Sunday, September 18, 2016

Highs and Lows of Summer's Last Weekend

The highlight of this imminently-autumnal weekend is always Pete's Geekquinox dinner, this time re-using the Star Trek theme in honor of the 50th anniversary of the franchise. I had ordered some appropriate nerdwear back in August, but by Friday afternoon it had not shown up, leaving me extremely disheartened.  On the plus side though, my BluRay of Captain America: Civil War had arrived, and Glory and I enjoyed watching it Friday night after supper.

On Saturday morning, I whipped up some scrambled eggs, sausages, and toast with lime curd before we took Glory in to St. Albert where her Irish Dance school was conducting a bottle drive. It went pretty well too, and in about 4 hours they had pretty much filled a 30 foot trailer with refundable empties. That should go a long ways toward financing some team dresses!

While she was dong that, Audrey and made out way out to Leduc (but not before stopping at Warp Comics to grab a Star Trek pin so I could improvise something remotely thematic) so we could help my mum empty out her motorhome.

With Tara and Jerry relocating to Texas, Mum will be moving into the other upstairs bedroom and setting up a small sitting room in Tara's old office so she can look after the place for the three weeks of every month they will be stateside. It's a big change from driving a humungous RV out to Osoyoos for their milder winter, but I know Tara is grateful that the house will not be so empty.

We got her place around noon, and was gratified to discover that there may be a genetic explanation for my affinity for smart-ass t-shirts:

True to form, Mum had already moved out most of the stuff she could, holding some back for an end of season campfire event they are having at her campground in Leduc next weekend. There wasn't a lot for us to do except a little technical support on her iPad and moving one awkward metal rocking chair that her dog Willow has pretty much claimed as her own.

After getting that situated, we made our way back up to Ellerslie Road and Geekquinox. It was a wonderful time, as always, filled with great food and better people, and official lexicographer Earl has done a marvelous job documenting it at The Earliad.

Not everyone dressed up, but those who did looked fantastic, evocative of one of the most positive futures ever depicted in science-fiction, and even my slapped-together effort didn't look too far out of place.

There was even a neat moment where esthetics met practicality, as Pete used the dry ice he had procured to make dramatic, steaming beverages to cool down a pot of beef broth in a hurry so he could more easily remove the fat.


There was much catching up, revelries galore, and even a couple of games of Star Trek Trivial Pursuit (in a suave shuttlecraft Galileo carrying case). The main course (a chuck roast that had spent 30 hours in a sous vide bath before getting smoked in Pete's Big Green Egg for another three!)was served up just before midnight, and people began breaking orbit a couple of hours after that. The diehards playing a small game of SpaceTeam at three in the morning signalled the end of festivities. After brunching together the next morning, we were back on our way to Castle Downs..

The grocery shopping still needed to be done, and I was on tap for preparing Sunday dinner, so part of me hoped to find a lasagna or something else that required minimal effort. Seeing rib roasts on sale and knowing my daughter was hankering for Yorkshire puddings put paid to that, however!

After dinner, Glory volunteered to go up on our roof to try and sort out the squeaky turbine vent that had been niggling at us the past couple of weeks. I showed her some pictures to give her an idea what needed doing up there, and she scampered to the top in great form.

Unfortunately though, the squeak persisted, and I ended up joining her on the roof. My reluctance was due less to any sort of fear of heights than an acute awareness of my mass-based proclivity for gravitational attraction. There was also an element of not wanting to place an undue burden of 1/8 ton on an aging roof, but in the end, there was nothing else for it.

Getting onto the roof and scrambling to the pinnacle to join Glory was surprisingly easy, and once ups there, we used our vantage point to take a good look at our neighbourhood and the setting sun, and took a selfie or two before getting down to brass tacks.

With one of us lifting the whirlybird itself and the other spraying some lubricant roughly in the direction of the spindle, we were able to make short work of the squeak in a very reasonable amount of time. Glory then scuttled over to the over turbine to repeat the process as a preventative measure while I crab-walked my way down the other side of the roof in order to remove about three dozen pine cones, and to note that the far side eavestroughs now had seedlings sprouting up from them.

The two of us then reconvened to remove perhaps a decade's accumulation of pine needles and other detritus, shoveling them into pails which I then levered over to Audrey at the end of a gardening hoe.

