Sunday, 8 December 2013

Pro wrestlers are people too!

Last night I, along with my wife and two friends, attended WWE Live in Vancouver, a house show at the Pacific Coliseum. It's been over 2 years since the WWE played here, so we were quite excited to go, and we had excellent ringside seats.

Before the show, the four of us met up at a nearby pub called "Press Box Vancouver". Tracey and I arrived first and got a table, and Travis and Melissa joined us shortly thereafter. When they got to the table, the first thing Travis does was point to a table in the corner with a man and two women sitting at it, and says "that's Kane!".

LOL. Sure it is, one of the longest tenured WWE Superstars is sitting at a table in this little pub an hour and a half before the show. It's clearly not Kane, he's about half a foot too short (Kane is 6'8") and has too much hair on the back of his head. IS Kane! Someone notices him and goes over to ask if he will take a picture, and when he gets up I notice that his table is taller than mine, hence him looking too short. Of course, once one person gets his picture taken, there is soon a lineup of fans to get pictures taken, including the pub manager and some waitresses. Anyway, we don't get into the line as we'd rather let the guy have a little bit of privacy and eat his dinner without interruption. He looks exhausted but is more than willing to stand up time and time again to take pictures with everyone who asks. He is sitting at a table near the window, looking out, and eventually some kids walking by notice him. They can't come into the pub of course, so Kane gets up and goes outside to meet with them. The kids are more than thrilled.

Mr. Jacobs, if you are reading this, you showed much class. We've been big fans of yours for years and we became even bigger fans last night. Well done, sir.

Now, on to the matches.

Just as we are beginning, the two ladies sitting at dinner with Kane come and sit in the front row, 5 rows directly in front of us.

The event starts with ring announcing Tony Chimel coming down to the ring and welcoming us. At least we assume that's what he's doing, as we can't understand a freaking word he says. The Coliseum is a good venue for this, and they have ramped up the production value (even bringing in some pyro and a mini-version of the Titan Tron), but the sound is abhorrent. It's akin to watching the Peanuts version of the WWE. "In this corner, wah wah wah, wah wah wah wah wah".

First out is R-Truth, who is talented but I hate the rap gimmick. The crowd is into it, and when he says "What's UP?", most of the sheep there shout "What's UP"? I, of course, shout "SHUT UP".

Anyway, next out is the real talent of the match, Curtis Axel. I'm one of maybe 4 people in the building cheering for him.

Next up is current Intercontinental Champion Big E Langston. Meh. He's OK. Getting a push too early, for my tastes.

So the first match is a triple threat match for the I-C title. Since titles virtually never change hands at house (untelevised) shows, the outcome is never in doubt; Big E Langston wins and retains his title. Decent match, they all work hard and Axel really gets the crowd to hate him more than they already did. He's good at what he does.

The second match features Hunico (which I think is Spanish for "jobber") against newcomer Xavier Woods. They both work hard, but I don't care about either of these guys. Woods has some promise but his gimmick is a bit goofy, like a 70's disco star. Woods win by pinfall.

Chimel then announces that the next match is for the Divas Championship, which means I get to see my future second-wife, AJ Lee, up close. The Bella Twins come out first, it's not clear which one of them is getting a title shot. AJ comes out next with Tamina Snuka and brings out a mic...she says "wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah " and at some point I guess this match was changed into a tag team match. I don't understand the booking of the Divas division these days, AJ has been the Champion for months but she rarely wins a match, and this one is no different, as she suffers the pinfall loss. Why make your Champion, the best Divas Champion they've had in YEARS, look as weak as possible? Ridiculous.

AJ is a gorgeous little thing, the key word here being "little". She's so tiny it's tough to believe she has reached the pinnacle of professional wrestling. She is looking really skinny too...almost too skinny. AJ, my darling, an extra cheeseburger or two wouldn't hurt once in a while.

Next up is one of the main events of the evening, and the crowd really gets whipped into a frenzy when this man's music hits:

Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton for the WWE Championship

Orton is out next to a mixed reaction. No mix from me, though, I hate this son of a bitch. Always have. I spend most of the match giving him the finger and screaming "STEROIDS". He's been suspended TWICE for steroids, he's a disgrace to the business.

He's not untalented, though, and they put on a great match. Nearing the end of the match, Kane's music hits and he comes out and distracts Bryan, leading to an Orton RKO and pin. Kane raises Orton's hand.

Mark Henry comes out next, for no apparent reason. Orton and Kane leave, Mark Henry gets in and celebrates with Bryan. Strange, but I guess it was probably the last time we will likely see the soon-to-retire Henry in person so maybe that was the whole point.

Another throw away match is next, Los Matadors against 3 MB. Well, 2 MB actually, as Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre are the only two there. For some bizarre reason, Jinder Mahal is very popular. I know there are a lot of East Indians in Vancouver and all, but REALLY people. He sucks. I don't care what race he is, he sucks.

Los Matadors go over, but the crowd chants "we want Jinder" all night long. Talk about Bizarro world.

The only thing that could be worse would be if they shoved the Great Khali down our throats.

Do do do do do do do, do do do do do do do .......


out next with Summer Rae at his side. Crowd goes nuts and everyone is Fandangoing.

And his opponent. The Great Khali. FACE PALM.

At least he comes out with my future third-wife (sorry, AJ), the lovely Nattie Neidhart. It's a "fans choice" match, and the fans choose a dance off. And of course, despite the fact that Khali has no cartilage in his knees and can barely even walk, let alone dance, the fans aware him the victory. So, Fandango challenges Khali to a wrestling match (well, whatever it is that Khali does, it can't really be called "wrestling", and Khali wins that one too. Sweet Jesus.

It ends well, though, as Summer Rae gets into the fray and Nattie puts her into the Sharpshooter, much to the delight of the Canadian crowd. It would have been nice to watch her wrestle (maybe a mixed tag match with her and her husband Tyson Kidd????), but at least we got to see her and cheer the Hell out of her anyway.

Oh, you don't know who the Great Khali is?

Yes, Nattie is not a short woman, and she comes up to his chest. Barely. He is not standing on a box. Or a midget. He's a circus attraction.

I feel bad for the guy, he has had so many knee surgeries it's painful to watch him....not as painful as it is for him to walk, I'm sure....but please WWE, put him out to pasture. I know he's a superstar in India and that's a big market for you, but time to create another Indian superstar. I mean, there is always Jinder.


Follow the Buzzards.

Bray Wyatt is out next along with one of his disciples, Luke Harper. Time for night's Main Event, Harper vs. this man:

the Best in the World, CM Punk.

Good match, exactly what you would expect. Wyatt tries to interfere a few times, but Punk still wins via clean pinfall. Crowd goes nuts, and Punk stays around well after the match to sign autographs and shake hands. Oh, he got on the mic before the match and said "wah wah wah wah wah Vancouver wah wah wah wah wah". Inspiring.

Anyway that was it, it was a very good house show, and all the talent worked hard, nobody took the night off. There were some notable guys missing (Cena, Rhodes and Goldust, the Shield) but they were down the coast at another show in Sacramento. Seems like they split the talent up pretty well, nobody could complain unless they came specifically to see Cena, but he was never advertised.


Link to all the pictures from the evening:

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Circle of Life

Twelve years ago, almost to the day, a wonderful creature came into our lives. Tonight he left it.

While wandering through Park Royal mall, I happened upon the pet store, and noticed they had a fresh litter of kittens. I can't recall how many kittens they had exactly, but I remember they all looked very similar, except for one; one was noticeably smaller, and had no tail. I also remember that every single kitten had already been bought and was reserved; except for this runt.

GOD he was a cute sonofabitch. I bought him, and when he was ready to come home, we named him Newman. Yes, after the Seinfeld character of the same name. He couldn't have been named better. I don't know how many times I came home from work, and was greeted at the door by his cute face and could imagine him saying:

"helllllllllooooooo, Daddy".

With disdain.

What a character.

I won't bore you with Newman stories -  I could go all night - but I'll share this one. Not long after we got him, while we were living in Richmond, I got a frantic call late at night from Tracey. I was working at SportChek in Park Royal, and she was yelling that Newman was missing. She was afraid he had fallen off the balcony. I came rushing home, and she was right; the clumsy little bastard had managed to jump up on the railing on the balcony (which was plenty large, BTW), and fallen off. Now, we were living in an apartment building with underground parking; our parking spot was about as far away from our actual apartment as possible. It wasn't even CLOSE to where he would have fell off. But after lots of searching, we finally heard him meowing, and finally found him INSIDE THE ENGINE OF THE CAR THAT PARKED NEXT TO OUR SPOT. You read that right. He found our parking spot (remember, I was at work, the car wasn't there!!), and, scared, found his way into a warm, safe spot until we came for him. We when extricated him (and the guy that owned that car probably still doesn't know what happened to his car that night), he was completely covered in oil. That was one really interesting bath.

