Sunday, July 31, 2011

GBC Book Review: Death From the Skies!

I originally found Phil Plait, Ph. D. through the magic of twitter and have been an avid reader of his blog, Bad Astronomy, ever since. Through the science blogging world that I like to pretend I pay attention to, I heard wonderful things about his book ‘Death From the Skies!’ which deals with the science behind the end of the world so I bought the paperback version in January.

Then it sat on my side table for six months. (I like to think that it was collecting lots of protons and electrons which arranged themselves in the form of dust.)

When I finally did get around to reading it (mainly because I still had a month to go before book five of The Song of Ice and Fire series was released *cough*) I loved it. From the very first sentence in which he asserts that the universe is trying to kill you (but don’t take it personally, it’s trying to kill everybody) to his final summation regarding the odds of these events occurring in our lifetime, the book was a complete joy to read.

Trust him, he's a Doctor. Well, he has a Ph. D. He's not that type of Doctor.

While it is very science-y (yes, that is totally a word) and Plait doesn’t shy away from going into a couple of head scratcher theories, the book is clearly written for the layman who has little to no knowledge of astronomy or astrophysics. The theories are laid out in relatively simple English and there is no assumption that you will remember the theory two chapters later (which I really appreciated when I put the book down for two weeks to work on a couple of projects).

The book, while about a very serious subject, is peppered with Plait’s sense of humour. It is not often that I can say a science book made me laugh out loud but this one definitely did. And despite its serious topic, I found the book oddly reassuring regarding the likelihood of meteor impacts and gamma-ray bursts.  (I still feel threatened by the zombie apocalypse but that’s why I’ve taken up running as a pastime.)

I can’t stress how much I enjoyed this book. The only downside is that I now I have questions regarding some of the theories which means that maybe it’s time I finally gave “A Brief History of Time” a go.

Or maybe I’ll warm up with a few simpler science books first.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Crafting Some Visual Puns

Summer arrived!


And then it left again.

But it was here for a weekend!!

Well, it's still sort of here but not like it was on the weekend.

And what better why to spend that weekend then sitting inside crafting?


I headed over to my mom's again to use the sewing machine. I'm almost done my project and I'm really happy with how it's turning out. Going in for round two, there are a few adjustments I'd make (like actually ensuring my cutting was right instead of just eyeballing it) but this one is for my own personal collection so I can live with the little 'original details' that my on-the-fly sketched-out-pattern-redesigns have resulted in.

I would have finished this weekend except two things happened:

1) I'm also working on multiple crochet projects which I brought with me. I ended up working on them while I rewatched the entire Sherlock series on Saturday night (watch that series NOW! It's awesome and series two is coming out veryveryvery soon!)

2) when I finally got around to sewing I screwed up twice and had to pull out all the stitching. After a combined 45 minutes of correcting my mistakes, I decided to walk away before I went all Homer Hulk on the machine. Because you totally know it was the machine's fault. (It's out to get me. I swear!)

I have to finish up all these projects soon however because my dear friend, THR, has challenged me to a crafting challenge (although I'm calling it a 'Craft Off' because that makes me giggle) to commence some time in the near future. What's a Craft Off? Well, we get the same piece of material and have to make something out of it. We were inspired by this blog (which we both adore).

If the Craft Off goes well, I think we should make it a yearly tradition and maybe open it up to additional people. Truthfully, it's a selfish wish to do that. See, more people means more end results to look at which means more inspiration for the next time I look at an old piece of clothing. First though, we need to get through the first craft off. Cart before the horse and all that jazz!

Warning: Visual Pun Ahead!
It's me on a cart!

It's me on a horse!

Wait. The pictures are in the wrong order!

Before we even get to the Craft Off, you should all go check out Kid and Caboodle, THR's etsy store. Because she's awesome. And because I said so.

Just to show that I do know the right order to put the horse and cart:
Me and my dad in our trap. Some parade in Chemainus circa 1988.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Now Where's My Pocket Protector?

I was really good at math in school and I loved science class. Some how, I ended up going into the Humanities when it came to University. (In this case, 'some how' means I didn't want to be anymore uncool in high school than I already was so I elected not to take Math 12 and Calculus which was needed for pretty much every science program.* But I did do Chemistry 12 because that's the cool thing to do.)

