Wednesday, December 30, 2009


It's a shame that cats aren't welcome to roam freely in Toronto anymore. Back in the day, when I had a half-hour walk to school, I used to have a route with stops, like a bus, except I stopped to say hello to cats. Young cats on the prowl, old cats napping in a puddle of sun. They were all reliable friends to me, back in the days when I was lonely and in need of friendship.

These days it's a lot less common to see a cat outside, at least in any upscale neighbourhood. I understand why. Gardeners don't take kindly to cats crapping in their flowerbeds. People who put out bird feeders don't want to see their wee birdie friends massacred. Not to mention that cat owners don't want to see their pets run over by local traffic. So the cats stay cooped up inside, for the most part, and lose their minds.

My first cat was an outdoor cat. She would go out to survey the neighbourhood even on the coldest winter nights. She had her territory to explore and defend. She was also mentally the healthiest cat I've ever known.

All the indoor cats that I've met and cared for, much as I've loved them, have been neurotic, restless, and destructive. They go looking for trouble when they're bored, uprooting houseplants; chewing and clawing their humans' valued possessions; and eating things that aren't meant to be eaten. Instead of maturing into lithe, self-possessed mini-kings of the jungle, they grow up to be fat, whiny babies.

Take Shadow, for example, cat of my first serious boyfriend. That big, dumb lug would eat anything he could fit in his loud mouth. Don't get me wrong - I loved that silly furball. He was very affectionate, generous with the purring. But he didn't have an ounce of sense.

One of his weaknesses was curling ribbon. You couldn't leave an inch of the stuff anywhere around him, or he'd gulp it down like a long spaghetti noodle as soon as your back was turned.

One time, just before Christmas, I used my key to let myself into my boyfriend's apartment. I noticed two things. 1) Shadow did not show up immediately to greet me, as usual. 2) The apartment didn't smell very nice.

I called for Shadow. I heard him answer, a little whimper from a corner somewhere. Then I hear his paws on the hardwood, approaching, gaining speed, and finally running past me in a panic. I could see why. "Something" was chasing him. That something was attached to his derriere. The faster he ran, the faster he heard it coming behind him. Terrifying to his tiny, primitive brain.

After some chasing of my own, I finally pinned him down for an examination. The problem: a length of gold curling ribbon, still curly and bouncing, was hanging from his anus. It was itself "decorated". With poop. In between the poop bits, the gold ribbon glinted in the light. It was... mesmerizing.

That was memorable, but Shadow hadn't shown us everything yet. Several years later, when he was well into his senior years, he fell ill. He prowled the apartment for days, howling, refusing food, straining in the litter box unsuccessfully. At this point he was living with my boyfriend's mother. She made a vet appointment, but the problem resolved itself.

Shadow pooped an entire Bounce scented dryer sheet into the litterbox.

That's impressive in itself, but really. Think of it. How did he manage to eat that sonofagun in the first place? How would you like to gulp down an entire twin-size bedsheet, soaked in cologne? Let alone pass it through your gut, and then your butt. No wonder he was crying.

In the end Shadow passed away of natural causes. His cast-iron digestive tract survived all the punishment that he dished out.

There have been other dumb cats in my life, but Shadow is king in my books. God rest his stupid, snuggly soul. I miss him tremendously, and if I could have him back, even if it meant more chewed gifts and poop cleanups, I'd do it all over again.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Birthmas Parties

Every year, my Holiday Season is more about birthdays than Christmas, which makes sense when you consider that Christmas is itself a birthday celebration.

The evening of December 24th found me at my aunt's house for my grandmother's 89th birthday party. As my rickety old grandparents finished stamping the snow off their shoes and made their way into the living room, my aunt called me into the kitchen.

"I've been drinking," she told me conspiratorially, as she sauteed a panful of sliced mushrooms. "I've had a few glasses of white wine."

"Good!" I told her. "That's an excellent idea."

My aunt is one of the most wound up, anxious people you could meet even at the best of times. When she's hosting a family dinner, she's off the charts. Imagine a squirrel who's been nibbling espresso beans.

"Why aren't these mushrooms browning!?" my aunt yelled, in a slightly-drunky voice. "They're just sitting here in the pan!"

"Don't worry," I told her. "Just give them time to release all their water. They'll brown."

"I've had a few glasses of wine," whispered my aunt.

Believe it or not, it was the best dinner she has ever cooked. By a long shot. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that my youngest aunt's dinners are usually inedible. There's always something that's still frozen in the middle, or carbonized on the bottom. Her sauces turn to slime, her cakes fall, and she always forgets who's allergic to what so there's usually someone at the table (often me) who makes do with a tossed salad while everyone else has a hot entree. Given my aunt's track record with cooking, it's usually a mercy to be excused from the entree.

But on Christmas Eve, my aunt outdid herself. She made salmon filets which were cooked and seasoned to absolute perfection. The mushrooms did brown. The green beans were good. And everyone was able to eat everything.

I sat next to my Buby, the birthday girl. After dinner, she pulled out a plastic baggie full of little envelopes. Each envelope had a name on it, written in my Buby's award-winning calligraphy, in shiny gold ink. Around the names were little flower-blossom stickers.

"Hannukah gelt for everyone!" she said, passing them out. "Gelt" is Yiddish for money. Usually just kids get Hannukah gelt, but I guess when you're turning 89, everyone's a kid. Inside each envelope was a 20-dollar bill.

Then we gave Buby her birthday presents. After she unwrapped the first parcel, she leaned down and dug in her purse. Turning to me with worry in her face, she asked

"Have you seen a baggie of envelopes? I can't find my envelopes."

"Buby, you gave them to us already."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

She unwrapped the second gift. Then she went digging in her purse again.

"Where did I put those envelopes?"

She went searching for those envelopes three times after she'd already passed them out. She's also been asking more than one of her daughters to fetch her the same items from her shopping list, so that my mother will arrive with milk, bread, and fresh chicken, only to find that one of her sisters has just stocked up the fridge with those same items half an hour ago. They really shouldn't be living on their own anymore. They are seriously losing their marbles.

My youngest aunt (who hosted the party) told me that she has to go over every few days now to set out my Zaidy's medications. My Buby almost killed him by forgetting which pills he'd taken and which he hadn't, a few weeks ago.

They refuse to get live-in help. They refuse to move to a supervised facility. They are living alone in a house with stairs, doing their own cooking. It's only a matter of time before there's some kind of terrible accident. The three daughters don't know what to do. God knows, when it's time for me to take care of my own parents, I'm going to be a bully if I have to, to keep them safe. I say as much as I can in this situation, but in the end it's up to my mum and her sisters. I just hope that they don't end up with long-lasting regrets.

Worrying won't help, so I don't worry.


As for my Christmas Miracle Dinner, it was lovely. My father, step-mum and sister made a fabulous meal. The house was cozy and festive; the tree in one corner festooned with lights, sheltering a litter of gifts. It was both surreal and completely natural to have everyone sitting around the table together, chatting and enjoying themselves. I couldn't have asked for more.

Monday, December 21, 2009

How It Went

Hi y'all!

Thank you so much for all your encouraging comments! I really feel your support, and it gives me strength.

The service went well. I was a little nervous at the beginning, but with the whole congregation singing along with the familiar carols, I didn't get any sense of being scrutinized or judged. I didn't sing perfectly, but I sang well enough, and more importantly I had a great time. There was a tangible sense of togetherness in the church, more so than during any regular service, and it was sweet. Afterwards, several people came up to give me hugs and encouragement, including my mum, who says she was bursting her buttons with pride.

I feel happy again just thinking of it. :-)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Soloist

Usually, when I sing onstage at church, three women sing with me. Or rather, I sing with them. I'm the weakest voice on the team. We have one very confident singer with a good range, one who harmonizes, and one stellar soprano. Then there's me. If I'm really warmed up I can reach most of the high notes, but sometimes I quaver, and if the song moves a lot between high and low notes my voice tends to wobble "in the break". Yeah. So usually I let my voice fill in as background texture, while the other lead.

Of the three other women:
1) One is going to go into labour any second now,
2) One just lost her mother-in-law yesterday,
3) One is sick.

So guess who's singing tomorrow, in front of what will likely be a very full church? Full because the Sunday School children are doing their pageant tomorrow, so everyone will be bringing extra relatives, friends, and video cameras?

Oh, you guys are so smart! I knew you'd get the answer.

I won't be totally alone. But the other guy onstage is... a guy. So I can't hide behind his voice. I'll be exposed for everyone to hear. Fortunately my mother is attending the service, so I can count on there being one person who's thrilled to be my audience. As for the rest, well, what are they going to do? Fire me? If they don't like my best effort, they can come up and take my place.

In other news of things Christmasy, I went to a fabulous dinner party on Thursday night. My friend works for a very upscale retailer located in Toronto's Yorkville district. That's the downtown area where all the richest people in the city, and all the most loaded tourists, go to shop, eat, see, and be seen. In the summertime, wealthy, middle-age men cruise their mid-life crisis show-off cars up and down the narrow, boutique-lined streets.

