Monday, 16 July 2012

Can I make you envy me?

As I told Sheila last night, I'm excited for our little getaway but not the the jump around and bounce up and down kind of way.  In some regards, it all just feels quite surreal that we are actually going.  I don't want to be a family that restricts their travels due to the children being difficult, so I am really hoping that all goes well in that regard.  I figure that if Asher is good on this cross country flight at 18 months old, then we will have faced one of the biggest tests and passed.  He is a good boy.  People keep telling us that, and we keep on believing it.  He is pretty happy go lucky, and we are planning on giving him no reason to get upset while we zoom across the country.  I've never been as far away from home as we will be in 36 hours.  Neither have Sheila, Jasmine and of course Asher.

 I came home last night after working both shifts, from 630 AM until 1030 PM to find the house looking cleaner then it EVER has.  Sheila keeps a clean house and I have increased my efforts in helping her lately, but yesterday she took it to the extreme.  "Oh, I did I big cleanup downstairs" she says, after I had already noticed the perfectly manicured lawn on my way in, and the spotless kitchen as I took my stuff from my pockets and dared to put them on the counter.  Sheila is excited, and this apparently gives her boundless energy.  While she cared for Asher, Jasmine, and Jasmine's friend yesterday she also found time to:

-mow the lawn both front and back.
-weed both the flower gardens in front and vegetable garden in back yard
-water the lawns and gardens both front and back
-clean, disinfect and organize the kitchen, not a single thing out of place
-tidied the living room
-organized our bedroom
-cleaned the upstairs bathroom (might have done basement one, I didn't see)
-organized the rec room complete with rearranging the furniture
-moved things into the spare room as part of this organizing
-vacuumed, dusted and polished everything in the rec room including my disasterous computer desk
-swept and mopped the laminate floor upstairs
-washed, dried and meticulously folded every piece of clothing in the house (She told me as I peeled off my undies that they were the only dirty piece of clothing in the house)
-readied the suitcases and packed up for her, Jasmine and Asher
-went to the store and bought an array of snacks and other things we want to bring with us
-baked her famous banana bread

Seriously, she did all of this in one day and did I mention that she was watching an 18 month old boy with plenty of energy the whole time?  This was her idea of getting ready to go, and I will say this: "Wow!"  Sheila deserves this holiday more then anyone I know, and I am glad that she is so excited.  It will be good to spend some really quality time with my sister and brother-in-law.  Maybe Sheila will get a chance or two to sleep in and really get "rested".  I think I can make that happen.  When I titled today's post I had our trip in mind, but I realize now that the above list is another reason people should envy me.  You see, I really dislike clutter.  I like to be able to take advantage of the space that we have, as I feel claustrophobic when my space is restricted.  But, I am not the most avid cleaner.  I do a fairly good job of keeping clutter to a minimum, and my increased energy from exercise has led me to be a better helper, but the above list is just ridiculous.  Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have a neat freak for a partner.  So envy me for that, but at the same time be very jealous of our jaunt to the old city of Montreal.  Activities that are tentatively planned:

-Montreal Impact game, complete with new stars Marco di Vaio and Alessandro Nesta
-Touring old Montreal, with visit to Schwartz's for their world famous smoked meat
-Visit to La Ronde, Montreal's Six Flags amusement park
-Visit to the Insectarium, home to hundreds of different species
-Adult night out for dinner and a Just For Laughs show
-Casino Montreal, the largest Casino in Canada, and one of the biggest in the World
-Mont Royal, Montreal's version of a mountain, and home to plenty of historical significance
-Shopping, most importantly used bookstores and vintage clothing stores
-Swimming, Jasmine is itching to visit an outdoor pool or two

I'm off to do more dreaming about Montreal!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

World Traveller

It's always funny how a break from routine can creep up on you.  For the last few weeks Jasmine has been off school and it has been really nice not having to rush and panic in the morning 4 days a week to get her off on time.  It's mostly on me the rushing and the hurrying as I am a terrible morning person, one who just can't seem to get moving until I have no choice but to be late.  This leads me to our family vacation that starts for real Tuesday at 445 pm est when we arrive in Montreal.  It's hard to believe it is finally happening.  My sister moved to Montreal for the first time in 2004 and since then a visit to see her and the beautiful city that she chose to live in has been on my mind.  When Sheila and I first got together money was really tight, but we have gotten our shit together, improved ourselves and are doing better financially.  We don't make amazing money, but we have been smart enough to put money aside in savings as much as we can.  We do the RRSP thing (Sheila through work, I am on the Municipal Pension Plan), we have RESPs set up for the kids and we have our TFSA that I started about 18 months ago.  The monthly contributions have fluctuated, but we have been able to build up a small nest egg in there.  We started talking about visiting Montreal with our funds around Christmas time when Erin and Adam came to visit us and the rest of the family in Prince George.  I have monitored the flight prices relentlessly, and come April I was beginning to feel that we wouldn't get to go, no sales to be found on the seats.  Eventually I found a small price drop and decided to go for it.  I was tired of thinking about it, wanting to go, but wanting to be financially responsible.  Once I finally sacked up and paid for the tickets, we could move on to thinking about the fun we will have!

