Monday, January 29, 2007


Here's a sample of what I've been working on over the last few days.

For years I've been picking away at writing what I call The Adventures of Marvin & Cul, a sci-fi series of mini-stories about two medieval Brits who get caught up in galactic time-travel & adventure-mongering. It's actually quite silly stuff; one proofreader compared it to Douglas Adams' writing style, and at that point I hadn't even heard of Douglas Adams or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (I know, I know... what kind of nerd am I?)

To set it up, their spacecraft has been stolen, and as they recover it they meet Willy, a member of the local police.

Marvin suddenly recalled that the ship had been stolen, and by somebody. “Cul, did you see the thugs that stole the ship?”

Cul shook his head. “No sign of them. I did find some slime trails.”

Sounds like you got some punk slugs on your hands, boys,” Willy quipped. “We got a bit of a problem with them around here. Always loitering, looking for trouble, and every now and then they steal a ship for a joyride. They tend to hide in engine compartments. For the heat.” From behind him he whipped out a sort of pistol. “I'll take care of 'em.”

He held the pistol down low and scurried up the ramp with speed uncharacteristic to his apparent age and girth. Passing Cul at the doorway, he motioned for him and Marvin to follow. Cul drew his sword. Marvin found a small ficus tree, displaced in the commotion, and scooped it up, brandishing it - roots and all - like a flimsy, leafy club.

As they trio entered the engine compartment in the Space Knight's stern, lit only by the ambient light from the open ramp, they saw a pair of slime trails leading behind a storage bin, which had been rather obviously slid out of its natural location, leaving a shadowy space behind it.

Marvin held the ficus out in one arm and with the other reached to the light controls on the wall. Immediately the room came alive with colour; the tail of one of the slugs could be seen peeking out from behind the bin.

OK, slugs, come on out. This is your only warning.”

A glistening eye-stalk slipped over the bin and stole a glance at each of the trio, then disappeared. A few seconds later, they heard a click and a whine.

Willy immediately fired at the one visible tail, and a bolt of blue vapor whisped itself onto the slick slug surface, causing it to turn a stiff, frosty brown. Cul sprung forward and pried the bin farther away from the wall, exposing the other slug, and Willy followed up with three more whumps from his pistol, freezing the second slug in place as well. Marvin concentrated on shaking the ficus around, hoping it would help.

Willy holstered his pistol again and approached the frozen slugs. “They usually don't pack heat, these punk-types. This one's got some pretty serious ordinance.” He examined the weapon still frozen in the slug's grip, which was an awkward sort of pinching around the device. “It's a Moonkiller MK IV. I've only ever seen them in vids on the Outernet. Very expensive. Very powerful. This is the kind of gear that I'd expect to see in the hands of a sophisticated army. How did this slug get it?”

Gotta run and do some more... it feels good to create like this. But it's hard...

Friday, January 26, 2007


At work when I've gone for interviews for promotions, the one question they always ask is, "How do you deal with stressful situations?"

I botched the answer for several of my interviews, until somebody finally had mercy on me and told me in a side meeting that the right answer is, "I rely on my crutches or immerse myself in distracting activities." It helps to name them in the interview too, like having a cigarette (his example, not mine), going for a run (again, not the first thing that would have come to my mind), or playing a computer game.

Fast forward a bit... I've given the right answer (referred to computer games specifically) and secured the promotion.

But then the computer game is a large factor in a marital dispute, and I decide to get rid of it.

Enter the stressful situation. Work is busy. All we managers are being pressed for more productivity from our teams while being mindful of our required daily duties, and also being attentive to the general needs of the whole project moment by moment. In short, we're being called to micro-manage, which involves getting up from our desks every five minutes and reminding our team members of their obligations, and nobody likes it. But we've got to do it. The big bosses have their attention on us.

That's stressful.

And I have surrendered access to my primary stress-relieving tool, so I don't unwind at the end of each day like I had been doing a week ago. I'm entering new days still tightly wound from the old one, and then I get wound tighter still... it's a bad cycle.

