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and things went downhill from there
(a desperate plea for fish)
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18th-Feb-2018 02:51 pm - So much to say, so little words
Burning Fur Mood
I am just waiting for [personal profile] atara to finish unpacking groceries and then I am off to take over the kitchen so that I can make some "baked" beans for my lunches this week. Ever since we got the Instant Pot I have been looking for excuses to try and pressure cook things. I found a recipe for Boston-style beans that looks very simple, and quite good. The last time I made this style of beans I did it in the slow cooker. I am curious to see how different they come out with what is effectively the totally opposite cooking method.

On Friday we had a chat with the guy who handles our mutual funds. I told him of my tentative plan to retire this year. he ran our number and told me that I'd be crazy not to. He assured us that if I had setting up a plan to retire young, I'd gone about it the right way.

I admit that I spend way too much time on Reddit. I don't follow a huge number of subs, but I've come to notice quite a difference in the flavour of the subs, and specifically the type of person each attracts. There are three that stand out for me though in terms of their crowd.

Most Snobbish
r/coffee is a sub that I only joined recently, but it did not take me very long to realise that I am not even a shadow of a coffee snob compared to some of the folks in that sub.
Typical post: I got my latest overnight order in from Individually-picked-artisenal-beans.com last night. I burr-ground enough for one cup this morning, and spent thirty minutes picking through it to remove any grounds that were the wrong size until I had exactly 10.6 grams of grounds. I heated 8 ounces water to exactly 185 degrees Fahrenheit and I and processed it for three minutes and eighteen seconds in my inverted, reverse-osmosis Italian vacuum press. The resulting cup had a slightly off-putting, burnt cherry undertone that made me dump the whole thing down the drain in disgust. Can anybody help me with this? Is it possible I accidentally brought the water up to 185.5 degrees, or was it a mistake to let the beans sit in their shipping bag overnight?

Most Hipster
r/music is a sub where people seem to hate anything that anyone else likes.
Typical post: Most popular song from a relatively obscure 90s indie band.
Responses: I liked that band until they got radio play. :-(
That was their worst song, but I would listen the fuck out of [obscure song with no mass appeal]
That song was okay I guess, but [bonus track of the band burping and grunting] is my favourite driving tune of all time.

Most Pretentious
r/photography is the sub where the best camera is the one in your hand. Does gear matter? No. A good photographer can take amazing photographs with toy, plastic GI Joe camera.
Typical post: Here is a blog explaining all of the reasons why you suck as a photographer.
The used, $30,000 lens I ordered arrived today and boy am I excited to try it out on a wedding shoot.
I'm doing a wedding shoot tomorrow and they have a few specific requests for pictures. Am I justified to tell them to shut up and let me do my job?
I took a few pictures of my girlfriend yesterday [posts a few heavily-processed shots that are clearly meant to show off the girl rather than his photographing skills].
Not that gear matters, but I am thinking of upgrading from [$100,000 camera body] to [$200,000 camera body]. Does anyone here have experience or advice with it?
4th-Feb-2018 12:05 pm - Luke Warm
Burning Fur Mood
Our water heater is acting up ... again. Everything seemed fine when I had a hot shower yesterday morning, but when I went to wash dishes later in the afternoon the water was only hot-ish. I checked the breaker, and all seemed well, so I let it be and by evening it was pushing out hot water again.

This morning [personal profile] atara complained that the shower turned cold on her after a few minutes. This is the same behaviour it exhibited when the lower element died a couple of years ago, which leads me to suspect that the replacement element is likely at fault. It has probably been long enough that it is no longer under warranty, so I guess I'll have to get somebody out this week to replace it again. When they fixed the lower element earlier, they put in a 1500 watt element to replace the 1000 watt element that had been there. It's a 2000 watt circuit, so if anything, the lower element should have been under-driven. If it failed again this soon, I can only guess that it was faulty. Bugger.

The past month has been a series of ups and downs at work. In one week I was informed that I would be required to complete Locomotive Engineer training this year, and I was to arrange the best time with my boss. Later that week I noticed I got a modest bonus on my pay cheque for something cryptically described as a "CEO spotlight". I knew that my name had been put in for an award, but I'd expected to hear something before having a weird line item show up on my cheque.

Last week I had such a rough go of it at work that I had both my boss, and later my director call me at home in the evening to apologize. Then I got a letter from the CEO the next day telling me that I was doing a wonderful job.

I know that they like me there, and I like the work I do and the people I work with but ... I am tired of working for a company where my bosses feel the need to call me after hours to say they are sorry. I've seen this place go from a flawed company that I could still recommend as a decent employer to a place where I actively steer people away from applying. I knew we were in for a rough ride when we had a change of CEOs a few years back, because the guy coming in had a nasty reputation. There was a steady exodus of people higher up in the ranks who suddenly found opportunities with other career paths, or abruptly decided it was a good time to retire. They knew what to expect.

Our new CEO took that as an opportunity to replace them with people who embraced bullying and intimidation as a viable management style. Even though he is gone, his own replacement shows no sign of addressing that. About the only thing he has reversed from his predecessor is to go on a hiring spree to help fill some of our decimated ranks after his predecessor's incomprehensibly deep cuts. Even if we get some of our numbers back, we will never get back the valuable knowledge and experience we lost.

