Sunday, June 27, 2010

Foul-weather friend of the class nerd

Breaking news: I went to church this morning.

Once upon a time, that wouldn't have been newsworthy, but for the past, oh, 15 years, I've been what I've heard called "a C & E christian." C & E = Christmas and Easter. As in, those are the only days I darken the doorway of our chapel.

What's really sad is that I was bribed to go to church by the offer of lunch. In a restaurant. (And a very good lunch it was.)

But go I did. And I'm glad.

While listening to the excellent sermon, it occurred to me that our pastor was describing me: when it comes to my faith, I am the opposite of a "fair-weather friend" who only shows up when things are hunky-dory. Because when the fit hits the shan, I am right there on my knees praying and expecting that God (Jesus/Spirit) will drop everything, do a little happy dance ("Oh, yeah! She remembered me!") and make everything all better.

When Emily had her crisis 20 months ago, and the world as I knew it crumbled to smithereens around me, I was on my knees, head pressed to the floor, tears streaming, praying with every atom of my soul that God would hear me and rescue our desperate family. With shameless gall I asked everyone for prayers. I wrote of miracles, angels and God's mercy. I said, "Thank God," and I meant it more earnestly than ever. I mean every word of it today.

There were miracles. Small ones, big ones. Emily received treatment that could have set us back more than $100,000, but was covered by our insurance. It was treatment that might not have been available in Canada, but was available because we were living out of the country. There are more, but I can't go into them, out of respect for Emily's privacy.

I clung to God.

And, in this case, God saw fit to lift us up, to heal each one of us. I don't believe that God always answers our prayers by "granting wishes" as if he (or she) were some kind of leprechaun or genie in a lamp. He's not Santa Claus! I think, in that respect, the epithet "Father" best applies: He always answers prayer, but He looks at a greater good, a different good, and sometimes that good involves a great deal of pain and loss on our part. His answers aren't always what we want to hear, any more than my answers to my kids are what they want to hear.

But I am so, so grateful He answered as He did.

So what was my response? Like any spoiled brat who gets what she wants, I wandered off and enjoyed my blessings. And, like a kid who befriends the class nerd, I kept my relationship with God a secret. More or less. I only shared it with people who I knew were like-minded.

I wasn't always like that, and perhaps that's why it is difficult for me now.

I grew up in a very evangelical church, was extremely involved in all things christian through high school and university. I was outspoken about my faith, unabashed. As I "grew up" I became more circumspect about my beliefs and a little ashamed of how evangelical I'd been (I still would never dream of evangelizing the way I did as a teenager).

And then I was deeply, unforgiveably hurt by someone I loved and who I thought loved me. My trust was betrayed, and I felt abandoned. And every. Frigging. Time I went to church, there was a minister at the front preaching forgiveness. There was the Lord's prayer: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Man. If that isn't the toughest challenge.

So I stopped going.

And here I am, painfully aware that God didn't wait for me to forgive before He scooped my family up. Aware that God is willing to be my "secret" friend. Because, for some incomprehensible reason, he is just desperate for me to want him. [Hmm. Maybe He really IS the class nerd. Naw. I already married the class nerd. ;-)]

I have a strong feeling that it's time for me to step up. To be a little more genuine in my faith. I don't have a clue what that will look like, but I think it's time to start investigating, and listening. I have a sinking feeling that it may involve some forgiveness, and I'm not sure what that will look like either.

[I promise not to turn this into a religious blog any more than it is entirely a mommy blog, but this is part of who I am.]

Saturday, June 26, 2010

More paperwork!

The packers were only here for half a day yesterday, which was expected. It was only a "pre-pack" - just the stuff we could live without for the weekend. When they come on Monday, they'll pack everything else.

Those of you who are Facebook friends know that the packers actually packed our passports (and all our other important documents (like birth certificates), which we keep in a locked cashbox) into one of the boxes! If we were just moving across town or across the country, it wouldn't be a problem, but we NEED those passports to enter Canada, and especially to retrieve our vehicles. No passport = no stuff crossing the border.

Fortunately, the (very keyed-in) packer came across our stack of (expired) passports. He knew we were moving to Canada and thought we might need them - he didn't notice they were expired. So he brought them to me. I gasped! It took us half an hour to dig through eight boxes (multiple times each) before we found the treasure box. Phew! I don't know what we would have done ...

