Sunday, December 1, 2013

Long Time, No Post!

Hello folks!

I'm still writing...just posting everything at a different spot. If you'd like to catch up on Past Deadline, visit - it's all up to date!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Past Deadline: Rip, Scrape, Sand and Add Grit

Here’s Past Deadline from the Aug. 1/13 issue of The Perth Courier.
Rip, scrape, sand and add grit
 I have a love/hate relationship with our stairs.
Actually, that’s not true. I have never loved them, and it would be more accurate to say I fear them more than hate them. Let’s just say I have a healthy respect for them.
Since moving into our house almost 14 years ago I have fallen down our stairs three times. I am gifted, apparently.
The first time was not long after we moved in. It was late. I subconsciously decided to go the fast way down the stairs to make sure I’d turned out the lights. “I’m okay!” I said.
Later, in shock, I decided to try fainting in the bathroom.
Good times!
That little trip resulted in a doctor visit, a prescription for anti-inflammatories and a brand new donut cushion thanks to a broken tailbone and an injured rotator cuff (I had braced for impact, which shoulders don’t appreciate.)
The next episode was dramatic because it happened while I was carrying baby Girlchild. Fortunately, I took the brunt of the fall (which didn’t involve most of the flight like the first time). Girlchild was alarmed but unhurt, and I escaped with a few bruises and a reminder to pay attention on “the stairs that hate me.”
I hasten to add here that it’s not as if I gallivant, traipse or partake in tom foolery on these stairs, it’s just that it’s an old house with a steep staircase made of treads for, apparently, small-footed (not to mention sure-footed) people. Or perhaps mountain goats. (For the moment let’s just ignore the fact I seem to be the only one who has trouble with the stairs, although many have commented on their steepness).
The third (and let’s hope final) time was a sleepy slip of the foot last autumn that found me careening down a half flight. That led to more quality time with the donut cushion, a lot of Advil and a busted (again) tailbone that has had quite enough of my shenanigans, thank you very much, and has not completely forgiven me.
Where am I going with this? Well, we decided to rip up the ancient carpeting on the stairs (only to discover an even more ancient green runner underneath).
Ancient green runner found under the ancient carpet.
Next comes the yanking out of a kazillion nails and staples, plus scraping and sanding.
Next comes the yanking out of a kazillion nails and staples, plus scraping and sanding.
Play safe when renovating, kids!
Play safe when renovating, kids!
Scraped, sanded...ready for painting.
Scraped, sanded…ready for painting.

That “distressed” look people pay hard-earned cash to achieve? We’ve got it in spades.
Next comes the painting.
Now, you might ask, is painting these treacherous (for me) stairs a wise move? Only time will tell.
We hope it will be just pretty, and not pretty dramatic.
Groom-boy picked up the paint for the treads the other day, and as I ran my finger over the splotch of colour they dab on the lid of the paint can, I panicked. “Groom-boy!” I said. “This doesn’t feel gritty! Didn’t you get the gritty stuff so I wouldn’t fall down the stairs?”
Groom-boy is heading back to the store for paint grit.
So, yes, if you come to our house (not recommended for anyone with dust allergies), then I am hopeful you will have traction on our vintage mountain-goat stairs. Personally, I hope to avoid having column fodder about my latest epic journey down the stairs, assuming I survive.
For now, in addition to utilizing stair grit, I will continue to hold the railing, descend slowly and show the utmost respect for the stairs.
Or maybe I should just tie the donut cushion to my bum as a preventive measure.

Past Deadline: 50 Shades of Brown

Still catching up…here is Past Deadline from July 25/13 published in The Perth Courier.

50 Shades of Brown
Sometimes I am such a geek.
Specifically, I am an MNR geek (Ministry of Natural Resources). I blame my father.
Some of you may have heard/noticed I am involved with the Friends of Murphys Point Park. On Saturday, we took part in 50th anniversary celebrations at Rideau River Provincial Park by hosting a barbecue.
Friends host barbecue at Rideau River.
Friends host barbecue at Rideau River.

Despite the fact Rideau has been our “sister park” for a few years now, I had not been there before. Actually, that’s not exactly true. A kazillion years ago when I was a Carleton journalism student (early 1990s), I was on a ride-along in the winter with a conservation officer and we drove by the park. I believe I was doing an article about poaching.
“That’s Rideau River Provincial Park,” the CO said as we drove by the entrance in the snowy darkness. And that was my big tour of the park.
So I was looking forward to finally getting a better glimpse of this far-off place (near Kemptville). I loaded up the kids and supplies and joined a gaggle of volunteers at the (awesome!) beach and picnic area on Saturday morning.
For the 50th anniversary party there were many activities, including voyageur canoe rides, a visit from the OPP marine unit, programs by Murphys Point staff and a display by Parks Canada, who also brought their mascot, Parka the beaver.
Parka wasn’t the only mascot around, though. Smokey Bear also made a couple of appearances, to which I said, “Smokey Bear! Too coooool! Someone has to take a picture of me with Smokey Bear so I can send it to my dad!”
(At this point the people around me said, “Sure, crazy lady in her 40s. We’ll do whatever you want because you’re just a little bit scary.”)
Yeaaaaah! Smokey Bear!!!
Yeaaaaah! Smokey Bear!!!

Then – as if THAT wasn’t enough – some of the current Rideau River staff showed up wearing vintage park uniforms!
Crazy lady calls excitedly to fellow volunteer/BFF Cindy. “Omigod! Look! They’re wearing our uniforms!”
Indeed, we flashed back to those fabulous early ’90s when the two of us worked as gate attendants at Murphys Point and sported dark brown shorts, beige short-sleeved dress shirts and the lovely baby-poo brown blazers (for those chilly evening shifts).
Good times!
And THEN, as if Smokey Bear and 50 Shades of Brown weren’t enough, the conservation officers arrived!
The whole reason I am the geek that I am (at least on this front) can be attributed to my dad, a retired CO. I have learned a lot from him about natural resources in general and protecting them in particular. “Grampy was a nature cop,” I tell my kids with pride.
I lurked around and name-dropped with the COs for a bit, but they didn’t seem nearly as excited about me being a CO’s daughter as I was (“Did you get a load of the crazy lady? Yeesh!” they probably said on the way home.)
Anyway, the next treat was a canine unit demonstration by Conservation Officer Colin Cotnam from Bancroft and his dog, Tanner. They went through a basic obedience demonstration and then showed off some of Tanner’s investigative skills. He is trained to sniff out a variety of things that hunters and anglers might be trying to hide. Did you know MNR dogs can not only find contraband fish, but they can differentiate several different species, too? That means they won’t go after your minnows, but if you’re hiding too many brook trout, look out!
Conservation Officer Colin Cotnam rewards Tanner for a job well done.
Conservation Officer Colin Cotnam rewards Tanner for a job well done.

That evening I told my dad all about it, of course. Sort of like, you know, an excited kid/crazy lady.
Happy birthday, Rideau River. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

Past Deadline: United by Rail

Here is Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier on July 18/13.
United by rail
I hear the train horns now.
I grew up here, just a couple of blocks from the tracks. It was close enough to know when a particularly heavy freight was going through because it rattled the windows.
My parents and Nan could tell by the sound of the horn which way the wind was blowing and whether a storm was coming. I never got the knack of the weather prediction, but if the sound drowns out the TV I know it’s a north wind.
We could also tell when certain engineers were on duty. One guy who tended to really lay on the horn, especially when there were letters to the editor complaining about the noise of the trains.
Still, for the most part, I haven’t really “heard” the trains for years. I sleep through them. The kids sleep through them. They have just been part of the normal sounds of life in Perth.
Since July 6, though, I’ve started hearing them. It’s probably a good thing.
July 6 was the date of the horrifying train derailment and explosion at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec that killed about 50 people and destroyed part of the town. That night no one heard the runaway train coming until it was too late to stop it.
Since the crash there have been stories and interviews locally about how Perth is prepared to handle such an emergency. After all, the freights that pass through here can measure 2 kilometers in length, which is enough to block three or four crossings in town, depending on where a train stops.
Yes, we have contingencies for blocked crossings. We know what to do if there is a derailment – who to call, who to evacuate, etc. Short of preventing the trains from passing through at all, we’re as ready as we can be.
Can anyone really be ready for something the scope of Lac-Mégantic? Probably not.
Dangerous materials are transported by rail. Take a look at the symbols on the tank cars next time you’re stopped at a crossing. You probably don’t want to know the types of things that are going through our town – past our schools, hospital, long-term care homes, through subdivisions. Or maybe you do want to know.
Whether you know what’s in there or not, the simple fact is a serious derailment would not be a good thing.
One night last week, when it was cool enough to throw open the windows, a couple of trains went through. As the horns blew I stopped what I was doing and listened.
I’ve always loved trains. When I was a rebellious teen working at Burger King, the tracks were directly behind the restaurant and I used to imagine hopping aboard a slow-moving westbound freight and riding the rails to the prairies. (What I would have done when I got there I’m not exactly sure.)
Anyway, for me, the sound of the train horn is all wrapped up in romantic visions of travel and Canadian history. It was the railway that brought much of Canada together, after all. As I listened that night to the train horn it still seemed as iconic as the call of the loon, and just as mournful.
Now it also sounds like danger.
That’s the whole point, I suppose. Train horns are a warning: “Clear the way! Big, heavy machine coming!”
It just seems even more poignant now, especially as you sit at a crossing and see the same type of black tank cars flying through town that crashed and exploded at Lac-Mégantic.
What is the answer? I don’t know, but my thoughts are with Lac-Mégantic every time I hear the trains.

