Wednesday, June 29, 2011


My friend Val the Bingo Queen showed up at my office door the other day (she works at the business next door) looking pained.  Like the responsible woman she is, she had gone for her annual medical checkup.  Her health would have been better served by skipping it.  This is not on account of any malfeasance on the part of the doctor.

On her way back to the parking lot after the appointment, she was run down by a teenager on a skateboard.  He slammed into her, paused long enough to watch her fall hard, face-first onto the street, and then sped off before anyone could react.

She skinned and bruised her knees and one elbow.  The only reason her right hand was saved was that she was holding her lighter and it acted as a shield when she caught her weight on that palm.  She showed me the deep scratches and scrapes in the plastic.  Therefore: going for your annual medical exam can be dangerous; but smoking can prevent serious bodily injury.

Val is in her mid-40's.  This type of body-slam isn't something she's going to recover from in a day or two.  The impact also threw out her neck, which is glitchy from a previous car accident.  I wish there were some way of showing that kid the serious consequences of his carelessness and selfishness.  I hope he feels really guilty.  There's every chance that he doesn't care at all.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Les Pearls

Some of you asked to see the pearls that Ken gave to me on our second anniversary.  That was two months ago, but I didn't forget!  I just took my sweet time.   Finally, Les Pearls, in all their glossy glory.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Open/Closed UPDATED

I worked things out with my boss.  Turns out he didn't realize that I was using up vacation days to cover my week off.  He thought that I was somehow cheating the system by taking off an extra week's worth of paid sick days that I wasn't entitled to.  Where he got that bizarre idea is beyond me.  However, it's resolved now, and my boss seems happy again.

Last night I cleaned all the remaining wheaty treats out of my pantry.  I ate a mini egg roll at a party, figuring that the amount of wheat flour in the wrapper would be minimal, and therefore a not-too-risky test of my tolerance.  I'm still intolerant.  I guess I'll try again in a few months to see if anything changes, but for now I'm taking a moment to say a sad fare-ye-well to birthday cakes and toasted bagels.  Until we meet again, if ever.**

*Respectful moment of silence*

Speaking of silence, [this is a vain attempt to segue gracefully into my main topic] lately I've been questioning how much of myself I want to reveal to others.  How much of my feelings are my business, to be dealt with in solitude by me alone, and how much do I want to share with friends and family?  I'm never sure if I'm sharing too much or too little.

There's the solo meditation or prayerful approach vs. the group therapy get-it-off-your-chest approach.  Realistically no one is totally private or totally open.  The question is getting the mix right.  Taking time alone to work things out internally is often helpful.  On the other hand, sometimes you get so stuck in a rut that you need a friend to pull you out.

Sharing personal things with other people is like gambling.  Some times I'm happy that I shared my troubles, because the person I chose to trust listens and provides sympathy and insight.  Other times, that person may not be in the  mood for sympathy, because they're dealing with their own problems, or they're tired, or I'm not expressing myself well and they don't get what the heck the actual problem is.   Obviously no one can be 100% supportive at all times.  Am I always in the mood to provide therapeutic listening to people in need?  Surely not.

So what should I do when I feel that almost irresistible inner pressure to open my mouth and ask for a shoulder to cry on?  Should I journal about it until I feel I can continue on my lonely/independent way with composure once again?  Or should I make myself vulerable, reveal all my most foolish fears, break out of isolation, and risk being brushed off or told to smarten up?  (My family and friends often surprise me with how insightful, supportive, and sympathetic they can be.  But it's kind of a 50-50 split between that and making things worse.)

I'm not even sure that it's a conscious choice.  Sometimes the inner pressure wins and the words starting coming out of my mouth before I've actually thought it through.  It's such a messy business.  I assume this is what being grown up is all about: trying to keep your socks pulled up and your lip buttoned as appropriate.  Group therapy never did all that much for me anyway, except to convince me that other people are always unreliable.

My last point is that one of the primary goals of my life is to be, as much as possible, a cheerful and reassuring person.  There have been times in my life when I'm out of sorts and someone, sometimes a total stranger, comes into my presence and conducts themselves with such self-possession that I feel better just from standing next to them or receiving one friendly smile.  I would like to be that person in other peoples' lives, if at all possible.

