Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Better Half

There's something missing from my last post.  In a committed relationship, it takes two people to make the important decisions.  So where is Ken in all this?

Ken's rule is that I can write anything about him in my blog, as long as it's true.  I was going to leave him out of the discussion, based on the urge to protect him from being blamed or scapegoated, but this topic is incomplete without him.

The bottom line for Ken is: he doesn't want to have kids.  He doesn't have moments of waffling, when he's around adorable babies or watching perfect families share warm moments on TV.  He doesn't even want to produce offspring as insurance against being alone in his old age.

Why is he so unmoved by the prospect of raising a family?  Because he spent too much time taking care of other people in his youth, and now he wants to have his life to himself.

Ken's older half-brother, now 38 to Ken's 34, is both physically and mentally disabled.  He has cerebral palsy, and has the intellectual age of a four-year-old, approximately.  Ken was made responsible for looking after his older brother, Gabe, ever since he can remember.  

Ken and Gabe's parents decided to put Gabe into the regular school system with other kids close to his age, perhaps in the hopes that this would stimulate his development.  Ken went to the same school.  Almost every day, the older kids would make fun of Gabe and push him around.  And every time, Ken would step in to try to defend his older brother - from the bigger kids.  Ken took abuse, both verbal and physical, from these older kids almost every day of his early school years.

He told his parents what was happening.  They were going through a hippie phase.  Their response: they advised Ken to be a pacifist.  I get angry every time I think about it.  They let him continue going to school to get beat up by older kids every day.  What's worse - the pummeling, or knowing that your parents aren't going to help you deal with it?

Ken didn't even get time off during summers.  Instead of enjoying leisure or having fun at summer camp, he was signed up by his parents as a volunteer for Gabe's "special" camp.  He spent all his summers helping disabled kids, who didn't all have sweet and sunny dispositions.  

When he grew to young adulthood, Ken often felt lost in the world.  He never had a chance to live for himself, to develop his own identity.  He didn't get a chance to try things out and decide what he liked or disliked, like most kids.  He started from a disadvantage, and he still feels like he's trying to catch up.

As if this wasn't enough, Ken's dad got really sick in 1999.  When I first met Ken, I was told that his dad was dying of cancer.  For two whole years, Ken's dad hovered at death's doorstep.  When he finally overcame the cancer, his liver and kidneys shut down due to a drug interaction, and he almost died from organ failure.

Ken took a minimum-wage job with flexible hours so that he could care for his father.  He spent every weekend for a year driving his dad to Buffalo and back again for special cancer treatments.  He couldn't afford to stay in a hotel while his dad spent the night in hospital, so he'd drive back home with just enough time to sleep, and then leave early the next morning to drive back, pick his dad up, and drive him back to Toronto again by nightfall.

When the cancer treatments were done, Ken spent hours by his dad's hospital bedside, throughout another whole year, praying and giving his dad hands-on energy healing.  His dad was in the palliative care ward at St. Michael's hospital. It's almost unheard of for patients to leave that ward alive, once they've been transferred in.  But Ken's dad inexplicably recovered.  His organs, slowly but surely, regenerated and began to work again.  The doctors called it a miracle.  Ken's dad attributes it to the hours of prayer and energy transfer.

Obviously, Ken is an incredibly caring and devoted man, when it comes to his loved ones.  No detail is too big or too small for him to attend to.  He has always treated me like royalty.

When we were first dating, he would bring me armloads of roses.  One dozen was never enough.  He would bring two or three dozen, in different colours.  I had vases all around my little apartment that were constantly filled.  He kept track of when the blooms would start wilting, and brought replacements.  I didn't know this at the time, but he sold almost his entire CD collection to the used CD store to pay for all the flowers.

Nothing much has changed to this day.  Ken bends himself over backwards to be the best husband he can possibly be.  He listens.  He volunteers backrubs.  He cooks fantastic feasts just for the two of us, and then insists on doing the dishes too.  He does more than his share of the housework.  He tucks a blanket around me while I'm on the sofa, watching TV.

Sure, he's not perfect.  We have fights a few times a year.  We get on each others' nerves sometimes.  But boy does he aim high!  I trust him completely and I never doubt his love.

When I occasionally bring up my broody impulses, he meets my eyes, and says with all the generosity he can muster: "I'd be a Dad for you.  I'd do my best."  But I know that he's burned out on that intensity of care-giving, maybe for the rest of his life.  A baby screaming at all hours of the night, financial stress, disagreements on parenting: I fear it would all be too much.  That could be what it takes to break us up.

So this is what it feels like: if love and happiness were money, I have been scrimping and saving all my life to finally amass a small personal fortune, i.e. my relationship with Ken.  I have a chance to gamble the whole thing on one spin of a roulette wheel.  Red doubles up my love and happiness.  Black - I lose it all.  It truly could go either way.

I'm not a gambler.  I never play the lottery: neither the pick-your-numbers variety nor scratch 'n' lose.  And I surely have no desire to struggle as a single mom.

If Ken had even 50% enthusiasm for being a parent, we could put that together with my 50% and maybe make a go of it.  But as it is, between the two of us I just don't think we have enough. 

Of course, I could turn around and change my mind tomorrow.  The urges of biology are powerful.  I can feel the undertow of maternal instinct trying to pull my logic off-balance.  In the end, only God knows what the future has in store.  Either way, I'm in His* hands.

*(His/Her/Its as you prefer.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Broody Hen

It took me many years, but I have reached a point of being 99% satisfied with my non-parental status. I have written before about this decision.

But every once in a while, maybe once or twice a year, I get all broody. It's typical for this to happen over the Christmas holidays, when families with young children all seem so magically happy. I spend time with my grandparents, and see what joy their children and grand-children bring to their lives. I worry about being old and alone, with no one to look after me.

For the past week, I went through this familiar emotional cycle. I don't like to talk about it, because the answer most people will give me is "No problem! There's still time! Hurry up and have a baby!" That's not what I need to hear. I KNOW in my gut that having a child would not be a good idea for Ken and I. It's just not an easy decision to live with all the time. Just like having kids isn't always easy, but that doesn't mean you give them up for adoption because you've had a bad week.

Ken and I are like two playing cards, leaning up against each other to form a somewhat stable triangle. Neither one of us is consistently "the strong one". We take turns supporting each other through life's trials. We both came from childhoods that were difficult, and we're both sensitive, some would say oversensitive, emotionally, psychically, and physically. Just getting through life as it is now often overtaxes our resources. We can comfortably look after ourselves and each other, but start adding demands on top of that and the effort can only be maintained for a few weeks or months before either of us might start to crumble. I speak from experience.

If I try to willpower my way through more than I can handle, my body starts to seriously malfunction. I have a knack for somatizing my feelings.

I have a history of depressive phases, which can be triggered by too much stress and insufficient sleep. I think I'd be the perfect candidate for a truly horrifying post-partum depression.

In a perfect world, if I could trust myself to be as resilient and adaptable as I would like to be in theory, I would love to experience motherhood. Some people have told me that I should take the plunge, because I'll be surprised at what I can accomplish, when I have to. In my life it's most often worked the other way. I've optimistically made grand plans, assuming that because I'm committed to my goals I will be able to tolerate any hardship to achieve them. I truly believed that if my mind could conceive it and my heart could believe it, I could achieve it. I overestimated myself time after time. Experience proves that the best of intentions, positive thinking, and all my willpower (and trust me, I'm stubborn!) can't overcome my limitations.

Therefore, once again I must confirm to myself the wisdom of not becoming a parent. I'd rather keep the hard-won stability and happiness that I've finally achieved, than risk it all for a high-stakes gamble. In the meantime I'll keep volunteering at Babyland, and satisfy some of my maternal instincts that way. I promise not to steal any of the babies.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday Hilights

Thanks to all who commented on my previous post with such genuine care.  I got all weepy, in a good way.  My heart overfloweth!

So much has gone on in the past three days that I know not where to begin.  Because I doubt my ability to organize it all into any kind of coherent narrative, I present to you: holiday highlights.

Christmas Eve:  
Birthday Party for my grandmother, at my mom's house

On account of the warm weather and rain, combined with snowdrifts clogging the storm drains, any dip in the street was filled with water.    On my way there I waded through ponds of over 100 square feet and four inches deep.  Passing cars tossed six-foot rooster tails of dirty spray into the air behind them.  I was lucky: only my feet got wet.  My mom loaned me a pair of dry socks.

I shovelled the driveway so my grandparents wouldn't slip on their way in.  The melting snow was ridiculously heavy, and I had to toss each leaden shovelful at least four feet in the air to get it on top of the existing snowpile on the lawn.  I must be tougher than I thought, because I managed to do it without screwing up my back.

Inside, there was roast brisket, homemade soup,  cucumber salad, green beans with mushrooms, sesame ginger roasted squash, pickled beets, and, of course, potato latkes with homemade apple sauce.  The best dishes and glasses, twinkling silverware, a bouquet of fresh flowers surrounded by colourful dreidels and silver-foil-wrapped chocolate coins as a centerpiece.  Happy people.  Lively conversation.  Homemade strudel, coffee, chocolate birthday cake.

The temperature didn't drop back below zero until after midnight, so we all got home safely.

Christmas Day:
Turkey Lunch with Ken's parents and brothers

Ken's younger brother had a bad cold.  He hunched over his plate, shoveling in food, then lay down on the sofa and fell asleep.  At one point he half-woke, opened one eye, announced loudly in a slurred voice: "Merry Christmas!"  And then fell soundly back asleep.