Anyway, as I have said (or at least alluded to) in earlier posts, I am 90% sure I will be pulling the pin later this year. I want out of this toxic environment. I'm too young to just slide quietly into inactivity, so I will have to find something productive to fill my time. Either I will find some part-time work to fill the void, or volunteer to work as a cat cuddler at the Humane Society. I think I would be pretty good at that.
21st-Jan-2018 10:49 pm - 158
Burning Fur Mood
I am down to 158 working days before I could potentially pull the pin for good in my job. It feels a little odd to be saying that - especially since I'm only 55. I don't feel that old, and I'm assured that I don't act that old, but in just a few months I'll pass the magic 85 years of combined age and service, which will make me eligible for a full pension.

To say that I have mixed feelings about this would be an understatement.

On the one hand I really enjoy the work I do, and I like all of the people I work with. I have worked closely with many of these people for more than twenty years in a lot of cases, and it's going to leave a weird hole in my social life when I go.

At the same time, I just got notified that they are going to send me for engineer training again this year because I have already partly completed the program. I am also getting repeated notifications that I need to renew training as a car inspector/mechanic. Nothing thrills me like the thought of getting sent off to work 12 hour night-shifts in sub-zero temperatures.

I am also a bit unimpressed with the working conditions. Our department is on a slow skid into becoming a coding sweatshop. It goes in fits and starts, but the ultimate target I see on the horizon is of a place where I no longer want to work. I also will not miss the turns on 24/7 call - especially since they removed the small financial stipend that went with it. It is not the money that bothers me, but the principle of it. The small allowance was an acknowledgement that we were putting our lives on hold for a week or more at a time to be available. It was just a mean, insulting cut because it saved the company very little money.

It is an act very typical of our current department president.

Anyway, I am rehashing things that I'm sure I've already said here.

Some of you that I follow here have retired, with varying degrees of recency.
How has it worked for you?
Was it a good decision?
What did you do with your life?
Are you bored?

I guess my biggest source of reluctance in pulling the pin is that it will change a lot in my life, and change is scary. I really don't know what I will do to fill the hole my job leaves behind. I'm afraid of feeling useless.
7th-Jan-2018 11:47 pm - Travel tribulations
Burning Fur Mood
I hope the couple of you still reading LJ/DW had a lovely Christmas and a pleasant New Year.

We had a quiet Christmas at home, and then flew out to the coast to surprise Mom on her birthday. She is in her 80s, and her health has begun to slide in the past few months, so we wanted to do this before all we could do was regret not doing it.

Even though I booked the tickets a couple of months ago, I could only find a handful of flights to and from Victoria. The two best (and only moderately obscene in price) were a flight that left Winnipeg at what-the-fuck o'clock in the morning, and a return flight at noon the following Tuesday. Westjet either had flights at really inconvenient times, or flights that departed at a reasonable time, but took 8 hours because they had stops in Regina/Calgary/Vancouver or Saskatoon/Edmonton/Vancouver. Also, the flights were painfully expensive on both airlines.

Normally I prefer to fly on Westjet because they have given me fewer problems over the years, but I went with AC because of the timing. When I looked at how much we were spending, I realized I could upgrade us to business for about the cost of what our checked luggage would be (which is free for business class), so I decided to treat us for the flight. I have not flown business class since the mid-90s, so I wasn't sure what to expect. We discovered that they still give you meals in business, and the quality has improved a great deal since the 90s. The food was not just passable, but really good.

Unfortunately, the meals were the highlight of the trip.

The first hiccough occurred when we were getting ready to go through security in Winnipeg. We had our boarding passes on our phones, but when we got to the kiosk, we discovered that [personal profile] atara could check us both in with her phone, so I just jammed temporarily mine into the front pocket of my hoodie (or bunny hug as they call them in Saskatchewan. I don't know why I bothered to add this bit of trivia except that I love that name for it.). Just before we put our luggage on the conveyor, we removed our winter outerwear and stuffed it into our checked bags so that we would not have to deal with it on the plane. In retrospect that turned out to be unnecessary because the flight crews had a coat check on the plane. It was only when we were standing in line at security that I realized I'd left my phone in my hoodie when I stuffed it into my suitcase. Fortunately I had my Surface and iPod in my carry-on, so I was not terribly concerned about it.

When we boarded the plane in Winnipeg, the flow of passengers boarding the plane trickled to a halt shortly after we were seated. There was no word from the flight crew for the next 30 minutes while we sat there at the gate and fiddled with what electronics we had remembered not to stuff into our checked luggage. We learned that there was a mechanical problem with the plane when [personal profile] atara overheard the flight attendants talking on the phone with the gate agents. All told, by the time they got the issue resolved, finished boarding the plane, and got through the line for de-icing, we were about an hour and fifteen minutes late getting into the air.

We were scheduled for a 90-minute layover in Vancouver, so we knew it would be tight at the other end. The plane made up time on the flight, and since we were at the front we were some of the first ones off. We jogged to the departure gate of our next flight, and got there with fifteen minutes to spare. We noted that our flight was a half-hour delayed anyway, so it seemed to be working out in our favour. While we were waiting, it managed to accrue another half hour of delay, and they started announcing that the next flight had been cancelled. By the state of the departure lounge, it was clear that they were having a bit of a challenge getting flights out to Victoria.

