It's nice to get away

Amanda and I spent the weekend in beautiful Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.

We went there in the summer for part of our vacation, and Amanda rightly suggested we return for our "official" arbitrary anniversary in the fall. So ... we did!

Ahhh ... two nights in the luxurious King George Inn, with a two-person jacuzzi tub, genuine artificial fireplace, antiques, a newly-installed king-sized bed, and the meticulous hospitality of Faith McStravick, the "pancake queen" innkeeper.

Only problem was ... the town was pretty much closed. It's the off season. No farmer's market. Few shops. The Port Royal habitation across the bay was closed for the season.

And to my extreme disappointment, the First Computermuseum of Nova Scotia does not even exist any more. That's right. Their web site doesn't say so, but the storefront housing the museum is completely empty and for sale. The museum wasn't open in the summer, either, but it was clearly still there. Grr.

We managed to get some good food at Cafe Compose, an Austrian-themed restaurant by the water. And a delicious lunch at Leo's, a cafe in Adams-Ritchie House, the oldest documented building in English Canada. Omigod, a 12-grain homemade club sandwich so thick I could barely stretch my mouth around it, with a side of mushroom barley soup. Good eats.

We drove out to Kejimkujik National Park for a stroll through the woods. Ah, nature! We even saw two deer. (Two deers? Two deer.)

The drive home took us along the "scenic route" on Highway 1, through lots of small towns and colourful leaves (leafs? leaves). One town stood out as the most bizarre; there were as many pumpkin-people -- that is, scarecrow-type constructions with pumpkins for heads -- along the side of the road as there must have been actual inhabitants. Decidedly odd, but a helluva good effort by the townsfolk.

The drive also provided my first opportunity to listen to the CBC. Seriously, I've never really listened to CBC radio before. We listened to the tail end of Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe, and it was dead-on interesting. A show called Wiretap featured an entertaining guy calling his friends on the phone. A show called Tapestry in which the host interviewed a former businesswoman who became a Zen Buddhist monk. An in-depth interview with former WWF champion Brett "Hit Man" Hart. Really good stuff. Completely unlike the radio I do, which is perfectly fine. We serve different purposes. CBC is for people who have time to sit back and take in some good, long storytelling. My station is for people who have just a few minutes to get up to date. That's fine. One or the other isn't bad or good. They're just different.
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Real live poet coming to Halifax

Hey, Haligonians.

Sandra sent me a tip that her friend and coworker Alex Boyd is heading this way as part of an east coast tour. He's a real live poet from Toronto. Sandra's had great things to say about him over the years. I went out with 'er to see him at a reading one night in Toronto -- I don't remember if I was able to stay for his segment of the evening, as I was called out on a reporting assignment and had to scurry out into the snowy night. In any case, if you have the time, I bet he's well worth seeing.

He and fellow poet and friend Dani Couture will be at:

Mahone Bay, NS
Thurs Oct 25, 8pm
The Biscuit Eater Bookstore and Cafe,
16 Orchard St

Halifax, NS
Fri Oct 26, 12 Noon
Spring Garden Road Memorial Public Library,
5381 Spring Garden Road

Halifax, NS (Dani Couture only)
Fri Oct 26, 8pm
Venus Envy,
1598 Barrington Street

I'd go see him, but we're off to Annapolis Royal that weekend for a romantic anniversary getaway. Go see Alex and buy his stuff if you're into the poetry thang!

Thanks again to Sandra for the heads-up.

Buying a bunch of stuff -- are Dean Ween's pickups next?

Seriously, I'm not manic right now. I'm just feeling creative as heck and spending money and having trouble falling asleep.

I just bought a bunch of new gear for the Big Ass Recording Studio: an audiophile sound card, a set of awesome studio monitor speakers, and a new mixing console. It ought to be great, once it all arrives and gets hooked up.

And I was sitting here tonight thinking ... man, I should go get the guitar restrung and tuned up if I'm going to be doing a bunch of recording and mixing soon ... after all, Amanda got me a gift cert for the Halifax Folklore Centre so I can have that done ... but wouldn't it be awesome to upgrade the stock pickups in my Fender Fat Strat? Probably. I love the guitar, but I bet it could sound even more awesome if I had improved pickups. Y'know, I think it was partly inspired by overhearing some college kids talking about guitars on the ferry this morning. Anyway....

