Sunday, July 31, 2011

The road to a friend's house is never long.

That's easy for me to say, since I didn't make the trek. But our friends, Joe and Mary, drove 3,000 km from their house in Colorado to ours in Ottawa (including across Kansas, which I have learned is the most boring drive on the planet) - and we are so glad they did.
We welcomed them to the back yard with bubbles!
Turns out, bubbles are kind of tricky to photograph.
There are so many things to see and do in Ottawa, but they had already visited Ottawa many years earlier, and we had limited time. For the first day in the city, we went out to the RCMP Stables, home of the Musical Ride. The Ride is out on tour this time of year, but we had a tour of the museum and the stables. 
We had a very cute guide!
That is one immaculate tack room!
Horses are BIG, y'all!
These are the training horses.
We (or, rather, Emily) also managed to gain the interest of Creepy Guy.
Hey, Creepy Guy, keep looking.
I will render you impotent and blind with my laser eyes!

And stop playing with yourself. Yeesh!
He's just lucky I didn't notice him until I was looking at the pictures on my camera. 

Leaving Creepy Guy behind, we went to the Byward Market for lunch, then took a tour of the Rideau Canal by boat. Unfortunately, I once again forgot how to adjust the aperture on my camera, so most of the scenic pictures turned out like crap.

The next day we went to the Glengarry Highland Games, the reason for the timing of their visit. (We had attended the Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival together in Estes Park, Colorado for several years, so this was continuing a tradition.) 

Fortunately, the day was cloudy and rainy, so there were no crowds. Unfortunately, the day was cloudy and rainy, so we didn't stay as long as we'd planned. But we did have time to:
Watch the highland dancers, in all their regalia.
The young lass on the left is practicing for her competition.
Watch beefy men throw heavy objects over high bars.
(We also watched beefy women throwing weights a long distance,
but they were less photogenic.)
Catch the tail end (pardon the pun) of the sheepdog demonstration.
Steve's grandfather used to breed champion sheepdogs, so they

hold a special place in our hearts.
I never tire of watching these very smart animals.
We ate Scotch pies and Beavertails (a Canadian treat), which were all very yummy and didn't stay in one piece long enough to be photographed. Then Steve went kilt-shopping. He's been talking about getting a kilt for years now and finally took the plunge.
Looks good on him, though I must say it's pretty
special with the Hawaiian shirt and baseball cap.
This tartan is the Black Stewart. Steve's family is
from the lowlands, so no tartan, but I am from the
Stewart lineage, so Steve chose one of the many Stewart tartans. 
Emily also chose a kilt, but in Dress Stewart.
Rather a different look on Emily than on Steve.
And then she saw a tam! 
Looks perfect with her newly black hair.
I think it was that evening that we finally had my famous Maple-Glazed Ribs!
Best served with stir-fried veggies and potato salad.
As a reward for those of you who have read this far, here is the recipe:
Maple-Glazed Spareribs
Boil/simmer for about an hour:
     3 pounds baby-back spareribs cut into sections of 3-4 ribs
Meanwhile, in saucepan, heat to boiling:
     ½ cup maple syrup (real maple syrup. "Pancake syrup" will not give the same taste.)
     ½ cup minced onion
     4 cloves garlic (or 4 teaspoons minced garlic)
Simmer on lower heat for seven minutes or until reduced by half.
Remove from heat. Stir in:
     1 cup ketchup
     1 Tablespoon chili powder
     2 Tablespoons soy sauce
     1 teaspoon ground allspice
Drain ribs. (For parties, I often stop at this point and refrigerate everything until we're ready to cook up and serve the ribs.)
Baste ribs with sauce. Grill 5-10 minutes, turning and brushing several times. Boil remaining sauce 1 minute before serving with the ribs.
Are you ready for a rest yet? I was, so the next day I stayed home while Steve took Joe and Mary to see the cat sanctuary on Parliament Hill, the Busker Festival (which we didn't even realize was happening), and to see the locks on the Rideau Canal.

Joe and Mary left at zero-dark-thirty this morning. I wish them a safe drive home; we miss them already.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Feeling Nostalgic

You just never know when googly eyes
will come in handy.
Evidently Christian Louboutin
agrees with me.
Maybe it's because I visited my great-nephew recently.

