Monday, July 30, 2007

Castles in the Sand

Well, I got my last couple of work files completed this morning and have fended off any more. RH and I are off to the grandly-named Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa tomorrow for three days of relaxation -- we hope. I’m a little dubious. I made, perhaps, a mistake in browsing a few online review sites to see how the hotel rates, and unfortunately it doesn’t do very well. Lots of complaints about Motel 6 rooms for Hyatt prices, excessive noise all night long, unresponsive staff, poor food in the restaurants. I was also unhappy to read that unless you booked spa appointments at least four to six weeks ahead of arrival (which I did not), you wouldn’t get so much as a plucked eyebrow.

However, this trip is by way of using a gift certificate RH received as a retirement gift, so if we hate the place, we just won’t stay. It isn’t as if we’re travelling far. And if nothing else, the sand castles will be there for viewing, which should be fun. I’ve never seen them in person.

However, if we don’t stay, I’m not letting my office know I’m back, so mum’s the word!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

My Computer and Me

Have I mentioned I love cruising?
Today I really do have no theme to hang an entry around, but if I go too long without writing here, I lie in bed at night imagining these legions of fans, sitting forlornly by their computers, every so often clicking the link to Grammar’s blog and shedding perhaps a tear or two when they see the same old headline of days gone by.

Okay. Probably not so much, eh? But allow me my fantasies!

This week I have been continuing with much work, blah blah blah. Same old thing. There is great turmoil in my office. People with seriously ill family members, people on leave mourning deceased pets, people on holidays… Sometimes it seems to me as if the poor frazzled clerk in the office and I are the only two people running this company at the moment. I am able remain largely unfrazzled, mostly because I am, thank goodness, at a distance and don’t have to go in there and can just stolidly plug away at things at home. Also, perhaps, because the weather has been co-operating and it has not been excessively hot. And we're almost halfway through stupid summer! Yay!

What has been a lot more fun this week has been putting the finishing touches on the arrangements for our big October trip. I don’t know how many travel agents there are these days compared to ten years ago, but I think they’re a dying breed. No one I know uses them anymore. Our trip this fall is a bit involved and complex, but I've had a blast using the internet to put the pieces together. It is not only easy, but empowering to take charge of things, comfortable that the prices I'm paying are appropriate as I browse Expedia, Travelocity, review sites, etc.

We will be starting with a few days in New York City. (Online: flights, hotel, Broadway show tickets.) We will depart from there on a ten-day cruise which will end us up in Quebec City. (Online and some phone: cruise, shore excursions, cruise line notified of our flight arrangements so they can pick us up.) We are then spending several days in Mont Tremblant, apparently a very attractive Whistler sort of place in between Quebec and Montreal. (online: accommodation in Mont Tremblant ) We are going with our great travel buddies The Lawman and Ms K, so there’s been lots of co-ordination going on, as well. This is almost as much fun as the trip itself!

I booked the flights into JFK and out of Montreal directly with Scare Canada, who offered prices as good as or better than I could find anywhere else. I found two things quite interesting as I did this. First of all, the flights from here to New York and from Montreal home are both listed as exactly five hours and 19 minutes. Don’t you think that’s a bit freakish? Secondly, amongst all the myriad and arcane taxes and fees one resignedly pays on top of the ticket price, I was bemused to find one listed as “US Agricultural Fee”.

US Agricultural Fee. My dear heavens. What on EARTH does that have to do with flying in an airplane? And what will they think of next? The mind boggles.

And finally, I must confess that nearly the most fun of all is choosing my plane seats online. They display a layout of the aircraft for your flight, with cute little people sitting in the seats that are already taken. And when you select your seat -- poof! -- a happy little green person pops into the one you’ve chosen! Seriously, what could be more entertaining than that?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Thanks, Jo!

Sorry, blog world. It’s been awhile. It’s not so much that it’s been an unusually busy week but more that it has not: just the usual, and so I am uninspired to write.

Yesterday, however, was exceptionally busy. I do have a large job of work due tomorrow morning so had to discipline myself to accomplish a good percentage of it lest I hate myself today. I learned the hard way not to take a day off and assume I’m going to feel up to ten or more hours of typing the next to make up for it.

