Friday, December 24, 2010

Past Deadline: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas - 2010

I wonder how many millions of awful renditions of Clement Clark Moore’s ’Twas the Night Before Christmas exist out in the world? Well, here is one more – my almost-annual offering – to add to the collection. With apologies, again.

’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
People were yelling and starting to grouse.
The stockings were hung from the imaginary chimney with care
But under the Christmas tree it looked kinda bare.
“Our presents!” wailed Girlchild. “Where could they be?
“I’ve looked and I’ve looked but there’s nothing for me!”
“It’s true,” moaned Boychild, with an enormous pout.
“Presents are what Christmas is all about.”
I rolled my eyes and started to scowl
And threw in for good measure a bit of a growl
As I shovelled my way through the untidy piles
Of toys and belongings that stretched on for miles.
When I tripped on the clutter I started to wonder
If child-rearing is forever a long, constant blunder.
“Why would you people think that is so?
“Christmas is about giving, didn’t you know?”
The kids were distracted, though, by the TV
Which was blaring about some sort of house for Barbie.
“I am so getting that!” Girlchild announced
Before out of the room the kids decidedly flounced. (I spend a lot of time decidedly flouncing out of rooms myself. I mean, it makes for a perfect exit. The “decidedly” part is particularly compelling, don’t you think?”)
When in the next room there arose such a clatter,
I knew they’d be occupied with incessant chatter.
I scooped up some clutter and looked all around
But a space to put it could not be found.
I sank in a chair to consider this plight
And talk myself out of a getaway flight.
When what to my bloodshot old eyes should appear
But the Stress-Free Holiday Fairy™ of course! Never fear!
I flew from the chair and threw open my arms.
“I am so glad to see you! I have missed your charms!
“My house is awash in a sea of debris
“And all my kids talk about is ‘Me me me me!’”
With a wink of her eye and a grin big as London
I just knew she could help me with my conundrum. (Say – now there’s some interesting rhyming!)
“Now, dearie,” she said, with a pat on my arm,
“Take a deep breath and you’ll come to no harm.
“Think back several decades to when you were a child
“And remember how unwrapping presents was wild.”
“You lost me at ‘decades’ I said with a frown,
“You sure know how to bring a room down.”
“Nonsense!” she said, “You just need rest
“As well as a reminder of how much you are blessed.”
She pulled out her wand and things started to fly.
The clutter was moving from where it did lie.
Four piles of belongings formed on the floor
And the Fairy then beckoned towards the front door.
“Now gather your family here in this room
“And explain to them some people are facing a gloom.
“With these unused belongings given away
“You might be able to brighten their day.”
With that I gathered the clan ’round the heaps
And explained we were giving these items to peeps.
So as we all worked to pack up the things,
The Stress-Free Holiday Fairy™ spread her wings.
“Enjoy this giving,” she said into the night
Before winking and grinning and then taking flight.

Boychild, Girlchild, Groom-boy and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best in 2010!

Published in The Perth Courier, Dec. 23/10

Past Deadline: Lamenting the Ickies

This fall has been a bit of a nightmare when it comes to the ickies in our house. Is it just me or does it seem to be harder to shake colds anymore? Have you all had the version that comes with “The Cough” that won’t go away? For some of us it lasted for several weeks before disappearing. Others were lucky enough to have it turn into bronchitis or a wicked sinus infection.

At our house, despite washing our hands until they bled, we managed to contract that cold earlier in the fall. The coughing was deafening. Afterwards, just to be original, I felt compelled to follow it up with laryngitis, which made me sound a bit like Joan Rivers. It made delivering an hour-and-a-half lecture to one of my classes slightly difficult, albeit somewhat amusing.

The fun thing about laryngitis is the sympathy factor. I had it for several days, but I actually didn’t feel too bad during the worst of it. Nevertheless, as soon as I opened my mouth and croaked out whatever it was I had to say, I was immediately showered with concern and sympathy. It gave me the warm fuzzies.

Another fun ailment that showed up at our place this fall was pink eye. Conjunctivitis is rabidly contagious, of course, and was spreading through the kids’ school. Girlchild acquired it first. Just when we thought we had it licked, it showed up for a second time.

This time we all washed our hands to the bone, but Boychild succumbed as well. I kept looking at my own eyes suspiciously for a while, but determined they were merely bloodshot from lack of sleep.

After that round of ickies swept through the house, we all took deep breaths, washed our hands until they disappeared, and ventured out into the world once more, only to return with some sort of gastro thingy that, apparently, is also making the rounds at the kids’ school.

My favourite. Sigh.

There appeared to be two different manifestations of this ailment, and I am desperately hoping that they are the same bug. I won’t get into the details except to say that Girlchild and the adults were afflicted with the tidier version, whilst Boychild’s was less contained and required a much greater level of clean up, especially in the middle of the night. (This means I still look as if I have pink eye.)

This particular icky also seemed to be super contagious, and I lived in fear. I was scheduled to take a bus trip to Ottawa for a press conference on Parliament Hill on Thursday, and I spent the days prior dodging bullets. I washed my arms off (which made it really difficult to work), sprayed myself with Lysol and wrapped myself in bubble wrap to prevent ickies from infiltrating.

I put my colleagues on alert: my house was under siege by germs and although I was desperately hopeful to avoid them, it appeared to be a somewhat majorly virulent strain that was showing no mercy.

Cell phone numbers were exchanged in the event of my last-minute, unavoidable absence. Somehow I figured they would want to see me about as much as I would want to see them if I succumbed to the ickies.

On the morning of the bus trip, Boychild declared in a very visual way that he was still unwell. Groom-boy also stayed home that day, as his version of the ickies returned. Somehow Girlchild and I managed to get out of the house unscathed. I felt that it was only through some sort of miraculous intervention that I was able to get to the bus and get through the day.

As I write this it would appear (I sincerely hope) that we have cleared that particular hurdle and now we are bracing for whatever nasty pestilence awaits. After all, it’s not even winter yet, and already it has been a particularly sickly season.

I would like to believe we’re just getting through the worst of it early, but I’m sceptical. Now please excuse me while I cover the children in bubble wrap and put a plastic sheet over the house.
Published in The Perth Courier, Dec. 16/10

Past Deadline: Meltdown Postponed

This time of year is a killer.

Groom-boy said to me the other day, “You haven’t had your annual meltdown yet.”

Unfortunately he wasn’t kidding. It’s true, though, I haven’t.

Every year in November and December all of my clients band together and give me lots of work to do. While this is, of course, a great and marvellous thing for which I am extremely grateful, it also means lots of deadlines overlap. Throw in the fact that I teach part-time at Algonquin and the end of the semester (December) brings with it copious piles of marking, and it can be a bit stressful.

Most years I handle it with sheer professionalism and composure. That means I only break down sobbing at home, and usually only once. Maybe twice.

Oh, and did I mention Christmas? No, I didn’t! Why? Because around here I usually don’t have time to think about it until Dec. 23or so. (By the way, your card will be late, if it gets sent at all.)

Now, I know, boo hoo hoo. This is a busy time of year for everyone. There are lots of year-end work-related projects that need to be finished tied in with school concerts and staff parties and baking and cards and shopping and life and spending most of your weekends doing laundry so you can afford to pay your hydro bill.... Oh, wait. That last one might be a separate column for another day.

Anyway, the point is, I’m not complaining. Okay, I guess I am, but I mean it in the nicest way. Or something.

I consider myself to be reasonably organized, but I have never done well when it comes to Christmas shopping. When one considers the fact this deadline crunch of mine happens every single year and has for a good decade, you’d think I would be smart enough to plan ahead and do the bulk of my shopping by October. Same goes for Christmas cards – get on it, girlfriend! For some reason, though, I just can’t make myself do it. I think there are a few reasons for this.

First, I work better under pressure. Actually, wait. It’s true that I do, but I have to say that wears a bit thin after a while. The thrill of the all-nighter to get a job done – or even just staying up to the middle of the night – lost its charm around the same time the kids started waking me up in the night. I have enough people keeping me awake – I don’t need to be strapped to my computer at all hours, too.

Easier said than done.

Secondly, I used to put a lot of thought into Christmas gifts and try to come up with neat, creative ideas for everyone on the list – even if it was fairly close to the big day. I’m not sure when that changed. Possibly I was overcome with the feeling that everyone already has everything they need, but I also suspect my creativity waned around the same time computers and short people started keeping me up until all hours. I think at some point that section of my brain said, “Forget this noise! If she won’t let me sleep I’m going to skip town. You’re on your own, lady!”

So now? Lots of gift cards.

Lastly, I usually need snow to inspire me to shop early. Sometimes this isn’t a problem, but often we just don’t get the snow, so in those years no one gets presents. Ha! This year we’ve got a little snow, so I should get to it. I guess I can’t blame climate change for my disorganization. Somehow that doesn’t seem cool, anyway.

In November a friend and I had occasion to do some shopping for something unrelated to Christmas, but we took the opportunity to squeeze in a little festive shopping, too. So even though I am not even remotely close to finished, I have at least started before Dec. 23.

So although there is still no Christmas baking done and no cards are written, there is at least that one small victory. Maybe this means I can skip my annual meltdown this year. That’s fantastic because nobody needs to see that.

Published in The Perth Courier, Dec. 9/10

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Past Deadline: Happy 17th Anniversary

On Saturday I attended what I guess could be called a “mini reunion” of my journalism class. Actually, by the end of the event we had decided we were really the advance party scoping out the situation for future milestone reunions.

See, this year marks the 17th anniversary of our graduation from Carleton University. When this reunion was proposed, a few of us scratched our heads in wonder at the concept of a 17th anniversary event – especially since we did not mark the 10th or 15th occasions. You know, though, the whole 17 thing grew on me. For instance, 17 is much less aggressive than 20 or 25. Seventeen doesn’t make me feel particularly old. In fact, I liked being 17 and tried to stay that age up until about last year, so I am fond of that number.

