Thursday, October 02, 2014

Home work...

Pretty much every day I get a reason to be happy that Cathy convinced me five years ago that we should buy a house in Iqaluit. It'll be five years ago in December that we moved in, but it was around this time in 2009 that we started seriously looking.

Understand, I did not want to buy a house. I was happy in our apartment and I have a deep, deep, deep loathing of owing money to anybody, let alone a bank. Seriously, if I have the option of borrowing $2.50 for a coffee in the morning and paying the person back in the afternoon, or just going without a coffee, I will chose doing without every time.

So owing a bank a few hundred thousand a time when I was unemployed, no...that was something I was not going to do.

If you've met my wife she's very...persuasive. Which is another way of saying I find it nearly impossible to say no to her.

But we did find a place and it's worked out well. We were unbelievably lucky, of course. It's a good house, but we didn't do an inspection on it because, well, there were no inspectors in Nunavut at that time. It was the second place we put an offer in on. We didn't use a real estate agent. We had enough money saved for the 20% downpayment, so no insurance was necessary. And we bought just before Iqaluit's real estate market went batshit crazy.

(Although it seems to have cooled. People are having a hard time making the leap of spending $500,000 on a three bedroom, one bathroom house with less than 2,000 square feet).

So yes, lucky. Insanely lucky. I try not to think of how much karma we burned on getting this place as hassle-free as we did. And we're always hearing stories about people living in apartments ready to snap. One friend is threatening to take a fire extinguisher to the next drunk in his building who pulls the fire alarm. I'm not sure if he's going to empty the canister on the person or hit them over the head with it.

Having said that, a house is still a house. It's not like the money is done once you buy the place. We got a good deal, but it's not like we haven't spent thousands since then. Tearing up carpet to put in hardwood flooring. New paint. New laminate flooring in the kitchen, bathroom and porch. New door in the hallway. New furniture and appliances. It all adds up.

But this summer we engaged in the scariest (for me) addition to the house....we hired a contractor.

Understand I am leery putting my fate into the hands of people who have vastly more knowledge and experience than I do, who are in a position of power than me, and who I am trust to do the right thing and giving them thousands of dollars. Because we have all heard horror stories about contractors. I'm not putting them at the same level as consultants (Hey kids! Guy Fawkes Day is coming up. Save your local forests and pitch some consultants on the fire instead!), but they make me nervous.

Basically, what was required was this. The house is 15 years old. For those 15 years the prevailing winds have slammed into the east facing side of the house. It take a toll. The siding was getting cracked and starting to bend. By the way, it's the same with every house on our street. We're hardly alone.

Last February we had a delightful windstorm with winds well over 120 km/h. When you're sitting in your living room, with no power, listening to the wind pound the size of your house that you know is vulnerable, and reading reports on Twitter of siding flying off newer houses on the Plateau, you make certain promises to yourself.

So come this summer, after much badgering, we finally got a contractor to give us an estimate on the work we felt was needed. The siding on the east side of the house had to be replaced. And rather than try to match the colour of the new siding to the rest of the house, we just decided to repaint the house. It could use it, to be honest. It was faded and a really ugly green colour we always loathed.

Oh, and while they were at it, check the roof to make sure it was ok and check the foundations to see if it had shifted (the joys of owning a house on stilts) and make any necessary adjustments.

The estimate was...considerable. But we had saved the money, bit the bullet and told them to go ahead.

You know, knock on wood, it seem to go pretty well. The did completely repainted the house, including the deck, skirting and eves, plus replaced all the siding on one side of the house in less than a week. No problems with the roof and while the foundation shifted slightly (all houses in Nunavut go through it) it seems to have settled into it's new spot. They attempted to shift the house back, but couldn't budge it. So she is where she is. They also adjusted the front and side decks to make them more stable. Doesn't appear they charged me for it either.

Oh, and it came in under estimate. They didn't charge me for the foundation work because, well, they couldn't move the foundation. Which I understand is logical, but still surprises me they did it. I suspect some contractors would not be quite that understanding.

So what do we have now? Well we have a house that used to look like this...

Probably four years old, but that green colour hadn't improved with age.

To a place that now looks like this.

So yeah, a much nicer looking house. I would have preferred something a bit brighter, but we just couldn't find a bright colour we liked. Still, we're really happy with it. And I'm not saying we're done. You're never done with a house. You're just in-between projects. But there is nothing that needs immediate doing. And after nearly five years, that's a really nice feeling.

Last Five
1. Dead Sea - The Lumineers*
2. Darkhouse - Spirit of the West
3. Demons - Joel Plaskett
4. Autumn light - Ron Sexsmith
5. Annie waits - Ben Folds

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fall TV, part 1

Once upon a time I used to review TV shows for The Express. Television has changed a lot in the nine years since I left the paper. Cable TV programming has exploded and most of the good TV shows are not on the networks. They're on HBO, Starz, or a bunch of other cable stations.

The problem is, they're a bitch to track down. I don't get a lot of those stations and anytime I feel like taking a chance on a TV show by buying the DVDs (because I'm a good boy who doesn't pirate) I end up frustrated. House of Cards started off great but I never managed to finish the first season. The Walking Dead....well, zombie were never my thing and that show is less my thing. Boring. Homeland is so overwrought I couldn't get past the first handful of episodes.

I do like Justified, though. I need to get back into that.

I never watched Breaking Bad. I understand that's sacrilege. I may, one day, once the hype has died away a bit. But I feel no urgent need to watch it.

I guess I'm old fashioned. I like a big slab of TV fighting out in a Darwinian battle to survive every fall. Throwing a couple of dozen shows into the grinder each fall to see which ones last is a deeply stupid way to do things, but I get amusement out of it. Yeah, occasionally I'll lose a show I like, but not often.

I'm not going to be crazy enough to review everything coming out right now, but I've caught a few already, and there are more coming I'll review as well. This also has the usual caveat that pilots are a different beast. A good pilot will not ensure a show's survival (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip had a brilliant pilot. It was a disaster after that), but a bad one will handicap it for the rest of its probably very short life.

So let's see what I've seen so far.

1. The Red Band Society - Ten minutes in and I knew this wasn't my show. I mean, I'm not the demographic and that's fine. But the bitchy blonde cheerleader just forced me right out of the show. Teenagers at a hospital for sick kids is a hell of a concept and at least it's set over three weeks in its first season, so there's none of the weirdness that inflicted Glee. But I won't be tuning in. Not my cup of tea.

2. Madam Secretary - Again a good premise, but lacking some guts. It's basically what would happen if you took an apolitical and nicer Hilary Clinton and did a tv show about her. And Tea Leoni is good as the title character. She can carry the show as a Secretary of State dealing with world problems. Hell, it's an interesting job. One of my few gripes about the West Wing was that Secretary of State is one of the most important positions in the US government and we barely heard talk of the character in the show.

So yeah, good lead, ton of potential. But it's a soft and bit gutless pilot. American held hostage in Syria is a bit of a flat open. A conspiracy over the death of her predecesor. A Chief of Staff with a sinister agenda. It's a little too rote. I'd like to see it get gutsier in the coming weeks, but I'm not overly hopeful.

It's biggest sin, however, is having Bebe Neuwirth standing around and doing almost nothing except scowl in the pilot. That woman can act. For the love of God, let her have something to chew on in the weeks to come. I'll give it a few more weeks to see if it acquires a spine.

3. Gotham - You might have heard they were doing a show about Gotham City in the years before Batman. Maybe spotted an add or two.

Is it good? Yes. I'll keep watching it for awhile. There's a lot to like. Nearly all the acting is solid enough, although Jada Pinkett Smith as the badly named Fish Mooney just about steals the show. I think Sean Pertwee was badly miscast as Alfred, but we'll see. And the rest are good. Ben McKenzie makes a fine Jim Gordon.