While the packers were noisily and busily wrapping, stuffing, taping and stacking, a technician came to "certify" all of our high-value electrical items: anything that plugs in and is worth more than $100. With the help of Brian - who is small and can squeeze into awkward spaces - the technician annotated every item, with serial number. He didn't actually turn said items on, or test them in any way, so I'm not sure how this differs from the agonizingly detailed inventory I created, but he gets paid to do it and we aren't covered for damages if we don't, so...

Just before he left for the day, the head packer brought me a sheaf of papers. I thought he wanted me to sign something, but no. They were triplicate forms for us to list every high-value item, with serial number and declared value. I told him I had already done this, but he said, "If it's not on these forms, we don't acknowledge it." Great.

So we now have three inventories: the exhaustive one I laboured over, the one the electrical certifier created, and the triplicate high-value inventory for the moving company.


Other move tidbits

Today Steve emptied the crawlspace. I didn't realize how much stuff we had in there, too. Groannnnn. But Brian was excited to see his long-lost Fisher-Price Flip-Track. It hasn't been out of the crawlspace in five years, so I would donate it, but seeing Brian's excitement vetoed that.

Steve and Emily are now on their drive up Pikes Peak. Emily has never been to the top, despite three previous attempts, so it was something she needed to do before we left.

Our fridge and freezer have nothing but bizarre remnants: unsalted butter, meatballs (but we have no tomato or spaghetti sauce), hamburger buns (but no basic bread or meat patties). On the bright side: it'll be easy to clean everything for transport.

We have five huge "china barrels" of crystal and "good" dishes that have nowhere to go at our new house. The dining room is just too small for any kind of china cabinet or hutch, and the kitchen will barely have enough room for our kitchen stuff (and that'll be AFTER we add more cabinets). This downsizing kinda sucks lemons.

Brian is carefully putting each of his treasured Bionicle creations into a ziploc bag so none of the pieces will get lost during the move.

The cat was sedated yesterday because the veterinarian recommended we test the sedative before we give it to her for her long travel day to Canada (and we thought it might be stressful for her to hear all the packing noises). She was very funny to watch - staggering drunk, but still trying to escape the room to which we had confined her. It lasted a good twelve hours.

When we took the cat for her travel certification check-up, the vet noticed that another one of her teeth has gone rotten (she has feline stomatitis). Rather than waiting till we move to Canada, we've scheduled surgery to remove the tooth on Tuesday, while the movers are loading our stuff on the van.

Emily needs bloodwork to check the level of one of her meds (it's one that the body metabolizes differently the longer you are on it). We'll be doing that on Monday morning.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Let the wild rumpus begin!

Here was the plan:
0630 Steve, Wynn Anne and Emily wake up, shower, make beds (Peter and Brian remain in blissful stupor)
0700 Steve takes Emily to have fasting bloodwork done; Landlord arrives with painter to give estimate on painting interior
0800 Packers arrive; Technician arrives to certify all electronics and appliances

Here's what happened:
0630 Steve, Wynn Anne and Emily wake up, shower, make beds (Peter and Brian remain in blissful stupor)
0645 Emily, running on auto-pilot, takes her morning meds - Oops! Now she can't do her bloodwork. Emily goes back to bed.
0740 Landlord and painter arrive
0845 Technician and packers arrive

Have I mentioned that I do not DO mornings? I am the night-owliest of the night owls. I would sooner stay up until three in the morning than GET up at three in the morning. Any time that I have to be up before the first digit on the clock is at least a 7 is painful. So that difference between 0700 promised arrival and 0740 actual arrival represents 40 minutes that I could have been sleeping. Sleeping, I tell you!
On the bright side, stuff is getting wrapped, taped, and boxed. Walls are looking barren. The cat has been sedated and trapped in Emily's room for the duration. The move is HAPPENING.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A loss

Our Lady of the Wayside, Ireland [Photo copyright Wynn Anne Sibbald]

Have you ever noticed that, the more profound your feelings are, the more trite your sentiments sound when you try to put them into words?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Moving kind of sucks.

As a military family, we've moved a lot. We've had nine homes in the 26 years we've been married. When we were newlyweds and when the kids were youngsters, it was every two years. Consequently, we have a whole collection of children's books that deal with moving, from Mr. Rogers' Moving to Heather McKend's Moving Gives Me a Stomach Ache. One of our favourites was Cindy Szekeres' Moving Day - we still have it, and still read it.

