Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Four things

1. I have no less than two draft posts saved on the fiasco that is the new Access to Information legislation which the government of Newfoundland and Labrador just passed, but I wasn't happy with either of them and put them away, figuring I would go back and make them better. Yeah, didn't happen and now it reads as awfully dated.

Not helping was the fact that there was already a lot of excellent commentary coming out on almost a daily basis ripping it apart. So rather than try to replicate what they produced, I instead recommend you go and read what Ed Hollett, Russell Wangersky and Geoff Meeker have to say about it. They pretty much smack it out of the park.

It's a bad piece of legislation and one that I think the government badly misjudged the level of opposition to. Will it sink them in three years time? Not on its own. But when they're listing the reasons this government lost, it'll be on the short list.

2. Meanwhile, back in Nunavut, it's a couple of days until Summer Solstice and the bay is finally starting to show signs of breaking up. They're have been no snowmobiles on the bay in a couple of weeks and there's now some open water showing. Granted, there's no way all this ice is going to be gone by the end of the month, so I'll get to go on vacation and be able to tell people there's still ice in the bay. That always manages to freak out southerners. The downside is it will soon start to throw off the sealift boat schedule, which is always a nuisance.

I'll post up a pic of what the bay looks like in a couple of days. I have an idea for a picture of the bay at sunset on the 21st. Just to give you an idea of what the first day of summer looks like in Iqaluit.

3. But in the meantime, here's another picture for you.

There's a fun group on Facebook called the Iqaluit Auction Bids, which is pretty much what it sounds like. They've cracked down on some of the junkier stuff recently, so pretty much everything there is northern crafts related. You can find some very nice stuff there. For example, if you happen to need a pair of polar bear pants (the seller promises they are very warm), well, you're in luck because there's a pair being auctioned right now.

I found the above on the site and managed to win the auction. What we have here is an ulu, which is the half moon shaped knife, and a men's carving knife. The knives are steel, the base is made from a caribou antler and the handles are made from muskox horn. It's the last detail that really caught my eye because muskox are not native to Baffin Island. They're both really nice and quite sharp. I almost feel bad that I have nothing to use them on right now. But who knows. Anyway, they're a nice addition.

Also, anybody can sign up for the auction site. A lot of people from Ontario have and tend to snap up kumiks (boots) to the point where insane price wars have broken out. Give it a look.

4. And finally, because I have been remiss, let's all leave a few nice comments for my lovely wife Cathy, who got her marks back yesterday and graduated with her Masters in Special Education. That alone would be enough, but she managed to do that while getting straight A's. It's a hell of an accomplishment and I'm insanely proud of her.

Last Five
1. Meeting across the river - Bruce Springsteen
2. Babylon - David Gray*
3. Rockville - REM
4. I didn't know that you care - Lloyd Cole
5. The charging sky - Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Virginia Park Condos?

So this story with CBC back in St. John's caught my eye. For those not clicking on the link, a building known as Virginia Park Plaza is giving notice to all its tenants to leave by the end of September because they're converting the building into condos.

So why is this worth mentioning in the blog? Because I grew up in Virginia Park. I remember when that plaza went up and spent more than my share of time hanging around there. Whether it was going to the Mary Browns for a Snackaroo or a Big Mary, slowly devouring most of the collection of kid's books at the library, or buying comic books from the convenience store I spent my share of days around that building. It's also possible I was beaten up once or twice behind the plaza as well. But I have less fond memories of those occasions.

I'm not exactly surprised they're getting rid of the building. Virginia Park has always been an...odd neighbourhood. When I was growing up half of it was middle class housing and the other half was social housing units. Let's say the dynamic was interesting. And straddling the line between that was the Plaza and the elementary school (our house was pretty near the middle line as well).

So yeah, a lot of things happened down there. I suspect the Plaza was a regular stop for the RNC for many, many years. I haven't lived in the area for many years, so I've no idea how bad it is now, although it wasn't in great shape last time I walked past there. Most of the storefronts were empty and there were plenty of signs of vandalism. That wasn't always the case. I remember when it first opened all the spaces were full. There used to be a bank and a Pipers department store there. Not so much now. Not for many years.

So no, I'm not shocked that they've decided to give up on the place and try something else with it. What I am shocked is that they're going to build condos there. Seriously? I understand building condos in downtown St. John's, out by the university, down by Quidi Vidi Lake or in a few other spots around town. But Virginia Park? They've had problems with vandalism and other incidents around there (pretty sure most of the woods behind the Plaza were cut down decades ago after a few sexual assaults happened) so it's not exactly what I would view as a dream area of town to build high end condos.

Let's put it this way, I grew up in the Park, I still have family and friends there, and if I was getting ready to drop a couple hundred thousand on a condo, this would not be my first choice.

So exactly how crazy is the housing/condo market in St. John's that this seems like a sound business idea?

