Posted in i can't help but pull focus

where’s my crystal ball?

So, it's been over a year since we've moved to Saudi Arabia for Chris's new job, and it's becoming obvious that as much as this place runs on oil, it's powered just as much by rumours. Of course, one of those rumours is, "The company is going to send all of the expats home because look at the price of oil!" And, of course, so many other companies in the industry have cut their staffing levels. At least half of my friends who were overseas have been sent home. We can't help but feel like this company is going to announce something any minute, and this feeling has been lingering for at least the last four months!

Chris doesn't like living with this sort of uncertainty and copes a little by keeping an eye on real estate listings back in our hometown in Canada, just in case we have to buy a house in a hurry or whatnot. He also has a few notions of what he'd like to do, career-wise.

Sometimes he asks me what my plans are. 

Which is interesting, because for as long as I can remember now, I've slotted my volunteering/work/continuing education  into whatever space was left after he and the kids had their routines established. And if we move back to Canada this year, I'd face no such restrictions. I won't have the expectation of running the household on me alone, I won't have to worry about not having a work permit. I'm not used to imagining a version of my future after moving somewhere looking any different than it has all the other times, but this time it would be different, and it's taken me many weeks to shake that and figure out what I'd like to do with myself. But here they are, current as of today:

  • Start work on a MLIS and work in a library system. This has been on my radar screen for nearly a decade, and while I wasn't too comfortable about the future outlook back them, I'm okay with it now. Despite the growth of  digital media, this is an exciting time for the written word.
  • Yarn shop. I don't have to explain why this would be perfect!
  • Food prep for catering. The order and repetitiveness of churning out hundreds of identical hors d’oeuvres or tiny vessels of kale and kumquat sorbet actually fits into my definition of "fun" …
  • Editing, but I'm worried that there would be too many years back in post-secondary for me to pursue this to make it a practical choice. But I can still dream of playing with other peoples' words …
  • Interior design for retail spaces. Though I am already a whiz at putting together IKEA furniture, I need to read more about the necessary credentials. 
  • School-based social work
  • Garden centre. Maybe the spring weather and beds of petunias that are everywhere on the main compound have been brainwashing me a lot recently, but this type of work is really appealing right now.

I love photography, but I think I'll keep that firmly in the "hobby" category. 




Posted in i can't help but pull focus

Is it October Yet? Or: Pop culture monsters and me.

I was listening to an old Halloween-oriented episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour this week, and the theme that the panel was discussing was "pop culture that scares you". And while I heartily agree with Glen Wheldon that there is something inexplicably disturbing about Bing Crosby's Sleepy Hollow Song, what I would have discussed if I had been invited to sit in with the gang is my fear of creepy things of the monster/alien/mascot persuasion.

It might have all started when I was five year old and in kindergarten, when my mom asked me if I wanted to "stay up past my bedtime" (of course I did!) and "go see a movie!" (yippee!). So my mom, ever the fan of science fiction, took me not to see E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. I liked the part with the Reese's Pieces, sure, but after seeing this movie, I was pretty convinced that there had to be E.T. living behind the furnace in our basement (thus, it was dangerous to walk past it to get to the washing machine), or E.T. living behind the chest freezer in the basement (thus, it was dangerous to even go down the stairs to the basement), or the might even be E.T. hiding amongst my toys in the basement. That last one seemed like it was the biggest betrayal of them all. 

Before you laugh, remember that I was only five years-old!

But my fears did not end there. My dreams were largely populated by vampires and invisible ghosts that would lure me away from my family with levitating phantom ice cream cones and chocolate bars, only to snatch me up and … well, I don't know what come after the "and …" because that's when I'd wake up from my nightmares. 

The worst offender of all, even worse then E.T., was the A&W Root Bear. I would lay awake for hours after being tucked in for the night, imagining that I could hear the Root Bear coming to kidnap me, each sinister step punctuated with his "ba-dum ba-dum" tuba theme music. I was terrified of this fast-food chain mascot like nothing else. I don't know why. 