While we didn’t have a huge turnout, several folks did come out and a few came from fairly long distances to attend. It was interesting to hear how many of us actually worked as journalists after graduating, and how many leveraged the degree into other things. I enjoyed telling people I had eventually crossed over from journalism to what we fondly call “the dark side” (PR).

We visited some of the old stomping grounds on campus, including St. Pat’s (the journalism building), where we were guided about by one of our journalism profs. It’s interesting to see the changes. When were there in the early ’90s, technologies were on the cusp of something new. We worked on computers that used DOS, which many of you young gaffers have probably never even heard of, just as the world was switching to Windows.

In radio production we learned how to edit in analog using razor blades to cut our reel-to-reel tapes. (And, yes, you can bet there were lots of references to stressed-out students working late at night in tiny rooms with razor blades.) The technician we worked with 17 years ago happened to be at the school during our visit and we had a long chat about the pros and cons of the changes in technology.

Rows of computers can be found in classrooms where only desks existed. Paste-upboards have been replaced by editing software in the print newsroom. Online media is now part of the curriculum. We weren’t using the interwebs much back in the day. The telephone room where scores of us huddled with phone books trying to track down sources is still there, virtually unchanged, but is rarely used in this age of prolific cell phones.

Then it was off to the TV studio where, again, we were greeted by new technologies. For example, our supply corner for making graphics for our newscasts has been replaced by editing software. No more posters – sigh. In fact, a lot of the in-studio roles we learned during newscasts – directors, production assistants, camera operators – have been replaced by computers. And the 17 tonnes of equipment we had to lug around in the early ’90s? It’s all much lighter and handier for dainty journalism students.

Then we trucked over to the site of the new journalism building being constructed on campus, complete with a glassed-in studio facing the Rideau River and the O-Train.

Of course no journalism reunion would be complete without visiting old drinking haunts, so we went to a virtually unrecognizable campus bar and had a lovely time catching up.

Now we’re busy thinking of what we’ll do for the big 20th reunion, especially since all the old familiar journalism spots will have moved to the new building. A reprise field trip to the Robert O. Pickard Sewage Treatment Plant has been proposed (ah, memories). Perhaps we should tour the city via OC Transpo for several hours looking for a meeting to cover. Or maybe we could arm ourselves with digital recorders – no – cassette recorders for old time’s sake – and scrum someone on Parliament Hill or at city hall. Or maybe we could lug 60-lb sandbags around to simulate the lighting equipment we had to transport for TV reporting.

Oh, it could be such fun! I wonder, though, if we should have it on our 19th anniversary just to be different and to prevent us from feeling elderly.

Published in The Perth Courier, Dec. 2/10

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Past Deadline: "I Survived the Reconstruction"

On Friday when I picked up the kids after school and commenced the walk home the most astounding thing happened.

For the first time in months my heart didn’t pound in my throat as the short people and I navigated a construction zone and heavy, impatient traffic on Isabella and Gore streets. Why? Because Wilson Street is finished! No more piles of dirt to negotiate! No more traffic jams to endure!

I know the whole process has not been a wonderful experience for all. Construction is much more than a pain in the butt and an inconvenience – it can cause financial hardship for businesses, major stress for homeowners and can pose all sorts of logistical nightmares. That said, though, I can’t help but feel it was a major accomplishment for the town and the contractors to finish the whole street – major underground infrastructure and all – in eight months while keeping at least part of the roadway open to traffic at all times.

Despite the fact it was much harder to get around than we are used to, we survived. Not only that, but many of us got to see places we don’t always frequent, such as Glen Tay, which makes a lovely detour when you just don’t want to travel north on Drummond at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon to get to Hwy. 7.

As much as it was a thrill to drive through the dirt after a heavy rain storm and experience craters and potholes and bumps that would shake your brains out of your ear, I’m pretty sure we’re all glad those days are over.

Because I walk the kids to school, I got a firsthand look at the progress on Wilson Street on a daily basis. Many days I wished this had happened five years earlier because I would have saved heaps o’ cash on the Mighty Machines video series. I’m confident my son and I would have pulled up lawn chairs to street corners to watch the variety of diggers and dozers and rollers. Pack a lunch and you’ve got a day’s entertainment.

Call me a geek (I’ve been called worse), but I felt more and more excited as the weeks passed and holes were finally closed over and dirt was flattened. When the curbs and sidewalks returned along our well-worn section of the street I was gleeful. After all, having to walk down Leslie Street and through the back field to Stewart School added an extra five minutes to our travel time. Not only that, but it restricted how much we could see of what those mighty machines were doing.

When the final paving began in earnest a couple of weeks ago I was jumpy with anticipation. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one grinning as I walked down the street. Even the paving crew looked happy. Speaking of which, I got to thinking it must be kind of crummy for the crews that precede the pavers. They do all the digging and nasty stuff and create all the detours and craters and get all the rude comments from irritated drivers and pedestrians. Then the pavers come along and make it all look pretty and tip their hats to the relieved drivers and walkers who are all smiley and grateful. I wonder if the various crews ever get into shoving matches about this?

Despite the fact I think things are looking darned fine, I met a fair number of people recently who have lots to say about crooked sidewalks, impossible intersections, incomprehensible line-painting jobs, planets out of alignment and so on. Well, I’m no engineer. I’m just going to weave down the sidewalk and follow the arrows when I’m driving.

Speaking of driving, when Friday afternoon rolled around and the lovely new street was finally wide open in both directions for that notorious 3:30 rush hour, lots of people were navigating northbound with smiles on their faces. It kind of reminded me of that part in the movie Cars when they all go cruising down the street after Lightning McQueen finishes the big paving job.

And, yes, it appears that most reference points in my life come back to children’s videos. Sigh.

Congrats to all involved with the Wilson Street reconstruction! Where can I buy the T-shirt?

Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 24/10

Past Deadline: Wipe Your Feet

On the weekend I saw an article about some of the beautiful local homes that will be featured in the upcoming Canadian Federation of University Women’s Heritage Perth Christmas House Tour. I looked at the pretty pictures and sighed a little wistfully.

This is the inspiration for this week’s column: Top 10 reasons why our house will never be on a house tour.

10. Architecturally speaking, if one may do so, there’s nothing wrong with our house. It is a lovely example of an 1840s Ontario cottage-style structure, typical for the area, ripe with history, full of anecdotes, a family treasure, and so on. Lovingly renovated in the 1980s, unique interior features, etc. The key would be to move all of our stuff out of it in order to make it pretty.

9. Now, by “making it pretty,” I should clarify that, too. It’s not that we don’t have nice stuff; we have many lovely pieces of furniture. Trouble is you can’t always see them for the clutter.

8. Which brings me to that whole clutter issue. Man, could I go on and on about clutter. Sometimes I joke about being featured on an episode of Hoarders, which is a bit of an exaggeration. If there were a show about Clutterers, though (and possibly there is – I just don't have time to watch much TV because I’m too busy accumulating paper), then I could probably play a starring role. Me and the people with whom I live, that is.

7. The short people have a lot of plastic things. It is amazing how much weird plastic junk accumulates over the years. Toy boxes get sorted periodically, but that is a task that could use a bit more frequency. You know it’s been a long time when one of the kids comes along, digs down deep into the toy box and finds an item that he or she hasn’t seen in two years and either a) doesn’t remember it at all or b) remembers it but greets it as a long-lost friend not seen in, well, two years or so.

6. Speaking of those short people, in Kindergarten they learned more about tidying up than they did at home. I am totally at fault for this because I’m too Type A for my own good. It’s faster for me to do it, but I run out of time to do it and then I stress about not doing it and it just doesn’t get done. In Kindergarten, though, the kids learn little songs about tidying up. Clearly life is a musical and we should sing more at home.

5. There must be a song out there about dust. I’m a fan of the “Dust if You Must” poem, which highlights how many other exciting life events you can be doing if you’re not dusting but, really, we do have to dust sometimes. I hate dusting. I also have a trinket sign hanging on the wall that says, “You may touch the dust, but please don't write in it.” Hahaha. Me so funny. Sigh.

4. Speaking of funny, cat hair is hilarious. Gut-splitting stuff, cat hair. I know I could get away with vacuuming less if it weren’t for those darned cats and their tumbleweed hair.

3. What? I’m only on number three? Darn it. I’m starting to run out of things to say about my cluttered house. And I’m also starting to feel a little depressed. Possibly I should hire a housekeeper.

2. You know, I blame my profession for this. For one thing, I would pretty much always rather be writing than cleaning. Secondly, I’m always saving and accumulating books or papers or notes that I think I might be able to use for something later – you know, like the Great Canadian Novel I haven’t quite gotten to writing yet. Of course, by the time I run across all these bits of information later on I can never quite remember why I kept them in the first place.

1. And the number one reason why our house will never be featured on a tour? Well, obviously, I don’t want all those people tracking dirt into the house.

Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 18/10

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Past Deadline: The Ongoing Food Battle

I need to know. At what point can I expect my children’s palates to diversify enough that they will eat a variety of different foods?

I should clarify this. Perhaps the word should be “re-diversify.” See, when they were really little, both of my little darlings ate everything and anything – particularly in the fruit and vegetable range. Then they developed opinions learned how to speak in full sentences, and such phrases as: “I don’t like this” became frequent utterances.


I am given to understand that this, too, shall pass – that it is perfectly typical for young kids to go from eating everything to eating next to nothing to eating everything again. I am also given to understand that I should be careful what I wish for because once they start to eat again we will be maxing out our credit cards on groceries.

The thing is I am really hoping things start to improve a little before the “eating like a teenager” phase arrives so the whole family can enjoy a wider range of food – not to mention avoiding scurvy. Granted, Girlchild is still pretty game to try everything, but even her range has narrowed.

