Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Snowy Day

Or snowy week, really. It has snowed, and then it has snowed again some, with very little melting in between. This is what our driveway looks like right now.
With thanks to Peter and Brian for some excellent shovel-work.

Where the snow has not been shoveled, it is deep and slippery - hard work to walk through. I tried following in Stephen's steps, but his stride is about a foot longer than mine, so it did not work very well. I was better off cutting my own trail.

The snow and bright sunlight made pretty vignettes everywhere we looked.

The fence around the ice rink - which has not yet been poured.

Evergreen boughs sagged heavily under the mounded snow. We need a good, strong wind to blow it off.

We stepped in out of the cold, cold winter into a house aromatic with the smell of turkey roasting: sage, thyme, onion, and butter. Mmmmmm.
Almost done.

Then, Peter lit a fire for us.
Peter still had hat head from shoveling the driveway.
So, it's been a perfect day. And it's not over yet! This evening, both my girls will be home, to share that turkey, and for Emily's birthday cake. I can't promise that I'll take pictures, but it does seem likely, doesn't it?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Year that Was

I am temporarily disabled - my left wrist encased in an orthopedic contraption because it hurts. Possibly caused by arthritis (it's been stiff and painful in the mornings, lately) or possibly a sprain, though I don't recall any accidents.

In any case, I'm glad I won't be going to the office until Wednesday; I hope to be better by then.

In the meantime, what better time to look back at 2012 and share some of my favourite highlights?

In January, Steve and I went to Vegas for his birthday weekend - from blizzard to desert and back again.

In February, I discovered that my diabetes, which had been "controlled" by diet and exercise was, in fact, out of control.

In March, I shared my mother's recipe for Seven Minute Frosting - the secret to my favourite birthday cakes.

After our Easter celebration in April, I wrote up some of my favourite tips for entertaining.

In May, I started taking medication for my diabetes and noticed an interesting decrease in my appetite.

In June, I celebrated my fiftieth birthday!

July's posts focused on food, including my recipe for Frank's Home-Fried Potatoes, as I've been slowly, and obsessively working on a family cookbook.

For the first three weeks in August, I thought all my Facebook friends were ignoring me. :(

In September, we slipped away to Gananoque (near Kingston).

In October, I survived a flu shot. Ugh.

In November, I reflected on the eternal surprise of my menstrual cycle.

This month, I shared some of our holiday preparations, including these Kit Kat houses (yummy!).

Well, that sums up a lot of my year. Misses a few things as well, of course. Can't wait to see what 2013 has in store!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My favourite things about Christmas presents.

Christmas morning, sorting the presents!
When I was a kid, I could barely contain the excitement of Christmas morning.

Along with my four brothers and two sisters, I woke before dawn and threw myself upon my Christmas stocking. I honestly do not remember what order (order?) we followed to unwrap gifts, but I remember the absolute glee of the feast of presents.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fireplace, continued

More than a year ago, Steve and I decided to upgrade our fireplace, from a drafty, wood-burning hole into something more beautiful and functional. Most of that long, drawn-out story is here.

With one thing and another, we've been a little lazy busy, but we finally decided to take the final steps necessary to bring our fireplace up to code, so we could light a fire. Frankly, I would've been embarrassed if we hadn't been able to light a fire this Christmas.

That final step involved extending the non-flammable flooring a further distance from the front of the insert's doors. We had several choices:

1. A hearth extension
This would sit on top of the hardwood floor.
They do not come in widths to match our overall hearth.

2. Lay tile on top of the existing hardwood

Neither Steve nor I liked this idea, as it would have looked like an afterthought and would have been a tripping hazard. (The woodstove itself gets quite hot. I wouldn't want someone to trip on the raised tiles and put his hand out to stop the fall, only to be burned when the hand lands on the stove.)

3. Carefully rip out the hardwood and install a decorative, coordinated tile inlay.

That would make the whole thing look more integrated and planned, but it would also be a LOT more work. Needless to say, this is the option we chose, though that first option sure looked sweet at times.

