Sunday, December 1, 2013

Long Time, No Post!

Hello folks!

I'm still writing...just posting everything at a different spot. If you'd like to catch up on Past Deadline, visit - it's all up to date!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Past Deadline: Rip, Scrape, Sand and Add Grit

Here’s Past Deadline from the Aug. 1/13 issue of The Perth Courier.
Rip, scrape, sand and add grit
 I have a love/hate relationship with our stairs.
Actually, that’s not true. I have never loved them, and it would be more accurate to say I fear them more than hate them. Let’s just say I have a healthy respect for them.
Since moving into our house almost 14 years ago I have fallen down our stairs three times. I am gifted, apparently.
The first time was not long after we moved in. It was late. I subconsciously decided to go the fast way down the stairs to make sure I’d turned out the lights. “I’m okay!” I said.
Later, in shock, I decided to try fainting in the bathroom.
Good times!
That little trip resulted in a doctor visit, a prescription for anti-inflammatories and a brand new donut cushion thanks to a broken tailbone and an injured rotator cuff (I had braced for impact, which shoulders don’t appreciate.)
The next episode was dramatic because it happened while I was carrying baby Girlchild. Fortunately, I took the brunt of the fall (which didn’t involve most of the flight like the first time). Girlchild was alarmed but unhurt, and I escaped with a few bruises and a reminder to pay attention on “the stairs that hate me.”
I hasten to add here that it’s not as if I gallivant, traipse or partake in tom foolery on these stairs, it’s just that it’s an old house with a steep staircase made of treads for, apparently, small-footed (not to mention sure-footed) people. Or perhaps mountain goats. (For the moment let’s just ignore the fact I seem to be the only one who has trouble with the stairs, although many have commented on their steepness).
The third (and let’s hope final) time was a sleepy slip of the foot last autumn that found me careening down a half flight. That led to more quality time with the donut cushion, a lot of Advil and a busted (again) tailbone that has had quite enough of my shenanigans, thank you very much, and has not completely forgiven me.
Where am I going with this? Well, we decided to rip up the ancient carpeting on the stairs (only to discover an even more ancient green runner underneath).
Ancient green runner found under the ancient carpet.
Next comes the yanking out of a kazillion nails and staples, plus scraping and sanding.
Next comes the yanking out of a kazillion nails and staples, plus scraping and sanding.
Play safe when renovating, kids!
Play safe when renovating, kids!
Scraped, sanded...ready for painting.
Scraped, sanded…ready for painting.

That “distressed” look people pay hard-earned cash to achieve? We’ve got it in spades.
Next comes the painting.
Now, you might ask, is painting these treacherous (for me) stairs a wise move? Only time will tell.
We hope it will be just pretty, and not pretty dramatic.
Groom-boy picked up the paint for the treads the other day, and as I ran my finger over the splotch of colour they dab on the lid of the paint can, I panicked. “Groom-boy!” I said. “This doesn’t feel gritty! Didn’t you get the gritty stuff so I wouldn’t fall down the stairs?”
Groom-boy is heading back to the store for paint grit.
So, yes, if you come to our house (not recommended for anyone with dust allergies), then I am hopeful you will have traction on our vintage mountain-goat stairs. Personally, I hope to avoid having column fodder about my latest epic journey down the stairs, assuming I survive.
For now, in addition to utilizing stair grit, I will continue to hold the railing, descend slowly and show the utmost respect for the stairs.
Or maybe I should just tie the donut cushion to my bum as a preventive measure.

Past Deadline: 50 Shades of Brown

Still catching up…here is Past Deadline from July 25/13 published in The Perth Courier.

50 Shades of Brown
Sometimes I am such a geek.
Specifically, I am an MNR geek (Ministry of Natural Resources). I blame my father.
Some of you may have heard/noticed I am involved with the Friends of Murphys Point Park. On Saturday, we took part in 50th anniversary celebrations at Rideau River Provincial Park by hosting a barbecue.
Friends host barbecue at Rideau River.
Friends host barbecue at Rideau River.

Despite the fact Rideau has been our “sister park” for a few years now, I had not been there before. Actually, that’s not exactly true. A kazillion years ago when I was a Carleton journalism student (early 1990s), I was on a ride-along in the winter with a conservation officer and we drove by the park. I believe I was doing an article about poaching.
“That’s Rideau River Provincial Park,” the CO said as we drove by the entrance in the snowy darkness. And that was my big tour of the park.
So I was looking forward to finally getting a better glimpse of this far-off place (near Kemptville). I loaded up the kids and supplies and joined a gaggle of volunteers at the (awesome!) beach and picnic area on Saturday morning.
For the 50th anniversary party there were many activities, including voyageur canoe rides, a visit from the OPP marine unit, programs by Murphys Point staff and a display by Parks Canada, who also brought their mascot, Parka the beaver.
Parka wasn’t the only mascot around, though. Smokey Bear also made a couple of appearances, to which I said, “Smokey Bear! Too coooool! Someone has to take a picture of me with Smokey Bear so I can send it to my dad!”
(At this point the people around me said, “Sure, crazy lady in her 40s. We’ll do whatever you want because you’re just a little bit scary.”)
Yeaaaaah! Smokey Bear!!!
Yeaaaaah! Smokey Bear!!!

