11.11.2018

a rare bout of nostalgia: remembering our move to canada

August 30, 2005: wmtc
Packing up the apartment and getting ready for the road trip brings back bittersweet memories.

In the spring and summer of 2005, we were in our final preparation for moving to Canada. All at once, an amazing writing opportunity dropped in my lap, we found a house to rent, and our dog Buster became extremely ill.

We made a one-day roundtrip trip to Port Credit (Mississauga) via Buffalo on the first day of what would become a new round of Saving Buster. (Since that cold and rainy night in Washington Heights when I found him on the street, near death, our lives were all about Saving Buster.) This time, it was months before we got a proper diagnosis. He got sicker and sicker, practically fading away before our eyes.

As my deadline loomed, I was writing full-time Monday through Friday, and working my day-job, two 12-hour days, all weekend.

It wasn't long before we realized Buster needed a specialist, which meant taking a subway to a Zipcar, driving the car back home, then driving all the way downtown. Multiple appointments, incredibly time-consuming -- but we saved his life. After that, he was on high doses of prednisone, which means very frequent trips outside, and he couldn't be alone for more than an hour or so.

This is a dog who already has two chronic conditions, requiring all kinds of meds. I had a spreadsheet with all the different instructions -- this on an empty stomach, this with food, these drops in both eyes twice a day, these drops in one eye once a day -- etc.

Allan hired the movers and did 100% of the packing while I churned out the words. It was the most pressure I have ever felt, before or since. But we did it. Allan got us moved. I met my deadline and got paid -- which let us not work for more than a month after moving. I was determined that Buster would make it to Canada with us, and he did.

Ten weeks later, while we were living in Port Credit, one of Buster's conditions suddenly worsened, and we had to let him go. Packing and moving makes me think of that.

It also reminds me of that day, a bit more than 13 years ago, when our dreams and our plans and our hard work and our luck all came together, and we physically moved to Canada. Coming out of the immigration building with my stamped papers, holding my arms high in victory, crying with joy and relief, Allan and I hugging and whooping. We did it.

Finding that post -- the drive north -- I scrolled through the wmtc category immigrating and moving. For a long time I marked the anniversary of moving to Canada -- six months, one year, two years, three years, four years, five years.

Then there are the "becoming a Canadian citizen" posts -- which also reminds me that this blog was, for a time, monitored by the federal government.

Then the anniversary posts end. In 2015, on our 10th anniversary of moving to Canada, we moved from our last rental house into our current apartment. I noted the day but didn't make a special post.

Through my library work, I've learned that, in general, one is an immigrant for a year, and a newcomer for five years. Living in a chosen country for more than five years, most people feel acculturated and no longer think of themselves as newcomers. This was true for me.

11.09.2018

11.11

11 anti-war books, parts 1 and 2.

11 anti-war songs.

Robert Fisk: "...Heaven be thanked that the soldiers cannot return to discover how their sacrifice has been turned into fashion appendage."

Why no red poppy, why no white poppy:
It's that time of year again, the week when no one dares show their face on Canadian television, or indeed in any public place in Canada, without a red poppy symbol dutifully stuck on their lapel. What was once (supposedly) a remembrance of the horrors of war drifted first into a celebration of war and finally into obligatory, reflexive display.

Many of my friends are wearing a white poppy today, and I wish them good luck with their campaign. I myself have no wish to display a physical comment on a symbol that is meaningless to me. It would feel like wearing a Star of David to show that I am not Christian.

There is only one symbol that can express my feelings about the war dead - the Canadians, the Americans, the Germans, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, the Guatemalans, the Africans, the Native Americans, the Iraqis, all my fellow human creatures - and the wounded, and the ruined, and the heartbroken, and the shattered witnesses - the millions of lives wasted - for conquest, for profit, for nationalism, for ideology, for imperialism, for nothing. That is the peace symbol I wear every day. And much importantly, inside, in my heart of hearts, there is my core belief that war is evil and we must oppose it.
Honour the dead by working for peace.

10.31.2018

something you can do with your shock and outrage: support military resistance to u.s. concentration camps

As the outrages pour out of the US daily, or seemingly hourly, good people's shock and horror are often accompanied by feelings of frustration and helplessness.

Far too many well-intentioned organizations are lining up around the midterm elections, as if the answer lies only at the ballot box. Many people are organizing locally to support rallies, demonstrations, letter writing, and the like. Still, the frustration is palpable -- and understandable. These actions, although important, feel so insufficient. The current US government shows no sign of respecting the rule of law or popular opinion, and certainly not morality.

One concrete action we can take to resist the Trump agenda is to support military resistance. Whenever and wherever fascist governments have perpetrated crimes against individuals and against humanity, they have been enabled by the loyalty of the militaries at their commands.

"We were just following orders." This was the answer famously given by Nazi officers on trial for war crimes in Nuremberg, Germany after World War II. The civilized world rejected that answer, and the Nuremberg Principles were created to enshrine that rejection in international law.

Unfortunately -- the most unfortunate thing in the world -- most military personnel the world over do not resist. But some do. And those courageous soldiers are fighting on the frontline for peace and justice.

Military resistance is the most direct blow to the outrages perpetrated by immoral governments the world over. Resistance is a lonely road, and one that comes at a very high price. Ask Chelsea Manning. Ask Kim Rivera, who -- deported by the Canadian government -- gave birth to her youngest child in a military jail.

War resisters need financial support, and they need moral and emotional support. And other soldiers need to know that resistance is possible. As with any groupthink, it's easier to speak out when others have gone before you.

Courage to Resist, which supports the brave and principled soldiers who refuse or resist illegal orders, has launched a new campaign: Do Not Collaborate
This summer, what might have been the defining low point of previous administrations, was simply the outrage of the moment: A plan to have the military host massive concentration camps of upward of 200,000 immigrant detainees across the United States, as we reported to you in July.

These camps do not appear to be going up as quickly nor on such a massive scale as first announced (quite possibly due to the resistance on many levels), but they do appear to be moving forward. On the Texas border at Tornillo Port of Entry, a tent city that first detained a couple hundred children a few months ago will hold nearly 4,000 kids by the end of the year.

Few people actually join the military to travel to distant lands to kill people. Fewer still join to help run concentration camps. Under both US and international law, military personnel have a moral and legal obligation to refuse to comply with any order that involves collaboration with these camps, but unfortunately few are aware of this fact.

That’s why we need your help. Together, we’re going to launch a strategically targeted communications project to reach service members across the country with this message:

These camps are illegal and immoral.

You have a responsibility to refuse and expose these orders.

Direct military resistance is powerful.


Our initial goal is to raise $20,000 to spend approximately one penny per member of the US military with this challenge. Of course, we believe that service members deserve two cents worth of encouragement if we can raise $40,000!

Just the idea of these massive military-hosted immigrant detention camps brings back memories of the forced relocation and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Many of us thought something like that could never happen again, and yet, here we are. Along with everything else you can do to resist this affront to humanity, please support our challenge to military personnel to refuse these illegal orders. Your tax-deductible donation of $50 or $100 will make a huge difference.

Click here to learn more, or to donate to the Do Not Collaborate campaign.

10.29.2018

thank you 2018 red sox! #unstoppable

108-54
   3-1
   4-1
   4-1
   119 wins

It was a magical season. Red Sox owner John Henry said it himself: "This is the greatest Red Sox team ever."

In 2007, I dubbed the championship -- and the team -- inevitable. It stuck, and became the theme of our gamethreads. Last night I asked, "If 2007 was inevitable, what was 2018? What's the one word?"

That word was unstoppable.

