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All Things Bright and Beautiful (for Christmas)

xmas house copy

This is so not my house. (Photo credit: small home, big display! via photopin (license))

 

The world is a strange and mysterious place, and there are any number of things in life that simply don’t seem to make any sense whatsoever. Like Intelligent Design, for example. Or Donald Trump being considered as a serious presidential contender. Or how a person (i.e. me) who absolutely loves all things Christmas (atheist though I am — sorry, that’s another blog altogether) can so viscerally detest putting up exterior Christmas decorations.

 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like exterior Christmas lights / decorations. It’s just that, all things being equal, when I’m at the top of that ladder — you know, standing on that very final step that has the embossed raised lettering on it that reads “DANGER: THIS IS NOT A STEP!” — and my fingers are frozen to the bone and about to snap off due to frost bite, and I’ve just broken off another plastic clip trying to get that bloody string of un-straightenable lights fastened to the eavestrough, and I’m doing this all one-handed because I’m using the other hand to cling to another part of the eavestrough — where the bare skin of my fingers may or may not have stuck itself fast to the exposed metal — to counterbalance the alarming pendulum-like sway that seems to have developed in the rickety step ladder below me, well, at times like these, my mind has a tendency to wander to the consideration of more enjoyable pastimes like, say, being flayed alive.

 

Today, as you might have guessed, was the day that we undertook decorating the outside of our house for Christmas. What we traditionally refer to, in Clark W. Griswold parlance, as “doing the exterior illumination.” And as much as I — as a matter of principle — approach this exercise with hatred and loathing, today, as it turned out, wasn’t a complete disaster. Granted it didn’t start out all that auspiciously. Just five minutes into the exercise, before we even got out of the basement storage room with the exterior wreaths, I was already hurling expletives at my 15-year old son as I found myself traipsing through a sea of loose kitty litter on the floor that he was supposed to have vacuumed up two days ago. Once we put that behind us, however, it was more or less smooth sailing.

 

What made this year run so — relatively — smoothly, you ask? I think there were probably several crucial factors.

  • The cat litter incident notwithstanding, my 6’-0” tall, nearly 16-year old son is finally of an age that when he helps me out around the house, he’s actually capable of truly being a help, rather than just something else I need to take care of as I’m trying to get the work done.  (“You wanna pay room and board or do you wanna help me put up the Christmas lights? Your choice. Pick up that ladder and those extension cords and let’s rock!”)
  • I can usually predict with some certainty what will be the coldest day of December. ‘Cuz it always seems to be the Saturday or Sunday I finally get around to putting up the Christmas lights! This year, blessedly, not so much. It was a nice crisp day to be sure, and there was even some lightly falling snow that helped to accentuate the pre-holiday atmosphere, but no mind-numbingly cold temps where you worry about your fingers snapping off if you risk working without gloves for a couple of minutes.
  • After six or seven years of putting up exactly the same exterior decorations in exactly the same locations, I think I may have finally got it figured out! For instance, I know now, from hard-won experience, where to best use zip ties instead of string and vice versa (and to make sure I have a reasonable supply of both on hand prior to getting underway). And this time around, for the first year ever, I wasn’t even missing a single extension cord, and all the inter-looping electrical lines running helter-skelter across the front lawn terminated neatly and logically — on the first attempt — into the three exterior outlets that I have available. The key to this system is to store all your equipment together in one place throughout the year. I now have a a single box in which I keep all my wiring supplies and woe betide the the person who tries to steal an extension cord from this box in the off season! (“I don’t care that Nana needs another few feet of cord to plug in her oxygen machine, those are my Christmas extension cords — hands off!)

 

Of course, the best way to minimize exterior illumination trauma installation time is — you guessed it — leave stuff up the whole year ‘round! Yeah, sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m that guy. It’s not something I’m proud of, and I only do it for the single line of lights along the front of the eavestrough, and the lights are white and the eavestrough is white so you don’t really notice anyway….