Then – as if THAT wasn’t enough – some of the current Rideau River staff showed up wearing vintage park uniforms!
Crazy lady calls excitedly to fellow volunteer/BFF Cindy. “Omigod! Look! They’re wearing our uniforms!”
Indeed, we flashed back to those fabulous early ’90s when the two of us worked as gate attendants at Murphys Point and sported dark brown shorts, beige short-sleeved dress shirts and the lovely baby-poo brown blazers (for those chilly evening shifts).
Good times!
And THEN, as if Smokey Bear and 50 Shades of Brown weren’t enough, the conservation officers arrived!
The whole reason I am the geek that I am (at least on this front) can be attributed to my dad, a retired CO. I have learned a lot from him about natural resources in general and protecting them in particular. “Grampy was a nature cop,” I tell my kids with pride.
I lurked around and name-dropped with the COs for a bit, but they didn’t seem nearly as excited about me being a CO’s daughter as I was (“Did you get a load of the crazy lady? Yeesh!” they probably said on the way home.)
Anyway, the next treat was a canine unit demonstration by Conservation Officer Colin Cotnam from Bancroft and his dog, Tanner. They went through a basic obedience demonstration and then showed off some of Tanner’s investigative skills. He is trained to sniff out a variety of things that hunters and anglers might be trying to hide. Did you know MNR dogs can not only find contraband fish, but they can differentiate several different species, too? That means they won’t go after your minnows, but if you’re hiding too many brook trout, look out!
Conservation Officer Colin Cotnam rewards Tanner for a job well done.
Conservation Officer Colin Cotnam rewards Tanner for a job well done.

That evening I told my dad all about it, of course. Sort of like, you know, an excited kid/crazy lady.
Happy birthday, Rideau River. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

Past Deadline: United by Rail

Here is Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier on July 18/13.
United by rail
I hear the train horns now.
I grew up here, just a couple of blocks from the tracks. It was close enough to know when a particularly heavy freight was going through because it rattled the windows.
My parents and Nan could tell by the sound of the horn which way the wind was blowing and whether a storm was coming. I never got the knack of the weather prediction, but if the sound drowns out the TV I know it’s a north wind.
We could also tell when certain engineers were on duty. One guy who tended to really lay on the horn, especially when there were letters to the editor complaining about the noise of the trains.
Still, for the most part, I haven’t really “heard” the trains for years. I sleep through them. The kids sleep through them. They have just been part of the normal sounds of life in Perth.
Since July 6, though, I’ve started hearing them. It’s probably a good thing.
July 6 was the date of the horrifying train derailment and explosion at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that killed about 50 people and destroyed part of the town. That night no one heard the runaway train coming until it was too late to stop it.
Since the crash there have been stories and interviews locally about how Perth is prepared to handle such an emergency. After all, the freights that pass through here can measure 2 kilometers in length, which is enough to block three or four crossings in town, depending on where a train stops.
Yes, we have contingencies for blocked crossings. We know what to do if there is a derailment – who to call, who to evacuate, etc. Short of preventing the trains from passing through at all, we’re as ready as we can be.
Can anyone really be ready for something the scope of Lac-Mégantic? Probably not.
Dangerous materials are transported by rail. Take a look at the symbols on the tank cars next time you’re stopped at a crossing. You probably don’t want to know the types of things that are going through our town – past our schools, hospital, long-term care homes, through subdivisions. Or maybe you do want to know.
Whether you know what’s in there or not, the simple fact is a serious derailment would not be a good thing.
One night last week, when it was cool enough to throw open the windows, a couple of trains went through. As the horns blew I stopped what I was doing and listened.
I’ve always loved trains. When I was a rebellious teen working at Burger King, the tracks were directly behind the restaurant and I used to imagine hopping aboard a slow-moving westbound freight and riding the rails to the prairies. (What I would have done when I got there I’m not exactly sure.)
Anyway, for me, the sound of the train horn is all wrapped up in romantic visions of travel and Canadian history. It was the railway that brought much of Canada together, after all. As I listened that night to the train horn it still seemed as iconic as the call of the loon, and just as mournful.
Now it also sounds like danger.
That’s the whole point, I suppose. Train horns are a warning: “Clear the way! Big, heavy machine coming!”
It just seems even more poignant now, especially as you sit at a crossing and see the same type of black tank cars flying through town that crashed and exploded at Lac-Mégantic.
What is the answer? I don’t know, but my thoughts are with Lac-Mégantic every time I hear the trains.