My friend's employer has an annual Christmas party, and my friend invited me to be her date.

We ate a very fancy, multi-course dinner in the private function room of an uber-swanky restaurant. We downed delicassies such as braised octopus, gorgozola polenta, aged steak, and tiramisu. Wine flowed more freely than water. I ended up chatting with one of the two owners of the retail establishment, a 50-year-old Hong-Kong-born Chinese man, very cultured, accomplished, and, I assume, richer than sin. We were also surrounded by the Fashion People, so pretty, shiny, and charming that I felt as though I must be living in a TV show. It was slightly overwhelming, but whenever I found myself at a loss for words I simply dug deeper into my mushroom risotto or whatever splendid dish was before me at that moment, and sipped more wine. My anxieties floated away on a gentle, Italian-flavoured river of hedonism.

At the end of the evening my girlfriend declared that I'd been an excellent date. Then she went off, hopefully to end the night by licking the face of a particular co-worker. I've yet to follow up with her to see if that was successful.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Oops, I did it again.

Why the sudden obsession with cowboy boots? I can't rationally explain it. I never thought I'd be a urban cowgirl. But there's something about a good pair of boots. They're sleek, streamlined, and fun. Maybe it's because I don't drive. Instead of hot cars, I go for the pedestrian equivalent.

They were on sale, and my Christmas bonus was looking for a reason to live. That's my explanation.

Things are pretty busy here in my neck of the woods. Work has been threatening to overwhelm me. I'm working on projects that have me e-mailing brainstorms to myself from home on the weekend because I can't stop running all the scenarios through my head. My anxiety has been active. But this morning I put my foot down. My bare, just-out-of-bed foot. I declared:

"Not one more day of this nonsense! I am not going to be ruled by fear!"

I kicked fear out of my head and it hasn't crept back yet. So there.

For fun, I've been practicing Christmas carols with my church group. We're singing onstage next Sunday. I know more than half the tunes already, having grown up in a traditional Christian neighbourhood. As for the rest, well, the sheet music is in the hymnal. Good thing I can more or less read it.

One thing I've noticed is that the carols have a heck of a range. I've been working on hitting higher notes, with warm-up exercises and other techniques, but wow. I can't make those sounds. It's like, dog whistle high. Fortunately there's a girl I sing with who's a true soprano. She could crack a wine glass, given the chance. So I drop down an octave and let her sing the high parts solo.

Other than that, the purpose of my days has been to spend as much time as possible indoors. The chill, the damp, the dark: only serve to make my cozy home seem ever more inviting. A friend has invited me to be her date at her work Christmas party. It's happening on Thursday, when the temperature is supposed to drop to new lows. I wonder how my new wool dress will look over blue long johns and Baffin snowboots? Heck, if Uggs are considered fashionable, I should be able to get away with it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Christmas Miracle

Technically, I'm not doing anything special to prepare for Christmas this year. I'm not doing extensive shopping, putting up a tree, or hosting any parties. I've already ordered all my gifts via World Vision's charitable gift catalogue. I'll be working between Christmas and New Year's Eve so that my assistant, who has young children, can take the time off.

But this Christmas may well be the most important Christmas of my life. More important than the first time I decorated a Christmas tree, when I was 16. More important than my first Christmas away from home. Even more important than my first Christmas as a Christian.

My birth parents split up before my second birthday. The circumstances were complicated; suffice it to say that my mother never wanted my father around after that. I come from a long line of Champion Grudge-Holders, and my mum is a strong contender for Grand Queen of Grudgeholding. She let me know in no uncertain terms that my father was a Bad Man who lived in a Bad Neighbourhood and he was Not To Be Trusted.

Due to all these bad feelings, I didn't know my father very well until I grew up and took matters into my own hands. I decided I wanted us to have a proper father-daughter relationship. It wasn't too late to work that out. Still, my mother stuck to her guns and refused to forgive him.

Fastforward to two years ago, when my step-father left my mother after 27 years together. My family, already fractured into pieces from the long-ago-past, developed another irreperable split. Sometimes it felt like no two people I cared about could stand the sight of each other. How can I build a loving circle of family around me when they all hate each other?

My mother initially descended into depths of grief and bitterness. It was understandable, given her circumstances. I assumed that she would add another notch to her grudge belt, and power up her hating to last a lifetime. But I underestimated her. She's older, wiser, and, after the initial shock wore off, ready to take a look at her life and make some changes.

When my father's father passed away this spring, my mother decided to attend the memorial service. After all, my zaidy had been her father-in-law for nine years. After the service, she had time for a short chat with my father. It was a pleasant, if brief reunion. I can't remember the exact sequence, but someone followed up with an e-mail, someone else responded in kind, and some real communications were exchanged.

I knew that they were in touch, and I thought it was great. My mother was finally ready to put down the burden of all that angst, let go of the past, and move on. I expected that the most that would come of it would be a gentle, remote reconciliation. Should they ever, God forbid, meet again by my hospital bedside due to some horrible accident, they would be able to support each other instead of avoiding each other. That would be nice.

However, they completely surprised me. Without letting me in on their plans, they arranged to meet for walk in a park. I found out from my father after the fact that they spent two very enjoyable hours together, catching up on 35 years of history. Not to worry - my step-mum (who is cancer-free and recovering from her surgery very nicely, thank God) is aware of the situation and gives her whole-hearted approval.

I don't know if there's any way to explain how it felt when my father told me about him and my mum patching things up. Imagine that someone you know shows up to meet you, not in their regular car, but riding on a winged unicorn. If you can imagine how you might feel: shocked, amazed, confused, and delighted all at once - that's how I felt. Then he took it one step further and let me know that my mum and I were invited to celebrate Christmas Day with him, my step-mum, and my sister.

It would have been a dream come true, if in my wildest dreams I had ever hoped that my parents would get along again. But even as a child I don't recall that possibility ever crossing my mind. So this is better than a dream-come-true. It exceeds my most optimistic hopes and expectations.

I also have to tell you how wonderful it felt to know, for the first time in my conscious, remembered life, that my parents - my real, birth parents - as a team, (a TEAM!) were doing something together, for me, their daughter, because of how much they love me.

I am 37 years old, and I assure you, it's never too late. It doesn't matter that I have a few silver hairs and crows-feet of my own. I had this weird thought: "Finally, I'm like just any normal kid! With normal parents!" Not that parents staying together is necessarily normal anymore, but keep in mind that my inner child is still working from the standards of the 1970's. According to that standard, having two, loving parents is normal, and normal is all I ever wanted to be.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Highlights of the Office Christmas Party

I am seated next to a woman in her late 40's, wife of one of our senior businessmen. Early in our conversation, she tells me that she has a 5-year-old son. He's brilliant - does math at a sixth-grade level. He can subtract fractions. But he's very demanding. She repeats to me several times that she feels she no longer has her own life, and tells me that I've definitely made the right decision not to have children. The first course comes and we break off the conversation. Later, when she turns to talk to me again, she brings up this same topic. And again later, and once more after that. She keeps telling me how much she loves her son, but if only she'd known, she might not have had him. I listen and nod sympathetically, but what can you really say to that?

On the other side of my husband is the date of one of our clerical workers. Early in the evening he makes a show of tasting the wine. His tasting face: lips pushed out, eyes rolled back. It's so dramatic and silly that I laugh, thinking he's clowning around. He's not. I ask him if he's a wine connoisseur. He replies that he's a "connoisseur" in a general way, and then adds straight up that he's a snob. OK, good to know.

The Connoisseur is also a DJ. The DJ who's in charge of our party is killing him with random song segues. He has every possible kind of music on iTunes, from 1930's jazz all the way through to modern hip-hop, and it seems that he's put his system on ultra-random for the evening. Ultra-random is a setting beyond random, which ensures that no two consecutive songs will have any relation to each other whatsoever. As "Jingle Bell Rock" leads into "Sexual Healing", the Connoisseur mimes digging out his right eye with his fork.

Dinner is served. As usual at this venue, the food is excellent. It's surf'n'turf: steamed veggies, roasted potatoes, and steak topped with a pair of jumbo shrimp. As you'd expect at a Portuguese restaurant, the shrimp are perfectly cooked. Absolutely tender. Not at all rubbery. Six out of the eight people seated at our table declare that shrimp are sea bugs and therefore disgusting. If I had a bigger appetite, I could've eaten a lot of extra shrimp.

Despite the crappy DJ, music is music, and after dinner there's a good crowd on the dance floor. That's what I love best about our Christmas parties. People really get out there and shake a tailfeather. Couples in their 60's get up and do ballroom dancing moves to hip-hop songs, as long as the tempo works. Girls in their 20's dance to 1950's rock'n'roll without complaining. Most people aren't worried about looking cool, and they're not falling-down-drunk either. It's a lot of good-spirited fun. The businessman whose wife I was sitting next to at dinner dances next to me and sings along with "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun".

