Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sundry family happenings

Last week was Matthew's birthday. He's never really been one for birthday parties, not like his sister. Each year we ask him what he'd like to do for his birthday, but the "pirates" party we gave him a couple of years ago was the first and only proper birthday party he'd wanted. This year, with the new aquatic centre opened, he decided he wanted a pool party. So that's what he got. He and a group of friends spent an hour playing in the pool followed by pizza and other goodies in the adjacent party room.

Happy birthday Matt!

This week, we got a new living room. Something Ali had set her heart on for a year or two now. The couches that came half-way across the world with us are now gone. Here is the room before (please excuse the mess)...

And after...

Although I'm still getting used to the altered scene, I have to admit it looks good in the room and creates a lot of open space.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What's in a name?

I've always struggled to come up with names. For pretty much anything. That can cause a few issues when I am world-building, which is when you realise just how important names are.

Some people seem quite content to write away with anonymous characters, only coming back to fill in the names later. Trouble is, I need to have names. I can only go for a page or so talking about [the opponent], or [the engineer], or more usually [xxx], before I grind to a halt.

And then I'm stuck. Often for a long, long time.

One of my D&D characters many (ahem) years ago was anonymous for ages, until, in desperation, he ended up with the inventive moniker "Ivor Name".

So, when I tell you that my working notes for Ghosts of Innocence mention no fewer than eighty named characters (yes, I counted!) you can see I have a teensy problem. Of course, many of those characters only play bit parts in the story, maybe brief showings in a scene or two. Some never even appear and are only mentioned in dialogue. But they all have names. I know who they are.

And then there are all the other names I had to find to populate my world. Ghosts is a starfaring adventure, so it involves lots of ships (thirty-three). And planets, and continents, forests, rivers, get the picture.

The easiest to come up with, for me at least, are those that bear little resemblance to modern western conventions. That's great for places, and for some characters.

The most effective technique I've found is to sit down and let my mind roam free, trying out random syllables and letting them collide and spark off each other until I hear something I like. Then I write it down. And then another, and another. I don't care what they're for at this stage, though sometimes as I write it occurs to me that this would be a great place name, or that is ideal for a character. But the point is to build up a stock of maybe twenty or thirty unassigned names. Then, when I need to name a place or a minor character, I can quickly draw on my stockpile and move on.

Main characters take more time and care, of course. You are going to hear about them a lot, so the right name is important. And for anything significant I usually Google it to make sure there are no unwanted connotations or collisions with the real world.

For Ghosts, I wanted to evoke a sense of the exotic, so I sometimes went overboard on weird combinations of syllables, like the venomous head of the Emperor's Domestic Household, Mabbwendig ap Terlion (a.k.a. Mad Mabb). In many cases I wanted names to evoke something of the character, like the oily and devious Willem Skimlok, or the solid and dependable chief engineer Calder Brasch.

And now I'm into a sequel, you'd think I'd have it easy, wouldn't you? Not so. Some of the old characters are still around, true, but I ended up killing off so many in Ghosts that I'm more-or-less having to start over.

Serves me right for having a murderous assassin as a main character.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I have my marching orders

It's been quite a productive day, making the most of the Spring sunshine. T-shirt & shorts weather by the afternoon.

Over the last few weekends, I've been slowly clearing the last untamed corner of the yard behind the tree fort, and concurrently working on the demolished rose bed that we didn't get around to finishing off last year.

That untamed corner was, many years ago, a compost heap hemmed in by a low wall of interlocking fence posts. When we first explored this little bit of wilderness we found some logs heaped up riddled with termites. They were out of harm's way, so we left well alone, until now. When I hauled out the rotting fence posts and logs (not many termites there now) I was pleased to find a nice heap of beautiful compost. We can make use of that!

So this morning, all that unwanted timber made its way into the utility trailer and off to the tip. And this afternoon, I started leveling off the soil in that new bed. Almost ready to take all that lovely compost.

All this work, of course, is little more that a means to an end. My main project this year is to build the long-promised pirate ship in that soon-to-be-cleared corner.