I managed to thrash the sweat pants I was wearing while scooching around on the shingles, and am not sure if the sap from the pine cones will ever come out of the work gloves I was wearing, but in the end it felt like a very productive evening, with a bit of fun in it too.

Come to think of it, our rooftop adventure was indicative of the weekend as a whole: a change in perspective, a bit of work and some fun as well.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

England Visit 2005 - London

Twenty-one years ago, I took a job with Games Workshop, purveyors of fine metal miniatures and tabletop wargames, which means eleven years ago they flew Audrey and I to the company HQ in Nottingham for the Veterans Dinner. (Honestly, why didn't I write this post last year? Well, better late than never, I guess...)

It was a pretty compelling perk: after ten years with the company, they not only flew you and your wife to the U.K.. but they also rented you a tuxedo for the big night, and presented you with a Burberry leather jacket with your name and start date on the label.

I'd been to England a few times previous for company conferences and the like, but going with Audrey was a treat, and after getting the girls situated with Oma and Opa,we arranged to spend a few extra days in London before heading up to Nottingham.

London is an amazing city, and I would love to return and spend more time there, especially with the girls. We never made it to the Imperial War Museum, or to a show in the East West End, or any number of other not-to-be-missed experiences, but we still managed to have a good time.

We rode the London Eye to get a bird's-eye-view of the city.

Afterwards, Audrey successfully defended her $9 hot dog against a voracious pigeon.

A double-decker bus took us to see the rest of the sights from ground level, and we drove by Tom Hanks shooting The DaVinci Code (too slow to get a camera on him though).

Great name for a pub, don't you think?

Walking about, we saw a member of the Life Guards on horseback. I can only imagine what level of upkeep those boots require!

We made our way to the gates of Buckingham Palace, but too late to see the changing of the guards, unfortunately.

Audrey chatted up the only Bobby we could find who was not totting around a submachine gun, due to a member of the Royal Family being on the move, and he kindly agreed to have his picture taken.

Later that day police motorcycle stopped the traffic in the roundabout by Trafalgar Square shortly after the dedication of the new Battle of Britain memorial, and I somehow managed to put two-and-two together and realize a motorcade must be coming. Sure enough, a moment later HRH The Prince of Wales and Camilla came racing around the corner. Not long enough for me to get a good picture, but sufficient to capture his distinctive silhouette.

Trafalgar itself is dominated by Nelson's column, the same height as the mast on his flagship, HMS Victory.

The lions at the base are powerful symbols of a once-mighty empire, but alas, deceitful.

We only found out later that real lions are actually incapable of sitting with their rear legs posed in such a manner; pressed for time, the story goes, the sculptor had used his housecat as a model.

The next day we got to see the (then) only recently unveiled memorial for the Battle of Britain, financed solely with private funds.

As a sculpture, it is an awesome piece, full of dynamism, character, and amazing detail.

As a history buff, seeing the names of every single one  of 'The Few' inscribed on the plaques, as well as all the participating squadron insignias was an even greater treat.

A boat tour on the Thames gave us a different perspective on the city, and showed us us how a clever bouillon company managed to dodge the ban on riverside advertising.

And we made it to the Tower of London, a visit which I recommend to everyone, but perhaps not for the reason you think. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of history on the site, and granted, the Crown Jewels are very impressive, but the best part of the tour is that it is given by Yeomen Warders, sometimes know as the Beefeaters.

To become a Yeoman Warder is very difficult as I recall being told: they must have 22 years of service in Her Royal Majesty's Armed Forces, and attained a rank of Sergeant. There is a rigorous interview process for both the candidates and their wives, as these men (no women at the time, and I don't knwo if that has changed as of yet) not only represent the face of the Tower to thousands of visitors every year, but they must also live on the premises.

Our guide said it's a great job, not unlike life in the army: marching around, shouting at people, telling them where to go, but at the end of the day, having a mailing address of "#7 Tower Green, Tower of London, England" is in many ways the best part of it. He was friendly, knowledgeable, and had both a great delivery and wicked sense of humour.
Yeoman: As you might imagine, the cellars underneath the White Tower are very damp, and quite cold, creating the ideal conditions for...what?
Tourist 1: Torture!
Tourist 2: Executions!
Yeoman: (Disgusted) Wine, you savages, wine! It's where they kept the wine!

