Monday, December 17, 2007

Nerd Alert

Hilarious! Who doesn't like a good Kant joke? Laughter is great for digestion!


Hat tip: The Onion AV Club's Videocracy

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Things are starting to shape up

So after a long 'home-hiatus' (Aug-Nov 2007), Karla and I appear to have a livable apartment.

Miracle of miracles!

All the arranging has been a bit much, especially with me gone for the first few weeks of November. I was on a contract in New Brunswick that had me there at least five days a week, leaving Karla to deal with 'box armageddon' here at 60 Cartier Street. She's such a trooper.

Anyway, there have now been multiple Ikea trips, Bay trips and trips around Ottawa to gather up our final bits and pieces. Thanks especially to Faye and Doug for the use of their SUV. And to all our friends who pitched in to make our move happen. What a huge help!

You're all truly the best.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Karla Helgason, International Woman of Mystery

Let me tell you one of my favourite parts of the honeymoon. It's days like this I live for.

Near the end of our trip, David and I are waiting for the afternoon train out of Florence. Seeing we have a little over an hour before it arrives, I decide to go on an adventure. (Dave is hung over, and happy to be left in the shade, with some water and the bags.)

Specifically, there was one place I was determined to find before leaving Florence -- La Officina Profumo di Santa Nouvella. This perfume maker has been in business since 1612, which was around the same time Samuel de Champlain declared Quebec city -- at the time an obscure little town on a hill -- to be the capital of New France. Meaning, this is a business that predates Canada. By a long way. How very, very cool.

So I set off in search of this establishment with my Lonely Planet map as reference. Some misadventures follow, including one moment of heartbreak where the address it was listed under was a restaurant… until I discovered that Florence is famous for its duplicate street numbering.

Eventually I find the place, and it's a gorgeous, opulent vision of an antique perfumerie. It was three rooms large, each one as ornate as any in the Vatican museum. The first room was the perfumerie, so I made a beeline for the counter. Behind it was a willow-thin picture of middle-aged Italian elegance, wearing a crisp white blouse and a crisp white smile.

I was determined to buy something. Luckily, finding a fabulous fragrance was not difficult -- I tried magnolia, orange blossom, jasmine, and frangipani, and settled on the latter, a fondly-remembered Tahitian flower. The lady and I chatted about the history of that place; when I mentioned that it was older than my country, she smiled in a pleasant but somewhat condescending way.

As I was paying for my purchase, I noticed two young Asian girls trying to get the ladies' attention. "Skin lotion...?" The lady turned to them and asked, "For men or for women?" The girls paused, looked at each other, and tentatively said "….sorry? Again?" The lady repeated her question, leaving the girls looking as if they hadn't any more clue what she meant. Politely exasperated, the lady briskly told them she'd be with them in a minute, and returned to continue my transaction.

The poor girls. They had that look of helplessness and embarrassment I know so well from the language barriers I've encountered myself. It's not a fun feeling at all.

Then, as I look at them, I notice their pale skin, fine bone structure, and wacky-funky clothes. Hmm… Japanese? If so, I might be able to help. However, if they're Chinese, or Korean, this might be a bit embarrassing.

Here goes nothing.

I turn to them and say, "Annoo… Shitsuree shimashita -- Lotion, hai? Lotion shojo, Lotion shonen?" (A very poor Japanese translation of "Uhh, excuse me -- Lotion, yes? Lotion girl, lotion boy?")

Including the ladies', all three sets of eyes go wide for a second. There's a pause, where my squeaming stomach questions whether I should have gotten involved.

Then the girls' faces break into huge smiles of releif, and they cry out, "Shojo! Lotion shojo, kudasai!" ("Girl! Lotion girl, please!"… not proper Japanese, but if she phrased it correctly, I probably wouldn't have understood her answer). I then turn to the lady, whose mouth remains in an "O" of surprise, and relay that they're wanting lotion for women. At that exact moment, my interac receipt pops up, I take it, and I swagger out. The lady recovers and thanks me for my help, as do the Japanese girls who cheerily chime, "Domo arigato gozaimashita! Senkyuu!"

At the exit, I turn around with a wave and a big smile, and say, "No problem -- ie, mondaiyonai!" And then I'm gone, and I feel like a superhero. Or a super-spy. Or generally the kind of person who's so cool, they can only exist in the movies.

What a good day.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Catching Up

Given my severe blogging delinquency as of late, some of you may be wondering whether I'll keep it up now that we've returned to Canada. The answer is yes, the blog will continue. However, until Dave and I manage to attain some semblance of a stable life, the posts will probably be few and far between.

So, for an update, life is going well. I was warmly welcomed back to StatCan, and have my choice of many delectable projects to return to. As of next week, I should be officially starting in a new position... how exciting! Dave is also very happy, as has found employment through a good friend and former boss. His contract is not a long one, but it is nonetheless challenging, and will present the opportunity to travel to New Brunswick for a few weeks.

And that's fine by me -- it'll give me some much-needed alone time with my Playstation 2. ;-) I've missed you so, my love...

We have also found a fantastic flat, courtesy of Mikes' friend Matt, who is on an adventure to Cambodia. Given that we had a heads-up for his apartment becoming available, we were able to snag it before the market swarmed it. The place is spacious, inexpensive, and superbly-located... and we get to move in in a couple of days! I can hardly wait.

In the meantime, I've uploaded the pictures I've taken over the last few months, starting with the end of our time in NZ. Do check them out! More will come in a few days.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Catching up

What a month indeed. Karla and I are now returning to Earth in Ottawa after one of the most incredible runs of good times ever.