It's 12:30 am before we know it. My husband and I prepare to leave. The place is emptying out, but there's still a handful of dancers on the floor, and small groups of people enjoying the platters of seafood that were brought out at 11 pm. My heart is racing from the unusual exercise of dancing for two solid hours so late at night. Traffic is light and we're home within 20 minutes. It takes me extra time to get off all the fancy party makeup. Then I fall into bed and sleep like a log.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What next?

Let me begin by saying I had a fantastic weekend. Time with friends I love, new friends met and enjoyed, much laughing, good rest, and successful boot shopping. Oh yes, the boots. I tried them on for fun, and then, despite the price tag, couldn't bear to leave the store without them. And so I am now the proud owner of these babies, purple cowboy boots, size 7. They are more fantastic than the photo can express. The shade of purple is richer and brighter. They fit like slippers. They give me superpowers of confidence.

Good thing too, because last night I got a shock.

I work in an industry that's closely regulated by the government. Every once in a while, over the years, politics have threatened to shut down my workplace. There was no serious threat in the past eight years or so, since before I started working there, but now, it's starting again. I just got word that we'll have to put up an enormous fight or my work will be shut down come spring.

We were doing so well that we were in the midst of planning a move to larger premises. That's all been put on hold until this threat is dealt with.

The owners have fought this battle and won more than once in the past, but you never know.

The good news is that the businessmen I work for have other interests. There's already a plan on the table for a new business, something they were toying with before they got this bad news. So if my current job evaporates with the last of the winter snow, likely it won't be long before they hire me back to work on the next project. My boss told me so. My own safety and security is pretty safe.

However, it's still Big Bad News. Firstly, there's everyone else who works with me. They can't all get hired back to work on a fledgling business. There may be some tough times ahead for my colleagues, and I care about my colleagues very much. Especially my own staff. I will openly say that I love them all, like family. Being their Mama Bear, which is how I do being a manager, has given me my reason for getting out of bed and going to work in the mornings for many years now. I would miss them terribly if we were separated. Losing that element of my social circle and my heart would truly be devastating.

And secondly, but not least important, is the impact on all the people who receive our services. I won't go into detail for fear of compromising my anonymity, but I will state that we provide a service that is absolutely essential for to the quality of life of our clients. We have over 1,200 active files at the moment. What will happen to all those people if we and other businesses like us are closed down? Many of them will cope by becoming addicts, self-medicating with street drugs. It's likely that some will commit suicide when they cannot find relief from their suffering. It's a tough future to contemplate.

So we will fight, and fight hard, to keep the business alive. I couldn't really say what our chances are, but if we've done it before then we can do it again. If my spirits start to crumple, I will put on my Purple Power Boots of Optimism to remind myself that I can be my own superhero. And whatever comes, of course, I have my faith to carry me through. I will be praying over here, if anyone cares to join me.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Things I Think About

Toronto has recently converted some of its busiest downtown intersections to offer all-way pedestrian crossing. The traffic lights all turn red, the pedestrian signals all show the little walking guy, and you can cross the intersection diagonally if you wish. I always laugh to myself at these intersections, because I can't help expecting this to happen next: All pedestrians are signalled to stop, the traffic lights all turn green together, and all cars hit the gas simultanously. Then there is a terrific crash as several lanes of traffic from each direction pile up into a giant car pyramid in the middle of the road. Wouldn't that be great?

I was trying to fall asleep, and as I lay there in the dark, I devised a collection of Christmas gifts for the man or woman who has everything. I'm not talking about electric shoe buffers or other such old-news items. These are brand new things that no one has ever invented before.

1) Dish socks. These are rubber "foot gloves", with separate toe pockets, worn over one's feet in order to wash dishes. Anyone who does the dishes with their feet, due to a medical condition or personal preference (to protect an elaborate manicure, for example), can now be protected from the drying effects of hot water and detergent.

2) The shower cape. This is like a shower cap, but in reverse. If you desire to wash your hair in the shower without getting the rest of your body wet, you cover yourself from the neck down with a shower cape.

3) A matched set: tooth brush and tooth comb. You know, like a matching pen and pencil set, but for your teeth. What would be the functionality of the tooth comb? I haven't got that figured out yet, but I'm open to suggestions.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Grandmother's Wisdom

I would tell you the story of what's going on with my eye today, except if I write any more posts with gross medical details I fear that LL Cool Joe will unsubscribe from my blog and furthermore never speak to me again. Suffice it to say that I'm not seeing very clearly at the moment so if there are spelling mistakes I'm blaming it on that. Also, Freaking Owie Ow Ow! Stupid eye.

Not to worry, I should be alright within a few days.

I went out for Chinese noodles with my 93-year-old grandmother on Saturday. Initially we were going to go to the Japanese restaurant in the mall, a 15-minute walk away. My grandmother had assured me that she can certainly walk 15 minutes, no problem. However, she has slowed down quite a lot since I last took a long walk with her. I soon realized that her 15-minute walk wouldn't take us as far as the mall. So we stopped at my favourite noodle restaurant instead.

On the way there we talked about the things she does to keep busy. She's very involved in all manner of activities at her senior's residence, including hosting groups of university students for discussions relating to aging and the perspective she has gained from her many years.

"Kids are so different these days," she said, referring to the students. "Everything is about sex. Everything has to be sexy."

Never one to miss an opening, I asked if she'd like to hear my favourite dirty joke. Yes, she would.

"What did the man with five penises say?"

She thought about this for quite some time. I had to laugh as I wondered what possibilities were running through her mind. Finally, she gave up. I delivered the punchline.

"My pants fit me like a glove!"

That got a laugh. I love that joke. It's not really sexual so much as anatomical, but it's funnier when I set it up as "dirty".

We enjoyed our lunch. My grandmother struggled a bit with her noodles, but she was determined to use her chopsticks, even though I'd asked our server to bring her a fork. I could see that she enjoyed the challenge. She often complains about the food that's served in the senior's residence, and I can guarantee that there are never chopsticks on the table.

We chatted about this and that. About how my mother's parents, my other set of grandparents, are being difficult and refusing to either move from their large house or accept any outside help, even though my zaidy is frail and blind, and my buby is not that much better off. They refuse to have groceries delivered, insisting instead that their three daughters chauffeur them to the stores several times per week. They refuse to have a cleaning lady to help them tidy the house. They're driving their daughters crazy. (Yes, there is enabling going on. That's a whole other can of worms.) My grandmother moved into her senior's residence voluntarily, after only slight prompting from her sons. She's a practical woman.

We discussed how my grandmother feels about my conversion to Christianity. Or rather, she told me how she feels and said that there's nothing I can say to change her mind. Basically she doesn't mind what I believe, but the fact that I got baptized feels to her like a betrayal. She and my grandfather suffered a lot from anti-semitism back in the day, and for this she blames "the church". As though there were one church with one opinion that can be held responsible for these past wrongs. I'm sorry that she feels this way, but I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I told her she can tell me how she feels as much as she likes, so that this issue can come between us as little as possible.

Finally, we walked back to my place. On the way, we were passed by a young fellow who was wearing enormous trousers. You know the type - his pants were so low-slung that he had to swagger instead of walk, keeping his pants up with outward pressure from his thighs. Plus there was a huge, baggy crotch area that was down almost to his knees. My grandmother watched him walk ahead of us.

"Why do they wear pants like that?" she asked. I shrugged.

"I don't know," I told her.

Then suddenly she was laughing. Breathless, she clapped one hand on my shoulder and giggled:

"Maybe he has five penises!"

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day by Day

In the past week, my default feeling has been overwhelm. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, scared and sad; sometimes overwhelmed, yet happy and grateful. But always with the overwhelmingness. I find it difficult to sit down and craft a post in this condition. If I can't make all the pieces of my life come together and fit into a coherent picture for my own personal mental health, how can I do that in a piece of writing?

My coping mechanism is: I retreat into a smaller and smaller slice of the present time, and just deal with that, until I'm basically living one minute at a time, without thinking much about the last moment or the next. I can get by like this, although even things that I put in my calendar tend to take me by surprise, because I'm just not thinking that far ahead, even when the event in question is planned for tomorrow. Similarly, I'm having trouble remembering things. Oh well. How important are those things anyway? I mean, do I really need to buy toilet paper?*

*rhetorical question

The reason for all this mental AAAAAAUGH! *frantic jazz hands* is that there is a lot of change happening, or pending, at the moment. It's pretty much all good stuff, or at least neutral. But I don't deal well with change, even if it's the kind of change that's going to improve my life. I try. I say all the right things to myself. But if there are too many changes at once eventually my brain just blows a gasket. Blam.

In general all this change has to do with my workplace. We're moving to bigger premises and with that will come role changes and personnel changes. I am taking on more responsibilities. And also, there's the wee matter of me being in charge of upgrading our ENTIRE COMPUTER SYSTEM. It'll be a quantum leap from what it is now, but dang. It's ginormous project, and thoughts of the transition process are making me mightily nervous.

Every night I watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy before I go to bed, to relax. It's my new favourite show. Then I go to bed and dream that I'm designing blueprints for a new wing of the GA hospital, except it's real and I work there and it's all very stressful.