Problem is, I don't know a damned thing about guitar pickups. I know a humbucker from a single-coil -- and I know I rarely play the single-coils on my Strat 'cuz they feel like they don't cut through like the neck-position humbucker.

So, I go a-cruising on Google to find out what kind of pickups guitar hero Dean Ween uses. And I find a brand-new article on Fender's web site about it:
You know, I have other guitars -- I have a lot of guitars -- but I use my one Strat for everything; for all of our touring and all of our recording. I have one Strat that just sounds and plays better than any other one; a '61 slab-board neck bolted onto, like, an early '80s '62 reissue. And then I put the same pickups in all my guitars -- it's got a Hot Rails in the lead position and then two Fender-Lace Sensors in the middle and the neck. That's my go-to guitar for every track and every gig. It's been re-fretted, like, five or six times since I've had it. And, apparently, it was used on Private Dancer. That was the story I got.
So, there you go. No idea what those pickups are about, how much they cost, or anything else about 'em. But now it ought to be easier for anyone else to find out about Dean Ween's Strat pickups. Rock on.

Scott Simpson is now married


Okay, calm down. I didn't want to give my friends and family a heart attack -- just a little WTF?

The headline refers to the August wedding of my friend and (recently departed from journalistm for a career in the music industry -- congrats!) coworker Laura Graham, and her man Scott Simpson, who I've blogged about in the past. Amanda and I were invited to their wedding in beautiful Judique, Cape Breton.

The wedding was set to take place on Kintyre Farm, but weather forced a change of plans. Instead it was held indoors, and it was still phenomenal. A few of us ducked out after dinner to head back to the Troy Lodge Cottages for a few drinks before returning to the reception, but the weather turned from bad to horrible, and we were stuck inside, missing the dancing and live music. I hear it was magical.

The night before the wedding is a story in itself. They planned a ceilidh (I hope I spelled that right) at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, and Laura said I should bring my gear and play a few songs. I did. It was a blast. Aside from karaoke, I've only performed in front of people twice before -- once at a small open mic in Toronto, and a few weeks later at my farewell bash at the Spotted Dick in Toronto. I'd never performed with a backup band in my ipod. I got on stage and realized that the playlist containing my backing tracks was not on the ipod. Horror! But I found the individual tracks in the "Recently Added" playlist, so I made it through. I sang my first song a whole octave higher than I should've. I forgot some of the words in my second song, even though they were printed out in front of me. And I started the third song a bar early. No matter -- people dug it all. Folks danced. It was a blast. I was very sweaty. I really want to do some more of these open mic dealies.

Afterward, many folks returned to the Troy Lodge Cottages for the after-party jam. It turns out several members of the wedding party -- or at least the bunch of guys jamming at the Interpretive Centre -- were members of the Johnny Favorite Swing Orchestra, and some of the other guys were just plain talented as heck. So, the joint was a-rockin', as Scott Simpson (the groom) and his buddies took up guitars, pianos and whatever else was around, in a beer-fueled kitchen party in a cabin in the woods by the Northumberland Strait. Good times. 'Til Amanda got sick, anyway. I'll leave that part out, 'cuz it was kinda gross. Anyway, uh ... yeah, kinda gross.

But we made it to the wedding the next day ... it was emotional ... beautiful ... inspiring ... and the ribs were to die for, dahling.

Here's some video shot at the ceilidh and at the wedding. I hope you like.



Next up to bat ... Big Ass Superstar

Amanda and I joined a team this summer. The folks at work put together a slob-ball team to compete in the Halifax media league. We teamed up with the gang over at Rogers Wireless to get together on Sunday mornings in Dartmouth and take on some of the more established outfits in the area.

Well, we lost a lot. In fact, we lost every game we played. It's not that we didn't have some good players -- we had some good players. We had some weak players (me) and some adequate players, and even some great players. But every other team had been around for quite some time, and really had their stuff together.

My batting improved from useless to laughable; my catching improved from miserable to "nice try"; my throwing remained unpredictably bad. But I tried. And I kept my sense of humour. The team named me Most Improved Player. Amanda got better throughout the season, too, hitting farther and harder.

The Rogers Rebels record, heading into the championship series, was 2 wins, 18 losses. The two wins were from the other teams not showing up. I think we lost a third of our games by forfeit due to lack of players. Some of our notable scores were 24-2, 17-3, 30-0, 29-4, all against. Toward the end of the season, we had scores such as 14-12, 18-12, and 9-6 -- also against. So, we got better.

