Thursday, December 30, 2010

December Birthday Girl

18 years old!
Poor Emily. Her birthday is on December 29, right smack dab in the middle of all the holiday celebrations. School's out, friends are away. Even family is tired of food and partying. And there is that annoying tendency to give one supposedly "big" gift instead of separate Christmas and birthday gifts.

Steve and I have always made a point of having a separate gift for each occasion, as well as a birthday cake on the special day. We typically have her "friends" party in the new year.

This year, however, she got a pleasant surprise: a quintuple birthday!

Party number one: her girlfriends invited her over for an informal party, complete with a homemade cake.

Party number two: she went out for pizza with two more girlfriends. (No cake on this occasion.)

Party number three: her boyfriend showed up with a homemade cake (made with his mother's help).

Party number four: we, her grandparents, her aunt and uncle and her boyfriend all went out for dinner. After the meal the waiter brought out a slice of cake with a sparkler in it. (She scarfed down that cake as if she hadn't been fed in DAYS!)

Party number five: we then came home to - you guessed it -- cake number four, an ice-cream cake!

No surprise we still have leftover cake, of three different varieties. I guess there's always room for more where cake is concerned.

Happy eighteenth, Emma-Lou!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

I think that I may, once upon a time, have made some New Year's Resolutions. Not sure what ever became of them, but I've never done them again.

Because the point of NYRs -- and all goals and objectives, really -- is that you have to refer back to them and ask yourself, "Well, how did I do?" If you're not going to do that, then the whole exercise is kind of futile.

Or is it?

I've often said that the most important part of a communication strategy is not the tactics or slogan or schedule (though that is what the client really wants to see), but the process. Thinking about the current situation, the reason behind the need to communicate, what your point is. Working with the other members of the communication team - especially the client - to ensure that everyone is rowing in the same direction with the same dock in view. If you get those right, then there will be less fussing over changing "good" to "nice."

So, thinking aloud here, what if I were to approach this NYR as a strategy, not a list of tactics? Hmmm. It might look something like this [I'm not sure how personal this will get, so it may never end up being published]:

Current Situation/Background
  • Current weight is holding steady, but is still more than I would like. More to the point, I don't mind my weight so much as I mind how my weight LOOKS in clothing.
  • I have mild diabetes, currently diet-controlled. Don't want it to require drugs or insulin.
  • I have a family history of heart disease, Alzheimers, and depression.
  • Line of credit (used to build the pool) needs to be paid down.
  • I am contented in my closest relationships, but would like to spend more 1:1 time with each of my kids.
  • I am lazy.
  • We are planning a trip to California in March.
  • I am holding judgment on whether the job I'm in now is where I want to be.
  • I drive the car to work at least three times per week, which is expensive, bad for the environment and lazy of me. (The best bus stop is about a 10-minute walk from my front door.)
  • Steve would be delighted if I increased my activity level (and coincidentally lost some weight). [He's exceptionally discreet in how he expresses this, and always does so with my own best interests at heart. He could be a diplomat.]
  • I really like driving to work, rather than taking the bus, mostly because I don't have to watch the clock.
  • Regular exercise is known to combat diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimers and depression. Plus, the Queen says we should do it.
  • Gently proactive approach.
  • Stop driving the car to work so often. (Limit to once per week.)
    • Reduce $ spent on parking - more to put toward line of credit.
    • Walk at least 10 minutes a day [baby steps, people, baby steps!]
  • Set up an automatic transfer to line of credit.
  • Make a "date" with each kid for a Saturday brunch, one kid per week.
  • Go for at least one walk per week with Steve. Increase to three or more times per week over the year.
Evaluation/Results (because you KNOW that any strategy has to have measurable results)
  • Greater stamina
  • Weight loss (rather than gain)
  • Swift reduction of line of credit --> greater disposable income
  • Strengthened relationships with kids

Well, it's a pretty cursory strategy, but it does hit the main points - and the reasons for them.

While January first may be an arbitrary day to review one's life and goals, just as Valentine's Day is an arbitrary date to affirm one's love, it's as good a time as any to take stock and, maybe, make some changes for the better. Just as February 14th is as good a date as any to let someone know how special he or she is in your life.

Monday, December 27, 2010


I mentioned earlier that my new employer has a "Clean Desk" policy. The policy doesn't actually specify what a clean desk must look like or what the consequences would be, but, given that I'm in the probationary period of my employment, I'm guessing they could give me the old heave-ho if they so desired.

So I won't be challenging it. In fact, I quite like my nice, clean expanse of cream laminate.

It does lend the office a rather homogenous look. Which is the point, I suppose.

But just now I glanced at the cute little Roo character that came with the KinderSurprise that was in my stocking. Isn't he sweet? And cheerful? Wouldn't he be nice to have around the office, bringing a smile to everyone who walked by?

Don't you think I should stick his little feet to the top of my cubicle partition and collect the rest in the series so I can create a little theme?

It would be especially welcome because my cube is the very first one visible when people enter the offices. It would be like the entire cast of Winnie-the-Pooh was there to greet them. I just KNOW that everyone would feel a giddy little skip in their hearts.

Yah. I don't think so either. What would probably happen is this:

Colleagues mutter to each other before I get into the office: "Gawd! What is she? Six?"

Second colleague: "Without my glasses on, it kind of looks like she's sprinkled broken bits of glass along the top of the divider, you know, to keep thieves and vandals out. Where's the private security guard?"

Very classy boss's boss takes one look and says to me, "I don't think those really convey the professional, cutting-edge image we are going for. Maybe you could use them to decorate the inside. Of your filing cabinet."

Mimi Bobeck, Drew's nemesis from the Drew Carey Show

This whole train of thought got me thinking about troll dolls (for obvious reasons, I hope), and then I thought of Mimi Bobeck, who also had at least one troll doll on her [clean, mind you] desk.

