Sunday, August 28, 2011

Storytime Sunday: Andrea's an Idiot

I woke up this morning trying to remember why I wanted to take my laptop with me to my mom's. She's away for a few days camping so I'm watering her plants.

Failing to remember why I was so "got to remember my laptop" the night before, I set off to the land of free internet my mom's sans technology with plans to water her flowers, make a cup of tea and watch last night's episode of Doctor Who.

Well, I wanted to bring my laptop because it has all my stories on it. Kind of hard to post my writing when I don't have it.

And Space Channel is taking their sweet time getting the new Who up on the site. (I prefer to stream things legally when given the option.)

And there's no milk for my tea (like last time when I brought milk and found some milk left in the fridge) so I can even enjoy a cuppa on the back porch surrounded by my mom's lovely flowers.

So far, this Sunday's been a bit of a bust.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Can't Quit You

Shannon (mother of the awesome 'J') recently posted about her love-hate relationship with facebook and it got me thinking about my own love-hate with social media. Anyone who knows me INR (in real life) can attest, it's mostly a love relationship.

For all I cringe when I think about what some people are willing to share on the site (for the record, I keep my stuff on pretty tight lockdown but I also very rarely share anything that I wouldn't share on a public site... well, other than my last name), facebook has always contained many more pros than cons for me. As someone who loves to travel, facebook has allowed me to keep in contact with friends I've met along the way. For that alone, facebook is worth it.

Unlike twitter where I've made friends I didn't previously have, facebook is about connecting with people I already have a pre-existing relationship with. So imagine my surprise one lazy April morning in 2010 when I get a friend request from a name I don't recognize and a profile picture which doesn't trigger any memories for me. I check out our mutual friends.

She knows Cormac, a cousin from Armagh.

Cormac had moved to the States and married an Andrea; she had changed her last name on facebook only a few months before and I had received two friends requests for her in error. I am about to send a message explaining I was not the 'Andrea M' she is looking for when I realised that she's friends with Paddy. Paddy, a cousin originally from Dublin, lives in Galway and has never been to visit Cormac in the US. It was unlikely that this person was looking for the other Andrea.

I close the message box and went back to staring at the picture.


I let a few days pass while I mulled over who this person might be. Like me, her profile is pretty guarded so I couldn't do much snooping to determine who she is. I take the plunge and accept the request. If nothing else, it will give me a chance to snoop around her profile and figure out who she was before I unfriended her.

Chatting with my dad on the phone the next day, I ask if he knew who this Estelle-person was.

"She's Fonsie's youngest."

I had my answer. To the best of my knowledge, I had never met Estelle. In fact, I didn't meet Uncle Fonsie (Alphonsus, it has nothing to do with Happy Days) until he came to visit us in Canada when I was 15. My dad was the eighth child in a family of 11.* Fonsie was much older (first or second born, I'm not sure) and, according to my dad, had moved out by the time my dad was old enough to form a relationship with him.

Then there was some family drama. You know how large families are. Or maybe you don't which is why I have to write this. All I know about it was snippets overheard during conversations between my dad and his other siblings. I knew he existed but I only saw him when I was 15 and I haven't seen him since.

In short, Fonsie and my dad were never close and he was an uncle in name only.

And his youngest daughter (who is a few years older than me) wanted to be facebook friends.

Ultimately, that has been my biggest joy in facebook: the ability to develop relationships with my cousins independent of my father's relationship with them.

Living so far away from that half of my family, my relationships with them have always been through my dad's contact with his siblings. My knowledge was only what was passed on from their parents to my parents. If our parents weren't big phone buddies, well, I often didn't know they existed beyond "this aunt/uncle has x number of kids".

For the first time ever in my life, I don't had to be in Ireland to talk to my cousins, learn what's happening in their lives, and share what's going on in mine. I've learned more about my cousins as individuals in the last three years when I added the first one, than I ever did in the 28 years prior.

For that, Facebook, I will always appreciate you.

*We had to do our family trees for Grade 8 French and then present them to the class. Most people were done in two to three minutes. After five minutes, my teacher cut me off because I had demonstrated my knowledge of the vocabulary. I hadn't even had a chance to talk about my mom's side of the family.

Monday, August 22, 2011

To a Special Girl On Her Third Birthday

A very special girl turned three recently.

