Saturday, March 31, 2012

Seven Minutes to Heaven

Katie's birthday cake
UPDATED: Picture of the birthday girl!

On my first child's first birthday, I called my mother in a panic.

I'd bought gifts and balloons, I'd prepared snacks and I'd baked a cake. But I hadn't frosted it because I didn't have the recipe for my mother's famous Seven-Minute Frosting.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Toilet Humour

Source: Blurred Vision in a Time of Blindness
A friend of mine posted a status on Facebook today that reminded me that I've been meaning to do a post about toilets, in general and toilet paper in particular.

First, the toilet paper.

The picture at left sums it up. What it doesn't say, however, is why the image is almost always correct. (And, if you're like me, you always need to know why before you will happily comply with instructions.)

Here's the answer: if you roll it the wrong way, the sanitary paper may encounter unsanitary matter on the container surrounding the roll. This is often the case in public washrooms, where the roll is placed into a recessed niche.

However, the following style of holder does not have that toilet-tissue issue.
Observe: the tissue is held well away from the potential contaminants.
Thus leaving me bereft of reasons to insist that the paper roll over, rather than under the roll. (I still do insist, however, and I will change it if it's done incorrectly. Except in someone else's home: when I'm a guest, I respect the protocols of the house.)

But then I went and bought this pretty toilet-paper holder for our master bath. See the problem?
The paper is not held far enough away from the wall and potential contamination when it is a full roll.
Seriously. It bugs me. I wonder if it might be possible to adjust the tightness of the hinge at the top so that the roll would be held away from the wall.

Let's move on to other toilet stories, because you KNOW I have a fondness for them.

The toilets at the very nice, modern building where I work have a nasty habit of regurgitating after the very enthusiastic auto-flush seems to have been completed. For a while I thought there was a slovenly non-flusher using the restroom, but there was some evidence that an attempt to flush had been made.

[Oh, mercy, I'm trying so hard not to be revolting here!]

Then I noticed that I, myself, almost invariably had to flush twice. [TMI? Sorry.] Perhaps, just perhaps, other users were not so fastidious as to verify that the mechanism had functioned appropriately?

Evidently, someone else had the same thought and posted a sign in each stall encouraging guests to look before they left. For the most part, that solved the problem. I keep wondering when someone will tell management.

Your final toilet story for today concerns the outhouse at a cottage that Steve and I used to own.

Our tiny cottage was built on a fairly steep slope, and the prevailing winds in the evening would blow in off the lake and up the hillside. The outhouse was far from airtight, and the breeze would blow in under the structure and up the um ... is there a polite word for the hole you sit on? Don't think so. Anyway, that's where the wind blew.

On very windy days it could be quite unnerving.

It always reminded me of my brother Andy's story about the book, Who Has Seen the Wind, by W.O. Mitchell. Someone (Andy, no doubt) jokingly called it "Whizzing in the wind," a joke made doubly funny because the cover of the book showed a young boy with his back to the reader, hands either in his pockets or clasped low in front of him, facing a field of wheat. It really looked like he might be whizzing into the wind -- never a good idea.

Surely you have some funny toilet stories to share ... don't you?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

By the Sea

I love to be beside your side, beside the sea,
Beside the seaside, by the beautiful sea! 

From the song By the Beautiful Sea, from the musical "For Me and My Gal"
(Harold Atteridge / Harry Carroll) (1914)
Oh, what a beautiful vacation this has been! I did almost no sightseeing, but enjoyed myself nevertheless being a homebody and simply enjoying the views.
After Ottawa's long, grey winter and wet spring, I really enjoyed the gardens around our resort.
Does anyone know what these purple flowers are called? Coneflowers?
Steve went to the beach every day; Brian went most days (where he dug a trench with Steve). I went only twice, but enjoyed it when I did go.

Crystal Cove has a small historic neighbourhood of cottages that are quaint and tidy. (This was not where we were staying, but it was so pretty. I'm sure they cost a tidy sum as they are right on the ocean bluffs.)

Curiously, there was another row of cottages right down on the shore that were falling down from disrepair. I'm guessing that the State was eventually going to demolish them.

This place looks like it gained an addition every time a storm rolled in.
The following may be my favourite photo of the entire trip. At the time I took it, I wasn't sure how it would turn out. The camera's autofocus had a hard time finding anything to focus on, and the colours were all so washed out...
This absolutely captures the peacefulness we feel here.
And tonight, our last night here, Steve and I went down to the Cove for a date. While he parked the car, I snapped some more sunset pictures because, kitschy as they are, I just can't get over sunsets. They always grab me.