When we went to board our plane to Victoria, Air Canada dropped another fun bombshell on us.

"There's someone else in these seats."

Apparently when they noticed that our flight out of Winnipeg was delayed, they pulled all of the Winnipeg passengers heading to Victoria (at least a dozen of us) off of the 9:00 flight and put us on the 10:00 flight.

The flight that they had been announcing the cancellation of from the moment we'd arrived at the lounge. Apparently, they had sent me a text message about it while we were in the air, but my phone was in my checked luggage, so it did not do us a lot of good. It looked like most of the other Victoria passengers from our flight were also caught by surprise. We checked with their service desk, and it seems that while we had been waiting to board, they had filled up the next couple of flights with all the other folks who had been on the cancelled 10:00 flight. By this point it was getting on toward 10:30, and he wasn't sure what he could do to accommodate us. He gave us a couple of $10 meal vouchers and told us to come back at around 11:30 and he'd see what he could do. We'd been fed on the plane, and neither of us were especially hungry, so we walked most of the way to the other end of the airport, and then returned and hung out in the departure lounge until 11:30.

"Good news! I've managed to get you two seats on the 12:30 flight. You won't be sitting together though."

We assured him that we were not too concerned about being separated for a 20-minute flight, and we took our new boarding passes. The flight was late arriving, but we sat at the end of the lounge by the departure gate and watched them unload the luggage from the inbound flight, then pull up and begin loading. We relaxed a bit when we saw our bags loaded into the back of the Dash 8.

Then the grounds crew began milling about, and a couple of technicians began fiddling with the plane. The process went on for some time until one of them came up to the departure lounge and spoke with the gate agent. She told us that they had found a problem with the plane and were sending off for a replacement part. She promised us that the delay would probably be about half an hour at most. About fifteen minutes later the technicians returned, and we saw them fiddling around in the cockpit of the plane. After a few minutes of this, they came out and spoke with the ground crew.

The ground crew considered what they'd said, and then began unloading the luggage again.

We were not the only ones who had noticed what was transpiring because a few others in the lounge spotted it, checked their phones, and then made a beeline to the gate agent because AC's website had just marked the flight as cancelled. The gate agent went into damage-control mode.

"As some of you have noticed, the web site is showing this flight as cancelled. Please don't leave the gate area yet as we are trying to arrange a replacement plane for this flight." A good number of people left the gate area and headed over to the service desk to lodge their complaints, but we stuck around until she came back on about five minutes later and said, "Never mind, it's cancelled. Please talk to the service desk to make alternate arrangements."

When we got to the service desk, there were nine people in front of us (I counted). Almost as soon as we got there, I overheard one of the agents say, "We can take seven more and that's it." Great.

When we finally got to the front, the service agent spent a very long time hammering keys before she said, "OK! I've got you on standby for the 14:30 and 15:30 flights. We might be able to get one of you on one of those flights. I've got you seats on the 17:30 flight for sure." We tried to be polite with her because the problems were not her fault, but we were a bit pointed with her when we asked about the odds of the 17:30 flight being cancelled, given we'd had three flights pulled out from under us already.

I also pointed out that even if we did not get bumped from, or have the 17:30 flight cancelled, we could hop in a cab to the ferry and be at our hotel before that flight even arrived. We'd been planning to do some shopping in Victoria - which is why we'd left Winnipeg so early - but it was already shot by by now. She offered us a taxi chit that would get us to the ferry (we'd be on our own after that), and gave us the number to call after our trip to get reimbursed for the Victoria flight. Then she instructed us to collect our bags at carousel number four.

We got to the carousel and split up. Her instructions had been a bit vague. [personal profile] atara took them to mean that we should wait for our bags to arrive on the carousel, but I had a hunch she'd meant for us to speak with the baggage agents there. She went to the carousel, and I got in line to speak with a baggage agent. It is just as well I did, because there really had not been a plan on her part beyond telling us to head up there. When I spoke with the agent, he said that it would probably take a couple of hours to get our bags up there (they had hundreds of them set aside because of all the cancellations), and that we would likely miss a sailing or two if we waited around for them. He took down the details of where we were saying, and promised that they would be forwarded to us there later in the day.

We made the ferry where my brother (who had also come out from Calgary to surprise Mom) met us on the Victoria side and drove us to the airport to pick up our rental car. The agents there had been very understanding, and held the car an additional 8 hours for us past when we had booked ourselves to pick it up. It was a bit awkward for us because even though Victoria is a much warmer clime than Winnipeg, it is winter there. We had a light jacket between the two of us (I'd kept that out of my checked luggage because I suspected we would probably be boarding on the tarmac in Vancouver). I let [personal profile] atara have my jacket because I deal with the cold a little better than she does, but that left me with just a long-sleeved shirt that I had donned for the flight because it has pockets.

Our bags did not arrive later in the day.

We surprised Mom with dinner, and then got back to our hotel to a disturbing lack of luggage. The hotel gave us some emergency toothbrushes, toothpaste, a hairbrush for [personal profile] atara, and the worlds worst disposable razor and shaving cream for me. No, really, this razor was awful. Cruel. It made no pretence of cutting through stubble, rather, it's blades had a special gripping action that pulled the hairs out by their roots. That was far and away the worst shaving experience of my life. Also, the bristles of the emergency toothbrushes were coming off in our mouths as we brushed. Definitely not keepers.

