2009 annual report: steady

Let’s see, what happened in 2009?

Well, we took a big trip to France, a relaxing trip to Nova Scotia and a weekend trip to Ottawa for my brother’s birthday. Closer to home we enjoyed Toronto things like Hot Docs, TIFF and a Leafs/Canadiens game, as well as concerts by Mogwai, Frightened Rabbit and The Rural Alberta Advantage. We also made it through some rather dodgy Toronto moments like being stuck in a high-rise elevator and a tornado-spawning storm.

We celebrated friends’ events like the weddings of our friends Jenn & Trent and Tatiana & Sean, and for my friend Adam the signing of a record deal with a major label. We also said goodbye to some friends, like Nick and Stryder.

We tried, for the first time, fantastic restaurants like Amaya Bread Bar, Jacobs & Co, C5, North 44, Fid, The Wellington Gastropub, Scaramouche, and book-ended the year at Nota Bene in January and December. We also returned to old favourite Canoe, and I got to try Splendido one last time before it changed ownership.

I watched 80 movies (for the first time, that is; I re-watch movies all the time), bought 30 albums and got 15 DVDs. I also read 14 books (quite a change from previous years when the MBA all but killed my pleasure-reading): The Coming Of The Third Reich by Richard Evans, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Rock On: An Office Power Ballad by Dan Kennedy, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Almost Home by Damien Echols, Columbine by Dave Cullen, The Blind Side by Michael Lewis, The Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Deliver Me From Nowhere by Tennessee Jones, Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk, The Dark Valley: A Panorama Of The 1930s by Piers Brendon, A Short History Of WWII by James Stokesbury and A Writer At War by Vasily Grossman.

So while last December I felt pretty blah about the year gone by, I was happy with this year. Most of the significant change came at work, which I don’t talk about here, but trust me when I say it got a lot more interesting and significantly busier for both of us. Outside of that, though, there was a lot of good, very little bad and a whole lot of steady. Given that 2009 was anything but for a lot of people, I’ll take it.

On the first four days of Christmas…

Here’s what we’ve been up to in the four days since we left you:

On boxing day we enjoyed the main part of Nellie’s gift to me: gold seats at the Air Canada Centre for the Montreal Canadiens / Toronto Maple Leafs game. We were eleven rows from the ice, right at one of the blue lines, and had a great view of the ice. I was actually surprised by the number of Montreal fans in attendance…I’d say maybe 20% of the fans were cheering for the Habs. It was amazing for me to be that close to the ice — in my previous visits to Canadiens games (both in Montreal) I’d been in the nosebleeds — and to see and hear everything. It was also nice to see my team win for a change (the Habs won 3-2 in overtime) as the first two games I saw were losses. Nellie had fun too, eating a hot dog and drinking beer and making eyes at Carey Price. It was a blast, and an experience I was worried I’d never get to have in Toronto. Top-notch Christmas gift, baby!

.:.

December 27th was actually our anniversary. Typically we’d go out to dinner to celebrate, but it being Sunday everything was closed. We hung out with CBGB for a little bit and generally just took it easy.

.:.

Yesterday we thought we’d get out of the house and see what all this Avatar fuss is about, so we walked in the freezing-ass cold to the Scotiabank to buy tickets. Little did we know that tickets to the IMAX screenings had been sold out for days. Bah, forget it. We cut back across King Street and decided to stop in at the beerbistro so that the afternoon wasn’t a complete loss. I had a Tilburg’s Dutch Brown Ale and a Maudite, while Nellie had a Durham Hop Addict and an Urthel Hop-It, which I think is her new best friend. We went to movie plan B at home, watching Defiance (imdb | rotten tomatoes) on the PVR (it was okay…given the subject matter it probably should have been a little more engaging than it was). Then we got ready for dinner.

Much like North 44, Scaramouche is such a quintessentially Toronto restaurant we couldn’t hardly believe we hadn’t yet tried it. An anniversary seemed like an ideal time for such an adventure, and it was settled. First, the room: pleasant, if a little dull & dated, and while we were seated at the window to appreciate the famous view, the evening’s snow squalls made it difficult to see much. Second, the service: a little off, to be honest. Our server was efficient enough but not exactly friendly, and somewhere between dessert and the bill he just disappeared. We never saw him again, and after several minutes of waiting we finally got someone else’s attention and they tag-teamed our bill, etc. So that was weird. Third: the food, and this — most importantly — was the best part. I had warm duck salad, venison wrapped & roasted in smoked bacon and coconut cream pie for dessert. Nellie had butter poached lobster, a grilled kerr farms filet mignon and her dessert was three kinds of cheese. We had various glasses of wine before dinner and with our apps, but the real star of the evening was the 2006 Petite Sirah/Zinfandel/Mourvèdre ‘Phantom’ Bogle. Excellent without the food and downright superb with it, neither of us wanted to finish the bottle, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Nellie’s port and my Calvados with dessert were good, but I know we were both thinking about that wine. Oh, and the restaurant did make a nice final flourish with our dessert plates:

scaramouche dessert

.:.