No, I'm not trying to make a case for re-installing the game.

It's this whole concept of stress and the accepted ways to deal with it that I'm struggling with. I must adapt; this can't go on or I'll start sprouting ulcers. I need a new way to unwind.

TV doesn't do it for me. Putting a puzzle together, or reading, or going for a run... these are chores, tasks, mere distractions which don't release my wound-up flat spring. To unwind, I need to control something.

By control, I don't mean dominate or boss around. I mean I need to do something which causes my creative juices to flow. In Morrowind I could live a fantasy life and do pretty much anything I wanted. I built a fort out of stolen pillows once; that was cool. I climbed to the top of the mountains, cast a jumping spell, and leaped from peak to peak without ever losing my footing. I arrayed myself in the most absurd combination of clothing I could find. These are things which were spawned in my head with little outside influence; in a sense I was creating.

The problem with that type of creating is that it's like shovelling stardust into a black hole. It's wasted effort; no good can come of it. No lives are changed, no souls touched, and no marriages are improved when I fuel the unquenchable furnace of digital fantasy with my divinely-modeled creative spirit.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for me to blog more (how many bloggers say stuff like that, eh?). Perhaps I'll write more about my two British time-travelling medieval characters, or perhaps I'll try to get that children's story published. Or finish that wooden toy car sitting on my workbench. Or heck, even the half-done model of the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-E collecting dust on my shelf here.

Creating something actually tangible should prove far more rewarding, as I can use the energy contained in that spring for something which can actually contribute to my legacy.

Still, that kind of focus is new for me, and it will be a struggle to keep at those things. Watch this space.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Departures & Arrivals

I hate maturing.

At times I wish I didn't have to grow up, so I could play video games and eat cheese all day long.

"When I became a man, I put away childish things."

Part of me is scared of what real responsibility means. Our hero to the right here, the brutish Orc Dur Grabob, for instance, is afraid of nothing. He routinely faces down spectres and beasts from the netherworld - ghastly fiends who would suck the life out of him. He has been shouldered with fulfilling the prophecies of the Nerevarine, to conquer the evil Dagoth Ur and restore health and prosperity to Morrowind.

But he's not real. He's a figment of my imagination, created with the help of the creative geniuses at Bethesda Softworks. And as of about 60 seconds ago, the data which comprised his unique characteristics (Strength at 142 points!) is gone. I sat my wife down on my lap and had her watch while I uninstalled the game, including the save game files. All that's left is this picture.

And that's OK. For in the long run, when I face my maker, God won't ask me what I did to remove the blight storms from some mythical isle, but rather how I served my family. It's easy to lose that focus from time to time. I thank God that he never loses focus on me.

It looks like I may have gained a level; my Maturity is now at 32 points.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Prayer Kiosk

Lately I've been becoming more aware of how crucial prayer is in life. At a recent social gathering of like-minded Catholics, we were discussing our priests and the crisis the faithful are experiencing.

By crisis I don't mean the sex abuse one, or the priest shortage one. It's the lack of esteem that many priests seem to have for the faithful who want to press higher in their walks with God. It's almost like we are begging them to help us be more devout, and they're responding with, "It's OK, you don't have to try so hard."

But our priests are human, they are frail, and they need our support. We must keep them in prayer, for "the effective, fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much" as Scripture tells us. With the power of prayer on our side, we can help our priests be more than mere administrators, counsellors, or public speakers. They can rediscover their true role as shepherds, as God's holy pastors to guide his flock to him.

At that point in the discussion I was convicted to examine my own prayer practices. I asked the group for a show of hands of who does not regularly pray for their priest.

Most of the people there did not raise their hands, but I was in the minority that did. So I decided to do something about my lack of devotion in this matter.