Clearly, bringing in kitschy things would be heading down a very dangerous path. I think I'll stick with family photos in tasteful frames.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Festival of light

Emily put her tree-decorating skills to work and pulled off what I think is the most beautiful Christmas tree we've ever had. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. (You can click the pictures to enlarge them, then click them again to see them REALLY big!)
We're still trying to figure out
how to arrange the furniture
in a way that is conducive to conversation.
Our beatific angel.
I love her, but because she is not lit
she sort of disappears compared to the rest of the tree.

Look closely and
you will see my reflection in the gold ball.

I love this angel.
I've ordered a capiz star tree-topper to match her.
Our current angel tree-topper will then have to find a new home.

I've been playing around with a new photo-editing software. What do you think?

Ah, progress!

Well, today brought considerable progress around this house. Here's an update:

The fridge and pantry have been filled.
Our tree isn't is up .
The eaves are [still] unlit, but the door is adorned with a cheery new wreath.
The liquor cabinet is bare stocked.
No sweets have been baked purchased and stored in the freezer. (Thank-you to Aunt Carol for that tidbit of wise advice.)
There is no some stuff for the stockings.
Half All but three of the gifts have yet to be been bought.
The gee-gaws are still nestled in their bins.
Our annual letter has not been composed.
Our cards have not been written or stamped.
Of the gifts that have been bought, only three all have been wrapped.
I sorted out the front hall so there is a place for all of the mucky, wet boots. I happen to own - and wear - six pairs of winter boots myself.

Surprisingly, it was kind of fun. I took the boys with me, and we took our time, then hit McDonalds for lunch. The crowds weren't too dreadful and parking was just fine.

And, best of all, while we did all the running around, the cleaners were here today, two energetic women for four hours. The house is spotless!

There is still work to do. Emily and I will decorate the tree tonight -- she has become an expert tree-trimmer through her co-op placement at IKEA where she helped decorate all the trees for their Christmas displays. I'll try to post a picture tomorrow.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I'm not ready.

Photo taken by Emily.
I don't think I've ever been so ill-prepared for Christmas.

Our tree isn't up.
The eaves are unlit.
The liquor cabinet is bare.
No sweets have been baked.
There is no stuff for the stockings.
Half the gifts have yet to be bought.
The gee-gaws are still nestled in their bins.
Our annual letter has not been composed.
Our cards have not been written or stamped.
Of the gifts that have been bought, only three have been wrapped.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

In case there was ever any doubt

I am not a morning person.

This morning, as I do every morning (so it should be pretty much automatic by now), I made a cup of coffee. We use a French press and, while the water was coming to a boil in the kettle, I glanced down and realized that I had put the grounds into my mug instead of into the press, and I had put my sweetener on top of the grounds. D'oh! I guess I wasn't as wide awake as I'd thought I was.

As I corrected the situation, I reflected that there are a few things I should NOT do in the morning (at least before my coffee):
  • Assemble a nuclear weapon
  • Perform brain surgery
  • Take an IQ test
  • Challenge Stephen to a game of ... anything
Steve, on the other hand, is the opposite. He should not do any of the above after 5 p.m. In fact, we have proof of our mental shifts.

One summer at the cottage, we discovered and became obsessed with playing a card game called Klabberjass. We kept score. (You bet we did!) As a matter of fact, we kept a running score over many, many years. We still have the book. If you look closely, you will see that early in the day, Steve wipes the floor with me, but it shifts in the afternoon and, by evening, I am waxing that floor with Steve.

I suppose this body-clock asymmetry could lead to marital friction, but we've made it work for us.

When we had infants, we established a "duty" schedule: if the baby woke before 3 a.m., I was on call. If he or she woke after 3 a.m., Steve would get up. (Pity the baby that started fussing at 2:45!)

We also acknowledge that first thing in the morning is NOT a good time to have a conversation with me, especially if it is on sensitive topics. It's not so much that I'm irritable (though I often am) as that I just don't "get it." I misinterpret, misunderstand ... it's just a recipe for communication disaster.

I guess we are a little like Longfellow's ships [yes, this is the second time I've quoted Longfellow in this blog. I had no idea I was such a fan.]:
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.

          ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Pt. III, The Theologian's Tale: Elizabeth, sec. IV
While that poem elicits a sense of sadness and missed opportunity, I prefer to think of our two ships as mooring alongside each other in the night. He sails at dawn; I sail at dusk.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No singing!

I have an odd habit: I burst into snippets of song at random moments. These impulsive musical moments sometimes just burst out of my subconscious, but they are usually triggered by something that someone says - something that reminds me of a song. Sometimes it's the rhythm of a phrase, sometimes it's a combination of words.

Someone might chide my pessimism by saying, "Don't give up on us," and I will start singing, "Don't give up on us, baby, we're still worth one ... more try." (Ah, grade 9.)

Most of the songs that are deeply wired into my brain got there when I was in my teens and are completely unknown to my kids. So they really have no idea whether I'm making it up or not. They might make a simple request like, "Don't back up on us," as we're getting ready to pull out of the driveway, and I will burst into, "Don't back up on us, daddy, we're still worth one ... more drive."

What's worse is that most of the time I don't even realize I'm doing it. It drives the kids crazy. Especially Brian. At least once a day, he chastizes me, "Mom! You're singing!"

I usually stop, only to start unintentionally singing again moments later because, as I've reminded the kids several times, "A singing mom is a happy mom." When I'm happy, I sing.

And, poor Brian, every time he snaps at me, I think of the poor king from Monty Python whose son Herbert/Alice just wanted to .... SING! And that makes me smile, which makes me happy, and then I ...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lemme OUT!

Our family doctor has his practice in the basement of an old folks' home. I expect he is the "house doctor" for the facility and also sees outside patients.

It had been many years since we had last seen him. Since our last visit, special keypads had been placed at every door between the parking lot and the doctor's office. I guess they've had concerns about senile patients wandering off, so they've taken precautions. There are three such doors. Each of these doors has a slightly different two-digit or three-digit code. On the way into the office, the access code is written on a label pasted near the door.