Past Deadline: Mid-Year Progress Report

Here is Past Deadline from the July 11/13 issue of The Perth Courier.
Mid-year progress report
 I am famous for making self-improvement pledges/resolutions that often fall by the wayside. You may recall such classics as: 1. I am going to get up early and exercise! 2. I am going to eat less! 3. I am going to exercise more!
Gah. A resolution that wasn’t on the list this year was: “Replace entire wardrobe with clothes that fit!” Perhaps I should add that so I can feel as if I have accomplished something.
Anyway…something that has been working out a bit better despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to “dampen our spirits” is a resolution to spend more time outside with the kids.
This resolution has morphed a little, though, to combine with another one that was contemplated but unspoken. It may sound a bit odd coming from someone who works from home, but I want to try to spend more quality time with the kids.
I’ve long gotten over the fact that working from home automatically means I will be a Domestic Diva and Super Mom. (Ha.) My house is definitely not the cleanest on the block. In fact, I think that being here most of the time actually turns me off of making things spotless.
I can live with that. (Sort of.) Something that truly bugs me, though, is that even though I have excelled at seeing the kids off to school in the morning and greeting them when they come home, sometimes I am not really “here.”
Computer games and the TV have been babysitters over the years whilst I slave away at work deadlines in the home office. While I know there is value to having been physically here for them, it hasn’t always been quality time.
Summer is here. (It is. Really. Don’t let the monsoon rains fool you.) Yes, there will be times when I have to tune out the kids and get some work done, but I’ve got to make time to do fun stuff.
When the kids were babies, I worked weird hours – e.g., when they were sleeping. Chopping up my day so that we can spend time at the beach or on a hike or playing badminton or going to the playground or traipsing around in swamps isn’t far-fetched.
It has become increasingly clear over the years that, sometimes, kids don’t know how to play the way my generation did. With all those screen temptations, why bother going outside? So, I’ll continue to teach them.
We have a provincial park annual pass for day use – look out, Murphys Point, here we come!
At Hogg Bay Beach, Murphys Point.
At Hogg Bay Beach, Murphys Point.

Once exception to the “outside” rule is the Perth indoor pool. There is public swimming Monday through Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. (free on Wednesdays thanks to Tim Hortons and Saturdays thanks to the Perth Fire Fighters Association). The kids and I went for our first summer excursion last Friday.
It was great. The day camp kids were there so Girlchild knew a whole pile of girls. They were having a blast – there was music and they were singing and even dancing – great entertainment at a low price!
Aside from the day camp counsellors and lifeguards, I was the only “adult” in the pool. My kids can both swim and they immediately migrated towards their friends, so they didn’t really “need” me there.
No matter. I did scissor kicks for a straight hour! (Exercise! Yes!) I enjoyed the music. I could definitely make a habit of this – and the kids had fun.
Time is marching on. The kids are growing up so fast. It’s never too late for quality time.
Next stop: the swamp!

Past Deadline: Harbouring a Fugitive

Here is Past Deadline from the July 4/13 issue of The Perth Courier.
Harbouring a fugitive
 You may have noticed (if you are a regular reader) that I think it’s important to get kids connected with nature.
Possibly you’ve heard me prattle on about how I spent half my childhood mucking about in swamps catching frogs, turtles, tadpoles, snakes, snails, minnows, crayfish and all manner of cool critters.
So when I landed a summer job at Murphys Point Provincial Park after my first year in university, it was pretty awesome that I got to actually help with programs that taught people about some of those cool critters, and I learned even more about them myself.
One of the things that wasn’t so cool was the gypsy moth study. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, too, but bear with me – there’s a theme here.
A kazillion years ago when I was a student (1990s), gypsy moths were a relatively new invasive species that were a huge problem. They were deforesting huge tracts. The Ministry of Natural Resources was studying the problem and was conducting aerial spraying programs and various preventive measures.
Provincial parks were logical places for studies, and students helped. That meant I had a thrilling task. Someone official had tied burlap sacks around a cluster of tree trunks in a wooded area near the park office. On designated days I got to trudge off to this area and lift up the burlap, exposing wiggly masses of gypsy moth caterpillars, which I counted and recorded for each tree.
And then, because lifting up the wiggly sack wasn’t gross enough, I had to pick up a stick or a rock and squish all those evil, nasty, dastardly forest killers.
I know it seems odd that the girl who goes seeking cool critters was squeamish about this task, but I’ve never been crazy about a) insects that hide in dark places or b) killing throngs of them. I like caterpillars per se, but not dark, squirmy, destructive masses of them.
Besides, sometimes the caterpillar guts would fly into my face.
The subject trees were located in a low area beside the road on the way to the gatehouse, so more than a few campers driving in witnessed a tall, gangly, frizzy-haired girl in a brown and beige uniform beating a tree with a rock and periodically squealing. I think the campers stayed despite that ominous sign.
Anyway, the reason I bring up these happy memories is because, ironically, Girlchild is currently nurturing a gypsy moth caterpillar. She calls “him” Poochie and he lives in a lovely little bug terrarium.
She cleans the container faithfully. Each day she collects new, fresh maple leaves and rinses them off so Poochie has some water droplets. He munches the leaves voraciously. (I should look up that study to see which flavour of trees were preferred in the 1990s. I suspect it was maple.)
We have watched Poochie shed his skin a few times and, currently, he has positioned himself in a secluded corner of the terrarium and appears ready to enter the pupae stage. She even took Poochie to school for the class to see. By the end of the summer we should have a, uh, beautiful gypsy moth in our midst.
We were at the park on the weekend and told a park naturalist about Girlchild’s little project. “Oh,” he said, grinning at me. “Well, one more gypsy moth won’t hurt.” Then he said he had never seen one pupate, so we promised to take pictures.
It has been pretty cool to watch so far, actually. In small doses, I’m all over the gypsy moth life cycle, even if it does feel a bit like harbouring a fugitive.
 (P.S. – We’re still waiting for the pupae stage. Poochie shed his skin and continued on his merry munchy way, but we expect a new phase soon!)

Past Deadline: The Band Played On

Here is Past Deadline from the June 27/13 issue of The Perth Courier.
The band played on
 I’m going to do it again. I am going to talk about the weather. I’m sorry, it’s just that weather turned out to be a rather major preoccupation on the weekend.
I’m a big fan of the “rock hanging from a string in the yard” method of weather forecasting. You, know: if the rock is wet it’s raining, if it’s white it’s snowing, if it’s swinging it’s windy…and so on. Dress in layers and carry an umbrella and sunscreen everywhere you go. Welcome to Canada.
Unfortunately, though, looking out the window at a rock isn’t a terribly reliable method for longer-range forecasting.
On Saturday, I was left in charge of making the call about whether an outdoor evening concert at Murphys Point would proceed. The weather had been unsettled all day. The sound guy was on standby. The band needed to know by 5 p.m.
Suddenly I had to be a meteorologist. Me, the one who looks out the window for up-to-the-minute guidance, had to decide by 5 p.m. whether an outdoor concert scheduled for 8 p.m. would actually be hindered by predicted thunderstorms.
Dudes. The weather changes every 10 minutes here.
I went online and consulted with Environment Canada. Various radar perspectives were conflicting. One version made it look almost certain we would be pummeled, while another predicted clearer skies. The Weather Network added to the ominous version.
Add to the mix the fact there can be a great variance between the conditions in Perth and those 20 minutes away on the Rideau system and I was a puddle of uncertainty.
Googling “Omigod should I cancel the concert tonight” was not helpful.
I considered “tweeting” CBC weather guy Ian Black (he’s on the Twitter, you know) to ask what he would do, but I figure he gets asked stuff like that all the time and it must be terribly annoying, so I refrained.
Instead I did what I do best: I harassed all my friends. (I like to call it “consulting to make a collegial decision.”)
I called the sound guy three times and texted him, too. Adam proved to be optimistic and good to go. Rain was no problem, he said, although thunder and lightning wouldn’t be so good.
I checked with the ever-patient Alida at the park about 47 times. Okay – maybe only three or four times. I asked the other volunteers and Groom-boy for their opinions. One volunteer was driving towards us from southern Ontario through torrential rain. (Eeep.)
It wasn’t looking super good. The sky was darkening. The radar wasn’t telling me anything definitive and Ian Black hadn’t channeled my inner thoughts to send a spontaneous tweet that said, “For anyone planning an outdoor event tonight, here’s what I would do….”
So I called the band. They, too, had been checking the radar and were just as uncertain. We were about one dark cloud away from calling the whole thing off, but the band decided to play on!
We were off! Adam (and dad Steve) and I got started with preparations. The sky was clear and it seemed like a really nice evening was in store.
Then the band called en route. “We’re in Merrickville. It’s pouring! Should we continue?”
I gave the sky the stink eye. It was brightening. There was a lovely breeze. Loons were calling. “It’s quite lovely here,” I said.
And so the Celtic Rathskallions set forth once more. They arrived, they put on an awesome show, the audience cheered and not a drop of rain fell.
Hurray! (And phew!)
The Celtic Rathskallions. Stephanie Gray photo
The Celtic Rathskallions. Stephanie Gray photo
(This little weather drama pales in comparison to the terrible flooding out west. My thoughts are with family and friends dealing with this crisis.)

