Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Stories (Part 3)

I was moving this weekend. Please accept the following Christmas story as late.

My first Christmas of university was probably the final moment of my childhood. I could get into what I think childhood is but I think telling the story would be way more interesting.

It all started when I moved to a crazy place called “The House Famous”. If you read back through some of my blogs you’ll probably read more about it. Essentially it was a house I lived in with four other people that included some pretty rigorous commitments. We committed to talking to each other and resolving conflict. We committed to consulting other house members on purchases over ten dollars. We committed to living on what was “enough” instead of wasting money. We committed to serving the homeless and impoverished of the area we lived in.

When I write all of that down it sounds idealistic and romantic and a little bit crazy. The reality was somewhat different. I remember how good it felt to be stretched by these commitments, trying to line up my actions with my beliefs. Trying to be Jesus to people in the community. I also remember how hard it was. I remember shivering while eating dinner because we kept our heat so low (save money on electricity!) I remember going hungry because we shared cooking duties and sometimes I didn’t eat what was being cooked. I remember skipping out on studying to hang out with people in the house and having both my marks and my future social situation in university being affected.

I used to live in a very comfortable and cushy household as a kid. Little was asked of me. I was free to do what I wanted and got what I wanted most of the time. Then I moved into a place where I was pushed, pulled, and stretched in many different directions. I had to make so many different choices about how to spend my time and what to fight for.

The first (and only actually) Christmas that occurred while I was living in the house was marked by a two week absence. I finished my last exam. I moved back in with my parents, sleeping in the guest bedroom, I bought Super Mario Galaxy for our family’s newly acquired Wii, and I spent five days playing it pretty much all the time until I absolutely destroyed it. Collected every item, completed every mission. For an entire work week, I did and thought about nothing else. It was the sort of thing you would do as a kid on summer vacation. No other time pressures are on your mind. No one expects you to help with food. You have no sense of the needs of others. It was the last moment that I can remember being completely irresponsible for a long time and feeling no guilt whatsoever about it.

After the break ended, I went back to the house to discover that most of my housemates were upset that I had left for so long with little explanation. They felt abandoned by me. I thought back to my five days of Mario and felt guilty. I mended the bridges and resolved to do better.

Three weeks later I told them I was moving out at the end of the school year. The pull between being involved in the house and being in school had gotten to be too much to manage for me. I didn’t have the energy or the time management to move in. It was a very responsible decision.

That Christmas is that last time I remember the blissful ignorance of childhood. Now, even when I rest, I am aware of the pressures and responsibilities I am avoiding. Every time I play games, voice in the back of my head reminds me that there are other things I could and probably should be doing.

I think this is an essential part of growing older and growing more mature. If you can happily ignore your own responsibilities and others perceptions of you, people are going to get pretty pissed at you. People generally don’t like others who think only of themselves. God’s not really a big fan of it either. It kind of makes you an asshole. I remember this Christmas with fondness, but in the same breath I am glad it will never happen again. I’ve moved on. I’ve learned it’s time to put the work week of video games away and start asking people about their work. I’ve learned to check the clock with an eye to how many minutes I’ve burned on myself. In some small way I’ve grown up, and around Christmas time I’m glad for that.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Stories (Part 2)

In a group that spends a lot of time together, there always seems to be that one person who is pushing you to do things socially. This past fall I worked with a girl and she was tireless in encouraging us to do things together. She would make lists and provide options and set up details and make sure things were happening. A good deal of the fun times we had only happened because her constant question was "what should we do tonight". Nice going Emily.

In a family scenario, especially around Christmas this person is essential. But just encouraging people to do stuff together is not enough. Encouraging people to do the same boring activities over and over again is just a quick way to build resentment. Encouraging people to do something FUN together is essential. One of my favourite fun things to do in groups is play video games. Though it doesn't happen often, I love playing games together especially when it's all around a single television. Those moments take me back to being a kid. There's a good reason for this.

You see, when I was six years old I bought a Super Nintendo from my cousin. Up until this moment, my parents had been strongly opposed to having video games in the house. Once a year we would rent a console and play the crap out of it for two days and then when the weekend was over it would go back to Jumbo Video and that would be the end of it. Once I had it, I played it all of the time. Originally my dad had this deal where I had to spend an equivalent amount of time reading to the amount of time playing but that went out the window pretty quickly.

"Ben what does this have to do with Christmas?"

I'm getting there.

The first Christmas that we had the Super Nintendo was one of the first Christmases that both of my sisters were married. This meant that for the first time ever, there were two new people in our house over the break. My brothers-in-law Ben and Shawn. My family is not exactly programmed to death when we do Christmas so there are often long stretches of downtime where nothing happens. It was during one of these stretches that Shawn discovered that I had a Super Nintendo in the house. He flipped through my stack of cartridges and found "Super Mario Kart" and noted that he had played it at someone else's house when he was in high school and insisted it was fun.

Joanna and I had played it a bit, but had never really been good at it enough to warrant playing it repeatedly. We couldn't seem to stay on the track very well. It was always a struggle. Then Shawn asked us if we wanted to play with him. Always enjoying video games, I said yes. We booted it up. Shawn was way better than me.

"How do you stay on the track Shawn?"

"You have to let go of the gas while you're turning so you can slow down."

This information was a revolution to me. Suddenly I went from struggling to finish fifth to finishing second or first every time (usually switching back and forth with Shawn or my sister who also took to the new technique). And Super Mario Kart instantly became the thing that we did in between every meal when there was no scheduled family activity. It was the most fun I could remember having playing Super Nintendo (and I played a lot of Super Nintendo).

Christmas came and went and though Joanna and I still played Super Mario Kart, it just wasn't the same when it wasn't Christmas. Later that year I sold my Super Nintendo and its large collection of games because I bought Nintendo 64 at Costco. What game did it come with? Mario Kart 64. The following year when the holidays rolled around, we went back to playing it all the time except this time four of us could play at once. This was kind of a sweet deal. We spent a lot of time at Christmas playing Mario Kart. We had so much fun that even my dad played with us occasionally (the only time I can remember him playing games with us), and my mom tried a round (although she quit because she found it stressful).

We tried a different game at a later holiday (Mickey's Speedway USA if anyone even remembers was good). Then I think it petered out after that. Mario Kart stopped being a holiday tradition because we weren't always home for the holidays and when we were, there wasn't enough downtime for Mario Kart. It was kind of sad but these things happen as you get older.

I still keep up with Mario Kart. In my mind, there's always another Christmas around the corner where we can get together and play Mario Kart with people Even this last couple of months when Emily encouraged us to play Mario Kart together as a staff (and we had a lot of fun doing it), I immediately wondered if we would be able to play it together when Christmas came.

Of all the holiday traditions my family has dropped over the years, Mario Kart is probably the one I miss the most.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas Stories (Part 1)

I remember advent dinners when I was a kid. That's the first time I remember liking a weekly tradition. My mom would cook up a reasonably special meal. We would eat in the dining room instead of the kitchen (this was back when we used to rarely eat in the dining room despite its name. Conventions be damned!) and after every advent dinner we would light an advent candle and my dad would read from some kind of devotional book.

If the above sounds confusing to you, let me elaborate. Advent is the name given to the season before Christmas when Christians repeat the experience of waiting for Jesus to come. It's the point in the church calendar when things get reset and you start a new year. Advent is scheduled so that there are four Sundays before Christmas. This year, the first Sunday of advent was November 30th. This always excited me as a child because the first Sunday of advent is typically in November and the start of advent always meant the start of the Christmas countdown and the start of presents appearing slowly under the tree (I was kind of focused as a kid). It is often a tradition to have a special meal each Sunday in Advent and so in my family we did these for each Sunday.

During Advent it is customary to light candles as Christmas approaches. These candles are placed in a circular wreath made of some kind of garland. There are four of them with a fifth candle sometimes added in the middle. Three are white (for the first three Sundays) and then one is another colour (sometimes red for the fourth Sunday). The thicker middle candle is meant to represent Christ and is usually lit on Christmas eve or Christmas day. It is also customary to have some kind of special reading when you light the candle. There are themes for each Sunday in advent that I think are randomly chosen but all have something to do with the Christmas narrative. They are typically things that go along with the theme of waiting and hoping. Things like hope, joy, and peace.

My favourite part of advent is the regularity of it. As a kid it was like clockwork. We did the same thing every year. At the end of each week, the pace of life would slow to a crawl as we ate our special meal and sat around the table for what seemed like hours afterward. Homework didn't happen because it was December and no sane teacher expected homework to be completed in December. It was a pause in the year to slow down, enjoy each other's company, and reflect on the future.

