Saturday, October 15, 2011

Past Deadline: Catching a Train

Help. I am trapped in a nostalgia bubble and I can’t get out.

I blame the trains. (And the fact I had to come up with a column idea earlier than usual because of Thanksgiving. Ideas need time to grow in my tiny little head.)

Some of you may have noticed a slight (ha!) traffic disruption in town last week due to the work being done on the railroad tracks. Basically, if you didn’t leave a day early for an appointment across town, there was a good chance you would be late.

Okay. I am exaggerating. A little.

One of the contributing factors to the car traffic being backed up from the tracks on Wilson Street all the way to Rideau Ferry (again with the exaggeration, sort of) was the fact the trains were moving very slowly as they passed through town because of the track work. And there was no shortage of trains travelling at about Warp Negative Five, let me tell ya!

This gave many travellers lots and lots of time to enjoy the drawings and sayings scrawled across the freight cars as they waited at crossings.

It also made me feel a little nostalgic for simpler times. (Times when I didn’t drive much.) Yes, slow-moving trains can do that for me.

A few (snort!) years ago when I was about 17, I worked at the now-demolished Burger King restaurant on Hwy. 7. It was situated very close to the railroad tracks. We would have to shut off the drive-thru speakers when a train went by or else we would be deafened by the roar.

Whenever there was work on the tracks the trains would slow down. I remember standing at the back delivery door sometimes and watching the big, lumbering freights as they crept past.

At that time I was a Restless Teenager™ who was eager to flee Perth and discover the world (possibly to save it), and I would imagine jumping on one of those slow-moving freights and heading as far west as it would take me. (Havelock?)

One of the things that stopped me (besides having an overdeveloped sense of guilt/responsibility), was the fact I would have been wearing my oh-so-glamorous red and blue polyester Burger King uniform, and that didn’t really fit the image I wanted to portray. I was thinking more along the lines of ripped jeans and jean jacket, ball cap and grubby khaki backpack. You know, a la Sullen Restless Teenager™.

So because it’s all about image and perception (not to mention fear of death), I would adopt the appropriate level of sullenness and return to my shift, continuing to daydream about escape routes and worldly travels while making Whoppers or mopping floors or taking orders at drive-thru.

That never happens anymore. Ahem. Okay, well, if it does it’s while I’m dispensing snacks and mopping floors and taking orders in the kitchen at home. At least I’m not wearing a polyester uniform at this point.

There has been a lot of talk lately by friends of mine who are in or nearing this pesky fourth decade (the era when severe biomechanical failures catch up to you, apparently) that we have to seize the day! And live in the moment! And life is short! And do it now! And this is not a dress rehearsal! Etc.

This always leaves me feeling unnerved and panicky. What am I supposed to be doing NOW? Will I need to get a sitter for the kids?

So I’m thinking, well, maybe I oughta add “jump on a freight train” to my bucket list. After all, I have friends who are jumping out of planes and getting coveted degrees and learning how to fly and so on.

Of course, jumping on and off a freight train is not only irresponsible, dangerous and illegal (gotta be a role model, you know), but also perilous when one has an unreliable ankle. I would probably land on the wrong foot, crumple to the ground and get rolled over by a boxcar.

So perhaps I would be better off snagging a ticket on a passenger train.

I could step carefully on and off.

Besides, there are snacks.

It’s all about the snacks, you know.

Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 13/11

Past Deadline: Snack Lady Leaves Town

I got to go to a conference last week.

I say “got to” with immense pleasure because even though it was work-related, it felt a tiny bit like a vacation.

The conference took place in a hotel several hours away, and you know what that means, right?

Someone else prepared and served the food.

Someone else did the dishes.

Someone else made the bed.

Someone else did the laundry.

And I didn’t pack any clutter. There was no clutter!

When I go away, there’s a bunch of stuff that has to be done at home in my absence. You know, such as feeding cats and feeding children and making their lunches for school and helping them with their homework. I wouldn’t begin to suggest that I am the only one who ever does this stuff but, um, I am usually the one who does this stuff.

This is kinda sneaky (so don’t tell anyone), but I kinda like going away so that other people might notice that there is no magical fairy who does this rather unavoidable necessities-of-life kind of stuff. I have a funny feeling I am not the only mother who has ever felt this way.

On the first night I had some work to do, so I hunkered down in my hotel room with my laptop and got right to it. It was strange. There were no interruptions. No one asked for snacks. No one needed anything.

