Monday, January 8

Blood Memories and Synchronicity

Coincidences are pretty cool. I try to maintain a skeptical and scientific mind whenever possible, but the human brain's ability to find patterns and propensity to seek out connections is at times too strong for me to overlook.

Three years ago today I donated blood to my daughter for her pending scoliosis surgery. It's what Canadian Blood Services calls a directed donation. In the case of parents and children, if their blood is a match, the parent can donate blood to the child. Avery ended up needing 5 liters (more than a gallon) for her surgery so my single donation was literally just a drop in the bucket, but it was an amazing moment for me and Canadian Blood Services worked a good bit of magic to ensure that I was able to do this for my daughter. My wife gave her life, and I got to help save it. I vowed from that day forward to donate as many times as it would take to match the number of donors needed for her surgery, and then keep donating as long as they will allow me to. Avery needed fifteen donors to keep her alive during surgery and today will mark my twelfth donation.



If you'll allow me to stray from the scientific path for a second we're going to get into some wacky numerology stuff.

  • Today is the January 8.
  • It's 12 days until the third anniversary of Avery's surgery (also, in case you haven't heard, the Bent But Not Broken book (One Family's Scoliosis Journey) is coming out in 12 days as well).
  • Today will be my 12th donation.
  • When I showed up at the clinic I had to wait. They gave me a number.



Even weirder is the fact that I was talking with this woman, Kelly after my blood donation and her boyfriend's mother is about to have back/spine surgery. She jotted down the title of the book so she could pick up a copy for her.

Cue freaky Twilight Zone-like music.

Now, if that were the only synchronicity-ish thing to happen today I wouldn't get too excited, but you guessed it, something else happened today that worked out in a rather fortunate way.

I was late getting to work. There was lots of snow and Avery helped me shovel the driveway and it made her late for the bus, which was late anyway but there was no way she was getting to school in time unless I drove her, so I drove her. It's a solid twenty minutes out of my way but I was happy to do it so she wouldn't miss anything. Then, I had to get gas. Then, because of the shitty weather, it took an hour to get to work instead of my usual twenty-five minutes. So far just another snowy day in Canada for people on the go and dependent on cars to get to work.

Because I got to work so late, I ate my breakfast late. Because I ate my breakfast late I ate my snack late (mmm cheese). Because I ate my snack late I ate my lunch late. Because I ate my lunch late I was microwaving it a good half hour later than I would have been on any other day.

Today, it so happens that someone at the coffee machine across from the microwave was a colleague I have not spoken to in a while. So we start catching up on stuff. Naturally, at some point, I start plugging the book and giving her the whole story about how it comes out soon and we're so excited to get it in the hands of other families who have children with scoliosis.

Standing on the other side of the kitchen was a woman in for training. I think she was from New York or maybe Boston. Definitely not from here, and I detected the slightest hint of an accent (I'm not going to guess which one for fear of getting it wrong and inciting some sort of Boston vs. New York riot). Anyway, she overheard our conversation and when I showed Avery's before and after x-rays mentioned that she used to work with a company that specializes in low-dose spine x-rays and still does some talks on the subject. Cool.

THEN, she mentioned that she knows the founder of Curvy Girls (at least I think that was the connection). Curvy Girls is totally safe to Google at work. It's a network of girls and young women who have gone through scoliosis bracing and/or surgery that provide a support system for other girls going through the same thing. This mystery colleague hopes to get me some contact information while she's here this week.

I looked them up on the web and when I asked Avery if she was interested in becoming one of their leaders she said she was and that it would be "epic". So we'll see how that all unfolds. I have to tell you, knowing about Curvy Girls three and a half years ago would have been a godsend, but alas, we seem to have been destined to tell our own story and now with the book coming out and hopefully getting Avery involved with Curvy Girls we are.



~ Andrew

Saturday, December 30

More Music Mastery: Part 2

Day 13 - A song you like from the 70's

This is another category that I could spend days and days deciding on which one to pick. Rush formed in the 70's. Pink Floyd. Led Zeppelin. John Lennon. Jimi Hendrix. Neil Young. The list goes on and on. In the end, "there can be only one", and I'm going to have to go with a band that scored the soundtrack from the movie I pulled that quote from. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen (who did the soundtrack for the movie Highlander, for those following along at home). I'm linking to the best cover of this song I've ever heard - and it was done by ONE GUY!



Day 14 - A song you'd love to be played at your wedding

Since I am already married this category makes little sense, so I should go with a song that was actually played at my wedding. I'm not going to, though. Instead, I'm going to go with a song that *could* have been played at my wedding had the organist not done such a masterful job butchering it when she played a few bars for us after we booked her.



