Nitpicking

Just a quick point of vocabulary, guys – if you get married, and there are two people marrying each other, and there is another person present, and it’s considered a binding ceremony, your wedding is not “untraditional.”

Departure Lounge

I love airports. Some people don’t like having to hang around before and between flights, but I do. Not for too long – I’ve very unsuccessfully tried to kill 8 hours in Vienna, and once thought it would be a good idea to sleep in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo – but I do enjoy a solid few hours at the airport. You get to watch people from literally all over the world and browse tons of magazines, plus buy yourself a very expensive coffee. When we were in La Guardia this summer I was excited to try Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, because I thought it was like the American version of Tim Horton’s. Wrong. That stuff is vile, sorry. And the medium was like a novelty bucket.

even worse than starbucks

All that to say, my dream is to go on vacation by showing up at the airport, checking out the departure board, and picking a flight. Obviously, this has practical limitations – you’d have to pack a mid-range of things and pass on the Ulaan Bataar flight if you left your parka at home, and of course cost would be an issue (although I suppose if cost were no issue, you could also just show up with a passport and buy what you needed upon arrival).

I guess you’d also need to convince the ticket agent that you weren’t crazy, or a terrorist or something, because I’ve heard that apparently they consider traveling without luggage suspicious. It is kind of weird, when you think about it.

image from mdpreston’s flickr

And of course, it could be more or less random – would you only do a flight that showed up on the board, or would you try and buy a flight that had connections? Would you just pick the next one and risk having to go to Atlanta for your exotic vacation, or would you choose the best option from what was available?

Despite all those considerations, I still think that it would be super fun to do this, and I plan to one day. Maybe we could poll random people on the sidewalk: where should we go?

Where would you go, if you could hop on a plane today?

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#29 – the River Why

After the last few books I’ve read, the River Why by David James Duncan was like slipping into a deliciously cold river on a hot day. It’s very 1970s eco-conscious (published by the Sierra Club, which is evident), but beyond that it’s delightfully playful, going into silly homonym-based wordplay and fun digressions constantly. It’s almost like Nabokov, if he had been a big hippy who loved fish instead of pre-teens.

When I was christened, Ma wanted my name to be “Gus” pure and simple, but Henning Hale-Orviston insisted that, whatever Ma might call me, legal documents at least would sport a “proud, manly name.” Hence Augustine…But by the time my brother was born the family balance of power had tipped so far to the matriarchal side that H2O was helpless when Ma pointed out that it was her turn: now they would have a son with a no-frills East Oregon name. Now, by the powers that she had vested in herself, Ma decreed that their second son would be known both officially and familially not as William Robert, nor Willis Robin, not Wilberforce Robersly, but just as plain old Bill Bob. Bill Bob Orviston by God and that’s it. When H2O eyes welled and he begged for some infinitesimally less cornpone alternative, Ma’s demeanor grew surprisingly soft. “Okay Hen,” she said. “Let’s call the little rugbug Buck Gilly-Bob.”

Recommended! But if anyone steals the name Wilberforce Robersly, we won’t be friends anymore, because I’m going to name my firstborn child that.

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Thanks for staying

As a Canadian, I celebrated Thanksgiving almost 2 months ago, but since it’s my favourite holiday, I’m definitely taking the opportunity to wish my southern neighbours a good one. I’ll be making and eating some kind of pumpkin dessert in your honour this weekend.

pumpkin cinnamon buns, maybe

Digression: I wonder if Americans read my blog and think that I’m a terrible speller because of all my “ou” words.

I’m thankful that it’s still so warm here. At this rate, I’ll barely have to put up with any winter at all, seeing as I leave for Manila in two months! I’m also thankful for a dog as big as I am, that Eric is so awesome, that I have a kick-ass job, and that my friends and family are happy and healthy. I’m also thankful for health care, coffee, bike paths, libraries, Ovaltine, the internet, and the miracle of flight.

What are you thankful for?

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In which I compare unrelated activities

This year, I finally decided to run through the winter, so that I can break my streak of having to re-start a couch to 5k program every spring. It’s helped that it’s been unseasonably warm, to the point where we only got our first snowfall today (and it’s expected to melt and be 10 celsius tomorrow!). It will also help to spend February in Manila, where if anything it will be too hot to run. Poor me.

I’m really glad that I’ve pushed through and started doing longer distances. I’ve gotten to the point where it doesn’t always hurt to run, and I can go full minutes (which, as anyone else in an early running program can tell you, is eternity) without thinking of my fervent desire to stop.

I find, though, that while I like the idea of running, I always feel great after a run, and I’m even starting to enjoy the act itself, putting on my shoes and leggings is the hardest thing in the world (although I don’t do it in that order, because it would no doubt be even more difficult). It’s a struggle to remind myself that, while there are certainly more comfortable things I  could be doing at that moment, I’ll be glad once I get going.

The volunteer literacy program I’ve been doing is the exact same. I love being able to say that I volunteer with a literacy program. I feel great afterwards. I have fun during the weekly sessions, during which the boy I read with and I are reading our way through the Hunger Games (and I’ll be introducing him to the far superior Battle Royale afterwards!). But there’s nothing I hate more than dragging myself to the over-heated elementary school where the program meets.

