Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Past Deadline: Old Man Winter Will You Please Go Home

Grumpy about weather? Me, too. Here's my grump about it in the latest "Past Deadline" in The Perth Courier, published on Wednesday, Jan. 28/09.

Old Man Winter will you please go home

Old Man Winter and I are having a bit of a tiff.

Usually we get along fine. He’s not my favourite in the family of seasons, but I don’t loathe him. In fact, I get really annoyed when people make a big stink about the mere existence of Old Man Winter, as if it is some sort of surprise when it snows. When the lead story on the national news is that we might get (gasp!) 10 centimetres of snow and that it will surely cause Chaos and Mayhem and Anarchy, I find it a bit silly.

That whole “Snowmaggedon” thing (the snowstorm that really didn’t amount to much) was really nauseating. Come ON people! This is Canada! We get rain in summer and snow in winter and when it does snow we don’t need to lock down our homes, wring our hands and weep. Not every snowfall is a Storm of Epic Proportion and Misery.

That all said I am Canadian, which entitles me to complain about the weather.

It’s not that this has been a particularly difficult winter. After all, last year was a doozy with that 1,472 metres of snow and all. It’s just that, well, I wasn’t really mentally ready for it this year.

Think of Old Man Winter as a houseguest who comes every year and stays for a few months. You expect him and you make room for him and you do his laundry and cook his meals and you’re used to his quirks and outbursts, but eventually you’re ready for him to go home.

Well, that houseguest came last year in November, got drunk, wrecked the place and then lay around on the couch until about April before finally slouching off home. To make matters worse, as he was leaving he invited his unwanted cousin, Endless Rain, to come and stay for most of the spring and summer and part of the fall.

So, yeah. Old Man Winter and I have had our spats in the past, but this year I just wasn’t looking forward to his arrival. Even though he has behaved better this year, he’s still making me a bit grouchy.

Generally we make the best of the cold, snowy weather. Usually the kids like to get outside and shovel and play in the snow, but even they need to be coaxed this year. It doesn’t help that Mom Ineeda is being completely lazy about “winter fun.” Sure we’ve done some sledding and we’ve been to the rink a few times and we’ve collected icicles and made snow angels, but our snowshoes sit idle and nary a snowman nor fort has been constructed. In fact, much of our family outdoor activity this season has consisted of the twice-daily walk to Boychild’s school. (I know, I know.)

Most years I have looked forward to these daily outings. Girlchild is at an awkward stage, though. It’s a bit far for her to walk the whole way and back, and with snowpants on we’d probably have to set out at 6 a.m. to get Boychild to school on time. So for now she still rides in the stroller or I pull her in the sled. She’s heavier than last year, though, so despite there being less snow the struggle is, sometimes, just as great. Even with our big wheels, slush or haphazard piles of snow along the way make for a rather intense upper body workout. This is good, right?


On a number of days I have withered in the face of too much snow or overly frigid temperatures and have arranged to drive Boychild to school. On those days I feel for Lloyd, our crossing guard at Wilson and Isabella, standing in that achey cold to keep the hardier walkers safe.

Although I’m glad Old Man Winter is being more gracious this year – providing a rather typical winter complete with cold snaps, a decent amount of snow for those who want to play in it and an occasional blizzard to send the national news media into orbit – I’ll still be glad to help him pack his bags.

If it’s not too much to ask, do you suppose we could have a little more sunshine this year?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

So, Like, You're Gonna Be Home All the Time?

In a matter of days there is going to be a rather significant change around our household.

Groom-boy is leaving a 16-year career at the local newspaper. "Is leaving" means he applied to, and was accepted for, a "voluntary departure program" within the corporation that owns the newspaper. Newspapers are having a rough go of things in this economy and many companies are, um, streamlining operations.

We're okay - he's been there long enough that he was given a nice package that will keep us afloat for a while. It's also a great unexpected opportunity for him to explore some new career directions and interesting prospects.