For me, moving is usually a time of great excitement: a new place to decorate, new friends to meet, a new job opportunity. When the kids were little, they mostly took it in stride. Katie, especially, would have a new best friend within hours of our arrival at the new home.

But I have to say that these moves have been hardest on Emily. Emily's friends are vitally important to her. But unlike her sister, who leaps into new friendships like a Golden Lab puppy, Emily's more like a cat: she takes a while to really warm up and trust her friends. She makes new friends quickly, but it takes a while before she really lets them in.

At one point when Emily was about 10, we thought we were going to be moving to Germany - a really exciting opportunity for our family. When we told the kids about it, Emily was so distraught that she ran to the bathroom and was sick to her stomach. That move fell through, but a year or so later when we told the kids about our move to Colorado, she took it hard.

She actually toilet-papered our bedroom and used some of my expensive lotions to smear the bathroom mirrors. She was huffy and angry. She sulked, but she didn't talk to us about it. And we didn't pursue it.

What I didn't realize was that the emotional trauma of the move sowed the seeds of a major depression for Emily. Two years later (I'm so sorry it took us that long!) we finally got her into therapy after she ran away from home one evening. The police found her at two in the morning.

And here we are again, facing another move - the last one, we hope. Emily's 17, going into her final year of high school, and she has a really great boyfriend here whom she loves. Could there possibly be a worse time for her to move? I don't think so. It just totally sucks.

Yesterday, Emily took down all the pictures and posters she'd plastered on her bedroom walls. I think, for her, that made the move just too real. Today, she's grieving. She doesn't want hugs, doesn't want to talk about it (with me, at least). She's made a little blanket-walled fort under her craft table and is snuggled there "chatting" with her friends. She just wants to be alone and work through it, I guess.

All I want to do is hold her and make it "all better." But I can't because, really, moving totally sucks. Especially when you're 17, going into your last year of high school, and have to say goodbye to your boyfriend.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I keep picturing his socks.

In February 2007, I went to Las Vegas with my mother-in-law. I realize that, for some people, that may sound like the exact opposite of a vacation, but it really was a fantastic trip - so good that I brought Steve there a few months later. My mother-in-law, Jean, is a good friend and, as it turned out, was a perfect travel companion. (She even supplied Immodium when my IBS acted up.)

We traipsed up and down the Strip, taking pictures of the fabulous over-the-top architecture, visiting all the side shows. We walked so much that I bought my first pair of Crocs for my sore feet! (The most comfortable footwear I've ever owned!) Those hotels/casinos look close together on a map, but each one takes up at least a city block. You walk a LOT in Vegas. Bring your most comfortable shoes. The picture above is one I took of the Dale Chihuly installation in the lobby at the Bellagio.

We saw Mamma Mia and Cirque du soleil's Mystique. We saw brides in full regalia being escorted by their grooms through grand casinos. And we even ventured off the strip to visit the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. That last stop is probably the most unusual thing we did in Vegas, since Sin City is not known for its preservation of natural history. But it was a fun side trip, taking us away from the hustle and bustle (and cigarette smoke) of the Strip.

Being brave travellers, we took the city bus. Getting there wasn't hard: the special Strip bus took us right to the depot, driving by all the infamous, tacky wedding chapels, including drive-through ones. From the depot we caught a direct bus to the museum a couple of miles away. Getting back was a little trickier. The bus only came once an hour. We had planned to call a taxi, but the museum staffer told us that taxis wouldn't come to this end of the strip. That was a bad sign. But with no other options, we crossed the street and waited for a bus. I don't know about Jean, but I was glad it was still daylight.

Eventually, the bus showed up; we climbed on along with two gangsta-looking dudes who had joined us at the stop. It took us back to the depot, where we got off and waited for the Strip bus.

And waited. And waited.

At one point, a middle-aged man in a suit walked hurriedly to the depot and approached a waiting passenger. They chatted for a bit, then the suited man turned around and walked back to where he'd come from. Some time later, we saw him walking toward the depot again, this time holding the arm of a woman who looked like she was walking on broken glass. Clearly, her feet were killing her. She held a small cluster of roses by their stems, flowers hanging down dejectedly. She was not smiling. They arrived at the depot, where they stood and waited. If I'd had a seat to offer her, I would have.