My #YearOfTheMookie didn't extend to the World Series. In this round, there were so many unlikely heroes. Steve Pearce won the series MVP award, but my money was on David Price. He was brilliant. As was Chris Sale.

And no one was more brilliant than rookie manager Alex Cora, who pushed all the right buttons to creatively manage his mix-and-match pitching staff. Cora's first act as Red Sox manager was to fly relief supplies to Puerto Rico -- "my island," as he calls it. Last night while receiving congratulations, he asked if he could bring the trophy to that island. Millions of people heard him ask, how can they say no?




Thanks to Joy of Sox for the pics. Many more such beautiful (and a few amusing) photos here.

10.28.2018

i need a canada for my subconscious: the kavanaugh hearings and we go on

I avoided the Kavanaugh hearings as long as I could.

I used to take a special interest whenever survivors go public. I'd read everything I could, write letters to newspapers, speak out on social media. Send a note of support to the woman. Find the sisterhood, share the pain. This hurt, but it helped, too. I think most people who have publicly shared private pain will attest to that: it hurts and it helps.

I'm unwilling to do so any longer, or at least I'm unwilling to do it right now. I avoided all of it. I put my head in the sand. But it found me anyway, as my entire Facebook feed filled with news stories, personal essays, memes, and outrage. I could have avoided Facebook, but that felt like punishing myself.

I saved them all. I planned to do one long wmtc post with all the reaction. I found the time, but not the will. I started having PTSD symptoms again. Or I should say, I started remembering them, because apparently I have them a lot but I'm not aware of it.

Really, it all comes down to this: I am so so so so so totally sick of trauma playing out in my life. I can't stand it anymore. I just cannot stand it.

But of course I will stand it. I have to. Millions of people put up with much worse. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I'm just fed up. And there's nothing for it. I was fed up with the US and I moved to Canada. There's no moving to Canada for my subconscious.

* * * *

the tyranny of the subconscious

my subconscious is an annoying bitch

in which i admit ptsd is forever

10.27.2018

in which baseball makes me pull an all-nighter: 2018 world series game 3

Last night, the Red Sox and Dodgers, and their fans, survived the longest World Series game in baseball history. Somehow I watched til the end and am still at work today! Joy of Sox (a/k/a Allan) says:
The clock on my desk read 3:30 AM when Max Muncy hit an opposite field home run to left-center in the bottom of the eighteenth inning, giving the Dodgers a 3-2 win over the Red Sox.

This was the longest World Series game of all-time, both by time (7:20) and by innings, smashing the previous record of 14, first set in 1916 when the Red Sox bested the Dodgers. According to a tweet from Stats by STATS, this game lasted 15 minutes longer than the entire 1939 World Series, when the Yankees swept the Reds in four games in a combined 7:05 [Times: 1:33, 1:27, 2:01, 2:04].
I had to work last night, rushing home at 9:15, annoyed that I had already missed 4+ innings. Ha! Allan got home from work at 12:45 a.m. -- catching the last bus of the night -- and was surprised and happy the game was still on. Little did he know there were hours still to play.

I was falling asleep between innings, and often during at-bats. If you stream games the way we do, MLB shows highlight clips -- the same clips, over and over and over -- between innings. And of course some of these clips feature the Red Sox. So I'd have the weirdly disorienting experience of waking up, seeing Jackie Bradley, Jr. make an amazing catch, robbing a player of a home run... only to realize that was a different game.

Perhaps the craziest thing about the night was that I wasn't even heartbroken when the Sox lost, 3-2 in the 18th inning. Both teams blew several scoring chances, and it was only a matter of time before a pitcher gave up a dinger. We took the division series in five games, and the league championship series in five games. Now we'll win the World Series in five games. No problem.

As I crawled into bed, I was sure that I'd call in sick today. But it's Saturday, we're short-staffed, I was out one day last week...so I bit the bullet and limped into work. I'm fine now. Tonight's game, however, may be a different story.

I'm collecting some other thoughts (read: complaints) about MLB, but I'll save them for a future post.

10.26.2018

this just keeps getting better: port hardy plus full employment

This. Is. Amazing. After we move, Allan will retain his current job -- same salary, benefits, vacation, everything -- but work from home. We never expected this and are simply over the moon.

First: people who do document production at large law firms never work from home. I was in that business for 25 years, and Allan has been doing it longer, and neither of us have ever heard of a doc-pro person working remotely. So unheard of that we didn't even inquire about it!

Next: we really didn't know what Allan would do for work on the island. His current work only exists in major cities with big law firms. We expected we take a substantial income reduction, and we were prepared for that. But we can't live on only my salary, and what work Allan would find was a big concern -- much more to Allan than to me.

Then: some months back I saw a job posting for a "team assistant" in a Ministry (social-service agency) based in Port Hardy. A full-time, union job with benefits in the same town, where we're living and where I'll be working! A unicorn! Allan applied, and we did a ton of prep and coaching for the interview. And he did really well.

After our September Northern Ontario trip, Allan was catching up on his work emails and found a memo about a pilot program for employees to work from home. The deadline to apply was that very day, and he quickly sent it in.

When the Ministry called for a reference, Allan ended up speaking with one of the lawyers about our move. A long-time doc-pro person from the firm's Vancouver office is retiring... and would Allan like to take his position, but working from home?

We were very excited! But we also were concerned. If working remotely is a pilot program, what happens if it doesn't work out? If Allan turns down a rare full-time job with the Ministry, five minutes from my new library, and then the firm discontinues the pilot... that would suck.

That's when we learned that Allan's job will not be part of the pilot program. It's the same job he has now, from a different location. They were even so keen to make it work that they adjusted their preferred schedule to coincide with my new schedule. So for the first time in several years, Allan and I will be off work on the same days of the week.

This is amazing for so many reasons! No need for dog-care. No commuting time or expenses. No pay cut. Much less stress. In general, a much happier Allan.

I know some of you will say, "It was meant to be." Some will claim, "Everything happens for a reason." In my universe, nothing happens for any reason, just a big messy stew of talent, hard work, and blind luck.

Whoo-hoo! We're doing this thing!

10.23.2018

the good, the bad, and the mushrooms part two: northern ontario road trip pics

Photos from our recent trip in Northern Ontario are here on Flickr. I'll also update the original post.

question about driving from ontario to bc: how long will it take to cross the rockies?

We're planning out our road trip to Vancouver Island a bit more carefully, with less spontaneity than we might normally want, because we need a pet-friendly motel for every stop. At the end of a long day of driving, I don't want to schlep from place to place looking for a motel that will let us stay with Diego! We'll also get better rates online, which will help compensate for any pet fees.

Allan is giving me a list of towns we're aiming for, and I'm booking motels. The question is: how long to leave to cross the Rockies?

We know there are different crossings, some easier (and safer) than others. We know to check weather conditions. We know to have a full tank of gas before starting out. All that kind of stuff: we know. No need for advice on that front. (Although why I bother writing that, I don't know. There is something about moving that brings out the advisers.)

What we don't know is, assuming good road conditions, how long to leave for this leg of the trip. Which pass would you take and how long would you expect it to take?

Update: This trip is not for scenery, not for hiking, and not for sightseeing. That's a bit frustrating for me, but I'd rather have more time in our new home before beginning my new job. This trip is strictly for getting there.

more on the privilege of moving: future tax refunds and the hero of this story

Thanks to several Facebook friends and at least one wmtc commenter, we've learned that the hefty cost of moving across Canada will be (eventually) (somewhat) reduced: the move is tax-deductible. It sounds like we'll receive a substantial refund from moving costs. I already have a box dedicated to receipts.

But the real reason we can afford this move -- and the hero of this story -- is my brother, M.