It was fun. It was tough getting up and out across the harbour for 9am each Saturday, and our shoes were inevitably soaked from the dewey fields. We didn't get the promised beer money until the tail end of the season, so there's a leftover surplus of beverage funds.

We'll see how next year goes!

Vacation wrapup, way way late


Hola, amigos. I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya. But life's been busy for the past month or so. Lots to blog about, so let's get at 'er, starting with this wrapup of the big Big Ass Summer Tour 2007.

Saturday, July 21, Amanda and I set out on a big drive, aiming to get to Riviere-du-Loup by sundown. First stop was Wendy's somewhere to try the new Baconator. Yes, two quarter-pound patties of fresh-never-frozen beef, six strips of bacon and two slices of cheese. The Baconator delivers. It's a little mushy, and the first half is best, 'cuz it's hot.

It was a cloudy, rainy day heading through New Brunswick. But more distracting than the rain was the accumulation of bugs on the windshield. I used the gas station squeegee to wipe off the slime each time we stopped for gas, but we could barely keep ahead of the insect carnage.

Arrived in Riviere du Loup and negotiated through the town courtesy of Mapquest's left-right-left-right-left-right-left directions, instead of going straight down one road. Ended up at Motel Boulevard Cartier. You'll note that the motel is attached to the local St. Hubert Chicken restaurant. In fact, the check-in desk is right next to the take-out counter. Check that... the check-in desk is the take-out counter. We checked in to the unremarkable but perfectly passable room. No non-smoking rooms available, unfortunately, so it felt like a real old-school experience, back to the days when all the rooms were smoking rooms. I promptly noticed a fly on the ashtray, turned around, and was delighted to find a flyswatter sitting on its own hook. Thwap! First amentiy used.

St. Hubert, in my mind, has always been the franglais equivalent of Swiss Chalet. And I luvs me some Swiss Chalet. So we ambled over to the restaurant to try out a quarter chicken and frites. This ain't no Swiss Chalet, kids. Tastes like cafeteria food. We added a bit of Nova Scotia flavour by purchasing some Keith's beer (Keith's Red, weirdly enough) to enjoy with dinner. Entered to win a Keith's guitar. Haven't won, so far that I've heard. Our friendly server Benoit told us about a fireworks show scheduled for 10pm down by the water. Cool beans! I luvs me some fireworks, too. If Swiss Chalet had fireworks, they'd be on to something, man. Fireworks show was better than the July 1 one in Halifax, I shit you not.

Next day was time for the killer drive of the trip, from Quebec to Bradford. Lunch was at McDonald's ("Mc Do'"), and the difficult problem of ordering a Bic Mac, no pickles, no sauce (my choix du jour on the rare times I go to the Arches) en francais. Amanda grew up in Northern Ontario (town of Swastika -- look it up) and actually worked her previous job in french, and we negotiated frickin' Paris together, so I figured ordering a Combo #1, no pickles, no sauce would be a breeze. But me, I learned Ontario core french, in which they teach you the names of things. French immersion, sure, you sound like you know the language, but you don't always end up knowing what stuff is called. Amanda was unsure what "sauce" was in french, even when I suggested that it may be "sauce". Pickles were a whole other matter. I asserted that "cochinons" was the word. She didn't know. So, between her and the counter man, I got a Big Mac sans sauce, but avec pickles. I could pick those off. Pickles, it turns out are "cornichons". Unsure so far what "cochinons" is, if anything.

Goddamn Ontario driving. The drive from the border to Toronto is ... is ... is ... no fun. Just no fun. The 401 isn't beautiful to drive on. Worse still when there's a collision and rubberneckers and idiots thinking they can get a tiny bit further ahead by cutting through the service station, then coming out four abroad into a one-lane merge, ending up driving on the shoulder, and ... anyway, Amanda convinced me not to shout anything out the window or hop out and slug someone in a Rav-4.

We crawled into Bradford quite late and found a Pizza Pizza open late. I don't miss Pizza Pizza pizza. Panzerotto Pizza and Wings, yes, I miss that. Toppers Pizza is good, too. But Pizza Pizza isn't the kind of pizza I miss, you know what I mean? Settled in for a nice night at Amanda's folks.

Off to my old stomping grounds on Monday. Bradford is just north of Newmarket, where I was raised. We hit Upper Canada Mall, where I worked at Compucentre as a teenager. Ate in the food court (Made In Japan/A Teriyaki Experience), shopped around, bought my nephew some cool sunglasses at some baby-stuff store. Saw my old house. Jee-zus, Newmarket has grown. Huge. Very different.

