doctor Who and Star Trek and Halo and the Simpson's and South Park and Cannibal! The Musical and Team America World Police and Fawlty Towers and Monty Python and Lord of the Rings and Shaun of the Dead and... well... he gets me. It's nice to have someone in your family who does.

5) MoonDance is talking about going back to Guinea for another dance/drum intensive learning holiday in 2012. Actually, Lynn suggested it a few years ago and then later said it wasn't a firm plan. Tonight Erin and I decided that we're just going to talk about it like it's happening because then it will. So, I'm totally going to Guinea in 2012. You heard it here first.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I'm Not In Denial, I Just Refuse to Believe It

Apparently today is November 1st. I say 'apparently' because I'm pretty sure I've gotten sucked into some kind of time vortex which has created a slingshot effect landing me in a future time line while in my own time line, it's really October 15th.

In this alternate time line in which today is November 1st, I have failed to finish my October book but I'm so close. If I was in my correct time line I would not only finish it, I would perhaps even have time to finish a second book.

In this alternate time line in which today is November 1st, I didn't get all the prep work done for Nanowrimo done that I was aiming for and I've also taken on a few too many tasks for November to truly give it the go that I want to give it. If I was in my correct time line, the prep work would have been done and I'm sure I would have remembered Nanowrimo and therefore would have declined a few current obligations.

In this alternate time line in which today is November 1st, I haven't cooked any of the meals I planned to cook because I'd get invited out or ended up just opting for something less involved. If I was in my correct time line, I'd totally get a chance to crank out a few of those meals, blog about them and even post a few pictures.

In this alternative time line in which today is November 1st, I'm still working on part two of my Alberta post which I started almost a month ago. If I was in my correct time line, I'd still be working on it, but I'd take a little over a week, not a little less than a month to finish it.

As it stands, I will have to read two books in November to keep on track for the book challenge. I am doing the right thing and foregoing Nanowrimo this year as I have some writing I have to do (for money) and can't afford the time needed for Nanowrimo. I'm making myself cook in November by setting up a couple of dinner dates at my place. I will have the second Alberta post done by this weekend or I will leave it on my computer forever as a 'draft'.

Obviously, I need to find the Doctor so he can fix this time vortex issue that I'm having because I really need those additional 16 days back.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Alberta: Part One

Maybe it was writing about the family bible.

Maybe it was watching Great Canadian Rivers: Milk River on the Knowledge Network.

Maybe it was the day at work I spent listening to Corb Lund sing about cattle on the old Milk River Ridge and husking Taber corn.

Maybe it was the subsequent conversation with a coworker about how she used to drive from Calgary to Taber on the weekends to get fresh Taber Corn.

Maybe it was realising that this November will be four years since I've been back and that's the longest I've ever gone in my life without a visit, but somewhere in there I started to miss Southern Alberta. Missing it turned into an ache and then it became down right painful. That's right, I miss it so much it hurts.

Big Bro and I at the Alberta-BC border on the Crowsnest Pass

My mom hails from Milk River, a small town situated along the river just a few kilometres north of the Montana-Alberta border. My mom was raised on the family farm a few clicks east of town but by the time I came around, Grandma and Grandpa had retired and moved to town. The farmed passed to my uncle, Phil, and now to my cousin, Ryan. Still, I've always called it "Grandpa's Farm" and I challenge anyone in my family to tell me that it's not (except Ryan because, well, see above).

Grandpa may have retired to town but that didn't stop him
from still working the fields every chance he got.

The only years I don't remember going to Alberta in the summer, I was in Ireland. Those years, however, we often went to Alberta for Christmas so really, I'm pretty sure that my visits to Alberta would average one a year until Grandpa passed away. Although I have never referred to Alberta as 'my other home' like I do when talking about other places I've lived, it really was a second home (although with funny tasting water). The majority of trips were made by plane, but there were a handful of road trips and even a trip on ViaRail.

My most vivid memory of the trip was the drunk guy getting kicked off in the middle of the night.
Hmm, maybe I should do the trip again and make a better memory.

Growing up I used to complain that Alberta was so boring, that it was so flat. I was a west coast girl, with the sea on one side and the mountains on the other, what's there to see in Alberta but wheat, cows, more wheat and more cows? In one moment that whole opinion changed; I was walking south from Milk River Town towards the river, I would have been 17 at the time, I looked out towards the Sweetgrass Hills and it hit me: yes, visually Alberta could be considered plain compared to BC but, my goodness, was it ever beautiful in its own way.