After lunch I felt restless, so I went for a walk while the others settled in for some tryptophan-induced drowsiness in front of the TV.  The path I took through the neighbourhood alternated slicks of glassy ice with mountians of frozen snowdrifts.  I picked my way carefully, at times placing each foot with studied care as I navigated particularly dangrous passes.  I kept my hands curled in towards my body, reminding myself not to catch my weight on a wrist if I should fall, but to curl and drop sideways like a ninja.  My ex-mother-in-law broke her wrist on a patch of ice just like these ones.  I didn't fall, but I saw a girl across the street go down on her butt.

Christmas Day Part II:
Turkey Dinner with my Father, Step-Mom, and Sister, and friends

The house was beautiful, filled with soft light, flickering candles, and designer bowls heaped with shiny christmas tree balls.  My sister was cute as a button in a red dress with white polka-dots.  She mixed up a batch of tasty pomegranate martinis.  Guests arrived, handing over their coats and plastic-wrapped platters of homemade desserts.  The dog hung around hopefully, wagging her tail and licking her chops in anticipation of someone dropping an hors d'oeuvre.

Hannukah candles were lit, and Christmas gifts were exchanged.   

I sat next to a fellow I'd never met before: a poet, whose most recent book won the 2008 Governor General's Award for poetry.  This is a pretty big deal in Canada.  It's the oldest and most prestigious literary award we have.   Jacob presented us each with a signed copy of his poetry collection. 

In person, he came across as a pretty average guy.  On my way home, on the train, I opened the book, expecting not to be impressed his poetry.  Let's face it, the world is filled with lacklustre writing by well-meaning authors, and some of it is hailed as genius by other well-meaning authors.  I don't always agree with the judges of literary awards.  But, this time I liked what I read.  That was some solid poetry.  Good poetry makes me happy, even when the subject matter is sad.  That was one of the best Christmas gifts I got, and it came as a complete surprise.

It was only thanks to my sister's yummy pomegranate martinis that I managed to get through that last event, capping 1.5 days of non-stop socializing.  My poor frazzled brain.  I'm just not wired to handle that much conversation, no matter how lovely and interesting my conversational partners are.  The following day, I lay on the couch, staring in the general direction of the television, dozing in and out of consciousness.  I feel almost back to myself.  A little more time spent comatose, and I'll be right as rain.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bittersweet

It's the morning of Christmas Eve.  I'm at home in my jammies, eating oatmeal with dried apricots.  There are presents waiting to be opened, there's food in the refrigerator to see us through the next few days, and tonight I'll be celebrating my grandmother's birthday with my family.

However, this Christmas is bittersweet.  There have been deaths in the past few weeks.  Ken's grandpa passed away in mid-November.  

The next week, I heard, through my mother, that one of my grandfather's few remaining friends had died.  

My step-mother, whom I love dearly, lost her mother just a couple of weeks ago.  I only met Ivy a few times, however it broke my heart to see my family grieving her loss.  My sister lost her grandmother.  My step-mom and her brother had to say goodbye to their mother.  My father also grieved.  I attended the beautiful and moving memorial ceremony, and there was not a dry eye in the place.

Last night, my mother called me.  Only that morning, a dear friend of hers had passed away from cancer.  This friend, Cara, had not been diagnosed yet one year ago, when my mother's world was shattered by the news that my step-father was having an affair and would shortly leave her.  I only learned last night how Cara insisted upon calling my mother every day to check up on her and support her.  Cara left for a vacation to Florida later that same winter, and continued to call my mother every day, long-distance.  They hadn't even been close friends until that time.  Cara, generous woman that she was, saw that my mother was in need, and so she stepped up and gave her love.

Later, after Cara's cancer diagnosis, my mother returned the favour, calling daily to support her friend.  Although they were friends for a relatively short time, two or three years, they each had a huge impact on each other.  I am so grateful for the support that Cara offered to my mother when she needed it.  I'm sorry that I never had a chance to thank her in person.  Last night I offered up my gratitude to the ether, with a prayer that the message would be delivered to her spirit.

My mother will attend Cara's funeral today, and then rush home to complete the preparations for my grandmother's birthday.  I will be there to help her.  I suggested to my mom that she might want to cancel the party.  She insisted that life must go on, and she'd rather have the family there with her than sit alone.  She probably won't even have told them that anything is wrong.  We'll see how that goes.

I really hope it's not a repeat of how my family learned about my parents' separation.  I found that pretty hard to take.  I have to admit I'm not heading into this evening with 100% enthusiasm.  But no matter what happens I will be 100% there for my mom.

So this Christmas is most certainly bittersweet.  Being surrounded by deaths makes me all the more conscious of how lucky I am to have so many beloved friends and family still with me.  I intend to appreciate and love all of them to the maximum of my ability.  There's nothing like loss to make one appreciate what one has.  Truly.

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Glad Tidings

Good news # 1!

San has been ever so kind, and honoured me with a very flattering award:

To quote San's blog, The PREMIO DARDOS award is "given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing." Wow. That's one classy recommendation! I feel truly humble.

Of course an honour like this must be passed on. After deep and searching thought, I have chosen the following honourees:

1) Ron at Warped Mind of Ron, because he writes in so many styles: poetry, fiction, and memoir. How much more literary can you get?

2) Whatigosofar because he's definitely transmitting his personal values through original writing. No punches pulled on this blog.

3) Nilsa at Somi is never afraid to speak her mind. She does so charmingly and gracefully.

4) Keera at A Roll in the Universe posts snapshots, both literal and literary, of life in Norway.

5) Dianne at Forks Off the Moment is deserving in every way, especially with regard to ethical values.

Congratulations to all y'all! ;-)

Good News #2!

Slowly but surely, I have recuperated from my spell of ill health. The aches and pains are gone, as is the shortness of breath. My hands no longer require five minutes of warm-up exercises before they can be used in the morning. I'm not breaking out in hives either. I'm still more tired than usual, but other than that, I'm back to my normal self again.

Of course the blood tests didn't show any significant results. I guess it was just my body's wild and crazy way of responding to stress. This whole past year has been pretty challenging, what with my mom and step-dad's divorce and me being caught in the middle. I don't think it's any coincidence that my health crumbled shortly after my mom finally said that she was starting to feel alright again. I was running on empty, and when I learned that she didn't need me to be strong for her anymore, I just went down like a puppet with my strings cut. 10 months of accumulated tension was finally released.

I'll be taking it easy for a while longer. I can feel that I need a long rest. A few days off for the holidays couldn't have come at a better time!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Interview

At my own risk, I volunteered to be interviewed by Ron. This is actually a really cool, customizable meme, which any of you may volunteer to participate in. Ron's interview is here.

Question #1:
How were you inspired to start blogging and how did you choose your blog name?

I've always loved to write. I wrote journals for many years, but eventually I got sick of being my own audience. With no one else to read what I wrote, I was prone to lots of complaining and being a Drama Queen. I was also not motivated enough to try to get any of my work published. When I learned about blogging I realized that it was the perfect solution: I can self-publish for free, get instant feedback, and participate in a community of other writers. How cool is that?

I can't remember how I chose my blog name. It was a passing whim that became permanent.

Question #2:
If you can only do one family tradition/decoration for the Holidays (Christmas or Hanukkah) what would it be?

I love decorating Christmas trees. I don't have one in my home this year, but next year I'll get on that.

Question #3:
What is your idea of a dream vacation?

My dream vacation would involve being instantly teleported to my destination, without any jet lag or lost baggage. I would like to go somewhere that's not too broiling hot, with tap-water I can drink without getting sick. I think being pampered half the time and touring beautiful, historic sites and natural landscapes the other half of the time would be a good balance. If anyone knows where I can get a package like this, please e-mail me.

Question #4:
If you saw a man that was obviously a criminal drop a big bundle of cash while running from other criminals and you picked it up, what would you do with it?

I wouldn't pick it up, because the other criminals would chase me down and beat me until I gave it to them.

Oh, you mean that the other criminals didn't see the bundle of cash drop? So it's just found money? I'd have to be a goody-two-shoes and either hand it in to the police or donate it to World Vision. I have a very sensitive conscience. I don't keep gifts like that for myself. I have to pass it along to someone who needs it more than me.

Question #5:
If you had a small thermonuclear device and it was counting down to zero (quickly) which wire would you cut the red one or the blue one and why?

RED! No, BLUE! No, BOTH! *snip* **KABOOM** Uh, sorry, I guess that was the wrong choice?

ummm.... #5 may be a little arbitrary if you want you can use this one instead

Question #5
Does your family know about your blog and if so are they supportive of you talking to strange internet type people?

Some of my family (a minority) know about my blog, and read it regularly. That would be my sister, my biological father, and my step-mom (Hi Guys! I love you! :-). They are supportive of my writing, and let me know that they're missing it if I go through a phase of not writing much. This gives me the warm-n-fuzzies, and keeps me motivated to write even when I might otherwise get lazy.

The rest of my family hasn't been introduced to my blog, and for now I'll be keeping it that way.

Oh, and Ken reads my blog. He's very supportive. His only condition is that I'm never allowed to post a real picture of myself because he thinks I'm so gorgeous that weird cyber-strangers will stalk me. Then I'll unwittingly give away too many clues regarding my identity, and they'll show up one day and kidnap me. Or something.

Dear Ken, I love you! Thank you for believing that I am so irresistibly attractive that the mere sight of me might drive the men of the internet crazy with unwholesome desires. And thank you for referring to Milla Jovovich as "that girl who looks like you". You really know how to flatter a woman.

End of interview. That was fun! OK, who wants to be next? Here's now to participate:

According to the rules I must link back to the post I got this from.

1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me.” (And your e-mail address, please.)
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Glad Tidings

The office Christmas party was remarkably civilized this year.