The colours never got very strong, because of the clouds, but I watched them fade to grey as they played taps, and I took those moments to remember our fallen.

Finally, we went in for dinner - and a wonderful meal it was!

Not surprisingly, I found myself thinking, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to look at the ocean or a big lake every morning? Maybe we should retire to a house on the water." It's something we've talked about. But, in the end, I think part of what makes this so magical for us is that it is the exception.

The following clip is the version of "By the Beautiful Sea" with which I am familiar. It was on one of the kids' favourite videos when they were young. This song runs through my head whenever I go to the ocean.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Recipe for an Emotional Rollercoaster

Preparation: Drink a glass of coconut-mango rum punch while on vacation.

Step 1: Watch 20+ hours of Downtown Abbey. The initial episodes will entice you with farce; the latter episodes will string you along with melodrama. You will snicker, you will weep. [Three hankies per episode.]

Step 2: Watch Modern Family. Laugh until you have to go to the bathroom and change your underwear. Reflect on the great social and cultural abyss and parallels between 1912 and 2012.

Step 3: Read an article in a message from a friend in response to your post about Kony 2012 ["People who seek to assist in their pain will move heaven and earth to rid the world of this scourge once and for all."].

Step 4: Realize that honour and kindness are timeless.

  1. My children will find love where they may.
  2. Honesty is always more important than "fitting in."
  3. We must not sit on our hands when there is something to be done.
That is all. For now.

P.S. Despite what this post might convey, we are enjoying a blissful holiday.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

And then what?

War Child | Source
When I worked at the Canadian International Development Agency (counterpart of USAID), I hired a freelance writer who was also working for the Aga Khan foundation. She was editing a book that featured illustrations by "war-affected children."

I had never heard the term before, but it has definitely found a home in my brain and my heart.

The recent Kony 2012 campaign has raised awareness of two aspects of children in war zones: 1) boys being coerced into being "soldiers," and 2) girls being raped or even held captive as sex slaves (I do not for one moment doubt that boys were raped as well).

These are horrors -- and they need to stop. The sooner the better. I would not say that they need to be stopped "at any cost," but I do hope that in Uganda and elsewhere the use of child soldiers and the sexual abuse of girls and women will come to an end. (Well, really, who doesn't hope for that?) I pray for that end.

The question that's been running through my mind all this week, however, is "And then what?" How do those (now) soldiers who have been made to perform gruesome crimes, who have perhaps become the rapists and kidnappers themselves -- how do they "go back home"?

The writer who worked for me showed me the book she was working on. She told me it was giving her nightmares, and I was not surprised. The book was filled with crude drawings of dismemberment, rapes, and bombings. Red was a predominant colour.

Somehow these children had to go on with their lives.

Later, when I met new arrivals to Canada from Somalia, who had once been refugees, I looked at them with different eyes. Here were children who had seen horrors, who were now in a country where they were impoverished and treated as unwanted people. So very much to deal with.

I don't have an answer to the question I ask. I just want it to be raised. So we stop Kony. Then what?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Hunger Games, starring Wynn Anne

I only WISH my neck looked like that!
Everyone and her uncle can tell you that there is a strong correlation between type 2 diabetes and obesity. I'm not even going to google it.

What the uninitiated may not consider is that diabetes (or prediabetes) may actually contribute to the weight gain, rather than the other way around (i.e., weight gain causing diabetes). The book I'm reading right now puts it this way:

Some people find that they get ravenously hungry when their blood sugar is fluctuating rapidly. You may have had poor blood sugar control for years before you were diagnosed with diabetes. This means that after every meal, your blood sugar went abnormally high. Then it came down again. This may have triggered intense hunger, which would make you eat again. Then the roller coaster would repeat. No wonder you put on a little weight. ~ Gretchen Becker, in "The First Year: Type 2 Diabetes"
Without using this as an exoneration for the role my own lifestyle has played in this disease, I do wish more people understood this connection.

For me, it seems to be true. Yesterday, for example, I really badly overindulged at breakfast: I ate a slice of pecan pie. One slice of pecan pie has 80 gm of carbohydrates. I'm mentioning carbs rather than calories because, with type 2 diabetes, it's all about the carbs; calories from proteins and fats don't cause the same diabetic uproar.

To put that 80 gm in perspective, a medium potato has about 35 gm of carbs. A serving of Tiramisu has 44 gm.

I knew it was ill advised. But I did it anyway.

