Monday, December 21, 2009

Bus Crash

This last Friday I went to Buffalo for the day with a friend. We took the discount bus (Megabus) and it was a good time. Yesterday, that same bus crashed for the 2nd time in two weeks...

Neat-o eh?!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Top 10 of the past 10: Songs

What makes a good song? A lot of this lies in personal taste and in choosing this list each of these songs seem to connect with me in some sort of way. I dig songs with meaningful lyrics and some on this list mirror that. I dig songs that convey a particular emotion especially well, some of the songs on the list reflect that. I also dig songs with a groovy guitar rhythm or layered, dense instrumentation and some of the songs reflect that. Pretty hard to pick 10 songs from 10 years of music listening (my online music stats tell me I've listened to over 50,000 tracks in 3 years....) There's no rhyme or reason but here's my top 10 songs released in the past 10 years.

If you click the link you can hear the song over at Grooveshark! Except for #8 :( Sorry.

1. Sufjan Stevens - John Wayne Gacy, Jr. - Illinoise (2005)

Lyrical snippet: "He dressed up like a clown for them/ With his face paint white and red/ And on his best behavior/ In a dark room on the bed he kissed them all/ He'd kill ten thousand people/ With a sleight of his hand"

Sounds Like: Poetry, meet history. History, meet song. Song, meet greatness.

Off the award winning disc Illinoise, this track is based on the life of Chicago's 1970s serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. He killed a couple dozen young men/boys and buried them under the floorboards of his house. When he was discovered the neighbors were in shock because they all loved him and thought he was a swell chap because of the great block parties he would throw where he would dress up as a clown for the kids. This track is powerful in its sparse storytelling poetry detailing the serial killer's exploits but the whole song hinges on the last lines which state: "And in my best behavior/ I am really just like him/ Look beneath the floorboards/ For the secrets I have hid". The song speaks to the inherent evil of man, how we sensationalize certain crimes, and how we all have things hidden which we don't want exposed. The way he weaves the storytelling, the music, and the message is masterful and is hands down my favorite song of the decade.

2. Iron & Wine - Such Great Heights - Such Great Heights EP (2003)

Lyrical snippet: "I am thinking it's a sign/ that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images/ and when we kiss they're perfectly alligned/ And I have to speculate/ that God himself did make us into corresponding shapes/ like puzzle pieces from the clay"

Sounds Like: Heartbreakingly sparse guitar meets deep whispery vocals that hit all the right notes.

It's not even Sam Beam's (the man behind Iron & Wine) song but it's the perfect fit. It's a remake of the Postal Service song and appeared on the same disc and ended up blowing the original out of the water. It's the equivalent of Johnny Cash taking NIN's "Hurt" and owning it; Sam does the same. It has a soft, aching feel that emphasizes the beautiful (though slightly cheesy) writing. Sam has a ton of other good songs but this one just seems to be one I keep coming back to and listening to over and over again.

3. Josh Ritter - Girl in the War - The Animal Years (2006)

Lyrical snippet: "You gotta rock yourself a little harder/ Pretend the dove above is a dragon and your feet are on fire"

Sounds like: Anti-war protest song mixed with biblical and romantic imagery

What the heck is this song about? Is it about the guy who has a girl in the war who has "eyes like champagne" and who he wants back? Who are these Pete and Paul guys who are talking back and forth to each other? Who is the dove above and why does we need to pretend he's a dragon?

Can't say I am sure but I love this song! I see it as a call to action: from the beginning where the biblical "rules" are the firs to go to the call to "rock yourself a little harder" it seems to call for action rather than simple faith, and I dig that. Besides, who wants lyrics that simply tell you what the message is. Beyond the lyrics the music is simple yet elegant, it seems more like a love song than a protest chant.

4. Sufjan Stevens - You are the Blood - Dark was the Night (2009)

Lyrical snippet: "You are electricity and you're light/ You are sound itself and you are flight"

Sounds like: Pure, unadultered epicness.