I made a "pilgrimage" of sorts to Wal-Mart and bought a sheet of foam-filled poster board; you know, the really stiff stuff? I cut it up and glued it together until it would stand up on our floor. Then I put on it a big picture of the Pope and a number of compartments to slide other pictures in, including one for our priest. Then I printed out some pictures of people near and dear to us and stuck their faces on index cards (those things are mighty useful, eh Owen? [check out that link, and while you're there, buy one!]). Each night our girls take one card each and we offer up prayers for the people we take from the pile, in addition to the Pope and Fr. Bo.

So for those of my readers who are local to us (or those we have pictures of) don't be surprised to see your face smiling from an index card the next time you visit. And be warned: if you make a funny face and we get it on camera, that's the face we'll use for your card. The giggle factor is huge when approaching our heavenly Father. Gillian & Ed - we've already got some funny ones of you....

Ultimately, the goal with this project is to instill a regular pattern of prayer in our home. It's easy to start a good habit, but much easier to stop it. Our kids actually argue over who gets to pick the first card - but they sure want to participate.

Friday, January 12, 2007


I'm struggling lately with an overabundance of crafts my kids make for me. It's either something from school, something from their catechism classes, or something from their own initiative - but it seems like every week they have a pile of new things they've made for me, which are not even useful as a real craft item like a paper towel holder or a ceramic coffee mug, but more like knick-knackery.

An example:

My eldest daughter got a craft kit for Christmas and within minutes had produced this for me. According to the instructions she gave with it, the yellow puffball is for when I want to feel something soft, and the rest of it is for when I want to feel something hard.

Naturally, I gush thanks and tell her how useful it will be, demonstrating by using the yellow puffball on my face and snagging bits of yellow puff in my whiskers, but once I get past the "provoke not your children to anger" (Eph. 6:4) part, I'm left with a decision: find a box and store all their crafted knick-knackery (and she'll be forced to throw it out after I die), or quietly discard it, knowing they'll forget about it if they never see it again.

So I'm putting it to a vote: what should I do?

On Winter (a poem)

A season of freezing, so harsh and so bitter,
At 40 below in the F's and the C's,
Has one lone advantage in my plain opinion:
Come springtime we won't have to worry 'bout these.

(hehe... die suckers!)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Parenting Tip

I walked my girls home from school today. It was cold (-16° C, or 3° F ). I'm fighting off a sore throat. I'm sore from shovelling snow and digging a corridor through our boulevard's three-foot high snowplow-ridge.

My girls were walking at different speeds, and they both wanted to hold my hand. The younger one was purposefully walking in deep snow, and was flinging snow all around her with her free hand. The older one was making her princess doll tread barefoot on the snowbank on her side.

It would have been very, very easy for me to get upset and start barking orders at them to put the doll away and get out of the snowbank and for the fast one to go slower and the slow one to go faster and don't wipe your snot on your mitten and don't eat that snow and....

But I caught myself. Some day these girls will be grown up, and they'll think back on their childhoods. I want them to remember a dad who didn't get mad at unimportant things, for when you're a kid, and your dad is mad, you can't add rationale to his anger or look at extenuating circumstances. He's simply mad, and it's because you did something that upset him.

That's a memory I want to avoid creating. Instead, I want them to remember a dad who was content to let them have a little goofy fun in the winter sun.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ephiphany Prayer

On this day we commemorate the visit of the wise men from the East to our Lord.

There is much we do not know about the specific historical facts of that visit. Were there only three kings? Which exact part of the world did they hail from? Did they bring a fourth gift of fine cheeses?

But one thing is clear: they had a burning desire to meet this mysterious new king, born in so humble surroundings. A sign appeared in the sky to guide them to him, and they left their homes and their duties to embark on this long (and some probably cautioned them it was a fool's errand) journey.

The sign finally led them to this baby boy, yet they found themselves wrapped up in the petty politics of the local despot. Yet they remained loyal to what they knew to be true: this child was something special.