What a character.

He was so small when we got him, he could hide anywhere. Behind anything. In any tiny spot you could possibly imagine.

It wasn't long before he got so fat he was nicknamed "the Belly". And it wasn't one of those ironic know, when you nickname a 400-pound behemoth "slim"....he earned it. He never met a can of kitty food he didn't like. He just BECAME "the Belly". We hardly ever called him Newman anymore.

"Hi honey, how's the Belly?".

I wasn't asking Tracey about indigestion.

Until recently, our password when our alarm company called us was simply "belly".

In fact, you know when you go into online banking you get a personal phrase that is supposed to indicate to you that you are at a legitimate website? Ours is "the belly is tubby".

I guess I should probably change that.

What a character.

As he got sicker and sicker, he lost so much weight he was almost unrecognizable. We've been going through pictures of him and he looks like a different cat. It took him 12 years, and kidney failure, for him to get back to the same size that he was when we first got him.

Well, that's not totally true....he was skinny again, but he never lost his belly!! It still hung down to the ground. It was his trademark, after all!

Every time we lose a cat, I write a blog about how he/she was one of the greatest cats of all time. At some point, you've just gotta wonder...I mean, they can't ALL be the best cat ever, can they?

Between Cleo, Pepe and Newman, we have been blessed with some of the most incredible companions you could possibly imagine. They were all close to perfect in their own way. It was like living with the kitty equivalent of The Beatles (at least the Beatles that everyone cared about; sorry Ringo).

Tonight, in Kitty Heaven, the band is back together.

The circle of life.

Rest well, Belly....we love you very much.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

It's the most wonderful time of the year!!

It's that time again, as pre-Christmas has arrived at the Engemoen house.

Two weeks from tomorrow it all happens for real. The lights, the tree, and the village. The village is undergoing an upgrade this year, once I can figure out how to do it. Planning, diagramming, storyboarding, oh my this is going to be a lot of work.

Yes, those gifts are all for the wife, and yes, it's only November 9th. I know I have a Xmas shopping addiction.

She's worth it, though. Just don't tell her I said that.

A few days ago we were discussing our upcoming New Year's trip to Vegas. She turned to me and said "you know, Disneyland isn't that far from Las Vegas".

Twist my arm.

So now our 7-day trip to Vegas is going to include a 2.5 day jaunt to the Happiest Place on Earth. New Year's Eve on the Vegas strip, and a few days in Disneyland at Holiday time as well. Boy I have it rough.

Dinner at Sinatra, in the Wynn. New Year's Eve dinner at the Eiffel Tower.  Dinner at the Blue Bayou and Carthay Circle. Oh that's going to be a hard week.

Hard on my weight, maybe, but that's what Xmas is for I guess.

Oh, and it's been almost a year since we brought this little monkey into the family.

After all the trials and tribulations, and after we tried to find her a new home, she has turned into the sweetest cat you could imagine. She still isn't totally sold on being in a multi cat household, but she's coping. And when she gets an opportunity to be in a closed room with me and no other cats around, she is as happy as any cat I've ever seen. So sweet and loving. What a change from the chaos she was creating a few months back. Unreal.

Newman is still hanging on. He's starting to fade a bit and it's clear he probably doesn't have that many months left, but it doesn't seem as if anything is imminent. He's still tolerating his twice-a-week treatments and although he doesn't like them, he's a good boy and lets us give them without too much fuss. Such a special cat. We are going to miss him to death when he goes. We are hoping he will make it through one more Xmas. He has just turned 12; it is so unfair that we are going to lose him at such a young age, but they have been 12 wonderful years. What a character.

Hope you cotton-headed ninnymugginses are all well and are looking forward to Xmas. The most wonderful time of the year.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Spectacular, spectacular

Summer is almost over. The summer blockbusters have come and gone; some very good, some not so good.

Let me tell you about the best movie released this summer. With apologies to Mr. Gatsby, Captain Kirk, Superman, Woody Allen and the minions, it is called The Spectacular Now, and it is aptly named. It is Spectacular, and you should go see it right NOW.

There are no characters in this movie; just people. You know these people. I know these people. I went to high school with these people. They are my friends; my family.

This is only the third movie from director James Ponsoldt. I am unfamiliar with his first two well-received films (Off the Black in 2006, and Smashed in 2012), but he shows a poise and expertise at pacing that many directors with 10 times his portfolio could only dream of.

The star of the show is Shailene Woodley. You don't know who that is? You obviously didn't see The Descendants, a film she absolutely stole from acting heavyweights George Clooney, Beau Bridges and Robert Forster, amongst others.

You don't know who she is? You will. She's about to star in Divergent, which I hear is going to be the next big thing in "Young Adult entertainment". It's not that type of movie that is going to define her, though, any more than Hermione Granger is going to define Emma Watson's career, or Katniss Everdeen is going to define Jennifer Lawrence's career, or Lois Lane will define Amy Adams'. I can only think of one adjective to describe her: mesmerizing. She is as convincing as an awkward, shy wallflower in this film as she was as a polar opposite little bitch in The Descendants. She will have an Oscar nomination or two before she's 30 (she is just shy of 24 as I write this) if she picks the right films, and her first two tend to make me believe she will. She deserves a nod for THIS film (as she did for the Descendants); but given the summer release and the modest box office, I'm going to guess she will be overlooked. If there are any Academy members reading this (hey, it's not impossible, Terry David Mulligan and Britney Spears follow me on Twitter, and they both know some members for sure!!), don't forget her when you go to cast your ballot. I cannot imagine there will be a better performance this year.

Woodley is not alone in her excellence here. Relative newcomer Miles Teller shines as the male lead, Sutter,  a confident, likeable but flawed senior who really doesn't know what he wants or who he wants, or if he wants anything at all. Jennifer Jason Leigh, who knows a little something about being an excellent young actress, is all grown up and adds gravitas in a small but important role as Sutter's mother. Kyle Chandler, who's name you may not immediately know but who's face will have you saying "oh yeah, I know him, he was in that movie....", is pitch-perfect as Sutter's estranged father, who's story tells a lot about where Sutter came from, and where he is headed.

There is a moment in this film, and I will not spoil it here by giving details, that is so shocking that the audience gasped in unison; followed by everyone sitting back in their seats in stunned silence. It was as powerful a single moment as I have seen on film in recent memory.

I don't often write blog posts about one specific movie. I have rated this movie at 4.5 stars, and I'll tell you, I damn well considered making it 5. I am stingy with the stars; I cannot remember the last movie I rated 5/5. It might have been Schindler's List. Anyway, I reserve those ratings for the absolute best of the best. Movies that are as perfect as movies can be. This one comes pretty damn close. What keeps it from getting a "perfect" grade? If there is one slip up here, it's that the final act is slightly rushed, and could have used another 10-15 minutes of fleshing out. Believe me that is a minor quibble. The film checks in at 1 hour, 35 minutes, but it felt like about 20. I was truly irritated when it ended.

The Spectacular Now immediately rockets to #1 on my list of my top 10 movies of 2013 (shameless self-promotion: the entire list is here: It will still be there at the end of the year. I truly, truly hope I am wrong about that last statement; because if I get to see a movie BETTER than this one?? Well, that would truly be a thrill. We would have to be in "second-coming-of-Citizen-Kane" territory.

The Spectacular Now is, as I write this, at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. There are 11 negative reviews, none by anyone I've ever heard of. Those 11 'critics' should immediately be forced to turn in their pens or computers, and never write a movie review again.

Friends, if you love movies like I do, see this movie. If you have to wait until it hits VOD or Blu-Ray, so be it, but I urge you to seek it out and see it on the big screen. This movie deserves more than the ~$5M box office it is going to do, especially when you consider that garbage like The Smurfs 2 is hovering around $68M. Different audiences, I get that, but right is right.

Find it, friends. You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

All is well again in the Engemoen household

It's been a while since I could write a blog post with nothing to complain about and no bad news to share. It's sort of refreshing.