Back in April when he suggested driving the truck for us, we didn't think we'd need it. Then a few days ago, I emailed to say, we may need to take you up on that. And immediately M goes into action, checking flight times and air fares. Yep, he's taking the redeye from Oregon to Toronto to do this! He's also missing Thanksgiving with his family -- although I'm sure my adult nieces and nephews all understand, both the reason and their father. This is typical M. Someone needs me? I am there. It's quite amazing. Heroic.

We're extra lucky because my sister-in-law, also M, will join us somewhere on the trip, after Thanksgiving. It's very fitting, since the four of us explored Vancouver Island together earlier this year, when only the four of us knew the real reason for the trip.

10.22.2018

the trials and tribulations (and incredible privilege) of relocating

Moving from the GTA to the north island is going to cost a lot more than I thought. And I'm struck by my huge privilege in being able to do this. Let's just label all these moving posts #FirstWorldProblems and get it over with.

When we moved from New York City to the Toronto area, we hired a big, professional moving outfit. It was a very complicated move involving a critically ill dog, a one-way minivan rental that had to be returned to Buffalo, our landing documents, and whatever else. Hiring real movers was expensive, costing about $6,000, but it completely removed the stress from that part of the equation. We had been saving money for a long time and it was part of our Moving to Canada Fund.

During our Vancouver Island trip last April, my brother offered -- several times -- to drive a moving truck for us. He's done this more than once when relocating from New Jersey to Oregon, so he knows what the trip entails and was willing (even happy) to do it again. But I saw that a rental truck would cost around $5,000 anyway, so why go through that? I don't know why I didn't realize that moving to a remote location on Vancouver Island would cost more than twice that much.

We got a few moving quotes that were suspiciously low. How could a move of that distance cost only $3,000? Answer: it can't. Researching the companies online, I read dozens of horror stories, most involving possessions being held hostage as companies demanded thousands more in payment, many involving lawsuits. Still, I had no idea.

From top-shelf professional movers, we got two quotes: $15,000 and $18,000. Ouch!

We did not expect that. But my brother was ready to spring into action, before I even absorbed the shock. The way I saw it, we had four choices:

1. Get rid of almost everything we own and move to the island with whatever can fit in a small U-Haul trailer behind our little car.

2. Go with cheapo movers and hold our breath.

3. Pay $15,000 or more.

4. Rent a truck, hire moving crews on both ends, and take my brother up on this incredible offer.

Option 1 is tempting (for me, not for Allan) but really not practical. If we ever had a life that could fit into a small trailer, that ship sailed a very long time ago. We'd have to replace many things -- and we won't live anywhere near stores to do that. We're also not prepared to get rid of all our books.

Option 2 is a non-starter. Why knowingly take that risk?

Option 3 is possible. We have the credit. But that would be a huge weight under which to start our new life. It would take me years to pay off. Unwise.

Option 4 ends up costing about $8,000 anyway, plus our own expenses. Not cheap! But doable. In 2019 we take only staycations -- which will not be a problem in our new location -- and by the end of next year, we're even.

(If you're wondering why we don't split up, one of us drive the truck and the other our car, I am not physically up to driving 5,000 kilometres by myself.)

So Allan and I will take turns driving our little Kia with Diego in the back seat, and my intrepid brother will drive the 26-foot U-Haul.

More about the trip itself in a separate post. I'll also blog along the way.

10.20.2018

my plans and hopes for our big life change

We are moving west for several reasons. One is a lifestyle change. I've adjusted to living in the sprawling suburbs, and while we were living in a (rental) house, it was nice. But for the last 2-1/2 years we've been living in an apartment. A nice apartment, and a large one, but what's the point of the suburbs if you don't have a backyard?

Soon we will have a big yard, a deck -- and the ocean very nearby! I want to spend more time outside. We're not super outdoorsy, but I love to walk and hike, and I would like to kayak now and again. We're about to have a huge wilderness area in our backyard. I want to experience it as much as I can.

I have two goals.

In 2019, I will take a break from activism and focus on improving my fitness level. Although I've never been thin, I was in good aerobic condition and had good muscle tone -- until I started grad school in 2009. First school plus two jobs, then becoming a local union president, made physical exercise sporadic at best. My fibromyalgia demands I get adequate rest. Something always got pushed off the schedule, and it was almost always exercise. Now it's almost 10 years later, and I don't like how it feels.

Another change I want to try involves travel -- how often, where to, and why.

There are few things I love as much as travel. It feels more like a need, an addiction, than a pastime. But these days, some of my hunger to see new places has abated. I just want to travel -- anywhere. There are still dozens of places I'd love to see, but I notice that any travel, to anywhere, feeds the need. A big, special trip -- like Egypt last year, or Peru in 2006 -- slakes the thirst for a long time. But a short trip to a place I know well also quiets the bug, just for a shorter time.

Since we moved to Canada in 2005, all our family has been long-distance. This has sometimes caused conflict between wanting to visit people, and wanting to travel someplace new. Moving to Vancouver Island, we'll be closer to some family and farther from others, but everyone will still be long-distance.

So here's what I'm thinking. I'd like to try traveling primarily to see friends and family, plus local exploring, and see how that feels. That alone includes Vermont, Boston (Fenway Park), New York, New Jersey, California (both SoCal and the Bay Area), and Oregon. It could also include Florida, Maryland, Texas, and Alaska, if we wanted. And the GTA! We would see family and friends, and get some travel in at the same time.

I wonder, could we do this for, say, five years? Would it satisfy my wanderlust?

10.19.2018

thank you, 2018 red sox! #yearofthemookie

2018 Red Sox To-Do List

✔  Win the division with unprecedented number of wins.

✔  Beat the Yankees in the ALDS.

✔  Beat the Astros in the ALCS.

__ Win the World Series.

__  Mookie Betts wins American League MVP award.

10.14.2018

how the media (invisibly) props up capitalism and other hidden biases

I recently read these somewhat old, but still relevant, letters to the New York Times Book Review.
Cost of the Crash
To the Editor:

In his review of “Crashed,” by Adam Tooze (Aug. 12), Fareed Zakaria asserts that “the rescue worked better than almost anyone imagined.” He notes there was no “double-dip recession” and growth returned “slowly but surely.” But this misses what was the major criticism of the “rescue.” It merely hit the re-set button — keeping the big banks solvent. Meanwhile, the stimulus did little to put people back to work. It was not the double-dip recession that critics feared but a long sluggish recovery that failed to affect the majority of the people.

For example, it took six years (2009-15) for the unemployment rate to return to the pre-recession number. The share of income received by the top 1 percent had been 23 percent before the recession. After falling to 18 percent in 2010 it jumped back to 22 percent by 2015. Meanwhile, as late as 2015, the bottom 99 percent of the population had only recovered two-thirds of the income they had lost. Zakaria should have added a few words to his assertion that the rescue worked: It worked for the top 1 percent, not for the rest of us.

MICHAEL MEEROPOL
SPRINGFIELD, MASS.

The writer is an emeritus professor of economics at Western New England University.



To the Editor:

Fareed Zakaria’s review of Adam Tooze’s “Crashed” is an approving account of an approving book. But what was “saved” was “the economy,” not humans.

Yes, the government and others acted to prop up banks. But humans lost twice: Houses and savings were savaged, while banks, their executives, and the rich, as usual, won. And in a further irony, they used taxpayer money to save “the economy” and the banks. Yes, some of it was repaid from those financial institutions, using money deposited in them by humans.

And the endless greed spawned by free market capitalism and lax regulations, which created the crash in the first place, gets mentioned simply in passing.

