Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Exchange

My mom always tries hard to get Ken and I nice gifts for Christmas.  In fact, her packages are often the only ones we open on Christmas morning.  Ken and I don't buy each other Christmas gifts, or if we do we don't wrap them up all pretty like my mom does.  We  don't exchange gifts with friends or other family either, with the exception of a World Vision gift exchange with a few special people.  So my mom, a Bat Mitzvah-ed Jewish lady, is our Santa Claus.

I have exchanged 99% of all the gifts my mom has ever chosen for me, mainly because she tries to buy me items of fashion without a grasp of my personal style.  For many years, it became a joke among my friends that my mom would always buy me a pink sweater, because she really likes it when I wear pink.  Every pink sweater was traded in for another colour.  Eventually she gave up on pink, but she's still not hitting much closer to the target.

The current problem is that my mom loves "feminine" clothes, which to her means things that are frilly, lacy, pleated, and pouffy.  She gravitates towards styles that would complement a rounded figure.  I am not rounded.  I am a skinny thinnifer made mainly of planes and bones.  My mom picks out sweaters and blouses that I would be happy to wear if I had an ample bosom.  My bosom, while quite satisfactory to me, is decidedly not ample.  Madonna circa 1986 would have looked great in the little top my mother picked out for me.  I didn't even bother to try it on.

Off I went to The Bay to play the exchange game.  I also had Ken's gift sweater with me.  He can't be bothered to browse, so every year he lets me take back his sweater and put it towards something for myself.  It's his little Christmas gift to me.

The Bay carries all the top designer clothing lines.  I spent over an hour wandering through the vast ladies' wear department searching for decent, attractive clothes.  I tell you, there were moments when I almost gave up all hope in that wasteland of expensive garments.

Here are a few of the reasons why none of the clothes appealed to me:
  • Lack of colour.  Grey, black, and purple are trendy at the moment, as I'm sure you've noticed.  95% of all the clothes in the store were grey, black and purple.  Now, I like these colours as much as anyone, but my wardrobe has enough of each.  I don't want to wear variations on the same outfit every day.  Would it kill the designers to add a little variety?
  • Sizing.  I am 5'4", right on the dividing line between normal clothes and petites.  (Contrary to the popular use of the word "petite" to mean frail and delicate, in the clothing industry "petite" just means short.  You can be size 16 petite no problem.)  You would think this would open up both types of clothing to me, but sometimes neither is right.  I tried on petite shirts whose cuffs did not cover my wrists.  The normal shirts' cuffs hung past my knuckles.  *sigh*
  • Extremes.  The clothing was either crazy-trendy or boring as paste.  Very little middle ground there.
I did finally pick out a stylish, serviceable cardigan that will do nicely for work, and a pair of flattering, boot-cut jeans.  The jeans are "distressed", which means that someone in a sweatshop attacked the right thigh and the back pockets with sandpaper.  I think it looks a bit stupid, but it is the trend (I could not find a non-distressed pair of jeans in the stack), and they are otherwise so slammin' hot that I will agree to overlook it.  Not to mention that they are super-comfy.  All in all, although I had to put in some sweat equity, my Christmas gifts turned out well.  Thanks mom!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Giddyup jingle horse, pick up your feet

I got from Santa:  handmade marshmallows, fancy hand cream, a sweater vest (exchange!), an enormous coffee table book on the history of chairs (mom, what were you thinking?), and chest congestion.  *kaf kaf*

I was going to be going to my in-laws' for Christmas day, but thanks to the chest congestion I'm getting a free pass to lie around at home all day.  My father-in-law has been back at chemotherapy treatments lately, so his immune system is down.  It's too bad.  I would have liked to spend time with him.  He's a good guy, and no one knows how many Christmases he has left.

Mostly what I have this Christmas morning is peace and contentedness.  I don't care too much about the details of who gave me what and what exactly I do all day.  It's nice to have a quiet morning with Ken, on the couch, sharing a blanket, listening to our Tegan and Sara albums on shuffle.  He brought me my cough syrup dose in a shot glass.

Last night we attended my grandmother's 90th birthday party.  My grandmother feels sensitive about her age, so no one made a big deal about it.  If my family does one thing well, it's ignoring things, especially important things.  We did the usual dinner-and-cake get-together at my aunt's house.

My uncle, who lives and dies by his technological gadget collection, brought his laptop to show off the latest photographs from the last two family shindigs.  He has an obsession with showing us all every last picture, even the blurry ones, even the ones where we were caught in the middle of saying something or we were just sitting around looking bored.  A lot of the photos have his finger in them, since he can't seem to keep it away from the lens.  My cousin (his daughter), who's 26, started laughing at the ubiquitousness of his finger in all the photos.  "It's like a game or something," she said.  "Instead of 'Where's Waldo?', it's 'Where is Daddy's Finger?'".


