Friday, 29 July 2011

Stupid Parents Make Stupid Kids

I understand that sometimes, in parenting, leaving out a detail or two for the benefit of your child's mental well-being is not only acceptable but also prudent. For example, my children firmly believe that babies just arrive, zygote-style but completely without cause, when you decide you want to procreate. That's all they need to know, and they're not yet mentally or emotionally equipped to deal with any deeper an explanation.

However, there are some things that parents tell their children that make me wonder how the heck they think their children are going to benefit from such misinformation. The following examples are some of those that I find most irksome:

Stupid Names for Body Parts.
Penis. Vagina. Testicles. Clitoris. Foreskin. Mons Pubis (betcha didn't know that one!).
These are not dirty words. Hearing kids say them doesn't sound dirty. Hearing you say them to your kids doesn't sound dirty. You know what does? Hearing a three-year-old use the term hang-down. That sounds bad. Don't teach your kids that word.  I admit that I, personally, am just more comfortable with clinical terms in any company or context (you don't want to hear me try to talk dirty--sounds more like a medical instruction manual), but, honestly, TEACH YOUR KIDS THE RIGHT WORDS! Please.

Telling Your Kids that TV is Real
I gave in on God and Santa Claus--I refuse to "protect my child's innocence" by trying to convince them that anything on television is real. I once heard a parent explaining to her child about how TV was like magic. How is that an easier explanation than "They take a video camera and film that guy pretending to be Major Bedhead and then they play that video"? And, might I add, if you start your kids looking critically at television and movies from a really young age, they will absolutely astound you with how smart they are by the time they're five or six.

The Dog/Fish/Cat Ran Away and/or Is Living With a Nice Family on a Farm Now
I have some personal experiences with this one that someday, if the therapy goes well, I may relate to you all. In the meantime, I'll just point out that one of the reasons child development professionals recommend that you get pets for your kids is that it's a great way for them to learn to deal with death. What isn't a great way is for them to learn that the death of an animal that Mommy and Daddy hated anyway makes them very uncomfortable and we should all just pretend it never happened and that pet never existed, and WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T EMOTE ABOUT IT.

Anyway... I'm just saying--let your kids say goodbye somehow, honour their beloved pet, process the loss, and learn that life goes on. Or else when you die, maybe they'll just bury you out back, get rid of all traces of your existence and tell your grandchildren you must have found another family you like better, but don't worry, they'll get a new grandma soon.
(Like I said, the therapy is a work in progress.)

Generally Any Lame-Ass Made Up Explanation
If you don't know something--like why the sun doesn't always set in the same place, or how fish survive the winter, or how crickets make that noise, or who invented cups--just say, "I don't know" and then help your kids find out. Teaching them how to conduct research and figure things out is going to be way more valuable to them in the long run than any other information you could impart anyway. In fact, even if your kids never ask these questions or if you already know the answers, teach them how to do it anyway. Teach them how to Google the population of the world, how to do an experiment to see if crackers or bread grow mould faster, and how to find the right person to ask why you can't run on the deck of the pool. Please, please, please teach your kids how to think and learn and not just how to remember what they're told. That's my sermon on that.

And that's my top four irksome stupid things parents tell their kids.
Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Book Report: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

My sister Ang came with me to Chapters when I went to buy this book. She asked what book I was looking for, and I replied, at what I thought was a normal speaking volume, "The Book of Negroes." Several people turned and looked at me, and my sister said, "the book of what?" and looked a bit embarassed that I chose to use that word.  Because I don't like people and I do like making them feel uncomfortable about their latent racism, I looked around and replied in what I knew was louder than a normal speaking voice, "Sorry, should I have said the Book of Coloured Folk?" and then something about it being a pretty frigging popular book that everybody has heard of.

Apparently, though, it's not. A book that everybody has heard of. And Lawrence Hill, to my wonder and amazement, is also not the household name of a literary giant that I thought he was. He is, whether you knew it or not, a well-respected scholar, and a revered (and mightily awarded) author.  He's also Canadian, and someday I will probably post boast about the rich field of literary genius that we've cultivated here in the Great White North (those long, hard winters lend themselves nicely to reading and writing and pontificating by the fireplace, I guess). But not today--today I address only Lawrence Hill and The Book of Negroes.