Still, there's lots of stuff swimming around my head about the end of this era. Groom-boy and I met at the paper almost 16 years ago when we were both reporters. It was fascinating work that we enjoyed and it really cemented our bond with our hometown. Not only that, but we fell in love, got married and the rest is history. I was there for six and a half years before leaving to start up my communications business. He stayed on and eventually became editor. We have a lot of pride and affection tied up in the newspaper, and it has been difficult to watch the industry struggle.

But I won't talk about that today. After all, until he settles on his Brand Spankin' New Career, having hubbie home all the time will be, um, something! At first it will feel like a vacation, and it will be cool to not have to make child-care arrangements every time I need to leave the house for an hour-long meeting. Heck - I might even be able to go out for a coffee with a grown up without children every once in a while!


Care to make any bets on how long it will be before I go stark raving?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Past Deadline: Dude and the Barbie Quartet Do Battle

The tale of this Barbie-meets-NEO Shifter epic drama first appeared in The Perth Courier on Wednesday, Jan. 21/09.

Dude and the Barbie quartet do battle

Today I initiated an Epic Battle of Outstanding Proportions (EBOP) while at the in-laws. No, no. It wasn’t an argument about when the tea needed to be made – that would never happen. In fact, it was an intergalactic battle between a mighty NEO Shifters character and a quartet of Barbies.

A NEO Shifter is a weird robot-like creature that has a pile of pieces that snap together. He’s got lots of claws and wings and buttons and stuff. He can change shape.

So the NEO Shifter – let’s just call him Dude – is going around the living room all tough and everything when Mom Ineeda decides to start something, so she grabs a couple of Girlchild’s Barbies – one she calls “Candy,” who dates from the 1970s, and another one with great flowing hair that doesn’t have crazy curls that I would have idolized as a child.

Candy and her gorgeous friend, Stunningly Beautiful, who we’ll call SB for short, start yelling at Dude. “Hey! You don’t scare us! Where you going, you chicken!”

Girlchild, seeing a grand opportunity to be silly, seizes the other two Barbies. She has not shown great initiative in terms of naming these girls, but she calls the ballerina one Charlie. The other, a lovely lass with poker-straight long brown hair that, again, I would have seriously coveted, has no name, so we’ll call her something that doesn’t end in “eeee.” Hm. Dudette it is.

So Girlchild has Charlie, who is dressed in a black and white feathery number that used to belong to my Cher doll. Charlie screeches at Dude, who is shining some kind of laser light thingy at us and shooting us with a dull-tipped dart. Keep in mind, whenever you play Barbies in Girlchild’s world (that’d be DivaWorld for you newcomers), you have to use an incredibly high falsetto voice when one of your characters speaks.

“Hey!” she squeaks, “Come on over here everybody!”

I start flailing SB and Candy around wildly because, of course, they can fly. “I’m going to shoot you with my lightning arms and my laser eyelashes!” I trill to Dude.

Boychild is wielding Dude around the vicinity and having a darned good giggle about the fact he is fending off a fleet of clearly insane dolls. “Oh yeah?” he says, raising Dude’s weird arm and spinning some sort of saw thingy on it, “Well I’m gonna cut off your heads!”

“Oh, no you’re not!” I say, making shooting sounds. “Peow! I’ve got you with my laser eyelashes!”

We clash. There is a clattering of Made in China plastic and Dude’s face falls off. He also loses a wing. It’s no problem, though. He’s a shape shifter, so bits of him are morphing all the time.

“You’re not playing fair,” Boychild mutters. “I shot you but you didn’t fall down.”

“Oh yeah? Well I lasered you and you didn’t fall down,” I say. I’m so very mature about all this.

Girlchild, meanwhile, is making Charlie and Dudette fly through the air while she grins from ear to ear.

“Time for a song!” I falsetto cheerily before launching into “Do-Re-Mi.” We’ve been watching The Sound of Music quite a lot lately, although we never really seem to get much past the wedding scene. Pretty soon SB, Dudette, Charlie and Candy are dancing madly on my knees while Girlchild and I croon together. We sing the “Alphabet Song,” “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and “So Long, Farewell” while Dude hovers nearby and casts evil menacing glances our way.

