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