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.