Sunday, December 23, 2012

Past Deadline: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas. Hope you enjoy my annual contribution for the season! (Published in The Perth Courier, Dec. 20/12).
’Twas the Night Before Christmas
Christmas is mere moments away, which means it’s time to butcher a classic poem once again and conjure up my favourite seasonal sprite for the 2012 version! My apologies, as always, to Clement Clark Moore….
’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
Mama searched for a rhyme that was not the word “grouse.”
“Galldarnit!” she cried. “There is so much to do! What’s with all these deadlines? I need a whole crew!
“There’s writing and marking and editing – oh my!
“December’s so busy I might break down and cry!”
She gazed all around at the state of the home
And as the clock ticked she started to moan.
The Christmas cards waited, the presents weren’t wrapped
It might have to be done while everyone napped.
The groceries weren’t purchased, the eggnog not bought,
And without all those goodies one could be overwrought.
There were stockings to hang, some garland to string, a turkey to thaw and carols to sing.
At least with a Girlchild whose patience was low, the tree was a-glitter and ready to go. (Thanks to ample nagging in November.)
And just as the panic started to rise,
A wonderful sight came to Mama’s eyes.
In the kitchen she started to see a small glow,
And as she looked on it continued to grow.
Mama smiled. “Could it be?” she asked the thin air.
“Has my fairy returned? Do I hope? Do I dare?”
And with a loud pop her wish became true:
The Stress-Free Holiday Fairy™ in a kitchen near you!
With a wink and a grin she tapped Mama’s arm,
“Your annual struggle never loses its charm!
“I do like to visit and help you all out,
“But your ability to learn leaves me in doubt.”
Mama looked puzzled and felt slightly perplexed.
“But what do you mean? I hope you’re not vexed!” (Cool! Perplexed and vexed!)
“Not at all!” said the fairy, “I’m just trying to help
“Because your annual problem is as common as kelp.
“The issue, you see, comes down to routine. I see that you’ve got one, but it’s far from pristine.”
And with that the Fairy brandished her wand
And conjured a date book for now and beyond.
“You see in October your workload is steady,
“But not so busy that you cannot get ready.
“Plan ahead, my dear, so when December comes,
“You won’t have to panic – you won’t have the glums.”
“Pshaw!” Mama said. “I’ll never succeed
“In thinking of Christmas when it’s autumn indeed!
“Besides,” she said smugly, “there’s something about
“All those early shoppers that gives me the gout.”
The Fairy just stood there. “You’re being a goof.
“You’re just being stubborn, and I’ve had enoof.” (Sometimes the Fairy has a Scottish accent, you know.)
“I’ll help you this time and I’ll be back next year,
“But it would be a nice change if it were for some cheer!”
With that the Fairy lifted her wand
And before Mama knew it she’d already gone.
The presents, the groceries – everything was ready
And suddenly Mama felt a lot more steady.
She smiled when she heard the last call of the sprite,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Boychild, Girlchild, Groom-boy and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best in 2013!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Past Deadline: Beavers Taking Over the World?

Here is “Past Deadline” from Dec. 13 in The Perth Courier.
Beavers taking over the world?
With the whole “end of the world” prophecy coming up on us in a week or so, I thought this might be a good time for some deep reflection.
I mean, I have been percolating along as if the world is not going to end. I have plans to do stuff after Dec. 21. I am proceeding with Christmas shopping. The tree and decorations are up. There is a grocery list for next week pinned to the fridge.
Nevertheless, I can’t help but think about something that was suggested to me recently and I wonder if it is more than just a coincidence given all this doomsday stuff:
Are beavers plotting to take over the world?
You may recall that a few weeks ago I was stumped for a column idea, so I posted a plea on Facebook. The beaver question was posted by my brother, and I think this is a fine time to explore it.
I mean, really. What is UP with beavers? They are SO busy!
Beavers have big, scary teeth that they use to cut down trees. These lumberjacks of the wild do so in order to have lumber to build dams, which creates a pond in which they build their lodges, store food piles underwater in winter, and use for protection from predators. They use some trees for food.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website indicates beavers cut down an average of 216 trees per year – some of which are up to 40 centimetres in diameter.
Ask any property owner about those felled trees, and he or she will doubtless concur it is a lot of damage.
It’s not really the tree loss that might make one think this industrious mammal has a secret plan to take over the world – it’s the darned dams.
Beavers are prolific builders. Some say the sound of trickling water stimulates their urge to build, and we all know there is a lot of trickling water in this world.
Oh, indeed, these busy critters have demonstrated time and again their affinity for creating their own infrastructure and disrupting ours. Their dams flood properties and wash out roads. They create disruption and stress.
What IS their end game, anyway? I mean, once they obliterate the countryside and move into the cities, what is the point? Are they suddenly going to reveal themselves as ferocious carnivores that only ate foliage as a clever front?
Humans have fought back, for sure. Beavers have been eliminated from large parts of their original range thanks to trapping in the early 19th century. In fact, the quest for beaver pelts is credited for much of the early exploration of this continent. Arguably, if Europeans hadn’t had a love for beaver hats, the little rodent might have taken over this continent by now.
It is a humbling thought. What a watery world it might have been!
Aw, I’m just joshin’. I like beavers and I don’t think we are in imminent peril from them, although those teeth look kind of nasty and I know there was a story in this paper a few months back about a local guy bitten by a beaver.
Nevertheless, I have to say I am much more leery of insects. I think ants, ticks, fleas, lice and cockroaches are much more likely to take over the world. If they ever form an alliance I, for one, would most certainly be driven over the edge by their combined strength.
Thank you, brother Doug, for bringing this important concern to our attention. I am so glad to have this aired.
Next week: Are dust bunnies plotting to take over my house? (Okay, maybe not….)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Past Deadline: Fratricide Averted

Here is the Dec. 6 edition of "Past Deadline," published in The Perth Courier.
Fratricide averted
The other day I phoned my mom and thanked her for not killing my brother and me when we were kids.
It’s not the first time I have said it. I don’t know how she did it.
Boychild, almost 11, and Girlchild, 7, have been fighting like the proverbial cats and dogs these days. They can’t seem to be in a room together for more than 14 seconds before some sort of ridiculous squabble erupts.
Often it is screen related. Someone is invariably watching something the other doesn’t want to watch. Or maybe they will agree to play a game together, and then start screaming about a) the choice of game or b) the particular strategy employed or c) the rules of the game, etc.
I have already had to set up a schedule about which days which kid gets to choose which game, and they know the next step is for the screen-related items to be declared off limits for both.
The frustrating thing is, I can relate. It is often the Way of Siblings to disagree about pretty much everything merely on principle.
When we were kids, my parents had to set up a schedule for my brother and me when it came to doing dishes. We started off doing them together, but when it devolved into arguments about who was doing what and who could inflict the most skin damage with a tea towel, we were soon segregated to doing them individually on alternating nights.
I was mean to my brother (sorry, Doug). I was four and a half years older than he, and for a long time I was bigger and thought I was smarter. The physical part of our sibling rivalry ended fairly quickly when he got bigger and started pushing back.
No problem. I always had the psychological warfare thing going on, so I just leaned a little more heavily on that. (Girls often excel at this.)
I think I have related the Darth Vader story, but here’s a recap to illustrate a point.
Picture it: Sicily, 1947. Wait…wrong rerun. Picture it: Perth, circa 1980. I am about 10, my brother is around five. Star Wars is popular. I hadn’t seen it, but knew who the good guys and bad guys were and that Princess Leia’s hair looked like earmuffs.
At the time our basement was only partially finished, and I was down there playing with my little brother. The furnace tended to make weird, gaspy, rumbly sounds, and I thought it would be fun to scare the bejeebers out of my brother by telling him it was Darth Vader. I told him to hide under a desk in the dark, then I crept upstairs and rolled on the floor laughing as he came screaming up the stairs, terrified, a few minutes later.
(Yes, he still speaks to me.)
It backfired. He claimed to be “afraid” to go downstairs for what seemed like years afterward, so basement-related errands had to be done by me. (Well played, little bro.)
Anyway, I remember this as I listen to the shrieking and clamour around me as Boychild and Girlchild navigate the world of sibling rivalry. I see the trickery and the power plays and the supposed “hatred,” and as much as I sometimes want to set up schedules so that they are never in the same room together for anything, ever, I know this is all part of a complex social something er other.
Besides, when I see things like Girlchild being sad about something that has happened at school and Boychild offering to go and “talk to the kid” or “keep an eye on things,” I know everything is going to be fine.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Past Deadline: Brought to You By....