Today was a bit more pedestrian: grand plans of shopping withered on the vine when we realized it was -20 with the wind chill, so we opted instead for leftovers, chocolate, napping and more movie-watching. Today the PVR served up the Warner Herzog documentary Encounters At The End Of The World (imdb | rotten tomatoes). Really, I could watch anything by that man and be happy, but from a strictly mechanical sense it did precisely what documentaries are supposed to do: answer some questions and raise still others.

Tonight the plan (well…my plan) is to watch Canada’s junior team play the Slovaks, and then tomorrow it’s back to work for a bit. In other words: wow, it’s been a relaxing vacation.

Hopefully it will be less successful than Operation Eat Chocolate Until Even My Puke Smells Sweet

My my, what a Christmas morning. The crazy wind outside woke us up at 4AM, and we never really got back to sleep. We chatted with my brother and his missus on Skype for a bit at the end of their Christmas day (they’re in Brisbane), then extracted the goodies from our stockings, then had a breakfast of delicious Cumbrae’s bacon, biscuits straight from the oven and prosecco mimosas. Then, to the business at hand — the unwrapping of gifts. Here’s my haul:

  • Five books: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind, The Disappeared by Kim Echlin, Empire Of Illusion by Chris Hedges, The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels, and a book about Cumberland County, NS (where I grew up)
  • Three Blu-ray discs: Die Hard (which we watched last night, actually), Inglourious Basterds and Children Of Men
  • This t-shirt
  • Chocolate. Oh, sweet merciful frangipane, the chocolate.
  • A jar of beets. Which, on any day other than Christmas — when I actually really want beets — would be a weird gift.
  • A proper, game-style Montreal Canadiens jersey, which I shall wear tomorrow night at…
  • The Montreal/Toronto game at the Air Canada Centre! Nellie somehow got us gold seats. I don’t know whose soul she had to sell to do it. I don’t even care. If y’all tune in to CBC Saturday night, I’ll be the guy getting his ass kicked by angry Leafs fans.
  • There was also an Amazon.ca coupon which I promptly used against a massive order to clear off my wishlist: Star Trek, Heat, Fight Club, Band of Brothers, Enterprise 2.0 by Andrew McAfee and The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
  • Of course we got lots of little things in our stockings, my favourite being the latest issue of GQ (which Nellie got for me after reading this tweet, because she is simply awesome)
  • We got some shared gifts like some cool art from my brother and his wife, some blown glass coasters (with a backstory) from my mom & dad, and four bottles of delicious Alchemy from Nellie’s mom
  • Best of all, though, were the donations my family made in lieu of gifts, which through some good timing, generosity and a little voodoo were matched 300% and given to the United Way of Greater Toronto.

Right now the turkey’s in the oven, the mess has been carted away, Nellie’s watching the Blu-ray copy of Serenity I gave her, the cats are coming down from their catnip high and we’re sliding into sweet relaxation mode. Tonight there’ll be revelry with friends. Tomorrow we’ll do battle with the deluded sports fans of Toronto. Following that I plan on launching Operation Watch Movies Until Mine Eyes Do Bleed.

Merry Christmas, kids!

"Jesus Christ, Powell, he could be a f*cking bartender for all we know!"

Chrtistmas feels different this year. Maybe it’s because there’s not been any snow in Toronto (until today, but apparently it’ll be gone by tomorrow afternoon), or maybe it’s because all I’ve been able to think about lately is work, or maybe it’s because I’ve not been on a flight to NS and then relaxing on the family farm.

But today after I got home from work, it started to feel a little more like Christmas. Different Christmas. We have our own little traditions, like watching Die Hard (for me) and Love Actually (for her), eating loads of delicious food from Cumbrae’s and About Cheese and Moroco and drinking the bottle of wine I got Nellie last year. It doesn’t replace all the other things that feel like Christmas…it just adds to them.

In that, I suppose I’m lucky. There are a lot of people who have bad memories of Christmas, or no memories of it at all. That surplus of good fortune, not to mention the fact that we’re both happy, healthy and gainfully employed, prompted and allowed me to try to do a little bit to help some of the people who aren’t so lucky. And I figure that should be a Christmas tradition too.

Whatever you might be celebrating, wherever you’re celebrating it, I hope it’s a happy one. And I hope the peanut butter balls there are as good as the one I’m eating right now. Cheers, everybody.

TED

I don’t normally just re-post video, but I found these two TED talks particularly enjoyable and thought I’d share.

Sean Gourley: the mathematics of war

Clay Shirky: How social media can make history

"I think that the closer you are to a flame and the more you see people getting burned, the funnier you get, if you’re at all human."

If you were a fan of The Wire — and if you weren’t, you should probably just stop talking to me now — Vice Magazine has a very long, very interesting interview with David Simon, the show’s creator. It takes a while to get through, but it’s excellent. Simon sees the hypocrisy and senses the frustration around him with great clarity, so you’ll get to read things like this:

“There’s not a lot else that can produce mass wealth with the dexterity that capitalism can. But to mistake it for a social framework is an incredible intellectual corruption and it’s one that the West has accepted as a given since 1980—since Reagan.”