Or maybe it's because the challenges our kids face now are so much more complicated. Their broken hearts are harder to heal than their scuffed knees. If, that is, they even come to us with their heartaches.

More likely, it's because my biological clock is striking midnight.

In any case, I have been feeling very nostalgic for when our kids were young. On Sunday, as I was walking into a craft store, I glimpsed buckets of sidewalk chalk and remembered all those summers that the kids decorated our driveway. 

Inside the store, I saw a kit of random craft objects (Styrofoam ball, sticks, glue, glitter, feathers, paint) designed for open-ended creativity, and I remembered the kits I put together to bring up to the cottage with us - full of many of the same things. (The Lego required a whole separate bin.)

I can't remember when we stopped buying these things. When we were packing to move from Colorado, Steve asked if we could get rid of the small box of ornamental feathers, buttons, and googly eyes I had carefully labeled as "Glue-on-ables." I think I said no. I think I lost the argument.

Just a little denial there. 

But, while I have fond yearnings for those younger years, I will not for a single moment miss my fertility. Well, except maybe for a few moment of fondness for the miracles of pregnancy and newborns. I am so glad I got to experience those. 

But I certainly won't miss the monthly reminders. I can think of no redeeming feature of menstruation.  

I am very ready for this phase of my life to be tied up with a pretty (red) ribbon, so I can move on to the next phase. (I do hope there will be babies, just not my own.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Bright Welcome

If you look at our house on Google Maps' street view, you will see that our front porch has gone through a few changes.
The street view on left is circa 2006, I think.
Picture on the right is from August 2010.
The people who "flipped" the house before we bought it ripped off the porch, built a nice landing area, but then built a stupid little garden where the rain never reaches and the sun rarely does. So this summer, we had that little garden filled in to match the rest of the porch.

But then it just looked sad and lonely. Also, I had been hankering for a splash of colour out front, as the black-and-white-and-faded-yellow of the house is just unimpressive. I tried Craigslist and Kijiji, but didn't see anything I liked. I looked at Wal-Mart and Sears and even our pool-and-patio store, but their prices were ridiculously high.

I got lucky at Pier 1 Imports' end-of-season sale.
See? Bright and inviting.

Hmm. Can't see much. How's this?
Here it is catching the early morning sun.
A nice place for morning coffee or
to watch the rain fall.

[Or to sit and yell at the neighborhood children to
wear a helmet, pull up their pants, put some damn clothes on

and stay off the lawn.
Ah, I'm looking forward to retirement.]
And here are a few of the details:
  • I love capiz shells! This wind chime doesn't get much wind, so it won't be annoying.
  • A single cushion in a bright outdoor fabric. (I only got one because Steve never uses one, and because it was the last one in stock.) 
  • Those little flowers on the door wreath are actually hair clips! A big splurge at $3. I went looking for a bright, but not too fussy wreath to match these colours, and couldn't find one.
  • The ceramic-top table is just the right size for two glasses or two mugs. It also folds away for winter.
  • The citronella candles came in a basket of eight in cheery colours, and I already had the lantern.
I'm very happy with this. I should note that this is almost my first foray into using bright colours rather than my more usual neutral or pastel palette. Don't think I'll do this to the whole house, but it is fun for summer and for an outdoor space.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I believe I have blogged about our sewer problem before, right? Wait. Let me check.

[Warning: I have had two glasses of sangria.]

[Warning: They were pretty big glasses.]

Yes, I referred to it here.

About 40 years ago, the City planted a lovely maple tree on City property at the edge of our front lawn. Unfortunately, they planted it right on top of the drain from our house to the main sewer line. D'oh!

We've had some intermittent trouble with it "backing up" and filling our big laundry sink with effluent, but it seemed to always drain eventually, so we let things slide until Steve could be home to wait for a city rep to show up at the house. He's on vacation starting on Monday.

Well, things kind of hit a crisis this weekend. On Saturday, we couldn't do laundry or take showers. (Emily and I spent the morning at the laundromat. It was kind of fun, but not something we want to do every weekend.) On Sunday, I was afraid to flush the toilet. So I finally called the city's emergency line. Someone was there within the hour to diagnose the problem.

This was not our actual technician.
This picture is from Wikipedia, by Pmsyyz
Another couple of hours later, the next-level technician started roto-rootering out the line. He pulled out about ten pounds of ... solid matter. Let's call it roots. Then he called for back-up: the big truck with the high-pressure hose that cuts through all the roots that have grown through the pipe. That took about an hour.