At any rate, I already had glasses and was socially awkward (still kind of am), did I really need to add a science degree to that?

Nope. Much cooler to geek out over Sweden's role in the Thirty Years' War, how Grimm's Law shows the creation of the Germanic languages from Latin/Greek, and how Goethe's Faust is a bit of a dick. (Wil Wheaton would not like Faust.)

Much. Cooler.

Still, when the science lover and history lover in me can combine in a mutual love it's a beautiful, geeky thing of wonder!

I am going to be such an embarrassment to my future children and it's going to be AWESOME!

*The irony is that I ended up having a spare block during Calculus 12. My friends in the class convinced me to sit in one day because the teacher wouldn't mind. He totally didn't. I loved the class and would ask questions and work on the problems. (In short, I was a better student than some of the actual students.) When I knew the words to a children's poem that no one else knew, he went to the office to list me as his Teacher's Assistance for that class and then gave me an A.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tying Up a Few Loose Ends

Remember the problems I had with my mom's sewing machine which resulted in swearing and then sulking on facebook?


Good thing I documented it on this blog then!

I was back at my mom's on Saturday. She sat down to the machine and it worked.

First time.

I'd hate that machine if it didn't then work perfectly for me for the remainder of the day. I'm almost done my crafting project. If I may say so myelf, it's looking pretty good so far.

I also forgot to link to the song I was talking about two posts ago in the last post. It was the Gordon Lightfoot classic of the same name and if you're Canadian and don't know that, we need to talk about your lack of music education.

A Chance Meeting

I sat down intending to chat with Marielle when I noticed the lady with the Irish accent was seated to my left. Having spent large portions of the baby shower listening to her accent and trying to determine where she was from, I wanted to ask her. I had decided that she was from the northern part of the island but the accent wasn't strong enough for her to actually be a Northerner. Here was my chance to see if I was right.

"Excuse me, where abouts are you from?"

"Ireland." She started to turn back to her husband.

"Where in Ireland?"

She turned quickly and gave me a long look when she heard me say Ireland. I pronounce it AR-lund. Like my dad. It marks me as someone who grew up with the Irish accent.

"A small, well, county Monaghan." She started to turn back towards her husband but slower than before.

"You're joking!!" I grab her arm as my jaw drops to a location somewhere near my knees. I start to laugh.

She dropped her fork to her plate and looked at me with her eyes wide.

"You know Monaghan?"

"My dad's from there!" She was flabbergasted. She would later tell me that she's never met someone from Canada who even knew there was a County Monaghan, never mind someone who had been there. "He was born in Carrickmacross but grew up in Monaghan Town."

The location of Co. Monaghan in Ireland. It butts up against the border with Northern Ireland (red part).

"I'm from Ballybay. What's your family name?" After I tell her, she smiles. "That's a good Monaghan name." Her smile disappears and I can see her mulling something over in her mind.

"Not Gerry [last name]*?"

"Yes." My dad occasionally talks about his involvement in the local Irish community in the early 80's. His degree was in Irish (and Latin) so he used to teach classes. When the group started becoming too political for his liking, he cut his ties. Given our unique last name, I assumed she remembered him from that.

"My brother, Eddie, went to school with your dad. They were good friends. When I moved to Victoria, Eddie gave me your dad's address. I visited him once."

Now it was my turn to be flabbergasted. Not only is she the first person from Monaghan I've ever met outside of Monaghan who isn't related to me, but she knows my dad from living in Monaghan and we meet in Victoria at a baby shower. It's one of those crazy coincidences that I never would have expected.

We talked about Monaghan. We talked about my trip in September. We talked about her most recent trip last May. We talked about how I came to have two names which, she tells me, "is a very Irish thing". We talked about what my dad had been up to in the last 12 years since she ran into him at the grocery store. We talked about how she and her husband (from Dublin) ended up in Canada. We talked about how her family owns a pub in Ballybay. We talked about how visiting Ireland leaves you torn between visiting family and being a tourist. We passed away a good 30 minutes chatting before her husband reminded her that their daughter had a ferry to catch.

Sometimes it a good thing to talk to strangers!

*If my last name wasn't so unusual, I would be more willing to put it on my public blog, however, there are (including me) only five people with my last name in Victoria. All of them are my immediate family. I have only ever found one other person in BC with the same last name.

Friday, July 15, 2011

And By the Way...