And of course we all know what else I was busy doing yesterday. Yes, I am now among the exponentially-growing numbers who know whether Harry Potter lives or dies.

I am of such mixed feelings about the Potter books. I don’t think Jo Rowling is that exceptional a writer. Her plot arcs are not always well-crafted. There are too many characters who are not properly fleshed out, some of whom I think we would care a great deal less about were it not for the movies putting real human faces on them.

And yet I read each of her books (with one overly-bloated exception) pretty much straight through and enjoyed them hugely. And I refuse to believe that I simply got sucked into the hype, the mass Potter hysteria. I am too cynically middle-aged and frankly too well-read to allow that to happen. There have been plenty of “bestsellers” in the past that I have hated and not finished, even some by writers I have previously loved. (I am thinking at this moment particularly of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, which started so magnificently and then by the third novel collapsed under the weight of its own verbosity.)

So why have I loved the Potter books? Because whatever she may be technically lacking, Ms. Rowling came up with a whale of a tale, and she saw it through and made me want to see it through with her. She created a world I cared about and did it well enough and thoroughly enough that -- at least most of the time -- I totally forgot to be critical of weaknesses in her writing. It’s no mean feat to turn the “off” button in Grammar’s picky brain!

So I’m very glad that although book 7 certainly does tie up all loose ends, there seems to be a little door left open for perhaps a future, related series. I hope she writes it.

And now I have a recommendation for those of you about to enter Potter withdrawal. I am a fan of a well-written fantasy series and have relished many of them over the years. My favourite is of course Lord of the Rings, followed by C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. But lesser-known and also a huge favourite of mine is Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry. It’s not anything like Harry Potter and nor, I think, should we want anything to be at this point. But it’s excellent fantasy, a meaty series that will keep you occupied for awhile.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Just your Average Bear

Home after a most pleasant weekend chez Moo and back to normal around here. Lots of work, grocery shopping, laundry, Yogi rampaging through the neighbourhood with Ranger Smith in hot pursuit.

Oh, yes. Summertime in North Van. Well, springtime and falltime, too, really. Anytime but the few coldest weeks of winter, when they hibernate for awhile, the bears are apt to lumber through, looking for berries and birdseed and carelessly-stored garbage. They've been known to grab a cart and mosey through the local Safeway, selecting a few items. Always trying to go through the Express lane with more than eight items, claiming that when blueberry pies are on three for $10, that only counts as one item. As if.

So this morning, garbage day (and thank goodness it is still being collected and no one is on strike), a big ol' black bear came round our end of the cul-de-sac and commenced bashing over a few bins. I guess he'd already been reported because very shortly a District truck came barreling down the street and parked in my driveway. A conservation officer leapt smartly out and took off after the bear. I don't know if he was brandishing a weapon; they try not to shoot them unless absolutely necessary. But he chased the bear into my backyard, then it hightailed it across the creek, forcing the officer to scamper back to his truck and screech off to go around to the road on the other side.

Now, as it happens, I didn't see any of this personally. I had chosen that moment to have me a little lie-down in my room, just to shut my eyes for 15 or 20 minutes. If you'd asked me, I'd have sworn that I never actually fell asleep, and yet somehow I was completely oblivious to this entire bear scenario taking place. I heard no garbage bins crashing, no screeching cars, no galloping bears, no hollering officer. Guess I'm a much more efficient napper than I thought!

Friday, July 13, 2007

I do TOO get it!

More terror torn from the headlines. I'm still looking over my shoulder for things that least resemble aliens and therefore might be and now, it seems, I'm losing my most prized possession.

Page A6 of today's Vancouver Sun, dear blog hearts: Aging's sad joke: We no longer get the punchline

Bad enough that the granny path steals my precious nouns. Bad enough that I'm repeating my few amusing anecdotes to the same people every few days. Now I'm told that my anecdotes are not, in fact, funny, and when other people tell me jokes, I'm apt to just gaze at them rheumy-eyed and say vaguely, "That's lovely, dear. Bless your heart."