How do you strike the balance between revealing your vulnerabilities and being a steadfast grownup?

**Ken has just told me that the wrappers on those spring rolls were made of rice flour.  Therefore, I was reacting to some other allergen at the work-related party I attended, possibly all the lawyers.  Or more likely my friend's cigarette smoke.  This is great news, because it means I get another chance at wheat!  There is hope!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Riding the See Saw of Life

There have been some ups and downs in the past week.

Up:  I got well in time to participate in two Father's Day celebrations.  I even managed to show up bearing appropriate cards and gifts.  Go me!

Down:  One of my bosses decided to call me at home on Friday evening (after I'd been off sick all week) to tell me that since I was almost never at work anymore he was considering permanently cutting my hours.  Er, say what?  I have only used up slightly more than half of the paid sick days and vacation days I'm allowed this year.  Not only that, but our company has a de facto policy of allowing trusted employees unpaid leave as needed for personal illness, family illness, appointments, or extended vacations.

I was very upset.  No one else's attendance is scrutinized by this boss.  Not only that, but during my past week off I spent as much time as I needed to working from home via computer and telephone, making sure everything was running like clockwork.  The assistant manager did an A-1 job of covering for me.  There was truly nothing to complain about.

On Monday morning I gathered all documentation relating to my attendance, packaged it up with the company policies showing how many days off I'm entitled to, and left it all on his desk.  I know he came in and picked it up, but I haven't heard back from him at all yet.  I'm thinking I deserve a solid apology next time he talks to me.  We'll see.  Maybe he was just having a bad day and needed someone to freak out at, and I got in the line of fire.  It would not be an excuse for his accusations, but at least then I'd know not to take it personally.

Up:  That employee that I thought I might have to fire?  It looks like she might work out after all.  Thanks to my painstaking facilitation, the communication problems that were causing all the trouble seem to be getting resolved. *pats self on back*

Down:  Our car is dying.   Poor old car.  We're not sure if we're going to get a new one or if we're going to baby the old one along with an expensive clutch transplant.  We'll see.

Up:  It's summer and it's gorgeous out!  All I have to do is go outside for 3 minutes to feel completely cheered up no matter what else is going on.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Forgive Me

Generally speaking I do not to use this blog to rant about people who aren't here to defend themselves. However, every once in a while I need to make an exception.  Today I am giving myself permission.

I don't know what to do with my mother.  I just don't.  Maybe you folks, with the benefit of perspective, will have some helpful advice for me.

My mother is a complainer.  The glass is always half-empty.  If things are going well, she uses the time to worry about the future.  The truth is that she has been through a lot of very painful experiences in her life.  No doubt.  But who hasn't?

I know that my mother is doing the best that she can.  She seems to be wired to worry and fuss.  She fights every change in her life at every step of the way, even the good ones.  And I get stuck trying to soothe her.  We have these conversations during which sometimes I don't reply to what she has said, because if I can't think of anything nice to say, I don't say anything at all.  If I said what I was actually thinking, it would offend her and give her one more thing to worry and complain about.  It's a vicious circle.

Example:  When I was a kid, I grew up in a lovely neighbourhood.  My street was lined with old trees. The houses were small, detached 3-bedroom, 2-story homes with large front and back yards.  Our house was adorable.  There was a front porch to sit on during the summer, and a back deck for family BBQ's.  It was a sweet little house.  We may have shopped in thrift stores for clothes sometimes, but we always had food on the table and the house was clean and in good repair.

I never heard the end of complaints by my mother about that house.  She said it was too small.  She called it a "starter home" and coveted the mansions a few blocks north of us.  Even at my tender age, I knew enough to be grateful for the cozy roof over my head.  I loved my room.  I found it embarrassing that my mother thought our house wasn't good enough for her.

