Christmas in Oakville with Chris and Kaz, New Years with Alex

I had hoped to go some place warm for the Christmas holidays this year. I wanted to put Christmas lights on a palm tree. I wanted to make sandmen. I wanted nothing more to worry about than getting a sunburn on Boxing day.

So naturally, I ended up arriving at Pearson International Airport at 6:30 on the morning of 23 December, catching the end of a nasty two-day snowstorm. There’s poetic justice in this, somewhere.

Continue reading “Christmas in Oakville with Chris and Kaz, New Years with Alex”

Busy December weekend

I think Alex and I need to stop packing so much into a single weekend. It’s gonna kill us.

Friday night was Light Night. Being fairly warm (thanks to a chinook), we went out in search of Christmas lights around town, camera in hand. There’s a lot to choose from, but one thing Alex and I noticed about Calgary — there’s a lot of people with too much money, and too cheap to put up lights. Something I think Alex and I will definitely work against next Christmas with our home.

We went around Glamorgan, Altadore, Garrison Woods, through another section of the city I can’t remember the name of, all the way out to Discovery Ridge, and then finally into Springbank. There were only a few places that had anything of consequence. One was a string of houses in Glamorgan on a cul-de-sac that took the whole idea of Christmas lighting very seriously. That was our first stop. Ironically, it wasn’t until our last (Springbank) that we really saw something noteworthy. First were two houses on the hill (we saw them from Discovery Ridge) that had a lot of lights in the rear. Then we saw a couple houses with “ME” and “IS”. It wasn’t until we took a wider look that several houses had similar letters: ME, RR, YC, HR, IS, TM, and AS. (Although the “RR” was out that night.)

But one house took the biscuit. You couldn’t see their front lawn for all the lights, toys, balloons, cutouts, and whatnot erected all over it. The light was enough to be almost blinding. No music, though, so at least the sounds wouldn’t drive neighbours crazy, but the whole setup was just … well, either amazing or ridiculous. Take your choice.

Saturday was a busy day, right from the start. Alex was working, having volunteered (one of four) to help out with a laboratory exercise, to help surgeons learn a new spine operation method. (Paid, of course.) This meant a (relatively) early start, and a long day in front of an x-ray machine.

We went to Denny’s on 16th Ave, just east of Crowchild, for breakfast with her co-workers Andy and Fred. (Andy is an x-ray tech, like Alex; Fred leads the Quality Control (QC) effort, whom Alex works with every Wednesday.) All three (there were four in total) were working in the lab. I was just along for the big breakfast. It was my first chance to meet Fred — I finally have a face for all the stories I hear from Alex.

Following breakfast, the three of them vanished off to Foothills (the hospital, not the mountains) and I headed up to Crowfoot Centre, to pick up my car. (Mini Canada had called in my car for a voluntary recall to upgrade my emissions.) This is about where my rather tiring day began.

First off, I somehow managed to arrive at the Banff Trail C-Train station with a mere dollar in change. (You need two for the ticket to ride.) Don’t you just hate being in that really uncomfortably position of needing an extra bit of change, and all you have is a dollar? Luckily, one of the other patrons there offered to change my $5 bill, and then gave me a dollar after realizing he didn’t have enough for the change.

I love Calgarians.

It was a bit windy at the station, but the Weather Network had said that we’d have a reasonably nice day. By the time I got to Dalhousie station, it was much windier, with snow pellets. I boarded a bus to take me to Crowfoot — the #147. When I got off at the Burger King there, I was staring into a wall of white. When I walked into the Chapter’s there about five minutes after getting off the bus, the front of my body looked like someone had taken a white paint roller to me.

My car was clean and shiny when I arrived, and was soon on the road. (The salt and sand from Calgary’s ongoing efforts to beat back winter were soon on my car, rather than the street.) I stopped at Chinook for the purpose of finding a particularly difficult to find present. I’d seen it there during a shopping spree Alex and I had engaged in to find her a dress, but couldn’t remember what store. Despite visiting every retailer in the building, I was unable to discover its location.

Thinking that perhaps I had the wrong mall in mind, I whipped down to South Centre. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to matter which mall I was in, the success was the same — nil. The frustration, not to mention my headache, was building.

But it was time for me to head home. Alex and I were going to the Diagnostic Imagining (Alex’s department) Christmas party, and I had to get ready. This is when I noticed that my door wasn’t opening. Again. (See 22 November 2004.) This meant I had to climb in the passenger side to be able to drive. I’m seriously going to tear someone a new hole for this at the dealership (I had asked them *specifically* to look at this problem.)

I stopped by Alex’s to get my gym clothes bag that I’d left there the night before. In doing so, I found yet another suprise. Either the Mini dealership had given me a very nice Christmas present, or some schmuck in the service department had left a battery charger in my trunk. Despite the drive, the door still wouldn’t open.