Past Deadline: Which Way to the Beath?

Here is Past Deadline from the June 20/13 issue of The Perth Courier.
Which way to the beach?
 As I write this, there are 10 more sleeps until the kids’ last day of school.
I mean, “Yaaaay!”
(No…I really mean gulp.)
There are lots of things to love about summer, such as the warm days (or, in our case, the memory of such things because spring certainly hasn’t set the stage), the ability to sleep in a few minutes later (for those people who aren’t waging a hideous war with their alarm clocks in some ridiculous effort to trick their brains into thinking they should get up earlier and exercise) and…hmm. What was I talking about?
Oh, yes. I am desperately seeking the silver lining for the kids being home for the summer. Er…I mean…I am listing the top-of-mind happy reasons why I am totally psyched, as a work-at-home mom, for the kids to be around me 24-7 for a couple of months.
Right. So I think I left off at the part where I don’t have to make bagged lunches every night. Yesssssss! Seems like a simple thing but, man, I get tired of that job, and I know the kids get tired of eating what I pack as my imagination wanes for lunch ideas in the dying days of the school year.
And, of course, there’s vacation to look forward to – that week or two when the whole family traipses off on some sort of awesome adventure and Mom gets a total break from domestic drudgery. I mean, except for the packing. And, if a cottage is involved, the meal prep. Oh, and the avalanche of laundry when it’s all over.
But it’s totally worth it!
What else…what else…. Oh, yes! The promises! Each summer I make a mental note – and even sometimes commit it to paper – about all the cool little things I’ll do to make summer vacation more fun for the kids. You know, such as trips to the beach at Murphys Point or to actually take our canoe out on the Tay or go fishing or hiking or walking or biking. We’ll play more games and fly kites.
Murphys Point Provincial Park. S. Gray photo
Murphys Point Provincial Park. S. Gray photo
Did I mention I have flexible hours – but that I work all summer?
Maybe I’ll put a little note at the end of the list – whether it’s a mental or paper one – to try not to feel the usual guilt when September rolls around and I realize all the things we didn’t get around to doing.
Time really does fly and it’s hard to catch – even with a bug net.
The silly thing is, every year the same thing happens. I dive into summer with grand plans, and end it saying I have to do things differently next year. The thing is, each year the kids are another year older, so a strategy that might have worked last year may not apply this year.
What I need is a plan.
Clearly I must win the lottery. Obviously this would solve all of the above issues. Without the need to work, the kids and I could hang out at the beach and/or fly kites and go fishing whenever we want. In fact, we could just purchase a “summer home” and be done with the whole commuting to a lake issue. This is the way to go.
If I don’t win the lottery for some reason (e.g. never buying tickets), then the obvious answer is to get up earlier. I’ll get my work done at the crack of dawn and free up time later in the day for the beach.
Yes! It’s a good plan!
(At this rate I will be getting up for the day at 3 a.m. Pass the coffee, please.)

Past Deadline: Polar Dip...In June

Here’s the column, from The Perth Courier published June 13/13:
Polar dip…in June
 On Sunday, it was sunny for the first time in what seemed to be 1,241 days.
Did you see it? Wasn’t it awesome?
Part of the reason it seemed like such a long time in my world was because I was away at a conference during the short-lived heat wave. I was stationed in a hotel and pretty much missed the whole thing. I felt like a little plant that had missed out on some much-needed sunshine.
It was sunny when I left Toronto, but the rain chased me home and I arrived with driving rain and a brilliant lightning show.
Pathetic fallacy? Well, the house was in good shape, so no need for storm clouds. Besides, I was too tired.
The next day I checked out the growth in the veggie patch during the four days I had been gone. Where nothing had been showing before, three-inch plants now stood in rows. They had thrived during the heat.
That day, on the Sunday, I assembled what we refer to at our house as “the cold tub.” It’s a little pool that’s not much bigger than a hot tub – fun for the kids and deep enough for adults to benefit from a dip on really hot days.
pool and garden
The water came straight from the hose and was frigid, but we, for some dumb reason (we’re Canadian – you’d think we’d know better) figured it would warm up quickly. After all, it was June and we’d just had a hot spell. Even though the pool is mostly in the shade, it wouldn’t be a problem.
That was the beginning of the rains, as you may have noticed, and as it persisted it made me gloomy and grumpy.
Those frosty June nights were good for sleeping, at least. They were not, however, good for warming up the cold tub.
For many days the cold rain fell from a grey sky. I figured Spa Gris would be shut down until the skies cleared – but no! I neglected to take the perseverance and intestinal fortitude of children into account.
Yes, I remember, swimming in the rain as a kid. I also remember splashing in a pool as cold as 65 degrees F, although 68 was my preferred lower limit.
During that cold, rainy week, Boychild and Girlchild came home from school and would, sometimes with friends, leap into the cold tub. They wouldn’t necessarily stay in long – kind of a June Polar Plunge – and it was often followed by hot showers and/or hot chocolate. (Hot chocolate in June. Yeesh.)
Then came Sunday, the day full of the promise of warmth with that giant yellow orb gleaming in the sky. (“My eyes! My eyes! What blinding scourge is this?” cried cloud-weary eastern Ontarians.)
As expected, the kids donned their bathing suits and fled to the cold tub. They splashed in and out. They begged me to join them; last year we had made many whirlpools – loads of fun.
I reluctantly agreed. Gotta be a role model and “Play Outside” even if it kills me.
Holy smokes. If the water in that pool was 60, I’d be surprised. I did not stay in for long, and I did not go in deeper than my waist.
The good news is my feet have been sore and standing in the pool negated any need for me to ice them.
The bad news is I think I have hypothermia. Plus, I wore a bathing suit for the first time this season and, oh my, there is a lot of work to do.
Let’s just say there will be many…uh…laps around the cold tub in my future.

Past Deadline: Looking for Meta Bolism and Will Power

Here’s Past Deadline from the June 6/13 issue of The Perth Courier:

Looking for Meta Bolism and Will Power
Once the weather started warming up, I hauled out my summer duds.
Something went terribly wrong.
Some capris didn’t seem to fit as well as they did last year. The blue ones were a little tight. So were the beige ones. And…oh dear.
I couldn’t even blame the new washing machine since those clothes had not yet been introduced to it.
No, I knew exactly who to blame: Groom-boy.
Okay. Not Groom-boy. Just because he does the vast majority of the grocery shopping for the household doesn’t mean I have to reciprocate by eating the vast majority of it.
What it boils down to is a combination of long-time bad habits and a lengthy winter of sitting and eating, during which time my dear friend Meta Bolism packed up and left town. I will have to get moving – and I mean really moving – to recover this friend. While I’m at it, I should look for Meta’s crony, Will Power.
Will Power used to stand beside me and convince me not to snack so much – a mental hand slapper. I’m pretty good at leaving junk food in a store, but not so good at ignoring it if it’s in the house. Or on my plate.
I’ve thought a lot about how to incorporate more exercise into my schedule. Very recently it occurred to me the time I seem to have the most control over is early in the morning. (You know, when I am sleeping.)
Eureka! I should take advantage of this! (As if this is the first time I have ever had this thought.)
I wish I could tell you I love getting up early and that this Grand Plan is not doomed to failure. I am MUCH better at staying up late and getting things done, but exercising too close to bedtime wakes me up, which means I don’t sleep well, which is bad news for everyone near me the next day.
So, the Grand Plan was to work on going to bed a tiny bit earlier each night and waking up a wee smidge sooner – a process stretching over several weeks until voila! I have enough time to do some exercise before the work day starts.
Such a good, logical plan, but why is it so hard to implement? Probably because the routine has been around for a kazillion years or so.
Anyway, baby steps have been taken and minutes are being won incrementally, but it’s hard to prevent pessimism from overtaking this contest.
And then I went away on a conference.
I love conferences. I learn lots and someone feeds me, takes away the dirty dishes and makes my bed. Truly awesome.
But it’s not home, so sometimes sleep is tricky, and when the alarm goes off it’s, well, alarming. And it can seem super early.
Plus there is all that sitting and eating and sitting and eating. As proud as I am that I skipped dessert for all but one meal and I watched portion sizes, it was still more than I would normally eat. For instance, you won’t find anyone eating a full breakfast of bacon, eggs and potatoes at my house every morning. Even a little of that is a lot.
Needless to say, that didn’t help me to fit comfortably into the dress I brought for the last day.
Anyway, this is a new week full of lots or mornings and evenings to work with, and there is always the possibility of a positive outcome.
Besides, for all those times I wake up before my alarm to stew about things, I might as well make good use of the time.

Past Deadline: Bows and Snaps and Bathrooms, Oh My!

Here is Past Deadline from the May 30/13 issue of The Perth Courier.