I've only roughly measured out the space available, and I have yet to draw up some plans, but Megan and Matthew have already been thinking about what they want.

Here is Megan's vision. You can see she's the straight and sensible one of the two. This is so restrained (though clearly achievable).

Then we have Matthew's version. He has big ideas and no inhibitions! This is three decks tall and probably as big as our house! I feel a little bit of expectations-setting coming on.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Writing projects - whither to turn?

Right now I have four novels in various states of disrepair. And, amongst the diverse demands of life in general, I am anxious to spend my limited reserves of writing energy wisely.

So anxious, in fact, that I find I'm dithering in a state of analysis paralysis over where to turn next.

First up, there's Ghosts of Innocence. Finished, revised, and actively querying for representation. This is the story of an assassin, Shayla Carver, out for revenge for the destruction of her home world.

Then there's The Ashes of Home. Sequel to Ghosts of Innocence, this finds Shayla, now a planetary governor, trying to rebuild her home world but surrounded by many enemies she made during her former life. Those who survived, anyway. About 8,000 words written, a few complete scenes and several partial bits. I have an idea of the general outline but much of the detail needs working out.

I broke off from this when I had an idea out of nowhere for Electrons' Breath. This is a near-future post-global-warming story, where humanity clings on with some high-tech help to survive in a violent storm-wracked world. Again, a few scenes written (13,000 words) and a general outline.

Finally, there's A Million Miles From Anywhere. Yes, I know the title sucks. It's a working title while I look for something better. Set on a ringworld, with all its potential for geography on a truly cosmic scale, this follows a group of travelers stranded and facing a million-mile hike to the nearest centre of population. This was actually an earlier attempt at a novel, which I got about half-way through then set aside in favour of Ghosts of Innocence. I recently unearthed it and decided that, while it still needs a shedload of work, there's a lot of good material there and I now have a good chance of knocking it into shape and introducing some of the snap and tension that it lacks.

So, the analysis...

Ghosts of Innocence: Intend to keep plugging away at queries in small batches. I really enjoyed writing this, and I'm proud of it. Whenever I pick it up and open at a random page, I enjoy reading it. If it ever makes it to publication, then so much the better. I'm not going to give up until I run out of agents.

That bit was easy, but now for the hard part...

The Ashes of Home: I like Shayla, and I like her world. I also think this style of action adventure suits me. I thoroughly enjoyed the bits I've written so far, but was starting to be put off by the thought of investing effort into a sequel to something that may never see publication. Somehow, that felt self-indulgent, and maybe the guilt of that was sapping my enthusiasm.

Electrons' Breath: Started off as an inspired thought, the first few scenes more-or-less wrote themselves, and then dried up. Got some encouraging feedback from an online writing group I belong to and set forth once more with renewed determination. Then dried up again. I'm sure there's a good story there, probably more topical and marketable than Shayla's shenanigans. But right now the story and the characters just don't excite me. They feel slightly flat and sterile. Something is holding me back from enjoying this story.

Million Miles: I like this world, too. I'd love to see it finished. And it has the advantage of already being half-written. Disadvantage: the half that's written needs substantial revision and editing.

I think I just talked myself into setting aside Electrons' Breath for now and letting it perk for a while.

But ... Ashes? ... or Million Miles?

What would you do next?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What does "home" look like?

As our unusually mild Winter tries to hogtie Spring with a last few frosty tentacles, we have started getting our trailer ready for more camping expeditions. The cover came off last weekend. Today we fitted an adjustable arm to the power awning so we can get it to drain properly if it should happen to rain - heaven forbid! Still a bit cautious about fully de-winterising because we had a couple of hard frosts last week and the pets' water bowl outside was frozen solid one morning. Maybe another week or so before we tempt fate.

But the anticipation of forthcoming vacations brought to mind something which I observed on our last trip up-island last year. Looking at the countryside we were driving through - evergreen forests, scrubby verges and hydro poles by the side of the highway, distant mountains - it suddenly struck me how different this was from where I grew up.