Leaving is another matter.

To get through the first door, we had to backtrack to the doctor's office and read a posted sign. The second door had a small label. The third door, in the outer vestibule, had a label indicating, "To exit, press." And the code had been removed. Someone had magic-markered a number that looked like either 09 or 04. Someone else had penned in 11.

Eventually, we started doing sequential combinations 01, 02, 03, 04, 05 ... We were plugging away when someone who worked in the building stepped into the vestibule and, with no preamble, said, "It's 12."

"How on earth were we supposed to know that?!" I exclaimed with thinly veiled exasperation.

"Ask someone?"

The only people we could've asked were two locked doors away. Did they think all the patients just KNEW the release code? Guess so.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Zen and the art of parking-lot circumnavigation.

I darned near lost it yesterday. I was stuck in a parking garage that had signage pointing to the conference centre where I had to set up our exhibit, but no actual direct exits to the place. Seriously. There were signs pointing to brick walls and dead ends. What's more, I'd been in that very garage a couple of years earlier, and I KNEW for a fact that it used to have entrances to the conference location.

If you know me, you know that this kind of runaround drives me absolutely batty. Forget road rage; I get frustration rage. When all I want to do is get the job done, all these irritating impediments are like chalk on a chalkboard (a metaphor our grandchildren will likely not understand). Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Finally -- when I was on the verge of tears, for Pete's sake! -- I paused for a millisecond and decided to practice patience. For me, this is a very conscious decision. I didn't expect it to make a difference, but, honest to goodness, it was as if I was a whole different person.
I wondered, do normal people do this all the time? Do they calmly plod on, knowing that anger and frustration will not make one whit of difference at the end of the day? (Except to raise one's blood pressure, cause cancer and generally shorten one's lifespan.) Do they choose to shrug off the frustration and impatience?
Eventually, enveloped in this new sense of resignation, if not calm, I realized that the parking garage I'd remembered was currently under construction and the entrances I'd sought were no longer accessible. I managed to find the solitary access point, after driving circles around downtown Ottawa.

All without having an aneurysm. I call that a "Win."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wheat, Dairy, and Egg - oh my!

Those three things - to which Katie is intolerant - are found in an ASTONISHING number of food items where you wouldn't expect them. Here are some of the surprising things we've learned:
  • Most margarines have whey powder, which is dairy
  • Balsamic vinegar (at least the one we have) has caramel, which is made with butter
  • Our fish-oil paste (for Omega-3 supplement) has egg in it
  • Even dark chocolate (75% cocoa) has whey powder
  • Soy sauce typically has wheat by-products such as MSG
  • Canola oil is sometimes processed with wheat
And those are just from preparing tonight's dinner.

You'd think that Asian foods would be pretty safe, but the other night she ate sushi and realized (after she'd eaten it) that the teriyaki sauce, with lots of soy sauce, had wheat, and that the creamy sauce in one dish was mayonnaise -- egg-based (she'd asked several times if it had dairy, thinking it was milk-based).

I think that eliminating one of the three from her diet would be problematic enough; eliminating all three is proving to be quite a challenge.

I am gaining huge appreciation for friends of ours whose children have serious allergies (the kind you drop dead from) to multiple foods. They never eat anything they haven't prepared themselves. Ever. And they don't let their food touch anyone else's. They've opted to home-school both children, and I don't doubt that has saved their lives and health many times.

Katie's lucky; she is only intolerant, not allergic. And she takes oral enzymes so that if she does eat trace amounts of these no-no's, she will be okay. But, selfishly, I am grateful for three things:
  1. Katie is an adult and is taking responsibility for her own dietary vigilance;
  2. The rest of us seem to have dodged this bullet; and
  3. Katie only eats about one dinner a week with us. (Though I love seeing her more often.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Spilled Milk

"Graceful" is NOT an adjective that is readily applied to me. I've been called elegant (once), which is close, but really only applies when I am sitting still. And not holding a drink. Or not moving my arms anywhere within arm's length of a liquid.

Tonight, I picked up a jug of milk from the table, grabbed a few other things and suddenly realized I was oh, so carefully pouring milk all over the placemats. (My dad used to call that "the lazy man's load" and discouraged me from ever using it. With good reason.)

One time, I almost knocked over a colleague's coffee mug, but caught it just in time. I then set it down, further away from my spill-inclined self, and proceeded to almost knock it down again. Said colleague was watching anxiously while all this went on.

On more than one occasion, I've been holding a glass in my hand when, for no explicable reason, I startle as if I'm about to fall over, jerk my arm, and spill the drink. This happens even before I've imbibed, so it's not alcohol-related.

Solid substances are not protected from my klutziness. One Christmas, as I lifted a delicate, heart-shaped, handpainted, blown-glass ornament out of its cocoon of paper, I commented, "I think this is my all-time favourite ornament," as I proceeded to break it to smithereens. All I could do was laugh and tell the kids they should thank their lucky stars it wasn't one of them who had broken it.

[You might think that my own tribulations would give me some degree of compassion when it comes to my kids' clumsiness. Mostly that is true, but occasionally I am a bad mommy and I forget.]

I can laugh about it now, but when I was a kid it could get a little rough. Especially since I was second-youngest of seven children, and we all know how older siblings like to razz the younger ones.

One night at dinner, after many nights of my mother uttering, "Not AGAIN!" when I knocked over my milk, I did it again. Everyone (except me) just roared with laughter at the predictability of it. But I cried.

Yes, I cried over spilled milk.

My dad, however, stopped laughing, picked me up and carried me into the living room. He wasn't angry. He just held me until I stopped crying. I can't remember what - if anything - he said, but it is one of my fondest childhood memories.

So I didn't cry over my spill tonight, but I did remember my dad, who died more than 20 years ago, and I cried, just a little, over him. Those kind of tears are worth crying.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The real question is what CAN she eat.

