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.

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