Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Past Deadline: So You Think You Can't Dance?

I used to dance.

I’m not going to say I danced well, but I moved when the music moved me – usually it was crazy loud stuff with a thudding beat that got me hopping. Dancing is good exercise. I attribute at least a few pounds of my weight gain since the mid-1990s to the fact I don’t dance much anymore. Sometimes I dance with the kids, but that’s often an upper-body exercise that involves lifting short people and swinging them around while they giggle uncontrollably. There’s not a lot of aerobic workout there – not like when I was younger and sillier.

Some folks might say leaping about like a maniac does not really constitute good dancing, even if I do it particularly well. What I definitely don’t do particularly well is the simple round.

This appears to be the meat and potatoes of many exciting and exotic dances. Whether you’re covering the dance floor to the tune of “Crystal Chandelier” or embarking on a more adventurous tango, you probably started with a round.

I’m pretty sure that, to master the most basic version, you really just have to be able to count to three, but somehow this eludes me. Usually you let the fellow lead, too. Apparently I’m not much inclined to do so, although I don’t take control on purpose.


How did it come to this? After all, I was born here in Lanark County and have attended my fair share of stag and does, wedding receptions, reunions and anniversary parties where this dance is as common as water. Legions of couples have danced past me, gliding around the hall and adjusting the number of steps they take (and the direction they move) according to the rhythm of the song.

It’s as if when you’re born here you go from the baby bottle to potty training to learning to walk to doing the two-step to attending Junior Kindergarten. These people can dance like they breathe!

Okay. Enough hyperbole. Sort of.

My attention was drawn (again) to this serious personal social deficit a couple of weeks ago when I attended an anniversary party for a couple on the in-laws’ side. Many of these folks, including my father-in-law, hail from a rural area west of Perth and I think they were born dancing the round.

That said, it must have skipped a generation because Groom-boy doesn’t dance except in situations of intense obligation, such as his own wedding. When he does dance, he’s pretty good. He doesn’t do maniacal silly fast dances like I do (to that new-fangled music the kids listen to today), but he has a decent hybrid. It’s not quite the way his parents dance, but it is a step above the old turning-around-in-a-slow-wobbly-circle that constitutes the standby “slow dance” from high school.

Ah, his parents. They dance divinely. So when father-in-law asked me to dance at this anniversary party I was thoroughly intimidated. First of all, I couldn’t hope – on a GOOD day – to be able to dance that well and, secondly, I was seriously out of practice since I can’t honestly remember the last time I danced at all, other than the aforementioned flinging-children-around thing.

Seriously. Was it really at my brother’s wedding three years ago? Get out.

Anyway, I reluctantly followed FIL to the dance floor whereupon he tried to get me going in the right direction. Naturally, I took the lead.


I rescinded the lead and we started again. I stepped on his toes about 47 times and he stepped on mine a few times because my feet were frequently in the wrong place. When I counted the steps in my head I did okay, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak I lost concentration and we would start over again.

We headed back to the table. People were laughing – with us, I know, because it was pretty funny.

For two days after that my mother-in-law tried to tell me we had “danced beautifully.” I told her it is time to get a new prescription for her glasses.

All I can say is someone had better teach my kids to dance if they are going to survive in Lanark County. The Chicken Dance will only take you so far.
(Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 27/09)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Past Deadline: Don't Waste My Time

I hate stuff that wastes time, especially when you go to the trouble of being organized enough to plan ahead in order to save time later, but it backfires.

Over the years as the pounds have piled on and my meal-prep creativity (thanks to picky eaters) has declined, I have learned the importance of planning ahead. For example, if I remember to take chicken out of the freezer in the morning, then it will be thawed for me to use at suppertime. (I hate defrosting in the microwave because it cooks the edges.) That way there’s a better chance that I will prepare a healthy meal as opposed to grabbing take-out or cooking something overly processed.

We also eat better if I make a meal plan for the week ahead. Yes, that sounds a little bit Type A (surprise!), but then I know what to put on a grocery list and, again, it’s far more likely to include whole foods than junky stuff.

That said I’m seldom as organized as I sound. Meal planning goes in fits and starts. That’s why I was giving myself a huge pat on the back after Thanksgiving when I took the leftover turkey and made a giant pot of stew. There was enough to fill three big mason jars for freezing, representing the core of three future homemade meals in cold weather.