“Okay, the party’s over,” SB announces. “Let’s get him!”

Another clash of plastic is followed by another loss of face followed by another musical interlude. Boychild wanders off for a few minutes and while he’s gone I pull a teeny tiny NEO Shifter guy out of Dude’s chest.

“Hey! He just had a baby!” I call. “Dada Dada!”

Boychild leaps back into the scene. “It’s not a baby!” he scolds, folding the creature back into a little ball and tucking it into Dude’s chest. (So THAT’S how you do that….)

Meanwhile, Girlchild has bundled all the girls up in a sweatshirt. I’m told they’re having a short nap interrupted by bad dreams.

With playtimes like these, go figure.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fat Lip?

The problem with writing about your life is that, well, then people know stuff. The problem with writing about it in a small town is that, well, people recognize you and they know stuff.

After my last post about
DivaWorld and my dear sweet daughter's crazy public two-block tantrum, she got a fat lip. She was climbing up on an interior window ledge because she likes to sit there. It isn't overly high, but it isn't overly allowed, either, and this is something she had been warned about eleventy thousand times.

Of course she fell off. We told her she would. Naturally we weren't in the room at the time ("I only looked away for a second!") She landed on her face and got a fat lip that bled. Not a lasting or dire injury, but not a pretty one, either.

The good thing is I got to do what my mother used to do. I got to use the "told-you-so" voice. "Seeee? This is what happens when you don't listen to Mommy and Daddy." (To do it effectively you have to drawl the "seeee" out a bit and lower your voice a little - to make it more authoritative.)

The bad thing is that this happened around the time my column about DivaWorld hit the local newspaper. Would people assume I had hauled off and clobbered her in the mouth during the Very Public Tantrum? (Because her falling off a window ledge is sooooo much better. Yes, I can see the Mother of the Year Prize Patrol pulling up to my front door right now.)

Fortunately, it healed quickly and Girlchild hasn't shown any interest at all in climbing these days.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Past Deadline: DivaWorld: Where Is the Exit?

The latest instalment from the home front published in The Perth Courier on Wednesday, Jan. 14/09.

DivaWorld: Where is the exit?

On Sunday I took a late afternoon walk with my sweet daughter in pink. You probably heard. Yes, even you folks in Lanark Highlands. And Vancouver.

It was meant to be a nice way to relax and get a bit of exercise after an eventful day that featured the hosting of a houseful of sugar-filled lads for Boychild’s birthday party. The party began at Conlon Farm with some sledding for the boys. Girlchild and I stayed home to finish decorating and chopping fruit and veggies (which later made for a lovely display that was mostly ignored, but at least we tried). After the party we needed milk, so I figured a nice walk to the store would give us girls some fresh air and exercise, too.

Girlchild is three, which means the world revolves around her. I call it DivaWorld. It’s mostly pink.

She’s my second child, so I had the general baby care thing down pretty well, but she is teaching me a whole lot more about behaviour. For example, if your child goes through the Terrible Twos and is, actually, sometimes terrible, don’t expect things to clear up and be rosy when she turns three.

This is new to me. Boychild was a complacent fellow. Tantrums were so rare that when they happened Groom-Boy and I would scratch our chins and wonder what the heck to do. Boychild didn’t do the Terrible Twos. He had some sort of Occasionally Ornery Threes (OOT), but that was about it.

Girlchild? I believe I’ve written a column or two that affectionately referred to her as a banshee when she was in the throes of the Terrible Twos. I love her dearly, of course, but sometimes she hurts my ears.

Sunday was such a day.

My proposed walk was greeted with enthusiasm and we set off cheerily enough. Halfway through, she announced she wanted to go home. I explained we were getting there, but would have to get milk first.

This. Would. Not. Do.

Girlchild is at that magical stage when she will listen and respond to reason. Thing is, it only goes well if the reasoning is in her favour. She wanted to turn around and retrace our steps. I explained the plan – continue this way, get milk, almost home.