Or as evidenced in this brief excerpt of his description of Traitor's Gate:


He also provided a brief rhyming shorthand for remembering the fates of the wives of Henry VIII which I still remember clearly a decade later: "No, it's like this, see - Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. Easy, ennit?"

Of course, there are two other famous denizens of the Tower worth noting; first, the Royal Guard, who, though ceremoniously and archaically dressed, still carry modern and fully functioning bullpup-style IW assault weapons...

And of course, the ravens.

It turns out these ominous corvids are looked after by a Yeoman called the Raven Master (how cool would that look on your resume?) and have their wings clipped to prevent their flying off. I don't recall getting a direct answer when I inquired if this was related to the infamous prophecy that if the ravens of the tower depart, the Crown will fall and take Britain with it, but now I find myself wondering if anyone has checked on them since the Brexit vote...

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Half-Century In The 23rd Century

We moved to Leduc in the spring of 1974, when I was most of the way through first grade. My new schoolmates were friendly, and we spent recess one day drawing on the chalkboard. One boy drew a set of parallel cylinders joined by a couple of rectangles. Speed lines came out the back, and two thin beams lanced out from the bottom of the topmost cylinder.

More details filled out the shape; windows, lights, some letters and numbers. I was intrigued, and asked, "What's that?"

"It's the starship, Enterprise," he said,"from Star Trek, on television."

After school, I rushed home so I could be in front of channel 13 at the appointed time, and I was transfixed- or maybe better to say transported.

I was immediately drawn in by the strange locales, the outlandish adventure and the bravery and gallantry of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Any chance I got to see more of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy (and the rest of the crew, of course), I took it. I remember Mum laughing when I told her about this new show, and how disappointed I was when she told me it had been cancelled when I was three. It meant that there was a limit on how much of this strange new world I would be able to experience, but I was determined to eke out as much as I could.

Like many of my peers, I bought a model kit of the Enterprise and assembled it in a slapdash fashion, but was puzzled by the sheet of decals included with it. Barely familiar names like Lexington, Potemkin, Intrepid, Hood, and their associated registry numbers suggested an even larger imagined universe, with links to real military history. Years before I would read Lord of the Rings, this was my first exposure to the tantalizing allure of world-building: the creation of an imaginary place particularly suited to the telling of specific stories.

I would watch these stories on television, and devoured the James Blish novelizations from the public library. At a bookstore in Southgate mall, I spotted the Star Trek Concordance and the Star Trek Puzzle Manual, and begged Dad to get the puzzle manual for me. It turns out the Concordance would become a valuable collectible in later years, but I was enthralled with the manual, written as excerpts of various Starfleet Academy training manuals.

The ardour of my classmates cooled somewhat as I entered junior high while my passion for Star Trek remained, but it was changing. The ethics of the crew, the morality of the stories, they began to inform my own sense of right and wrong. Even when I didn't agree with how Kirk handled a situation (which was rare), I respected his courage and commitment.
Kirk: "Let me help." A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words even over "I love you." (from City On The Edge Of Forever)
(If my ethos has a cornerstone, 'Let me help' is it.)

I came to understand the Enterprise's true purpose: as a vehicle for ideas, and ideals.

I was too young or sheltered to recognize how progressive it was to have a black woman officer on a television show, but the ethnically diverse, multi-racial and multi-species bridge crew of NCC-1701 showed me a multi-coloured world that worked.

When I saw other students bullied, or was a victim myself, I knew it was a fear of the Other that provoked it. It was a fear I had as well, but maybe a little less, and perhaps a little more controllable because I knew where it came from, and how illogical it was.

In the snarky interchanges between the passionate Dr. McCoy and the stoic Mr. Spock, I saw the value of both emotion and logic, and how much more effective each is when tempered by the other.

During the long dry spell between new episodes on television and the eventual movies, I discovered role-playing and tactical games set in the Star Trek universe, and played both in high school with like-minded fellows. I learned to tell stories in an established setting. Novels began to trickle out, giving us even more insight into the idealized future of the 23rd century.

Then, the movies, followed by a return to television in The Next Generation. The Star Trek universe was not only robust enough to survive two set re-dressings and costume changes in a short space of time, but could leap ahead almost a century and populate itself with new characters, in a future where enemies had become allies. (I'm not saying that the Klingon-Federation peace had any real bearing on the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, but...)