So now you know why we procrastinated. Part of the difficulty was in choosing the tile. At one point, we considered using faux-wood ceramic, so that it would really blend in with the hardwood. But I'm happy with the treatment we settled on: a field of tan tiles that match the stone used on the hearth and mantel, ornamented with mosaic insets that bring in the colours of the wood grain and the stones.

The toolbox is a reflection.
As you can see, we need to replace a good bit of mortar beneath the bricks.

There was not a lot of tile to lay, and it went quite quickly, especially as there was no need to cut any tiles. I was however, just a tad obsessive about lining up those seems. I joked to Steve that I was trying to do it so that it would meet our friend Paul's inspection. You can't tell, unless you look closely (Paul), but I haven't done the grout yet.

Still, we felt sufficiently close to fire code that we could crank her up. The instructions specified that we had to start with a very low fire.

After the short-lived fire died down, Elly investigated.
She was fascinated by the scents coming from beneath the bricks.
But in this picture you can also see something else.

Here's a closer look.
A crack. Dang.
The larger circled area shows the crack, which appears to go all the way through the stone. It was not there when it was installed -- I went back and checked earlier photos. It's not large or extremely noticeable; we didn't even notice it while we were working on the tile yesterday.

The smaller circle shows a slightly offset linear depression that appears to have been filled with same-coloured putty. That is to say, it was likely there at the time of installation. (Steve and I have not done anything to the hearth.)

So it looks like I will have to contact the manufacturer. The installation company had not dealt with this manufacturer before and was very hesitant to offer the product, but I was sold on the colour and texture (it really is very stonelike). I believe that we agreed that the installer would not be held responsible for any product defects, but that does not absolve the manufacturer.

Yay! I get to talk to customer service! Isn't that everyone's favourite thing to do?

But I won't end on a sad note! I am absolutely delighted with the fireplace. I really like how the tiling turned out and am especially pleased to have it all in working order by Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Premature Aging

How old is she really?
According to our veterinary records (based on exams when she was first adopted in 2007), Elly's estimated date of birth is May 2006, which pegs her at six-and-a-half years old. Her body, however, seems to think it's much older than that. I offer as evidence:

  • gum disease and dental decay (feline stomatitis)
  • bone spurs (arthritic hips and spine)
  • kidney failure
Poor thing. 

I sympathize with her. 

A year ago, I remarked that I felt I was "time expired." That post was well before I realized my diabetes was out of control and that migraines would become a routine event. Before I turned 50.

Which brings us to last week: I went for CT scan to see if my frequent migraines were a harbinger of something more sinister, like strokes or a tumour [gasp!] pressing on the optic nerve. [What? Are you saying you wouldn't have googled it?]

Imagine my surprise when my doctor's office called me on Monday and said the doctor wanted to go over the results of said scan with me. 

Bad news. It is never, ever a good thing when the doctor wants to see you, rather than the other way around.

Short story: I'm old.

Long story: the CT scan showed "micro-vascular changes." The blood vessels in my brain are on a weight-loss diet, which would be great, except that it means they aren't able to carry so much oxygen to the brain. My doctor, who is in her early thirties, said, "We wouldn't expect to see this kind of thing until you're about 70."


She went on to say that this is likely because of my diabetes, which causes all sorts of systemic failure . . . in the heart, the kidneys, the nerves, the retinas. Especially if said diabetes is uncontrolled, as mine was for about a year. 

A year, folks, not a decade. And I've been quite conscientious about taking care of myself (as long as, you know, exercise isn't involved ).

The doctor says no follow-up is required, in the way of testing. But you know, and I know, that the only way to increase vascularization (blood flow) is exercise. It would appear that I have a 20-year deficit. Damn. I may have to start taking the bus to work. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Stand back.

I think I'm going to print out some pretty business-card-sized notes that I can hand to people who seem to have no sense of personal space. Close talkers. Encroachers.