 

The fact is, when the snow finally clears from around the house sometime in late April / early May, and those eavestrough lights catch my eye the first time I run the lawn mover across the front yard, I can’t help but think to myself, if I take them down now I’ll just be back up there — risking life and limb atop that damn ladder in a sub-zero arctic wind storm (no doubt with a vengeful teenager on the bottom rung trying to figure out a way to have it topple and not get blamed for it) — six months from now, re-installing them. Where’s the wisdom in that? As I like to remind my wife in these instances, our house is set pretty far back from the road, after all.

 

And I’m hopeful that the eavestrough lighting I put up last year, with integral clip fasteners on the lights, will serve me far better than the ones I used to put up where you had to install those persnickety plastic eave-fastening clips separately from the string of lights. The latter type seem prone to catastrophic failure after a year or two of full-time duty on the front of the house.

 

I know this for a fact since, two years ago, while seeking to add a single new clip near the end of the run of lights where an existing clip had broken off, I inadvertently set in motion a Griswoldian chain of events worthy of a Hollywood Christmas extravaganza. As I held on to the cord of lights that I was seeking to fasten with the new clip, the next clip in line, weakened from having been on the house for far too long, snapped in half. Then the clip after that snapped. Then the clip after that, and so on. Until the bulk of the 42 foot run of eavestrough Christmas lights — except for the end that I held in my hand as I stood on top of the ladder —  was now laying on the ground in front of the house, covered in a sprinkling of snapped off plastic fasteners.

 

This, as you can well image, was the highlight of my son’s entire holiday season. And if he didn’t pee himself laughing, it was not for lack of trying. In fact, he was still laughing as I got in the car and headed to Canadian Tire for new lights. You know, the ones with the integral clips.

 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a well-illuminated good night!

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Saturday Morning and a Double Espresso

Photo credit: tonx via photopin cc

Photo credit: tonx via photopin cc

Apparently, suggest the cognoscenti, my blog lacks focus.

“If you think you have what it takes and are determined to stay the course then know that blogging begins with defining a purpose for your blog that clearly expresses your aim to blog with passion about something that matters…. From the outset you need to be able to describe your blog’s purpose by expressing what you intend to blog about in as few words as possible.” (Creating an Effective Blog Description by timethief)

One option, of course, is to embrace the obvious dichotomy between this recommended requirement for a “grand unifying theory” — as the physicists might call it — and my blog’s present lack thereof. My focus, in this case, becomes its inherent lack of focus, a deliberate thematic diffusion. A menagerie of miscellany. Which, I suppose, it already is. As are most blogs, I would argue, regardless of their purported descriptions.

I tried to start with a focus. My “official” tag line, below The Gooseyard banner, for example, is “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think…” Hopefully that supposition at least hints at the fact that I’m interested in thinking / writing about the end-run we’re all attempting to make around the concept of our own individual mortality.

Then, beneath my author’s photo (as you’ve probably already seen if, in fact, you’re reading this blog) is a more explicit, supplemental attempt at defining a unifying principal amongst these digital pages: “A (mostly) literary blog.” Except it hasn’t been. Not really. But I do talk a lot about Ian McEwan. He’s awesome. (Though, truth be told, I’m somewhat less than impressed with his website.)

The “literary blog” thing, in retrospect, turned out to be more of an “aspirational” tag than an elucidating descriptor. It was required of me far too early in the process. Like asking a child what he wants to be when he grows up. We can’t all be firefighters after all, but we never really understand this little heartbreak until it’s too late.

Thus far, it turns out, my blog has simply been about what it’s been about. I’m sure there’s a special place in hell for those of us who traffic in such tautological pedantry, but I’ve decided — experts be damned — that I’m simply not going to be pinned down at the moment. Mainly because I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing yet myself. I don’t know if what I’m attempting in this forum can ultimately be construed as entertainment, human interest, or maybe just wordpainting for dummies. Comedy or tragedy? I don’t know if it’s good or bad or utterly indifferent. If it’s poetry. Or therapy. Or a plaintive cry for some last vestige of human community — digital or otherwise.

What I do know is that, when it comes to the various blogs that I follow myself, what matters to me far more than how accurately the authors describe what their blog is about is the quality of their writing. In fact, I seldom find myself reading blogs that focus on single-topic content. Blog-wise, I quickly determined that I’m far more engaged by a good writer writing about something in which I have no particular interest, than I am by a bad writer writing about something close to my heart. Ultimately, the quality of the writer / writing matters far more to me than the consistency of the topic.