When we retired to our room, we logged into Air Canada's baggage tracing system to learn the fate of our luggage. Their site showed that it was last seen arriving in Dallas Fort Worth, with an estimated delivery date sometime in the year 2200. [personal profile] atara was beside herself because, among other things, my phone was in our luggage.

Then she had an epiphany.

"Wait, your phone is in your luggage! Let's check your movement history in Google and see where your phone thinks it is."

We checked, and it showed arriving on a Victoria-bound at about 19:00 and being toted to the far end of the airport.

They finally got around to delivering our luggage early the next afternoon. We got tired of waiting and drove up to the airport to pick it up in person. They could not find it there, and they assumed it had gone out for delivery, even though it had not been logged on the delivery sheet. We had passed their courier on the highway going the other direction. As we were leaving the airport again, the hotel called to let us know that our bags had just arrived.

The flight home was uneventful. The dinner in business class was as delicious as the breakfast had been going the other way.
24th-Dec-2017 07:01 pm - Plonqmas 2017
Burning Fur Mood
After failing to produce anything the past couple of months, here is my (sort of) annual Plonqmas story.

I Drink Alone

“I drink alone,” crooned the gravelly voice of George Thoroughbred from the bluetooth speakers on top of the fridge. Plonq’s tail tapped sympathetically in time with the music as he bustled about in the kitchen, organizing cans and boxes in the order they’d need to be prepared for dinner. As the song came to a close and cross-faded into 40 Oz. To Freedom, the snow leopard paused and glanced thoughtfully at the speakers for a moment. The two previous songs in his playlist had been Brass Monkey and Have a Drink On Me. A tiny, self-aware portion of his brain struggled to notice a thematic link between the songs, but his dominant hemisphere mewled, “Didn’t I just hear this one?”

The short feline cursed the flaky shuffle mode in Spotify and stretched up to tap the next button on his phone. He distantly noted that it skipped to One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, but the bulk of his attention was on his Christmas card. As he had been fumbling with the phone, the cat had bumped the card with his knuckle, and rather than just obediently falling over, it sailed off the side of the fridge and fell down into the gap between the refrigerator and the stove.

“Ack!” he exclaimed as he crouched in front of the stove and shoved his hand as far into the gap as he was able. He managed to pinch his middle and ring fingers on the card, and he gently extracted it from the trap. He shook off the cobwebs and wiped it carefully on his apron to remove a small smudge of grease from the back. He opened the card and read it again.
“Dear Plonq, hope you have a lovely Christmas in 2013
Love, Mom.”

The cat had carefully crossed out each year and updated it every Christmas. Mom did not send out cards anymore, and had not even recognized him on his last visit, but Plonq liked to keep the tradition going.

Christmas was all about traditions.

He got up on his toes and carefully stood the card back in its place on the refrigerator. As he was placing it, he could not help but read the magnetic whiteboard on the freezer door. It had been wiped clear of all but a dire warning from the Christmas past. “Do not leave the turkey to thaw on the counter for five days.” The feline’s stomach knotted at the memory of the previous year’s fiasco. The worst of it should have been what he later came to call, “The Boxing Day of Projectile Everything.” Sadly, that was only the start. One might say that hindsight is 20/20, but the cat cursed his past self for eating turkey sandwiches with what were – now, at least – predictable results for the next week.

He hated wasting food, but in retrospect he admitted that there were probably logical boundaries that, once passed, would allow him to throw out the leftovers without guilt.

Fortunately, the warning had lost its importance after his life-changing encounter with a turkey vendor at the local grocer. He patted the room-temperature bird in its tight, polyethylene wrapping where it had been sitting on the counter for the past week. He remembered the encounter, and how his initial reaction to the vendor’s claims had slowly shifted from disbelief to awe and delight. This bird was the answer to every bad Christmas he’d ever experienced.

“Granny Kate’s Famous Fowl” proclaimed the label that arched over a colour picture of a perfectly browned, crispy-skinned, steam-gushing turkey on a platter. In smaller text curved convexly under the picture it said, “Discover the Christmas miracle of GMO turkey that is scientifically proven to please!” The pack was emblazoned with starbursts, each espousing the magnificent properties of the bird.
“No refrigeration necessary before cooking.”
“Shelf stable!”
“No oven required.”

The vendor had explained how the wrapping was lined with insulated foil that kept all the heat and goodness on the inside while it cooked. All he needed to do was peel open the vent on the top of the bag to prevent it from exploding, and pull the tab out of the back to begin the cooking process. It was, in a word, Plonq-proof. “Well, ok; two words,” he thought, barely containing a purr. He grabbed the bottle of merlot on the counter and raised it to take another swig, but he caught himself at the last moment. He gave the bottle a swirl, and realized that he was down to a quarter of a bottle. He had been planning to save it to have over dinner, but it had been too enticing sitting on the counter among the meal fixings. The cat shrugged and took another swallow of wine; a Chardonnay would probably go better with the turkey anyway.