Today, I stood in line at the post office, an annual rite of Christmas penitence. As I stood there, browsing the "Congratulations on your new baby boy" cards, I noticed that someone had joined the line behind me. At first, this person respected the invisible bubble that surrounds me AT ALL TIMES.

But then, I noticed that the encroacher was gradually moving to my left, and forward, all while blithely ignoring me and tapping away on her phone.

Well. I was not born yesterday (I was born 18,442 days ago, in fact*), so I knew that this was a nasty attempt to butt in in front of me.

And that is not on. I moved my girth leftwards until the offending woman had no choice but to move back behind me.

But she was not to be outdone. She did this.

I kid you not; I felt the hairs on the back of my neck blowing in the breeze of her exhalations! Can you imagine? And this was not someone from some culture that was more accustomed to small body-space than I am; she was as WASP as I am!

If I had not been so close to the front of the line, I would have abandoned my quest. But I was stalwart, and determined. I concentrated on the greeting cards as if they were my Lamaze focus points.

Finally, I reached the counter and breathed a heavy sigh of relief as my bubble re-expanded to fill the appropriate amount of space.

Gawd, I hate crowds. Hate 'em. I think I'm going to mount a baby-poop cannon on my shoulder and direct it at anyone who invades my bubble. Sounds like a plan.

*Yes, there's an app for that.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Is there such a thing as "too much candy"?

I don't think so. (Yes, spoken as one who has diabetes, so take that into consideration.)

The other day several friends, including our daughter Katie, who goes by Kat with her friends, posted the following picture on Facebook.
Find the recipe (haha!) here.
I'd made gingerbread houses from kits before (with their insufficient number of candies - so frustrating!) and with graham crackers, too, but these? These were truly houses I could eat right down to the foundations!

Yesterday, I bought an obscene amount of candy, enough for three houses.

  • 24 Kit Kat bars
  • 3 Aero bars
  • 3 boxes of Smarties (Canadian kind, not the American kind)
  • 2 large bags of Skittles
  • and more
Really, you don't need the full list. But, as you can see, I spent a pretty penny on this escapade. In the end, Katie couldn't join us for the celebration of sugar, but we decorated a house for her anyway.

Here is my own pile of Kit Kat bars.
Enough for one house. You can count seven, but there are eight in the pile.
As well as cutting out the cardboard forms for each of the houses, Steve decorated one. In very Engineer-orderly fashion, might I say. (He also took time to quibble with the orientation of the Kit Kat bars, arguing that a horizontal layout would give a better impression of a log cabin. He was right, of course, but I pointed to the rules and he went with the game plan.)
Steve's Kit Kat house, under construction
Likewise, Emily's showed some OCD influences.
Also, as she pointed out, some Halloween influences.
My own was a testament to improvisation and randomness.
I kind of got carried away decorating and forgot to take pictures, until Emily reminded me.
L-R; Emily's, mine, Steve's
The tree at front-centre is Emily's
Focus on Steve's house. His tree is in the foreground.
This may not have been the healthiest activity I've ever undertaken with my kids (kid, really, unless you count Steve, which he often does), but given the news of this past week and my lifelong need to actively fight depression, I count this as an afternoon well spent.

Nevertheless, I will be shipping the houses off to more suitable homes tomorrow.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Date Night

This picture, however, was taken last night
at a different restaurant.
In a previous post, I mentioned that Steve and I have really made an effort to have regular date nights. Even though our kids are grown, so we really don't need to escape, we've continued the habit as we find it strengthens our connection to each other.

A few weeks ago, Steve and I went out for one of our favourite date nights: we went to a casual restaurant nearby (Big Rig Brewery) and played cards.

After placing our orders, we pulled out a deck of cards and began to play Klabberjass, an eastern European game that we discovered in Hoyle's Book of Rules, 'way back when our children were babies.

We had kept a notebook of our scores for about 20 years, but lost it on one of our recent vacations. It was in that notebook that we noticed that Steve invariably won in the mornings and I was the more likely winner in the evenings.