I miss that rhythm. Since I left my parent's house Christmas has become less and less regular each year. It started when we decided to travel south for Christmas as a family. A wonderful experience to be sure, but very different from gathering at my parents house and playing video games, eating good food, and enjoying each other's company. I think there's value in having a moment in the year (it doesn't have to even be four Sundays in December) where you know something certain will happen. As I look to the future, I hope to build something close to that into life.

But for now I remember advent dinners.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Zero's Mix: November 2014

1) MakeDamnSure - Taking Back Sunday
2) So What - Miles Davis
3) Broken Cash Machine - Modern Baseball
4) My Little Drum - Vince Guaraldi
5) Hurts Like Heaven - Coldplay
6) My Foolish Heart - Bill Evans Trio
7) Band Call - Oscar Peterson Trio
8) People Get Ready - The Frames

Friday, November 14, 2014

Volkswagen Busses are not for Decision Making

"Ben tell us a story about how foolish you were when you were younger!"

Okay, have I got a doozy for you. This one even has some important theology to it.

I don't know if I've explained this before, but I was kind of a loner in high school. I had people to talk to when I was there and people to do stuff with but when I went back to Kingston, there was no one to talk to so I mostly just played a lot of video games. That went good for a while until I did something stupid and lost all my friends that I played video games with (that story is next on my list). Then I had my computer and my parents and a few people that I talked to a lot but with little deep and personal interactions.

One summer, I met a girl who became my closest friend throughout the rest of my high school years. She was friendly and would always be messaging me (in the days of MSN messenger....) in the evenings while I was playing video games or working on my homework or what not. We would have these prolonged conversations sometimes about nothing, but sometimes about things I hadn't really spoken to anyone else about. Though I felt massively insecure, she kept talking to me and I really enjoyed that.

Over the course of this time I developed a massive crush on her. I think this happens a lot. There's a funny video where girls who have male best friends are asked this question and then asked if they think the guy would date them if given the opportunity. Then they interview the male best friends. With clever editing, it turns out all of the girls think the guys would not date them. All of the guys say they would.

When you're in high school and trudging through the depths of emotional intimacy and seeing what's out there, it's easy to get stuck on a relationship that looks significant but lacks depth and maturity. It's also easy to do this when you're an adult but I think it happens more commonly among teenagers. Amid all of the emotional intimacy of this very close friendship, I decided that I really liked this girl and she must like me romantically because why else would she spend all of this time talking to me. No one else does this.

I told her about my feelings for her after I met her new boyfriend. The conversation was...cathartic but ultimately not very satisfying. She did not have the same feelings for me. What would I do? I was kind of distraught. I asked God what I should do. Then I did something that you should never ever do. I asked God if he would tell me if I was going to marry her. It was a thing where I had heard about other people doing it and I assumed that it would work for me.

I decided that if I saw a Volkswagen bus, that would mean that her and I were going to get married.

Now I know what you're thinking. If you are not a person of faith you would probably say "Ben that sounds like the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. You are obviously a crazy person." If you are a person of faith, you would probably say "Ben, that sounds like the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. You are obviously a crazy person." The truth is that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing but because I didn't want to tell anyone what was going on, I refrained from consulting with anyone about my plan with God.

I used the justification that this was like Gideon and the fleece. There's a story in Judges where Gideon is trying to determine if he really heard from God and so he takes a blanket and lays it out on the ground overnight and says "God, if you're really asking me to do this then make the ground wet with dew but leave the blanket totally dry". He awakes the next morning to find the fleece dry. Then he says "God, I just want to make double sure so we're going to do this one more time and this time make the ground dry and the fleece wet". The following day he wrings several cups out of the blanket which he picked up off the dry ground.

Volkswagen Bus, impossible fleece, they're totally the same right? Not really. It is unlikely but still very possible to see a Volkswagen Bus. It is impossible to witness the conditions Gideon did with the fleece. Problems would inevitably follow.

And they did. I saw a Volkswagen Bus, thought it was a sign, and waited for my friend to change her mind and come running into my arms where we would happily run off into the bliss of marriage together. Instead she continued dating this other guy leaving me feeling confused and frustrated. Didn't she understand God's plan for our life together?.

"Man Ben, you were crazy back then"

I know. Don't remind me. Anyways I spent a couple of years like this before I finally told someone who was more responsible than me. I was distressed. They asked why. I explained that God had told me who I was going to marry and they didn't seem to know it. They asked how I found out. I told them about the Volkswagen Bus thing.

"Your methods sound pagan"

It was probably the best thing anybody could have said to me at that point. The whole exercise was so ridiculous that it needed to be identified as such and this guy was the first one to do that for me. After that conversation with him I decided that I must have been wrong and I tried to move on.

A month later I am crying in the arms of my best friend because moving on isn't working. Even though I don't think we're going to get married, I still have feelings for her. It's hard to tell your feelings that they're not allowed to like someone, especially when you spend years focused and fixated on them. I had not learned about the feminist argument against the "friend-zone" yet. I didn't have an intellectual argument to fight with the stomach churning feelings inside of me. This went on for a couple of months.

Then one day I gave up. It took a couple of months but there was a moment of clarity where I realized that it wasn't going to happen and it was time to give up on my romantic pursuit. It was a great moment of clarity. I immediately told her the whole story of what had gone on. She thanked me for telling me. I think she was secretly relieved that I wasn't going to be creepy anymore. We continued to be friends. And then 3 months later, she told me I should talk to this other girl about something. That other girl was Amanda and we've been married for a year and a half.

What's the moral of this story? It's not like every story has to have a moral but I think there's two things to take away from this one. First if someone doesn't have feelings for you (and it's super easy to find out if they don't. Just ask them "do you have feelings for me?" They will tell you) then no amount of divine intervention is going to change that and it's healthier to live in reality and enjoy the friendships you have instead of pining away for some romance which is never going to happen. Trust me, you'll save yourself a lot of frustration if you are able to get that into your feelings.

The second is that romance is kind of unexpected. Amanda and I went from friends to dating within a very short span of time and if you had asked me if high school if I thought we would end up together I probably would have said no. Yet somehow it happened. Romance is funny like that.

Anyways, I've embarrassed myself enough for one day. Get out there and make good choices friends!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Zero's Mix: October 2014

In no particular order this month...

1) Yes - Roundabout
2) Apostle of Hustle - Energy of Death
3) The Used - The Taste of Ink
4) Pharrell Williams - Gust of Wind
5) Chrome Sparks - Marijuana
6) Pedro The Lion - Rapture
7) The Weakerthans - One Great City!
8) Zeus - Marching Through Your Head
9) Bloc Party - Tulips
10) Death from Above 1979 - Always On

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tales from Last Week: 24 Hours of Driving

As I sat in the car on Sunday afternoon driving to Plattsburgh, New York, I tallied up all of the hours I had spent driving that week. I was feeling kind of irritable at this point and wanted something to be upset about.
"So it was 4 hours for thanksgiving, 8 for my trip to Toronto, 4 hours for Punpkinferno, and 8 for this trip. That's 24 hours!"
Amanda shared my amazement for a moment. I had spent an entire day out of the past 8 in our car driving. How does something like this happen? Well it's pretty simple.

First you have to have a car. Amanda's parents blessed us greatly when they bought us one back in May. There's a whole story there about how we got the car but I think I'll save that one for another post. Having the car opens up all sorts of things that we'd normally have to say no to though.

So for example last Sunday when it was Thanksgiving, we were invited up for dinner on Sunday night. I had to work Monday morning and so normally this would be out of the question, but with the car we were just able to pop up and back and so that's what we did. Two hours there and two hours back with a Thanksgiving meal in between. We do this drive all the time so it wasn't really a big deal. It doesn't even feel that far now that I think about it.

I returned on Sunday night and worked on Monday and Tuesday. We served Thanksgiving dinner and I helped to clean up camp after the Thanksgiving weekend. Tuesday afternoon I set out for Toronto to stay over with Jason and Victoria. I had a class to attend on Wednesday and since Amanda and I no longer have an apartment in Toronto, I use the time to visit with friends. 4 hours up (traffic was pretty good but it's still a ways away). When I arrived, I was informed that we would be attending a birthday celebration for one of Jason's groomsmen named Patrick who was present at our joint bachelor party in the summer. "Sounds good to me" I said. I'm trying to be ok with being spontaneous. The birthday party was actually a lot of fun. We went to a Japanese restaurant called Guu. I even have a relevant photo...

On Wednesday I went to a class at school (my reason for being in Toronto), and then drove back home that evening (4 hours back). I caught up on some podcasts in the car and enjoyed some music. Driving was still enjoyable at this point in the week. On Thursday I was at the church. I was moving pews while having conversations with Paul. A pretty typical day for me thus far. On Thursday night the fall staff had planned an outing to this thing called "PumpkInferno" which is an event that features thousands of hand carved pumpkins at Upper Canada Village. It's two hours to get to Morrisburg and two hours back. There were four passengers in the car on this trip so it was lots of fun. Good conversations were had.