I popped home just long enough to grab a memory card with a photo I was printing for someone (a woman wanted a copy for her boyfriend for Christmas). Up to London Drugs. Three hours before I could get it back. By that time, I’d be at the party, and with the events tomorrow, there was no way I’d be able to meet up and deliver the photo the next day. I’d need to find an alternative (I emailed the original and apologized for the delay).

Door was still not working. People were giving me strange looks as I hopped across my front seat.

Alex called not long after I got home. She’d finished early, and was heading home. I grabbed my things and headed to her place. She needed a massage after a day of moving around the x-ray machine, and with the night ahead, she didn’t want to be sore.

We arrived at Canada Olympic Park just after 18:15, in plenty of time for the 18:30 dinner start. Mark and Sang had saved us seats (thankfully) at Table 22. (There were a LOT of tables. The DI department is quite large.) People in attendance had dressed in a fairly wide range, from not-quite-casual almost all the way to near-formal ball gowns. I knew a handful of people (folks that I’d been introduced to at the hospital, or those who’d also been on the dragon boat team), but the majority were strangers.

Colette was the ring leader, and made most of the announcements. She also called tables, the numbers drawn at random, to go for dinner. Last year, Alex’s table had been called last. We were fifth or sixth in the list. Roast beef, chicken, lots of sides to choose from — all very tasty. While we ate, the door prizes were handed out.

This is where my luck truly showed through … or the complete and utter lack of it. We’d all put our names in the hat, so to speak, which were drawn at random. You were then given a random prize. I had made the mistake, however, of trusting my table-mates not to dupe me. I went to the bathroom when Colette started collecting the names. When I got back, Alex handed me two pieces of paper, telling me that she’d missed Colette when she’d passed by. Colette told me: “Only once, Geoff!”

I was confused. What was wrong with missing her? Easy … Alex and Mark decided to stuff the ballots with MY NAME. So if I got called more than once, *I’d* be the one who got in trouble. Gee, thanks, guys…

As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. My luck is that bad. In a 100 ticket lottery, I’d lose even if I’d bought 99 tickets. Alex and Mark were dumbfounded. I challenged Alex to draw my name out of the bag within 20 tries. She couldn’t.

We left not long after 22:30, having both run out of steam. It had been a long day.

Allowing a bit of a chance to sleep in, we ended up rushing to make it to Grace Presbyterian on time. (Yep, another Advent Sunday means another church.) This particular event wasn’t so much for the service, but for the cantata (a musical composition for voices and orchestra based on a religious text). At Grace, this would be a great event, as it is one of Calgary’s oldest churches (it turns 100 near year). There’s a big pipe organ, and a large orchestra was assembled for the performance.

The senior minister, Rev. Victor Kim, performed what he described as his “shortest sermon of the year” (received by much laughter), followed by the longest sermon of the year — the cantata. The choir came down from their perch in front of the organ, to a series of risers in front of the podium. The orchestra geared up, and the cantata began.

It was a 15-song concert (including the closing hymn of “Joyful and Triumphant”), with most of the song sung by the main choir. (The children sang two of the songs.) The entire choir participated, although several of the songs had solos. I’m not sure if the soloists were part of the regular congregation — if the are, then Grace has some seriously gifted singers in their midst.

The service started at 11:00, and we left just after 13:00. The air was cold and brisk, though not nearly as bad as the nasty cold snap we’d had a few days earlier (minus 20 is not pleasant, I don’t care who you are). We were going to go for tea at Steeps, but ended up hitting Janice Beaton (for lavender shortbread and some really nice cheese), then ended up stopping at a few stores and restaurants before getting to Fiore’s for a late lunch. Stops at several more stores (including Gravity Pope and Reid’s) took up enough time that getting tea wasn’t really an option anymore. We were wiped.

We rested a while at Alex’s before I went out again to go pickup Jen. Jen turned 16, and I had not yet got her a birthday present (yes, I know, I’m a lousy cousin). So I took Jen out for dinner, a couple games, and ultimately (which was the original reason) to see “Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence”, a Japanese anime film about … hmm, actually, I’m not going to describe it. That’s an entire email onto its own.

Alex, sadly, was not able to come out, which would have been good. I could have used her skill to help defeat Jen at air hockey. Mind you, that could have been retribution for the embarassment of letting Peter (at Sumo) know it was her birthday. There’s nothing like a bunch of Japanese wait staff singing “Happy Birthday” and “I Just Called (To Say I Love You)” — loudly — to make you feel like the centre of attention.

The movie was long, but good. I think I need to see it again to really wrap my head around it, though. The basic plot line was easy enough to follow, but some of the more intricate details were … well, reading subtitles and follow action with deep dialogue isn’t easy.

