Sunday, March 20, 2011

Past Deadline: Connected Like the Super Powers

I have a new boyfriend. (Shh! Don’t tell Groom-boy.)

My boyfriend is small, sleek, shiny and emits noises that make me giggle. When I want him to be quiet I just turn him off and he doesn’t argue about it. I can charge him up by walking away and take him with me wherever I go without complaint.

I got a CrackBerry. I mean BlackBerry™.

I’m going to call him George.

George is red. I have wanted a red phone forever (I know, I know. Small things.) A friend of mine has a red phone in her basement and I have coveted it for my office. At some point (I blame the ’80s) the Cold War/Red Phone thing must have really intrigued me. “Mr. President? This is the Kremlin.” You know I am the go-to girl for those “we’re about to push the nuke button” type of calls.

And don’t forget the Bat Phone is red. And I’m Bat Girl. Er...batty girl. Whatever.

Anyway, when I began to think the time had come for a cell phone, I knew it would have to be red. After all, I now have the option of being constantly connected, just like the Super Powers™. (Regular readers, though, will probably correctly assume I turn it off at night. After all, Utah might be calling.)

Groom-boy has a BlackBerry™ (not red), but he takes it with him for the daily commute to Ottawa. It’s a safety feature. Besides, you never know when you might encounter alien abductions or pianos falling from the sky. Always a risk on the 417.

Generally I work from home, but there are times when I have to be away. Sometimes I would borrow Groom-boy’s phone if travelling any distance. It would make strange noises at me periodically as he received e-mails and other messages.

More and more I came to realize a smart phone would serve me quite well. For one thing, I wouldn’t have to worry about leaving Groom-boy at risk of alien abductions. Secondly, I would be reachable for Calls From the School (my favourite – not).I also realized it would be a handy office assistant for me.

See, I am a one-person show. When I am away from the home office, there is no one answering the phone or checking e-mails – and I get a lot of e-mails. That’s where George is proving to be very handy. Now if I am expecting an important call or message, George and I can deal with it while I’m away from the office, even if I am gallivanting in a forest (because that happens so often).

I love George. He is red. And he makes me laugh. Everyone should have an office assistant that makes you giggle. My e-mail alert is a bicycle bell. It’s such a happy little sound. Someone remarked, as it went off in my pocket one day, that is also sounds a bit like the cha-ching of a cash register and asked if I was getting paid.

During a recent e-mail exchange with a friend, I jokingly asked if he could send random one-word e-mails periodically throughout the day so my bell would ring. Of course he reminded me of the experiment with Pavlov’s dog. Now I think someone should give me a brownie every time I get an e-mail.

I’ve set another alert to be a sonar ping. I don’t know why that makes me giggle (see “small things,” above), but it does. You know, in this world where crazy bad things happen to people all the time, I’m going to take the little giggles when I can.

And when I feel stressed, I just look into George’s face and see a tranquil beach scene. Oh, sweet George.

I’m trying really hard not to be one of those people who walks along the sidewalk fiddling with his or her CrackBerry, but the novelty of it makes that difficult. It’s like the first blush of love, when you can’t get enough of one another. Of course if I start going to bed at night and dreaming about sonar pings and bicycle bells, that might be a good sign to cool off the romance a bit.

Still. Red phones are hard to ignore.
Published in The Perth Courier, March 17/11

Past Deadline: Milestones

Guess what. You are currently reading my 800th Past Deadline column.


That seems like a big number. It makes me feel kinda old, actually, and maybe a little tired because that represents more than half a million words. I didn’t know I had half a million words in me, but probably some of you suspected.

I can’t even remember when I started writing Past Deadline. I think it was 1995. It was definitely before I got married because I wrote a whole series of columns about “the wedding monster,” which I still think are prerequisite reading for any bride to be (in the “don’t be a stressed-out freak like I was” vein).

So what does one do after writing a half million words over more than a decade?

Take a nap, perhaps? (Not likely around here!)

Have a celebratory beverage? (Maybe.)

Retire? (Ha.)

No, what one does is get ready for another milestone that involves the number 800, of course. So...I have...gulp...signed up for the Kilt Run.

The “800” connection, you may remember, is that the run was spawned last year as a way to help our sister city, Perth, Scotland, to celebrate its 800th anniversary. Even though I had started a running program by then, I didn’t sign up because I didn’t think I would be ready to do 8K. By the time I realized I probably could manage it without dying, registration had closed.