The fictional Aminata Diallo, a girl kidnapped into the slave trade in the late 18th Century, narrates The Book of Negroes as it follows her transient and at times indigent life through Africa, the United States, Canada, and England. The mostly analeptic storyline is framed by Aminata's account of a few days in her old age, removing any suspense about her eventual fate within the first several pages of the novel, and putting the focus on the details of the story.  That way, we can be patient in appreciating its ebb and flow, and in processing each event and person encountered, rather than hungrily chomping for a suspense-relieving ending. In a novel that's really about the journey and its importance, Hill's narrative approach is perfect.

I'm certainly not suggesting that the story is boring without that suspense, though. You will, without a doubt, find yourself unable to put the book down at certain points thanks to Hill's adept creation of engaging characters and his mastery of the balance between description and plot progression. And although the plot line of The Book of Negroes runs into some of the most appalling events in human history, Hill presents a disarmingly personal story of human beings faced with difficult situations and choices, allowing us (yep, even us whiteys) to relate with his protagonist rather than distancing us from her through pedantry or sensationalism.

For someone like me, who can't turn a page of a badly-written story no matter how much I want to know what happens, Lawrence Hill is wonderful. He knows how to construct a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter so that you can settle into the cadence of the novel effortlessly and just rest there for hours without so much as a grated syllable. The narrative, dialogue, mood, and plot are all handled so smoothly that he makes it look easy to create a world and get a reader nestled into it almost instantly. But it's not easy, as you well know if you've read any more than about ten books in your life, so it needs to be said that Hill's talent with the aesthetic of the novel is remarkable.

I don't want to spoiler this novel because this is one that should be on every single person's reading list and I don't want to give anyone a reason not to put it there.  Now-ish. So I'm not going to say too much more, except that I can't think of a single person I know that I'm not absolutely positive would appreciate The Book of Negroes. And I know a diverse range of people, so I probably know someone like you, and therefore, I bet you'll appreciate it, too.

Also, I'm a bit anal about the counting of errors in published works, and there was only ONE in the entire 384 page novel. That's pretty unusual.  So kudos to Hill and his editors, and to the folks at HarperCollins.

By the way, in the US, Australia, and New Zealand, you can save yourself from my bookstore embarrassment because it was published as Someone Knows My Name, which is, by comparison, a lame-ass title. But those long, hard winters also made us more able to handle tough words, I guess.

Buy it at Chapters
Published: October 4, 2007
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
ISBN - 10:1554681561
ISBN - 13:9781554681563

August 1st is the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Canada (and other British colonies) in 1834. Don't you think we should have fireworks that day instead of on the day we celebrate our freedom from absolutely nothing on July 1st? I do. I'd start a petition, but I'm pretty tied up with tweeting and stuff.

Don't worry--I'm not going to blog about every book I read.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Road Trip Pro Tips

I recently discovered that Highway 401 goes all the way from Windsor to Montreal, and immediately said to my sister, "I think we need to make that drive." You see, my sister is as good at road trips as I am. It should be noted that my mom is also an excellent road-tripper. Some people are very much NOT good at road trips.  You know who you are--you're the people who plan restroom stops and turn the radio down. I'd like to help you be more fun when travelling, so here are my road trip pro tips:

1/ Understand that Road Tripping is not Commuting
The idea is not to get from Point A to Point B. If you aren't planning to enjoy the actual sitting in the car and being on the road, then just stay home and invest your money in transporter research and development. Or go somewhere, if you must, but not with me.

2/ Plan Zero Stops; Make Many
Sometimes, you see a sign for a town named Welcome or Sparkle City, and I'm sorry, but if you can resist stopping in either of those places, you're not a road tripper. Also, the beauty of a highway-based drive in particular is that you generally aren't far from a restroom or dining establishment, so just stop when you feel like it. I don't know about you, but I can't schedule my bodily excretions. When the feeling hits, just take the next exit and see what you find.

3/ Shop/Eat Local
As much as I can, when travelling, I avoid chains and check out local eateries and shops as needed. You can eat at McDonald's when you get home. If you weren't here to experience new things, I'm not sure why you made this pointless trip from Windsor to Montreal, is what I imagine myself saying to someone on my forthcoming trip.