Bows and snaps and bathrooms, oh my!
On Friday night I was standing in a girls’ washroom at PDCI (my old high school) waiting for some very short people to emerge from the stalls. The woman beside me, asked: “Are you going to write about this?”
It’s a tough call. Sometimes the best stuff really can’t be written about here, especially when it relates to bathrooms in small towns.
I was there as a volunteer for at the annual recital held by Arts in Motion: Perth School of Dance. This is the fifth year my daughter has been involved, and every year it is an absolute delight to watch the culmination of months of work by the students, teachers and organizers.
The orchestration of show nights never fails to leave me awestruck, mostly because coordinating events tends to give me the “no” feeling and I prefer to leave that task to others. I’ll happily volunteer, as long as someone else is telling me what to do.
This year I helped in the cafeteria, where a crew kept the primary students amused while they awaited their turn on stage.
By default, the primary team always spends long periods of time in the bathroom. The wee students (pardon that pun) are escorted to and from the bathroom, and often the smallest ones need help with their costumes. Invariably there are unreachable snaps or tricky buttons or bows to be tied. Sometimes this can be an issue in urgent situations involving the youngest students!
When you have a group of raincoats or reindeer all needing bows tied or antlers adjusted simultaneously in the bathroom, things can get a bit busy.
After one particularly long spell in the bathroom, I emerged and took a deep breath. “That bathroom kinda stinks,” I said to one of the volunteers.
“Should we get one of the janitors?” she asked.
“I don’t think it’s something the janitor can fix,” I said. Ironically, there are signs in the bathroom warning against using scented products. It’s working!
I love my old school, but parts of it are showing their age, which is waaaaay older than I am.
It’s interesting to watch the way the dynamics of the group unfold as the show progresses. The primary area is always busy and noisy. The kids are excited and one of our jobs is to try to keep the dancers relatively calm. Running and over-exuberance are kept in check.
As each different dance group (there are about half a dozen or so) has its turn, though, the excitement changes in tone. The groups return, the pressure is off and the dancers relax.
Now, when you and I relax it might mean grabbing a juice box (or some other fruity adult beverage), putting our feet up and chillin’ with a good book or to read the latest wacky headlines about the Ford family.
Not so with tiny dancers. When they relax, they kick it up a notch. There is more running and squealing. “We might as well just let them snack on a bag of sugar,” I said to another volunteer.
“Good job! Have a cup o’ granulated sweetness!”
Of course I am only speaking for the Friday experience, which is the first show night. It’s quite possible that on Saturday night everyone is much more refined and sitting around quietly sipping tea. I don’t know because that’s my night to watch the show.
“Back in Time” featured wonderful music and costumes and, of course, dancing. Girlchild and her highland class performed “Brigadoon Wedding Dance,” and all that leaping around in the living room paid off!
Congratulations to everyone for another excellent show!
I’ll see you in the bathroom again next year.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Past Deadline: Some Pretty Bad Choices

Here is Past Deadline from the May 23/13 issue of The Perth Courier.

Some pretty bad choices
 Y’all know I’m a political and news junkie, so last week was lots of fun in my silly world.
I think I can sum up my glee by telling you about an editorial cartoon I saw online, which shows Prime Minister Stephen Harper walking with Senator Mike Duffy and saying, “We need something really big to take the focus off you….” At the top of the frame the very large form of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is falling from the sky, about to crush them both.
For those of you who had better things to do with your spare time than watch the news or monitor The Twitter obsessively, I commend you. Nevertheless, here’s the short version:
The Senate Expense Scandal switched to Warp 9 last week when it was revealed Harper’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, wrote a $90,000 personal cheque to Duffy to help him pay back living expenses associated with the primary residence in PEI that, it turns out, isn’t so primary. We’re told it was because Wright and Duffy are “friends.” Others suggest Wright wanted to fix things to protect Harper. Whatever the reason, it was a bad choice.
It was so dumb, in fact, I have learned as I write this that Wright has resigned.
Other senators involved in the expenses audit are dropping from caucuses like flies. Who will be next? It’s a gripping tale.
Meanwhile, in municipal government, Toronto’s ever-colourful mayor has been involved in yet another scandal. This time a video has apparently surfaced that shows him allegedly smoking crack and hanging out with drug dealers. The video is for sale and there is a scramble to buy it from the drug dealers. Real role model behaviour all round.
The good thing is this has led to a real upsurge in all manner of amusing crack jokes.
All of this exciting political news, as fascinating as it is, has left me with several questions, which I will outline here:
1. What the heck does the senate do, anyway? I’m really finding it difficult to remember. Does an Ontario senator out there care about me and my part of the province? (Sorry, that was two questions, but they were related.)
2. Do Rob Ford’s public relations people have daily nervous breakdowns or just weekly? Or maybe it’s every 13 days. Actually, does he even have public relations people?
3. If I ask nicely, do you think Nigel Wright would spot me a few thousand dollars? I mean, I’m sure we must be connected somehow way back to make us “friends.” Besides, I have to pay for my kid’s braces and it’s in the public interest for him to not have crowded teeth because we, er, wouldn’t want to upset the prime minister and etc.
4. Do we really think it is a good idea to raise many thousands of dollars to buy a video of a politician smoking drugs – from drug dealers? I doubt the money will be used to save endangered species or build a library. (I would call this a “bad choice.”)
5. Why does the weather keep changing from hot to cold? Oops…wrong topic. Perhaps the icy chill is emanating from Parliament Hill?
6. Here’s one. What does it take for some of these yahoos to get fired? Is it even possible to fire them or do we just shame them into quitting?
7. Can anyone be a senator? Where do I apply? Actually, never mind. I don’t want the reputation that comes with the job.
Stay tuned for future installments of “As the Stomach Turns.” Who knows what will have happened  between the time of me writing and you reading!

Past Deadline: Fifth Dimension Revealed

Published in The Perth Courier, May 16/13.

Fifth dimension revealed
Recently I wrote about the satisfying feeling I had from sorting toy bins under the futon and rediscovering the hardwood floor there.
(Yes, small things.)
Even before that, in February, I wrote about the “fifth dimension,” which former roommates and I had defined as the place where lost things go.
I have determined, thanks to a spate of marathon decluttering on Saturday, that the fifth dimension may be in my home office.
Because I know you are devoted readers who hang upon my every word and commit it all to memory (eye roll), you likely recall that when I wrote “Where the lost things are” I mentioned the disappearance of my penny book.
I’ve had the little coin-collection book with the special sleeves since I was a kid, and it always lived in the bookcase with my encyclopedias until I purged those a few years back. I moved the penny book “to a safe place” and haven’t seen it since.
I hate those safe places. They defeat me every time.
I had been hoping to rediscover the book before all of the pennies currently in circulation disappear because I was several years behind. I knew I had pennies dating back to sometime in the 1930s, but I wasn’t sure where I had left off.
In that same column, I mentioned how I had misplaced my ancient iPod – the one that is so old it doesn’t connect to the Interwebs and, thusly, does not come equipped with that handy “find the iPod” app. I keep it on my desk. It disappeared. I tore my teeny tiny office apart trying to find it. I figured it must have fallen into the garbage pail or recycle bin and was gone forever.
Then it suddenly reappeared from beneath a pad of Post-It Notes – on my desk.
Fifth dimension?
Last week I noticed some of the shelves in my office bookcase were so laden with files and books they were starting to wow (and not a happy “Wow!”), and some of the lightweight backing on the case was being pushed out.
Obviously some serious purging was overdue.
Trouble is, like any sort of decluttering in my house, you can’t purge one area without purging another. It becomes a “project.”
I store older files in another part of the house, so before I could remove office files to storage, I needed to sort through the stored files first. Some of them were so old they were growing silver nose hairs.
Anyway, I filled a blue bin and a garbage bag with crud from the storage area, then moved everything off the bookcase in my office, sorted it, fixed the bookcase and filled it up again.
It took hours, but I think I removed about 50 pounds of old files and at least a pound of dust. The recycling guy is going to have a lot of blue boxes to dump this week.
And guess what I found?
Yep – the penny book.
The penny book!
The penny book!
Fifth dimension for sure.
I can now verify that my collection dates back to 1938 and that I had every penny up to and including 1999. I sat on the floor on Mother’s Day and managed to update the collection to 2012, except for 2004 (but I have a jar or two to check yet).
Maybe the kids can go on the Interwebs and see if any of the coins I collected haphazardly back in the 1980s are special.
Meanwhile, I’m going to put the penny book in a safe place.
And if you’ve lost anything, let me know and I will check my spooky office for you.

Past Deadline: Happy Futon Anniversary

Here is Past Deadline from the May 9/13 issue of The Perth Courier.