That notebook also had a record of the game we started playing while I was in labour with Brian, but abandoned because I couldn't concentrate.

Klabberjass is similar to Euchre, but is only for two players. The special cards include the Jass (Jack) and Menel (9) of trump. You get bonus points for runs, taking the final trick (called stish), and for playing both King and Queen of trump. If you bid and lose, you are considered "bete" and your opponent wins all the points, including yours.

When our server dropped off our drinks, she asked what game we were playing. When we told her, she said she knew the game - she was from Ukraine and spoke with a slight accent. She said that it was very popular there.

She also mentioned that another couple had played Backgammon at the table across the aisle just the night before. So perhaps it's a new trend.

It's something we have only started doing recently, but it reminds me of high school and university, before life revolved around the Internet and computer games. It also helps us steer the conversation away from the stressful parts of life: work, children, finances. Before we landed on this idea, we used to bring scrap paper and draw sketches for home renovations and landscape ideas. (This idea came about because of restaurants that have butcher-paper "tablecloths.") I like the Backgammon idea, too.

A tangent: another date-night tip - also for casual restaurants - is that we simply  order two appetizers and no entree. More often than not, we find ourselves satisfied with that.

What are your unique date-night tips?

If not now, when? And if not gun control, then what?

Once again, the world is reeling in the aftermath of a horrific, senseless shooting spree. While it never gets easier (and I pray we never become inured to such things), this time is even harder than usual: 20 young children dead. Little children.

How will their parents survive?

Immediately, the social networks were abuzz. I read three messages, in various forms:

  • We need to do something about gun control.
  • Gun control is not the answer; I want to be armed when the bad guys come for me.
  • Now is not the time to address the politics/laws. 
One picture was posted and re-posted by those who favoured greater control over guns.

While the print is too small for me to read where those numbers came from or how recent they are, it was immediately clear to me that the raw numbers misrepresent the statistics and therefore undermine the rhetoric. 

Percentage of population is a better metric, as it acknowledges the vast population of the United States, compared to other countries. 

In fact, this Wikipedia page (which includes citations) gives different statistics. 
Death rates per 100,000 population
Source: Wikipedia
So Canada is not so noble or safe as we might believe. A closer look at the Canadian statistics shows some horrifically high rates in some of our provinces and territories.
Source: RCMP
Why isn't someone looking at the causes and cures for this?

Still, I ask my American friends and family, doesn't it make sense to do SOMETHING about these massacres? Wouldn't it be great to cut the number of fatalities in half? If not gun control, then what?

And if not now, in the heat of the heartbreak, then when?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


There's more meandering than usual with this post, but bear with me. It'll all tie up into a pretty bow at the end. Or a bow, at least.

"You is kind. You is smart. You is important." Aibileen to Mae Mobley in Kathryn Stockett's The Help

As a self-centred adolescent, I directed all of my judgmental angst at my mother. "Stupidfatlazyslobofabitch," I sobbed into my pillow.

In late March 1990, my father died. In early June of the same year, I graduated with two degrees. The following day, I gave birth to my second child.

By fall of that year, I was a grief-stricken, miserable puddle.

I'd gone from the academic world to the realm of the stay-at-home mother. My body was soft from childbirth. Exhausted from dealing with a toddler and a colicky infant, it was all I could do to put the kids into a stroller for a walk; I lived in sweat pants. Poor Steve bore the brunt of my irritability.


I'd come full circle. In dark times, those words would weave through my mind, but lately a new string of words has come to the fore: fucketyfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.

Nice, eh? The powerless little rant, of a toddler stomping her foot.

I know I'm not the first or loudest to say it, but I do believe that the words we say only to ourselves, the words that no one else hears, are disproportionately powerful.


Unspoken words insinuate themselves into our psyches. Kathryn Stockett knew this.

But we can't simply delete the old track; we need to over-write it. So the challenge, now, is to rewrite the mantra, the "sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of  'creating transformation'," according to Wikipedia.