*side eye*

It was a historical evening in that we all got to meet my aunt's new boyfriend for the first time.  She's been seeing him for almost a year, I think, but she was afraid to inflict the family on him.  He made a good impression last night.  I'm convinced that he's a nice guy.  Not sure what he thought of us.

So, who wants to play a rousing game of Where is Daddy's Finger?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Generalized Crumbling

My step-dad got old this year.  It wasn't the gradual kind of aging that sneaks up on you.  It was a sudden, drastic change that took us all by surprise.  Last year at this time he was active, fit, tan, galivanting around Florida with his mistress.  This year, everything has reversed.

You may recall that he had some heart trouble, because he had refused to take medication to control his blood pressure.  Fortunately that problem was resolved, however it was only a few weeks after the Heart Attack Scare that he started limping badly and complaining of terrible pain in his leg.

He believed that the pain was a side effect of one of his heart medications, but changing the medication did not resolve the pain.  For a while he feared that he had permanently damaged his leg muscles with the medication - a known potential side effect which causes the muscles to turn into a gross meat jelly. This same side effect may also have indicated permanent damage to his kidneys.  Which lead us to the Nephrology* Scare and fears of being on dialysis for the rest of his life.

*Nephrology is one of my favourite words.  It is not to be confused with phrenology, the false science of determining peoples' mental health by feeling the bumps on their noggin.

Fortunately the Nephrology Scare also turned out to be a false alarm.  His kidneys were fine.  But he was still limping around leaning on a cane for support, and suffering a lot of pain.  At one point I found him shuffling along the hall, trying to carry a cup of hot tea, a sheaf of papers, and a pen in one hand, while balancing with his other hand against the wall.  He looked at me, grinned at the ludicrousness of his condition, and rolled his eyes.  He rolled his eyes so enthusiastically that his whole head rolled around on his neck, which threw him off balance.  He stumbled, and almost fell over, while the stuff he was carrying, including the hot tea, jumped precariously in his hand.  We almost had a situation, like when the baker carrying five delicious cakes falls down the stairs in the last 20 seconds of this Sesame Street video.

He stopped golfing, but otherwise tried to do all his usual stuff, including travelling.  He had just come back from someplace sunny when I saw him again for the first time in weeks.  He had a few days' worth of stubble on his face, a bandage wrapped tightly around his head at brow level, and his scalp was horribly swollen.  He looked like a homeless mushroom man.  When I got closer and saw that his scalp was covered in red blotches, I revised my mental image to a homeless Toad

The story was that he'd had a lesion removed from his scalp.  The dermatologist thought it might be pre-cancerous, so just in case she took out a pretty big patch.  His scalp was swollen up in protest.  He had the tight bandage on to keep the swelling out of his face.  After a couple of days, the bandage had to come off, and the swelling followed the course of gravity.  At that point, I revised my mental image again.  With the folds around his eyes puffed full of fluid, he looked decidedly like a Chow dog.

Let's stop and take stock, shall we?  On the list we now have high blood pressure, a thwarted episode of heart failure, ongoing and unexplained leg pain, a limp so bad that it could actually cause him to fall and injure himself further, and a lesion on his scalp.  He can't work out so he's getting tubby.  And the stress of it all isn't helping either.

Today, the latest news is that he needs a hip replacement.  The leg pain is from degeneration in his hip joint so severe that the bone is crumbling away.  No wonder he can barely walk.  I looked up some information on hip replacements online, and it's not an appealing prospect.  I guess it's better than being a cripple for the rest of his life, but it's going to be a tough road for many months after a major surgery.  I don't know if he's told my mother yet.  I wonder how she's going to feel about starting a second career as his personal nurse.

Nothing we can do but to take it one day at a time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Another Dog Story

Friday night, on my way to a birthday party, on an eastbound College streetcar...

Near the back of the streetcar, a Husky lay across a set of two seats.  The dog's owner was sitting in the next set of seats back, holding the end of a thick leash.  The streetcar was quite full.  People stood in the aisle.  It wasn't long before one of the passengers, a silver-haired woman, demanded that the dog's owner move her dog off the seats.

The dog was persuaded to climb down, and the silver-haired woman took the window seat.  The dog immediately propped her front paws up on the aisle seat to begin affectionately licking the woman's left cheek and ear.  The owner made no effort to restrain her pet.  All of us who were watching the drama unfold in our peripheral vision smiled nervously into our coat collars.  Fortunately the sliver-haired woman smiled too.