But man, is that an over-stuffed pilot. Yeah, it's dark. Cathy found it way too dark and didn't care much for it. But a show based on Gotham City was never going to be sweet and lightness. But there were a lot of characters, plots, subplots and everything else crammed into that show. Really, it could have been two hours. Or they could have stretch some of it out for a week or so. We didn't need to meet everyone this episode.

But there are lots of little things to like. I like that Selina Kyle witnessed Bruce Wayne's parents murder.  I like that Renee Montoya is in the show and they've already made reference to her sexuality. I like the shades of grey already, like Gordon making what he thinks is a compassionate choice, but it's already resulted in one death, and many more to come.

It has a ton of potential. Whether it can do it, and if the audience will stick around for a show more about shades of grey, and no Batman, well, we'll see...

4. Scorpion - One wag called it The Big Bang Theory solves crimes. I like to think of it as Numb3rs meets Harry Potter. Basically, a bunch of geniuses with no social skills get recruited to work for the federal government to solve problems only people with their skills sets possess.

Look, this show is going to redefine technobabble. Anytime a character starts speaking it, just put in Hogwarts spells. It accomplishes the same thing. The show is going to sink or swim on the character interactions. So far, it's fun enough. The actors are likeable. It's very processed (CBS must have a machine that cranks these procedurals out), but not all processed food is bad. Not all processed shows are bad.

The key is going to be keeping it from getting too silly. The pilot featured corrupt software at LAX threatening to bring planes crashing from the sky. The plot was bouncing merrily along, escalating from silly, to very silly, but still entertaining. Until the last 10 minutes when it went balls-to-the-wall batshit stupid/insane.

Don't do that again.

5. Forever - Immortal characters are nothing new in fiction, although particularly challenging in television if the show lasts more than a few years. But one worry at a time. Ioan Gruffudd is a particularly likeable actor (I'll forgive him for The Fantastic Four. That wasn't his fault) and the show is obviously leaning heavily on his charisma. Essentially his character is 200 years old. He's a medical examiner working for the NYPD studying anatomy in the hopes of finding a way he can die. Seems immortality is a bit of a curse.

Now he has a curious detective working with him and they solve crimes. All the way there's the mystery of how he can't die (when he does, he comes back to life in the Hudson River. Awkward) and the other immortal stalking him. Oh, and plenty of opportunities for flashbacks.

Gruffudd mercifully has a good supporting cast. Judd Hirsch can do this in his sleep, but mercifully adds a ton of charm and their father/son relationship (not in the way you think) works. Alana De La Garza and Joel David Moore also are good. I was quite surprised by the show. It's not perfect. The voiceover can get a little purple at times, and they killed him three times in the pilot. That was a little bit of, well, overkill (sorry).

It's got a ton of potential and it's charming. It's my favourite if these five so far. We'll see how it ages over the coming weeks.

Last Five
1. American Skin (41 shots) - Bruce Springsteen
2. I understand - Sloan
3. Your heart - Repartee
4. White dove - Jenn Grant*
5. Songs for Dan Treacy - MGMT

Monday, September 22, 2014

Harley and Ivy commission

I've mentioned several times I've acquired a...thing about original comic book art. Funny, for years I loved looking at comics but it never dawned on me I could actually own pieces of the artwork. However, once I got started, like a geek with an obsession, I've made up for lost time. Right now there are 22 framed comic book pieces on my wall (and one of those frames consists of nine small pieces), plus ones I haven't framed, and ones in sketch books.

So yeah, I like comic book art.

A lot of times it's pretty straight forward. You go up to an artist at a comic con and tell him or her what you would like. Online, you might exchange a few emails about what you're looking for, and then after you pay the artist, your piece arrives in the mail a few weeks (sometimes months) later.

I mention this to put it in some context. Earlier this summer I contacted an artist named Michelle Sciuto. Her art had come across my tumblr stream a lot of times and I quite liked it. She's starting off as an artist, which can be a good thing when you're looking for comic art. A few years ago I contacted a Canadian artist named Agnes Garbaska because I'd seen her art online a few places. She'd been published, but wasn't hugely known. And I got this amazingly fun commission from her.

Now she does covers for Red Sonja and My Little Pony, among other books. So at worst you get a cool piece of art, at best you get a cool piece of art from an artist before they became really popular.

I get the feeling Michelle is going to fall into the later category. Not only is her art a hell of a lot of fun, but she's really good to deal with. I checked my gmail account. We exchanged more than 30 emails on my sketch from her.

It was a very collaborative process. Once I got on her commission list, she asked what I wanted. I gave her two options - Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, or Birds of Prey (Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress). She really wanted to do Harley and Ivy. My only suggestions were that I wanted it to be fun, a little sexy (not slutty) and I was thinking rather than their traditional costumes (or, even worse their "New 52" costumes), maybe a retro 50s pin-up girl theme.

Which Michelle loved. And I thought that would be that. Until a few days later she contacted me with preliminary sketches. She wanted to know what outfits I wanted them in, and what pose. 

(There's a third pose I haven't included here as I don't have a jpeg of it, just a pdf)

No artist has ever gone though this much consultation with me on a commission. And honestly, those rough sketches are amazing. I asked if I could buy them from her...she tossed them in for free.

I opted for the middle costumes in both of them and the pose with Harley and her hyenas as the pose. I later got a pair of final pencils with the hyenas at different sizes. She wasn't sure how big to make them, and wanted to know if I had any preference.


I got the final, fully coloured piece in the mail on Thursday. It's stunning. It's easily one of my five favourite pieces on my wall (Garbaska's Justice girls, Buscema's Red Sonja, Maihack's Supergirl/Batgirl, Mebberson's Mulan/Merida are the other four). I mean, look at this beauty...

It's 11x17 and just pops off the wall. And the price for this loveliness? $80. Another $10 for shipping. Ridiculous, given how much time she spent on it. Michelle seriously need to raise her prices. She also has more than 1,000 likes of it on tumblr, which is pretty cool. And it's all mine.

If you're looking for a fun comic book related piece of art, I strongly recommend dropping her a line. No kidding, she's a blast to deal with, her prices are beyond reasonable and you get great art. Check out her tumblr or website.

Last Five
1. Hate to see your heart break - Paramore
2. Cherry tree - The National
3. Shadow of love - She & Him
4. Put out your lights (live) - Matthew Good
5. Downtown train - Tom Waits* 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Archeology dig

I mentioned I went back to St. John's. That also meant a visit back to the house I grew up in. My family has lived in that house now since 1978. As a family, then just my dad, then just my mom, and then dad bought the place outright. The joke used to be I lived with the house. The parents were optional.

This isn't the first time I've been back there in decades or anything. It was less than two years ago. The place hasn't changed in that time. Reasonably sure it hasn't changed since the 1990s. My benchmark for determining this is the stereo.

The stereo has been sitting in the no-man's land between the living room and dining room for awhile now. How long? I think dad bought it around 1984. It was pretty cutting edge at the time, with it's duo-cassette deck drive. So you could play one tape and then, scandalously, copy the music by putting a blank in the other deck drive. Quite the controversy at the time, what with it making it easy to pirate music and all.

Anyway, cutting edge in the mid-80s. Not so much in later years. Pretty sure it died completely sometime in the mid-90s. So yes, for the better part of the past 20 years a dead stereo system in a wooden cabinet has been sitting in the living room for no reason.

We won't talk about my university grad picture in all its massive glory in the dining room, terrifying anyone who ventures forth to eat there (moustaches are never a good idea). Best not to dwell on it.

I've mentioned to dad he might want to do something about the stereo. He says he will and yet, there it rests in all its faded glory. I'm considering a flamethrower for Christmas as a method of internal redecorating/purging. Not for him...he'll never use it. But his niece lives in the basement apartment and his sister is a five minute walk away. I'm pretty sure they would. And he's going to Florida for a few months this coming winter. So we'll see how it goes.