I know, when I started I thought to myself that I wasn't going to put two tracks from one artist on the list but I couldn't help it. In fact, I struggled to not put more of my Sufjan favorites on the list! But this one is different from the others. First, it's new. Sufjan hasn't released a regular full-length album since Illisnoise in 2005. This song off the "multiple artists" album is the newest release from him. It's also different in that there's not many lyrics - it's mostly music.

And it's the music that brings it to this list. It's an epic 10 minutes and 14 seconds that soars and then drops, rises and then falls. It explodes in a cacophony of sound to work down to the bare piano. It mixes folk, indie pop and symphony music with a background electronica beat. Every time you listen to it something else comes out. It's brand new so it hasn't stood the test of time that the others on the list have but I'm just digging it so much right now that it had to make the list - It's brilliant.

5. U2 - Yahweh - How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb (2004)

Lyrical snippet: "Take these hands, teach them what to carry/ Take these hands, don't make a fist/ Take this mouth so quick to criticize/ Take this mouth, give it a kiss/ Yahweh, Yahweh/ Always pain before a child is born/ Yahweh, Yahweh/ Still I'm waiting for the dawn"

Sounds like: A song all church worship teams should learn.

It's one of U2's most explicitly faith-based songs and normally I prefer a little more guesswork and artistry but, lucky for me there's that too. It's a call to action but it's also the call of a questioning soul who looks to the pain and the dark and asks 'Why?' with the knowledge that the answer is not there but will be revealed in due time - the pain before the child is born. We sang it at our past church in Victoria and I loved it because even though it's more explicit and didactic than most of what I listen to it still has nothing on your average church song!

6. Bright Eyes - Land Locked Blues - I'm Wide Awake It's Morning (2005)

Lyrical snippet: "And there's kids playing guns in the street/ And one's pointing his tree branch at me/ So I put my hands up and say/ "Enough is enough/ If you walk away I'll walk away/ (and he shot me dead)"

Sounds like: A long winded, rambling lament abou the state of the world.

I've been told you either love or hate Conor Oberst (the man behind Bright Eyes) and his slightly whining, wavering voice but I think I'm somewhere in the middle - though this song I love! It's the images that he pens that draw me. The image of kids playing and mimicking grown-ups, the image of what he calls a "televised war", playing "musical graves", etc... It's a protest song for GWB's "televised war" and a cry for some sense to made of the world. As Oberst states though, there's no sense to be made. I often feel that way and this song taps into that.

7. Wilco - Jesus, etc... - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

Lyrical snippet: "Tall buildings shake/ voices escape singing sad sad songs/ tuned to chords strung down your cheeks/ bitter melodies turning your world around"

Sounds like: Private musings penned at night while in a particularly introspective mood.

Another song that I don't or can't pin a particular meaning to but every time I hear it the images and words strike me. It's both sad and soft and speaks of longing to me. I can dig that. I guess you just have to hear it to understand...

8. Jeremy Fisher - Lay Down (The Ballad of Rigoberto Alpizar) - Goodbye Blue Monday (2007)

Lyrical snippet: "Let my eye be the jury and the judgement/ Let my gun be the one to set the score"

Sounds like: News report meets ballad.

Another song that tells a story, this time the one of Rigoberto Alpizar, a Costa Rican American who was shot down in Miami airport because security thought he had a bomb. Turns out he didn't. It's a bit of a protest song against the powers given to people to identify certain bodies as threats and has a more modern, practical tie-in in light of the recent taser death in the Vancouver airport. Ironic because is Jeremy Fisher lives in Vancouver and the song was released right before the Vancouver incident.

9. M. Ward - Sad, Sad Song - The Transfiguration of Vincent (2003)

Lyrical snippet: "Oh I went to the whale, I said killer whale please/ what do you do when your true love leaves?/ He said, I only have but one trick up my sleeve/ I sing [a sad song] over and over 'til she comes back to me"

Sounds like: A lilting, shuffling sad, sad song.

No real lyrical significance to this one but I love the shuffling groove that this song has. It follows a pattern as the singer asks various figures how to deal with losing his true love. It just progresses nicely, feels so sad and almost feels like a modern take on a sort of ancient chant.