4/ Bring Music
In contrast to Pro Tip #3, I don't support the idea of listening to local radio stations.  Well, you can, but they can't be relied upon for quality music, especially if you're going into remote areas. Bring awesome music. Rock out.

5/ Choose Your Companions Wisely
Probably the most important thing--the right people will make the trip a barrel of gibbons, and the wrong people will make you wish you had a barrel of those gibbons to throw feces at them. (Gibbons, by the way, are way more fun than monkeys.)

6/ Limit Your Companions
Even with awesome people, any more than three or four people will inevitably have conflict about when and where to stop, what music to listen to, whether it's acceptable to sleep in the car, etc. In very rare circumstances, a van-load of people may be able to get along if enough of them are pretty complacent.

7/ Don't Be Late
There is no such thing as late on a road trip. You can't leave or arrive anywhere at the wrong time. Don't take a road trip if you're on a schedule.

8/ Do Plan a Day of Rest
Probably the only thing you should plan is the day you will sleep for 22 hours when you get back, because you will be exhausted, no matter how effortless sitting on your butt in a car seems. Also, if you end up needing the extra day to drive home because you, I don't know, had to spend 16 hours in lock-up or something, then you're okay.

That's it. That's all my pro road-tripping tips.
Happy Travels!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Joss is Boss

Streamy Awards Photo 026Anyone who knows me has ever been in a room with me probably already knows that I'm an eensy fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or, more accurately, it's my freaking religion. The funny thing is that I don't even really like TV and never really did, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and to a lesser extent, Angel) became this wonderful fountain of all that is good about everything I adore, like language and music and satire and humour and kitties with crazy names and the suspension of disbelief.

I watched Buffy as it aired up until Season 5 (and I bought the DVDs as they came out) and then I didn't watch Season 6 or 7 on TV because I waited for the DVDs. After I got Season 7, I waited a full year to watch it. And, I have to give props to my the-opposite-of-sleuthing skills because I managed to avoid all spoilers entirely and didn't know ANYTHING that happened.  So a year later, I rewatched Seasons 1-6, and then I very sloooooowly started to make my way through Season 7.

When the time came to watch the final episode, I was as beside myself as I have ever been in my life about anything. When that episode was done, I bawled--sobbing, tears streaming down my face, in the arms of my significant other--for forty-five minutes. Not because it was so sad or touching, but because I personally was just devastated that these people were no longer going to be part of my life.  To have them just stop being was like someone I knew died--not someone I knew well, but someone who I liked quite a lot and had hoped to get to know better, maybe.

I confess all this not because I think that my overwhelming coolness is winning more friends than I can handle, but as an introduction to my newest Bucket List item:

I need to meet Joss Whedon. 

Because all that absolute undying love for Buffy--and Angel, and not to mention Firefly (OMG-amazing show!), Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog (buh-fricking-rilliant) and even that episode of Glee he directed--is the product of his absolute, undeniable genius.

In general, I don't feel like I need to meet famous people that I y'know like, but I more than like Joss Whedon. I admire and respect him as a professional and as a human being (from what I know of him) and I wish that I had about one bajillionth of his talent for any one of the above-mentioned things that I adore.

The truth, also, is that it's actually not hard to meet Joss Whedon. I think he's pretty much always at Comic-Con, but I'm a little scared that I would go all wonder-struck and say something like, "You Joss. Me Fan. Tree Pretty. School Hard. Beer Bad."

I know, it probably doesn't matter because I bet a thousand people walk up to him every day and say something stupid or something normal or something really kind but that he's heard a slew of times, and I'm just going to be a face in a sea asking him to sign my Buffy Season 8, Episode 1 comic book. But it will be a big deal for me, and for that, I feel nervous about it happening and subsequently being over.

So that's why I'm Bucket Listing it, because I want to just pick a convention and go to it and just do it and be done and then be able to say "I met Joss Whedon, and I told him how inspiring he is, and this is where I intentionally made him accidentally brush his hand against mine, and that's why I can't remove this glove. Officer."

Joss Whedon
Look how he tries to appear smiley and friendly, but you just know that he'll secretly judge you
harshly for whatever thing you happen to mumble when you finally get the chance to meet him.
Well, who needs you anyway, Joss?         Oh, right, I do.