Well. Let me tell you I was hungry for the rest of the day. I grabbed a small package of cashews as a snack. I got cabbage rolls for lunch and ate just one. An hour later, I was as hungry as if I had not eaten, so I ate the other. Then I went out and bought POTATO CHIPS (which I haven't done since I got my wake-up call) AND cheese curds. (And I totally deserved the "tsk-tsk" I got from my friend when she saw what I planned to eat.)

Actually, I planned to eat only some of the curds and some of the chips. We both know that didn't happen.

It was unreal.

Today, I had a bagel with ham, lettuce and tomato for breakfast. I ate it very slowly.

Two hours later, my blood sugar was only 9.6 mmol/L, and there was no wild hunger.

I deferred lunch (with no snacks) and had a tomato-based soup (no cream, very few starchy vegetables). Again, no wild munchies. I even went to a cocktail reception after work and nibbled lightly without feeling like I had to EAT ALL THE APPETIZERS.

This is a huge revelation to me. I have dieted many, many times in the past following a variety of weight-loss programs. And sometimes it has seemed easy. Other times it has been a continual struggle marinated in feelings of self-deprivation.

Isn't it fascinating?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Don't worry! Be happy!

Voltaire quote | source
Hard to argue with that, isn't it? It sounds like such good "mindfulness" advice. (And happiness is good for your health.) But anyone who has struggled with clinical depression can tell you that being happy is not always something one can simply choose to be.

Believe me, if it were a simple matter of choosing (always) to be happy, I'd be ALL OVER THAT!

I suppose that, by choosing to reach out when I need help, take meds as appropriate, I am, in a sense deciding to be happy. But the quote implies that people with mental illness choose to be that way.

Then there's this kind of thing.

It implies that depression is caused by obsessing on past hurts, to which the pat response is, "Get over it." Over the years, I've come to wonder if it isn't sometimes the other way around; it's hard to let go of our past when all we feel is pain, self-loathing and despair. It is human tendency to look for causes, so looking to our past is a way of trying to untangle the knot of depression.

Having said all of that, I will reiterate one of my favourite Bible quotes:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. ~ Philippians 4:8
Although it also points to mental discipline, it doesn't point the finger at the sufferer, or even suggest that it is a cure for depression.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Off his meds? Or off his rocker?

Don't you sometimes wish you could invoke call screening after you've picked up the phone?
When you work in public relations or public affairs as I do, you sometimes get phone calls that are difficult to deal with. Of course, there are the expected calls from journalists who may or may not be sympathetic to your point of view. But I'm thinking more of the phone calls from ... people. Who are, perhaps, working in a different reality.

At a previous job, I had a colleague who had the patience of a saint. She had a frequent caller who would talk her ear off about his concerns and how urgent it was that senior leaders in our organization react immediately. He managed to track her even when her phone number changed. He was never rude or threatening, but his concerns were always just a little unhinged.

In his military career, Steve has dealt with calls from "tin-foil hat wearers" who were convinced that the military was doing things that caused strange things to occur. [Undoubtedly, the military has done such things, but not under Steve's purview.]

I've had those calls, too. They upset me in the same way that street people do: they are unpredictable, they don't follow the conventions in which I find comfort. They don't seem to take hints, they don't listen, and they will talk endlessly!

I feel torn between wanting to say, "You are delusional, dude," and treating them like any other [sane] person on the planet.

Over the years, I've gotten better at confidently interrupting and saying things like, "I'm just going to interject ..."

My objective is to be kind but also clear that our conversation has reached its max potential; we are done. I'm not above giving false assurances. ("I'll be sure to let so-and-so know.") But I also don't want to imply that we are developing a relationship.

How do you handle these interactions? Do you ever pretend that you're Mulder and that there really is a conspiracy and that this caller has the "truth" that is "out there"?

Friday, March 2, 2012


Don't you just want to snuggle in?
The prompt for this month's Gratitude Journal is "comfort." Just about my favourite thing EVER! Clothes, furnishings, decor, travel ... comfort is mantra.

Those pillows in the picture, for example, rest on my bed all day, just waiting for me to plump myself down into them and read a good book. Thank you, pillows. Steve, like many men, doesn't really get the whole throw-pillow thing. He would be quite happy with just the one sleeping pillow. But he loves me, so he puts up with them.

Shoes used to be an exception, but I've started paying more attention to foot comfort as I've aged. The old knees, hips and back are less tolerant than they once were.

Speaking of comfy feet ...
Vielles pantoufles
Old, ratty, but so comfy!
These old things keep my feet toasty. The faux fur has long since felted and pilled, but they are like an old friend: there when I want them, wrapping me in comfort.

And for that, I am grateful.

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