Friday, October 25, 2013

A Royal Outing

Updated: added a picture of me in my blue dress.

My colleagues photoshopped this picture of them. Take a close look at the one on the far right.
Aren't they a hoot and a half?

When one is invited to dine with royalty, one is obliged to speak in the third person, it is said.  Or the passive voice.

Stop. I can't do it. I simply can't. I will write the remainder of this post in the usual first-person active voice.

Now that I've got that out of the way, I can start telling you about the gala dinner I attended last night, whose guest of honour was none other than the Princess Royal, Princess Anne. Her Royal Highness. (Or, as some have said -- but I won't -- Her Royal Horsiness. She is an avid equestrian and actually competed in the Olympics.)

Steve is a member of the communications branch of the Canadian air force. In fact, he has a role of "chief advisor" to the branch commander. As any soldier, sailor or airman knows, this kind of duty is a thankless task: it's added on to your "day job" and generally adds to the length of your work day as well as, in this case, the need to travel. (Which explains our many, many trips to Kingston in the past three years. I'm not complaining; we love Kingston.)

This year happens to be the 110th anniversary of the branch's founding. And Princess Anne happens to be the branch's colonel in chief. It's an honourary role, but it is one that she takes quite seriously, as she apparently does all of her many such roles, of which there are some 320. She is known in England as the hardest-working royal.

About a year ago, the branch invited the princess to attend a celebration; she accepted. Unluckily for her, it coincided with the christening of her beautiful great-nephew, Prince George. Despite the big family event, she honoured her commitment and came to Canada where she will perform a week's worth of duties.

One of these duties was a gala dinner, to which Steve (and I) were invited. I put the "and I" in parentheses because I alone would not have been invited. It was an invitation-only event for a small 180-person dinner.

In case you wondered, there are plenty of Canadians who get their panties in a twist if they are thwarted from spending time in the company of a member of the royal family. Apparently, one woman had gone to the trouble of losing 40 pounds in order to impress Her Royal Highness, only to have failed to be included on the invitation list. Poor thing. I hope she doesn't lose faith and gain back all the weight!

That is a dreadfully long preamble to this post, which is all about our very peripheral date with Princess Anne.

Note: all photos were taken with my iPhone, so they aren't great quality.


The first thing for me to do, of course, was to select a dress. The invitation specified "cocktail," which is clear enough to me (e.g., fancy, but not ball gown), but there were several women who showed up in full-length gowns and that's just fine.

I've gained weight (again) and did not enjoy shopping for a dress, but found a blue lace dress with a modest neckline and 3/4-length sleeves. Then I splurged and bought some topaz jewelery to match the dress.

I should have had my roots touched up, but I didn't. Instead, I put my hair in rollers the night before so that I would look suitably festive.
Also: new glasses
To prevent the curls from wilting with my hot flashes, I piled them atop my head. It worked.

Steve's preparation, of course, was much more elaborate as he's spent months managing the days-long event. It involved lots of meetings and decisions and is far less fun than pretty hair.

Obligatory bathroom selfie. Unfortunately, you can't see any of my new bijoux.
I wore my hair down about half the time.


Steve had been in Kingston since Monday, and the gala was on Thursday, so I took the train down. (Always a treat!) We stayed at a bed & breakfast in Kingston, near the Queen's University campus. Our room was absolutely beautiful.
The photo was taken this morning.

The sun from those leaded windows cast beautiful rainbows around the room.
I don't always take pictures of bathrooms, but when I do . . .
(I covet that arch over the lavatory.)


Before we were allowed into the banquet hall with the princess, we received a protocol briefing. It included instructions on how to address her ("Your Royal Highness" the first time, then "Ma'am" thereafter), that we should not initiate a handshake, but should bow or curtsey, and that we should not sit in our chairs until she took hers. Likewise, when she rose to leave, we should all stand.

Not too difficult, really, though another woman and I joked about talking to the princess about menopause and hot flashes. What could possibly go wrong?

I decided that the best bet was to keep my distance and hold my tongue. (I have been known to utter words that I later regret. Those words keep me awake at night.)

The Princess

I've heard it said that Queen Elizabeth II refuses to change her hairstyle because she feels it is part of what makes her recognizable. Evidently, Princess Anne ascribes to the same belief. She wears a "Gibson Girl" bouffant hairdo that does not seem to have changed since she was a young woman. It may, in fact, be a wig! Smart woman.
I would make a dreadful paparazzo: I'm too shy to get close.