So in a few days, The Summer Of Dean formally ceases. On Wednesday I start a new job, at least temporarily. Officially it's a 1-3 month assignment covering for someone who was in a pretty serious car accident; unofficially, they have no idea when/if she can come back, and how much she'll be able to work if she does. And even if she comes back healthy, they are likely to have a permanent position for me if they like me (and let's face it, they WILL :-) ). So after ten months of looking at job boards and finding nothing remotely close to my skill set (before my interview with these guys yesterday I had ONE interview for a suitable job in ten months, and I didn't get offered that job, which is good as I wouldn't have taken it anyway. Horrible company), the looking is over for the immediate future anyway. Can't really complain, it's been a pretty spectacular summer to have been off. In fact it's been SO good that I'm ready for fall. Cooler weather can come anytime, thank you very much.

On the cat front, no real update on Newman; he's still plugging along, seems to be doing very well. We are down to twice a week on his I/V treatments, and are trying to get down to once a week starting this week. He really hates the treatments now, I guess that's probably a sign that he is feeling so much stronger that he doesn't need them, but I am loathe to stop them altogether. We want him to be healthy for as long as possible. There is certainly no problem with his appetite; he's back to being the pig that he always was!!

Ashley came back from the groomers shaved and as sweet as you can imagine, for the most part.

We're hoping that drama is behind us. Don't get me wrong, we are a long way from "one big happy family", but the cats are at least tolerating each other again....and when Ashley swipes at them, it's a pretty half-hearted swipe rather than a full attack. I still think she'd be happiest in a one-cat home but she seems much more content now, so we are going to keep her and try to make it work for everyone. I think it will.

My wine blog has taken off a bit, each entry gets 25-40 views (one entry is up to 210 page views) so that's pretty exciting considering that I started it hoping that maybe 2 or 3 people would check it out from time to time. It's really just for me. Hoping that I can keep it up when I'm back at work; I suppose that will depend on the hours I'll be putting in. At this point, it doesn't look like it will be overwhelming.

My yoga studio has been running a challenge all summer; not one of those crazy "30 in 30" challenges that I couldn't possibly do, but a 12-week challenge with three levels (and prizes): Bronze (24 classes), Silver (36 classes) and Gold (48 classes). Early on I was going a lot and was easily on pace to reach Gold, but then the injuries started piling up and I had to back off a bit. Left knee, right elbow, and right shoulder; and if you've ever done any yoga, you'll know there aren't too many poses that don't involve at least one of those three things. Makes yoga tougher than it needs to be. Anyway, at first I pretty much kept going as much as I could, backing off on the most painful poses, but I found that was just making it worse so I've had to cut down on how often I go. Trying not to do as many back-to-back days as I was before. I'm already at 30 classes, and there are a few weeks left so I will have no problem getting to Silver, but Gold seems pretty unlikely. Oh well, I'm doing the best I can under the circumstances. Unless the shoulder (rotator cuff, maybe?) heals fully in the next few days, which seems unlikely given that it's been about 2 months with little change, I can't see getting to 18 more classes between now and the end of the challenge, but things could change.

No vacations planned until Xmas; Tracey and I are going to Vegas for New Year's which will be a lot of fun. Already have dinner reservations at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant for NYE. Going to be quite an experience, I imagine.

Anyway, that's it for now. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Cats suck

So I've mentioned, ad nauseum, Newman's issues. I've been expecting to have to write a sad blog entry detailing his death and the sadness we felt having to put him down.

But two days before he was due to be put to sleep, he made a miraculous recovery. Today, weeks later, he's doing great. We started giving him his I/V treatment twice a day, and we are now down to 3 times a week, and I think we'll go down to twice a week soon. He seems to be just about the same cat he was before he got sick. He's doing about as well as could possibly be expected, given the inevitable fact that his kidneys are still failing and will, at some point, fail completely and kill him. Every day we have with him is a bonus, and the days we are getting now, with him in such great spirits, truly seem like blessings. On that front, we are truly very lucky parents.

But what would a house of five cats be without problems???? Our newest girl, Ashley, who came to live with us about 8 months ago, is the newest one with issues.

Yeah that's her in the laundry basket.

Anyway, in the eight months she's been here, her relationship with the other cats has been tenuous, at best. She really doesn't seem to like any of them. Not to sound like a proud parent who thinks his kids can do no wrong, but these are some pretty sweet and unaggressive cats. If she can't get along with THESE cats, I'm not sure who she could get along with.

She also hates to be groomed; she won't let us get anywhere near her with the brush that we use to groom the others. Due to this, and partly our poor parenting, her fur has got matted to the point that Tracey calls her "homeless cat". It's really awful. So, last week we decided it was time to get a professional groomer to shave her, and hopefully we could start from scratch. On Wednesday I took her to the groomer, dropped her off and went on my way to do some shopping.

One hour later, the groomer called; Ashley had a "meltdown" (the groomer's words) and I needed to come pick her up. OK, so I showed up there expecting to see Ashley in some state of distress; but no, Ashley seemed perfectly fine. She licked my fingers and was apparently not stressed at all. The groomer, who seemed to be a very nice, respectful lady, had managed to shave one small strip of hair off Ashley's back before she gave up. So I took Ashley home, and called my vet to make arrangements to bring Ashley in, have her sedated, and shaved, while she slept. No big deal, except that it was going to cost me about $200 to get this done. Anyway, whatever, it needed to be done, so I booked the appointment for next Tuesday.

Shortly after I brought her home, Ashley went nuts. I mean nuts. Rolling around on the floor, seemingly trying to get to the area of her back that the groomer had managed to shave. I've never seen a cat react like that. Something about her had changed regarding the other cats too. She couldn't stand to be around them at all. We managed to scoop her up (without her killing us) and put her into one of the bedrooms away from all the cats for a little while, and that seemed to calm her down, slightly. After many hours, she calmed down completely and we let her out. I hopped into the shower, and when I got out, I heard Tracey screaming at the cats at the top of her lungs. It was a battle royale. All four of our existing cats were attacking Ashley. Sidra and Jackie were leading the charge, with Madeline and Newman hanging around, not really participating, but certainly involved. As Tracey managed to separate them, Sidra took a swipe at Ashley's face, cutting her across the nose, and then swiped at Tracey, cutting her on the ankle. Now, a cat swiping at someone is hardly newsworthy; but you'd have to know THIS cat. Sidra is possibly the least aggressive cat I have ever seen. Well, if not, maybe Jackie is. Or Maddie. Or Newman. These cats never attack ANYONE or ANYTHING; except for Ashley. Something about her drives them nuts, and vice versa. We used to have "tenuous tolerance", but now we had World War III.

So we had little choice but to completely sequester Ashley in one of the bedrooms, and we made the difficult choice to let her go. We talked to our vet, who had made the arrangements to bring her to us from her foster family, and asked if they could talk to the foster family about taking her back. The vet was off for a couple of days so we knew we'd have to keep all the cats apart, and safe, until this morning (Saturday) when they would get back to us.

With Ashley on her own, and no other cats around, she turned back into the sweetest cat you could imagine. In fact she kept me awake most of the night by kneading my chest and licking my face. All the stress that the other cats caused her had melted away and she was perfectly happy. Of course, it's hardly practical to keep her locked in a bedroom for a prolonged length of time, and we were convinced that giving her up was the right decision.

Last night (Friday), I decided to let her out of the bedroom and let her go sit outside on the patio, her favorite spot, for her last night with us. I figured I'd lock the door and keep the other cats away so that she could have a nice relaxing night on the patio. To my complete surprise, however, the other cats barely even noticed she was out there. There was a bit of initial hesitance, but after that, it was like the drama from the other night never happened.

This morning the vet called and offered to call the foster family and see if they would take her back. They were away on vacation, but their daughter was home and said she thought they would welcome Ashley back. So now we have that option; but now we really don't know what to do. Everything seems pretty much back to normal now. We don't want to give her up if it's not necessary; although we know the foster family would do their best to take care of her, they have another cat and NINE (yes NINE!!) beagle puppies, so her aversion to other animals would hardly be any better served there.

So as I write this, we are keeping her for a while. We are going to take her for her grooming appointment on Tuesday and see what happens. If she comes home from that appointment in meltdown mode, we'll have to keep her segregated again and decide where to go from there.

Cats suck.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Another update on The Belly

In my last post I mentioned that Newman was doing better and getting stronger; well this update brings only more good news. We started out giving him I/V treatments twice a day, and are now down to once every two days. He seems to be handling them perfectly, and is eating and drinking enough on his own to supplement the treatments and keep his kidneys functioning.

However, and I say this with only the utmost love, Newman has become an even bigger pain in the ass than he was before! :-)

Let me explain; he's an amazing cat, and I've extoled his many virtues many times. He truly is special and we are so glad that he's doing better.