Last year there was much drunkery. Clerks gave their bosses lap dances. A "respected colleague" of mine stuck her tongue in Ken's ear. Bonuses were handed out at the party. One spoiled young lady decided she hadn't gotten a big enough bonus, threw a tantrum, and tore the cheque into little pieces. When she went to the management the following week, claiming she lost her cheque and could she please have a replacement? they told her she'd made her bed and she'd have to lie in it.

I did write a post about all of the above, but I can't find it. I did, however, find this one with the pictures of Scary Santas. The hobby shop that had these guys in the window has since disappeared (the owner retired), so those are truly historical pictures now!

This year, the Christmas party was like the last three Christmas parties, minus the shenanigans. The menu was exactly the same. (Potato and Leek soup; followed by fish fillets, salad, and rice; followed by steak, tater tots, and steamed veggies; followed by ice cream; pause for dancing; then at 11:00 pm they bring out giant platters of seafood - lobster, crabs, shrimp, mussels- nothing that wears a shell is spared. All the food is high quality and very yummy. I have no complaints about the predictable food. I like to know what I'm getting.)

The DJ's were the same and they started off the dancing with the same slightly irritating medley of 1950's rock'n'roll tunes (Rock Around the Clock; Tutti Frutti; etc.)

As usual there was one girl who's not used to drinking who ended up spending the entire night sitting on the floor in a bathroom stall, miserable, because she got just a little too adventurous with the liqueurs on top of a stomachful of fried cod.

Generally speaking, a good time was had by all. Drunkards make for good stories after the fact, but I didn't miss them.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Noteworthy Decor

On Wednesday I had a surprise phone call at work. It was a girlfriend who I've known since Grade 1, my super-best-friend from Grades 4 through 8. She's now married to a doctor (who I've known since we were all 16) and just had her third child in September.

They live on the west coast, in Nelson, B.C., so I don't get to see them much. I watch the kids grow up in a lengthy, stop-motion animation of infrequent visits. I knew they were due in town sometime around the holidays, but I wasn't expecting a call that day. It was the best surprise I've had in a long time.

We made plans to meet for dinner that same night. Ken and I drove up to Thornhill where they were staying with my girlfriend's in-laws. As we rounded the corner into the cul-de-sac, I had a flashback to 1989, when I had visited that house once before.

Of course, when we first arrived, my friend and her family had all my attention. Her boys, ages 6 and 3, are sprouting up, and her 10-week-old daughter is as sweet a baby as you'll ever meet. Celeste was awake when we got there, so I got the satisfaction of immediate smiles and snuggles. She's just a wee thing at a shade over 9 lbs, but she can already hold up her head just fine, thank you very much.

I even talked Ken into holding the baby for a few minutes - not his preference, but once she was on his lap, smiling gummily, he relaxed. I don't know what it is with men. Until the second they become fathers (and possibly after that, I don't know) they seem to have no inclination whatsoever towards holding babies. All the non-dads I know say "But I'm scared I'm gonna drop it!"

OK, first of all she/he is not an "it". And second of all, when was the last time you dropped anything? These fellows handle sharp knives and power tools with total confidence. How is holding a baby scarier than using a nail gun? I don't get it.

The boys stayed behind with their nana and gramps. The rest of us drove around the corner to Congee Queen restaurant. It's the kind of Chinese restaurant where you can order a whole roasted pig, with enough advance notice. (Large Pig $185, Medium Pig $ 135). There was so much cornstarch in the sauce that our shrimp dish looked like it was covered in a thick layer of clear-dry glue. However, it didn't taste like glue. We had a good feast.

Back at the in-laws' house, I had a chance to take a look around. It was EXACTLY the same as when I was there in 1989. In fact all the decor was pretty much the same as when the family moved in, in 1981. They actually have a parlor, otherwise known as "the room nobody is allowed to go into". The colour scheme is green and peach, with silver-foil-swirl wallpaper. And lots of silk flowers in peach and minty green - the kind with glitter on the petals.

In fact, there are silk flower arrangements everywhere in that house, as many as three in any given room. It's really quite something to see. It answers that burning question: who buys silk flowers anyway? Apparently my friends in-laws buy ALL of them.

I don't want to be mean. They were very gracious hosts. I just couldn't resist telling the story. I figure anything that makes my eyeballs bug out like that is worth sharing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Bravado

Today I finally went to see my doctor about the mysterious symptoms that have been plaguing me for the past three weeks.  Like, on Friday my hands were so weak and stiff that I was having trouble turning doorknobs.  Like, on Sunday, at church, I felt faint during the singing and had to go lie down in the lounge.  

Anyway, OF COURSE I felt almost 100% better by my appointment.  I figured I'd better show up anyway, because I could guarantee that if I cancelled I'd be a mess again by morning.  It's like taking your umbrella along to ensure that it won't rain.

I told the doctor my long list of bizarre and seemingly random symptoms, which he jotted down.  Then, as I knew he would, he told me I'd better go down to the lab to have some blood tests.  We joked a bit about (I can't resist this pun) the irony of him telling me to take a potent iron supplement to get my blood levels up, and then continually draining blood out of me.  Then he told me not to worry.  If the blood tests were positive, he'd send me to a rheumatologist.  If negative, to an allergist.  At any rate, he assured me, I'd get to see "some kind of '-ist'".  

I relate these lame jokes not because I think you'll find them hilarious and be all with the LOL in the comments, but more to indicate that I was feeling relaxed.  In fact, I was feeling so at ease, and so confident, that I decided to do something I hadn't done in five years, which was to provide my blood sample while sitting up.

In the past, I had a history of passing out when my blood was drawn.  I got into the habit of telling the lab techs that I need to lie down for these operations.  But the last two times I had blood drawn, which were within the past couple of months, I did so well (from my prone position), and sat up so fast with so little light-headedness after, that I started to wonder if maybe I was over this fear.

The only way to know is to try.  So.  Can you see where this is going?  I thought "I'm gonna give my blood like a big girl today.  I'm gonna sit in that chair and just not look and it'll all be fine."

I was doing great in the waiting room.  I was feeling brave when I sat down in the chair.  I rolled up my sleeve and didn't even look when the lab tech put on the tourniquet, because I get grossed out by the sight of bulging  veins.  I was slightly concerned when I saw her prepare three empty vials.  The last couple of times I only had to do one.  But by the time I realized that there was more at stake this time, I felt it was too late to rethink my bravado.

In went the needle, and a whooshing squeeze of yuckiness swept through me.  I don't know if I could have tolerated it if it had been over after one vial, but, as the endless seconds dragged by, the feeling got worse and worse.  I started to sigh, and then put my head down on my other arm.  I began to sweat, and then my eyes welled up with tears.  Yeah, not much of a big girl there.

By the time the tech had filled her three vials, I was feeling pretty awful.  She asked me if I was alright. I didn't really want to speak, so I shook my head, and the room spun.  The tech took my right hand and told me to press a cotton swab into my left elbow.   Then she told me to put my head between my knees.

Instead of feeling better, I started feeling even worse.  The waves of badness that had taken over my body were becoming unbearable.  I didn't know if I was going to pass out or barf.  In a quiet corner of my mind, where my observer-self was sitting in a comfortable armchair and taking notes on a steno pad, I remarked to myself on the undesirability of puking.  Meanwhile, my outside voice was moaning.  

"HHHHNNNNNGGGGGG" most closely approximates the animal sound that was passing through my clenched teeth.  I debated letting myself fall out of the chair to curl up in the fetal position on the  people-have-been-walking-on-it-all-day-with-dirty-salty-snowboots linoleum floor.  

Tech #1 had hurried off and came back quickly with Tech #2.    Between the two of them they got ahold of my elbows, negotiated me to my feet, then marched me to a room with a full-length examination table, and lay me down there.  Or at least, I lay my torso down.  I was so totally flopped that they had to pick up my feet one by one and place them onto the table.  

Then I heard one of the techs, the kind one with the Phillipino accent, say "Oh no, she let go of the gauze.  Look, there's blood all over."  Lovely.  Just what I wanted to hear.  Obviously I was too distraught to put proper pressure on my needle-stick wound, and now I had bled all over myself. 

While one of the techs swabbed my forhead with a cold, wet paper towel and fanned me with a file folder, the other wiped down my right hand with more wet towels.  At the back of my mind I recalled how I had ignored my instinct to wear black pants today.  Logic dictated that pale grey went better with the sweater I had picked out.  I wish I had gone with my gut.

Finally, after much swabbing, and fanning, and sipping at a Dixie cup of cold water, I started to come back from that desperate state to my normal, conscious self.  When they saw my eyes focusing again, the techs confirmed that I was feeling better, and then they left me there with strict instructions not to move until I felt totally recovered.

It took awhile.  I tried to get up in stages, first flopping one foot over the edge of the table, then the other.  Then roll onto side.  Then lift head up a few inches, to test the waters.  I kept having to lie back down again.  At one point, Tech #1 came back to tell me I could take my time, no rush, they were open until 8:00 pm.  That actually made me laugh.  And then it made me even more motivated to get myself vertical and headed home.

Finally I got upright.  I assessed the damage to my pants, which wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but bad enough that they could still be considered "ruined".  I apologized to the lab techs for making such a fuss, and thanked them for their kindness.

By the time I got home the bloodstains had started to set.  Ever-helpful, Google suggested that I spit on the stains and then rub them.  The protein enzymes in saliva break down the proteins in blood.  Which is kind of a weird equation, like two wrongs making a right: bleeding AND spitting on your clothes leaves you with a wearable item.  Or maybe it's like the Rock, Paper, Scissors of bodily fluids.  Spit beats blood.  What does blood beat?  

I couldn't get the stains all the way out.  We'll see what happens once my pants go through the wash.

The moral of the story for me was: Don't try to be a hero.  Now and forevermore, I will be a compliant wimp and will lie down to have my blood taken.  

