Spam ate my blog

I’ve had a bit of a spam problem. You may have noticed. It’s been going on behind closed doors for about a year. Only now it is seeping under the floorboards, visible to all who wander by. It’s kind of embarrassing.

I have no idea what started it. I might have left out a dirty plate overnight. Maybe I forgot to put away the sugar bowl. I blame my PH. He’s the one who leaves sticky mugs in the sink rather than tucking them into the dishwasher. Either way, I have been invaded. Ignoring the problem has not made it better.

Spam is mote insidious than ants and bites harder than wasps. It is the reason I have turned off comments. It prevents me from removing dead plugins and gets in the way of all thoughts of redesign. My blog is being chewed from the inside. I have no idea what to do about it. I worry it is too late to do anything.

Spam sucks. Spam is more than evil. It is demoralising. Spam takes away one’s desire to create. It ruins the simplest of hobbies. Spam makes me sad.

I should have taken action sooner. Maybe my hosting company would have been more receptive a year ago. Now they see me for the lazy, spam-infested-hoarder I have become and want nothing to do with me. When the pest control companies want nothing to do with you, that’s when you are in real trouble.

It might be time to bail. The demons have already made a home of my cozy furniture. If I wait any longer, there won’t be anything left to save, not even my photo albums.

But how to make the move? How to say goodbye? How to turn away? This is my home. It has been my solace and my community for so long. It might be one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Irish Setter Love

You know me, I love all dogs. Big ones, little ones, furry ones, and ones with no fur at all. But there is one type, one breed, that leaves me so gobsmacked, that I find myself stopping and staring upon every confrontation. I can’t think, I can’t move, I can do anything but admire this dog’s majesty. Is there a breed that does this to you?

For me, it is the Irish Setter. There is something so magical, so captivating about this dog that I am dumbstruck as I watch him or her pass. I haven’t been fortunate enough to meet many, yet the ones I have caused a visceral reaction. I can’t explain it. They are dogs out of the fantasy realm, like unicorns or dragons.

Can you blame me?

Irish Setter

Via Wikipedia

I’ll never forget a certain encounter that occurred in the off-leash woods outside our home in Bedford, Nova Scotia over a year ago. Shiva and I were wandering along the narrow path in the early morning. It was a misty day, with the fog teasing along the roots of the trees. All of a sudden, there was a rimple in the leaves to the side. Within seconds, a tall, beautiful dog entered the small clearing, the airborne dew floating about his tall frame. He paused there, his head held high, his hind legs splayed back. His copper fur glowed in the dim light, complimented by the greenery behind him. Even Shiva stopped to stare, too struck by his fantastical display to make a move. As quickly as he had arrived, he vanished, leaping off into the trees after an unknown scent, leaving a trail of wonder behind him. Shiva and I looked at each other, wondering if we had just imagined the experience.

This is how I will always view the Irish Setter. A regal, magnific breed, far out of my league. They are the dogs of fairy tales and legend, to be viewed upon with admiration but never owned.

Am I crazy? Is there a particular breed of dog that causes this feeling of awe in you?

1982 was an important year

I’ve been reading a book entitled 1982 by Jian Ghomeshi, current host of the brilliant CBC Radio show Q and former drummer of Moxy Früvous. Now there is an obscure Canadian reference. It is an odd sort of memoir, written in a simple style that is deceptive and funny. I spotted it in a Canada Day e-book sale and was attracted by the title, the year I was born.

Ghomeshi’s early life is somehow compelling, in spite of the fact it wasn’t that different from many other young lives in Southern Ontario at the time. Indeed he was of Iranian descent, which is still not easy in this era, let alone so soon after the Islamic Revolution. Regardless, he was from a family of moderate wealth and had access to all the privileges this entailed. This is a new country, by all counts. Ghomeshi may have been the only immigrant kid with Iranian parents in his neighbourhood, but he wasn’t the only immigrant kid. I say this not to take away from his experiences or any hardships he endured, only to showcase the point that it isn’t necessary to survive kidnappings in Somalia or take off on solo journeys around the world in kayaks to write books worth reading.

It is something I am happy to learn.

I haven’t finished the book. I am taking my time. I am enjoying all of the tributes to songs and bands I’d forgotten. The author’s teenage obsession with Bowie makes me smile and I almost wish I’d been old enough back then to appreciate the genius as it was emerging. Bowie and Rush and Talking Heads and Depeche Mode. These were all late discoveries for me. I also spent my childhood in a suburb outside of Toronto so there is that familiarity as well. As Ghomeshi was rediscovering the universe at the Police Picnic, I was an infant camping with my parents only an hour or so away. It’s kind of cool to read about things you know.

