Thursday, March 26, 2009

Past Deadline: Bicycles, Buster and Bonuses

A little bit of this, a little bit of that in this issue of Past Deadline, published Tuesday, March 24/09 in The Perth Courier.

Bicycles, Buster and bonuses

I don’t want to startle you, but this week’s column is going to break a bit from my usual highly organized and efficient writing.

Ahem. Yes, well, anyway.

Faced with the dilemma of not having a single topic in mind that would adequately fill the space required, I am linking three different subjects under the tenuous theme of “milestones.”

The first one is huge one for me. Enormous, actually. I bought a bike.

Wha? Yes, in my rosy little world this is A Very Big Deal.

Regular readers may remember the story about how, some 20 years ago when I was still in high school (holy moly am I THAT old?), I dramatically threw myself off my 10-speed at the corner of Wilson and Foster streets for reasons not clearly understood. Despite the fact I was able to tell bystanders my phone number and mother’s maiden name, they shipped me off by ambulance and I spent two days in the hospital with a concussion. I remember everything up to the moment of the crash. I was about to turn onto Peter Street and looked over my shoulder. Then there’s a gap in my memory of about 10 hours.

Always wear your helmet, kids. Really.

Back in those dark, wild and lawless days youngsters weren’t required to wear helmets. It was a non-issue. After the accident, it was made clear to me by my doctor and my parents that I was a very, very lucky girl. If I planned to ride my bike again, I would have to wear a helmet.
I didn’t ride my bike anymore. For one thing, vanity got in the way. No one wore helmets. It just wasn’t cool. (I know. That is so dumb I can’t even believe it now.) Mostly, though, I was skittish about falling again.

Last year, though, I finally climbed back onto the horse. I borrowed Groom-boy’s bike and helmet a few times and tooled around with Boychild. It was lovely!

Last week I went out and bought a bike of my own along with a snazzy red helmet. I’m very excited about this. It’s milestone no. 1.

I’m actually afraid to talk about the second milestone because I might jinx it, but here goes. It’s about Buster, my extraordinarily loud, fluffy, diabetic cat.

One of the interesting things about cats with diabetes is that even if they need insulin, in some cases the diabetes can eventually be controlled by diet. Guess what? Recent blood work suggested we could try to cut back on giving needles of insulin to the cat that bites. Further tests show he seems to be holding his own. Keep your fingers crossed because as much as Buster and I both really loved bonding over the twice-daily needles, not having to administer them has been, well, just fine, thank you! That’s milestone no. 2

Finally, what self-respecting columnist could possibly complete a weekly dissertation without saying something about one of the most-discussed topics in the news these days: those AIG (and other) bonuses.

Okay, well, lots of columnists could avoid it, I’m sure. After all, it’s all been said. In a nutshell: when did it become okay to reward crummy work with enormous sums of money? Shouldn’t these people be fired instead? And, yes, I know about the contracts, but couldn’t some lawyer argue they breached their contracts by tanking the company?

Anyway, I watched some of President Barack Obama’s appearance on The Tonight Show on Thursday and heard what he had to say about the bonus situation. What struck me, though, was his logical approach to the way things are in general. He’s saying we need to get back to a place where people are rewarded for doing good work and good things. He also wants to see people take responsibility for their actions instead of blaming others for screw-ups. We’re talking Big Societal Change, here.

If he can find a way to turn this barge around to a place where things make sense again then I call it milestone no. 3.

So there you have it. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to grab my red helmet, hop on my new bicycle and spread joy somewhere about something.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

They Are on Notice

Today Boychild, out of the blue, turns to me and says, "When the cats die, can we get a dog?"

Highly sensitive cat lover that I am, I laughed. "Go ask your father."

So he wanders into the other room and asks Dad the same question. I can hear Dad explaining about how dogs are a lot more work and he and his sister would have to pitch in and help a lot more yadda yadda yadda.

Naturally, this means our cats are officially on notice. "You can be replaced," I told Buster as he started yowling at me later in the evening.

I think I'll be writing a column on this at some point.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Past Deadline: A Cinderella Story

Good times. Lots of powder. Published in The Perth Courier on Tuesday, March 17/09.

A Cinderella story

We rented Cinderella from the library the other day. Considering last week’s column about too much screen time, this pretty much makes me a complete hypocrite, but we knew that already so I won’t bother flogging around in that shallow water.

I could delve into literary criticism of the Cinderella story and embark upon some sort of feminist rant, but I actually like the story. It’s not because in the end the prince comes along and swoops the poor girl away to live out her dreams in a castle with people who do all the dishes and so on, although I could live with that. I like the story because it’s a great example of how treating other people the way you would want to be treated reaps benefits in the long run.