She got a bike with no pedals from her grandparents. What a lucky girl! It sounds like she had a wonderful birthday weekend with her family.

I have one little surprise left for her.

I hope you will all forgive my singing!

R.I.P. Jack Layton

Dear Readers Mom, I had a post all ready to go about my weekend (and the post will still go up at some point) but I woke up this morning to the news that Jack Layton, leader of the the New Democratic Party, had passed away. As much as I strive to keep politics off my blog because that's not why I started this in the first place, I love politics. I wanted to use my little corner of the Internet to say good bye to an amazing man.

[Edit]: You can read Jack's final letter to Canadians here.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. ~Jack Layton

Dear Jack,

I woke up this morning to a flurry of tweets about your passing. I hoped and hoped it was some cruel joke like the Gordon Lightfoot death-tweets a few years back but as more and more respectable people added to the tweets and linked to CBC news, I knew that you really had passed away.

I cried.

There will be a lot written about you in the coming days. It will be mostly good, as happens after someone has passed away. And as it should be when the person was as generally good as you. Stephen Harper has already issued a statement. Between you and me, behind his sadness at your passing, I think part of him is relieved that he won't have to face off against you in the House of Commons this fall.

Of course, that is assuming Harper can feel emotions. Scientists are still running experiments to determine if he can.

You were one of the few politicians that I actually liked and respected. Although I did not always agree with you (politically, I understand why you disagreed with Elizabeth May being in the debates. Emotionally, I think you were a dick about it), I always felt like you put the Canadian population ahead of everything else when it came to your job. You were one of the few politicians I wanted to meet. I wanted to shake your hand and say 'thank you' for restoring my faith in politicians.

You were amazing in the last election. The NDP was the only party with ads on online TV channels, the only one with ads in bus stations, and the only one who really seemed to go after the youth vote. The result was the largest NDP result ever (and in a few of the ridings you lost, you lost by a handful of votes.) and the decimation the Bloc in Quebec. As much as it pained me to see Steven Harper finally get his majority party, I was so proud of the strides you had made for your party.

You were incredible.

There was a passion in everything you did. There was a determination in your actions. Yet, there was a relatability which resonated with people. Canada even voted you the party leader they'd most like to have a beer with. Perhaps it was because you were so passionate and determined that they responded to you. Whatever it was, your passing is a sad day for Canada and Canadian politics.

Thank you for everything you brought to the House of Commons. Thank you for years and years of service on behalf of your fellow Canadians. Thank you for being you: for being open about your fight with cancer, for being passionate about your beliefs, for challenging us all to be better, and for being strong in the face of it all.

You will be missed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Just Popping By!

I've had one of those weeks. It's both hard to believe it's Thursday but I also can't believe it's already Thursday.

You know this type of week?

After a busy weekend, I've had a busier week. Family in from out of town, in the office for most of the week (but not today! Hello, Mr. Sun! I've missed you! And you, Mr. Exlamation Mark! I've missed you too!), running plans, meetings. I feel like I've done more this week than I have in the last two. Is it Saturday yet? No? You mean I still have to go to work tomorrow?

At the same time, the week has been flying by. I need another day to sit down and read a book, or have a hot relaxing bath, or watch a movie and crochet. I need it to be Tuesday so I still have a lovely family dinner of BBQ salmon and my mom's awesome pilaf to look forward to. Or Wednesday so I can visit with my favourite Vietnamese family in Victoria. Both those events went by way too fast.

Still, I'll get to catch up on my relaxing this weekend so I can't complain too much. I'm off to Nanaimo (well, technically Cedar) and will have free internet for the weekend so hopefully I'll have more than five minutes to sit down and say hello then.

Until then, a few photos of my last summer wanderings around Cedar.

Monday, August 15, 2011

GBC Book Review: A Dance With Dragons

The fifth book in George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy series begins by running parallel to the fourth book, A Feast For Crows, for roughly 2/3rds of the story before characters from AFFC begin to have narration in ADWD.

After all my raving about the first three books in this series and my excitement about the fifth book coming out despite a so-so fourth book, I was very disappointed with A Dance With Dragons. I found, as I did with AFFC, that it felt like much of the book was moving players around the chess board with no clear idea of how to get them where Martin wanted them to end up.