Once the dog had had its fill of making friends, I figured I may as well take the aisle seat.  The dog made herself comfortable lying against my foot, which was fine by me. We settled in a cozy lull as the streetcar trundled along.  I mused about how unusual it was to spend time with such a large dog, relative to the condo-sized dogs that dominate my neighbourhood.

At the next stop, a young woman got on with a Great Dane.  BIG dog.  Big, but well trained and perfectly behaved.  It sat quietly by its owner a few feet from the Husky.

The Husky alerted to the new dog, and started showing signs of agitation.  She strained to the end of her leash, and when she couldn't go any further, she started shaking her head and rubbing her nose against the side of my seat, trying to get her muzzle off.

Unable to free herself, she began to yip.  The yipping soon morphed into shrill barking.  Each bark started with a low growl then made a very sharp crescendo.   Every time the Husky barked, my whole body flinched involuntarily.  

The Great Dane rolled her big, blue eyes up nervously to see how her owner was reacting.  The young woman stayed calm.  The Great Dane scooted back as far away from the Husky as possible, then stuck her big, box-like nose behind her owner's back, hiding her face like a shy child.

I thought of The Dog Whisperer, who says that if you want to control a dog, you have to project calm, centred energy.  The Husky's owner had obviously never heard of The Dog Whisperer.  She hissed at the Husky: "Princess!  Shush!"  Princess did not shush.  After a few useless, whispered repetitions, the owner raised her voice.  "Shut up Princess!  Princess, shut UP!"

The Great Dane mournfully peeked out from behind her owner's coat, and then stuck her head back into hiding.  The next eternity sounded like this.



-bbbbrrrrrrrrggggrrrrrrROWF!  ROWF!


And so on and so forth.  Just when I was feeling thoroughly traumatized from all the shouting and barking, Princess and her owner got off the streetcar.  Thank God.  The Great Dane emerged from hiding, but continued to look worried, until her stop came up a few minutes later.  And then all was quiet and good.

I may start carrying a pair of earplugs in my purse.  The don't weigh anything and they would have come in so handy that day, and at many other times.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Librarian's Daughter

When I was a child, my mother was a librarian.  She is still, in an essential, immutable way, a librarian.  To her, books and their contents are the keys to happiness: art; big ideas; small observances of detail; stories of the real world and of the imagination; history; meaning.  Her house is her library.  Hundreds of books of every description line the walls: a lifetime's worth of reading.

She worked at a library that no longer exists.  Like many old buildings in Toronto, it was torn down to make way for condos.  I used to go visit her there sometimes.  We'd hang out with the librarian gang: there was Frank, with the big moustache; Philip, with the bad toupĂ©e; Sonia, with the plummy British accent; and Dipu, who I thought was funny because his name had the word "poo" in it.

During the day, most of the library's customers were senior citizens and mothers with young children.  The moms and kids would go downstairs to the childrens' section, leaving the main floor full of seniors browsing the large print section and leafing through the daily newspapers.  My mother recalls how, in the quiet, you could hear every cough and fart.  She became a connoisseur of the old folks fart sounds.  There were loud blasts, quiet squeaks, and, her favourite, rapid-fire machine-gun-style farts.

One old guy came in once per week to borrow a stack of paperback romance novels for his housebound wife.  He couldn't be bothered to keep track of which titles he had previously borrowed, so he used a colour-coding system.  He'd take books with green spines one week, blue spines the next, then red, then white, and then start back with green again.  I wonder how well that worked for his wife.

All sorts of odd items came back tucked inside returned books.  Once my mother found a knee-high nylon stocking which had been used as a bookmark.  Once, no word of a lie, the bookmark was a banana peel.

When I was twelve, I used to go shelve books in my primary school library rather than go out to recess with the rest of the kids.  I had already learned to feel at home in libraries.  I still have some of the Dewey decimal system memorized.  It comes in handy, occasionally. 

I hope that old-fashioned libraries, ones that smell of musty paper, with stacks full of anachronistic and bizarre books, never completely disappear within my lifetime.  I am born and bred a librarian's daughter.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Random Thoughts About Wealthy Dogs

This weekend I was downtown in the Rich People With Filthy Stinking Gobs of Money shopping area.  Doing my Christmas shopping?  Heavens no.  I stopped in to use the facilities. The Rich People Mall has big, clean, well-ventilated washrooms. 

