Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fantasy Football: Thou Shall Football wins big!

If any of you have played in a fantasy football league then you would know just how unpredictable it can be. You can draft perfectly, and dominate your league, and still, in the end, lose badly to a team like mine.

That's what happened this year. In the annual Lao Wai Fantasy Football League I had never made the playoffs until this year. My team slipped into the playoffs and ended up winning 3 in a row to clinch the Championship! In a league that's been running for 8 or 9 years, it feels pretty, pretty, pretty good. But how did I get there? What brilliant move did I make during the season to end up on top?

It all started sometime back in September at the draft. I picked Jamal Charles, running back for the KC Chiefs. Well, within a game or two, Mr. Charles hurt his leg and missed the rest of the season. When you lose your first round pick in the first week, it can make you very frustrated. I felt frustrated, but not really surprised. The whole set up is luck. This year, I had a truck load of luck on my side. Or, if I were Tebow, then maybe it was God, but then again, I think that no matter what you believe, God always cheers for the underdog. So, maybe I had luck AND God on my side.

Anyways, the rest of the season when on and I managed to get lucky by having Reggie Bush on my team. He had never been good, or even worth having on your team, until this year. He ran for over 1000 yards for the first time this year on a crappy Dolphins team.

The other thing I had going for me was Matthew Stafford. He had a break out year and, when his team was fighting for a playoff spot in the last few weeks, he was at his best.

Other than those two, I had a great kicker in the 49er's Akers. In the Championship game he kicked a bunch of field goals and finished with 16 points. Aside from those 3, I really had nothing. Desean Jackson had his worst year, Steven Jackson played okay on a horrible team. All of my Jets underachieved. I mean, Dexter McCluster was on my starting roster.

That's all I had to work with.

The key to winning in the playoffs was to have the other teams suck while they played my team. This is very difficult to do. Of the 3 teams I played in the playoffs, their average score was 63 points. That is awful. One of the teams scored 54 points on me, and then the next week in a consolation game scored 142!

My average score in the 3 games was a decent 101. Though, with my team, scoring 101 is an amazing accomplishment.

All that to say that it feels pretty good to win. Though, winning the fantasy baseball league would mean much more to me since it involves more skill and strategy than football. We shall see.

Anyways, with the risk of sounding already too boring and uninteresting, I will leave you here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Music to listen to when you're sad and want to stay there.

About a year ago, we awoke to find Jonas asleep like this.

Not sure what happened to him that night, but all I know is that he's over it now.

I read recently about a woman who suffered from depression. Through all of the talk of dealing and working through it there was one thing in particular that caught my attention. The woman said that, at times, your depression is the thing that you rely upon to help you through it. It's weird to think about the thing that has a hold of you is the very thing that can help you break free.

I think that there is some truth to this. I've had my bouts of depression. I think that at times, and very many different reasons, being depressed can act as comfort for you in a time of crisis. I think that most of the time, this is a dangerous thing. But in some cases, what I have found is that being alone can be a good thing for your soul.

Whether it's listening to sad music or watching a sad movie, sometimes it is necessary to walk a desolate way through 'the winters' of our lives. I also understand that there is a difference between being sad and being depressed. I just feel that there are a lot of times when it's tough to tell them apart.

Now that Christmas is over and all of the presents are opened, it's freezing cold outside, and you've gained weight from eating all of the joy, have a little cry if you'd like. Or better yet, share your sorrow with a loved one and wallow in it together.

The following are songs to listen to when you're sad and want to stay there. Let's all have a good cry and wallow in each of our own self-pities. What color is yours? Mine's blue.

Ben Folds - Late

I heard someone mention this song when the Oilers lost game 7 in 2006. Never had there been a more accurate song reference for the Oilers of those days.

*I left Elliott Smith off of this list on purpose.

Bob Dylan - The lonesome death of Hattie Carroll

Poor Hattie Carroll was brutally murdered by a rich man. No justice, no compensation. Just Bobby singing this song for her.

Dan Mangan - Jeopardy

This Dan Mangan one is at the top of my list.

Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism

I used to listen to this song a lot. It's a nice song to walk around town to. The line 'I need you so much closer' was a lyric that my heart would sing out to everyone I missed back in Canada.

Faunts - It Hurts me all the time

Guggenheim Grotto - Port Marnock Beach Boy Blue

Nick Drake - Way to Blue

I saw a documentary about Nick Drake and how he died. It was pretty sad. The film was beautiful, but the story was sad.

Ryan Adams - I taught myself how to grow

Samamidon - Saro

Samamidon - Tribulation

Samamidon has some nice little songs. Simple guitar and a sweet, crumpled voice.

Sufjan Stevens - John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

Sun Kil Moon - Ocean Breathes Salty

Modest Mouse plays this song so well that you can't even tell that the lyrics are so very sad. Sun Kil Moon reminds us all that they really are.

Tom Waits - Time

Tori Amos - Smells Like Teen Spirit

Uncle Tupelo - Black Eye

Weezer - The World has turned and left me here.

The Who - Behind Blue Eyes

This song goes along with the movie Donnie Darko.

Wilco - At least that's what you said

This could be my favorite song. It mixes up my feelings. This video rules all videos and is working on expanding it's reign into other spheres of influence.


Sometimes the worst thing a person can do for you is try to make you feel better. I've heard that it's good to just sit with someone, or to listen to things that they might have to say. There's a lot to be said to a beating heart when another one enters the room. Another thing that people might like you to do is to play some sad music for them. It's a good way to say, "I know" without saying it.

And finally.................

Fear not!... I will follow this up with songs to listen to when you've been sad for long enough and need to snap out of it. I mean, gosh, it's Boxing Day!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Time is Here

Happiness and cheer.

Here in China, they celebrate Christmas by getting ready for Chinese New Year. A few places sell crappy Christmas decorations, but along with the Christmas stuff they get a jump on the Chinese holidays by selling all kinds of red things to tape and strap to your doors, walls, and cars.

Outside the ground is brown. And, I am pretty sure that Santa's not going to make it past Chinese border security this evening. Around town, there is very little evidence that Christmas is upon us.

Even though there is no snow, it's nice to not be overrun with commercialism; at least not the 'Christmas' kind. After 4 or 5 of these, I'm actually having a good time spending Christmas in China with a small group of friends. We eat and drink and laugh and it's all just a great time.

Blessed Christmas to all of you! I pray that all of you have loved ones to eat, drink, and laugh with as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Health Check in China Pt.9

Yup, that's me up there on the gurney. 2 gun shots to the sternum. But you should see the other guy! I also have a belly button.

Actually, that's me getting a quick ECG scan at the health check office here in Xining. It's probably the 8th or 9th health check I've had in this city. It continues to be one of the weirdest things about living here in China.

Before getting started, we need to go to the cashier to pay for the tests. The total price per person is 227 yuan, or about 37 Canadian dollars.

The whole process flows pretty smoothly. If it's not busy, you can be in and out within an hour. The first place they take you is to get your blood drawn. Instead of a private room, it is a room where anyone can gather and wait to get their blood drawn. They all stand around the table with their sleeves pulled up past their elbows and they watch your hairy Canadian arm get jabbed at by a poor health worker who probably stands there drawing blood nonstop for 3 or 4 hours before her lunch break.

I hate getting my blood drawn, so this is always the worst part for me. I am glad to get it out of the way at the beginning. I am also careful to make sure that the poor overworked lady, with a dozen people by the table distracting her, doesn't make a mistake and stick me with a dirty needle. That would be a tough way to go.

After this, a quick chest X-ray. Not too bad. Then we move upstairs to measure blood pressure. You stick your arm (the one with the blood still drying) into the automatic machine and let it do it's thing. Height, weight, no big deal. Other people were there getting ultrasounds and lung capacity tests, but for us we just had to move on to the ECG before leaving.

I'm not really sure what an ECG is, but the test for it sure is weird. Basically, the health worker rubs iodine on your extremities and just below your nipples. Then, she puts a bunch of suction cups on your body. They quickly unstick because of my chest hair so, for an awkward moment, the worker must hold them on my chest with her hands. Anytime a stranger is holding suction cups on your iodine lubed nipples, you know that it's going to be a little awkward.