Here is the Nov. 22/12 edition of “Past Deadline,” published in The Perth Courier.
Brought to you by…
This column is brought to you by my Facebook friends. And by the letter Q. (For question.) And the number one.
The hardest part of writing this column is coming up with the idea. Once I have a kernel of a thought, it’s pretty easy to pound out a few hundred words about it, but occasionally it’s a stretch.
Recently we were travelling into Ottawa and Groom-boy was driving, I like to take the opportunity to write my column on my phone when I’m a passenger, but was hindered by having no idea to expound.
That’s where the Wonders of Social Media™ kick in. (The Interwebs – such a mahvellous tool!)
I posted on Facebook as we drove: “I need a column idea. Stat.” My friends came through! (At least I think they did. You be the judge!)
The dominant theme was Christmas. Some of it was on the serious side, such as Canadian Armed Forces spending Christmas in Afghanistan (from high school chum Linda).
Rajan’s ideas included people celebrating Christmas for the first time, what Christmas means to people of other religions and what pains people away from their families take/undergo to be with their families on Christmas Eve. (Long-time Courier fans may remember Rajan – he goes back to the 1990s when I still worked there. He was one of our Canada World Youth students at the time – from India.)
A couple of people honed in on annoying things about Christmas – specifically stores starting to play Christmas music the day after Halloween (that one was from Jim), which can sometimes backfire – generating more cynicism than goodwill.
A couple of people (my Calgary friend Heather and our Murphys Point colleague from our student days, Jane) highlighted how annoying it is to hear of people who already have their Christmas shopping finished (agreed!).
The parental factor weighed in heavily with the topic (loosely paraphrased here) of “How many freakin’ gifts do kids today day really need??!!”
I hear ya! I could probably write an entire column on this subject. I used to be fairly creative with gifts, but now I am usually at a loss because it seems as if everyone already has everything. With my kids, it is sometimes hard to pick out something that will actually be appreciated, let alone beloved.
“What about the gifts and the amount of gifts kids ask for? It’s getting out of control,” wrote Jane.
My university friend Karen echoed the gift theme by asking if four-year-olds really need things like an iPod Touch. She said she knows people who do three gifts: one thing they need, one thing they want and one thing to wear (I like that) and others who only do homemade gifts. She also mentioned the “Advent Conspiracy,” which de-emphasizes consumerism at Christmas.
Moving away from the Christmas theme, another popular topic was “tin foil and its many uses, including millinery.” This was from Heather in Calgary, who then posted a picture of a cat wearing a tin foil hat with the slogan “I has consprcy thery.” Love you, babe.
“Think of what kids could do with a roll of tin foil…seriously!” added Karen.
I’m thinking I might give tin foil to my kids for Christmas.
My brother contributed a fabulous idea that I just might save for another column: “Are beavers plotting to take over the world?” Love it.
Meanwhile my bud Gary offered the following: “The best column ideas have been around for a while: Doric, Ionic and (Ricardo Montalban’s favourite) Corinthian.” Hehehe! Gary, you are such a support!
Then one of my besties, Sharon in Kingston, contributed: “I don’t think you ever capitalized on the dinner with murderers.” So true! Stay tuned, everyone. I’m outta space.
Thanks to all!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Past Deadline: Hairy Lips for a Good Cause

Here’s this week’s (Nov. 15) “Past Deadline,” published in The Perth Courier.
Hairy lips for a good cause
I am finding it hard to take my husband seriously. I mean harder than usual.
See, he’s got this growth sprouting on his face and, well, at least it’s for a good cause!
Movember began in Australia and has become a global campaign to raise money and awareness for men’s health, particularly prostate cancer and male mental health initiatives.
The idea is to try to change established habits and attitudes men have pertaining to their health and to promote early detection, diagnosis and treatment.
In Canada, funds go towards programs run by Movember and Prostate Cancer Canada. Last year, more than 854,000 Mo Bros and Mo Sistas worldwide were involved and raised $125.7 million CAD.
On November – I mean Movember – 1, fellas show up clean shaven, register at and spend the rest of the month growing and grooming a moustache.
For some guys the growing part is easier said than done, but it’s not a problem for Groom-boy. Within a week he already had a substantial caterpillar resting under his nose.
Now, the thing of it is, many of us girls are of the opinion that there are only a handful of men who can pull off a moustache.
Someone who springs to mind right off the bat is Tom Selleck. Whether he’s Magnum P.I. or Commissioner Regan, it would be just plain wrong for him to lose his moustache, in my opinion.
Jack Layton was another one. It was a trademark.
My Uncle Tom can do it, too. When I was a kid he always had a moustache, complete with handlebars, but he opted to go clean-shaven several years ago and I still haven’t gotten used to it.
I think that’s the whole point – it’s what you’re used to. I mean, if Tom Selleck had become a superstar as a clean-shaven dude, I’d probably still watch Blue Bloods and sigh a little.
Can you even picture such notables as Freddie Mercury, Gandhi, Charlie Chaplin, Burt Reynolds, Sir Robert Borden or Albert Einstein without moustaches?
Just to shoot holes in the “what you’re used to” argument, though, my dad sported a moustache from the time I was born until after he retired. Then one day several years back he shaved it off and, if I remember correctly, he had to point out the fact it was gone. Despite his white hair, his understated moustache had a tiny tinge of red in it and blended in with his skin tone, so its loss wasn’t dramatic.
With Groom-boy, though – yeesh! It’s dark and noticeable and I laugh every time I look at him.
He tells me that’s the whole point – that it’s supposed to be uncomfortable (he hates it) and funny looking so that it’s a sacrifice to a cause.
Groom-boy does not resemble Tom Selleck, so there is no watching and sighing. (Sorry, dear.)
The kids are having a ball with it, and they keep running up to Daddy to feel his moustache. This is particularly irritating when we are all sitting together at suppertime and Daddy is trying to eat.
When we have a conversation, I have to look away in order to concentrate on what Groom-boy is saying. Possibly I will get used to the caterpillar and by the end of November I won’t even notice it, but I highly doubt it.
Fortunately, I don’t think I have to worry about it becoming a permanent facial feature, as it appears to be driving him batty.
It’s all for a very good cause, though, so keep fighting the good hairy fight, boys! If you want to learn more about Groom-boy and his Lee Valley Tools colleagues, check out the team at
Happy Movember!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Past Deadline: A Woeful Tail

Finally caught up! Here is “Past Deadline” from the Nov. 8 issue. (I am pleased to report that I am feeling much better than I was when I wrote this.)
A woeful tail
This week, you will be delighted to know, I am going to write about my bum. It’s a good news/bad news story.
The bad news is, I took an unexpected fast trip down half a flight of stairs first thing last Wednesday morning, and my tailbone took the brunt of it. Bump bump bump bump bump. I nearly passed out.
If it’s not broken, it’s definitely very, very angry.
The good news is I didn’t fling my arms out to brace myself, so I didn’t damage my rotator cuff like the last time I fell down these stupid stairs. Hurray! The other good news is I have something to write about.
My house is very old – 1840s – and the stairs are fairly steep with narrow treads. Combine this with a klutz and it’s not good.
This is the third time I have slid down these stairs. The first was not too long after we moved in 13 years ago. It resulted in a bruised or broken tailbone (coccyx is the fancy name) and the injured rotator cuff. The second was about seven years ago when Girlchild was a baby. I was carrying her at the time. We were both fine – just terrified.
Honest, I treat these stairs with the utmost respect, but I still don’t have the hang of it.
There’s not a lot you can do for a tailbone injury. After all, the coccyx is the tiny little hooked bone at the base of your spine, so it’s not as if you can put a cast on it. I know this from experience.
Whether it’s bruised or broken, the treatment is basically the same: rest, ice and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen.
So, I am on ice. Literally. It’s a huge thrill. I mean chill. Sometimes I just shove the ice pack down my pants to save time.
I have learned how to sit in order to alleviate pressure on the rear. One method is to use a doughnut cushion. Normally this lovely device prevents pressure from being placed on the tailbone, but right now there is so much tenderness in the surrounding area the doughnut isn’t feeling so wonderful.
Instead, I sit with one foot tucked under my thigh so there is no direct contact with the coccyx and the chair.
The other sitting option is to lean forward. I attend a lot of meetings. I am sure I look as if I am listening eagerly as I employ this sitting method. Of course I really am listening eagerly, but now I look convincing.
The “rest” part of the treatment isn’t so easy. See, the tailbone appears to be connected to, well, almost everything. I can’t bend, I can’t walk very well and I can only sit in those aforementioned modified positions. Sleeping hurts. Sneezing and coughing hurt. Lifting things hurts (especially if it involves bending.) Getting in and out of chairs is no fun and the car is probably the worst.
If I drop something and one of the kids is nearby, my plaintive call for help goes out (they have been very helpful, and they enjoy mocking me as I groan around the house).
Really, the only time things feel improved is if I have an opportunity to sit in my modified positions for a couple of hours. That seems to constitute “rest.”
Standing (i.e. when I am teaching), is pretty good, too, as long as there isn’t much movement involved.
Unfortunately, there is only so much sitting still or standing around a working mom can do.
So, really, my best advice is prevention. Kids, stairs are bad. Don’t fall down the stairs.
I am thinking of having the stairs removed, actually.

Past Deadline: Heading for the Bunker

Here is “Past Deadline” from the Nov. 1 issue of The Perth Courier.
Heading for the bunker
As I write this on the last weekend of October, the east coast is evacuating and shutting down in light of a conglomeration of weather systems around Hurricane Sandy.
Forecasters are saying it will affect tens of millions of people right into Ontario, particularly our southern neighbours.
The weather system is being called “Frankenstorm.”
How appropriately Halloweeny! I am inclined to dress up as a Terrified Person™ and build a bunker.
We have lots of canned goods and stuff in the pantry. We bought batteries on the weekend (although that was more related to Girlchild’s birthday party) and our large water jug is at the ready.
I never worry about having light as we are armed to the teeth with myriad flashlights and battery- and solar-powered lights of various descriptions. Groom-boy has a serious light fetish. It’s quite weird, actually.
I once proposed in this space that Groom-boy be hired by some independent third party to perpetually cruise the landscape at night and report burned-out lightbulbs. Over the years I have heard more than my fair share of stories about missing letters in store signs and extinguished street lights.
I tell you, he would be a bright shiny star at this. Burned-out lightbulbs cause him a surprising amount of angst and Must! Be! Stopped!
But I digress. We have food, water, batteries and lights. No bunker…but that could be overdoing it anyway.
I have also used this space to wax rhapsodic – not that long ago – about exaggerated weather stories.
Don’t get me wrong – I am in no way belittling the intensity of Hurricane Sandy and the fact it has killed dozens of people and affected countless lives. But I do worry when newscasters start labelling systems with terms like “Frankenstorm” and “Storm of the Century.” If it doesn’t live up to the hype, which has been known to happen, it’s like crying wolf.
How many times have we in eastern Ontario cancelled buses and headed for shelter based on weather warnings and news reports, only to be met with a skiff of snow or, worse, a bright sunshiny day? (Not that I have anything against bright sunshiny days. Besides, I am That Mother™ who takes her kids to school even when the buses are cancelled.)
I understand it’s risk management and that if warnings aren’t issued and heeded and something happens and someone gets hurt then it is a big deal.
There is a case to be made for the fact that forecasters are merely that – forecasters – and they can’t really tell exactly what is going to happen, but I wonder if we should all toughen up a little so that we know how to cope in bad weather rather than running scared? Especially in this rather sedate part of the world.
Think of this. In the spring or summer when it rains (assuming there is no drought), forecasters call it rain. It’s not “Rainmageddon.” We are not advised to take cover.
A “summer storm” involves thunder and lightning, which tends to be more threatening than plain old rain. That’s when you don’t want to be standing in a field with a metal pole or even an umbrella. Danger!
In the winter, however, it seems that every time it snows we call it a “winter storm.” (Snow is just frozen, slippery rain, remember.) It could be a smattering of light, fluffy flakes, but we are advised to proceed with caution as it is a “winter storm.”
If it’s more than a centimetre and a half – egad! It’s “Snowmageddon.”
What’s up with that? I mean, it’s Canada! It snows here! Get some winter tires! Wear a toque! Don’t wear stilettos – wear snow boots! Grab a coping mechanism and get on with life!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a bunker to stock with chocolate. Just in case.