Last Five
1. 505 - Arctic Monkeys
2. Still the same - Bob Seger
3. On - Bloc Party
4. Acid tongue - Jenny Lewis*
5. Back in your head - Tegan & Sara

Friday, June 08, 2012

Ah, to be in Iqaluit in June

Today at 5:23 pm...

Today at 6:57 pm...

Now, I believe the traditional responses to when it snows here at this time of the year and you complain are:
1. Suck it up, buttercup.
2. You live in the arctic, what else were you expecting?

To which I will point out that a mere two days ago it was 17C, sunny and people were wearing shorts and mini-skirts around town. So this is a bit of a jarring to the system. I will also add that my co-workers, many of whom are Inuit, were cursing a blue streak when this snow started to fall around 4 pm or so.

So I believe I will complain, just a little bit. And say that the clock to when my vacation officially starts kicked into overdrive today.

Last Five
1. Father Lucifer - Tori Amos
2. Up in flames - Coldplay
3. Hurricane drunk - Florence and the Machine*
4. Fred Jones, part 2 - Ben Folds
5. Every part of me - Sam Roberts

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Sea lift preparations

Vacation planning is lovely and all, but flying out of Iqaluit is a two-stage affair. I did most of the planning for the fun stuff, which is running around Europe. Cathy handles the more practical aspects of the other stage of the trip - the sea lift.

I'm sure I've explained the sea lift a dozen times, but for those new to the these parts and who don't want to dig through the archives, it's basically this: Living in Iqaluit is not cheap, nor can you just wander down to the store and find everything you want. This isn't a sea lift item for us because it's perishable, but for example, I have walked into North Mart and not been able to find chicken. Or bell peppers. Stuff like that. So if you want to save a few dollars, and make sure that things you really like to have are at your fingertips, then the best way to go about doing this is to do a sea lift.

There are two ways to do this. The first way is to just do an order online (North Mart does it) and in a few months time the stuff you ordered will be delivered to your door once the cargo boats (sea lift boats as they're called here) start to come in. Or you can do what we do; we go down to Ottawa and do it ourselves.

A sea lift order can be a fun, scary, frustrating and intense few days. But before you even get that far, you need to start your planning. Cathy's already started. It involves taking the master list of what we ordered last year and then walking through our storage room and see what we ran out of, what we're running low on and what we clearly over ordered last year. Trying to figure out how much you're going to use of something from week to week can be an issue. Trying to do it for a year is something else.

For example, soft drinks are easy. We budget one can, per person, per day. Pretty straight forward number although it does get you some deeply odd looks when you're going up to the cash at Costco with two shopping carts full of soft drinks.

But the rest can be dicey. How much pasta do you order? How much rice? We actually appear to have slightly under-ordered the amount of toilet paper we need this year. And then there's the things you over-order, like toothpaste. When we first moved here in 2005, we did a sea lift. Complete shot in the dark so we were all over the place in terms of how much we needed of different items. And in no area were we further off than toothpaste. Nearly seven years after that sea lift crate landed on the beach in Iqaluit, we are finally on our last tube of toothpaste. We'll need to buy more, although I think we'll probably cut back on the order this time around.

So yes, trying to juggle what you need to order, what you might want to try, what you might want to drop...it's a tangily business. And that's just the non-perishable goods. We're also looking at buying a new box spring and mattress, a new dish washer, maybe a dryer, some more flooring and to replace a few power tools that have up and died.

So you make your master list, then prepare with military precision what places you need to hit, what you're going to buy there, and how long you're going to spend there. Oh, and in what order you're going to visit different stores. And you need to rent a vehicle large enough to carry most of this stuff because having things delivered can cause all sorts of problems. We had $800 worth of items go missing two years ago from the time we left Costco to the time our sea lift crate arrived in Iqaluit.

Now, once you start buying all of this stuff (and you can remember to start breathing once you see the bills. We dropped nearly two grand at Costco in less than three hours last year) you have to drop it off somewhere. In our case we use TSC who will take our purchases, package them properly, crate it up (and use more nails than you can imagine) and then send the whole works to Montreal. From there, it gets put on a boat which will eventually arrive in Iqaluit.

From the time we make our purchases to the time it arrives at our front door will take about two months.

It's not for everyone, obviously. You need the patience and organization to do all of the prep work and actual work. I may be...somewhat...lacking in those skills, but fortunately Cathy is quite good at it. You need to be able to mentally and financially handle how much money is coming flying out of your bank account in a short period of time, knowing that over the course of the year you will save money because you paid $2 for that jar of pasta sauce at Wal-Mart as opposed to $5 at North Mart when you need it in January. And we won't even get into how much you save on toilet paper. If you have a baby, the amount you can save on diapers, formula and other supplies can be truly staggering.

