Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Giddyup jingle horse, pick up your feet

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

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

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

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

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


*side eye*

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

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Generalized Crumbling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Another Dog Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



-bbbbrrrrrrrrggggrrrrrrROWF!  ROWF!


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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Librarian's Daughter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

Random Thoughts About Wealthy Dogs

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

3.5 Miles and 360 Units of Wow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fluffy Snow

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Little Things

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


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

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

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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lub Dub

Yesterday I had my first ever echocardiogram.  The referral was generated during my Emergency Room Adventure.  Although I'm feeling better now, I figured I'd keep the appointment, partly because it literally doesn't hurt to have the test done, and partly because there is value in keeping one's reputation as a compliant patient.  I try to do everything my doctors suggest, within reason.  If I think I won't like their suggestions, I don't consult with them in the first place.

The test was not as interesting as I thought it would be.  I had hoped to watch the monitor so I could see my heart in action.  Sadly, I was told to lie on my side, facing away from the technician.  I did get to listen to the various sounds made by my heart and by blood circulating, which was pretty cool.  It didn't sound all serious, like a heartbeat heard through a stethescope.  It sounded, in fact, like there was a guy with a microphone hiding in the supplies cupboard, making silly sounds with his mouth.  Maybe there was.  What do I know?  I was lying facing the wall in the dark with my glasses off.

One thing I remember from other ultrasounds I've had in the past: they sure do slop on a lot of gel. 

After the test I got to see the doctor, who was a nice fellow in his early 40's.  He asked me to tell my story.  I said I'd had a virus, that I felt the rapid heart rate was purely due to stress on my body from that virus, and now that I was getting well again my heart felt fine.  He said my heart looked and sounded completely normal, and that he agreed with my assessment.  No reason to do any further tests. 

He did say that it was worthwhile to run the Echo, because some viruses can cause lasting damage to the heart.  Good to know.

So that pretty much wraps up the heart issue.  I wish I could say that I was back 100% from the virus, but not yet.  I need 9 hours of sleep lately just to get by, and even so I'm VERY cranky by the end of the day.  My stomach is finnicky about what it will put up with.  It's getting tiresome, but there's nothing much I can do but be patient.

In other news, I'm trying to get used to a new electric toothbrush.  My dentist said it does a better job than hand-brushing, and considering I'd like to keep these teeth for another 50 years or so, I figured it was a good investment.  I charged it up, and then used it for the first time this morning.  I managed to spray toothpaste all over the bathroom, for one thing.  For another, dang, it is irritatingly loud!  The handling will take some getting used to.  I thought it would be easier than brushing by hand, but for now it's way more awkward.  We'll see.  Hopefully I'll figure it out soon.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chicken, Nephrology, and Evil Velcro

Three cheers for grown-up food!  That's what I put in my belly today, and it was good.  Chicken (not puréed, but an actual slice of solid meat) with egg-fried-rice.  Udon noodles with seafood, and tofu teriyaki.  A fresh, warm crêpe with dark chocolate and strawberries.  I didn't clear my plate by any means, but heck yeah, fist pump for Real Food!

I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to eat properly again.  On Thursday night a promising experiment with two slices of very plain pizza (no cheese, just green peppers, mushrooms, a hint of tomato sauce, and a few paper-thin circles of pepperoni) went horribly wrong.  I thought I was fine, until I woke at 12:30 am with gut-twisting pain.  There was no jettisoning of pizza, however the misery in my belly kept me awake most of the night.  On Friday I felt exhausted and my spirit, broken.  I went out and bought another week's supply of tasteless mush.  Now I'm thinking the food bank box at my local supermarket is the best place for the rest of that stuff.

Today was also the first day in weeks that I got out of the house with Ken for some quality time together.  Even before I fell ill he'd been working on the weekends for a while, so it had been more than a month since our last outing.  We were in desperate need of a chance to discuss something other than house chores and the state of my digestive tract.

A friend had given us free tickets to the Everything to do with S*x Show.  We figured it would be good for a laugh, so we set off for the downtown Toronto Convention Centre.  There's an indoor tunnel several blocks long from the train station to the Convention Centre.  We walked along it surrounded by well-dressed, attractive people in the 25-50 age range.  "Look at all the perverts!" said Ken.  "They must be going to the S*x show too."  I remarked that they were dressed more in line with an outing to an upscale restaurant than anything kinky, but what do I know?