The basic itinerary: Vancouver, Milan, Tuscany, Venice, Rome, Florence, Bologna, Milan, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Ottawa. What follows is at best a poor summary.

The Wedding. Amazing amazing amazing.

Karla was amazing. Family and friends were amazing. The food, the wine, everything was just as we hoped. We danced, we drank, we speechified. It was terrific. If you haven't seen them, have a look at the wedding photos: As you'll see, Karla was a vision on the big day. I am a bloodly lucky guy

After some more visiting and some R&R around Vancouver, we headed for Milan. It was a beautiful place where we only spent a short time. I loved the Galleria and the Duomo, and seeing La Scala, the massively famous Opera house. Karla, having been there before, was a great tour guide. After a day though, we hired a car and shot south, towards Tuscany.

After the intensity of the wedding, the villa in Tuscany was just what the doctor ordered. We loved the area, located 120kms or so northwest of Rome. Sandra, the woman looking after us there was wonderful. She cooked delicious homecooked meals, and we stuttered through English-French-Italian conversations. Craziest thing on the menu: barbecued wild boar caught on the property. It also gave us a great chance to just lie around and read books for a solid 5 days, with a sprinkling of visits to the ancient cities and volcanic hotsprings in the area. I sawed through at least two novels while we were there. Bliss, my friends, bliss.

Venice was legendary--we were there to meet our great friends Jay and Tamara, who were getting married at the City Hall the following day. It felt like we were living in a Conde Nast magazine for a day, what with the special clothes, the special ceremony, the special location and the very special meal that we had afterwards. The wedding was fantastic. Jay and Tamara were so happy. Even the marriage commissoner and translator were crying with joy! And people cheered in the Canals as we floated by on our gondola. Some day I'll tell you all about the bottle of wine we ordered at dinner. It was among the most magnificent things I've ever tasted, short of Karla and my mother's cooking.

Rome was next and it was awesome. I'd love to go back. It was my first time and Karla's third. This time we steeped ourselves in touristy Rome, with the Colloseum, the Forum, the Vatican, Spanish Steps and Fountain of Trevi etc. It was magnificent--especially the Sistine Chapel and Rafael Rooms at the Vatican, but I know there's a lot more to experience there. I can't wait to find out more on another trip.

Florence was great. We braved the long line to see the David, which was a life-shaking experience. I've never seen such a perfect artwork ever. And to think the stone he was carved from had been rejected by at least two other sculptors, who said they could do nothing with it. See the statue and know the meaning of genius, my friends. It is humbling to say the least.

We also caught up with friend of a friend and co-democracy enthusiast Tiago Peixoto, where we proceeded to get really drunk, have tons of fun, and finish our night of dancing at 5am with a fresh croissant from a bakery that was just waking up. Nerds that we are, we even worked on a paper together at 2am. God help us. But it sure was fun seeing Karla in full statistician mode. I'd never seen that before. Who knew stats could be so sexy?

Bologna was the perfect place to end our trip. Such a lifestyle there! We had a look at the Modern Art Museum of Bologna (know as MAMBO), we bought parma prociutto and big blocks of parmagiano for gifts, toured the markets and wandered under the porticos. And of course there was the main event, dinner, graciously bought as a wedding gift by friends from New Zealand who are both from Italy.

Karla and I were awestruck by meal. We were amazed by the antipasti. Delighted by the ragu and mushroom main. And then floored by the dessert. Especially floored, I've got to say. It was so delicious! And there was so much of it! Karla was in heaven. Bowls of custard and ice cream, whole pies and cakes of every variety, jugs of chocolate, all were just left on your table for you to sample from. It was like the best buffet ever, but right at your seat. We had to roll ourselves out of there, stuffed and delighted.

So that's the wrap of the trip. We're now back in Ottawa after a week in Winnipeg for a big party that Karla's mum and dad threw us, and the marriage of one of Karla's friends. But more on that in another post.

Friday, September 28, 2007

What a Month!

The past month can only be summarized with the following description: Wow.

The wedding went phenomenally. All its peripheral events (stag & stagette, rehearsal, post-BBQ, honeymoon) went equally well. A tremendous thank you to everyone who was there, or who wished us well... you all made David and I realize how blessed we are. Thank you so much for all your love and support.

For a quick recap, here are some lessons derived from the aforementioned events' highlights:

  • Pre-stag coed BBQs are brilliant.
  • Nipple pasties (worn over the clothes) are the best stagette craft ever.
  • Tequila shots are never a good idea.
  • Rehearsals for weddings seem much more complicated than the weddings themselves.
  • Spray tans look nuclear-orange at first, giving you approximately 8 hours of passing for a mutant.
  • Having the rehearsal dinner the day after the stag/stagette means a surprisingly manageable bar bill.
  • Deciding to do wedding programs the day before the wedding is not a good idea.
  • Weddings are a blur, so videotaping is wonderful.
  • Little else lightens a staid Catholic service quite as much as having the priest vocally bemoan celibacy.
  • Little else loosens up a reception like having the best man address the grooms' being frequently mistaken for gay.
  • Full dance floors are awesome!

My memory gets better upon emerging from the wedding haze, and moving on to the honeymoon. A later post will go into more details about that lovely three weeks in Italy... but that will have to wait for now. :-)

Photos of these events will be compiled once I have a chance to rally them, likely via Flickr. In the meantime, have a look over a sampling of the professional shots.