Well, that's life, isn't it.

Anyway, this weekend I'm looking forward to lunch with my 93-year-old grandmother. She's going to get a taxi to my house and then we'll walk to the mall together. While we were planning this I asked her if she would like to meet me at the restaurant, because it's a 15-minute walk from my place. She was indignant.

"I can walk for 15 minutes!"

And you know what? I'm sure that she can. Probably faster than me, and that's on shorter legs because the top of her head barely clears the underside of my chin when she hugs me. My grandmother is awesome. Maybe she'll provide some wisdom to help me get through.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vampires Got Me

I'm slightly feverish, but I couldn't resist writing a post to solicit sympathy. At this point there's nothing that I want more than to have as many people as possible go "Aw, poor you!" and send me hugs. There, I'm being up front about it. No sneaky manipulation on this blog.

It all started on Thursday, when I went to talk to my doctor about my blood test results. You know how when people say they "just want to talk" but it turns out they want more? Well... he can't get my anemia under control. Lots of iron going in, in the form of my daily "rust juice" supplement. Not too much iron coming out in any perceptible way. So it must be a problem with absorption or iron metabolism.

He pulled out a lab requisition and started writing a laundry list of all the tests he wanted done. To myself, I was all "Again? Dang, I just had blood drawn three weeks ago." But I didn't think much of it. As long as I lie down during the process I've always been fine to get it over with and go back to work after.

Apparently 3 weeks wasn't long enough for my blood to regenerate. I read online later that your blood pressure stabilizes within 24 hours with added water content, but all the cells that actually get the job done, like platelets and white cells, don't regenerate for 4 - 6 weeks depending on how much blood was lost. Oops. Add to that the fact that I'm small, 115 lbs, so relative to my overall blood volume each vial is a higher percentage of what I've got to work with.

I don't know how many vials they took, because I don't look. It was a fairly painless procedure. The lab tech had a very gentle touch with the needle and it was all over quickly. I didn't feel overly anxious. But I couldn't seem to get up off the examining table. Every time I swung my feet over the edge and levered myself up on one elbow I started seeing grey spots. I'd lie down and try again a few minutes later - same thing. Also, my teeth were chattering. I wasn't sure why.

Eventually they brought me some water to drink, and I ate an apple I had with me. That gave me enough energy to get up and travel back to work, but I really wasn't feeling very well. I thought I just needed a little more time to find my equilibrium.

I wasn't at work for very long before I realized I was feeling worse. I couldn't stand up for long without getting that horrible squeezing feeling in my back that I recognize as a prelude to blacking out. I could only walk at a shuffle. I kept feeling like I might start to cry.

I called Ken, who came and brought me home. I couldn't understand why I felt so horrible. This was unprecedented. Surely I'd have a lie down and feel back to myself by evening. But I had very little appetite for dinner. Then the aches and chills started. I got out a thermometer and found I was running a fever. What the heck? I guess my body got waaaaay stressed out from losing too much blood.

The night was miserable. I can't take Aspirin, Tylenol or any of that clique of fever-busting drugs. I tossed and turned and moaned and groaned. Finally at 3 am I remembered that I had a homeopathic remedy at the back of the bathroom cabinet, and dug it out. I'd never tried it before, but Hallelujah, it made me feel well enough to sleep.

This stuff works almost like magic.

Long story short, I'm still at home recuperating. Still keeping the fever down with doses of Oscillococcinum. (Sheesh - could they not have picked a name that's a little easier to spell?) Still feeling frustratingly weak. The annoying thing is that this was totally avoidable. I wish my doctor and/or the lab would have counted the days since my last blood tests and advised me to wait. You can bet that I'll be careful in the future.

So, sadly, I've been on the phone, progressively cancelling more and more of my weekend plans. I was supposed to be out right how having dinner with a friend. Tomorrow I'm missing singing practice (I'd be a fool to believe that I could stand up for 2 hours). And who knows about Sunday? If I'm not better by then I'll be missing two birthday parties. Super bummer.

Anyone out there want to give me a transfusion?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Busy Busy Week

I have beautiful moles. So says the dermatologist who checked me out last Thursday. She had an intern with her, a timid girl who hadn't yet developed the confident, impersonal touch of health care professionals. I perched on the examining table, waxy paper crinkling under my butt. The intern gingerly picked up each of my bare feet in turn to check the soles. She spread my toes apart apologetically, as if she wasn't sure she had my permission to do so, glancing up at me to make sure I wasn't getting upset. I was fine and dandy. The dermatologist is my favourite doctor, because there is no poking, proding, injections, or other sharp instrumentation. The best part was when the doctor started quizzing the intern on mole facts. I felt like an extra on Grey's Anatomy. I love that show.

I spent an hour on Saturday pretending to be a car. Vroom vroom! I got down on the floor and scooted around with my friends' two-year-old. When I crashed, he was my toe truck. He grabbed me by my toes and dragged me to the service station. Then we ran around in circles until we were dizzy. At one point while I was sitting on the floor, he spontaneously rushed over and hugged my head, which totally made my whole week. This was at a birthday party with old friends. The rest of the time we sat around eating spaghetti Bolognese and laughing ourselves silly.

I stepped over the threshold into my new workplace for the first time. We won't be moving in for months. Right now, the space is still part of a health club. There's a pool, which will be filled in for us. My staff has been lobbying for a swim-up reception desk, but I maintain that they would prune very badly by the end of an eight-hour shift. There's also a wrestling ring, which I thought we should keep as a Conflict Resolution Area. Disagreement at a board meeting? Let's settle this with a piledriver competition! It was amazing to be introduced to this space, where I will spend the vast majority of my waking hours for the next five to ten years. The best part is there's a cafeteria in the building, so I'll be able to buy lunch without bundling up and trudging through snow in the winter.

And I helped a friend, who is feeling very depressed, to make some headway on her issues, and to feel a little hopeful. And I sang at a practice with my church group, feeling my heart swell and lift up on the wings of the spirit. And I went out with another good friend to see the movie Amreeka, which was very touching and thought-provoking. And and and... so much more. I had enough material to write a post every day, but not enough time.

My life is full, in the best possible sense of the word. I am full.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In which I blame everything on my mother

Who here has or had a perfect relationship with their mother? Show of hands? Anyone? Bueller?

My relationship with my mother is in transition right now. It's actually getting better. After my step-dad announced that he was divorcing her to reunite with his university sweetheart things were rough all around for couple of years. We're finally past the worst of it.

My mum is finally ready to admit that she's better off without him. She's getting a financial settlement that will allow her to live out the rest of her years in worry-free comfort. And she doesn't have to wash his socks anymore, or deal with any of the big and small habits of his that drove her crazy.

For example, when they went out to eat at a restaurant, unless there was a "Please Wait to be Seated" sign, he would always chose to sit at a table that hadn't been cleared yet from the previous diners. If there were plates on the table, he would eat french fries or other leftovers off those strangers' plates. Or if it was a coffee shop with just an empty cup and napkin on the table, he would lick the tip of his index finger and use that to pick up crumbs from the table. And eat them. Despite the fact that he never got sick from this habit, it drove my mother to distraction.

She doesn't have to deal with his many eccentricities anymore, but she still gets to enjoy his money. She has a full schedule with volunteer work and socializing. It's a pretty good deal.

Living alone has been good for her. She's independent, and seems much less inclined to cast herself in the role of "victim" in her life story, something she used to constantly.

Lately, she's not demanding, and only asks me for help with a few things here and there, like fixing her computer. She likes me to be there as a second opinion for big decisions, like buying a new stove. Other than that, she's self-sufficient. We can talk now almost like friends. I don't feel that she's babying me or asking me to do too much for her. It's really great.

And yet, I'm having trouble accepting this new way of relating. I don't trust her quite yet. And I'm not ready to let go of my grudges. It's all too new, too weird, and too difficult to believe that we have truly arrived here.

When I was a kid, my mum did her best for me. She really did. She gave 200%. Unfortunately, in the context of her life, giving 200% meant that she didn't become an addict or attempt suicide. She barely had the emotional resources to remain gainfully employed and cope with everything life had to throw at her. I had clothes on my back, a warm place to sleep, and three healthy meals a day. She even cooked a hot breakfast every morning when she was working full-time.

I know that she loved me, her only child. Every year she made me two birthday parties. There was one for the kids, with games, loot bags, and Hamburger Men* for lunch. Then there was one for the family. She baked a cake from scratch for each party. That meant a lot.

*Hamburger Man recipe: One hamburger patty face; pickle slices for eyes; a ketchup smile; mashed potato afro hair; carrot sticks for the body and limbs. Dang, I can't remember the last time I ate Hamburger Man. I should do that for my next birthday.

On special occasions and emergencies, she always came through for me. She pushed through and made it happen. But most of the time, she just couldn't. Couldn't cope, couldn't smile, couldn't be there for me. She was depressed. She was easily enraged. She and my step-dad and I fought in an endless triangle for years.