10. Dave Barnes - Love in the Remains - Three then Four (2002)

Lyrical snippet: "I can't tell you how this hurts me so/ See, without you I'm half of me/ So with the same mouth I used to put you down/ I offer up this apology"

Sound like: A boy at home trying to say sorry with just his guitar and his raw emotion.

Just Dave and his guitar. Nothing else. Nothing too fancy here but I relate to the emotion, the realization that you screwed up and there's simply nothing you can say to make it right in that moment. Yet, there's love in the remains and the song ends saying "It takes two to rebuild". Yep, been there.

So that's my top ten songs released in the past 10 years. Honorable mention goes to:

Ryan Adams - Desire; Belle & Sebastian - The Blues are Still Blue; Monsters of Folk - Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.); and at least a half dozen other Sufjan songs.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top 10 of the past 10: Moments

Since it is nearing the official end of the decade (2000-2009) and since I am a bit of a geek and like compiling lists and stats (and since I still have one paper due and am looking for ways to waste time), I have decided that over the course of the next few weeks I will post some Top 10 of the Past 10 lists. It's a great way to remember and a great way to sum up what was a crazy decade for me!

So, without further adieu,
The Top 10 Best Moments of the Past 10 Years

1. My wedding day (Nov. 12, 2005) – Pretty hard to top this, especially in light of its life-changing effects. A rather brisk November day greeted us and made pictures outside a little chilling. My bride looked stunning walking down the aisle as she tried to hold it all together (she didn't). We had a small celebration with friends and family and then I got to take my new wife out for the fanciest dinner we have ever had and to the most awesome B&B we’ve ever stayed at. Awesome.

2. Daija is born (Nov. 10, 2008) – Pretty life-changing as well! I remember how nervous I was as contractions started, how calm Nolana was at home dealing with them, the late night trip to the hospital, the craziness and fatigue of labor and then the absolute overwhelming of emotion as Daija came out. Awesome.

3. I get accepted into UofT master’s program (March 2009) – After a few attempts at applying for another degree I decided I needed to go back and re-take some undergrad courses to boost my marks and experience. This was THE shot at doing what I wanted and I was pretty nervous as people kept asking if I had heard. When the letter finally came I was on Cloud Nine.

4. We arrive in Ethiopia (August 2007) – It was night, the airport was small. We were met and trundled into a pick-up which promptly dove into the night and the massively pot-holed roads. I thought for sure we were in the countryside but it was the middle of the city. A lady begged on the deserted midnight streets. We arrived at a small hotel, finding out we actually didn’t have a home yet. It was quite the start to what was the best adventure of our lives.

5. Scuba diving in Sipidan, Malaysia (July 2007) – I managed to get a one-day dive pass to this world famous dive park and it was worth it when I dropped down and was instantly surrounded by massive schools of fish coloured every shade of the rainbow, swam parallel with sharks, and had massive sea turtles sail above me. Best. Dive. Ever.

6. Christmas scooter ride and sunset (Dec. 25, 2006) – We were on the remote Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc, only a few hotels and one small village on the island. We rented a scooter to navigate the red dirt roads and try and find some deserted beaches to relax and swim at. On the way back we caught the most amazing sunset we have ever seen. I am pretty sure it will not be beat in my lifetime. It was a great way to celebrate Christmas with the woman I love.

7. Baseball in Japan + free beer + monsoon = good times (July 2006) – We had gone to Hiroshima, Japan and were staying with friends of Nolana’s mom. The wife took us to a Japanese baseball game. It was an awesome experience. Perfect humid summer evening where everything glows and the sweat runs down your back. To counter the heat, our tickets included all you could drink light Japanese lager as well as a goodie bag of Japanese snacks such as dried squid. The crowd sang and chanted and cheered. We were minor celebrities and were interviewed for the team’s website (we had our pictures on the site the next week!). And then the muggy night turned into a monsoon that flooded the field and the concourse causing mayhem. It was awesome!