Day 15 - A song you like that's a cover by another artist

Back in high school, I was really into the guitar. Not playing it, mind you, but listening to it. I loved listening to Clapton, Beck, Satriani, Vai, and pretty much anyone that could work magic with a six string and an amp. There's one song in particular that I just love listening to and that's Eric Johnson's Cliffs of Dover. It's an instrumental and it is pure genius. I happen to think it's a really fun song. One day I was just wandering around YouTube listening to covers and I came across these high school kids playing a version of the song for a talent show. I was immediately blown away. Have a watch. These are KIDS for cryin' in the sink.



Day 16 - A song that's a classic favourite

I don't know a single person who doesn't like this song. The sweet dig against Neil Young is kind of fun too.



Day 17 - A song you'd sing a duet with someone on karaoke

I've actually sung this as a duet with someone NOT on karaoke! Jann and Jackson's version is pretty good too.



Day 18 - A song from the year you were born

The #1 song list from my birth year is fantastic. Since I was a wee baby I think this song is appropriate. I just read the lyrics. Maybe not so appropriate. Anyway, this song ended 1974 at #23 in Canada and is written and performed by Canadian singer Andy Kim (Canada's answer to Neil Diamond.)



Day 19 - A song that makes you think about life

Sadly, the lyrics for this song are just as relevant today as they were when they were written back in 1987. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a time in modern history where the lyrics didn't apply. This song makes me thing about how I can be better.



Day 21 - A song you like with a person's name in the title

I was going to pick Angie by the Rolling Stones because I like that song and back at Sparrow Lake Camp we had a staffer by the name of Andy and people would go around singing "An-dy. Aaaaaaainnnn-dy" instead of Angie. Then I remembered that The Killers have a song Andy You're a Star and I thought that was cool. But THEN, I remembered that the Magnetic Fields have this song, and while it's only happened three times that I can remember, it has still happened.



Day 22 - A song that moves you forward

I heard this song for the first time in almost twenty years on my way to the gym one day. It was amazingly motivating.



Day 23 - A song you think everybody should listen to

I came across this song because someone posted a link to another Miley Cyrus song on Facebook (I think it was her covering Crowded House). Miley accompanies Laura from Against Me! and it gave me a new perspective on a few things.



Day 24 - A song by a band you still wish were together

I remember when Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit unseated The Smiths atop The Edge's (102.1 CFNY out of Toronto) most influential alternative music songs of all time list never to return to the penultimate spot. I've since warmed up to the idea that Nirvana was at least as influential as The Smiths with respect to their impact on society (even if Cobain, Grohl, et al. did have considerable assistance in shaping a generation from the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and myriad other "grunge" bands). I'm left wondering what the legacy of both these bands would have been had Johnny Marr not quit and Kurt Cobain not died.



Day 25 - A song you like by an artist no longer living

Ugh. Way too many choices from this category. I was having a hard time picking and then I listened to Ed Sheeran and Anne-Marie do a cover of The Pogues Fairytale of New York and in the suggested videos collage at the end of the song was this one. It too is a cover. A cover as sung by someone who died this year of a song written by a guy who died last year.



Day 26 - A song that makes you want to fall in love

How about a song that made me fall in love? This is off an album that my girlfriend (now wife) and I would play on the CD player before bed back when we were in university. We just saw the Skydiggers play an intimate show not too long ago and they didn't play this one, so here it is now.



Day 27 - A song that breaks your heart

It's impossible to hear this song and not think of the tragedy about which it was written. Shortly after Eric Clapton's son, Conor, fell off a balcony and died he and Will Jennings penned this song in his honour.



Day 28 - A song by an artist whose voice you love

Every show, Daniel (Danny) Greaves sings one cover song a capella. I've heard him do this probably around twenty times over the last twenty-five years and watched countless more renditions on YouTube, his voice hasn't changed, and it's fantastic. I did a cover of a cover he's done on his own as a warm-up to a performance once and I didn't come remotely close to recreating the experience. I haven't seen The Watchmen play for a couple of years now but the last time I did I captured Danny covering a Graham Parker song and it was great, as it always is.



Day 29 - A song you remember from your childhood

Tomorrow from the movie Annie - This was the first movie I ever saw in the theatre. My mom took me and I remember it being the most amazing experience.



Day 30 - A song that reminds you of yourself 

First of all, I'm a big Rush fan. Plus, they're Canadian and I'm Canadian, so that's kind of cool. Also, it seems like my life has been one fateful sequence of events after another, guided only by the hands of fate and helped along by a couple of lucky bounces.

"Why are we here? Because we're here. Why does it happen? Because it happens."