And it’s this type of simply-write-about-whatever-may-catch-your-attention-but-make-it-interesting-and-writerly approach that I seem to have adopted by default. I suppose I blog at all because it is an inherently un-focused activity. I’m focused all day —  every day — at work. Like a laser. If I were then to also maintain this focus into my non-work hours, well, the universe might actually begin to falter. That would be waaaay too much focus for anyone to deal with. With that much focus I’d be liable to generate another big bang or something. (SHUT UP! This is so a brilliant metaphor! The big bang was all about things becoming too concentrated, too focused, right? Same as me. Really! I’ve done the math!)

So what’s the take-away in all this bloggerly beating of breast and gnashing of teeth? I’ve decided to revise my tag line to “An (occasionally) literary blog.” Whew, I’m glad I got that off my chest! I bet the suspense was killing you.

NB. timethief (onecoolsitebloggingtips.com) also writes that there are about 39 million posts uploaded to WordPress every month. Talk about the perfect opportunity to fall through the cracks and never be heard from again! Given those kind of numbers I may end up having to simply Freshly Press myself at some point. Though I imagine this would be considered rather gauche by all those who have actually already achieved such distinction. And probably frowned upon by the folks at WordPress.

Not that it really matters anyway given that timethief further advises that the stats indicate that most of us new bloggers won’t last out the year to begin with.

I may need to reconsider my subscription to onecoolsitebloggingtips…

What’s the Good Word, Intrepid Reader?

Photo credit: Florian SEROUSSI via photopin cc

Photo credit: Florian SEROUSSI via photopin cc

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

Remember that awesome game the teacher would sometimes let the class play when you were elementary school? Telephone, I think it was called. Or telegraph, maybe. The teacher would whisper something into the ear of the first student in the first row and then that student would, in turn, whisper what she heard to the student next to her, and so on, until the quietly-mumbled phrase finally made the rounds to the very last child in the class. Then that kid — usually looking somewhat bewildered, as if he were certain the entire class was deliberately trying to make a dunce of him or get him in trouble — would have to write on the chalkboard exactly what he had heard from the final whisperer. Beside this phrase, the teacher would then write what she had actually said to the first student in the chain.

Hilarity ensued. Every time. Guaranteed. “You’re a better man than I am Gunga Din,” would somehow emerge as “Lorne is bitter and green and Sam hung-up tins.” Or maybe even, “Chicken burgers with lysol in the banana yard.” There was no telling what potential trajectory these feral, semantic missiles might take. All bets were off. It was pure nonsense, grammar and logic run amok! We loved it! What’s more, it turned out to be a game, it now occurs to me on an almost daily basis, that bears an uncanny resemblance to trying to manage complex business projects via e-mail.

The other language-related game I really used to enjoy was more of a public speaking-type exercise that I suppose I would have played in junior or senior high. I don’t know what, if anything, it’s actually called. It would begin with everybody writing a random short phrase or a noun on a slip of paper — “two if by sea,” “Napoleon,” “salamander,” whatever. The teacher would then collect all the folded up slips and bring them back to his desk. Then, one at a time, each student would have to go to the front of the class and retrieve one of the random topics from the pile the teacher had just collected. The object of the game was then to speak for as long as you could — with the teaching recording your time — on whatever topic you had chosen, but without ever saying “err” or “uhmm” or “ahh” or the like. It sounds simple, but if you’ve ever attempted this exercise yourself, you know how damnably difficult it actually is. Try as they might, many of those in the class often ended up being disqualified before they even got underway. For a surprisingly large percentage of students, the first thing they said, no matter how much they tried to be conscious of what was about to come out of their mouths, was, in fact, “Uhmm…”

In honour of this particular language-centric challenge, I’ve decided to make you, dear reader, do some of the heavy lifting for a change.

Every week it’s my responsibility to both come up with an idea for a new blog entry and write the bloody thing. Truth is, I’ve got a list of about 86,000 blog ideas in notebook here beside the computer. I can’t seem to blink and not generate another blog idea somehow. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re anything you might actually be interesting in reading about.

