Sunday, May 20, 2012

Weekend Highlights

This weekend is my birthday.  My wife has been away for most of it, but my two boys and I have had a good time on our own.  Some highlights:

-  While watching Winnie the Pooh Miles says, "Hey, Pooh and poop sound the same."  This was a very significant moment in my battle against these guys saying "poop" all of the time, which is what they do for fun.  This was a significant blow to my efforts to curb this behavior.

-  We went to a friend's apartment Saturday morning, and to get there we needed to cross the dreaded crosswalk at the University across from our apartment.  This morning, for some reason, there was something going on at the University.  I counted 12 police officers standing around the gate, 3 of which were in the intersection "directing" traffic.  The light turned red, the cars stopped, and the 3 of us started to cross.  Of course, a car drove right through the light, causing a couple of students to stop in their tracks to let it whiz by.  The boys and I finished walking across and I had a few choice words for the 3 cops, some of them in Chinese, some of them in English, and some of them in French, if you know what I mean.  They barely acknowledged my presence, one might have looked my way during my tirade, and we walked through to the bus stop.  What a complete joke of a system.  Completely useless.  These cops had "when's lunch" written all over their faces.

- The boys sang happy birthday to me at least 2 times without saying, "happy birthday, dear poopy".  So, 2 out of 5 isn't bad.

- The 3 of us broke out the shorts on this nice, warm day.  My white legs itched a lot and I think it's because they had forgotten what sunlight is.

-  Made a grilled cheese sandwich with homemade focaccia bread.  Then, I added onions to the cheese.  Check.

-  I made a simple chocolate cake on my birthday for myself because I am not embarrassed or shameful enough not to do it.  As it was cooking I crumbled up half of a Snickers bar and half of a Skor bar on top of it.  They melted in.  Checkmate!

- Saturday night and Barbara was still out, so I watched Vertigo.  I can't believe I went so long without it.  I highly recommend this Hitchcock classic.  The story is engaging from the beginning.  The whole thing feels ahead of it's time with it's mysterious deception and layered story line.  All the while, the music, the car rides, the swirling, the paintings all push you further down into the web of confusion that eventually satisfies in the end.  I also ate Doritos, so that helped as well.

- This weekend I am also making my way through a great book called What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell.  I've read and loved his other books, so I'm not surprised with how interesting this one is.  He takes his favorite stories that he had published as a journalist with the New Yorker.  I won't say more about it, except for that you should read it.

-  On Sunday we made burgers.  They were ridiculously large and great.

-  Sunday evening found us on a drive with the Hendersens through the construction sites on the mountain all the way up to a quiet place South of town.  We ate food, drank wine, and watched the boys get dirty.  It was a very nice time.

Running down the mountain

- Sunday night, a few of us went on the top of a 17 floor building nearby for a few beers.  It was also nice, and a great way to end the birthday weekend.

In all, a different but very nice birthday for this buckaroo.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My 31st Birthday

We spend a lot of time together

Barbara just went out, the boys are in bed, and I'm sitting at the kitchen table typing this.  Earlier tonight, when I went out to gather some leaves for the compost, I plucked a stem of lilac from, if you could imagine, a lilac bush.  Now it's sitting and smelling next to me and reminding me of my youth.

Our house in Stony Plain on Garden Valley Drive had a lot of lilac bushes.  So many that my mom would pick just about every flower off of them, throw them in a vase, and plop the whole works down onto our kitchen table.  The smell was so strong that I lost my appetite at times.  Can you get high off of lilacs?  I don't know.  Now, years later, I kind of like the smell when it is in moderation like I've done this evening.

The lilacs reminds me of late Spring in Stony Plain.  This was an exciting time for me.  The winter would be officially over, the birds would be singing, the neighbourhood alley cats would be making iced tea, and so on.  The Summer holiday was just around the corner and to kick things off, good ol' Brett had a birthday.

Here in Xining, the lilacs are just finishing their big blooming season.  It's funny that I can be on the other side of the world, and poof!  I close my eyes I'm back home and 20 years ago.

20 years ago.  For me, I caught myself saying "well, 20 years ago..." for the first time this year.  I can't remember what it was about, I just remember catching myself in mid-sentence being very shocked and confused.  "How on earth could I remember anything 20 years ago?  Why, Brett, it's because you're getting older."