It is a hairstyle I've worn myself. Often.
Her outfit was beautiful. If the Duchess of Cambridge had worn it, there would have been a run on tapestry coats in burgundy with ornamental ruffs around the collar and down the front. Sadly, Princess Anne was not graced with a photogenic profile. Perhaps it's not so sad, actually. Our culture hounds those with physical beauty in such a rapacious way that her "plainness" may have been a saving grace, after all.

She gave a brief speech after dinner and dessert. Although it likely was written by one of her staff, she clearly knew what she was talking about and improvised appropriately. She was witty at times, but mostly serious. Her voice is quite nice -- not the high-pitched tone that we are accustomed to hearing from Queen Elizabeth.

Dinner is Served

The dining room was elegantly appointed, but not over the top. I'm not sure why (space?), but the gala was held at a local hotel, rather than in the Officers' Mess on base or at the Royal Military College.
Draped ceiling and crystal chandeliers

There was a complete seating chart, of course. The princess sat at a "head table" that was placed quite centrally in the room, so everyone was able to  catch glimpses of her.
A small typo on Stephen's place card.
Elegant, but not fussy.
When I told Emily that I would be dining with a "real" princess, she laughed because one of the ways I had always encouraged the kids to use good table manners was that they should pretend they were dining with the Queen. Sometimes I would put on a fake high-pitched voice and pretend I was the queen.

So this just proves: YOU NEVER KNOW! It could happen!

Our table of ten included several "honourary colonels" as well as the princess' body guard from Scotland Yard, a handsome man who had been carefully chosen for his role. He spoke admiringly of her. After she spoke and returned to her seat, he commented that he needed to watch her closely: when she was ready to leave, she would do so quite quickly, and he needed to be ready.

Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later, I noticed that she had placed her clutch purse under her arm, a sign that she was getting ready. I pointed it out to him and he said (kindly -- what was I thinking? That he hadn't noticed?) that he was aware.

The meal itself was delicious, but not heavy.

That concludes my tale. Today, Steve continues with his official duties, while I have been lounging at the B&B, enjoying not being a princess, but merely being pampered as if I were one.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pill Poppin'

Every morning (plus an injection)
It all started with an antidepressant. For more than a decade, I've taken Zoloft every morning. There have been periods when I've tried going off Zoloft or have tried other antidepressants or have supplemented with others, but Zoloft is the one that I've come to accept will never go away.

Then I was diagnosed with diabetes, which put me at the same risk for a heart attack as someone who has already had one. So I started taking a tiny pill for high blood pressure another one for cholesterol, neither of which were too high, but we were taking precautions. And a baby Aspirin.

And three years later, my diabetes kind of went crazy, so I went on Metformin.

And it progressed to this:
Morning and bedtime
Or, another way of looking at it:
Prescriptions on the left, non-prescription on the right.
Yah, I feel old.

Here's what you're looking at:

  • Metformin for blood sugar
  • HCTZ for blood pressure
  • Zoloft for depression
  • Simvastatin for cholesterol
  • Tecta for reflux
  • Victoza (an injection) for blood sugar
  • Vitamin D for depression
  • Vitamin B12 for depression (I think. Or it may be for memory loss.)
  • Ibuprofen for bursitis
  • Claritin for allergic rhinitis (to reduce the number of sinus infections I get)
  • ASA to prevent heart attack
It's gotten to the point that filling my pill boxes takes about ten full minutes once a week. Actually taking the morning pills has to be done in two handfuls.

It sucks, but it's part and parcel of having a chronic illness. The alternative is even less appealing.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Follow Your Bliss

I'm not much of a philosopher, but I came across this statement by Joseph Campbell:
If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are—if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
The concept, as I understand it, is that we can know our true and proper path in life if we follow what brings us bliss or rapture.

A seventies philosophy, if ever there was one!

But I think most career coaches offer similar advice: strive to do something that touches your passion. So I was thinking about this today, as I woke up from a four-hour nap. I thought: if I followed my bliss, it would probably have something to do with reading, babies, and sleeping. [I readily acknowledge that babies and sleeping are incompatible.]

If I were a cat, I could come close, except for the reading. But I think that would be a pretty good trade off.

I could always volunteer for sleep-related studies, but I'm not convinced that it would pay well or allow me to sleep whenever the heck I feel like it.

Retirement and grandparenthood are probably the closest I'll come in this lifetime. I'm looking forward to that.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Oh, Bus Driver!