Finally, the bus came, and everyone climbed aboard. The couple went to the upper deck and scored plum seats right at the front of the bus. Jean and I sat kitty-corner behind them. He placed his foot up on the window sill. He was wearing black dress loafers with white designer socks, with the designer's name stitched in black across the top. She was wearing pointed-toe shoes that looked a size too small. We could hear them talking in some European language - not French or German, perhaps Dutch? They weren't laughing. By the time we saw the photo folder in his hands, with the words "Our Wedding" embossed on the front, we'd figured out that they were newlywed patrons of one of those chapels on the Strip.

And all Jean and I could think was, "You'd think he could've sprung for a taxi!" Heck, he could've given her a piggyback, and they could have laughed their way to the bus depot.

They got off at the Bellagio and commenced the city-block-long walk up to the lobby. I hoped her feet were feeling better, but I doubted it.

Even now, I can't quite get my head around it. Why spring for an expensive hotel but skimp on the transportation to and from the actual wedding? I can understand the spontaneous excitement of an ironic Vegas wedding at one of the kitschy kiosques, thumbing your nose at all the overwrought trappings of today's exorbitant $200,000 weddings.

But these two were doing it in all seriousness: they'd dressed up in their "best" - comfort be damned. She didn't even take her shoes off on the bus.

And now, 3 1/2 years after seeing this couple, it occurs to me that I've been blaming him all this time when, for all I know, it was she who decided not to hire a taxi. Maybe she calculated that they could either take a taxi or eat dinner that night. And perhaps she rejected the offer of being carried.

No matter how you slice it, it just made me sad. It's just such a depressing and inauspicious beginning to their marriage. I do wish they'd laughed, just once. Then I could imagine one of them asking, "Are we having fun yet?" And that would give me hope that they recognized that this "special day" was not turning out as they'd envisioned it, but that all would be okay, because they would find some fun in it and be able to laugh about it later.
In any case, despite that couple's misery, Jean and I had a great time and would love to go back to Vegas some day with both our husbands. And Crocs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pulling the rugs out from under us

As we've gone through our entire house and the garage, looking for things we really don't need to bring with us (Steve took a Goodwill run yesterday), we noticed something curious: we can't find any of our area rugs.

Of all the things to go missing, these are things that we actually will need at the new house, which is hardwood (or ceramic tile) throughout, including the bedrooms. We had four rugs rolled up and tucked out of the way in the garage: a neutral Sears rug, a cheap IKEA sisal rug, a big square berber rug (a remnant we had edged), and a hand-knotted wool Persian-type rug that Steve bought in Egypt before we were married.

At first, I accused Steve of doing some "unauthorized purging," but when the wool rug was not found, then I knew something fishy was up.

How does one lose a bunch of rugs? It's not like something you tuck into a safe place and then forget where that safe place was! And they're big, so it's not like someone walking by could trot up into an unattended garage, grab a rug and run away.

But the only conclusion we can come to is that someone stole our rugs. Who, when, how, and why are all open to speculation.

And I'm miffed.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The bad-mommy diary

The low point in my parenting career? I bit my son's head. Seriously.

There is a fantastic toy store in Ottawa, called PlayValue Toys. It has - or had, some 16 years ago! (that long ago? seriously?) - a great Thomas the Tank Engine wooden track set up, where toddlers could play out their Thomas obsessions to their hearts' content while their moms and dads wandered the store coveting all sorts of imaginative, educational, inspiring and expensive toys.

I used to take the kids there just for fun, even if I didn't plan on buying anything (though I invariably did). When we had four children under the age of eight, it was a cheap mommy respite. And it was air-conditioned.

Peter, at the time, was about four years old. But he has Asperger Syndrome, a mild autistic disorder, and, for him, any transition was a perilous time. And transitioning from something he loved with all of his heart (Thomas) to something he didn't (eating lunch or, well, anything else in the world) was the equivalent of sticking bamboo reeds under his fingernails. It was just. Not. On. And by that I mean, he would howl and scream and do the floppy-bunny-wet-noodle trick. We called it a meltdown.

Ordinarily, I kept this in mind. I would give him a ten-minute warning, then a five-minute warning, then walk him carefully through a goodbye ritual. I loved that boy to bits (love him still), and really would do whatever I could to spare him the emotional upheaval of a meltdown.

