Monday, November 28, 2005

Christmas People

I love Christmas People. Many people who are not official Christmas People are content to wait for Christmas. They go about their lives in an unassuming way until about a week or two before Dec 25th. They then leisurely slip into that fuzzy sweater of a feeling known as " The Christmas Spirit." Not Christmas People. Christmas people have been pining away and have donned their fuzzy, metaphorical sweaters around mid-November. They are so ready for Christmas that people often feel the need to bring them down a notch saying "It's not even Thanksgiving yet!" As if this admonishment could ever stop a Christmas Person. The end of November hits and they're ready to go. My wife is a Christmas Person. There have been moments in the past few weeks when I notice a gentle silence has fallen between us and a sort of wistful look has crept, stealthy as Silent Night, into Jacqui's eye.

"What are you thinking about?" I ask.

"I want it to be Christmas!" She says, emphasizing the word Christmas.

She has the gift of elongating those two syllables with a delicate mix of pained longing balanced with nostalgic mayhem. In one word you get the feeling of child-like excitement blended with deeply grown up longing for all things cozy and sweet. It is a thing to behold.

Christmas People have needs. Mostly they require Christmas-esque activities to keep all their festive energy at bay. If for some reason they can't get to these activities--look out. They may be give in to strange impulses in inappropriate social situations.

Blockbuster Guy: Alright your total is $5.98. Great. Alrighty your movie will be due back on Wednesday night.


Blockbuster guy: Um...what? Sorry, did you need anything else?

Christmas Person: FA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA...LA-LA-LA-LA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's important that they have an outlet. Jacqui and I started making Christmas cookies today. We listened to Christmas music and lit candles. The dough has to chill over night, but I know that she can't wait to cut it out into stars, snowmen, and Christmas trees. Earlier we discovered that we don't have any cookie cutters for this job. I suggested that we could just make round cookies. My wife looked at me as if I'd tried to throw a bowling ball at her head. "Round cookies aren't Christmas cookies!" she explained.

In addition to the more recent outpouring of baked goods, our home has been ringing with the sound of Christmas songs for the past few weeks. I like it. That's the thing about Christmas People, they have a great way of drawing you into their festive attitude. Appropriate music is essential for any Christmas Person. Christmas music I have noticed is a strange phenomena.
There is no real push to have ones own person Christmas music tastes reflect a growing awareness of musical appreciation. Mostly I've noticed that people just want to listen to what they remember hearing as children. It doesn't matter if it's the strangest, or least artistic piece of music in the world. Those things are simply not important. When I was growing up my dad was a big fan of A Very Johnny Mathis Christmas, Andy Griffith Christmas and our whole family loved Amy Grant's Home for the Holidays. To me that music is Christmas. It's what I secretly long to hear. Jacqui's favorites are Christmastime by Michael W. Smith and Christmas Hits by a group called Boney M, a 1970's ABBA-esque group from Germany with strong Jamaican and Dutch influences. I love it. Everyone seems to have their own personal favorites, it's great.

My dad is a big Christmas Person. One of my favorite illustrations of this fact is a tradition of his I remember distinctly from childhood. You'd walk in the door to my house and it would smell like a cinnamon bomb had exploded and had covered our home in the delightful sent of holiday cheer. At ground zero of the festive blast my dad could inevitably be found stirring a large pot of mulling spices on the stove. For those of you who's dads were not big on the mulling spices it's basically like simmering a giant pot of potpourri complete with large berries, cinnamon sticks and other sundry scented items. Nevermind that the air in my home made your eyes water as if you were chewing a large wad of Big Red, or that the pots he used inevitably made all later dishes taste vaguely of cinnamon. There he'd be stirring away like a mad man. "Can you smell it?!" he say "Smells like Christmas!!"

My best friend, Morgan, is also a Christmas Person. He gets the itch just when the first snow starts to fall. By early December he's already impulse bought 2 or 3 new Christmas movies and is watching them on a loop. This past year it was an entertaining cocktail of: A Christmas Story (You'll shoot your eye out!"), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Jim Carrey version), The Santa Clause 1 and 2 (A Tim Allen gem) and a plethora of others. I love this!

He's also big on the Christmas music. His tastes are refined and varied ranging from the classic strains of Bing Crosby to freakin' out electric guitar solos of the Trans Siberian orchestra. Like any true Christmas Person Morgan also loves Christmas lights. He likes to have them year round, but especially around Christmas. Morgan also has two cats. They also love Christmas lights. They love them in a different way. They love them in the sense that they love to destroy them. It's a potent combination and battle of wills the will cats always win.

One of my fondest memories regarding Christmas lights and Morgan occured when we lived together in college. We decided to spice up our dorm room with some nice icicle lights. You know the kind? They hang vertically in lots of different strands. They really are a sight to see; a pretty and cozy glow all for $15.00. Unfortunately they are somewhat heavier than their single strand cousins and all we had to adhere them to our metal ceiling runner was a nice thick role of clear packing tape. We thought we were golden. We were wrong. By the time New Years had rolled around the thing had fallen down and been re-attached so many times that what had originally been a nice holiday decoration was now, for all intensive purposes, a giant, ugly ball of festively lit tape. Good times.