So, the next step amid all this adventure will be resettling back in Ottawa. After having no home address for months on end, I am gleefully anticipating the decadence of regular life. I can barely wait to come home from a regular day at work, sit on my own couch, watch my own TV, in our own apartment. It will be grand.

But in the meantime, I am relishing the remainder of this amazing time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Update, Continued

August 7, left Wellington. It was very tough... Wellington had been a good home to us for almost two years. Got on the plane, and gave Welly a tearful post-takeoff toast with bubbly. Spent the evening in Auckland, relaxing and reflecting in our favourite Indian restaurant.

August 8, drove from Auckland to Paihia. Decided to seek out a place with a bath, so splurged on the Honeymoon suite at a hotel called "Swiss Chalet". Karla got a bath!!!! ^_^

August 9, Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Explored site of New Zealands' formative English/Maori treaty. Grounds hummed with history. Took a tour, ate a fantastic lunch, and watched local birdlife frolic about. A marvellous afternoon!

August 10, took a morning cruise, saw the famous "Hole in the Rock". Then we drove to Ahipara.

August 11, last day in New Zealand. Took a trip to the famous landmarks of 90-mile-beach, the giant sand dunes, and Cape Reinga where the seas meet. We took toboggans down the sand dunes for an unforgettable adrenaline rush... and I'm still pulling sand outta my ear a whole week later. ;-)

August 12, longest day ever. Drive back to Auckland, catch the evening plane to San Francisco. 12 hours later, arrive in SanFran in the morning... of August 12. Fly to Vancouver (2 hours), are greeted by Ben and Chris. Spend my layover chatting with them over beers at the airport. Then, it's the final flight to Winnipeg, arrive 2.5 hours later, at 11:30 PM... still on August 12. (A sane person might have been tired. However, I was so refreshed by the familiar dry, hot prairie air, the four-lane-wide streets, and the faces of my family that I stayed up talking with them until about 4:30 AM.) ;-)

Since then, I've been hanging out with my parents in Winnipeg, getting last-minute wedding details together, and catching up with friends. Getting over jet lag has been a slow process, not entirely helped by the fact that late-night television is so damned entertaining. ;-)

Heading back to Vancouver on Wednesday eve... wish me luck in getting everything done in time! ^_^ W-day awaits...

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Well, I can officially say the last two weeks have been madness. Fun, but madness. So, here be an update, in the shortest possible form:

August 3, goodbye tea for me at work: Very sweet gathering of co-workers to say goodbye. Funny speech from the boss, whereas what my speech lacked in eloquence, it made up for in sincerity. I got a lovely card and some neat gifts... including some lovely paua jewelry. Good times!

August 4, last day of work: Started the drinking early with a local wine, but didn't get out of there as early as hoped. (Who knew sorting emails took that long?!) Partied well into the eve with colleagues.

August 5, Dave's last rugby game, and celebrations to follow. Needless to say, the man was not in good shape after this day... and it had little to do with actual rugby. ^_^

August 6, no-more-stuff day. We got rid of all our stuff this day. No bed. Luckily there was a great hostel nearby we stayed at, and used this as our base to clean up the house. Cleaned til 7am.

More to come, they're paging our flight! See you all soon!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Oh My God.

I'm sitting at work, at my normal work computer, looking out at normal NZ-August weather, reading normal emails and sorting my normal desk, having a normal day in my normal NZ life, when the thought dawns on me...

A month today, we're getting married.

(Uhm, what happened to that nearly-two-year-engagement that was supposed to elapse beforehand??)


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 12

Grab-A-Seat deals.

These are daily specials on the website of New Zealands' major airline, and they give you opportunities to travel in a fun, spontaneous, and incredibly affordable way. How affordable? Try between $29 and $59 one way, most or all taxes in.

How this works is like this: every day, early in the morning, Air New Zealand makes a fixed number of seats available for specific routes, in specific date ranges. Once these seats sell out, your outta luck -- so needless to say, it's been a part of my morning work routine to check the daily deals.

Usually it's domestic flights on sale, but every once in a blue moon, there's a fantastic international special. One time, Wellington to Tokyo was on sale for $450 per person... taxes in, and including return. What a deal!!!

Because of these deals, we've seen a HUGE amount of New Zealand, which has been wonderful. It was even this deal that allowed me to take Dave to French Polynesia as his Christmas present. Thank you, Grab-a-Seat!

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Seamier Side of Weddings

In November of 2005, the wonderful then-boyfriend Dave proposed to me. We were in Manhattan, New York, bringing an entirely perfect day to a close over martinis at 3AM. In the dim light of The Spice Market, he reached into his inside pocket and produced the little velveteen box that made my heart leap. He asked me to marry him, I sobbed "yes". It was magical.

Since then, I've been heavily involved in the much-less-magical task of wedding planning.

  • Phase one is where everyone bombards you with questions -- what's thedatewheresthewedding howmanyguestsdoyouhave adressletsseethering!... AUGH. That was November - December of 2005.

  • Phase two is when you start deciding things, largely to get people off your back. That would be January 2006.

  • Phase three is when you reel back in horror at how insanely expensive everything becomes the moment vendors smell a wedding. That lasted from January - May 2006.

  • Phase four is when you just learn to accept it, making meagre savings where you can. (I love you, Ebay...) This period was from June to about October 2006.

  • Phase five is when you rise above all that, and decide to just make it happen as best as can be done, with as minimal stress as possible. November 2006 until about now.

The moral of this story? That this process has lasted a long damned time. It's been educational, it's been a crash course in project management, and at times it's even been fun. (At the risk of inciting stereotypes, I reluctantly admit that dress-shopping with my parents has been the most fun part thus far.)