Last year, I hit 30 years old like Josh Hamilton hits home runs; right out o' da' park!  I blogged and I joked and I looked in the mirror and I felt pretty good about being 30.  This year, I'm hitting 31 more like a minor car crash.  Nobody's hurt, but we're all a little shaken up.  I'm not sure what it is exactly, but it's a combination of push-ups and and stretching before exercising and Googling things I can't remember, like the name of this purple flower that I've been talking about.

I read more, which is nice.  But, so do old people.

I need to sleep on my back so that it doesn't kill me in the morning.  If it does kill in the morning, the feeling usually goes away in a minute or two, but how long will that last?

I have a decent case of carpal tunnel in my hands that bothers me enough to stop typing, one time for a whole week.  Since then I've implemented some precise stretching that has helped, but what is going on with me?  I think that this is the beginning of dying, right?

Okay, maybe a little too soon... but maybe not... no, just kidding... but maybe...


Speaking of Josh Hamilton, what a week this guy has had on the baseball diamonds of America.  Let's tally the numbers:

7 games played (May 7th - May 13th)

14 hits

10 runs

9 home runs

18 RBI

In one of those games, he hit 4 home runs!

That is quite a week for the man.  Let's see what he does during his... Birthday week!  Yes, you heard it right.  Josh Hamilton is also celebrating his birthday this coming week.  He's actually 3 days younger than me.

Here's a little more on Josh Hamilton:

I really admire the guy.  Not because I can relate to the drugs, but mainly because he's been open about his life.   He's an open book.  In fact, I think that that is apart of his rehabilitation; he actually has to be open with people.  He's slipped up a couple of times in recent years, but every time he's been open about it and has apologized for it.  It's funny because who apologizes to the public for their personal failures and mistakes?  Usually, we find ways to blame instead of apologize.

What does this have to do with my birthday?  Nothing, really.  But it's an interesting way to learn more about others and gain wisdom and inspiration from them.

Josh Hamilton was dubbed "The Natural" when he was first drafted in 1999.  These many years later and we can see just how much of a sure thing being a natural can sometimes turn out to not be at all.  This guy has worked very hard to get where he is today.  He's slipped up, but which one of us wants to cast the first stone?

Learning a little bit about the guy makes me glad to know that he's alive for the big "31" next week.  Despite the long road, it's a success story.  And long road success stories are usually the best kind.  Josh is happy, the fans are happy, things are good.

Back in 2008, when he had won the All-star home run derby, in the jubilation of the moment he said:

 "This was like living the dream out, because like I've said, I didn't know the ending to that dream."

Wise words.  It's great to see some one's dreams come to fruition like that.  For me, it's even greater to see that despite the fact that he's had setbacks since 2008, he's still living the dream.  It must be tough to have to tell someone that you feel tempted to have a drink and then have to leave.  Must be humbling.

Josh Hamilton was born on May 21st, 1981 and he's still with us today.


Now back to me.  I wish that I could sit here and tell you my stats for the week but at street hockey we don't really keep track of them.

This year, by birthday will be quiet.  It's on Friday the 18th and Barbara will be at a conference all weekend.  I'll have the boys and I'm sure that they're conjuring up great birthday plans in their dreams right now.  Playing cars on the carpet or going for a bike ride sound just about right.

Sunday evening we'll eat burgers and I'll have to do some push-ups and stationary bike later that night.  But that's what being 31 is all about, right?

The lilac is wilting.  Jeff Buckley sang about lilac wine many years ago.  It might even have been 20 years ago.  Lilac wine sounds really, really disgusting.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This week in Hockey

After a couple of weeks off because of a holiday and the Sport's Day Parade, we finally got back on the pavement for a nice hockey session.

I texted the coach beforehand and he said that it was on for today.  Well, he didn't show up, but the guys did.  They were all standing there with the net out and waiting for me.  In all, 10 guys and most of the usuals.  It was a good sign that these guys are actually into it and not just playing because it's class time.

Passing drills
For the first time, I was not the goaltender.  This was good because it gave me a chance to teach a little bit about the little bit that I know.  We did some passing drills and some 2 on 1 drills.  The guys seemed to respond well.