I wonder what would happen if I took my favourite Bible verse and turned it into a mantra? 
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things." Philippians 4:8

I'll let you know how it goes. Or maybe you'll see for yourself.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Wonderful Whirlwind Weekend

You may have noticed that Steve and I sometimes try to combine a business trip with a pleasure trip.

  • In September, I tagged along on Steve's business trip to Kingston.
  • In November, Steve joined me in Quebec City, then I stayed on to work.
Well, this past week, Steve had business in the Toronto area, where I happen to have family. So, Emily and I decided to meet Steve in Toronto, and we arranged to meet my Aunt Winkie for dinner, then visit my sister for the weekend.

There are no pictures of Winkie, because she detests having her picture taken. But I did snap some pictures of a few other highlights of the weekend, which we spent with my sister and brother-in-law.
Pat and Ross
On Saturday morning, I [finally] had a visit with my friend, Stephanie, whose beautiful twin girls were born last January.
Happy Mommy

One happy baby
Another baby, monkeying around.
The family dog, just waiting for her to drop the monkey.
The girls were ready for their naps, so Steve and I headed back to my sister Pat's place, where we got ready for a short road trip.
Scooter, none too happy to be excluded from the car ride.
Our destination was Palmerston, where my father, his parents, and one of his sisters are buried. Not what you would call a fun trip, but it was a pleasure to be there and to remember. I never met my grandmother, and I barely knew my grandfather, but I miss my father every day, and I have fond memories of my aunt and her great talent.
Dad loved fishing.
There were not enough days in his life to enjoy this pastime.
We planted some crocuses around the markers, just as my Aunt Winkie has done. She also planted a lilac bush. Obviously, it was not in bloom just now, but it was beautiful, just the same.
I hope lichen is not harmful for lilacs . . . 
It was chilly - snow was dancing lazily - and we were hungry, so we visited nearby Elora to warm up and grab some lunch. Elora is a popular tourist spot in Ontario (at least in the summer), with a quaint downtown.
Dressed up for the season with a uniquely eye-catching colour scheme.
After a home-cooked meal, Pat and I talked late into the evening, as we usually do. Brunch the next morning included my favourite dessert!
Tiramisu (in cake form)
Before we knew it, it was time to pack our bags and head for the train station, but not without a few hugs.
All in all, a wonderful whirlwind weekend. Now to get on with my Christmas preparations; no more excuses!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Covers

Sleeping Beauty
Photo credit: Prince Charming
On Facebook this morning, I posted the following status:

I posted it because I truly have a hard time waking up. Often, the voice of Neil Sedaka swam through my head as I hit the snooze button.

Within minutes, a sharp-witted friend posted a comment saying, "Fifty ways to leave your covers." And the games began. Here, therefore, for your amusement, is our adaptation of Paul Simon's song, with thanks to Martha and Pete.

Fifty Ways to Leave Your Covers

"The problem is all inside your bed,"
She said to me.
"The answer is easy if you
Don't take it drowsily.
I'd like to help you in your struggle
To wake up.
There must be fifty ways
To leave your covers.

She said, "It's really not my habit
To sleep nude,
Even so, I hope my meaning
Won't be lost or misconstrued.
But I'll repeat myself
At the risk of being crude,
There must be fifty ways
To leave your covers.
Fifty ways to leave your covers."

"Hop outta the sack, Jack.
Make a new bed, Jed.
Don't fluff that pillow!
Just listen to me.
Throw back the quilt, Wilt
You don't need to hit snooze much!
Just lose the duvet, Ray
And make yourself tea."

She said, "It grieves me so
To see you sleep again,
I wish there was something I could do
To help you greet the dawn."
I said, "I appreciate dreams.
But would you please explain
About the fifty ways?"

She said, "Why don't we both
Just sleep on it tonight
And I believe in the morning
You'll begin to see the light."
And then she kissed me,
And I realized she probably was right:
There must be fifty ways
To leave your covers.
Fifty ways to leave your covers.