However, since I was there I decided to do some poking around. Most of my stuff is long gone. Either up here, or sold. But there are a few things still there, so while talking with him, I put on my Indiana Jones fedora and decided to see what I could find.

Some of the stuff made me laugh. There's the hand-carved walking stick he brought me back from Cuba. I loved that thing because I thought I looked cool. Didn't have room to bring it back, alas. Plus, Cathy tends to put walking sticks in the same group as trenchcoats; things I do not look as cool using/wearing as I think I do.

There was a painting of the character Death from the Sandman comics my friend Mireille did for me around 1993. Really would have liked to have taken that back, but no room, alas.

In the closet there was an absolutely hideous brown lamb leather jacket that I seemed to have thought was a good idea around 1990. I informed dad it was not to go to good will, but to be taken out to the softball pitch behind the house in the middle of the night and set on fire. Ghastly. Still fits though, so that's one good thing.

But there were other cool things that I did rescue. In the same closet that produced the dreadful brown leather coat, also produced a black one that I didn't remember until dad refreshed my memory. He went to Australia in 2002 and brought me back a really nice black leather jacket. But he guessed wrong on my size. It was too small. I tried it on now and it fits perfectly. And it looks really good. So that was a nice find.

My old bedroom produced two interesting relics. The first was all my old letters. I used to write a lot of letters before email killed that. To pen pals mainly, but when I was in Korea in '97 I wrote letters to everyone. I'm told people thought I was writing in code to fool censors (I have terrible writing), but I have all the letters they wrote back.

So if you wrote me a letter between 1983 and 1999, odds are I have it. I'm really looking forward to going through those letters and see what comes up. A lot of embarrassing stuff. A lot of banal stuff. A couple of early gems include one I found from my grandmother that she wrote while I was in South Korea. I found a letter a woman sent me when I was with the Muse, thanking me for a story I wrote that helped her out (pretty sure it was the letter that cemented my belief that I should become a journalist). But I suspect I'm going to also laugh a lot and bug Cathy with 'I'd completely forgotten about this!" once I get going.

However, the real gem is "School Day Treasures". Back in Easter of 1975 my nan and pop Welsh gave me this book in advance of me starting Kindergarten. Each page was a year of school and you could put in all kinds of information. So there's a place for a picture, your report card, who your teacher was, how much you weighed, how tall you were, best friends, ambition (I was very determined to be an astronaut) and so on.

It is, at the very least, absolutely adorable. There's my infamous bowtie pic. The junior high pic where I looked like I was stoned. The report card that praised my handwriting (Grade 3. Seriously) the one where it was concerned I was too quick, mean and sarcastic (Grade 5. Sorry, Mr. Green. The progress you saw at the end of the school year was transitory) cracks me up.

It's a brilliant thing. I'm so glad nan and pop gave that to me. I've no idea if they still make these things or not, but they're awesome. I'm also pleased I kept up with it throughout school. Only Grade 2 and Grade 7 are missing pictures. I faithfully filled out the information and kept all the report cards. It would have been easy to stop doing that once I hit junior high, but I didn't. And now I have this brilliant thing.

I still think the house needs a purge. But I'm glad I grabbed these relics before it happened.

Last Five
1. Indestructible - Matthew Good Band
2. Gypsy biker - Bruce Springsteen
3. You can never hold back spring - Tom Waits
4. You got lucky - The Gaslight Anthem*
5. Thirsty - The National

Saturday, September 20, 2014


We were back in Newfoundland last weekend. Cathy's brother, my brother-in-law, got married. That meant a ridiculously brief trip back to St. John's. We left Iqaluit on Wednesday afternoon, arrived early Thursday morning (1 am) and then caught a plane back on Monday morning at 6:30 and was back in Iqaluit by noon. So four days to see family, friends, do some Christmas shopping and have a wedding. No problem.

We're still exhausted and the colds we're both currently fighting I suspect were either caught in Newfoundland (or en route) or just because our immune systems are shot from the travel.

It was a good trip. Dan and Meg's wedding was really quite nice. They were married in Bowring Park on a miraculously beautiful day in mid-September. My mother-in-law is taking credit for that, by virtue of hanging rosary beads from the clothes line on Friday morning.

We had good weather. I'm not going to knock it.

Anyway, a nice ceremony on the Cabot 500 stage. My favourite bit was the lovely, and hilarious, reading from the journals of their grandparents. It was a nice touch. Then a gathering at the Yellowbelly pub downtown. We bailed at midnight, but apparently they shut the place down.

Cathy and I had an agreement going back to St. John's. She was going to be busy with wedding stuff, but I had to spend time with my parents or they were going to disown me. Which I did. It's been almost two years since I've been back to Newfoundland. It's just one of those things now where trips there are going to be rarer events. I only have three weeks vacation these days. They understand, I hope, that there's a limit to how much I can do in Newfoundland. Friends and family don't drop everything just because you're back for a visit. They have lives and commitments.

Plus, I want to travel. I spent most of my first 35 years in Newfoundland and saw very little of the rest of the world. I can't begin to explain how important travelling and seeing new places is to me right now. We're already planning next summer's trip.

But I hung out at Shoppers' Drug Mart with my mom and got to watch her in action. Which is always impressive. Everyone knows my mom. Or, as she said, "Even the dogs know me at this point." Which is true. I was chatting with my friend Karin about her over brunch and we agree...she could teach master classes on customer service. Or become a consultant. Everyone gets attention. She's insanely friendly and helpful. She gives honest advice at the cost of an immediate sale because it's just good customer service (and the karma probably gets her triple the sales anyway).

I always knew she was good. Watching her work for an hour or so, I have a new appreciation.

I hung out with dad at his place for a bit, and did a power walk around Quidi Vidi Lake and the Virginia Park Trail. I also got a crash course in how much my home has changed since I left. It's been nine years. Things are going to change. But the influx of money finally hit me this time. Not sure why not before. Perhaps because I've only been home at Christmas and maybe the snow and crappy weather hides the money. But man, it's gotten silly in town.

Just in my area the old Janeway Apartments are gone and a massive new retirement complex is getting ready to open. The old Virginia Park Plaza is gone and a new 5-story condo complex is being built and they've broken ground on a new elementary school to replace the one I used to go to.

I remember growing up and Quidi Vidi Village (The Gut) was a bit of a dump. It had the worst weather in town and was generally run down. Now there are gourmet restaurants, million dollar homes and floods of tourists. Pleasantville is being transformed from old military buildings into houses. I saw more Porches in town in four days than I did in Vegas in a week. It feels like every surplus bit of green space in town is being converted to condos of some kind.

It's just very...jarring. I'm glad to see St. John's have an influx of cash. I would never begrudge it. And those things I mentioned being changed? They're all necessary. The apartments were rundown. The Plaza was a dive. My old school should have been replaced 20 years or more ago. And good riddance to those military buildings in Pleasentville.

Still, it just feels like it's being...wasted. For every awesome thing I see being done with the money (Mallard Cottage in the Gut is lovely), I see a ton of condo units or just unending suburban sprawl with no character. I wish there was more creativity and cleverness with the money. Maybe I've just missed it, but I don't think so. Newfoundland won't be the first place to get stupid with its oil wealth and at least no one has taken to building 120 story tall buildings out by Cape Spear (yet. Give Danny Williams some time). It's just kind of disappointing. I wish the province was being more like Norway and less like, well, pretty much every other place that hit an oil lottery ticket.

St. John's is bigger and richer...just not sure it's better.

But maybe I'm a grumpy ex-pat who should just shut up...

Last Five
1. 99% of us is failure (live) - Matthew Good*
2. Saviour - Ron Hynes
3. Hustling - Foster the People
4. Dark days - Punch Brothers
5. Crosseyed - Brendan Benson

Monday, September 01, 2014

My comics reading list

One of my friend’s on Twitter thanked me the other day for recommending Hawkeye a Marvel Comics series to him earlier the year. It’s won a ton of critical praise and the current creative team is getting ready to wrap things up and the series is going to be cancelled. That’s one thing that’s changed from when I was a kid. A series used to keep on going, no matter if a creative team left or not.