That should hardly be a surprise, and yet the realisation did surprise me because the landscape I was looking at didn't feel foreign. It felt comfortable and familiar. It was home.

Many years ago, whenever I watched American-made films (which were pretty much in the majority), I used to marvel at how strange and exotic the settings were. ET, Close Encounters, Gremlins, Back to the Future, and many other films set in small town America. A place utterly foreign to me. So strange, in fact, that for many years I simply assumed that it was all made up. Hollywood fiction.

Strange things happening in a strange place. And yet the point of many films like that is that they are meant to be strange things happening in a familiar place. The settings themselves are fictitious, of course, but they are an amalgam of things that I assume most Americans would immediately recognise and be comfortable with. But the tension between the exotic events and the ordinariness of the setting was lost to me.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. You will get that disconnect whenever you see a foreign film set in the local culture. I wonder what an American audience makes of films and programs set in Britain? Would they get the same appreciation of, say, The Full Monty as I do?

But sometimes the American media make bigger assumptions that seem to show complete disregard for viewers outside their borders. One example I recall: the plot in one episode of a popular series in the seventies revolved around a corrupt policeman using a school bus in a scam, leaving it parked and empty by the side of the road with its lights flashing, then booking anyone who passed. The entire episode made no sense to me at the time, because - get this! - Britain does not have school buses like that. No special treatment, no flashing lights to stop traffic. I only became aware of that law while studying for my Canadian driving test, and suddenly a piece of an old jigsaw fell into place.

My realisation, last year, was that all this is now as familiar to me as my old home. Suburban sidewalks set back from the road by strips of grass and trees. Streets and avenues laid out in a grid. Colonial style homes. Traffic lights hanging over the road. Yes, and even the school buses.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Interview with an assassin, part II - revenge of the killer fungus!

Earlier this week I posted a first interview with Shayla. That gave me a lot of ideas to help describe her emotional state on her quest. This interview focuses more on her preparations and physical state, which eventually told me that I needed to be much more sympathetic to the difficulties she faced. This also helped to explain some lapses of judgment on her part which on or two critiquers had noted.

Shayla Carver - on being an assassin

Shayla, tell me something about the training you had. What made you such a deadly assassin?

[She raises an eyebrow] Just how far back do you want to go?

Well, I suppose the obvious place to start is your legendary fighting skills.

Right back to the beginning then! [She laughs, but sobers quickly] OK.

Let's see ... I can't even remember a time when I wasn't into some sort of combative sport. I guess I had a lot of excess energy to burn up. I was a junior master of Jivan wrestling by the age of ten, and was well on my way to the bronze standard in Shohan Calinda.

The Knife Dance?

That's the popular name, and I guess it does look like a dance in its more stylised forms. But it's actually a range of disciplines covering all sorts of hand-held weapons. Knives, swords, sticks and pikes, that sort of thing.

Then after Eloon was ... cleansed, I kinda threw myself into that. I suppose I had some vague idea of fighting my way into the palace and taking on the Emperor in person.

Things got serious when Brandt and I made our pact. We realised that we had skills that we could put to use, but all this unfocussed rage was getting us nowhere. We needed to set ourselves a goal and take steps, conscious steps, towards it. Childish fancy of course, but it led me into the Firenzi military at seventeen. I learned the difference between ritualised fighting for sport, and fighting to kill.

[She pauses, looking thoughtful] That experience hardened me. Once I'd killed for the first time, I knew I could see this thing through, but I also realised pretty quick that the military was a step in the wrong direction. The Firenzi forces would never take on the Empire, not in direct battle, and even if they did I would never be in a position to take out the kind of personal revenge I was looking for. I needed to get into the Special Service to get the kind of chance I needed.

How did you manage that? It's not exactly an organisation you can apply to join.

No shit! I had to get myself noticed by their talent scouts, so I started volunteering for scouting and behind-the-lines assignments. A chance to show the skills the Service would be looking for. The breakthrough for me was retaking Scorflac from the Family Wala. I was able to infiltrate the Wala base at Dojon and cripple their command centre with a small pulse bomb. After that, the navy was able to retake the planet without resorting to a full scale ground assault. Big brownie points!