More shows followed, and more movies, and some were hits, and some were misses. But through them all, this optimistic and inclusive future, a future of abundance and exploration, remained.

This quirky little show with the astonishingly original looking spaceship, originally pitched as "Wagon Train in space", premiered on this night 50 years ago - September 8, 1966. Star Trek has been a cultural touchstone ever since,

Martin Luther King begged Nichelle Nichols not to leave the show, so she could be an example to other people of colour, and especially women.

James Doohan and Deforest Kelly received hundreds of pieces of fan mail from engineers and doctors who were inspired to take up these professions by their fictitious portrayals.

Cell phones, jet injectors for inoculations, modern computers, medical scanners - they can all trace their roots to a silly space opera that barely ran three seasons, but the lasting impression, the perpetual gift of Star Trek, will always be its idealism.
Capt. Kirk: They used to say if man could fly, he'd have wings, but he did fly. He discovered he had to. Do you wish that the first Apollo mission hadn't reached the moon, or that we hadn't gone on to Mars and then to the nearest star? That's like saying you wish that you still operated with scalpels and sewed your patients up with catgut like your great-great-great-great grandfather used to. I'm in command. I could order this, but I'm not because Doctor McCoy is right in pointing out the enormous danger potential in any contact with life and intelligence as fantastically advanced as this, but I must point out that the possibilities - the potential for knowledge and advancement - is equally great. Risk! Risk is our business. That's what this starship is all about. That's why we're aboard her. You may dissent without prejudice. Do I hear a negative vote? (from Return to Tomorrow)

In January, Star Trek returns to television (well, via a streaming service in the U.S., but still...), and there are numerous indications that showrunner Bryan Fuller is intent on taking the franchise back to its progressive roots. Half a century later, the rallying cry of Trekkies through the lean years, "Star Trek lives!", has never been more true.

I have every confidence that I will be referencing Trek until I am too old to remember it, and that phrases like "Live long and prosper" will continue to resonate until we reach the 23rd century. Perhaps this sentiment and the spirit that spawned it will eventually echo into a future that looks more like the utopia that is the United Federation of Planets, and not our troubled little globe.

Monday, September 5, 2016

(Someone Else's) Family Reunion

Family trees aren't as straightforward as they used to be. At the Oldenburger family reunion this weekend, I met a lot of Audrey's aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and more.

Over the better part of a century since Jakob and Fenje Oldenburger founded the clan back in Holland, their children and children's children have experienced miraculous births, tragic deaths, marriages, divorces, remarriages, adoptions and all other manner of associations and affiliations.

A young man of 21 is asked if that 5 year old he is talking sternly to is his younger brother. "No, he's my nephew," is the reply. "He lives with us because his mom is...troubled." A knowing nod, indicating both understanding and respect, is given to show that the matter needs no further elaboration.

So many different people, so many branches of the same family tree, and sometimes it is difficult to even fathom that they share a common trunk. And sometimes they don't; I have no blood here except the daughter I brought.

And yet, I see similarities in the eyes of some of the cousins, the smiles of some of the aunts, mannerisms and expressions of children brought up around similar lifestyles and cousins, whatever age they may be now.

Best of all, they make room for others, like myself. This year they asked me to run the auction they use to fund the reunion, and two hours of sweaty shouting later, they had somehow made about $500 more than they did last year.

But our biggest contribution for the past three years has been the games we bring, and for a lot of the younger attendees who are just not into canasta, the reunion is a great opportunity to try games they haven't been exposed to before.

This year saw three games of Formula De, including a 9 person heat using the megaboard of two adjoining tracks. We also played Risk Godstorm, Timelines, Bang! The Dice Game, and Dutch Blitz. Uncles, cousins, nephews, brothers-in-law, and friends.

After packing up Frankentrailer today, these people whom I only see once a year hugged me, and thanked me for my help, and said how glad they are that we come. And I'm glad too.

Because it turns out they are my family after all.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Little Miss Milestones

A couple of momentous events transpired in the life of our eldest daughter back in June, in fairly rapid succession. The more significant of the two was her graduation from high school.

Despite an academically trying year, Fenya did manage to graduate with honors, something neither of her parents achieved.