You, my loyal readers, may recall that shortly after I started this blog, my daughter Katie wound up in the emergency room because of excrooooociating pain. [You may remember the post because it was just a wee tad bit on the melodramatic side. And I played around with font sizes as I'd seen in some other blogs. Annoying really. Sorry 'bout that.]

Anyway, she was never given a good explanation for what was wrong, largely because the urine and blood test results came back benign: no blood, no proteins. They didn't do any follow-up, like ultrasound or colonoscopy. Since then, Katie continued to have minor flare-ups and was trying to weed out which foods caused her trouble, starting with the "gall bladder diet."

Once we moved back to Ottawa, we got the ball rolling to find out what the heck was up. By this time, she had ruled out so many foods that I swear she was living on rice, peas, fruit, fish and soy milk.

Finally, she saw a medical doctor who also practices holistic medicine. (Not covered by our provincial health insurance.) She sent various samples away. The results came back today, and were quite surprising.

Katie is intolerant to:
  • egg white
  • gliadin
  • gluten
  • wheat
UPDATE: she is also intolerant to dairy. Not sure how I missed that one!

and sensitive to:
  • egg yolk
  • rye
  • kidney beans
  • mushrooms
Intolerant means she just doesn't have the enzymes to digest these foods. Sensitive means she does have the enzymes, but still isn't processing them right, but should only eat them maybe twice a week or so. Fortunately, she doesn't have any actual allergies (e.g., a histamine response), so we don't have to worry about her dropping dead from eating any of these things.

She'll just be in great pain and probably farting up a storm and hogging the bathroom.

We consider this good news, because at least now we know what we're dealing with. And Katie is happy because she can go back to eating dark chocolate, coffee and hash browns. But no lasagne or doughnuts.

The interesting thing is that when she was a toddler we thought she had a wheat "allergy" and eliminated all wheat products from her (and our) diet for about a year. She was accidentally given some wheat when she was about three, and didn't have a reaction, so we thought she'd gotten over it. It didn't occur to us that the "reaction" might take a while to build up.

So, in some ways we're back where we started, but at least we now have a really clear idea of what we're dealing with.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weirdo Magnet

I used to call my husband, Steve, a "weirdo magnet." If a homeless person stepped onto the bus, he would strike up a conversation with Stephen. If we sat down in a Tim Hortons, someone with odd tics and a tendency to stare would sit beside us and - again - strike up a conversation. These things really happened.

And Steve didn't mind them in the least. Meanwhile, I would be plotting courteous ways to end the interaction. "Welp. Time to pick up the thing," I would say while looking at Steve meaningfully.

Feeling sorry for a homeless man whom he passed every day, but not wanting to give money that might go to drugs or alcohol, Steve started giving the fellow a piece of fruit from his lunch. Eventually, he learned the man's name: Peter. And that Peter preferred softer food as his teeth were in bad shape. So Steve started making an extra sandwich every morning and bringing it for Peter.

I've known other people who give panhandlers breakfast bars, but I've never known one of them to learn the street person's name.

But it's not really about weirdos. It's something about Stephen.

When we lived in Alabama, Steve got to know one of the tellers at our small bank. She and I were pregnant at the same time, so he shared my stories with her, and hers with me until, finally, she and I connected and became friends. I went to her house, and she and her husband came to our house for dinner.

He got to know one of the servers at our local coffee shop well enough that she chatted with him about her narcolepsy and need for Ritalin. He knows the office custodial staff by first name. He knows people well enough to know that one's child committed suicide, or another's son is disabled.

How many people do you know who get to know "acquaintances" that well?

What I think is that, while the rest of us avert our gaze or suddenly become engrossed in our work, Steve actually sees these people, sees them as individuals, as worthy of his attention and time. It is a gift, a reflection of God in him, that he accepts people without ... I'm having a hard time finding the word. I was going to say, "without judgment," but that isn't true because he is an astute observer of human nature.

It's more that he doesn't consider himself better - or more worthy - than others. People respond to that.

This afternoon, I read Brene Brown's blog about "basic dignity." In it, she writes,
When we treat people as objects, we dehumanize them. We do something really terrible to their souls and to our own.

Martin Buber, an Austrian-born philosopher, wrote about the differences between an "I-it" relationship and an "I-you" relationship. An "I-it" relationship is basically what we create when we are in transactions with people whom we treat like objects - people who are simply there to serve us or complete a task.

I-you relationships are characterized by human connection and empathy.
That describes Stephen's relationships.

There is a verse in the Bible that reads, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

I suspect that it's pretty hard to entertain angels if you don't even see them. Or if, like me, you're busy seeing them as weirdos.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feet, cake, and a clean desk.


Today was my first day of work. I did not, however, wear either of the two pairs of shoes purchased for the occasion. Why? Because it rained today and I had failed to water-protect the new shoes, so they stayed home, safe and dry in my closet.

Instead I wore my hawt pleather boots.

They only have 3-inch heels, but my feet are only size six, so that incline is pretty steep. I figure it's the same angle that a 6-inch heel would be on a size eight foot. (Platforms don't count.)

And these feet are very out of practice.

And I took the bus.

And I had to dash out and redirect Emily at 4:00, and then walk to meet her again at 5:00.

As Stephen would say: "Wah! Wah! Wah!
Do we need to call the WAH-mbulance?"
Yah. He's real sympathetic like that. On the bright side, my hair did NOT disgrace me, at least not until the 4:00 dash.


And, even better, there was CAKE - and not just any grocery-store cake, but a swiss-chocolate-mousse layer cake. It was divine. The narcissist in me wishes I could say the cake was in honour of my first day at work, but it wasn't. One of the other employees had just become a father, so we celebrated.

Can I just say that I am very glad that he and his wife procreated? Keep up the good work.

Clean Desk

This is the first place I've worked that has a written clean-desk policy. And it's kind of awesome. The place looks really spiffy. Of course, I haven't been there long enough to accumulate the many tons of paper that will surely come my way, but it is certainly good motivation for me to start a good habit.