Now, it’s just as likely after a dozen issues the series will be cancelled and restarted with a fresh #1. But it did get me thinking…I think I have pretty good taste in comics. I do have friends who ask for recommendations from time to time. So I thought I would do a master list of what I’m currently collecting.

A couple of caveats…I’m just including series where the books are still in print and are ongoing. I love, love, loved Amelia Rules but there are no more books coming out in that series. I’m currently on a fool’s quest to try and find all the trade paperbacks of Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey run.

While I won’t do full reviews, I will include a few words about why I’m collecting them.

And yeah, it seems like a lot. Even I was surprised by how many. But these are regular series and not stand-alone graphic novels like RASL or This One Summer. Also, most of them put out one, maybe two books a year. It’s a lot, but believe it or not I collected a lot more when I was living in Newfoundland.

Finally, if you have to pick just one publisher to take a chance on, Image Comics is it. For years it was a hole of really unremarkable super hero crap like Spawn, but has since reinvented itself as a top creator-owned publisher working in westerns, sci-fi, mystery, horror, spies, and yes, sometimes super-heroes. They also do the nice/evil thing of collecting the first trade paperbacks at a very low price.

So via Amazon you can easily get a book like Greg Rucka/Michael Lark’s brilliant Lazarus for $10. Which is an absolute steal.

Anyway, by publisher, what I collect that’s being published regularly.

All-New X-Men/Uncanny X-Men – There are about a dozen X-titles. I stick with these two as they’re both written by Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel’s best writers. Solid dialogue, good character development and Bendis gets the soap opera aspect that always works well with the X-Men.

Avengers/New Avengers/Uncanny Avengers – The first two titles are written by Jonathan Hickman, who loves ridiculous complex multi-year sagas involving cosmic disasters of some kind. I am, apparently, a sucker for this kind of thing. Uncanny Avengers is written by Rick Reminder who does something similar, but focuses a bit more on character rather than story than Hickman. Both have blown up the Earth multiple times in their runs. Don’t worry, it got better. Mostly.

Black Widow – Nathan Edmondson tells a nice spy thriller about Natasha Rominov seeking redemption for all her past sins (nicely tying into the movie), but Phil Noto’s art is the star. Some of the best on the stands right now.

Daredevil – For decades now, courtesy of Frank Miller, Daredevil has been a dark, pretty screwed up noir-like character. Mercifully Mark Waid remembers when he used to be more a swashbuckling one. Sure, there are dark moments, but this is such fun. Waid also remembers when Marvel characters would drop into books just because it was fun (Daredevil vs. the Silver Surfer. Sure, why not), not because it was a 30 part event. Chris Samnee’s joyful and creative art helps a lot.

Hawkeye – As the tagline goes, this is what Hawkeye does when he’s not an Avenger. Which is? Well, being a schmuck and just making bad decision after bad decision. And that’s before you get into his love life. It’s fun, creative and David Aja’s is unlike anything you’ve seen in comic books before. There’s an issue told from the point of view of a dog. And it’s one of the best things you’ll read this year.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man – Some of Spider-Man’s d-list villains plot the next big score. Except they’re idiots. Awesomely fun and stupid.

Thor: God of Thunder – Writer Jason Aaron also like the big, convoluted story. The first year involved Thor from three different time periods (1000 AD, now, far future) fighting a villain determined to kill every god in the universe. Ludicrous. Fun.

Batgirl – Writer Gail Simone tells the story of a Barbara Gordon is going through PTSD after being crippled by the Joker. It’s a good book, but you get the feeling Simone was frustrated not being able to tell lighter stories.  That doesn’t mean she can’t bring the drama when she wants.

Batman – In the middle of a classic run with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. He’s rebuilding the Batman myth with new villains (the Court of Owls) takes on old ones (Joker) and retelling his origin (Year Zero). Lesser writers would botch this. Snyder is not one of those.

Fables/Fairest – I’m collecting these two titles on momentum more than anything else at this point. It’s good, but it’s a good thing it’s wrapping up soon. It’s time.

The Spectre – DC is reprinting the classic 90s run by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. What happens when God’s Angel of Vengeance is tied to a human with a mission to comprehend and confront evil? What happens when they misunderstand the mission? More spiritual than you might think and Mandrake’s art is unreal. It’s some of the moodiest and scariest art in a comic I’ve ever seen. A little dated, but still good stuff.

Wonder Woman – I’ve always been conflicted by Brian Azzarello’s story. He’s done a lot of things I don’t like and I’m not fond of his interpretation of Diana’s character. But I can’t deny it’s well written. I might have dropped it already if not for Cliff Chang’s spectacular art. I like will drop it when they leave the book later this year.

Alex + Ada – In the near future androids are common. But an AI revolt leads people to restrict just how smart androids can be. After Alex gets a female android companion from his eccentric grandmother, he struggles with the idea of repressing the android and takes steps that will cause…challenges. Jonathan Luna is a well-known artist, but his style always feels a little soulless to me. But the story is intriguing. First tpb is just out; I’ll be trying the second.

Black Science – Rick Reminder and Matteo Scalera put together a sort of inter-dimensional Lost in Space/Fantastic Four book, except the main character is an asshole who is risking friends, family and possibly the structure of the multiverse. It’s a little over-the-top at times (some creators do better when they have a major publisher/editor reining in their excesses. Reminder is one of them), but a ton of raw potential. First trade out now. I’ll get the second.

Deadly Class – More Rick Reminder. A kid is plucked from the streets in the 80s and plunked in a school of assassins. His goal – to assassinate Ronald Regan who he blames for killing his parents. See above. A ton of potential, but not kept on track. Half the book is spent on a road trip in Vegas with the lead character on acid. Debating the second book.

East of West – My favourite book of 2013. In an alternative, future Earth where America’s Civil War went deeply weird, Death of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse hunts for his missing son. And that doesn’t even cover a fraction of it. Jonathan Hickman firing on all cylinders.

Fatale – Last issue just came out. The fifth and final tpb will be out this fall. It’s by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Rule #1 of Comics. Always buy any book these two are working on. A Lovecraftian Noir tale.

Five Ghosts – Thanks to a dream stone implanted in his chest adventurer Fabian Gray can summon the skills of five “fictional” ghosts. Plus conspiracies, grand adventure and Nazis. Good 30s-style pulp.

Lazarus – In the future the world is not divided by political boundaries, but by families with financial interests. Each family has a protector – A Lazarus. This is the story of one, who begins to realize there’s more to her than she thought. Greg Rucka is pretty much an automatic buy for me. Michael Lark on art seals the deal.

The Manhattan Projects – Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra on what I assume is a staggering amount of drugs. An alternate version at what the 1940s Manhattan Project might have been up to when not building boring things like an atomic bomb. It’s good. Deeply, deeply weird, but good. Hickman probably needs to wrap this up soon, though…

Nowhere Men – What if four scientists were the Beatles of science? At $10 this is a steal. A nice slab of entertainment, weird science and conspiracy. I think the book is on hiatus, however.

Pretty Deadly – A weird little magical western book. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing isn’t for everyone. She’s going more for lyrical than plot, but Emma Rios art makes it all go down smoothly.

Rat Queens – If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons or loved Lord of the Rings, you need to own this book. It’s just so much fun. Four warrior women (thief, warrior, healer, wizard) who drink, curse, have sex and get in lots of trouble.

Revival – I normally have no time for zombie comics (there is no Walking Dead on this list), but this is “rural noir”. In a small town in Wisconsin the recent dead return to life. The town is immediately quarantined, but there’s still plenty of other weird things happening to trapped residents…

Rocket Girl – In the future (now) the only cops you can trust are teenagers. But when one suspects a conspiracy and travel back to the past (1985 New York) to try and stop it. Her and her rocket pack. The story is honestly a touch shaky, but Amy Reeder’s artwork is an absolute joy.