But he is also the "problem child" of the clan. He is the only one who pees inappropriately (vet says it's not behavioral, some cats just do that, and it's seasonal). He is the "shedder" of the group. Well, OK, he WAS the shedder of the group; our newest girl, Ashley, has taken that crown away from him. Of course that doesn't mean HE has stopped shedding, just that she takes it to a whole new level. And he has always been the puker of the group too; although that seems to have been alleviated by the Pepcid that he gets twice a day to settle his stomach. Yes, Pepcid. Prescribed by the vet. I wish I had known about that 10 years ago, we would have had to clean up a heck of a lot less kitty barf.

He was always a grazer.....many times Tracey and I have stood in the kitchen at evening meal time and watched him go to the wet food, take a bite or two, then move to the dry food, take a bite or two, then back to the wet, then dry, then's always been his own little kitty buffet.

So when we brought him home and were trying to get him to eat, we bought him some crappy Fancy Feast food to entice him. It's not nearly as good for him as the higher quality Medi-Cal food that he's been eating for years, but it tastes better. Obviously that worked, but now, unfortunately, he won't go near the old stuff. I can't blame him; now that I've been eating Filet Mignon for a while, there is zero chance I'm ever going back to Sirloin.

Of course, while you can put dry food down and they will eat it whenever they want, it's not that easy with wet food, which would get dry and inedible pretty quickly. We pretty much have to feed him every 10-15 minutes. Yes, put a plate down, he eats two bites, and walks away. Sometimes I take the same plate, turn it around and push it to another section of the floor, and he eats some more. I never said he was the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But my trickery only works occasionally, so most of the time I'm left picking up the plate and putting it in the fridge, just to bring it out again a little later. If I leave it down, it will get gobbled up by one of the other monsters in the residence. Particularly this one:

Sidra, aka the Feline Garbage Disposal. She'll eat anything. Luckily she will still eat the old food (although she's not happy about it) so I don't have to throw out the last couple cans we have in the cupboard.

All the other cats, even the ones who were always perfectly fine with the old healthy food, won't go near it it's Fancy Feast for five. Thanks, Newman. ;-)

When his kidneys finally fail completely and we have to put him to rest, it will actually make our lives quite a bit simpler; albeit much sadder, and much less loving. I sure hope that's not for months or years.

Pain in the ass.


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Let's not call it a miracle quite yet....

....but Newman is showing unbelievable progress the last couple of days.

We are trying to stay grounded and not get ahead of ourselves, but he has become a different cat in the last two days. He's eating on his own; maybe not as much as we'd like, but probably enough considering how sick he was. He's drinking a little bit; definitely not enough, but we are supplementing it with his saline I/V treatment (just once a day, down from twice). He has responded to the point where we are almost in stunned amazement.

It had got to the point where we already had the day in mind - Wednesday - to put him down. We decided on Friday that if he hadn't made significant progress by Monday (tomorrow), we'd take him off the treatments and make an appointment for Wednesday to be euthanized. What a different 48 hours make.

Of course, there are still tough times ahead. His kidneys are still failing - nothing is going to fix that - but if he continues to respond to the treatment we are giving him and continues to improve, there is no telling how much time he might have. It could be days, weeks, months...even years, if all goes well.

In the next day or so, we will experiment with taking his saline treatments down to once every two days and see how it goes; hopefully to eventually take it down to once or twice a week. We have to keep weaning him down to see how his body responds to the change in treatment. I'll keep updating the blog with his progress of course, but it will be nice to be able to write about something other than a sick/dying cat for a change.

Thanks to everyone for the support we've received and I know we will continue to receive during this difficult process!

And just in case I hadn't already posted enough cute Newman pics, here is one more.

That is one adorable sonofabitch.

The cat is pretty cute too.

Thursday, 18 July 2013


Sorry to report that things are not looking good for our baby boy.

It's been a few days since my last blog update, and those days have, for the most part, not been good. He is just not responding to his treatment and medicine like we had hoped. We are back up to 2 I/V treatments daily, but it doesn't look like his broken down little body is making any progress.

He's clearly not the same cat he used to be. He has lost his sparkle; his energy; that "je ne sais quoi" that made him so special. What he hasn't lost is his sweetness, though. I take him into the bedroom and lock the door, away from the other cats, and spend some time with him, which he adores. He is so loving and appreciative of the extra attention. I spent about 15 minutes just rubbing his belly this afternoon and this seemed to be the happiest he has been in recent memory; even so, his eyes get heavy and he can barely lift his head to show me how much he loves it. He tries, though.

It's difficult for me to process the fact that this wonderful creature is not likely to make it to the relatively young age of 12. We haven't completely given up hope, we are going to continue the intensive treatments for a few more days and hope for a miracle, but it seems so unlikely at this point. We could keep him alive indefinitely, probably, doing what we are doing, but that's not fair to anyone. I think Tracey and I have both come to the realization that it's almost time for our special boy to rest. Unless something dramatically changes, I suspect that by this time next week, he will have left us. That will be a very, very hard day.

Keep him in your thoughts, if you don't mind. I'm not sure I'm the type to believe in the power of positive thinking, but at this point, it sure as Hell can't hurt.

Thanks all,

Monday, 15 July 2013

The ups and downs of pet ownership

Well it's been almost a week since Newman came home, and there have sure been some ups and downs.

We've been giving him fluids through an I/V every day....twice a day for the first few days, now down to once a day. We're monitoring his progress and are supposed to wean him down to less frequent instances soon.

He seems to be doing quite well for the most part. He's back to his old self in many ways, and most of the time has quite a bit of energy. If we didn't know he was sick, we wouldn't know he was sick; except for one small detail. He's not eating or drinking much, if at all.

We aren't panicking about the drinking too much yet; we know he is getting the fluids he needs through our injections, and he's been drinking a little on his own. It's the eating that is the big problem. He's called "the belly" for a reason; eating has never been much of a problem for him. Now he is eating a little bit on his own some days, and some days not at all. We even went to the store and bought him some crappy food (any time "meat by products" is high on the list of ingredients, you know you shouldn't be giving it to your pet), in the hopes that would entice him to eat. Usually the crappier a food is for a cat, the better it tastes, and he's more likely to eat it (just like humans, actually). He gobbled it up the first time we gave it to him, but only that once, and nothing since.

So to get some nutrition into him, we've been feeding him through a syringe as much as we can. As you can imagine, this is not a pleasant experience for him, so we are loathe to do it more than we need to; but he has to eat.

He makes it so easy on us; he is the most amazing patient. We are so fortunate. Even through all the trials and tribulations, the syringe feedings, having water shot into his mouth, and having an I/V needle inserted into him once or twice a day, he never complains. He has not scratched us once, not ONCE. He takes it like a champ; in fact during the I/V, he barely stops purring. What a special, special cat this is.

Of course if things don't change and he doesn't start eating and drinking on his own, we are going to have a tough decision to make. We can't go on like this forever, and it's certainly not fair to him to go to these extreme lengths for an extended period of time. It's so difficult though, because unless he regresses badly, how do we know when it's time? What's a reasonable length of time to keep doing this for him if he doesn't improve?

Since Tracey and I have been together, we've had to put down three cats. All heartbreaking and tragic in their own way, but none of them were difficult decisions.

First there was Kramer, who we only had for about four months. He was obviously very ill when we adopted him and just went downhill from there, to the point where he lacked the strength to climb into his litter box. The vet didn't know for sure what was wrong with him, but suspected it was leukemia. It was a pretty easy call to put him down, he was suffering badly and was not going to recover. It was sad, but we were glad he had spent the last four months of his young life with parents who loved and cared for him.

Four years ago, our baby girl Cleo had to go down. A heartbreaking day that took a long time to recover from..... but she was 18 years old, blind, deaf, and was starting to lose her bearings. She had taken to sleeping in her litter box. Her quality of life was starting to slip, she was never going to get any better, and it was time for her to go. A horrible day, but the right decision, and we never had any doubts.

And then there was Pepe, Tracey's companion of 17 years. This was the toughest decision of my lovely wife's life, no question about it, but there were still no doubts. Pepe had cancer, and the tumour on his head had grown to the size of a golf ball. Again there was no helping him; no chance his life was going to get any better, and he was going to suffer, if he wasn't already. No doubts.

It's going to be tough to know when the right time is for Newman, I suspect. Hopefully he'll find a way to let us know it's time, when his kidneys fail to the point that he's suffering or in pain. Hopefully that's not anytime soon, but if it is, we'll be ready.

It's the most important thing anyone can do for their pets. The ups and downs of pet ownership.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Newman's home!

...and the news looks good, sort of.

