Thursday, October 28, 2010

Monkey Love

My Sea Monkeys are mating. Right now? As I write this? As you read it? Yes, most likely. When Monkey romance begins, it lasts for days. The first "hug" I witnessed spanned both days of last weekend. Yesterday evening they were at it again.

I was under the impression that Sea Monkeys do not reach maturity for 6-8 weeks after hatching. My little monkeys were only two weeks old when they starting going all the way to home base. Sheesh. Way to grow up fast, guys!

Of course, it could be that they're just playing doctor rather than actually procreating. I'll keep an eye out for new babies. Only time will tell.

At this time, I have three adolescent Sea Monkeys (3/8 of an inch long) and five pee wees. The pee wees are too small to determine gender. Of the monkeys that are foolin' around, one is smaller, pale, and featureless. Two are larger and reddish in colour. Each of the larger ones has grown a pair of what appear to be poppy seeds, located between the legs and the tail. Who is male and who is female in this picture?

In the world of Sea Monkeys, ladies are bigger than gentlemen. Those poppy seeds that look like testicles are actually egg sacks. The male, who I refer to as Ghost because of his pallor and translucence, grabs the female just above the egg sacks using two feelers under his chin. Then he holds on for dear life until the ride is over.

For the duration of mating, the male rides under the female, swimming in perfect synchronization. He can't eat much unless some algae happens to float his way by chance. He can't get to the surface for extra oxygen. He's stuck following her around for as long as it takes.

On Monday morning, when the male finally unclinched from his lengthy embrace, I'd never seen a happier little monkey. He swam in ecstatic circles and zoomed around the tank at top speed. I could almost see him waving his little arms and shouting "I'm free! Free at last! FREEEEEE!"

Well, he was back in position again, as of yesterday, so wish the little guy luck, and stamina.

As for the ladies, they don't seem to care one way or another. I can't tell them apart, so I don't know if Ghost has a girlfriend or if he's playing the field. One day one of the girls was swimming around in a completely boring manner, while the other did flips, spins, and loop-de-loops. I named the boring one Outboard and the graceful one Baryshnikov. Trouble is, they swim exactly alike now, so I can't tell who's who. Oh well. Some mysteries of Sea Monkey life will be forever hidden from humans.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Wedding Story

A good friend of mine got married on Saturday, to a sweet, gentle, and responsible man. She was a stunning bride. I have known this woman since we were both in our early twenties, and she has never looked more beautiful than she did walking down the aisle. This wedding was a victory for happiness. Take that, mean old world!

The ceremony and celebrations were held at an "event centre", one of those places which seems to exist for the sole purpose of hosting wedding parties. The chandeliers in the foyer were each the size of a small car, and very sparkly. The chairs were swathed in gold fabric. The lights bathed everyone and everything in a soft golden glow.

As the groom's family is from Hong Kong, the dinner was a traditional Chinese banquet. Eight courses served over 3.5 hours, and that's not counting the finger foods which were circulated during the cocktail hour or the sweet table at the end. You might think it a bit of a marathon to sit for such a long time, eating, but in fact it was a pleasant experience. Our table-mates were witty and interesting people. There were entertainments offered between courses, such as professional dance performances, speeches, and table games. And the food was scrumptious.

Each individual course consisted of a modest portion. Dishes that stand out in my mind are the lobster bisque, which was served with a light-as-air puff-pastry hat over it; and the stuffed giant snail, which I unfortunately could not eat because it was full of cheese. Other than that, I polished off everything that was put in front of me.

We did get a little silly near the end. By the seventh course our table was singing "This is the meal that never ends, and it goes on and on my friends". When the eighth course was served, the man sitting across from me pretended to weep. I think we were food drunk. Anyway, we bravely soldiered on to the end. And somehow, when all was said and done, everyone found room for dessert.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lost: The Quest for Roti

There's a funky little roti shop on Queen Street that Ken and I adore. We've never been sure exactly where it is. We drive there via visual landmarks. It's west of the corner of Crack and Crackhead, across the street from the Parkdale Community Centre. We've never managed to pin down the closest major intersection.