Past Deadline: Let's All Prorogate!

Here is the Oct. 25 edition of “Past Deadline” from The Perth Courier.
Let’s all prorogate!
Prorogation. Everybody’s doin’ it. You should do it, too!
I have to admit, a few years ago I did not know what “prorogation” meant. Possibly this is because it is generally a fairly non-controversial thing in parliamentary cycles and, up until a few years ago, it was just one of those routine procedures that did not make the news.
Prorogation is, according to the Canadian Oxford, when you “discontinue the meetings of (a parliament etc.) without dissolving it.”
In the “way back” times, prorogation was a lengthy period (often about six months) between parliamentary sessions that allowed MPs to spend time in their constituencies. Faster travel and better communication technology mean such long breaks aren’t as necessary now.
These days prorogation between sessions usually isn’t a big deal. It happens when it is time for a new speech from the throne and, hence a new agenda.
In the last 10 years, though, it seems that when the going gets tough in parliament, the “tough” stomp away from the sandbox.
This handy dandy parliamentary tactic was used by former Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 2002 when it looked as if the sponsorship scandal was about to explode. (It caught up to him later.)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper used it in 2008 when his minority government faced defeat by a pesky coalition of two opposition parties. It was a seven-week distraction (“Hey! Look! Shiny things!”) that prevented his defeat.
When the Afghan detainees affair cropped up in 2009, Harper ran to the Governor General again. He said (conveniently) it was to recess during the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver (more shiny things!).
This newish take on an old procedure isn’t just a federal thing, the provinces are climbing on the prorogation train, too. Why, our very own soon-to-be-former Premier Dalton McGuinty surprised everyone last week by announcing he is resigning and that the sandbox will be closed until a new leader is chosen.
So all business in the legislature (which is a fairly busy place, I understand) is postponed, even though he will carry on as premier until the convention.
What? So, we all get to just sit around and watch a provincial Liberal leadership race until then? Fantastic.
There are some who say telling everyone to get out of the sandbox was necessary because no one would play nice – what with labour leaders threatening to throw sand all over the plans to freeze public sector wages and such.
Others suggest someone may have pooped in the sandbox – considering the Ornge Air scandal and the growing gas-fired power plant situation. Or maybe Dalton got some sand in his eye?
If tradition holds and the prorogation lasts long enough, it’s possible a) the opposition will have simmered down when the legislature resumes and b) the voting public will have forgotten or will have not cared in the first place about prorogation and will not see it as a questionable procedure worthy of turfing the government.
As for me, I am quite thankful for the reminder. First of all, I had forgotten how to spell prorogation, and needed that refresher. Secondly, I am now inspired to look around me for opportunities to prorogue things when the going gets rough.
People not seeing things your way at a work-related meeting? Let’s just walk away for a few months.
Children not cooperating at home? I hereby suspend procedures and send them to their respective ridings (rooms?) until we all forget about this and move on to other things.
Could be handy, don’t you think? I mean, why bother facing the music and doing your job when the going gets tough? That would be so grown up and role model-ish, and who wants that? Ew.

Past Deadline: Pretty Rocks and Geology Speak

From the Oct. 18 “Past Deadline” in The Perth Courier.
Pretty rocks and geology speak
When I was a kid (oh here she goes again), I found a pretty rock. I loved rocks – I always looked for ones that had sparkly bits or interesting stripes or, if I was really lucky, I would find one that had tiny fossils in it.
I remember having this one tiny rock, though, that was predominantly white and pink but with many tiny specks of silver throughout.
I can’t remember where I found it, but I vividly recall how I lost it.
One day, I was playing with two sisters who lived down the street. They had a babysitter that day and I joined them for a walk downtown.
As we meandered down Wilson Street, I clutched my pretty rock. We had just crossed in front of what is now Metro (I.G.A. back in the day), when the babysitter asked if I would like her to keep my rock in her purse so I wouldn’t lose it.
Seemed prudent.
And then I forgot completely about it and never saw my pretty rock again.
I now know the little specimen was probably a piece of apatite or feldspar with mica sprinkled throughout. I also know there was a time when I wouldn’t have been the only one happy to find it.
Which brings me to the present. One of the coolest things about doing the freelance work I do is the opportunity to take on new and different projects. I am always learning – sometimes complex things that involve a whole different vocabulary.
A perfect example of this is geology. I was exposed to geology in a cultural history context when I worked at Murphys Point Provincial Park as a student, and this has continued on with my involvement with the Friends of Murphys Point Park. Hopefully you’ve heard of the amazing historic gem located at the park – the Silver Queen Mine – which is one of the Seven Wonders of Lanark County, you know!
I have been down in the mine a kazillion times to see its sparkly mica, feldspar and apatite, and each time I notice or hear about something new. The park staff are constantly learning about the site, which operated as a mine in the early 1900s.

In the Silver Queen Mine at Murphys Point. (Stephanie Gray photo)

Recently I had the opportunity to do some work for the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization, which has a recreational geology component. I found myself working with terminology such as parallel glacial striae and foliated mafic rock and mosaics of calcite crystals and finding ways to tie it all into the human experience.
Rocks, after all, are everywhere. Murphys Point tells the story of how the first settlers struggled to farm the rocky Canadian Shield land only to come to embrace it during a small-scale mining boom, which is when they would have been happy to find pretty rocks like the one I had.
On the weekend I had the opportunity to take in the opening of the gorgeous new geology exhibit at the Perth Museum, featuring some exquisite examples from the collection of Dr. James Wilson (circa 1850) of Perth, who discovered and named the mineral “Wilsonite.” I then accompanied a group that included several geologists on a tour of the Silver Queen Mine.
They speak in tongues, those geologists, when a group of them gets together in a mine. Despite the fact I have visited the Silver Queen a kazillion times, seeing it with a group of geologists is a different thing entirely.
It’s really cool to watch people who have a passion for a subject when they are in their element.
As for me, I still love pretty rocks, even though I don’t know all the big words. And I love my job(s) for exposing me to such wonderful things.

Past Deadline: Watching for Picnic Areas

Here is the Oct. 11 edition of “Past Deadline” from The Perth Courier. (Still catching up!)
Watching for picnic areas
One day last week I looked up and it was October.
How the heck did that happen?
I am used to picking up the pace in the fall, but this autumn seems to be slipping by faster than ever.
We had a great summer. Work was manageable and we were able to take two weeks off and do some great family stuff near the end of August. We had such a good time that the transition back to school and the regular work routine was, well, abrupt.
As the September start line appeared before us, a voice in my head was shouting: “On your mark…get set….”
Accordingly, I scrambled to get as much advance prep done for clients and my Algonquin courses as I could. I have a heavier load than usual, and I knew if I didn’t have several weeks done in advance, I’d be off the pace from the start.
“Go!” the voice shouted.
Now, in October, I find myself catching up to my prep, so the voice is quoting a famous Disney fish: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming….”
Time is such a funny thing (funny haha or funny strange?). When you’re a kid and have, theoretically, tonnes of it ahead of you, time seems like a long, straight, boring road and you are inching and creeping along. You just can’t wait to get around the next bend or over a hill and be a bit older so you can see what lies ahead.
Then, you hit the point when that road is filled with twists and hairpin curves and bumps and steep hills and occasional dark valleys and you have to drive fast and you can’t see all the sights. There are just too many things to squeeze into the hours of the day, and you find yourself wishing either that you had a clone or that you could recoup all those wasted hours daydreaming when you were a kid.
(Actually, I only want the clone. Without all that daydreaming and cloud watching and star gazing I wouldn’t be who I am today. The clone would do the housework.)
It seems to be true that time speeds up as you get older. I’ve heard so many freshly retired people proclaim they don’t know how they ever had time to get everything done when they were working, given how busy they are now that they are retired. (I just smile and nod as I juggle meetings and work and dental appointments for kids and volunteer stuff and 17 minutes of sleep. If retirement is busier, then I’m never going to stop working!)
I wonder if it comes full circle when you get even older – if time stretches out again like a long, slow highway, with a destination not quite visible on the horizon. Or is it like a sloping, downward hill and you coast along? Or a steep, hard climb to a summit? I suppose it depends on how the earlier twists and turns worked out.
The hard part is remembering to pull into the rest stops now and again and have (literally or figuratively) a picnic or enjoy the view or take one of those naps you missed as a little kid when you were too busy running down the road of life to sleep.
Doing that seems to be more and more important as the drive gets faster and faster. You don’t want to run out of gas, after all. And because we don’t really know the route or have a map or GPS on this particular highway, you just never know where the proverbial gas stations and rest stops are going to be – so don’t skip them all!
Now…let’s see how well I practice what I preach. “Just keep driving, just keep driving….”