On Sunday, Amanda and I were in the car again and on our way to Plattsburgh, NY to see a doctor who specializes in Lyme Disease. Plattsburgh is kind of far away so that meant another four hours there and four hours back. This is where I realized I'd been in the car a lot that week. We tried to make it fun though. We got to stay in a hotel Sunday night and they had a hot tub so we sat in there for a bit. On Monday when we were driving back, we stopped at Wal-Mart. Amanda made a couple of new friends.

I think I could probably deal with less driving in my life. It feels like dead time because I can't do much except think and talk. There's no writing to be done, no reading, no playing. Just staring straight ahead and going the same speed. At the same time, it meant that this week was a lot more interesting than some other weeks I've had. And it makes for a good conversation starter when I can say "I spent 24 hours driving in the past 8 days.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Zero's Mix: September 2014

When I was in high school, I ran a podcast for three months. It burned out after a while because I was in high school and didn't make good decisions but that's a story for another time. One of the things I started doing after the podcast was making mix cd's every month that compiled all the music I was listening to (I was buying lots of stuff from iTunes). Sometimes I go back to them and I enjoy the feeling of remembering what things were like through music. I'm starting to do something similar again,  so I'll be dumping my monthly mixes here.

1) You In Your Were - Kevin Drew
2) Hot Tonight - Tokyo Police Club
3) Summer - Calvin Harris
4) Latch - Disclosure
5) Beautiful Head - The National
6) White is Red - Death From Above 1979
7) Got to Give It Up (Part 1) - Marvin Gaye
8) Come and Get Your Love - Redbone
9) III. Telegraph Ave. ("Oakland" by Lloyd)
10) Change the Sheets - Kathleen Edwards
11) Invitation - This Will Destroy You
12) Waltz for Debby - Bill Evans Trio
13) Milk - Moderat

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Every Hour: Saturday October 12, 2014

Yesterday I was watching a bunch of Casey Neistat videos. His life looks really interesting. It probably helps that he's really good at editing and making movies and it also probably helps that he's incredibly efficient (check out a tour of his studio there). Anyways, he posts stories of his days online and it made me wonder what people would see if I posted a picture from regular intervals of my day. So here is the tale of my day. Each photo was taken at half-past the hour. Here is the story of my day.

At 9:30 AM I posted a short piece about what my mornings are like. I didn't post it on social media, just left it there. I do that sometimes when I don't feel good about a post. My parents read it and that's pretty much it. I'm ok with this. Not everything I write is meant to be consumed but if people are interested in me, then it's there.

On Saturday I worked a 10-6 kitchen shift which meant that at 10:30 I began making grilled cheese sandwiches. I think I was supposed to make sixty...

...And here is me nearly finished preparing them an hour later. It takes a long time to make a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches. There's a lot of butter to spread.

I did some other stuff, but by the time I was finished making the sandwiches, it was time to grill them which is what I am doing here. If you are wondering why no one seems to be working with me, it is because I didn't feel comfortable taking photos of people without asking them. Maybe that will change.

After I finished serving lunch, It was time to eat my lunch. Here is the aftermath of that. Yes I did eat lunch alone. It only took a few minutes to eat so it's ok.

After my lunch, I started making muffins. They were supposed to be blueberry buttermilk but I didn't blanch the blueberries so they ended up being blue muffins. They still tasted good, they just looked hella weird.

After muffins it was time for a break. I went to the bathroom on my break. I thought you might not want to see the aftermath of that, so I took a photo of the toilet paper. This is the most interesting feature of the kitchen bathroom seeing as how there is no reading material in there. I make a point of not pooping in there because it's boring.

I baked the muffins and did some other things and then it was time to cut the meat. This is the beginning of that process. The block of roast beef had to be cut into slices for warming. It was still partially frozen so this whole process was a little hard, but I got it done somehow.

I thought dinner was at 5:30. It turns out it was at 5:15. Somehow we still managed to serve everything on time though. This is the counter after the first round of food went out. There are people out of frame in this picture. I probably could have photographed them, but I still have some shame.

Then I ate dinner and Amanda came and got me and took me back to the apartment. We ran into Becky in the Mule on the way back. Someone else was there too (although I can't remember who). The Mule is our small vehicle that is used for moving things that are too heavy to carry. This includes wood, garbage, or my hulking carcass when I am too lazy to walk places (I don't get to do that very often though).

We decided to watch an episode of the TV show Veronica Mars We're plowing through it right now. Oh the mystery! Amanda is holding a concoction we made from liquids in the fridge. It's half lime Perrier and half rose wine. The Perrier makes the wine taste less terrible. I used to drink beer but we're trying to be extra thrift right now because we made a bunch of poor decisions in the summer and had to do some expensive things.

Then a whole bunch of people came over to visit (there are four people out of the frame of this photo). It was nice to have visitors.
We sat around and talked for quite a while. Emily makes an appearance in this photo along with Jessie's foot! A real person! See, I do have friends.

And that was pretty much the day. I hope you enjoyed this journey with me. Tune in next week when we try something similar except maybe this time I will take pictures of other people.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

5:30 every morning.

My phone starts ringing. I startle out of my slumber and manage to find the button on my phone that says "dismiss". The sound stops. Every time my alarm goes on, I panic as I struggle to turn it off before Amanda wakes up. Amanda is a deep sleeper and probably doesn't even notice the alarm going off, but that doesn't stop me from worrying. Your brain doesn't work so well at 5:30 AM.

The first thing to do is go and turn on the kettle. Since it's dark, I notice how the light hesitates for a moment before turning on to show that the kettle is in fact working. Coffee's already in the pot because I ground it last night. The coffee snob in me knows that this is a bad idea because all the aromatics will have disappeared by the time I brew it in the morning, but I don't really care about the subtleties at this point. I just want something hot and bitter to help me wake up.

I walk around and assemble the comforts that will make the morning that much better. A fluffy towel, a lap desk, my mug still stained from yesterday's coffee. All get thrown on the floor of the bathroom. By the time the kettle clicks off, everything is ready. I pour the water into the pot and place the press on top and then bring the whole thing into the bathroom. Once I set it down I start a time on my phone and begin counting down the five minutes. While I'm waiting, I start to read.

This is my morning. Each day starting with the same collection of rituals. Some days it's a struggle to get out of bed at 5:30 and I sleep in. Some days I don't complete every part of the ritual. Some days I'm away and have to tweak it. It helps though. It gets me settled for the day. When it's all over (and believe me, there are a few more things that happen as part of this), I feel prepared to face people.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Tales from the Week: Preaching

I just spent twenty minutes looking at cell phones. I was watching this video this week and it left me with an interesting thought. If I started taking pictures of my days as they unfolded, how would people respond. My first thought was to buy a new cell phone so I could start doing this. After twenty minutes I realize that there was no way I could justify buying a new cell phone right now just to do something like that. Now I'm here, in the compose window writing you this piece.

This whole thought comes from the problem I have with making conversation with other people. I'm talking to someone and they ask me "so how was your week" and I rush through the description and leave out most of the detail because I think I'm boring them. My weeks involve a lot of time staring at the computer and doing the same thing over and over again. Amanda jokes with me about this because almost every time I come home and she says "how was work" my response is "we made food. It was good". Not very imaginative but this is how I feel about others interest in my own life.

Stories are supposed to be exciting and interesting and have all kinds of drama. My life just doesn't seem to have a lot of that. Instead its like a bad television show repeating the same cycles over and over again. Describing it like this is making me realize that I may be underselling which is why you are about to read a tale from this week about preaching. May the unedited events of my week enlighten and entertain you.

This week I had to preach. A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a local pastor who I had done pulpit supply for a few months ago (pulpit supply: when you speak/preach in place of the regular preacher. You take their place on the pulpit). I'm trying to be open to this sort of thing and so I said yes. This gave me several weeks to prepare. I picked a passage a couple of weeks later and then read over it and started reflecting on it. I chose "The Binding of Isaac" which is a story from Genesis which is important in Christian circles as its full of symbolism and it has Abraham (always a popular guy to talk about). Though I didn't do any writing, I started to think about what I would say. I crafted the outline in my brain so that I knew what I would write once I got to sitting down and writing.

Because most of the writing I've done has been on this site (335 posts over 7 years) I end up crafting sermons a lot like how I write a blog. When I blog, I come up with an idea and once I have enough there to write about I sit down and write the whole thing down in one sitting from start to finish. I make a point to avoid outlines just because I'm lazy and don't want to flip back and forth from outline to final copy. By working in one sitting I try to maintain a consistent thought. So when I write sermons I do something similar. I'll spend a lot of time reading and thinking about the passage and crafting some ideas in my head and then a few days before I'm set to speak (or maybe the day before), I'll sit down and write out the whole manuscript in a sitting or two. It looks like I'm procrastinating but I'm actually devoting a lot of brain space to the sermon when I'm mindlessly washing a hundred plates at work.