When I was growing up, we ate what was served or we didn’t eat. I don’t honestly remember there being many arguments about food and I don’t remember walking away from the table hungry. Eventually I even came to an understanding with my parents that no matter how many times they served Brussels sprouts, I still wasn’t going to change my mind about hating them.

I always assumed my mom was fairly uncompromising on the food front. Certainly she tried to serve things that everyone would eat, but there was a wide range of stuff on the table and my brother and I were encouraged to “at least try” something that was new or that we weren’t overly crazy about.

It wasn’t until after I moved away from home that my parents expressed their intense relief that they wouldn’t have to serve corn every other meal, so I guess they made certain palate sacrifices, too. (And I think they avoided corn for years after.)

We’ve tried to adopt the “at least try it” philosophy and I usually make sure there is one part of the meal that everyone likes (kinda like Mom’s corn deal, I suppose), but that can be limiting.
Despite this, I’m not much in favour of the “you can’t leave the table until you clean your plate” deal because I think that can set a kid up for some unhealthy ideas about food in the future.

Another thing I have started to do is to actually “market” the meals. I know, it’s kinda crazy. Lots of parents out there will be shaking their heads and saying, “The kids should eat what’s in front of them or go hungry!” Maybe there’s something to that.

However, I’m a word girl, so when I pitched shepherd’s pie to a reluctant Girlchild as “Comfort Food Just Like Nanny Used to Make for Mommy,” and added that the macaroni and cheese dish I make is also in the “comfort food” category, she totally bought it and it disappeared off her plate.

Go figure.

Previous efforts to serve shepherd’s pie were seriously hampered by her brother’s exclamations of hatred for the meal (which, I might add, he used to really like). She refused to even try it based on his critique.

Sometimes it’s not so much about the words as it is the presentation. Take chilli for example. Previous efforts to serve this classic dish (also of the “comfort food” tradition), have failed. Then one night I put the chilli in big bowls and lined the edge with nacho chips. Well. Using the chips as scoops was the coolest thing ever. It all disappeared.

Now I need to focus my campaign on diversifying the range of vegetables we eat. Our “corn” is raw carrots, and I’m getting a bit weary of them. Sneaking pureed veggies into sauces isn’t as reliable as it used to be. I have had some success, though, with melted cheese on broccoli.

Do you suppose lining a chilli bowl with asparagus spears would work?
Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 11/10

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Past Deadline: Poster Girl

I am the poster girl for work-life balance.

Oh, yeah. Didn’t you know?

It’s the same sort of deal as that really ugly guy (I think it was a guy – I can’t be sure) who was on the poster for smoking when I was in high school. The poster was in study hall, which gave us minor niners lots of time to stare at it during spares. It featured possibly the world’s ugliest person – scary hair, sunken eyes, wrinkles – with a cigarette dangling from his lips.
The text on the poster read: “Smoking is so glamorous.” (That poster taught us about irony, too.)

Well, here it is 2010 and I don’t smoke. Yay! The poster worked!

Given the obvious success of that other poster, perhaps I should express my gratitude by making it my life’s work to help other folks to avoid my work-life balance plight. I should pose for a poster to convince people they don’t want to end up like me.

So let’s imagine it.

Well, there I’d be – with my typically scary hair, sunken eyes (bloodshot and with dark circles, too), wrinkled brow/worry frown and with a chewed pen dangling from my lips. And, possibly, there would be a mouse cord around my neck and a sheath of papers trailing behind me. The text on the poster would read, “Working all the time is so glamorous.” Possibly in the background of this poster you would see two little blurs to represent my kids and their fleeting childhoods.

The thing is, I like to be busy. In fact, I sometimes don’t know what to do with myself if I’m not busy.

That’s probably not such a good thing, though, and there are definitely limits to busyness. In my world that’s when I run into those work-life balance issues – when I don’t know how to turn off the work part and enjoy the life part.

I know lots of people who are so busy it makes my head spin. They have two or three jobs that carry a lot of responsibility, not to mention having spouses and children and lives beyond that. Sometimes those people even go out and have fun! I suspect they either a) only sleep once a week or b) are robots.

Maybe the whole thing comes down to the definition of busy.

There is actually a fairly long list of definitions for this word in the dictionary – enough to keep one occupied for a good long time, or at least for many, many seconds. First off, it is defined as being “occupied in work etc. with the attention concentrated.” Makes sense. I’m curious to know what the “etc.” is, though.

Busy can also be defined as “full of activity,” “having heavy traffic” and “excess of detail.”

Then we get into “employed continuously; unresting,” which seems to hit the nail on the head for me. I’ve been feeling a tad unrested lately.

Okay. I know that I’m taking that last definition just a little too literally. “Employed” doesn’t necessarily mean “paid to do work,” it can just mean, well, busy doing something (“occupied in work, etc. with the attention concentrated,” perhaps?). And “unresting” doesn’t necessarily mean you never get any sleep – it could just refer to doing anything that isn’t sleeping.

So, I guess this means I could be busy, say, reading a book. Or going for a run (yeah, ’cause that’s been going really well) or having a bubble bath or playing with the children or going out with friends or eating brownies.

Whoa. I could be busy having fun!

So it would seem the possibilities for being busy are endless and they don’t have to be exhausting. (We’ll just ignore the whole “who has time for fun” aspect of this issue for the moment so we don’t spoil the fantasy.)

You know, with that kind of busy, I truly should strive to be the poster girl for work-life balance. I might even like it. I could feed my need to be occupied without having to be a robot.

So the picture on the poster would morph into me with great hair, sparkly eyes, wrinkle-free skin – with a brownie hanging from my mouth.

Yeah, I don’t believe it either. Except maybe the brownie part.
Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 4/10

Past Deadline: Imagine! It's Cold in Canada!

On Sunday, I spent a good three hours marinating in a cold rain. Even though I dressed for it, by the end of it all my toes and fingers were tingly and I felt as if I needed to soak in a big tub of hot chocolate. (Yum!)

It wasn’t the nicest day to be outside, but I hate to complain. “Yeah, right,” you’re saying. Don’t worry, I have some complaining to do. I won’t let you down.

Here’s the thing. We are becoming weather weenies. Come on, people, we’re Canadian! We are all about weather. We know that if we don’t like the weather at this moment we should wait 10 minutes because it will probably change. We know that around this time of year it gets cold and it rains and, yes, it might even snow. We mutter and gripe about it and, as Canadians, we are entitled to do so with a hint of smugness. Our nation is about weather – and some other stuff, too – but weather is a biggie.

That said, there are two things that really stick in my craw. First, I loathe watching the national news and seeing a lead story about it being a cold day in Canada. This is especially true in the winter. When the lead story is that people in Canada were cold because the temperature dipped in January to -25 with a wind chill of -30, I get really cross. I have even been known to say bad words to the television.

I take news too seriously sometimes.

I mean really, people, that is just another day in our Canadian national identity. A real news story would be that it was plus 25 in January with a Humidex of 35.

The second thing that makes me grumble is when people abuse our right to smugly complain about the weather by doing so while wearing inappropriate clothing – and I’m not talking about T-shirts bearing lewd statements.

I find it utterly ridiculous (and I’ve mentioned this before) when someone being interviewed for the aforementioned lead story about cold weather in the winter (imagine!) is wearing a thin spring jacket, no hat or gloves and is trying to navigate an ice storm in stilettos.

If you’re standing on a street corner wearing a parka, a toque, a scarf and heavy mittens and there is an icicle hanging from your nose and what little exposed skin you have is blue, then you’re in the groove. You can complain freely.

The result of all this regular viewing of overexcited reporters (who are probably dressed inappropriately for the weather) interviewing similarly under-dressed people is that we are becoming soft. We are surprised and startled by cold, rainy weather.

Just the other day Groom-boy suggested to me that maybe the kids should get a ride to school because it was cold.

It was plus 4.

I, ever supportive, gave him my best nutbar look. “This is Canada,” I said. “They’re going to be walking to school all winter when it’s really cold, so they might as well ease into it. We’ll dress for it.”

Now, granted, it’s easier said than done when certain children decide they don’t like certain coats or refuse to wear hats and so on. And, of course, we always tell them “they will catch their death of cold” because that’s what parents are supposed to say, even though we all know you don’t catch colds from cold, but from germs. And, yes, I know that being cold can make you more susceptible to germs, so depending on which particular battles I choose to fight on any given day, I am apt to bring on the heavier science and make sure that if someone doesn’t wear his or her heavier jacket, it’s at least tucked into his or her backpack in case he or she changes his or her mind when he or she sees other warmly dressed kids.

I’m one to talk, though. It took me until third-year university, as I walked two kilometres across open, blustery fields to get to school, to realize just how awesome hats and scarves really are. Did you know hats actually keep your head warm?

Amazing stuff. Truly remarkable. It’s great to be Canadian.
Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 28/10

Past Deadline: How's the Running Going? Part II

You may have noticed I have been oddly silent about running these days.

About that....

When people ask, “How’s the running going?” I would love to say “Great!” or “I’m up to 22K each time,” but the truth is more like “Sporadic at best.”

I have learned a lot in this running journey. My most recent discovery is the line between running enough and not running enough.

It took months for me to build up my strength and endurance to the point it felt good to do 5K each time. I’m not one for races or for going vastly long distances, but doing 5K without feeling breathlessness or pain and without needing ice, ibuprofen or A535 was a victory. I felt great when I finished, and that was success.

I discovered that even if you get off your routine a bit, it takes a long time for all the strength you’ve built up to diminish. In fact, sometimes running was even better after a rest period. I was amazed how when I missed running for three weeks in the summer due to holidays and various other things, my body could still go that distance without any trouble.

You can only push your luck for so long, though.

The start of the big trouble was mid-September. I was still running, but not two or three times per week as before. Even so, I wasn’t intimidated by the 5K I planned to do for the Terry Fox Run. In fact, I was really looking forward to it because I had pledged that this year I would run the whole thing for the first time ever.