Happy Futon Anniversary
In early May, Groom-boy and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary.
Jeepers! That seems like a long time.
Such a milestone (even though it is not divisible by five) merits acknowledgment of some sort, yes? Well, I couldn’t help but notice the dramatic difference between anniversaries of the newlywed era versus, shall we say, the teen years.
It took Groom-boy and me a few years before we figured we were ready to have kids, so going out on the town, away for a weekend, off to a movie or just out for a quiet, romantic dinner was easily done. There was no need to arrange for babysitters and, even more importantly, there was actually energy to not only think of a creative way to mark an occasion, but to actually make it so.
That feels like a long day ago.
Here’s how our romantic 17th anniversary unfolded.
The day before, it dawned on me I should get a card. I didn’t see one I liked at the grocery store, and that’s almost the last time I thought of it.
On The Big Day, we opted for a (romantic) family outing to the big city. After all, we needed to look for a replacement futon mattress at Ikea. “Let’s make that our anniversary present,” we said excitedly. It was doubly thrilling because I hadn’t been to the new store yet.
Pretty exciting so far, eh?
We dragged the kids along because, well, they needed shorts. We stopped at a toy store, too, because 785 Nerf guns aren’t enough, especially when you can get one that has a water pack. (At least that means Boychild will spend some time outside.)
I was excited to find a replacement duvet cover at a good price during our excursion, meaning we have a lightweight one for summer that doesn’t have poorly repaired tears in it (I am such a seamstress).
We went to a mall, and while Groom-boy and the kids went to one store, I managed to sneak into a card shop and find something suitable for the occasion, which I later filled out in the car while waiting for Groom-boy. I know. Dripping with romance, yes?
The card had a light bulb on it. Groom-boy is all about light bulbs. If there was a job checking the town for burned-out back-lit signs, he would be your guy.
Anyway…next we were off to a family-friendly restaurant for our romantic 17th-anniversary dinner. It was yummy. Girlchild kept wanting to tell the waitress about the occasion. We kept telling her no one would care. It’s all about the birthdays at the family friendly restaurants, you know.
Since our anniversary we’ve been joking that we just celebrated our “futon mattress and duvet cover” year. I did some very cursory research and learned that on those gift lists that even bother to acknowledge anniversaries that aren’t in increments of five after the 15th year, “furniture” is the gift for 17, so we were sort of on track, I guess.
Our items are definitely suitable for 17 years of marriage, at least. After all, sleep deprivation continues to be a sporadic issue even as the kids get older. Groom-boy usually conks out on the lumpy futon in front of the TV as the night wears on, while I trudge off to bed and doze off with a book in my hand under the tattered duvet.
At least now Groom-boy won’t have springs poking him in the back and my toes won’t get tangled in the ripped duvet cover. (Not that either of us would actually notice….zzzz.)
Ah, married life. Clearly year 17, complete with an 11- and 7-year-old, is the height of romance.
(And that’s just fine.)

Past Deadline: We Went "Outside"!

Here’s the May 2/13 edition of Past Deadline published in The Perth Courier.

We Went “Outside!
On Sunday (April 28), I got to play in ponds! It made me eight again.
Get ready. I’m gonna tell you another “back in the day” story.
When I was a kid, my brother and I spent a lot of time gallivanting near the river not far from our house. This was “back in the day” when kids would leave in the morning and, except for meals, only return when the street lights went on.
Back in the day we had the BEST toy. It was called “Outside.”
We played Outside in every season. If it rained, we wore “puddle suits.” We had gear for all weather. We built forts with whatever we could find and made up stories and acted them out – on stages Outside – instead of watching them on TV.
It was mahvellous.
One of my favourite things to do Outside was to catch stuff at the river. Fish, frogs, snakes, tadpoles, crayfish – I was forever peering under rocks and looking for critters and bringing them home in buckets and jars until I was told to take them back.
There was always something to do Outside.
I am pleased to report that Outside is still here!
That Sunday, Boychild, Girlchild, Girlchild’s friend and I joined some others for one of the Super Kids In Parks programs hosted by the Friends of Murphys Point. It was a pond study led by park naturalist Tobi Kiesewalter at the park and it was coolio!
It was a simple plan. We walked along the main road from the entrance to the park store and stopped at a couple of “vernal pools” along the way. These are ponds that form from runoff and melt water in the spring and gradually dry up over the summer, and they are the nursery for all sorts of wonderful things.
Tobi scooped some water into a container and showed us many tiny creatures. My favourite by far was something I had no idea even existed here – fairy shrimp. Shrimp! Here! At Murphys Point!
Fairy shrimp! Stephanie Gray photo
Fairy shrimp! Stephanie Gray photo
Now, these aren’t the type of shrimp you would find at a grocery store – it would take about a half a billion to make a meal, I would think. They are translucent crustaceans with an orange tinge to them. The ones we saw were less than a centimetre long and had so many appendages they almost looked fluffy on the sides. These were the adults, and they lay eggs that can remain dormant for years – which is really handy when your vernal pool keeps drying up and you need to procreate.
Fairy shrimp are neato mosquito. Speaking of mosquitoes, did you know that mosquito larvae, which we found in the water samples, breathe using a snorkel-like appendage attached to their rears?
Other larvae get around by shooting water out of their butts.
We also learned that some water beetles have a little air bubble (Scuba tank!) on their butts that they use to breathe?
Checking out the water beetles. Stephanie Gray photo
Checking out the water beetles. Stephanie Gray photo
Butts are important.
No matter how much I hang around Murphys Point, I am always learning something new.
Once we finished looking at vernal pools, we headed to a little bay off of Loon Lake behind the park store, where we spent a good hour catching and examining all manner of critters: minnows, tadpoles, baby fish, lots of different larvae, various water beetles, snails, clams, gelatinous goo that was some sort of algae and little houses built in the water by certain insect larvae.
We saw snakes, heard hawks, geese and various song birds and generally enjoyed the sunshine and the opportunity to wear rubber boots, stomp around with nets and, basically, play Outside.
Man, would I love to be eight again.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Past Deadline: Birdhouse for Lease

Here is the April 25/13 edition of Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier.
Birdhouse for lease
 A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the glacier covering my patio and how determined I was to help it along in its slow retreat.
Fortunately rain, sun and wind took care of the problem and the ice has disappeared – despite the fact that some days it feels as if winter has returned.
All I’ve had time to do, unfortunately, is watch as spring slowly unfurls in my backyard. The patio furniture is still tarp-covered.
I tend to keep an eye on things in the backyard while doing the infernal dishes (speaking of something that never disappears).
While I haven’t had much time lately to get the outdoor chores done, there are other creatures that have been very busy in the housekeeping department (and last week’s column serves to reinforce the fact I am not typically one of them).
I’m talking about the birds.
One day last week I was at the kitchen window doing whatever it is I do to get short people out the door and off to school, when I noticed a flurry of activity.
It was a nice day – cool (if you can imagine), but sunny. Robins were flitting around gathering debris out of the garden. Juncos were busy picking up birdseed from under the feeder whilst sparrows worked from above. Squirrels, chipmunks and a rabbit frolicked nearby.
Then I noticed a pair of little wrens.
A couple of years ago Boychild built a bluebird house as part of the Super Kids In Parks program with the Friends of Murphys Point. That spring, we attached it to a big wooden clothesline pole in our backyard and, very quickly, it was occupied by a nesting pair of wrens.
When they were finished I cleaned out the box so that it would be ready for new occupants but, alas, last summer it was unoccupied.
So I spied the wrens flitting about and thought to myself, “Self, you need to go check that birdhouse to make sure it is still clean.”
The kids went off to school and I settled in my office, where the front window faces the street and, in most seasons, is obscured by the branches of a very large maple tree.
Before too long I noticed movement in the tree and, as if they were trying to tell me something, there was a pair of wrens hopping about in the branches.
A little later I headed for the backyard armed with materials for birdhouse cleaning.
Birdhouses are much smaller than people houses and, thusly, the task is not terribly onerous. That said, one should be somewhat vigilant with this form of housekeeping as well.
Clearly I am not the Martha Stewart of birdhouse cleaning, either.
I opened the side and was greeted, not surprisingly, by an assortment of spider webs. What was a surprise, however, was the little wasp nest.
Fortunately it was unoccupied and was easily removed. That went a long way to explain why nobody wanted to reside there last year. Apparently they snuck in between my infrequent cleanings. Nervy.
Now that the house is clean, I haven’t seen a single wren.
In fact, things have been generally quiet on the bird front, which leads me to believe I completely missed Bird Moving Day. Is there some sort of Quebec-like tradition in the avian world, too? I did not get the memo.
Well, it’s still only April, and since it doesn’t even really feel entirely like spring yet I’ll hold out hope there is some procrastinating little wren-like bird couple out there that will stumble upon our wasp-free abode yet. It’s clean! And free!
Footnote: Spent a little time on a Patio Recovery Mission tonight! There’s hope!

Past Deadline: Avoiding "Hoarders" Bin by Bin

Here is Past Deadline from the April 18/13 issue of The Perth Courier.