Ultimately, his kidneys are failing, and there isn't anything that can be done about that. They don't do kidney transplants for cats (someone should get on that), so that's that. It seems as if our baby boy isn't going to live as long as we'd like him to.

Having said that, the good news is that there's a decent chance we will get months, or maybe even 2-3 years, more with him. It's all going to depend on how he reacts to our efforts to keep him hydrated (or, how much he hydrates himself). All we know for sure at this point is that he reacted very well to fluids being given to him via I/V in the hospital. Of course, he can't live in the hospital and we certainly wouldn't subject him to a life on an I/V. So now we bring him home, and give him fluids via a needle and see how he reacts. At first we'll do that a couple of times a day, and the hope is to wean that down over time to once every few days; or not at all, if he does an excellent job of keeping himself hydrated.

It looks promising so far, the first thing he did once we got home is have a big drink of water; if he continues to drink a lot of water, we should be able to give him less and less fluid which is better for everyone.

Despite losing a lot of weight, he didn't lose his trademark belly! Thank goodness for that, or we'd have to find another nickname for him. He's been called "The Belly" for so long, that has pretty much become his name; we hardly ever actually call him "Newman" anymore.

I think Tracey and I were both resigned to the fact that we might have to put him down in the near future. Thankfully that seems much less likely now, although there are no guarantees at this point. From this day forward, I'm going to consider every day we get with him to be a bonus day, and quite a blessing.

Fingers crossed!!!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A long, long, long weekend.....

...and not in a good way.

Newman is ill again, and it doesn't look particularly good for him. Tests show severe renal failure; what the tests don't show is WHY his kidneys are failing.

Anyway, we took him into the hospital yesterday; he's going to be there for three days while they pump fluids into him through an I/V, in an effort to flush out whatever is wrong with his kidneys. Best case scenario, I suppose, is that it works enough to allow him to come home where we will likely have to give him fluids via a needle for the rest of his life. Worst case scenario, of course, is that we get to bring him home just long enough to say goodbye.

It's impossible to put into words how difficult this is for us. We love all our cats of course, and they are all special in their own way, but Newman is extra so.

This would be our third horrible loss in recent memory. After losing Cleo, as close to a perfect cat as ever existed, almost four years ago (how time flies!), and Pepe, Tracey's "number one" for 17 years in February of last year, losing Newman would be devastating. He was so sick in August of last year that I'm trying to stay positive and hope that he might pull through again.

This is the perils of pet ownership obviously. They get sick and they die long before you want them to. But when you put the heartbreak up against all the love and goodness they bring into our lives while we have them, I wouldn't trade any of it for anything.

C'mon, Newman, pull through for us again.

Tuesday can't come soon enough.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The best TV shows of all time

This week's issue of Entertainment Weekly is a double issue featuring their choices for the Top 100 in many entertainment categories; included are movies, TV series, albums and books. I am sure they expected much debate after issuing such a list, but for most of humanity, it's nearly impossible to compile such lists in any meaningful fashion. I mean, I watch a lot of TV and a lot of movies, but I am just one human being, who couldn't possibly see EVERYTHING.

SPOILER ALERT, if you are awaiting your subscription in the mail.....

Their #1 TV series of all time was The Wire, an HBO series I've barely even heard of, let alone seen. It apparently ran from 2002-08, and they obviously thought enough of it to proclaim it the Greatest Series in the History of Television.

That's a pretty big distinction, for goodness sake.

Oh, and EW, I have just one more question for you:


Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to see how my list would align with theirs. No I am not going to bore you with my Top 100 (good Lord), but I thought I'd publish my thoughts on the Top 10 TV series in history.

I am 43 years old, so the chances are that I haven't seen many of the much older series (with some exceptions, of course, for shows like I Love Lucy that ran in syndication forever).

Here goes nothing:

1. Seinfeld (#3 on EW's list) 1990-98 NBC

Has there EVER been a TV series, movie, or book, that was quoted as much as this show? I'd suggest it's almost OVER quoted.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

EW calls it a show about "the amusing, stressful, neurotic intricacies of friendship", which is bang on. I think the word "neurotic" is the quintessential description of this wonderful show.

It is, simply put, the funniest show in TV history.

2. The West Wing (#51 on EW's list) 1996-2006 NBC

This Aaron Sorkin vehicle might be the most underappreciated show in history. It is not only the best Drama series of all time, it might be the FUNNIEST "Drama" series of all time. Not sure about that? Watch CJ Cregg do "the Jackal"....or Josh Lyman make CJ say "foggy bottom" while she is numb from root canal....or:

Sam Seaborn: "Toby, can I talk to you? I accidentally slept with a prostitute".

Toby: "Accidentally???? What happened, did you fall on top of her????"

Or let's talk about "Big Block of Cheese Day", a day in which the President opens up the White House to every quack with a cause, once a year, so they feel they are being heard.

Science guy, in a meeting with Josh and Sam, talking about getting the US on solar power:

"The technology exists, right now, for us to be able to run the country on solar power, just by putting solar panels on the ground"

Josh (looking kind of bewildered): "How much land would you need???"

Science guy: "Arizona".

I could go on for hours, but this is the only series that I pop into my DVD player and watch, all 7 seasons worth, episode by episode, on a pretty regular basis. Absolutely brilliant.

3. The Wonder Years (N/R on EW's list) 1988-93 ABC

Face it, everyone around my age had a crush on Winnie Cooper, to one degree or another. There was a reason for that, more than just the obvious appeal of Danica McKeller. She represented everything we wanted at that age; and by association, so did this show.

The Wonder Years won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series in 1988, after only 6 episodes had aired. Brilliantly narrated by adult Kevin, voiced by Daniel Stern, it featured some of the best episodes of television ever produced, including (but not limited to) the pilot and the final episode. The use of high profile music from the late 60's to early 70's added to the appeal of the show; ironically, the licensing rights around that music is the reason that this wonderful series has never been released in it's entirety on DVD.

4. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (#4 on EW's list) 1970-77 CBS

EW describes this as "the greatest, most detailed portrayal of a single career woman in TV history". There isn't too much I can add to that.

Featuring a brilliant cast from top to bottom, including the criminally underappreciated Ted Knight, there isn't much to want for in this series.

5. Cheers (#15 on EW's list) 1982-93 NBC

The bar where "everybody knows your name" was must-viewing television during NBC's heyday. The lovable cast of characters (who doesn't know Sam, Diane, Norm, Cliff, Frasier and Carla??) made us all feel at home. It also featured some of the funniest episodes ever. Don't believe me? Try to find the episode where Cliff appears on Jeopardy!

I still answer "who are three people who've never been in my kitchen?" any time I'm watching the program and don't know the answer to the Final Jeopardy question.

It's unlikely there will ever be another comedy with an ensemble cast like this one.

6. The Carol Burnett show (#33 on EW's list) 1967-78 CBS

By far the best variety show in history, this show was just flat out funny, and remains so to this day.

I'm not sure who laughed harder at Tim Conway's antics; the audience, or Harvey Korman??

This show was what every variety show since has tried to imitate, and failed.

7. All in the Family (#6 on EW's list) 1971-79 CBS

A loveable bigot? Really? Talk about a show that was ahead of it's time. Producer Norman Lear and Carol O'Conner brought us Archie Bunker in such a way that we often failed to understand WHY we loved him so much, but we were always entertained.

8. I Love Lucy (#11 on EW's list) 1951-57 CBS

Everyone's favorite redhead won her way into our hearts faster than you can say Vitameatavegamin; and yes, I had to look up how to spell that. In addition to her lovable qualities, Lucille Ball might have been the best physical comedian in history.

9. ER (#30 on EW's list) 1994-2009 NBC

There have been excellent medical dramas before (St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope) and since (Grey's Anatomy), but none of them combined heart stopping (literally) action with character drama like this one did. Created by novelist Michael Crichton, it made stars of George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wylie and many more and ranks as one of the top drama series of all-time, lasting a very impressive 15 seasons.

10. Frasier (#44 on EW's list) 1993-2004 NBC

Five consecutive Emmy awards for Outstanding Comedy Series (a record) can't be wrong, and they aren't. Watching the two Crane brothers try to out-highbrow each other would have been enough right there, but when you add in the perfect casting of John Mahoney as their ex-cop blue collar father and Jane Leeves as British live-in physiotherapist Daphne Moon, you have one of the funniest, and warmest, comedy series in TV History.

Frasier won 37 Emmy awards during it's 11 year run, breaking the long-standing record of the Mary Tyler Moore Show (29).

David Hyde Pierce was nominated for an Emmy in EVERY year of the show's existence (winning four times).