Commuting this week was absolutely NUTS.

The major highway that runs east-west through Ottawa is undergoing major construction initiatives at several points along its route. Consequently, smart travelers have diverted to my favourite route, the Sir John A Macdonald Parkway, which runs along the park-like shores of the Ottawa River.

Unfortunately, the parkway is a two-lane route, not designed to handle major commuter traffic. After the second day of surprising congestion, I decided to take side streets to work. More stop lights, but less insanity. Or so I thought.

Just a few minutes into my drive, I was stopped at a red light. I was in the left lane. An articulated city bus (or, as we call them, a "bendy-bus") was in the right lane dropping off and picking up passengers. In front of us, the road narrowed down to a single lane.

Fair enough, I thought. I'll move quickly so he can merge in behind me. I usually yield to buses if I am behind them (i.e., I won't cut them off), but in this situation, I thought it was reasonable for me to proceed.

But, while the light was still solidly red (and cross-traffic was fully green), the bus began moving into the intersection.

To my astonishment, it continued.

All 18 metres (60 feet) of the bus had fully traversed the intersection well before the light turned green.

I just sat there with my mouth open.

I remained behind the bus for several intersections and managed to snap a picture.

Bad bus driver! Bad, bad bus driver!
(In case you're wondering, yes, I did send a message to OCTranspo.)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hijacking Epidemic

You've see it happen. You may even have done it yourself. Someone (the Original Poster, or OP) posts an interesting status on Facebook and someone else replies with a comment that is ALL ABOUT THEM.

Example 1: Call the WAH-mbulance!

I named this one after my husband's favourite response when I go on a pity party: "Oh no! Should I call the WAH-mbulance?"

"Yum! Enjoy!
I'm going to nnn's, but my TMJ is acting up for some reason
so I probably won't be able to eat anything -- eat some for me!"
It starts out well with a nice affirmation of the OP's comment, but then it turns into a "poor me" comment. TMJ, for those who don't know, is tempero-mandibular joint pain. It's a bitch, but we don't need to know about it any more than we need to know about her urinary tract infection, which is also miserable and could spoil one's weekend.

In any case, the commenter's response is not out-and-out passive-aggressive, but it comes close.

Example 2: Topper

I named this one after "Topper" of Dilbert fame - he who consistently one-ups anyone he talks to. Had a miscarriage? Yah, well Topper had a late-term still-birth, so SUCK IT!

The use of all-caps may have been a sign that the commenter did not understand the subtle etiquette of social media. Again, she started out fine, with a congratulatory message, but then made it all about her: "Oh, yah?" she implies, "Well we've been married almost twice as long as you, and we went someplace hot and expensive to celebrate!"

When these kinds of faux pas happen in a normal conversation (as they do), we don't really notice. It's just the back-and-forth of dialogue. You say something that makes me think of something related, so I mention it. We go back and forth. It's all good. (Unless it happens every gal-darned time we speak to that person, in which case we know we're dealing with a narcissist.)

But when it happens on social media, it's like a record scratch - it can grind the exchange to a halt. And everyone can see!

Word to the wise: next time you start to comment, ask yourself: Am I making it all about me? If so, pause. Reframe your comment. Make it about the OP.

Thank you.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blast from the Past: How to Set a Fancy-Schmancy Table

Was scrolling through some old posts and came across this one, published in October 2012. Considering the timing, I thought I'd share it again, so here you go.

I love decorating our table for special meals; it brings out my inner Martha Stewart. And my guests like it, too. It is almost de rigueur now that guests drop off their contributions in the kitchen, then pass through the dining room before sitting down for appetizers.

"You always make it look really festive," one guest commented on (Canadian) Thanksgiving Monday.

I'm glad she felt that way.

Today, I'm sharing some of the tips & tricks I use when making my table look extra-special. Some of it involves shopping, but it also includes working with what you have.

1. Choose a colour scheme and gather the things you think might work.
Since it is fall, I chose an autumnal theme and gathered the elements on the table. (I have an ivory tablecloth which works well as a blank canvas.)

These were all things I had on hand, either purchased last Thanksgiving or gifts (some from years ago). Let's take a closer look.

Here's what we have:

  • A table runner
  • A couple of baskets
  • Ornamental napkin rings
  • A yard or so of fabric
  • A capiz shell placemat thingy
  • Some candles in seasonal colours
  • A few ornamental leaves

2. Start to layer.
Beginning with my neutral tablecloth (in this case, two tablecloths, since our table is big enough to accommodate 12 people), start layering your elements, starting with your runner or accent fabric.