So, I think it is only appropriate that I sign up for this event one year late in honour of my 800th Past Deadline column. Get it? Past deadline? Guffaw. Me so funny and clever. (Insert eye roll here.)

Of course there is that teeny tiny hurdle about actually running. Some of you may recall I have fallen off the bandwagon when it comes to this most intrepid of exercise programs. The last time I did any sort of regular running was September/October. At that time I was all gung ho about the Terry Fox Run. I was definitely going to run the route – oh yes. It is about 5K, and that was quite manageable for me.

No probs, except for the fact I was coming down with a chest cold. I thought I was going to die part way through the run. I believe I was thinking, “Run through the chest pain,” which is probably not a really clever thing to do. Moron.

Anyway, that cold lasted a while and the accompanying cough (with which I believe most of the town is familiar) lasted for weeks. I ran less and less and then stopped, especially around Christmas when life got just too busy to see straight.

Motivation is a pretty big deal. You have to have it to accomplish many things in life. I’m not sure exactly why I decided one night a couple of weeks ago that I was going to go for a run, but I’m sure glad I did. I downloaded some groovy tunes, put on the ear phones, tied up the Rocket Shoes™ and set out on a winter-night trek. I figured I’d maybe be able to manage two or three kilometres. Maybe 20 minutes of alternating walking and running. I was hoping I could run five minutes at a time before taking a break.

In short, I figured I’d be starting over.

By gum, I did 5K and I ran almost all of it! I walked up the Drummond Street hill because it was near the start of my route and I figured I’d be a goner if I lost my breath so soon, and I walked for another minute at about the 4K mark.

I am amazed by the body’s capacity to remember!

Sure, I paid for it a couple of days later as I hobbled around and became reacquainted with a few dormant muscles, but it was a good kind of pain.

So, as I contemplated a topic for my 800th column, it only seemed fitting to connect one milestone to another. (This whole scheme is also made possible by the fact there is still four months-worth of training time ahead.)

You can bet if I survive the Kilt Run on July 2, I’ll have something to write about then, too!
Published in The Perth Courier, March 10/11

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Past Deadline: Swarm of Bees

There was a cute piece on the news last week about the creativity people are showing with excuses about why they are late for work. Of course I mean “cute” in an eye-rolling sort of way. I think it is quite applicable to excuses given for bad behaviour in general.

The CTV story indicated this is a growing problem. Hundreds of Canadian companies and employees were surveyed by an online job company, and apparently 19 per cent of respondents said they arrive late to work at least once a week, and 11 per cent claim to be late twice per week. One quarter of those tardy folks said “lack of sleep” was their reason for lateness, and another quarter blamed traffic. Public transit, bad weather, getting kids to school/daycare, Internet use and spouses were also on the list.

The story didn’t get specific about just how, exactly, Internet use and spouses made a person late, so of course I’m using my imagination:

“Well, boss, my spouse stood in the doorway with his hands on his hips and refused to let me pass.”

Or how about: “A rope came out from my computer screen, wrapped around my neck and started to tighten whenever I stopped Facebooking.” Yes, I think “Facebooking” is officially a verb now. If it isn’t, it probably will be soon.

The story went on to describe some “whoppers” that didn’t make the top five, but that were considered to be wild tales. One was that a bear stopped an employee’s car, smashed the window and tried to grab him or her. Another claimed to have been attacked by the pet cat, another said the car was inhabited by bees, and one said grandma went missing.

I dunno. They sound wild, but in a way those ones are as believable as the usual weather, traffic and transit excuses, which strike me as old and tired even if they are true.

And sometimes excuses are more of a fill-in-the-blanks thing. A teacher friend told me one of her students didn’t get an assignment finished “because she was in Ottawa.” Shrug. Of course! Ottawa! Totally understandable because a) they have no computers/Internet in Ottawa and b) spending time in Ottawa gives one an immediate homework pass. Just because. So there.


I mean, it’s not as if I want people to lie to me when they give excuses, but I also think people are just not being overly accountable or responsible. Most of the time you can leave earlier in bad weather or during construction season, but you can’t really plan for a bee swarm or for grandma flying the coop.