Once at the Convention Centre, we squinted at the LED notice board to determine which hall we should head for.  Let's see... The Nephrology Nurses and Technologists' Association Convention.  The Food and Wine Show.  And...  The Nephrology Nurses and Technologists' Association Convention - wait, we saw that one already.  I suggested that Ken check the tickets, which had been solely in his possession since they were gifted to us.  He did.  And guess what?  We were at the wrong convention centre.  All those "perverts" were in fact headed to the Food and Wine show.

OK, no problem.  I wasn't really all that jazzed about viewing displays of rubbery toys or watching strangers model leather gear.  It would probably have made for a fun blog post, but I can truly live without the experience and feel no poorer for it.

Instead, we took care of an errand that meant much more to me.  We walked to the nearby Mountain Equipment Co-op store.  I purchased a new winter coat.  A winter coat with SNAPS and NO VELCRO.

For the past three years I have been living with a cannibalistic coat.  It eats clothes.  It even chews on itself.  It's one of the most annoying pieces of clothing I've ever dealt with, and that's saying a lot.

The old coat fastened with a zipper, and overtop of that, a flap secured by half-a-dozen tabs of velcro.  Super-industrial-strength, no-pity-for-the-weak velcro.  No matter how I tried to avoid it, that velcro got its little hooks into all my sweaters, all my scarves, even my stockings, and tore the crap out of them.  Sometimes the damage could be somewhat smoothed over by rubbing down the frayed fabric, but other items were instantly wrecked.  It would attach itself to things while I was putting it on or taking it off, or worse, while I was carrying it around indoors folded over my arm.  Which was usually while I was shopping.  You know, for new clothes.  Brand new, previously perfect clothes.  Despite my best intentions, I may have occasionally lost control of my coat, allowing it to take get its vicious teeth into garments hanging innocently on display.  But I'm not admitting anything; the evidence is all circumstantial; and anyway it's the malls' fault for not offering lockers or a coat check.

Both cuffs of this stupid coat were totally trashed from repeatedly snagging on itself.  It looked like a dog had gnawed it.  Not attractive, trust me.

Today, I bought a similar coat, different in two important ways.
1)  It's plum-coloured, much nicer than the old one, which was depressingly black.  I only bought black last time because the alternate colour that year was a nasty shade of military green, which made me look jaundiced.
2)  NO FREAKING VELCRO!!!  It has metal snaps instead.  I can wear my favourite sweaters without worrying that they'll be destroyed.

The old coat took one more bite out of me as I squashed it into a little ball and shoved it into the "donations" bag.  It knew where it was going, and it was bitter.  That coat was a bad egg from the start.  I'm glad to see it go.  I hope that the person who ends up with it is someone who likes to wear pleather and PVC all the time.  Or I'll just be passing on the problem to someone else...  Geez.  On second thought, maybe I should burn it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Much Better, Thanks.

Yesterday I went back to work.  On the way there, I almost asked the cab driver to turn around and take me home again.  I was shaky, but I persevered.

The virus did a number on my nerves.  I felt so sensitized for a few days there that I could barely handle leaving the house.  Simple things, like riding in a car on a beautiful, sunny day with the window down, were too much to handle.  My neurons went OMG!  TOO MUCH MOTION!  TOO BRIGHT!  WHAT IS THIS OFFENSIVE AIR BLOWING ON MY FACE?  PANIC!  PAAAAANIIIIIIIIC!

As my heart revved up to a wild gallop, I'd be consciously talking myself down.  Relax.  It's just a car ride.  This is all totally normal.  Stop over-reacting.

That's how I got to work.  Once I arrived, I had to sit quietly in my office with the door closed for half an hour until I stopped feeling like I might pass out.  I asked myself if I had possibly made a mistake in coming back too soon.

Fortunately, as the hours passed, I got re-acclimatized to the office environment.  I shuffled around with the equivalent energy of a wet dishrag, but I was damn glad to be there.

I'm still mainly eating baby food.  That and toast, hard-boiled eggs, and a little peanut butter.  You know, baby food is actually pretty great stuff.  It's the healthiest prepared food you can buy.  It has no preservatives and, more importantly, almost no sodium.  I'm talking about the ones with meat and vegetables combined in a jar.  I can throw one over a portion of brown rice, zap it in the microwave, and have a balanced lunch in two minutes.  I can see this being a lazy-dinner option that I might occasionally fall back on even once I'm healthy again.

