Saturday, March 31, 2012

Past Deadline: Springtime in the Tank

I try to be careful about what I say regarding our fish tank because I have learned good news can turn into bad very quickly.

Never, for example, talk about how pristine and crystalline your tank is unless you have tested the water. Deadly water, I have found, can be very pretty.

You may recall that when I first wrote about our fish tank in these pages I dubbed it The Fish Tank of Doom for good reason. I started off by accidentally killing, um, a few fish due to my lack of knowledge (research) about water chemistry.

Now that I am a little more knowledgeable (and a lot more pessimistic), I will risk sharing some exciting recent developments.

It would appear our little tank has become exceptionally fertile! Must be spring.

For a while now it has been home to two Harlequin Rasboras, two Peppered Corys, one Otocinclus (who is lonely and will be getting some friends soon), two Trumpet Snails and one Neon Tetra. The neon is the last of the original school (the school that survived) more than two years ago.

All of these fish have jobs to do. The rasboras and the neon are there to look pretty and dwell in the upper levels. The corys and the snails are bottom feeders who also clean up debris. The otocinclus and the snails work on algae.

A couple of weeks ago our aged neon started to look a little gaspy and his red racing-stripe tail began to fade. Boychild (they’re his critters, really, although I obsess over them), is well versed in the signs of a dying fish thanks to his mother’s, uh, skill, and notified me of the situation.

Sure enough, the neon gasped his last and we said our goodbyes and congratulated him for his longevity.

Meanwhile, in a lovely Circle of Life (cue Lion King music) moment, we discovered our snails had reproduced! Tiny white and brown babies were creeping across the glass.

Yes, I know. Snails can be a problem. In fact, one only needs to have a single snail to have an epidemic because they are super talented in the art of self-fertilization.

Nevertheless, we’ve had snails for years and this is the first time we have seen babies. So far fewer than half a dozen have appeared, but I am monitoring the situation. Obsessively. As usual.

(The tank is in Boychild’s room, but I can see it from my desk. This can be either relaxing or distressing depending on the situation.)

Just when we thought we had ample excitement, the corys decided to celebrate spring as well and, as I write this, the female is skittering around the tank depositing eggs all over the place!

The kids have been called upstairs a bunch of times as their obsessive mother points out the egg laying and the latest deposit locations and the spawning dances and so on.

Another hard lesson I have learned about fish tanks is that sometimes you just have to leave things the heck alone. For example, there is no need to handle the tiny, delicate baby snails, moron, unless you are trying to eliminate them.

Similarly, this pair of corys laid eggs one other time and I did some research and determined it was probably a good idea to put the eggs in a separate tank. It didn’t work out, though, so this time I have decided to just leave them where they are and see what happens.

I figure it will be one of three things: 1. The corys or some other tank inhabitant will eat the eggs. 2. The eggs will get all fuzzy and fungal and won’t even hatch. 3. The eggs will hatch, but the babies will be so tiny we won’t see them no matter how obsessive I am. And then someone will eat them.

By the time you read this, those eggs could be dinner!

That’s okay, though. It’s nature. We’ll have Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom right in Boychild’s room, except instead of chasing beasts with tranquilizer guns, I’ll be terrorizing fish with a small flashlight.

Stay tuned!

Published in The Perth Courier, March 29/12

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Past Deadline: Oh Joy Oh Bliss Oh Patio

This winter, as you may have noticed, there was ice.

I would suggest it was a ridiculous amount of ice. In fact, I would like to lodge a complaint with Mother Nature, but she can be testy, and I hate to think of how she might retaliate.

In my world walking this winter was, as my son would say, an “epic battle.” The ice made me very unhappy. The sidewalks and streets were difficult enough for regular people, and it was downright painful for those of us who have a “stupid foot.”

I’m not going to get into the details of said appendage again, other than to say that with all that bracing for a fall and with every slip and for all the bumpy, uneven ground, it was no fun.

Normally Winter and I get along just fine. It’s not my most favourite season, but we have an understanding. My appreciation of winter really gelled after I realized that wearing a hat keeps one’s head warm in winter. (That was after the teenaged years.)