Saga – The most beloved sci-fi comic on the market. A star-crossed couple defies their warring races, get married and have a little girl. And if that sounds simple, what comes next is not. Filled with mad ideas and Fiona Staples magical art. It will thrill you just as often as it will break your heart.

Sex Criminals – The darling of 2013. A couple discover they can stop time when they orgasm. So they decide to rob banks so they can save a beloved library. Then the sex cops get involved. More touching and funny than sexual, it’s weird and enjoyable regardless.

Velvet – What if Ms. Moneypenny was actually the most dangerous person in MI-6. Close, but not quite what is happening here. But a great Bond-ian spy thriller set in the 70s. Velvet Templeton (great name) is on the run after being framed for murdering a top agent. Ed Brubaker rule in effect here, although Steve Epting’s stunning art helps.

Zero – A deeply weird science fiction/spy/thriller. I haven’t decided if I’m getting the second book yet, but writer Alex Kot is making it quite tempting.

Afterlife with Archie – When Hot Dog dies in a car accident, Jughead begs Sabrina the friendly neighbourhood witch, to bring him back. Which she does. With drastic, horrific consequences. I kid you not, one of the best, scariest comics on the market, courtesy of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s clever story and Francesco Francavilla’s spectacular, atmospheric and horrific art.

Atomic Robo/Real Science Adventures – I think the last few books have been a little too serious and not enough fun, but it’s still enjoyable. Basically Tesela in the 1920 invents a sentient atomic robot. There are many weird adventures. Part Indiana Jones, part Hellboy, all fun.

Conan – A little Conan goes a long way with me. In this case it’s been the last three trades written by Brian Wood with one more to come. Conan hooks up with a pirate queen. I’ll probably go 10 more years before needing to read him again, but this is entertaining enough.

Letter 44 – When the new president of the United States arrives in the White House after the previous incompetent and corrupt president leaves in disgrace, he finds a letter that explains why his predecessor behaved so erratically. The story and conspiracy are good, but the art is deeply shaky. I’ll probably give the second tpb a try. The first just came out.

Parker – Darwyn Cooke adapting Richard Stark’s Parker novels. It’s all you need to know. One of the best artists in the business adapting some of the best crime fiction ever written.

Rachel Rising – Written and drawn by Terry Moore. Honestly, an acquired taste involving the dead returning, witches, conspiracies and other weirdness. But Moore’s b/w art is beautiful.

Red Sonja – Never a title I collected. Then Gail Simone took over. Then the character became fun. The whole chainmail bikini even works. A character who was often portrayed as a male nerd cheesecake fantasy becomes one the scariest, most empowering women characters in comics.

The Sixth Gun – A horror/mystery/western. There are six guns, each with magical properties. Each cursed. An evil, and dead, Southern General wants his gun. The sixth. The most powerful of them, which is currently held by a young woman who wants nothing to do with it, but has no choice. A nice mix of all the elements.

Star Wars – A little Star Wars goes a long way for me. Brian Wood tells the story of what happened between the first two movies. Worth it just for a very interesting take on Leia.

Stumptown – PI Dex Parios is a good detective, but a shitty gambler. Set in Portland, it’s a fun detective story, equal parts mystery, fun, action and drama. Greg Rucka is there, so I’m on board.

Bandette – A young woman in Paris who is a thief, but also helps out the police when she’s not busy protecting the people of Paris. Colleen Coover’s art is the draw here. It’s adorable and filled with more energy per page than 10 regular comics.

Cleopatra in Space – No kidding. A teenage Cleo is transported into the future where she has to save the galaxy. And finish school. Mike Maihack’s art is brilliant (I own some of it, although not from this book) and the story is a ton of fun.

Usagi Yojimbo – The most important, consistent and admired comic of the last 25 years. A ronin wanders feudal Japan  getting into adventures. Except he’s a rabbit. Stan Sakai gives a master class in storytelling, folklore and art. He’s so good that what he does looks simple, yet 99% of comic creators can’t do it and freely admit it.

Waiting on
Because that’s not enough, there are several books that haven’t come out yet in tpb format that I’m going to buy. They are:
She-Hulk - Marvel
Captain Marvel - Marvel
Ms. Marvel – Marvel
Rocket Raccoon – Marvel
Magneto – Marvel
Moon Knight – Marvel
Harley Quinn - DC
The Fade-Out – Image
Shutter – Image
Southern Bastards – Image
Fuse – Image
Veil – Dark Horse
Tomb Raider – Dark Horse

Last Five
1. Real long distance - Josh Ritter
2. Praise you - Flatboy Slim
3. Out of touch - Hall & Oates
4. Old Dan Tucker - Bruce Springsteen
5. Ah, me - Amelia Curran

Saturday, August 16, 2014


So this is a milestone post that more than once over the last few years I never thought I would make it to. Blogger is telling me that this is my 2,000th post.

The blog start in Newfoundland in February 2005 as a way, if I recall, to write about some stuff the Express wouldn't let me. Probably politics. Always drove me nuts that I had a successful, award-winning political column with the Packet and that was viewed as something the Express wasn't interested in.

Still annoyed about that, apparently. So anyway....

Record show I wrote a whopping total of 10 posts and then the blog went fallow and probably would have remained that way, as so many blogs do, until it got a jump start when we moved to Iqaluit in August, 2005.

(Yes, our 9th anniversary of the move is coming up. No, I won't be writing about. Maybe when we hit 10 years.)

And then we were off. Like a few bloggers before me, and many afterwards, the blog became about trying to adapt to a very different lifestyle and culture than what I grew up with. It wasn't entirely about that. There were other things like politics, movies, geekiness, and hell even some curling thrown in there. Blogs that tend to be just about how odd Nunavut is, as a way of explaining things to friends and family down south don't tend to last long either.

I have no secret to my success on this thing. I just wrote. Between 206-2009 I wrote a lot, sometimes more than a post a day. And then since 2010 it's faded. I can't precisely explain why; it's a number of things.

First, it can be hard to write about certain topics. I love writing about politics, but it's a challenge. I'm now nine years removed from Newfoundland and people writing about the politics of a place where they don't live....well, that often doesn't go well. There are people in Newfoundland who wouldn't piss on Margaret Wente if she were on fire.

Without getting into too much detail, I'm not comfortable writing about federal politics, no matter what my union representative tells me. I think that's just being prudent.

As for Nunavut politics, I...dabble in it. But so much of it is also based in the culture and traditions of the Inuit. I've been here nine years, so at least there are people realize I'm not here for a contract, a quick few bucks and a story before heading back down south. But I still try and be aware that I am perhaps missing something from not being from here.

Although, and this is a separate post, some heads need to roll over this dump fire. Next municipal election is going to be ugly.

Once I get away from politics, well, I do track what tends to be read most often. You guys really don't like curling (no worries about that, I'm not curling this year. I need a break), you can be hit and miss on the travel stories, and the geek culture stuff, which I've considered shifting towards, tends to be hit and miss as well.

Anyway, I really did think about hitting 2,000 posts, dropping the mic and walking off stage. It's a good number. A lot of blogs don't publish that much.

But it feels...limiting. I might not be posting twice a day anymore, but there's still stuff  I want to say. I like posting when travelling. It reminds me of what's going on that day, so I can write travel pieces later, if I want. There are times when there is stuff that's pissing me that I want to write about (the dump fire will be coming shortly. One on social media is forthcoming as well). Or just something weird (I have an ode to travel shoes coming).

I just like the option. I'm a not bad writer. I should be writing more. I really do try, but shiny things (internet, comic books) distract me. So does work. And, you know, I have this lovely wife who is mostly pretty patient with me. And she's fun and cute and I should be spending more time with her too.

So many I write when I can.