After that, we head down to the office with the forms and we can pick up the results the next day.

It's one of those experiences here that I actually look forward to with fondness. With so many little, annoying culture things to deal with every single day, for some reason, the health check is still very funny to me. Just as funny as this random poster of 'American Beauty' they have hanging on the wall. She has a belly button, too!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Oldish Married Couple

Today marks 10 years since the first day that I was married to the lovely 18 year old Barbara Mae Gitzel.

It's pretty funny to think that we got married so early on in life. I guess it's true that it could have been a disaster, just like a lot of other marriages that start out so young in life. In my mind, the way things have gone, it could not have worked out better.

I am very thankful that we celebrate 10 years this year and not, lets say, 4 or 5 years. Something happened 11 years ago when I met Barbara. We had a lot of time to spend together that summer; learning about each other and trying to figure out what we were going to do with our lives. The more we learned about each other, the more we realized that it would be a pretty good idea to figure it all out together.

Out of our 15 months of dating, 9 were spent apart. It was a weird thing to do. We wrote letters to each other and mailed videos to each other documenting our lives apart; the sorrow of distance and all of the drama of a couple of kids in love. We'd used phone cards to talk to each other, often 4 timezones apart. In the dark, cold lonely Montreal nights I would talk to Barbara on the phone. The sound of the birds and sunshine in the background would bleed through the phone from Honolulu. I could actually hear the sunshine. It was like Barbara was calling from Heaven.

We grew close during that time. We wrote our feelings down and we talked about them as well. It's hard to make-out over the phone, so we were left with simple conversation.

Then, when we finally got back together and Ron gave me the thumbs up, I proposed and we were married 4 months later. It takes a lot of trust to give away your 18 year old daughter to a 20 year old guy. I am very thankful for that trust and that it grew into a wonderful relationship that I now share with Barbara's family. I could not have asked for my in-laws to be kinder and more loving than they are to us.

We've been to a lot of places together and we've been in China for a long time now. All the while still uncertain about those dreams and plans we had originally agreed to figure out together.

We've got 2 kids. We took our time. All of the planning and deciding of our boy Miles seemed to be a carefully thought out process. It seemed to be the smart way to do things, to plan ahead. Well, Jonas was an accident. We were not planning to have another one. A happy accident, indeed! I only have the one instance as an example, but I would say that I could not imagine a situation where I would not be ecstatic about having a "surprise" baby. After Jonas I realized that all of the planning ahead and carefully thought out ideas didn't really matter. Kids are truly a gift that cannot be measured, no matter where or how or why they show up.

It's been a fun decade. We survived listening to ska and punk music. We evolved through all of the weird fashions and phases of youth. Now we are both quickly settling into the idea of being in our 30's. I know that I would not have been to the places I've been and I would not have known all of the beautiful people that I know if it wasn't for joining my life together with hers.

And now, here we are, seemingly on the brink of something that might fit into the plans that we dreamed of in 2000. I am sure that no matter what happens here in China and no matter what sort of security and certainties we arrive at in the future, we will always have mystery and wonder to walk through together. I am very thankful that Barbara understands me and knows me. In life, you don't get a lot of opportunities for people to know you, I mean really know you. I am thankful.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lame NBA and mamed NHL

Well, it finally happened. The NBA is back for another boring, yet thankfully shortened season.

This month is a special month in the Association where players from all over the league complain about their current situation and demand to be traded. Any sort of allegiance that remains for any of the players in this league gets wiped out faster than Doc can say "Great Scott!".

A couple examples...

All around nice guy Chancey Billups was released by the Knicks last week. Upon his release he stated a warning that any team that picks him up off of waivers will have to deal with a hold out and a lot of complaining. He said that he was sick of being the nice guy and that he wanted to have a say in where he was going to play. A day later, he was picked up by the Clippers. He is expected to report to practice on Monday. I guess he was just blowing smoke.

Then you have Chris Paul. To no fault of his own he gets traded to the Lakers. Then, the league says that the deal is not good enough, so they veto the trade. Then, a week later, he gets traded to the Clippers. It's weird stuff having the commissioner of the league say what a fair trade should look like. Apparently, the league owns Paul's former tea...