I tried the runner, but it was just too small (and too close in colour) for the big table. In this case, I bunched up the ornamental fabric, partly because it was faded in one spot from the time I used it as a table-topper in front of a window, and also because I think it looks nice that way. But not yet. In that shot, it looks messy.

3. Begin setting places.
Like too many of us (and much to my husband's dismay), I have several sets of dishes. Everyday dishes in a pistachio green, wedding dishes in white with silver trim, heirloom dishes in white with delicate periwinkle flowers, and today's dishes in a hand-painted rustic finish.

(Some of the napkins are still in the laundry.) You can see that the table is starting to come together. The three sets of candlesticks are a happy coincidence of wedding gifts: silver, brass, and crystal in three different heights. I love using them together.

4. Fill in gaps.
That centrepiece - or lack thereof - was a problem. I often will put low flowers (so people can see across the table), but Farm Boy was completely out of flowers by the time I got there on Sunday. Incredible!

So I scoured my house and found this.

It's a fisherman's float from our trip through Oregon and California a few years ago. I'm a glass-art fanatic, so I was happy to find an excuse to use this. The blue-green in the glass picked up the blue in the ornamental fabric. (There's also a touch of blue in the plates, but it's difficult to see.)

5. Set the table.

Here's a look at one place setting, before adding the glassware.

(Oh. I realized that I had chargers for under the plates. I've had these for a couple of years, but kept on forgetting about them. Finally remembered. Steve, naturally, thinks they are completely useless, and they are, but they really do help the table look fancy-schmancy. Which is a real word, Blogger, so stop putting a squiggly line under it!)

Here is a diagram of the correct setting of a place, in an informal style. Which is probably the most formal most of us will ever see.

Things to note:

  • Bread-and-butter plate is to the left/above the forks.
  • Wine glass is above the plate. The picture doesn't show it, but the water goblet (or glass) goes directly above the knife. Coffee or tea cup would also be in this corner.
  • Forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right.
Memorize that diagram. 

6. Stand back and look at the beauty.
And here is my table fully set. I don't know why I didn't get a full-on picture of it, but this'll have to do. Sorry.

It was, as always, chaotic when it came time to serve, so I didn't get a picture with food on the table. We had so much food that the glass ball had to be moved to the china cabinet. 

And that is the unraveling of my mystery of table decor. It is something that simply makes me happy. Do you have any tricks? 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fiction Friday: Methuselah: Ouch!

For other posts in the series, visit the Methuselah page on this blog. 

Glen sprawled on the bed with a latex glove, filled with ice chips, tucked up against his scrotum as his testicles throbbed with pain.

He took another long swig of whiskey to wash his over-the-counter pain reliever down. Aside from fear of infection and concern that he was being ripped off, this was the worst part of having a black-market vasectomy reversal: no prescription meds to get him through recovery. But next to the fear of losing his balls, this was a relatively minor consideration.

He liked his balls. A lot. And had every intention of keeping them, but he also wanted to give Agnes a child. If he was honest, his motives weren't entirely altruistic. He wanted to be a father. Even from the beginning, he'd wanted it more than Agnes had. He'd been the one to put his name in first, and then he'd worked on Agnes until she'd given in.

He sure as hell hadn't expected it to turn out like this!

So here he was in a scuzzy motel in Buenos Aires, with a ceiling fan whirring above him, a rapidly melting (and leaking?) glove full of ice pressed against his nether regions.

He wished Agnes were there. She would comfort him. She'd freshen the ice-glove (yes, it was leaking). Bring him soup so he wouldn't have to hobble to the hot plate and open his own can.

Oh, Agnes!

He picked up his browserpad and created a new e-mail account. Frank Richardson.

"Agnes," he wrote, "I miss you so much, Punkin. And I'm so sorry I just took offg. I cant tell you wh6y, but believe me that you you will be happy about it. At least I hope you will. we were ment to be parents. together and im king to do war it takes to makee it hapen."

He was crying now, piteously. And his writing was atrocious. Couldn't type worth a damn. He deleted it all. What he really wanted to do was apologize for abandoning her right when she needed his comfort and to let her know that he loved her.
"I'm sorry.
He bcc'ed her, and hit Send.

Then he took one last slug and passed out.

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