Holy crap that was tough, I can't believe some of the fantastic TV series I left off the list. I'll give out some Honorable Mentions to these great shows, in no particular order:

Little House on the Prairie, Saturday Night Live, The Office, The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Arrested Development, Friends, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Maude, The Bob Newhart Show, 24, The Muppet Show, Soap, Family, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ally McBeal, Family Ties, Good Times, The Jeffersons, and the Brady Bunch.

Disagree with my list? Of course you do, considering how many TV shows there have been in history, how could you not??

However, I'm right and you're wrong. So live with it.


What sports should always be about

To me, this is what sports is all about; or at least, SHOULD be all about.

Congratulations again to the Hawks, not only for winning the Cup, but for having the class to do this. And congratulations to the Bruins, their fans and organization, for behaving in such a manner that prompted the Hawks to take out this full page ad in the Boston Globe.


Thursday, 27 June 2013

NHL Playoffs final results

Well after being 11/12 after the first two rounds, I went o-fer after that, finishing at 11/15. Still pretty respectable but missing all the 'big' series isn't so impressive.

When we were down to the final five teams, I remarked to my wife that the only bad result would be if Chicago won. I had two of my favorite teams alive (LA, Boston), an $850 ticket on Detroit, and Pittsburgh winning would have meant a Cup for Jarome Iginla.

F****NG Blackhawks.

Seriously, they are worthy winners and deserve the Cup, they were much the best team for most of the regular season. I have no ill-will towards Chicago or their fans (not exactly crazy about that damn song they play after each goal, but whatever), they have turned into a model organization since the death of Bill Wirtz. Kind of sad to think that the only thing holding them back was their owner and once he died, they started to flourish.

Oh, and when I was growing up, my favorite goalie was Tony Esposito. I never claimed to be a Hawks fan, but I loved me some Tony-O. Never really understood why, exactly, but there it is....

Congratulations to the Hawks and their fans.

Now let's start working on next season.

Monday, 24 June 2013

New wine blog

I've set up a new blog that specifically deals with wine (and food pairings in many cases). Here:

This blog will continue to be updated as well, with any non-wine related thoughts that might work themselves into my little brain.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Stanley Cup Finals - prediction

The playoffs started well for me but last round I went 0/2, not so good, so it's time to get back on track and finish strong. This should be an excellent series; Chicago looks pretty powerful, but of course that's what everyone said about the Penguins four games ago.

The Hawks haven't played anyone who gets in your face like the Bruins; the Kings tried but were clearly too banged up to play as physical as they would have liked. For that reason, I'm taking the Bruins to win.

Bruins in 6 games

Hoping I'm right!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Conference Finals predictions

Well I went 4/4 in the last round, which admittedly featured no upsets so I would imagine there were quite a few others who did the same. For the Conference Finals:

Pittsburgh over Boston in 7

Los Angeles over Chicago in 6

Friday, 24 May 2013

Carrie Underwood

Country superstar Carrie Underwood played the Abbotsford Sports & Entertainment arena last night to a (I think) sold out crowd, the last show of her "Blown Away" tour that began just about one year ago. It was a real treat to see her in such an intimate venue, especially considering that she played Rogers Arena in Vancouver, just a 40 minute drive away, in October of 2012.

Full disclosure: I am a fan of American Idol, and have been a fan of Mrs. Mike Fisher since her season on Idol. Full, full disclosure: I would have voted for Bo Bice. I thought he was a sure bet rock star, and I thought Carrie would probably be a mid-level country artist. Shows you what I know. Since winning Idol, Underwood has rocketed to country music icon status, and has been inducted into the Grand Ol' Opry. Bice has all but disappeared completely.

The lady can flat-out sing. We arrived a few minutes late for the show, thanks to my lovely wife booking her business trip right over the concert (her flight arrived at the Abbotsford airport at 7:58; Underwood was scheduled to take the stage at 8. Thankfully it was only a 10 minute drive between the two venues). Underwood was in the middle of  "See You Again" when we got to our seats, and she continued to belt out hit after hit for the next two hours. One of my favorite things about this artist is her genuineness. I believe everything she says, and everything she sings. There isn't a modicum of pretentiousness to her and it shines through in her music. And despite the fact that she and her band were clearly happy that the long tour had ended (probably the most enthusiastic thing she said all night was "LET'S GO HOME!!!!!" after the final song of the encore), she played with great energy and passion.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I've had a great couple years in concerts; from up and coming pop icons (Katy Perry, Lady Gaga) to grizzled old rock legends (Winwood, Eagles, KISS, Aerosmith, Clapton), from one of the all time greats (Springsteen) to true music royalty (McCartney), it's been a pretty good run of shows. While it's tough to compare this show to any of those, it's a completely different genre and different feel, it was no less enjoyable. We had a great time.

Congratulations to Carrie on all her success. I think it's safe to say that the voters of American Idol, season 4, got it right.

Sorry, Bo.

Adventures in Seafood

When the wife is away, the husband will my case, that means three days of cooking seafood! My wife is allergic to shellfish, and doesn't like any other seafood, so I thought I'd break out a few promising seafood recipes and see what I was able to come up with. Day 1:

Maple and Brandy Glazed Salmon, on a bed of onion mashed potatoes, accompanied by asparagus sautéed in butter and sweet onion sugar.

Score: 7/10

This is the second time I've tried a "maple glazed salmon" recipe and I guess it's just not for me. It was pretty good but a far cry from the best salmon I've had in restaurants. The potatoes were absolutely superb, as was the asparagus. The salmon was ever-so-slightly overcooked, making it a bit dry, but I don't believe that was a factor in my overall enjoyment. The maple flavor is quite understated which some people might like, but I would have preferred more of a punch. I tend to lean towards big flavors in my food.

The sweet onion sugar on the asparagus is insanely good. We picked it up at Mickey's Pantry in Downtown Disney (Florida), and it is an absolutely perfect finish for grilled or sautéed vegetables. I'll have to order some more online as I can't wait until the next time we are in Florida to get more!

Day 2: Whiskey Shrimp Fettuccine

Score: 6.5/10

I love pasta. I love shrimp (in this case, they were actually Black Tiger Prawns). I don't love them together. I never order pasta and seafood in restaurants and this was really no exception. There is something about the combination that turns me off;  I can't put my finger on it. The pasta was cooked perfectly (thankfully I didn't have to have Gordon Ramsey show up in my kitchen and call me a donkey because I can't cook pasta) and the prawns were tasty. The sauce was very nice as well, so why didn't I like this more? This is definitely a case where the whole of the dish didn't add up to the sum of the parts.

Day 3: BBQ Seafood Skewers

Score: 7/10

Lobster, scallops and prawns; oh my. This was another case of the flavors being good but too understated for my tastes. They were marinated in garlic, basil, oregano and thyme, all good tastes, but after the grilling the flavors didn't 'pop'. I actually ended up throwing them onto the stove with some garlic butter and sautéing them for a minute at the end to increase the flavor.

So, all in all, not a hugely successful few days. The onion mashed potatoes were the real hero, and is something I'll definitely make again. Of course, the wife also isn't a big fan of onion, so it seems like I'll have to wait until she goes on another business trip!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Round 2 Playoff Predictions

I actually forgot to post my Round 1 predictions, I would have had 7/8 correct, missing only Ottawa beating Montreal. Lets see how this round goes:

Pittsburgh over Ottawa in 6
Boston over NY Rangers in 7

Chicago over Detroit in 6
Los Angeles over San Jose in 5

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Requeim for a hockey team

So it's not going to come as a surprise to any of my loyal readers that I don't like the Canucks. I don't use the word "hate" much but this is one place where it's appropriate. I hate the Canucks, and I particularly hate most of their fans.

Let me explain that; I have some friends and family members who are genuine life long Canucks fans (including my wife). For those people, seeing the team meltdown is bittersweet for me. Those people deserve better than this organization has given them for 40+ years. This organization is an embarrassment to our fine city. Why anyone cheers for this team is frankly beyond me; having said that, I completely respect those people who have stuck by this organization through the bad and the bad (and the 15 seconds of almost-good that they've been given).

For the bulk of Canucks fans, a hoard of classless bandwagon jumpers (don't think so? remember the empty arenas when the team wasn't winning? You will see those again, as early as next season. And don't even get me started on TWO riots, not to mention the laundry list of things that have been thrown at me at Canucks games), I can only say this: CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP. Seeing the Sharks oust the Canucks in four games gives me a sense of euphoria that is difficult to properly explain without graphs and charts. I LOVE to see those fans suffer. I only wish I had been at Rogers Arena during these playoffs to experience it first hand.