I'm not exactly sure what happened this time. Maybe I skipped a few warnings, or maybe we hadn't been there long enough for his Thomas-lust to be satisfied.

In any case, I found myself on the stairs outside the store, one child on my hip, Peter's hand in mine while he screamed and rebelled and tried to escape my grasp.

Reader, he bit me. On the arm.

And, reader, I bit him back. On the top of his head - the only part of him I could reach.

Immediately, I was overwhelmed with mommy guilt, but I will say that it stopped his wails. Not that that was my intention. There was no intention involved, in fact. It was completely reflex. I stood on those stairs praying that no one had seen me, especially none of the good mothers in the store. If you think spanking your kid in public is bad, just imagine what would happen to someone who bit their kid in public. I scrambled the kids into the car and went home with my tail between my legs.

Not especially proud of that moment. But I suspect it's one that most mothers can relate to. We do our best, but we are human.

Monday, June 14, 2010

In defense of iceberg lettuce and fruitcake

I like 'em both. I do! And I think they've both gotten a bum rap.

Iceberg lettuce is as valid a kind of lettuce as any other, as far as I'm concerned, and in some ways is even better. For instance, baby greens, which are all the rage, are often limp. Iceberg lettuce, on the other hand, is almost always (when properly served) crisp and crunchy. And sweet. Radicchio, which also turns up in a lot of fancy salads, is crunchy but downright bitter and I never understand why people choose to eat it. Spinach, even baby spinach, often has a bizzare chalky aftertaste, which iceberg lettuce does not: it leaves a clean palate. The best part of romaine lettuce is the inner part which, when you think about it, really is just like iceberg lettuce, but to get it, you have to take all the rest of the head of romaine with it, so why not just buy iceberg?

I do understand that iceberg lettuce, like celery, is mostly water and fibre, with almost no nutrients (minerals or vitamins). But that doesn't mean we can't use it in a salad or sandwich as a complement or backdrop to foods that do provide those things. And fibre alone isn't such a bad thing - heck, people take fibre supplements, when they could have a sweet, crisp iceberg-based salad instead.

And fruitcake. I know it's easy - and popular - to make fun of this heavyweight dessert (as at the annual Manitou Springs Fruitcake Toss), but that doesn't make it any less yummy. Of course, I've been spoiled: my parents used to make their own rich, dark fruitcake every year (they even made my wedding cake out of it), and my parents-in-law now send us a large home-baked cake every year. So I've never had to settle for store-bought fruitcake. What I'm used to is basically nuts and candied fruits glued together by the smallest amount of rum-laced cake possible. It's moist and full of flavour, with just enough "tooth." (By "tooth" I mean the sensation when you bite into something that gives a little resistance, such as a nut.) What's not to love?

There are undoubtedly other foods that I like that most people don't - Brussels sprouts come to mind - but they are not as maligned as iceberg lettuce and fruitcake are, so I don't feel as defensive about them.

So what are your secret food fetishes? (Not the kinky kind, please!) What foods do you love that make other people say, "Ick"?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some of the best things about parties

Usually, Steve has to drag me to parties. I don't like noise and I don't like crowds, especially of people I don't know. I don't always feel like getting "done up" to go out. (Hey, it takes some effort - and a fair amount of concealer - for this gal to look presentable!) Sometimes, I'm just lazy and antisocial and would rather stay home in my stretchy pants and veg. At least, that's how I feel before he drags my sorry arse out of the house.

Once I get there, it's a different matter. I almost always meet someone I really click with and discover a yummy new food that I hadn't tried before. I have a good time and am glad I went. I feel energized.

And, although we only do it once or twice a year, I do enjoy hosting a party. The great thing about hosting a party is that we know everyone there! Well, almost everyone. There are always some new people to get to know - spouses or the kids' friends. When I'm doing all the food, I enjoy finding new recipes (yes, I use my guests as guinea pigs) and getting all fussy with the presentation. When doing a potluck, I have less work and get to try new dishes again. And, when all is done, the food and drinks are cleared and the last guest has gone home, I get to enjoy a really clean house for a couple of days before all the crap I procrastinate about putting away starts to pile up again.