Oh, and one other quirk to the whole sea lift, again for the new people here, we have no wharf facilities in Iqaluit. So when our stuff arrives on the boat, it just sits there in the middle of the bay until a barge can reach it. From there the crates are loaded on the barge and then driven ashore on the beach at high tide (and only high tide. We get 10 metre tides here). Once it's loaded onto the beach, we have to wait until a local company gets to it, picks it up on a forklift, drive it through the community and then deposit it in front of our house. We then get to spend about two hours using cutters and a pry bar to open the crate, and then off-loading the works of it into our house.

The scary thing about all of this is that it can be kind of fun. Which goes to show you don't have to be nuts to live here, but it's certainly helpful.

Last Five
1. Cold, cold ground - Tom Waits*
2. Hold on loosely - .38 Special
3. Jefferson Jericho Blues - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
4. Glendora - Rilo Kiley
5. Creepin' in - Norah Jones and Dolly Parton

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Going down

The other obsession over the last few months, which my friends on Facebook are undoubtedly tired of hearing me post about, is trying to get back in shape. Since mid-February I've managed to lose 35 pounds. Which, don't get me wrong, I'm quite pleased about. However, there are certain things that prevent me from getting too smug about this.

1. Having lost that much weight makes me realize in retrospect what a fat bastard I'd let myself become. I mean, it's genuinely appalling that managed to happen, or all the creative excuses you manage to come up with to overlook that fact. "Oh, I'm not fat in that picture, the wind was just blowing a certain way to make the shirt look puffy." (or you could just be fat). "Oh, I haven't put on any extra weight, I'm still wearing the same size pants" (Yes, conveniently ignoring that my dress pants had elastic built into the waist, covering a multitude of sins).
2. Having lost that much weight and looking better can make you feel cocky. Until I realize that I'm right around the weight I was when Cathy and I got married. And when I see those photos I realize I was still quite over weight even then. So there's obviously still a lot of work to do.

The weird thing is that once you start having some success people start looking to you as if you possess some magic and hidden knowledge. I really don't. I've tried many, many times before to lose weight and it always failed. This time, it clicked. Well, clicked so far. The possibility of relapse is still there.

The only thing I can offer is that I had a genuinely awful few weeks back in February and March. My friend's death hit me a lot harder than I thought and I'm pretty sure I was depressed. I've been down before, but I'm not sure the last time I felt something like that. And one day, I just got so frustrated feeling that way, that I went back to the gym, hoping some endorphins or something might work.

It did.

I felt better for most of the rest of the day. The next day, when I started feeling bad, I went back. And I've kept doing that. Five days a week, for at least one hour each time. Thirty minutes on an elliptical, 30 minutes on different weight machines. And then I started to change my diet. I only eat three meals a day. No snacks. I've reduced my portion size. I've tried to cut out a lot of processed foods and eat more fruits and vegetables.

But I think the most important thing is I've got myself in a routine and I've sufficiently scared the crap out of myself over the consequences of breaking that routine. I didn't go to the gym for two weeks in April between being in Florida (even though I walked at least 10 km a day on the beach) and a head cold (in which I nearly drove Cathy nuts over my anxiety about not being able to get to the gym). Any time I get hungry, I have a glass of water.

So even though I'm a bit hungry even as I write this, I've just started my second glass of water.

Because I am apparently a creature of routines. I've been told that I do not handle change well. Normally I think is a disadvantage, but I think in this one case, now that I've settled into this routine I'm glad I'm reluctant to change it.

I'm sure there are any number of dieticians or fitness experts that would say what I'm doing is wrong, but as long as it keeps working for me, I'm not going to mess with it. Thirty-five pounds in 15 weeks is nothing to sneeze at. The ultimate goal is 80 pounds, but I still have until February 2014 to get there, so I have time. And I'm not going completely nuts. I'm going to be on a cruise ship this summer. There will be food. I will eat the food. Plus I'm going to be in Denmark. If you think I'm not going to eat Danish there, you're nuts.

I imagine there will be some tweaks later in the summer. A friend has sworn that these are supposed to be really good for tracking activity, so I think I might invest in one. And if things keep going well, clearly new clothes are going to be needed. I have a depressing amount of money tied up in jeans that no longer fit. And a co-worker described one of my dress shirts this week as looking like a peasant blouse, which I'm assuming is bad.

I'm also setting up two rewards if I hit my goal...one I mentioned the other day...the big trip to Peru and the Galapagos . The other is a nice, hand tailored suit. Cathy doesn't get that as I don't wear suits and lord knows my job doesn't require it. But I think if I had a really nice suit, one that fit well (which I don't think I've ever owned), I'd wear it. Plus it would help me keep the weight off...no sense spending that much on a suit and then not being able to wear it.

So yes, the Secret to my Success is apparently temporarily losing my mind and acquiring a mild case of OCD. As I said, not sure I can recommend it. But hey, whatever works for you...

Last Five
1. Chocolate Jesus (live) - Tom Waits*
2. The Wanderer - U2
3. Sugar mountain - Neil Young
4. Mongrel heart - Broken Bells
5. Object of your rejection - Chely Wright