So what exactly happened here? Since taking a 3-2 lead in the Finals against Boston a couple of years ago, this team is 1-10 in playoff games. That's not very good. So what went wrong? Well, last year they were simply beaten by a far superior team, a fact proven when L.A. showed that the "Kings are the Kings" (thanks to Doc Emrick for the quote) in winning the Stanley Cup. And although I guess it's possible that the Sharks win the whole thing this year, I'm going to go on the assumption that they won't be the third straight Cup-winning team to send the Canucks packing.

So here it is what is wrong with the Canucks.

1. Assholes in the dressing room. Bieksa, Burrows, Kesler, Lapierre, Kassian....all of these guys are major assholes. Now, we aren't in the room to see the effect it has there, and undoubtedly all of these guys aren't disliked, but I'll guarantee one or two of them are. Classless yappers like these clowns have a negative impact on morale and it's tough to go to bat for teammates who you don't respect (just ask Mike Modano, who actually threatened to retire when Sean Avery was putting on his clown show while playing with him in Dallas).

Kassian is young, and might grow up. The others don't have that luxury.

2. They just aren't that good. Let's begin with their defense which is majorly overrated. Alex Edler, who is usually their best defenseman, had long stretches of cluelessness this season (and also at the end of last year). If he can't become more consistent, there are going to be troubles. Dan Hamhuis is fine, he is what he is, a solid shutdown defender. He even created some offense this year. He was their most reliable defenseman all season, but when Dan Hamhuis is your best defenseman, that pretty much sums it up. Kevin Bieksa is so overrated I can't even believe it. All the evidence you need was shown on the play the other night after San Jose had taken a 3-1 lead, and Patrick Marleau turned him inside out, left him flopping on the ice like a trout on a boat, and scored to make it 4-1. Sure you can say that those were both bad goals on Schneider, no doubt, but if Bieksa just makes half a play there, there is no scoring chance to begin with.
And now let's discuss Jason Garrison.....nah, I'll actually leave him for point number 3. The other guys are all interchangeable AHLers. The Canucks used to have solid defensive depth in the days of Ohlund and Salo. Now this is a major weakness for them.

And at forward, it's just as ugly. The Sedins took a major step back this year, but was it entirely their fault? Let's say that the Sedins were traded to Pittsburgh for Malkin and Crosby, arguably the best two players in the world. Would that turn the Canucks into Stanley Cup winners? Hell, no. Even those guys need a supporting cast around them. The Canucks have nothing. The twins have turned an ECHL ball hockey player in Alex Burrows into a half decent player. Ryan Kesler could be the 2nd best 3rd line centre in the league (behind Pavelski, who Canucks fans probably know better than they would like to about now), but the Canucks think he's a 2nd liner. And don't talk to me about the fact that he scored 41 goals once; the league is full of guys who had one magical season (Jason Blake? Warren Young? etc etc etc). Kesler is a good defensive centre who is good for 20-25 goals. That is a very valuable 3rd line centre. And that is when he is healthy, which clearly he hasn't been for over 2 years. He is a mess, and the Canucks would be wise to not count on him for much going forward. Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen are a couple more examples of good 3rd liners that are forced to masquerade as 2nd liners on this team. Everyone needs support to reach their best, and the Sedins haven't had it for quite some time.

3. Terrible contracts given, and moves made, by Mike Gillis. OK so maybe the Luongo contract didn't seem totally outrageous when it was given out, in the context of some of the other deals that were being handed out. But what did he THINK was going to happen? Did he think that Luongo and Schneider were just going to co-exist? Did he not think Schneider was an NHL goalie? I find that hard to believe, as it seems everyone else in the NHL thought highly of Schneider. So was he expecting to sign Lu to that ridiculously long deal, and then he'd be able to trade him when Schneider took over the reigns? Well, I guess he can do that, if by "trade" you mean "beg and plead another team to give up a used puck bag for him and take on the contract". That's terrible management. And then he goes out and signs other winners like Jason Garrison, and pays him huge money based on the 16 goals he scored for Florida last year. Before last season, he had scored a TOTAL of 7 goals. Oh, and he's a defenseman who doesn't play defense. A cap hit of $4.6M per season until 2017-18 for this guy? You must be kidding me. And Gillis traded for David Booth, an injury-prone 20 goal scorer who doesn't work hard at defense, doesn't hit, doesn't forecheck, and has a cap hit of $4.25M until 2014-15. Jesus, I wonder why this team is struggling.

And then there is Derek Roy, who the Canucks gave up a solid young asset for. Roy used to be a scorer (32, 28, 26 goals from 2007-10), but the injury he suffered in 2010-11 has sapped some of his speed. Dallas signed him in the offseason and asked him to change his game and turn into a 3rd line checker, and they were VERY happy with him, despite the fact that he scored only 4 goals in 30 games with them. Then the Canucks trade for him and expect him to flick the switch and become a scorer again? It doesn't work that way.

Some of the "outside-the-box" work that Gillis has done, such as the sleep therapy and nutritionist, are helpful moves that can make a difference in the performance of a hockey club; but it's the roster of talent that a GM is most responsible for, and this roster is underwhelming at best.

Keep in mind that the Canucks finished only four points ahead of Minnesota and Columbus. If not for a late season swoon by the Wild, the Canucks could easily have been out of the playoffs entirely; and that is with the benefit of a cream puff division where they got to feast on Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado, while Columbus had to deal with Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Nashville. An argument could easily be made that the Blue Jackets had a better season. The Canucks will get no such benefit next year, when Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles come to join them in their division. Without sweeping changes, they will quite likely find themselves out of the playoffs next season.

4. Coaching. OK I don't have any specific insight here, no particular examples of poor coaching, but all NHL coaches have a shelf life and AV has been here for quite a while. It's time to move on, and I expect that will probably happen. New blood could breathe some life, and some new ideals into the team. And a new guy will probably give some of the young players in the organization a chance to succeed or fail, and at least they'll know what they have in these guys.

So what needs to happen here?

1. Fire Mike Gillis, and find a genuine hockey man to replace him. That man will undoubtedly bring in a new coach to replace AV.

2. Trade Luongo's contract for anything you can get for him.

3. Use the amnesty buyouts to get rid of David Booth and Jason Garrison. Yes, Garrison instead of Ballard. Ballard has way more upside to become a dependable defenseman, as he was in Florida. And if he doesn't, his contract expires three years before Garrison's does.

4. Re-sign Derek Roy. Let every other UFA go. Bye-bye to "Yappy Lappy", Mason "where is the net?" Raymond, Malhotra (that one is unfortunate), Pinizzoto, Alberts, Ebbett, Vandermeer and Barker.

Roy has shown little here, but a full offseason of training should get him back to 100%. At the very least, his time in Dallas has shown he can transition into a good defensive forward if he is not able to regain his scoring touch. If he IS able to get the scoring touch back, you have got your 2nd line centre position filled with a dependable 2-way player who should be good for 25-27 goals and 75-80 points, leaving Kesler to man the 3rd line (or the infirmary, depending on his health). After scoring only 7 goals this season, Roy's negotiating power will be at an all-time low, and you should be able to get him for a reasonable number.

 5. Trade Kevin Bieksa. He has some cache in the league, and you should be able to turn him into a solid 2nd line winger. Let his inconsistent play, bad penalties, and frequent turnovers become someone else's problem.

6. Use the cap space you now have available to fill in the roster. You need a top-tier defenseman, you will have to pay huge for one, but there will probably be one available. Add in two more solid NHL defenseman, one 2nd line winger, and a dependable fourth line. You'll have to pray that Edler rebounds into a solid #2 defenseman, but he has the tools to do that. Hamhuis and Ballard can be your 2nd pair, with a free agent signee and Tanev as a reliable young 3rd pair. Corrado looks pretty good, he's a decent #7 and a couple free agents round out the corps. Eddie Lack becomes your backup goalie, and it's time to "shit or get off the pot" with the young guys like Schroeder and Rodin. Nicklas Jensen should be ready for some spot duty as well. If all goes well, and the young guys gel and can contribute, you will be back in the playoffs and maybe able to make a run. If not, well, then you will need to do the following:

7. Trade the Sedins. You certainly don't do this in the offseason, but at some point during next year if things are not going well, you are going to have to go to them and discuss options. Their contracts are up after next season and it would be ludicrous to extend them until you know what direction you are going. It would be even more ludicrous to let them play out their contracts and sign somewhere else as UFA's the next year, and you get nothing for your 2 all-time franchise leading scorers (who will be only 33 years old by the time next year's trading deadline comes around). They have no-trade clauses in their contracts, so they will have to agree, but I suspect they will be happy to leave the sinking ship if things are going poorly and winning here is no longer an option.