PHILLIP GORDON
CASTRO VALLEY, CALIF.
These letters brought to mind some concepts that I enjoyed thinking about in library school information school. There were many exercises in illuminating hidden biases and assumptions. In academia-speak, this was sometimes called problematizing or contesting, but I like to think of it more plainly as making the invisible visible. This book review reinforced the dominant view of the economy; the letter-writers challenged the underlying assumptions of the review.

When something is everyday ordinary, commonplace, accepted as normal, it becomes invisible. How can we discuss and analyze, and perhaps challenge, its influence? First we have to make it visible.

Gender roles are the perfect example of this. From the colour of a baby's room, to the toys they play with, the stories they see and hear, and a million other data streams, humans are taught gender roles and expectations. Sure, this has loosened up a bit for some segment of society, but in the overall scheme, it is still largely true. Expectations of gender roles are as invisible as the air that baby breathes. We are thoroughly indoctrinated from the moment we are born. If we want to challenge gender roles, we first have to name the many ways those roles are taught and reinforced. We have to make the invisible visible.

This in turn leads me to think of something Allan and I talk about a lot: how anything progressive or leftist is labeled "political" -- and declared inappropriate in many settings -- while pro-government and pro-military displays are thought to be natural and not political. Military displays at sporting events: neutral. Sitting down during the national anthem: political. Honouring "fallen heroes": natural. Honouring anyone who is a vocal opponent of war: political.

Once you are aware of these hidden biases, you see them everywhere. In one iSchool project, I had to choose a classification system, describe it, then use a different method to classify the same things, and show how assumptions and biases were transformed through the use of a different classification system. I analyzed the way clothing is classified by L.L.Bean, and proposed a gender-free alternative.

I think this hidden bias thing should be a regular wmtc feature, for capitalism, and for war. Or maybe it already is?

(Whoo-hoo, I'm blogging again!)

10.12.2018

in which we take a big gamble and are rewarded, or, we are moving to port hardy

I got a job! We are moving to Port Hardy, BC! Port what now?

Yes, we are moving to a tiny, remote town in the "north island" -- the northern end of Vancouver Island -- a town of 5,000 people. Nearby Port McNeill counts 2,600 residents, and the third town in the region, Port Alice, is a village of less than 1,000. And we are thanking whatever it is we atheists thank, because we're actually already paying rent there!

As my friend Detective Monk used to say, here's what happened.

As I've mentioned, finding a place to live that allows dogs on Vancouver Island (and possibly all of British Columbia) is incredibly difficult. When we were on the island in April, we saw a huge number of rental buildings. We were very encouraged, as in the GTA, rentals are increasingly rare; everything is condos. But that was before we knew that the great majority of rentals do not allow dogs. Even buildings that say "pet-friendly" may restrict to cats only, or something like "small dogs negotiable".

I applied for a job at the Port Hardy branch of VIRL, a job I really wanted. I had seen great-looking rental townhouses -- spacious, newly renovated, affordable. They're the only rentals in town that allow dogs, so of course they have no availability. No one ever leaves.

Then suddenly, over the Labour Day weekend: an ad. A house. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms. A fireplace. A deck. A big fenced-in yard. The rent is great and dogs are welcome. And if we don't put money down right now we will lose it.

We put off the agent as long as we could, but it quickly became clear that I was not going to know about the job before we needed to commit to the house. In fact, I was not even going to interview for the job before we needed to commit! But what choice did we have? If I got the job and we had no place to live, what would we do? But if I didn't get the job in Port Hardy, we couldn't move there. It was a potentially expensive gamble.

We did it. We signed a lease, and put down a deposit. About 10 days later, we paid October rent. And two days after that, I had my interview! Ohmygod has this been stressful!

And today, just a few hours ago, I found out I got it. Whew.

The problem with being a risk-taker is that every time a gamble pays off, it reinforces your belief in taking risks -- when in reality those past gambles have absolutely no bearing on the present. But... whew.

Here we go!

10.08.2018

wmtc moves west

We are moving to Vancouver Island! As soon as I find a good library job there -- which may be very soon -- we are giving notice, packing up, and driving across this beautiful country in a little car with a big dog in the back seat.

Why are we moving there? Short answer: because we want to.

The full answer is multifaceted.

I've always wanted to experience life in a small town. The question always was: what would we do for work? Our previous employment was conditional on living in or near a large city. One of the many reasons I chose a library degree for my new career was its portability. Every little town has a library. Maybe I could work in one.

Now I'm settled in Mississauga, which is neither big city nor small town, but a massive sprawling suburb. There are many nice things about living here, but this neither-nor is just not me. Mississauga is also physically ugly. A few years ago we visited our family on the US west coast, in an incredibly beautiful area. When we got home, I saw Mississauga with fresh eyes -- and it was depressing. The strip malls, the concrete high-rises, the massive blocks of townhouses squeezed into every available piece of land. Every few kilometres, everything repeats itself -- the same stores, the same restaurants, the same the same the same. I just found it ugly and depressing.

I have a great job here, and I'm very aware that if I do nothing, I will play out the rest of my library career in Mississauga. And I don't want that. This just doesn't feel like my final destination. I want something else. Something more beautiful, quieter, less commercial.

When we moved to Canada from New York City, most of my family lived in the NY-NJ area. Now most of them, including my 87-year-old mother, live on the west coast of the US. Vancouver Island is a lot closer!

When it comes to family, it's not a perfect move. We do still have family in New York, New Jersey, and Vermont. But there is a way to find that small town, and that natural beauty, and still live near family.

My strongest ties in Mississauga are to my union team, an incredible group of women who I love working with, and who I'm proud to call friends. But that is a moment in time. I had already decided not to stand for re-election for local president. I'm ready to have more time in my life. So the thing that I'll miss most would be ending anyway.

In April, we spent 10 days on the island
, visiting towns and libraries to get a feel for the possibilities. The more I saw, the more I liked. Since then, I've been looking at job postings... and this week I announced to my employer, management, and to our members that I'm stepping down. (Expect more frequent posts!)

There is a downside, and it's a tough one: rental laws in BC are not pet-friendly. Unlike in Ontario, landlords in BC are allowed to exclude pets. And they do. A good 90% of the rental ads I see say "no pets". This is very discoouraging, and a bit scary.

Other than that, all systems are go. I've already had one job interview and have another lined up. I don't want to say too much about that until we know more.

9.30.2018

thank you, 2018 red sox!


It is the Year of the Mookie.

108 wins. Eight games up. 11 wins to go.

That is all.

9.24.2018

two weeks in northern ontario: the good, the bad, and the mushrooms

Our Ontario trip was a mixed bag of ups and downs, but mostly ups. Everything is pretty good with some not-so-good mixed in.

Traveling with Diego. We loved it! It was so much fun having us with him all the time, and seeing him so happy and content.

Downside: Traveling with a dog can be a bit limiting. We had planned to leave him alone while we explored Sudbury and Thunder Bay, but when we were actually there, we weren't comfortable with it. We had very limited time in those towns anyway; had we been there for more time, we probably would have done it.

Balance: A huge 5 out of 5 leafs.







The RV. I love traveling by RV. On a road trip, it's great to be so self-contained, to not have to go out for every breakfast and dinner, to have your own kitchenette and washroom, but still be in the woods. Ever since we traveled by RV in Alaska, about a million years ago (1996), I've dreamed of owning one. That's not very practical, but I hope we can rent one again soon.

Downside: Once you're in a campsite, it's not easy to explore a town or city. The ideal would be an motorhome towing a small car, or a big car towing a trailer. That gives you the convenience of the RV and the flexibility of leaving it behind. With only the RV, it can be a bit limiting at times.