Aside from that, the first day was much as you'd expect: meeting lots of new people (whose names I will promptly forget), lots of reading and plenty of "drinking from a firehose" (as Stephen describes the sensation of trying to absorb gallons of new information in a very short amount of time).

Heading back to the hose tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In the Driver's Seat

I'm a nervous passenger, and it drives Stephen crazy. I try, really I do, to keep the gasps and yelps and nagging within reasonable limits, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

It really comes to a head in two locations we've encountered so far:
  1. Switchbacks on mountain passes - and there are PLENTY of those in Colorado! In winter, they are generously sprinkled with icy patches.
  2. Crazy high-speed traffic in L.A.
What can I say? I just hate that feeling that you're going to fall off the edge of the planet or occupy the same physical space as another vehicle. And it just FRUSTRATES ME to no end that there are no brakes on the passenger side of our cars.

You'd think, since I'm so here-let-me-tell-you-how-to-drive, that I'd be a pretty decent driver myself. Well, while it's true that I haven't had any insurance claims in decades, I have had a few mishaps.

Most of them in my own driveway. How pathetic is that?

I once ran over a metal post while backing up the long driveway at our cottage. It pierced a small hole in the trunk. At the time, I was trying to avoid running over my friend, so I think that was a fair trade-off. [Never mind that I was never closer than 10 feet from her.]

I once backed out of our garage while the car's hatchback was wide open. You'd be surprised how loud a noise a hatch makes when it strikes a garage door. You'd be even more surprised to see that neither was damaged.

I once broke a water spigot off the wall of our house while trying to maneuver - again, backing up - around another car in our driveway. Astonishingly, the car was not damaged at all, but my ego was damaged as my friend watched me do it; she generously attributed my poor skill to "pregnancy brain."

But my favourite most memorable happened shortly after we moved to Colorado. While driving into our garage, I marvelled at how incredibly tidy and well organized the space was: canoe paddles in their rack, storage bins in custom-built shelves, gardening supplies tidied away. It was a little moment of OCD bliss until I heard the crunch and grind of the side of our van scraping along the garage opening.

As I backed out of the garage, I knew that this was going to be an expensive screw-up, and it was. (For his part, Steve would've been happy to drive around indefinitely with a smashed-in door and missing side mirror, but I found it too humiliating.)

So, while I am very good at getting from point A to point B, it is safe to say that valet parking was invented for people like me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Case of the Missing Shoes

Thirty-five pairs of footwear;
thirty of them are (were) mine.
  Remember that inventory photo I took of my many, many shoes? Well, most of those shoes made their way here to Ottawa - in matching pairs, even - and have been stowed on shelves. However, five pairs of those shoes have vanished without a trace. I dug through every bag, nook and cranny, every pile of hastily stacked crap that had been pulled out of packing boxes. Sadly, this tale does not end as happily as our previous mystery. The shoes. Are. Gone.

Shockingly, the FBI does not seem to be responding appropriately to the seriousness of this situation: I am within hours [about 40, in fact] of starting a new job, where I am expected to wear something other than crocs and sandals (it being fall, after all), and I have a single pair of work-suitable shoes!

Now, some of you [men] may think that I would be able to find suitable footwear amongst the remaining 25 pairs of shoes. You [men] would be wrong. [There were indeed two pairs of dark-brown flat loafers; one pair has been donated.] There is only one pair of dark-brown pumps in that pile. One pair of tan pumps. They both happen to be numbered among the missing, and both happen to be essential elements of my fall wardrobe.

So I had to go shopping. [Grin.] I've been on a "clothing diet" since I quit my previous job, so it was kind of a kick to be on a fashion mission. And I got lucky. Look, cute new shoes:
Now that I look at them side by side,
they do bear a certain likeness to each other.

This whole shoe thing has reminded me of the first book I ever read on my very own, when I was five years old. It was a book of poetry, and one of the poems was about shoes. I clearly remember the photo that accompanied the poem, and it was rather like the inventory photo at the top of this post. It may explain my fixation with shoes. Blame it on budding literacy.
In any case, I'm hopeful that the lost shoes have gone to the same place as our missing area rugs (which never did turn up), and that they are enjoying a second life with someone who really needs them.

P.S. Here's a snapshot of what our weekend was like:

This is what Sunday afternoons are about.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Case of the Missing Mice

One of the things we discovered as we moved out of our Colorado house was a large stash of catnip-filled mice (Elly's favourite toys) hidden under the fridge. Evidently Elly had "chased" them there. We were please to rediscover these fake rodents as they have given Elly many hours of pleasure.

Once we got things under control here, we gave her back her mice. This was a mistake for two reasons:
  1. They are not attractive and are annoyingly underfoot.
  2. Elly likes to "hunt" them at night and deliver them proudly to the base of the stairs, where she then meows loudly to get our attention in the wee hours.
We suffered through a few days of this and, somehow without our really noticing it, the random mice and midnight meowing ceased. I thought nothing of it. Elly still had her other mice - not as cute, not catnip-filled. About once a week we'd find one of these lesser mice placed ceremoniously at the base of the stairs.

Then Emily lost her bus pass and, in the process of looking EVERYWHERE for it, checked under the bench in the front hall. This is the bench.
See that little gap under the bench?
Emily ended up pulling out a whole passel of little mice! Thirteen and a half in all. Yes, Elly, even with her lack of teeth, manages to bite these little plaster mice in half! Here are some of the mice.

Yes, they are VERY dust-covered.
Which illustrates WHY I need a cleaning service!

So we gave Elly back her mice. And was she happy? I'd say so ...

And it seems she is determined to put them all back under the bench. Maybe for her Christmas present, we'll clean under the bench again.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Dance!

Yippee! I start next Wednesday as Communications Manager at a high-tech organization with its headquarters here in Ottawa.
In a previous post, I mentioned that I had been offered a short-term ("casual") government position in the health sector, and that paperwork was already under way for that job. So I called them today to let them know that I would, regrettably, not be taking that job. I offered them the name of a friend who happens to be an excellent communicator and works as a contractor/consultant, and who might be able to help them out with some of their projects. Unfortunately, I had to do all that in voicemail, and they haven't called back yet.