My favourite part of the movie comes just after the wicked stepmother trips the fellow who is eagerly carrying the glass slipper over to Cinderella so she can try it on. The slipper shatters into teeny tiny bits, the Grand Duke starts to weep and the stepmother smiles darkly. Then voila! Cinderella produces the matching slipper from her pocket. When we see the look of utter horror on the stepmother’s face, I always yell, “Aha!” I’ve done so about 672 times because, not surprisingly, Girlchild loves this movie. After all, it features princesses and singing mice and birds.

I hadn’t seen Cinderella for a long time and had forgotten many details, but I was definitely already familiar with “The Work Song,” You know, “Cinderella! Cinderella! All I hear is Cinderella….” Now it is more meaningful to the short people in the house who are always asking me to “Fetch this!” and “Fix that!”

As if we say “fetch.”

Nevertheless, I felt like Cinderella on Saturday morning because I was down on my hands and knees scrubbing a floor early in the morning. Usually I can sleep in a little on Saturdays and was attempting to do so when I decided to get a glass of water. I could hear Girlchild clattering around in her room, which isn’t unusual.

What was unusual, however, was the amount of baby powder that greeted me when I wandered down the hall.

Her majesty had spread almost a full 250-gram bottle of it on nearly every square inch of her bedroom floor (hardwood) and there was an alarmingly large pile of it on the carpet at the top of the stairs.


The good news is:

a) The carpet is light coloured, so the remnants of half a bottle of baby powder blend in fairly well.

b) It smells quite lovely upstairs and baby powder, when dumped near the litter box, helps to hide unpleasant kitty stinkies.

The bad news is:

a) Regular vacuum cleaners are not big fans of talc. It sends their sensors into a tizzy and leads them to believe empty vacuum bags are full long before they actually are.

b) Mopping will do you no good – you’ll just spend quality time pushing soggy powder across the floor. If your goal is to let your three-year-old troublemaker – I mean daughter – wander across the wet, powdery floor in bare feet to create a charming artistic effect, then go to it.

c) You’ll have to face the Cinderella music and drop to your knees with a bucket of water and a cloth. You’ll also need a good set of fingernails or a scrub brush to scrape the soggy powder out of the cracks between the hardwood. Some fun, huh Bambi? Oops, wrong Disney flick.

d) I didn’t get a picture. I wasn’t really awake when this happened and didn’t dare let this Sahara sandstorm of powder spread to the rest of the house while I waxed nostalgic. Still, I wish I’d thought to get a picture because it is eerily similar to an experiment wee Groom-boy conducted about 40 years ago in the bathroom. I think it involved powdered laundry detergent.

So is this whole thing an example of life imitating art? Maybe. We’ve moved on to watching The Little Mermaid, so I’m hoping it will mean more seafood in my life – or maybe a cruise.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Past Deadline: Too Much Screen Time

When you know what you should be doing versus reality.... Published Tuesday, March 10/09 in The Perth Courier.

Too much screen time

Maybe it’s a sign of spring accompanying the pungent aroma of doggie yech filling the air or maybe, like an allergy, I’m passing some sort of tolerance threshold. Whatever the reason, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of screen time in my life.

When Groom-boy and I got married and moved into an apartment a kazillion years ago, I remember half-heartedly trying to convince him it would be a Really Great Idea to cancel cable. I’m sure I burbled enthusiastically about less time zoning out in front of the tube and more time going for long walks or reading books. What would we really be missing?

The other half of me figured I would go through serious Young & the Restless withdrawal, a show I had been watching more or less since birth. (Shh! Don’t tell!). Oh, and George Clooney was still on ER back then. Not only that, but Groom-boy and I were both reporters. We bonded over news. To this day you can count on us making an effort to drop what we’re doing so we can sit on the couch together and critique Lloyd Robertson at 11 p.m.

Suffice it to say, cable stayed.

These days Y&R gives way to Little Bear and Rolie Polie Olie, but that nightly dose of doom and gloom (did you hear the economy is dire?) is still a big part of my routine. Sad but true.

Yes, as I’ve mentioned before, we are some of “those” parents who let their kids watch what probably amounts to too much TV. Even though we monitor what they’re watching, it’s still time spent in front of a mindless flickering box instead of breathing fresh air, running, looking at interesting icicles or animal tracks, swimming, going to the library, playing a board game, doing crafts or reading books.

Then there’s the computer. Beyond being a big part of my livelihood, it represents additional miscellaneous screen time. For the kids it is continued staring at a flickering box with the added bonus of exercise for their wrist muscles and increased hand-eye coordination.

Uh huh.

Somehow I don’t think getting up from the couch and meandering away from the television only to plunk down in front of a computer game counts as exercise.