They've told us that this will have to be done every two years (and paid for by the city) unless the city decides to move the sewer pipe.

When all the men in boots had left, the house smelled of sewer. Badly. But it is too stinking hot out [pardon the pun] to open all the windows yet. (Although Brian said he would rather be hot than smell this stench.)

So we spent a while in the back yard, where the pool is (finally) nice and clean & clear. But then we came back in. You'd be surprised how you get used to smells after a while. Nevertheless, as I write, Steve is sanitizing the basement.

Not that I would invite any guests over right now. And we will open the windows as soon as the sun sets this evening.

So, at the end of the day, we have fully functional plumbing, and that is a very good thing. And we didn't have to dig up the front lawn, which is also a very good thing. Biennial maintenance is a small nuisance.

Monday, July 18, 2011

False Assurances

I have had the incredibly unfortunate experience of assuring someone that she was stronger than she realized, only to have that person attempt suicide the following week.

I thought I was saying the right things. I really believed that she had, that we all have, inner resources we can draw upon in times of hardship. I was devastated to learn that I was wrong.

My mistake was in believing - and telling her - that she had inner resources to draw on.

It is dangerously wrong-headed thinking.

Since that wake-up call, I have thought twice about other oft-uttered assurances and admonitions:
You'll be fine.
It'll all be better in the morning.
Some day you'll look back on this, and it'll all be like a bad dream.
It could be worse.
Get over it already.
And my personal favourite:
God will never give you more than you can handle.
[Oooh, I grit my teeth when I hear or read that one!]

I think of survivors who have come through incredible inner pain:
  • Retired Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, who entered his personal nightmare via Rwanda and who said, "It's only that [that he was too drunk to complete his suicide attempts] and people checking up on me that prevented me from killing myself";
  • Kay Redfield Jamison, who has seen suicidal thinking from the inside, and has studied it as a psychologist;
  • Linda Sexton, whose mother, poet Anne Sexton, committed suicide and who inherited that legacy; or 
  • Heather Armstrong who writes the pants-pissingly funny blog Dooce and who has also shared her heartbreaking struggle with depression. (Her post, "Surrender," may be the bravest, most honest thing I've ever read.)
Not one of them survived to see dawn after their darkest nights without help from outside themselves. As I quoted in April, when I wrote about a military wife who attempted suicide,
"Suicidal thinking happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain."
The most important thing we can do is ensure that we add to those resources, not leave the person feeling like a failure because he or she feels overwhelmed.

If I were talking to that woman today, I would instead say, "You don't have to be strong. You are not alone. Let me be here for you." And I would add, though you may not, "Let God be here for you."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

More and More Challenges

Remember when I mentioned the pool guy (a.k.a. "The Cable Guy" in this little rant)? Well, Derek finally did show up, but without calling first. He officially opened the pool while only my son, Peter, was present.

Peter is possibly the biggest-hearted person on the planet, the most well meaning and well-intentioned. He has memorized such useless things as Π to eleven digits. However, he routinely forgets to relay messages that may or may not be of a trivial nature.

So, ever since Derek's visit, I've been struggling to keep the pool from reverting to this.
The water is NOT supposed to be that green.
It has been an incessant struggle. I kept having to "shock" the pool with doses of chlorine powder.

On Saturday, I took a water sample in to the pool company. They informed me that there was zero chlorine in the water, which was a surprise since I had "shocked" it on Monday. They suggested I check the chlorinator settings.

So I did. This is what I saw.
On the left is the actual chlorinator.
The "mystery wire" was actually in a ziploc baggy.
The "mystery box" is the monitor
to which the mystery wire should have been connected.
The note, which we never saw, reads, "Leave OFF until Wednesday."
That would be Wednesday, June 15th, I think.
The yellow dot highlights the Off-Auto-Superchlorinate switch, set to "Off."
Which is when I discovered that the chlorinator had never been plugged in because its wire was still in the ziploc baggy, nor had it been turned on! We essentially had a saline pond in our back yard. Ick.

I sincerely hope that once we get it stabilized this time, it'll stay clean and clear for several weeks, rather than several days!