Sometimes, if the fighting got too bad, she went into an altered mental state. It was like someone hit a switch, and her eyes changed. Pushed past her limit, she was frightening. Her eyes were intense and blank at the same time. Sometimes she looked at me like she wished I were dead. That happened a lot.

She blamed me for things that weren't my fault. For example, I recall one time when I was a teenager, and finally had realized that I could stand up for myself. She wanted me to come out for the afternoon with her and my step-dad, but I said I'd rather stay home. I told her that there wasn't any point to going out with them because they just fought all the time and it was never fun, or even remotely pleasant. She said:

"Maybe the reason why we have such a bad marriage is because you refuse to be a part of this family."

I looked directly at her and said "It's not my fault that you two don't get along. You can't blame me."

That was the first time I didn't accept the blame that she tried to heap on me. And it was good. But when you grow up in a sick house where the grownups you're counting on for your survival feed you this kind of crap, it's not like you can suddenly get over it just because you intellectually finally understand what's going on. Years of messages along those lines wired my brain badly, and re-wiring has been a struggle. It's still a work in progress.

Once I moved out, we didn't spend a lot of time together. I showed up for all the obligatory family gatherings, but I rarely went over just to hang out. She almost never called me, unless it was to remind me of a family birthday or invite me to a Jewish holiday dinner. When I got divorced it was my step-mum and sister who showed up to help me move into my new apartment.

After my step-dad left, I figured I'd better help my mum. Like I said, she's had a rough life and doesn't have a lot of emotional resources. I didn't want her to go irretrievably over the edge. So I called a lot to check in on her; I sent her little encouraging cards in the mail; and Ken and I went over there every Sunday for months to help her pack all my step-dad's stuff into boxes. I gave a lot, timewise, physically, and emotionally.

It wasn't easy. In fact, it was one of the most difficult and draining things I've ever had to do. And when I finally had what pretty much amounted to a breakdown, during which I got sick for 6 weeks and couldn't handle spending any more time with her, she complained that she felt abandonned by me. At the time I was also a new church-goer. Church was where I fueled up on good vibes before going over to my freaked-out mum to help her with everything. But she resented that too. She said that my conversion made her feel like she had lost me. I had never been there for her more, and she was still complaining.

She's always expected a lot from me. Even when she was giving me the evil eye in private, she was always happy to show off my report cards to everyone who would look at them. She wanted me to be her perfect little princess, wearing pink and pearls. Ever since I became an adult, she's liked to marvel at how I "raised myself", since she couldn't really do the job. I think that she thinks it came naturally to me, this "raising myself". She thinks it shows that I'm a stronger person than her, and ever since I grew up she wanted to lean on me. I'm the strong one, the wise one, supposedly. Now I'm a resource for her when she needs help.

Honestly? I'm not ready yet to forgive the past and be her good friend. Every time we get together, I put on my best smile and try to be both compassionate and honest, so that our relationship will improve. But there's a part of me that's still really angry, that says I don't owe her anything, and doesn't want to try.

But, I'll try anyway. Because she did the best she could with the resources she had. Because forgiveness is a choice and an act of will, not a feeling. Or at least, the choice comes first, and hopefully the feeling comes later.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

True Scary Story

Sometime quite a few months back, Ken and I are heading home after meeting our pastor at the church to make the initial plans for our wedding. The sun has just set. It's a regular weekday evening. Lights are on in all the units in our condo complex. The air wafting from the building vents smells of boiling rice and stewing beef. You would be hard-pressed to find a more domestic, cozy scene.

We reach our front door, unlock it, flick on the entranceway light, and step inside. I reach around the corner and hit another light switch, which illuminates our living room. Everything is just as we left it. I'm glad to be home, looking forward to putting my feet up and relaxing.

As I'm reaching to untie my shoes, Ken suddenly startles, and jumps back against the wall. His face perfectly illustrates the expression "he looked like he'd just seen a ghost". He's staring into the middle of the living room like he's spotted something terrifying. I look back into the living room. There's the sofa. There's the TV and remote control. Nothing out of order.

Ken is still backed into a corner between all wall and the hall closet door. His face is grey.

"Did you see that?" he asks me.

"See what?"

"That guy."

I look at him like, more information please!

"There was a man standing right there in the middle of our living room."

"What did he look like?"

"He was tall, bald, and creepy-looking. He was wearing a long dark coat. He saw me looking at him. Then as soon as I saw him he started vanishing from the feet up. He was gone by the time I asked you if you saw anything."

Ken was not fooling with me. He wasn't drunk, overtired, or on medication. He has no history of schizophrenia. I'm as sure as I can be that he can see disembodied spirits.

Ken's dad and his brother also have the ability to see ghosts. This isn't the only ghost story I have from Ken, but it was the only time I was there. And it made me really, really glad that, despite my ability to experience some things beyond my five senses, I can't see ghosts. Because that apparition scared the poop out of him.

Fortunately the scary ghost man never re-appeared in our living room.

Believe what you will, but this story is true to me. Happy Hallowe'en! May you have lots of fun and candy, and no ghosts.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wisdom Teeth

Powdergirl's post about her recent dental misadventures reminded me: I've never told you guys about the time I got my wisdom teeth removed.

I was 21 years old, still living with my parents. Sitting in front of the TV one night, snacking on pretzels, I noticed that my teeth felt funny. Off to the dentist we went, and sure enough I had all four wisdom teeth on the advance. A date was set to have them extracted.

I fretted. I worried. I felt jealous of my friend Marcus- my 6'3" friend with the enormous jaw, who was able to let all of his wisdom teeth grow in and take their place as honoured participants in his mouth. I didn't want to face the surgery.

Be careful what you wish for. Two days before my appointment, I got a call from the oral surgeon's assistant. His father had died, so he was taking a week off. My surgery date was postponed.

By that time one of the teeth had become impacted. I was in pain. I ran a fever. I had to go on antibiotics. I was 21 years old and I was teething. It was increasingly uncomfortable. I counted down the hours to the surgery. Trust me, by the time the day came, no one could have kept me away from that appointment.

So there I was, a willing participant, lying back in the chair, sucking back big lungfuls of happy gas. I have vague memories of nasty things happening in my mouth, but I was so high at the time that I didn't care. The oral surgeon finished his work, packed my mouth full of gauze, and I was good to go.

I don't remember the next part very well, so I'll re-tell it from the point of view of my ex, who had come to help my mom deal with me after the procedure.

The scene: The surgeon's office is in a high-rise attached to a shopping mall. My mom had gone to get her car. It was my ex's job to steer me through the mall to the side exit where my mom would be waiting.

My ex is a big man, 6 feet tall, and, at the time, 200 pounds, all muscle. Not to mention he's black, in a neighbourhood where, at the time, almost everyone was white. He's usually as mild-mannered as a teddy bear, but you wouldn't know it to look at him. After a certain time of night cabbies, even the non-white ones, won't stop to pick him up.

So first of all they bring him into the recovery area, and there I am, high as a kite, chatty as can be, telling him all about the surgery and what it was like for me. Except my mouth is stuffed completely full of gauze. So I'm like Mwah mwah nhah uh uh uh! and gesticulating expressively, rolling my eyes and whatnot, and he's taking in exactly how blasted I am.

They get me up onto my feet. My ex has me by the elbows and guides me into the mall. Bear in mind what passersby are seeing here. A huge, scary-looking black guy, dressed all in black, is manhandling a tiny little white girl, limbs skinny as matchsticks, who's totally drugged out of her mind, and he's taking her... where? And what is that? Is that blood dripping down her chin?

Every few steps he hisses into my ear: "Keep your chin up! Chin up!" But I'm still floating in a cloud of nitrous. I can't remember what's happening, and my head is so heavy. Every few steps I start looking down at my feet again, and gory drool drips from my lower lip. He looks around nervously. Someone's probably called security. Surely half-a-dozen cops will come running any second now, surround us, take him down, cuff his hands behind his back.

Miraculously, we make it to the exit and into my mum's car without being confronted by the authorities. I'm free to lie down at home and swap my nitrous high for a bottle full of painkillers.

It wasn't quite a happy ending. I developed a dry socket, "characterized by severe pain following a tooth extraction". (If you're squeamish, don't click on the link.) I got to the bottom of that bottle of painkillers, and realized that after the last one wore off, I would have to throw myself out a very high window. I had never experienced such relentless, all-consuming pain before.

I paid one more visit to my oral surgeon, who tut-tutted, and then packed the painful spot with a tiny square of cotten soaked in oil of clove. The pain dissipated within minutes. It was an incredible relief. I also thought it was really cool that he was using a hundreds-of-years-old low-tech remedy even though we were surrounded by all the electric and pharmaceutical wizardry of the 20th century.