I had a healthy distrust of anyone wearing similar mascot costumes like that for many years. Even Mickey. Even Fred Flintstone before Bedrock City in Kelowna closed down. To be honest, I'm still a little suspicious.


Posted in i can't help but pull focus

best of 2012*: things that made me happy

* Not an exhaustive list.

What I spent a lot of time doing in 2012, aside from healing broken parts of bones in my left leg, was reading. I read a lot. I actually read a lot of YA, and I'm not ashamed to say that I've enjoyed reading YA more than I have adult fiction. I live with adult problems, after all, so why do I need to read about them? 

The first book that I read in 2012 was Dash & Lily's Book of Dares (so charming and wonderful and NYC at Christmas!). This led me to Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which got the whole John Green snowball rolling. I read everything with his name on it (including some obscure/neglected Kindle singles), and it turns out that I love Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars as much as everyone else seems to (maybe a little bit more?). And then I went back to the other author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson and read Boy Meets Boy (deconstructed fairytale-ish) and Every Day (AU) by David Levithan. Both were fantastic and took awhile to leave my imagination. 

I can't write about my favourite books of 2012 without mentioning Code Name Verity (finally, a grown-up book!), which probably was the most gripping novel that I read. I loved that the protagonists were awesome and intelligent women who were devoted friends instead of written to compete with each other, I loved that one of the characters was a pilot, I loved that it was set during WWII, I loved the epistolary element, and I loved the complicated and clever way that the author unfolded the mystery. 

And honorable mention to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I haven't seen the film, but the book was perfectly complicated and engaging. I liked the mulitiple narrators. 

Non-fiction-wise, I adored Mickey Rapkin's Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory  (which is nothing like the movie) and Bill Bryson's Shakespeare. I honestly think that one might be my favourite thing that Bill Bryson has written; the author basically starts off by explaining how history has left little factual information about William Shakespeare, but he still manages to write a few hundred pages 🙂

 My tv discovery of the year is a show that I wish I'd actually discovered a couple of years ago: Community. I do not understand why this show isn't the highest-rated show on tv instead of being on the verge of cancellation. The way that this show plays with genre is amazing and the fact that a character like Abed Nadir exists just makes me happy. Six seasons and a movie, please.

I also watched a lot of back-seasons of Project Runway with Madeline, and now I want to go to Mood and have Tim Gunn pop into my life at opportune moments to offer advice. But doesn't everyone?

Pop Culture Happy Hour is still my favourite podcast, and this year, I think that Trey Graham became my favourite co-host because he's the guy who talks about things in the theatre world.  I also listened to Manic Mommies (relevant, I guess, because this started out as a parenting blog) and some good stuff put out by my beloved Canadian Broadcasting Company: Under the Influence (about advertising and media, and it's always really interesting) and The Vinyl Cafe.  

Two movies that I am totally smitten with that I think that rest of the world should be: Moonrise Kingdom (a gorgeous quirky Wes Anderson film) and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (because Maggie Smith is flawless). 

I really enjoyed our summer holiday in the United States. I got to see a real space shuttle, after all! I also learned that selling fireworks must be lucrative, if all of the advertising on the interstate that we saw is any indication. 

All of the organic/free-range/way-better-than-in-Vietnam food that we ate on our Christmas vacation in the UK is making me happy. And wistful, now that we're home in Saigon and the four grocery places I've visiting in the last three days haven't had any broccoli. 

Pilates is one of the things that I started this year that I'm really happy with. That reformer is one versatile contraption. 

I took some awesome photographs this year. I didn't post them here, so you'll just have to trust me. 

We paid off the mortgage on the house in Calgary in October, nine years and two months after assuming it. We actually only lived in it for two years and a little bit. 

Lastly, I have to mention that my Air Cast is a pretty brilliant discovery of 2012. I would have loved to have had it when I broke a bone in my ankle back in February and it was totally worth the effort and expense of going to Bangkok to get it this past December when I fractured a metataral on the same foot. It's miles ahead of the casts I had put on at Family Medical here in Saigon in terms of mobility and muscle retension. Not to mention that I can clean the grime of Saigon off of it! 