I'm sure it would terrify anyone who was supervising me. Progress is supposed to be words on a page. If you write two pages per day, you will need to start writing your fourteen page sermon seven days before Sunday. It's like a progress bar right? Not really for me. One day my progress bar is empty (even though I've been thinking and planning in my head) and then 40 minutes later its full.

So this week was a battle to decide when I would sit down and write the sermon. Normally I would try and write between 6 AM and 8 AM which is after I've finished drinking coffee, journaling, reading my book, and reading my bible. This week though I got sick so when I wanted to write my brain said no. The conversation would go sort of like this.

"Brain, you need to write this sermon. Sunday is coming."
"Ok but maybe later?"
"We'll see"

"Ok brain, time to write."
"But you said..."

You can see where this ends up. I was going to write on Monday but I had to clean at work and after a cleaning shift I sit in my chair and stare blankly at the computer until my body recovers enough to eat dinner. I was going to write Tuesday I had to work in the morning baking 18 pies (and 5 different kinds) and that took the entirety of my 8 hour shift. I would have written that night but I had agreed to play saxophone in a charity event with my high school music teacher. On Wednesday I was supposed to be at the church but then Amanda wasn't feeling well so I stayed home and took care of her and by the time the day was over, my brain was being extra defiant.

On Thursday (a mere four days away) I completed the first writing on the sermon. I had only completed about a third of what I wanted to say though so I decided I would try and finish it on Friday night after work. But then Friday came and after work I had to take Amanda up to Ottawa for a bit and so I could not write while driving (the person who invents a system for long form writing while driving will win a small fortune of thanks from me). I realized I would need to write it on Saturday morning, just over 24 hours before I was schedule to preach. This would probably cause anxiety in those of you who are prone to it. I was getting a bit nervous at this point, but I always try to relax as that makes writing easier.

Saturday morning I woke up, made my cup of coffee, and completed the rest of the sermon in one brief writing session. I got the added bonus of feeling very good about what I had written. All of the worrying I had been putting off was for naught. That evening I made a few edits and printed it off. This morning I went in and preached and felt pretty good about the whole thing. I think I'm getting used to this preaching business.

And that was the tale from this week. Writing it all out like that makes my week look much less boring. Maybe I'll do this again something. Until then...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Goal Setting for Dummies

I’m standing in the empty living room of our apartment in Toronto. I’m standing because there are no chairs but you’d probably have guessed that from the part where I said it was empty. If I followed my habits, I’d probably be playing Destiny or Titanfall or maybe Diablo 3 (although I haven’t been playing that as much lately) but I’m in an empty apartment with only a sketchy cellular connection for internet so no video games for me.

I had this moment of clarity the other day. I accompanied my supervising pastor on a pastoral visit a few weeks ago. While we were on this visit, I remembered something I read in a news article about older people having regrets about certain things later in life and how those regrets are usually based around not deciding the right things are important.  This led me to think about my own life and what I think is important. I make the note about what games I’m playing right now because to be honest, that’s most of what I do when I’m not working. I watch stuff with Amanda and hang out with her, I do chores, or I play whatever game I’m working on. I like playing games, don’t get me wrong, but I have a feeling that in my later years I’ll probably look back on my life and think “I wish I had played less games and done more of ____”.  But right now I don’t really have something to fill that blank with. When I thought about it, I wasn’t sure what I would have wanted to spend more time on. My future has been a series of rabbit trails recently and I no longer have clear goals about what I want to do. So I did what any white Canadian would do in the face of a lack of goals. I went to Lululemon’s website and downloaded their goal setting worksheet.  The experience has been interesting so far. I’ve learned that writing stories and writing is something that’s important to me, but I haven’t settled on a whole lot else. I don’t know what pastoring will look like in ten years (which is what they want you to imagine) and the world is looking more and more different every year so it’s really hard to say where I’m supposed to be in the future.
But I’ve got this writing thing, so that’s good. I’ll let you know when I get any more than that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Better Man (But Maybe Not The Best)

My best friend got married this summer, and by best friend I mean my best guy friend. Amanda is my best friend but she's also my wife so I don't really call her my best friend very often. Jason is the person who is most commonly called my best friend. He's the one who got married. I was his best man. I don't think I was the best man but I'd say I was pretty good. Here is why.

A few days before his day of matrimony, Jason asked me to call him. I did and we went over a few of the last minute details of what was going on. There was a twitch of nervous excitement in his voice. You could tell that thinking about a hundred other things while he was talking to me. He's getting married so I guess its to be expected. We spoke for five minutes and forty three seconds. I thought to myself "that was not enough time. I am going to forget something". I then walked away and didn't think about the wedding again until Friday afternoon.

On our way to the rehearsal, I began to run through the checklist of things I needed to remember. Clothes, wedding gift, hotel room for the weekend. I was pretty sure I had everything. All I needed to do was write down something for my best man speech. Surely there would be time to do that over the course of the evening. We arrived at the rehearsal and the nervous energy present became immediately apparent. Jason was not nervous per se but you could definitely tell that he was anxious to get things going and make sure all was in order. When my wedding happened a few weeks later, I immediately recognized the feelings I saw in Jason.

After the rehearsal, we headed over to Jason's parents place for a barbecue. I told Jason we were going to check in to our hotel room on the way there because there would be no time later on. Amanda and I got in the car and drove to our hotel. We arrived and went to check in.

"What's the reservation under?" the gentleman at the counter asked
"Ben Gresik" I said.

He paused and looked at his computer for a minute before saying "There's a reservation here for you for next week."

I realized that I had booked the hotel room for the wrong weekend and now we were here with no hotel when there were few rooms available. We thanked the people at the counter and left to try one more hotel to see if we could get a room. How could I have been so stupid? Who books the hotel for the wrong weekend. Me apparently.

We got to the next hotel and were grateful to discover that they had rooms available both nights of our stay. We had to move rooms but they said they would move our luggage so it wasn't an issue. Crisis averted.

When we arrived at the barbecue, I was feeling foolish. Jason asked me to help barbecue. I fumbled through the routine feeling awkward and forced. Jason came over to chat.

"Are you ready for tomorrow?" he asked.
"Yep. Are you?" I replied.
"Yeah. Have you got your belt?" he asked jokingly.

When Jason had called me about the wedding earlier, I had asked him if he could pick me up a belt. I had not been able to find one for the Superman belt buckle he had purchased for the wedding. He said that was fine. He had told me later in the week that he had found a belt too. This was joke time. We were joking. I laughed.

"Have you got your vest?"

I didn't know how to respond. We were just having joke time. Was this still a joke? Because I didn't have a vest. I stammered.

"Seriously?" Jason said, with thinly veiled frustration in his voice. I was hoping he didn't yell at me. I know he wouldn't but for a moment I was worried.

Luckily I did indeed have a vest, just not with me. I told him that I could just drive back to Westport early the next morning and pick it up. Everything would be ok. Everything except the fact that I felt really stupid. Driving to Westport also meant that there would be less time to work on my speech. If I messed that up, then I'd probably get kicked off the head table.

The speech hung over my head for the remainder of the wedding preparations. I thought about it all the way to Westport at two AM. I thought about it while I slept for four hours at my parents house,  and I thought about it all through the ceremony. Cait, another wedding party member on Jason's side had sent me her speech to read over weeks ago. Why hadn't I done the same?

Finally, after pictures but before dinner was scheduled to start, Amanda and I walked back to the car and picked up our wedding gifts for Jason and Victoria. While we were there, I scrawled out some notes for my speech. When I was happy with the outline, we walked over to dinner. The rest of the evening went blissfully by.

I blame wedding stupor for the fact that Jason didn't depose me from my position. I'm glad for it though. In my speech I got to tell everyone how Jason is a really great guy and has been a great friend to me through some difficult times. If I was booted from my position, there would have been no chance for that and that would have been sad.

One more thing. If you're ever the best man at your best friends wedding, do yourself a favour and plan things ahead of time. You'll be doing both yourself and your groom a favour. And then you'll truly be the best man.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Florida (Part 2)

Once we get out of the Orlando airport, we hop on "Disney's Magical Express" which is a fancy name for their airport shuttle service. Every bus is coach-style with TVs everywhere and video entertainment playing during your entire trip. The bus is freezing cold (something I will discover is apparently normal at Disney) but we are on our way. Amanda is so excited to get to Disney. I am still taking all of the Florida-ness of the experience in. With things playing on the television and the darkness outside, I have no idea what the landscape looks like. I can only guess from the swamps and the shapes of the freeways. I lay back and decide to go along for the ride.