So let’s mix it up a little, lest things go stale by relying too heavily on the same old format here at The Gooseyard, week after week. (Plus I want to know if anybody’s actually out there!)

Here’s the deal: this week, in the spirit of the above-noted “public speaking” challenge, leave me a comment containing a short phrase or a noun you’d be interesting in seeing me blog about. Or even just a nonsense word that you’ve picked out of the ether — the whole point of the exercise, after all, is that it hardly matters a whit what words you start with. The proof, instead, is in the quality of the pudding. (Yes, oh great interpreter of metaphorical language, by pudding I actually mean the blog.)

I’ll copy out all the words, stick them in the proverbial hat, extract one at random, and then, well I guess you’ll be my muse for this week’s blog! (Yeah, alright, it’s just a convoluted writing prompt exercise, but let’s keep that entre nous, for the moment, ‘k.) So? You in?

Only two conditions. First, personal friends and writing buddies can leave a comment, but can’t submit a word for the hat (’cause, remember, I’m trying to see if there’s any else out there!) Second, no filth (including politics and religion), or anything else that’s going to back me into a moral corner of any sort. I can get into enough trouble on my own without anyone else’s help on that score, thank you very much.

And don’t leave me hanging by not dropping by with a word or two. Don’t make me blog about nothing. Because you know I’ll do it if I have to. And it won’t be some laugh-a-minute “Seinfeld-ian” nothing, I can assure you of that. It’ll be all philosophical, and dense, and probably turn into a three-part series at 5,0000 words an entry, and it’ll be all your fault. All on you!

Or, alternatively, I’ll be forced to revert to uploading more cat videos. And none of us — I hope — want that!

Telling it like it is

Sorry for posting two “re-blogs” in a row, but I couldn’t resist this one.

As Freud — apocryphally? — once said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar: http://www.americanhumanist.org/news/details/2013-05-atheists-give-10000-to-oklahoma-tornado-victim-rebec

Hats off to Ms. Vitsmun! Mr. Blitzer, not so much…

The End of (Work) Days

Photo credit: opacity via photopin cc

Photo credit: opacity via photopin cc

Eureka! It’s good to finally know there’s a scientific reason why I often feel like crap at the end of the work day — see http://www.lifeedited.com/edit-your-thoughts-for-more-energy/. Why, after I make it home for the evening, it’s so difficult to peel myself off the chesterfield and actually do something other than watch TV and ingest carbs until I fall asleep.

And here I was the whole time just naturally assuming that I was somehow being exposed to toxic levels of a mutated free-form hybrid tryptophan virus found only in the ventilation system of my particular office building. Who knew?

*Cue Dolly* Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living…

Wanna share with the class? What gets you off the couch after a hard day at work? Do tell…

P.S. Sorry, the post I provided the link to above wasn’t a WordPress blog so I couldn’t figure out how to simply re-blog it.

P.P.S. If you’re into design at all — and especially “green” architecture — it’s well worth exploring the Life Edited site beyond simply the above-noted link.

Oops, disregard that last e-mail . . .

failure-300x225A huge apology goes out to all my e-mail “Followers” who just received my latest blog posting completely un-edited and without visuals! Sorry, guys, I was starting to get it ready for upload and meant to hit “Preview” and hit “Publish” instead.

Delete the e-mail version you received and drop by The Gosseyard for the CORRECT version in about 15 minutes or so.

Argghhhh . . .

They need an “Are you sure?” follow-up on that damn “Publish” button!

A World of (Virtual) Wonders

internet photoThe internet never ceases to amaze me.

I’m old enough that I can remember life without the net, and without PC’s in general. And I suppose that this has a huge influence on how continually astounded I am by the rate at which the virtual world continues its exponential evolution. It’s become such a ubiquitous presence that we seldom even think about it any more. But when I do stop to think about what it would be like — what it used to be like — to do the things I take for granted now, without a PC, or a smart phone, or a tablet or an internet connection, I’m often flabbergasted.