So, for your amusement, let me share with you the nuttiest parts of the wedding planning process.

Bridal sub-culture can be absolutely bizzarre. This is not news, given the fairly recent introduction of the term "Bridezilla", but what may be news is how insidious and prevalent this subculture actually is.

For instance, did you know that wedding-related issues can irreparably damage relationships between otherwise-sane people? On the bridal bulletin boards I frequent -- for advice and tips, honest! -- there's no end of women crying like children about how someone had the NERVE to wear some outfit (black, white, cleavage-y, whatever) to their wedding. "Don't they KNOW it's MY DAY?!?!" Or others who stopped being friends with their maid of honour due to the latter not perfectly performing imposed duties. Or others causing permanent rifts with moms or mother-in-laws for having different expectations for involvement. Or guests never forgiving some honest oversight in the guest list. This stuff really happens! Insane, eh?

So, when planning a wedding one must carefully navigate this emotional minefield. Having to keep this in the back of one's mind all the time is taxing, to say the least*. It's nuts.

Another crazy thing is the conspicuous absence of grooms in any bridal/wedding imagery. The only time a bride and groom are pictured together is in tux ads. Otherwise, it's bride-bride-bride. Magazines solely show brides on the cover; even Bride & Groom magazine features a title where BRIDE is written in 10cm-high-font, and the afterthought "& Groom" is hidden away in 2cm font. YES, I understand the marketing is geared towards women, but here's two compelling reasons why men should be included:

  1. If you are a bride, there's probably a groom. Marriage is the act of uniting two people. Without two, there is no marriage. Marriage is all about two... so when did this become THE BRIDE-ONLY SHOW?**

  2. When appealing to a single-gender audience, involvement of gorgeous members of the opposite sex is a good thing. Gillette and Budwieser understand this principle... why don't bridal vendors get it? Let's get some beefcake in those ads!
And, saving the best for last, the craziest part of the wedding experience are the models in the advertisements. Considering that weddings are still marketed to women as being the best/happiest/most important day of your life, one would think the visuals would correspond. They do not. Instead, the visuals present sullen, underfed girls moping in their veils, glowering in their lavish dresses, and generally giving off the impression of being utterly miserable.

Because, of course, that's exactly the kind of attitude that makes me wanna buy something! [snort] Yeah, right. Seriously, who makes up this stuff? These examples I found through a simple Google Image search... enjoy their silliness!

I can just see it now, if I turned up in that last getup... "Hey, Karla, I don't wanna alarm you, but a bird died on your head." LOL

*Luckily, due to the awesomeness of my family, friends, guests, etc, none of this unnecessary drama has happened... thank you! ^_^

**Note, I could also point out a related, but somewhat vulgar two-vs.-one parallel; the bride-only fixation on the singular is "causing it to go blind" (to the meaning of marriage). ;-)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Things I'll Miss about New Zealand, Part 11

The marked price is what you pay. For basically everything. Tax is included in the marked price, and tipping is unheard of.

Think about it. Envision seeing a sticker marked $15 on an item you want to buy. You remove one ten dollar bill (blue), and one five dollar bill (orange) from your wallet. You give these bills to a clerk at a till, he says "Cheers... bye!" and then you walk away with the item.

How anything could operate any differently defies sense, and seems quite dishonest. And yet, it is what I return to.

The Canadian method works as follows: Take the sticker price, add 14% for taxes, and then add another 10 to 20% for a tip if you're in a restaurant. (I don't actually mind the tipping -- all the best restaurant service I've ever had is in Canada, and the tipping-incentive probably has a lot to do with that. )

The end result: all of a sudden, that cheap fisch-and-chips-meal, or pair of pants, or mobile phone, they all become a lot less cheap.

It's not that I mind paying more. I mind being deliberately kept under an illusion of the cost being one thing, when it is actually another amount entirely. I had taken this monetary mind game so much for granted, it had only faintly dawned on me that things could work any differently. (Kind of like doomsayers who oppose discontinuing the penny... after now having lived without pennies OR nickels, I can confidently testify that the world does NOT descend into chaos without them. Rather, your wallet is slimmer, lighter, and more attractive.)

After having lived in this tipless, tax-included utopia devoid of unnecessary and largely worthless pocket weight, I now know it can work. Why on earth isn't Canada this sensible? There is a better way, and I am saddened seeing my beloved country be so archaic in this (or any) aspect.

I'm also not looking forward to the inevitable NZ-reflex at a Canadian retail counter. I can just see it now... upon presenting my lone twoonie for a $2 item, the clerk will tell me, "No, two dollars = $2.28". Gah. :-P

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter Update; Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Parts 8, 9, & 10

I officially have a copy of the final Harry Potter book, obtained precisely six minutes after it went on sale.

...Which reminds me of the Thing I'll Miss #8: I will miss being in the world's first metropolitan timezone. NZ lives in the future... literally! Since any given date (or time) happens here first, it gives me extra time to remember people's birthdays, something I'm normally terrible at. AND it means that NZ is able to sell its Harry Potter books before any other country, thus giving its residents the opportunity to own the book almost a day before the rest of the world. That's pretty neat.

I was almost late for the opening of the bookstore that I intended to watch, as I was intercepted by the world's friendliest cat (Thing I'll Miss #9). He's a sweetheart, and I can never pass him on the (186) steps without petting him. I've never known a cat to come running to you, meowing to tell you how happy he is to see you... but that's exactly what this one does. Especially if I've ever had a hard day, which he seems to already know. I am powerless to resist such a cute fuzzball.