Meanwhile, I have tackled the rampant grass/weed problem, but have discovered other ravages of Mother Nature.
I hope it's just dehydrated, but it may have a fungus.
APHIDS on my dogwood.
This whole "creating an oasis" thing is not as straightforward as one might imagine. But, lest you think nothing is going according to plan, I leave you with this picture of the mother-of-thyme happily nestled between the rocks.

Just as planned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fighting a Losing Battle

Our backyard garden* is kind of like an aging starlet: from just the right angle, in just the right light, and with the rose-coloured lenses of wishful thinking, it looks quite lovely.
Lush, green gardens.
But, if you get closer, or change your perspective, the ravages of time and Mother Nature are more apparent.
Also lush and green, but not in a good way.
Before I left on my trip to Georgia, this patch was a little weedy, but not this bad! Ten days away and entropy** has taken over. In some of the garden areas, the weeds aren't too, too bad, but in others ...
I know where the "plant" is,
but I wouldn't trust my kids to know the difference.
I tried to do some damage control, but didn't really achieve much more than ruining my manicure (such as it is).
I'm trying - again - to grow my nails.
Gardening is not a good activity for that.
I really have to just get out there with a shovel and a hoe and get rid of the intruders once and for all, then put down some mulch before the weeds take hold again. I wish I could just have the fun part of gardening (the pretty trees, flowers and shrubs) and not have to worry about the work part of it.

* The "backyard" vs. "back yard" thing has been bugging me for a while, so I finally looked it up. Here is a concise explanation, which suddenly seems so obvious to me. I may have to go through all of my posts about the back yard and make corrections.
The thing itself is a two-word phrase: you grow vegetables in your back yard. The adjective form that describes the location of something behind your house is a single word: you have a backyard vegetable garden. - Source
** I have always defined entropy as "the tendency of things to revert to their most chaotic condition." Wikipedia has much more to say on the subject, which seriously undermined my confidence in my interpretation. My resident engineering physicist, however, assures me that I've got it right. Take that, Wikipedia!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Flora II

Oh, I am so in love with the flowers in our neighbourhood. When Steve and I walk out for ice cream, I bring my camera and enjoy. Then when we get home, I play with those pictures.
The flower is a purple cosmos.
I love, love, love the colour of this mallow.
Simplicity itself
(Sssh. It is considered a noxious weed, but we like the Monarch butterflies.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sinuses from Hell

Whoah! Before I even started writing this post, I searched Wikipedia. So, let me be perfectly clear, I am writing about paranasal sinuses, not anal sinuses. Trust me, the discussion will be miserable enough without bringing rectums (recta?) into the matter. [DO NOT google images for anal sinuses. Holy moley, human anatomy is a gruesome thing.]


Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Ottawa River

I've mentioned before that my drive to work each day takes me along the Ottawa River. And every time I drive along it, I wish I had time to stop and take some pictures. It never happens; I'm always running late ... late for work, late for dinner, late for a date with Steve.

So today, Emily and I made a special excursion to visit some of the pretty spots along the Ottawa River Parkway.
It seemed that half of Ottawa had the same idea, especially the Canada geese, who made it treacherous to walk anywhere by (a) ignoring bicyclists and pedestrians, and (b) leaving hideously slick, surprisingly large turds everywhere.
Those geese are annoying pests!
If only we could diaper them all.
We did come upon some surprises that you can't see from the parkway.
Wildflowers, with the bees doing their thing.
Queen Anne's lace
(Pretty, but I don't like the smell.)
We even stumbled upon a derelict house, fenced off and being overtaken by the forest. The house is behind all that foliage and is truly falling down. The forest is so dense that it was impossible to get any kind of picture of the structure. Someone has adorned the fence with a bicycle. Click the picture to enlarge it.
Why don't they just demolish the house? Good question.
We visited the Remic Rapids. Remember when I wrote about beauty and public art? Artist John Felice Ceprano has been creating sculptures of carefully stacked stones at the sides of the Remic Rapids since 1986.
Here, he carefully wedges shards of stone to balance rocks.
These are sculptures, not Inukshuks.
They are whimsical and beautiful, and don't survive the winter.
Click the picture to enlarge it.
And one of the things I'd long wanted to photograph was a tiny bridge with arched supports. But, meh. It's more scenic from the parkway. I'll have to find a better vantage point.

So that's been my Saturday. How has yours been?