Besides, snow is fun. My kids like snow. Or at least I like to convince myself that they do. I am grooming them to be shovellers.

Nevertheless, it was happy times around here when the ice started to disappear from the sidewalks. Walking was exponentially less painful.

Over this last weekend when the temperatures spiked in what I would normally call an alarming way, I seized the opportunity to attack the patio.

I love our stone patio. My dad and I worked on it together the summer before last and it has become my “other” room – where I can work, relax, eat or hang out with family and friends. It even comes with a part-time housekeeper – the rain helps to keep it clean.

Trouble is, the patio is in a bit of a shady spot in our backyard. That is not “trouble” in the summer when it’s super hot, but at this time of year when the sun’s not as strong and isn’t angling in quite the right way yet, it means we’ve got ourselves a pretty cool patio – literally.

Even with temperatures as high as they were this past weekend, it is tricky to melt through three or four inches of solid ice in a shady corner in March.

That’s why I took an obscene amount of pleasure hacking and chipping at said ice on Saturday afternoon. It seemed like a glacier – small icebergs came away and were unceremoniously shovelled onto the grass in a sunnier part of the yard, where they melted by the next afternoon.

Boychild joined in the fun and chopped away with the ice chipper while I poured a few kettles full of boiling water over the thickest parts.

Our arms fairly vibrated with all that chopping. “Your arms are going to be sore later,” I warned him, but it sure was a good kind of sore. (It was an ibuprofen kind of night for me.)

It was very therapeutic to take revenge on a winter’s worth of ice by eliminating one small, thick and persistent patch covering up my beloved patio.

After a couple of hours Boychild and I had progressed to the point that I could actually pull the furniture out from beneath their protective tarp.

Later I sat in a slightly damp chair on my cool-but-ice-free patio and enjoyed a beverage while listening to the crazy hubbub of birds frolicking in the warm, spring-like early evening. Ah, bliss!

The next day, even as the temperature spiked to the mid-20s, there was still a layer of ice on the lawn next to the patio. It’ll take a while to disappear, but that’s okay – I have no plans to sit on the grass.

After all, I can sit on the patio.

It is so awesome!

(Long winter?)

Sure, maybe it’s early. There will probably be more snow – there’s almost always snow in April. I am hoping to prevent that little problem by keeping the shovels and snow brushes out and by not putting the winter boots away just yet. It’s a solid plan, yes?

Published in The Perth Courier, March 22/12

Monday, March 26, 2012

Past Deadline: Heck on Wheels

Wheels have been a major theme around our place over the last week or so.

I blame my Stupid Foot. (I promise this is not all about my Stupid Foot, but I do have to give a bit of background.)

About a kazillion years ago – okay, almost 16 – Groom-boy and I got married. At the time we both worked at the Perth Courier, and we managed to share one car quite nicely.

I left there to start a business and work from home 12 years ago (jeepers!) and only required sporadic use of a vehicle, so the single-car thing still worked. We could also borrow from either set of parents when necessary.

This worked well until about a year and a half ago, when Groom-boy got a job in Ottawa. He uses our car to commute. Nevertheless, we opted to keep on with our single-car commitment, taking cost and environmental factors into account.

At the start, most of my work was still home-based and the rest was usually within walking distance. We live near stores and the kids’ school, and their extra-curricular activities are within blocks of home.

For those occasions when a car is necessary, my in-laws have been very generous and their car is almost always at my disposal.

During the first year this worked really well. I even lost weight with all the walking (and running) I was doing, and we weren’t finding any tremendous hardships.

Then two things happened.

First, my foot collapsed this past summer. It is an ongoing tale of woe that I will spare you at this time, but suffice it to say it was difficult to walk across the room, let alone across town, and although it is better there is still trouble on that front.

Secondly, I have found myself with more and more work projects that take me outside of walking range – even cycling range.

This has left me with two problems to solve.