While the story telling was, as it always is, fantastic (and Martin has created such a believable fantasy world for his characters to inhabit) I found myself pleading with the story to do something. I was waiting for it to start. As the book moved further and further along, it became very apparent that many of the story lines weren’t actually going anywhere worth getting excited about.

I did feel, however, that ADWD ended with a much bigger promise of a pay off in the next book than AFFC did (although I will concede that this may be because ADWD is leading into the next part of the story, not leading to a book which runs parallel). Many of the principle characters are now set up to make their move. The chess pieces, so to speak, are ready for their final moves of the endgame.

I don’t require that every book be packed with action, but it’s possible to move the story along while you set up the upcoming plot lines (which Martin did excellently in A Game of Thrones so we know he is capable of doing it) but what I read here felt more like floundering in many parts.

On the positive side, I really enjoyed the chapters told from Reek’s perspective (if you’re reading the series and have reached book five: I always wanted him to have a chance to redeem himself after some of his previous actions and I really enjoyed watching him turn back into the man he could be.) And despite all my criticisms with ADWD, it’s still leaps and bounds ahead of almost any chick lit book I’ve ever read.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Storytime Sunday: Returning Home

Our bus pulls away from our stop, leaving its two lone wazungu passengers in its wake of dust and diesel fumes. Kara turns her head left and right to stretch her neck.

"I want to be back in Nungwi."

"Me, too."

We walk across the road and knock on the big metal door. The small opening slides open and when the eyes see who it is, they're replaced by a big grin and a shout in Swahili. Jonathan opens the gate and hugs us as we walk through. Andrew walks out of the guard gate and hugs us as well.

"Karibuni! Habari za safari?" (Welcome! How was the trip?") His big white teeth are about all I can make out in the encroaching darkness.

"Nzuri," (good) I reply. His big hand messes my hair like I'm one of the toddlers. I  feign anger as I fix my hair but he knows it's just an act. Kara and I say good night and promise we'll chat more tomorrow when we're rested.

"Go. See your children," Jonathan laughs after us as we continue our trek towards the main house. "They've missed you." I wonder if the kids have even noticed our absence. They didn't seem to notice any of the other times we've been gone for multiple days.

We settle into our room in the newly completed volunteer quarters. I sit on my bed with a loud sigh and I glance around before settling on Kara's smiling face.

"Let's go see the children."

We're both up before she even finishes the sentence. We carefully make our way down the stairs and around to the back door. It's hasn't been locked yet so we're able to sneak in. Unspoken between us is the understanding that we want to surprise the children. We make our way as quietly as possible to the change and laundry room where the kids are being bathed before bedtime. We open the door.

"Hello," we call out.

All the chatter stops at the sound of our voices and there's a moment of silence while all the heads turn towards us. Suddenly, the room erupts in noise.

The nannies move forward to hug us and the toddlers walk and crawl as quickly as they can towards us. Maria gets out of her bath completely naked and beelines for my legs. Her wet, shivering body presses against them while Mama Musa tries to coax her back to the bath. She looks up at me with a big smile.

"Mommy," she screams. I pick her up, give her the biggest hug I can and then hand her back to Mama Musa. Kara and I gather up the toddlers and older babies that are done their baths and take them to the play room. I sit down on the ground and am immediately beset by Joshua, Cory and Simon. They crawl over my legs, drape themselves over my back. They have me pinned to the ground.

They hug my arms.

They kiss my head.

They tell each other that 'mommies are home'. Nosatwa comes crawling out from the change room with her pajamas only half on. Hadija comes running out after her to catch her and finish getting her dressed, but I pick up Nosatwa and tell Hadija that I'll do it.

"It is good to see you," Hadija tells me as she hugs me. I'd hug her back but Benny is pulling on my free hand as he jumps, repeating 'mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy'.

The older toddlers start to do laps around the area stopping on each go round to hug Kara and me. Kara has Junior in her arms and a huge grin on her face. The last time Kara and I were in this room was after Queen had died, very unexpectedly, in Kara's arms. Tomorrow, Kara will depart Tanzania for Uganda and continue her overland trip to Cape Town. I am so happy that her last memory of CoL will be of all this joy and not the sorrow which greeted us on our last day before our two week holidays began.

As the younger toddlers and babies take up residence in our laps, the older toddlers wind themselves up. They can't stop running and screaming. Constant calls for our attention keep our heads turning left and right. Philip stops running. As he turns towards us, he pulls his pajamas up over his head and throws them in the air.