Friday, July 8, 2011

When Piglet Travels

Have you read or watched "The Accidental Tourist"? The book is a long (sometimes boring) read, but the main character, Macon, played by William Hurt in the movie, is a lovably quirky agoraphobe [Blogger's spelling checker suggested that I really meant "Anglophobe"] who loathes travel but makes a career as a writer of travel guides for others like him. Like me.

While most of the world leaps at the chance of adventure and new experiences, I am quite happy to retrace my path week in, week out. I do like the luxuries of travel (hotel rooms, dining out), but I feel constantly unsettled when I don't know what comes next or am unsure of how to navigate my way from point A to point B.

Like Piglet, who lives in a constant state of anxiety and fear of heffalumps and woozles, I prefer the known. This leads to a certain amount of silliness.

For example, this past few days I staffed an exhibit at the Banff Centre for the Arts, a marvelous and inspiring location. Built on the side of a steep hill, there are "ground level" entrances on both the first and third floors of most buildings. Designed for guests residing on site, there are steep meandering paths connecting the architecturally sharp buildings.

On my first day, I managed to find a path from the parking garage to the exhibit hall. It was not until the third day that I discovered a more direct route - and then only because my "regular" path was blocked by construction. See? Silliness.

For people like Macon, Piglet, and me, it doesn't take much to get our pulses racing. Let me give you a glimpse inside our world.

Yesterday, I drove from Banff to Calgary, about a one-hour drive. I plugged in my GPS, set the destination and then hit the road. A beautiful drive, I enjoyed the spectacle of sharp-peaked young mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, trees and pristine mountain lakes. (Sadly, with no scenic turnoffs for photo ops.) I chuckled at signs like, "Elk crossing 4 km," which failed to deliver on its promise, or "LOGGING TRUCKS" which left me mystified as to what I was supposed to do. I can only assume that the pictograph of a flashing camera meant that I ought to smile, just in case. All was well with the world.

Then I had an Adventure.

An hour into the drive, I noticed the surrounding hills were swathed in suburban sprawl. Thinking that I must be nearing my destination, I glanced at the GPS only to find that its battery had died and it had turned itself off.

I probably would have noticed
before I reached Saskatchewan.
I think.
God only KNOWS how long I'd been driving without guidance! I could be ANYWHERE! I could've been half way to Regina. [Hello, K.B.!]

Panicked, I pulled over at a safe spot, jiggled the charger until the GPS turned itself back on and told me to take THE VERY NEXT EXIT. Seriously, I was about 200 metres from missing my exit. Can you imagine?

Breathing a sigh of relief, but with my Piglet-nerves heightened, I proceeded on my way. Moments later, I glanced again at my GPS and, AGAIN it had turned itself off! After much jiggling, I managed to stabilize the GPS and made it to my destination without further excitement. Thankfully.

That was enough for me. You may prefer to go whitewater rafting or ziplining, but I shall remain sufficiently entertained by my faulty technology and a good book.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Parts for a nebulizer,  a device used to administer medication
in the form of a mist inhaled into the lungs
Mere days ago I mused about my love/hate relationship with my antidepressants. " I hate taking them," I wrote, "every frigging gol-darned day of my life." My niece, Diane, commented on that post, "You'd think when I already take 14+ a day, one more wouldn't hurt, and yet I still think to myself, 'I just don't want to be on any MORE pills!'"

In fact, for Diane and her sister Laura, the 14+ pills a day are the least of it. They both have Cystic Fibrosis. CF is a genetic disease that is not curable (though it is treatable) and is fatal. Full stop.

Every day since diagnosis, these girls have been on a regime of medications and physical treatments several times a day. This includes things like antibiotics on a regular basis (28 days on, 28 days off), digestive enzymes, sinus rinses, vibrating vests to loosen mucus, and ... well, I didn't actually ask the details. But "meds" are just part of the routine here. They pop a few capsules before they eat, to help their bodies digest as much as possible. (The viscous mucus of CF also affects their digestive tracts.) Morning and evening they get out the nebulizer, add medication, then sit for several minutes inhaling the mist. They can't talk while doing this. (Which, for Diane, is a hardship.)

There's no "pity party" going on here. (Though we would all happily say goodbye to CF in a heartbeat.) The meds are just facts of life. What's more important is what's going on in these two women's lives: work, education, baby. Just like everyone else.
So, yah. My few pills a day? That's nothing.

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