This is also something I am happy to learn.

I’ve lost my original train of thought. I think this post was supposed to be about theme songs. JIan Ghomesh’s theme song was “Under Pressure” and we have already decided Shiva’s theme song is “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett.* I was going to write about what I think my theme song should be. Oh well. Maybe another day.

What are you reading right now?

*Oddly, Jian Ghomeshi and Joan Jett are linked in a strange but fascinating way. You’ll have to read the book to learn how. 

Edmontoniversary: #YEG Ain’t so bad

Today marks one full year since I made the trip from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Edmonton, Alberta. While I can’t deny that a part of me still hankers for the sight of the Atlantic and the sound of Maritime accents, this prairie city isn’t as bad as I expected.

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It helps that we live in one of the most liberal neighbourhoods of this ultra-conservative province. Both our MLA and our MP are women and members of the NDP Party, something that is unheard of in any other region. Just last night I saw an eight-year-old woman gardening in her underwear, right across the street from two young girls in princess dresses selling lemonade. The streets are covered in thick, old trees that have likely been here at least as long as the homes. Mill Creek Ravine is a decent venue for dog walking, if filled with people who flout the rules. We are within walking distance of a fantastic farmer’s market and organic grocery store, and I can walk to and from work on a nice day. Life could be a lot worse.

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This doesn’t mean I am turning into an Albertan. There are a lot of things about the provincial culture which will never sit right with me. Edmonton may be more easygoing than Calgary, with a greater appreciation for art and alternative lifestyles, yet it still supports a lot of activities of which I will never be in favour. It is a bit hard to justify, I admit. We moved here because this is where the money is and we’ve made a lot of headway in paying off our debts. After 12 months all of our bills are paid and we feel like we have some breathing room for the first time in a while. For that reason, I owe this city a lot, even if I don’t like from where the wealth has come.

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The weather is nothing to recommend it either, I can’t deny. The winters are endless and the summers feel like a bluff of nature. In a way, that makes them more precious. The biggest problem is packing in everything we wish to do in such a short time. From the numerous food festivals and wooded campgrounds nearby, I am worried we aren’t going to savour enough of it before the snow returns. Before we moved here, I took things like green grass and soft leaves for granted. Never will I make that mistake again. Every warm day is to be embraced.

Five year plan, is what we tell ourselves. Four more to go. As a stopping place on our journey to somewhere more in keeping with our goals and dreams? Edmonton, city of yellow and orange fire hydrants, will do.

Dog Songs, Russian Novelists, and Memoir

I have always revelled in a well-told story. Many of my especial childhood memories are of burrowing under a comforter while my father or mother, most often the former, read aloud. The best books were those featuring characters I understood. Sure and I enjoyed fairy tales and books with animals doing people-like things, but the best ones illustrated young girls and boys in my own time, exploring a world to which I could relate. Dragons, talking geese, and princesses in castles could only be so interesting. It was much easier to tuck into a realm that resembled my own. Settings were important. Good, well-rounded characters were vital.

My reading choices haven’t changed very much. I still prefer reality to imaginary, biography to novel. The best writers, for me, are those who are capable of making me feel. It doesn’t matter if the location is fourteenth century Spain or modern day Toronto, if the characters don’t have honest flaws and tangible exertion, I am lost. I don’t have to relate. I do have to understand. In this way, science fiction and fantasy don’t make it to my night stand very often. Dystopia, travelogues, and history do.

Reading can be an escape. It is also a chance to learn and to challenge myself. There is great value in struggle. It took me a year to finish Ulysses and I am afraid it will take me longer to finish The Sound and the Fury. But I will feel so much better for having made the accomplishment. Some people want to climb mountains or run marathons, I want to work my way to Proust.

However, as much as I gain from toiling through books thicker than my thigh, when I read for pleasure, I mostly read memoir. I like to connect with other people who have experienced things I never will. Memoir is a glimpse into another life, another way of thinking. The stories are authentic, told by real people who felt compelled to share them. The first memoir I read was Amy Tan’s Opposite of Fate. I picked it up because I had enjoyed several of her novels and I’d always wanted to know how closely her terrifically flawed characters resembled her own life. I wasn’t disappointed. Not only did the book help me enjoy Ms. Tan’s fictional work even more, but it introduced me to a genre that has provided me with much larger benefits than simple entertainment.

Memoir taught me that the best writers are those who make themselves vulnerable, who can show the reader, through the stories they reveal, what makes them cry.