Monday, 25 July 2011

My Ultimate One-Hit Wonder Tour

I really like live music, so quite often when I'm listening to the radio, I think about whether the artist or band is one I'd like to see perform. At some point over the past year, I started being bummed about how many songs I love and will never be able to see performed live because they were the one hit of a short-lived wonder.  I began to compile a mental list of these songs--ones that in some cases get a lot of radio play and are still cherished favourites of at least my generation (the generation of the one-hit market-it-until-it's-dead wonder, really). Yet God and the people at TMZ only know what ever happened to the band members or singers who made them a part of the soundtrack of our lives.

I thought it would be totally righteous if someone put together a tour of these songs. With the original artists each playing whatever one or two songs were once the boat for their gravy train.

Here's the beginnings of my set list for the ULTIMATE ONE HIT WONDER TOUR:
(with links for your listening pleasure where I could find an official-looking youtube video)

I Touch Myself - The Divinyls (this was known as my song for most of my adolescence)
I'm Blue - Eiffel 65
99 Luftballoons/ Red Ballons - Nena
My Sharona - The Knack
How Bizarre - OMC
I Love You Period - Dan Baird (cause anything featuring punctuation is awesome)
I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) - The Proclaimers
Two Princes - Spin Doctors
Breakfast at Tiffany's - Deep Blue Something
Love is All Around - Wet Wet Wet
She Drives Me Crazy - Fine Young Cannibals
Because I Got High - Afroman
Sex and Candy - Marcy Playground
Right Here, Right Now - Jesus Jones
Walking in Memphis - Marc Cohn
Cotton Eyed Joe - Rednex (shut up)
Sugar High - Coyote Shivers
Steal My Sunshine - Len
Closing Time - Semisonic

I already have this tour logistically planned as to how it would work, so if anyone out there wants to back it, give me a call and I'll send you my sketches.

I don't give a damn if any of these bands have 'really amazing songs that most people never heard' or if 'they still perform all the time if only you weren't so mainstream' or if 'everyone in them is dead' or anything else you might want to say to be all annoying and factual about the one-hittedness of their wonder or their ability to perform on this tour.

But I do want to hear what would be on the set list of your Ultimate One Hit Wonder Tour. So share!

Saturday, 23 July 2011


I've recently taken up golf. My dad invited me out to golf with him and my sisters last weekend, and I had no expectations one way or the other. I've always been kind of "oh yeah, there's golf" about golf. I was neither super excited to try it nor blasé about it. I figured I would suck, but it was a pretty safe group of people with whom to take a swing at it (get it?), since they all have to love me anyway.

We didn't finish 18 holes because my sister got heatstroke (what a wimp! the temperature was only like 37!) but we did 13.  On the first nine, I shot a 93, which isn't that bad for a first time out.  And--now this is where I start to sound really golf-smart, but it's just my Daddy talking--the course we played has a slope rating of 73. That means that while it's a par 72 course like most courses (for 18 holes), it's rated, by the actual objective difficulty of the course, a 73.  A lot of golf courses are par 72 courses, but they're actually rated somewhere in the 60s because they aren't really that difficult. So, adjust my handicap accordingly--they do in tournaments.

I only lost two balls and both of them were in water hazards that I just didn't clear.  No crazy wild shots into the forest or any such thing. And I let go of the club ZERO times, which kind of surprised me as I have a tendency to throw the baseball bat, and I assumed that would carry over into any sport involving swinging. Maybe it's worth giving cricket another shot after all.

I started having dreams about golfing. Dreams in which I figured out the perfect stance and perfect swing and the perfect putting technique. I dreamed it didn't ever take me six shots to get out of a sand trap again, and of drives that hit the green. I feel like golf is my sport.

So, new Bucket List item: shoot a 93 on 18 holes.  That would be cutting my score in half.  That would be only shooting 21 over par.  That's probably never going to happen, but what is a Bucket List if not things to look forward to? If I achieve all the List items, then I'll be like Kilgore Trout's poor bird and have nothing left to wish for.  Best to stay in the cage, Bill.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Good idea? Bad idea?

The other day, I was running around the playground with my daughter, and the playground was... floored? grounded? underbellied?... in that recycled rubber stuff.  It was super springy and soft and it felt like running on a great big slice of Heaven Pie. Because we all run on pie, right?