Three days later I awake and realize that I haven't had a moment to be bored since we have arrived. There has always been something to do and this if the first moment where I've sat down and had a free thought that wasn't about something Disney related. This is the most notable thing from the trip. Let me back up a bit an explain some of the things we did.

After arriving, checking into our hotel room, and getting some dinner we make plans to go to Magic Kingdom the next day. Amanda is excited. I am curious but not too sure about the whole thing. Once we arrive and start doing things though I feel better already. There's so much to see and do. We are sitting in an attraction that simulates a breakout of Stitch from "Lilo and Stitch" and there are animatronic puppets and stereo sound and smells coming out of it. The puppets are what get me. I thought they would be lame, but they are actually really cool (especially the newer ones). The look good enough to be impressive but not so good that they become creepy. We enjoy many animatronic rides on this day, run around the park and generally have a good time. We eat dinner at 9 pm in an Italian place based on the Italian restaurant from Lady and the Tramp. We return to bed exhausted. This will become a regular occurrence for me.

The next day we go to Hollywood Studios and I discover that there is some nostalgia for Disney films buried within me. We watch a musical presentation of Beauty and The Beast and I can feel my face start to twitch as I am about to cry.

Let me back up for a second and recount to you a conversation I had with friends Gimli, Jessie, and Patrick before leaving for the honeymoon. We were talking about crying and my first input was

"The last time I cried was in the movie 50/50 which was three years ago and the last time before that was 4 years earlier". Someone says "that can't be healthy". I explain that I'm not trying to hold it in, I just seem to experience emotions differently than other people. I couldn't imagine crying over something sentimental like a Disney movie.

So we're sitting here and watching this mini-musicale and "Something There" is being performed and I can feel my cheeks twitch. What is happening? Disney has nearly found my emotional switch and its only the second day! What is going on? This experience will happen to me several other times on the trip, usually with a connection to music. It seems that all I needed to remember how much I liked Disney music and stories is to spend a week immersed in them over and over again.

On Thursday I decided I wanted to watch "The Little Mermaid" again so Amanda and I sat down and watched it after calling it a day at the park early. A week ago I would have told you that this was a stupid idea. Now it seems like a wonderful plan.

I really enjoyed our vacation at Disney World. It was a different experience for me and made me feel a bit like a kid again. It also completely messed with my emotions in the best way possible. Though I'm not sure I'd want to go back, I'm glad Amanda took me.

But I'm also glad to be back in Ontario.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Florida (Part 1....maybe)

I threw a wedding recently. I played more of a minor role in the wedding throwing since I was the groom, but it was my wedding and it was a good time. More on that later. Weddings lead to honeymoons though and that is where I am. I am in the darkened hotel room at the Carribean Beach Resort at Walt Disney World!

This whole place was Amanda's idea. I think Disney is interesting, but not enough to hop on a plane and go there for a week. Amanda LOOOOOOOOVES Disney though. When we booked our tickets, I thought she was going to explode with excitement.

On Monday we travelled here. It was going smoothly. We boarded the first flight on time and we're well on our way. We stopped off at the Montreal airport and sailed through customs (being on a vacation helps). Then we got to the counter where our next flight was supposed to leave from and....we were told it'd been delayed until 12. Okay, no big deal. We'll just chill for a bit. This is nice. Then 11 rolls around and we go to the gate and begin waiting for our plane. I hear murmurs around us. Something is wrong. Amanda goes up to investigate. She comes back with news.

"They are having mechanical difficulties with the plane and they have no information on when it will be ready. There might be a flight at 6:30 but maybe not."

Frustration ensues. I think that maybe I should be more outraged but I know that no one I will talk to is at fault. I calm Amanda down and we make a plan of action. We go to the counter and Amanda asks if we can rebook our return flight for no charge because of the delays with the plane. The lady at the counter says "Yes, of course!" I think she is just happy that we are not yelling at her. With that out of the way, we head for the bar. We have 7 more hours to kill, might as well relax.

When the plane finally arrives, everyone cheers. "Hooray!" we all get on board the plane and enjoy the ride. A side-benefit of our many delays is that the plane is considerably less full than normal. Amanda and I are in the front row of economy (thanks Carl!) It is a great flight.

We arrive in Orlando and I can immediately tell that we are in Florida. The best way I can describe the feeling to Amanda is 90's. It's almost as if all of the interior designers and architects in Florida did all their work in the 90's and then decided that this was the pinnacle of design.

"But there's so much more!" the rest of the world said. "There's minimalism and smooth surface, and we're getting rid of all that carpet."

"No" says Florida "We have arrived. There is nothing better looking than this."

I am thinking all of this as we walk through the airport to our shuttle to the resort, and continue thinking it all the way to the hotel. Everything is really 90's in Florida.

Maybe I'll tell you some more about it later, but for now I'm going to go back to enjoying it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I'm Here but I'm Also Over There

Writing stories takes energy. I know this because I have been working too many hours and I can't string together stories anymore. If I wanted to tell you about this week, it would come out like this.

Last week on Wednesday there was thirty millimetres of rain and the worst guest I have ever encountered. Everything went wrong. It was awful. Then it kind of stayed ok and then everyone got sick and I was scrambling around trying to find enough people to cover for the three sick people that couldn't work. Now I'm running around because we're short on staff because its the end of the Spring and I don't know how to deal with so few people. Everything is a struggle. I can pick out moments but no cohesive story.

I am waking up at 5 AM so I can write part of a letter, read my bible, and exercise.
I am watching my wife leave to stay with her parents until she can be seen at the doctor's office.
I am cutting up Amanda's food so she can eat it. We are laughing and talking about what kinds of things we will have to do if this becomes a permanent thing.
I am sitting in the apartment browsing the internet and watching TV so that I can pet the cat.
I am cleaning up vomit from the cat because I haven't spent enough time with him.

I haven't been writing. It's not for a lack of things happening in my life, its because of a lack of organization in the story-writing part of my brain. I'll let you know when that comes back.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Helping Move

I think I've become an expert on moving over the years. Ok expert is the wrong word because there are professtional movers who would know more than me. Enthusiast is probably the best term. I am a moving enthusiast. I understand things about moving having moved or helped others move enough times to figure some things out. Things like how you end up sending the box spring over the stair railing because it's too stiff to make that turn. Or how you should probably order pizza and drinks once people start looking tired and sad. There are lots of tips.

I learned most of these things from the biggest move I ever did. It was a move out of a 5 bedroom apartment on Princess Street in Kingston. There were five different people moving to four different addresses in two different cities with two different trucks. With that much complexity, some things are bound to go right and some are bound to go wrong. Let me recount them to you.

The first thing I did for this move was book the biggest truck I could order from U-Haul. 26 feet of glorious truck. I also booked it early. I booked the moving truck in October when I knew that we were not moving until April 30th. I had moved the year before and struggled to find a truck so this time I planned ahead.

When I arrived at U-Haul to pick up the truck.....they didn't have one. I don't know exactly how this happened. I had booked early enough to avoid problems but Kingston is a nightmare to move in between April 30th and May 1st because most of the leases in the city are up then. I wasn't surprised there were some hiccups. Luckily I used my normal customer service tactics of being nice and understanding. They got me a truck and they got it for the right amount of time that I was going to need it. They were surprisingly helpful considering the zoo going on behind me. So we got the right truck for this move.

One thing we did wrong was getting help. Somehow the five of us had few friends who were able to help us to move. We were able to borrow one friend for about an hour but no one else came. I don't know if that's a reflection on the kind of people we were or what but it was just impossible. I think it's because we had chosen to live together because we were close friends. Of course we couldn't find anymore friends because all the people we would call lived with us....

Luckily family chipped in. My mom, dad and sister came down to help (my sister was bribed with the opportunity to spend time with me. The awfulness of the move outweighed the value of the bribe but we laugh about it now so I think it's ok...). My one roommates parents also came to help. Everyone worked harder than I've seen a group of random people work. My mom and sister cleaned the whole apartment better than it had been cleaned since we had moved in. Our landlord raved to me about it later. He was so happy at the great job we had done on it. It was a good job because it took forever to do due to our thoroughness but it looked really great when we moved out. Props to my mom for being a super gracious super awesome apartment cleaner.

By the time we got out of the apartment with all the stuff out and everything clean, it was 7 PM. We now had a truck full of stuff and empty stomachs. This was a bad idea. We needed more time. I probably could have done that better. My mom and my sister's eyes were hollow from a days hard work. My roommates looked equally discouraged. We went and got food which gave us the strength to push through the final hours where we unloaded all of our stuff but the end of the day was a struggle.