It was late when I finally got home. I was tired. Really tired. It’s been a long weekend. And it’s going to be a long week.

12 Days of Christmas at Heritage Park

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? No, I’m not dead. I wasn’t abducted by aliens. I wasn’t held hostage. I took a bit of a break. I had to.

In mid-September, I suffered a bit of a breakdown. Too much stress that I’d allowed to work into my life caught up with me and brought the Geoff Sowrey Machine to a grinding halt. Thankfully, that didn’t last too long, and was able to get back up and running not long afterwards. So why did I take such a long break before writing again?

Well, one thing that bucket o’ stress did was really hamper my ability to write and edit properly. I was afraid that such a thing was happening, but didn’t really think it was harming me. Sadly, after one particular entry about my cousin Pam’s wedding, it became all-too-clear that my ability to write was in jeopardy. I unintentionally insulted my family — a grievous error for which I am deeply regretful. That brought an end to my writing, at least until I felt competant enough to write again.

Which brings me to this weekend… (relax, events of weeks, er, months past will be brought to the web as soon as I can edit them all together)

The weekend couldn’t have started soon enough for me — last week was almost nothing except planning, strategy, writing, and a lot of stress (long story, which I’m not really going to get into, suffice to say that the issues were resolved). Friday night was nice: a couple of beers starting at 16:30 (we celebrated a “No-one Got Fired” day), followed by a brief stop to wish my friend Angie a happy birthday. Then it was off home to wash off the smell of “Fuel” (where the start of Angie’s party was) and wait for Alex to come home.

We woke up earlier on Saturday than we had in previous weeks, and immediately got to the task of the morning: breakfast. But we opted for breakfast at Nellie’s In The Loop; one of the Nellie’s restaurants, based in Marda Loop. We had thought of going to the Belvedere Diner (across the road), but the lineups pretty much settled that deal. Food in our bellies, we aimed for stop #2: Chinook Centre.

As you already know, it’s December. It’s Christmas season. So not only were we looking for presents for others (I’m not quite done yet), we were looking for outfits for the various Christmas parties that are coming up, most notably the MRT party next Saturday. Alex needed a dress. For those of you who’ve never shopped for a dress before, you’d be surprised how hard it is to not only find one that looks good, but doesn’t scratch your skin (Alex found one that seemed to be made ENTIRELY of sparkles), but also comes in your size. Despite a mall-wide search, we ended up finding one in Sears, of all places. I settled for a new dress shirt and a tie, in colours that would compliment Alex’s navy-blue and silver outfit.

Although December, Chinook wasn’t wall-to-wall people when we arrived. However, as we began to head towards the Sears (where we ultimatlely found the dress), we noticed that the population was growing exponentially. Having completed our transactions in Sears, we headed towards the car, and abandoned the mall with all due haste.

Destination? Heritage Park, for their 12 Days of Christmas weekend. (It’s actually several weekends.) Basically, it’s the same as the park usually, except the amusement park is closed, the trains aren’t running, and the theme around most of the buildings is decidedly Christmas. It’s quite nice, actually, and with a bit of planning, could be something that Alex and I make a tradition. Especially when we have kids.

Yes, we talk extensively about having kids. Prepare for it, folks.

We found some particularly nice things in one store, especially drink mixes (powders for hot apple and cranberry ciders, hot chocolates of various varieties), candies, and fudge (we’re fudge-o-holics). In an adjoining building, we found a group of calligraphers, who whipped off pretty much anything you needed or wanted. That’s where we ran into Rebecca’s mom (who travels in the calligraphy circles in Calgary).

The Wainwright Hotel was open, but the forecast for food was a little bleak. Hot dogs in one room, and an apparent lineup for the other. So we aborted and looked elsewhere, such as the bakery (basically, nothing but cookies), the Club Cafe (didn’t really hit us), and Gunn’s Dairy Farm (closed by the time we got there). The roundhouse was also open, though didn’t have any food — instead, had a wide range of gift ideas. Most were arranged in international themes, so one would see Christmas from various parts of the world, with little descriptions about that area.