It was…quiet! (Gasp!) Blissfully quiet.

It’s interesting that I refer to the quiet in this way because the hotel is situated right next to Pearson International Airport (Toronto), so it wasn’t exactly silent. I could hear the planes quite regularly, but they were muted and muffled and the passengers were not asking me for snacks.

The whole next day was taken up by numerous instructional sessions and speeches punctuated very regularly by breaks for food. There was a lot of sitting and eating and herding and sitting and eating. It was good, though, because I learned a lot and met some nice people and ate good food and someone else did the dishes and no one asked me to get them a snack.

After about 12 hours of alternately sitting and eating, I hobbled back to my room. (My sore ankle enjoyed the sitting, but the associated knee protested against the lack of movement by snapping and grinding every time I had to walk a few metres. I am hoping it was just a fluke.)

My room was lovely and quiet. I watched things that weren’t SpongeBob or iCarly. At one point I turned the TV and the lights off and tried to capture video of the planes flying past my window to send home to the people who ask for snacks. And I read a book...with no interruptions!

I called home each night and spoke to people who seemed genuinely interested in talking to me (absence makes the heart grow fonder).

The best part, though, was the message I got from Groom-boy the second night, which basically said: “Lunches made, homework done, kids tucked in, three loads of laundry done, kitty barf cleaned up. Oh, and one of the cats is upset with you and is leaving surprises under your desk. All this being said, you have to come home tomorrow.”

Hehehe. “Some fun, huh Bambi?” I replied.

Upon my return children ran gleefully in the door shouting, “Mommy!” Then they asked for snacks.

The gift-leaving cat stopped leaving deposits under my desk, but has been seeking out my lap every time I sit down, even a few days after my return. This is odd because he tends to be Groom-boy’s cat.

Groom-boy has decided he makes better lunches than I do. I have decided if he keeps talking about it, the job is his. Girlchild is adamant Mom’s lunches are better because Dad put her sandwich in the wrong packaging – a sandwich baggie, not waxed paper. (Oh, the insult!) Boychild, the future diplomat, looked at us both and said he likes both styles the same. Smart fella.

It’s nice to come home after being somewhere where other people look after you. It almost makes one feel ready to start doling out snacks again.

Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 6/11

Past Deadline: The Perils of Change

Change is part of life. That doesn’t mean we have to like it, though, and I think most people don’t. Perhaps some more than others.

I tend to be set in my ways. I like things to be “just so.” No kidding. If you don’t believe me, you can even ask Groom-boy, who has been on the receiving end of many a related growl. (Aside: this hasn’t stopped me from complaining about the way some things never change, however.)

I am so set in my ways that sometimes I am a bit slow to recognize when a change might be a really good thing.

For example, I distinctly remember when Boychild was just a wee guy that it took me forever to realize the reason he might not be sleeping well at night was probably because he was napping too much during the day. Changing his nap routine affected my routine during the day and it was annoying, but bedtime sure went better.

I don’t know for sure if I am finding change easier or harder as I get older. I suppose it depends on what the change is.

Here’s another example. A beloved supervisor for one of my 72 jobs (okay...I am exaggerating…I only have about 17 jobs) recently left to pursue new adventures. I could have thrown myself down on the floor and had an all-out tantrum or, at least, sat in the corner to weep inconsolably, but I didn’t.

It’s not because I don’t think she’s awesome and that I won’t miss her, and it’s not that I didn’t suggest (over and over) that she should stay. It’s just that she’s moving on to a cool opportunity and adventure and, for once, my happiness for her exceeded my dislike of change.

Wow. Coolio. That almost makes me sound super mature (for a change)!

Really, though, what are you gonna do? Change happens. Sometimes it’s good and we like it, often it’s yucky and unwelcome. Usually you can’t prevent it.

I have learned some change isn’t worth hysteria. Construction and its inconvenience? Why bother freaking out? Besides, doesn’t Wilson Street look lovely now?

One of the grocery stores in town recently renovated and changed a bunch of stuff around. Now I know we all like to wander into grocery stores on autopilot and go straight to our favourite comfort foods, but is it worth getting all bent out of shape if you can’t find your Mr. Noodles without asking?

Cashiers get a lot of abuse at the best of times. I know this because I did my fair share in retail when I was a student. I had one snobby lady throw avocadoes at me one day because I was having trouble correcting an error on the cash register. She called me “stupid,” too, before storming out of the store, which was awesome.

