Saturday, January 29, 2011

Past Deadline: Winter, We Need to Talk

Dear Winter,

I think our friendship may be in jeopardy.

It’s no secret you are difficult to love, but over the years I have stood by you loyally, defending your character to all comers, making excuses, trying to be enthusiastic about your strange whims. It hasn’t been easy. You make it awfully difficult to be a good, true friend.

What I love most about you is your snow, which gives everyone, particularly the kids, something fun to do. That said we are not a family of winter-sport lovers. We don’t ski. We don’t (GASP!) do the hockey thing. We skate a little, if you can call it that, but not very often. We have been known to snowshoe and we like to go sledding.

With this meagre participation in the fun stuff of winter, why am I compelled to defend and love you so? Because you are you! Winter is part of everything that is this place, and life wouldn’t be the same without you.

Possibly I will feel differently about you when I’m older because, you know, relationships change and joints get creaky and the cold is felt more keenly in the bones. For now, though, I want to give you some advice, as a friend, that might help to perk up your image a bit.

First of all, it’s about this bitter cold thing. We expect it to be cold, but we’re in eastern Ontario and our normal winter highs and lows are a bit different than those in, say, Yellowknife. I think it would be a smashing idea if you could limit the number and duration of cold snaps each winter. In other words: enough already.

See, this sort of thing annoys people and then they say mean things about you. And don’t try to tell me that January is all about cold, sunny days – frostbite warnings and windchills into the minus 40s are not “cold,” they’re frigid. It’s just mean. Knock it off. The ice is thick enough for skating now, so we can move on.

Besides, when it’s cold like this it gets harder and harder not to agree with the people who say, “Bring on global warming.” But don’t worry, I mutter “It’s climate change” every time. Climate change is not necessarily a warm thing.

Anyway, my second piece of advice is to provide more snow. We’ve had the cold, we’ve got the thick ice, now could we please have a little more snow so that the kids can make forts and snowmen and such? People who ski and snowshoe like snow.

Now, I know you’re probably scoffing at this advice because if there’s one thing you hear over and over from your critics it is complaints about the snow. That’s why I’m saying just a little bit. Maybe little bits at a time.

These crazy whiteouts on major highways causing huge calamities are a bit much. And the 50-or-so feet you’ve dumped on parts of North America is overkill. Spread it around a little!

I mean, you know me. We’ve been friends for a long time, and you know that I tend to be realistic about you. It’s not always going to perfect in your season. You are loveable, but difficult. The best relationships often are.

I know you’ve crossed a line when I find myself agreeing with the late news. Usually I scoff whenever some silly winter weather story is the lead. “Suck it up, buttercup,” I’ll say. “It’s winter! In Canada! It’s what we do and who we are! We know how to use snowplows!”

When I find myself nodding and thinking, “Wow, that really IS a lot of snow” or “That really IS cold” or “That really DOES merit a state of emergency” then either I’m getting soft (not yet) or you’ve gone too far. Play nice. You’ll win more friends.

That all said, I know there are tonnes of folks who will never love you or who once did and now speak only with contempt and disdain whenever you show up – nasty or normal. I still think every little bit helps, though.

I want us to always be friends, Winter, but I could use a little help.
Sincerely yours.
Published in The Perth Courier, Jan. 27/11

Past Deadline: Building Wooden Badgers

Wow...I think this posting has the most links I have ever included!

I have taken some Good-Natured Ribbing™ about my Family Guy column from a couple of weeks ago. Apparently there are some fine, upstanding, respectable, likeable people on this planet who really like Family Guy.

That’s cool, just as long as I don’t have to be one of them. One of the people watching it, I mean. Y’all know I’m fine, upstanding, respectable and likeable.


Anyway, during this Good-Natured Ribbing™ (complete with little winky-faced emoticons whenever it was done online), I felt compelled to return fire by using a series of Monty Python quotes. Immediately I was labelled as being able to laugh only at “deathly stale British attempts at ‘humour.’”

“Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time,” I said.

All this is a very elaborate segue into a story about a quest for shrubbery. (Note to readers: if you are not familiar with Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then this column will be even less funny than usual.) (Winky face.)