The job I've accepted is the one described as Job 2 in my previous post. It looks like a demanding job, with plenty of satisfying challenges for me and even some travel opportunities (I'll be in Toronto on November 24 and 25). And the fact that I can start almost immediately is perfect as well. I've missed having my own income and all the extras that it brings for the family. Not to mention how it will take the axe to the pool costs. Oh, and have you noticed how close we are to Christmas?

So I'm breathing a huge sigh of relief this afternoon.

And you'll never guess how I plan to celebrate when I get my first paycheck.

Cleaning services. Yup. I hate cleaning floors and bathrooms, but even more than that, I hate dirty floors and toothpaste-scummed sinks and mirrors and revolting toilets. When I am unemployed, I do the work myself of course, but when I have the income, I am only too happy to let someone else do the job.

So - happy dance!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reverting to Smoke Signals and Charcoal Scratches on Cave Walls

Cave drawings at Lascaux, France. Source
 I'm thinking of giving up this whole technology thing. Well, not seriously, evidently, because I am, at this very moment, writing a blog post.

If we are Facebook friends, then you already know that I've suffered a technological crash and burn recently. My two-year-old laptop's LCD screen suffered a catastrophic failure and gave me the white screen of death. Yup: white screen. I had no idea such a thing existed until it happened to me.

[Allow me to point out that that is a hardware error, so really it is not a case of my using "weird keystrokes" or otherwise abusing the machine. Unless you count slamming it shut in frustration when trying to navigate a government website. But EVERYONE does that! I DO NOT have anger-management issues!]

This is only the latest in a seemingly unending string of disasters with laptops (and the occasional desktop or Kindle). Frankly, I've lost count, and I really don't want to look up my notes to find out what my current status is.

Anyway, I've been using Steve's netbook, but we got a scare yesterday when it wouldn't boot for me, which is why I have a new laptop today.

You might think that, by now, I'd be used to the process of integrating a new computer, but let me tell you, I am SICK OF IT!

Registering this, that and the other thing, customizing applications, restoring backed-up files, activating my antivirus/spyware program without having to pay through the nose for a second license, getting used to the slightly different keyboard layout [this one has a "\" or « key where the Shift key should be] and a new operating system.

And Microsoft Outlook NEVER works with Outlook Connector. All it will show me is my oldest Inbox message ... from last May!

And this new bilingual keyboard won't allow me to switch to English - Canada. And now my quotation mark has vanished! Where the hell are my quotation marks!É Aaaah! And my question mark! ^^ And my square brackets! (And I have my keyboard set to English - US.)

*Breathe in... Exhaaaaaale... Breathe in... Exhaaaaaale.*
*Take a glug of wine.*

Those asterisks will have to take the place of square brackets AND less-than or greater-than symbols.

[Aha! The square bracket has been restored to me! ? And the question mark! And the /! And the quotation mark: "!

[Breathe in... Exhaaaaaale... Breathe in... Exhaaaaaale.]

And, wait. Outlook has awakened and restored unto me the wealth of e-mails which I had entrusted to its care. [Angels sing, harp music swells.]

On that optimistic note [Yippeee! I've got e-mail!], I will spare you the saga of my accidentally purchasing a laptop without a CD/DVD drive (only discovered AFTER I had restored all of my files, of course), and of forgetting my receipt when I went to exchange it. Well, I guess I didn't really spare you, I just sort of condensed it.

For his part, Stephen has already deleted my user account on his little netbook. Couldn't do so fast enough, it seems. The fact that he allowed me to use it for seven entire days just shows you how very much he loves me.

I leave you on that note, while I go to do battle with that monolithic beast that goes by the name of Norton.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Crumbling Teeth

Last week I had another one of my crumbling-teeth dreams. Maybe it was triggered by Hallowe'en coming up, but I hate this recurring dream! In it, usually the edge of one of my molars breaks, which has happened to me in real life. Then, next thing I know, all my (oddly enough, perfectly white) teeth are falling apart to the gum line like hollow eggshells and I'm spitting out chunks of white enamel.

The only other person I've heard of with this particular dream is Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half . [But do you think I could find the post where she actually writes about it? Noooo. But I know it's there. I found it during my marathon session of reading every. single. one. of her posts immediately after being introduced to her blog. I came very close to repeating that endeavour today.]

As I've mentioned before, I was not a very diligent brusher of teeth when I was a child. I don't think I was as bad as Jessica Simpson who famously boasted that she never (or rarely) brushes her teeth. [I can look down my nose at her, because at least I've changed my ways since growing up.]

But when I was a snotty-nosed kid, the ol' toothbrush had a longer lifespan than Methuselah, 'cause it was rarely ever used. And I don't know when our city started putting fluoride in its tap water, which according to Dr. Peter Cooney, Health Canada’s chief dental officer in 2008, "helps to reduce tooth decay by 20-40 per cent in kids and teens and by 27 per cent in adults." [I tried to research that online, but couldn't find any date. What I DID find is that the policy of fluoridating water is quite controversial these days. I had no idea.]

Frankly, I thought it was part of normal aging in our family to:
  • Get fat
  • Need glasses
  • Wear dentures
Both my parents removed their teeth (at least some of them) at night and placed them in glasses of water with Polident. I just thought that was inevitable, so I didn't worry about it.

Sure, my oral situation was yucky -- my friends used to ask me if my teeth didn't feel gritty. They didn't because the plaque was so thick, it actually felt smooth. [I KNOW:  ew ew ew ew ew!] You'd think that that shaming question would motivate me to get with the program, and it did, for a week or so, but old habits die hard. I don't think I really started any dental hygiene until I was dating. For obvious reasons.

For most of my childhood, we had no dental insurance, so my teeth just rotted in my mouth. Quite literally. Oddly, I don't remember any toothaches or discomfort.