This used something other than fighting skills then.

Yes. I managed to pass myself off as an emissary from one of the local grain barons. Scorflac is remote and right on the Wala-Firenzi border. It's been Firenzi for over three thousand years, but only just. It keeps flipping allegiance, with help from the Wala. The local bigwigs are constantly sucking up to one side or the other, so it was a plausible cover.

So you see, combat skills are only part of the story. In fact, my best trick turned out to be disguise. Not fighting, but blending in. I had this talent for it. And some hi-tech help in the last few years of course.

Your implants?

You bet! Something the Firenzi want to keep secret as long as possible. No surprise there. If you don't know about them they are such an effective disguise. But once people know what to look out for they'll be too easy to spot. They'll become obsolete. Well, the secret's safe, for now. And I'd never have gotten through any close scrutiny without them. But man! Those things were a pain in the butt.

How so?

Think about what the implants do. They give you conscious control over your appearance. Facial features, skin tone, hair colour. Can't do much about height, but the implants can absorb water and plump you out some.

Sounds marvellous!

It is. But remember what I just said back there. Conscious control. It's like flexing a muscle. It takes effort to morph, and effort to sustain. Slacken off and your features will revert.

So you woke up each morning as Shayla Carver instead of Brynwyn?

[She snorts and shakes her head] Not quite. It takes time. Nobody would notice much difference after only a few hours, and it takes several days to become recognisably yourself again if you simply relax. Quicker if you make a conscious effort.

But morphing your appearance in the first place is slow work and both physically and mentally draining. I normally take about four days to put on a disguise. On Magentis I did it in less than two. That was tiring.

And as for keeping the disguise up, just try walking around all day with your stomach muscles permanently tensed and your arms held high over your head and you'll start to get the idea. I spent most of my time on Magentis half dead from exhaustion. That led to a few lapses of judgement, which could have been serious.

[She leans back, gazing up at the ceiling] So, you see, the implants have their drawbacks. And I try to forget what I went through getting them in the first place.

[She looks at me again, with a sly grin] You know they were engineered from some strain of fungus? The implant process is ... painful. And creepy. You have these filaments growing under your skin from the implant sites. It's like an infection. It is an infection really. And it totally knocks you out for weeks. You're under constant medical supervision, feeling sick as a dog, but they're not trying to cure you. They're encouraging the infection, guiding it to all the right spots until it's taken over every inch of your skin.

Sounds gruesome.

It is! And then they give you a killer drug to stop it metastasising further. It knocks you sideways, but you don't mind that because you're just hoping like crap that it works!

What if it doesn't?

[She shudders] Then you really do have an infection. A nasty and terminal one.

So obviously it worked for you.

Yes. But that's not all. Once you've recovered, the real training starts. By now the filaments have made a whole network and tapped into your somatic nervous system. But it's like a phantom limb that you never knew you had. You have to learn to control it. It took me nearly two months before I started to make a conscious connection, and a full year before I had enough control to put on a decent disguise.

[She smiles] Boy was that a frustrating time for me. You know me. I'm all about action. I can be patient when I'm stalking prey, but I need to see progress. I was ready to bite heads off after the first few weeks. [She giggles. I find the incongruity unsettling] I don't know how many trainers I went through! I think the Special Service ended up offering danger money just to get them in the same room as me.

What about preparation for this particular mission?

Well, physical appearance and a shedload of painstaking factual research of course. But to effectively take on Brynwyn's persona, it wasn't enough just to look like her. I had to learn about her life, her family, her history. I had to immerse myself in her beliefs, her religion, the whole Vantist mysticism thing, the meditation and fanatical devotion to duty. I had to learn the holy books inside out, not just to recite quotes, but to get inside the mind of a believer and understand what the texts were saying.

Sheesh! What an eye-opener. I'm so glad I'm good at compartmentalising. I'd have gone gaga trying to get my head around all these conflicting beliefs and personae.