There you have it. I will bill the Canucks my usual consulting fee.

And, since I really don't want them to succeed, I really hope they don't take any of my advice :-)

Friday, 5 April 2013

Goodbye, Mr. Ebert.

In the early 90's, when the internet boom was just beginning, I was fortunate enough to subscribe to CompuServe, the main competitor to AOL, where I met and interacted with a man named Roger Ebert. Roger was the first celebrity I had ever personally talked to (although he would cringe at being called a 'celebrity'), and I enjoyed discussing my favorite films and getting feedback from the world's best known (along with Gene Siskel) film critic. He was always polite and appreciative of the opinions of everyone on the site, even those who posted near-illiterate drivel about the misunderstood genius of Pauly Shore.

I love movies. I always have, and since my days working in a video store, always tried to see "good" movies. I realize that everyone has their taste, and what is "good" to me may not be to you.....but in my opinion, if it was good enough to receive the much-coveted "two thumbs up" rating from Siskel and Ebert (and, later, Ebert and Richard Roeper), it was good enough to warrant my attention. Of course I wasn't able to see EVERY film they recommended, or even close to it, but I went out of my way to search out films they championed. In many cases, they were films that I had not heard of, or had no interest in seeing. Off the top of my head, I can think of so many great films that I saw based solely on their specific recommendations:

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover
Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down
Life is Beautiful
Do The Right Thing
Schindler's List
The Joy Luck Club
The Player
Short Cuts
Leaving Las Vegas
The Full Monty
In The Company of Men
In The Bedroom
City of God
Thank You for Smoking
Barney's Version
The Artist
Midnight in Paris

....and this little beauty with the strange title, from 1994:

Oh, how many hours of entertainment I owe to them. The films listed above are just the ones that come to mind right now. I am sure I am missing dozens of other great films that I would not have searched out on my own.

Do a search for "Roger Ebert" right now and you will find hundreds of thoughts and tributes to a man who touched so many lives. There is little I can add.

When Gene Siskel passed away in 1999 (my GOD can it really be 14 years ago??), Roger hosted a beautifully touching tribute to his friend and colleague. This is one of a handful of VHS tapes I had kept until less than a month ago when I transferred it to DVD. The quality is pretty awful, but that one will stay in my collection until it's my turn to join them in the balcony.

He was more than a movie critic; he was a champion for smaller independent films (ask Michael Moore where his career would be without S&E's glowing review of "Roger and Me", or Quentin Tarantino). He also was fast to highlight up and coming performers; Siskel and Ebert both panned the 1987 Christopher Reeve movie "Street Smart", but highlighted a terrific performance by a then-unknown actor named Morgan Freeman. Freeman was nominated for an Oscar, likely due in large part to Siskel and Ebert's praise of a great performance in a film that few people saw, or liked. He was a strong advocate for documentaries, often criticizing Hollywood for his perceived lack of support for them, and for their over-reliance on digital effects and what he called "gimmicks", such as 3-D. He railed against the Motion Picture Association of America's rating system, claiming it railed between being too restrictive and too lenient. He was the first film critic awarded the Pulitzer Prize for journalism, in 1975. And, he is one of the only film critics to have actually written a screenplay, for Russ Meyer's 1970 film "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls", which is still considered a cult classic by many.

He cared, and wrote, about many things other than movies; from religion to politics, from pop culture to the state of the internet, Roger always had an opinion and was happy to share it with his readers.

And, in the last few years of his life, he became a role model for those dealing with illness. When he lost the bottom part of his jaw, disabling him from speaking or eating, he just said "whatever" and kept doing everything he had already been doing. He was not going to hide his illness, or surrender to it. He even published a cookbook on meals that could be made with a rice cooker....despite the fact that he couldn't eat them.

Although I didn't always agree with his reviews (particularly stunning to me was his horribly-negative review of last year's Les Miserables, my favorite film of the past season and one I know I will always cherish), I always respected his opinions. Most often than not, if he enjoyed a film, I knew I would enjoy it, too.

Two days ago, Roger penned his final blog entry, in which he announced that his cancer had returned and he was planning on taking a "leave of presence". Not going away, but planning on reviewing less films. He wrote:

"It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness.

So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."

No, thank YOU, Roger.

Mr. Ebert was once asked what movie he thought was shown over and over in heaven, and what snack would be free of charge and calories there.

" 'Citizen Kane' and vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream," he answered.

Rest well, Roger. Gene has your seat waiting for you; and I'm sure he has the film and ice cream all ready to go.

Monday, 18 March 2013

When Food Meets Art; dinner at Victoria & Albert's

OK so here is the blog I promised with details of our dinner at Victoria & Albert's, the only 5 star restaurant in Orlando, which is in the Grand Floridian hotel.

Dinner actually started 4 days before we left on the trip, as they called me to ask for menu details to personalize our menus. They removed any reference to anything remotely close to be considered seafood for Tracey.

Menus were literally "personalized", as they had our names printed on them and we took them home.

The prix fixe menu was $135 each, with extra charges for anything listed on the menu with a price beside it. I declined the $210/oz. caviar.

We also added on the wine pairings for an extra $65 each.

It started with the best champagne I have ever had, Piper Heidsieck Cuvee 1785 NV Btut

We didn't get pictures of all the food but I'll include what we have below. Keep in mind that neither Tracey nor I EVER take pictures of food in restaurants, but this was special.

For our first course, I selected Mango Crusted Gulf Shrimp with Ponzu Vinaigrette. This was paired with a fabulous off-dry Reisling from Poet's Leap, in the Columbia Valley of Germany. Fabulous.

This was Tracey's first course:

Preserved Artichokes, Roasted Eggplant with an Olive and Black Garlic Aioli. Paired very nicely with Paco & Lola Albarino Rias Baixas, 2010. Yeah I don't know what that is either but it was excellent.

For our second course:

The nearest dish is Tracey's Poulet Rouge with Hedgehog Mushrooms and Gnocchi. Mine is a Diver Scallop with Fennel, Leek and Minus 8 Verjus Vinaigrette. I am not a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc but that was what was paired with this course and it was terrific (Jules Taylor, Marlborough, 2012). Tracey's pairing was a fantastic Italian Ceretto Rossana Dolcetto D'Alba.

My next course was a Braised Oxtail and Cherry Ravioli (because when you think Oxtail, you think cherries, right????). It was absolutely incredible. It came paired with a 2008 Highflyer Centerline, a red blend from California. Outstanding.

This was Tracey's next course:

Mangalitsa Pork with Roasted Beets and toasted Caraway Vinaigrette. This one was the only wine pairing "fail" of the night, as it came with a Malbec that she didn't like. However, the fail turned into a big "win" as they offered her a choice of any other wine to replace the Malbec (and left the Malbec for me!). She got a glass of the Cabernet Sauvignon that I had with my next dish, which was this one:

I had the choice of the steak on the left, which was Austrailian Kobe Beef (a $35 surcharge) or the beef on the right, the KING of steaks, Iwate Japanese beef ($90 extra). Since I couldn't decide, they offered to split the difference and bring me half of each!

I've had Kobe beef before, and it was just as amazing as I remembered. The other one, however, was something that I cannot describe. It was so good, it probably ruined me for Kobe beef!!!! Unreal.

As if that wasn't enough, the wine that came with it was absolutely the best Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever had. It was from Silver Oak, in California, from the Alexander Valley (2008). I've looked this one up and we can get it here, for $100 a bottle. The winery also makes a "better" one, if you can believe that, from the Napa Valley, which is $135 a bottle. Our server told me this is a very collected wine. I will be finding a bottle for a special occasion.

The fifth course was a palate cleanser, and Tracey selected the following:

Sottocenere Al Tartufo, Parmigiano Reggiano, Colston Basset Stilton, Gouda Reypenaer XO. I honestly don't even remember what this was, but I know she liked it. It came paired with a Portugese Port from a winery we are quite familiar with, Quinta do Crasto. We have a Douro from that winery quite often.

I had a White Chocolate Gelato, paired with an incredible Moscato from Italy. Simpy sublime.

Now it's time for dessert.


Hawaiian Chocolate Souffle


Carmelized Banana Gateau

Both desserts were compelling and finished off this incredible meal in the most perfect fashion possible.

Oh, and one other little added bonus:

Every lady in the restaurant was given a rose as she finished her meal.

If that wasn't enough, we were serenaded by a harpist, about 6 feet beside our table.

This was the food experience of my life, and it is an absolute "must do" when in Orlando.

Hope you enjoyed the read!