When my dad finally did get a job with dental benefits, I had a series of interminable dental appointments to fill cavernous holes in my teeth. During one such noise-and-stink-filled appointment, one of the dental staff came into the opertory and glanced at all the little pots of amalgam on the dentist's tray.

"Is that all for her?!" she marvelled. Yah. It was.

I imagine the poor dentist shook his head at the condition of my teeth.

Not surprisingly, the whole thing left me with a serious loathing for the dentist's office and a greater appreciation for oral hygiene. I am fortunate to still have all my original teeth, albeit with a few crowns.

But what about the recurring dream? According to BellaOnline's "dreams editor," [Now, there's a job title!] these dreams (nightmares!) are fairly common and may have nothing or everything to do with my actual teeth. Not so helpful.

In the meantime, my kids have benefited from my own childhood dental disaster. I've been enough of a tooth-brushing Nazi that, though they each have had cavities, they have been minor "pits" for the most part. And I don't think any of them have the same anxiety associated with dentists as I have. So there's your silver lining. [Pardon the pun.]

One final interesting tidbit: my older sister actually became a dentist.

Oh. Whatever you do, do NOT Google images for crumbling teeth. Unless you're trying to diet or motivate yourself to quit smoking. Instead, Google Jessica Simpson brushing teeth, and have a good laugh.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A bird in the hand?

Well folks, the bills have started pouring in, and Christmas is mere weeks away, so I figure it's about time I got serious about looking for a job.

Of course, there was the miserable job/not-job fiasco of September, but nothing substantial since then.

Well, as these things often happen, I got a nibble on a line I had put out several weeks earlier, at the same time as I got a call to interview for another interesting position. Here's the scoop:
Job 1:
  • Term position (maternity leave until March 2011), but Public Service of Canada
  • Adequate salary range
  • Could work with a former (well respected) colleague
  • Health sector, which I LOVE
Job 2:
  • Permanent position, but private industry
  • Adequate salary range (lower than the former position, but some overlap)
  • Smaller organization, so possibly more autonomy
  • Tech sector, for which I have excellent qualifications
So here's the problem: Job 1 has already offered me the job, and their HR department has started the paperwork. So, unlike the job/not-job fiasco, this is looking like a sure thing. The interview for Job 2 isn't until Friday. While there is no guarantee that I will be offered Job 2 after the interview, I am fairly confident that I will be, based on the job description's match to my resume, and my experience with past interviews. (Even despite hair disasters.)

I'm looking at this from two perspectives:
1) What is the Right Thing to Do?
2) If all else were equal, which job do I really want?

I think the Right Thing to Do is to put the brakes on Job 2, since I've already given verbal acceptance to Job 1. If I hadn't been burned in the job/not-job fiasco, I probably wouldn't even be debating this. (Though I have to remind myself that, in that fiasco, I had not been formally offered the job.) I'd just tell Job 2 that I've already accepted another position.

Which job do I really want? Job 2 looks like the more interesting and challenging position; Job 2 1 (typo!) looks like I might be a kind of "float" or filler, which could spell "dead end." Though Job 1 is a term position, once I have my foot in the door, I'm pretty sure I would be able to find something else -- even at a higher level -- in the public service.

What would YOU do? Is it unethical for me to be courting Job 2 while I proceed with the paperwork for Job 1?

Gosh, this feels like dating: is it wrong to date two guys if no one has declared exclusivity? Or is this situation more like continuing dating while I've got a ring on my finger?

Monday, October 25, 2010


It doesn't take much to make me happy, really.

This morning, Brian handed me this pillbox.

He must've found it while he was putting away the dishes.
So I opened it.
A note! What does it say?
"Please turn over."

I love you, mom!
Love, Brian

From a 14-year-old! See this is where the "it's all worth it" comes in. 

Totally. Worth. It.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Parenthood: it gets easier. Or does it?

That mound is one week's worth of laundry in 1996
when we had four children, age newborn to 8.
Oh, do I remember those harried days of parenting babies and young children. The exhaustion of several-time-per-night feedings, the worry of crying babies with fevers, and the constant anxiety about their safety. And just the sheer physical labour: the laundry (oh, my Lord, the laundry!), the putting away, the dressing, diapering, toileting, carrying, and buckling.

I won't claim that I enjoyed every minute of it (you wouldn't believe me anyway). In fact, I clearly remember crying one afternoon (during the kids' naptime) and deciding that I had better "get a job" and put the kids in daycare because I clearly was not cut out for this motherhood crap. I felt like a complete failure.

You KNOW I'm going to tell you that it was worth it, right? Well, as facile as that sounds, it really was. The benefits definitely outweighed the costs. Those grubby hugs, snuggles, kisses ... I miss them. The weight of an infant sleeping on my shoulder. The trust. Knowing how central you are to this person's world.

And it did get easier.

They started taking care of themselves. Suddenly, I was no longer on-call to tie all the shoes, zip all the jackets, and buckle all the seatbelts. They could wipe their own noses and bottoms. Then they were actually able to contribute to the running of the household: making their own lunches, doing dishes, laundry and yard work.

But then I realized that things had only shifted ...

Sure, they were tying their own shoes, but in exchange they had homework. Homework meant, at the very least, ensuring there was time and space to do said work, or, worse, a trip to the office-supply store to buy Bristol board, paint, ink for the printer, and construction paper. Having the kids in school, in our case, also meant confronting the reality of ADHD, though with each of our kids, I left them to struggle for years before I accepted the diagnosis and treatment. You'd think I would've learned after the first one, but, no. It was as if I forced each one to prove it.

Playdates in sandboxes shifted to complicated mean-girl friendships, boyfriends and girlfriends, and broken hearts. Instead of visits to the pediatrician for vaccinations and banana-flavoured antibiotics, we saw psychiatrists and therapists.

I used to worry about scraped knees; now I worry about them behind the wheel of a car. Safety shifted from safety plugs on sockets and locked cabinets to THE WHOLE FREAKING INTERNET!