Did she mention my name? Did she mention my name just in passing?

I should really start playing a game on this blog called: Andrea references a quite-possibly-obscure-to-everyone-else song and you tell me who I'm singing.*

Anyway, in amongst all the whining bitching complaining crying frustration of the last blog, I forgot to mention my exciting news: I GOT MY PLANE TICKET BABY!!

Now it's not just official that I'm going to Ireland to visit the famdamily because I keep saying I'm going but because I actually have a ticket in my hot little hand (well, I have a booking confirmation which will turn into a ticket but you get the point).

That means it is 72 days until:
I wander around Dublin (although this time will be sans the ice cream but probably still with the latest copy of Four-Four-Two. Oh, and the overall shorts are loooooong gone, you'll be happy to know.)

I pop into Bewley's to laugh at their ridiculous outfits enjoy a cuppa after a day of walking around Dublin.

I arrive too late to catch the All Ireland Hurling or Gaelic Football Matches but that doesn't mean I won't be joining in the good natured ribbing of anyone who talks smack about 'my' teams. For the record, I am happy when any of the following teams win: Monaghan (ha! Good luck with that ever happening), Tipperary (my stepmom's family comes from there and her cousin-in-law was a hurler although he's been retired at least 10 years now and unlike my other teams, they actually win with some sense of regularity), Armagh (uncle lives there, it's where I spent most of my time when I  was not in Dublin on previous trips), or Galway (I lived and worked there when I was 19).

Story behind the picture. That's my dad and his friend, Alan, at Alan's Dublin home in 1996. My uncle (dad's brother-in-law) is from Wexford (the flag shown) so we were all pulling for them in the All Ireland Hurling Final but Alan is from Limerick. My stepmom had made a bet with Alan on the Limerick-Tipperary semi-final game and lost. When she demanded a chance to win it back, Alan was more than willing to make a bet with her on the final. He ended up making £10 bets with multiple members of our family. When Wexford won (1-13 to 0-14**) we took a little bit too much joy in going around Alan's place to collect our £60 worth of bets from him.

I visit possible locations for the Zombie Apocalypse.

I hang out with cousins, aunts, uncles, and possibly some sheep.

I cheat death on Monaghan's back roads. Seriously, I love my family but the whole country drives like it was supposed to be somewhere 20 minutes ago.

I make my family take me to tourist spots and then make them stand with me in the pictures.

My family and I get into the beer and start playing the "do you remember...?" game. Eventually someone will try and be funny and whip out the old "do I remember? Will I ever forget?" and we'll all have a good laugh before the story teller of that particular memory says "no, really, do you remember?". I can't wait to whip out the "do you remember when we all wore short-shorts and Barry McGuigan shirts?" If Alan wants to win back some of that £60 (however many € that would be now), I'm willing to bet they all remember but none of them will cop to it...

See you in September, Ireland!

*If people do want to play along, I'll answer this answer in the next post if no one gets it (which would mean my mom has stopped reading my blog). NO GOOGLING FOR ANSWERS!!

**Hurling is a sport that I love to watch (I've been to three games in Croke Park--all with my uncle Frank--and they were easily the best live sporting matches of my life) but I don't really follow because, well, hello, I live on the west coast of Canada. I say "I like hurling" and people respond "Curling?" We had two hurleys growing up and I used to take them to the lower field and practice flipping the sliotar up from the ground and then hitting it in midair. I've described hurling as 'field hockey played by rugby players' and an aunt calls it 'open warfare with a referee'. Both are pretty apt. If you don't believe me, I've linked to an instructional video. I may do a post about it in the future because it's an awesome sport. It's also played in some of the larger cities in North America with sizable Irish populations. I encourage you to try and catch a game to see what all the awesomeness is about.

EDIT: incorrect links in original posts. My bad!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Weekend of No Crafting

I did not get any crafting done this weekend. My plans were thwarted by a f*#%ing bobbin.

My mom got a new sewing machine. Seeing as I've used various sewing machines in the past and always been able to figure them out, I wasn't too worried about it even though she specifically said there are a couple of differences with this machine.

On Saturday I drew up my ideas, figured out my measurements and then cut all my pieces. I left my progress there because I have this thing about wanting a very clear 'finish' point at the end of the day--it irks me to stop at an unnatural part of the process--so I figured I'd do all the stitching on Sunday.