Cory follows, then big Maria, then Benny. Soon, all the toddlers are naked. They throw their pajamas in the air, catch them and thrown them again. They scream 'mommies, mommies' each time. I teared up. I have never felt so missed in all my life.

We leave the toddlers totally wired and in various states of redress. We apologies to the nannies for getting the kids riled up but they're so happy to see us back, they don't seem to mind. We can still hear the toddlers shouting 'mommies are home' as we make our way back up the stairs to the volunteer quarters. Sleep may be a long time coming for the toddler room tonight.

"I needed that," I close the door behind me as I say it. I lock us in for the night as Kara moves into the kitchen to make some tea. We make eye contact and despite the tears dancing on her lower eye lashes, she's flashing me the biggest grin her mouth can make.

"So did I."

"Better than Nungwi?"

"Better than Nungwi."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why I Hate the Bus Eireann and UlsterBus Websites

(And Why I Love My Family!)

One of the more exciting parts of my upcoming Ireland trip for me is that my friend, Al, is going to be joining me. I have a friend with me and for the first time ever, I get to tell my family to shove their "but you have to come over for tea... again" and go be a tourist.

Okay, so I would never complain about meeting my family for tea, but it's lovely to know that I have a built in excuse to leave the family trail for the tourist trail. Like Donegal. I haven't been to Donegal since I was nine. I miss Donegal, but I don't have any family that lives there so it's not high on the list when I go. Well, this time it is because I think it is the most beautiful part of Ireland (take that, over-touristed South-West!) and that everyone should go there. (But don't tell them that I sent you, they'd probably revoke my Irish passport for ruining their little secret.)

Given that it's not just me going, I want to make sure that we get to where we want, when. I know that my family would be more than willing to drive us between points but I want to know that if no one is able to go from Dublin to Armagh until Saturday and we want to leave on Thursday, we can do it.

Via Monaghan, of course, so I could stop at the cemetary and pay my respects.
Enter Irish Public Transit.

I had a problem trying to get DART information a few weeks ago and even took to ranting about it on facebook.

Bus Eireann and UlsterBus blew them all out of the water!

There's a Bus Eireann/UlsterBus multi-day pass and I wanted to have a rough idea if point-to-point would be a cheaper option. I figured looking at the fares would be the easiest way to do this. Oh, how nieve I was!

Bus Eireann was confusing and would give fares going to the North on one page but not on another; once you got to the fare page, you couldn't then click a 'home button' to return to a new search quiery; the default stop for most cities was not the main bus station but other smaller stops (often on regional busses so then you get "transfer at the main station, blah, blah, blah"); in short, it was frustrating and not the least bit user friendly but I was able to get a few rough ideas of time tables and prices.

A couple of our trips would be entirely in the North. As this region is covered by UlsterBus, I didn't expect Bus Eireann to cover the information (and it didn't) so I headed over to UlsterBus to get a few price ideas. Given that they had three links on their main page which said "UlsterBus Fares", I had high hopes. Yet every time I tried to get fair info, it ended with this message:





I again took to facebook to rant.

Within five minutes, I had four different messages from my cousins all saying that they (or their parents, love how we children are so willing to volunteer other family members) will gladly drive me and my friend where ever we need to go.

"I work until three most days but then I can run you up to the North."

"If we need to meet somewhere and drive back, you can just give me a call."

"Why are you bothering with UlsterBus? You know my dad will be more than happy to take you where you want to go."

"You know my dad's retired, right? I'm sure he'd love to pick you up and run you around ."

And that's how crappy, crappy websites reminded me of how much I love my family... even if they do live eight time zones away...

...and even if one of them joked that the websites were IQ tests, I've failed, and now I won't be allowed through customs.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

CCM Round Two

After I post this, I’m heading up to Shawnigan Lake for a little R&R. Some family friends have rented a cabin up on the lake for a week and invited my parents to come up to visit. I get an invite by proxy. Not a bad arrangement, if you ask me.

Shawnigan’s not too far from Victoria so it makes a nice day trip but after a week of glorious sunny weather, this morning was overcast. A few breaks in the clouds to the west and north make me hope that the clouds will end at the top of the Malahat. Of course, good company would make it worth the trip even without the weather.