That night we had steak and caesar salad. I luvs me some steak, y'all. Then Barb and Wendall took us out to the movies. We saw Hairspray starring John Travolta. Amanda turned to me in horror during the opening sequence -- "Oh my god. I forgot to tell you, this is a musical." No bother. I knew it was a musical. I spent part of the movie trying to figure out where they shot it -- Toronto, obviously, but it was neat to figure out all the locations. Good flick, despite Travolta, drag or not. The popcorn was fan-tas-tic. Fantastic.

'Manda's mom took us to Ikea on Tuesday. See, the first Ikea in North America was across the harbour in Dartmouth, but they closed it down years ago. Shame! So it was a treat to go to Ikea for the first time in more than two years. We didn't buy anything huge, but it was fun to dream. Ikea actually serves good food in its cafeteria. Meatballs and soup and little potatoes! By this point in the trip, I was getting very tired. Nearly fell asleep in the car to and from Ikea. Dinner was burgers and corn and more caesar salad. Good times.

On Wednesday, we had a surprise lined up for my parents. We'd been swerving my mom and for weeks about our vacation plans, based on my sister's suggestion of arriving unannounced. It worked. We pulled in to Stratford and visited with my sister and baby Ewan for a while, then rolled over to the 'rents abode and walked right in. My dad looked puzzled. Mom was in the basement doing laundry, so I just walked right down and surprised her. Clearly she wasn't expecting it. Oh, I forgot to mention -- a Baconator for lunch. We indulged in Dairy Queen after a dinner of BBQ chicken at Chris and Shannon's.

Amanda drove off to London the next day to visit her sister Amy, while I walked around town with Shannon and my dad. Stratford's a beautiful place. It was nice to spend some time with family seeing their town again. We took my folks out for dinner at the nice hotel -- prime rib for all! And DQ to follow! A fireworks show down by the water was supposed to cap things off, but it started inexplicably early. Who starts a fireworks show at 9:15pm in early August? Just ridiculous. So we missed the whole show. Back to Shannon's to hang out with them and the baby some more. That baby is such a hoot. Hilarious. Babbling and screaming and freaking out and making faces. Tons of fun.
The tour resumed Friday as we dined on nachos at Shannon's, hung out at mom & dad's a while longer, then hit the road for Toronto! We found Sandra and Byron's new house -- eventually -- I had the wrong address. Had the wrong address for a few weeks, apparently, as I sent her birthday card to the wrong place. Their new place is delightful! A renovated place north of the Danforth with lots of room and high ceilings on the main floor. Just fabulous. We went down to the Danforth for a filling and tasty Greek dinner. Byron even ate octopus, or squid, or some tentacled beasty that was in the middle of the plate of dips. It was great to see my friends again; it was like we hadn't been apart for long.
Amanda went out early the next day to visit with a relative, and I went to breakfast with S&B. Good food, good company.
Off to Quebec City! We managed to find a Lick's Homeburgers restaurant on the way out -- one of the things we really miss about Ontario. Big, juicy, garlicky burger. Yum yum yum.

The drive to Quebec was a long, long one. We took an impulsive detour through Trois-Rivieres in an effort to take the "scenic route." We should've learned from the Banff trip that the "scenic route" is just a narrower road with more trees. As we arrived in Quebec City, it began to pour rain. Like, seriously, lots of rain. Somehow, somehow, we got to our hotel, parked, and checked in at the Hotel Auberge du Quartier.
We learned that the beautiful breakfast room was no longer the breakfast room, and no longer beautiful. The man at the desk told us that a guest had recently returned to his room thoroughly drunk and puked all over his sheets. He pulled off the sheets and put them in the shower for a rinse. He left the water running and passed out on the bed. The shower flooded the place, and thus, the breakfast room was ruined. Shame. On the up side, we'd get breakfast around the corner, gratis. We hunted down a local pub in the rain and ate a well-earned meal -- some kind of fancy panini sandwich for me, chicken caesar for Amanda.

Br....

... (Oct 3 2007) okay, this post has been "in progress" for a month and a half now. Let's just say that the Quebec vacation was wonderful. We walked a lot. A lot. Walking and walking. Saw lots of beautiful stuff, and ate some great food. Took a horse-drawn carriage ride. I'm gonna rush through the rest of this.