Yesterday I picked up a book of poetry for the first time in many years. The poetry section in my personal library maxes out at three. I allow the works of Homer in this count. I assumed I didn’t like it. I don’t enjoy long descriptions of flowers or mountains or Grecian urns. I don’t want to waste the little time I have interpreting Milton when I could be snuggling with Zamyatin.

Spare me. Please.

Despite this lifelong horror of verse, when I found a volume entitled Dog Songs, I couldn’t resist. I guess it makes sense that the first poem I read in over a year has to do with canines – what else? It helped that Mary Oliver’s collection isn’t very long. Accompanying the poems are sunny sketches of the dogs she recollects. I don’t know if the pictures made all the difference, made the words more visible, however, once I began reading I couldn’t stop. Within too short a period I was finished and longing for more.

The poems didn’t feel like poems. They were written in poetic style and given the author’s impressive credentials, including a Pulitzer Prize, I am certain they are of brilliant poetic quality. To me, they read more like stories. Almost, like poetic memoir.

It is possible I have been wrong about poetry all this time. Though there are many poems that are just one long ramble about the beauty of the stars, I have been shown, by a fellow dog lover, that poetry can also tell intense personal stories. Bursts of real life in verse form. By the end, I felt I understood the author. I know she had a hound named Benjamin who ate field mice and she later formed a treasured bond with Percy of the curly white fur. Her grief was ripe when she shared his passing. Through her words, I gained a sense of personal struggles and drastic change. Though Mary Oliver has lead a life far different from mine, I related to her joy in dogs off-leash and her worries when her friends drifted far. I learned what made her cry.

I don’t see myself ever writing poetry, you can sigh in relief. I would have to spend years reading it to ever get up the nerve to try and, as we have learned, I still haven’t finished Faulkner. Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs has inspired me in other ways, reminded me there is more than one way to be vulnerable.

I hope after all these years I have given you an idea of who I am, other than just Shiva’s exhausted owner. Not that this is a terrible way to define myself. I do hope you have been able to relate in some way, that I have made myself open and that I have helped you do the same.

Because I am not sure how to close, I am going to end with a quote from Oliver’s “Percy Wakes Me” because I think it is apt. It is my goal to one day describe this blog in a similar way.

This is a poem about Percy.
This is a poem about more than Percy.
Think about it.

Pawprints in the Snow

One of my favourite things about early morning walks in the snow are the signs of wild animals I spot everywhere. Before the bootprints of other humans, or the tell-tale marks of pet dogs, have trod all over the white canvas, it is easy to pick up the more unusual traces of more exotic species. It also shows me a little bit of the reason behind Shiva’s sniffing madness. No wonder she can’t resist the seduction of the hideaway under the branches, when so many animals call it home.

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Most of the tracks are easy to decipher. Squirrels, mice, and birds make up the majority of pawprints in the snow. The rabbits are even simpler to detect, with their larger hind legs and their funny hop. That doesn’t make these smaller animals less fun to track. I take great joy in following a bunny trail, hoping if we can just go far enough, we will find a utopian burrow. Our own Watership Down. 

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There is a certain part of the forest in the river valley that I love to visit the most after a recent snow fall. It could be wishful thinking, but every time Shiva and I visit there – as long as we make it before everyone else – I see small, canine-like prints scattered along the side of the path and leading up a hill. There are no human tracks around these footfalls, so I know they can’t be made by an off-leash dog. I like to believe there is a fox den nearby and dream of catching sight of one eventually, if we are quiet enough.

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Alas, I am sure whatever animal is creating these tracks would run off long before we entered the area. For all I know the prints are those of someone’s cat or a small dog that has strayed too far. But I like to believe in the secrets of a fox den. It makes me smile to think such special creatures could be living near my front yard.

Every once in a while I will come across prints that I can’t interpret. In all my years of dog walking, I have seen raccoon and porcupine and coyote, I know all of the above roam freely in the ravine of our city. But these tracks that Shiva found recently don’t match those of which I have become familiar. I can’t determine what they are or even make a solid guess. This is a northern city with northern animals, I assumed I had seen them all. But I still have yet to even come up with the possible perpetrator of the below prints.

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I wish my photographs were better. They had to be snapped quickly as there were joggers on the path behind us and Shiva was giving them the evil eye. But the toes looked long and there weren’t the normal pad marks from dog paws.

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Perhaps I am wrong and they are canine, maybe a dog with more fur which would not necessarily show in the snow. But I haven’t come across anything like these tracks before and I am curious. I haven’t seen anything like them again, either.

What do you think they could be? Do you enjoy following animal trails as much as we do?