Avoiding “Hoarders” bin by bin
After reading this column you may not want to come to my house. Ever. I understand – sometimes I don’t want to come to my house either.
I have never professed to be anything remotely like Martha Stewart. I would not be profiled in a Good Housekeeping article. When it comes to domestic prowess I have only one publicity wish: to never be the subject of a Hoarders episode.
Fingers crossed.
It has been a busy few weeks, so my usual lazy approach to housecleaning has become, well, an Epic Tale of Unproductiveness.
Things kind of came to a head with the whole dryer issue, which you may recall from a couple of previous columns. The last episode contained a statement full of hope that by the time y’all were reading about it, the dryer would be fixed.
Not exactly.
My theory that it would be faster to have the dryer repaired than replaced was torpedoed by the fact when the repair lady returned with the replacement part, the dryer still didn’t work. The new diagnosis had something to do with the electrical harness, which could take a few weeks to come in, etc. blah blah blah.
Long story short, the replacement dryer was delivered a few days after that and, thankfully, it appears to be working.
This is a happy thing because it appears good clothesline weather continues to be evasive. Our dryer woes had necessitated a return to the use of drying racks and draping laundry around the house. As much fun as it was to reminisce about being newlyweds just starting out, it quickly lost its charm.
With the dryer issue seemingly resolved, it was time to put things back in order. This weekend I knew I had to start a house recovery mission.
I had slacked so long it was a daunting task.
I started by resolving the dryer-related mess. Items that lived on top of the dryer were removed from the dining room table. Manuals were filed. Related clutter was sorted. Drying racks were returned to the back of a storage cupboard.
Now what? Where to start. The house is a disaster!
I looked around and figured I might as well start with the worst of it: the den. Oh, the den. Keep in mind that a “den” is defined by Oxford as a “wild animal’s lair.”
I have been glossing over the den cleaning for a bit too long, particularly under the futon. Did you know there’s hardwood flooring under there?
See, that’s where there are three bins belonging to Boychild that have been collecting toys and debris for many years. Purging them has been on my list since about 2009. Lately, I have been hurriedly shoving stuff further under the futon in the vain hope it would just jump tidily in the bins.
Time to face the music.
I pulled everything out from under the futon. I found 756 Nerf guns accompanied by 5,799 Nerf  bullets – about a third of them busted. There were approximately 698 toy vehicles in various states of repair and 6,755 plastic toy soldiers, not to mention the 88,765 assorted pieces of Lego, K’Nex and Bionicles.
I loaded all of this into the largest of the bins, and then Boychild and I methodically sorted through it. There will be donations.
That one task (complete with vacuuming, dusting and washing something weird off the wall behind the futon) took up the better part of the afternoon – and that was just one bin and a few square feet of space.
I haven’t even told you about Girlchild’s bins. Or the basement. If any Hoarders execs see the basement, we’re doomed….

Past Deadline: Slow-Moving Glaciers

Here is Past Deadline published in The Perth Courier on April 11/13.
Slow-moving glaciers
 On Sunday, I did what has become a habit over the last few years – I attacked the glacier covering my patio.
As patient as I have been with winter, I did hit the wall sometime in March and was ready for it to be spring. Stands to reason – after all, spring was scheduled to arrive on March 20. I strive to be punctual and I think it behooves the seasons to arrive on time as well.
Sometimes, however, spring forgets about our little backyard and leaves it stuck in a winter retrospective. When I stopped by my parents’ house a couple of weeks ago, their south-facing front garden was already bursting with crocuses. Our shadier gardens still snoozed under a layer of snow.
Finally this weekend I began to see the first peeps of green where my crocuses live. The section where the birdfeeder was situated all winter is also bare – exposing a shocking layer of bunny fertilizer.
The part of the backyard I am most interested in is our little patio, and it tends to be the last to be free of ice. My dad and I laid it a few years ago and it feels like an extra room in my house. I really miss it in the winter.
It is located in a cosy corner bordered by a workshop on one side and a shed on the other, which makes it nice and shady on hot summer days. Unfortunately it is also nice and shady in the spring, which does not bode well for ice-meltage.
So, every year, I grab my ice chipper and release some pent-up aggression by beating the poo out of a five-inch build-up of ice covering my beloved patio. One year I even employed boiling water to assist my mission – such is the urgency of my need.
Late Sunday afternoon I set out to complete this ritual. It had rained earlier in the day, so some sections of the blasted glacier had softened. I smashed away at it for a while, but I wasn’t at it too long before I lost steam.
I opted for a compromise. I grabbed a folding chair and plunked it on the small section I had cleared, sat back and chilled – literally. I was surrounded by ice, but it was nice! Birds were singing, the breeze was blowing, the sky wasn’t terribly overcast. If I closed my eyes I could almost imagine it was a coolish summer day.
In fact, closing my eyes was fairly imperative in order to adequately set the scene, otherwise my sightline was obscured by two garbage cans and a green bin currently residing nearby until their usual warm-weather locations were more accessible and free of snow and mud.
Part of the reason for giving up so easily was the fact I had checked the long-range forecast earlier and saw warmer temperatures and rain on the horizon, which should aid my cause. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to easily finish the glacier removal next weekend.
This, however, is a risky plan, because weather forecasts are unreliable. In fact, I felt like a hypocrite for even consulting the forecast.
See, around our house Groom-boy spends great amounts of time complaining about the weather forecasts. “They’re never right.” “They’re always changing.” “No one knows what they’re talking about.”
“Dude,” I say. “Do what I do. Look out the window and, if it’s raining, take an umbrella. If it’s sunny, take your sunglasses. Weather changes. Get over it.”
This from the woman who can’t wait for ice to recede.
Anyway, whether the weather cooperates or not this week, I plan to sit on my patio again very soon. My ice pick and kettle are ready.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Past Deadline: Modern-Day Problems

Here’s Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier on April 4/13.
Modern-day problems
Recently, I told the tale about how Ye Olde Clothes Washing Machine had reached its life end, necessitating its replacement.
It was a 20-year-old faithful machine, but the part that died is not made anymore, and it was a valve that threatened to, at any moment, let go and flood the kitchen.
We limped along and manually controlled the taps and didn’t leave it unsupervised, but the drippiness continued.
This was an older-model stackable unit that shared one set of controls between the washer and dryer. The brains of the entire contraption, however, were located in the washing machine part, which meant that when the washer left, the dryer had to go, too, unfortunately.
The shiny new front-loading washer and its dryer partner are two separate, stacked units that don’t share a brain.
I have to tell you, I entered this whole exercise with great trepidation. The thought of our family not having a washing machine at the beginning of mud season was daunting. I needed this operation to be completed quickly.
In fact, part of me was content to limp along with the old machine because I have pretty much zero faith in things going smoothly when one makes a major new purchase. I try to be optimistic, but….
So the appointed day arrived and the delivery fellows took away Old Faithful and deposited the new pair in our living room. Delivery people do not do install.
Groom-boy and his dad tinkered with taps and dryer vents. We lugged the washer into place and voila! It worked! Hurray!
The dryer required some fiddling to get the stacking kit set up, and then Groom-boy and I hoisted it on top of the washer. More tinkering and …voila! It was ready to go!
No, really!
The dryer lights up and shows off its cycles and counts down…but the drum won’t turn and there is no heat.
It is, however, doing a bang-up job of holding down the washer.
After a flurry of phone calls (involving some runaround, of course), we were connected with the authorized warranty repair people.
Within a couple of days someone arrived. She did exploratory surgery – taking the whole thing apart – before finding a tiny broken switch. Everything else looks good, though!
Naturally the part needed to be ordered – so we were looking at another week. Or so.
The debate at our house ensued – do we go back to the company and demand a new unit or wait for the part and have the repair?
I argued for the repair. After all, the repairperson examined all the innards of the dryer and she won’t leave (in theory) until the new part is installed and the dryer is fixed. If we exchange it, the delivery guys will dump off the new one and we won’t know until after we install it (again!) whether it works or not, which could bring us back to square one.
Isn’t it lovely to have such trust and faith in customer service in 2013?
The silver lining is I have a new washer that’s working and I would much rather be without a dryer than a washer.
The irony is we had a dryer that worked.
The alarming thing is the weather has been iffy so I have been relying on indoor drying racks, which means my tiny house looks, more than ever, like an episode of Hoarders.
By the time you read this, I am hopeful the repairperson has come and gone and I have a functioning dryer and a lot less laundry hanging around my house.
Or, maybe there will be yet another column on this topic.
Footnote: The repair lady came, replaced the part and…it still didn’t work. She phoned the company and an electrical problem was diagnosed. We said thanks anyway, but enough’s enough and complained to the retailer. The dryer was exchanged a few days later and I am pleased to report several successfully dried loads.

Past Deadline: Do You Need a Cat Scarf?

Here’s the latest Past Deadline, published March 28/13.
Do you need a cat scarf?
 I have inadvertently taken up knitting. It’s because I need more things to occupy my time. (Not.)
Back about a million and a half years ago, my Nan taught me how to knit. She also taught me crochet, rug hooking, needlepoint and baking. She was talented. I miss my Nan.
The baking definitely stuck with me, needlepoint eventually morphed into an interest in cross-stitching, but the rest kind of fell away.
Many years later I came to regret my abandonment of knitting. You may recall me writing in the past about a beloved knit toy that had been passed on to Boychild from my brother. My Nan made “Ducky,” who is bright yellow with an orange beak, for my brother. It must have been almost 30 years old when Boychild got him, and over the years he required some, shall we say, maintenance.
On several occasions my bestie, Cindy, has knit odd-shaped “patches” for me to then sew onto Ducky’s thin, worn areas. Over the years he has acquired, essentially, an entirely new patch-worked skin (see above).
Recently, Girlchild has expressed an interest in learning how to sew. This is another skill that has fallen away. I haven’t touched a sewing machine since about Grade 8. I can manage buttons and can sew patches onto things, but beyond that I need to turn to others. My dad, actually, is the sewing machine expert in the family, while my mom is the go-to-person for hems.
Girlchild asked about knitting. I suggested we bake. No, she wanted to learn how to knit. Ask Cindy, I said.
So, sure enough, when Cindy and her gang were over for supper last Friday, Girlchild ambushed her. Cindy was glad (or seemed glad?) to oblige.
Fortunately I still have a craft bag filled with long-neglected items, including samples of abandoned knitting and several balls of yarn (particularly yellow for duck repairs).
I found two sets of knitting needles. I grabbed one seriously warped pair and said, “You’d better teach me, too, because if you’re not here and something goes awry, I am going to have to deal with the Wrath of Girlchild.”
And so began the great knitting projects: cat scarves. MacGregor, our indoor cat, has been coveting a knit scarf for years. (Ahem.)
The next day we trooped off to the craft store to acquire a couple of pretty balls of colourful yarn, along with a set of larger, wooden needles that might work well for small, learning hands. I managed to cast enough stitches onto the new needles to commence a third project: a blanket for a small stuffed toy.