I wanted to mention that on the first day, I noticed that Scientology was front-page news in the paper. Apparently the "Church" is trying to improve its image in the city by expanding its storefront operation. The paper had a two-page spread. Nothing about Xenu.

We also spent a delightful weekend in Annapolis Royal, staying at the King George Inn. The place is effing gorgeous, and Faith the innkeeper is a whirling dynamo of a host. Highly recommended. I think we'll stay there again. Having never heard of Annapolis Royal before, we were blown away by the rich history and quaint feel of the small town. It was the capital of Nova Scotia before anyone dreamt of Halifax. The oldest English-marked grave in the country is there.

We also went out on the Digby Neck, along the Bay of Fundy. We went on a disappointing whale-watching trip -- only saw a few whales, it was cold, and Amanda was sea-sick. Ate scallops of several varieties. They was good.

On the last day, we went to visit the famous Balancing Rock. A whole lot of stairs -- seriously, a lot of stairs -- and a nice view. Pretty cool.

Okay, this post sat unfinished for a long, long time. And it's, IMHO, still unfinished. But now you have a small idea of what we did on our summer vacation. For pictures worth several tens of thousands of words, check the appropriate gallery on my flickr page.

Yes, the inclusion of virtually everything I ate was intentional. Two weeks of eating and travelling, two weeks of morning-show shifts with dinner right before bed, and a recent habit of eating cinnamon buns at work have pushed my weight up to "before un-weighted" levels. Crap.

Sloan, finally!; The Man They Call Reveen; New album; New instrument

Sloan's from Halifax. I don't think they live here anymore. I've missed them playing here at least three times since getting the job out here. Friday night, they're playing a free show across the harbour in Dartmouth for Alexander Keith's birthday. Yeah, it's gonna be the buncha-drunken-fratboys experience, but what the hell -- it's Sloan, and it's free. Cappin' off a busy week, with Amanda's birthday funfest tonight (happy 29th, sweetheart!), and Laura G's farewell bash tomorrow night, the concert with J-White on Friday, and steak for dinner on Saturday.

This YouTube video from a concert last year in Stratford, Ontario is an illustration of why Sloan is so cool.

Oh, hey, I also went to see Reveen the Impossiblist recently at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. If you watch Trailer Park Boys, you've seen folks making fun of Ricky by calling him Reveen. I had no idea who Reveen was 'til I moved out here. Turns out he is to the Maritimes what Mike Mandel is to Ontario -- the stage hypnotist everyone saw back in college. 'Cept Reveen actually looks like Ricky from the Trailer Park Boys, and he's been doing the exact same show since the 60s or 70s. Reveen is in his seventies now. He's old as hell, as far as hypnotists go. He's been retired for some time, instead managing a big-time Vegas magician.

Well, Reveen got up there with his sparkly tux and cheesy 1982-vintage soundtrack and hypnotized the heck out of some willing volunteers. Good show, but a little sad when he'd forget his place or get frustrated with his son/assistant reminding him of what's supposed to come next. And he left one guy still in a trance at the end of the show, forgetting to release him. Somewhere in Halifax, there's a guy who will forever respond to the phrase "peanuts, roasted!" with a hearty "shut up, you mug!" I particularly enjoyed Reveen shilling his own 1960s/70s self-hypnosis products before the intermission, telling us that he can't do personal appointments to teach superconsciousness, but he's now released a series of "long-playing records" -- side one, for example ... wait a minute ... I'm sorry, they're now available on compact disc!

Anyway, good time, good time. Front-row seats, so you can't do much better than that.
In other news to be contained in throwaway lines at the bottom of sporadic blog posts, I have a name for the new album (same name I was going to use the last time I didn't get around to finishing an album), and cover art, sourced from a photographer on flickr (credits to come later). I hope to take some time off in November to finish recording and production, with the final product out in time for Christmas distribution. At least that's the plan. Meh. Plans. Anyway, rock on.

Oh, one more throaway thing. Kijiji. Never been there 'til a coupla weeks go. Ended up buying a Casio keyboard from a dude. Amanda was kind enough to go pick it up. $150 for a decent MIDI-capable keyboard, stand and bench. Now I can add that extra layer of cheese to my music, and Amanda can amuse me with her keyboard dexterity.

Today was my last day at work, and I'm okay with that

Today marks a weird spot on the calendar for me. It’s one of those landmarks that really doesn’t mean anything, other than to illustrate the...