Fast-forward to today.  My childhood home is getting on in years.  It is in need of some major repairs, but my folks are not inclined  to live through another renovation.  My step-dad wanted more and bigger windows because he gets SAD in the winter if there's not enough sunlight.  So he talked my mother into going house-hunting, and after almost a year of not agreeing on anything they saw, they actually bought a new house.

This house is an almost brand-new, large four-bedroom home with a finished basement.  It's in that fancy neighbourhood to the north of the old house.  It cost a pretty penny.  In other words, she finally got that mansion she'd been whining about for my entire childhood.  Hurray for her!  Glory day!  Congratulations!

Except now she's complaining about having to move.  Suddenly she can hardly bear to be parted from the old house.  All the memories!  The beautiful yard!  How can she leave it?  Of course the staging process will be a nightmare, and moving will be stressful, etc.  There will be no end of things to complain about.  No mention of Thank Goodness my step-dad can afford to pay for a service to do all the actual packing so she doesn't have to do it herself.  Of course not.

Last night I was at home (where else?  I've been stuck here all week) making the best of things.  I got comfy on the sofa and found some free old movies to download from YouTube.  I was feeling pretty good psychologically, if not physically on top of the world.  The phone rang.  It was my mother.

She was calling to check in on me, although within the first two sentences we had gone from her expressing concern for my health to her worrying about my stepdad and whether or not he's going demented.  She's been worrying that he's losing his marbles since he turned 40.  I have listened to this idle speculation for years.  To this, I refused to make any answer.  I wasn't going to get sucked in.

But she did get me with her moving stress.  I thought I'd better play the good daughter, and before long I found myself reciting some inspirational story from the learning channel about a kid who overcame gross physical disabilities, just to try to give her some perspective on her troubles.  The thing is, this tactic only works for 5 minutes or so.  She is never able to hang on to any type of perspective for long.  It's always Oh Dear and Poor Me and I don't know what to say to her anymore.

I'm certain that she doesn't even realize what she's doing.  I know she makes a conscious effort not to complain to me, and sometimes it works, although when she's exercising that much restraint, our conversation is stilted.  And when she's just being herself I don't know what to say anymore. Honestly, these days I have enough of a job keeping my own chin up.  I don't feel that I should be called upon to comfort my mother, whose big problem is that she'll be moving into the mansion of her dreams in a few months.

Yes, moving is stressful, I grant that, and I have some sympathy for her.  If only she could put her complaints within an overall context of at least a little gratitude.  It's the total focus on all the negatives that really drains my patience.

My mother appreciates some things, like good books, CBC radio, works of art, music, and hearty home-made food.  Those things make her happy.  It's not like she's never ever got a smile on her face. Walk her through a historical building or take her to a musical play and she'll be thrilled. But seriously.  When it comes to the rest of life, I don't know what to say to her anymore.  I just don't have the resources to prop her up.

I should add that I almost never call my mother for help with anything.  She's not good at being the strong one.  If I have a problem I'll just end up reassuring her that I'll be fine so she won't worry about me.  The propping up only goes one way.

I can't tell her to F off.  She's my mother.  I can't not care about her.  I don't want to be mean or crush her tender feelings.  Does anyone have any ideas about what to do?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Life is Like a Fairy Tale

As I suspected: avoiding wheat has not solved all my problems.  Not even all my health problems.  That would've been too easy, right?

Some people believe that each of us has one essential myth that rules our lives.  For some it is the quest, like in Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.  Me?  I'm the girl from The Princess and the Pea.  It's official: I am a real princess!  I swear I could feel that pea through twenty mattresses and twenty eider-down beds.

What assaults have been visited upon my delicate person?  The weather changed by more than 10 degrees Celsius between one day and the next, when we went from a muggy heat wave to nice fresh weather after the storm.  Such temperature swings have proven to be a consistent stress factor.

Then I stayed out until midnight on Friday after a full work week to see my sister perform in a play.  She was brilliant!  Girl, I am so proud of you!! :-D  And I truly did intend leave work early so that I could go home and take a nap.  But one of my staff called in sick two days in a row, and things started stacking up, and the assistant manager had to take her kid to an orthodontist appointment... You get the picture.

I pushed through it all and thought I did OK.