One thing that stood out for me was the description of the true meaning of the “Twelve Days of Christmas”. Most people think this is about one person giving presents to another. In reality, it was a song created to help teach the core of Catholicism to children during a period in English history when being a Catholic was considered bad. Like, lock you away for a very long time kind of bad. The practice went on from 1558 to 1829, when Catholics were finally emancipated. Here’s how the numbers actually break down (text borrowed from Appleseeds.org, ‘cuz I’m too damn lazy to type it all out):

  • 1st Day: The partridge in a pear tree is Christ Jesus upon the Cross. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge because she would feign injury to decoy a predator away from her nestlings. She was even willing to die for them. The tree is the symbol of the fall of the human race through the sin of Adam and Eve. It is also the symbol of its redemption by Jesus Christ on the tree of the Cross.
  • 2nd Day:The “two turtle doves” refers to the Old and New Testaments.
  • 3rd Day:The “three French hens” stand for faith, hope and love — the three gifts of the Spirit that abide (1 Corinthians 13).
  • 4th Day:The “four calling birds” refers to the four evangelists who wrote the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.
  • 5th Day:The “five golden rings” represents the first five books of the Bible, also called the Jewish Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
  • 6th Day:The “six geese a-laying” is the six days of creation.
  • 7th Day:The “seven swans a-swimming” refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.
  • 8th Day:The “eight maids a milking ” reminded children of the eight beatitudes listed in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • 9th Day:The “nine ladies dancing” were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
  • 10th Day:The “ten lords a-leaping” represents the Ten Commandments
  • 11th Day:The “eleven pipers piping” refers to the eleven faithful apostles.
  • 12th Day:The ï ¿ ½twelve drummers drumming” were the twelve points of belief expressed in the Apostlesï ¿ ½ Creed: belief in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, made man, crucified, died and arose on the third day, that he sits at the right hand of the father and will come again, the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.

Learn something new every day, eh?

Afterwards, we headed out in search of food. Alex was starting to gnaw on my arm, and I felt it important to keep my limbs intact. As we headed back to the Hotel, we could hear the carolers on the stage belting out song after song. But one of them caught our attention. They were singing “Linus and Lucy”, the single-most recognizable tune from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

Yes, singing.

As there are no words to the song, they were singing “do do do do do do do”, broken into women’s and men’s parts. There’s a bit after the first two stanzas where all of them sang “DA DA DA DA!” and followed the sound of the piano. Alex and I about fell over laughing, it sounded so ridiculous.

All we got at the Hotel was a warm dog (not quite hot), two bags of chips, and a couple of drinks. Unsatisfied, we tried for gingerbread cookies at the bakery. You could have used them to armour-plate a tank. The sheer horrors of food having set it, and our interest waning, we headed off in search of the car, and new shopping experiences … at South Centre Mall.

South Centre was far less busy than Chinook had been, though we didn’t make any huge scores (although Alex did find a shawl-like thing (it’s hard to describe, needless to say) for her outfit next Saturday. Following the mall, we headed over to the adjacent Safeway for dinner fixin’s and for eggs, to make better gingerbread than the armour plating we’d had earlier.

Dinner eaten and gingerbread dough cooling, we went to return one movie (“Bad Santa”) and rent a new one (“Monster”). This became partial entertainment. It’s been snowing this weekend, and the temperature on Saturday was enough to turn the Edmonton Trail hill into a bit of an ice rink. And that seems to attract every idiot in town to prove that you can, in fact, get up an icy hill merely by putting your foot to the floor and smoking your tires beyond repair. Morons.

We were a little late arriving at church the next morning, owing to the aforementioned cold and snow. (The roads were a little treacherous, and it really doesn’t help matters when the Calgary Police Service decides to pull someone on Memorial over right at a curve in the road. They caused more accidents than they were trying to stop.)

Why did we go to church? Alex wanted to, for one, but also because I’ve never seen a Christmas service before. It’s something new for me, and it’s a part of Alex’s life. It’s fun to share experiences, don’t you think? Following church, we headed to Market Mall for lunch and, yes, more shopping. (We stopped along the way to drop off a small batch of gingerbread cookies to the X-Ray staff in Emergency at the Foot.)

A bag of clothes (I needed new shirts) and two digesting ice cream cones (from the Marble Slab Creamery) later, we returned to my place via Safeway to make dinner: pizza. Something quick. We were heading out to the Knox Choir Festival at Knox United downtown, and were meeting up with Rebecca at the Tim Horton’s a block away. Which was good, because it was about -20 tonight. Brrr.

The three of us arrived at the church about 15 minutes before the show started. It was packed, wall-to-wall, including the balconies. We barely managed to find seats in the upper back. The show was recorded by CBC radio for rebroadcast in the Calgary area. It was interesting to watch the various choirs come in and play carols I’d never even heard of before. Two particular choirs were the Korean Presbyterian Choir (which sang traditional English carols in Korean, and sounded amazing) and the Chinook Show Choir, a collection of older women who sang just beautifully. We, as the audience, sang in between the choirs with the Knox Choir and a really loud organ.

Dad would have loved it.

Oh, and one of those choirs decided to do “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Yep, how often do you hear people singing “Linus and Lucy” twice in one weekend? I don’t think I’m ever gonna get it out of my head.

Christmas is definitely here. This is going to be a great Christmas season.