Tuesday morning at 6 AM we board the small prop plane bound for Vancouver, and for Jasmine the flight itself should be a highlight of the trip.  She has never flown before and has been excitied about a plane trip of any kind for a few years.  The in-flight movies in the back of the seats seemed to overwhelm her when I described them, so she should be well amped up come Tuesday, despite the 330 AM wake up time.  We stop in Vancouver, then we have a 5+ hour flight to Montreal.  Our fingers are crossed that Asher will be well behaved, but who knows?  He is generally not a whiny toddler, and he really only cries to communicate, so we are hoping that keeping him placated with plenty of snacks and drinks will help.  If he gets locked in on the little tvs as well, I won't complain.  I mentioned to Sheila earlier in the week, our best chance at avoiding the hate of the other passengers is to have at least one more baby on the flight, then we won't be the only target for the anti-toddler crowd. 

The small concern over the flights is drastically overshadowed by the activities planned.  We are timing our visit well, as the Just For Laughs festival will be going on, and Sheila and I both love comedy.  There are plans for a dinner and a show date for the 4 adults, should be great whoever we see.  On Wednesday of the first week, I'm treating the ladies and my sports loving son to a Montreal Impact game, the first pro sports event for my family.  I have seen a number of soccer games live, but have yet to attend an MLS game, can't wait to check it out.  Erin has many other cool ideas for the kids to do, and I am looking forward to checking out one of the oldest cities in North America, and by far the most architecturally beautiful city I have ever visited. 

I am glad Sheila and I were able to make this trip happen.  Both of us have done very little travelling ourselves (Sheila's only flight was our trip to Vegas a few years ago), and it will be great to see Erin and Adam and the city they call home.  I am glad Jasmine is going to experience something like this, as it's important for kids to see the world outside of their little bubble.  She rattled off the places she has been the other day, and she was quite proud of herself.  When she realized how far away Montreal is compared to her other visits to place like Kamloops, Edmonton, Kitimat, Chetwynd, and the most exotic Vancouver, she got a little more excited if that is even possible.  I'll update my little space when we return, I need to return to my jumping up and down as I anticipate our little jaunt.  See you on the other side!

Monday, 2 July 2012

An Ambitious Reading Project

I am an avid reader.  There, I went ahead and said it.  As I have clearly defined my poker playing as a job in a previous post, it is fair to say that reading is my most time consuming hobby.  I read a lot at work in between chores, tasks and socializing with the guys.  I prefer reading to mindlessly watching television, unless the program is one of the dozens of sports that I closely follow.  I haven't always been an avid reader.  In fact, for a long period from about age 13 to age 26, I hardly ever picked up reading material unless I was visiting the porcelain throne, or scouring an advertisement, or required to read for a school assignment.  It was a classic case of not knowing what you were missing out on.  As a reader, quite frankly it feels good to be back.  I returned to the realm of nerdom back in 2010, haphazardly picking up books I found in thrift stores, the public library, and of course my dad's personal library.  He has too many books and mom is always looking to have him reduce his collection.  My dad has great taste, so many of his books appeal to me.  He reads mostly from the non-fiction genre, focussing on politics and sports.  When I first returned to reading, I was reading mostly non-fiction including narrative style sports books, political commentary books, and of course autobiographies.

Starting in 2011, I have kept a list of the books I completed.  As I scour the list, I see many books that I really liked, and others that have left me wanting.  Many of the books I read, I would heavily recommend to others.  I wrote a lengthy post about "Water For Elephants", complete with literary orgasm for a novel that is widely considered a "girly book".  My focus during the past 18 months of reading has been unfocussed.  I have read 50 books since January 1, 2011 and I am happy to report I enjoyed the majority of them.  I suffered through so poor books, partly due to my self torturous rule that I can no abandon a book once I have started it.  I feel like I must commit myself to a work completely, often books suffer in parts, but the sum of the parts end up being something much better.  Occasionally, I am very wrong and the whole book ends up being unappealing swill.  From what I have noticed, the books that fall in this category are often autobiographies about people who have no business writing an autobiography.  The well written autobiography needs a unique subject, someone who has lived a little, has had unusual things happen to them.  It has taken me a while to realize it, but with so many misses in the genre, I am likely to stay away from autobiographies in the future.  My time is better spent elsewhere.  Now, the whole point of this post was to outline a reading project that I have been contemplating for some time, but I think I will start with a short review of the books I have read over the past 18 months.  Perhaps I can provide some reading suggestions for others, and save you some valuable hours of your life on books you should avoid.  I will attempt to organize said books into loose categories as well.