So 2,000 blog posts. Took me about nine years. I figure I'll be about 65 by the time I hit 4,000. But hey, stranger things have happened....

Last Five
1. All along the watchtower (live) - U2
2. Jesus was an only son - Bruce Springsteen*
3. The Hispanola/Silver and Loyals March - The Chieftains
4. City of lakes - Matt Mays
5. Nobody girl - Ryan Adams

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Hawaii wrap-up

I’m actually back in Iqaluit as I write this, so let’s wrap up with a few comments about Hawaii, and even a couple things about our stop in Ottawa, before moving on to other things. Besides, judging by my traffic stats, I’m not exactly setting the world on fire with “What I did on my summer vacation”. Then again, traffic on the blog always slows down during the summer.
1.    I was just starting to get the hang of Maui when it was time to leave. Cathy and I have been vacationing together for about 12 years now. A lot of these vacations have tended to be go go go…Cathy wanted this one to be a bit more sit around and do nothing. That’s not something I’m great at. I tend to wake up and go “what are we going to do today?” and Cathy’s response was often “we could do nothing, you know.” I wasn’t great at it the first half of our time in Maui, but I was just starting to settle down into sloth when it was time to go. Oh well….

2.   Apparently we need to split vacation between mountains and ocean. If you were to ask what my favourite moments were, they would have been flying over the volcano, hiking around Volcano park and driving up Haleakalā and hanging out at the peak. Cathy would probably pick swimming with manta rays (admittedly, very cool) and relaxing on the beach. Keeping this in mind, next year’s tentative plans seem to be a jaunt into the Austrian Alps followed by a cruise around the Greek isles. Something for both of us.

3.   Hawaii also confirmed that I’m just not comfortable being in the ocean. Cathy found it both amusing/worrying any time I went in the water. I can’t swim well, despite swimming lessons. I just can’t relax in it. I call it an environment that is actively trying to kill me every time I get in it. Cathy thinks that’s a touch melodramatic, but then again, she’s part sea mammal anyway. I envy her comfort in the ocean. I’ll never have it.

4.   I also seem to have become a bit nervous in planes, which is annoying. Granted, we had two bumpy flights and the one from the Big Island to Maui verged on terrifying at moments (overheads popping open and people screaming from the turbulence). But even on the big jets, I have difficulty getting comfortable. I don’t know if it’s paranoia from my Copenhagen flight experience a few years ago, or if American airlines are just so spectacularly uncomfortable and cattle-like that I can’t relax, but it is frustrating. Honestly, the best flight I had on the vacation was with Air Canada from Toronto to L.A.

5.    Hawaii is expensive. And this is saying something because we normally laugh at prices when we go out. Living in Nunavut gives you a different perspective on what is expensive and what isn’t. But even we noticed that things weren’t cheap in Hawaii. But the thing that surprised us was that even things grown locally (coffee, pineapples) weren’t cheap. If you’re going, gear up your budget for it.

6.    Perhaps that’s why Hawaiians are so eager to go on vacation. We heard a lot of radio ads for trips to Las Vegas while we were there. Basically to have some fun, gamble and do your Christmas shopping. I guess you need to get away, even if that away is a tropical paradise.

7. It is a dangerous thing to let me into a supermarket in the US while on vacation. The plan in Maui was since we were staying at a condo, we would buy groceries and not eat out every meal as a way to save money. Except I got in Safeway and wanted to buy everything. There was so much food, and stuff I'd never seen before and I wanted it all. I think Cathy was getting ready to taze me at one point to try and get me under control.

8.    We ran into a huge number of Alaskan ex-pats living there. I guess that makes sense.

9.   I remain baffled why Hawaii hasn’t gone all in on alternative energy. Maybe they have, but it just didn’t seem evident. Hawaii has easy sources of solar, wind, geothermal and wave energy. The one thing they don’t have is oil and gas. So why not have significant alternative energy and actively encourage hybrid and electric cars and punish gas-powered cars and trucks. Most of the islands are small enough that hybrids and electrics make a lot of sense, but I saw few of them. It’s a little baffling to me.

10.   I’m no good at litre/gallon conversions, but Maui’s gas tended to be in the $4.50 a gallon range. Although, in an interesting twist, the cheapest gas on the island was right next to the airport…at a Costco. If I lived there I’d have a Costco card just for the gas. I’ve mocked people in Newfoundland who drive 30 minutes, wait in line for another 30 minutes, and burn a ton of gas, just to fill up at Costco and save three cents a litre. But in Maui it makes sense. At their gas bar I filled up at $4.04 a gallon. A Shell station right around the corner was charging $4.52. That’s insane.

11.   This was our first experiment with staying in condos on vacation instead of hotel rooms. Gotta say, we quite liked it. Yes, the one in Kailua Kona seemed like it was leftover as a set prop from Hawaii 5-0…the 70s version of the show, but it was fine. And the place in Kihei, Maui, was just spectacular.

12.   We never did a luau, which I sort of regret. We begged off on the Big Island, figuring we’d get one in Maui. But the one everyone agrees is the best was sold out six weeks in advance. They’re expensive, and there were food allergy concerns, but it might have been fun. Oh well, next time.

13.   And yeah, I can see going back there in a few years. The nice thing is we only did two islands. There are seven. And each island has its own vibe. So yeah, I could see going back and exploring a couple of the other islands in a few years. We liked Hawaii. I was concerned it was going to be so touristy that it would be a turn off. And yeah, Maui caters to tourists a lot more than the Big Island, but it wasn’t too bad. I think it helped that we didn’t stay in, and actively avoided, the big resort areas north of Lahania and south of Kihei.
And as for the couple of days in Ottawa, three things...
1. I think we fell in love with Fiat 500. It's what Enterprise gave us at the airport. That is a fun little car. I enjoyed zipping all over Ottawa for a few days in it. Yeah, it's small and I wouldn't want to be sitting in the back seat of the thing, but I like the car quite a bit. Cathy and I have had semi-joking conversations about getting one next summer. The main problem, I think, is not the extravagance of having a second car in a place like Iqaluit when we don't have kids, it's that we would both be fighting over who got to drive it.
2. I was curious about what kind of reception I would receive after arriving at Southways, given the racket I kicked up last time. As soon as I mentioned my name to the woman at the desk, the manager came zipping around the corner to let me know my coolers were fine and to have a chat with me. So that appears to be resolved. Although I thought they might put us in a nice room to make up for some of the hassles. Nope. One of the oldest rooms in the place in some pea soup green colour. Oh well. I guess all is not completely forgiven (and don't tell me hotel people can't be spitey to annoying guests. I'm friends with people in the industry. I know they do it...)
3. Finally, if you're in Ottawa and think "I need donuts" and your first thought is to go to Tim Hortons, smack yourself in the face hard and go to Suzq instead. Best donuts I've had since I was a kid and used to hit the bakery at Woolworths on Water Street. The Dirty Chocolate is especially wonderful, although the maple bacon (with real bacon) is fairly brilliant too.
If nothing else, I doubt I will be eating donuts from Tim Hortons anymore. It seems a waste when I could get some from there. If anyone is flying up from Ottawa to Iqaluit and wants to buy me a dozen, I will be your friend forever. Or at least until the donuts are gone...