Blogging, for example, is a brave new world. Who would have thought that there were so many writers out there just waiting to exorcise their poor, tortured souls onto the virtual page? Imagine, the minute I upload this file, someone half a world away in Sydney can start reading it. Or in Berlin, or Peoria. No editor, no intermediaries — just me, open to the world for business. (Anyone born into the internet age is rolling their eyes at this point, — duh? — but get off your high horse for a moment and just dare to imagine how it must have felt to live in a world without such immediate syncronicity. In retrospect, it felt pretty good actually, but that’s another blog altogether…) And with the emerging availability of on-line translation protocols, folks can even read this flood of blogs in their language of choice. (Must be the death knell for Esperanto.) Oh, what I would have given to have had Google Translate when I was struggling through high school French!

Last week the top part of the agitator in my washing machine stopped turning properly. A couple of minutes on the internet and I soon discovered that the top part of the agitator is actually called the auger. A couple of minutes more and I discovered that, in fact, I was lucky it was an auger issue because this is far preferable to having a problem with the agitator proper (i.e. the wider, lower part of the shaft that twirls the clothes around in the bottom of your washer). If you’re having a problem with the agitator, I learned, it could be a motor or a belt or a clutch problem — all requiring serious and potentially expensive fixes. With the augur, what usually happens is that the plastic “dogs” that turn against the teeth of the main agitator, to keep the upper spindle turning independently, often wear out. When they’re stripped and don’t engage properly the augur doesn’t turn. Five minutes on YouTube with weezie63, the “red neck” plumber, and a trip to the local appliance store the next day to purchase four plastic replacement “dogs” ($8 plus tax), and I was good to go. Back in the day, this would have meant an expensive visit from an appliance repair person. Do they even have appliance repair people any more?

Then yesterday, doing a bit a research for an upcoming blog I’m planning on life lessons gleaned from minor hockey, I went searching for an image of one of those “Hockey is Life” t-shirts that were so popular (for so many sports) a few years ago. Of course, I found one immediately, with my first search query. And then that started me thinking about other funny t-shirts I’d seen over the course of the years — because, hey, this is the internet whose apparent raison d’être is to lure us down these alleys of lateral thinking so that we waste huge freakin’ swathes of our evenings and weekends without even realizing what we’re doing and that it’s already 1:32 in the morning.

Any variation of the classic “I’m with Stupid” shirt, as you might expect, offered no challenge either — found those images in an instant as well. Then I remembered a t-shirt I had seen years and years ago, but have never seen since. A shirt that became the stuff of legend, my grandfather’s favorite t-shirt of all time. We would have seen it together some time in the late the seventies or early eighties — while I was still in junior high school — on one of our summer excursions to a local “Wildlife Park”. This was around the time when “Egyptomania” was on the rise and the funerary treasures of the young King Tutankhamun were being shipped to key museums around the world for display, and attracting huge crowds in the process. Gramps and I certainly never made it to the Met in New York to enjoy the exhibit. But what we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one enchanted summer day at the park was a buxom, t-shirt-clad young lady striding languorously toward us with matching imprints of the sarcophigal (sp?) visage of King Tut emblazoned proudly across each of her breasts. And, below that, — just in case you happened to be a complete moron and miss the pun altogether — the dire warning, “DON’T TOUCH MY TUTS!” Surely, I thought, there’s no way the internet has that one on file. I was wrong…

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Provocative pharaoh-centric fashion statements aside, however, don’t you find this vast, seething, unbounded, what? intelligence? of the Net unsettling somehow? The coalescing hive mind at work. Call me a pessimist, but I simply can’t imagine this will end well.

Neo? Neo, help! I think we’ve entered the Matrix…

photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

The Pause that Refreshes…

DSC09300

The Trans-Canada Trail (Philip Jefferson)

Hey Gang. Hope you had fun with the short story I posted earlier this week. Just wanted to let you know I’ll be pretty much offline ’til early next week as this weekend we’ll be “all present and accounted for” at my son’s end-of-season hockey tounament.

Stay tuned though, I’m already well underway with my next let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may diatribe provisionally entitled “Toward a Civil Sociey; or, Just Because You Have Your Four-Way Flashers On Doesn’t Mean You Can Park Anywhere You Want, You Dick!”

You picking up what I’m laying down here?

Have a good one.