Balance: 4 out of 5 maple leafs.







Park facilities. The provincial parks were beautiful. The campsites were good, each with a firepit and picnic table, and some with electric hookups. The washrooms and showers were clean, and there was a washer/dryer available in every park.

Downside: Ontario Parks doesn't take reservations in September (with one exception: Killarney... but we were given wrong information, so we didn't know that). Without reservations, we would get in to a park, often late in the day, then have to drive around looking for a suitable campsite. This was tiring, especially after a whole day of driving. Not being able to reserve campsites was a significant drawback. I assume the absence of reservations is a cost-cutting measure. It's not good.

Park facilities were five-leaf, but the absence of reservations was a real drag.








Road-tripping through Ontario provincial parks. Ontario is insanely huge. The area we drove through is beautiful, but it's a lot of driving, even if you love road trips as much as I do. The parks have a certain sameness to them -- especially if you're not up for extremely challenging hiking or climbing. The Ontario Parks trail rating scale was very different than what we're used to. We were discouraged that a hike labeled "moderate" -- usually our speed -- was too challenging. And once you're on the trail, there's nothing you can do but tough it out.

So if you're not hiking most trails, there's not a lot of difference among the parks. They're all beautiful, but I wish I had realized that they're all pretty much the same. But would I have planned a two-week trip at only one or two parks before actually seeing any of them? Definitely not.

So there was a lot of driving, much of it very scenic, broken up by staying in very similar woodsy places. Touring several Ontario Provincial Parks: 3 of 5 leafs if you love road trips. 2.5 leafs if you don't.


What else did we do?

So besides driving and going on too-challenging hikes we: ate a lot (especially steak, potato chips, and frozen yogurt), drank wine and vodka, listened to a lot of music, had great talks, and read a lot.

Saw the Sudbury Nickel, the Wawa Goose, and Terry Fox. Saw a coyote, many deer, ducks, geese, blue jays, sandhill cranes, rabbits, a bald eagle with something in its talons (!), and many nice dogs. We saw a turtle crossing a highway, but there was no safe way to pull over and help it. I hope you made it, turtle.

We thought we'd see petroglyphs in Lake Superior Provincial Park, but they are inaccessible unless you can climb steep cliffs. Saw crazy elaborate RV campsites where retired folks have created little manors. Saw a lot of friendly people, not one of whom wanted more than a "good morning".

Saw a sky full of stars. Heard much French spoken. Saw dozens of old-fashioned roadside motels, old-fashioned diners, and almost no fast-food restaurants. Had a great breakfast in an ancient coffee shop in The Soo, the only restaurant of the trip.

I wanted to see more of Sudbury and Thunder Bay, but Allan visited bookstores in both places, and loved the one in Sudbury.

And, oh yeah, the mushrooms!

Ever since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma I have been a bit freaked out by wild mushrooms. Mushrooms found in a store or restaurant, no problem. But mushrooms that appear after a rainfall or in damp woodsy places have creeped me out.

Before reading Michael Pollan's excellent book, I didn't know that fungi's networks of (mostly invisible) mycelium can extend vast distances, or that visible mushrooms are but a small fraction of the whole fungus, or that mushrooms aren't plants! I was amazed to learn that fungi are a separate category (kingdom) of living things, neither animal nor plant. (If I learned this in grade school, I had long since forgotten it.) This is only a bit of what I learned about mushrooms from that book, and all of it gave me the creeps.

Now I can report that this trip desensitized my fungiphobia. On our hikes we saw a great variety of wild mushrooms, and we photographed every variety we saw. Now I'm more amazed than freaked out -- although they are still super creepy! I'm going to look up the varieties online; photos to follow.

Update: photos from the trip are here on Flickr.

9.09.2018

we head north

We're going glamping! Allan, Diego, and I are hitting the road.

Driving this:



Going here:

Killarney Provincial Park

Lake Superior Provincial Park

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park

Pancake Bay Provincial Park

Grundy Lake Provincial Park

Plus quick visits to Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and Thunder Bay.

Doing this:

Hike, grill, explore. Watch dogs play on beaches. Read. Keep an eye on the Red Sox. Find used bookstores. Maybe hear some music. Take photographs. Be in woods. Feel nature do its magic.

I love road trips and am in vacation mode the moment we get in the vehicle.

See you in two weeks!

9.08.2018

selling vinyl in the gta? go to volver for honesty, integrity, and maximum cash

In July, I wrote that we planned to get rid of our LP collection. Well, the deed is done. We turned this


into this

first round

then this

What's left: classical, soundtracks, CD box sets,
and albums Allan didn't want to part with (front).

and finally, this.


We got much more money than we expected, thanks to the honesty and integrity of Lincoln Stewart.

* * * *

For the most part, the business of buying used LPs and CDs is a bit shady, a half-step up from a scam. When Allan was a music critic, we used to trade CDs for cash on a regular basis. We got those CDs for free and they meant nothing to us, so whatever the buyer -- the owner of the used record store -- wanted to give us was free money. The buyer would make a few piles, and say, "Five dollars each for these, three dollars for these, and a buck apiece for these." It was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. We never knew what they would sell the CDs for.

With our LPs, it was very different. This was a personal collection, built over time, mostly music we cared about. Allan didn't want to sell them for pennies. There was also the physical work of selling them -- boxing them up, loading them into our little car, and driving around to used music stores was not very appealing!

Then I found Volver, run by Lincoln Stewart. Here's Lincoln in his own words.
I'm the former manager of Vortex Records and the former owner of Good Music, two much-loved and well-respected Toronto record stores. Both establishments had sterling reputations for fairness and quality. Vortex was the most highly-thought-of used record store in Toronto for almost 40 years, with The Toronto Star calling us "an oasis for music lovers," and more than a dozen "Best Record Store" wins and nominations in the city's newspapers' annual "People's Choice Awards" (Now Magazine, Eye Magazine, The Grid, etc.).

I now buy and sell top-shelf used records (and other things) out of my Dundas West loft. (Don't let the lack of a storefront scare you -- it's by choice, having sold the entire inventory of Good Music to a competitor and entering semi-retirement in 2016 at age 48.)

My motto is Quality records bought and sold. Fair prices in and out. That means I'm not trying to screw you. I pay half of what I intend to sell a record for. Period. If I'm gonna sell it for $20, I'll pay you $10. If I think I can sell your record for $50, that's $25 in your wallet. It's that simple. Unlike some of my competitors, I do not advertise that I "pay up to 60%" and then pay you good money for two records and pennies for everything else. If I want the record -- and admittedly, I'm very picky -- I'll pay you 50%. Doesn't matter if it's a $75 record or a $750 record. No exceptions.
And here's where it gets really interesting.
Importantly, I don't expect you to be the expert. Maybe you don't know you've got an $80 record. I'll tell you -- when I offer you $40. I have bought and sold vinyl in Toronto since 2005. It's what I do. Over the years, the stores I've run have paid out over a million dollars for people's used music and movies. I've bought from those who've inherited records they know absolutely nothing about and I've bought from the most informed record collectors in the city -- and every type of seller in between. Everyone gets treated the same way and I have the testimonials to back that up.

Most important to me is my reputation: the amount I offer a for a record is based solely on that record's resale value to me, not on how much profit I can make on the title. This policy is the direct opposite of many of my competitors who want to pay as little as possible and sell for as much as possible.
Impressive, eh?

Here's what happened. Lincoln came to our apartment. Each album that he was interested in, he took out of its sleeve to inspect it. Some figures he double-checked on his laptop, using databases that catalogue used records sales all over the world. (Who knew?) He added up what he would sell the albums for, offered us a price, and offered to show us exactly how each album was valued.