On the walk to the bookstore, I try and make up for lost time by moving quickly. That isn't too hard, as Willis st (downtown) is a veritable ghost town on Saturday morning. Surely the bookstore would be equally deserted...?

I arrive, 5 minutes before it opens, to find barely a dozen people waiting outside the store. As per the original plan, I grab a coffee across the street, then sit down to people-watch. Seeing the people in line, and the staff opening the bookstore doors, I am reminded of the tenth thing I'll miss...

Thing I'll Miss About New Zealand #10: Wellingtonians will take ANY excuse to dress up in zany costumes!

About half of the people there, and of those turning up, are dressed up as wizards, fairies, Hogwarts students, princesses, you name it. The staff are in magical cowls, capes and caps, some more elaborate than others.

After a browse, and hearing the news that the book could not be legally sold before 11:01 AM (just under two hours to go), I plunked myself in line. Having brought reading material of my own (100 Bullets, volume 8), and having most of my coffee left, I was well-placed for a wait.

People filed in slowly at first, and by 10:00 the place was very busy. The line was now all the way around the store, and various radio stations showed up to do interviews and offer prizes. New Zealand candy companies -- including Whittaker's, the local chocolate-makers -- sent representatives with brimming baskets to keep the everyone fed. There was even a hired magician doing fun tricks and making balloon animals. Later, an impromptu costume competition took place. It was a great time.

I noticed a familiar accent from the girl in front of me, who turned out to be American. She was thrilled to be getting her copy so far ahead of her friends in the US, and we laughed gratefully at the short line (compared to any we'd face at a North American bookstore). Behind me was a groovy grandma with her adorable 15-year-old grandson, each waiting for a copy of their own. They strategized with each other the pace they'd read at, so they could call each other up at intervals to talk about what was happening. Seriously, how cute is that?

Between chatting with the others in line, and reading my comics, the wait went by quite quickly. (The fact that I was only fifteenth in line didn't hurt, either...) At 11:02, the line was moving, and I had my own copy of the book (in a special bag, even!) at 11:07. I was almost sorry to leave the festivities behind, but who am I kidding -- I wanted to go home and read!

So that's what I'm off to do now. (New Harry Potter book + hot cuppa tea + Poang chair = BLISS!)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 7

When you only have 4 million people in the whole country to compete with, you can get tickets to virtually anything. And for non-exorbitant prices, too!

Our U2 tickets, which certainly would have cost a mint in Ottawa, we obtained via (NZ's Ebay) for a price only marginally off the actual, printed ticket price. We walked into the Rolling Stones the night of, and were "scalped" for a whopping $20 more than the ticket price. I attribute this savings to the limited number of people my dollar competes with, and I am wholly grateful for it.

But do the benefits of a smaller country end at tickets? Nay, say I! During an aforementioned Nerd Convention, I got to meet several of my favourite science fiction stars, and even had time to chat awhile... there was no need to hurry, as the line was minimal. Even better, there was NO LINE AT ALL for meeting the incredible Mr. Brian K. Vaughn (author of Y: The Last Man, writer for later episodes of Lost, and partner of the godlike Joss Whedon in the highly-anticipated Buffy Season 8 comics). Brian was especially cool, and Dave and I talked with him a good while about life, what kinds of things each of us were up to, where we were from, Brian's Canadian wife, etc.

Anyhow, my point here is, would Dave and I ever have had a chance to have a substantial discussion with someone this high-profile at a public event in Canada? Heavens no! Instead, it would have resembled more, "Uh, hi! You're Brian K. Vaughn, right? I love 'Y', it's so, like, smart! Will you sign my book?" {hiss to person behind me, "Quit shoving, fartknocker!"} "Thanks! Uhm, bye!" {get pushed aside by fartknocker, try not to get trampled as I make my exit.}

The lower demand-pool also manifests itself for consumer goods. Besides event tickets, I mean. Wanna see a movie on opening night? No problem. (Note, you may in fact be stuck next to vile minions of Satan who yap, fart, and seat-kick through the whole thing... so maybe waiting for an emptier theatre is still better.)

But all this theory will be put to the test this week, when I camp out in a nearby coffeeshop and observe a specific social phenomena... the release of the final Harry Potter book.

The Experiment: Hypothesis Phase

In Canada, I envision people lining up, dozens or even hundreds deep, to get this book. I see a bright, sunny day where the lines spill out of the stores. Parents are getting it to occupy their kids at the sordid halfway point of a stressful school-free summer. Teens are waiting in line themselves, perhaps in groups, happy to have somewhere to be that's not school, or someones' basement. The remaining adults will stand in line, alone, and when asked they will stammer something about the book being for some (potentially make-believe) relative. The latter are possibly the group most often caught peeking in the book whilst in line.

But I'm not in Canada, and I'm sorry to miss the event. Instead, I seek to gain some insight about how Wellington will receive the book. The possibilities go two ways:

1) Much as described for Canada, but with blue-lipped line-members standing out in the cold and the rain.