My favourite thing about the Rich People Mall, besides the loo, is the pedigree dog parade.  This is no special event.  It's just a fact of life that many Rich People have one or two fancy shmancy dogs with them at all times, as living accessories.  These dogs cannot be mistaken for normal dogs.  They are always groomed within an inch of their lives.  The furry ones are as fluffy as giant angora bunnies.  The ones with short, smooth pelts are polished until they fairly shine.  None of them drool, or have crusty bits around their eyes, or have so much as a speck of mud on their paws.  I'm sure they all have minty-fresh breath too, or perhaps their breath smells like cloves and cardamom, or Earl Grey tea.

One little doggie trotted by sporting a giant, puffy afro, such that his entire head was a spherical pom-pom.  It was so comical that I burst out laughing, and didn't fully stop for awhile.  If I worked at one of those doggie salons I don't think I could keep a straight face styling dog hair like that.

Meanwhile, thanks to the internet I have just disovered that the cartoon dog I have always referred to as Afro Dog is officially called Afro Ken.  Fantastic!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

3.5 Miles and 360 Units of Wow

Remember yesterday when I got all shmoopy about how much I love snow?  I stand by that, but the snow did make my commute home into a challenge yesterday.

I waited by the bus stop for close to 15 minutes, watching a bus on the horizon.  It was close enough that it should have pulled up to the stop in 3 minutes.  Instead, it hardly seemed to grow closer at all.  Traffic was literally crawling.  It occurred to me that I could walk faster than the cars.  So, impulsively, I left the growing crowd at the bus stop behind, and started to walk all the way home.

I just checked the route, and Google maps tells me that I walked around 3.5 miles.  One of those miles goes through a ravine.  It's half a mile steeply downhill, and another half mile straight up again.  Initially, I passed cars almost as though they were parked.  I felt triumphant.  But closer to home the bottleneck cleared up, and six buses passed me as I shuffled exhaustedly between stops, feeling somewhat foolish.  By that point, I didn't want to stop and wait for a bus, because surely, if I did, one wouldn't come for half an hour.  I considered jettisoning my heavy purse.  I don't fill it with crap, but the bag itself is heavy because it's made of thick leather and covered in decorative metal grommets. In the end, the purse made it home with me.  I'm glad that I walked all the way - it was a satisfying challenge to conquer - but I think that next time I'll just wait for the stupid bus.

Considering that traffic, I made a point of getting up extra-early this morning so that I could get to my appointment on time.  I was due to attend a technology conference, the type sponsored by vendors who lure you in with muffins and branded pens so that you'll sit through their sales pitch.  Registration was scheduled for between 8:30 and 9:30 am.  I made it out of the house in record time... and arrived at the venue at 8:10 am.  Miraculously, traffic was light.  I had my pick of the muffin tray, which was nice, but in retrospect I would have preferred an extra hour of sleep.

They fed us well, I'll give them that.  Fresh muffins with butter, croissants with strawberry jam, coffee, a selection of teas, a selection of juices - and that was just breakfast.  Lunch was similarly varied and nommish.

It was the coldest conference venue I've ever been to, and that's saying a lot.  I find that conference centres don't bother to run their furnaces, because "it helps to keep the audience awake".  Sure.  Shivering uncontrollably is a great way to ensure that you don't nod off after lunch.

Having been to my share of these refrigerated events, I was prepared.  To tally just one level of clothing, I had on an undershirt, a thick turtleneck, a wool cardigan, and a fleece jacket, and I was still a mite chilly.  It was so cold that the men were complaining.  That may be the first time that I've ever heard men admit, as a group no less, that they were too cold.

The conference organizers requested that the hotel turn on the heat.  There was a dramatic whooshing of vents, followed by a stench that quickly grew to unbearable proportions.  So far as I could tell, the furnaces at that place were powered by burning piles of mouldy cigars.  The reek was worse than the cold, so the furnaces were turned off again and we all lined up for cups of hot tea and coffee at every break.

By the afternoon sessions, I was pretty bored.  Most of the applications being showcased had no relevance to my workplace.  The only reason I stuck around was to be present for a draw at the end of the day.  There were a couple  of half-decent prizes on offer, and enough people were leaving early that there wouldn't be too much competition for them.  I figured it was worth a try.  In any case they might offer cookies for afternoon break.  And they did!  Hurray for cookies!

When the last seminar was finally over, we all trooped into the main hall.  Entry into the draw was via one's folded-up seminar evaluation sheet.  Each person was allowed to fold their paper any way they pleased.  One guy crumpled his into a ball. I went for maximum surface area along with unusual shape: I folded my sheet in half, then rolled it into a tube so it was a bit curly.