I spent Saturday evening experiencing the joy of having a cable again (I got to watch Murdoch Mysteries and it made me so happy) and having a friend who lived in the area come around for a cup of tea and a chat.

Sunday morning I woke up bright and early at a reasonable time, enjoyed a cup of tea, then set about setting up the sewing machine. It had white thread and I wanted black. I got the spool loaded with very little fuss then turned my attention to the bobbin.

There was no sliding door for the bobbin compartment.

Out came the instructions and I figured out how to get into the bobbin compartment without a screwdriver.

Then came the hard part. Instead of popping the bobbin into its spot and then looping the thread through until it catches, you removed the bobbin holder, secure the bobbin in it and then replace it in the machine (with the bobbin totally hidden). I couldn't get the holder to stay in the machine. It kept falling out.

I read and reread the picture instructions which must have been drawn by the same guy who does the Ikea instructions. I stared at the instructions to remove the holder. I stared at the instructions to insert the bobbin in the holder. I looked through the entire manual for how to replace the bobbin holder. When that failed, I went back to experimenting. Then back to staring.

I was starting to feel like a bit of a idiot.

When I swore at the machine, I knew it was time to walk about for a cup of tea. I'd try again after I had calmed down. I could stare at the pictures with fresh eyes as it were.

I went to take a picture of the problem. My camera took the picture... except it over-exposed the whole thing and it washed out. I played with camera settings, location, everything. The end result was either almost black or almost white photos. I resent factory settings but that just made it worse. Now the pictures are all white.

After I ranted on facebook and then had a cup of tea, I returned to the machine.

"I never had this many problems with the old machine," I explained to it. "I could have threaded the old machine with my eyes closed."

I looked at the instructions again and saw the tiny (seemingly insignificant) step I had missed. I retried the bobbin holder and, hallelujah, it went in and held in place! I did a happy dance.

I took some scraps of the fabric I was using to play around with the new-to-me machine. No matter how I tried--pushing, pulling, pushing and pulling--the fabric would not feed through the foot evenly. After 10 minutes, I gave up. I had just reached a point where I couldn't be bothered to stare at picture instructions any more.

So my pieces are cut, now I just await the return of my mom who will (as always) have all the answers.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Important Update

I know you will all be relieved to hear that is in fact airing multiple seasons of Canada's Worst Handyman. (And I'm sure they'll do the same with Canada's Worst Driver, there were just more episodes in the first season, 8 instead of 6, so they haven't gotten to season two yet.) I know that had all of you very worried. And by 'you', I meant 'me'.

One upside to watching CWH (as well as a few crafty blogs added to my reader, thank you THR) is that I'm looking at a couple of handy-type jobs that I've been meaning to handle for a while and actually feeling inspired to tackle them. It's nothing big like 'renovate a condemned building' (although that would be a great place to play with power tools) but I have my great-step-grandma's* still working 1920's singer sewing machine. If my camera was working, I'd unfold the table and take a picture but I'm missing the USB cord to upload photos (*cough*Darthstillhasit*cough*) so instead:

Sadly, great-step-grandpa (who I never met) decided to varnish it in the 1960's with something that I don't think was meant for wood (perhaps he should have been on CWH). Now its peeling and catching on the fabric rendering the machine almost useless for its intended purpose. I have stared at it in the corner of my apartment for roughly three years thinking 'some day'.

Well, I've been inspired. At some point this summer, I'll borrow some power tools and remove the sewing machine (because it adds a lot of weight to the table), strip and stain the table, reattach the machine, and then possibly sew something simple because the machine is old and has issues when you do anything other than straight lines in a simple stitch. I'll use my mom's machine for my bigger projects.

As for those bigger projects... I'm sewing shit this summer! Before you think this is some misguided attempt at being crafty which was inspired by a TV show, I've been humming and hawing about it for a while. In one of her many teaching careers, my mom was a Home Ec teacher so I've been sewing on and off for a number of years. I even made a few outfits in my younger days (with appropriately-hideous-only-a-12-year-old-would-pick-it-out fabric... ah, the 80's/early 90's) so I know what I'm doing.