8. Roadtrip to Calgary with my ‘girlfriend’ (April 2005) – Nolana and I, only having been officially dating for a few months took a road trip together to Calgary where we both had family. We loved our time together and I think that was probably one of the points that helped us realize that we had something great. We visited my grandparent’s farm and her grandmother’s grave, met cousins, and on the way back stopped at an awesome hostel in the Okanagan, staying in a converted railway car, doing a sweat/sauna, canoeing the river... Awesome.

9. Graduating with my B.A. (April 2006) – 5 years after beginning I didn’t think I had it in me to finish, I was tired of school! Somehow I did it. To be done was sweet bliss. And now I’m back in school....

10. Catamaraning and snorkelling Boracay, Phillipines (Oct. 2006) – We had made it to what was called one of the world’s best beaches. We hired a catamaran for the afternoon to take us out sailing and snorkelling. It was so beautiful and so relaxing we did the exact same thing again the next day. Bliss.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's Just Not Christmas Without You Here

This has felt like quite an odd holiday season. We are used to being without family, being the last 2 Christmases in Korea and Ethiopia but we've realized that it's just different here in Toronto.

In Ethiopia and Korea there wasn't much Christmas celebration around so you didn't feel like you were missing out. In both places we had friends who were in the same family-less state and wanted to spend Christmas with you. We didn't have Daija.

So this Christmas has felt somewhat barren and we've missed having our families close by to spend time with - like, really missed them. But we've tried to do a few things so far with Daija to make some of our own traditions and make it feel a little more like Christmas. Here they are:

Last year all Daija could do was watch as we decorated the tree. This year she got to help!

Mommy helped Daija set up Daija set up the Swedish angel chimes.

Daija helped Daddy put snowman stickers on the window.

Daija had friends bring her presents even! Our friends Rob and Julie came over and brought her a stuffed cat which she has really taken to and cuddles and sleeps with (though the wrapping was the best part of opening it!)

And Daija took time out of her busy schedule to stop and cuddle and share family time with Mommy and Daddy, which is probably one of the best parts about Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Islam and Franklin Graham

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Exhale.

First off, I have to say that I have the utmost respect for Billy Graham, I perceive him to be a Christian leader who was uncompromising in his love and faith for Christ. Not only that but, despite being in the public eye, he maintained an unwavering stance of love and integrity.

As for his successor, his son Franklin, I have been mildly bemused as he takes on a post-911 stance on the US, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Islam. Today that bemusement turns to amazement at his ignorance. I hate to be so harsh but in all honesty that is the only thing I can attribute his recent statements to - ignorance.

This recent interview with CNN's Campbell Brown, in the first 4 minutes pointedly pushes him to define his stance on Islam as a religion and he doesn't waver - "I find Islam to be a very violent religion."

Let me break down the video by his main points.

1.) When asked if the war in Afghanistan is a religious war, Franklin stated: it is for them, but not for us. They see us as a Christian nation, that we are all Christians, it is a religious war for them but, of course not for us.

So Americans are much more open I guess. We can distinguish between a religion and say, a country; we can see the diversity that they can't. Which is probably why after 9/11 Sikhs in turbans got beat up. It's probably why one of the explicit images of the war is the 'freeing' of Muslim women from the hijab. Of course Americans view Iraq or Afghanistan as a Muslim nation! Franklin himself, in a later answer referred to Afghanistan and Iraq (as well as Saudi Arabia) as representing Islam... so does that mean you see them as a Muslim nation? Let's not kid ourselves, this war has many aims and they are all mixed up - economics, religion, politics, culture, imperialism....

2.) "True Islam cannot be practiced in this country (USA)." Why? "You can't beat your wife, you can't murder your children if you think they committed adultery". Brown aptly questions him on this - "And that is true Islam for you?"

'True' Islam is beating your wife and killing your kids? This is the kind of sensationalist images that the American media has been feeding to the American public and Franklin picks it up and touts it as if it is true, he says "If you study Islam" you see this is true! This is the equivalent of saying that 'true' Christianity is assassinating abortion providers (which some do) and supporting Jewish extermination (which some did/do).

So how does Franklin prove that Islam is an "evil religion"?