And of course, the devil is in the detail. For example, I spent weeks not just learning the Chensing tongue from scratch, but studying the dialect and colloquialisms that a Chensing speaker would bring to the standard Imperial tongue. And not just any Chensing speaker either. I got very specific about that broad north coast accent. A detail like that would be obvious to many residents of Magentis. But I knew Brynwyn mixed in refined circles in the politics of Toomin Barza, so I had to soften it just a little.

Well, you get the idea.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Interview with an assassin

In the writing world, I, the author, am totally in control, the ultimate authority, manipulating my characters and directing their every action like a master puppeteer.


Right! As if!

They really do have a life of their own, and they don't always want to co-operate. It can be quite eerie when one of your characters stubbornly refuses to follow the script and starts taking the story in a direction you hadn't envisaged. A fellow writer over at Discarded Darlings has long conversations with hers, and they haunt her desk and corners of her room. For me, they mostly just put up passive resistance. I write, and I just know something's bothering them, and the story won't go right until I sort out what they really want to do.

Somewhere in my writing journey, one of my colleagues recommended "interviewing" characters as a way to get inside their heads. Here is one such interview with my main character from Ghosts of Innocence.

Shayla Carver - on motivation for mass murder

So, Shayla, you got very close to killing the Emperor, along with about two billion innocent bystanders. It's a bit of a clichéd question, but why did you do it?

[She laughs] Very simple! Revenge. Nothing more complicated than that. No political aspirations, no deep-rooted desire to establish a new order -- let alone anything based on truth or justice or crap like that. I lost my home world to this man, and I wanted revenge. And I was young and naïve enough not to understand that I didn't have a hope in hell, which is probably why I nearly succeeded. You really can achieve the impossible as long as you don't know it's impossible!

I think we all understand your motivation, up to a point, but the lengths you went to seem pretty extreme. That suggests both anger and determination way beyond normal.

Well, I guess it was an abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation.

But there were hundreds of other survivors from Eloon. Why didn't they all turn into lethal assassins?

Who says they didn't try? A lot of people were seriously pissed! They all had to cope with it in their own ways. Many of them did join the military, or the Insurrection. Many died in combat, or simply grew old and settled down. But they all wore the scars. Honestly, what were the chances of any of us making a real difference? Out of hundreds of survivors, and maybe thousands of other people affected, you just happen to be talking to the one who lasted long enough to get serious.

All the same, your lifelong mission was serious. Some would say 'above and beyond'. What kept you going all those years?

I guess I had nothing left to live for. My whole world was gone. And I mean my whole world.

I'm a pretty introspected person. Never made friends easily. But I adored my father. He taught me so much about life, and especially about loyalty and fairness. I don't think he opened up to many people either, but I thought I knew him. Back then it seemed like he was my only real friend. Then he was gone.

[She leans forward, speaking earnestly] I was shocked by the totality of the destruction. And the power. Have you ever seen a planet cleansed?

[I shake my head]

Well, I watched it!

Imagine the biggest volcano you ever saw, blowing its top. The weapons those Swords carry are like a force of nature. Liquid lightning raining down. Turning cities to glass.

[She frowns thoughtfully] I think quark bombs are the only other man-made things that come close to challenging nature for sheer power, but they are so touchy they're almost impossible to deploy.

Anyway, even watching from light years away, knowing I was safe, I could feel the heat. It was terrifying. But the point is, I was more shocked by the unfairness of it. This wasn't blind nature. This was personal. Someone, somewhere, made a conscious decision to bring that destruction down on my world. It was a choice! Someone chose to do this! That is what really stuck with me all through the years.

So you chose revenge.

C'mon! You're talking about an eleven-year-old child here! A spoilt super-brat at that! Of course I chose revenge. And there was never any question about the form it would take either. You took my world, I'll take yours! That was just childish simplicity talking, but over the years the focus became so ingrained it never occurred to me to question it. A matter of habit. Of belief. Almost religious.