That night I ate spaghetti with meat sauce, flavoured strongly with the oil of clove leaching out of the little cotton dressing at the back of my mouth. I didn't care. It tasted like healing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Neverending Story

The squeamish may leave now. Bye, LL Cool Joe, see you next time.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that my step-mum was going to have surgery due to the slight possibility of cancer in her large intestine. Details are in the previous post, but briefly, the doctors decided to remove one third of her large intestine and biopsy it. I was told that this was going to be done with a laparoscopic procedure, that the risk of infection was minimal, and that after a few weeks for her body to adjust, she could live a perfectly normal life without that 1/3 of her intestine. Kind of like having your tonsils out, or an appendectomy, I guessed. It didn't seem too bad.

I was concerned for my step-mum, and also for my father and my sister. We're pretty close relative to the average family of the type, whether you want to call it "blended", "post-divorce" or "we don't care so much about labels because we love each other". I prefer the latter.

My step-mum has always been incredibly sweet to me. I've known her since I was a kid. I was 13 years old when I was offered the chance to listen to her pregnant belly through a stethescope. I can still remember the sounds of my sister gurgling in the womb, like she was scuba-diving in there.

When I was 22 my primary parents (mum and step-dad) renovated our house. The builders kicked us out of it for 6 weeks so that they could mess around with the utilities without having to worry about our well-being. My sister, who had always wanted a chance to live with her big sister, offered to loan me her room. She slept in our dad's office, just for the sake of having me there. I hope I was worth it.

It was really weird moving into their house. I had never felt much a part of that family before, not back in those days. I felt like an outsider who didn't belong. I was nervous and self-conscious. My father seemed happy to have me there, but what amazed me was how welcoming my step-mum was. She basically told me to consider myself at home, in the warmest possible way. This despite the fact that their house wasn't large, and I was a more or less alien intruder into their living space. Back then, we didn't know each other very well.

Things were very different than at my regular house. For example, at home I was only allowed to have one box of cookies open at a time. In my step-mum's kitchen, there was choice! There was abundance! You could select the type of cookie you were in the mood for, or browse through a wide selection of opened boxes of herbal tea. The decadence of it all made my head spin.

My step-mum has never treated me as less than a fully-fledged family member. Coming from my experience, in which my actual blood family has often made me feel unwanted, I appreciate this more than I can say.

When she went in for her surgery, my father used a blog format to update all their friends and family on her progress. I was shocked by what I read.

The surgery went well, but her recovery was a nightmare. Allergic reactions to her painkillers; excruciating pain; horrible nausea; middle-0f-the-night trips back to the emergeny room; it never seemed to end.

All this week I've kept my eyes fixed on that blog, imagining every horrifying detail. I'm stressed out just from reading about it online. I can't imagine how it was to live it, for my step-mum or for my father and sister who are caring for her. They couldn't seem to catch a break. Every time my father posted that she was doing a little better, there would be another crisis in short order. They've barely slept at all this week.

The suffering that they've been experiencing is beyond imagining. It's been breaking my heart knowing what they've been going through.

But finally, finally things seem to be settling down. My step-mum has had two good nights in a row, safely in her own bed at home. There's a long road ahead, but she'll make it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Ode to Me

My good friend at What I Got So Far v.2.0 has written a lovely poem about me. It is now officially my most favourite poem of all time. It's called "Ode to Spark" and it goes like this:

She hunts ants like an aardvark,
She’s from the land of Denmark,
She helped sink the Bismarck,
She’s as dangerous as a shark,
Her bite is worse than her bark.

Then, as if my head weren't swelled enough from all this ego-boosting balladeering, DarcsFalcon added a second verse, thusly:

When angels see her, they hark!
With her, guys always wanted to park.
Her sincerity is never stark.
Being with her makes you feel safe in the dark.

It's fantastic. You might say that I'm biased and just being a sucker for attention, but you'd be wrong.

Thank you, friends, for your splendid, lyric poetry!

Then, because she's so generous, DarcsFalcon also offered me an award:

The One Lovely Blog award comes with one rule; I have to tell you seven interesting things about myself. OK, here goes...

1) When I was a kid I used to eat Smarties by biting them into quarters and eating the pieces one by one. I liked to make good things last.
2) I must be very dense, because I can't float in a swimming pool, like everyone's supposed to be able to.
3) I've been to South Africa, when I was 8 years old, in 1980 when apartheid was still in effect. My mum had a lot of trouble explaining apartheid to an eight-year-old.
4) BBQ eel is one of my favourite foods. In Japanese it's called Unagi.
5) When I was a kid I only had molars on the right side of my jaw. When my adult teeth came in I got molars on both sides, but I still only chew on the right side because that's how I learned to eat.
6) I used to be early for everything but these days I'm usually at least a little late. The older I get, the later I get. By the time I retire I'll be a day late for work every day. I'll appear to be on time but I'll work on Saturdays and not on Mondays.
7) I think freckles are cute. I have a few myself, and I never hated them.

And as if that weren't enough, Ron at The Warped Mind Of Ron also offered me an award!

The official rules are:

  • Copy and change the answers to suit you and pass it on.
  • Answers may be one word only
  • Once you have filled it out be sure to pass it on to 6 of your favorite bloggers.
  • Alert them that they have been awarded!
  • Have fun!
1. Where is your cell phone? purse
2. Your hair? auburn
3. Your mother? argh
4. Your father? two
5. Your favorite food? eel
6. Your dream last night? wedding
7. Your favorite drink? water
8. Your dream/goal? love
9. What room are you in? bedroom
10. Your hobby? sing
11. Your fear? illness
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? *shrug*
13. Where were you last night? home
14. Something that you aren’t? astronaut
15. Muffins? yum!
16. Wish list item? iPod
17. Where did you grow up? Toronto
18. Last thing you did? sing
19. What are you wearing? fleece
20. Your TV? big
21. Your pets? zero
22. Friends? Hi!
23. Your life? Good
24. Your mood? content
25. Missing someone? no
26. Vehicle? husband's
27. Something you’re not wearing? unitard
28. Your favorite store? Jacob
29. Your favorite color? blue
30. When was the last time you laughed? ??? today
31. Last time you cried? recently
32. Your best friend? Ken
33. One place that I go to over and over? work
34. One person who emails me regularly? Logan
35. Favorite place to eat? home

Now I think you're all Lovely and Tops or I wouldn't be reading your blogs. So anyone whose blog I've ever commented on can come and take one or both awards. Do the memes if you feel like it - I'm not the meme police.

Have a good weekend, all!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mostly Good News

There's just a little bit more bad news. I'm going to get that out there real quick, like pulling off a band-aid. Then we're all going to think Happy Thoughts together.

The bad news is that my mother's father is now in the hospital, due to heart failure. He was admitted on Sunday, and I found out about it on Monday. The good news is that his life isn't in imminent danger, he's not in pain, and he's being well-looked after. I'm not sure if he'll get to go home again or if he'll need to move into a nursing home, because he's awfully weak at the moment, but either way, it's not horribly shocking. He is 90 years old, after all.

Now onto some the Good Things:

1) I got a raise! Not only that, it came with a glowing performance review. As my Scottish nanny used to say, I'm chuffed.

2) Ken cleaned and de-cluttered our condo and now it looks like something out of Better Homes & Gardens. I feel that I should get dressed up to go and sit in the living room. It's very restful to exist in such well-cared-for surroundings.

3) I spent the weekend resting my body and my soul. I took time to feel my way through all the thoughts that have been overwhelming my mind in recent weeks. I feel more centered and grounded.

4) I've been escaping into mass-market paperback novels, something I haven't done much of since high school. Once I became an English major I absorbed some of the literary snobbishness that comes with the territory. Any softcover book with shiny lettering on the cover was off-limits.

During university I signed up for a week-long internship with Harlequin, the romance publisher. In order to prepare, I had to actually read some Harlequin romances. I remember sitting in Robart's library, hiding a bodice ripper behind my enormous, hardback translation of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The shame associated with being found reading such "trash" would have been immense.

For the record, the most memorable parts of my internship were: a) reading unsolicited manuscripts sent in by all types of women, some of whom did not speak English as a first language. Judging by their manuscripts, it was a very distant second. Much as we chuckled over their terrible grammar, I felt bad that they had gone to the trouble of writing a whole novel and we were treating it as a joke. Writing a whole novel is pretty freaking impressive.

And b) The editor who was my mentor described to me how they determined how explicit to be when writing about sex in the various series they published. There was a line of very prim and proper romance; there was the middle-of-the-road stuff; and then there was a steamy, red-hot series. Apparently there was a major discussion in a meeting amongst the editors over whether or not they would allow use of the word "penis" in the red-hot line. That must have been some meeting. In the end they decided that "penis" was acceptable, and the first Harlequin novel containing that word was published shortly before my internship, in the early 1990's.

But I digress.

As it happens, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the published Harlequin novels I read for the assignment. I'm not so much into the romance genre for my own purposes, so I haven't read any more since then. However I have been enjoying a somewhat trashy thriller, and discovering the joys of Maeve Binchy.

I find a lot of "serious" novelists are morbidly depressed about life, and don't feel that their job is done until they've dragged the reader down with them. At this point, all I want is a good story with a happy ending.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Cruelest Cuts

I was waiting for an upbeat mood. I've written a couple of downer posts recently, so I thought I'd hold back until I was feeling more positive before posting again. It ain't happening.