I woke up on Saturday morning with the invisible ankle weights on.  However, after a hard work week I felt the need to get out of my house and enjoy life.  I was only a little tempted to spend all day on the couch.  Ken and I went down to the lake where we enjoyed a wonderful walk by the water's edge.

We saw cool boats and interesting birds and cute dogs.  There was a wedding party photo shoot in one of the parks.  We stopped to look in the public art gallery and watched a glassblower at work in the open studio.  We went into a shop by the docks crammed with marine paraphernalia for boat owners.  There were deck scrubbers and big yellow rain-hats, Canadian flags and skull-and-cross-bones flags, sailor's blue-and-white striped jerseys imported from France, and dozens of different types of rope on huge spools.

We picked our way through an antique store that looked like a giant, dusty garage sale.  Ken's theory was that it was set up to encourage browsers to break things, because that was the only way the owner would convince anyone to pay for the chipped china plates and grubby wineglasses.

We walked around for hours.  I lost track of time and forgot that I was tired.  I did wonder why there were so many people out in shorts and T-shirts while I was bundled up in a sweater, hat, and windbreaker.  I figured they were so desperate for summer that they were all indulging in wishful dressing.  Actually by then I was probably already starting to run a fever, which explains why I was the only one feeling chilly.

I do not regret that walk, or the play, or staying out late, or living my life to enjoy it.  Sometimes I wonder if I'll be half-dead before my doctor figures out that there's something seriously wrong with me.  If I might die young then I want to enjoy everything now.  If I might become progressively more disabled, I'm going to get out and enjoy my outdoor walks, and my fun adventures while I can still have them.  I mean, I'm not utterly convinced that I'm doomed, but it's starting to seem like it's within the realm of possibility. I'd feel awfully stupid if I devoted all of my energy to the office and then found out later that I had no energy left for anything else.

Hope for the best and prepare for the worst; isn't that what they say?

So there you are.  I was feverish and exhausted yesterday.  I cancelled my in-person plans with my girlfriend and we had a phone chat instead.  This morning I felt even worse, but now I'm starting to feel better.  Not sure if I'll be back to work tomorrow.  We'll see what happens overnight.

I have been avoiding wheat all along.  I haven't been tempted to try it again.  Life's tricky enough without taking another risk.  When I'm feeling well enough I'm going to make my re-wheat trial a conscious choice, in case it does make me feel like crap again.  I'm going to get a really delicious cupcake.  I can think of a specific one I want.  I know exactly where I'm going to go to get it, and I plan on enjoying every bite.  I'll definitely let you know how it goes, when I'm bold enough to give it a try.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Storm

Last Wednesday I left work at 6:00 pm.  The sun was shining and I thought I might have to stop and buy a bottle of water along the way, because it was over 88 degrees out and smotheringly humid.  Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long for a bus.

The first bus that came along was an old dinosaur.  I knew there was a chance that it was a Hot Bus, but I got on anyway.  It was the wrong decision.  There is a certain type of ancient bus that the TTC runs along my route which seems to have the radiators set perpetually to "Bake".  It's like sitting in a kiln.  Last winter I got stuck on a crowded Hot Bus in many layers of clothing, including a wool sweater and parka (because it was a freaking freezer outside) and I literally almost fainted.  We were stuck in traffic just outside the station, so I couldn't just get off the bus.  It was horrible.  Ever since then I have been very wary of Hot Buses, and normally just wait for the next one.  But I was late already, so I got on and hoped for the best.

The weather reports stated that it was 104 degrees outside with the humidex.  Well it was probably 125 degrees inside that bus.  I knew as soon as I got on that it was a mistake.  I got off at the very next stop to wait for the next bus.  You'd think this wouldn't make much of a difference.  However, I was getting deeper into trouble.

The stop where I had boarded the Hot Bus is at a main intersection.  Lots of buses run along the perpendicular main street, and therefore there is always a crowd of people waiting at that stop.  Sometimes the buses get so crammed that they skip the next few stops until some people get off, to make room for more people to get on.  I was now waiting at the very next stop, which meant there was a high probability of full buses whizzing past at high speed.