Past Deadline: Practical and Consumable

Here is “Past Deadline” for the Oct. 4 issue of The Perth Courier.
Practical and consumable
I celebrated a non-milestone birthday recently. I am telling you this not because I want to be showered with gifts and well wishes and congratulations for surviving thus far, but because it gives me something to talk about in this here space.
I’ve reached the age when birthdays are stuck on that ambiguous line between “Pay attention to meeeeee! It’s my birthdaaaaay!!! I’m speshuuuuuullll!!” and “I don’t want to talk about it because apparently I am many, many years older than the 17 I wanna be.”
The one thing that is for sure is that I get picky about gifts. (I know. It sounds utterly ungrateful, but hear me out.) At this stage in life, when I am living in a smallish house surrounded by too many things, I tend to cringe whenever another object enters the building. Thus, gifts that don’t take up much or any space make me happy.
I remember once many years ago having a conversation with an older couple about wedding gifts. They strongly believed that it was in poor taste to give newlyweds money or gift cards – that a gift should be purchased that demonstrated some thought had gone into it. I politely disagreed.
I’m sure there is a whole etiquette book or 500 written on the subject, but having been fairly newly married myself at that time, I remember being just as grateful for the cash and gift cards that filled in the blanks for things we needed as we set up our household, as I was for the things received from our registry list and the other beautiful and thoughtful gifts. It all balances out.
When it comes to birthdays beyond the fourth decade and in an age of consumerism, you get to a point when you feel you have everything you need – within reason, of course. Or at least that’s how I feel.
I mean, I’m sure I need an exotic trip somewhere or a bigger house, but I was not expecting those things for my birthday. At least not this year. Ahem.
I’m also at that dull age when I like gifts to be practical. For instance, Groom-boy and I just bought ourselves an early Christmas present when our vacuum went and died. Wheeeee! (I know. We are the ultimately romantics.)
This year, I have to say, I got some dandy birthday presents: practical and/or consumable.
Groom-boy watches me leave the house at any given time carrying different bags for different meetings. I have one or two Algonquin bags, one for volunteer stuff, another for police services board stuff and then I gather miscellaneous materials together for various other consulting meetings. I am drowning over here in bags filled with folders and files.
So…he got me a bag – a nice one with lots of pockets and divisions that will be quite handy. I could stash most of my life in that bag, I think, and still find surprise compartments.
My bestie cooked me a birthday meal (well, it fed other people, too) with some favourite foods and the added bonus of me not having to cook or clean up afterwards. Practical (because we all have to eat) and consumable!
Another friend stopped by with a tray of goodies – homemade bread, preserves, mints and a little bottle of tequila with a lime in case of an emergency (not that there is anything stressful going on, but that tequila could come in handy). Again – practical and consumable!
I was taken out for drinks on a couple of occasions and given cash in cards….practical and consumable!
The only thing I didn’t get that I could really use is a clone. Possibly people were afraid I wouldn’t like the clone because it would take up space? Oh, well. The tequila will take my mind off it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Past Deadline: The Sun Is Not Going to Explode - Yet

Here is Past Deadline for the Sept. 27 issue of The Perth Courier.
The sun is not going to explode – yet
“How about I write about top 10 bedtime stalling tactics?” I asked the young’uns.
Girlchild made a scowly face that could have wilted flowers.
“Good idea!” chirped Boychild.
Can you guess, based on this exchange, who the current worst offender is?
I have no right to complain about this, of course. Long-time readers may recall I have discussed my own bizarre bedtime routine involving bathroom trips, gazing out the window for a prescribed period of time, arranging my stuffed animals a certain way and asking Mom and Dad a nightly token question.
And that was just last week! Okay, not really. At least not the Mom and Dad part.
(Insert diagnoses here.)
Anyway, it seems to be a universal thing that kids will attempt to put off sleeping no matter how tired they may be. Some manage to do it without annoying the heck out of their parents by quietly reading books by flashlight under the covers. Others must have incredibly guilty consciences and feel they need to involve their parents in every act of bedtime defiance, it seems. Unfortunately.
The children seem to have inherited the “I must bug Mom and Dad one more time before I sleep thing” from me. This can be with a question or to tell us something they forgot or because they need something.
On the “need something” front, they have the market cornered. Have you ever noticed how minor afflictions blossom into full-blown crises at bedtime? The bump on the knee requires an ice pack and morphine, the headache is suddenly a migraine requiring surgery and the paper cut requires a trip to emerge and possibly a transfer by helicopter to a trauma centre.
Heaven forbid one has the sniffles. Even with all the usual comforts, the sniffles always seem worse at night when you’re lying in bed and trying to breathe through your nose, but does it really require 17 trips down the stairs to weep and moan and wail and gnash teeth and inflict misery on everyone in the house? Yes, apparently it does.
Breathe through your mouth, already.
When all the ice packs and medications and enchantments and threats have been administered and all is quiet, don’t let your guard down. Don’t assume it’s peaceful because the little darlings have dozed off. No, assume it is because they are lying in bed thinking of things to worry about.
You’ll start to watch that TV show, but it will be interrupted 112 times in the first four minutes with commentary ranging from the mundane “I don’t wanna go to school tomorrow” and “I think something is wrong with one of my fish” to the more creative “There’s a dark spot on my wall and it’s not a shadow and I’m scared” and “I picked my mole and I think a vein may have come out.”
One of my personal favourites of late was Girlchild’s tearful visit at 10:30 one recent night to proclaim, “Mom, I am worried about when the sun is going to blow up.”
My fuse shortens as the day wears on and my sarcasm filter tends to all but disappear. Nevertheless, I managed to avoid the classic, “If you don’t get to bed I’ll give you something to cry about.” I even avoided the more realistic, “Hon, with the way this planet is going you’ve got a lot more to worry about before the sun blows up.”
That kind of reality dose at bedtime is not helpful. (That’s why we grown-ups watch the late news – to distract us from such things as the sun’s not-so-imminent blow-uppery.)
I know this didn’t turn into a top-10 list, but it’s the kids’ bedtime and I keep getting interrupted….

Past Deadline: Ode to George

Here is Past Deadline from Sept. 20, published in The Perth Courier.
Ode to George
I have a problem. (“Just one?” you might ask. Yes, for today.)
This will come as no surprise to those who know me, but I am here to tell you – to admit, actually – that I am addicted to my smartphone.
I have named my phone “George” or, more precisely, “Mr. George BlackBerry, Executive Assistant.” He has been with me for about a year and a half and, quite honestly, I don’t know how I managed without him.
I am self-employed and often work from home, but I also attend a lot of meetings and teach part-time. I used to fret about the e-mails and calls I was missing when away from my desk. Now George quietly and efficiently collects all the messages for me and I can peek at them when the opportunity arises.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, right? I like how I can record things pictorially for future reference (or to record neat events, such as when Sir Lovesalot the knight came through town).
And that’s not all! Sometimes, during meetings (or in social gatherings) a question will arise that no one can answer. George Googles it, and voila! Instant information.
There’s more! Texting and messaging as a quick way to get info or provide answers is awesome. (It’s also handy for asking Groom-boy to get milk on his way home.)
When the mood or an idea strikes me, I can write using George, and frequently do. I wrote most of this here column on George. Amazing!
Like any good executive assistant, he alerts me to appointments, reminds me to do things and can provide directions. George will even wake me up!
So that’s the good stuff. What about the bad?
Well, for one thing, I just can’t seem to put George away in case I miss something. I leave the house, he leaves with me. I go on vacation, so does he. (Remember me complaining that I was having trouble relaxing during my vacation? Unplug, dummy!)
George doesn’t make coffee, but there could be an app for that.
Also, sometimes smartphones just make things a little weird. The other night, for example, my bestie and her kids were over for the evening. She, Groom-boy and I got talking about using our phones to scan QR codes – you know, those little squares you see on ads that can link you to websites? (No, they’re not modern versions of Rorschach inkblot tests – at least not as far as I know.)
I downloaded an app so I could do the QR thing, too. Then we all played with our phones. When toddlers do this it’s called parallel play – playing beside one another, not with one other. (My app wouldn’t work, so it became a mission for me while the other two moved on to something called “Having An Actual Conversation With A Person About Things.”)
Intriguing. I might try the conversation thing next week.
I really knew I had a problem, though, when one evening I couldn’t access the Interwebs with my phone and started to feel agitated. There was even a geography question that needed Googling while Groom-boy and I watched a movie.
Gasp! What to do? Look in an atlas?
They say that when you try doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result, it’s a sign of insanity. Still no Interwebs. Click. Still no Interwebs. Click….
Groom-boy intervened. “Put George away and try again in the morning.”
I backed away from the smartphone. George was fine the next day. Apparently he needs a holiday sometimes, like any employee, and I need to learn to unplug.
Maybe I should take up running….