I will say that a lot of players say that they feel "disrespected" by teams that either trade or release them. These players include Billups and former Laker Lamar Odom. The thing to remember when whiny millionaires complain about being disrespected is that, just maybe, the fans that pay to watch the games might feel a little disrespected by not being able to watch the games because of the rich players and rich owners arguing about who is being disrespected.

Because of the now present risk of sounding like I care about all of this, I will now stop talking about it.

On to a sport I care about. The NHL is a mess, but for completely different reasons. Their leading scorer is out with a concussion. Their best player is out (again) with a concussion. Every other night someone is getting concussed. This is a mess. Are there more concussions happening now or do there just seem to be more because we are looking out for them now?

I'm glad that they are taking this seriously, after such a horrible off season of players dying of a lot of crazy reasons, one of which is related to concussions. It also seems that there are still a lot of players that don't care at all about other players well being. There are a lot of dirty hits still happening in the league, even though the league is suspending the culprits left, right and center.

At the same time, there are still a bunch of loser hockey players playing the game as if it were a soccer match. Flopping, diving, whining, and biting should not be apart of the game. I dream of a day when players respect the game and their fellow players by playing the game hard, tough and clean.

If the illegalities keep going down this road, I think that we really need to be worried that someone is going to die out on the ice. I am serious about that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Country Drive on Film: the way that we bonded, the way we became friends.

The cold, Canadian winter settles into existence. But fear not!... I have...

Maxima; the ginger ale of the Nissan family.

I hop in and melt the leather seat. It only takes a few moments for me to gain the feeling back in my jeans.

The grid of the country, like tiles on a cold kitchen floor, carries me back towards the city.

The white banks of snow keep the road clear, but for the swirling that rolls in through mailbox stands. The tires crunch and we both laugh as we roll over top of the pathetic drifts.

The windshield is smudged, but the fluid is still warming in it's little tub next to the engine. I wait and drive slower than I'd like. There is tension between us. Like a confused camera, I have trouble focusing. I adjust as my vision bleeds through to the road. The cold air from the heater continues to stream through to my hands. The tension builds.

In the West, the sun is curled up like a cat. The warmth soothes the side of my face. I turn a little for it to touch both cheeks and my red little nose. My pink, raw hands held up to it like a campfire.

As a row of trees interrupts the warmth, the sun flickers through like an old film. The smudges persist and at the end of the previews I switch on a swipe of the wipers. The blue juice squeaks on the lens and we're in focus now for the feature. I smile, look down, and pat the wheel like a puppy. The heater changes it's tune, warming my achy bones.

As the sun flickers on, I look to the East and watch as the shadows traipse on the snowy screen. The cattle and horses of the fields do their part as the extras, though every character is just as important as the next. They all play a part in telling the story.

The Nissan. The Beast. The hero, roaring through battle. It's shadow dark and mysterious, but on my side. You see, It is I at the controls! The Beast does my bidding. Busting through the animals and trees, the shadow makes it's escape towards the city.

We turn East and the scene shifts. The curled up cat is now at our back. The Nissan crawls further into danger. Far worse than the animals and trees of the previous act, our nemesis is now the long road stretching on and on.

Unlike before, this battle is in the mind. The shadow of our hero races forth, seemingly without resistance. Ah, but you see, it is a trap! The shadow is unaware that I, the puppet behind the curtain, am bored to death of this stretch of road and prone to falling asleep.

Slowly, the drug sets in and we downfall towards the drifts. We drift towards our downfall. In a last ditch effort, the Nissan breaks the heater. The noise blasts through, into the belly of The Beast. I come to, gripping the wheel for my life. Sliding back onto the road, we survive.

Stunned and shaken, with a sexy scar on my cheek and my wardrobe tousled like Keanu's, I pull over at the first possible chance. In a move of humble appreciation, I pop the hood and toss handfuls of snow on the engine. It sizzles like Burger King.

I slip back inside and The Beast kicks the heater back on. The engine humming like an old man, I know we are on the same page now. I click the clicker, The Beast rolls out, and together we march on into the sunset, so to speak.