So then the screaming started. Her, not me. We stomped – and I sometimes carried her – along Foster Street (you know, where there’s lots of traffic, several pedestrians and a real good echo off the stone buildings). People in cars stared at us, and I don’t think it was because we’re pretty.
She screamed bloody murder for a thousand miles – okay, it was only about two and a half blocks – and I wanted to dive into a snowbank. Instead, I gritted my teeth and made snarly threats about taking away certain privileges.

That hit home and she settled down in time for us to go into the store to get milk. Then, as we were leaving, she announced she didn’t want to go home, she wanted to go back into the store and “get something.”

I don’t think so, kid.

More screaming. More gritting. More growling. All. The. Way. Home.

Holy mood swings, Batman! Do you suppose that two-hour period she spent awake in the middle of the night might have caught up with her? That “relaxing” walk left me not only with a bunch of ground down stubs for teeth, but it made hosting a houseful of rambunctious boys look like a bubble bath with candlelight and soft music.

For a while I thought we had turned the corner with tantrums, entering wonderful new placid territory. I think part of our recent woes relate to the hubbub of the holidays. I hope (gulp!) that as we return to normal routines things will improve.

What frightens me, though, is that when I ask other moms of girls when the “terribles” will go away, many of them just laugh. Or they stare blankly at me. “Go away?”

The ones with older girls mutter sinister things about the teenage years. “Yes,” I say to them, “I remember what I was like as a teenager, but surely there’s a break before then?” Laughter. Blank stares. One raised eyebrow.

DivaWorld. The rides are something else.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

This is Your Cat on Drugs



This probably makes me a bad person, but I frequently run out of sympathy for my cats. It used to be, before kids, that they were the fur children. We didn't dote on them to the point of dressing them up in Victorian outfits and pushing them around in strollers or anything, but we did lavish a good deal of affection on them.

Now, with a seven-year-old boy, a three-year-old diva - I mean girl - and a husband in the house, I tend to frown and scowl at things that generate more clutter and mess. Cats, as feline owners know, create hairbleweed (that's cat-hair tumbleweed) and charming gooey hairball accessories that are occasionally deposited, usually on the few carpeted surfaces of our home.

One of our cats, Buster, was recently diagnosed with diabetes. He's doing fine - he has stabilized and we have our two-needles-a-day routine down pat - but when this first came up I was, I admit, annoyed about the additional chores associated with the cat. Bless his furry buttons and all.

Then there's MacGregor. Ah, MacGregor. This big tabby has long had urinary tract issues which, after great expense and rigmarole, we learned to anticipate and largely prevent. He has been mostly stable, in his own special nutbar way, for a couple of years.

Recently he started barfing. A lot. As I followed his trail around the house and washed mats and comforters, my sympathy was in short supply only because I really, really, really need more laundry in my life. I consulted with the vet and we got a fresh supply of his nice, happy drugs - amitriptylene - (unkay) because - get this - he gets stressed out. When he shows symptoms, we rub a tiny bit on the inside of his ear. He gets all relaxed and happy, takes extra naps and we usually move on with our lives with less barf. This has happened before, but not recently. For a while we even had Valium on hand (kitty doses - nothing to get excited about) to keep him relaxed as needed so he wouldn't have a urinary tract episode.

Through all of this I have said, "What the HECK does a CAT have to be stressed about?" I may have used a stronger word than "heck."

I know, I know. All creatures experience stress for different reasons. In our household new babies and changes in routine (particularly if Mama gets anxious) have been very excellent triggers for MacGregor's stress which, I suppose (sigh) is understandable.

So, naturally, my question is how much amitriptylene should I be rubbing on MY ear?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Past Deadline: A Refreshing Dip in the Tay in January

More on the Polar Bear Plunge, published in The Perth Courier on Wednesday, Jan. 7/09. I hope to have a bit more time for some original posts here now that the holidays have raced away!

A refreshing dip in the Tay in January

My New Year’s resolution for 2009 was to survive the Perth Polar Bear Plunge on Jan. 1.