And of course I had Brandt to think about too. He was just as affected, and just as determined as me. I think we fed off each other. Kept each other going

Didn't it occur to you that you were also making a choice, that you were going to bring destruction to another world just like someone did to yours?

Not really. Not at the time anyway. I didn't see it as a real world. It was the home of the Emperor, that was all I saw.

And I only really thought about Eloon in terms of my own personal loss too. It was all pretty selfish. Remember that I was from a privileged family, so I'd led a sheltered life. I didn't mix much with other kids. There were lots of people coming and going -- my family was pretty well-connected -- but they were formal acquaintances, not friends.

Remember when you were a child? Didn't you think the universe revolved around you? Well, I was still at that stage and I saw Eloon as my home. It didn't really occur to me that it was other peoples' home as well, so the loss of a planet was my loss. And I only saw the revenge on another planet as hitting at the Emperor. The other people on the planet didn't really register. If they did, it was an unfortunate evil but not important.

And all through the years, nothing caused me to challenge that idea. As I said before, my course was set. I had my goal, and it was never up for question after that.

So what changed?

I think what threw me was seeing Magentis close up. It was not how I pictured it. Of course everyone sees newscasts and stuff. All the famous views of the Palaces, the Legislature, and all the docs and histories, and the operatics set there. So everyone 'knows' what Magentis is like. I 'knew' it was a world full of strutting Imperial types, pulling all the strings to lord it over the rest of us.

And that's all real of course. It's all there. All the huge incestuous machinery of the public service, the military, the politics. But that's only one percent of reality. I had never imagined the other ninety-nine percent. The sheer ordinariness of it.

When I landed in Horliath and met up with the Insurrection cell, I was on a mission into hostile territory. What I was never prepared for was mixing with ordinary folk. The Inn at Skerrin could have been on Eloon, or Ploorbellin, or anywhere. Even in the Palace, right at the heart of the Empire, it was full of perfectly ordinary people living remarkably ordinary lives.

What about the girl on Chantry Bay?

Yes ... [long pause] ... That got me off-guard. I don't know why I hadn't seen her aboard before. Maybe she was with one of the richer passengers. Some of them pretty much stayed in their suites rather than mingle with the rabble.

But for a moment I saw myself in her. That touched me in a way I was not prepared for. I think that's what opened me up to seeing the people of Magentis for who they really were. It was like someone had opened the gates on years of denial.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Olympics aren't over yet

Yesterday, we paid one of our frequent visits to Butchart Gardens. We like to get the most from our annual memberships, it's a great place to walk the dog, and we love to see how the gardens change throughout the year.

Strange thing is, even the kids never seem to tire of it, though it doesn't sound an obvious attraction for children to enjoy.

Yet they find amusement in all sorts of things: trying to touch the koi in the temporary Spring display in the cafeteria building, playing hide-and-seek and crossing the stepping stones in the Japanese garden, climbing to the top of the lookout in the sunken garden, trying to spot garter snakes sunning themselves in the rose garden, and of course the new carousel is still a must. In fact, every corner of the gardens seems to have its hidden treasures for inquisitive minds.

Yesterday, there was an added bonus. We were in the Japanese garden when I saw someone in a wheelchair coming around the corner. I found a spot on the narrow path to step back and let him pass. He was followed by another man in a wheelchair, then another. There was a whole group of them, and all wearing identical jackets. I spoke to one of the party, who turned out to be their coach. It was the Norwegian paralympic curling team. Megan was excited because she's just spent hours working on a school project about curling!

Well, I know I should be rooting for Canada, but - what the heck! - good luck Norway.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

(2005) Busy, busy, busy!

March 2005

Dear Aunt Agatha,

The job hunt is still ongoing. I had my first interview last month, for an IT Director position, which I had to put in a lot of preparation for. Didn't get it, but at least it was a positive sign to be under consideration.

However it is probably just as well that I'm not working yet, because there is more than enough to do at home.