The new projects.
The new projects.

I see dishcloths in my future. Seriously.
Over the last few days I have been able to rescue a few stitches and come up with creative excuses when mistakes are made in the knitting of cat scarves and toy blankets, such as: “That’s a peephole” and “We can cover that with some sort of fun patch.”
MacGregor won’t mind. I’m sure of it.
Girlchild wouldn’t let Cindy leave the house until they had scheduled another knitting lesson. I will be attending, too, since I have to learn how to cast off once these scarves and blankies reach their desired length.
The good thing is, when our crews get together, which usually happens weekly, her boys and mine can all go off and do guy stuff, and Girlchild, the lone female kid in the bunch, can bring her projects and we three ladies can convene the Knitting Club. After all, the world is sadly lacking in cat scarves, toy blankets and dishcloths.

Past Deadline: A Billion Loads Later

Here’s the latest Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier on March 21/13. Trust me…there will be more on this particular saga!
A billion loads later….
Back in January I wrote a column about how Ye Olde Clothes Washing Machine was making a strange noise. The column morphed into something about how playing loud music is a solution to some noisy problems, not unlike covering your ears with your hands, rocking back and forth and saying “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” over and over until the annoying thing/person gives up and wanders off.
That may be a good strategy when you’re two, but it doesn’t always work for grown-ups dealing with major appliances. Denial can be a marvelous thing –for a little while.
Interestingly (or not), the ultimate demise of the washing machine does not seem to be related to a funny noise. In fact, it happened very quietly in the night.
One morning I came downstairs and, in those quiet moments of being the first one up, I heard a drip.
And then I heard a drip drip drip.
That’s seldom a good sound in a house.
So, I followed my ears to the washing machine, and discovered the tub had about three inches of water in it.
Long story short, the part that was wonky isn’t made anymore. Sure, we could probably find the part somewhere, but did we really want to replace an old dead part with one of the same vintage?
There was also speculation it could have been a grit issue. I know it’s hard to believe there could be grit in my pristine house, said she who just last week talked about turning her kitchen into a sandy beach.
We were told we could probably limp along with the old machine (circa early 1990s), as long as we were prepared to hover nearby whenever it was being used so that we could spring into action and shut off the water in the event the wonky valve got stuck open and flooding ensued.
So we pulled the machine out from the wall a little in order to easily access the shut-off taps and carried on for a while. It wasn’t too hard to hover since the machine is in the kitchen and I tend to spend half my life there.
The dripping slowed, but never stopped entirely, which (surprisingly!) seemed to rule out grit. Just to make things interesting, the shut-off taps at the back started dripping every time they got turned on or off. There was a lot of drippage.
As much as I wanted to turn up the music to drown out the drippage, I figured ignoring it in this case could lead to a lot of unnecessary drama.
Yes, it was time to say goodbye to Ye Olde Clothes Washing Machine.
Silver lining: I got a column idea out of it.
Other silver lining: We found a few lost things behind the washing machine, such as the little toy wooden mallet Boychild lost when he was two, a couple of cat toys, a hair clip and a brown marker cap that Girlchild claims she had been looking for recently.
Naturally we also found quite a lot of debris that we would have preferred to ignore for a little longer. (The washer was heavy – it didn’t get hauled out very often.)
Again with the denial! One thing I have learned as I get older, denial eventually catches up with you.
RIP, Ye Olde Clothes Washing Machine! I can’t even begin to count the number of loads you have washed, especially considering a family of four had you in service before us.
I only hope the replacement, made in this plasticized era, will be as faithful. After all, as much as I appreciate column ideas….

Past Deadline: Yes We Have No Vacation

Here’s the latest Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier on March 14/13.
Yes we have no vacation
By the time you read this, March Break will be almost over, we will have mostly adjusted to the time change, we’ll have new batteries in our smoke detectors (Right? Do it now!) and life will soon return to whatever version of “normal” is currently in play. (The options are wide open on that last one.)
As I write this, however, March Break is just beginning and I have said bon voyage to several friends who have jetted away for holidays. Groom-boy and I didn’t make plans to get the family away, mostly due to work commitments. We’ll probably do some minor fun stuff with the kids. (As soon as I figure out what “minor fun stuff” means I’ll let you know.)
It’s been busy lately, so March Break kinda crept up on me. Suddenly it was here and it dawned on me just how much I could use a little vacation. (“Dawned” in this context means “hit me like an anvil.”)
So, here is my “Top Seven List of Reasons Why I Know It’s Time to Get Out of Dodge,” in no particular order. (Yes, I know a Top 10 is better, but three reasons got filtered out. See No. 5):
1. Every time someone says he or she is going away for March Break, you laugh heartily and say, “Well have a fruity beverage for me on the beach!” After a while it occurs to you that if all those people get together and talk, they will think you are an alcoholic.
fruity drink
2. If you’re not talking to someone about fruity beverages, you’re offering to “carry their luggage.” Of course this is a fairly common expression to suggest envy for a holiday, but apparently you are saying it with enough earnestness and/or desperation to make people back away slowly.
3. When people chuckle about the “carry the luggage” thing, you are quick to present diagrams showing how you can actually curl up in a medium-sized suitcase for easy stowing. You’ve been practising. (And so endeth the conversation.)
4. You spend a lot of time giving yourself pep talks about people’s vacation response e-mails, voice mails or countdowns on Facebook (e.g. “Only three more sleeps ’til the Caribbean!”) You learn to scroll through and/or delete quickly and adopt denial as a survival technique.
5. Your Sarcasm Meter™ is high, but your Personal Filter™ is low, which is a baaaaad combination. You find yourself sitting on your hands to avoid typing regrettable witticisms on public forums. And although your filters are hanging in there, your hands are continually going numb, which makes it harder to practice folding yourself into a suitcase.
(What? Ahem.)
6. Although you have previously stated you are growing weary of the grit on the kitchen floor from sandy snowpants and that no matter how hard you try to pretend it is a sandy beach it’s just not working, it’s getting easier. You’re thinking that setting up a lawn chair in the kitchen may help.
7. The joy you usually experience from not having to make bagged lunches for a Whole! Entire! Week! is just not giving you the same thrill it usually does. You find yourself imagining packing picnics for beaches…and pining for it. (Perhaps a picnic on the kitchen floor is in order?)
So…what’s the silver lining here? (No…really…what is it?) Well, I suppose I don’t have to get up as early as usual during March Break, which would be great if my brain hadn’t started betraying me by waking up at the crack of stupid every day. Maybe the time change will be good for something after all….

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Past Deadline: A Super Awesome Snow Fort

Here’s the latest “Past Deadline,” published in The Perth Courier on March 7/13.

A super awesome snow fort

I have been a pretty good sport about winter, I think.

When it snows I shovel and then have some exercise to share with my fitness buddies on Facebook. I cheerfully look out the window and think, “How wonderful! More snow for the kids to enjoy!”

Last week, though, I kind of hit the wall with winter. I think it was a February thing.

That big storm that featured shovelfuls of 11-tonne goopy snow was just…unappealing. And wet. (When I was a kid I used to call it “applesauce snow.” I didn’t eat it. I also didn’t have to shovel the horrible, heavy stuff.)

When my kids come home from school and peel off their snowpants, they leave a soggy, gritty mess on my kitchen floor. No matter how much I try to pretend that I am walking on a beach, it just doesn’t work. There are no margaritas to be seen.

The kids’ gloves and mittens are getting worn out. The boots are getting religious (holey).
Replacements at this time of year take a lot of searching, and we loathe buying things now when we know everyone will grow a bunch by next season.

I’m tired of snow days and the chorus of “Maaaaaaaawm…do we have to goooooo? No one will be there! Are you working at home today? Maaaaaawm!!!!!”

And that part about there being more snow for the kids to enjoy? That’s just bullpucky. Everyone knows, because I told them in this here space, that I practically have to pry my kids out of the house with a crowbar to get them to play outside in the winter.

Back in January I waxed poetic about how I forced (with threats about screen removal) my kids to go outside one beautiful winter day and they reveled in the joy of building forts and climbing snowbanks. Why go around a snowbank when you can go over it? They had snowball wars. In fact, for a couple of weeks, they actually went outside on their own accord several times!


That silliness didn’t last long and soon we were back to screen addiction.

A few years back I helped organized some outdoor programs with the Friends of Murphys Point Park called Super Kids In Parks. They are designed to get children outside to have fun and learn something – to battle the nature deficit. Basically I got involved with it because of kids like mine.

Anyway, we’ve been running some this winter, starting with snowshoeing, then ice fishing. This past Sunday we did one on campfires, outdoor cooking and building a shelter.

You guys. We built a quinzhee. It was so cool! (Check it out here.)

Quinzhees are shelters made by piling up snow, letting it settle for a period of time and then hollowing it out. They have ventilation holes and an entrance.

They are a totally fancypants snow fort. (You just have to make sure to do it properly so that it is safe.)