A fairly big deal was made of the graduation itself, as is both typical and appropriate. Oma and Opa came up from High River, Nanny, and Auntie Tara and Uncle Jerry came up from Leduc, and Auntie Vera came all the way from Ontario. 

Eschewing a formal portrait session, Fenya asked her younger (we can no longer truthfully call her 'little') sister to take care of the photography. 

It was an overcast day, but we made the best of it, and Glory got some very decent shots in at Const. Ezio Faraone park by the High Level bridge. I mean, obviously it helps when your subject matter is gorgeous, but still.

Tara, bless her, brought some pizza and sodas since there would be no banquet at the Jubilee Auditorium's graduation ceremony.

After eating, Fenya got into her robe and mortarboard for a couple more shots.

Then it was off to the Jube, for a very well put-together presentation, which, come on, for an arts school, this should really be a foregone conclusion, right? I thought they pulled it off with aplomb, although the clowny bits left me a bit bewildered, and they hit a great balance between fun and sentimental.

There was a dance afterwards, so we left the Corolla keys with Fenya and headed home in the Flex. We got some good visiting in with the out-of-towners, but didn't go too late, since two days later we were heading up to Churchill, and one of us would not be coming back. (Dun dun DUNN!)

This would be the other milestone mentioned earlier.

You see, graduating at 17, Fenya had always intended on taking a 'gap' year before heading off to any post-secondary studies, and had toyed with the idea of working away from home. About a year ago we started talking with my cousin's wife, Belinda, about the possibility of Fenya working at their hotel and restaurant in Churchill, and she was all for it.

The original plan would have seen her working front desk, but Fenya's graduated license meant she could not be insured to drive the shuttle to the airport and train station. Belinda reassured her there was plenty of work to be had, if she didn't mind housekeeping and dishwashing, and perhaps even a little serving experience once she turned 18 in November.

I was frank with Fenya: "Look, I know this is not what you were expecting, and that is a heck of a long way to go for that sort of work, so if you are having second thoughts, let's talk about it." After thinking about it overnight, however, she was resolute in going, and I asked why.

"You know how Plan A is for me to live at home while going to school?"


 Well, if I end up going for my master's so I can go into counselling, do you realize I won't be moving out until I'm the same age you and Mum were when you got married?"

I blinked, astonished, as is so often the case, at the insight and perception she has at 17. "Have a great time in Churchill!" I told her.

And this is the manner in which we find ourselves, for a little while at least, one step closer to being empty nesters, the full effect of which is likely to be some time in coming.

And that's fine, really. Looking back over the years, I have come to realize that despite parenthood being a daunting responsibility, the burden is light. 

If you are lucky, as Audrey and I have been, it is a privilege to be in the company of such a delightful young lady, and this opinion has been validated by many of the wonderful people in our lives.

Sure, she has inherited a lot of risk aversion from her mum and dad, but she is not without a taste for adventure.

And somehow, against the odds, she and her younger (at one time littler) sister have become the closest of friends.

Very few of the obligatory first day of school pictures have a solo daughter in them once Glory began following Fenya to school.

But most of my fondest memories of Fenya all involve her tremendous sense of whimsy, the brightest way in which her spirit shines.

I'll level with you: there have been times it's been hard. It's one thing knowing that she is 1300 km and three degrees of latitude away, but the empty seat here prompts all manner of surprising little reminders. Cooking a dinner for four out of habit, setting out 4 sets of pieces for Ticket to Ride, instead of just 3, not having to sort out school supplies for her for the first time in 12 13 years, that sort of thing. Thankfully the place she is staying in has wifi, so we have been able to Skype with her from time to time, which has been exceptionally helpful.

She has also started a video blog, to commemorate her time up North, and to let her friends know what she is up to up there.

We are almost halfway through our Fenya-less time, and as trying as it may be, I couldn't be happier for her. She is learning to do things on her own, gaining experience and self reliance in one of the most fascinating places in Canada. Sure, those extra-large horseflies they call 'bulldogs' can be a little intimidating...

And the threat from polar bears, while not constant, is very real...

But we know she is in good hands up there, and even when Parker and Belinda were sidelined by tragedy, it gave Fenya an opportunity to really appreciate her independence, and the sadness and concern gives way to even more pride every day.

One milestone together, another apart; 2016 has been a big year for Fenya so far, and we are looking forward to hearing more stories from north of 58 when she returns in late November, once bear season wraps up.