The other problem was that it was now a few minutes past 6pm, which meant we were into the Bus Doldrums.  This happens twice a day, at a little after 9am and a little after 6pm.  On a busy route where the buses are officially supposed to show up every 5 to 7 minutes, there can be a gap as long as 20 minutes between buses as the rush hour shift ends and the remaining drivers all go on break.  What tends to happen, especially near the station where I'll be waiting if I hit the 9am lull, is that several dozen Out Of Service buses roar past, blowing your hair back, until it seems that every bus in the city is giving you the finger and you will never, ever get to your destination. They will find a pile of bleached bones at in a neat little pile by the bus stop, and will need to identify you from dental records.  I hate the Bus Doldrums.

So basically I was screwed.  I decided to be stoic about it. I called Ken to let him know I'd be home eventually, not to worry.  While I was on my cell phone a cab passed the bus stop.  If I hadn't been in the middle of that phone call I would have hailed it, but I was distracted.  I thought: there will be more cabs.  I'll tell you right now: that was the last cab I saw pass that bus stop.

The bright blue sky blurred over with a haze of wispy clouds, which quickly joined forces to become a white cotton ceiling.  Then it started slowly darkening, from greyish-white to grey to ominous thunderheads.  Fat drops started falling slowly, here and there.  I and the handful of other people waiting with me backed into the bus shelter.  As the drops starting falling faster, a full bus roared past.  Ten minutes later, when some serious rain started falling, another bus also showed us its taillights.  Then there were three fake-outs in a row: buses from another route that wouldn't take me closer to home.

After 40 minutes of waiting, the right bus finally came along and let us on.  By then it was raining steadily, and the cloud cover was still heavy.  We drove past an LED sign that gave the temperature as 88 degrees.  At this point I noticed a huge, coal-black storm cloud taking over the north east part of the sky.  Within a few minutes the remaining light faded and the wind picked up.  Trees on both sides of the street leaned over and flashed the silver bottoms of their leaves.  Five minutes later we passed another LED sign.  By this time it was dark as night out.  The temperature was 72 degrees.  The wind was whipping the world outside into a crazy furor; I couldn't tell if the hammering on the roof of the bus was rain or hail; and I wondered to myself if I would make it home alive.

Fortunately we made it into the transit station.  I went downstairs to the underground plaza, just above the train, and hid out there for a while.  I found a position from which I could look up three flights of stairs to an open square of sky.  It was green.  Alternately it flashed lemon-yellow (sheet lightening) and lilac with electric-pink (fork lightening).  The lightening strikes, especially the fork lightening, came thick and fast.  We were nowhere near the centre of the storm.  This was evident from the delayed and muffled thunder.  I wondered where all that lightening was striking.  I learned later that several houses in Vaughan were struck.  The lightening set the houses on fire and burned them to the ground.  I'm surprised there wasn't nothing but a smoking crater left of that whole neighbourhood.

There's a taxi stand at the transit station, but not right by the exit, oh no.  It's around half a block away.  I waited for an interval of lighter rain within the torrential downpour, and finally got up the nerve to sprint for a cab.  I got home alive and only slightly damp at 7:30 pm.

Ken was glad to see me home safe.  The sky was still green, but do you know what he did?  He went outside, turned on the BBQ and made salmon fillets for dinner.  And clams.  Did you know you can cook clams on your BBQ?  In the middle of an epic thunderstorm?  Well you can, if your building complex provides good shelter from the winds and a convenient overhang from the upstairs' neighbours' balcony.

As a footnote, apparently there had been golf-ball-sized hail only a few miles from my bus route.  I'm not sorry I missed that.  The rest of the storm was more than enough excitement for one day.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Eaties for My Wheaties

The good news is that I'm feeling better.  Energy: 9/10.  Yay!  The bad news is: I figured out that not eating wheat is making me feel better.  Wait, isn't that good news?  OK, the figuring it out part is good.  The "stop eating wheat" part is bad.  I'm not yet sure whether this is a permanent stoppage or only a phase.  Either way, I have never craved cookies, cake, and warm, crunchy toast with butter like I have since I learned I mustn't eat them. 