Blackberry Purgatory: A Real Thing in the World

My mobile phone is in the midst of an identity crisis. It sounds like a joke but I couldn’t be more serious. It is stuck in cellular purgatory. Not quite a Blackberry, not quite an Android, it doesn’t know where it belongs. Half the time, it doesn’t even know it is a phone. Frankly, it is a mess. I don’t know how much longer we can co-exist.

It used to be so cool. When we first met, I felt proud to have it in my pocket. We were pals. I loved to talk up its full keyboard with its wicked email functionality. And if you have never used Blackberry Messenger, you are missing out on one of the smoothest communication systems ever implemented on a smart phone. The messaging system of a generation. And the emoticons? Don’t even get me started.

Alas, due to extenuating circumstances, we are going to have to part ways. It isn’t something I ever foresaw. Despite all of the naysayers, I have been true to my dear little phone. Applications and photography meant nothing to me. I didn’t flinch when friends went the way of Instagram and Evernote. Loyalty, that is what mattered to me. They could keep their Angry Birds and their high-speed Internet. My Blackberry and I were just fine with our app-less realm filled with blurry photos.

But, something unfortunate occurred and I was forced to make a difficult decision: my camera lost its zoom. And I mean this quite literally. The zoom button on my camera is broken. Thus, all of my photos require serious editing before they can be published online. Otherwise they look like this:

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Do you know what the subject of the above photo was supposed to be? Me neither. Anymore. Ugh. Pretty unforgivable for a blogger who spends the majority of her time posting pictures of her dog.

So maybe zoom isn't as big of an issue as my impatience and utter lack of skill. Whatevs.

So maybe zoom isn’t as big of an issue as my impatience and utter lack of skill. Whatevs.

Something had to be done. As much as it pained me, and it hurt a lot, I knew I had to make a change. The world cannot be deprived of Shiva photos. It is my sworn duty, after all. It has gotten to the point that I either spend money on a new camera or upgrade my cellular plan. A greater dilemma one has never faced.

I loved my little black phone. It was the first mobile device to give me access to email on the fly. We had a great time together, chuckling over Facebook feeds, making snarky remarks on Twitter. Unlike all of my other phones, this one understood me. It knew my distaste for personal calls and responded by having almost no calling ability whatsoever. Never once did it make me feel guilty for not answering a ring. Never once did it store a voicemail message for me not to return later. In gratitude, the only time I forced it to make a call was in the midst of a dire emergency. Even then, I made sure to keep it under a minute. I could always tell when my phone was overwhelmed by the heat in my palm. I will miss that heat. We were united in our anti-social inclinations. It never expected me to be who I wasn’t. I never demanded anything more than it was capable of providing.

This isn’t to say our relationship was perfect. There were times I took my phone for granted, neglecting it enough so as to let it fall in a puddle. Unforgivable, I know. But did it forsake me? Perish the thought! As soon as I realized my mistake and gave my phone it’s due, all was well again. My phone never held a grudge.

Sadly, things changed. My wireless company was displeased with the lack of modernization within my account. They told me I could not update my phone number from a Nova Scotia line unless I upgraded my calling plan. They didn’t understand the link between my phone and I. They especially didn’t understand my lack of calling features. They wanted to separate us forever.

For a long time, I refused. Faithful to my stocky pal, I weathered their threats and clung to the past. They couldn’t make me change. I would never let go! They would have to pry my Blackberry from my cold, dead hands.

And then my camera lost its zoom and my priorities shifted. With a new job forcing me to hustle from one meeting to the next, having a phone that could be used as a phone started to make more and more sense. I couldn’t keep paying long distance charges every time I needed to call a taxi. It was time to say goodbye.

Now, as I wait for my new phone to arrive, scared to discover uncharted land, my Blackberry isn’t what it used to be. It has forgotten how to and has all but lost connection to the outside world. The only communication we have these days is via text message. It just isn’t the same. It knows the end is coming. I wish there was something I could do to ease its transition to the next world. I wish I knew what to say or how to prepare.

The thing is, I am not as afraid as I expected I would be. The time has come to discover my next mobile relationship. It won’t be the same, it couldn’t be. I will never forget my Blackberry. It was my first glimpse of a new technological world, my first real experience of mobile freedom, of breaking out on my own without being tied down by cords and dying laptop batteries. Nevertheless, if there is anything this week has taught me, as I say farewell to my fading smart phone, it is that I am nothing if not resilient. Just as I learned how to type on my Blackberry’s keyboard, I will conquer the touch screen. I am ready to move on.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll even set up my voice mail this time. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.