On the other hand, I'm really proud of myself for facing my fear.  That it was an unmitigated Fail doesn't discount the fact that I tried.  Now I know for sure.  And I swear I'll never do it again.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Botanozac

I'm getting better, slowly but surely.

When I put my feet on the floor first thing in the morning, I don't feel pain.  My soles are still a little spongey upon waking, but that's a big improvement over last week's grinding and aching.

The hives aren't blooming up with quite such alarming frequency as last week.  There's still the odd one here and there, but generally they seem to be fading.

My back is still giving me the gears.  Yesterday, I was ready to break down in tears at my desk.  Doing my usual stats data entry, right hand on the number pad of my keyboard, was torture.  I tried using my left hand to type the numbers.  That was ridiculously slow.  Then I smartened up and remembered that I had Tylenol in my desk drawer.  Later, I was grateful to score an emergency appointment with my massage therapist.  Today ez mucho improve-o.

At my massage therapist's advice I bought a two-pack of Hot Bags on my way home today.  You know, those cotton sacks full of beans or grain or some such that you can microwave for heat therapy.  On the first try I overheated the neck bag and seared my skin, but after I got the temperature sorted out, I fell in love.  I would like to duct tape the Hot Bags to my body and wear them all winter long.

My big challenge in the past 24 hours was fighting sneaky panic attacks.  They come out of nowhere, like when I'm sleeping peacefully or innocently doing yoga poses.  All of a sudden I feel faint, nauseous, and completely freaked out.  I recognize the symptoms for what they are, and I can calm myself down with a little sensible self-talk in short order, but dang it's no fun.  Especially waking up into panic in the middle of the night.  That is extra no-fun.

I find myself feeling nostalgic for an herbal product that is no longer on the market.  Botanozac: it was a mix of sedative and nervine herbs.  Thirteen years ago, my life was in transition and I wasn't coping very well.  I was working in a health food store.  I started taking Botanozac.

This stuff really chilled me out.  You have to understand where I was starting from; when the store staff played the game "If so-and-so was an animal, what animal would he or she be?", the consensus for me was "squirrel".  So, yeah, straight up I was a little jumpy.  But when I was on Botanozac?  Eeeeeeverything was just peachy keen okay!

A customer returned a large jug of some corrosive chemical.  I can't remember what exactly, but something that should be diluted down to 1/10 strength for washing pesticides off produce.  The lid was loose.  I picked up the jug to take it back to the stockroom, and a big splash of the stuff slopped onto my foot, burning the skin instantly.  I had taken Botanozac that day.  I looked at my foot and thought "Huh, that's interesting."  I could feel the pain and yet I couldn't feel the pain.

Yup, that was good stuff.  I told two of my co-workers about it, and of course because they were young people who thought it would be hilarious to get stoned at work, they took some.  They didn't count on how strong it was.  Within an hour they were both swooning against the walls, and complaining about how they wanted to just lie on the floor and sleep for ten hours.  I guess if you start out at "squirrel" Botanozac takes you down to "human".  If you start out at "human" it takes you down to "slug".

Now that I think about it, I don't really want to take anything that would make me sleep any more.  I'm already needing 9 or 10 hours just to get by.  I keep thinking of all the things I could accomplish if I just had that extra hour or two back in each of my days.  Speaking of which, I'm passing out.  I'm off to bed.  Goodnight!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Listening Skills

Today I had a conversation with someone who has been repeatedly vexing me.  When we speak I feel like I have to fight her every step of the way to reach any kind of connection and understanding. 

We both agreed that our communications aren't working out, and she is receptive to some feedback.  So I'm teaching her some of the "active listening" techniques I learned in psychotherapy school.  I thought I'd pass them along to y'all, because good listening is easy to do and is truly helpful in one's relationships.

When someone is speaking to you about something that stirs their emotions, these techniques are helpful.

1) Resist the urge to give advice, especially if you weren't invited to do so.  Giving advice sends the message 

"I know you, and your life, better than you do".   

It's condescending.   Even good advice is disempowering.

If you are invited to give advice, it's probably because the person you're speaking with is having trouble making a choice.  Whichever side you pick, the other person will most likely begin to argue for the other option, externalizing the arguments they've been having with themselves inside their head.  This will probably just leave you both frustrated.

2) Ask open-ended questions.  Examples:
  • What would be the worst-case scenario?
  • Ideally, how would you like to see this turn out?
  • What do you think she'd say if she knew how you really felt?
Basically, any question that leads other other person to consider an angle that they hadn't considered before is useful.  Usually when someone has a problem that's bugging them, they get caught in a repeating thought-cycle, which is frustrating and non-productive.  

If you try to change their mind directly, they'll resist you, because most people don't want to admit that their viewpoint is incomplete or flawed.  You can't directly break the cycle, but you can introduce a train of thought that leads the other person out of their rut.  See if you can persuade them to look deeper, or think of something they haven't thought of before, just by asking questions.  It's sneaky, and it works.

3)  Paraphrase what the person has just told you, and repeat it back to them, also recognizing whatever emotional content they've expressed.  Then validate the emotion.  
For example:
"So, you've been studying really hard for exams for three weeks, you're burned out, and completely freaking about your test tomorrow.  That's rough.  I remember feeling like that when I was in school."
or
"I understand that the doctor has kept you waiting for two hours, you're in pain, and you feel that the staff has been ignoring you.  I'm so sorry.  You must be beyond frustrated.   I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes."

It doesn't matter if you think you would be more patient or more calm or whatever.  Identify with the emotion as much as you genuinely can, and let the person know you respect their feelings.

You might think it sounds really fake and scripted, but as you get more practice with it you'll begin to incorporate the techniques naturally.  Generally the person you're speaking with will be receptive to the content of what you're saying, even if it comes off as slightly awkward.

4) Avoid any use of or implication of the word "should".  For example:
  • You should calm down/just relax/chill out!
Nothing annoys people more than being told to calm down.
  • You shouldn't feel like that!
My mother says this to me when she wants to rescue me from some kind of negative emotion that I'm feeling.  I know she means well, but it comes across sounding like "You're feeling the wrong feelings!   I know what you should feel.  You're wrong, and I'm right.  Feel this other way!"
  • You should just [insert advice].
See point 1) above regarding the perils of advice.  Also, using "just" trivializes the problem and the solution.  It implies "I don't see why you're making such a big deal about this."  Which invalidates the other person's emotions, which puts them on the defensive, and then you're back to arguing and frustration.

Bottom line: shoulds, musts, oughts, and have to's are bad.

And that's it.  Four easy tips to smooth, productive communications. Listen, give feedback on the content, validate the emotion, and don't give advice.  You all graduate with gold stars from this short course on active listening.  Now go forth and listen!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fighting it

After two weeks of telling myself "it'll be gone by tomorrow", I give in.  It's official.  My auto-immune thingy is back.  Ugh.  Warning: this post contains medical details that some people may find icky, so if you're not sure just stop here.  

Since the last time I wrote about it, I've learned more that seems to relate to my condition.  Firstly, I found out that taking sulfa antibiotics can trigger lupus.  My doctor found anti-nucleic antibodies in my blood: one of the markers of lupus.  Also, lupus can exist in many forms, from life-threatening to very mild.  I suspect that I have a very mild form of lupus.  

(My doctor did not go so far as to make a diagnosis.  He just told me that I had the antibodies and left it to me to Google the implications.)

I had no such problems until I took a sulfa antibiotic when I was 21.  After a few days of taking the pills, I had a severe reaction in which I broke out in hives from my neck down to my toes, and ran a fever.  I remember my boyfriend at the time telling me I looked like an alien; holding his hand over my arm to feel the heat radiating from my swollen skin.  

My legs swelled up so much that all the capillaries popped and the skin turned blue with bruising.  That was really gross.

Anyway, I recuperated from the reaction, but after that I became prone to outbreaks of hives.  When I was under stress, or ate something too spicy, I'd have an attack.

It would start in my abdomen, a knot of heat and pain.  Then the knot would untie itself, releasing rays of heat.  I could feel the badness exploding out from that middle point to my joints and skin.  My knees, knuckles, and elbows turned bright red and swelled up.  The palms of my hands and the soles of my feet, also scarlet and swollen, burned and itched horribly.  After around ten minutes of this reaction, it would subside, leaving me weak, slightly feverish, and exhausted.  It happened at least once a month.

After I left my ex-husband, I stopped getting these reactions.  I joked that I had been allergic to him.  Truly, I had been harbouring a lot of anger and frustration in that relationship, and it came out in my body.  I take psycho-somatic illness to professional levels.

Anyway, I thought I was finally done with all that.  But then I was struck down with a nasty attack around four years ago.  Since then, I get a different set of symptoms, related to the ones I had in my 20's but not quite the same.  Instead of getting severe flare-ups that pass within hours, I go through phases that can last for days or weeks.

The past couple of years have been easy on me.  Sometimes I'll have a day or two where I can feel the symptoms creeping up on me, but if I ignore them and get enough sleep, they'll go away again. 

During the past two weeks I've been getting enough sleep, but I'm not getting off so easy.  The intensity has varied from "I can ignore this if I'm distracted" to "I really just want to crawl under a blanket and whimper".  Today isn't too bad, or I wouldn't have the focus and energy to write.  

When it's bad, my muscles and joints ache.  My knees, hands, and feet stiffen up.  I can tell how bad the day will be as soon as I put my weight on my feet in the morning.  If it feels like my foot bones are grinding against each other, it's not going to be fun.  I also get that grinding feeling in my head, like the bony plates of my skull are tectonic plates, shifting.