First is finding a way to get decent aerobic exercise that doesn’t involve using one’s Stupid Foot. With a commuting husband, a business that involves occasionally weird hours and two children who are not quite old enough to leave at home alone together, finding a way to get to the pool or a gym was causing scheduling angst.

“Take up cycling!” everyone said, but I have to tell you, as lame as this is, I have not felt comfortable on my bicycle since 1988 when I flipped over the handlebars and landed in the hospital with a concussion for a couple of days.

I would like to feel happiness, not Irrational Mortal Peril™, when I exercise. I’m picky that way.

So I opted for a compromise. I now have an exercise bike. Scheduling is easy, it’s not hard on my foot and it gets the heart pumping. It’s not as nice as getting outside and I do miss running, but it’s working.

That’s the first set of wheels. Or wheel, to be more accurate.

The second dilemma was the work-related one. The new projects translate into a lot of car borrowing and begging for rides – almost on a daily basis. Even though my in-laws have been super generous and I am really grateful for their help, it is a lot of scheduling and I have found myself putting off or cancelling car-related things more often.

(I have to admit that as much fun as it is to feel as if one is 17 again, constantly asking parental-types about borrowing the car is not exactly the way I would choose to do it.)

So we took the plunge. We are now, after 16 years, a two-car family. As much as I wish we could have made it work and as much as I admire people who manage with one – or no – car, I have to tell you I am feeling a wild sense of freedom.

I am heck on wheels – in my den and on the road!

I’ll just push the shackles of payments, insurance and gas costs out of mind.

Now I will do my one-footed dance of joy. This is, after all, partly Stupid Foot’s doing.
Published in The Perth Courier, March 15/12

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Past Deadline: Privacy on the Interwebs?

I had trouble deciding what to write about this week. I don’t want to talk about barfies anymore (we’re all better, thank you) and I’m not in the mood to discuss my stupid foot (at least not this week).

I’m guessing you’ll be okay with that.

If I were to provide gripping updates on either of those topics, there are numerous ways I could do so: a website, a blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, by e-mail, by smoke signal, by writing in snow, by taking out an ad, by writing a column....

Yes, we are a very connected world in a somewhat disconnected way.

There was a lot of noise and hubbub this week about Google’s new privacy policy, which they say is merely an effort to streamline and merge various different policies they had for their myriad products.

People who know stuff about privacy say that Google is up to no good and that this is akin to them knowing everything about everyone who uses any Google product and telling everyone else about it. Okay...I am paraphrasing that a little.

I did some reading about it, I perused the new policy, I went into my accounts and checked to see what my web history settings were and then I signed out and waited for the world to explode on March 1. I thought about tweeting Vic Toews to tell him I was wondering about it, but he probably already knows.

Privacy is a complex thing. There are loopholes and technicalities and I don’t claim to understand it all, but I do wonder: in the age of things like Facebook and Twitter, does “privacy” even exist anymore?

Privacy people have been talking about how Google will be tracking our every online move and will collect our data so that it can throw targeted ads our way. This is in the name of serving us better, I am given to understand.

So if I do a whole bunch of Google searches related to my stupid foot, there’s a good chance a bunch of ads for painkillers, orthotics and podiatrists will pop up on the screen.

Could be useful. Or creepy. That Interwebs is a mysterious thing.

Nevertheless, it seems somewhat hypocritical for someone like me to go spouting off about online privacy.

After all, strangers have been coming up to me in the street for years to chat about my life. It used to surprise me, especially because sometimes I forget what I have written about over here.

Recently a colleague sat beside me at a meeting. “You’ve gotta teach those kids to skate!” he said emphatically, adding, “I know too much about you.”

And it’s not just from the newspaper; I am apt to post silly stuff online, too. Once, on Facebook, I posted something about making brownies and the subsequent consequences for my hips. (I know – riveting stuff.)
Soon after, ads about weight loss started popping up on my profile page. Aaaah! My computer is watching me!

Naturally I panicked and ran downstairs to grab tinfoil from the kitchen to wear upon my head.

Okay, I didn’t, but I did feel mildly offended.