Okay, so I exaggerate a little.

I can’t remember where I saw it – either (surprise!) by e-mail or on a blog or on a website – but recently I watched a short video that demonstrated the eerie, glazed look kids (and probably adults) get when they play video games. We’re talking empty eyes and mouths hanging open, highlighted by that ghostly bluish light the screen emits. It made me feel a little ill. Why are we spending so many minutes, hours, days in front of these time-sucking appliances? It’s not as if we’re watching documentaries – and even then we should be experiencing life, not just watching it flicker by.

What is this technology getting us? Some argue computers, Blackberries and cell phones keep us more connected. Others say not. Do you e-mail, phone or visit in person? Which is the best way to experience all of the elements that make for good communication – not just the words, but the way they are spoken, the look in someone’s eye, the smile, the laugh, the warm touch of a hand?
You can’t get that from a computer – not even with a webcam.

Ah, I know I sound all dirgy – or at least stodgy. Something that ends in “gy.” Perhaps dodgy. Or pudgy. Or stingy.

I guess I just don’t want to wake up some day and realize I “could have been doing so much more” and that I wasted too much time surfing the Net or watching the Road Runner get away for the eleventy thousandth time. My kids already know about reruns. Ugh.

It’s hard to change bad habits. With something like this, everyone has to be on board or it won’t work. I’m certain spring will help because we have not been compelled to hang around outside when the windchill is -30C.

Let’s all get out there and smell the, uh, dog yech.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Past Deadline: Busting Crime at Crazy Corner

A chronicle of my adventures walking Boychild to school, as published in The Perth Courier on Tuesday, March 3/09.

Busting crime at Crazy Corner

Most days I cross Crazy Corner four times and emerge unscathed. I’m referring to the corner of Wilson and Isabella streets, which is en route to Boychild’s school.

It often strikes fear into my heart.

Lloyd the Crossing Guard and I have had many conversations about how crazy that corner can be. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lloyd show up there in a suit of armour to protect himself from the dunderheads firmly ensconced behind their wheels and determined to get wherever no matter how many small children, mothers with strollers, seniors walking golden retrievers and, of course, crossing guards they have to mow down.

I have had occasion to kick tires of cars that have crossed in front of me when I have had the right of way. I have also employed the Icy Look of Death when someone starts to pull out just as I step off the curb pushing Girlchild in a stroller.

Lloyd is very proactive. I have seen him yell and shake his fist at some of these drivers, and he has been known to pull out a cell phone and call the police when someone does something dangerous.

An exciting feature of this corner is the fact that, for many drivers who are north- or southbound on Wilson Street, a red light does not actually mean “stop,” it means “go faster.” I always thought that notion was more likely to be seen with a yellow light, but apparently times have changed and people think it’s okay to run lights so red they are bleeding, especially when there are lots of school children crossing the intersection.

Another super fun feature at Wilson and Isabella is that in the winter the sun is absolutely blinding. If the pavement is wet then you get the added bonus of a glare. If you’re driving south on Wilson in the morning, you might as well wear a blindfold, it can be that bright. This is all the more reason to speed and run red lights, of course.

In late afternoon, the sun settles at the end of Leslie Street, so be prepared to be run over by someone turning right off Isabella onto Wilson as you’re crossing because they won’t see you. Oh, and just ignore Lloyd. He’s standing out in the middle of the road with his fluorescent hazard vest, big stop sign and orange pylon because he likes to dress up in funny clothes a few times a day from Monday to Friday – especially when it’s -40C. He’s yelling and shaking his fist at you because he has anger issues.


Granted, the sun thing is improving a bit as we edge closer to spring. (We are heading closer to spring, right? I hope so, because I am absolutely DONE with winter this year.) Speaking of the weather, this is something Lloyd and I talk about a lot after he has safely ushered me and my little people across the road. Only if we’re not talking about bad drivers, though.

Sometimes the police hang out at Wilson and Isabella. That’s cool. In my experience it makes everything nice and orderly for a while. Eventually, though, they go away. It must be frustrating for them to hear, “Oh, you shoulda been here half an hour ago when the guy in the blue car blew the red light and nearly took out 72 people crossing the street!”

Realizing the police can’t be everywhere all the time – after all, there may be equally crazy intersections to patrol elsewhere – I think the town should invest in some uber-realistic police mannequins wielding large imitation radar guns and position them at trouble spots from time to time. Alternatively, spike belts could be installed, with Lloyd in charge of pushing the button as necessary. That’d be interesting.

Now that I have gone and spent an entire column complaining about my silly near-death experiences at Wilson and Isabella streets, rest assured I realize I am now officially fated to make some sort of stupid driving error. It’d be just my luck.