~ Andrew


Monday, December 18

Have You Read Any A.J. Aalto?

It is not clear to me if visitors to my little corner of the blogosphere have picked up on the themes here at Potato Chip Math but here they are:
  • Views into a (new) writer's world
  • Community
  • Creativity & Inspiration (how people find it, what forms it takes, how to recognize it, what to do when you, the importance of it, etc)
  • Self-Improvement / Growth / Mental & Physical Health
I tend to write a lot about being a writer on this blog. It makes sense given it's a profession that I have been working towards for some time now. However, one of the aspects of being a writer, and the art of writing in general, is that you also have to be a reader. This is one area in which I will always need improvement but it is also one in which I will take great pleasure in improving.

There are literally millions of books published year-over-year though, so how does a person even begin to choose? For me, the preference is given to people I know personally who have written books. I know what goes into bringing a novel into the world and it's the absolute least I can do to buy one from a peer and give it a read. In doing this, I have found that my interests have shifted from some the big names I used to read to some other authors who have books or series that I find much less formulaic and mass produced.

Why is this? Well to put it simply, the stories are better.

I would encourage every reader out there to ask a writer, or a friend, or a librarian, or someone who works at a bookstore (even a big chain bookstore), or a teacher, or even that person in the coffee shop or on the bus/subway/streetcar/train reading a book you've never heard of for a recommendation. Some of them won't work out, but that's okay. Not every book is suitable for everyone. But I guarantee you that you'll find some gems that years from now you'll be wondering why more people don't know about them.

With this in mind, I am going to start a new feature here at Potato Chip Math I have aptly named Have You Read Any... 

The idea is simple. Every now and then I will profile an author from whom I have read at least one book that I particularly enjoyed. Sometimes I will know the writer personally, sometimes not, but in every case, it will be someone who isn't currently a "big name" author (e.g. you won't find me endorsing Stephen King, Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling, and the like).

Without further ado, I present the pilot episode of Have You Read Any...

Have You Read Any A.J. Aalto?

A.J. Aalto is a biologist, a student of criminal psychology & behaviour, an axe-throwing belly dancer, a poor Sudoku puzzler, a badge bunny, a PVP gamer, and a goofball. When not studying murder or writing dick jokes, you can find her singing Monty Python songs in the shower, eavesdropping on strangers, stalking her eye doctor, or failing at life. AJ cannot say no to a Snickers bar and has been known to swallow her gum.

In addition to all the aforementioned characteristics, she is the author of one of my favourite series, The Marnie Baranuik Files.

Marnie is a rare dual-talented psychic with a doctorate in preternatural biology and a working knowledge of the dark arts. Her first big FBI case ended with a bullet in one shoulder and a chip on the other, a queasy heart, and a serial killer in the wind, leaving her a public flop and a private wreck. When the FBI’s preternatural crimes unit tracks her down at her remote mountain lodge for her insight on a local case, she isn’t particularly eager to stick her neck out again, but her quiet retirement is promptly besieged by a stab-happy starlet, a rampaging ghoul, and a vampire hunting jackass in tight Wranglers. Follow Marnie, Lord Guy Harrick "Harry" Dreppenstedt, Kill Notch, and a host of other characters as they battle ghouls, goblins, ogres, orcs, revenants, zombies, and more.

In order, here are the links:
There are also shorts that tie into but can be read independently from, the series that A.J. calls Marnie Baranuik Between the Files stories.
But that's not all! Yes, that's right, there's more!

One of the principal characters in the Marnie books, Lord Guy Harrick "Harry" Dreppenstedt, a 400-year-old revenant with a propensity for fancy Olde English and some serious skills in the kitchen, has a cookbook.
Finally, A.J. has written one of hopefully many more non-Marnie books. Closet Full of Bones is a gripping psychological thriller that is next up on my reading list.

A.J. creates complex characters that invoke strong feelings in the reader as they weave their way through clever plot lines and a world built with intricate detail. My fifteen-year-old daughter is absolutely hooked on the Marnie books as much as I am and I suggest picking up a copy of Touched and beginning your journey toward Baranuik addiction as soon as you can.

~ Andrew



Are you a writer that wants to be featured on Have You Read Any... Are you a reader with a favourite author you'd like to see featured? Place the book or author link in the comments or send me an email (potatochipmath [at] gmail [dot] com) and I'll put them on the list of books to pick up and read.

Please note that it is not necessary to provide me free copies of any books in exchange for a Have You Read Any... feature. I prefer printed books anyway so I'll buy them like everyone else. Regardless of whether or not the author gets a spot on my blog, if they aren't published with Oghma Creative Media I will be sure to leave a review.