Done. Phew! Now what?

Anticipation was the worst part of plunging. I spent more time waffling between being a chicken and a polar bear than my daughter changes outfits in a day – and that’s a LOT. In what I thought was a final decision, I decreed that if I raised $500 I would jump. That happened alarmingly quickly.

My convictions still wobbly, I decided to cheat (with the blessing of my pledgers) and arranged for a wetsuit. Apparently, though, there is a rather significant “no wetsuits no matter what” rule for the plunge. Fine. It felt too wimpy anyway.

So, as my tally of pledges continued to climb and I felt even more duty bound, I got my affairs in order and put the matter to rest. I was jumping. It’s only cold, dark water, right?


With my mind finally made up I at least stopped waking with a start every morning. In fact, I managed to put the whole thing out of my head until a few days before the event, at which point I settled into a nice, easy, queasy feeling every time I thought about it (250 times a day).

I volunteer with an outstanding group of people with the Friends of Murphys Point. They work hard as a team to put together great events – which is a big reason why the Archaeo Apprentice program (which is the recipient of funds raised from the plunge) is so wonderful.

They know me well. When it was time to assign duties to volunteers on the day of the plunge they said, “Oh, Steph, you’re plunging. You just make the rounds and talk to people.” This, I suspect, was code for: “She will be a nervous wreck. Don’t let her anywhere near the kitchen or a cashbox.”

Clever folks! I love them to bits!

So I wandered around and kept distracted and no one’s life depended on any task left in my care – other than my own, I suppose. My mother says as plunge time drew nearer I got paler. After I changed into my wetsuit-free plunge garb, I was the colour of snow. Since we had no snow that day, I didn’t get lost in the background.

What we did have was an air temperature of -19C and a water temperature of “are-you-freaking-crazy?” Celsius. The set-up crew had to chip off two inches of ice that formed overnight. This year, I’m told, the hole extended further from shore than usual. Coupled with higher water than usual, we would be jumping into eight feet of water.

So much for splashing in waist high.

I had never even been to the plunge before. Normally I like to watch someone else go first before trying something new. In this instance, however, Mayor John Fenik and I were not only pleased to be in the first group of jumpers, we requested it. This was his fourth jump, and I trusted his experience. He also promised to help fish my cold, limp body out of the river if need be.

Fortunately it didn’t come to that. Now I’m a true polar bear – I went right under – then swam with quickly stiffening limbs through what felt like very cold, thick Jello to shore, where two kind people helped everyone out.

No doubt about it – it was breathtakingly cold! And apparently I can move pretty darned fast when it’s minus 19 and I’m soaked to the skin.

You know, though, it wasn’t so bad. Like I said, the anticipation was the hardest part, particularly as the crowd counted down from five and I stared into that cold dark water and wondered if I could will myself to jump in.

Would I do it again? I’ll have to get back to you on that!

Thank you to everyone who plunged, pledged, volunteered and otherwise supported the Friends of Murphys Point for the plunge. It was a fantastic day that will go a long way to support a great archeology program!

Now I think I’ll work on some New Year’s resolutions that involve warm things.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Now THAT Was a Bit Chilly!

Today, ladies and gentlemen, I did a polar bear plunge. Yes indeedy, I joined 70 or so other folks and jumped into a hole cut into six inches of ice on the mighty Tay River. The air temperature was a frigid -19 Celsius and the water temperature was, well, darned cold! This was all in the name of a good cause - a student archaeology program (see with which I am involved.

Completing a polar bear plunge wasn't on my bucket list (which reminds me, I should make a bucket list) as I discussed
here, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. For one thing, it wasn't as hard as childbirth. In fact, I'd say the anticipation of it was the worst part - particularly when you're standing on the ice looking at the hole and the crowd is counting 5...4...3...2...1...

Heading to the hole...

Taking the leap...

I think I now know what swimming through ice cold Jello feels like...


But I came out smiling!

Crazy stuff, I tell ya! Happy New Year!