It was awesome. The kids got totally into it. We also learned about building campfires and cooked some maple popcorn. When it was time to go, I had to call and call and call for my daughter and her friend to get out of the quinzhee and come home.

THAT is what it’s all about. That’s what I remember about childhood – staying outside all the time, ignoring our mothers calling us until our fathers “roared” for us to come home (and then we knew we’d better get moving).

I figure if Mother Nature dumps on us again before spring, I can probably make a quinzhee for the kids in the backyard. And maybe I’ll make a margarita for myself.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Past Deadline: Losing Sleep Over It

Here’s the latest Past Deadline, published Feb. 28/13 in The Perth Courier.

Losing sleep over it

Sleep, or the potential lack of it, was on my mind last weekend.

See, both children had sleepovers on the weekend. My hairdresser calls them “stay overs,” since not much sleeping takes place.

Boychild was off at a friend’s house for his late-night adventure and came home a little bleary eyed.

Girlchild’s event was at our house. It was the first time a friend has stayed over, and it was the first non-family sleepover for Girlchild’s friend, so it was a Momentous Occasion™.

Since the girls amassed more than eight solid hours’ sleep, which is several hours more than I’d counted on, I am going to call it a success.

As usual, I got less. I think I subconsciously anticipated being awakened at all hours, so I stayed up later than I should have reading a good book. Staying up late didn’t stop my silly busy brain from waking me up too early in order to toss and turn.

What is UP with that? I mean, as parents we survive the sleepless years of feedings and diaper changes and bad dreams and barfies and cats doing stupid things (Buster, may he rest in peace, was famous for yowling around the house, while MacGregor loves to rattle metal window blinds) – and for what?

Just when the kids can find the bathroom on their own in the night and no one needs to be fed at 3 a.m., the adult brain decides to start goofing around and preventing sleep. Frustrating!

I have always preferred to get things done before going to bed rather than getting up early to finish a task. I always figured my alarm wouldn’t go off or I would hit snooze too many times. Now it seems I have finally developed an internal alarm clock that I kind of wish I didn’t have.

It appears I am turning into my parents. I could never understand why, even when my brother and I were teenagers and slept in on weekends, my parents would be up at the crack of dawn as usual – like any other regular work day.

It’s not that I want to sleep in until all hours. Sleeping too long feels like a waste of the day and then I have trouble sleeping the next night. But waking up two hours before the alarm goes off is just…well…annoying, especially when I already stay up too late. I shudder to think of what time I would be up if I went to bed earlier.

Sure, as a “grown up” there are lots of things to “lose sleep over.” I mean, we probably all think about money and work and kids and volunteering and things that could go wrong and falling pianos and committee meetings and the elderly cat and that thing you did when you were 17 and genetic mutations and funny sounds and where the lost things went and so on. Right?

(Have you seen that TV commercial for the nighttime pain reliever? “What if the hokey pokey really IS what it’s all about?” Hehehe.)

Most of the topics that wake me up seem so much worse before the sun rises and the first coffee is had, but sometimes it’s just too darned early to get up despite the fact tossing and turning is unproductive.

Once I am upright, mobile and caffeinated, however, the world seems much more manageable. Well mostly. At least I can start doing something about it instead of lying around fretting.

For now I will gladly take whatever sleep comes and will seek inspiration from peeking at the kids and the elderly cat when they are blissfully snoozing. Some herbal tea probably wouldn’t hurt….

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Past Deadline: High Fives and Wahoos All 'Round

Here’s this week’s Past Deadline, published in The Perth Courier on Feb. 14/13.

High fives and wahoos all ’round

Back in July 2009, I revealed in this here space that I had embarked upon a new exercising adventure, thanks to my good friend Heather, who lives in Calgary.
That was the dawn of my indoctrination into The Cult of Running™, which was a brief and torrid affair.
See, Heather and I share some motivational issues when it comes to staying on the healthy diet and exercise bandwagon. She’s a great one for encouragement, though.
She had posted a “Super Beginner Learn to Run Plan” on her blog back in 2009. I lamented that I wished I, too, could be one of those graceful, calorie-burning runner types.
I was never a good runner as a kid. Long-legged and lanky (yes, there was a day when I looked as if I truly needed many cookies to sustain me), I never mastered my breath. I looked like a windmill and generated a lot of puff.
Heather encouraged me. She urged me to get some good shoes and, when she came to Ontario to visit family that July, we took my inaugural run.
The beginner plan is a walk-a-minute-run-a-minute scenario. Those first 18 minutes led to many more runs over the next two years.
Then, in August 2011, my right foot had a nervous breakdown. For many months, walking, never mind running, was a painful thing. Apparently I have silly feet. Orthotics have helped, but I still can’t push it.
I have struggled to find a way to replace running, which I found to be the Best! Stress! Reliever! Ever! Y’all may recall how I lamented about my lack of enthusiasm for cycling (“I’m gonna die!) and I may have offered up lame-ish excuses about scheduling swimming and disliking gym, and blah blah blah.
Heather of Calgary to the rescue with her enthusiasm! Two months ago she started a private fitness group on Facebook and invited a bunch of her friends to join. The aim is to post a message in the group about our “daily” fitness activities. (So far they haven’t kicked me out of the group for not fitnessing daily.)
One of the things I liked about running was going off on my own and trying to beat my own bests while listening to my “Run Forrest Run” playlist. (Say – has anyone seen my iPod? I think my desk ate it.)
Solitary running was good, but chatting with others about exercise is great. Plus I am very vain and I like to talk about myself. No really!
There are some very active people in the group, which is inspiring. Fortunately, I am comfortable enough with my lethargy to not feel intimidated.
Meanwhile, Heather is awesome at prodding and prompting, too. If you have shown no sign of movement after a few days, she’ll ask you what you’re up to before calling 911.
The best thing is that this group is really supportive. When I post something saying the only exercise I did all week is shoveling, I get cyber high-fives and wahoos, which makes me want to try harder.
So let it snow! (Okay…maybe not.)
Actually, as exciting as shoveling is, I am much more enthused about the fact my foot is tolerating power walks. Apparently my long arch appreciates the fact my ample weight is not crashing down upon it with every running step. Walking is gentler.
I’m walking farther and faster these days (High fives! Wahoos!), so there is hope for me yet. Maybe, if I am careful, I could work up to the Kilt Run this summer. Or maybe a Kilt Run/Walk. Or just a random walk while wearing a kilt.
Whatever! Exercise is good! Let’s shovel!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Past Deadline: Milestones Big and Little

Here’s this week’s Past Deadline (really this week!) – a milestone! Published in The Perth Courier on Feb. 7/13.
Milestones big and little
You guys. This is my 900th column!
Wow. I feel old. And I bet if you have read 900 of these you feel a little old, too.
Did you know 900 columns (one per week – give or take) represents 17.3ish years?
I’d like to tell you I started writing in this space when I was three years old, but somehow I am not sure you’d believe me. (It’s kind of like no matter how many times I remind my hair what colour I would like it to be, it keeps blinding me with a startling whitish greyish shade.)
So what to do about this milestone? What would have been really awesome is to have planned some kind of spectacular Pulitzer Prize-winning literary marvel for this exciting event.
That’s not going to happen, however. (You may have already guessed this.)
In fact, 900 isn’t really any sort of magic number, except that it is 100 short of 1,000, which is a much more exciting thing.
A clever columnist would launch a 100-week-long celebration with prizes and raffles to mark the lead-up to column number 1,000. (That clever columnist would probably also have a committee of people busily rounding up said prizes. She would likely have an outline for every single one of those fantastic literary pieces, with each one getting better and better and culminating in some sort of life-changing missive with a grand prize draw for a trip for two to Paris. Or maybe Australia.)
I can assure you none of that is going to happen, though, and it’s all the committee’s fault. That committee, as soon as I find it, is so fired.
Truth be told, I didn’t even realize this was column number 900 until I set down to write it. When I save each new one I number it, see.
To mark the occasion, then, I thought maybe I could go back and do something riveting like recap the range of topics I have covered at other milestones. Unfortunately, the earliest ones appear to have been saved on 5 1/2-inch floppy disks and are currently unavailable, but I opened up WordPerfect and had a peek at a few others.
At 300 (back in 2001) I was writing about pigeons and squirrels.
Number 400 in 2003 was something about how rumours get started and how sarcasm can get people in trouble. Interestingly (or not), it referenced pigeons again.
The big 500 in 2005 brought out The Armchair Express™ to wax poetic on an upcoming federal election.
By 2007 I had switched over to Word and column 600 was all about this new-fangled social networking thingy I had joined. Word and Facebook – big year!
In 2009 I remarked on the fact I was writing my 700th column and wowed y’all with some big math about how many words that is. Then the column morphed into something about how long our cat MacGregor would live. (In case you are curious, I figure 900 columns equals about 585,000 words, and the cat featured in column 700 is still with us, as predicted back then, although he is getting to be quite an old fella.)
An old picture of the old cat.
An old picture of the old cat.

In what is becoming a trend, number 800 in 2010 noted the milestone and added another one to the list – I signed up for the Kilt Run that year. This was soon followed by a series of columns about a sore foot.
Fortunately I have a good couple of years to come up with a whopper of a column for number 1,000. Maybe I’ll turn to that new-fangled Facebook thingy to gather some ideas!