I was amazed to learn that we owned several LPs that were actually considered valuable! Their re-sale value had nothing to do with the music itself, but was based on the scarcity of a particular pressing. The top-earning LP was a pressing of some promotional Metallica album that we didn't even know we had, worth $185.

I remember as a teenager hearing kids brag about having an album worth some outlandish sum of money, and I always thought they were bullshitting -- which I'm sure they were. But I didn't realize there actually are albums worth thousands, rare pressings of jazz and blues (and some rock) that collectors all over the world search for.

I found the process fascinating, and asked Lincoln lots of questions, which he was happy to answer. Lincoln is a very nice guy with an interesting background, and a great deal of musical knowledge -- plus a nice dog. He arrived when he said he would, brought his own canvas bags to transport the LPs, and was very organized and efficient. When Diego wouldn't leave him alone, Lincoln asked, "Would it help if I gave him my undivided attention for five minutes?" then gave Diego a huge amount of love and attention. We were very impressed! (Diego loved it, but it didn't help; we had to give him a time-out in the bedroom.)

To me, the Volver 50% guarantee is fair for both parties, buyer and seller. Every day, Lincoln sends a message to his list of interested buyers with a small selection of choice LPs and prices. People come to his Toronto loft and buy them for the advertised price. All sales are in person -- no shipping -- and there's no haggling. You know I like that!

So how did we do?

Lincoln was interested in about 300 LPs, and offered us $1860. (See first round, above.) He also gave us some tips on who might buy the remainder of the collection, and how much we should expect to get for it -- very valuable information.

Shortly after, Lincoln learned about another sales opportunity, so he was interested in buying the rest of our collection himself, and offered us another $400. All told, we traded our LPs for $2260.

Allan held back a small pile of LPs that have particular value to him. It turned out one of them, based on the colour of the label, is worth $150. Allan declined. I was very impressed -- and slightly annoyed.

Last week, during the Springsteen on Broadway show, I suddenly had a pang of loss, thinking of my copy of "Born to Run," with its iconic cover art. A foundational album for me, music that moves me more than I can express. But I have the album on CD, and there's no shortage of ways to see the cover images and more from the same shoot. I can live with that.

So. We earned a pile of cash. We lightened our load. It required minimal effort. It was fair to both buyer and seller. And now other people will have the opportunity to enjoy those LPs. All in all, a very good deal.

If you live near (or can easily visit) Toronto, and you have LPs to sell, you can't do better than Lincoln Stewart and Volver.

9.02.2018

springsteen on broadway: a performance of unrivaled intensity

In my most recent Listening to Joni post, I said that I write with my brain, but I listen to music with my heart. A few nights ago in New York City, my music heart broke in pieces, over and over again. I've seen a lot of theatre -- and quite a bit of Bruce Springsteen -- but I'd never experienced anything quite like this.

Springsteen on Broadway is one of the most intensely moving theatrical experiences I've ever had.

The show starts with humour, both Springsteen's typical self-deprecating humour, but also a satirical bragging -- the guy who has never held a job in his life, singing about the workingman, the guy who has never driven one block singing about cars: "That's how good I am." Sometimes the humour is just a facial expression and a hand gesture -- which plays perfectly for the tiny 900-seat house.

But the humour soon gives way to a raw intensity. Springsteen relieves the tension with the occasional laugh, but by that time, the audience is chuckling through the tears.

Speaking of audience, I have never sat in a quieter, more respectful crowd. It didn't hurt that before the show started, we were repeatedly warned: cameras, cell phones, talking, texting would not be tolerated. Disobey, and ushers will remove you from the theatre. These tickets were hard to come by -- who's going to risk it? It was also announced that at the conclusion of the show, the house lights would go on, and you may take photos then.

It worked. The crowd was silent and incredibly respectful while Bruce was talking and singing, applauded only between pieces -- then burst into near hysteria at the end of the show.

At my first Springsteen concert, in 1978, my long-awaited Thunder Road was ruined by a drunk asshole in the aisle screaming the lyrics at the top of his lungs. And who-knows-how-many more concert moments have been ruined by sing-alongs and clap-alongs. Not this night! A few people started clapping along with Dancing in the Dark, but it died after a few notes. (Read the beginning of this excellent review.)

The show is like a stripped-down version of Born to Run, Bruce's memoirs, and it follows the same arc: the discovery of rock and roll, the town, musical ambitions. Set pieces on his father, his mother, Clarence (Tenth Avenue Freeze Out), Patti (Brilliant Disguise, Tougher Than the Rest). Ron Kovic and Born in the USA. America's broken democracy and The Ghost of Tom Joad.

It is anything but a greatest-hits compilation. Many of the songs were interesting choices and often barely recognizable in new arrangements. Much of the speaking was almost spoken-word poetry, almost chanted, like an incantation -- words spinning the web that binds us to Bruce's music, and his life to ours. The review linked above compares the show to Lena Horne's The Lady and Her Music (which I saw -- twice! -- in 1981), and that's an excellent comparison. Call it a musical journey through the life and times of Bruce Springsteen. A portrait of the artist as best he can. Call it life is pain but still, we love.

Springsteen on Broadway is strictly for fans only. I can't imagine it would be very interesting to anyone not already interested in Springsteen's music and his life. I was also glad I had already read Born to Run before seeing it. The book lent context to many of the stories, so sometimes I felt we were hearing things unspoken.

I haven't read about the show yet, because I wanted to go in completely cold. I'm interested to know if Bruce worked with a director or editor on choosing the stories, editing them for performance, even the staging and movements back and forth between guitar and piano. If he created the whole thing himself, he is an even greater performer than I knew.

Springsteen fans know how intense Bruce can be, both his music and his stage presence. He is one of rock's great frontmen, and the only one who (appears to) close the gap between audience and performer, whose stage persona is a raw authenticity.* Now take that authenticity and channel it through intimate stories of love, pain, fear, trust, loss, and redemption, and do it in a small theatre, with an almost bare set and intimate lighting.

Bruce Springsteen and I go back a long way. Unlike the millions who claim to have known about Springsteen in the early 70s -- "I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen" -- I'll say with honesty that I first heard "Born to Run" on FM rock radio in 1975. I read the famous Time and Newsweek cover stories, and joined the ranks of music lovers waiting for the three-year silence to end.

I saw Bruce with the E Street Band for the first time in 1978, and many times since then. If I never see him perform again, I'll always be grateful to have ended on this note.

* Rock's other greatest frontmen are all brilliantly and famously pure artifice: David Byrne, David Bowie, and above all, Mick.

two days in new york city

This is one of those posts I write only for myself. This blog functions as my travel diary, and I like that diary to be complete. So here I am. Feel free to ignore. Which of course you always are, and you don't need me to tell you that.

I was supposed to go to New York by myself to see Springsteen on Broadway. (Review to follow in separate post.) I had been trying to get a ticket since they first went on sale more than a year ago, and somehow Allan managed to get me one. And not just a ticket -- an affordable ticket! Factoring in air fare and hotel, I couldn't spend a huge amount on a ticket, and Allan snagged one for $75. Amazing!

When some of my NYC plans got cancelled, I persuaded Allan to come with me. He wasn't interested in the Springsteen show, but why pass up two days in New York?

Day one: sweat, lunch, pod, bistro

We flew down on Porter, and it's super easy to take NJ Transit into the city and hop on a subway. However, it was 45 degrees on the street with swamplike humidity, so goddess only knows what the mercury hit on the subway platforms. It didn't help that we got on a wrong train and had to backtrack. By the time we got to the hotel, we were little more than puddles of whining sweat.