I volunteer with the Friends of Murphys Point Park (a fine, upstanding, respectable, likeable organization, much like myself). We are about to run our winter session of Super Kids In Parks, which is an outdoor learning program for children ages 7 to 10. One of the activities will be shelter building and for that we need, well, shrubbery.

It seems ironic that when you’re doing a program at a provincial park, you would need to go on a quest for shrubbery. I mean, the place is loaded with trees and brush and deadfall. It’s just like how when you camp at a provincial park, though, you’re not allowed to collect any kindling or wood from around your campsite to build a fire.

And why the heck not? Well, if everyone who visits a park did that, there wouldn’t be much left. And there has to be lots left because there are oodles (that’s a highly technical term for “many”) of critters who live in the park that need the various forms of shrubbery, dead or alive, for shelter or food. Besides, the dead stuff decomposes and enriches the soil, which leads to more growth and circle of life and etc.

So, if we are going to make shelters from shrubbery (“one that looks nice...and not too expensive”), then we have to import it. At least the volunteer and I who undertook this quest did not have to contend with the Knights of Ni.

And where would we find this shrubbery? Would we have to harass old crones and yell “Ni” at will? Would we be lucky enough to encounter “Roger the Shrubber” on our quest? And what is the average wing speed velocity of an unladen swallow anyway? (I warned you this column would be moronic if you don’t know the movie.)

So many questions. Fortunately, though, we had the annual curbside Christmas tree pickup in town on our side. This is what I do in my spare time. I lurk around town in the dark with my friend who has a truck and nab old, dead Christmas trees for a Good Cause™. (Not only does it conform to park regulations, but it will be educational and it’s a recycling program of sorts, too!)

The town staff, I must say, are extraordinarily efficient when it comes to collecting the trees. By the time we got mobilized for our quest (complete with coconuts we could bang together to make the sound of horse hooves) on day two of pickup week, they had already retrieved and chipped most of the trees.

Fortunately, the town was very considerate of our plight, and they piled a spare few for us to retrieve. We did not have to say “Ni!” to them even once! It would be ironic, though, if there were someone named Roger on staff.

Once we are finished with the shelters and the Christmas trees, then we have to remove them from the park because, well, they weren’t found there in the first place.


Maybe it would be easier to build a large wooden rabbit or badger out of them and storm a castle instead. “Run away! Run away!”
Published in The Perth Courier, Jan. 20/11

Past Deadline: Scavenging Cats

Our cats, who I love dearly most of the time (ahem), have entered a new behavioural phase in their senior years.

It is annoying as all heck.

Regular readers will know I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with our cats. They are reasonably lovely creatures, and each of them has endearing features, but there are certain quirks I could do without.

The kitties were our babies before we had human ones, so I carry great gobs of guilt over the fact my tolerance for their behaviour decreased once we had kids. I think the trouble started when I found myself cleaning up the daily hairball, cat hair tumbleweed and other surprises in the midst of changing diapers and doing baby-related tasks. For alleged “independent” creatures, there seemed to be a lot of labour.

And that was before the serious health issues came along.

The big tabby, MacGregor, has had long-term issues with his innards. I could go so far as to say this has been pretty much under control for quite a while thanks to special expensive food, daily doses of Metamucil and an occasional hit of an anti-anxiety drug, but that kind of boastfulness would be absolutely, ridiculously foolish. (Now that I have provided these details here, you can be sure my next column will be about a trip to the vet.)

Then there’s Buster, the fluffy loud cat whose diabetes seems to be under control. Cool thing about cats? Diabetes can be reversed. So his version of special expensive food seems to have worked and I no longer have to give him two needles of insulin a day. (See above. It’s very stupid to even breathe a word of these things out loud. I am clearly asking for trouble.)

Obviously diet is a very important part of our cats’ lives. This is why the new behavioural phase I mentioned is so annoying.

We never let our cats have table scraps. We’ve always had to be careful about how much to feed them, too, because they gorge. Most cats I have known are nibblers – you can fill up their food dishes at a certain point in the day and they will come over and nibble a bit, wander off, do cat things, wander back, nibble a little, etc. One dish could last the whole day.