I think we have to just face the fact that sometimes we screw up. We can’t always blame someone or something else.

That’s why I wanted to emphasize something I said in my column a few weeks ago about the guy who seemed determined to run a bunch of us down at the crossing at Wilson and Isabella streets.
There has been some comment in The Perth Courier since then about that intersection. There is no denying it’s a busy spot. Lots of folks have reported near misses. I like the changes made to the intersection in the construction. As a pedestrian who stands on its various corners with a small group of children a couple of times a day, I feel less exposed now that the crossing is set back from the corners. If drivers jump the gun, there is time for them to stop as they come around.

What happened to us a few weeks ago had nothing to do with how that intersection is designed. The driver in question waited for some of us to cross, then barged out before the rest had made it. He ignored Lloyd the crossing guard, who was standing in the middle of the road wearing his bright orange vest and holding his stop sign.

The intersection didn’t nearly hit my children, the guy in the car nearly did. And that is what is going on at Wilson and Isabella and in so many other places. People need to pay attention, slow down and be patient.

Now, possibly the driver in question was dealing with a swarm of bees in his car, but I kinda doubt it.
Published in The Perth Courier, March 3/11.

Past Deadline: Yes I Am Preoccupied with This

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is I think I solved the mystery of why a fax machine in Utah is calling us in the middle of the night on our home phone number. Somehow, during one of those middle-of-the-night calls, I managed to fumble with phone in just the right way to trigger my own fax machine to wake up and connect. We actually received a fax!

The fax revealed some wacky company was trying to send information to a business in our area. I telephoned the local business and it turns out their fax number is remarkably close to our home phone number. I pleaded my case and they must have called the client service number on the fax to change the number because the calls have stopped. Thank you, local business!

The bad news? Despite the absence of Utah, this week has probably ranked as the Worst Week Ever on the sleep front.

Okay. I KNOW I dwell on this a lot, but I am seriously preoccupied by burny eyes and a slightly doomed feeling. I am convinced that a lot of the world’s problems would be solved if people would just get more sleep. Everything seems that much more difficult when one is tired.

The week started off well enough. I dealt with Utah on Monday. Girlchild was at home from school, afflicted with The Cold with The Cough (alternately referred to as the plague). She seemed to be coming along nicely, though.

Ha! Silly me.

That night Girlchild was up two or three times because of her cough and Boychild chimed in with his own woes – a sore tummy and a nagging (and I do mean nagging) inability to go back to sleep. Eventually I reached that annoying point when I had been awakened too many times and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Despite the fact I could have been up vacuuming or writing a novel or choreographing Broadway musicals, I opted to toss and turn and Think Deep Thoughts in the Dark.

The two hours of sleep I got (Groom-boy got about the same) translated into having basically no fuse for anything and feeling a bit like crying over nothing. Fortunately the risk of violence against random strangers or of sobbing in public was diminished by the fact I was stuck at home with not one, but two sick kids. (My mom spelled me off for half an hour so I could buy cat food, but there were no ugly incidents to report.)

On Tuesday night I went to bed early. Just as I dozed off, Boychild woke me up. Twice. I started to feel panicky. Would I ever sleep again? Are they trying to kill me? Everything settled down, though, and I got a glorious (and unheard of) seven hours of sleep! I felt like a new person!

On Wednesday Girlchild made it back to school, but Boychild was still under the weather. And I mention weather here because that was the calm before the storm.

One word: earache.

Girlchild began to complain of this affliction Wednesday night. In short, it was one heck of a long night that involved rotating shifts of people comforting a very miserable little girl.

Then Boychild started coughing.

Then Buster started yowling.

I expected Utah to call, but we’d fixed their wagon already.

The only good thing is that I was prepared for a bad night and had no expectations. Still, when I woke up in the morning after two or three hours of intermittent dozing, I seriously began to question things. For example, what is my name? What day is it? And who are the crazy people in this house?

I don’t think I’ve felt this tired since the newborn days.

Do any of you remember when it was fun to pull all nighters and you’d do it on purpose? You’d slug back the caffeine to finish a paper or party with friends or lie awake in defiance of parents just to see what “all night” looked like?

Ha. Been there and done that, thanks. I have seen “all night” and it is just plain dark. Night is good for sleeping.


If you don’t mind.
Published in The Perth Courier, Feb. 24/11