Once every couple of weeks, we make a pilgrimage. It takes an hour or so to drive there in rush hour traffic, and only slightly less to get home again. Worth it? You betcha! I'm sure it creates a sasquatchian environmental footprint, but since we never fly in airplanes* or take any significant road trips, I hope we can be excused.

Last night we set out around 6 pm on our usual route. However, around halfway to downtown either we took a wrong turn or (Ken's theory) some long-term construction project was completed providing a new route which we inadvertently took. By the time we noticed, we were deep into an industrial area. A wall of enormous concrete silos loomed overhead, a heavily graffitied cube fan sheltering at their feet.

"Where are we?" we asked ourselves. "How did we get here? Which way to roti?" The street we were travelling on ended at a T-junction. On the cinder-block wall at the cross of the T, someone had spray-painted in red: "DON'T PANIC".

We turned south and found ourselves passing through High Park, a posh old neighbourhood full of roomy houses with wraparound verandas and wide gardens presided over by ancient trees. We figured that now we were oriented. Just keep going south and we should find Queen St.

Except, this far west the lake cuts up so far north that Queen St. has ceased to exist. The next turnoff was Lakeshore Blvd. We turned east onto Lakeshore, a busy four-lane thoroughfare, just as the sun was setting over the lake. A few small sailboats were tied up here and there by the shore, casting long shadows across the rippling, dark grey mirror of the water.

The car filled with a bad smell. We were stuck behind a dump truck filled with something dusty, maybe dry cement mix. It drifted in through the vents and parched the back of my throat. "Don't worry," said Ken. "The next exit is two minutes away."

Ken signalled his left turn, to get off Lakeshore and back onto the side streets so that we could double back and get our roti. As he made the turn, his face fell. I turned to read the sign: Eastbound Gardiner Expressway. By the time we realized our mistake, we were well up the on-ramp to one of Toronto's major highways. Ridiculous! How could we have taken so many wrong turns in one night? Ken has been my loyal chauffeur for 9 years now. I have never known him to get lost.

By the time we were barrelling along the Gardiner, we decided that we weren't meant to eat roti on this particular night. We exited at Spadina and ate in Chinatown instead. It wasn't roti, but it was a mighty fine dinner nonetheless.

*Any single long-haul air travel flight uses approximately as much fuel as an average car does in a whole year.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The furnaces at my place of work are psychotic. Of course keeping them under control is my responsibility. Like I'm any match for an angry furnace.

We moved into our unit last spring. This is the first season that these brand new furnaces are in use. We have six that service the entire space. So far two have tried to kill us, by poison and by slow cooking.

Starting on October 1st when we turned on the heat, there was an intermittent but significant smell of gas. It was not my co-workers farting in the hallways. It was that awful, rotten-egg smell of natural gas.

The first time it happened was early one morning before I'd even left my house. My early shift manager called in a panic to tell me that all the employees had evacuated the unit and were hiding in their cars in the parking lot, expecting the building to explode. I had to think fast. The first question on my mind: should I pray for God to save my workplace, or blow it up? It was a tough call.

We called the gas company, who came with a sniffing device and said that it was nothing to worry about. Thing was, by the time the gas man showed up it had been an hour since the smell started, and it had decreased in intensity to almost nothing. That's the thing with this sneaky smell. Just when you think it's gone, it comes back strong and gives everyone a headache. Literally.

It seems that one of the furnaces has a faulty pilot light or starter which may be the cause. A few days ago we shut one furnace down, and the smells have not returned. Which is great, except we're going to miss that furnace if it gets any colder. Repairs are pending.

Just when I thought things were under control, I got another early morning call. One of the other furnaces lost its damn mind and was blowing hot air nonstop into the most populated work area. By the time they called me just after 8 o'clock, the temperature was 94 degrees and rising. Everyone was roasting. By the time a technician showed up an hour later, it was at least 100. I say at least because the thermostat only shows two digits, so it flipped over to "00" and who knows if it kept tracking after that?

Turns out that furnace had a software glitch. The technician had to go up on the roof and disconnect the electrical source to make it stop. So, now two out of our six furnaces are offline.

