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….