I also associate Christmas time with Morgan because for the past few years he and his family has invited Jacqui and I to their house for a Christmas Eve steak dinner. That's just behavioral conditioning at it's best. To me nothing says Christmas better than a thick steak. Mmmmm steak.

So. Christmas People. They're an undeniable force. You know 'em and I know 'em. Maybe you're even one yourself. If so let me just say a cheery thank you for all the work you do to get others in the Christmas spirit. Crank those carols if you feel the urge, bake those cookies when you get a hankering, light your pyres of candles, hang the stockings early and forcibly hand out candy canes to anyone who snidely tells you "It's still 4 weeks away!" We need people like you!

An early Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Squirrelly Bread

The world of groceries is vast and huge (and apparently redundant). Since coming to Vancouver and Canada in general Jacqui and I have had the priviledge of finding all those little differences in products that tend to reveal themselves over time as you settle into a new location. It's a process really. You don't just get off the plane (or out of the car in our case) and find that the local canucks are waiting for you, arms laden with bundles of their unique Canadian brands and products. Although that'd be pretty nice. Especially if they had a box or two of Tim Horton's donuts. Mmmmm donuts. But alas they're not there offering up steamy vats of maple syrup or poutine. No, as with any new place you have to just go and experience.

Now I'm sure when you move to a country that's far away the different food items are apparent right away. In Iceland I'm sure that trying to find an unusual brand name wouldn't be too hard to locate. Not so with Canada. Canada is sneaky. Canada is sly. They tuck alternate brands and products right in the there with Doritos and and Pillsbury.

Now to begin with Canadian food isn't too different from cuisine in the U.S. Wait, wait that's not quite accurate. Let me rephrase that...Canadian food is EXACTLY THE SAME as food in the U.S....Except when it comes to potato chips. Canadians have really branched out in this culinary area. Most of you have probably heard rumors. In the States I would be hard pressed to pin point a chip flavor that is distinctly "All-American". In Canada they have no such problem. They have a sparkling medal stand boasting a trifecta of "All-Canadian" favorites.

Wearing the gold medal is the ever popular ketchup chip. A hint of vinegar and tomato make this classic chip an all-around crowd pleaser. Coming in with the silver is dill pickle. These are Jacqui's favorite. And true to their name they taste much like crunchy, dry, potato-ish pickles. In third is an amalgam of tastes that can not be codified into one single flavor so the snack companies don't even try. Wearing the bronze medal is a chip know only as "All Dressed". Originally called "Clothed" this chip, which is reminiscent of salt and vinegar with hints of cheddar and mellow over tones of bacon, is quite a treat for the palate. Dill Pickle best watch it's back.

Other than chips, though, the food's pretty much the same. However, as I mentioned some of the brands are different. One of our favorite so far would have to be the line of breads provided by the Silver Hills bread company with one bread in particular garnering top honors.

When you head into the grocery store bread is just an essential things that you need to get. There are healthy breads, plain ol' white, fresh baked, pre-packaged, rye, pumpernickel, an assortment of grains: 12 grain, 16 grain, Indian grain, multi-grain. There are so many options. At least there used to be. Not so any more.

Jacqui and I usually, naturally gravitate toward the chunkier breads, the more rough seeds and grain the better. Well, while staying with my in-laws during our extended 2 month "sabbatical" sleeping on their floor we were introduced to Squirrelly Bread. According to the packaging "This delightful bread is Baked full of sunflower seeds then rolled in sesame seeds, the rich flavors make this a favorite choice."

A favorite choice is right. TASTY! Since we're surviving on apprentice stipends during our time here in Vancouver we don't have too many occasions to splurge when it comes to food. But it's not hard to feel like a breakfast-time king when you've got yourself a nice piece of Squirrelly Bread toasted with butter and covered liberally with Nutella (another fine product which I was only introduced to recently). Such a simple pleasure. Sigh. Thanks Squirrelly Bread.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Squirrelly Nature

Normally I don't have extended amounts of contact with the non-domesticated animal kingdom. However, the other day as I exited our apartment I saw the best thing I've seen in awhile.

I was passing the edge of our lawn where the recycling bins and garbage cans are kept when I noticed a medium sized squirrel sitting on top of the recycling. Normally this scene wouldn't really have struck me as that unusual-the squirrel was for all intensive purposes an average looking, black squirrel (no offense to the squirrel).

However what made me look twice was that this squirrel had a HUGE piece of cardboard latched firmly between his teeth. It just hung from his tiny squirrel lips like a ridiculously large postage stamp he was in the middle of licking. I thought perhaps when he saw that I had paused to observe him he might drop his treasure and run away.