As a result of me being out of the net, the guys that actually strapped the pads on had a heck of a time figuring out how to be effective (as evidence in the above photo).  No matter how many times I stopped to give them tips on positioning, how to hold the stick, and how to prevent themselves from getting canned in the junk, they went through the whole class without listening to any of it.  I understand that these things take time, so I'm okay with it.  Also, the 3 goalies for the day liked the challenge and every time I asked them if they wanted to switch they said no.  Good for them.

nothing special here.  Just looks like he broke his ankle.  Don't
worry, it was just the wind hitting his pants.

Here is a bit of video evidence of the progress being made:

Things worth noting:

1.  Notice the battling.  These guys have heart.  That's 90% of it right there.  Add 10% skill, 15% size and 12% math and we'll have a real superstar or two on our hands any day now.

2.  Nice use of behind the net.  It took them a while to get comfortable with going around the back of the net.  They have soccer brains, so I need to weed it out of them slowly.

3.  As I mentioned above, everything about the goalie needs to be worked on.

The equipment is holding up well, though I need to tweak the pad straps because they loosen too easily.  The sticks work, but they look like junk.  The net is droopy, but nobody really knows enough to care so I'm okay with it.

In all, a fun afternoon.  I got some exercise and I got to work on my Chinese.  That's not a bad way to spend a Tuesday.

To the left is an office building.  To the right is a giant stadium that
they don't really use that much.  In the foreground is where
the magic happens... hockey.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Grandpa Jack

Grandpa, Miles and I in 2010

This week, my grandpa passed away.  He was in a lot of pain near the end, so we are all relieved to know that he no longer has to suffer.  On top of that, ever since Grandma died in 2010, Grandpa's heart has been broken.  It's nice to think of a little heart repair going on right now.

The last time I saw grandpa was last fall at Boston Pizza.  When we were finished eating, Barbara took the boys to the car and I waited with Grandpa inside while uncle Dale brought his van around to the front.  I knew that we would be coming back to China within a few days, so I knew that this would have probably been the last time that I saw him.

Grandpa was a cool grandpa.  He had a lot of quirky things laying around his house, like Rubik's cubes, slinkys, a coo-coo clock, an old fashioned hair drying chair that they used to use in salons.  Basically, a lot of hipster stuff that he was too cool to even know was hipster stuff, which I think is the true definition of a hipster.

He had batteries and dead batteries and battery chargers and dead battery chargers.  Mixed nuts and nut crackers at Christmas, a giant mural of a country cabin on the far wall of the basement with an overhead screen that pulled down.  I'm not sure what the mural and the screen were for.  He had some bunny rabbit piggy banks that he would fill with loose change and give to us when they were full.

All of that weird, cool stuff,  he had.  I mean, he even built a secret museum in the back of his garage full of old tools, old record players and all kinds of useless junk.  Junk that belonged in his museum.  Us grand kids love playing around in that old house.

I should also mention that around the age of 16 up until probably 28, a lot of the time, Grandpa would call me "Greg".  He was not senile, he just called me Greg.  He couldn't figure out why, no one could figure out why.  He just called me Greg.

I think that Grandpa had a video camera before anyone else did.  He taped everything.  We would sit down to eat our Thanksgiving meal and he would set up his giant camera in the corner on a tripod and tape the whole thing.  Just one angle, of all of us sitting there, out of earshot.  He must have had miles and miles of tape.  He had tape of my mom learning how to walk, tape of me singing "on top of spaghetti" for Grandma, tape of just about everything.  Imagine what he could have done in the digital age.

Grandpa was a pretty stern man.  He was very traditional.  We didn't have dancing at our wedding because I think Grandma and Grandpa might not have approved.  I don't know, I never talked to them about it.  With a lot of changes going on in our family over the past few years, I think that Grandpa started to feel like his world was falling apart.  He reacted in the only way he knew; the traditional, fundamental Christian way.  I'm not sure if it did a lot of good or too much bad, but it was what he knew how to do, and what he believed to be right.  He did it all for his love for his family.  It would be a mistake to doubt his love for his family.  He had a really kind heart beating inside his chest.

He was also quite funny.  One of the best stories I've ever heard:  Grandpa and my brother Bryce are moving furniture around in Grandma and Grandpa's bedroom.  Grandpa pulls out a drawer and puts in on the bed.  It happens to be Grandma's bathing suits.  Grandpa must have seen the opportunity for a joke at this point because he picked up the suit and held it up in front of his body and said to Bryce, "What am I?  A heterosexual?!"  I think he had his terms confused there, which turned out to be funnier than he had hoped for.