I had a room booked at Pod 51. Have you heard of the Pod Hotels? They are budget hotels with a fresh, hip look. There have always been budget hotels, even in the most expensive cities, but they can be scary and gross. A couple of times -- Seattle and Amman come to mind -- after getting in late, we stayed one night, then promptly found another room in the morning. Nothing like that in the Pods. Tiny, clean rooms, some with even tinier bathrooms, others with shared bath, with several washrooms on each floor. A cafe and a rooftop bar and what else do you need? Book directly through the hotel's website, and they throw in two complimentary glasses of wine.

After showers and a rest, we went downstairs for lunch. On the way over, I noticed that Chopt, my favourite salad place, is still in business. I walked over and brought back an amazing salad, and Allan ordered a burger from the place next-door, and a server delivered it to the hotel cafe. Time for free wine!

After lunch, we re-arranged our plans a bit so we wouldn't see any more subway platforms that day. I went around the corner for a mani-pedi, which I often do when I'm away.

Earlier, in the Toronto airport, I had been looking online for a place for dinner. I was thinking French bistro, something we loved in New York and don't do anymore. And wouldn't you know it, one of the oldest and most established bistros is next door to Pod 51: Le Bateau Ivre. (One side burgers and craft beer, the other side oysters, steak frites, and red wine.)

Bateau Ivre is the kind of place that would be a serious three-star restaurant anywhere else, but in NYC is just a neighbourhood joint. The place was hopping. We sat at the bar and had an amazing meal. We're not really into spending huge amounts of money on restaurants anymore, and I'd forgotten the difference between the chain restaurants, which are good enough, and the real deal. It was pretty awesome.

Back at the room, we turned up the air-conditioning to an Arctic blast and followed another insane Red Sox game on Allan's phone.

Day two: shoes, Union Square Cafe, Bruce

We had breakfast amid the insanity of Ess-A-Bagel, an old and authentic bagel place around the corner from the hotel. I almost caused an international incident by ordering coffee while Allan was on the bagel-sandwich line.

Bagels. Real bagels. Ahhhh.

The only errand I wanted to do in New York was shoe shopping at Tip Top Shoes. I hate to shop and don't care about shoes. But I do need shoes that are classic looks, comfortable, and made well enough to last many years. Therefore, I need Tip Top, the shoe store that time forgot. Older gentlemen in shirts and ties give you their undivided attention, fitting your foot, making suggestions, and, obviously, living on your commission. It's the first time I've been there since we left New York in 2005, but it was exactly as I remembered it, and I got exactly what I needed.

I took buses between Pod 51 and Tip Top, and seeing New York for the first time in many years, I felt that rush of energy the City always gives me. I saw some new (to me) things: bike sharing, "LinkNYC" kiosks (there are thousands of them!), Metrocard machines at bus stops, and -- ta-da! -- the Second Avenue Subway. Or so they say. It only took 100 years to build and is three stops long! (Great story and pics here.) But seriously, it exists, and that's almost amazing enough. NYC seems to be making strides in trying to be more people-friendly. If only anyone could afford to live there.

I had just enough time to drop my new shoes at the hotel, change my clothes, and meet Allan at our favourite New York restaurant, Union Square Cafe. (Allan had been at NYPL for some research. He bought me these.) It was our first time at USC since it moved to its new location. The atmosphere, the service, and the food was exactly as we remembered. There are more inventive menus and more lavish food and decor, but there is only one Union Square. Perfect simplicity.

Allan went to The Strand while I went back to the Pod to shower and rest before the show. Later I hopped on the subway to the show -- had an incredible experience -- and walked across town back to the hotel. I'll fill in the blanks in a separate post. It was truly one of the greatest performances I have ever seen.

When I got back, Allan was following yet another insane Red Sox game. Is there anything this team cannot do?

Morning of day three: bagels and out

Now an old pro, on our second morning I did not create havoc in either Ess-A-Bagel or my caffeine-starved brain. I got up early, went around the corner to an old-school NYC coffee shop, got a very large coffee, and was well fueled before re-entering the insanity of Ess-A-Bagel, which that day was even more insane. On our way out, there was a line out the door and down the sidewalk.

Should you ever find yourself in a position to eat an authentic New York City bagel, may I recommend swiss cheese, nova, and tomato on an onion bagel?

From there, subway to NJ Transit to Newark Airport, Allan went to work, and I went to pick up Diego.

8.29.2018

new york, bruce springsteen, and other things i love

We are here! Staying here. Going to this!  Also here, scene of many past celebrations.

Ah, New York. And Bruce!!

That is all.

8.06.2018

mlb.tv, roku, and appletv: why is this so difficult?

If you're an app developer for MLB, or if you're with Roku or AppleTV, skip down to the final paragraphs!

Because Allan and I follow an out-of-town baseball team, we subscribe to MLB.TV, and have done so for ages. As much as I dislike pay-per-TV services, being able to watch any baseball game at any time, with either the home or away feed, is amazing.

Once we were able to do this by streaming, as opposed to through cable, the price went down and the quality went up. I've blogged many times about the wonder of the Roku streaming device, and how it solved so many issues for watching baseball, TV series, and movies.

Last year, I learned that the Canadian streaming service CraveTV offers lots of Showtime and HBO content. Thanks to exclusive licensing deals, Crave is not available on Roku; it only streams on AppleTV. (You can watch on a computer or mobile device, but we don't like that.) So in order to get the additional Showtime and HBO content, we bought an AppleTV device.

Lo and behold, AppleTV is now way better than Roku! When Roku first came out, it was widely agreed that it was the best streaming device on the market. Now fourth-generation AppleTV blows Roku away. The streaming quality is much better, the interface is easier, and it offers more premium content.

Here's where baseball comes in. MLB.TV on Roku lets users choose separate video and audio feeds. For many reasons, I prefer the NESN (Red Sox) TV feed with audio from the local Red Sox radio on WEEI. Roku lets you do this, and it syncs. (In the olden days, I would watch baseball on TV with the sound on mute, and keep the game on the radio. This was my preferred way to enjoy baseball, but the audio and video were completely out of sync.) So Roku did away with all that, and we've been in baseball heaven.

But now, with the 2018 season, the Roku MLB app is a total shambles. It stutters, freezes, and crashes constantly. We could barely make it through a half-inning without frustrating stops, starts, and reboots. And the definition is awful. It's like we're streaming some analog feed with a dial-up modem.

On AppleTV, MLB streams beautifully and in good-quality hi-def. However, the MLB app on AppleTV does not let you choose separate video and audio feeds. We can watch NESN with the NESN announcers, or listen to WEEI with no video at all, but we can't mix-and-match feeds.

Roku: Please fix your MLB.TV app!

AppleTV: Please get your MLB.TV app to have this capability!

MLB.TV: Please get your developers on this!

google does it again: recent blogger updates are not user-friendly

Once again, Google has reduced the ease and functionality of Blogger.

A while back, the layout of the Blogger dashboard changed. I used to be able to see an overview of all my blogs plus my "following" list on one dashboard page. I found this very useful, and I imagine that other users who also moderate more than one blog would have agreed. Now I can no longer check for and moderate comments on all blogs at the same time, and I no longer have one-stop-shopping for which blogs on my list have updated.

For comments, I have to check each blog separately, necessitating many more clicks.

For blogs I read, I had to subscribe to email updates, on blogs that offer this function. Not everyone does. (I don't like using feeds; I prefer to visit blogs and websites on their native platforms.)

Next, Google discontinued the option to have comments on your own blog emailed to you. So, for example, if Allan put a bunch of comments through on wmtc, those comments would be emailed to me.