Posted in i can't help but pull focus

things making me happy this week

The Big One – About three weeks ago, I took my shiny and new external hard drive out of it's packaging and backed up the files on my MacBook. The files in my documents folder, my iTunes library, photos (also: not easy to locate the actual image files when they've been imported into iPhoto), and my completed photobooks. I have Time Machine set up, but I like having a Plan B.

This makes me happy because the internal hard drive died yesterday. I kind of knew that it was coming (hence, the back-up). The thing making me a little less happy this week is that I don't have the photobook that I finished up last week on the external drive, and a couple of things that I'd downloaded from iTunes. Now, the challenge is to find a replacement hard drive for a late-2008 MacBook Pro. 

Another thing making me happy: New music! I picked up Some Nights by Fun. (what's with the punctuation?). The very first track is totally cracking me up – it's performed like it's the opening number to a Broadway show. 

And: I have an episode of Community to watch. First one. Am prepared to laugh hysterically.

And: This video of Idina Menzel performing Poker Face. Her added commentary is hilarious.

Lastly: Hopefully my cast will be off in a week. It's like wearing a warm winter boot in the middle of summer. Summer in Arizona.


Posted in ex-pat confidential, i can't help but pull focus

training for this for half my life

I ventured into downtown Saigon today, on a mission to find a couple of nice birthday gifts to send back to Thailand. There is a decently-stocked (by Vietnam standards – it's no Toys R Us) toy store in this shopping plaza that's called "The Tax Centre". It's full of high-end cosmetics, wristwatches, and Renault automobiles on the ground floor, but it's more like loose stalls on the upper levels. 

As I circled the second and third floors on the way to the escalators to the top floor, my eyes focused only on my destination and not on anyone who might be staring at me in curiosity, it occured to me that I don't even notice anymore that I may be the only one who looks different in that place, the only foreigner. It makes me invisible, in an ironic way.

When I was a teenager and full of angst and largely repressed rage, I never thought about the future any deeper than twelve months out. I never thought that learning to navigate whatever crap I was given to deal with alone would ever be something that would serve me well, or be something that I might feel a few tinges of pride over, give or take twenty years. My status as an outcast and loner was very much forced upon me, and man, it sucked when I was fifteen.

But now, I think that I can cope with being different it now because I coped with it then. Not only that, I'm doing better this time around. I can walk around an overcrowded shopping plaza full of people that I can't even communicate with in a culture that I don't understand the unspoken rules of, and I don't care that I am different at all. 


Posted in i can't help but pull focus

things making me happy this year (not an exhaustive list)

There's a half-dozen or so half-composed posts lazing around my drafts folder. Considering that I'm getting on another jet on Saturday with my husband and my kids (Look! It's our one-and-only Christmas tradition – flying somewhere colder than SE Asia!), the chances of those posts seeing the light of day here in twenty-eleven are rather slim. What I wanted to do this before I close the books on this year is come up with a post of my personal highlights for the last twelve months. In no particular order. And some most are sort of silly and fluffy.

Pop Culture Happy Hour. I listen to a lot of podcasts, but this is the only one where I wish that I was in the room recording it with the hosts. Of course, when I imagine this happening, I also am imaging that I'm overflowing with insightful and/or snarky comments about pop culture as well … I'm a total Glen Wheldon fangirl, anyway. (Note: link to podcast is in the sidebar on the right).

– Reading again (and my Kindle, which I love only second to my iPod). Some of my faves:

– Rediscovering the literature geek inside me. For awhile, my blueprint for the rest of my life involved a lot of studying Englisn literature, and I've remembered what I loved about Shakespearean villianry, satire, metaphor, allegory, etc. It's been fun to look for and appreciate story-telling devices again, especially if I find some good stuff in unexpected places in the written word and other media (like a Faerieland that's memorable for sweeping staircases and good acoustics – wow). It sounds so crazy, but I wish that I was writing essays again. Sometimes there is just so much that I'd like to say, but I don't have a place to put it. 

– Musical theatre. I haven't seen anything on stage yet this year, but I'll knock out two performances in the next three weeks. Gershwin, guys! I'm going to see something Ira Gershwin wrote! So excited! I always cry during muscials, even if they aren't sad. 