A few days before the big day I was a little sniffly, which I attributed to some mild allergies I sometimes encounter in the fall. I didn’t think it would affect my run in any great way.

Can you guess where this is going?

Run day arrived. I was part of a team and we congregated and set off.

Right off the start I was in trouble. Weird trouble. I couldn’t catch my breath. That hadn’t happened since the early, building-up days. What the heck?

By the time I reached the halfway point I was really struggling. I wanted to stop and walk, but I was too stubborn. There was an argument in my head:
“Walk for a bit – catch your breath,” said the sensible one.
“No! I am running this route!” said the psychobananahead runner.
“You’re wheezing.”
“Shut up, wimp. It’s the wind.”
“Your chest hurts like it is on fire.”
“Run through the pain! It’s not a heart attack, just a fire.”
(Sometimes runners are idiots.)
“You feel awful. Stop running, moron.”
“It’s only 5K! My usual 5K! I can do this. I want to run with the team.”

At about the 3K mark the Voice of Reason broke into my head, which turned out to be one of my running mates announcing she was going to walk for a bit.

I nearly hugged her. Possibly she was alarmed by my wheezing and realized I was too stubborn to stop on my own accord. Whatever the reason, it was a good thing.

We walked a good while and ran the last few hundred metres. Then I spent the next several hours coughing in an I-think-I-might-be-dying kind of way before I realized the sniffles I had been experiencing were, in fact, the start of a chest cold that afflicted me for nearly two weeks. I didn’t run again in September and I’ve only run two or three times so far this month.

And that, apparently, is the line. I have officially crossed from building up and maintaining my running strength into regressing and having to rebuild.

Now when I run I breathe like a freight train. (It’s so glamorous.) My legs feel lead-like. My knees and some small angry muscles sometimes voice their opinions, which hasn’t happened since the early days. Worst of all, 3K is about all I can muster.


A key component to the rebuilding is to turn up the music so I can’t hear the discouraging sound of my own breathing. Ibuprofen is on standby.

Maybe NEXT year I’ll finally run the whole Terry Fox route.
Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 21/10

Past Deadline: Increments of 20

I seem to have trouble with increments of 20 – at least when it comes to age.

I remember struggling with the concept of turning 20: O’ woe and pity! O’ tumultuous time! O’ dreaded decade that no longer ends in “teen.”

“Ends in teen,” you might observe, rhymes with “Drama Queen.”

The 20 years between then and now have made a big difference in perspective. When turning 30 I felt slightly cross, but not nearly so melodramatic. At 40, instead of lamenting out loud, my approach was to try to pretend it wasn’t happening and to quietly mope.

At least there was less wailing and bemoaning and such. Quite an accomplishment, I suppose. (Yes, except now I’m writing about it in the newspaper.)

The Big Day was a few weeks ago amid of flurry of other 40-year birthdays that provided acknowledgment strategies ranging from ignoring it completely to moderate celebrations to full-blown rent-a-hall type of parties.

I celebrated by eating a lot of food at various locations. It worked out well – unless you ask the scale.

So what IS the big deal? I know, I know – “It’s just a number.” I also know that 40 is a mere half of 80 and two-thirds of 60 – I’ve been told by many people who have already reached those increments. (They were, I think, diplomatically trying to tell me to “Suck it up, buttercup.”)

Maybe 40 feels weird because it’s on the edge of something.

For example, by now I figure I should know what I’m doing, but sometimes I don’t. I keep trying to tell myself that life is always about learning, but I lack conviction.

Another example is the whole biological thing. It’s not that I actually want to add another short person to the family compound, but if I were to change my mind my body might not necessarily cooperate as well as it once (or twice) did.

I think one of the really big things about turning 40 is the feeling that you darned well better be doing what you want to do with your life because it is now “officially” (at least in my mind) much more difficult to change gears. So if I want to finally pursue that latent dream of become a brain surgeon or a talk show host in Australia, I darned well better get started – and now!

Yes, 40 is just one more reminder that I’m a grown-up, and that makes me feel a tad uncomfortable. For a long time I have been fairly content in the notion I am about 17. Now I think I will officially have to change that to 29 or thereabouts.

People say different things about 40. Some say it’s all downhill from here and that my body is going to slowly fall apart. Others say these will be the best years of my life. Still others say 50 is better because after that you no longer care what other people think about the things you do. Perhaps 50 is when you finally grow into your own skin – or does that ever happen?

Of course there are some huge perks to turning 40. The biggest one, near as I can figure, is that this year it will be so much easier to remember how old I am. Sometimes in my 30s I would lose track. Am I 37 or 38? What the heck year is it, anyway? So, yeah, since that big ol’ four and zero are hovering in my subconscious, it should be pretty easy to remember my age – at least this year.

Another advantage is the joy you can get when you spring your age on an older person who’s not expecting it. For example, I was at an event recently where I encountered one of my elementary school teachers, who doesn’t look a day over 50, I might add. The subject of this silly milestone birthday arose. Her mouth fell open. “You are not!” she said. Of course that probably has less to do with how I appear and is more about how young she feels.

Other advantages to turning 40

I might have to get back to you on that. I’m sure in another 20 years turning 40 will have seemed like a breeze.
Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 14/10

Past Deadline: Gotta Go, My Mom's Waiting

Some women turn to medicine cabinets, beauty parlours or spas when they feel the passage of time taking its toll.

Fancy lotions, anti-wrinkle regimes, diet and exercise plans, even psychotherapy – there are lots of things we can do to help us feel younger.

I have a different plan. It’s a little complicated, but it might save you a few dollars.

Here’s how it works.

First you make arrangements for your husband to get a new full-time job in the city that requires him to commute every day. (Hurray! He’s not working from home any more!)

The next step is to stop, scratch your chin and say, “Hm. We only have one vehicle and we aren’t quite sure whether we are prepared to buy a second car.”

Then you hoof it all over town as much as you can. You get blisters when necessary, just to remind yourself about how good you are being by walking everywhere – even when not wearing appropriate footwear.

Here’s the clincher, though. The thing that truly makes you feel young again is bumming rides from your parents.

Yes, it has come to this.

My mommy and daddy give me rides to and from Algonquin College (where I teach part-time) a few times a week. I bum a ride home from a friend on one of those days. I figure it gives my parents a little break so they don’t disown me.

Sometimes I borrow their van or my in-laws’ car and sometimes even my friend’s van for far-off appointments or errands requiring copious amounts of baggage or to transport children longer distances. Occasionally I beg rides from other friends (once to get my licence plates renewed – which was kind of ironic).

This bumming of rides and borrowing of cars makes me feel like a high-school student again. It’s awesome in a this-is-kind-of-a-huge-pain-in-the-butt-for-me-and-a-buncha-other-people sort of way.

I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to utter, after so many years, that timeless refrain: “I gotta go. My mom’s picking me up and she’ll be mad if she has to wait.” Only these days instead of two friends piling into the vehicle with me, my two kids are strapped into the back.

Yeah. This is NOT my 1980s.

Okay, so let’s just say this sure-fire anti-aging plan doesn’t always make a person feel young and carefree. In fact, sometimes the additional planning it requires actually seems terribly grown-up and not-so-high-schoolish.

I know people who have firmly rejected the idea of car ownership – and I don’t just mean two cars but ANY cars. They have thrown off the chains of monthly payments, insurance and maintenance costs and the need for a bigger driveway. (Anyone who has seen our driveway knows there is barely room for one vehicle, let alone two. Vertical parking, anyone?)

I really would like to be one of those people who doesn’t rely on a car. Sometimes I think it might be possible.

I also want to be stricter about screen time for my children, eat nothing but a 100-mile diet, use only all-natural cleaners, never use my dryer, become a role model for exercise and, of course, save the world, but I seem to be much better at preaching than practising.

Every time I gather up two or three heavy bags of things on a rainy day when I have to be many kilometres away from home, I realize I might be losing the battle against owning a second car.

Fortunately my parents, who bore the brunt of my chronic wheel-lessness during one or two particularly busy weeks in September, have been really good about it. For one thing it gives us the chance to assess and discuss progress at various construction zones around town and contemplate the best routes when we hear a train coming.

Mom had a good laugh when I told her she could depend on me to return these favours by giving her a ride any time she needed one – as long as it was on a weekend or any time after 7 p.m. on a weeknight.

So, I’m going to focus on the positive: not only does bumming rides keep me dry and blister free, I’m also saving heaps on anti-aging potions. Yay!
Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 7/10

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Past Deadline: Utah Calling

Regular readers know how much I dwell on sleep and the fact I’m not getting enough. Between working the night shift long after I should be in bed and kids and cats sporadically rousing me from slumber, I get a bit twitchy.

It would seem someone in the state of Utah has joined the conspiracy to make sure something or someone wakes me up every night.

It all started last week. I returned home one afternoon to find two messages on my answering machine – both of which consisted of three beeps. I checked the call display and saw that I had received two unknown calls that morning from two slightly different phone numbers.

“Telemarketer,” I thought. Whatever. In our house we tend to just ignore the telemarketers and eventually they go away.

That night, however, the game changed.

The phone rang at 2:15 a.m. In our world, a phone ringing in the middle of the night is rarely good news – it’s either an emergency or a drunk guy calling the wrong number. I shot up in bed and grabbed the phone, staring sleepily at the display. It looked like a 1-800 number. I was annoyed, but set the phone down without answering it. I was sleepy.

The message left was those three tones again.

Groom-boy and I fell back to sleep, only to be awakened by the ringing phone 45 minutes later at 3 a.m. This time I grabbed it and answered it right away – and was greeted by the squeal of a fax machine.

The home office has a fax machine, but it’s a different phone number. I quickly pressed a code to transfer the call to the fax (not bad for 3 a.m.) and received – a blank page.