But I will confess to one deep anxiety about hosting our parties: no one showing up. This has actually happened to us a couple of times. Once, only two couples showed up to a party when we were prepared for about 20. (Lesson learned: ask for RSVPs.) (At that same party, all four guests turned their noses up at the home-made liver pate, which I hadn't considered all that exotic.) Another time, we had lots of RSVPs, but an ice storm blew through and only a few souls braved the slick roads to join us. They were treated to LOTS of food and drink!

Yesterday, we hosted a potluck to say farewell to our neighbours and friends. As "party hour" approached, I worried again that no one would show up. I reminded myself that most guests will courteously arrive a few minutes (at least) late, to allow the host those last few minutes of preparation. (They should know that an OCD couple like us was surely ready 15 minutes early.) Sure enough, within 15 minutes, the doorbell was ringing steadily and there was a cluster of people around the "bar." The music was playing, people from the different spheres of our lives were meeting each other and exchanging 30-second CVs. We caught up with some people we hadn't seen in too long and exchanged news and funny stories with people we'd been working or drinking with mere days earlier.

Steve, Peter, Emily, Brian and I had a great time. (Emily even had two of her girlfriends stay overnight afterwards.)

Today, the dust has settled. The house looks tidier than it has in many weeks. There are the silent echos of laughter and lively voices. And the inevitable leftovers. Reminders of the good time we had, and the good friends we'll miss.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Even with OCD, this is a little excessive

One of the more monumental tasks I have to complete today is an exhaustive, itemized inventory of every single thing we own. Every. Single. Thing. From salt shakers to lawn mowers, from sandals to drapes.

The Department of National Defense even gave us a Word template to use. For each item, we are to list:
  • Qty

  • Item (Brief Description)

  • Year of Purchase (Do you remember what year you bought that platter or that food processor? Heck, I can't even remember what year we bought the fridge! Hence begins the hunt for receipts.)

  • Replacement Cost (CDN)

  • Condition
There are two reasons to do this:

  1. For clearing Customs into Canada - anything we have purchased in the past six months will be subject to Duty. Also, if we had any, we would have to declare any weapons or other controlled items. (What other "controlled items"? Fireworks? Fertilizer? Illegal aliens?)

  2. For insurance purposes - if any of our stuff goes missing or gets damaged, we will be able to file a claim.

I tell ya - it's almost enough to make me want to have the mother of all yard sales and just start from scratch when we get to Ottawa. I've heard there are people who actually do this every time they move. But I'm too attached to my little treasures, items I've picked up in my travels that strike my fancy. And I can't help but think you would lose a lot of money along the way - you'll never sell a food processor for full replacement cost.

So, I have started going through every room in the house and photographing everything - including inside cupboards and drawers. I even had the boys pull out all the shoes and boots and line them up for a photo op. This picture shows only the shoes that were in the back hall. Most of them are mine (and there are more upstairs). No surprise.

But I have decided that I'm not going to itemize every single low-value item, like grocery items or most of our clothes. I'll list them as a group (e.g., 30 pairs of women's shoes). If Customs or the insurer quibbles I'll just pull out the photograph and show them all the shoes (and how lovely they are). And if I can't remember the year it was purchased, I'm leaving it blank.
That's reasonable, isn't it?
Anyway, I'm now on page 15 of the list. Time to get back to work.

Our cat thinks she is a dog

Remember Elly?

She is our beautiful "used" cat, as my husband calls her. (Actually, she belongs to our daughter Emily, who does all the yucky work of cleaning the litterbox.) Emily adopted her through the cat rescue program at PetSmart, and she came with a few "undocumented features:"

  • When we first got her, we thought she was a cream colour (with her brown and black markings), but after a few weeks of grooming herself, we realized she is actually white. She was that dirty from being a street cat.

  • She also has one clipped ear because when they found her she had a fungal infection that they couldn't clear up without doing surgery.

  • She also has something wrong with her hips: she swings her back legs out to the side while walking, rather than bending her knees, and she yelps if you stroke her hind end (except if you scratch the elevator-butt zone - that she loves).

  • She has a disorder called feline stomatitis that causes her teeth to decay like crazy and actually break off at the gumline. By the time we discovered it we had to have surgery to have most of her remaining teeth removed (she has four left). It also causes sinusitis and gives her the drippiest nose on the planet. (When she shakes her head, drops spray. Very yucky.)
So why do I say she thinks she's a dog?
  • Mostly because she is one of the most gregarious cats I've ever met. Most of the cats I've known run and hide when company comes. Not Elly. She's right there in the thick of things, daring everyone to step on her tail.