May all my readers develop as keen a hunger; may your fervour for our Lord not be swayed by the pressures of the world around you; may his mother Mary be the light that guides you to him.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Three Wee Kings

In the first year of my marriage, I decided that we needed a nativity scene to decorate the our home for Christmas. My father-in-law had built one for his family, and it was a large, imposing structure placed on a sand-covered table top, surrounded by angels and gold: very fancy stuff. I liked his idea.

But in my ruminations on what the birth of Christ and the atmosphere in the stable would have been like, I felt that our Lord likely took his first breath in more austere surroundings. So my wife and I gathered some twigs from a foot path near our home and I began a tedious process of piecing them together with hot glue (admittedly, not a favoured construction method in the first century) and plunked it on a scrap block of wood.

We found hand-crafted nativity figures at Sears, and spent a bit of time opening the various boxes there to make sure that Our Lady wasn't horribly wall-eyed and that our Saviour's red lips were placed in the right spot on his face.

Of course, being a stable, there has to be animals.

And today we begin celebrations of the Epiphany; the coming of the wise men from the East (slightly obscured behind the support pillar) to find the new king.

Naturally, the kids just love this arrangement; it's one of the highlights of Christmas decorating at our house.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Cheese, Britain, and the Great Divide

There are few things as pleasant in this life than a sharp, pungent block of cheese. Oh, yes, of course there are other things that are somewhat enjoyable, but one of my favorite ways of kicking back and relaxing is by chowing down on some sliced marble cheddar or brie and watching The Pirates of the Caribbean.

I'll admit that cheese can somewhat... bung you up, but it's a price worth paying. When God invented cheese, he also invented high-quality plungers to compensate. Smart guy, that God fella.

Cheese is, as most people know, associated with wine, which is associated with France, which is the only link I can draw between why Britain has declared cheese to be a junk food, and thus no TV ads can air during kids' shows to promote the purchasing of cheese. All in the fight against obesity, naturally.

So I'm torn - here's me, the dude who has more ancestors from England than anywhere else, and thus I feel a certain connection to all things British (blood pudding - yum!). But my land of my heritage has declared my favorite food unfit for consumption (at least by young TV viewers), and so I am mightily confused as to which side to pick.

Well... on further introspection, I think I'll have to choose cheese. After all, what has Britain done for me lately?

Now, where's that plunger?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Liturgical Renewal

I've got a new mission.

The Winnipeg Archdiocese is undergoing what our bishop has termed "Liturgical Renewal." I'm hoping against hope that this isn't just another euphemism for watering down Catholic beliefs & practices.

As I've written about before, a previous venture into the realm of reform by Catholics in Canada's West has resulted in the near-absolute disappearance of kneeling at the consecration during Mass.

So when our previous priest announced this Liturgical Renewal initiative this spring, I was at once excited and concerned. After all, nobody ever starts a renewal process without an end goal in mind. So our bishop, James Weisgerber, Ph.L, S.T.L, D.D, must have some sort of ideal result in mind.

A committee with members from each parish has been formed, and I'm sure they're open to input from all sectors of the Church. So I call on all my local readers to compose a letter to the committee, encouraging them to retain kneeling as an act of solemn worship and reverence:

Catholic Centre
attn: Liturgical Renewal Committee
1495 Pembina Highway
Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3T 2C6

[Feel free to mention the late John Paul II's wish that everybody would take time to kneel in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in his apostolic letter MANE NOBISCUM DOMINE.]

Far be it from me to be a single-issue monkey, however. From where I stand, we need significant renewal in terms of our music ministries. Too often musicians are positioned in a location of prominence in the church, and thus their service becomes more of a performance than an act of worship. More focus needs to be put on selecting appropriate individuals to lead and participate in the music ministry; we shouldn't just pick somebody with a music degree or a modicum of talent on the mouth harp. We also need to ensure our musicians are spending adequate time in prayerful preparation.

This is our chance to build up the Church as a place of worship, communion, fidelity, and service - let's take advantage of it.