Big Bro in the wheat fields. Somewhere there is the same picture of me but I can't find it.

I loved staying at Grandma and Grandpa's. You'd wake up in the morning, climb the dark stairs out of the basement, and open the door to a bright kitchen. Coffee and tea would be made, cereal would be lined up for the choosing and the cinnamon buns would be waiting for the icing. Oh, the cinnamon buns. They were to die for. Years later I learned that grandma would make a batch and freeze it. When she had company, she'd just warm up a few in the morning, drizzle a little icing and voila, Grandma's 'fresh' cinnamon buns. They were the best part of breakfast.

At some point during our trip, Grandpa would take us out to the farm. If we went in the car we'd be stopping in for a visit to the house, but if we went in his Ford truck we'd be driving out to the fields. He'd tell stories as he drove: who owned what fields, if and how the owner was related to us or someone we knew, what crops they grew every year or if they were experimenting with something new. On and on he'd prattle, eventually landing on stories about great-grandpa and great-great-grandpa living on the farm. I wish that I had thought to write some of the stories down because all I have now are snippets from my foggy childhood memory. I'm never sure how much of the story was told to me and how much is my own memory trying to fill in the blanks.

Grandpa's Ford on the left. I loved spending time with him in that truck. He taught me to drive in it.
He taught me how to recognize when a Chinook is coming. He taught me that great-great-Grandpa
bought the farm because it had a slough to water the horses. I learned a lot in that truck.

Learning to roller skating on the flat driveway, going to the public pool four days in a row, walking the golf course while Grandpa, Uncle Dave and Big Bro played a round, scampering around the hoodoos at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, walking to the Milky Way for an ice cream, picking up the mail from the post office on the way back, watching my brother on the local news being interviewed about the dinosaur eggs found outside of Warner, Ryan teaching me how to flip my eyelids inside out, walking across the Coutts/Sweetgrass border crossing just to play a game of tennis, playing a game of Nerts with Grandma and any other cousins who were around, seeing my first buffalo at the Miller farm, inner tubing down the Milk River, watching old family movies on the wall above the fireplace. There are a million memories attached to summer holidays spent in Milk River, each one a story unto itself, yet Milk River was a just a fraction of the time we'd spend in Alberta.

Writing-On-Stone in the winter. As the name of the park suggests, there are pictographs carved into the rock face.

There were Ellert family trips to Waterton National Park where we'd sleep 20 of us inside the cabin and everyone else outside in tents, where Jolene and I crashed a rented bike-thingy and walked away unhurt, where we took a tour of the Prince of Wales Hotel then took a picture in the wind with our hair going every which way, where I saw the Northern Lights for the first time, where some guy flashed us from the back of his buddy's van while they drove by, where we took a paddle boat around Cameron Lake and made a joke about making a break for the American border, where I read my first romance novel, and where we decided to hike to Little Bertha Falls because the name made us laugh.

We'd visit Taber. My uncle was the principal of the elementary school and sometimes he'd let us 'sneak in' during the summer so Big Bro could play basketball. We once came up with the great idea of getting out as many of the bouncy balls as we could and get them all going at once. You know those old balls, the ones you'd use at lunch time for dodge ball and squares? We made such a racket that my uncle came back from his office to tell us to stop it but he just ended up helping us get even more going. I would play the old family piano in the basement, the same piano that my aunts and my mom learned to play on. It even had some of their old lesson books. I'd pull them out and give them a rattle on the out-of-tune keys. Lethbridge, Calgary, more family, more laughter and more memories.

My one and only time at the Calgary Stampede.

The only trip better than a summer in Alberta was a Christmas in Alberta.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hwy Thirty-Six

This was originally part of the piece I wrote about Alberta but as I rewrite I'm finding that this doesn't work with the rest of the post. It means too much to me, however, to just toss it aside.

One of my favourite drives in Alberta is from Milk River to Taber. Just north of Milk River, at Warner, we'd get off the highway onto another, well, it's called a highway, I call it a road. It's fairly flat and straight (and boring) until the road dips a little, then it swerves as you drive down between two hills, and then suddenly you're crossing a bridge over a long, skinny lake (the name of which escapes me). You reach the other side, climb up the small hill, and you're back to fairly flat and straight. I loved that moment as a child, I would anticipate the change in the scenery for the whole trip, and I did my best to try and memorize the change in the road which would tell me when the lake was coming up. I made a game out of it. How many false guesses to when the lake would appear? Eventually I didn't need to make it a game. I knew that road so well, I knew exactly when the lake was coming up.