  • She loves loves loves stinky things. Her favourite thing is Steve's backpack after he's been out sweating and climbing for six hours in the hot sun. She will rub herself all over that backpack like she's a pig in mud. If the backpack is not around, she will get up close & personal with any of our day-old dishcloths.

  • She plays fetch - albeit on cat terms. She has a favourite little mouse toy that she brings to the top of the stairs (or bottom, depending where we are). Then she will sit there and meow to draw our attention to this wonderful gift she has presented us. (If she were an outdoor cat, I have no doubt we would be receiving dead critters on a regular basis.) She waits patiently until one of us gets up and tosses the mouse for her to resume her game. Once, she even brought it within my arm's reach, but that is exceptional for her.
  • She won't tolerate being carried around. Like most dogs she will start to squirm within about 30 seconds of being picked up.

But mostly, she is all cat. She sleeps about 20 hours a day, she likes to knead my tummy, and she purrs like crazy. She lounges on my arm while I'm typing (as she is doing right now), which causes her head to bob up and down while I write. She likes me to sing directly into her skull. Seriously. She will come from across the room to climb up on me and put her head right up to my mouth if I am singing.

Yup. She's a quirky one - she fits right in in this family, and we love her.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What goes on at 4 in the morning?

Answer: generally, not much.

However, the night before last, there was a murder in my backyard. Yep, you read correctly: a murder went down in my backyard. And last night there was another attempted murder. I know because I just happened to be awake (yeah insomnia) and heard all the ruckus. Plus, Peter has discovered the body: a dead baby bird. Not, um, recently dead, but beginning to turn into the dust from which it came. Not being an ornithologist, I can't tell you what kind of bird it was.

At about 4:00 both mornings, as I tossed and turned, willing myself to fall asleep before the sun rose, I was serenaded by increasingly alarmed chirps. Man, those birds are LOUD when someone tries to turn their babies into breakfast! There is no sleeping through that, let me tell you.

Being the selfish person I am, and also believing that, hey, raptors gotta eat too, I kind of hope that's the last of the babies in the nest, so I won't have to listen to the dreadful terror of the bird-mamma again tonight. I just want a good night's sleep.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Some paper-pushers give bureaucracy a bad name.

The military moves its people around a lot. [Oops. Almost typed "alot" there! Read Allie's blog to find out more about the Alot and to have a good laugh. You're welcome.] It's just part of the culture. Because of this, they have a complex and comprehensive infrastructure for dealing with moves. They have whole books of regulations, complete with numbered and lettered paragraphs and subsections. (You may be interested to know that the regulations are actually called the Queen's Regulations and Orders, the Queen being our monarch and the head of our military.) There is a whole directorate in the Canadian Forces dedicated to ensuring that servicemembers move efficiently and cost-effectively.

Anyway, the first few times we moved, starting way back in 1984, Steve simply went down to the orderly room where a knowledgeable and efficient corporal politely laid down the law about what was or was not allowed in terms of moving expenses, then made arrangements for the movers to come pack up and move our stuff. (The official acronym for "stuff," by the way, is HG&E = Household Goods & Effects; it used to be DF&E = Dependents, Furniture & Effects. I think some dependents took umbrage with being included with the chattels.)

Eventually someone thought there was potential to save a bunch of money by outsourcing the friendly corporal's functions. Enter the Relocation Services (I won't give the company's name). They are a contracted service that aims to provide a high level of responsive and cost-effective relocation expertise - at least, that's how I expect they sold themselves to the Department of National Defence. The reality is proving to be quite different in our case.

Whenever we find ourselves depending on the services of an administrator or action officer, we always hope we'll get The Good One - the one who knows how to get the job done. The one who reads your e-mails and responds to your phone calls. Is that too much to ask?

For this move, we seem to have hit the Black Hole instead: the one whose inbox never gets emptied, whose e-mails never get read, and whose voicemails are "accidentally" deleted. Ordinarily, I'm pretty patient with service providers. I will give them the information they need, then sit back and let them do their thang. I don't pester, I don't micro-manage. But I tell you, I have resorted to the "Request Read Receipt" for every e-mail I send to the Black Hole now!