Past Deadline: Mid-Year Progress Report

Here is Past Deadline from the July 11/13 issue of The Perth Courier.
Mid-year progress report
 I am famous for making self-improvement pledges/resolutions that often fall by the wayside. You may recall such classics as: 1. I am going to get up early and exercise! 2. I am going to eat less! 3. I am going to exercise more!
Gah. A resolution that wasn’t on the list this year was: “Replace entire wardrobe with clothes that fit!” Perhaps I should add that so I can feel as if I have accomplished something.
Anyway…something that has been working out a bit better despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to “dampen our spirits” is a resolution to spend more time outside with the kids.
This resolution has morphed a little, though, to combine with another one that was contemplated but unspoken. It may sound a bit odd coming from someone who works from home, but I want to try to spend more quality time with the kids.
I’ve long gotten over the fact that working from home automatically means I will be a Domestic Diva and Super Mom. (Ha.) My house is definitely not the cleanest on the block. In fact, I think that being here most of the time actually turns me off of making things spotless.
I can live with that. (Sort of.) Something that truly bugs me, though, is that even though I have excelled at seeing the kids off to school in the morning and greeting them when they come home, sometimes I am not really “here.”
Computer games and the TV have been babysitters over the years whilst I slave away at work deadlines in the home office. While I know there is value to having been physically here for them, it hasn’t always been quality time.
Summer is here. (It is. Really. Don’t let the monsoon rains fool you.) Yes, there will be times when I have to tune out the kids and get some work done, but I’ve got to make time to do fun stuff.
When the kids were babies, I worked weird hours – e.g., when they were sleeping. Chopping up my day so that we can spend time at the beach or on a hike or playing badminton or going to the playground or traipsing around in swamps isn’t far-fetched.
It has become increasingly clear over the years that, sometimes, kids don’t know how to play the way my generation did. With all those screen temptations, why bother going outside? So, I’ll continue to teach them.
We have a provincial park annual pass for day use – look out, Murphys Point, here we come!
At Hogg Bay Beach, Murphys Point.
At Hogg Bay Beach, Murphys Point.

Once exception to the “outside” rule is the Perth indoor pool. There is public swimming Monday through Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. (free on Wednesdays thanks to Tim Hortons and Saturdays thanks to the Perth Fire Fighters Association). The kids and I went for our first summer excursion last Friday.
It was great. The day camp kids were there so Girlchild knew a whole pile of girls. They were having a blast – there was music and they were singing and even dancing – great entertainment at a low price!
Aside from the day camp counsellors and lifeguards, I was the only “adult” in the pool. My kids can both swim and they immediately migrated towards their friends, so they didn’t really “need” me there.
No matter. I did scissor kicks for a straight hour! (Exercise! Yes!) I enjoyed the music. I could definitely make a habit of this – and the kids had fun.
Time is marching on. The kids are growing up so fast. It’s never too late for quality time.
Next stop: the swamp!

Past Deadline: Harbouring a Fugitive

Here is Past Deadline from the July 4/13 issue of The Perth Courier.
Harbouring a fugitive
 You may have noticed (if you are a regular reader) that I think it’s important to get kids connected with nature.
Possibly you’ve heard me prattle on about how I spent half my childhood mucking about in swamps catching frogs, turtles, tadpoles, snakes, snails, minnows, crayfish and all manner of cool critters.
So when I landed a summer job at Murphys Point Provincial Park after my first year in university, it was pretty awesome that I got to actually help with programs that taught people about some of those cool critters, and I learned even more about them myself.
One of the things that wasn’t so cool was the gypsy moth study. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, too, but bear with me – there’s a theme here.
A kazillion years ago when I was a student (1990s), gypsy moths were a relatively new invasive species that were a huge problem. They were deforesting huge tracts. The Ministry of Natural Resources was studying the problem and was conducting aerial spraying programs and various preventive measures.
Provincial parks were logical places for studies, and students helped. That meant I had a thrilling task. Someone official had tied burlap sacks around a cluster of tree trunks in a wooded area near the park office. On designated days I got to trudge off to this area and lift up the burlap, exposing wiggly masses of gypsy moth caterpillars, which I counted and recorded for each tree.
And then, because lifting up the wiggly sack wasn’t gross enough, I had to pick up a stick or a rock and squish all those evil, nasty, dastardly forest killers.
I know it seems odd that the girl who goes seeking cool critters was squeamish about this task, but I’ve never been crazy about a) insects that hide in dark places or b) killing throngs of them. I like caterpillars per se, but not dark, squirmy, destructive masses of them.
Besides, sometimes the caterpillar guts would fly into my face.
The subject trees were located in a low area beside the road on the way to the gatehouse, so more than a few campers driving in witnessed a tall, gangly, frizzy-haired girl in a brown and beige uniform beating a tree with a rock and periodically squealing. I think the campers stayed despite that ominous sign.
Anyway, the reason I bring up these happy memories is because, ironically, Girlchild is currently nurturing a gypsy moth caterpillar. She calls “him” Poochie and he lives in a lovely little bug terrarium.
She cleans the container faithfully. Each day she collects new, fresh maple leaves and rinses them off so Poochie has some water droplets. He munches the leaves voraciously. (I should look up that study to see which flavour of trees were preferred in the 1990s. I suspect it was maple.)
We have watched Poochie shed his skin a few times and, currently, he has positioned himself in a secluded corner of the terrarium and appears ready to enter the pupae stage. She even took Poochie to school for the class to see. By the end of the summer we should have a, uh, beautiful gypsy moth in our midst.
We were at the park on the weekend and told a park naturalist about Girlchild’s little project. “Oh,” he said, grinning at me. “Well, one more gypsy moth won’t hurt.” Then he said he had never seen one pupate, so we promised to take pictures.
It has been pretty cool to watch so far, actually. In small doses, I’m all over the gypsy moth life cycle, even if it does feel a bit like harbouring a fugitive.
 (P.S. – We’re still waiting for the pupae stage. Poochie shed his skin and continued on his merry munchy way, but we expect a new phase soon!)