As my mom is going camping, I'm taking over her sewing room for the weekend (and also her washer/dryer... bed sheets dried on the line = best thing ever!). I like the idea of having the house to myself while I do this. It's not that I don't want to spend time with my mom, it's because I'd want to spend time with my mom. It's too easy to get distracted by cups of tea in the backyard while we discuss travel plans.

Although I may bring my special mug with me for my solitary cups of tea.
Tea just tastes better in certain mugs.

Finally, I'm looking for ideas for paper crafts. My mom's cousin gave me two books about the history of my mom's home town and while they were fun to look through once (and I do plan on keeping any interesting parts pertaining to my family), they are now just really big books clocking in at roughly 1700 pages each.

I could attach them to either end of a weight bar...

I'm trying to empty my apartment of 'stuff' and these books take up a lot of room. Still, it's nice paper so if I can use some of it for a craft project... So far I've got 'oversized paper weight' and 'ransom note lettering' on my list of ideas. Any other suggestions are welcome.

And completely off-topic of everything I've been talking about (but really, it's me, 'off-topic' is kind of my thing), if you post a comment about Arrested Development on Facebook and you end up with 23 responses which are really just various quotes from the show then you have the best/coolest friends ever.

Just sayin'.

Also, if you've never watched Arrested Development, you really should.

*That's my stepmom's grandma for those of you playing along at home. I called her 'grandma' when she was alive as she was the only grandparent figure that lived within 12 hours of our house, but now I specify so as not to confuse everyone with my stories. I also have an oma (a family friends' mother) I tell stories about. In short, I like to adopt grandparents. If you have any going cheap let me know.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Canada's Worst Blogger?

After six weeks of fairly regular blogs and updates, I have gone over a week without posting on either blog. I feel slightly guilty. It's not like I've been so busy that I didn't have time to blog, I just didn't because I was too busy having mini Canada's Worst marathons.

Last Wednesday, I discovered that season one of both Canada's Worst Driver and Canada's Worst Handyman were being shown on over the summer. Then I found seasons five and six of both shows on My week and weekend looked something like this:

Truth be told, I have a bit of a crush on the host, Andrew Younghusband. He makes me laugh and I have a soft spot for Maritime and Newfoundland accents (they sound somewhat akin to my dad after his 40+ years in Canada and don't need visas to live in the same country as me, how can I not love them? In short, if you know any single Maritime/Newfoundland men living on the west coast please feel free to pass along my contact info. But I digress, this blog isn't about getting me a date). I'm really hoping that shows the other seasons over the summer as well (and they only release two episodes a week so it stops me from the 'entire season in one day' watching I was doing).

Family BBQ on Canada Day at Esquimalt Lagoon a few years back

It also meant that on Canada Day, I went for a run, wandered around downtown for about 2 hours, then returned home for a CWD/CWH marathon. Happy Canada Day to me! (In my defense, after a couple of days of being fairly busy, my plans for that day were to be low-key regardless of what may or may not have been on

Keeping on the East Coast theme, I had dinner at my mom's over a week ago. While enjoying our first bbq'd steaks of the season, we listened to a Jimmy Sweeney CD (he plays at the Old Triangle - Halifax for any of you East Coasters who enjoy a good session) which had Sonny's Dream on it. I've been humming the song ever since. In searching for a version on YouTube that I could sing along with, I found this video:

I love this video. It reminds me of how I used to hear all these songs: a group of my parents' friends at a party playing and singing along. I've been watching the video on repeat and it makes me insanely happy. It also has provided some added motivation for getting a cheap guitar and learning a few standards songs which can be my party pieces at future drunken nights alone house parties.

Heading a little bit further east, it's official: I'm off to Ireland for a little family visit in the fall. It's official because uncles/aunts/cousins have been notified, spare rooms are being aired out, and my dad is already collecting items he wants me to take back (including, but not limited to, a broken fire bellow he brought with him when he immigrated 40+ years ago. I guess I should be thankful that he hasn't decided to send me back with the spinning wheel. Still customs is going to be awesome!). If you're going to be in Dublin or Belfast or Armagh or Galway or Monaghan (or really, anywhere in Ireland) between Sept 24 - Oct 16, drop me a line and maybe we can meet up for a pint.

And on that note, I'm off to enjoy the summer which has finally seemed to arrive in Victoria. Lovely, lovely outdoor weather that's just screaming "come out and play" unless, you know, ctv has released more episodes of CWD or CWH. ;-)