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