The next morning (which felt like moments later) I looked closer at the number. It was not a 1-800 – the area code was 801. Utah. Some telemarketer in Utah is trying to fax blank pages to us in the middle of the night.


There were no calls the next day. Oh, no...they waited until that night – again at 2:15 and 3 a.m.
We don’t like to turn our phone off at night in case someone needs us urgently, but we turned off the ringer.

Since then, every night at almost exactly the same times, a Utah fax machine calls us twice and leaves beeps on our answering machine. And you can be sure that if we don’t hear the call, one of our children will wake us up instead.

I am so tired.

Needless to say, I made contact with the national do-not-call registry. I also lodged a formal complaint, providing all the dates and times of these calls, along with the six or seven different numbers emanating from the autodialler in Utah.

I tried calling the numbers myself and got a recording stating something like: “Two, one, five – test successful.” That is freaky. What test? Did I just activate some kind of telephone virus? At the very least they now know we officially exist. I tried faxing the numbers, but only got a rapid busy signal.

I got in touch with Bell Telephone and will be blocking the numbers. The nice Bell guy and I spent some time trying to figure out who was actually calling. We narrowed it down to the city of Ogden, Utah, but this is apparently a nameless, faceless entity.


I turned to Google University but had no luck, other than to learn we are not the only ones getting calls in the middle of the night from these numbers, too. Although misery loves company, I’m not feeling overly cheered by this fact.

My complaints about this issue have registered a lot of sympathy and many similar stories. One friend reported the same thing happened to her and continued for a year! I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear that news.

I’ll tell you this – if I ever find out what Utah is trying to sell to me, I won’t be buying it. Not only that, but I’m very close to taking a road trip down there with a baseball bat to smash up some fax machines. Wanna come along?

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 30/10
Edited to add: Our call screening service did not immediately work as the number was rejected. After a couple more calls to Bell, we not only lodged an annoyance complaint with them, but we were able to successfully block one of the numbers through call screening (thanks to some advice from a helpful Bell technician). We haven't had any calls for almost a week. Fingers crossed!

Past Deadline: The End of Plan A

Do I need to just suck it up and get over the fact that parenting is generally a perpetual state of uncertainty and self-doubt? Would I sleep better if I were to just get this truth out of the way once and for all and get over it?


There is a lot of pressure as a parent to Do The Right Thing So Your Family Does Not End Up On The News. So far so good, but I think I watch too much news.

The start of school has been a mixture of unbridled joy and random chaos. The lunches, the homework, the morning ritual of prodding and/or harassing people to get up and get ready, the feeble attempts to remember who is going where when and what they need when they get there – it has all been an adjustment.

On top of this, something unexpected happened this year and, because I am who I am, I worry that I’m not more worried about it.

This year, ladies and gentlemen, when I dropped my youngest off at school I didn’t shed any tears.

My daughter is now going to school all day every day. She’s in alternate-day Senior Kindergarten and attends one of the new Ready2Learn programs on the other day.

At first I resisted the idea of her going every day because it was always in our family’s long-term plan that I would work from home so I could be here for the kids. That meant I would get one more year at home with Girlchild every other day.

In principle, the work-from-home idea is a great concept and, in fact, I think it has benefitted the kids. No, I didn’t have them reading Tolstoy by age two, but we had lots of time together to play games and make muffins and go for walks and stuff. That said there was also a good chunk of time spent watching television while Mommy was distracted with work-related tasks. In addition, Mommy often had to work at night in order to stay on top of things – which sometimes grew a little thin and made her tired and cranky and no fun to be around.

Overall, though, I think it worked out fairly well.

When the opportunity arose to send Girlchild to school every day at no cost we signed her up right away, thinking we’d take the summer to decide for sure.

Circumstances over the last year or so led me to take on a lot more work, and I have to admit the idea of having both kids in school full time brought with it a degree of relief.

There were pangs of regret, though, because I thought of those days spent walking with my littlest one or making muffins or working in the garden and I realized that this was it. This was the end of something. What would you call it? The end of the Alternate Days? The end of Pre-Full-Time School?

I suppose it was an early end to our Plan A, whereupon I would have been home with both kids part time until they hit Grade 1.

So August came and it was time to confirm that Girlchild would attend Ready2Learn. Groom-boy and I discussed it. We considered that Girlchild is one of the most social creatures we have ever known – friendly, bubbly, chatty, willing to make friends, eager to explore, happy to feed frogs to snakes – whatever. So what would keeping her home with me to make muffins accomplish?

Arguably lots of things but (if one is feeling testy and argumentative) it could also be seen as a selfish and nostalgic move on my part. True, Girlchild wouldn’t realize that she was missing an additional chance to learn and socialize, but I would know.

Is she mature enough to handle all-day every day? I think so. Would she like it? I think so. Is she fond of school? Yes.

And so, when I dropped her off for the first day of the rest of her full-time school career, I didn’t weep. I might have even danced a little. I thought about singing a song.

Maybe it just hasn’t hit me yet.

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 23/10

Past Deadline: Summer, We Need to Talk

Dear Summer. We need to talk.

I can’t do this anymore. I think we need to break up. It’s not you, really. It’s me. I feel differently about you now, and I’m sorry.

I know you’re thinking this is about the weather – those alternating hot stinky smoggy days versus cool drizzly times. It’s not that, although the last-gasp heat waves of 40-plus degrees followed by a dramatic drop to 14 are a bit harsh.

Actually, I’ve been concerned about our relationship for a number of years now. I remember those carefree days when we first met, back in the 1970s, when I could strip down to a bathing suit and frolic day in and day out without a care in the world.

Oh, how I loved you, Summer!

You were warm and loving. We were about playing outside and eating Jell-O popsicles and running through sprinklers and splashing in pools and catching frogs and building forts and looking for fireflies and camping and everything fun.

As our relationship matured, we still had a great time. Even though I had part-time jobs in high school and university, you still meant a break from school. The jobs were fun and I worked with friends and we could still gallivant and play.

In fact, even when I became a grown-up you weren’t so bad – at least at first. I still had holidays during which I could enjoy your offerings. There was still travelling and patios and swimming and hiking and camping and gardening. There still seemed to be ample free time to do these things.

But something has changed, Summer, and I’m not sure if there’s any going back. Maybe it’s because I have kids now and that makes life busier in general, but you just aren’t what you used to be. You’re hot and humid and I’m – well – less willing to gallivant in a bathing suit these days. The longer I run my air conditioner the more expensive you become.

Really, though, it’s less about the weather and more about how I set myself up for failure with my own expectations of you. Every year as you approach I say, “This time I’m going to” and out flows a litany of things to do. The list encompasses everything from changes in routine to make sure we get outside to enjoy you more to travel plans to things we hope to get done around the house and so much more.

It’s too much. The list never ends.

Soon we’re busy shoehorning all these wonderful plans around work because, unlike our kids, we don’t have eight or more weeks off the way we used to. A myriad of unexpected things pop up because everyone has weird schedules during these holidays – which can be good, but not always.

As the halfway mark passes in a flash I have to resign myself to the fact I’ll probably never accomplish everything I wanted to do. This annoys me and I start to kick dirt. And then, in a blink, the end of August appears and school is around the corner and lo and behold I’m one of those moms heaving a huge sigh of relief because everyone is getting back into a routine.

I guess I’m just not that fun-loving, spontaneous, bathing-suit-wearing girl I used to be.

Even though I have felt this way for years, I think the time has come to publicly acknowledge the end of our love affair. Summer, I have fallen for someone else: Autumn.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to end this way, but Autumn offers so much more for me: routine, nicer temperatures, no pressure to wear a bathing suit, the ability to use my oven more to make the comfort foods I love and, most importantly, lowered expectations.

Sure, there are things I want to do in Autumn, but even though it’s busy as stink it’s expected to be that way. I have no illusions about languishing around on deck chairs sipping margueritas or spending countless hours gardening or swimming or hiking. Autumn doesn’t fool me like you do every year.

So, goodbye, Summer. I’m sorry, but it’s over. Here’s your sunhat. I hope we can still be friends.
Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 16/10

Past Deadline: Shiny Happy Pathetic Fallacy

One of my favourite literary devices – and come on, I know you all have one – is pathetic fallacy. This is when inanimate objects, such as weather, are endowed with human emotions. It’s often used as a tool to foreshadow a foreboding event or to punctuate a murder with a thunderclap, for example.

Pathetic fallacy played a role in the first night of our recent vacation at a cottage. (I know I keep dwelling on this, but can you blame me? It was a vacation!)

We arrived after a long day of packing and lugging. We set up the beds, stowed the provisions and checked out the scenery. It took a long time for the kids to get to sleep, partly because of the newness of it all, but also because they were sleeping together in a double bed which, as you can imagine, led to much giggling and whispering and the occasional poke and kick.

It took the grown-ups a long while to get to sleep, too, being the first night in a new place. I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case because I was reeeallly tired. Eventually, though, everyone slumbered – until about 4 a.m. – when the first of about a half million thunderstorms started to roll through. (I also like hyperbole, you might have noticed.)

I awoke to pounding rain.

Then Boychild came to.

Then lightning flashed.

Thunder rolled.

Then Girlchild joined in and the kids started chit chatting again. The walls are thin.

There was scolding and shushing.

Then Boychild said, “I see a bat in the cottage.”

We paused. I was too tired to move. Oh, please let this be a dream.

Lightning flashed...thunder rumbled...pathetic fallacy....

“Oh,” I mumbled sleepily, “it’s probably just a big moth, Boychild. Don’t worry about it.”

More lightning. More thunder.

“No, it’s a bat,” he insisted. He knows from bats.

So Groom-boy and I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the main room, where the roof peaks and the ceiling is about 20-feet high and, sure enough, a waaaaay up there a little bat happily circled around.

Lightning flash! Boom!