Never fear. The HVAC guys are up there right now, tinkering and hopefully setting everything straight. I can hear them up on the roof, walking around in their heavy workboots. Stomp stomp stomp.

Anyway, if you hear a loud BOOM followed by no more blog posts, you'll know that my office blew up after all. It was nice knowing you!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Acronyms and Acrimony

Fair warning: complaining follows, some of which you may have heard before. Feel free to skip along until I come up with something more entertaining next time.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I get "sick" fairly often and stay "sick" sometimes for weeks, yet no medical professional has ever figured out what's wrong with me. "Sick" in my case does not mean sneezing and coughing. It means aches, pains, significant fatigue, whacked out body temperature (sometimes too high, sometimes too low), and occasionally random outbreaks of hives.

No one ever catches these symptoms from me. Apparently I'm not contagious. And doctors have tested for every long-term trick in the book (Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease, etc.) without getting a positive test results. The only measurable fact is that I have higher-than-normal levels of auto-immune disfunction markers (anti-nucleic antibodies). The only thing that truly helps is for me to limit my activity, get lots of sleep, take my vitamins every day, and don't take on extra stress if I can help it.

Of course I'm mentioning all this because it's back again. Every year, predictably, when the cold weather arrives, I am filled with aches and pains like an old lady. It's been around two weeks now since I've been nursing painful muscle spasms and stiffness in my joints. I have given up on going to the doctor. All he does is run useless tests on me that waste my time and energy when I'm already feeling low. The best thing I can do is to pace myself, and eventually it will ease off again, like it always does.

Having done some reading on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, I have decided to diagnose myself with mild versions of these related conditions. I certainly don't have the full-blown, completely disabling diseases that keep people in bed for months or years and prevent them from working. (OK, so I was off work with debilitating fatigue over the summer, but it only lasted for 2 weeks, which is not long relatively speaking.) But other than the severity, the general descriptions of these diseases match my experience.

One thing that stands out to me is that CFS and FM (which frequently manifest together as a lovely 2-for-1 symptom package) have both been shown to be related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, especially from chronic stress experienced in childhood. I guarantee you, I had a chronically stressful childhood. In brief: constant fighting in my house; being bullied and socially ostracized at school; and generally being painfully shy and agonizingly lonely and afraid 95% of the time. My doctor knows this, and although he hasn't diagnosed me with FM or CFS officially, he has definitely said many times that he feels I suffer from PTSD. Frankly, I'm grateful that my symptoms aren't bad or persistent enough to merit the official diagnoses.

Why am I bringing this up today? Well, besides having lived with almost constant shooting pains in my back for the past two weeks, and feeling so tired 6 hours into my 8 hour workday that I don't know how I can continue to think productively... (My eyes actually get so tired that I can barely read what's on my computer monitor. Blurry vision when tired is one common symptom of CFS.)... besides all that, I've just gotten to the point where I have changed how I think about my health.

I no longer feel that I'm a healthy person who occasionally gets sick and then gets well again. I feel that I'm a person with a chronic disease that's always hovering in the background ready to strike. It's such a frequent factor in my life that I'm starting to think of my good days as "being in remission". You may think that this is a negative state of mind, but to me it's just realistic. If I think of myself as in remission rather than as 100% well, I'm less likely to push myself past my limits and trigger a full-on relapse. The older I get, the more restricted those limits are.

Fortunately, I was never an outdoorsy type who will miss water-skiing or extreme camping. I have always been happy to settle down with a book or a good documentary. My favourite activities include hanging out with friends to talk and laugh; writing; listening to music; and taking reasonably-paced walks. All of these activities are well within my comfort zone, except when I'm in a really low spot and walking may become limited for a while.

Sometimes I miss being able to stay out late, because social activities after 10pm are the most adventurous, but I have to limit those nights or pay the price for at least a week afterwards. I definitely feel that I made the right decision in not becoming a parent, that's for sure. My life as it is is usually manageable. Any more stress than I currently have would probably tip the balance and I could become seriously disabled.