Around 2004, I worked with Grandpa in his yard for about a month.  Those were good times.  They have a nice yard full of memories to ponder while I was digging around in the garden and pounding in fence posts.  We'd go in at noon and Grandma would have lunch all set up for us.  The 3 of us would chat about whatever we felt like for about a hour, then Grandpa and I'd head back out to work.  It was a really nice time in my life.  At the time I even wrote a song about it.  I'm going from memory now, so here are the best parts of the tune:

Spent 3 weeks and 16 days with Jack in the Spring in the yard in the summer haze.
Digging up the dirt and racking the grass, I thought about how the time had past.
Jack told me the very same thing as we sat in the garden sipping our drinks.
And he taught me how to hammer he taught me how to tend the flowers in the garden at 
the Spring time's end.

Now Jack leaned back on the ladder leaning back on the back of the garden shed wall.
But the ladder wasn't steady and poor Jack wasn't ready to go down in such a fall.
But he popped back up and said he's okay and I said that's ol' Jack the same old way.
He said it must have looked bad but it wasn't that bad, you see.
I may be getting older but I'm only feeling younger cause the doctor keeps repairing my knees.

I guess you kind of need the tune to understand how it goes.  It's kind of a folksy, plucky little song that I never finished.

Anyways, back to Boston Pizza...

So it had all come to this; Grandpa and I sitting in Boston Pizza.  He was skinny as a rail, his foot was swollen, infected and bandaged up.  That strong man that used to teach us how to golf and then kill us at golf was sitting there next to me, tired and broken.  He had on his blue/grey jacket and one of his many mesh-back baseball hats.  I helped him up from the bench and we walked out into the Autumn chill.

The van pulled up and uncle Dale helped me help Grandpa into the front seat.  I remember thinking, "this is it, Brett.  Say good-bye."

I didn't say goodbye, but I did something I'd never done before.  I kissed him.  He was sitting in the passenger seat and I was leaning in to give him a hug.  I hugged him, and in such close, intimate quarters, I looked him in the eye and told him that I loved him and that he'd done well as a Grandpa.  He smiled at me and I kissed him on the check and hugged him again.  It was a special moment that I am very glad to have initiated.

We don't always get the opportunity to say good-bye like that, but it happened to me that day.  Looking back, I am very grateful and thankful for it.


I need to add that MCA of the Beastie Boys died the day I found out that Grandpa died.  My friend posted this tribute video:

That morning I cuddled with my boys and watched this video 3 or 4 times.  I teared up by the middle of the first time.  In a weird twist of the universe, this song will now forever remind me of my Grandpa.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


I've been on Flickr for about a year now.  It's a pretty good place to organize and display photos.  Unfortunately, I don't know too many people who use it.  For this reason I find it a good idea to post some of the photos I've taken to Facebook.  Although I do get a few people who go through the trouble of 'clicking' on a link, I still find that there are not a lot of people looking at my photos.

To make things easier, I have made a 'Brett's Favorites' set on Flickr that is easily accessible with just one click.  There you can see the few photos that I really like and feel that people would also like.  From there, you can go look at more or just leave and do something else with your time.  The choice is yours.  All I'm asking is for you to take a minute or two to look over some photos that cover the many different facets of our lives here in Xining.

Here are a few photos to get you in the mood:


Street Hockey class

Min Da Baseball Team 2011


In the rain

If you would like to see the favorites set then click here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

May Day!

It's that time again.  Every year for the last 4 or 5 years I have done some special writing for my birthday.  I consider it a gift to myself.  I enjoy reminiscing and exploring new angles of my birthday.  For some reason, this time of year stirs my creative motivation into being.

For those that don't know, I have another blog.  It can be clicked on here.  I dusted it off today with a re-read of a poem I wrote for the Pope JP2.  I plan on continuing this theme; finding people born in May and sharing a bit of their story from my own point of view.

In some ways, I feel like Nick Fehn:

In other ways, I enjoy the challenge of getting a few points across.  Mainly, that people born in May are great, the month of May is a great time to be born in, and that there are a lot of things to notice in little things that don't seem to matter but really do, like birth dates.

More to come this week.