Groom-boy and I stood there, gazing to the heavens (lightning...thunder...pounding rain) arms folded across our chests. I’m pleased to report there were no hysterics.

“What the heck do we do about this?” I mumbled.

Lightning! Thunder!

I was so tired I felt a momentary panic – but not so much about the bat. It was more like: “Is this how the vacation is going to go? Is this some sort of karmic thing? Will I ever sleep again?”

In the end we decided there wasn’t really anything we could do at 4:30 in the morning during a thunderstorm, so we went back to bed, secured the curtains over the doors to the bedrooms and told the kids we’d deal with it in the morning. You know, in a few minutes.

Boychild called out, “Do bats bite?”

“No!” I said immediately. I was groggy and wanted it all to go away.

Flash! Boom!

Then I hear Boychild whisper to Girlchild, “Well, if the bat comes in here, we’ll pick it up and take it out....”

Inner groan. Flash! Boom!

“Actually,” I call out, “you shouldn’t pick up a bat because then it would be scared that you are going to hurt it, since you are much bigger, and then it might bite you to defend itself.”

With my son there is absolutely no way I am going to get into a discussion about rabies at 4:30 in the morning. He would be a basket case and keep us up all night. Which would be…like…so totally different from the way the night was already going.

As it turns out, we could have held a workshop about bats and rabies because we were up for the rest of the night. The thunderstorms were relentless, the kids were chatty and I lay there with one eye open on bat alert. The bat was the quietest one in the building, though.

The next day the sun came out. Groom-boy eventually trapped the bat and released it to the wilds. The rest of the holiday was lovely and featured good sleeps at night with both eyes closed.

I much prefer the happy-sunny sort of pathetic fallacy.

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 9/10

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Past Deadline: The Fine Art of Vacationing

Since having kids (and sometimes even before then), I have approached vacations with a certain amount of dread. There is all the work-related preparation required to actually be able to go, then the fearsome amount of work awaiting one’s return, not to mention the planning and packing required to actually leave the building.

This is especially true when camping or cottaging, I find, as provisions are required that one wouldn’t necessarily need if going on, say, a cruise.

Once you arrive there is a fine art to vacationing properly and I seldom achieve it. I’ve heard it said that the ideal length for a holiday is three weeks: one week to unwind, one to enjoy and one to feel bored enough to return.

Because my holidays tend to be crammed into seven- to 10-day stretches, it tends to go more like this: During the first two or three days I stress about not being able to relax. For the next couple of days I might actually be able to forget about work, but the last few days are usually punctuated by little pesky stabs of worry about what lies in wait for me in my inbox.

Good times.

All that aside, though, having a week to reconnect with nature at a cottage really is a blessing, even if I can’t get my addled brain to rest in the moment for more than a couple of days. I am always reminded how much I truly need a few days in the outdoors to feel “right” again.

I think we all need this more than we realize.

For the better part of a year I have been involved with a children’s program at Murphys Point called Super Kids In Parks, which was designed as a way to get kids like mine off the computer once a week and teach them a thing or two about nature. A kazillion or so studies show a huge disconnect between kids and nature, which is leading to all sorts of nasty things like sleep deprivation, low self-esteem and behavioural problems.

Getting kids outside helps them to understand how the planet works and to identify with the environment. It helps them to solve problems. It’s relaxing. It can be an elixir to some modern woes. It also gets them moving and combating childhood obesity.

As much time as I have spent understanding this and helping to create this program for children so that good people can show them a few things about the outdoors, I often forget that I, too, need to unplug and enjoy the fresh air and catch frogs with the kids and take pictures of critters and even read a book while sitting on a dock.

It’s basic but essential, and so many of us are missing it.

A friend of mine who used to live in the country invited me and the kids over one time to see her new home. It featured woods and water and I breathed it all in. She looked at me and said, “I can see you relaxing even as you stand here.” And it’s true.

Why is it so hard for us to unplug? And what has happened that has made kids favour screen time over outside time? Sometimes I practically need a crowbar to wedge my short people out the door and into the backyard, where they claim there is “nothing to do.” Why don’t they build forts and ride bikes and make “soup” out of pulled-up grass in a mud puddle like we used to?

Of course these are mostly rhetorical questions. Things are different now. Parents have been conditioned to be alarmingly protective and in doing so we run the risk of nurturing a bunch of zombies who shun the outdoors and don’t understand their own environment.

So when I see the way my own kids respond and bloom when we go camping or cottaging, and how they remind me of myself at that age when they’re busy frolicking, it is good.

Now I just need to find a way to make this type of “vacationing” part of our everyday, and maybe we’d all feel more “right.”

Wish me luck.

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 2/10.

Past Deadline: Snake Girl

We just spent a marvellous week at a cottage close to home (read: within commuting distance for those who had work-related commitments). The best part was watching the kids’ backs as they ran out the door in the morning, returning only for meals sporadically during the day. The rest of their time was spent frolicking in the lake or patrolling the shoreline looking for beasties.

As a kid, I was a dandy frog/snake/fish/turtle catcher, and I still think it is an important part of growing up to check out critters, learn how to treat them nice and let them go.

So that’s what we did all week.

At this cottage there is a large frog population and all of the kids (including my own) spent the day tracking them down, creating a habitat for them in a cooler, observing them for a while and then letting them go, only to do it all again later. We were also graced by the presence of two northern water snakes. The big one arrived each morning to dine on frogs near our docks, and a littler one would come by in the afternoon to do the same.

Everyone was fascinated by this. A crowd gathered to watch.

And then my daughter, the four-year-old pixie with the blonde hair and big blue eyes, tossed a frog to the big snake and we all watched in amazement as it snapped it up with lightning speed, expanded its jaw and swallowed it whole in two minutes.

We ooohed and aaahed.

I waded in with a camera to take close-up pictures, Girlchild right beside me, while men and women herded their children onto shore. “Isn’t she brave!” they said of Girlchild. She responded, “I’m not afraid of snakes. I’m like my mom!”

Oh, how my heart swelled!

Boychild was in on the action, too, but it wasn’t as noticeable because, well, it’s kind of expected that eight-year-old boys are intrigued by reptiles, amphibians and fish.

Later, Girlchild asked if she could touch the snake, but the critter wasn’t as keen on that idea, and swam away quickly upon approach. That was a good demonstration for those who were a bit nervous around the snakes: as soon as anyone got close or towered above one, it swam in the other direction. We’re bigger than snakes are. They think we might eat them, so they go away.
To repeat the old cliché: They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.

Not only that, what’s the worst that could happen? You’re too big for a northern water snake to eat. It’s only likely to bite you as a defence mechanism if you try to pick it up and, even if it does bite you, it’s non-venomous and would probably feel a bit like a scratch – not even as bad as a horsefly bite.

While some folks still seemed a little uncertain about the whole thing and probably assumed I should be charged with reckless endangerment for letting my young child wander amongst the beasties, I am pleased to report that no one ran screaming from the water and no snakes were hacked to tiny bits during the course of our stay, although they did eat a few frogs. Such is the nature of nature.

Other daily amphibian- and reptile-related activities included swimming past the turtle log several times, wearing goggles and swimming with the fishes (and not in a Sopranos way), discovering the myriad of bread products little fish will eat (graham crackers are a hit), observing how crayfish like to grab at things with their claws and learning the correct way to release fish caught with a rod and reel.

Another delight was watching two adult loons teach two babies how to dive and fish. They spent many hours drifting in the little bay near the cottage – which was very obviously a great fishing ground. Girlchild does a pretty good loon call, too, and could often be heard answering the adults. “The Blonde Loon,” we called her.

Now, if only I could figure out how to install a lake in my backyard, we’d be able to pitch the TV and computer games for sure!

Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 26/10.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Past Deadline: More Bad News About Fish

I’ve learned a thing or two about neon tetras in the last six months.

There are many schools (schools – get it? Fish joke) of thought out there about these little fish and I’m tending to agree with those who say they are extremely sensitive. For those of you who have been following my Fish Tank of Doom saga, there’s more. I’m hoping some sort of fish police don’t pull up to my front door and cart me away to rehab for well-meaning fish keepers.

Neon tetras are silver with red and blue racing stripes and they are quite lovely. They zoom around the tank and are such fun to watch.

Unless they’re dead.

The whole saga started after the last of Boychild’s long-lived goldfish floated to the proverbial aquarium in the sky. We decided on neon tetras because they’re so flashy and because I had kept some years ago with no problem or fuss.

The story of our first batch of 14 ended badly. Some rather serious water chemistry issues led to 100 per cent mortality within 24 hours. We learn from our mistakes, though, and when we purchased a fresh dozen (from a different store – too embarrassed to go back to the first), we were certain we had solved all problems.

This is a great theory if you follow basic fish-introduction rules, primarily: float the bag, you idiot! Floating the bag is literally that. You put the bag of fish in your tank for a while so they get used to the temperature and so that you can slowly exchange the water. Dumping new fish directly into a tank results in shock. Their bellies puff up (swim bladders) and they swim funny and float to the top. If you’re lucky, like I was, they will survive the Fish Tank of Doom.

For a long time things went merrily along with our 12 tetras and two algae eaters. Then they got ick – a charming fish illness. I nursed all but two of them back to good health.

Over the past several months a few have died off for no discernable reason and I’m willing to speculate it is because it was simply their time. After all, I have learned a lot. I change water and clean tanks and use special stuff to keep things healthy and I test the water frequently and watch the fish almost as compulsively as I check e-mail.

When we got down to five, I suggested to Boychild that maybe we could replenish the population a little, so we went to a fish store that had come highly recommended. We got eight new neon tetras and four little peppered corys that look like spotted catfish and comb through the pebbles looking for debris with their whiskers. Very cute.

The tank was ready. I tested the water. I floated the bag. I tested the bag water. I exchanged the water. I slowly and carefully released the new fish. I tested the water again.