The truth is, I feel that I have an invisible disability. People can't tell from looking at me that there's anything wrong with me, unless I'm literally dragging my feet on the floor from fatigue. But it's something that limits my life, affects every choice I make with regards to how I spend my time, puts me through long stretches of pain and fatigue, and has shaped my identity permanently in many ways. My step-dad says "I've watched you struggle valiantly with it your whole life." Bless his heart, he listens when I need to vent.

So that's what's on my mind lately. I had to get it off my chest.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Sea Monkey Project

How many of you are familiar with Sea Monkeys? When I was a kid, they were advertised on the back page of every Archie comic book. Oh bonus, I just found the ad! Check it out!

Sea Monkeys are a type of brine shrimp that can be grown in a small (12 oz.) plastic aquarium with minimal maintenance. The eggs can remain in suspended animation for years. The kit provides a pouch of eggs and "plasma" (a powder that prepares the water), a year's supply of food (they don't need much), and presto! Just add water, and you have instant "pets".

Some people may feel that a shrimp does not qualify as a pet any more than a "pet rock" or a "pet grape" or whatever. Well, ladies and gents, I will soon be able to offer my expert opinion. Welcome to my Sea Monkeys experiment, day 4.

As of this morning, there are at least three Sea Monkey babies wiggling madly in the little tank, each of them half the length of a comma. (The aquarium has built in magnifying bulges on one side, but I still get eyestrain if I watch them for too long.) They're supposed to grow to be 3/4" long, and have lots and lots of babies of their own.

I'm hoping that more eggs will hatch. Three little shrimpies do not constitute a "colony". I am caring for them as best I can, bubbling air into their water twice a day for oxygen, and keeping them out of direct sunlight. They only need to be fed once a week, so I haven't opened the food pouch yet.

I've got to tell you, it's pretty exciting to see life, no matter how small, emerge from a pouch of powder and two cups of water. I like watching the little guys propelling themselves around. When they were first hatched they didn't swim so much as flex spasmodically. Now they're swimming with direction and purpose. I don't know where they're going, in that little tank with nothing else in it, but they seem to have a plan.

To be continued!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Icing on the Cake

How responsible are we for other people? Other adults, I should say. Some people seem to feel no responsibility at all to take care of their fellow humans, unless they are using "caring" as a manipulative tactic.

The other extreme is occupied by people who take all the responsibility for other people and none for themselves. They think that, with enough energetic meddling, they can fix all your problems, but they have no idea how to address their own.

The most useful truth lies somewhere in between. Interdependence.

I have erred on the side of co-dependence for most of my life. Now, as I grow a older and wiser, I'm learning to take a more balanced approach.

My step-dad, whom I dearly love, has developed cardiovascular disease. Recently we all got a scare when he went into heart failure due to untreated (he refused to accept medication) high blood pressure. Now he's taking his meds, and stable, but his circulatory system isn't in perfect shape. He should be eating a low-fat diet. He should be watching his salt intake. He knows these things. But what is he doing?

Eating in restaurants. Rich foods, salty soups, lots of sauce and gravy on everything. Cake, which he picks apart in order to get all the icing from between the layers. Most of the spongy part of the cake gets tossed in the trash. He's a hedonist. He's not happy eating any other way.

Once in a while he'll start talking about working out a healthier diet that he can live with, but so far it's been all talk and no veggies. Unless my mother cooks for him (keep in mind that he hasn't moved back in with her yet), he's probably eating in restaurants, ordering according to his whims.

When he's doing something bad, like eating a chocolate bon bon, he'll say "I really shouldn't," (with a little embarrassed giggle) before dropping it into his mouth.

I've talked with him about his eating habits a few times since his heart failure incident. I'm not the only one. My mother bugs him day in and day out. Even his business partner is getting in on the act. He has books, and internet links, and enough time and money to change if he wants to. He doesn't want to.

So what can I do? I'm letting it go. If he only has a few more years left to live, I don't want to spend them arguing with him or nagging him. He's changed a lot since I was a kid, but one thing that remains constant is that he's stubborn as a mule. If he wants to eat buttercream icing, he'll eat buttercream icing. I can't stop him. I can't change him.