I cooled everything in the fridge before I put it in the freezer. I left room in the jars for expansion, just as I do for sauces and soups. Apparently, though, turkey stew needs a lot more room to grow and I didn’t leave enough. Within 24 hours the stew had frozen, but the jars had cracked and the lids were puffed out. I guess it’s kind of like how after you eat a big turkey dinner you have to undo your belt a notch or two.

This would have been handy to know. And don’t think I didn’t stare longingly at those jars and wonder if I couldn’t salvage my yummy stew – after all, the glass was cracked, not shattered. Alas, common sense prevailed and evisceration was avoided. All that time spent making the stew in an effort to get ahead later went into the garbage along with my broken environmentally friendly storage containers.

Another huge pet peeve of mine deals with that Great Time Saver of Our Age: Computers.


I love it how you can be goofing around on the computer and the Internet will be speedy and programs will open with nary a flicker of a problem, but as soon as you’re in a hurry (like all things in life), your computer turns into a cantankerous toddler.

I also despise when things that are supposed to be simple become unnecessarily complicated. Case in point: I e-mail a colleague one morning to say I have a bunch of questions about a project. Does she want to go over them by phone or by e-mail? She’s out of the office and will be working remotely that afternoon, she says, so send them by e-mail and she will work on them that day. I sit right down and hammer out a long itemized list for her and send it off, probably within 20 minutes of receiving her direction to do so. So efficient! Didn’t give it another thought.

That night at about midnight (yes, I was goofing around on the computer at midnight. I’m cute that way) I get one of those irritating notices indicating there has been “a delay” in sending my message to her. “Oh, don’t bother sending it again,” the notice says. “We’ll keep trying.”

Argh. Sure enough, when I phone her the next morning (at a time more reasonable than, say, 12:15 a.m.) she hadn’t received my e-mail. I sent it again – the very same thing to the very same address – and it went through. Why do these annoying things happen?

Yes, I know there are technical reasons for all of this stuff, but the randomness of it is enough to send my Type A sensibilities into orbit.

Not only that, but now I have a latent mistrust of frozen turkey stew and e-mail. It has come to this.

(Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 20/09)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Past Deadline: School Not Like Jail After All?

So here’s a story I bet a buncha parents can relate to. Of course it has nothing to do with any of MY children – after all, some of them can read and I wouldn’t want to embarrass them. Yeah, uh, this story is about someone else’s child for sure. It’s just that the mom told me about it in such a way that I feel as if I lived it.

This mom, let’s call her Jane, has a daughter, let’s call her Vernette, who is in Grade 2. Vernette’s not a big fan of change. She craves routine and becomes anxious when it is altered. The transition from summer holidays to school is particularly rough.

This year was no different. There were tears. For the first two weeks poor Jane faced each day fielding a litany of traumas: Vernette was soooo sick. There was no possible way Vernette could go to school. “Take my temperature! Check my throat! I should go to the doctor!”

Each day she grit her teeth and dragged her seven-year-old drama queen off to Alcatraz. Each evening Jane endured heartbreaking tales of woe. The kids were mean. The work was hard. It was horrid! Horrid! Horrid! “How can you make me go?”

Jane knew Vernette would probably only be satisfied with an announcement indicating Jane was quitting her job and home schooling her precious daughter forever. Not gonna happen.

She did, however, start to get a little concerned when Vernette insisted repeatedly that she was really having a hard time understanding the work. “I don’t know what the teacher is talking about. It’s too hard!” And there were more tears.

So, she made an appointment with the teacher.

Jane says this teacher, let’s call her Miss Smith, is a godsend. She’s new in the business, but actually worked in Vernette’s classroom the year before while she was a student, so she is, shall we say, familiar with Vernette’s work.

When they met, the first thing Miss Smith said was: “What a difference with Vernette between this year and last year!” She then went on to describe in detail how things that would have bothered Vernette in Grade 1 were no problem in Grade 2. She is coping much better and problem solving and just, well, much more at ease.

“Really?” Jane said. “Well. Let me tell you what she has been saying to me.” Jane recounted the tale of woe – everything from how much school is akin to jail to how impossibly difficult the work is.

Miss Smith’s mouth dropped to the floor. In fact, the look of surprise on her face cracked Jane up.