Past Deadline: Freezer Full of Comfort Food

Here is my column from the Sept. 13 issue of The Perth Courier:
Freezer full of comfort food
This is a dangerous time of year.
Temperatures are getting cooler, which means sweaters and jackets are being dug out of cupboards, and that can only mean bathing suit season is now safely in the rear-view mirror.
That’s not the dangerous part – unless we’re talking about people suffering from shock due to exposure to gleaming white skin or unnecessary flabbiness (which is what happens when I look in the mirror).
No, the dangerous part (and this is a nice segue from the flabbiness comment) is that cooler weather brings with it a desire for warm, cosy food – comfort food.
On Saturday, as darkness fell, along with possibly more rain than we’ve had all summer, I grabbed my pen, paper and a stack of recipes and made a list of things to cook and stash in the freezer.
First up – Nan’s spaghetti sauce. Spaghetti, with this sauce, is possibly my most favourite food. Nan got the recipe from an Italian woman in her neighbourhood a kazillion years ago. She passed it on to Mom, who taught me. Now the only time you won’t find a container of it in my freezer is in the peak of summer, when my stash has run out and it’s too hot to cook it.
Old recipes like these are about more than just the ingredients. You have to know how long it simmers and rests, too.
It took me forever, for example, to figure out my Grandmom’s shortbread needed to spend some time in the freezer before it would taste as good as hers. That revelation came after years of trying to perfect the balance of ingredients, the “feel” of the dough while kneading it, and the thickness of the dough when cutting the cookies.
Next up was oatmeal cookies. My grand “I am a good mother” plan had been to do this last week so the kids would have homemade cookies in their lunch bags. I threw in some chocolate chips to make up for the tardiness.
Next was peach freezer jam. I haven’t mastered cooked jam, and probably won’t, but the household seems happy with the freezer kind.
I make strawberry freezer jam each spring, but tried peach for the first time at the end of August. Love it! It doesn’t hurt that on the day I made it a friend surprised us with a loaf of fresh-baked bread – still hot from the oven. Yum!
So another batch of that was stashed in the freezer for cold-weather goodness.
I was ready to talk myself out of the last and largest item on my list, but was on a roll, so I made meatball stew.
Over the years I have made many stews – chicken, turkey, beef – and although they are perfectly fine stews that are quite enjoyed by the grown-ups, I never had a good, solid buy-in from the short people.
No, the stew they love – and I mean love – is the stuff from a can: Irish or beef made with the ground up mystery meatballs. (I gotta admit, I have a soft spot for those stews because they remind me of camping.)
Last year I set about to create a homemade version of that beloved stew. It took some tinkering, but I’ve done it. I make the meatballs (fairly plain) from scratch, brown them while mixing up the veggies and broth, and then throw it all together in the oven and let it roast slowly for a couple of hours.
It’s not fancy – just time consuming – but I make an enormous batch and off to the freezer it goes.
Now I almost feel organized!
While all this was going on there was not much housecleaning done, but I daresay there is no risk of us starving.

Past Deadline: Separation Anxiety

Past Deadline from Sept. 6, published in The Perth Courier.

Separation anxiety
In the olden days when I was a kid in elementary school (and we had to walk uphill both ways through seven feet of snow), we always knew in June who our teacher would be in September. Correspondingly, we either had the whole summer to stew about it or we could wait in gleeful anticipation (ahem).
At my kids’ school we don’t find out in June – it’s a surprise come the first day, unless you drop by in late August (as I often have) to ask. I am not sure why this is; it could be teacher placements and enrolments are still being sorted out over the summer.
At first I was undecided about whether it was better to know or not. With one worrywort in the family, sometimes not knowing works well. I mean, if the teacher is known and beloved, it’s great, but if unknown or known to be grumpy, it can be cause for much stewage at a time when the “dread” of returning to school is already high.
This year I discovered an advantage to waiting to find out. Learning the names of the teachers wasn’t a bad thing, but our kids know how to use telephones. In fact, they are so good at using telephones that, arguably, most people who have tried to reach Groom-boy and me over the summer have gone straight to voicemail. Thank goodness for cell phones that the children are not authorized to use.
Anyway, the short ones get on the phone with their friends and compare notes, and then the potential for drama starts. Boychild, being older and wiser, does not at the moment of this writing seem overly fazed by the fact some of his friends aren’t in the same class as he is. Hopefully that’s because he is realizing that the time for copious socializing is usually not in the classroom. (Harhar.) That all said, once Tuesday rolls around and reality sets in, this may be a very different story.
Already we have learned that Girlchild and her Very Bestest Friend are in different classes. VBF’s mother and I exchanged a flurry of e-mails last week to discuss where we would hide once this information was revealed. Diva Drama seems to be much more intense than Boy Drama, which lingers and cloys as opposed to drilling screeching needles into one’s brain.
Girlchild was less than thrilled with the news, which we decided to break ahead of time. The good thing is the advance notice allowed VBF’s Mom and me some time to strategize ways to ensure the girls still get plenty of hang-out time. We, too, recognize the classroom isn’t the best place for that kind of chitchat anyway.
It also gave me time to supply tales of woe about my own VBF going to an entirely different school across town when I was Girlchild’s age, and then she moved across the province. We wrote letters for a kazillion years and eventually reconnected on Facebook. (The Interwebs can be a mahvellous thing.)
I also remember Grade 7, when friends were separated by split classes and passed notes to one another in a textbook that had to be shared between the two rooms (the split class was one book short).
I didn’t bother sharing that story (so don’t tell!) for fear Girlchild and VBF will come up with some sort of elaborate communication plan. I suppose these days notes are passed via texting. We’re not quite there yet, fortunately.
Anyway, by the time you read this, all the various shoes – and possibly grand pianos – will have dropped and, if we’re lucky, any residual drama will have passed. If not, there may be a part two to this story….

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Past Deadline: What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I am back from two weeks’ holidays.

I honestly can’t remember the last time Groom-boy and I had two consecutive weeks off together. I think it was…never?

It was almost more time than I knew what to do with.

During the first week you may remember we took a road trip to southern Ontario and visited friends in Toronto before moving on to experience the wonders of modern-day Niagara Falls.

It was a long drive home. I like to call it the “Cross-Southern Ontario Public Bathroom Tour Summer 2012.” So many bathrooms. Some were nice. Some…not so much.

We got home on the Thursday, had a whirlwind visit with a friend near Ottawa on the Friday and then spent Saturday preparing to go to a nearby cottage for a week.

The cottage week promised to be more sedate. The plan was that while the kids and I did the swimming, canoeing, fishing thing, Groom-boy would take the opportunity to paint at home. He joined us later each day and we all slept in a fume-free environment.

We settled in and I made every overture I could think of to ease my excitable soul. I still felt wound up.

I texted a friend. “I am sitting at the cottage with nothing to do but nothing…and I can’t relax. Aaargh.”

He reminded me it takes time to relax. Took him three days when he was on vacation. I picked up my book and started practising.

Monday featured an unexpected trip to the orthodontist for Boychild, but we dealt with that lickety split so as to not miss too much lake time.

I woke up Tuesday and lay in bed for a bit fretting about the things I was neglecting while on vacation, such as the spring cleaning from 2008. Nevertheless, I gamely gathered my book and my sunscreen and perched on the deck while the kids played.

That night I hauled out the laptop (portability!) and spent a couple of hours catching up on some work. That seemed to do the trick because by Wednesday I felt as if a weight had lifted.

I was getting the hang of the relaxing thing! Yay! There was no travelling to do, no orthodontists to visit, no public washrooms to explore and the book I was reading was really, really good.

Besides, Boychild had a friend come to play that day and his mom brought donuts and a coffee when she dropped him off. She is awesome.

I could feel it. I was relaxing! And getting fatter! Oh, well….

Thursday was equally lovely. Girlchild had her best friend visit, so I helped them do some fishing and we looked for crayfish. You know, girl stuff. We also swam to the nearby raft.

Friday was a change of pace. I actually had to work – meetings in town all day. I guess having two consecutive weeks off is still a work in progress. Let’s call it part of transitioning back to work.

Groom-boy and the kids spent most of Friday at the cottage, but came into town at the end of the day. Groom-boy got back to painting bedrooms and the kids got a screen fix before we headed back to the lake.

More frolicking on Saturday and then all too soon we were starting to pack things up and prepare for the monumental pile of laundry that awaited.

If only we could bottle these vacations and carry them around with us for emergency use when the slogging gets tough.

The nice thing is I am actually ready to go back to work. It takes some practice, but apparently that’s the gift that two weeks off can bring!

Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 30/12

Past Deadline: The Water Slide Shift

Last week we took a trip to Niagara Falls.

This in itself is probably worth several columns. That is a city that has changed a lot since my last visit in the early 1980s.

Back then, the Skylon and Minolta towers were the tallest things around. There really wasn’t much of a skyline. Today, several 50-plus-storey hotels line the gorge.

Niagara Falls is a lot sparklier and casino-ier than I remember. Heck, there was even a tightrope stretching from our hotel to the Skylon and we watched Jay Cochrane make a daily walk across – high above the traffic and buildings below.

As much as I could devote this column to the natural wonder of the falls and the gorge, the spectacular beauty of the parks, the incredible weirdness of other parts of the city, Marineland (say no more) and the alarming lack of recycling bins in hotels and public places, I’ve decided to write about repetitive jobs.

This phenomenon was something we encountered again and again and again. And again.

Repetitive jobs are nothing new. Probably we have all had one – sometimes they were high school or summer jobs, usually we left them behind, but sometimes not.

In Niagara Falls, we stayed in a hotel that had a funky twisty water slide at the pool. This, as is often the case, was one of the highlights of the whole trip. We visited the pool every day at least once.

The pool was unsupervised except when the slide was in operation. Even then, I’m not sure if the kids doing the supervising were really lifeguards or if they were just on hand to call 911 if necessary.

Each time we went to the pool the slide was running. You had to climb three flights of stairs to get to the top, and seated beside the opening of the slide was a lifeguard/supervisor/pool kid. He had an ear bud in one ear while he worked.

His job was to look down over the railing until the slider flew out the bottom and splashed into the pool. Then he would look at the next slider in line and give a little nod to confirm it was safe to go. Look down, wait, splash, nod. Look down, wait, splash, nod. Look down…you get my drift.