He leaned closer to read the cooking instructions and then glanced at the time. If his mental math was right then it was nigh time to start cooking it. Plonq tore away the strip covering the vent, and then took another swig of wine to steel his nerves. For good or ill, it was now the moment that he had been eagerly anticipating, yet vaguely dreading ever since he had purchased this marvel of engineering. He rested one hand on the bird’s rump, put his other index finger through the ring and pulled firmly on the tab. After a moment of resistance it slid free of the bird and hung flaccidly and, dared he think it, anticlimactically in his hand.

Nothing seemed to happen.

Plonq blinked and stared at the inert turkey sitting in its platter. The fact that neither he nor the turkey were on fire at that moment was a victory in itself, but he could not suppress a mild feeling of disappointment; he had been anticipating, well, something. He leaned close and pressed an ear to the bird. At first he could hear nothing over the strains of Gin and Juice blaring from his fridge top, but eventually he could make out the faint liquid hiss and pop of a reaction starting. He stood again, shrugged, and finished the merlot in one swallow. There was nothing for it but to wait.

The turkey claimed that it would be done in thirty minutes, so the cat quickly set to preparing the rest of dinner. He opened the cranberry sauce and slid it carefully out into its dish, pumping a victorious fist in the air when he managed extricate it in a single, unbroken cylinder of jelly. He flicked the switch on the kettle to begin heating water for the instant potatoes and gravy, and then dumped the frozen vegetables into a microwave-safe bowl. Plonq nibbled on his lower lip while he looked around for the next thing to prepare, but other than putting the vegetables into the microwave and dumping the buns into a bowl, everything was set for now. He noticed that the turkey was now quite audible, and its bag was beginning to balloon. He gave a curt nod and another self-satisfied purr before he retired to the living room to sit by the tree and rest while he waited for the water to boil.

Any thought of relaxation vanished when he stepped through the kitchen doorway and saw the pile of mittens on the sofa.

Ack! The mittens!

There was a note on the mittens reminding him that the donation period closed on Sunday at 17:30 so that they would have time wrap them and give them out to the homeless the next day. A surge of panic welled up in his gut as he looked frantically between the mittens, and the wall clock that read 17:00. He had been meaning to drop them at the shelter all week, but every day had brought a new, satisfactory excuse for inaction until now he had exactly thirty minutes to deliver. Plonq had promised them the mittens. They were counting on his mittens. If he did not come through with his promise, there would be a lot of cold paws on Christmas Day.

There was still time! Plonq dashed to the closet for his hat and coat, which he quickly shrugged on over his apron. He dug through the detritus at the bottom of the closet until he had uncovered the wheelbarrow that he had been meaning to move to his storage locker for the past couple of years. He grunted wryly at how his procrastination had paid off for once. He quickly packed the mittens into a big mound in the wheelbarrow and wheeled it out to the kitchen. He opened the back door, and as the icy December air swirled into the kitchen with a billow of snow, he closed the door again and sheepishly dashed off to the bedroom for pants.

He returned to the kitchen wearing pants and boots, ready for a second attempt at the outside world. The turkey on the counter caught his attention before he made it to the door. Its bag was fully inflated now, and it was belching steam out of its vent. What had caught his attention though was that it was starting to emit sounds that bordered on alarming. Plonq let out a mew of indecision. On the one hand, he had to deliver the mittens. On the other hand, he was loathe to leave the bird unattended in his kitchen, especially when he saw that the bag was bulging and distorting in places as if the turkey was thrashing around inside.

He stood, mesmerized and paralyzed by indecision until the only logical course of action suddenly clarified in his head. He quickly burred out a well in the middle of the mittens and temporarily donned a pair of them to protect his hands. They were held together by plastic tie, but he could separate them enough for his purposes. Plonq carefully picked up the bird and maneuvered into the well he had created in the mittens. The steam gushing out the top scalded his muzzle, but he barely noticed it in his frantic state. As an afterthought he tossed the unopened bottle of Chardonnay into the wheelbarrow as well.

The little snow leopard opened the door, wheeled the barrow out onto the back porch and closed the door behind him. He heard the kettle shut itself off as he was leaving and noted that he would need to boil the water again on his return. Dinner would be late, but he had an important promise to keep. He gripped the handles of the wheelbarrow with clenched knuckles and slowly walked it down the back steps, watching mittens bounce out over the sides with each step. There was a tense moment when he thought he was going to lose the turkey on the third to last step, but he eventually reached the sidewalk. He ran back up the steps to gather up all of the mittens that had escaped, and then he grabbed the wheelbarrow and began jogging toward the collection centre.

The turkey had begun to pulsate, belching out blasts of steam from the wheelbarrow in front of him as if it was a locomotive, driving him down the road. For all its alarming sounds and appearances, it was starting to smell very good. The icy air burned his normally sedentary lungs, and his shins began to ache from the strain of ploughing the wheelbarrow through the growing layer of snow on the sidewalk, but Plonq persevered. He arrived at the collection centre with five minutes to spare. The cat doubled over, hand on his knees while he panted and regained his composure. The smell of cooking turkey had been driving him nearly mad with hunger all the way from his apartment. About a block from the shelter, a little plastic spire had slowly risen from the vent hole and released a small flag that sprung open to reveal the word, “Done!”

Once his panting had relented a bit, Plonq wiped his muzzle on the sleeve of his coat, and pressed a button next to the door that was labeled for deliveries. Somewhere in the warehouse a farty-sounding buzzer blarted out his presence to those inside. He didn’t have to wait long before the door cracked open and let out stream of light and steam.