I was half right. He did run away but as he skittered over our fence and up onto a neighbors fence he kept the cardboard firmly gripped in his mouth. He loved that cardboard so much. And I was impressed with his climbing dexterity as he jumped and ran, never releasing his soggy brown prize.

I felt blessed to have happened to have my camera, so I obliged the moment and took a few pictures. Perhaps I'll release a whole series: Nude Gopher with 2 Liter, Inquisitive Shrew with Tin Can, Disheveled Badger with Spreadsheet. The list goes on. Perhaps it could make an impressive seasonal calendar for the recycling industry...Anyway three cheers for NATURE!

Friday, November 11, 2005

POST post Opening Night Post: Gathering Wood| Drawing Water

After that title the word "post" has lost all meaning. Post, post, post...POst, P-O-S-T...What is a "post" anyway?

So since we've been really busy lately we haven't had time to write about the latest project we've been working on. (Isn't that just like a selfish project? Hogging all our time, keeping us from precious moments of blogging?) It's the first of three artistic projects that we're planning for this year at Pacific Theatre. For those we haven't told much about the apprenticeships our time is basically divided between:

PART 1 (drum roll please...seriously... give it a go...maybe it'll make this next part more dramatic... and maybe if we can get it dramatic enough maybe it could even BE our fourth project...only you can help us!) Working in the Box Office and House Managing!

PART 2: ( okay now we need some more drums and possible even some light know the kind, with those little brushes instead of sticks) Acting in some of PT's mainstage shows!

And finally ladies and gentleman PART 3: (alright here we're going to need everyone lightly clapping their hands on their knees, three people will be on slide whistle and then finally one person (you all can rock, paper scissors for this one) will be giving us some short bursts on a tuba): PERFORMING ARTISTIC PROJECTS OF OUR OWN CREATION!

(Crowd goes wild)

Anyway, I'll tell you more about the last two projects as they unfold, but this first one was a collection of 4 plays all by women playwrights. For all the Calvin peeps it was basically like a Lab Bills, except Jacqui and I performed all of the pieces. We called the whole night Gathering Wood|Drawing Water. (We took the name from essential tasks often performed by women...) and we still have two more nights of performances.

It was fun but it really took awhile to put together, we kept saying things like "If only we were JUST acting in this it'd be so much easier." Or "If only we JUST had to do the sound design." OR "the poster design" OR "the directing...or props..or costumes"... Basically we didn't really realize what an undertaking it would be doing everything ourselves. But by last night everything was in place, all cues were written, each props was in place, we were ready to go on and we even had a good sized audience.

And then we did it. I know every actor basically says it when ever they finally have their first performance but there really is something so different about having an audience for the first time. They laughed in parts we didn't expect and didn't laugh in parts we thought they would. It's just so fresh when a whole group of people is actually responding (or not responding depending on the moment) There's just a whole different energy to the thing. And boy did it ever go fast. In rehearsal we had time to sort of pause and take a leisurely moment to gather ourselves before moving into the next play or the next character, but last night things just seemed to fly by, one play swiftly changing into the next.

All in all it went well though. People said some very nice things afterward and we tucked ourselves into bed with a warm/tired feeling of accomplishment.

We've got one more tonight and then one after that on Saturday and then we're all done. Saturday is actually closing night for The Elephant Man as well so I'll really be DONE come Monday morning with only box office shifts to keep me busy (well until we start work on our next project...which is going to take LOTS of work )

So please, if you remember lift up some prayers for us as we finish our final push towards Monday : )

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Commercially Speaking

Recently I've seen the silliest commercial for toilet paper. It's a Charmin commercial and their mascot is this family of bears (well perhaps they're not related. I wouldn't want to assume. Let's say this COMMUNITY of bears to be safe). Have you seen this line of commercials? The bears are all sort of pastel and fluffy and soft edged. Anyway I think the point of this particular commercial was to introduce Charmin's new line of paper that has some sort of special "cleansers" woven into the paper or something. I can't even really imagine how this would work, but the tag line in the commercial is something like "Are you having TROUBLE feeling your absolute CLEANEST?"

Anyway this isn't necessarily the weird part. The weird part is when they're showing the bear before he gets the miracle paper. The part where they're showing him being frustrated with everything ELSE he's tried to get his absolute CLEANEST. Everything is going fairly normally when suddenly they cut to a shot of the bear with a huge car wash style roller brush attached to his butt. The roller is spinning like crazy and bear is wearing the most uncomfortable, dissatisfied look on his animated face I've ever seen. This is so silly! I laugh every time I see it. I'd have loved to have been in the meeting where that marketing decision got made. "Yeah, yeah the bears are really working for us. I like them. Hmmm, but I think...yeah I think we're missing something...Hey...Hey! Let's attach a HUGE rolling scrubber to his butt!" and how'd you like to be the animator who's burning the midnight oil to finalize the last touches on the bears uncomfortable grimace? This is simply advertising at its best.