The prizes were called one by one.  They had to draw several papers for some of them because the potential winners had already left.  Someone won a Microsoft keyboard.  Whoop de do.  Someone else won a webcam.  The woman beside me whispered "Don't those come built into all computers these days?"  I shrugged.  A couple of other not-very-exciting prizes were called.  Then it was time for the draw everyone had been waiting for: an XBox 360 Kinect.

They called the name: "Sparkling Red".  What!?  Me!  It's me!  I'm here!  Holy cow, I WON A FREAKING XBOX!!!

I ran up to the front waving my arms over my head and yelling "YAAAAAAAY!" like Kermit the Frog.  I was happy, and I figured the sponsors would appreciate a big reaction.  Paparazzi were ready with a video and a still camera, to capture me grinning ear to ear while the company representatives handed over the XBox.  It felt like I was accepting an Oscar.  Pretty freaking awesome, I've got to tell you.  Best and biggest thing I've ever won in my life.  Ken's pretty happy about it too.

My blog is finally living up to its new name.  Adventures in Sparkland, you bet!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fluffy Snow

I like this part of winter, when snow is still a novelty and the roads aren't yet lined with greasy, blackened snowbanks.  I actually enjoy bundling up and going out for a walk  in the fresh, chill air. 

Ken does not share my enthusiasm for winter's wonderland.  We went out to get a little exercise yesterday, but found that we couldn't walk very fast or very far because the sidewalks and side streets were coated with intermittent slicks of ice.  I didn't mind taking baby steps across the frozen patches, and was enjoying the damp, cool wind on my face after hours of hanging around inside.  Ken was miserable.

This morning I had my first taste of a winter commute.  After listening to the satisfying sounds of the condo complex maintenance crew clearing the snow from my walk (I swear I'll never stop appreciating the absence of shovelling in my current lifestyle), I set out to the bus stop at the usual time - and got to work 20 minutes late.  For the past four years I have been able to walk all the way to work.  Snow didn't slow me down much.  Now I'm dependent on the vagaries of traffic.  My 10 minute bus time multiplied by a factor of three.  I hope it's not like that every time it snows.

And yet, despite the inconvenience, I managed to enjoy the ride.  I watched soft, puffy snowflakes drift down onto the bungalow rooftops and evergreen trees.  By the time I alighted from the bus for the second leg of my walk to work, the flakes were so large that it was as if it were snowing little fluffy white kittens and bunnies.  From now on, I hope all of you will work with me to introduce this new phrase into common usage, i.e. "It's snowing kitties and bunnies out there."  Hey, it makes way more sense than "It's raining cats and dogs."  When have you ever seen a cat or dog that resembles a large droplet of water?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Little Things

Last Sunday I went to Yorkdale mall, where I had occasion to visit one of their recently renovated restrooms.  The only free stall was the large one, generally considered to be for people with disabilities.  The brilliant designer of this washroom was the first to materially acknowledge that the large stall in any ladies' room is more commonly used by mothers with young children.  I was surprised and charmed to find that the stall contained two toilets: a regular-sized Momma toilet and a pint-sized Child Toilet.  I'm sure the Yorkdale Mommas are totally tickled by this development.


The Sea Monkeys are still around.  You haven't heard anything more about them because, I'll be blunt here, the novelty has completely worn off.  At this point, the chore of caring for them is not worth the privilege of watching them swim around their tiny tank.  Within the last week I have twice forgotten to aerate them in the morning and put their tank in the location where they can receive indirect sunlight, as per instructions.  They seem to be doing alright, nevertheless.

The colony is six strong.  The seventh Sea Monkey died a while ago.  She was a rusty red when she was alive.  I found her curled up at the bottom of the tank, dead and black as ink.  Creepy, that.  The handbook says not to remove the corpses, because they become a valuable part of the tank ecosystem.  Now when I bubble the water it's like A Weekend at Bernie's, Sea Monkey style.  The little corpse flies around the tank with all the other junk that usually sits on the bottom.  I imagine the other Sea Monkeys say to each other "Look, she's swimming again!  Ever since she dyed her shell black, she's gone all emo and reclusive.  What a weirdo."

Anyhoo, fear not for the Sea Monkeys.  They have already found an adoptive home.  One of my coworkers kept Sea Monkeys for her kids.  The colony lasted for a year and a half, but eventually they all died.  The kids are sad and miss their shrimpy friends.  All I need to do is find a way of transporting the tank to work without spilling it, and my coworker will take it home.  I know it's a good home to send them to, as I gave that same coworker a plant a few years ago.  I get regular reports on how healthy it is and how big it's grown.  Everyone else I've ever given plants to has killed them.  Never outright murder, but I bet I could convince a jury that it was at least first degree plant-slaughter.