Nothing except lacing up my running shoes.

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The noise you make when you see something totally ludicrous

In this instance, that lululemon is selling a ($128) bag that says “who is John Galt?”

I’ve refused to touch a lululemon product since the day I saw on their website that the founder was a big believer of “the Secret,” or the idea that you’ll get whatever you want in life if you can only think positive and tell the universe your wishes (the logical opposite of this idea then being that those who have shitty lives, like the poor or, say, HIV-positive children, are just negative nancies who haven’t bothered to tell the universe to send them a ferrari).

But this… I don’t even… huh?

Now, I read Atlas Shrugged in high school, and I loved its cheese factor – the trains, the sexy trenchcoats, the creepy rape. And as appealing as the idea of a meritocracy can be to an unpopular bookish teenager, I could never quite get behind Rand’s assertion that you just had to let all those who couldn’t cut it die in the streets. I mean, sure, there are some slackers in any society, it’s inevitable. But there are a lot of people who use social systems because they need them! And what about kids, who don’t really have the ability to alter their circumstances, at least in the short term? Nope! According to Rand, they’re all slackers and parasites, and should just crawl in a hole and die (seriously, I’m not exaggerating).

On the flip side, growing up in a very wealthy suburb made it clear to me that not all those who had wealth deserved it, or even had earned it legitimately. Some of them blatantly abused the system. Maybe all of Rand’s rich friends were upstanding types, but I knew that a lot of people’s parents were being a little creative in terms of the tax system. Of course, any good objectivist would applaud them, saying that they were just freeing themselves from the tyranny of the aforementioned parasites.

So, yoga, or at least lululemon, is now in favour of extreme selfishness as a virtue? Cheating the system? And killing the poor? At one point, with a giant crazy sound-wave ray-gun superweapon. Her books are nuts!

This is why all of that “be your best self” fluff makes me just a little uncomfortable – it’s self-absorbed, bordering on megalomania in some instances (we all know who I’m talking about). Of course, here I am, writing a blog about how great I am, with a big ol’ list of things that I want to do to in my life because let’s be real, I’m pretty special, so I should probably keep a lower profile in criticizing that kind of thing.

But! At the end of the day, I consider it just that – a list of stuff. It’s not an inspiring list of challenges that will scare me and thrill me and make me sprout from a golden cocoon metamorphosed into the shiniest butterfly you’ve ever seen. It’s not the one and only way to avoid mediocrity at all costs and change the world and leave my snowflake fingerprint on the soul of mankind. It’s just fun shit I want to do if I get around to it. I’m not taking it too seriously.

The cult of self-improvement is alluring. Sure, you’re fab, but you could be better. You could be your best self. That’s what Rand was ultimately getting at – only the best people deserve the best life, and if you weren’t trying hard enough, then off to the ray gun with you! It’s the way that gym memberships and designer handbags and fashion blogs and social media conferences are sold. Try harder, and spend more time and money improving every facet of your life, or you’ll end up a boring old average joe and nobody will read your blog (nobody reads my blog, so I’m prime ray-gun material).

Except that the whole concept is so earnest and lacking in any sense of irony, or even an ability to acknowledge that it is a little silly to be so concerned with your downward dog and the price of Rearden metal when there’s so much more going on in the world. If anything, I think that my biggest self-improvement goal for the next year is to stop being so concerned with improving my self, because I’m fine.

And to write an angry letter to whoever designed that bag.

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Poor Economics – Points for Puns, always

Poor Economics, a book that looks at some of the problems of being poor, and what kind of policies or interventions would be useful in addressing those issues. The book was really interesting and easy to grasp for even a non-economist (albeit someone who lives with a professional one, so maybe that colours my judgement a little).

One thing I really liked was that the authors didn’t pull out that sad old hierarchy of needs crap, and recognized that the poor, in every country, are just like the wealthy – they have competing desires, they seek pleasure in their lives, they want distraction. This is a personal beef of mine, because I feel like every time someone brings it up, you can be certain that this same person is the one ranting that once they saw someone buy organic vegetables with food stamps, like all poor people should be subsisting off of dented cans and no-name kraft dinner.

Okay, back to the book. My favourite chapter was the one on health care, because I found the authors’ research fascinating. One of the questions they ask at the outset of the book is why the poor miss out on free life-saving immunizations but pay for drugs that they do not need. I’m too lazy to summarize the whole thing for you, so you should probably go read the book.

I give this book a big old Gatsby hug.

Also, I’ve just realised that I write the worst book reviews in the world.

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The Forest of Hands and Teeth, briefly

#27

Maybe I’m becoming a snob of the dystopian future genre, but the only redeeming quality of this book was that it only took me about an hour to read. It was largely uninspiring, and the romantic scenes were actually cringe-inducing. It reminded me of LJ Smith, but worse – does anyone remember her vampire and psychic books?