The point is we’re already putting it out there. Before posting anything online, I try to decide whether it’s something I would a) want my parents to read and b) want a client to read.

And it doesn’t end there. I know that once something is out there, it’s out there forever. Even with e-mail, whenever you hit “send” that message can go anywhere – and the intended recipient can send it on to someone you didn’t want to include.

I mean, just ask Vic Toews. And for those things he and the federal government didn’t already know about us, or planned to find out about us, we tweeted to him just to save him the trouble.

It’s a Big Brother kind of world out there. Whaddya gonna do?

Well, I think I’m just going to stick that tinfoil on my head and assume the Interwebs can read my thoughts.

And, maybe, with luck, I’ll still have some privacy in my bathroom.

Published in The Perth Courier, March 8/12

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Past Deadline: So That Was Family Week

On Sunday, I nursed a coffee and even contemplated leaving the house. Let me tell you why this was a Really Big Deal.

It all started after the long weekend. We had a lovely time – got lots of work done around the house and went to Ottawa to look at ice sculptures and use up some gift certificates.

Tuesday rolled around and everyone went off in their usual separate directions – for a while.

A couple of hours into the day I got The Call From The School (oh, how I loathe the call). It was about Girlchild. She had a sore tummy.

I hate the sore tummy. We have been afflicted by the sore tummy several times this school year and it is a tough one to treat as the chief symptom is something you cannot see and there is no fever. One could argue that is a good thing, but at least physical evidence is decisive when you are trying to discern whether someone is being overly dramatic. Not that THAT would ever happen around here.

Anyway, within minutes of getting home, Girlchild produced physical evidence. Hurray.

A couple of hours later and I got The Call again. (Are you KIDDING me?) Boychild had a sore throat, chills and a headache. “Can you come and get him?”

Stuck at home with Miss Physical Evidence, I called reinforcements. Nan generously picked up Boychild and deposited him at the front door. Oddly, she didn’t seem to want to come in, preferring to linger in the driveway.

Tuesday ground into Wednesday. Short people were still ailing and my hands were raw from washing.

Thursday dawned with me firing at about 50 per cent, but my Denial App was fully functional. Girlchild was still down, but Boychild was school-bound.

Sensing imminent doom, Groom-boy offered to stay home and hold down the fort while I dealt with some work commitments, which would also mean not having to bring in reinforcements and expose them the vileness that had infiltrated our abode. We do love our extended family.

I lasted until mid-afternoon and then slept with my BlackBerry. (I know this takes my relationship with Mr. George BlackBerry, Executive Assistant, to a whole new level, but I couldn’t help myself. Usually I keep him out of bed, but his helpful little bicycle bell chime alerting me to work messages was very useful on Thursday.)

There are no paid sick days when one is self-employed, so taking time off is a bit of a mental game. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), working electronically can be a good cover. That said I had pretty much resigned myself to defeat: “I’ll never catch up, but this flannel blankie is so awesome.”

Overnight, Boychild decided to try out what his sister and mother had been doing. Groom-boy flew into action – on the hour every hour. I tried to help, but whenever I showed up I felt dizzy, so I figured it was better for me to just stay in bed than to pass out in the bathroom and add to the excitement.

So we all stayed home on Friday and decided to make it Family Week. We also covered the outside of the house with plastic wrap, sprayed it with Lysol™ and plastered a “quarantine” sign on the door.

You know, it’s times like these when I truly stand in awe of single parents who don’t have support networks. Thankfully I was able to take naps and hand duties over to Groom-boy, who saved the day(s) and ran the household. I was glad I didn’t have to expose grandparents to any of this pestilence.

Fortunately Groom-boy got some slack on meal preparation as there really wasn’t a lot of eating happening.

And I must thank him for letting me sleep. Stay well.

By Saturday, we were all sitting upright for longer periods of time and appetites were returning. I was starting to panic about all the work I hadn’t been able to do, so I figured I must be on the mend.

Next year for Family Week maybe we should just go far away.

Published in The Perth Courier, March 1/12