To make things worse, the last thing we did was drop off my things. I had not checked with my new apartment yet so I did not know if I could move in. When we arrived at 10 pm, the room I was to move into was still occupied. No moving in was gonna happen. I sent a few frantic texts and then we ended up moving everything into the basement and the shed in the backyard. At 11 Pm we were ok.

Except we had nowhere to stay....Ben you were not very good at this planning thing back then. We got a hotel room instead and finished up the final move business the next day. It was awful but I had learned a lot and had some stories to tell. Now I do things differently when I move, and I appreciate how dedicated my family is to moving the worldly possessions of my friends and myself. Thanks family, thanks friends. Anytime you want my help moving, let me know and I'll strongly consider your request.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Silence on the Couch

This happened a few years ago.

We're sitting on the couch watching Grey's Anatomy. There is me and then there is a girl who has come to visit for a bit. We are friends.

I haven't learned how to talk to people in normal conversation. I am awkward and in high school. I have one friend. She is sitting on the couch with me.

The episode of the show ends. It is a sad ending. I sit there for a moment and let the commercials roll and then turn off the TV. I look over at her and then toss the remote on the floor and stare at it. I have no idea what to say. There's nothing to talk about from the episode. We had a pretty full day together but there isn't anything I can think that'd be relevant to say. And I definitely don't want to say the wrong thing because that would make her think I was dumb and she is pretty much my only friend right now. I can't take the pressure.

The minutes tick by and I slink into the couch to get more comfortable. It feels nice to sit here and enjoy the emotions filling my head with my friend sitting next to me. It's good.

Then it goes on for a while. Twenty minutes pass. Neither one of us has spoken since the show ended. Should I say something? I remember something from an earlier conversation.


"I don't understand" she says.

"Remember that word association game we were playing a couple of weeks ago?" I explain.

"Oh" she answers

Back to silence.

I sit there feeling silly. The only thing I could think to say was a random word in twenty minutes. The problem is that with each passing minute, it ratchets up the expectations for what is said next. I'm totally out of ideas now though. I sit back and enjoy the silence.

Fifty minutes pass.

She gets up and goes to bed.

I also get up and go to bed. I'm left wondering if the silence was a special thing. Is the ability to sit quietly with someone for a long time good? Is it awkward? Does it reflect maturity? Does it mean that we are growing apart? I like the silence so much but it leaves me with too many questions. I go to bed.

This week I head down to the kitchen before bed. Amanda still needs to be tucked in before bed. I am checking on the exhaust fan. The fridge is open. One of my staff is inside. I ask her a question. We talk for a little bit. Then the talk ends. We share a moment of silence. Suddenly I feel an urge to fill it.

"Well I'm off to bed!" I blurt out.

I walk away and say good night. As I am walking my head is filled with questions. Should I have let it be silent and just waited longer. Did I need to make empty space? Was there something that could have gone on after? Should I have sat back and enjoyed the silence? The lack of silence leaves me with too many questions. I go to my room, tuck in Amanda and then head for bed.

Whether it's silence or a lack of silence, I'm filled with doubt. How do I do the right thing? What do my friends or my staff need from me when it comes to communication? How do I love my neighbour?

I am filled with questions.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Moment from This Week

"We should do something tonight" Amanda says.

I dread the exchange that will follow. Not every night. Some nights I have something in mind. I am too tired from work to do anything so TV is the best option. Some nights I want to empty my brain and she does too so we talk for a long time. Tonight things are different.

We are at camp and there are people around so if we turn on the TV, I feel like I am missing out on the social events happening all around me. I turn off an episode of West Wing in the middle of it because I feel anti-social. We let the cat outside and go to the porch to see who is outside. No one is. They're all inside either reading or watching TV. I am discouraged and so we just go back inside.

We sit around and Amanda runs me through the list of things.

"We could watch something" but we might miss out on some super great social event and then I'll be left with no friends.

"We could play a game" that sounds like so much work.

"We could snuggle" physical intimacy also sounds like so much work. I just want to sit here on the couch and browse the internet aimlessly so I don't have to think about anything. Bring the illusion of social behaviour directly to my lap which has no energy for anything.

I eventually work up the energy to suggest we head down to the dining hall and play games. Someone might be there and then we could maybe be social with them. We arrive and find that there are two people there but they're engaged in a serious conversation. We start playing Bananagrams on the other side. Amanda is cute when we play and so I am comforted and entertained as we play the simplest word game ever. I forget about all of the lack of energy while we are playing.

Then I remember that the people we were looking for down here when the game ends and so we leave and head back up to our apartment. On the way up I remember that I was going to lead evening prayer tonight. We started in last week but I haven't done it in a few days. It has been really good each time we've done it but I can't imagine trying to round up people and sheets and leading the service. I'll do it tomorrow maybe. Why can't I follow through on things like this? Why am I such a quitter? We arrive back at the apartment. I tell Amanda that snuggling is probably the best thing right now. At least I won't have to hold my head up.

I'm not really sure how I get out of weeks like this. I think evening prayer would help, but the catch 22 of "no energy to run it, no energy because we don't do it" is a problem. I'll let you know how I did it once I get out. For now I'm going to use some of my crutches.

Wedding Planning

"Aw I love that, it's so cute! What do you think Ben?"

Uh oh, someone is asking me for my opinion again. I try to remember what it was we were talking about. I had started thinking back to a conversation I was having with someone at camp. I haven't decided what I'm going to do about it yet so I was using some of this time to think about it but now we're here talking about bridal flowers for the wedding celebration and I'm being asked for my opinion. I focus on what they are looking at. We are talking about different types of blue flowers for Amanda's wedding bouquet. The variety of colours appeal to me. I don't have any reason to protest. I compose myself.

"Yes that looks really nice!" I say with a smile on my face. It's true, the flowers look nice. I'm being genuine, but I am conflicted about the wedding planning process as a whole and Amanda can see it on my face as we go through the day making decisions about wedding plans.

Yesterday we spent the day meeting with the Florist and the venue and the photographer. Our venue is also handling our decorations, food, and some logistics and so that was a lot of decisions to make in one day.

We were well prepared for all of these meetings. After a two hour grilling by Amanda's parents, we became fully aware of all of the details we needed to cover the next day. I made a chart the way Amanda's dad showed me including events and needs and outcomes. It looked quite elegant. On the back I made action items and questions to ask our venue. Considering how scattered I am normally, I am pretty well organized for our day of questions.

After all the decisions we head to the store to finish filling our registry, another thing I am conflicted about. I am stubborn and argue with Amanda about each item she wants to add to the list. I am stingy. She is excited. Buzzkill is an appropriate title for me in this context.

On the way home, I stop to have a drink with a friend in Westport. I ask him about his life and then he turns around and asks me about wedding planning. He asks me what I think.

"The truth is I don't really want to do it. I'm not excited about it. But I know how much it means to some people in the family and I know how excited Amanda is about it and so I go along like I should. I'm putting aside my feelings about the whole exercise for now because of how others feel."

Planning a wedding is a complicated business but I know one thing is simple. At the end of it all, Amanda will be happy. That gives me the energy and excitement to care about flower arrangements when I normally don't.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Bathroom

Ok so I promised an explanation of the bathroom thing. Even though there isn't one specific story, I can explain how it started.

When I moved into a large apartment in my last year of university, I noted that it had one and two half bathrooms (one was a full bathroom, one had a sink and toilet, one had a shower and sink). At first I made use of the main bathroom but about halfway through the year I started to clog up the bathroom with the excessive amount of time I would spend in there. I think I made Cait late for work one or two times. Wanting to fix the problem, I began using the bathroom which had only a shower. In the entire time we had lived there, no one had used it except for once when we had moved in.

As soon as I started using it, I stuffed a blanket and a pillow in the corner and began to take naps before I took showers.

This wasn't the first time I had done this though. This is something that had started much earlier. When I was in high school, I used to have to get up at 6:30 every morning. This was torture for teenage me. I would drag myself out of bed and head downstairs to the bathroom where I would turn the lights and the exhaust fan on and sit there until I could move enough to shower. One morning I was sitting and I decided to lay down. The roar of the fan was oddly soothing and I ended up falling asleep. My mom came down and banged on the door to get me to get ready for school on time. I had to get up then but the experience stayed with me.

A few months later my parents were away for the night. I had the house all to myself. I decided that I would try sleeping overnight in the bathroom. I jammed the exhaust fan on and brought in an air mattress. I had the best sleep ever.

After that, I started setting my alarm half an hour early (6!) and taking a nap before I got up to get in the shower. Nothing felt better than being curled up in a ball under the covers with the rushing of the fan sounding overhead. That moment of coziness before I fell asleep felt good enough that it was worth getting up early and getting strange looks from my family members.