He didn’t seem unhappy. After all, he was listening to tunes as he worked. But I daresay he must have gotten bored after a while.

At least some nerd created…um…excitement during our last visit to the pool by…um…fouling it. Someone noticed the “floater” and one of the lifeguards/supervisors/pool kids sprang into action whilst another blew the whistle and hollered for everyone to get out.

Fortunately we had other activities to attend to, so it was as good an excuse as any to head back to the room, shower, think about showering again, and head out to the wild and wacky streets of Niagara Falls once more.

There is lots to do there, and the kids were able to enjoy some rides. We stood in line for one of them for about 15 minutes, during which time we heard the young attendant holler instructions each time a new crop of riders climbed on: “Adults on the left, keep your hands and feet inside at all times…” over and over and over until finally our kids had their turn and we moved on.

I know in some places the attendants rotate from ride to ride periodically. I assume it is so they don’t go stark raving mad.

Yes, repetitive jobs can be a tough old slog, and it makes me appreciate the variety in my own work. I gotta say, though, there are some days I wouldn’t mind being that pool kid with the ear bud….

Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 23/12

Past Deadline: Hey! Look! A Distraction!

I'm old school. And I am easily amused.

When I go on car trips I like to look around. Yes, I have been known to play with my phone when I am a passenger, but other than that I prefer to scope out my varied surroundings.

That's not the case with some of the short people I live with. When we go on long car trips we go armed to the teeth with amusements. Various electronics, books, dolls, etc. I've probably mentioned before that I used to watch for white horses (they were worth a nickel if spotted) and I kept a long list of licence plate numbers. It was my collection.

Okay. Yes. Maybe I was a bit odd (see "easily amused" above).

Anyway, every time we travel with the kids this variance in amusement levels becomes quite evident.

Picture this. Sicily, 1932. Oops, wrong sitcom. Picture this. We're travelling along Hwys. 7 and 401, 2012. I am in the front seat yakking like a tour guide. "Ooh! Look at that cliff of feldspar! Say, these swamps aren't as dry as at home. Look! Turtles on a log! Hey, there's a whole heard of running horses! Wow - look how flat the face of that cliff is! Oh - there's a big hawk!"

Meanwhile, the audience in the back row is watching a flick or taking figurines and pretending they're voodoo dolls or playing elaborate pretend games. Okay, well, the pretending stuff is okay because they are using their imaginations, but hey! "Look! There's Lake Ontario!"

Do you remember years ago when the province had a wildflower-planting project happening in medians and along the edges of Hwy. 401? I spent a great amount of time watching flashes of occasionally recognizable colour flashing by and trying to identify flowers. (I'm telling you, easily amused.)

"Oh and here comes the Northumberland County Materials Recycling Facility!" I say, taking a picture with my phone to send to my friend who used to be the waste management coordinator at home. I start babbling excitedly about that time way back when I worked at the paper and I went on a bus trip with a whole bunch of Lanark County councillors to that MRF and the landfill site to see how their waste management system worked.

"It was a great field trip!" I say.

"Maybe you should just keep that information to yourself," Groom-boy mumbles.

"And we ate at the Big Apple restaurant and there were bunnies hopping all over the place outside!"

I never get tired of looking at scenery. (Maybe I would feel differently driving through the prairies, but I doubt it.)

Now, to be fair, when we passed the nuclear power plant and I pointed it out, there was some interest and a number of questions from one of my worryworts about nuclear safety. My response that everything would be fine "as long as it doesn't blow up" was unhelpful, but then a handy eastbound freight train came along.

"Hey! Look! A train!"

I suppose that's what it all comes back to, actually - distraction. We had no choice but amuse ourselves on car rides in the '70s, which was a distraction from the fact that, for example, it was a very long drive to see our grandparents in Elliot Lake. If I remember correctly, I got a lot of licence plate numbers collected on that trip. I also wrote down the name of every, single community we passed through and followed along with a road map. Remember road maps? They were made of paper!

And can we say: "Hey! Look! Canadian Shield!" much?

Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 16/12

Past Deadline: The Rareness of Water

Sometimes it rains, but mostly it doesn’t. Lately. You may have noticed.

When it does rain and I step out into the subsequent sauna-like heat, I am overwhelmed by the sense that nature has exhaled – leaving a grateful breath behind.

I think we could probably count the number of decent rain showers this summer on one hand. Maybe two. After one such rain, I headed out for a run. (This on its own is a Big Event as I don’t really run much anymore thanks to Stupid Foot™ – it’s more of an occasional treat. Like lobster.)

Anyway, around suppertime it had rained and stormed and the wind had torn apart other parts of eastern Ontario. In the evening I slowly plodded around town and soaked in the scents – the fragrant flowers, the moist earth, the wet pavement. There was a palpable relief – albeit short lived.

Rains like that may be enough to make some flowers and random patches of grass happy, but it does little for crops and trees. The earth is truly cracking open in some places – gasping for water.

As we drove along a highway recently I marvelled at the grass that was not merely yellow, but crispy brown, and the crops that, in some cases, were green, but way too short. Some trees are changing colour already, but instead of rich reds and oranges they are a disturbingly burnt brown.

I frequently travel past swamps and creeks that are usually lush with greenery and, presumably, wildlife – frogs, turtles, fish and fish-loving birds. Those same oases are now drying up – with large wetlands reduced to a tiny ribbon of ever-shrinking water and some creek beds as barren as roadways.

I get the sense that if I were to even look at the countryside the wrong way it would catch fire.

It is alarming.

When the infrequent rain does come, it tends to be preceded by warnings and arrive with thunder and lightning and squall lines and microbursts and tornadoes, which I daresay is not helpful.

There has been a flurry of articles recently about heat waves and drought being one symptom of climate change. The one good thing about this strange summer has been the absence of people mocking “global warming,” at least around here. With no significant number of cool, wet days, there isn’t as much of an opportunity to say, “So much for global warming.”

It’s little comfort, though, in the face of climate change. Extreme weather across the country. Drought here. It takes a long time to change a climate, but we’re doing a bang-up job.

Even if someone doesn’t “believe” in climate change, it seems to me that changing our ways and reducing the amount of carbon-burning fuels released into the atmosphere isn’t really a bad thing. Unless you are in the oil and gas business.

Undoubtedly, lots of millionaires and billionaires could be created by switching to new technologies and cleaner forms of energy. Cleaner air and water is good! We have the know-how; we just don’t seem to have the will to change and cut the shackles.

Someone told me recently they had encountered a person from a country on the other side of the world who was amazed/appalled that we do our bathroom business in clean water. It IS pretty dumb when you think about it. There are ways to set up systems in our buildings that use “grey” or untreated water for such things, but it’s costly.

I wish it were easier. People need incentives. As time passes, however, I can’t imagine that we’re not going to have to change our ways significantly.

Be careful, folks, and use the water wisely.

Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 9/12

Past Deadline: Gone Buggy

I like snakes and turtles and frogs and toads and salamanders and such, but I readily admit I have trouble with the insect world.

I try not to pass this squeamishness on to the kids. I have seen the effect this can have – for instance, children notice when parents who loathe snakes kill them on sight. Not good for snakes.

My dislike of insects has mellowed a little over the years, so I am not as likely to squeal when a bug creeps up on me. This was not always the case, however.

When earwigs first invaded this part of the country, I was a kid. I think, actually, earwigs are to blame for my squeamishness. They were everywhere. They didn’t bite (at least not me), but those pincers made it look like they would.

Earwigs love to be under things, so I had a ritual of inspecting my bed – even under the mattress – before climbing in. If I ever found something, the neighbours heard me shriek.

That was a long day ago, though. Now I am more likely to gasp, and perhaps curse, if an unwelcome insect surprises me.

Up until recently, my six-year-old daughter has been fine with creepy crawlies. She likes to keep earthworms and caterpillars as pets and has been known to commune with frogs and water snakes.

This summer, however, she has shown some distressing “girlie” tendencies. She worries about swimming with fish in lakes. She won’t get into our wading pool if there is any sign of an earwig (there are lots) or spider (yes, I know they’re not insects, but they still fall under the “Ew!” category) or any other bug – even though they are usually drowned.

Our wading pool is located under a very old apple tree. We love this tree – it’s shady and fruity and quite pretty. It can also be messy, though. We’re constantly fishing apples and leaves out of the water. Because it is old and because it isn’t sprayed with pesticides, it can also be a bit buggy. Woodpeckers love this insect haven.

Girlchild is convinced the little pale worms that fall from the tree are maggots. Somehow telling her that they are worms – not to mention dead – does not improve their appeal. I cannot imagine why. There is much shrieking.

Perhaps her issues will be restricted to watery things. After all, she has been known to pluck and dispose of the little green worms that devour our rose bushes with nary a qualm – which beats my track record.

The first summer I worked at Murphys Point Provincial Park (about a million years ago), one of my tasks was to help with the gypsy moth monitoring program: the invasive species du jour.

A few different species of trees had burlap sacks wrapped around their trunks. I had to check the trees at a certain frequency and count the number of gypsy moth caterpillars under each sack and record them. I think this was to determine which tree they liked best.

Oh, how I loathed this task – purposefully seeking the buggy surprise. I cringed each time. Then, to top it off, I was instructed to kill the caterpillars. After all, they were devouring the forests.

The study area was located in a hollow next to the in-road to the gatehouse. I can still remember the strange look on the faces of one couple as they drove in and saw the skinny girl in a park uniform standing in a gully, beating a tree with a big stick and squealing when caterpillar guts flew in her face.

“Yes, I’m fine. Nothing to see here. Move along, please.”

Bugs. Just one more thing that brings out the best in me.

Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 2/12

Past Deadline: Take Cover Immediately

I understand why people might not want to watch or read the news.