– I saw seventy-five percent of the people who are important to me this year, and the last time that fraction was even approached, it was probably in the fall of October 2002 when Chris and I hosted a dinner in Edmonton after we were married. I even saw all of my cousins! 

– The last Harry Potter film. I won't forget you, Neville Longbottom.

Party Down, the tv series about caterers that I discovered a couple of years too late! It was fun figuring out the structure of the show and waching the great ensemble cast come together and tell a really good story. The episode "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday" was one definitely one of the best things I watched this year, simply for the scene where the caterers read Roman's screenplay …

– Best drink of the year – lemon iced green tea with a shot of grenadine. Second place goes to fresh lemonade, which is always available here in Saigon …

– Spin class. I can sit on that neon orange spin bike, cycling to nowhere, and daydream just as much as I would if I was having a massage. Except I'm working out at the same time. Winning!

– Finished a knitting project before the end of the year. So what if the hat looks dumb on me – I finished it, so it counts.

– We didn't move this year! Hopefully we won't next year, either (unless it's somewhere that I want to live more than Saigon, of course).


There are, of course, many more things that I could put on this list. And I may do that, if I ever finish packing my suitcase!


Posted in i can't help but pull focus

one of the only things that was simpler when I was a teenager

Every morning, when I get out of bed, I feel a little like it's my first day of my senior year of high school. Again. Because for the second time in my life, I need to start thinking seriously about my future and what I'm going to do with it. This hiatus overseas isn't going to last forever, and possibly only for another six months or so, so graduation is approaching. 

When I was seventeen years old and in a similar position, I didn't know what I was doing. I impulsively dropped Chemistry 30 three days into the new school year, and discarded the thoughts that I was entertaining of going to medical school (pre-med required Biology 30, Physics 30, and Chemistry 30) and being a trauma surgeon. Med school didn't seem like much of a life.

When I was eighteen, I sat in a large lecture theatre in the Education Building at the University of Alberta, listening to my Foundations of Canadian Education 101 professor carry on about pedagogy and feminism, phonics and whole language, and felt disappointed and uninspired. By October, I'd dropped all of my education-related courses for the next semester and replaced them with introductory economics and mathematics, bent on transferring faculties as soon as I possibly could.

When I was nineteen years old, I realized that accounting was not going to be for me, despite all of the articling jobs that appeared in the Edmonton Journal week after week, endlessly. This time, I did find something to study that was both quirky and fascinating,  so I didn't have to figure out how to re-define myself again.

When I was twenty-three years old, I earned a Master's degree in that somewhat obscure little field that I'd discovered and fallen hard for when I was nineteen. I had my first "real" job about eight (very long – just ask my husband) weeks later, but it wasn't really in that field at all. I'd just acquired some skills in undergrad, like being able to make Excel do crazy things, that I could transfer. 

And then Madeline happened, and our move to St. John's, and our move to Bangkok, and our move to Saigon. It doesn't actually feel like the seven-and-a-half-years hiatus that it's been. 

But that's what it's been. I've been curious about what companies would do with me and what will be my at-least-eight-years gap. When I ask Chris if my resume would get through HR and ever land on his desk, he kind of avoids answering me. It's kind of sweet, though. When I asked my dad the same thing this summer, he kind of winced before telling me that no, applicants with my gap wouldn't even get a second glance. 

So, what to do? Unlike when I was eighteen and finally free of the dirge that was high school, I have three people counting on me now. Two of them think that the best thing that I've ever done is wrap them in soft towels after their baths and hold them in my arms until their sobs die down, but the third holds me to a higher level of accountability. Does that mean that I pay attention to the things that are turning my head, like urban planning, statistics, comparative literature, and gender studies, or does that mean that I collect a paycheque for carding the masses passing through a Costco Wholesale in Calgary because its a less painful choice for my family? And only kind of, at that?

I think about this stuff way too much for something that makes my stomache hurt and irritates my psoriasis, and I can't even pretend to myself that I'm not thinking about it. I'm stuck, though, and maybe it's the lack of forward progress that is the most frustrating thing of all.