I'm talking about this, found in Settings > email, which tells you when a comment has posted --


 -- not this, found in Settings > posts, comments, and sharing, which emails you when a comment is waiting to be moderated:


Now to check for new comments, I now have to go to Comments > published. I have to remember to do this for each blog in order to see what comments may have posted. Not very convenient.

Google also discontinued the option for any user with any ID to comment. Previously, the choices were Anyone (including anonymous), Any ID (Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.), or Only Members of this Blog. This has changed to Anyone (including anonymous), User [sic] with Google ID, or Only Members of this Blog.


When "Any ID" disappeared, I didn't want to exclude readers who might not have a Google ID. As a result, I've been deleting about 20-30 spam comments every day. It's become so annoying that I've changed commenting to anyone with a Google ID. I wanted to be more inclusive, but Blogger and spammers have conspired against that.

It's been months, and I'm frustrated. 

8.01.2018

listening to joni: #6: court and spark

Court and Spark, 1974

Writing about the music of Joni Mitchell has been a huge challenge. My love of music and my writing abilities seem to live in separate spheres: I write with my brain, but I listen with my heart. If writing about Joni's music has been challenging, writing about Court and Spark feels impossible. The love and connection I feel for this music is impossible to put into words. So with that disclaimer, I will now attempt the impossible.

Court and Spark is many Joni fans' favourite album. I mentioned that fans over a certain age seem to choose Blue; fans under that age, those younger than the boomer generation, seem to gravitate towards Court and Spark.

Listening to this music in retrospect, you can follow the very clear musical progression from Blue to For the Roses to Court and Spark. But in its day, no one could have been prepared for this masterpiece.

On Court and Spark, Joni more fully realizes many threads that emerged on previous albums. The music itself is richer, more layered, more polyphonic than Joni has written before. Woodwinds, strings, brass, percussion, and vocal harmonies are all a major part of this album, often taking centre-stage. The lyrics are at once some of the most poetic Joni has written, but also among the most accessible, with some of her familiar themes elegantly fleshed out.

Inside Cover; the back is solid tan with music credits
Something unusual on this album is Joni's use of instrumental breaks to continue the story she's telling. The best example is on the album's centrepiece, "Down to You".

The first part of the song paints an image of depression. The subject of the song is lonely, alienated:
Things that you held high and told yourself were true
Lost or changing as the days come down to you.
She (I think "she", but it doesn't have to be) seeks solace in a one-night stand. Then,
In the morning there are lovers in the street
They look so high
You brush against a stranger
And you both apologize
You brush against a stranger and you both apologize: is there a more perfect image of loneliness and alienation?
Old friends seem indifferent
You must have brought that on
Old bonds have broken down
Love is gone
Love is gone
Written on your spirit
this sad song
Love is Gone
After the spiritual-sounding repetition of that line, there is a musical break. It starts out with slow, deep, somber notes, but the tempo picks up, the waves of strings give way to pizzicato, the piano shines through -- the dark bass notes give way to a more lighthearted treble -- and piano chords become triumphant. We have survived the dark night. Then at last the woodwinds signal: a new day has dawned. There's an oboe trill that completely takes me apart, every time I hear it.

When the long instrumental break ends, we look around to discover we're in a totally different place -- one of acceptance, affirmation, maybe even transcendence. When the lyrics return, they celebrate that life is always changing -- that life is change -- and that we all hold all of human potential in our hearts.
Everything comes and goes
Pleasure moves on too early
And trouble leaves too slow
Just when you're thinking
You've finally got it made
Bad news comes knocking
At your garden gate
Knocking for you
Constant stranger
You're a brute you're an angel
You can crawl you can fly too
I can't imagine how many times I've listened to this song, yet as time goes by, it only means more to me.

Court and Spark is full of so many moments like this. Writing this post, I saw that on the cover of my original LP, in the lyrics to "People's Parties," two lines are underlined in blue pen.
I feel like I'm sleeping
Can you wake me
This is probably the only lyric underlined on an album cover in my entire collection. (I didn`t realize it was there until I wrote this post.) The girl with that blue pen was struggling with depression, and the continuing effects of an abusive upbringing, and the beginnings of her own liberation. I was waiting to wake up to myself. I related to the girl in the song:
One minute she's so happy
Then she's crying on someone's knee
Saying laughing and crying
You know it's the same release
There is much internal conflict in the lyrics of Court and Spark. The "art vs. commerce" conflict, this time round, is not hers, but someone else's -- in "Free Man in Paris," famously about Joni's close friend, the producer David Geffen. Poor Geffen was so deeply closeted, that he reportedly begged Joni not to release the song, feeling that it outed him as gay. There's really nothing in the lyrics that imply anything about sexual orientation. Geffen's fear speaks to the paranoia that comes with a life in hiding.

The other conflict, presumably Joni's, in Court and Spark, is career vs. love. From "The Same Situation":
Still I sent up my prayer
Wondering who was there to hear
I said Send me somebody
Who's strong and somewhat sincere
With the millions of the lost and lonely ones
I called out to be released
Caught in my struggle for higher achievements
And my search for love
That don't seem to cease
Joni hits us with this right up front, in the title track. Love has "come to my door" -- this love understood her so well, that "it seemed like he read my mind, he saw me mistrusting him and still acting kind" -- but she couldn't leave her life and her career in California.

Bad critic comment of the album

On JoniMitchell.com (an amazing resource), I found some joker from the Oakland Tribune who clearly wasn't up to the assignment. In his opening paragraph, he accuses Joni of "tiptoeing in and out of love just enough to gather some material together for a new song." He writes that "Free Man in Paris" "infers" (by which he means implies) "that business responsibilities leave her cold" and in another song, "seems to be acknowledging the fact she may end up an old maid". All I can say is I'm glad my first juvenile attempts at writing aren't preserved on the internet.

For serious criticism, though, Court and Spark appears to have been universally acclaimed. But don't worry, the "bad critic comment" section will soon be very useful.

The album cover

Joni's Japanese-inspired drawing combines mountains, water, and an abstract wave that is also a lover's comforting embrace. Against a tan background, the title and artist's name embossed in Joni's own handwriting, it's understated and elegant. Inside, an abstracted photograph of Joni, eyes closed in what seems like musical bliss.

Cacti or stockings?

The most famous song on this album, Joni's "biggest hit" -- a strange concept to apply to this music -- was always my least favourite. But "Help Me" contains an iconic Joni image: "the lady with the hole in her stocking", who has by now become the Joni's stand-in, the lyric-persona Joni.

On "Just Like This Train," that lady with the hole in her stocking looks out the window at the "rocks and these cactus going by".

You know, even that hole in the stocking is a conflict. She wears stockings -- "a refinement" ("Ludwig's Tune") -- but she's also a bit unkempt, or more likely defiant, refusing to wear the proper clothes. Part of the glitz and the glamour, but apart from it, too.

Other musicians on this album

This is the first album for which Joni takes producing credit, knocking Henry Lewy down to "sound engineer". Lewy felt he had been her producer. Joni felt she has always been the producer, with Lewy merely a technician.

Drums and percussion, John Guerin
Bass, Max Bennett, Jim Hughart, Wilton Felder
Chimes, Milt Holland
Woodwinds & reeds, Tom Scott
Trumpet, Chuck Findley
Electric Piano, Joe Sample
Background voices, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Susan Webb, Cheech and Chong
Electric Guitar, Larry Carlton, with Wayne Perkins, Dennis Budimir, Robbie Robertson, Jose Feliciano
Joni: piano, clavinet, and background vocals
String arrangements by either Tom Scott, Joni, or both. The string musicians themselves are anonymous.