(Well for heaven's sake at least I'm not celiac.  Oats and barley are still on the menu.  Colour me odd, but I love oats and barley.  I may have been a horse in a previous life.)

Skip this paragraph if you do not want the symptomatic details.  It's not horribly gross.  Nothing to do with guts or things that happen in the bathroom.  Basically, every time I ate wheat last week I noticed that my upper chest started to feel full and achey within 20 minutes.  Over the next couple of hours I felt tired and achey all over, as if I had a mild flu.  The muscles from my neck and shoulders all the way to my lower back tensed up, painfully in some spots.  The aching and fluey feeling would carry on until I had coughed up a bunch of clear phlegm.  The fatigue and muscle spasms took over 24 hours to clear up after the last dose of wheat.

I have never before noticed such a clear correalation between eating wheat and feeling like crap.  Either this is a new development, or it's something that's been a problem all along which finally got to the point where I could no longer fail to notice it.  I did not expect to bounce back so quickly from my latest bout of fatigue.  Honestly, I feel surprisingly great.  It's pretty amazing.

I'm going to stay totally wheat-free for at least a whole week, and then I'm going to try it again to see what happens. I am still hoping that I don't have to give up cupcakes and bagels forever.  But if I do, then I do.  There will be some sighing and wistful staring into bakery windows, but I'll do it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Paperless Bees

The big debate in my workplace right now is about going paperless.  Do we want to do it?  If so, is this the right time?  These simple questions do not have simple answers.

The business I work for provides space, equipment, office supplies, and staffing for over a dozen professionals.  Each one is a private contractor, not an employee of the business, so the business owners can't dictate working conditions outright.  On the other hand, all the professionals are motivated to embrace anything which might make their practice more efficient.  Will going digital truly be more efficient?

My consultant quoted a professional in the industry who has already gone through this process.  He said:  "It's not easier, but it's better."  That is a pithy quote, but it doesn't help this office make the decision.  Do any of you out there have experience with computerized offices, especially the transition to such a system?  I would love to get your feedback.


For those of you who couldn't care less about paperless office transitions, here is an alternate topic: giant bees.  I am told by Ken that these are carpenter bees, so-called because they chew through wood to build their hives in buildings and presumably trees.  The ones I've seen around here are at least an inch long and wear yellow, fuzzy vests, unlike the photo I linked to (which I picked for the sheer impressive size of the bee).

My first encounter with a giant bee was outside the grocery store on the first warm day of spring.  The bee was hovering and bobbing in place at around waist level.  It appeared to be completely lost and confused.  I stopped to stare at it, because I'm not scared of bees and I was fascinated by it's redonkulous size.  After a little while it flew five feet to the left, made an approximate figure eight, and flew back to hover in front of me some more.  "Bee, go find some flowers!" I told it. 

When I came out of the store it was gone. 

Later that same weekend Ken and I went for a walk in Earl Bales park.  On our way from the parking lot to the trail, we passed a wooden building.   A group of giant bees were hanging out by this building,  swooping around uselessly.  Ken was alarmed and gave them a wide berth.  Having already experienced the apathetic personality of one giant bee, I figured if I didn't bother them, they wouldn't bother me.  I walked straight through their turf.  I was either right or lucky.

Later that evening we went for dinner on a patio partially sheltered by sliding glass doors.  A pair of bees showed up.  They must have liked the looks of my sweet potato fries, because they started trying to fly through the glass right next to my face.  Clunk, clunk, clunk, went their dumb little heads on the glass.  If they had moved five inches east they could have flown in through a space between the glass doors, but they couldn't figure that out.

Later on one bee did make it's way in, and promptly started trying to fly out through the same window, right next to me.  Clunk, clunk, clunk.  We had to comandeer an empty drinking glass and a spare menu to capture the bee and release it outside.

If you have any interest in viewing these freakish bees, head up to North York, and soon.  If Darwin's theory is correct, they are too stupid to live, and should be going extinct pretty soon.