And it has stuck with me. I haven't always had the appropriate bathroom in the places I've lived. One year the bathroom was too small. One didn't have a proper fan. I thought our apartment in Toronto would have both problems. Luckily it turned out to be just long enough and I have discovered that a humidifier fan makes the proper wooshing sound.

It's probably one of the weirder things about me, but that's ok. I still haven't found any other experience that matches the feeling of being in a blob under the covers in the bathroom.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Quality Control

I'm driving into work. It's my victory lap of high school. At the end of my first month of school, and amid some lazy job searches my mom got upset at me for not having a job. I can't remember if there was yelling or not. I opened up the paper after that conversation and found the first dish washing job I could. "Megalos" After dropping off my resume and sitting through an extremely informal interview, I was hired to work weekends.

I thought dish-washing would be like working at camp. At camp we worked in teams of six on piles and piles of dishes until they were done and then we would take a break. I was so unbelievably wrong. After my first shift, my legs ached for hours. It was two guys (if we were lucky) trying to keep up with the pace of pots and pans being dropped in the kitchen. You had to walk through the dish hallway into the main part of the kitchen. There was room for maybe two people to pass each other in the hallway. One side was the fridges, the other side was the sinks we used for scrubbing.
Then you got into the kitchen which wasn't much bigger. It took four steps to run its length and there was room for the overweight head chef on one side, a line cook on the other, and me in the middle screaming "hot, behind". Run over to the pile of pans, grab whatever was there and bring it back to the dish pit. Throw the pans in the sink and let them soak. Run over and start loading up a tray. Unload the dry dishes and put them away (sometimes in between a line cooks legs). Occasionally get yelled at to complete a random prep task if the cooks were behind. Get through the rush and things would slow down a bit. Once they did you got to eat (if anyone would cook for you) and then you had to clean up. When you cleaned up, the line cook who had to close was breathing down your neck the entire time trying to get you to finish so you could leave. If you were lucky you finished everything on time. If you were unlucky, they would jump in with a frown and help you plow through.

We always finished by sweeping and mopping. In the kitchen, the floor became a garbage can. Vegetables, grease, bags, food, whatever wasn't needed in cooking got tossed to the floor. Sweeping took some time to make sure you had gotten everything. Then you filled up the mop bucket and started the futile work of trying to clean off what was an eternally greasy tile floor. I covered everything, but with a line cook breathing down my neck I never felt like I spent a lot of time at it.

So like I said, I'm driving into work with a knot in my stomach. All 6 of the hours I am going to work are going to suck. I'm pretty good at my job but the stress cloud that hangs over the kitchen always makes me anxious. After I quit, I will continue to have recurring nightmares about working there for another three years. I am afraid of the head chef. He yells a lot and he is not a nice man. A few years later I will find out that he no longer works there (probably fired). I am happy for whoever else works there. The line cook who usually stands over my shoulder works much harder and is much more friendly. He's also a better cook.

When I get there, the head cook looks at me as I grab the washroom keys to complete the first part of my closing tasks. "Come with me" he says. Is this about the floor? I wonder. He said something about it the other night so I tried to do a better job. I ignored the anxious line cook trying to get me to finish quicker.

"The floor last night was unacceptable. After what I said to you yesterday, that felt like a slap in the face".

I am normally afraid of him but right now I want to reach across the table we are sitting at and punch him. What the fuck do you want me to do differently? You throw everything on the floor and then make me mop with hot water and not much else. How am I supposed to fix that? I compose the flash of rage that just went through my face and look at him with confidence for the first time in my time there.

"Look, I don't know what you want me to do. The floor is just too greasy to come clean without chemicals" I tell him.

"You must not be mopping it enough times then." he answers. He wants me to mop more than once? This is the first he's said.

"How many times do you mop it?" I ask. Maybe he'll say twice.

"Three times" he replies. What an overachiever. He's probably lying to me but I don't want to argue with him.

"Ok, I'll do that tonight" I reply.

I go back and complete my shift. I tell the line cook that I'm supposed to mop three times. He laughs and then goes to change so he can wait for me to finish. I mop three times.

The floor looks exactly the same.

The next day I ask the head chef how things were.

"Great!" he says with a smile on his face.

And that was the last time I ever spoke to him. The day he gave me the floor lecture was my second last day at work.

To this day I still wonder what his deal was.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Suprise Banana!

It's 5:10 AM. After a few fitful hours of sleep, I am awake and ready to head back to work in just under an hour. The last day has been crazy. Let me tell you a little bit about why.

I am back at camp, starting the Spring season off. It's lovely being up here. It's quieter, things are closer together, and there's more room to do things outside. I like Toronto, but it's nice to get out once in a while. We're in the middle of staff training right now and so I'm spending some time getting to know others, and running sessions to train the staff for what looks like a busy spring.

Right in the middle of all of this, we are having a retreat on camp. This works out rather well because we are training on the job with a very big and somewhat demanding group. There are 120 men here on a retreat. They spend some time in sessions together learning about stuff and then they come and eat and they spend the afternoon doing activities. I've heard that their sessions are kind of emotional.

So part of all of this is that we're feeding them really well. Dinner was hamburgers the first night and turkey the second. They seem happy about the food. We're getting lots of complements so I guess that's a good sign.

I had been off for a day. I had to make a run up to Toronto, and so yesterday was my first day of working (as opposed to training). I was scheduled to be in the kitchen.

When I arrived, I was greeted with the sight of prime rib roasts everywhere. Amanda (who is not a fan of raw meat) was overwhelmed. I was gleeful. I have developed a disturbing passion for meat. Now when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. Every single counter was filled with roasts in pans ready to go in the oven. You could not find a space to work. It made things a little challenging. I stacked some of them up and put some on a cart just so we could have a bit more space. We counted and there were 21 Prime Rib roasts in all. Each roast is 11-17 pounds each so that's something like 300 pounds of prime rib. A hilarious amount of meat.

In the course of our shift we were also making banana bread. With all of the meat floating around, it took some time to get it made and then we were having trouble finding an oven to put it in. Eventually we got it in, but we were cutting it close and it had to go in a conventional oven (as opposed to one of our fancy ovens).

Now the banana bread was supposed to go out as a snack. It was going to be delicious. But as the meal time got closer, it still hadn't been cut and served. The priority seemed to be the meat above all other things. It made me more and more nervous as we got closer and closer to the meal time. Were we going to have anything to serve but meat? Would the snack be ready?

We finally had a moment and so we started to work on the snack. We cut around the edges of the banana bread pans, turned them over, and then the bread promptly crumbled to bits. It was not going to slice nicely. What was I going to do?

My mind raced for a moment but I stood there in silence. I needed a moment to think. Then I realized that I wasn't communicating with anyone. I stopped thinking in my head and then started thinking out loud.

"we can't use this for snack, but maybe we could use it for a dessert"

Someone latched on to this idea and so we made a place. We would crumble the banana bread and then put some whipped cream on top and then a slice of banana followed by some chocolate sauce. I don't know what you would call it, but it sounded decent.

 Amanda started to work on that while I ran around in circles trying to get dinner started so we could get everything else done. I was a little worried the men wouldn't like it because it was an accidental dessert with little thought put into it but I didn't want to throw out all the banana bread. It would have to do for now.

Then we put dessert out and the men ate it all.

I guess our  quick substitute for dessert actually tasted pretty good because we had guys coming up for seconds and thirds of dessert. They ate almost all of the banana concoction that we had created. I was afraid there would be none left. When I sat down to eat for the first time at 8 PM, I noticed that there were still a few pieces left. After I ate my piece of cold prime rib and roasted potatoes, I indulged. It was delicious.

I should mess up snack more often if it's going to taste like that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Moving Days

Hello Regular reader (I think there are 5 of you but I can't tell for sure). This is just a quick note to say that the Wednesday morning post is moving to Thursday because another project I am working on is going to begin posting on Wednesdays. Check back tomorrow for a tell-all expose about my weird obsession with the bathroom.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Karaoke Night

I can't remember the last time I "went out" for something other than a hockey game. I think it was probably the Starbucks holiday party that I was graciously invited too even though I left in September. Most nights you are much more likely to find me at home playing video games and sitting with Amanda than you are to find me talking to people.

Sometimes Amanda invites me to things with her friends from school. I always feel kind of hesitant about these things. I know Amanda's friends are nice people but that doesn't stop me from wondering what I would say. Wondering leads to anxiety and I'm really lazy so the idea of staying at home is usually much more appealing. But if I say no to you enough times, eventually I'm going to feel guilty for saying no so if you just keep asking, eventually you'll get me out.