And we watched.

Things looked great. The new fish (which were frighteningly tiny) schooled with the old fish. They zoomed around. They ate. There was no sign of shock and no sign of ick – no sign of anything.

And then, one by one over 48 hours, each of the new little tetras went off by itself and, within half an hour of doing so, died.


Everyone else was fine, though, including the corys. A knowledgeable friend says it sounds as if I did everything right. I even chatted with a guy at a local bait shop who has been rearing minnows for decades, and he says fish stocks aren’t what they used to be.

I turned to the Internet, where you can always find reassurance if you look in the right places. I quickly discovered many websites and blogs proclaiming the hardships of neon tetra ownership. I have concluded that these fish are likely to die if you look at them funny.

Boychild is taking it well – better than I am. He is used to Bad News About Fish. My friend says that someday, years from now, he’ll say, “Hey, Mom, remember that time when you kept killing all of my fish?”

Good times.
Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 19/10

Past Deadline: Spinning the Petty Crime

If a petty crime falls in the forest, does anybody report it? Even more importantly, does anybody go to prison for it? And how exactly will we know?

If there is ever another federal election, there should be some nifty spin when it comes time to discuss the long-form census issue, not to mention the criminal nature of statistics or, rather, the statistical nature of crime. It will be interesting to see what sort of stuff Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s control-freak message people come up with.

True to form, the Harper government is letting its hyper-vigilance about privacy and secrecy trump common sense in its decision to make the completion of the long-form census voluntary instead of mandatory. After all, why would you want to have real, valid statistical information that a government could use to make informed policy and program decisions? Why, that might be a way to prevent spending, say, $13 billion on new prisons we might not need, for example.

In HarperWorld™, though, you don’t actually need valid information – that’s just crazy talk. After all, valid information has to come from real people, and those folks (you and me) might not like to be asked personal questions.

This from the government that is known for ducking any forum where there is no guarantee that the message can be controlled by the PMO. In HarperWorld™ made-up information is much preferred because by the time it is verified (or not) the Harperites assume we the people have all dozed off and have forgotten the original issue.

Please oh please, people. Stay awake!

The recent example that had me slapping my forehead in disbelief was the fact that Treasury Board president Stockwell Day, who will probably never shake the wetsuit-wearing image, recently told reporters the federal government needs to spend billions of dollars to build new prisons to lock up people who commit unreported crimes.


See, this is confusing on many levels. First of all, I would have thought the tough-on-crime-Tories would be crowing over the news that crime rates in Canada are dropping but, oh no, they are choosing to focus on a statistic (of all things) that shows the number of unreported crimes is actually increasing.

Don’t be surprised, though, for even in HarperWorld™ a statistic can be useful – as long as it is in restraints.

It was later reported Day’s information came from an honest-to-goodness Statistics Canada survey that showed a slight rise in unreported crimes. Gosh. Those surveys sure are helpful when you need them! A StatsCan analyst went on to say, though, the most common reason people give for not calling police about a crime is that they don’t believe it to be serious enough. You know, stuff like property crimes and petty theft. (Folks tend to snitch about violent crimes.)

The thing is, even if these petty crimes had been reported, they probably wouldn’t have been serious enough to warrant a jail term. Not only that, but we’re talking about building federal prisons here, and to earn yourself a spot in one of those you need to get a sentence of at least two years. Petty crime just isn’t going to cut it.

So, to recap, if we’re not locking up people who aren’t being charged or even if they are being charged but the crimes are petty, why do we need more prison cells?

Well, it’s because suddenly HarperWorld™ needs to come up with some sort of logical argument to defend the expenditure of billions of dollars to expand prisons when crime rates are apparently falling. So there’s lots of spin about imposing longer sentences and stopping the practice of discounted sentences – but it sure makes one wonder what else might be going on.

Not to mention, of course, the irony of HarperWorld™ relying on statistics, of all things, to argue its point. It’s also ironic that if this government were to keep the long-form census mandatory, they might actually need all those new prison cells to house the folks who refuse to fill out the forms. After all, I’m sure we all know someone who has gone to prison for not completing the long-form census.

Or am I being petty?
Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 12/10

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Past Deadline: Squirmy Joy

Sometimes I think if I could go back in time I would go back to being four. There’s just something about that age that is, well, squirmy!

Four-year-olds still need their moms. They still snuggle. They want to play and the world is still new. They are not yet fully jaded – only a little jaded. They soak in knowledge like sponges and blossom with their new experiences like the biggest, brightest flowers.

Girlchild, who is four, had her first and second rounds of swimming lessons this summer. For the previous year she had joined me on the bleachers at the indoor pool to watch her brother move through some badges and was quite delighted when we suggested she could take lessons when school finished.

Oh, my. What an excruciating wait it was for those lessons to get started less than a week after her last day of school. We counted the days. Then the hours. Then the minutes.

Kids who are Girlchild’s age start with a beginner program, and her first level was Sea Turtle because she is big enough to go in the water without a parent.

Despite the obvious anticipation, I approached the whole thing with a tiny bit of caution because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but kids can be weird. Sometimes, even though they might express unbridled enthusiasm about a thing, it can suddenly become the Most Fearsome Thing in the World and Something To Avoid Entirely.

Sometimes we seek refunds.

This time, though, there was little doubt Girlchild was excited. She couldn’t sit still on the bleachers as we waited to see who her teacher would be. That’s when a fellow named Jeff appeared and called for the Sea Turtles. I am now certain Girlchild would follow him to the ends of the earth and back – or at the very least to the end of the pool and back. Several times, even.

One of my most favourite things in the world is watching a kid “get it.” I remember when Boychild learned to read. In school and at home we worked through letter sounds and spent a long time trying to put it all together. He’d bring home the books to practise at night and we’d settle in and work ever so slowly through those words on the pages.

Then, one night, eureka! It was literally as if a light switch had been flicked on and the boy could read. The words flowed and reading became fun! It is an exciting privilege to be witness to this sort of thing when it happens.

Swimming is a bit like this because there are certain preparations to be made and obstacles to overcome before one really gets it. We watched as, day after day, Girlchild rose to the challenges and eagerly embraced them. We started calling her Esther Williams, in fact, because you couldn’t wipe the grin off her face. When it was her turn to do a task, she was so excited she squirmed in the water with joy, and when she completed it her excitement practically rippled across the water.

For example, at home in the wading pool before her lessons started, Girlchild practised sticking part of her face in the water and blowing bubbles. Putting her whole head under water, however, was a Much Bigger Deal.

It was kind of like that reading thing when it happened – when a little switch was flicked and she realized that not only did nothing bad happen when she did it, but it’s actually kind of fun to go underwater and be fish-like or mermaid-like or Esther Williams-like or what have you.

She can do it and now she does it all the time and it seems to have been a springboard into accomplishing all sorts of wonderful things – such as swimming a few metres without any floaty stuff at all.

She moved on to become a Salamander under Lorel’s care and is ready to move on to the Sunfish level next time. And she’ll still follow Jeff around anywhere, I’m sure.

Oh, to be four again, when the whole wide world is just brimming with these joyful, squirmy, exciting, new things!

Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 5, 2010

Past Deadline: On Hunger and Gravity

Just in case too much time has passed since I last told you about my apparent obsession with the Quest to Find My Waist (I think it has been a whole two weeks, after all), here is an update.

Something remarkable has happened.

Get this: sometimes I’m not hungry, so I don’t eat.

Gasp! I know! Isn’t that crazy?

If you’ve been following along, you might remember I recently lamented that despite the fact I am running my butt off I am not, actually, running my butt off. Nor my hips. Nor my gut. So, my Calgary buddy and I have set a new goal – to adjust our eating to complement the exercising in an extraordinarily clever effort to convince our bodies that, yes, weighing a tad less would be just fine, thank you very much if you don’t mind please.

The first part of the plan was to control what gets ingested at suppertime and beyond. Portion sizes and evening snacking have long been issues for me. So instead of having a big snack of cereal before bed, I’ll settle for a bit of fruit and/or a glass of milk.

Guess what? It seems to be working! Not only have I not died of starvation while I’m doing that strenuous activity known as sleeping, but I’ve even lost a couple of pounds!

Controlling my evening eating seems to have had a surprising, but welcome, effect during the rest of the day, too. Since I am eating less at night, my body seems to be expecting less during the rest of the day. Somehow, I have managed to trick my brain into doing what so many other people do naturally. Some people won’t eat food if they’re not hungry – even if the food is right there in front of them! It’s just craziness.

Believe it or not, this is a surprisingly huge accomplishment in my world. Oh – and get this! Sometimes I eat a meal, feel full and actually stop eating. I might even leave some food on my plate – uneaten! Whoa. You have no idea how revolutionary it is to do this. The best part is that by doing this I actually feel good instead of being obnoxiously full after a meal.

Here’s something else that’s mind blowing: sometimes I feel hungry and it turn out I actually am hungry because I haven’t eaten in a while – as in hours. Hours without snacking. The best part? I’m okay! I haven’t grown weak or dizzy. I haven’t died of starvation!

This little exercise has reminded me of a few simple things that are not rocket science, for sure, but it’s nice to put into practice what I have long known. For one thing, I really don’t need to eat as much as I do. Smarter choices and smaller portion sizes make me feel better and don’t compromise my energy level – they actually increase it. (Short people and/or cats waking me up in the night compromise my energy level.)

I should add there is a Best Actor in a Supporting Role that should be thanked in this drama called Adventures in Responsible Eating, and that is Humidity. Yes, the kind of heat that makes one feel nauseous when sitting still is a good deterrent against ingesting giant meals. That means it will be interesting to see what happens with these newly rediscovered eating habits when the weather cools down in the fall and all those warm, yummy, comfort foods start popping up on the menu again.