Our cats? Ha! They know exactly when it’s feeding time and they howl (especially Buster) to be fed. Not only that, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s wet food or dry food and whether it’s a lot or a little, the minute you set down a dish they gobble it within a couple of minutes. It’s crazy. You’d think they were starving to death, but we haven’t reduced their diet in years.

And that’s not even the issue. After years of reasonably good behaviour, things are changing. We never used to have a problem when it came to leaving, for example, our plates on the table for a few minutes after we finished eating dinner. Now, any hint of leftover food on any surface is fair game.

They’re like scavengers when we leave the room. They never used to jump up on counters or tables, but now we catch them there all the time. Nothing is safe – they will lick plates and pots and pans. They eat any kind of scrap – whether it’s meat or crackers or even chocolate cake.

Yes, chocolate cake. Very bad for cats – especially diabetic ones.

Then, recently, they decided it would be great fun to start raiding the garbage. In our town we have green bin program for compost, so there are no scraps in our garbage bag under the sink, but we figure they smell stuff on, for example, non-recyclable wrappers we throw away. We often enter the kitchen to find the cupboard door under the sink flung open, and occasionally there is garbage on the floor. Not good.

So guess what? We’ve had to re-install a childproof latch on the cupboard door, even though our kids are nine and five and our cats are senior citizens.

That will mesh nicely with the various cat deterrents we will have to install along the counter and kitchen table. I’m thinking barbed wire? I hear it’s all the rage.
Published in The Perth Courier, Jan. 13/11

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Past Deadline: Defining Funny Television

Apparently I’m no fun – at least when it comes to watching TV.

This disturbing truth was revealed while a friend of ours spent the weekend. He and Groom-boy took great delight in watching the Family Guy marathon – episode after episode – while I tried hard not to run screaming from the room. This was interspersed with sitcom reruns from the 1970s and ’80s, such as Three’s Company.

Adult cartoons and reruns from my childhood just don’t do it for me. While the two of them sat there guffawing and chortling, I thought I’d have more fun shoving bamboo under my fingernails and then poking myself in the eye repeatedly. (I’m sincerely hoping here that there are some readers out there who agree these shows are not high up on the humour meter – or am I truly no fun?)

“Well what TV shows do you think are funny? What do you watch for entertainment?” our friend asked.

The first thing that came to mind was the news. I take great delight in watching the news, especially at 11 p.m., because I enjoy mocking the anchors. Somehow, though, that didn’t seem like a good answer.

The next thing I thought of was the various dramas that run during the 10 to 11 p.m. spot, which is around the time I finally get a chance to plunk down in a chair and watch TV if I so choose. But crime dramas (because, really, that’s mostly all that’s on during that time if you’re looking for a non-reality serial to watch), didn’t seem like the right answer, either. They’re not exactly “funny.”

When the kids are home, the TV is on a lot. That doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is watching it, but there are a couple of shows they have found that are pretty cute. One is a Disney show called I’m in the Band and another is a Canadian one called That’s So Weird. They both contain some amusing humour for grown-ups, kind of like how Bugs Bunny had a few nuggets for Moms and Dads back when I was watching it as a kid. Somehow, though, citing kids’ shows didn’t seem like a good answer either.

At one point my friend was flipping through the channels and started singing, “Fifty-seven channels and nothing on.” (Remember that Bruce Springsteen song from 1992?) “Only now it’s more like ‘Seven hundred channels and nothing on,’” he quipped as we skipped over a kazillion reality shows and other junk.

And that reminded me. There was a time, way before kids and a bit before marriage, when I believed I would have been pretty content to go without television entirely. Some days I still feel that way. This weekend was one of those times – especially during the Family Guy marathon. At one point I did actually laugh and then I got heckled. “THAT is the one thing you find funny?”

I tell you, I can’t win. Or perhaps I need new friends.

I’m willing to bet that if I had more time (or interest) to sit around and explore current sitcoms I would find something appealing. I mean, it’s not as if I only want watch Dramas (with a capital D) or shows about eyeball surgery. Humorous entertainment is quite a lovely thing.