I am not one of those people. I like the news or, more accurately, I like to be informed. I like to know if it’s time to evacuate.

You may have noticed the news isn’t always good. In fact, it seems to be usually bad. Bad news gets the most play. There are many reasons for this – all coming back to what humans respond to and what sells the advertising and makes the money, of course. Not to mention the fact people can’t seem to get along, which makes for plenty of bad news.

My empathy for people who don’t bother to watch/read the news has grown a little since becoming a parent. It’s hard to reassure children about this big, bad world after they’ve wandered through the room and heard a snippet of bad news about movie theatre shootings or tornadoes or droughts or bush fires. I can understand why there would be news blackouts in some homes.

Frankly, I have found it to be much nicer to eat supper on the patio and listen to the birds and have conversations about non-violent or non-scary things than to have the news droning in the background.

When I was growing up, my parents always had the news on during supper. It was mostly just background noise, but when the weather came on we would have to hush. I’m not sure why – maybe because Dad was a conservation officer and worked outside a lot.

The news was bad back then, too. There was, after all, a Cold War and acid rain and the Middle East (always). But the world was a little different.

I don’t think we “felt” the news with the same intensity as we do today. Things that were far away were usually really far away. Now, with Twitter and Facebook and other social media, we can instantly know when bad things happen far away to people we don’t know. We quickly learn what those strangers think about the things that have happened. Sometimes we get told how we should feel about these things.

I don’t think the news affected me in any profound way when I was the age my kids are now. It droned in the background. We didn’t have to evacuate. In fact, I don’t remember my parents looking particularly concerned over anything except the weather. (You’d think we were farmers.)

To this day, though, I find myself desperately wanting to listen to the weather when it is presented on the news, only to glaze over during the report and promptly forget it. I suspect this is some sort of residual effect from my childhood.

I am much more likely to just look out the window and deal with whatever weather is happening.

Besides, if I need to know how the weather is expected to change in the next few hours, I can always go online.

On Twitter, I have subscribed to @OntarioWarnings (see “knowing when to evacuate,” above). It frequently issues weather warnings – in ALL CAPS. They always say something like: “SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING ISSUED FOR EAR FALLS, PERRAULT FALLS, WESTERN LAC SEUL, PIKANGIKUM, POPLAR HILL, MACDOWELL. TAKE COVER IMMEDIATELY.”

I keep watch for our area and I wonder if I should go hide in the basement if I see “LANARK COUNTY.” “Take cover” is not really defined – it could mean “Don’t stand under a tree, dork” or it could mean “Head for the storm cellar, Dorothy,” which would make for a fairly unproductive day.

The ALL CAPS…so intimidating and shouty.

Maybe I should just unfollow and go sit on the patio.

Like I say…I understand why people might not want to watch or read the news.

Published in The Perth Courier, July 26/12

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Past Deadline: Once Upon a Time

Did I ever tell you that when I grow up I want to write books?

When I left a full-time reporting job at The Perth Courier 12 (gasp!) years ago, the plan was to take a year and see whether I could make my novel-writing dream come true. I felt very brave. And quite poor.

Before long, though, all sorts of people started offering me writing and editing work – for money. Drawn by the appeal of not starving to death, I switched gears and grew a business (with some teaching and a column on the side) – and here I am still.

It’s a good gig and very diverse. Being self-employed has challenges (sometimes all deadlines come at once and the boss is a slave driver) and rewards (I can blare loud music in the home office and have constant kitchen access).

That said, every once in a while I get a hankering to write that Great Canadian Novel or whatever it may be. It’s a feeling I’ve had since elementary school; that I was meant to work with words and that I have stories in me to share.

Summer brings this out most intensely. Maybe it’s because my writing dream was strongest when I was a student and “figuring it all out” – I always felt particularly inspired in the summer.

Maybe it’s because summer offers opportunities to stare up into starry skies or float on water and gaze into an unending cloudless blue canvas or marvel at a symphony of fireflies in a field of lowing cattle.

Maybe it’s because the drama of friendships or summer boyfriends or being home-from-away was incredibly consuming or because summer holidays with family took us to new places where we had new experiences and made new friends.

Maybe it’s because in summer, as a kid, it seemed easier to live in the moment. The future seemed so vast and open. There was more free time to read for fun and be inspired by other authors or practise poetry or write endless Deep Thoughts in journals.

Whatever it was, I find it hard to ignore the rustle of leaves in a summer breeze without wanting to write about it. Did you know those same leaves sound different if that breeze is at night? How about a symphony of barred owls, bullfrogs, whip-poor-wills and night hawks?

I can’t swim in a lake without wanting to describe how the water cushions my body and lifts my spirits or how it conjures up the complicated rush of unpredictable emotions that went along with teenaged crushes and flirting on beaches.

Everything reminds me of something or inspires. The sound of transports on a distant highway. Trains rushing through the night. The lonely call of a loon on a quiet lake. The wind in pines and the warmth of a hammock in the sun. The smells of a new book in a canvas tent or cocoa butter sunscreen or campfires or rain on warm pavement. The feel of comfortable jean shorts and a clean white cotton T-shirt with a globe on it. The wind against my face on a swing.

These small things are all part of something bigger – stories I hope are yet to be told. See, there are snippets here and there, collections of words and parts of things written in stolen moments. I am finding that when there are only so many hours in a day, there just isn’t always enough time to write a book, too, but at least my jobs enable the writing in some form.

So I guess all this means is that I still haven’t grown up. Does anyone know when that might be? Do writers ever really grow up? Hopefully not.

Published in The Perth Courier, July 19/12

Past Deadline: The Trouble with Giant Teeth

When babies grow teeth, it’s a big deal in many ways. It opens the door to changes in diet, as in you can immediately introduce things like steak, hard candies and whole apples to your toddler. Don’t forget to provide steak knives on their high chair trays. (Sarcasm alert!)

Good mothers dutifully record the arrival of baby teeth in special books, and also make note of their departure. Mediocre mothers do so for the first child for a while, remember to do so occasionally for the second child, and casually wonder what the Tooth Fairy could possibly do with all those teeth she collects. Jewellery? Castles in the sky? Buttons? Does she...uh...keep them forever?

Anyway, this mediocre mother watched with interest (and occasionally recorded) as Boychild’s adult teeth started to emerge. It was a bit like looking in a mirror 30 years ago.

“Groom-boy,” I said one night as the children sweetly slumbered or read with flashlights or plotted their next bedtime-stalling tactic, “Boychild’s teeth are too big for his face. Mark my words, there will be trouble.” Or something like that.

Sure enough, the dentist confirmed my suspicion. Some baby teeth were hauled out to make room for adult ones and, before long, a referral to the orthodontist was made.

Long story short, Boychild will be getting braces, and soon. One of the most memorable comments by the orthodontist was about one particular adult tooth that is ready to bust through and line up with all the others. It’s 7 millimetres wide, and there is a 2-mm space for it.


One look at his X-ray demonstrates the calamity of teeth just waiting to jostle into line. Without braces our Guy Smiley would have teeth on top of teeth. This crowding could lead to cavities, not to mention bite problems and, possibly, a smile phobia.

When it was first suggested that Boychild might need braces or appliances, he was...shall we say...less than overjoyed. I explained how I had to wear appliances to expand my jaw when I was a kid to make room for my giant chompers and how it really wasn’t so bad. He is, of course, thrilled to inherit my teeth. I expect he will soon be thanking me for the wonky ankles, too.

Anyway, once we got to the orthodontist’s and she explained what would happen and he saw how happy the smiley children with braces were in the pictures, he was okay with the concept.

In a helpful turn of events, his six-year-old sister thinks it is the ultimate in coolness and awesomeness that big bro is getting braces. In fact (don’t tell the orthodontist) she has braces envy and hopes to someday have them, too. (Get a job, Girlchild, then we’ll talk.)

So I have been spending time in the orthodontist’s waiting room, where there is an interesting collection of vintage circus artifacts on display. There are giant antique-framed black and white photographs of circuses from pre-World War II, along with a variety of artifacts under glass or behind ropes.

Have you read the book or seen the movie Water for Elephants? The story is set during the Great Depression and centres around a travelling circus. In those days the circus moved from place to place by train, and part of the story involves something called “redlighting.”

See, the unsavoury circus owner would have certain workers thrown off the train in the middle of the night (redlight them) rather than pay them.

I couldn’t help but wonder about the vintage circus motif in that waiting room as I pondered our new braces expense – were they sending a subtle message about prompt payment?


Nah...I just have an overactive imagination, right?

Published in The Perth Courier, July 12/12

Past Deadline: The Week that Was

I have been wracking my brains trying to figure out what to write about this week. Finally, as the deadline loomed big and ominous and bossy-like, I sat around yawning and asking my 10-year-old for ideas.

He suggested Canada Day, but in the news world that would be old by the time the paper came out.

I suggested “change,” since there has been a lot of it lately. He said he could see me writing a dandy column (okay, he didn’t say “dandy”) about change and routines. I pondered it, but decided it might be too depressing. I’m Type A. I like my routines. We’ll see how the changes work out, first.

At that point I looked over at Boychild. “Have I mentioned how much I like your hair cut shorter?” I said, knowing full well that I say it over and over.

“You could write about haircuts!” he suggested.

We considered this. I figure there is only so much I could say about haircuts, although there was that time recently at the hairdresser’s when I bonded with another curly haired woman over the pitfalls and drama associated with natural curls and how those freaky straight-haired people out there just don’t understand.

Boychild started to compose the column for me: “I like short hair” and “blah blah blah.”

We decided that wouldn’t really do. I yawned again.

“I could write about how tired I am,” I said.

I had been counting on the long weekend as my opportunity to catch up on some sleep. The plan worked well on Friday night, but fell to pieces on Saturday night when various people and creatures decided to only allow me two or three hours of sleep at a time. (What is UP with that?!)