“Hello?” said a tentative voice as a bespectacled badger poked her muzzle around the edge of the door and peeked outside. At first she fixed on the frost-rimed, icicled muzzle of the snow leopard standing out in the snow, then her eyes roamed over small mountain of mittens. “Oh. Oh! It’s the mitten guy!” she said excitedly. She threw the door wide. “Come in, please. We were worried that you had forgotten.”

“Sorry,” said Plonq as he wheeled the mittens awkwardly through the door. “I’ve just been running behind all week. I hope I brought enough.”

“That’s more than enough,” said the badger whose nose was working overtime, “but why do they smell so much like roasted turkey?” By now, the smell had drawn over the rest of the crew who had been sorting donations. Their arrival was heralded by a chorus of voices.

“What smells so good?”
“Did we order food, because I’m starving?”
“It smells like Christmas in here.”
“I thought we were going for sandwiches later.”

To his horror, Plonq saw the slavering crew approaching behind the badger, eyes fixed on the wheelbarrow. There was a tall, gangly young fox wearing an ironic, camo sweatshirt and a tattered toque. Following him was an equally short, elderly ermine in a dowdy sweater and loose-fitting jeans. Bringing up the rear were a rotund cheetah with her head shaved in a reverse Mohawk and an astonishing number of ear studs, and a grizzled old goat.

“You brought us … a turkey?” said the cheetah in hushed amazement.

“And wine,” said the badger, snatching the bottle out of the wheelbarrow and presenting it for view. Tears welled up in her eyes as she clutched the bottle to her ample bosom and turned back to the stunned snow leopard. “Bless you sir. We usually feel kind of forgotten on Christmas. This is a really special thing you’ve done for us.”

Tears welled up Plonq’s eyes as he watched his turkey wheeling away in the hands of the cheetah. “I, uh, ya, I guess,” he stammered, craning to watch over the badger’s shoulder as his precious turkey disappeared into the break room. His empty, yearning stomach tried to spur him into action, but he could not think of any action he could take at this point which would not make him look crass. He turned at the feel of a tap on his shoulder, and found himself facing the tall, gangly fox.

“Thank you,” said the young fox. He wiped a tear from his eye, and then suddenly wrapped the snow leopard in a tight, foxy hug. He released the cat, grabbed his hand and pumped it several times. “Thank you,” he repeated. “It’s because of generous people like you that I don’t let cynicism take over my life.”

He turned to the old goat and clamped an arm around his shoulder. “Come on, let’s get it while it’s hot.”

“I don’t do meat,” bleated the goat sourly, but he let himself be led back to the break room.

Plonq watched the last of them leave, and stood silently by the exit, trying to derive some Zen-like enjoyment from the lingering smell of his bygone turkey.

They’d said something about going for sandwiches; that implied that there was a sandwich shop nearby. The little cat sighed. He adjusted his coat, cinched his toque down tighter and turned to open the door. “Perhaps they have turkey sandwiches,” he thought with a flicker of hope.

With that, the diminutive cat stepped out into the night.
3rd-Dec-2017 11:57 am - Routine
Burning Fur Mood
Routine Sunday morning, rising late and naughtily skipping church to lounge about in my underwear and drink coffee. A scrambled eggs and soysauge kind of morning, where a shave and shower is the acme of my ambitions for the day.

It is a slow, luxurious shaving day involving a thickly lathered brush, and thoughtful, methodical sweeps of the razor. Rinsing reveals that I have shaved too high on one side, and the small sideburns are now unbalanced. Was it a casualty of this morning, or on a less relaxed day when haste trumps finesse? Should I fix it by trimming the other side to match?

Memories return of the young hair stylist at a recent, trendy hair salon geared for the millennial crowd, admonishing me for having shaved far too aggressively in a time when sideburns have fallen back into fashion.

I could shave the other side to match, and my nascent sideburns would slowly wither away one erroneous millimetre at a time until I shaven myself another admonishment from the next barber.

I chose to leave it be, as facial hair is a marvel in erasing our mistakes over time; I shall use the electric trimmer to bring them even as my error grows itself away.

And for the nonce I shall own the asymmetry.
30th-Nov-2017 08:03 am - Tribalism
Burning Fur Mood
I know that things have become politically grim south of the border when I can't even derive any schadenfreude from it.

If I could find a silver lining in the ongoing dumpster fire in US politics, it's that it makes me realize how normal and rational the political arena is (so far) on our side of the border.

A child predator is currently poised to win an election in one of the southern states because folks there have sunk so far from political sanity. They have demonzed their political opponents to the point where they will side with a child molester just because he is one of theirs.

It raises the frightening question about just how far they are willing to shift their moral compass out of blind tribalism.

I wonder if US politics have hit rock bottom, or if they are only just beginning the slide.
28th-Nov-2017 11:34 pm - In a dark place
Burning Fur Mood
As I was getting ready for bed last night, CBC was playing an interview with one of the authors of the Goosebump series, and something he said triggered the memory of a nightmare that I had when I was - at most - in my mid to late teens. It was not the first (or, arguably, worst) nightmare I had ever endured, but it had the right mix of surrealism and stark realism that it (obviously) made a lasting impression.