Friday, December 9, 2011

There and back again

Here is a run down of our trip from Edmonton to Xining.

It all started on Tuesday morning. It was 530am in Edmonton, on December 6th no less, yet it smelled melty outside. I was sure that it was going to be a nice day in Edmonton but we weren't going to be there for it.

We checked in at 630. I've tried checking in with the "self check-in" machine about 76 times now and it's worked once. I remember that day. On this day, it did not work. As I usually do, I worried that our bags would be overweight and we'd have to pay. Well, for some blessed reason the lady did not weigh our bags. She just told me to toss them on the belt.

7am now and plenty of time for some breakfast at Harvey's. I didn't want to challenge my stomach to that kind of thing this early in the trip so I just shared Miles' peanut butter sandwich. Soon after, we hugged the grandpa and grandma McClelland and headed for security. I reminded Barbara to take the toothpaste out of her bag because it is illegal to carry toothpaste on the flight. As the sign says, " Some things just aren't meant to fly."

Around 8ish we hang out at the gate. A lady recognizes Miles' Nakamun shirt and we find out that her daughter worked there in the Summer.

We fly to Vancouver. Flying to Vancouver is super easy. It's actually easier to fly to Vancouver than it is to drive out to Camp or Stony Plain with the kids. The in-flight TVs keep Miles and Jonas' attention the whole time. We even get ginger ale and pretzels.

In Vancouver, we meet up with Bryce and Krista and the kids for some Timbits. The girls chat while Bryce and I watch the boys. Miles and Jonas found there way into climbing in between two rows of carts. Jonas cries. I pace over and try to pull him out. I notice a couple of airport workers sympathetically laughing in our direction. I discover that Jonas' pants got caught on the cart and exposed his blue and green underwear. He cried more. I apologized.

At 1155am we get on the plane to Shang Hai. Once again, it was a pretty smooth trip. Miles watched way too much TV, but I allow it on airplanes so that I don't lose my sanity. I watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles and I also watch Horrible Bosses. The former is a classic that I always enjoy. I love John Candy. The latter was funny, but way too crude for even a laid back guy such as me.

Our flight attendant friend was on board for the flight. She took good care of us. We got 4 blankets, 2 helicopter toys, 2 coloring books, 6 full cans of ginger ale and a cheese plate from first class. Thanks, Grace!

We arrive in Shang Hai around 6pm on Wednesday night. So, we skipped a day in there. I try not to think about it too much; makes the jet lag more tolerable. We arrive at the hostel that we stayed at when we left China 2 months earlier. They are glad to see us. I go out to buy food for the train ride and come back and we all sleep.

7am on Thursday. We lug our luggage outside and wait for a taxi. After 20 minutes, I worry. Finally, a guy pulls up and we make it to the train station at about the right time. We get on the train at 846am and then the real trip begins.

Around 9am the boys get bored. They run around the car. Barbara and I are sick from breathing in the airplane air for 12 hours and we spend most of the time fighting off head colds and telling the boys to be quiet.

Eat some instant noodles. I realize that I did not buy enough food. We starve for most of the trip. You can only eat so many packs of instant noodles.

The boys make friends with a lady who lets them play Angry Birds on her iPad.


More noodles.

I am making my way through Deathly Hallows. It is so good that I want to pace myself.

We sleep pretty well in the night.

We eat noodles for breakfast.

I decide to tell the boys some stories. "There once was 2 little muggle boys named Miles and Jonas... They were walking in the snow when they heard their favorite Christmas song Jingle Bell Rock coming from a store... They went in and saw a giant Santa made out of chocolate..."

Later, Miles had his own story that started out like this, "There once were 2 muggles named Miles and Dad. Dad's real name was Brett..." It was a good story.

Finally, we spot someone selling fruit at a stop. I buy oranges and we eat. The first fruit or vegetable any of us had since the flight some 45 hours earlier.

At 5pm on Friday, 32 hours since we got on the train, we arrive in beautiful Xining. Our gorgeous friend Dustin is there to pick us up. After driving for 10 minutes we realize that the back hatch of the jeep is wide open. Thankfully, everything was still inside.