Discipline shifted from saying no to sugary cereal to saying no to drugs, alcohol, and dangerous relationships. You haven't seen a tantrum until you've seen a young adult thwarted. [Read that twice.]

And, unlike when they were youngsters, they aren't supervised all the time. And at the very same time as we have less control, the stakes are even higher. They have the freedom and opportunity to get into some really, really serious trouble. Life-altering or life-ending trouble. Pregnancy, AIDS, Internet predators ...

I am often nostalgic for those days when I could solve all the problems in my little one's world by lifting him or her to my breast.

As in my previous post, where I talked about guardian angels and trusting my gut instincts, there really is a lot of faith involved, all the way through. And I do realize that, with four kids aged 14 to 22, we are really in the thick of it right now. But I'm willing to bet that, even after they've all left home and started families of their own, I'll still be awake at night worrying about them.

As with the laundry, the wiping, and the inconsolable infants, it will be worth it. I no longer expect it to get easier. (And I will stop reassuring new, frazzled, sleep-deprived mothers that it will. It's a false promise. Sorry, Diane.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Living vicariously.

Since I am currently employed as a domestic goddess, I get to live vicariously through Steve's incredible travel opportunities related to his current job. He just got back from a trip to Iqaluit, Nunavut, and brought back some stunning pictures. Sure makes me want to visit the High North!

You should be able to click on these pictures to enlarge them. 
Fjords on Baffin Island

Satellite ground terminals on Brevoort Island

Long-range radar
My honey, keeping warm.

At the very, very top of this photo, you will see the landing strip.
Steve says it felt like the plane was going to crash into the cliff.
Taken from the airplane.
Wow. Sure wish I could've stowed away in his luggage. Though I suspect the cargo area was a little on the chilly side.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I've come a long way, baby.

Our bedroom all dressed for winter.
As a child, I don't think I ever made my bed. Not even once. Not even for company.

So it's a bit of a miracle that I have reached the point in my life, at age 48, that I am now making my bed every single day. Once I finished work in June, I figured I had no excuse for leaving my bed looking like a swamp all day, every day, so I made a resolution to keep it tidy, and - astounding to me - I've actually kept that resolution.

I also resolved to - gasp! - put away my clothes each day! I've been a little spotty on that one, but for the most part, I've been good.

And it's a big deal to me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Leftovers are GREAT!

I LOVE turkey dinner with all the trimmings. I even love turkey leftovers for an entire week running. So far we've had
  • Monday: turkey dinner with stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc.
  • Tuesday: turkey quesadillas
  • Wednesday: turkey pot pie
Doesn't the pot pie look cute?

Brian and Emily both liked the heart!
For my turkey pot pie, I just use leftover turkey, leftover gravy and some frozen veggies and any stray vegetables that may have been left over from the big day. In this case: broccoli. Quick & easy. Not even a recipe, really.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Change of plans

This past weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. The original plan was for all of us to drive down to Oakville for a big family get-together. I was really looking forward to seeing as many of these people as I could. This picture - the last time I had been with my siblings and spouses, mom and aunts - was taken more than a year ago, at my late Aunt Betty's burial.
Ignore the date-stamp on the photo.
It was taken in September 2009.
I am kneeling front, left.

I hadn't seen much of them while we were living in Colorado, and I've missed them. I was also REALLY looking forward to meeting my very first great-nephew, Drew! He's only 3 months old and is ADORABLE. And it's been so long since I nom-nommed a little baby neck, and I really do have a thing for babies.

Diane and Drew

Unfortunately ... Emily caught mono and I caught a cold. We were both contagious. So I called off the trip. The last thing I wanted to do was infect an infant or his mom, who happens to have Cystic Fibrosis and for whom respiratory illnesses are no laughing matter.

So, I approached the weekend glumly. No surprise, by Friday, I was feeling much better, but I still didn't want to expose Drew and Diane to the bugs, so we still stayed home. But... Steve's sister came over on Friday and we decided to get together here and have a turkey dinner after all, on Monday.

Logistical challenge: how to seat up to 11 people around a 60-inch-diameter table that comfortably seats five, but can squeeze in seven? Steve's solution? Create a new tabletop to change this:
to this:

That's 60" x 120" and should seat up to 12.
Not too elegant, is it? But then I went SHOPPING! And this:
contributed to this:
An elegant table. (Not autumn colours, mind you, but I've been coveting some of that beautiful blue-grey for months!)

The weather was exquisite, so we got to enjoy our patio - its first party!

While outdoors, Brian and then Katie each accepted dares to jump into the frigid waters of the pool.

And he's in!

Next up: Hello Katie!

Brian jumped again, to give Katie some moral support.

Yup. It was COLD!

And the winners congratulated each other with a cold, wet hug.
I forgot to take pictures once we went inside for dinner, of course. Too busy gorging. But, as one would expect, there was plenty of yummy turkey, stuffing, homemade orange-cranberry sauce, multigrain pilaf, veggies, salad, two pies ...

So, yeah, the diet starts today.

Anyway, it wasn't the weekend I'd been waiting months for, but it was another memorable family gathering just the same. Now I just need to figure out when we WILL head down to Oakville and how I'll get to see baby Drew before he graduates from college and will likely not react well to his great-aunt nom-nomming his neck. Yeah. Not a good idea, creepy aunt.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood!

The fall colours have definitely arrived here - and may, in fact, be waning. And I am falling in love with our neighbourhood all over again. Let's go for a walk together!
The view from our front porch, if you look up.

 And the wonderful climbing tree across the street ...
 And into the forest.
 Then out of the forest and ...
 back into another part of it!
 A grand old maple. (If I had Photoshop - and knew how to use it - I'd totally remove those hydro lines.)
 An intersection on the way to Brian's school.

The garden in one neighbour's front yard. I don't know what those purple flowers are ...
they're like miniature purple daisies.
I don't know if I want my front yard to be quite this meadow-like,
but it sure is pretty!

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