It was not actually a singular nightmare, but a series of them strung together through a common theme. I remember that there were at least five of them in the chain, but the only two I remember are the first and last of them. Serial nightmares are not common for me, but neither are they unusual. In fact, I often find myself revisiting familiar locations in my dreams - both good and bad.

The strange series of nightmares started off abruptly when I found myself sitting alone in the cloak room of my grade 5 classroom from elementary school. I was sitting on the floor, with my back against the wall and both of my hands palm-down on the floor. It was obviously the middle of the night, because the only light in the room was from a single, incandescent ceiling light overhead.

The cloak room was at the back of the classroom, and was actually just a walled-off area rather than being a true room unto itself. The ceiling-height wall extended most of the width of the classroom, with open entryways at either end opening into the classroom. It had hangers on both sides, and shelving across from me for lunch boxes and muddy boots. The light overhead was one of those round, single-bulb ceiling fixtures that were popular in schools of this vintage. In retrospect it is probably the fact that I took notice of the lighting fixture at all that lent a lot of realism to this dream; usually the lighting in my dreams tends to come from ambient, unimportant sources. What made this light notable was its sheer normality.

Everything in the dream was unnaturally real, in fact. The floor was cold, hard, and slightly gritty under my palms, and my back was slightly stiff as if I had been sitting against the wall for quite some time. Even in my nightmares, there is always a certain dream logic that kicks in to explain the situation, no matter how convoluted that logic twists itself. In this instance, I was aware of exactly where I was, and puzzled over why I was there, or how I had arrived there. The initial scare in the dream was the fear over finding myself in a mundane place with no knowledge of how I got there.

Then things started to get strange.

As I sat there with my back to the wall, considering if I should just leave, or look around for some clue as to how I had got there, I began to notice just how quiet and dark the school was during the night. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was not just dark and silent, but preternaturally dark and silent. There was a door to my right that led into the hall, and it may as well have had a square of black paper in its frame as glass. Also, the light in the cloak room should have been spilling out into the classroom, but it ended abruptly at the openings on either side of the wall. At first I thought it a bit odd and creepy, but the longer I looked at it, the odder and more disturbing it became.

I realized that the light did not project out into the classroom because the darkness was projecting into the cloakroom. It scintillated shadows around its edges, and as I watched, the ends and floor of the cloak room slowly dimmed. I realized that the light overhead was the only thing holding it at bay, and it was slowly overcoming that. And it made noise - sort of. I could feel pressure on my ears as it encroached on the cloak room, though there was no whisper of a sound other than my own breathing.

Then I woke up. Except that I didn't. I dreamt that I awoke, and everything seemed normal until the darkness reappeared. Then it happened again, and again. After four abrupt dream transitions, each one ending with me waking up in a different place, I finally awoke again, lying on the sofa in the living room. I awoke with a start, heart pounding with an adrenaline rush.

The TV was on, with the sound turned low, and the orange spun-glass swag lamp was lit. I vaguely remembered sitting down to watch TV earlier, and realized that I must have fallen asleep in the middle of whatever I had been watching. My parents' bedroom door was about six inches ajar (they always left it slightly cracked when they went to bed - presumably so they could hear if any of the kids were up and about), and I was curious why they had not woken me and chased me off to bed before they turned in for the night. I found that a bit strange, but now that I was awake, I decided to head off to bed under my own volition.

As I was about to stand up and head off to bed, I was struck by how quiet it was in their bedroom. They were not quiet sleepers (dad's snore could shake the house), but I could not hear them breathing. Also, it was very dark through the crack in the open door. Very very dark. As I watched, wispy tendrils of darkness crept around the edges of the doorway and caressed their way into the living room...

I finally woke in my own bed. For real this time.

I think.

The dreams felt very real - that's what made them frightening at the time. Each false awakening made me realize that the nightmare was just toying with me. I am pretty sure that I am awake now, but there is that little nattering of doubt in the back of my mind telling me that it is just playing the long game this time. If you see me hesitate before stepping into an unlit room, you know why. It's just my subconscious brain momentarily flinching, wondering if the darkness has returned.
22nd-Nov-2017 09:44 pm - bl­üd
Burning Fur Mood
­Tonight's journal entry is brought to you by Tommy Wiseau's brilliant movie The House That Drips Blood On Alex.

It's like The Room, only more self-aware.

I returned on Friday from two weeks at the head office. This time it was not for training though - they wanted to get me out there for project work. My boss has a sizeable number of reports that need to be moved off of stand-alone lab machines into a more stable and supported environment. You can't see me rolling my eyes in the last part of that previous sentence, because when I say "supported", that is with the caveat they are all probably going to be moved to another platform next year. Why would we move them now, rather than wait until the new, even more stable and supported platform is ready?

That's a good question.

Our CIO has decided that he does not like MS Access, and he has mandated that it will be gone by the end of the year. Since these reports all run out of Access, we need to move them before the end of the year. Sadly, the scary number of machines running outside of IT that are processing large volumes of business data through MS Access are not being migrated. Our CIO has no idea how much information that is critical to the business is being processed by the business itself because IT has cut itself too thin to do the work for them. The new year is going to be ... interesting.