It's about quality of time, not quantity. And now I'm going to eat a chocolate cupcake with icing. (And sprinkles.)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Bachelorette

"Alright everyone, show me your sexy stripper walk! Toe to heel, swing those hips, chest out, butt out!" The zaftig woman in black leggings and tight black T-shirt bellowed directions over loud clubby music as a dozen thirty-something women paraded in a circle around a dance studio filled with brass stripper poles. "Okay now, start crossing one foot in front of the other as you walk!" shouted the instructress.

My brain overloaded as I tried to obey all the directions while keeping up with the woman in front of me. I stumbled and almost fell over. I was not wearing 4-inch heels. I was walking in stocking feet on a level floor. I felt neither graceful nor coordinated as I wobble-waved my arms just to stay standing.

This was my Saturday. A bachelorette party for a girlfriend. Four of her grad-school lady-buddies had cooked up an entire day's schedule of supposedly raunchy fun. So I found myself in an intro to pole- and lap-dancing class with ten women I'd never met before. When we were asked to partner up, I introduced myself to Helen. Within five minutes we were practicing lap dances on each other. If you think this was a sexy experience, you'd be dead wrong. The proper word to describe it was AWKWARD, like that, in all caps. Hello shy person I've just met, don't mind if I sit on your lap. And sure, feel free to shake your boobs in my face, I guess. Are we done yet?

The pole dancing part was more fun. We learned how to twirl around the pole with both feet off the floor. It's easier than it looks. Wheeee! :-)

At the end of the class we retired to Lindsey's apartment, where she lives with an adorable little dog called Leo. I swear, he was the sweetest little fellow. He wandered quietly around during the ensuing debauchery stopping under various chairs to work on his chew toys. When I leaned down at one point and said "Kisses!" he politely licked my chin. I swear, that dog had better breath than some people I know. Does he brush his own teeth? I wouldn't be surprised.

Drinks were offered, and we broke out a game of "Pervert!". Basically, questions are asked about one's sexual past and predilections. If you answer "Yes" to a question, you get to move forward once space. If you don't understand the question, move back. The questions ranged from "Have you ever had sex with a corpse?" (EW!) to "Have you ever told a vulgar joke to a person of the opposite sex." There was only one person in the room who was more prudish than I, according to the final results. What can I say, I'm conservative.

Next on the agenda was a sex toy party, which is akin to a Tupperware party, except with erotic products. A saleswoman showed up with a kit full of everything from edible massage cream to gear requiring batteries. The rule for sampling the lotions and potions was Left is for Licking; i.e. if it was something we were supposed to taste she would stick it on our left arm. Non-edible products were tested on the right. By the time we were done my arms smelled like a candy store. It reminded me more of buying penny candy at Becker's than anything that might happen in a bedroom.

The weirdest product was a peppermint gel called D'Licktious. We were asked to take a half-teaspoon, stick it halfway back on our tongues, and then swallow it. It was like gulping down a serving of toothpaste. Five minutes later we were asked to stick our fingers down our throats to test the desired result of a reduced gag reflex. I can't say that I noticed a difference, but truthfully I didn't put my all into the testing process. Sticking a finger down my throat is not an activity I enjoy by myself, let alone in a room full of relative strangers. For the record one of the women said it made "a world of difference".

The whole show-and-tell took around two hours. After those who were ordering had their order sheets in and we had said goodbye to the saleswoman, it was time for the next game: Pin the Mister on the Man. Check the Man out here. He ended up with Misters taped all over him, including one over his nose. All good, clean fun.

All in all it was a super-fun day, much more so that I expected. Yes, there were a few nervous-sweat-inducing moments, but the women I met were a great bunch: smart, funny, friendly, and charming. By the end of the evening I felt as though I'd known them for much longer than one day. There was a lot of laughing and surprisingly little drinking.

At 10:00 pm when I decided that I was done for the day the group had started in on a second round of "Pervert!", using the questions as jumping off points for scandalous personal anecdotes. It wouldn't be long before they set out to their last destination: a drag club, to view a drag fashion show. If I had more stamina I would have gone, but I didn't want to test my limits. So I thanked everyone and left, a mauve plastic phallic drinking straw in my bag as a memento of a fine, fine day.