Monday, December 3, 2012

More Bathroom Drama

In my previous installment, I shared the story of someone in our office building who felt entitled to store her personal stash of tampons in the shared bathroom. In the end, I spoke with her (by phone), and she agreed to keep her personal supplies at her desk.

It also turned out that she was, indeed, the same woman who periodically blow-dries her hair and does her make-up in the washroom. While that is not totally out of line (she doesn't leave her grooming equipment there), it still is unusual, as this is not a change room.

Anyway. Things are under control there.

As we shared this story with our male colleagues, we learned that there was a similar problem going on in the men's room: there was a man who was fastidious about NOT touching the door handle after washing his hands. But, instead of using the paper towel to open the door, then disposing it in the garbage can (either in the restroom or at his desk), he would drop it on the floor.


Through surreptitious means, we have deduced that the culprit is from the same office as the offending woman. They must have an interesting culture there. Kind of "OCD meets dorm room," I'm thinking.

I was feeling pretty curmudgeonly about all this until I came across this article, about the "Top Ten Poop Bandits." Yup. There's a list. And we have NOTHING to complain about.

Perspective, folks, it's all about gaining perspective.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Deck the Halls!

Today, my daughters came over to help me trim the Christmas tree.
Katie puts my favourite tiny baubles on the tree.
The girls were in a joyful mood and even played and sang along to AC/DC's "Big Balls." Definitely not my kind of holiday music, but we soon switched to my Ella Fitzgerald music. 

Steve played keep-away with the angel.

We decorated the new mantel.
The "ornament" is actually a placecard holder, but it's lost the holder part.
Afterwards, I had the girls pose for a couple of pictures.

And here is the result of their labour.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Parenting Challenge: Community

As with most modern parents, our children have always had assigned chores, starting with setting the table and going all the way up to preparing meals or doing the entire household's laundry. Assigning each of them these responsibilities was often more work than simply doing the chore ourselves, but we felt it important to teach our kids responsibility and skills for independent living.

One of the aspects of teaching the sense of responsibility - owning the chore - was that we did not step in and do the chore for them, unless there was an extenuating circumstance. Ordinarily, we would stand back and just . . . nag, until the chore got done. Or dock allowance or come up with other consequences if we finally had to step in and do it ourselves.

But, while this approach worked with younger children, what we've failed to inculcate as our children have become young adults, I think, is a sense of communal responsibility.

Let me explain.

A couple of months ago, we had a staffing change at work; one of the long-term employees retired and another one left. Shortly after that, I noticed that people were leaving their dishes in the sink, rather than putting them right in the dishwasher. Worse, they refused neglected to empty the clean dishwasher.

After talking with another colleague, it came out that people used to think that it was the former employees' responsibility to see to the kitchen. But it was not; it was a communal responsibility (as I had always assumed).

Ideally, a strong team would recognize a gap and - like ants working synergistically - someone would step forward without being told.

As I pondered the challenge at work, I realized that my own children were not learning to think communally. We had developed a habit of leaving our own dirty dishes on the counter if the chore owner had not yet emptied the dishwasher.

It was no one's assigned chore to wipe the counters or walls, so it didn't get done (except by me or Steve).

In fact, there were many, many tasks that our kids were just blind to.

My new challenge to the kids is to be more of a community of adults: people who see something that needs doing and just . . . do it. It's a lot to ask of them, and it requires trust.

It occurs to me that it also demands a new approach to "positive reinforcement." Rather than Steve and I being the only ones to acknowledge or thank someone else's contribution, it should, perhaps be the "owner" of that chore to acknowledge that someone helped out, find that person and thank him or her.

Still not sure how this would apply to the non-assigned tasks.

I'm honestly not sure how well it will work, but it is something that I'm going to strive for. I hope that, ultimately, our kids will be better partners, roommates, co-workers, and people because of it.

Wish me luck.

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