Last Five
1. Butterfly song - Andy Stochansky
2. What makes you happy - Liz Phair*
3. Save me - The Donnas
4. Shakin' - The Dandy Warhols
5. Buffalo seven - Matthew Good

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Maui: Land of Car Sickness

Maui has many virtues going for it. The sunshine, the beaches, surfers, rainforests, extinct volcanoes…but my lasting memory of the island will be one of car sickness.
Ordinarily I only get car sick if I’m trying to read while in a moving car. Frustrating, but I’ve learned to adapt by not doing that thing. But Maui managed a new one my making me car sick while driving, not once, but three separate times. Let’s just say there are few straight lines in getting from Point A to Point B.
The first was by accident, and it’s a decision I will be paying the interest on for the rest of my marriage. Ever make a decision that disagreed with the option provided by your wife, realize it was the wrong one and have a vision of a conversation you’ll be replaying for decades to come? That’s what happened when, after enjoying a spectacular sunset just north of tourist hub of Lahaina, I decided to turn left when leaving the beach. Cathy advised turning right and retracing our path back to our condo. I was sure that left was faster. It would take us over the north-western part of Maui and, from a quick glance at the map, appeared to be a shorter distance.
What I had failed to take into consideration was that while it might look shorter, it was not the four-lane highway we had enjoyed earlier in the day. My option, Route 340, can generously be called a goat path in places. It’s not just that it’s a narrow two lane road filled with hills, valleys, twists and blind turns, it’s that it occasionally narrows to one lane, then to one gravel lane. Then one narrow gravel lane against the edge of a cliff with the Pacific Ocean below. Assuming we could see it, of course, as I was driving it at night. Occasionally traffic would come from the opposite direction. Just to make life more interesting.
It’s not the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s Top 10. I told locals what I did and they looked at me like I had a death wish. They avoid driving that road during the daytime. Driving it at night is insane. I look on the bright side. By driving it at night I was less able to see how close I was to driving the car off a cliff than if I’d done it during the day time.
After we finished, and survived, there was a McDonald’s. I pulled in, ordered something to drink (I forget what) and spent 15 minutes taking a lot of deep breaths and getting my hands to unclinch.
The second case of car sickness was at least during the day time and more pleasant. The Road to Hana ends up on a lot of lists as a Must-do if you’re in Hawaii. It ends up on a lot of bucket lists as something you should drive in your lifetime.
And it is spectacular. The scenery as you’re driving along the narrow and winding road is some of the best I’ve seen in my lifetime.  Just as long as you stop regularly and enjoy some of it. One of the smarter purchases we made was the audio guide Gypsy Guide to the Road to Hana for our iPhone. It’s a battery hog, but provides a ton of useful information about places to stop along the way, and some history of Maui. So we stopped at several spectacular waterfalls, botanical gardens, roadside food stops, beaches and parks along the way.
If you’re ever looking for proof that the saying “it’s the journey, not the destination” is true, then the Road to Hana is it. The actual community of Hana is barely worth the trip. It’s small and there isn’t much to do. We only spent a few minutes there before driving onwards to the Haleakala National Park a few miles later, with its “sacred” pools. They’re not sacred to Hawaiians, but to marketers, who very effectively sold the idea that tourists should travel there and spend money along the way. Instead of the crowded pools we spent a few hours hiking up the side of the volcano to Waimoku Falls.
It really is a beautiful drive, even with the 64 bridges and reported 620 curves (I didn’t count) during the 84 km drive from Hahului to Hana. The traffic is bad and yeah, I got a little nauseous by the end of the day. But unlike the first drive, this one was well worth it.
The final bout came courtesy of Haleakala National Park again. It’s a huge park, taking up more than 130 square kilometers. One day we did the lush tropical side, a couple of days later I drove to the summit of the extinct volcano that makes up the heart of the park.
Notice there was an I not a we in that last sentence. After two lots of winding roads and with her ears not really recovered from the ear-popping they got on the Big Island, Cathy opted for a day at the beach instead.
Yeah, I got a little nauseous driving to the summit, but it might have been the most fun drive of the trip. No cliffs, for one thing. The traffic wasn’t too bad. There are plenty of places as you’re climbing to the summit of Haleakala, which is an extinct volcano, to pull over and enjoy magnificent views. You get to drive through Maui’s Upcountry, which is a world different than the beaches and resorts of Lahania. As you’re driving up you pass cattle ranches and cowboys. Occasionally, you see a small horde of mountain bikers barreling down the mountain, apparently living out a dream/death wish (note, most did not bike up the mountain. There are companies that will bus you to the top and then guide you to the bottom of the mountain via bike. Bit of a cheat if you ask me).
The view from the summit of Haleakala can also make you giddy. Possibly it’s the lack of oxygen – you are at 10,000 feet – but on a reasonable clear day you can see the Big Island, about 50 miles or more away. The volcanic crater is huge, and you can hike it if you have the time. Apparently the sunrise from the summit is spectacular but I didn’t have it in me to get up at 4 am to start the drive.

I loved being on top of Haleakala. I was reluctant to leave...
Three very different road trips. They all made me a little nauseous, but hey, sometimes a little car sickness is worth it. Except for that Route 340 trip. That one is going to haunt me…
Last Five
1. Call me on your way back home (live) - Ryan Adams*
2. Slippery slopes - Jenny Lewis
3. Dear Prudence - The Beatles
4. Hold me now - Thompson Twins
5. It's hard to be a saint in the city (Live) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Vacation housekeeping

So some house-keeping before I get to Maui stuff. Maui has been more laid back, so there's less to write about, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

1. I slagged Southways Hotel in Ottawa a few weeks back for various sins, mostly over changing their baggage policy which meant I had to abandon a pair of coolers. I did it on this blog but, because I was in an especially bad mood over that, I also went on Iqaluit Public Service Announcements page on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and TripAdvisor. I was pretty thorough in my use of social media to express my disgust.

I rarely do that sort of thing, but sadly it works. I complained at the front desk when it was happening, but there was nothing they could do. When I blasted them on all those social media platforms, and people responded with dismay, well there was a change of heart in a matter of days.

So now they will keep bags for a month, assuming you have a return reservation already in place. Which is quite fair. They also contacted me personally to let me know that the coolers I abandoned were reclaimed from our room and are waiting for us when we return to Ottawa.

On the one hand, I'm glad to see Southways recognized they made a mistake and took quick action to fix it and made serious efforts to reach out to me to rectify the situation. It's more than what a lot of businesses would have done. Still, I wish they could have seen how severe the reaction to this idea would be from Nunavumiut, which make up a significant part of their business, before they took those steps.

Anyway, the situation is over with only some minor inconvenience...

2. Speaking of TripAdvisor, I think one of the things that surprised me the most in Hawaii is how much businesses depend on/fear TripAdvisor. I've heard radio ads talking about how highly rated their business is on TripAdvisor.

And I have to admit we're using TripAdvisor/Yelp/Google Maps a lot more on this vacation than we ever have before (we also downloaded a Road to Hana audio app for the iPhone, which was quite useful and better than trying to read highlights from a book while driving). Part of it is we now have iPhones, which we never had on previous vacations. So we can come here, get burner sims, and have actual smart phones when we travel around. It's made navigating easier, but it's also made finding places to eat or shop much easier.

So yes, all hail/live in fear of the mighty social media...

3. Every day I wear my Montreal Expos baseball hat, I get compliments or a comment on it. People haven't forgotten that team, even in the US.

4. We're routinely asked where we're from when we travel, more so in Hawaii than anywhere else we've been. And let's face it, no one in the United States knows where Nunavut is. Over the years, we've refined our location from Northern Canada (too many people thought we were talking about Toronto...seriously), to the Arctic (routinely got Edmonton/Yellowknife) to the North Pole (not everyone thought we were kidding) to the current Eastern Canadian Arctic. We add just west of Greenland (never mind that Grise Fiord is also technically just west of Greenland and it's much different than Iqaluit) and people get the idea.

It's an automatic conversation starter because people are curious about why you live there and when you moved and what you do. I've noticed an interesting reaction when we explain our jobs. When Cathy says she's a teacher, she gets nods and smiles. When she says she's a special needs teacher, she gets more conversation and more...respect. People acknowledge that's not always an easy job.

I've said I work with the government, which gets a blank look at best, or sometimes disapproving, depending on the person you're speaking with. I've said PR/Communications, and that always gets a frown. Lately I've taken to saying I work with an economic development agency and that....oddly gets some respectful looks. Americans seem to like the idea of doing something that helps grow and develop the economy.