2) Same as it ever was... if the bookstore is at all busier than usual, the degree would be invisible to the naked eye. If this happened, it was likely caused by the following:
  • Kids aren't on school break, and will not have one for another 9 weeks. Therefore, this decreases the need (and thus demand) for giving them something to do.
  • The store I will visit will be a downtown Wellington store. Families tend not to live in downtown Wellington; they would likely visit a larger, suburban store nearer to them.
  • People who live in downtown Wellington likely walk by these bookstores on the way to work every single day. Why wait now, or even make a special trip, when you can pick it up with considerably less difficulty in a few days?
  • Downtown Wellington has a mere 200,000 people living in it, the majority presumably being young professionals. Only a fraction of these will have any desire to ever read the books, and even fewer will be seeking the book that day.
Thus, I have a theory that New Zealand's sparse population (and the benefits thereof), paired with the demographics of downtown Wellington, will reduce the Harry Potter phenom to zilch.

My plan of action is to sit at my local coffeeshop and watch the bookstore. If I am wrong, I will mock the poor sods standing out in the rain.

If I am right, I will stare longingly at the non-crowded storefront and try (and probably fail) to resist the temptation to just go and buy the damned thing.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Bet

Last December, Dave and I were visited by our parents. The way the timing ended up, the two sets of parents had a single overlapping weekend -- so naturally, Dave and I decided to make an event of it. We rented a beautiful country cottage in the Wairarapa, the nearby wine district, and all had a lovely time together.

As can be expected of a Helgason / Hume visit to a wine country, vast quantities of wine were bought and consumed. And it was over several bottles that the two fathers, both bemoaning their noticeable departure from their formerly rail-thin selves, made a wager. That being, should each of them fail to lose 25 lbs by the wedding (Sept 1), they would donate $1,000.00 CAD to their most despised political figure.

Ben has since deportlified to the tune of 50 lbs -- a "WOW"-worthy achievement if there ever was one! Short of going on a strict booze-and-butter diet henceforth, it's a fairly safe bet that Mr. Jack Layton will not be getting that $1000 from Mr. Hume. Way to go Ben!

My dear dad, Wayne, has also had great success with his loss of 20 lbs. However, this means that there's still 5 lbs to go, and not much time left to lose them in. I have absolute belief in my father, but I figure he could do with some extra motivation in the home stretch.

So, I decided to help in the best way I know how -- with Photoshop! Here is a motivational message, lovingly created for my dad:
C'mon dad! Don't let that spooky-eyed right-winger have your hard-earned money! You can take off those last few pounds... I believe in you!

And this is an invite to any readers who don't often comment -- leave a comment to show Wayne some support! We're all cheering for ya, dad!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 6

At work, I'll miss having meetings interrupted by an earthquake.

It's a regular occurrence here, not to mention a fantastic way to wake up during the drowsier parts of a boring afternoon meeting!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 5

I'll really miss brunch at the Chocolate Fish Cafe!

I know I've waxed poetic about it before, but it is wholly worthy of re-mentioning. The food is great, the service is friendly, the visiting birds are cute, the history is cool, and the view is absolutely amazing.

And lucky for Dave and I, our last ChocFish brunch was augmented with some excellent company -- one Mr. Tomas Ernst, a good friend visiting for the weekend. Luckier still was the cooperative weather Wellington decided to grant us, so we showed our guest the sights. We saw Dave play (and win!) a rugby game, we saw the heart-stopping All Blacks vs. Springboks game, and did a fair amount of partying and dancing.

Tomas was even so generous as to take us to dinner, and he even let us crash in his spacious -- and heated!!!! -- Intercontinental room. Best of all, Karla even got a chance to have a much longed-for bath whilst the boys pontificated nonsense in a nearby pub.

For more pictures of the visit, see our Flickr site. Keep an eye out for a particularly amusing photo of Tomas's being unamused at our flat's lack of heat.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Happy Canada Day!

Allow me to commemorate Canada's birthday with a funny advertisement I saw a month back. It was in Courtenay Place, Wellington's downtown area, in the front window of a travel agency.

No, your eyes do not deceive you... THEY'RE ADVERTISING THE CANADIAN WINTER! They must be mad!

Come and see the Canadian winter, it says. Bah, say I -- what malicious creatures would lure poor, unsuspecting kiwis into such a thing? Clearly, some evil plot is afoot.

(...or, maybe our skiing really IS sufficiently awesome to justify enduring our winters.) ;-)

So, "happy birthday" to a country SO great, people even wanna visit it when temperatures drop below -30C!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ode to Bessie

Thank you, Bessie, for keeping Dave and I fed for lo these many months.

As some of you readers may recall, Dave entered a raffle long ago to support a friend raising money to support her choir. The top prize was a quarter of beef. "But who wins the top prize", we guffawed... only to have the answer be clear. WE won the top prize, and needed to find something to do with a quarter of a cow.

My unbelievable Tetris-skills came into play as I carefully arranged the best cuts into our tiny, tiny freezer. For a long time, our freezer was full of all the ribeye cuts, New Yorks, sirloins, roasts, ground beef and sausages that we could ever want, and we still had plenty to give away to friends and a soup kitchen.

The beef was wonderful, flavourful, and succulent, clearly speaking that our Bessie had had a happy life. How wonderful. Moreover, to think that we had so many cuts of meat, all of which originated from the same cow, was entirely strange from a North American perspective. Ground beef, for example, tends to contain hundreds of different cows. Our ground beef was all Bessie. Something feels very right about that.

We finished the last of Bessie last week, in a delicious Italian pasta sauce. Above is a picture of her being thawed beforehand. I miss her already.

Thank you, Bessie.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 4

The Wellington Public Library.

Or, to be more specific, the extensive selection of comic books at the Wellington Public Library. Borrow as many as you want for a whole month, free. Life doesn't get much better than that.