According to the article in the paper, this thesis was scientifically tested by a group of university researchers by presenting one group of elderly people (between 65 and "late 80s") and another group in their "early 20s" with the same opening lines of jokes. Each volunteer was asked to select one of four possible endings to the jokes. The article explains:

While one answer was the expected punchline, the other three included a humourous answer that bore no relation to the start of the joke, a totally straight response and a complete non-sequitur. According to…the graduate student behind the study, the older group was noticeably less likely to spot the punchline.

Okay. Right off the bat, I have the following concerns about the scientific legitimacy of this study.

1. It was created by university students. These are people who, a very few short years prior, thought "poopoohead" and "fart" were the funniest words in the language. These people are qualified to determine what is and is not funny?
2. Let's look at the two test groups. One group is in their early 20s, which definition suggests an age range of four or five years. The other group, between 65 and late 80s, could comprise an age range of 25 years: a generation. Already we have a very skewed comparison.
3. The younger group, besides the aforementioned point 1, would almost certainly not understand any joke not containing one of the following words: fuck, Paris, Kfed, fuck, dude, Britney, fuck. Given that the test was prepared by their age group, the jokes all likely contained one or more of these references. These are either obscure or completely effing unfunny to the over-65 group.
4. The latter group consisted, apparently, of persons up to the age of 89. I'd like to know if there was any pre-screening to determine if these people all recognized their next of kin, never mind recognizing an alleged joke when they see one.
5. Finally, let's consider the description of "possible endings" to the alleged jokes. Besides the "expected" (by who?) punchline, these were: a funny answer unrelated to the joke; a totally straight response; and a complete non-sequitur. So let's imagine an example from this study:

Why did the chicken cross the road?
1. Fuck, dude, to get to the other fucking side!
2. This is a deceased parrot!
3. There was grain on the other side.
4. Number 10 envelopes!

Which of these is the funniest answer? Even though I'm somewhat younger than the older group in the study, I suppose I would help prove their case. I happen to think that almost every time, a complete non-sequitur is likely to be funnier than some arbitrary punchline. And who on earth is some snot-nosed college kid to tell me I'm wrong?

Further in the article, the infant researcher opines, People know that there are certain mental abilities that decline as we get older. Our memory at 80 is probably not going to be as good as our memory when we're 20. Given that, how does that fit in with how well people understand humour? Humour is a higher order mental process, she added.

A higher order mental process!! Well, isn't the arrogance of youth breathtaking sometimes? What about the vast years of experience we old farts have to bring to bear in understanding what is and isn't funny?

We're definitely not trying to say that older adults don't have a sense of humour, but I think that there are certain types of jokes that are more difficult for older adults, she says condescendingly. And indeed. Profanity-laced jokes about Paris, Britney and kFed? Not difficult. No, what word would I use instead? Um…STUPID. BRAINLESS. INFANTILE.

However, just because you're an older adult does not mean that you can't understand humour. All hope is not lost, she added kindly. Why, bless your heart, dear. It's so sweet of you young things to leave us hope when we're so addled and confused.

Now, if you want to talk real humour, jokes based on people being too stoned on the good old gentle Mary Jane of the sixties -- now we're talking. Dave's not here, man. Bwahahahahahahahaha!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Queen Goes, Sitabout

A few weeks ago I mentioned to Missy Moo that I'd like to make a visit over to see her on her Island farm, always a lovely place to visit in the summer. We agreed on a weekend when she and most of her assorted hangers-on would be likely to be around, and also when RedCarGirl, who wished to accompany me, was available. That weekend is the one coming up.

Since first discussing this, you'd think I was planning a trip to Europe with all the fuss I've made about popping over to see my sister for a weekend. I have sent emails galore updating her on the complex plans for this event.

Shall I stay with Missy Moo in her house? Well, she's preparing it to show for selling (hence also the aforementioned painting), and I was uncomfortable with the idea of creating more to-do (and indeed to do) under those circumstances. So after some electronic waffling, I booked RCGirl and myself into a nearby motel.

Then the question was, to bring the car or arrive as foot passengers? Wafflewaffle. Foot. Car. Foot. Car. But then we became the parents of the adorable Fit. Car it is.