I get a heavy feeling in my chest, as though I have congestion, but there is none.  I'm guessing it's inflammation.  And all my soft insides get tender and achey.  It's kind of like the feeling of having the flu.  And I get tired.  Not too tired to stand up, but tired enough that I can't cope well with any extra stress.  Even if I've had 8 hours sleep the night before, by 8:30 pm I'm already feeling desperately exhausted.  

This thing generously grants me just enough energy to work all day and eat dinner, and then I'm down for the count.  I'll dither around until 9:30, because I can't stand the thought of going to bed so early, but I'm too grouchy to talk on the phone, too tired to read, and generally useless.  It really does nothing for my social life.

After two weeks of living like this, I'm running out of tolerance.  It's starting to seriously tick me off.  I'd better get better real soon-like, or else!  Or else...  I don't know.

Anyway, speaking of looking like an alien, these guys cheer me up. :-)



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Seminar

It's amazing how tiring it is to sit still all day.  

Today was Day One of a seminar on Health and Safety in the Workplace, which I have to attend as part of my job.  I'm learning about important regulations, such as...  let's see...

*consults handbook*

Oil and Gas Offshore Rigs, Regulation 855, Section 81, Clause a),

"A cathead shall be operated by a competent person."

Ah.  Yes.  If only I'd known that last week, when our offshore oil rig's cathead was being operated by an incompetent nincompoop!  So much trouble could have been averted.

*flips to the section on logging*

Reg. 851 - Industrial Estab., Section 109, Clause c)

"A tree shall be limbed, bucked, or topped only when the logger is in a position so that the limb, log, or top, when severed, cannot roll or drop on the logger."

Next week, when that big logging project starts, I will be SO READY.  It's great that this material is relevant to my workplace.  It really makes getting up at 5:30 am to get there on time and wading through all the legalese totally worth it!

Anyway, when I wasn't overcome by the struggle to keep my eyelids elevated, I did learn a thing or two that might be useful.  I also enjoyed a spectacular view from the seminar room windows. It was the prettiest view I've ever seen from a classroom, let alone that most conference rooms don't even have windows.

Ironically, this room with a view was located within the building which is entirely devoted to serving Toronto's blind and visually impaired community.  In fact, the whole building was gorgeous.  If I ever lose the rest of my vision (I'm close to being legally blind without my prescription lenses), I'm not sure if it would make me feel better or worse to know that the organization providing helpful services to me was so visually pleasing.  It could be construed as adding insult to injury.  Maybe I'd rather have an ugly facility, so I could comfort myself with the thought that I wasn't missing anything.

Actually, I hope if it happens that I don't end up that bitter.  It's just one of those things I can't help thinking about.

*All regulations quoted above are from the Ontario Safety Association for Community and Healthcare's 2008 pocket guide to the Ontario Health and Safety Act and Regulations.  I didn't make them up. You can see them for yourself if you like.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Joining

I never thought I'd attend a church service even once in my life, let alone show up regularly.  I have always been a critical thinker, more prone to disagree than agree with much of what I hear or read.  And I have never in my history been a team player or a "joiner" of any description.

I figured that any religion required handing over one's brain on a silver platter to the clergy in charge.  I've never, in my adult life, been able to believe something just because someone told me to.  There was no way I'd be able to suspend my critical thinking and substitute the dogma supplied by a religious authority.  I couldn't even participate in any secular clubs when I was in university, because their rules seemed stupid to me, and their sense of superiority pissed me off.  I always ended up lonely.  I figured that was the price I had to pay for my integrity.

When a series of personal experiences convinced me that Jesus is real, here, now, and present in my life, I kept it a virtual secret for six months.  I prayed alone in my bedroom.  I downloaded episodes of 100 Huntley St. and watched them, alone.  I had other reasons to feel uncomfortable with organized Christianity besides my anti-joinerism, and it all added up to keep me isolated.  

However, eventually I had to give in to the message I kept hearing: following the example of Jesus means loving others and being in community.  Eventually I had to push myself through my fears and out into a church.  

In preparation, I had help from a dear friend, the only practicing Christian I knew at the time (many thanks, Logan!).  I also called one of those toll-free prayer lines, the one offered by 100 Huntley St., to see what kind of reception I would get.  It was scary.  I felt extremely vulnerable.  But I was encouraged by these interactions, and so I was able to find the courage to go to church.

I am comfortable at my church, because no one has asked me to hand over my brain on a platter.  It's OK for me to have questions.  It's OK that we don't all agree on every point of scriptural interpretation.  Nobody has interrogated me in depth regarding my theology.  And when I offered a critical opinion in a Bible study group, I was actually encouraged.  The pastor leading the group thanked me for my contribution.  Then he told the other pastor, who made a point of telling Ken and I that it was a good thing to bring lively discussion to the meetings.

Of the congregants, some of them got very quiet when I offered my critical opinion.  But others engaged with me and offered some very interesting points of view.  We definitely understood each other better by the end of the discussion.  

So, all in all, I think my church is pretty cool.  And I have learned something from this experience.  I've learned that being part of a community doesn't mean agreeing 100% with everyone else.  In fact, there are probably no two people in any church who agree 100% with each other, not even the pastors.  We start with "good enough agreement" and good intentions, and then we grow from there.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saying Goodbye

Ken's Grandpa passed away this afternoon.  He was 93 years old.

Before the second World War, Tak (short for Takashi - this side of Ken's family is Japanese), was married and living on the West coast of Canada.  The family had money, land, and cars during the Depression, when most people were just scraping by.  Their wealth came from farming.

Then, in 1942, the Canadian government forcibly relocated all citizens of Japanese background from British Columbia to internment camps in the prairie provinces.  You can read here about the horrible conditions they endured.   All of the family's wealth and property were stolen by the government.

Tak and his wife spent years in the camp.  Ken's mother was born there, and grew up in those conditions until she was five years old.

Finally, the government released the Japanese-Canadians.   As he left, Tak was given $ 5.00 by government officials.  This was the only material wealth he had left in the world.

Tak moved his family to Montreal, where he apprenticed at an autobody shop.  Once he learned how to fix cars, he moved to Toronto, where he set up his own garage in Chinatown.  He built up his business by fixing the taxi cabs of Jewish drivers.  At that time, due to intolerance, the Jewish cab drivers had a lot of trouble finding anyone to fix their cabs.  It was a good partnership, and Tak developed a special affection for the Jewish community.

Tak did well, and was able to buy a large home for himself and his family in Willowdale, a well-to-do area north of Chinatown.  He was still living in this home when I first met him, seven years ago.

At 86, Tak was still himself, if a little deaf.  He always wore a button-down shirt with his signature bolo tie.  He was gruff, tough, and serious.   He kept a vegetable garden on his Willowdale property, and, true to his farming roots, he had no mercy for theiving pests.  He used to trap squirrels in a wire box, and then put the box into a big tub of water, as Ken tells it, "until the bubbles stopped".  Sentimental, he was not.

In his prime, Tak was a force to be reckonned with.  However, he started his downward trajectory not long after I met him.  His wife passed away.  His mind started to go.  He got his a.m.'s and his p.m.'s mixed up, and would show up at Ken's mother's house at six o'clock in the morning, expecting to join the family for dinner.   The decision was made to put him into a nursing home.

For one and a half years, while Tak was still able-bodied enough to walk on his own, and get in and out of a car, Ken and I took him out for lunch every Sunday.  Usually we went to Chinatown.  Sometimes, for fun, we'd go somewhere different.  Like the time we took him for Indian food.  There was rice on his plate like usual; he didn't understand why he couldn't have chopsticks.  I think the curries were a little too spicy for him.  At one point he reached for his water glass, then hesitated and asked me quietly:

"Is the water hot?"

Poor guy.  If a place was weird enough to serve rice without chopsticks, then maybe they had spicy water too!  I suppose it did make sense.

As Tak got more frail he required more and more babying.  I wiped his nose, which seemed to run perpetually.  One time, when the home forgot to put a belt on him, I walked next to him with my hands through his belt loops, holding up his pants.  That was after they'd fallen all the way down to his knees.  Let me tell you, the man had a very smooth behind!  Not a trace of cellulite.  I was impressed.

Tak had a fight with pneumonia, from which he never fully recovered.  After that he was wheelchair-bound.  We still went to visit him frequently, in the nursing home.  We took turns feeding him his lunch.  I liked feeding Tak.  He had a good appetite.

When Tak spoke coherently, it was always about his plans to escape from the nursing home.   He had cooked up a grand scheme for getting out and travelling to California.  If I wheeled his chair to face a window, he'd always ask if he could get out that way.  He confided in Ken the most important element of his plan:

"You gotta have a man on the outside!"

Well, this afternoon Tak finally escaped from the nursing home, the only way he could.  It was his time to go.  Ken will miss him very much, but is also happy for his grandpa, now gone to a better place.

We'll miss you, Tak.  Enjoy your freedom!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Adventures in Babyland

I met Tomi on the first day that I volunteered for the church nursery (ages 0-4).   His older brother (age 4) couldn't tell me exactly how old Tomi was, but I determined that he hadn't yet had a birthday party.  From my limited knowledge of babies, I guess that he was around 8-9 months.

One of the first things I learned about Tomi is that he's one of those babies who fights sleep.  And we all know that a tired baby is a cranky baby.  On that first day, he was fighting to keep his eyes open.  He was lounging comfortably in a bouncy chair, but for some reason another volunteer lifted him out and handed him to me.  He didn't like that very much.

"Waaaaaaaaaaaah!"  Tomi screamed in my ear.  Of course, now that he was out of his comfy chair, he didn't want to go back to it.  He didn't want to be up, or down.  He didn't want to be walked or rocked.  I offered his bottle, which he sucked at noisily for all of five seconds and then rejected it.  He cried until his nose ran and smeared on my sweater.  An experienced mom took him from me but her luck was no better.  Then a dad took him, and suddenly he was appeased.  