At the age of twenty, after not having done that drive in a few years, my mom and I drove up to Taber to visit our family there. As we approached the dip which proceeded the lake, I found my feet tapping on the floor of the car in time to my fingers tapping on my legs, my heart started to skip a little as noticed the familiar change in the scenery, suddenly we were driving down and as the bridge appeared a huge smile broke out on my face. I wanted to shout and clap, to tell my mom I still knew all the signs but I some how managed to contain myself. When I close my eyes, I can still see the changes I memorized (I wonder if they're still there) and the image of the bridge as you come out from between the hills. If I was an artist, I would draw the scene because it's so vivid in my mind. There is nowhere in BC--no hidden road, no secret forest campsite, no memory-laden beach--which fills me with the glee and excitement of that 2 minute stretch of road in Alberta.

Where Did I Leave the Valium?

Today was our Halloween costume contest at work. To say mine was a success is a bit of an understatement. People I've never seen were being sent to search me out. The costume itself was nothing elaborate but apparently I do 'the look' very well. A little too well, perhaps, as five different people told me I was born in the wrong era. What was I? Why, a 1950's housewife!

I can almost smell the pie baking!

I didn't realise until I got home but this was the only picture which was in focus and it's also the only one which didn't show my awesome high heels. For a little authenticity, I would like to draw your attention to the glasses that I'm wearing. These are my grandma's glasses from the 50's which we found in the original house on the farm (no longer standing) during one of our treasure hunts.

The case says Lethbridge because that's the big city where you go to buy everything!

Also to add to the 'authenticity' (or 'because it makes me laugh') I drank my water from my martini glass all day. I even asked our CEO if he could top me up... twice.

It was all about the lipstick on the glass!

It was a fun costume except three hours later I'm still wearing the fake pearls and wishing they were real. Perhaps this is the start of finding my hidden domestic goddess.

Non sequitur: The spell check wanted to changed 'Lethbridge' to 'lawbreaker'. Ah, no. Not even close. Thanks for the giggle, blogger!

GBC Question #22

Question #22: Favourite Series

Emily of New Moon. I liked Anne of Green Gables but it never spoke to me the way the Emily series did. Anne always felt like a character in a novel to me while Emily felt like a dear friend who just happened to exist in a book.

A close second but not chosen because I already talked about it was Lord of the Rings. What can I say? I'm a big dork.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Getting Into the Spirits!

We're having our Halloween Costume contest at work tomorrow. For the first time since, well, ever I've actually put some thought into it (unlike last year when I taped a no.2 on the back of my rugby jersey, taped up my head, walked around with a rugby ball, and told everyone I was a hooker) so I'm really excited. Of course, the excitement could be because I'm walking around with a martini glass at work and no one can get mad at me.

Now if only I could actually get away with a martini in the glass...

I'll post some pictures tomorrow night.

GBC Question #21

Question #21: A guilty pleasure book.

I have stared at this blank post for over an hour and I'm still coming up empty handed. I enjoy the odd chick lit book (usually when I'm sitting on a beach and don't want to think too hard) so I guess that would be my guilty pleasure, but I honestly can't think of a specific book that I would give this title to.

Oh, unless I can count The Hockey Sweater. There's not much guilty about it per se except that I like to read it out loud to myself in a French accent. I've never done that with someone else in the room so I guess that makes it a guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

GBC Question #20

Remember these? While I'm working on my epic post about the joy that is southern Alberta, I figured I should get back to these and may be finish off the last ten of them. So, without further ado...

Question #20: A book you would recommend to an ignorant/racist/closed minded person.

While I can think of a few people in these categories who would be better off just being hit with a book, for the rest of them I'd recommend Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. In this day and age of heightened mistrust of Muslims, this book is a fabulous reminder that fundamentalism is not confined to one religion.

Every religion has its skeletons hiding in the closest (or in Bountiful, BC) and what religion doesn't have a bloody past? But to paint everyone of that faith with the same brush does a huge disservice to furthering understanding between people of different backgrounds. Just because I think the Blackmores are dirty men with an insatiable thirst for power over 'their' women doesn't mean that Mormons as a whole are a bad people. It would be like basing your opinion on Baptists in general on the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church. (Speaking of which, it makes me sick that the hatred spread by the WBC is protected under Freedom of Speech. Doesn't the US constitution have something like the Canadian Criminal Code Section 319 to deal with people like this?)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Sneak Peek

It's been a busy week and and even busier weekend. I even went to Wal-Mart again this weekend just to leave with nothing! I think I may be the first person to ever do that. This morning was the start of our Hallowe'en Unit Decorating Contest at work and everyone said that Wal-Mart had a great selection of decorations... Well, I heard decorations but I think my coworkers must have been saying 'crap'. I should get my hearing checked.