Not to mention I had a sweet, caffeine-laced chocolate treat (duh) before bed that made it tricky to fall asleep. I was doomed from the start.

As I write this, I am counting on Sunday night to salvage what is left of my frazzled self. Wish me luck.

See, last week was The Week That Never Seemed to End.

One of the joys of being self-employed is that you tend to have flexibility with your time, which is great when you have a young family. One of the not-joys is that you also run the risk of having a deadline slam, which is when, despite your best efforts, the planets align (or misalign or even collide, depending upon your interpretation), and everything needs to be done at once.

That was last week. (It was actually most of last month, really, but last week was the kicker.)

Last Monday I took a great deep breath and started the marathon. Perhaps this was my own version of the Kilt Run?

Mile markers involved a 24-page newsletter, media releases, council meetings, other meetings, the usual teaching, finishing a script, and a bunch of other stuff. Oh, and with the kids off from school as of Wednesday, there was lots of Ground Rule Setting and Refereeing and threats to “Send You Away to Lost Harbour Military School and Summer Camp.”

One particularly late night was navigated by listening to my running playlist while I worked. Very versatile playlist, that one. It gets me through all sorts of stuff.

A week always seems longer when you spend a lot of it awake. The people around you, even if they are getting more sleep, tend to notice it, too. (My people were oh-so-lucky to be around me last week....)

In any event, I plodded – and sometimes sprinted – through it. Perhaps this week will be a tad more sedate, and maybe next week will feature a column that is not so sleepy!

Published in The Perth Courier, July 5/12

Past Deadline: Working on the Beach

“What are you doing with the kids this summer?” I have been asked numerous times.

“I have no idea,” I usually respond.

As I write this, there are only two days of school left. The good news is that’s only two more bagged lunches to make!

The bad news is that’s about 69 days of hanging out with Mama, who works from home.

There will be swimming lessons, play dates and possibly some day camps, but a lot of our summer is unstructured.

The cool beans this year is that Mama has wheels! This means if an unexpected pocket of time opens up, I may be able to be spontaneous!

“To the beach!”

Because I work from home, sometimes I can adjust my schedule a bit and just pull some all nighters while we go to said beach. (Haha funny joke about the all nighters. Ahem.)

Kids are always at a new stage of development – they are cute that way with this “growing” thing. I’m never really sure what summer is going to hold for me, so I often approach it with trepidation. Somehow, though, the freedom of wheels is making it a bit less daunting.

Often my work is portable. I can edit on the patio. I can write at the beach.

This year, because the kids are a bit older, I am optimistic they will be quite helpful at home so I can get some work in during the day – because we won’t always be going to the beach.

But – you never know. For instance, on those days that were really super disgustingly hot recently, tempers flared and tiffs predominated and I thought to myself, “This is going to be the longest summer ever. Omigod.”

On one of those days, Girlchild brought home a flyer from a box in front of a home that is for sale on the way to school. “Here, Mom,” she said. “This place has a backyard that is big enough for a pool.”

Seems the wading pool only has so much charm.

There always comes a point in the summer when my last nerve gets frayed and exposed. I’m not there yet – which is darned good considering vacation hasn’t even started as I write this.

I am reminded, though, that a few years ago Groom-boy and I invented a magical place called “Lost Harbour Summer School and Military Camp.”

Lost Harbour is a faraway place where kids stay for many weeks and where the program consists of four hours of school each day followed by lots of marching and building walls out of heavy rocks. Probably they have to do laundry and dishes and tidying there, too.

The kids are on to us now, I think. You can only threaten to send them to a place like that without actually making it happen so many times before they figure it out. I definitely dropped the ball on the classic parenting advice to not make empty threats and to follow through on whatever you utter.

Besides, I never did get the Lost Harbour flyer designed to leave casually on the kitchen table.

Instead, I think I may have made a deal with our neighbour down the street to send the kids over to help him with some renos on the outside of his house. There is scraping and painting and digging and fun stuff like that. Har har.

Actually, I think I have finally come up with a concept that will work. I told the kids just the other day that during the summer, the more they help around the house, the more time Mom will have to take them to the beach.

Could be good! Thank you, wheels!

Published in The Perth Courier, June 28/12

Past Deadline: A Comeback?

I know you have all been dying to know how my Stupid Foot™ is doing.

I mean, after all, aside from periodic nasty references to this disagreeable appendage of mine, I haven’t written about my collapsed foot in earnest since January.

I figured with the Perth Kilt Run coming up this Saturday, it was a suitable time to offer a progress report. I won’t be running this year, unfortunately, but I have made some strides, which I am now going to blow all to heck by mentioning it in this here newspaper.

For new readers and for those of you who had pleasantly forgotten, last August I developed a darling case of tendonitis (read: burning, gripping, horrible agony 24/7) in my right foot. When the searing pain did not subside, I ventured to the doctor who sent me to physiotherapy.

Physiotherapy became my happy place. They made the tendonitis go away. They also diagnosed what I had been calling “a wonky foot” as “severe biomechanical failure” with the “long arch collapsing onto the tendon” and something about “posterior tibial tendon dysfunction.”

They tell me I was born this way, and it caught up with me. (Three cheers for turning 40.)

I was fitted for orthotics. They were lovely for a while, but new symptoms began to appear. I went back to visit my orthotics guy.

The next set of orthotics arrived in early April, which coincided with the fact I had been walking less because our family got a second car. (I had some work in Smiths Falls – it’s a really long walk.)

The combination of less walking and altered orthotics seemed to be working. As I eased into more walking, the pain stayed under control.

I am more than two months into the new set and there are many days that I don’t even think about my foot.


Sometimes, as I strapped on my Rocket Shoes and blasted my iPod and increased my walking program, I would sneak in a jog for a block or so.

I didn’t die.

In fact, the foot felt good. The hip complained, but this has improved, too.

I have missed running. More than anything else it clears my head.

Last Tuesday evening I attended a particularly long (four hours) and stressful Perth council committee of the whole meeting about police costing. Maybe you’ve heard about it?

I won’t get into the details here as I am certain you can read about it in other parts of this newspaper.

Anyway, after sitting for so long and needing to digest the results of the meeting, I set out for a walk.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I knew I needed to go for a run (don’t tell my physiotherapist, please) to prevent my head from blasting into orbit.

It was a modest, slow run. It was less than four kilometers and interspersed with stretches of walking.

Oh. My. God. It felt good.

The foot was fine. The hip was quiet. Best of all my head is still on my shoulders.

In fact, the thing I had the most trouble with was my breathing – getting into that running rhythm again for the first time since last July.

Two days later my legs hurt, but it was from exercising dormant muscles. It felt good!

I am not going to push this. I am going to treat my foot with the utmost of patience and care. But it sure is nice to know that my favourite stress releaser may not be gone forever. I suspect I may need it again.

Good luck to all of our Kilt Runners this Saturday! Break that record! And maybe someday I’ll be able to help out again.

Published in The Perth Courier, June 21/12

Past Deadline: Sure is Quiet, Buster

On Saturday, we lost one of the furry members of our family.

The aptly named Filibuster, “Buster” for short, was possibly the chattiest creature to inhabit the house, next to Groom-boy, that is. He could go on and on. And on.

This black and white fluffy cat joined our ranks 15 years ago and was the underdog, for sure. Some people didn’t think we needed a second cat, but I campaigned for him, which is somewhat surprising considering I didn’t (and still don’t, really) consider myself to be a cat person.

At the time Groom-boy and I were both working full time as reporters at the Perth Courier. We were gone all day and a lot of nights, so when a friend was pushing kittens I thought it would be a brilliant way to keep the pre-existing MacGregor company while we were away.

So Buster came to an apartment where there was already an established cat (only by a year or so) and a rabbit with an attitude. Oreo, the bunny, was also black and white and was bigger than Buster at the start, so we had a fluffy kitty cowering in the bathroom for a while.

Maybe that’s why he felt he had to speak up. He was one noisy cat! He also had what we delicately call “clinker” issues due to his long hair, not to mention the typical hairball concerns (the Daily Clean-up) that make cat ownership so much fun.

All of these things amounted to some name calling – I mean terms of endearment – that varied in levels of profanity depending on whether children were around or whether it involved yowling in the middle of the night.

Buster hated to be brushed, but needed it more than our short-haired tabby, who loves it. Buster also didn’t take kindly to being petted anywhere below the shoulders, which took some getting used to for the toddler set, but which taught some good early messages about handling animals. He definitely let you know when he’d had enough of the touchy-feely thing.

That all said, however, Buster became my cat, possibly because I tend to root for the underdog or maybe because I fell in love with his brilliant green eyes or maybe because we had some grand conversations. Besides, of all the laps in the family it was mine that he chose.

He and MacGregor also became close and we have scads of pictures of them curled up and cosy together. Brothers.

This past fall, we took the cats to the vet for a checkup. At the time we decided to run a routine blood test on Buster to see whether his diabetes, which had been under control with diet for quite some time, was still in check. The test showed that was fine, but his white blood cell count was off. Turns out we had caught the early stages of leukemia – not the usual feline kind but a serious version that, if treated, would require chemotherapy at a vet’s in Ottawa.

Buster was 14 at the time. There were no guarantees he would live and there would be some quality-of-life issues. It was a tough decision, but we opted against treatment.

It was many months before the symptoms appeared. I snuck him tuna and other treats he wasn’t usually allowed to have. He stuck close by, often sleeping beside me while I worked at my desk. I spent great amounts of time scratching his chin and cheeks and ears just the way he liked it, and he gazed up at me with those big, green, loving, trusting eyes.

We miss you, little Buster. The kids are sad. And it sure is quiet around here.

Published in The Perth Courier, June 14/12