"Some of the babies," I was told, "have gender preferences."

I remembered this and determined to let the men handle Tomi from then on.

The next time I was on Babyland duty, I was the closest volunteer to the entrance when Tomi's mom dropped him off.  She thanked me for my help as she placed him in my arms.

"Errrrrr...  No problem." I said, and smiled anxiously.  Once again his little baby eyelids were drooping, but he was determined to stay awake. 

The first half hour wasn't too bad.  The nursery wasn't full yet, and Tomi was happy to crawl around on the floor and play with toys.  Although, his definition of "playing" with a toy was "throwing it with all his might at another baby".

There was some kind of big, plastic structure on the floor that accepted coloured balls through various openings.  The balls would roll through hidden passages inside the structure and appear at other openings lower down.  Hours of fascinating fun for baby, yes?  No.  Tomi just wanted to whip those balls at the other kids' faces.  I played catcher, intercepting each missile on its way to the potential victim's head.

When Tomi tired of that, he decided to make friends with the other kids.  Although, his definition of "make friends" was "crawl right up into the other child's personal space and then claw at that child's face".  Again, I was the interceptor, grabbing his tiny wrists and moving his fingernails away from the other babies' eyes.  

"No, no, sweetie," I cooed, as Tomi fought against my interventions.  The other babies blinked and looked worried.

Eventually, I got distracted by a three-year-old who had climbed up onto the Play-Doh table.  In the 30 seconds it took me to get her down to floor level again, Tomi crawled up into the lap of a toddler who was sitting on the floor and grabbed at the older child's face.  Micah, the hapless victim, began to wail.

I scooped Micah up and shookled him on my hip; rubbed his back;  murmured soothingly that he was OK now, everything was OK.  Eventually he quieted down.  I put him back down.   However, I noticed that from that point on, Micah kept one eye on Tomi at all times.

Keep in mind that Micah was approximately twice the age and twice the size of Tomi.  Tomi can't walk yet.  Micah can run.  Micah could easily have defended himself from little Tomi, theoretically.  But clearly Micah is a gentle soul, not at all used to abuse and completely clueless in the arena of self-defence strategies.

Micah managed to keep a safe distance between himself and Tomi for the remaining time, except at one point when he got cornered.  His brown, Bambi-eyes grew wide and he backed up as much as he could to squeeze himself against the wall.  As Tomi crawled closer, Micah began to shake his head slowly back and forth, murmuring in a horrified voice: "No. No!"  I believe his brief life flashed before his eyes.  

Ever alert, I grabbed Tomi, and the day was saved.

The last half-hour minding Tomi was a marathon.  He got more and more tired, hence more and more grouchy.  Feeding him from his bottle helped briefly.  I noticed that he was sweaty (for some reason Babyland is always broiling hot) so I took off his tiny hoodie.  But as time wore on, the distractions I offered became less and less effective, and his wails more frequent.

We had a quarter of an hour to go when I started watching the clock minute-by-minute.  I could have paged his mother (Babyland has a high-tech paging system to summon parents) but it became a challenge I couldn't resist to last out the final 15 minutes.  I paced the room in complicated patterns, jiggling him.  He twisted in my arms until he was facing down, so I flew him around like an airplane.  When he continued to sweat, I remembered hearing that the fastest way to cool down a cup of hot coffee is to blow on it.  So for the last ten minutes I blew on Tomi's bald head.  If I stopped, he would cry, but as long as I blew on his head with every exhalation, he could tolerate existing.

Finally the clock ticked over to 12:00:00, and I waited for the rush of parents at the door.  No such luck.  The service ran overtime.  I was like, are you kidding me?  My whole body is aching from carrying this heavy child around for over an hour.  And I can't stave off a meltdown much longer.  

I was about to page Tomi's mother, when another volunteer offered to take him.  

"Maybe he just wants a nap," she said.  "I'll see if I can get him to nap." 

"OK," I said, knowing that there was no way on God's green earth that Tomi would settle down.  She disappeared into "the quiet room".  Moments later, I heard loud wailing coming from behind the closed door.  Shortly thereafter the volunteer re-appeared and paged Tomi's mom.  The hand-off was accomplished.  The wailing retreated down the corridor, turned a corner, and then there was quiet.

OK, so there were still a dozen hyper toddlers zinging around the room like a giant, multiball pinball game.  But in my heart, I knew peace.

I was sore for three days after minding Tomi.  Lifting and carrying him was way outside my usual workout parameters.  My shoulders, arms, back, butt, and thighs hurt so much I had to take a Tylenol to fall asleep.  But I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world.  And when that crazy-making little guy comes back to the nursery next time, I'll be the first to volunteer myself to look after him.   I guess I have some maternal instincts in me after all.

P.S.  Not that this makes me want to become a parent.  I'm happy to constrain this type of experience to 1.5 hours once every four weeks.  I still say that, for me, borrowed babies are the best babies.

P.P.S.  Despite that I can't resist the urge to brag a little.  All the parents who saw me with Tomi assumed that he was my son.  When I told them otherwise, they were surprised.  "He seems so attached to you!" they'd say.  Chyldkere: I'm doin' it kwite well, aktualy!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Public Devotion

On November 1st I attended a Christian worship/song-and-dance performance with around 14,000 other people at Toronto's large domed stadium.

A non-church-going but somewhat-Christian (and also somewhat New-Age) friend accompanied me. Thank goodness for her. I found the experience overwhelming on several levels, but my friend was there at my side like a life preserver. She's a teddy bear. When I felt like it was all getting too much I'd lean up against her comforting arm which was wrapped inside a comforting fuzzy sweater, and she'd look over at me and giggle in her lovely way.

To start with, I am not a lover of crowds. There are many events which I outright avoid simply because of the crowds.

I assure you, this place was CROWDED.

Our seats were on the field, right in the middle. The tickets had mostly been sold in blocks, one block to each church, so people were sitting with members of their congregations. The whole point of the concert was to bring together Christians from all over Toronto and the surrounding area, so there were people from all denominations and all backgrounds. The show of solidarity was good to see.

One consequence of the seating arrangement was that differences in church cultures and congregations were easy to spot. My friend and I were seated in row 16, with four more rows dedicated to my church behind us. Starting from row 15 was another church, with a completely different character. The average age of my church is, I'm guessing, at least 50. The average age of the church in front of us was less than 30.

My friend and I were seated directly behind a posse of energetic teenagers. As soon as the music started, those kids were up out of their seats, grooving with the rhythm and raising their hands to the heavens. Meanwhile, my church, for the most part, sat quietly with their hands folded in their laps. I looked over at my friend. Neither of us could see anything from a seated position behind the dance squad, so we stood up too. And, since we were up, we danced. I wouldn't have felt comfortable being the first one to stand up, but the teenagers went first and thereby "gave us permission".

Much as I do feel a strong desire to show devotion to the loving God who is with me when I pray, it's not easy to make that connection in an unfamiliar, loud, public place. I sang along with the worship songs and copied the movements of the teenagers, but for the most part I felt that I was going through the motions. There were points at which I felt my heart was touched, and I looked over several times to find my friend weeping with her head bowed in devotion, but it was just too alien an environment for me to fully "go there".

The concert had officially started at 6:30 pm.  Around 8:30 pm, I started getting really hungry. I had eaten dinner at 4:30 pm because we arrived early to find our seats. I waited for an intermission, but despite the fact that the programme was divided into "Act 1" and "Act 2", there was no break. I got hungrier and hungrier. I wondered if I should leave my seat and go all the way back up through the stands to find a hot dog or something. But I've heard a lot lately regarding the benefits of fasting with prayer, so I decided I'd just stay put.

Of course, since my blood sugar was low, I felt my passion for dancing along with the teenagers ebbing away. The heat wasn't on in the stadium, and I become more and more conscious of the cold. I thought: this is good. I never stop to think about how hard it is to be cold and hungry. Experiencing this will make me more sympathetic to the suffering of less fortunate people.

Actually, it mostly just made me cranky.

By the time the grand finale was done at 10:00 pm, I was ready to eat my chair.  But it wasn't as simple as rushing out the door and finding the closest food vendor.  There were over 14,000 people in that stadium, and remember, I was in the middle of the field, up near the front.  People funneled up the stairs and out the exits at a snail's pace.  It was 10:45 pm before we finally made it outside.

My friend headed off to the train station.  I went straight to the nearest Harvey's (a Canadian burger franchise).  Of course there was already a giant line-up.  I got into the line directly behind a couple in their early 20's who had obviously just come from the same concert.  Up past my bedtime, cold, and hypoglycemic, I was feeling less than patient.  You can imagine how tolerant I felt when three friends of the young couple casually slipped into the line ahead of me without the slightest acknowledgement that they were butting in.

At that moment, my thoughts were decidedly un-Christian.

I debated voicing my outrage, but by then I was so low on energy that I couldn't summon the oomph to tell all five of them off.  I waited another 20 minutes as the line inched forward.  

By the time I got home around midnight, I was completely wiped out.  The next day, my first thought was that attending the concert hadn't been worth the trouble.  However, I did gain something from it.  My curiosity was satisfied.  And there were a few choice moments when I felt in touch with the awe of worship.

I will always remember one woman, standing a few rows ahead of me, in the darkened stadium, in a lull between musical numbers.  She stretched her arms out, waaay out, tilted her head back, and shouted from her guts:  "Yes, Lord!  Thank you!  Thank you, Jesus!"  

Her voice echoed across the enormous space, spontaneous, raw, and beautiful.  I broke out in gooseflesh from head to toe.  In that moment, I witnessed something unrehearsed and real.  That's what I went for.  

Maybe it was worth it after all.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Aw Shucks 'n' Stuff

How awesome is this?  Ron gave me an award!  Woohoo!!