It's all about refining the message to reach the right audience to help achieve your goals. My bosses would be so proud...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Big Island post-mortem

Some random thoughts from the Big Island...

1. If your ears are sensitive to changes in pressure, man is the Big Island not for you. There are signs on the side of the road telling you what elevation you're currently hitting. It's nothing to go from sea level, to 2,000 feet, to sea level again in a half hour. The trip to Hilo - Volcano is 0 to 4,000 feet. And, at it's most extreme, you can go from sea level to 10,000 feet in an hour if you decide to make the trip to the observatory at Mauna Kea. Cathy's asked for a break, now that we're on Maui, and to stay near sea level for a few days.

2. The Big Island has some of the nicest roads I've ever seen. It all looks like it's been paved recently and it's kept clean. There's hardly any litter or debris along the side of the roads. In fact, there are signs routinely warning you of heavy fines - $500 to $1,000 - if you're caught littering. I like that. Then again, littering drives me nuts. It's one the laziest human behaviours around.

3. There are a lot of churches, but few catholic ones. I'm sure they're there, we just didn't see any until we hit Maui. There was a small town we drove through along the south coat. Couldn't be anymore than 1,000 people, but we drove past at least a half dozen churches.

(Found out later that the Catholic Church was banned for decades on the islands by Protestant missionaries. Interesting...)

4. I understand  the whole, laid back, friendly Hawaiian thing is almost a cliche at this point, but really, they are some of the nicest, friendliest people you could ever hope to meet. Great smiles, always helpful, always will to chat or carry on a conversation about something.

5. Despite the non-littering thing, there is one thing cluttering up the place - Hawaii is in the middle of election mode, so there are signs for governor, lt. Governor, senators, state senators, city council, school boards....everywhere. Unless I've missed something the election isn't until November. It's only July and there's a sizable amount of clutter going on.

Although, interestingly, none of the signs indicate party affiliation. For example, until I checked, I didn't know that Neil Albercrombie was a Democrat. Makes me feel a little better about using a fan with his name on it to keep cool during a Sunday flea market.

6. It perhaps means nothing to people who live down south, but I will weep when I have to leave Hawaii and deal with Nunavut internet again. We spent one night chilling in Kailua Kona watching a movie on Netflix (Lilo and Stich, of course) and watching YouTube videos. And at no point did it lock up and we have to go and do something else for 10 minutes. It just....streamed. It worked like internet is supposed to work.

This is a bunch of tiny islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and they have working internet. So can we please have something like that in Nunavut already? It's ridiculous we have to beg for these things sometimes.

7. Give credit to the Americans for one thing, they do a mean national park. Seriously, if you come to Hawaii and don't do Volcano National Park, you're missing out on something spectacular. And it's not just the simmering volcano that you can go and watch, which obviously draws all the attention, but some great walking trails as well. The staff are also tremendously helpful.

8. People still seemed pretty confused about Obamacare. We've had a few conversation with people, mostly non-Hawaiians, about it. We always sum up our argument this way "We love your country, we think it's great. We would never live here because of your healthcare system." And the thing of it is, I think many American know they're being screwed over, they just have no idea how to make it right.

9. I was very impressed with the size of the biking lanes I saw on the Big Island, especially around Kailua Kona. Then I noticed a bunch of people training for the Iron Man race, which is in September, so that makes sense.

10. Perhaps I just missed it, but I really thought the Big Island would be more into alternative energy sources. I knew the place would be expensive, but I was still surprised at how expensive. It's not Nunavut-level, but some of it isn't far off. I saw gas range from $4.09 a gallon to $4.50 a gallon. Even local staples like fruit were pricier than I thought.

It's why I thought things like solar or wind would be a bigger deal. Anything to help offset some of the costs. But even most of the cars were standard. I saw few hybrids or electric cars. No windmills and little solar. I think there is some geo-thermal going on, but I guess I just expected more...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The land of coffee

I'm not a complete idiot. Of course I knew that Hawaii grew coffee before I came here and that it is a big deal. This isn't even the first place I've been where coffee is big. When I was in Costa Rica, it was made abundently clear how important coffee was and that it was the best in the world and anyone who told you otherwise were lying bastards.

But man, Hawaii is something else.

First off, it's good coffee. I'm far from being an expert on these things. I've only taken to drinking it every now and then in the last couple of years. I find the coffee in Canada bitter and tastes like burnt rubber. Every now and then I'll hit something that makes me think "Oh, this is why people like this stuff."

I've yet to hit a bad cup of coffee here. I've hit some truly extraordinary stuff.  I bought some from a place called McClure Farms and I'm kicking myself for not buying a crate of it.

Having said that, the industry surrounding it in Hawaii is impressive. I first got a hint of it at a farmer's market in Hilo. I was just eyeing something called Kau coffee, when the guy behind the table starts giving me the whole spiel. That the area, just south of Volcano National Park, used to grow sugarcane, then they transformed it to coffee, using coffee beans found in the area dating back to Brazil in the 19th century...and so on and so forth.

It was a good story. I bought a bag and we drank it while in the Hilo/Volcano area. It's pretty good.

But by the time we hit  Kailua-Kona, it had reached epic proportions. We drove into the city from the south, which means we cut through the heart of their coffee country. There were signs everywhere inviting us to do coffee tours or visit their gift shops. One thoughtfully reminded us that we had passed their farm 500 yards ago and that we should turn around because we were missing out on the best coffee in Hawaii. It seems every coffee in the region has won an award of some kind, at some point. They also all have epic stories of some kind.

The lady at the table who sold me the McClure coffee explained that since the coffee was grown by an 86-year-old man, and that it wasn't lumped in and roasted with beans from other farms, it was unique and better than the rest. It was a good story, so I bought the bag. And it's probably the best I've ever had. Sadly, it would cost a fortune to get it shipped to Iqaluit and I can't find it for sale off the Big Island. Damn.

And so it goes. There's that much coffee being sold in Kailua-Kona that I don't know how people actually sleep. There are cafes everywhere, there are shops specializing in coffee everywhere. There was a street fair on the Sunday we were there, and there was enough coffee being sold there to keep Nunavut caffeinated for a year.

My favourite involves Donkey Balls.

There's a store on Ali'i Street, the main drag, called Donkey Balls. It was hot, it had air conditioning and the name intrigued me. Basically they sell all kinds of chocolate, most of it covering macademia nuts. Hence, donkey balls. They also sell coffee and the guy behind the counter was an older gent and quite ambiable. After buying a lot of balls (they're quite tasty) and getting an iced coffee, I expressed my confusion about all the claims about which coffee is best.

"All the coffee around here is good. It might be grown at different altitudes, or roasted different ways, but there's no such thing as a bad cup of coffee around here," he said.

Which I thought was a fair point. You can get blinders on these things, chasing around which coffee might be the best. I know little about coffee, but I can get that way sometimes. If I'm in coffee-nirvana, maybe I want to try and find the best coffee around. Instead, just enjoy what's there.

But I had another question. I'd seen ads for another Donkey Balls up on the main highway. I asked if it was the same company.

His complexion went from laid-back Hawaiian chill, to scowl. The word "thieves" was not said, but it wouldn't have taken many drinks to get him to say it.

So yes, there is a Donkey Ball rivalary in Kailua-Kona. We went to the other store, by the way. Can't speak to their coffee, but their chocolate salty balls are quite tasty.

One last coffee related story. I went into another shop and, with some amusement, noticed they also sold tea.

"Isn't that sacriliege around here?" I asked.

"Well, there are some people who go for that sort of thing, I guess," he said. It was a tone of voice similar to what you might hear if you ask a Texan what he thinks about gun control.

We haven't seen as much coffee on Maui as the Big Island. There's plenty of it, but they're just not as crazy about it. I mean, there are lots of Starbucks on Maui, but only a few on the Big Island. I imagine in the land of coffee paradise, where every block has a coffee with an award or a story, Starbucks is a bit of a hard sell....