It's not that I'm upset all the time lately. It's just that there's a lot of factors conspiring to make me take things seriously. Stuff in my personal life, stuff in my work life, and the onset of colder, darker weather.

My aunt's birthday party is tonight. I won't be going. I lied and said that I'd be with Ken's family eating Thanksgiving dinner, but I'm skipping that event too. It just seemed like a better excuse than the truth; I'll be spending time with a friend who's just returned home after being overseas for many months.

My mum's side of my family is pretty screwed up. We, and I openly include myself in this thing are a neurotic bunch, which is reinforced and multiplied by a factor of one thousand when we're all confined in a room together for several hours.

As an adult, the role I had assigned to myself in the dynamic was that of peacekeeper. I didn't referee directly, of course. That was against the rules. But when the verbal knives came out, the slashing began, and the emotional blood began to flow, I'd jump in with interference. Quick! Distract them with a funny story, or any rambling anecdote. I was usually successful. So much so that my mother dreads going to any family gathering without me, her shield.

"So, you're really sending me out there by myself?" she asked last night, when I told her I wouldn't be coming to tonight's party. It's no accident that she speaks like she's going off to war.

In the past, I tried to pretend that I was an observer; that it cost me nothing to run interference. But that wasn't true. It's one thing to brush off the insensitive things people might say to or about me. I can choose to see them as ignorant, and not take it personally. But it's another thing entirely to watch the people that I love smashing each other.

When I see my mother on the verge of tears because another family member is being cruel to her, or even just insensitive, I can't not care. I do take it personally. There is a cost. And eventually it overwhelms me. I invariably end up staring fixedly into the vase of cut flowers at the centre of the table, trying to block it all out. At least the flowers are beautiful.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do in the future, but something has to change. I do not wish to carry on in my current role of rodeo clown. I'm not prepared to disown my family entirely. So, what am I going to do in the future, when the situation inevitably comes up again?

Sometimes I've pictured myself getting up and walking out of one of these gatherings, in protest, but that seems too melodramatic and extreme. The meanies in the room never quite push it that far.

I do still love and care about that part of my family. What am I going to do? I have no idea. I'm open to suggestions.

On a warmer note, I had my mother over for dinner last night. I cooked her a simple meal, keeping in mind all of her many food allergies. Ken made her proper, strong English tea after the meal. Then I tucked us in under blankets on the sofa, our feet up on ottomans, to watch the movie Once. My mum loved the movie, as I knew she would. I hope that I was able to fill up her love reserves so that she has enough resources to get through tonight.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The C-Word

Cancer has been skulking around lately, bullying people that I care about.

Ken's dad's cancer reoccurred a few months ago. We just got word that it's getting worse. There's no way of telling how quickly it will move, but the news has us thinking about saying that final goodbye in the foreseeable future. He miraculously recovered from his deathbed seven years ago. Every day since then has been a bonus. We just don't want him to suffer. Apparently the doctors increased his painkillers, so for now he's doing OK.

My step-mum* is also in the midst. She had a malignant polyp removed from her intestine a few weeks ago. The doctors are pretty sure it's all self-contained, but just to be on the safe side they're going to surgically remove a portion of her intestine. Not fun. And "pretty sure it's self-contained" isn't good enough, so we'll all be waiting with baited breath until the final results are in after the surgery. I personally have a lot of faith that it'll all turn out fine, but it's a horrible ordeal for my step-mum to have to go through.

And now there's my grandmother. (My mother's mother.) For the past nine years we were vaguely aware that there was something growing on the end of her nose that had to be monitored. The g.p. was keeping a close eye on it, we believed. Finally the time came for her to have it removed. She was referred to a hospital clinic.

My mum accompanied my grandmother to the appointment. She expected that there would be a brief procedure, perhaps not even requiring stitches, to remove the offending portion of skin. Then they could meet up with my grandfather and my aunt and they'd all go out for a nice lunch.

Her jaw dropped open when the consulting doctor starting talking. He was wording it as gently as possible, but the word "disfigurement" was involved. He said that there was cancer all through the end of my grandmother's nose, and that the best, simplest thing to do would be to just remove that whole piece of the nose. He said "I'm not a plastic surgeon, but I'd do my best..."

Are you kidding me? Nose cancer? If this was a movie, I would find it funny. But in real life, not so much.

In any case, my grandmother was not enthusiastic about being disfigured. Even at the age of 89, she takes care of her appearance. They were presented with another option, of localized radiation therapy every day for 2 - 3 weeks. There would be a slightly greater chance that the cancer wouldn't be completely licked, but at least my grandmother would be able to keep her nose intact. My grandmother opted for Plan B.

So, first of all my mother is completely bewildered by the fact that the cancer, which started as a simple skin spot, was permitted to progress this far without any treatment. The g.p. had NINE YEARS to do something about it. And what did she do? She let the damned cancer eat my grandmother's nose. That is not excusable.

Secondly, now my mother and her sisters have to coordinate getting my grandmother to the hospital for radiation therapy, which is going to take hours every day in itself (counting travel time and sitting in waiting rooms). Not only that, but someone has to stay with my grandfather because he's blind, frail, and gets confused. He can't be left alone. It's doable, but it's going to be an ordeal for everyone involved.

I can't think of a good ending, because none of these stories has any kind of closure at the moment. I'll just say that this is a powerful test of my faith, and leave it there.

* In deference to the preferences of the women I love, I am referring to them as "mum" instead of "mom".

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I always wish I could write more freely about my workplace. It's endlessly interesting. Never a dull day. Unfortunately, most of it is highly confidential.

I will say this: it was especially interesting this past week, due to some renovations we had done. The workers got started last Thursday evening. The affected part of our site was closed down all day Friday, and the plan was that they would keep working through the weekend until everything was done. The cleaners were scheduled to come in on Sunday evening to get everything shipshape, and Monday morning we were supposed to get right back on schedule.

I had my doubts. This same crew of workers had done a weekend renovation for us in the past. Come Monday morning, the place was a distaster area. We had to send all our clients home, and the business lost thousands of dollars. Why did these guys get a second chance? They were a lot cheaper than the next highest quote, by more thousands of dollars than were lost in the disaster fiasco. The bottom line speaks loudly.

So, what happened this past Monday morning? I bet you can guess.

It was a disaster area again. Not quite as bad as the last time. We were able to see our clients, but only because my early shift worker spent 2 hours, between 5:30 am and 7:30 am, on her hands and knees, scrubbing paint, plaster, and adhesive gunk off the floor. The other earliest workers also rolled up their sleeves and got to work throwing out the construction garbage that was left everywhere, and sanitizing the work surfaces.

The cleaners had apparently come the night before, surveyed the incredible mess, and, afraid to start moving things for fear of messing up the incomplete work, had pretty much given up and left.

One of my staff had been in on the weekend, and guess what? No really, guess. The construction workers had not shown up at all on either Saturday or Sunday. They worked until late on Friday night, and then just left the whole mess to sit for the entire rest of the weekend. Their excuse: the paint wasn't dry enough to continue. Um, hello? If that's even true, your plan and promise to be finished in a weekend was a little short-sighted! The men in charge of the job have been working as contractors for at least ten years, probably twenty. They should know better.

And then, guess who showed up on Monday morning? At 8:00 am smack dab in the middle of our business? You got it. The workers! At which point they started in hammering, sawing, sanding, and generally making a huge disturbance, right in the middle of all our clients. It was unsanitary, unsafe, unplanned, and completely stupid. It didn't take long before another layer of dust was deposited all over the surfaces that the morning staff had just cleaned. But we let them go at it, just so we could get the whole experience over with as soon as possible.

The staff was understandably aggravated at having to put up with this nonsense. I was lucky in that none of the renovations took place on my turf. I was involved because I loaned my staff to the other department head to help out, and I had to deal with all the technology that was in the affected area. Of course the workers managed to disconnect a phone jack that had previously been working. They also placed some cable connections in an office kitty-corner to the desk, so I had to direct one of my staff up on a ladder to fish extension cables through the plenum space over the ceiling. That was an adventure we don't care to repeat. The plenum space is packed with dust and obstacles, and acoustical tiles never seem to want to lie flat again once they've been popped out of their grid.

Anyway, everything's back in working order now. One of my bosses has promised me never to hire these particular contractors again. The other boss is still kind of defending them. Ah well. They pay me well enough, so at least I'm well-compensated for the irritation.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Slave to the Rhythm

I’m unwinding.

My naturopath would like to take all the credit. He’s got me on a new remedy, one that’s supposed to nurture one’s faith. It’s called “Star-of-Bethlehem”. If fear is the opposite of faith, then it’s working. I’ve been less anxious over the past few weeks.

I’ve always had a rigid morning routine. Wake up at 6:30 am, shower, yoga, breakfast, dress, always in the same order, always on the same schedule.