3.) "When you see countries living under Shari'a law, trust me Campbell, girl, you don't want to live there." (I'll even pass up slamming his condenscending sexist language... alright, so maybe I just did that...)

Franklin points to Saudi Arabia and later Southern Sudan as examples of the killing and murder that goes on under the name of Islam. When Brown pushes him in saying, "Well not all Muslims practice to such extremes", Franklin glibly replies "Well, they all want to get out... but if you're Muslim you cannot change."

First, Sudan is probably the worst example he could have picked of "Islamic murder" for these reasons: The 2 million Christians he quoted murdered in Southern Sudan, most of them are 'Christian' only in location, in that by residing in the South the West perceives of them as Christian, when in reality most of them are "animist" or practising indigenous religions; secondly, they killing in the South, much like the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, is motivated by much more than religion. In fact it has way more to do with "divide-and-rule" tactics implemented under British colonialism, resources and economics, and how to get part of the international aid that is coming in.

Second, and more serious is the idea that countries under Shari'a law represent true religion. When religion and politics are mixed, the resulting ideologies can hardly be claimed to represent the true religion. Christianity has its own striking examples in Munster during the Reformation when Anabaptism when political and created a city where those who resisted were killed, the 'godless' were thrown out or killed, and polygamy was enforced because too many women seemed to be "wearing the trousers". Or look to Calvin in Geneva who hoped to create the perfect Christian city by burning heretics and creating a police state. Is that true Christianity?

Neither Saudi Arabia or Shari'a can claim to represent Islam and those who look to them as "true Islam" are those who refuse to study beyond the images that are portrayed in the Western press, images of the bomb carrying Jihadist, images of the veiled wife who gets beaten at home for wearing lipstick. This is not true Islam.

As for the "they can't change" and "all moderate Muslims want out" comments, I won't go on. As a Christian, I understand how frustrating it is to me when Christianity is mis-represented or when its more unsavoury aspects are highlighted as "true Christianity". Why should it by any different for Islam? For a Christian leader to distort, stereotype and be generally ignorant about the world about him (despite his claim that he's worked in Muslim countries for 50yrs which would have made him 7 years old when he started....), this is not the Christianity that I strive for or that I wish was represented in the media. It's not the kind of Christianity that seeks to bring love and peace.

For those who might be interested in actually doing some study into the religion of Islam I recommend an excellent introduction called "No God but God" by Reza Aslan.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

(Not So) Subtle Ironies in the News

A closed meeting on openness.

A Nobel peace prize winner who sends more troops to war to fight for peace

The media and public focus on Tiger Woods and his sexual life while largely ignoring a bill in Uganda that would sentence homosexuals to life in prison or death - even if they don't live in Uganda.

The Ugandan bill has drawn the condemnation of a few "Left leaning" American Christian leaders and a puzzling non-response from a well-known "Right leaning" American Christian leader...

Black South Africans may have gained political equality in their country (you may have heard about this) but they still don't have economic equality with the per capita for Blacks being 32 599 rand, while the per capita for whites in SA is 135 707 rand (you won't hear about this).

Though, when I stop and think about, not much of this really comes as any big surprise.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

For the first time in 162 years, this November in Toronto was snow-free. Seriously, it's been that long.

Today, the first flakes started to slowly float down and I joyously ran outside. It's especially joyous because the temperature is still a degree above zero! We've had a balmy winter (for Toronto) and are thankful for the gentle re-introduction to what real winter feels like, but now.... let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

On a side note, why I was likely so eager to run outside was the fact that I have been cocooned in my office working on final papers for what already seems like forever. It's nice to see a finished product come together (at least for some of them) but I'm ready for a break!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Career Training

When I am done this master's degree I hope that my new credentials will lead to some sort of career beyond serving coffee at Starbucks or checking baggage with WestJet (though those two do seem to be some pretty swell jobs!) Just in case it doesn't work out for me, I've realized that being a parent has uniquely qualified me for a few more jobs I had never thought of.

Hair dresser

Lifeguard - I watch my child in the bath!

Quality control caller for Bell, Rogers, or any major bank - I now have the patience of a saint!

Party clown


Hopefully this master's thing works out for me!