And this:

“What do they think group insurance is, other than socialism? Just the idea of buying group insurance! If socialism is a taint that you cannot abide by, then, goddamn it, you shouldn’t be in any group insurance policy. You should just go out and pay the fucking doctors because when you get 100,000 people together as part of anything, from a union to the AARP, and you say, ‘Because we have this group actuarially, more of us are going to be healthier than not and therefore we’ll be able to carry forward the idea of group insurance and everybody will have an affordable plan…’ That’s fucking socialism. That’s nothing but socialism.”

Just be warned, though: if you haven’t watched the entire series yet, there are spoilers aplenty.

Best songs of 2009

Lo and behold, my twenty favourite songs of 2009, listed according to artist:

  • and you will know us by the trail of dead . “fields of coal”
  • the antlers . “two”
  • dan auerbach . “heartbroken, in disrepair”
  • neko case . “middle cyclone”
  • drummer . “mature fantasy”
  • florence and the machine . “dog days are over”
  • john frusciante . “unreachable”
  • great lake swimmers . “still”
  • the heartless bastards . “be so happy”
  • japandroids . “heart sweats”
  • lightning dust . “i knew”
  • now, now every children . “everyone you know”
  • the rural alberta advantage . “the dethbridge in lethbridge”
  • the thermals . “when i died”
  • ume . “the conductor”
  • the von bondies . “chancer”
  • william elliott whitmore . “old devils”
  • wye oak . “tattoo”
  • the xx . “crystalised”
  • the yeah yeah yeahs . “heads will roll”

The list is a bit of a cheat, as I tried not to have more than one song per artist, even though “Kettering” by Antlers, “Ascending” by …Trail Of Dead, “Diamonds To Shake” by Drummer and Wye Oak‘s “Mary Is Mary” are all on my ‘favourite songs of the year’ playlist.

Somebody's got to lose

All week Maclean’s has been issuing ‘best-of-decade’ lists, focusing only on Canadian content. Best Canadian TV shows, best Canadian movies, and so on. Today was the one I was really waiting for: the best Canadian music of the decade. In true Canadian spirit, it is both indie-focused and very safe.

  1. Arcade Fire Funeral (2004)
  2. Broken Social Scene You Forgot It In People (2002)
  3. Black Mountain Black Mountain (2005)
  4. New Pornographers Mass Romantic (2000)
  5. Wolf Parade Apologies To The Queen Mary (2005)
  6. Sarah Harmer You Were Here (2000)
  7. Tangiers Hot New Spirits (2003)
  8. Sam Roberts The Inhuman Condition (2002)
  9. The Constantines Shine A Light (2003)
  10. Feist The Reminder (2007)

I don’t see how anyone could argue with #1, and while #2 is probably a widely accepted choice, I am just unable to love BSS the way everyone else seems to. I’m pleased to see the likes of Black Mountain, The New Pornographers, Wolf Parade beat out Sarah Harmer, Sam Roberts and Feist. I do think The Constantines deserved to be higher (and, in truth, it should have been Tournament of Hearts) but all in all that’s a pretty respectable list.

The full article contains the Maclean’s writer collective’s opinions on each album, as well as this piece of begrudging awesomeness:

HONOURABLE MENTION: NickelbackSilver Side Up (2001)
Yes, it’s stupid arena rock, but they own that stuff. So make fun of them if you want, but they’re way more famous than Arcade Fire will ever be. And they accomplished it with a lead singer sporting a woman’s haircut and a goatee.

Fair point.

Gone quiet

You might have noticed that I’m hardly blogging these days. I’m also not reading most of my news feeds, and I don’t even turn on my Twitter client anymore most of the time.

Whyzat?

In short: work. I’m spending more hours than usual in the office these days (late evenings, and Sunday is now a regular work day) and when I’m there I’m either away from my desk or busy as ass. Even when I’m not in the office work dominates my thoughts.

You know what else? I love it. I love my work right now. It’s not without the occasional frustration, of course, but overall it just feels good.

So, things like blogging and my news junkieism are falling away. And, to be honest, I don’t really miss them that much. Also, with Nellie working equally long hours we’ve found ways to make the most of our few moments together, like dinners at North 44 or, uh, pouring IV fluids into our cat. So yeah, everything’s coming up Milhouse.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I am gonna enjoy the hell out of those three days off over Christmas.

"The dragon is hungry."

In an attempt to relax yesterday (after a bunch of Christmas shopping, and before I go back to work for the rest of today) we watched two movies: Doubt (imdb | rotten tomatoes), which I liked for the scenes of such exceptional acting talents as Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffmann squaring off (and not much else), and Frost/Nixon (imdb | rotten tomatoes) which had a little prodigious talent of its own in Frank Langella.

I don’t know if I liked Doubt‘s story so much as I loved the way in which the story was told. As for Frost/Nixon, while there was nothing exceptional about the telling, the story itself was obviously very interesting. The little details and behind-the-scenes stories of such monumental events usually are.