On Monday afternoon while I was in the middle of my last day of classes when Amanda sent me a text message telling me that she was thinking about going out with her friends to celebrate the end of the year. She wanted to know if I wanted to come. I hesitated. I was going to be done class at 9:30 and likely not downtown until later. She said that wasn't a problem. Then I wanted to come up with more excuses but I'd already said no enough times to count for the year so I said yes. After all, what was the worst that could happen.

Two hours later, I'm leaning against the wall of a College bar with a half empty beer in hand watching people do karaoke.

Karaoke is perfect for my social skills. No, I don't participate. Karaoke provides me with ample opportunities to point and laugh at people internally. It gives me a sense of security knowing that no matter how stupid I look standing by myself silently for most of the night, I still look less ridiculous than the dude strutting around the stage singing Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun". Maybe that's bad. I really shouldn't sort people into a hierarchy of ridiculousness but I have to have something to think about while I struggle for something to say and wonder what the other ten people I'm standing next to are thinking.

I was glad that I went. Amanda invites me to these things and I say no because I think that I'll be left by myself to be frustrated. Amanda is good enough to talk to me and ask me "is this super lame" as many times as is necessary to reassure her that it's pretty good and I'm enjoying myself even though its not in the way everyone else expects. It gave me an opportunity to share my favourite story about karaoke with one of Amanda's friends though.

There's this bad that Jason discovered. It is usually empty. This is because it's attached to a restaurant. They have a TV though and so when there are Leafs games on, we usually go there because we have the place to ourselves and can pick a seat. The first few times I went with Jason we watched the game and then when it was over we left the Bar as empty as we had found it. One time when the game ended, a band appeared and started playing well arranged cover songs for a small crowd.

This one time we stayed a little to long after the game and discovered that they were having a karaoke night. Alarm bells went off in my head immediately. They announced that they were going to start in fifteen minutes and there were nine people in the bar; the two guys running karaoke, one of their friends, the bartender, Jason, Myself, two friends, and a guy who had obviously had way too much to drink. I had never watched a karaoke night happen before but I was pretty sure that if you wanted to do it on a stage in a bar you were going to need more than 7 people to participate (remember that one of the 9 was the bartender and there was no way in hell I was getting up in front of 8 people to sing).

We were in the middle of a pitcher of beer and so we weren't prepared to just leave ( I think we were still watching the game too) so we just stayed there for half an hour. It was one of the most awkward half hours of my life. I think they sang nine songs in that time and six of them were by the two guys running the night, two were from their friend, and one was from the super drunk guy (proving that you can't host a karaoke night without a really drunk person participating). We tried not to look and did our best to remain polite but I just wanted to crawl under the table.

Maybe one of these days I'll become a Karaoke person but for now I'm content to be over here with my beer while you're up on stage.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dirty Birds

"So there's these two pigeons on the balcony"

We live on the sixth floor of an apartment building on a block that is filled with tall apartment buildings. I don't know if its because pigeons like apartment buildings or because weird people in my building feel the need to feed pigeons (because life is obviously really hard for them in the city where there are thousands of them...) but we have had pigeons floating around our window since we moved in. There used to be pigeon netting but then they replaced our balcony and now the netting is gone. We could have put it back up but the pigeons generally left us alone for the warmer months so we left it like it was. We have a nice view anyways and sticking some chicken wire in front of that view didn't seem like a good time.

Things have changed since winter set in. We put a bunch of stuff out on the balcony in November and never went outside again. I stopped needing to get my bike, the weather got cold, and we blocked the door with a mountain of stuff which we call the Bermuda Triangle (the joke in the house is that anytime something is lost, it's there). Christmas came, the cold weather set in, and suddenly our balcony was pigeon central station. There were four or five pigeons who seemed to frequent our spot and they would often huddle in one of the two planter boxes that I had outside with tree saplings prepping for Spring. We felt kind of bad for them. The winter sucked. It was cold. Banging on the window didn't really scare them off either (try as we might) so we just forgot about it. We figured we would clean up their mess in the Spring once we actually needed to use the balcony again.

How much do you know about birds and reproduction? Let me give you a lesson. Birds lay eggs. Some birds only lay eggs at a specific time of the year. Other birds lay eggs whenever they have enough food and energy to do so. Birds that can lay eggs anytime can be very successful in environments with plenty of resources (like your average city with its well meaning pigeon feeders...). Pigeons can lay a pair of eggs around four times a year if food and nesting conditions permit. They are everywhere in the city because they have babies all the time.

Pigeons: the rabbits of the sky

The second thing you need to know about baby birds is that they are usually pretty pitiful when they are born. Go look for a picture of a baby duck. Doesn't it look so cute? Doesn't it also look like it could be eaten by a small racoon? Because they look so pitiful, baby birds need protection. One of my favourite questions is "how come I never see any baby pigeons?"

The answer is that Pigeons spontaneously appear out of the sky!

Ha ha just kidding. You never see baby pigeons because for the first month of their life they are good for nothing. they can sit in the nest and they can chirp. And they're ugly too. Their heads look like a velociraptor. You know...the ones that eat Wayne Knight in the original Jurassic Park. They're helpless and not likely to generate sympathy. For this reason, Pigeon babies are generally birthed and raised in out of the way areas. Under rocks, behind signage, in sheltered alcoves, and in boxes on the balconies of airheaded apartment renters.

I noticed that two pigeons had been chilling on our balcony a lot in February. It was a bad month and I was stuck in front of my desk a lot so I was happy for the company of a few aerial rabbits. Then I realized that one of them was chilling in the same spot under the window a lot. And wow had she ever made a nice bed for herself. Wait a minute...

I went outside to get some things off the balcony and for a few moments she made a valiant stand to resist all of her survival instincts. She wasn't going anywhere. We had a long staring contest in which we exchanged our deepest fears. I shared my fear of death. She shared her fear of me. Then she flew away revealing the greatest of horrors. A pair of dull coloured pigeon eggs.

A third fact you should know about birds is that sometimes they abandon their nests. Momma pigeon told me she was scared of me and if I went out there and bothered her enough, she might just peace out and leave those eggs to die in the cold. Spring was coming and I was worried that collecting things on the balcony would spook her and leave me with a pair of dead pigeon eggs and an inconsolable wife who was sad about the loss of the pigeons. Plus it was kind of fun that there was a bird rearing children on our balcony. I would avoid the perils of nest abandonment by bringing all of my stuff inside until the eggs hatched and the babies left.

Two weeks later I was sitting at my desk (are we noticing a theme here yet? Was I too early with that?). I took my headphones off and realized that I could hear chirping. I looked over the ledge next to me, pressed my face up agains the window and looked carefully. Pigeon babies! I immediately texted Amanda about this good news of great joy.

Over the next few weeks we watched them get fed by mom and dad at regular intervals. Over this time I learned some more cool pigeon facts. First, Pigeon's use a form of milk to feed babies, but both the male and the female bird produce it. This is not particularly remarkable becuase birds generally don't display a lot of sex differentiation (peacocks excepted...) but it is kind of cool because Pigeons are the original stay-at-home dads.

Pigeons: Feministing before feminism was a thing

When the pigeons parents feed the babies, it looks like they are murdering them. The babies open their mouths as wide as possible and then the parents stuff their faces in and start barfing Pigeon milk down their throats. You start to get nervous that at any moment, the parent is just going to go right through and that will be the end of pigeon babies short life. Not so though. They carry out this process several times a day without the benefit of pre-natal classes.

All of this has been cute and fascinating, but this week I had the last straw. The pigeon babies originally born in March are now nearly ready to leave the nest. The weather is warm and I am ready to clear the balcony and return it to its pre-pigeon nursery state. I await the day when I can get out there and clean. Then I see another pigeon sitting in another sheltered box. And she has a nice pigeon husband making a comfy bed for her. Wait a minute, I know where this is going...

I stormed our of the apartment. I glared new pigeon momma in the eyes. If I net her set up in that box, I was never going to get my balcony back. I had to get her out of there and fast. She took a brief look at me and then hopped to safety on the far side of the railing. I approached her nest (careful not to disturb pigeon babies now staring frightfully at me with their side eye...) and collected its delicately placed twigs. I crumpled them in my hand and shoved them in an out of the way crevice with pigeon poop.

Oh, another fun bird fact. Most of what people describe as bird poop is actually bird pee. Bird urine is a white solid with no liquid (so they don't have to carry a bunch of extra water around...). Only the brown stuff is poop.

Back to me and my forced pigeon eviction. I then found a board and covered all remaining sheltered areas. Then I glared at pigeon momma. She flew away.

I am happy to report that baby pigeons are almost flying and will be leaving our balcony soon. After that, there will be no more pigeon nesting on our balcony. I learned a lot from this experience but would rather not repeat it. After all, its not like there's a sortage of place for them to nest. They can hide in someone else's planter box next winter. Then maybe they can get some pigeon wisdom.