Current Novels

The Sentimentalists - Johanna Skibsrud (9/10)
Half Broke Horses - Jeannette Walls (9.5/10) 
Zeitoun - Dave Eggers (9/10)
Snow - Orhan Pamuk (8/10)
Breath, Eyes, Memory - Edwidge Danticat (8.5/10)
Monkey Beach - Eden Robinson (9/10)
Giraffe - JM Ledgard (8/10)
Pound for Pound - F.X. Toole (7.5/10)
The Beekeeper's Apprentice - Laurie R. King (7/10)
Alexandria of Africa - Eric Walters (4/10)
Water For Elephants - Sara Gruen (10/10)
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz (9.5/10)

Older Novels

Sawbones Memorial - Sinclair Ross {1974} (7/10)
Doctor Rat - William Kotzwinkle {1976} (6/10)
Papillon - Henri Charriere {1969} (9.5/10)
Into The Abyss - Jules Verne {1889} (7.5/10)
The Danube Pilot - Jules Verne {1908} (7.5/10)
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck {1937} (8.5/10)

Sports Biographies

Heart For The Fight - Brian Stann and John Bruning (7/10)
Open - Andre Agassi (8/10)
A Champions Mind - Pete Sampras and Peter Bodo (5/10)
Man In The Middle - John Amaechi (7/10)
The Devil and Bobby Hull - Gare Joyce (5/10)

Sports Non-Biographies

The World is a Ball - John Doyle (8/10)
Got Fight? - Forest Griffin (7/10)
Touching The Void - Joe Simpson (8/10)
The Way of Baseball - Shawn Green (7/10)
The Last of His Kind: The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn - David Roberts (9/10)

Entertainment Biographies

Call Me Russel - Russel Peters (3/10)
They Call Me Baba Booey - Gary Dell'Abate (8.5/10)
Superdad - Christopher Shulgan (8/10)
Roseannarchy - Roseanne Barr (3/10)
Cheech and Chong: The Unauthorized Biography - Tommy Chong (7/10)
Nerd Do Well - Simon Pegg (8/10)
Bossypants - Tina Fey (9/10)
Last Words - Gearge Carlin (9/10)

Political Works

This Child Will Be Great - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (8.5/10)

Letters to My Torturer - Houshang Asadi (9/10)

Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town - Christopher de Bellaigue (6.5/10)
Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary's Life - Joshua Rubenstein (8/10)

Crime Works

A New Kind of Monster - Tim Appleby (7/10)
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit - Mark Seal (9/10)

I hadn't planned on compiling that list but I enjoyed the chance to look back at what I have been reading.  Some of them made me shake my head (see: Roseanne and Russel Peters), but others I look back at fondly.  Recently my reading focus has moved towards the classics.  Now, classics don't have to by old per se, but they are novels that universally recieve positive reviews from those that read them.   I have developed an obsession with the modern library list of "100 Best Novels", that was compiled with input from a number of top scholarly types.  It appears to be one of the most universally accepted lists of this sort.  A few things to note.  As I did most of my reading in my youth, and my reading in the past 18 months has been without direction and all over the place, I had read exactly 1 of the 100 novels on the list prior to resuming my reading hobby.  That novel was "Lord of the Flies", a standard high school read that I took care of in grade 11 english. 

There are 100 novels on this list, hence the "100 Best Novels" moniker.  Many of them are extremely difficult reads, and often the novels are long.  It will take me a lot longer to read these selections then it did to plow through biographical garbage material.  I really like that these books generally hold some historical significance.  "Invisible Man" covered a period of black history that was extremely tumultuous, and provided considerable insight into New York City in the early 1900s that I was completely unaware of.  "The Sound and The Fury" by William Faulkner was the most challenging novel I have ever read, with a number of stylistic changes and jumps that were difficult to follow.  It took an extreme amount of patience to carry through with the reading, but the reward for completion was significant.  As we speak, I have completed 8 of the 100, and have enjoyed all of them.  I like that I can pick up any of the books on the list and enjoy the novel.  I am tired of suffering through bad writing.  Many of these novels are ones that I had heard of, and I had that feeling that I was missing out by not having read them.  All this rambling leads me to my goal, my piece de resistance if you will.  I plan, over the course of a few years, to read all 100 books on this list.  Every single one.  Why?  Because I love reading, I like that all of these novels are significant pieces of literary history.  I am almost 10% of the way to my goal already, and I don't regret reading any of the novels so far.  Now that I have finally spit it out, I best get back to reading.  I am going to have a busy 5 years or so, as no doubt a few other books will sneak their way into my reading que.  I leave you with a list of those I have read so far, and I will periodically add to this list as I finish novels.

The Modern Library Top 100 Novels

2) The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
5) Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (1932)
6) The Sound and The Fury - William Faulkner (1929)
10) The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (1939)
13) 1984 - George Orwell (1949)
18) Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
19) Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison (1952)
31) Animal Farm - George Orwell (1945)
35) As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner (1930)
64) The Catcher In The Rye - J.D. Salinger (1951)