Past Deadline: The Band Played On

Here is Past Deadline from the June 27/13 issue of The Perth Courier.
The band played on
 I’m going to do it again. I am going to talk about the weather. I’m sorry, it’s just that weather turned out to be a rather major preoccupation on the weekend.
I’m a big fan of the “rock hanging from a string in the yard” method of weather forecasting. You, know: if the rock is wet it’s raining, if it’s white it’s snowing, if it’s swinging it’s windy…and so on. Dress in layers and carry an umbrella and sunscreen everywhere you go. Welcome to Canada.
Unfortunately, though, looking out the window at a rock isn’t a terribly reliable method for longer-range forecasting.
On Saturday, I was left in charge of making the call about whether an outdoor evening concert at Murphys Point would proceed. The weather had been unsettled all day. The sound guy was on standby. The band needed to know by 5 p.m.
Suddenly I had to be a meteorologist. Me, the one who looks out the window for up-to-the-minute guidance, had to decide by 5 p.m. whether an outdoor concert scheduled for 8 p.m. would actually be hindered by predicted thunderstorms.
Dudes. The weather changes every 10 minutes here.
I went online and consulted with Environment Canada. Various radar perspectives were conflicting. One version made it look almost certain we would be pummeled, while another predicted clearer skies. The Weather Network added to the ominous version.
Add to the mix the fact there can be a great variance between the conditions in Perth and those 20 minutes away on the Rideau system and I was a puddle of uncertainty.
Googling “Omigod should I cancel the concert tonight” was not helpful.
I considered “tweeting” CBC weather guy Ian Black (he’s on the Twitter, you know) to ask what he would do, but I figure he gets asked stuff like that all the time and it must be terribly annoying, so I refrained.
Instead I did what I do best: I harassed all my friends. (I like to call it “consulting to make a collegial decision.”)
I called the sound guy three times and texted him, too. Adam proved to be optimistic and good to go. Rain was no problem, he said, although thunder and lightning wouldn’t be so good.
I checked with the ever-patient Alida at the park about 47 times. Okay – maybe only three or four times. I asked the other volunteers and Groom-boy for their opinions. One volunteer was driving towards us from southern Ontario through torrential rain. (Eeep.)
It wasn’t looking super good. The sky was darkening. The radar wasn’t telling me anything definitive and Ian Black hadn’t channeled my inner thoughts to send a spontaneous tweet that said, “For anyone planning an outdoor event tonight, here’s what I would do….”
So I called the band. They, too, had been checking the radar and were just as uncertain. We were about one dark cloud away from calling the whole thing off, but the band decided to play on!
We were off! Adam (and dad Steve) and I got started with preparations. The sky was clear and it seemed like a really nice evening was in store.
Then the band called en route. “We’re in Merrickville. It’s pouring! Should we continue?”
I gave the sky the stink eye. It was brightening. There was a lovely breeze. Loons were calling. “It’s quite lovely here,” I said.
And so the Celtic Rathskallions set forth once more. They arrived, they put on an awesome show, the audience cheered and not a drop of rain fell.
Hurray! (And phew!)
The Celtic Rathskallions. Stephanie Gray photo
The Celtic Rathskallions. Stephanie Gray photo
(This little weather drama pales in comparison to the terrible flooding out west. My thoughts are with family and friends dealing with this crisis.)