I know, a twentysomething book snob reviewing teen-fiction zombie lit. Ridiculous. But I would recommend World War Z, Z for Zacariah, Shade’s Children, Day of the Triffids, and even some late-90s Christopher Pike (when he started weaving in a lot of references to hinduism and buddhism into his stories, things got interesting) to anyone looking for a similar reading level in the genre.

This one gets a Gatsby unexpectedly lying down on you in the middle of the night.

Material Girl

I know that I previously bemoaned the whole gift-giving process as stressful and meaningless, but it’s not a tradition that I have the power to change (in my family, at least) so I might as well embrace it. I’m thinking of some good ideas for my parents and Eric’s family, as well as something small but nice that we can do for all my cousins (we don’t, as a rule, exchange gifts between kids in my family, but I’d like to do something for all my cousins who are still in school, which will probably include booze, let’s be real here).

my favourite part of christmas is eating the ornaments

I also, muttering all the while until I forgot to be bitter and wholeheartedly embraced my consumerist side, made a list of a few things that I’d enjoy receiving: cookbooks, a print I’ve had my eye on for ages (if I don’t get it at christmas I promise to finally buy it for myself and stop drooling over it), a Rib and Hull tote bag. I really like giving gifts, so I understand completely where my family is coming from in insisting on this as a tradition, I just always feel really guilty asking for things. It’s a lingering feeling, I suppose, from being told no so often as a child, not because my mom didn’t want to get me something, but because we couldn’t afford it – I don’t want to have to put her in that position.

At the end of the day though, I know it makes her really happy to give gifts, and I’d truly appreciate anything they decide to pick out for me. And in turn, I’m having a good time trying to think of something great for them (for some reason, parents are exempt from providing lists in our family?) – they love golf and dining out, so I’m thinking maybe a day pass for golf (is that what it’s called? I have been golfing exactly once) and a gift certificate for their favourite restaurant, but I don’t know – maybe I should give them something that they don’t have to wait 6 months to use!

What’s on your christmas list? And what gifts are you looking forward to giving?

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A dog and his girl

After wanting a Great Dane for about 5 years (ever since the first time I saw one in person, essentially), we brought Gatsby Starpower home last Thanksgiving weekend. The breeder’s last words to him that day were, “be easy. Be good!” Right away, he let us know that easy wasn’t in the cards.

Going from a farm to an apartment building in a downtown core was a big move for him. When we took him outside, he wouldn’t walk – only sit and stare at the world going by, tiny puppy brain clearly overloaded. Suitcases on wheels, high heels, bicycles, cell phones, people coughing – it was a lot for him.

After he got over his initial fears, he became more independent. Too independent. “You’re not the boss of me – you aren’t even my real mom!” was what I’m sure he would have said to me if he could talk. He nipped at mittens, scarves, leggings; his leash was a favourite toy. Like a teenager, he only wanted to walk way ahead or way behind us. And meanwhile growing bigger and bigger every day; I started to think that maybe I had gotten in a bit over my head.

From six months to a year, nearly every walk was punctuated by Gatsby jumping up, grabbing my arms in his mouth and putting his paws on my shoulders. I tried every kind of leash and collar, including putting a 3-foot long tube on his leash to hold him at bay. It worked until he outgrew the tube. People routinely stopped their cars to ask if I needed help. Once, a man told me to kick him (I didn’t, obviously!). He was never too rough; he just wanted to play. He was acting like every other puppy around, but he weighed over 100 pounds. It was exhausting.

now his favourite activity is snoozing

When we picked him up after his neuter surgery, he was noticeably more relaxed. Still full of puppy energy at times, but much easier to calm down when he got worked up… and he remembered the next time, “they don’t like this – I’d better stop.” Training started to stick. The brain fairy had arrived and sprinkled him with a modicum of intelligence; enough to get by.

A month after he got home, he stopped jumping completely. He hasn’t done it since late September, making our walks a fun activity instead of something to dread. He doesn’t try and claim the couch or our bed as his territory; instead he snuggles up and makes room for all of us. He politely greets people and (usually) other dogs on the street now; he sometimes gets a bit too excited but now expresses it by wagging his tail too much.

In short, this dog has totally stolen my heart. We spent the first 11 months we had him working non-stop on training and being frustrated by the total lack of effect that our efforts seemed to be having. In my darkest moments, I thought about whether we would eventually decide that it was too much, and if we might have to surrender him to the breeder; I was determined that it wouldn’t come to that, but there were times when I felt totally at a loss for what to do.

Eric and I determined that people must develop puppy amnesia. The first year was so much work, so immensely frustrating, there should be no way that anyone would ever repeat the experience. But if it’s only the first year that’s bad, and then it’s followed by 10 years of enjoyable dog ownership, then it’s understandable that time would have rendered those early days in a more forgiving light.

the best kind of lap dog

We won’t be getting another puppy, because it is my understanding that Gatsby will be with our family forever. But for those of you who are considering it, brace yourself for a shitty year, and look forward to the amazing dog you’ll have by the end of it, who loves to curl up on your lap (causing your lower body to fall asleep in the process) and snooze after a long walk by the river in the crisp fall air.

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