“I would never have thought for a minute that Vernette is a kid who doesn’t like school,” Miss Smith said incredulously.

She then went on to show Jane some of Vernette’s work – the printed sentences, the math, the drawings – and told Jane that Vernette’s group is usually one of the first to finish the work and that Vernette actually volunteered to speak in front of the class a couple of days earlier.

“This has been very enlightening,” Jane said, smiling wryly.

So Jane went home and sang Vernette’s praises. “Miss Smith says you are doing sooo well in school! Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah,” Vernette mumbled weakly.

The next morning Vernette didn’t complain about going to school and when she came home there were no tales of woe. She didn’t, however, bring home a library book again.

“Why don’t you ever bring home a book on library day?” Jane asked.

There was some muttering about not finding anything interesting and then, “They will only let us bring home Franklin books.”

“Really?” Jane asked, surprised. Franklin is a popular series about a turtle and his friends and family and is usually geared to Kindergarten set. “Hm. That seems weird. I think I will write a note to Miss Smith and ask her why that is.”

Short pause. “Oh, um, I’m just kidding, Mom.”

Uh-huh, Jane mused.

She is so on to you, Vernette!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just one more example of why I believe parents need a psychology degree to raise a child.
(Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 13/09)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Past Deadline: Eat Chocolate and Go to Jail, Kid

So here’s one of those headlines that makes a personal news blackout seem like a darned good idea: “Chocolate can make your kid violent for life.”

Huh? Or how about this: “Study: Kids who eat too much candy may be more likely to end up in prison as adults.”

Huge. Dramatic. Sigh.

According to these stories, some 17,000 British children born in 1970 were studied for about four decades. Of those who ate candies or chocolates every day at age 10, “69 per cent were later arrested for a violent offence by the age of 34.”

Now I suppose I could go all “holier than thou” on this subject since, as I wrote last week, I recently packed our sugary junk stash into a “Snack Box” and relegated it to the scary basement. I should probably take heart, too, that my kids weren’t eating junk every day anyway and, besides, they are years away from being 10.

Assuming the Snack Box stays in the basement for another few years (which will probably lead to a column about an interesting study in my basement – yech), then there’s a darned good chance my kids will stay out of jail when they are 34, right?

And why 34? (Too literal. I know.)

Researchers were quick to point out more study is needed and the link between candy and violence may have more to do with decision making and gratification issues. Parents who bribe kids to behave by offering sweets should be sent to the moon, for example. Likewise, it may have something to do with an inability to defer gratification – this constant desire for sweets.

So now I’m just going to say “no” to my kids all the time. It’s for their own good. (Yes, too literal again. I know.)

For now I’ll stick to the “better nutrition leads to better behaviour” philosophy.

A friend of mine who has young kids alerted me not only to the chocolate story, but also to another study indicating mothers of young children don’t get to exercise enough and that is going to cause a public health problem later as all of these fat moms pass middle age.

“They needed a study to tell them that?” she said. Then we spent a half hour trying to figure out when we would be able to go running together. The middle of the night next Thursday is looking good.


It’s amazing how hard it can be to find a half hour to exercise. That is precisely why I fell off the wagon the last time I put real energy into exercising. Now it’s silly season. Work is busier, school’s in, and two moms looking for a little exercise three times a week also have to juggle various hockey, swimming, dance, husband and volunteering schedules if we want to run together. (You’ll notice I didn’t even try to include cleaning the house on that list. Just don’t come over. Besides, we have no chocolate here.)

Sure, it would be easy to go our separate ways and squeeze in a run whenever suits our own schedules, but I can tell you right now what would happen. Winter’s coming. The weather is colder and wetter. Life is more hectic at this time of year. I betcha I would fall off the wagon again.

Even though I know my virtual running buddy in Calgary, the one who got me going on this new adventure in July, is counting on me to hold up my end, it sure is a lot harder to do it when someone isn’t physically showing up at my door to go for a run. When there is no one there to keep you accountable it’s a lot easier to postpone the run or to go but think about taking a walking break partway through or cut it a minute short at the end.

And so, in the interest of good health, we juggle. Throwing a pair of running shoes amid the myriad of hats turning in the air just keeps it interesting.

I’ll have to add chocolate bars into the juggling mix so my kids won’t be able to find them and go to jail. Is juggling good exercise?

(Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 6/09)