Fortunately for us, she gave us the name and coordinates of one of her colleagues (because she herself was going to be out of the office a few days). In desperation, I have taken to cc'ing this colleague on e-mails and even calling her with questions, even though we are not part of her portfolio of clients! Today I called the colleague and asked if the Black Hole was out of the office this week since I'd not heard from her regarding an e-mail I sent on Monday or two voice messages I'd left. "No, no, she's in the office. She's been busy with clients, but she's here," I was told, "I'll let her know you called."

About an hour after that phone call, the Black Hole called. We had a good half-hour conversation answering lots of questions and assuring me that our file was indeed moving along.

So I'm feeling reassured for now, but I'm still keeping a record of every e-mail or phone call because I'm afraid something will fall through the cracks and we will be left holding the bag - or the bill. And I'm thinking of sending flowers to the Black Hole's colleague.
Oh, and I'm nostalgic for the good, old orderly-room corporal. You don't know what you've got till it's gone.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Going postal?

There are a lot of things we'll miss about Colorado -- the mountains (both for breathtaking views and for the joy of hiking in them), the blue skies and dry breezes, our friends and colleagues, and Saturday mail delivery.

When we first moved to the States back in 1987 I had never heard of 6-day-a-week mail delivery. It was astounding to me, like having an extra Christmas every year. 'Cause I don't know about you, but I get excited about mail. Stupidly excited, especially considering nowadays most of the mail is either junk or bills. It's not like back in the day when people actually wrote letters. By hand. On paper. Then addressed an envelope and affixed a stamp and walked to a mailbox and mailed it. A lot of effort used to go into communicating with friends and loved ones.

E-mail has changed that, for the most part, but we still get real letters and cards from our family, and I do treasure those.

Plus, occasionally, rarely, there is a cheque in the mail. Money, honey!

So I get excited. I think it's a pavlovian response -- that random positive reinforcement that gets my heart racing six times a week. So I will miss that.

What I won't miss are the ridiculously long line-ups at the post office. It is decidedly worse here than in Canada, where postal service is privatized. I'm talking a half-hour line-up for service at 2:00 on a Thursday afternoon, and that's not during Holiday season. At Christmas time I think I waited an hour and a half to reach the counter. (Only to be informed that they had misplaced my package. Sorry.) I can honestly say I've never faced that long a waiting time in Canada.

On the other hand, when I did finally reach the counter today, I was informed that there was NO COST to forward our mail, not even to Canada. No cost at all! Can you believe it? And that's not just for three months, but forever (apparently). In Canada it would cost $205 to forward our mail out-of-country for 12 months. Guess that's the big downside of privatization, eh?

(As an aside, the postal worker today did not ask for any identification at all. I just filled out the form (in Steve's name, in fact), signed it (with my name) and handed it to him. Kinda scary. Maybe I just look really honest. The Canada Post online system requires two pieces of ID, which seems reasonable. Talk about potential for identity theft!)

I honestly don't know which system I'd choose if I had my druthers: six-day-a-week pulse-racing, long line-ups, and free mail redirection versus five-day-a-week delivery, short queues, and ridiculously expensive mail redirection.

Ah well. I really don't have any choice in the matter. But if you could choose, which would you prefer?

And as a treat for those of you who've read this far, check out this cartoon about someone who is as mail-obsessed as I am.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Backyard fantasy

Check out these pictures: the backyard at our new house in Ottawa is pitiful. It looks even worse in person, if you can believe it. But I prefer to perceive it as a blank slate, a place where I (with a whole team of contractors and my sister-in-law's talents) can create a place of wonder, just like we did at our last house in Ottawa.

As is my wont, I've started sketching designs. Below is the current plan for turning the scrubby backyard into a place where I would like to dwell. Just about the only things that will remain after we're done are the existing mature trees and the cedar hedges along both sides of the lot.

One of the objectives is to have absolutely no lawn in the backyard, so whatever isn't patio will be garden. By keeping the grass out of the yard we achieve several things:
  1. Nothing to mow.
  2. Less water use.
  3. No grass invading the gardens.
The gazebo won't come for a few years; likewise the patio doors from the dining room (which will provide easier access from the kitchen). For now, access will be from the sunroom or from the door near the powder room. Some of the trees will be planted new, so it'll take a few years before the yard looks as lush as I've tried to illustrate.
So that's the plan for now. I'll post updates once we get started.

[You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.]

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