For those of you who are not comics aficionados, comic books in their compiled forms -- otherwise known as 'trade paperbacks' -- are quite expensive. Particularly here in New Zealand, where all comics (including NZ's own comics) need to be shipped in from overseas. A single trade paper normally consists of 5 to 8 comic books bound together, and will likely cost upwards of $40. (In Canada, the same would cost about $27.)

Some comic series are more worthy of this price tag than others. Without so much as a moments' hesitation, I plunk down big money for the two series I follow: Strangers In Paradise, and Y: The Last Man. Given the amount of enjoyment I get from these titles, the money is largely irrelevant.

However, as with any form of entertainment, we must continue to try new things. (Especially since both Strangers and Y will be terminating this year.... sigh....) So, I periodically buy a trade paper of some title I hear about. Usually, it's reasonably entertaining, but not worth shelling out big bucks to continue the series. So, I stop following that title, and resume my lamentation for Strangers and Y.

The result: No new series for Karla, only dying ones. Karla saaaaad.

Enter the Welly Library, and their incredible selection of comics. Now, I am revelling in renting the following titles, many of which I'd been wanting to try for quite a while. (And did I mention it was all free?!) ;-)

Fables: Winner of many comic awards for its smart writing, intriguing premise, great characters. Refuse to pay for it due to it being increasingly misogynistic, and disturbingly clever political propaganda. And that it consistently illustrates a prominent character -- a love interest, even! -- without eyes or a mouth. Ew.

Preacher: Also won a few awards, one of the first adults-only comics. Neat premise, great plot, though fairly offensive in all ways. Refuse to pay for it due to flat character development, confusing treatment of homophobia, and the relentless use of sordid sex acts as gags.

Oh My Goddess: Fun Japanese comic, quite funny, but mostly just forgettable fluff. Not really worth $20, but a good laugh all the same.

Tank Girl: Fantastic title that I fully intend to buy... but impossible to find in the northern hemisphere!

The Luna Brothers' Girls: Dumb and sexist, but the art is good, and it tickles my conspiracy-bone just enough to actually make me curious about reading it to the end.

100 Bullets: This one has an even better conspiracy afoot. Interesting moral dilemmas, unique art style, fascinating characters. Too bad all the otherwise-fairly-empowered female characters are early-twenties barbie dolls falling out of scanty clothing. Oh, and they're all criminals, strippers, or prostitutes. Greeeat.

The Maxx: Mindblowing art and amazing plot, but then the only villain dies by the end of the second volume. The series then goes on a longwinded Jungian journey for another four volumes, with or without many of the main characters you've grown attached to.

Love and Rockets: One of the first big titles of independent comics, and I finally got around to reading it. A slow, sensitive and brilliant view of life, love, and the beautiful mundanity of the everyday. I will definitely be buying this one when I return to Canada.

Hooray, free comics. End result = HAPPY KARLA! :-D

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 3

Fantails, the birds that make up for their itsy-bitsy size with a whole lotta cheek.

So, what makes these birds so special? I mean, they're just a bird, right? Well, let me tell you a bit about them, and you might see why fantails are cool.

These birds are not hard to find, as they can live in any reasonably extensive greenery -- large urban parks, for example. When you encounter a fantail, you will probably first hear its call. It is not a bird call as we know it, more of a repetition of an angry "beep!". This alone is funny, since it sounds a lot like a squeek-toy.

Soon after, the bird will likely appear within view, as these birds seem to profoundly enjoy human attention. The bird itself is smaller than a sparrow, but has a long, lovely tail that spreads into (you guessed it!) a fan. About six feet away from you, it will then begin flying around in a showy manner -- specifically, a figure-eight pattern -- whilst flaring its tail and continuing to beep. It can continue doing this for hours. Occasionally, to keep things interesting, it will charge you, then dart away just in time.

The Maori call this bird the Piwakawaka, which means 'messenger'. Given how this bird seems to seek people out, get their attention with its acrobatic flights, and beep at them urgently, this seems a fitting name.

So, I will miss these cheeky birds -- they're so cute, and so much fun to watch.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, Part 2

I will definitely miss the view from my desk.

As of right now, I only need look up from my monitor to see Wellington Bay. It's lovely. Green hills rising from blue water, with a random smattering of white boats and houses throughout. To the north, the gargantuan South Island ferry goes by many times a day. To the south, a multicoloured container port has cranes and forklifts busily shifting crates around into an unseen order. On special holidays, a live cannon on the bay is fired many times, which is fun to watch from my desk.

The view is also very handy -- looking out over the water, one can always tell what the weather will be like in the next 20 minutes. Plus, as the weather tends to change all the time, the view remains entertaining.

To clarify, this appreciation of the view does not in any way reveal some secret urge to live by water. Rather, it is only indicative of the sad fact that I've a great while left in the expected decade-long wait for a StatCan window office. .... Hence, I'm enjoying the view while it lasts! :-)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Something remarkable

Paul Wells linked to this, and he's right. It is absolutely beautiful.

Meet Paul Potts, a Welsh mobile phone salesman who decided to compete in the Britain's Got Talent competition. The winner gets 100 thousand pounds and the chance to perform before the Queen. I'd say the man's in with a shot...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Things I'll Miss About New Zealand, part 1

TIM TAMS!!!! Mmmm...

Canada has no cookie like this. Tim Tams are deliciousness incarnate in two syllables. Two layers of cookie surround a creamy/icing middle, then the whole thing is dipped in chocolate. Good quality chocolate, even.

Better still, this cookie can be made even more delicious through the technique, "The Tim Tam Slam". The lovely Dave will demonstrate how this is done.