There’s another cast member, though, that deserves an Academy Award for its villainous role. That is Gravity. While I am pleased to report there are signs my waist might reappear, it is definitely in an altered form. It’s amazing how having kids and gaining some weight redistributes things in unflattering and strange bulgy ways. I now totally get why girdles were invented. They weren’t necessarily a form of torture. It’s just that some of us girls need more help with elasticity than others. I suppose I should feel gratified in knowing some of the problem is skin as opposed to fat, but strangely I am not appeased by this.

Oh, yes. It’s wonderful being a girl. Indeed.

Published in The Perth Courier, July 29, 2010

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Past Deadline: Now for Today's Special- Nothing!

I don’t remember being bratty about summer boredom when I was a kid. In fact, I don’t remember being bored much before the end of August. There always seemed to be something to do – whether it was playing with neighbourhood kids or reading a book.

I remember our family camping trips and travelling and the things that used to keep me happy during long car rides waaaaay before portable DVDs and Nintendo DSIs. Indeed, if I wasn’t fighting with my brother or checking out the scenery, then I was adding to my licence plate collection in my notebook.

Yes, I would record all the licence plate numbers I saw on our travels. This was particularly exciting if they were out of province or – gasp! – out of country. I had a list of hundreds.

I’m willing to admit it’s possible I was a strange child who was easily amused.

Now that I am a parent I sometimes think my children are little space aliens and I wonder if my parents felt the same way about my brother and me. Or maybe it’s just a different world today.

Something I find about kids – and maybe it’s mine in particular – but as soon as you do something “exciting” it becomes an expectation that something “exciting” will happen every day. This turns into a pester fest (“What are we doing today, Mom? What are we doing today?”) that occasionally makes me wonder if it would simply be easier to raise them in a mushroom-like environment – in the dark and feeding them lots of…well, you know.

Just kidding! Sort of.

Boychild, for example, is at an age where it seems to take a lot to enthral him, which I find odd considering he takes great delight in talking about gastrointestinal emissions with his sister. I’ve been living with this kid for more than eight years now and I still sometimes have no idea if he is ever really impressed by anything.

Friends of ours invited us for a visit that included a ferry ride to see some giant windmills, a trip to a splash pad and a meal at a restaurant where the chef cooks in front of you and juggles eggs and sets fire to things. Both of the kids had a good time, but their favourite part of the day was frolicking in the hot tub back at our friends’ place. (Scratches head.) I guess that’s sort of like the cliché of the child enjoying the box more than the toy that was in it.

Another friend of mine sometimes comments that kids today seem to need things to be really “whammy” before they are remotely impressed. Whammy often means expensive and far away and filled with constant activity. I guess it’s hard for me to understand because if you change my scenery and park me beside a shoreline where I can stare into the water for hours and look for critters I am perfectly content but, then again, I am that easily amused person….(Nice girl, but a bit odd.)

Oh, I know, there are a handful of very simple explanations for why kids are this way – assuming it’s even considered to be a bad thing. Maybe we’re supposed to be saving up for trips into space or month-long journeys on ocean-going vessels or mountain climbing or backpacking across the universe or whatever.

“They” say kids’ brains are affected by all the flickering lights in televisions and video games and, thusly, they now require constant stimulation. Or maybe it’s just that they see too much about what is out there in the world through media and are, as a result, underwhelmed when real life shows up live and in person (I know sometimes I feel that way).

Or maybe they just need to get used to the idea that life has exciting times and not-so-exciting times. Around these-here parts we are not likely to have every moment scheduled with some sort of whammy activity. For that matter, we are not likely to have every moment scheduled – period.

After all, in my day (uphill both ways) we used to collect licence plate numbers in a notebook and we liked it. We LOVED it!

(Nice girl, but a little odd.)

Published in the Perth Courier, July 22, 2010

Past Deadline: Sharp, Itchy Nature

I’ve mentioned before that when we were kids my brother and I used to roam the fields, woods and river near our home. At that time, the biggest dangers we faced were some thistle scratches, mosquito bites and the wrath of our mother if we traipsed into the house with dirty feet.

In the “olden days” I remember being quite paranoid about poison ivy. We didn’t have any in the haunts we frequented, but my dad used to tell stories about the terrible reactions he had to poison ivy when he was younger, and I was certain it would be the Worst Thing Ever should I have the misfortune to encounter it.

These days, if you were at all inclined to overreact to things you hear on the news, you would have to take a deep breath before you go outside. You’d want to take that breath INside in case there is a smog alert. These days the mosquitoes might carry West Nile virus. The sun will destroy you. The water could contain unpleasant bacteria.

And that’s not even counting the invasive species.

Today there are lots of kids whose feet will never get toughened up on pebbles in the water because they are wearing water socks to protect them from slashes by sharp-edged zebra mussels. (I know a kid who had to get stitches in his foot from a zebra mussel cut.) It is sad to see our local lakes and rivers polluted with this scourge. Yes, they filter the water and “clear it up,” but this means they are removing the tiny micro-organisms that other beasties feed upon. If those beasties die off, the bigger beasties that eat them suffer. And so on. Food chain stuff.

A decade or so ago we watched as fields and marshlands were overtaken by the invasive species du jour – purple loosestrife. Now we’re as likely to see a sea of yellow – especially along our roadways.

I remember when I first started noticing the yellow flowers of the wild parsnip a year or two ago. I wasn’t sure what it was and thought it was a variation of Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot) – the tall, white roadside wildflower that also came from somewhere else a long time ago. Since then, though, I’ve learned this other member of the carrot family is not a very nice plant. It appears to be an escapee of vegetable gardens that has spread over many many decades. The root is edible, but if you are unlucky enough to get the sap from the plant on your skin, particularly in combination with sunlight (it is photosensitive), you’re in for painful blisters that can take some time to heal.

Hurray. And it seems to be everywhere now.

Oh, and don’t forget about giant hogweed. It’s another member of the (apparently pesky!) carrot family that is even worse than wild parsnip. It’s an escapee from Europe and the sap from this huge plant can burn the skin and cause blindness if it gets in the eyes. I haven’t seen any yet, but apparently it’s moving this way so I am keeping an eye out for six-foot-tall plants with big white flowers and giant leaves.

The good news about these plants is you can generally see them and avoid them whilst out gallivanting in the wilds. Unfortunately, though, ticks are not as easy to see, and they are spreading this way from southern climes. Since some of them carry Lyme disease, you want to make sure you do a tick check when you return from your nature ramble.

So, about that deep breath. Nature, apparently, is not for the weak.

Rather than cover the children from head to toe with some sort of impenetrable bodysuit (not to mention the tin foil hat to ward off space aliens), I’m sticking with the “knowledge is power” notion. We know what to look for while we’re out and what to check for when we return. We wear water socks in zebra mussel territory and sunscreen whenever we’re outside. The end.

Sure seems that it used to be easier, though, back in the day….

Published in the Perth Courier, July 15, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Past Deadline: Seeking a Waistline

Next week marks the one-year anniversary of my first run with my Calgary friend as part of our virtual self-improvement project.

The idea, as regular readers may recall, was that we would do the beginning running program together, which is a plan of walking and running alternately for about 20 minutes until you spend more time running and less walking. We report in to each other online. After a few agonizing months I could run 20 minutes straight – and more – several times a week.

Despite all this activity the pounds did not melt away from my frame as I had expected. I’m not sure what made me think running was going to be the answer to my tight-waistband issues, but it turned out, surprisingly enough, not to be the miracle cure. In fact, I suspect I could run 10K per day and still be mired where I am.

At some point many months into our plan my virtual buddy informed me you don’t actually lose weight by running.


So, as a one-year anniversary present we decided to come up with a revolutionary plan to take care of that little problem. Are you ready for it? We’re going to – get this – eat better! I know! t’s crazy!

I announced our plan to Groom-boy, who was smugly sitting in a chair reading a men’s health magazine, possibly contemplating his own waistline. “It says here,” he said, “that the sure recipe for being heavier five years from now is to be on a diet today.”

So I threw a running shoe at him. Actually I didn’t. I just threw him a shoe-like glare.

Thing is, I wouldn’t say virtual buddy and I are on a diet. We’re actually just being smarter about eating. Look at it this way. Decades ago, when skinny girls bragged about the fact they could eat anything they wanted and not gain weight, their mamas were probably feeding them reasonably portioned home-cooked meals that didn’t come out of a package or from a drive-thru. So, sure, they could squeak in a cupcake or a sinful snack now and again with barely a blip on the scale.

Now enormous portions are routine and we are tempted by more ready-made junk than ever before.

You don’t need to go on a fad diet to eat better, though. It’s not rocket science. I’ve known how to eat properly (healthy foods and reasonable portions) forever, I just haven’t been doing it well.

We’re talking about things like when that man shows up at the grocery store to make mini sugar donuts in his little booth and they pump the lovely aroma out to the front of the store so you are drawn in like zombies. Eating well can be the difference between walking past those sinister little donuts and bringing them home. Once they are at home, my willpower is gone.

Recently I had to fast for a routine medical test. That was a reminder about what it actually feels like to be “hungry.” For a couple of days afterwards I found I wasn’t eating as much, and (gasp!) I was okay. I survived.

So my friend and I have pledged to watch our portion sizes and to make sure our meals are more balanced. We want to eat less of the junk we shouldn’t be eating anyway.

We are starting by vigorously targeting our mutual trouble spot – supper and beyond. The bedtime snack is a bane of our existence. For a million years I have eaten a bowl of cereal each night while I mock the anchors on the late news. It turns out that something I thought I “needed” is actually just something I “wanted.”

You know, that’s a meal. And who needs a meal to go to sleep? So I’ve been having a glass of milk instead and you know what? I’m okay! I don’t die of hunger in the night! I don’t feel weak and faint in the morning!

And as I continue to combine this earth-shattering food revolution with running, I eagerly look forward to the return of my waist. I’ll keep you posted.
Published in The Perth Courier, July 8/10.