Just as an aside, when we were handed all the final papers for our new car upon picking it up, one of them was identified to us as the car's "birth certificate". So there you go.

Then today I had to email Missy Moo again to alert her as to which ferry we'd be on, because nothing can be done on a whim. All must be thoroughly planned out. Now, I'd say this is another classic step on the granny path, us old folks needing everything pinned down and plenty of notice about what's happening, except that I think really I've always been a bit OCD this way.

RedCarGirl, the sun-worshipper, is hoping to spend pretty much the entire weekend in the Moo pool and sunning on the Moo deck, although I THINK the weather is supposed to cool down a bit by the weekend. (Oh lord, I do hope so, or I'll just be insane, and not in a good and humorous way but a frightening and alien-invasion sort of way.)

I am also hoping for a nice, low-key weekend after being so busy with work the past month. So I am hoping Sister Moo hasn't planned any 17-mile hikes or mountain climbing or building homes for the poor or anything of that nature. (HA! As if!! She has actually met me!) I would like to sit wherever is coolest round about the Moo abode, drinking things with ice in them, and eating the wondrous and beautiful berries from the farm, all of which, of course, I expect to be brought to me by lackeys. Because I am old. And because I am Me. But that's okay. I'm bringing my own flesh-and-flunky, so my demands on Moo minions will be few.

The Queen has spoken. Prepare thee, Moo household, for the royal visit.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Would you rather...?

My sister is currently very busy painting the exterior of her house. I feel close to requiring hospitalization just thinking about that. You see, I really dislike painting. No, you don't understand. I really, really dislike painting.

Let me make this clearer. Of all housewifely tasks, ironing is my least favourite. I LOATHE ironing. And as all you who know me are well aware, I also absolutely cannot tolerate hot weather. When it gets above 25 degrees, I am uncomfortable and cranky. When it gets above 30, I am like an animal in a trap being tortured. I am beside myself.

If I were given the choice of ironing for eight hours in 30-degree weather and painting for the same amount of time on a nice, cool day, I would take the ironing.

Yes. THAT is how much I hate painting.

Now, if the choice were the eight hours of 30-degree ironing and FOUR hours of cool-day painting, I would take the painting. I mean, let's not be silly. We're not in the realm of hyperbole here. But five hours of painting…? I'd have to consider that one carefully.

It's sort of like the sleepover game "Would you rather". You know the one: a sort of verbal Fear Factor where everyone must choose between two equally awful options. I'm very poor at this game because I always need more detail.

Would you rather eat a rat or a booger out of someone else's nose?

Well, is the rat cooked or raw? This makes a big difference to me. I would eat the rat if it were cooked, but the booger if the rat were raw. And if the rat's alive, well, obviously I would eat someone's entire booger-filled head before I'd start gnawing on a live rat. Duh.

Would you rather have sex with George Bush or Larry King?

Now, again, I have questions. Am I allowed to wear a blindfold? Is the man allowed to speak in any way? Will there be paparazzi? Medical personnel on hand? I simply cannot make a decision without knowing such things.

So you could play the "Would you rather" game with me with painting on one side of the equation and almost anything on the other, and I'd choose the other. This is what I'm saying.

You go, Missy Moo*!

*The painting sister

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Run for your lives!!

There was a small headline on page A14 of today's Vancouver Sun which has caused me some alarm, Blog People. I don't want to create any sort of unnecessary panic here if you were fortunate enough to have missed this terrifying article, but in the circumstances, I think we need to band together.

Aliens may be 'too weird' to spot. Extraterrestrial life may well be so weird we would not immediately recognize it…

I mean, this is just staggering. Of course the only way I am going to recognize an alien is if it looks like:

1. The traditional little green man, bulbous of head and scrawny of limbs, prone to abductions and inappropriate probing.
2. ET
3. Us except for pointy ears (in which case it could just as well be an elf, not an alien), or an excessively wrinkly forehead.
4. Robin Williams
5. Brian Williams, the sportscaster. Those eyes! Every time he does the Olympics, I get nervous.