This one is really cute.  I totally want a stripey shirt like this guy.



As all awards tend to, it comes with rules.  Rules, rules, rules...  Can't get away from 'em.  But sometimes, they're well worth it.  So here goes:

Every superior scribbler must name 5 other super scribblers. If you are named you must link to the author and the name of the blog that gave you the award.  (That would be Ron at Warped Mind of Ron.) Then you must display the award and link to this post, which explains the award. Finally you must visit that same post and add your name via Mr. Linky List, so that the award creators can keep track of who the superest (or should that be superiorest?) scribblers are.

Firstly, because I am teaching myself the lesson that good blogging isn't always planned and copy-edited, I am passing along the award to all the bloggers who commented on my last post, stating that they don't self-criticize as they write.  They just let their truth flow out.  Here's to the brave truth-tellers!

Karen at Smiling Through It All.  Karen recently affirmed her intention to write honestly, and openly on her blog, without fearing the consequences.  That is awesome.

Desi at Desi's Sense of Self.  I just started reading Desi's blog a little while ago, but it's been clear from the start that she's a confident woman who doesn't shy away from speaking her mind.  Plus, she's got this really cool gadget in her sidebar inviting you to Feed the Fishies.  Check it out!

Sabrae at It's just the everyday humdrum that people make it out to be!  Sabrae is also a new acquaintance, but I liked her instantly because her profile photo shows fabulous attitude.  She is indeed a friendly girl, so you would be well advised to go say Hello to her.

And then there are some Simply Superior Scribblers:

Nilsa at Somi Learning::Exposing::Sharing.  Nilsa just got married, like, two seconds ago, and amazingly managed to blog daily through all the craziness of her wedding preparations.  Heck, I'm not blogging daily and all I have to do is work and get groceries.  So, shout out to Nilsa!  Also, she is setting up an anonymous blog post swap, so go check it out and sign yourselves up!

Claire at Country Mouse Tales because she is just so wonderfully sweet.  If the world is getting you down and seems like a mean and nasty place, go visit Claire.  She will be a living reminder to you that there are still lovely folks making the earth a better place, just by being herself.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Permission to Ramble

Usually, I hold myself to a high standard of blog-writing. I like to plan my piece ahead of time, maybe spend a few days mulling it over. When the idea has ripened inside my head I type it out, and then I subject it to a review process. If I'm not 100% happy with what I've written, I let it sit as a draft for a while until I can figure out what I need to change.

This week, I don't have it in me to be that mentally organized. I'm maxed out. There's been so much going on in my life that my brain has reached its processing limit. My immediate consciousness is floating on a sea of STUFF.

Some of the stuff is good. Some of it is not so good. It's all interesting. My life has certainly been rich with experiences lately. There are numerous things I'd like to write about, but I'm so fried that I don't think I could do any of them justice. I could easily write a full post or more about any of the following, if my brain was working better:

I've done a couple of shifts in Babyland, my church's nursery for the 0-3 years age group. The experiences I'm having there would come as no surprise to parents, but for me it's like taking a trip to an alien planet. I haven't babysat in around 20 years, therefore it's been approximately that long since I've had any meaningful contact with babies. Let me tell you, the babies are blowing my mind.

Last weekend, on the same day that I shot a gun for the first time in my life, I went to a giant Christian song-and-dance extravaganza in Toronto's domed stadium. People were jumping up and praising the Lord! The teenagers in front of me were dancing and clapping. The man two seats down from me wept. The woman on my other side sat primly with her hands folded in her lap the whole time. It was a huge, bizarre, unprecendented... I don't know how to quantify it. I can't explain how I felt. Glad that I went, and other than that, many mixed feelings. It was a trip down the rabbit hole, that's for sure.

(I have yet to experience people speaking in tongues or rolling on the floor. That is something I really want to see for myself someday. I am very curious.)

I'm still helping my parents, mostly my mom, with their divorce. I had to write a letter to my mom's lawyer outlining my step-dad's business interests. I don't know how to feel about that either. Stuck in the middle, I guess.

Ken and I are more than halfway through packing up my step-dad's stuff. That's good news: progress. But I'm getting burned out on the process, so we're going to take a break from it for a few weeks. I haven't even told my mom yet. It' s just too hard, all the emotions that come up while we're going through his things, and how upset my mom gets, even though she tries not to show it. We only pack for around 2 hours each weekend (time limit imposed due to Ken's allergies combined with my mom's cats), but even that has become too much. I just can't face it right now.

Work has been insanely busy. On top of that, there are multiple emotionally intense situations going on at work that I'm involved in. Staff quarrelling and I need to facilitate a solution. Pressure from the doctors. Major protocol changes. Significant physical reorganization of the workspace.

On top of that, someone, with the best of intentions, outted me to my colleagues. By this I mean: I had only spoken to one person in my workplace regarding my new faith in God, and church attendance. Something happened that is a very long story, and it was the right thing at the time, but events transpired that revealed my new faith to the people I work closest with, all on the same day. I felt like I was walking around work naked, it was that exposing.

Is there more? Probably. There's always something. But I'm writing this on a lunch break and my time is now up. You get the picture.

Please pray or cross your fingers for me to get my marbles back into my head as soon as possible. Thank you!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bang!

I did it.  I shot a real gun.  Twenty times.  I even hit the target most of those times.

How did I come to shoot a gun, you may ask?  This peace-loving woman who captures bugs between a cup and a piece of cardboard so she can release them outside instead of squishing them?  

It was for a good cause.  The shooting range was hosting a benefit for Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome or some such malady.  $20 at the door bought two rounds of ammo and a promotional sticker.

But seriously, how did I come to this converted warehouse, in the town of Gormley, population 30, 000, to shoot a gun?  Ken brought me there.

Ken is good at target sports.  He was into archery for a while, and next on his list of interests was firearms.   A couple of weeks ago he finally followed up on his curiousity and visited the shooting range in Gormley.  His instructors were amazed at his steadiness and accuracy.  He came home with a poster-sized paper, riddled through the middle circle with bullet-holes, and a burning desire to share the experience with me.

I didn't start to feel nervous until we had parked the car by the side of the building.  I could hear sound of shots echoing through the walls and the metal fire doors.  There was a notice posted by the entrance, stating that if you entered the premises the owners were absolved of all responsibility for your safety.  That gave me a moment's pause for thought.

A lot of people were there, waiting for a turn on the range.  As the line inched forward, I grew paradoxically more at ease and more nervous at the same time; the sound of gunfire became less alarming as I grew accustomed to it, but of course ever step closer to holding a gun in my own hands was a scary one.

We signed elaborate waivers, stating in lengthy legalese that if we got shot it was just tough beans for us.  I stuffed foam earplugs in my ears, then donned safety glasses and earmuff-style ear protection on top of that.  It was cold enough that I kept my coat on.  Finally, the door to the range opened, and an employee beckoned us in.

Ken shouted that I would go first and that I wanted to shoot the Glock 9mm handgun (the smallest gun available).  Each round for that gun consists of 10 bullets.  Each station had a range employee carefully overseeing a shooter.  There were a lot of us first-timers there.

My minder didn't seem perturbed that I had never handled a gun before.  He gave me some brief instructions, most of which were swallowed up by bursts of explosions.  I read his lips and figured out enough that I felt moderately confident when he gave me the gun.

I had a loaded gun in my hands.  It didn't seem real.

I lined up the sights, pointed at the target, and squeezed the trigger.  Bang!  The gun jumped and a small hole appeared in my paper target, very far away from the spot I'd aimed for.  But I'd done it!  I shot the gun; no one was bleeding; and I even hit the paper!  

It was after that first shot, when I felt the powerful kick-back and heard the noise ricochet around the range, that my adrenaline really started pumping.  Now it was real.  I fired again. 

It was a good thing I'd been forewarned that the shell casings would fly back and might hit me in the face.  The instructor had shouted through my two layers of earplugs, "Just don't freak out!"  The first one hit me in the forehead, the second bounced off the tip of my nose.  I didn't freak out.  A third plonked down on the crown of my head.  I was cool.

By the time I was mostly through my second round of ammo, I was getting pretty shaky from adrenaline overload.  That was when a burning-hot shell casing flew back and lodged itself between the arm of my safety glasses and my left temple.  At that point, I did kind of freak out.  Still gingerly holding the loaded gun in my right hand, I frantically clawed at my face with my left hand, trying to dislodge the burning metal from contact with my skin.  My minder swiftly plucked the gun away from me and laid it down on the barrier.   

After yanking off my safety glasses and releasing the casing, I was truly rattled.  I made my last two shots with shaking hands, and was relieved to put the gun down and back away quietly.

Then it was Ken's turn.  He shot one round with the 9mm, and got all his shots right through the middle of the target.  Then he decided to move on to something bigger: a Glock .357.  

The range was set up with the smallest guns at the right end and the largest at the left.  This station was second from the left.  

I didn't like that end of the range.  The gunfire was much louder, and I couldn't help but jump at every explosion.  Someone was shooting the biggest gun, a 10mm.  I found myself holding my breath every time I saw him take aim, bracing for the impact of the sound.  I could not quell my startle reflex.  I thought about how scary it must be on a battlefield, with sonic shocks booming all around, the violence, and the fear of being hit.

Ken finally used up all his ammunition, and I was more than happy to follow him off the range.  

In the ladies' room, I hung my coat up on a hook.  Something went "Ting ting ting!" on the floor.  A shell casing had fallen out of my hood.  Now, that is unusual, I thought to myself.

I checked in the mirror.  I had three black dots of gunpowder on my chin, and an oblong pink burn on my left temple.  I washed off the powder with special heavy-metal-removing soap.  The burn remains.  I had been ritually scarred as part of my rite of passage.