While I was recovering from the flu, I couldn’t keep my schedule. I was too tired. I’d turn off my alarm clock and go back to sleep, then rush around trying to get out the door on time. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. If I was a few minutes late for work, too bad, so sad. I don’t have a boss on site, so there was no one to chastise me. If I needed more time at the end of the day, I stayed late.

Now the flu is over, but I haven’t gone back to my morning schedule. I set my alarm for the latest time I can get away with getting up. Then I go to bed whenever I’m tired, and wake up when I’m ready to wake up, usually before the alarm goes off. (It’s a lot easier to get to bed on time now that I don’t have cable TV, hooking me in to a show that I simply MUST see the end of.)

I love being on this new non-schedule. It’s like sleeping in every morning. Sometimes I have to hustle to get out the door, but that’s OK. I’m so well-rested that I can deal with being a bit rushed.

I’ve been letting go of other things too, like making plans. I’ve always been the type to want to plan ahead in detail. What will I eat for dinner tomorrow night? What outfit am I going to wear tomorrow morning? I had it all set in my mind ahead of time. These days I’m more likely to wing it. Sometimes that means we end up eating odd dinners, from whatever we can find in the refrigerator, but whatever. I’m not picky.

I’ve even let go of my attachment to practicing the violin. Performance time has been postponed indefinitely. It’s a heck of an instrument to master. It requires muscles and body postures that are not used for any other purpose, therefore without constant practice I find I lose my ability to play well quite quickly.

Sleeping upwards of 9 hours per night requires that I spend less time doing things in my spare time. If I have to chose between calling my mom and practicing the violin, I’ll call my mom. Spending time with my husband, family, or friends vs. the violin? My loved ones win every time. Time relaxing with a movie vs. the violin? At this time, I’m choosing to relax. I like this new, less uptight self. I don’t want to get myself caught up in a project that’s going to re-activate my inner over-achiever.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize that I spent too much time trying to get things done. Just like they say that no one, on their deathbed, ever regrets that they didn’t spend more time at the office, I doubt that anyone wishes they spent more time practicing violin. Maybe I’ll find time for it again at some point, but right now, I have other priorities.

Don't be a slave to your schedule. Be a slave to the rhythm.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ai Ai Eyes

Warning: this post contains details of an eye exam, and profanity. LL Cool Joe, I'll see you later. Anyone else who finds eyes disgusting, leave now.

Relatively speaking, I'm cool as a cucumber at the eye doctor. He tells me that some people faint during the exam. My brave husband Ken screamed when Dr. Eye shone a bright light in his eyes. "It was SO bright!" Wow. I may faint at the sight of blood, and cry when I get a needle, but at the eye doctor, I am solid as a rock. I get to pretend I'm a toughie.

My least favourite procedure is the one that tests the pressure in your eye. You put your head into a frame to hold it steady. Then they position a little air nozzle aiming directly into your pupil. You wait for what seems like an eternity, until suddenly a strong, sharp burst of air blasts your eyeball. This elicits an irrepressible startle reflex. Your whole body jerks spastically. Then they want to do the other eye. It's all kinds of fun.

The rest of it's usually no biggie. I don't mind having bright lights shone in my face. If Dr. Eye feels the need to peel back my eyelids and search around underneath them, he's welcome to do so. I take eyedrops like a champ - no flinching. Or always have done. The ones he gives to dilate my pupils so he can examine the retinas usually sting a little, but I can deal.

Well, this time, he gave me the drops. Instructed me to keep my eyes closed for a full minute. We chatted about his summer vacation. Then he said "OK, open your eyes." And...

You know that horrible feeling that sends shivers all down your body when you drag your fingernails down a blackboard?

Imagine feeling that in your eyes, multiplied by 1,000, times Massive Stinging Pain.

An appropriate response would have been to holler "MOTHERF*CK!" and then go on a mad rampage around the examining room, roaring like an angry bull and trashing all the expensive equipment.

Instead, I lowered my head, sucked air in through my teeth, and then uttered quietly, through a clenched jaw: "Ow." Tears poured into my lap from my poor, suffering eyes, as they tried to wash out the corrosive poison.

"Come on, you can take it. I do this every year," said Dr. Eye.

"This is worse than usual," I said.

"Oh well, I'm using the phenol-blah-blah instead of the other-something drops. I want to make sure I can see all the way in. You have long eyes."

Just what every woman wants to hear. I don't have long hair, long legs, or long eyelashes. I have long eyes. So sexy.

Truly, Dr. Eye has told me before that my eyes are shaped like footballs instead of spheres. This is the cause of my near-sightedness. It puts a lot of strain on the retinas at the rear, because they are stretched to their breaking point.

Fortunately the sting wore off in a minute or so, for the most part. Then Dr. Eye was able to do his exam, during which he jovially told me that my retinas were thinning a little more this year, and if that little spot started to tear we'd have to laser it around the edges to make sure it doesn't spread, but not to worry because there are no pain receptors in the retina, so it won't hurt. Jolly good. Thank God for modern technology.

He finally let me out of there, with my pupils dilated to the max and pink, puffy eyelids. So attractive, I'm sure. That, and the squinting.

Then I went home and sat in the dark, because my eyes wouldn't focus at all and every light was painful. The double-strong drops really did their work. I had my annual Pity Party about the fact that I am at high risk for a detached retina and may very well go blind when I'm old, like my grandfather. I'm allowed to cry about that once a year, because it sucks.

The rest of the time, I try to just be grateful for every day that I can see.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Full of Should

How do you know if something is good or bad?

There are easy answers. Chocolate cake is good. Getting your tooth drilled for a filling is bad. But then again, chocolate cake isn't so good if you're diabetic. And getting your tooth drilled is a blessing compared to having it rot painfully because you have no access to dental care.

In the past I would have said, in theory, that there are some things at the ends of the spectrum that are purely good or purely bad. For example, love is all good, and violence is all bad. Right? Except, even pure love is bad when it's unrequited. If you love someone who doesn't care for you, your suffering is bottomless. And violence has a place in protecting the helpless from bullies. So where do we draw the line?

Is there anything that's all good or all bad?

I don't think so anymore. I've always been a Shades of Grey person, but I held on to the idea that this earthly plane did have some examples of 100% goodness and pure evil. I can't maintain that belief anymore. Everything I look at has two sides to it. For example, even the worst abuses I've suffered in my life have contributed to making me who I am today, and I like who I am. Even though those experiences seemed 100% bad when they were happening, at this point I wouldn't chose to time travel back and undo them.

I've been thinking about this in connection with the beliefs of organized religion. What's really got me hooked is the idea of an idol. According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, an idol is

1 : a representation or symbol of an object of worship; broadly : a false god

Boiling it down to essentials, I understand it to mean that anytime we worship a Thing instead of God him/her/itself, we are worshipping an idol. An obvious example: if I decide my pot scrubber has supernatural powers and I start bowing before it and making sacrifices (burning a few cookies would probably do nicely) to win its favour, I am worshipping an idol.

Speaking more broadly, I have heard it said and I agree that church itself can become an idol. If I believe that I can only access God in a certain building, dressed a certain way and reciting a script in the form of accepted prayers, then I am worshipping an idol just as much as when I was kissing the counter my pot scrubber sits on.

Idolatry tries to limit God. It says "we know how God works, and therefore you have to follow our recipe if you want to get in contact with him". God, by any definition, is not limited. If he wants to get a message to you while you're wandering around your apartment wearing dirty underwear, listening to industrial goth rock, then He will do it.*

*This particular scenario is not one of my personal experiences.

The same people who like to hold forth on the right and proper way to connect with God are often the same people who figure they know what's Right and Wrong. Purely right, and purely wrong, to be clear. And they're more than willing to boss you around in that regard, for your own good, of course.

Much as I appreciate their intentions, I don't buy their theology. Anytime we figure we've got it all nailed down, that we know the rules, that's when we start believing we have some control over God. And we just don't. Not even a little.

The best way to connect with God, in my admittedly limited experience, is to be fully present in This Moment, because that's where He is.

If you're with someone, you can't love them in the past. You can't love them in the future. Saying "I loved you last week" or "I'll get around to loving you by St. Patrick's day" is useless. You can only love them right now, in this very instant. God is one of the someones that applies to.

You also can't be truly intimate with someone if you're always worried about the rules. If you're fearful: What if I said the wrong thing? What if I'm wearing the wrong clothes? Does my breath smell? Some folks approach God like they're going on a terrifying first date. It's really silly, because if you actually really believe that God is omniscient, you'd know that He's not just with you on Sundays at church. He's always there. He sees you at your worst no matter how hard you try to hide.

(On a tangent, it bugs me every time I hear someone end a prayer like they're hanging up the God Phone. "God, I can haz cheezeburger? KTHXBAI!" It's like they believe He stops listening when the official prayer is over. That makes no sense to me.)

Anyway, what's my point? My point is that we can be trapped by rules and formulas. And while there is a place for the majesty of ritual in spiritual life, there is also so much more beyond the rituals. If we are approaching God with a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing, we're already doing the wrong thing, by feeling fearful.

That was my best effort at putting a huge, tangled thought ball into a linear format. Did I make any sense?