So I thought to myself* "I would pay good money to be able to run on this surface when I go running."

And then I thought, "Someone should totally make a semi-enclosed running track of this stuff and it would be great, especially for people like me with bad knees."

And then I thought, "Hey, Amanda, you're someone."

And then I thought, "Life goal--check." Because my old life goal was to popularize pub quizzes in Southwestern Ontario, but then I found out that lots of places already do them, and that's awesome, but why didn't anybody tell me that?

So, I've made it my life goal to one day be the proud owner and operator of a recycled rubber running trail. Or maybe head of the committee that operates the municipally-owned recycled rubber running trail. Let's not get too lofty with our ambitions. Even if we use the royal plural.

It would of course be expensive to maintain, not to mention to build. If I fund it, I intend to use the fortune I make off of my goldfish breeding pyramid scheme (by the way, do you want to start your own goldfish farm?).  At first, I thought that in order to offset the ongoing costs, access would have to be somehow restricted and some sort of fee charged for use of the trail. But that seemed difficult and stupid.

So use of the trail will be completely open--to runners, walkers, and waddling geese alike--and I would go all Radiohead and make it by donation. Not at the gate because I can't be standing there all day accepting your lint and buttons and change. Online. If you like using the trail and you want to keep it there, go online and make a donation.

I think it's hard to imagine how incredibly awesome running on this stuff was, so go to your nearest elementary school and try it out. Go in the evening, though, because you don't want to be the creepy guy running around the playground.  And then get back to me.

Good idea?  Bad idea?

*I said it out loud. It's not that I wasn't talking to myself, but at times I have to speak up to be heard over the voices in my head.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Black Keys @ the JLC

Last night, the John Labatt Centre invited* me, Laura, Naomi, and Mike to check out the Black Keys concert as JLC Reviewers. We got great seats, some parting gifts, and a cool experience courtesy of the JLC and FM 96.

Cage the Elephant opened the show. I like Cage the Elephant well enough, but the whole ‘Careful or I Might Commit Suicide’ performance vibe isn’t really my thing. That being said, they are really good at what they do—it was a solid performance from the entire band. Plus, the lead singer pulled some crazy crowd-surfing antics that were pretty cool. Even though it’s not something I’d normally be very into, they really put on a good performance.

The Black Keys were definitely what I was really excited to see, though. I mentioned to the other reviewers that The Black Keys is real ‘cream your pants’ music. Their songs have awesome almost funk-ish grooves, and it’s just a very sexy sound. I honestly wasn’t convinced that they’d be able to pull off the same sound live. They completely did!

They began and ended the set with just the two of them—Pat the drummer and Dan the guitarist—and in the middle, they did some of their newer stuff with a full band. I was really impressed with how well they did as a two-piece, delivering a technically solid performance and still keeping the audience well entertained and engaged. The full band was great, too, and seeing the difference gives you an appreciation for how their music has evolved while still remaining true to their sound. Beginning to end, it was just a great, tight performance.

There were a few extra cool moments musically speaking, mostly courtesy of Pat’s insanely over-developed drum skills. And there were also some pretty cool light shows including my favourite during Everlasting Light, which happens to be one of my favourite songs, too. My photo doesn’t do it justice at all:

The only thing I didn’t like about it was the same thing I don’t like about any concert. I’m sick of playing encore. We all know that unless you’re Bob Dylan, you’re going to play two or three more songs. Most of us probably checked your set lists and even have a pretty good idea what they’re going to be. Just play them. I know I should enjoy the experience of the shouting and chanting and excitement over the feigned shock of the band’s return, but I just think it’s a lot of ego-whoring. The giant Black Keys marquee blinking at us like an applause sign until we all chanted in unison kinda hit my pet peeve nerve on that.

Other than that, though, they seemed like very cool, humble, fun guys just having a good time doing what they love, which is exactly what I like to see!

You might want to also check out
Mike’s Review
Naomi’s Review
Laura’s Review

* If you’d like to be a JLC Reviewer someday, follow them on Twitter so you can find out next time they’re looking for someone. We were the first, so you’ll never be as cool as us, but the ‘distant second’ spot has not yet been filled. You might also want to follow FM96 because they’re pretty awesome people to win stuff from, too!