I wouldn't say that I enjoyed the experience especially.  I was asked by a friend if I found it empowering, and I'd have to say "no".  Mostly it was nerve-racking.  But I am proud of myself for going through with it.  I might even go back.  We'll see. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Smartie

This post is dedicated to Syb and her unexplained love of stories relating to narcotics.

Unfortunately, every once in a while a patient steals a pad of blank prescription sheets, and decides to write themselves a generous allowance of narcotic medications.

I'm not sure if it's a national or a provincial protocol, but here the pharmacies call and double-check all narcotics prescriptions with the referring doctor's office before filling them. That's how we catch the forgeries.

A few years ago, we got a call from a pharmacy stating that a patient had dropped off a script, supposedly signed by one of our doctors. Needless to say, it was a fake. The pharmacist called the cops. The doctor whose signature had been forged stayed in touch with the police to find out how they would deal with this patient.

The patient was due back at the store shortly to pick up his pills. The pharmacist didn't want the police to confront the patient inside the store, in order to prevent disturbing the other customers. The police felt it would be best for their case if the patient actually paid for the prescription before they apprehended him, otherwise they would have a hard time proving his guilt. But how could the pharmacist fill the prescription and allow the patient to leave the store with a bottle full of pills if the prescription was a forgery?

The pharmacist had a brilliant solution. Use an opaque pill bottle, and fill it with Smarties. That way the bottle wouldn't sound suspiciously empty when handled.

It all went off without a hitch. The forger paid for his bottle of "Percoset" and swaggered confidently out the door, only to be apprehended by the authorities.

I hope the pharmacist put special dosage instructions on the medication label: "Take as needed. Eat the red ones last."

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Suitcase of Memories

As far as I knew, I had moved completely out of my mom's house 14 years ago.  My mom has recently been insistent that I should take some time to clean my stuff out of the closet of my old bedroom.  I was all "what stuff?"

Finally she got me to go up into the closet, on a stepladder, dust cloth in hand.  On the very highest shelves, I did find archaeological evidence of my past life.  

A cassette-tape Sony Walkman.  Contact lens solution that expired in 1993.  The shoes I wore to my high school prom.  A straw hat with a lacy ribbon, very Pretty In Pink.

And then, the box.  Just a plain, cardboard box.  I lifted the lid.  Little did I know it was booby trapped.  A time bomb!  It went off in my face, and just like that I was back in high school.

It was everything my ex-husband had ever given me, from the sweet little cartoons he passed to me in grade nine geography class to portraits of me he'd drawn in his college Illustration course.  Two corsages, almost unrecognizable, crumbled to dust except for the shiny, elastic wristbands.  A candy necklace in an advance state of decay.  

I had also hung on to cards, doodles, and notes from other high school friends.  There were countless sheets of 8.5" x 11" paper covered with caricatures and notations from long-forgotten in-jokes.  There was a greeting card from a classmate called Richard, who invented his own system of spelling somewhat similar to LOLspeak, signed, as was his habit, "Wrych".

In high school I was a high-strung girl: by turns moody, neurotic, ecstatic, flirtatious, terrified, smitten, shy, and hungry for love.  When I was down, the whole world closed in.  When I was up, I flew straight for the sun.  The shoebox was like an urn, containing the ashes of my brightest-burning moments.

I must have kept everything ever signed To Spark, Love [Boyfriend].  It was very odd to find those sentiments, so heartfelt, addressed to me by two men who are both now married to other women.  One of them is a good friend still.  Ken and I visit him, his wife, and their one-year-old son at their home, which they are renovating.  It was so odd to be reminded of our teenage, nuclear-force love.  I was 15.  He was 17.  I thought he was so mature and worldly.  It just goes to show how everything is relative.

I didn't have time to sort through everything in the box.  There was more on the shelf.  More dusty old crap.  Crazy glue that had sat so long it wasn't crazy anymore.  My income tax statements from back in the day when being a summer camp counsellor was my only taxable income.  Reams of complicated sheet music, which I can't believe I ever managed to play on my long-gone violin.

The box is still sitting at my mom's house, waiting for me to sit down with it and go deeper.  I'm looking forward to finding more treasures, but also slightly dreading the emotional roller-coaster that might be triggered, depending on what I find.  We shall see.  In any case, I'm sure glad that I saved my mementos.  My sister might want the never-used neon-pink and neon-green shoelaces.  By next year, I bet they'll be totally back in style.

First one to identify the song that my post title comes from gets a gold star.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two Day Break

I need to get away more.  I just had way too much fun on a work-related getaway, and I didn't even go out of town.

I signed up for an educational seminar.  My cheap boss didn't want to pay the tuition, but my generous boss approved the expense.  

(The two of them balance each other out.  If Cheap Boss had his way we'd all be working for minimum wage in a cave.  If Generous Boss had his way we'd all be out of a job because he'd bankrupt the business via over-generosity.  I appreciate both perspectives, but when push comes to shove I'm glad that Generous Boss is the senior partner.)

I was happy enough simply to be attending.  However, the seminar was being held in a hotel out by the airport, which is a fair drive from my home.  Keep in mind that I don't drive, so I figured I'd have to sit in the back of a cab for hours over the two days as we went to and from the hotel, battling rush hour traffic.

I mentioned in passing to Generous Boss how tough it is to stay awake during a lecture after waking up 1.5 hours earlier to get there on time.  You know how it is.  They dim the lights to put up a PowerPoint presentation... there's the soothing, white-noise hum of the conference room fans...  and then your head starts to nod and your eyeballs roll back zombie-style.  Zzzzzz...

Generous Boss, true to form, immediately advised me to take a room in the hotel where the seminar was being held.  He wasn't worried about the cost.  He wanted to make sure I was rested and ready to maximize my education.  See why I will never leave this job, even though it makes me crazy?

So I booked a room.  I can't even remember the last time I used my suitcases for anything other than packing for a move.  Maybe eight years ago, when I went to Ottawa for a few weeks to teach, in my old career as an I.T. trainer.  Fun times.  Anyway, I did manage to locate my suitcase, in the cold-storage nook where all the spiders live.  I pulled out the suitcase, then waited a few minutes for all the spiders I'd disturbed to scuttle back to their dark corners.

(I keep the suitcase wrapped in plastic to prevent critters from stowing away on my trips.)

I was TOTALLY EXCITED to check into my hotel room.  King Size Bed!  Nine Fluffy Pillows to recline upon!  in front of the Flat Screen TV!  OK, so I have a bigger flat screen TV at home.  Still, it's not In My Bedroom!  

I got to my room pretty late on the night before the seminar.  Too late to get in much lounging before lights-out.  My plan for night #2 was to flop back onto the bed, on my nest of Nine Fluffy Pillows, order Ridiculously Expensive Room Service, and spend five hours or so watching TV, in Complete Control of the Remote!

I did have some trouble sleeping.  At first I struggled to organize a liveable temperature by way of an unfamiliar thermostat, and then once that was sorted I was rather distracted by the Enormous Jets going 

FFFFFFFFFRRRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!

directly over my head at three minute intervals.  I swear, some of them weren't going to make it to the landing strip.  I wanted to yell at the pilots:

"You're coming in too low, man!  Pull up!  For the love of God, pull up!"

Eventually, sleep prevailed, and fortunately no planes crashed into my room in the wee hours of the night.

The next day, the seminar started, and it just so happened that one of the women at the round table where I was seated was a natural social organizer.  So much for my plan for night #2.  Neither of the two books I brought with me ever made it out of my suitcase during my stay, either.  The good people at my table (six of us in all) became the equivalent of my cabin at summer sleepover camp.

We went for lunch together.  We went for drinks together.  We went for dinner together.  We talked late into the night.  We ignored the [Canadian] election almost entirely.  (I voted in the advance polls.)  By the time the two days were over, I felt like I'd known them all for months at least.  One woman in particular spilled out most of her life story over all-you-can-eat ribs at Tony Romano's restaurant.  The ribs were frickin' amazing, but they didn't even come close to this woman's stories.  She was truly inspiring.

Night #2 I tumbled into my nest of fluffy pillows with earplugs firmly embedded and the thermostat set to a happy medium between chilly and stuffy.  I think I would have had a perfect sleep, had my dinner not been so salty.  I woke up every 90 minutes or so with my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, and drank huge volumes of water to quench my monstrous thirst.  Finally, after draining the hotel's water tanks singlehandedly, I slept.

I even learned some good stuff at the seminar.  The facilitator was a dynamic young guy with a sense of humour and a knack for engaging his audience.  I am now slightly wiser in the ways of De-escalating Potentially Violent Situations.  

Throughout each day the hotel staff would slip quietly into the conference room to provide us with a steady stream of beverages and snacks.  There was coffee waiting by 8:45 am, muffins and tea arrived at 10:30, and at 2:30 there was cold pop or juice and big, gourmet cookies.  I don't think I have ever been so spoiled or well-fed at a seminar.  

Before 2:30 pm on the last day, the facilitator mischievously instructed us all to applaud when the afternoon snack was delivered.  A well-groomed young man slipped in discreetly, almost tip-toeing behind the facilitator so as not to interrupt.  A couple of people yelled out "Yay, cookies!" and then the room burst into a rousing and prolonged round of applause.  The hotel employee didn't quite know what to do.  He got bashful, but it was all in good fun.

In the end, I was sad that the two days were over.  I packed up my stuff, and said goodbye to my hotel room wistfully.  I even got a little emotional parting from all my cabin-buddies.

But I'm super-glad to be back at home with my sweetie, and it'll be wonderful to sleep in my own bed tonight, without airplanes flying through the room or a mouthful of salt overload.  One pillow will be quite enough for me.

Goodnight!