I'm minutes away from running out the door to watch the Victoria Symphony perform Beethoven Lives Upstairs. I loved that series when I was younger and so my stepdad, stepsister and I are taking my niece to see it. Afterwards, it's back to my mom's for our delayed Thanksgiving meal. Do Sunday's get any better?

I have a gazillion pictures to upload for the Project 365 which I hope to get around to this week and a handwritten post just waiting to be typed up now that I've upload all the photos (including the one below).

Can I get an 'amen' for indoor plumbing?
Milk River, Alberta

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

103: Stop People From Giving Me Cookbooks

That's right. Someone at work gave me a cookbook today. It's from her son's school--part of last year's fundraiser which they're now just giving away--and she knows that I like to cook.

I really should sit down and figure out exactly how many meals this is going to be for goal #97. Then I can set that as the number and just ignore any new cookbooks which find their way into my possession.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

First Goal Crossed Off My List

In a moment of gung-ho-why-the-heck-not feeling this evening, I became a member of the Board of Directors for Matoto. It's a two year volunteer post and my position within it (if I have one) will be decided at the next meeting of the board. Matoto uses the 'working board' model which means I will be expected to participates in committees/task forces as a member of Matoto. I think it's safe to say that #23 is crossed of my list even without have actually done the volunteer part yet.

Only 100 more items to go.

102: Stop Buy Cookbooks

I can't believe it is the weekend again already! It's been a busy past week and it's kept me away from the internet more than I was expecting. I never got to talk about my lamb Thanksgiving dinner. That's right, lamb. We're Irish and my dad didn't feel like cooking a turkey. I love lamb; it really has to be in the top three for my favourite meats (along with fresh salmon and Alberta beef). The only downside is that I missed out on the leftover stuffing and turkey sandwiches. Sigh. Christmas isn't too far away so I will get those sandwiches soon :)

Wandering around dad's property

Despite being away from internet, I've been doing a lot of writing via the ancient tradition of using a pen and paper. How quaint, I know! I have a blog post written but I'm waiting for my mom to come home from Nova Scotia so I can use a few of her photos. Even knowing that I was writing it for the blog, there really is something about the act of writing that I love. Computers, for all their ease and speed, will never replace that.

Here's a hint: the post has something to do with Grandpa's farm in Milk River, AB

Tonight is the AGM for Matoto, the non-profit connected to MoonDance. I'm going to go check that out and if it looks like something I want to get involved in then I can cross #23 off 101 in 1001. During morning coffee with a friend (during which we also played rummy... me and my cards!) there was a discussion about a possible cross-Canada road trip in the future. It feels good to know I'm working towards crossing things off the list!

Taking names and kicking ass in Rummy. It's what I do.

As much as I'm trying to cross things off my list, it would help if I stopped buying things that added to it. While in town this morning, I bought another cookbook. It was on sale for $7, how do I say no to that? So that's one more meal that I have to cook for #97. Two steps forward, one step back!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thanksgiving

If you read both my blogs, you're not seeing double. This post appears on both of them.
What am I thankful for?

I am thankful to my birth mother for choosing to give me a life she could not provide.

Me at 5 weeks

I am thankful for my parents who never let me doubt how much I was loved.

Dad, Mom and me

I am thankful that I have two brothers who are both pretty awesome in their own rights.

Little and Big Bro about eight years ago

I am thankful that I was born in country where my gender was not seen as a reason to not educate me...

Graduation

...or disallowed my participation in sports.

Soccer as a teenager

I am thankful that I know my extended family even though they all lived plane rides away. 

Me and Cormac on a family trip out to Donegal

I am thankful for all the amazing places I have travelled in my life.

Trinidad, Cuba

I am thankful for the opportunities I've had to live in some of these amazing places.

Freiburg, Germany. Mein Universitaetstadt.

I am thankful for the people I've met who have helped shape my world view.

My going away party in Tanzania. I'm the only non-Muslim at the table.

I am thankful for living in a country where political discord amounts to little more than name calling in the House of Commons.
Political Message along Falls Rd, Belfast

I am thankful that I am privileged enough to be able to give back.
Dinner time, Usa River, Tanzania

I am thankful for all my friends who make life a little bit more worth while.

Looking forward to a hungover train ride back to Victoria after a girl's weekend in Parksville.

What are you thankful for?