My counterpart from Toronto was also out at the head office, so even though I was not keen on flying out there for two weeks, I was glad for the chance to hang out with him again. We've worked together for years, but the last time we got to meet in person was almost ten years ago. I must say he is ageing better than I am. The trip was fun, and educational, and productive, and very, very tiring. They decided that since we we (that is, me and my counterpart, but nobody else) should work through the long weekend to make it worth the expense of flying us out there. After twelve straight days in a row, getting up at 5:30 every morning starts to get a bit old.

My director took me for coffee one morning on the second week, and he had a number of interesting things to say. Some of it was probably slightly privileged information, but I have a knack for seeming reliable, so all of my managers have tended to share secrets with me. By far the largest part of the coffee chat though was him finding different ways to paraphrase, "Please, please please don't retire next year." He was all-but begging me to consider sticking around a couple more years. He and my direct boss have both confided in me that they consider me their top developer, so I can understand why they might be concerned over the thought that I want out.

This is doubly so when they know they are also losing two other very senior developers to retirement next year as well. What they don't know is that they are also probably going to lose their best system administrator as well, because he's got a job lined up with another company in the new year. We are bleeding people and knowledge at an alarming rate right now, and I don't see the flow stemming any time soon as long as our current CIO is at the helm.

I admit that I am torn over the idea of leaving. This company has been a big part of the larger part of my life, and I'm not really sure what I will do with myself when I retire. I love the challenge, and I like the work that I do. I like the people I work with, and I appreciate being appreciated. Unfortunately, that's all wrapped in the layer of this toxic department that our CIO has created.

Also, with the possibility of a strike in the running trades looming next year, I foresee them pushing me back into the engineer training program sooner rather than later. It's not that I don't want to learn it, but I don't want to cope with the misery they have been inflicting on other managers who are qualified in the running trades. My boss said that he would do everything in his power to keep me out of the program if I agreed to stay, but he admitted that it might be out of his hands. Nice of him to promise something that he knows he likely can't deliver. I guess the thought is there.

On another front, I took Monday off to make up for one of the days I worked through on the long weekend. I'd had a mental list of things I wanted to accomplish that day, but in the end I just went over to the clinic to get some blood sucked out of me and then came home and vegetated in front of my computer. I was still a bit burnt out from my trip.

The blood work was interesting. I am not a fan of needles at the best of times - in fact, I daresay I love them like Superman loves Kryptonite. They are the acid to my base. The beef gravy to my vanilla ice cream. When I started counting how many vials the nurse pulled out as I sat down, I knew I was in for a rough time. Fortunately I seem to have finally got past the part where I come close to fainting every time I get a needle, but I had to work hard to stay in my happy place this time.

It wasn't so bad when she first stuck in the needle. I was also still holding up as she filled the first two flasks. What almost did me in was when she decided that the blood was not flowing fast enough, and she started readjusting the needle in the vein, pushing and twisting it around a bit until she found the sweet spot again. After six subjective hours, it was finally over. I escaped with my life again this time, but someday I may not be so lucky.
5th-Nov-2017 07:00 pm - Virtue Signalling
Burning Fur Mood
I responded to one of those Facebook memes yesterday, though I knew in advance that I was in a no-win position with my response. The person who posted it was just virtue-signalling, and she really had not thought through what she had posted, and had no desire to actually think about it critically.

The post was a bit hard to read because it was an image meme that had been passed around so many times that it was almost as much jpeg artifact as it was image by this point, but it said, "Please don't put up decorations until Nov 12th. Respect our Veterans!"

November 11th is a holiday up here called Remembrance Day when we are supposed to pause and reflect on the sacrifices of the soldiers who died in the first world war (and then each subsequent "war to end all wars" that came after). The holiday is meant as a cautionary day, when we set aside some quiet time in sombre contemplation on the horrors of war, and remember the people who died in it. The whole point in remembering is to understand that war should always be the last resort, not the first.

Unfortunately, it has since morphed into a day when people trip over themselves to show how much they love veterans in a form of weird, military-worship that has become frighteningly popular. Notice how they even capitalized the word veteran as if it is too important to use lower case, similar to how a religious person will capitalize words like "Hi" and "Him" when it is a reference to their deity.

I knew it was a losing argument, but I asked her, "How is putting up decorations prior to the 12th even remotely disrespectful to veterans?"

Her response was, " I was taught if it was not for the veterans we may not be able to celebrate Christmas,but again that is only my thoughts."

Because the Germans did not believe in Christmas... but let that one slide.

I replied, "We are able to celebrate Christmas because of the veterans, and we thank them by not celebrating Christmas?"

In fact, I think that if veterans had returned from a war where they fought for our ability to celebrate Christmas, rather than feeling disrespected if we put up lights, they would feel disrespected if we did not. Military veterans have weighed in on this topic over the years in some of the subs I follow on Reddit, and they almost universally hate this kind of deification of veterans. None of them seem to mind veteran discounts that many places offer (and why should they?), but they find the military worship a bit awkward and disturbing.

I may do a longer post about our recent vacation, or I might just leave you with a random assortment of photographs I took on it.

Wild child
A moment of colour

Finally, as I was writing this post, I heard about the latest mass shooting in the US. Deaths in the double-digits.

I really don't have anything to say about this. If a nation does not want to fix itself, it's not my place to preach.

I'm starting to become a bit numb to these events, other than to be grateful that so far they have not directly affected any of my friends or family.

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