We get home around 6 and I go out to buy a ton of Chinese food for us to eat. Only here in China, it's just called food. The restaurant has one of those tall heaters that are so popular these days. It had an English label on it that said "for outdoor use only".

We eat, and eat some more. The boys run around the apartment. They get tired. They go to bed by 8. We are all asleep by 930.

Right now, it is 630am on Saturday. I got up a couple of hours ago but the boys are still asleep. Barbara is quietly organizing stuff in the bedroom. I love my family. I don't really like traveling that much. I love my family.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hugo: I am more than an automaton

Well, we fell for it. All of the talk about the film Hugo got to us and we had to go check it out for ourselves.

James Cameron saw it and said it was the best 3D movie to date, including Avatar. IMDB has it at 8.7/10 stars. Martin Scorcese directed it, so that's a plus. Barbara has a crush on Jude Law, so I didn't have to ask her twice. Reviews and critics hailing it as "Outstanding" and "An instant Classic" were expected. Someone called it the "Filmmaking Achievement of the year" and "The clear front runner for Best Picture". All of this from a PG rated 3D movie? I had to check it out. So, on Wednesday night at 1010pm Barbara, myself, and 4 other people in the theatre took in Hugo.

As is usually the case, when something is hyped that much it more than likely turns into a giant let down. The 3D was cool in some situations, like the opening scene at the train station, and it was annoying in other situations, like when the characters are standing around talking to each other, which happens a lot.

I've seen some real crap 3D. The Last Airbender was crap, post-production-added 3D. Literally, the most frustrating and annoying thing I've ever seen on a screen. It gave me a headache and the only relief I had was when I fell asleep in the middle of it.

Then, on Wednesday, we had all of the previews to watch in 3D. Of course, the preview were pretty cool to see, except for the post added stuff, like the new 3D version of Star Wars: Episode 1. The 3D added to that movie looks like crap. Will it make a billion dollars? You bet, but just when you think that they couldn't ruin Star Wars any further, they go out and find a way! It's really rather impressive, but also sad.

Side note. Someone said it best when they compared George Lucas' obsession over Star Wars to a sandwich he might have eaten back in the day. Here is the quote.

Anyways, the 3D in Hugo was pretty impressive, but I will say it again: watching a 2 hour movie in 3D, while wearing those glasses, is very distracting. Aside from the opening sequence I would have liked to watch Hugo without the 3D.

Driving home, Barbara and I discussed the film. The story was cool. The visuals were amazing. Sacha Baron Cohen was funny, but not too funny, which was perfect.

The problem was that the character's weren't developed enough. The movie seemed to flip flop back and forth between focusing on Hugo and Georges Melies. That was fine, until the end when it all ended up being about Georges Melies. I wasn't satisfied with how they ended it with Hugo. And, as it turned out, I didn't really care about him or George or anyone else for that matter. Well, I cared about George because they focused on him in the end. The problem was that there was too much going on for them to go deep in any area. This problem usually stems from the difficulty of turning a book into a movie. That is the case here.

I'm not talking about the whole "the book was better than the movie" argument. I've never read the book in this case, but I could tell that it was a book. All of the character development and detail of the book is squeezed out onto the screen in 2 hours. In order to have the movie make any sense they must follow the story. Working that way, the story is heavily leaned upon and the other areas of storytelling, character and theme, are to a certain extent ignored.

As far as Hugo goes, the theme was there but character development was ignored. The story was there but the emotions seemed hurried.

It almost makes me want to avoid film adaptations from books altogether.

Everybody!: "It almost makes me want to avoid film adaptations from books."

In the end, I will say that I am probably being too hard on little Hugo. It was an entertaining movie. I liked that about it. I liked the 3D in it better than Avatar even though Avatar had more movement and action in it. It was nice to see good 3D go along with a good story.

However, I am a human being and humans are emotional. I wanted to care about all of the characters in the end, not just Ben Kingsley. Because of the lack of character development, I went home unfulfilled. All of the glamour of 3D and all I wanted was a little bit of a connection.