The family friends in question belong to the group I refer to as CCM Gen 1.0 (and I’m not sure, but parts of Gen 2.0 and 3.0 may be up there as well).  Sadly, due to a lingering winter head/chest cold during the annual Christmas party rounds, I haven’t seen any of them since our CCM picnic last August. All the more reason to accept my parent’s offer of a drive over the Malahat regardless of the weather.

For last year's picnic, Gen 2.0 sets up the table that Gen 1.0 used to take on camping trips.

(And I’m hoping that they bring their camera so I can play with it and then upload some photos. This whole no-camera thing blows.)

I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. And by ‘lately’, I mean ‘since I lost my free Internet access at home a week ago and have been forced to frequenting the coffee shop when I want to post’. (Yup, ‘lately’ sums it much more succinctly.) Also, it’s amazing how much easier it is to get the stories from my head to word document when I don’t keep checking facebook every 10 minutes.

There’s a few I was debating about sharing on here when I decided to make it a regular feature. A regular feature deserves a regular name. I was going to go with Fiction Friday. Alliteration for the win! Then I started to think that some of my travel stories should be written down but they’re not fiction (no matter how much I wish some of them were). Sadly, with no day of the week starting with ‘n’, I can’t just create another regular feature like Non-fiction Nonday. (My calls to the offices of the Oxford English Dictionary promising the payout of bribes should they add ‘Nonday’ to the dictionary have not been returned.)

Writing Wednesday? But aren’t all blog posts writing?

Thoughtless Thoughtful Thursday? But that’s not really about writing and sometimes my writing isn’t thoughtful. Actually, it usually isn’t.

Story Saturday? Or Sunday?

Maybe staring at the lake will help me figure it out.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Passport Photo

I got my new passport yesterday.

I am convinced that Passport Canada employs some sort of picture fattening device when they electronically scan and add your photo. I looked at my picture after it was taken (at London Drugs, my favourite store ever) and it didn’t look this bad. Don’t get me wrong, it did look like a passport mug shot, but it was ‘normal’ looking. The picture I ended up with in the passport makes my neck look twice as big as the top of my head. MY NECK IS NOT THAT BIG! I have a triangle as a head. 

I have decided that it is part of the government’s plan to help stimulate the Canadian economy. Think about it.

Bureaucrat #1: Now that Canadians need a passport to travel to the States regardless of how they enter, everyone is going to need a passport.

Bureaucrat #2: Imagine all those awful passport photos. It gives me nightmares just thinking about them.

Bureaucrat #1: My last picture was so hideous, I didn’t leave Canada until I could justify applying for a new one.

Bureaucrat #2: Hang on a tick...

Bureaucrat #1: You have that I just had a crazy idea look, Ed. What is it?

Bureaucrat #2: What if we did that for everyone’s photos? Make them so hideous they don’t want to show anyone their passport? They’d be confined to travel within Canada!

Bureaucrat #1: [catching on] Yeah. We’d get more people staying in-country, putting their hard earn money back into the Canadian economy instead of some other economy.

Bureaucrat #2: But how could we get away with doctoring pictures so they look like the people in them but bad?

Bureaucrat #1: What if we used that Mac Photo gallery do-hicky? You know where you can pick those shapes, like fisheye and swirl? There must be something on there we could use to alter the photos but keep them looking like real photos.

Bureaucrat #2: That’s a fabulous idea. I’ll call the bosses right away. We’ll be getting bonuses for sure now!

Well, I’ll show them. I plan to proudly flash my triangle head photo to any customs agent who asks for it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Link love

I have made mention on the blog of my love for Game of Thrones and also Arrested Development. As a result, a friend of mine sent me the link to Arrested Westeros.

I have linked to this site a few times on facebook but when I saw today's picture, I decided it was time to share the love over here as well.


(For those who need an explanation.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Froehlich am 1. August!

Today is Switzerland's National Holiday. Trying to choose one Swiss story for today is an almost impossible task. Instead I'm just going to share a few photos (in random that's-how-my-computer-organized-them order) from my trip back there in 2005.

Obere Hauptgasse in Thun

Dorfstrasse, Sigriswil (one of two main streets in the village)

View from the Sämi and Susi's main steps

Looking back at Eiger from Männlichen

Across the Aare from Old Town, Bern

Bridge, Thun

Kappelbrücke at Night, Lucerne

The monastery, St. Gallen
Sunset in Elfingen