So I've been running around my house, trying to keep an open mind. Why is that geranium in my front planter facing the house when all the others are facing away? It's…it's watching me! With subtle dehiscing, it's sending tiny communication pods wafting back to the Mother Bed!

Or wait! That little pile of glittery substance I recently vacuumed up off my living room carpet. It was just below the fireplace hearth and I had thought it was just some of the granite chipping off. But perhaps not! Perhaps it was the forefront of a crystalline invasion! Prepare to be stoned!

Must. Remain. Calm. What else around here is so weird I might not immediately recognize it as an alien?

AAAAAAA! What's that in the mirror?? It's -- it's --


Friday, July 6, 2007

The New Honda Fit

We bought a new car today. This is not something most of us do that often in a lifetime, and especially not Retired Husband (aka He Who Shall Remain Nameless) and I, who tend to drive our vehicles at least 10 or 12 years into the ground before replacing them. So it's still a pretty exciting event.

Until very recently, we owned an 01 Honda Accord and an 03 Honda Civic. Although we liked both vehicles, we had come to a realization that it was a slight tactical error to equip ourselves with two sedan automobiles. In neither car, for example, is it easy to put a lawnmower for transporting to a repair shop. Or large boxes and things. Just not practical.

So we had been thinking of trading the Civic in on a little hatchback. We had thought we'd wait another year or so, until Broken Leg Boy (who is well mended and needs a new name, which I think I will bestow upon him momentarily) was out of the house and/or had a vehicle of his own before getting a brand new one for ourselves.

However, BLB, henceforth to be known as Scrapheap Boy, rather precipitated the event by a couple of weeks ago involving our Civic in an accident in which no one was hurt, the airbags didn't even deploy, and yet trashed the car beyond redemption. Something to do with the whole engine being knocked out of place or something; I don't know. Grammar doesn't worry her pretty little head about those manly mechanical details. (She is liberated in all ways except for mechanical details. Never going to happen.)

So ICBC declared our poor little Civic unworthy of repair, and without fuss or ado issued us a cheque which, somewhat to our surprise, we considered more than fair market value. We had researched that topic thoroughly on such websites as Craigslist and Buy and Sell and had been quite prepared to debate the issue.

So today we went to our favourite Honda dealership, where we have had excellent service over the years, and now we own a car that looks just like this:

Isn't it cute?

Monday, July 2, 2007

Grammar sez reedzis

The last great linguistic change in the English language occurred some 400 years ago in the riotous blossoming of its modern form. The English of Shakespeare is about as old a version of the language that people today can understand, and in his century (the 16th) some 10,000 to 12,000 new words were coined, many of them by the bard himself.

I would suggest that the networked culture has propelled us into another such linguistic blossoming. A huge new lexicon has been created, such that people today could speak whole paragraphs that would be scarcely comprehensible to someone who died as few as 50 years ago. It's difficult for modern dictionary editors to keep up with the vast numbers of terms originating from computer terminology which have become standardized, such as download, reboot, google, text (as a verb), and the whole messaging language of acronyms such as brb, omg, wtf, imo, lol (and hundreds more).

All this is by way of introduction to the fact that I have just discovered the term "lolcat". This very specifically refers to published photos of cats with humorous captions in non-standard English. (I direct you to for about a kazillion examples.)

Now, as a cat lover, these amuse me simply in themselves, as in the following:

But I also find the non-standard English use interesting from a linguistic point of view.

I can imagine that many people (especially over a certain age) would look at this in horror. Bastardization of the Queens' English! Dumbing down! We're all going to die because no one will be able to spell anymore! You might even think that Grammar Moses would likely be one of those people, especially given the caption on my picture at right.

But you'd be wrong, because here's where the pure linguist in Grammar surfaces. I happen to think it's kind of cool. Even when I consider the extremely unlikely event that somehow this sort of funny caption would lead to everyone speaking this way, I can't get upset. So what if we did? I don't think anyone can point to a civilization that crumbled because its language evolved in a direction some people considered silly. (If anyone could point me to such a situation, I'm sure it would be my friend Fiona T!)

So calmz down, peeps. Tzokay. We be fine NEways.