There's all the kinds of stuff that you'd expect, of course. Loads of boxes to unpack, things to find homes for, and still more things to buy. And all the packaging and garbage to dispose of. Luckily they recycle a whole lot more here than Guernsey, and kerbside pickup too. The playroom is finally useable, but the garage still resembles a warehouse.

But then there's all the unlooked-for projects that reared their heads as we took stock of our new environment. We've had endless phone calls and visits by a stream of tradesmen to quote on various pieces of work that need doing. I sometimes think we need a revolving door at the front of the house to cope with the traffic.

Our property is surrounded by hedges that have been untended for a few years. A big enough job to get quotes for. In the end, a whole gang of men spent all day cutting rampant vegetation back to a manageable height, and shredding the offcuts. Wow! What a difference. The back yard has opened out considerably and gets a lot more light now.

And we need quotes to re-roof the house (which we knew about from the building inspector's report), to put more units and worktops into the kitchen, and to remodel the bedrooms downstairs for the kids to move into. This north American penchant for built-in closets is great when they are properly designed, but when they are added as an afterthought they can really mess up a space. So we want them gone, and the kids will use the standalone furniture we brought with us.

Ali and I both spent many long hours clearing a huge patch of ivy choking two trees and about thirty feet of one of the back borders. In doing so, we uncovered a pile of stones the size of a small car, and a big open compost bin that was completely hidden from view. When this is all cleared, there'll be a fantastic space for a children's play area.

The cats have been exploring their new back yard, and getting used to a new arrival. Ali always said that when we had the space she wanted a dog. So now we have a dog! A husky-plus-goodness-knows-what puppy from one of the local rescue societies. Very cute, though. As a result I've had an endless stream of small jobs around the place making the fence and gates puppy-proof. And trying to keep the cat bowls and litter tray out of harm's way.

And, yes, another stream of people to quote for fencing the back of the yard properly. For huskies, the recommendation is six feet! So that means I've got to go around the boundary making sure it is accessible. Stones, soil, and logs to shift out of the way. And a rickety tin shed to demolish.

We learned more about practices for marking out properties along the way. Property lines over here are marked by boundary pins, actually long metal stakes, sunk into the earth at the corners. We managed to locate the one at the far corner so we know our new fence is within our property.

Even that isn't the whole picture. There are many more smaller jobs to get the junk-heap that is our back yard under some sort of control. So, yes, we've been busy this month and there's a lot still to go. But it is good to see signs of progress around the place.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I believe!

I think, in this household anyway, we became Olympic skeptics during all the hype leading up to the games. And I don't think we were alone, especially as the financial meltdown of the last year focused people's minds on the vast expense that BC will probably be paying for many years to come.

We felt growing feelings of dread as the games got off to such a rocky start, with tragedy on the luge, embarrassing technical difficulties at the opening ceremony, and rain washing away the start of competition at Cypress.

But things improved, and the mood of the Olympics started to shine through. And the mood gripped a nation.

Of course, we weren't in Vancouver itself, and we had already decided not to brave travel and crowds. Not with children in tow. But we know many people who went, some for a day or two, some to volunteer, some who would be part of the opening or closing ceremonies, some who simply went for the entertainment in Vancouver itself. It was hard not to feel a part of it.

We chewed fingernails to the quick as the women's curling team just missed gold, then cheered the men on to victory. Of course the hockey result was icing on the cake, but I don't think any result would have lessened the genuine sadness as the games came to a close. Well done VANOC for showing the world that Canadians can (and do, regularly) laugh at themselves, even turning erectile malfunction into a golden entertainment opportunity.

There has been some criticism of the "Own the podium" slogan. Proud? Arrogant? Maybe that's how it came across in some corners of the world, but, having lived and worked here now for five years, I beg to differ. And I think most Canadians would be bemused by suggestions of arrogance.

I see it as nothing more sinister than a rallying call to excel, to be inspired, to dare to show passion in a world that seems to decry any aspiration to rise above the lowest common denominator.

And to take pride. Yes. Not nationalistic hubris, not "I'm great, you suck," but honest and healthy pride in a job well done.

And what's wrong with that, eh?
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