I think, really, the problem is that I have become quite “anti din.”

This is especially acute when the kids are home and super keyed up, as they have been over the Christmas break. The associated excitement has vastly increased the decibel level in the house.
Combine holidays with the fact we have NO snow (yes, I want some snow), which means they don’t really want to play outside in the cold, wet drab, and you get a lot of people rambling loudly around the house.

Of course, I also get heckled because, if given a choice between listening to CBC Radio 2 (the music) or Radio 1 (the chatter) while I’m working, I would choose the music. While the chatter is reasonably intelligent, it’s still talk talk talk (din).

Okay. End of rant. If you need me I will (hopefully) be sitting in a quiet (possibly rubber) room somewhere reading a book.
Published in The Perth Courier, Jan. 6/11

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Past Deadline: It's a Revolution, Baby

Well. So that was 2010.

Do you ever have a bad feeling going into a year and then when it turns out it wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be it gives you another bad feeling – like maybe it wasn’t that year that was going to be so bad, but actually the next year?


Ahem. Me neither.

I think my 2010 was burdened slightly by the gloomy fact I was turning 40. Doom! Doom! Doom! That has been working out okay so far, though.

And now here we are on the precipice of another brand new shiny year, so I guess it’s time for my sometimes-annual dissertation on Ye Olde New Year’s "Revolutions."

I know in years past I have blah blah blahed about setting achievable goals. I still think this is a good idea, however, at this very point in time, when work is crazy and holidays are mayhemmish and even a goal of getting to bed before 2 a.m. for a change seems lofty-to-the-max, I’m just not too sure how reliable this list is going to be.

First, though, let’s review. My 2010 goals were not only dull, but they kept centering on a slight obsession with running. There was a bunch of chitchat about losing pounds then gaining them back over the holidays and then some blather about eating celery and running like Forrest Gump in order to lose them again.

Yeah. That went well.

Oh, I ran alright. In fact, I did pretty well through the winter, spring and early summer, going 5K at a time and even as much as 8K. Then things started to taper off. Now if I were to jump back onto the running bandwagon (and a bandwagon kind of defeats the purpose, I think), I would basically be starting from scratch.

Meh. So, maybe I’ll run, maybe I won’t. I am pleased to report, though, that since I have not had full use of a vehicle in the last half of 2010, I have walked off a good six pounds.

So one way or another I exercised and met that resolution from last year. Woohoo!

In the spirit of achievable goals, I also pledged to eat better, be a good person, and to be kind to children and animals. (That last one is because usually I’m an ogre. Actually, some of the short people’s friends say I’m “crabby.” Strangely, I am okay with that. Probably I just need to sleep more.)

Anyway, fine. Those are all good. We can keep those. But are they really resolutions or are they just, you know, things I should do because I am alive? Really, it’s almost like making a list and writing “1. Make a list” at the top just so you can cross it off. Achievable goals – yes!

That’s probably one of the reasons why I step outside my comfort zone and add “5. Save the world” as the last one.


Needless to say – and you might have noticed – I didn’t get that last one done in 2010. It hasn’t been going well. I was very busy not running.

So what’s the point again? Well, maybe it’s time to find some sort of happy medium between achievable and unrealistic goals. How about “learn to knit” or “get a dog to eat the cats” or “write the Great Canadian Novel” or “learn to play cello”? Maybe it’s all about setting yourself up to do something better or different. In that case I should definitely put “clean the house” on the list. That would make 2011 so much more thrilling!

Perhaps “control babbling” should also be added. Ahem.

I should probably strive to complain less or, at the very least, remember to use my inside voice when I do it. Yes – “use inside voice more often” – there’s a good one. Achievable, yet challenging. Ties in nicely with my motto: “Sarcasm doesn’t work on authority figures.” Sarcasm is often inside-voice kind of stuff.

By using my inside voice more I will be generating less noise pollution. Maybe that will be a step toward saving the world. At the very least, it might mean fewer short people will call me crabby, although some days being an ogre fits my mood just fine.