That lady is just one of the reasons I believe a three-month stint in retail should be mandatory before graduation so people learn how to treat others.

Now here’s something that’s causing a big ripple in the social media world – Facebook’s new layout. It’s some crazy stuff, people. Things have been rearranged and people are outraged by the change. There are online petitions and Angry Facebook Groups and diatribes to post online and so on. And on. And on.

And then a friend of mine posted a little thing on Facebook that said: “I am appalled that the free service that I am in no way obligated to use keeps making changes that mildly inconvenience me.”

Ah, perspective. Get some!

Anyway, I am not going to let it be The End of the World™ because a store has been rearranged, nor blow a gasket over the new arrows on Wilson Street (drivers’ ed taught me how to follow arrows in 1987), nor am I going to flip out because it is taking me longer than usual to goof off on Facebook.

Life is short. Pick your battles. The funny thing about change is that most of the time you can eventually get used to it, and when you can’t, you can eat chocolate.

If you can’t find the chocolate in the grocery store, just ask someone. Nicely.

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 29/11

Past Deadline: Epic Appendage Malfunction

I am getting a crash course about ankles because one of my ankles has, well, crashed.

Sometime in early August I began to notice pain in my right ankle. I couldn’t pinpoint it to a particular incident, and I wasn’t too concerned because I have always had what I affectionately call “wonky ankles.”

I used to go over on them a lot as a kid. One time, in the early days of courtship, an ankle buckled as I walked across a downtown street with Groom-boy. So graceful. “What are you doing?” he laughed. (Not: “Are you okay?”)

Throughout August the pain got worse. Ice, heat and ibuprofen didn’t help. I couldn’t walk without pain and certainly couldn’t run. Even at rest it twinged and ached and burned and it sometimes felt as if someone was tightening a vice around my lower calf. It even hurt to the touch.

While on vacation I spent some time consulting Dr. Google. My symptoms did not sound like a sprain, but more like a tendon problem. So I followed the RICE advice: Rest, Ice, Compression (tensor) and Elevate.

It still felt awful, so as soon as we got home I finally (stubborn, much?) made a doctor’s appointment.

“Get ye to a physiotherapist!” he said. Okay, he didn’t say it exactly like that, but physio was one of several courses of action he initiated.

The physiotherapist, meanwhile, took one look at my appendages and said, “You have been RUNNING on those feet?”

She set to work on my poor bedraggled right ankle to reduce the swelling and inflammation, and she took some measurements that, in layman’s terms, indicated my left foot is wonky and my right foot is almost twice as bad.

The working theory at this point is that my right ankle is afflicted with posterior tibialis tendonitis (fancy, eh?) and the long arch is collapsing onto the tendon. The tendon is angry and it is annoying the ligaments, too.

Sounds painful.

This has all been brought on by a “severe biomechanical failure” in my feet, which is fancy talk for the aforementioned “wonky ankles.”

Thing is, other than the occasional awkward moment on downtown streets, I have never really had any trouble with them.

It was, apparently, only a matter of time, which is one more reason why turning 40 has been So Much Fun.

A couple of years ago when I became interested in running, right off the bat I got a good pair of shoes. As I walked across the floor at the shop to have my gait assessed, I was asked, “Has anyone ever talked to you about orthotics?”

No one had, until that day. Perhaps I should have taken that as a hint, but when I put on those wonderful silver and red shoes – my “Rocket Shoes” (I name most inanimate objects) – it felt as if I were walking on clouds, so I didn’t really give it much thought after that. (Thank you, Mary!)

I’m sorry, ankles. I am a moron.

My physiotherapist (who still can’t believe I ever ran) tells me I probably would have been there two years sooner if it weren’t for those shoes.

I am afraid to ask her if I will ever run again.

It turns out my Google research wasn’t far off. I was on the right track with RICE, but needed to turn up the volume, especially with the ice. Now that I know this, it seems to be helping.

The swelling has gone down a bit, so now if I look at my feet in a mirror I can actually see how my right ankle sags. It looks depressed.

It definitely hates me.

I’m hoping orthotics will work like flowers and candy so that we can be friends again.

In the meantime, I am trying to find ways to stay off my feet without becoming sedentary.

For starters, I have pumped up my bicycle’s tires so that I can get around without actually, you know, walking.

I am not an avid cyclist, so I feel awkward. Whenever I ride my bike the “Miss Gulch” theme from The Wizard of Oz runs through my head. Does that make me a witch?

My ankles probably think so, my pretties.

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 22/11