Step 1) Assemble hot drink of choice, and one or more Tim Tams. Ideally, the cookies should be the double-coat variety, as that ensures less mess for the coming steps. Ensure the drink is not hot enough to scald, and that it is filled to near the top of the mug.

Step 2) Bite off both ends of the cookie.

Step 3) Insert one end of the cookie into the mug, making contact with the drink.

Step 4) Suck drink through cookie -- like a straw -- until cookie is fully moistened. This usually only takes a second or two, and practise is required to time it perfectly.

Step 5) Pop delicious, caffienated, gooey chocolate cookie-ooze in your mouth. Bliss!
Hopefully, Canadian importers will gain enough sense to import this southern-hemisphere wonder; but until then, I'm scheming a way to get them to Canada. I love you, Tim Tam.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Effects of Being About to Leave a Workplace having the freedom to publicly say what you really think about things. (With diplomacy, of course.) I'm deeply enjoying it.

Sometimes I wonder whether this newfound verbal freedom is a manifestation of my inner leader, the insightful non-yesman. Or perhaps it's just me being a badass. Or, perhaps they could be the same thing? I can't say I know.

What I DO know is that I take some pride from the (wholly justifiable) use of the word "neutered" in the annual project progress report I've just written. (Hehehehe... Take that, lame-o bureau-speak!)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Eight Minutes to Midnight

Two months tonight, eight minutes to midnight, I will arrive back in Winnipeg.

It is now official, as I actually have my ticket. August 12, I will board a Wellington plane in the early eve. After an ungodly amount of flying and transfer time, I will arrive in Winnipeg just before midnight. Two months now.

I might feel more conflicted if the moving/job-wrapup/wedding stress would subside awhile. There's so much I will miss about Wellington, which is truly a great place to live. In fact, that very sentiment has inspired me to begin an ongoing list of specific things I'll miss -- the idea being, if I identify them now, I can still appreciate them before I go. That series should start soon... stay tuned! :-)

Until then, I'll have a drink tonight to reflect, and to celebrate. At eight minutes to midnight.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Just got home after a winning effort on the rugby pitch. This was our first win this season, ending a major major drought in the 'W' category. Pink Ginners over the Dead Ants 24-13.

So I'm stoked. Next thing is to head off to see the All Black's play France at Westpac Stadium (aka the Cake Tin). at 7:30pm. Karla and I are meeting the fellas in about an hour.

The bonus of today, and a marvelous reflection on just how awesome Karla is: last night I was telling Karla about my determination to win this game, and about my desire to score a try before we leave NZ. So she says: "Tell you what. You guys win tomorrow, and beer and food at the AB's game is on me. You score a try tomorrow, and I'll take you out for dinner wherever you want."

The try has still proven elusive. But with the win today, it's free eat and drink for Davey tonight! Woohoo!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

C'mon Sens!!!

I can't watch the bloody game. I can only constantly refresh the CBC website to get my Cup fix, and it's now 5-2 Ducks in the third.

I fear impending doom. But I still have hopes.

Good vibes coming at you Sens from down under! Go Sens Go!

UPDATE: 6-2? Methinks Sens Mile is mighty quiet. And me? I'm gutted, man. Gutted.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Cue the Eye-Roll...

Sometimes I wonder why I bother checking the news sites. It's so depressing sometimes... and no, I'm not necessarily talking about wars or crime or viruses. The truly, deeply depressing thing about the CBC site are the tales of the bickering children we elected.
Harper (retorting in defense of his "Canadian-ness"?!!?):"...But at least I've always lived and worked and paid my taxes in this country."

His remark was a swipe at Ignatieff, a former university professor who taught at schools in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Ignatieff dismissed Harper's barbs.

"We can all play these silly games about who's the better Canadian," he said. "If they seriously believe that someone who's contributed to this country outside and came back to Canada is less of a Canadian, they should get up and say that to the two million Canadians who live and work overseas."
Apparently, Stevie Harper doesn't consider Dave or myself as fully Canadian. What a git. And worse yet that this utter foolishness was dignified with comment on both the Liberal and Conservative sides.

It's one thing to have a nonsense-spewing parliament of preschoolers... but who will send them to bed without their suppers?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Digging Through Old Photos, Part Two

As before, this is a post dedicated to neat things we've seen in NZ that may not have been mentioned earlier. These pictures are from our first few months, January and February 2006.

Our first day here, we visited the Wellington Botanical Gardens. The best part was the rose garden, which was positively huge! This is only about 20% of it.

Another neat thing about Wellington is its all-ages downtown skate park, pictured below. There's a climbing wall, multiple half-pipes and jumps for bikers and boarders, and most importantly, comfy benches for the parents to supervise from. It's one thing to SAY that kids should be more active, and quite another for taxpayer dollars to be spent on something so wonderful. Yay, Wellington!

One morning, long ago, I was awoken from my sleep by an enthusiastic -- "Wow!!! You have GOT to see this!" Dave was right to wake me up for this sunrise... it was so beautiful, I could even appreciate it through my sleepy grumpy stupor. Amazing, eh?

Our first whole weekend here was the 2006 Wellington Rugby Sevens, an event of unfathomable insanity. We partied awhile, then decided to retire back to our hotel... only to be ambushed by the nutty kiwis in the room opposite us!!! They would not hear of us NOT partying with them, and we were literally dragged into their festivities. What a great time, though! This picture of them might give you a general idea of the evenings' levels of silliness.

Well, that's all for now... stay tuned for Part Three!