Today I'm good.  Still tired, but the racing heart thing seems to be gone.  Granted, I won't be exercising for the next few days, just to be on the safe side.  Could be worse.  Free excuse to not exercise.  Anyone jealous of me now?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sinus Tachycardia

First a note to my squeamish friend LL Cool Joe and anyone else who has a phobia of things medical: do not read this post!  I'm fine, see you next time, bye bye now!

For those of you who are still with me, you get to hear the exciting story of how I spent yesterday in the emergency room.  Even as I was gasping for breath, wondering if I might actually be dying of a heart attack, I managed to whisper to Ken "This is going to make one helluva blog post."

As you know I've been sick since Monday.  As the days rolled by, I was itching to get back to my regular routine.  I started re-introducing elements of normalcy, at what I figured was a reasonable pace.

On Thursday evening, I ate my first regular-sized meal since I got sick.  That didn't sit so well.  As soon as the plate was empty, I broke out in a cold sweat.  I didn't feel like throwing up, but my body went into fight-or-flight mode and stayed that way for three long hours.  I was flooded with adrenaline and my heart was pumping a mile a minute.

Finally I settled a bit and got a decent night's sleep.  The next morning I decided that if I couldn't eat normally at least I could do a light stretching and exercise routine.  I have done this routine almost every morning for the past 15 years, even when I'm sick.  I always seem to feel better with moderate exercise (I'm talking about lifting 3 lb. hand weights here, nothing crazy).  It has never let me down before.

I was  partway through my workout when my heart started racing again.  I immediately put down my weights and sat on the floor.  I tried to stay calm and breathe through it.  Ken chided me for overdoing things.  He had to go out to run some errands, so he settled me on the couch and left.  I waited to feel better.  But it was soon clear that I was only feeling worse.

I called a nurse-friend of mine.  She asked me some questions and determined that I should get medical attention.  She offered to come over to my place (she doesn't work far from my home) herself, or she said that I could just hang up and call 911.  Of course at that I panicked.  I asked her to please come over.  She wanted my street address, which I gave her, but I was too distraught to remember my own postal code.

My friend called Ken on his cell to meet her at our place.  She counted my pulse at 120 beats per minute.  I was grey in the face and was having trouble walking.  She recommended that we go to an emergency room right away.

In the walk-in triage waiting room, I struggled to catch my breath.  The worst of it came in waves, during which I'd put my head down and just try to endure.  I was so faint that I had to keep my feet up, but there was no place for me to lie down in the walk-in area.  Ken asked the staff, but there were no stretchers available.  I had to curl up in a chair, and then ask Ken to stand in front of me to stop my feet from sliding off the seat, because it was too much exertion for me to hold the position on my own.  At one point I was pretty much ready to lie down on the floor, but I managed to keep it together until a reassuring murse talked to me and got me registered.  How long was it?  I'm not sure.  It felt like eternity but it was probably less than an hour.  Lesson learned: if you really think you might be having a heart attack, don't go to the walk-in e.r. - call 911 and go in an ambulance, or you could die in the triage waiting room.

Finally they strapped a bracelet on my wrist and got me into a room with a stretcher.  Lying down was heavenly.  Someone had painted one of the acoustic tiles on the ceiling with big, colourful flowers.  That was a nice touch.  I still felt like crap, but at least this was progress.

As soon as I was in my gown, a nurse came in and hooked me up to so many  wires and tubes that I felt like a computer.  I only wished that I had a USB port for them to use instead of needles for blood samples.  Initially they took four tubes of blood, then they came back for a fifth (from the other arm this time).  I also had to wear an IV needle, which they never used, but which was sore and gross and I hated it the whole time.  My arms were quite stuck full of holes by the time all was said and done.

My favourite tube was the nasal canula.  Maybe it was partly a placebo effect, but I did feel better knowing that I was getting my own personal oxygen supply.

In fact, I have always thought that being in the hospital, especially being stuck in the emergency room for hours and hours, would be totally unpleasant and I'd be dying to go home, but I wanted to stay.  I felt safe, hooked up to my monitoring machine and surrounded by nice nurses.  Ken barely budged from my bedside the whole time. I was feeling ill and frightened enough that I would rather be where help was close at hand.

As it turns out, however, after seven hours of monitoring and tests, there was no help for me.  They had ruled out every life threatening cause of rapid heart rate; my blood pressure was fine; my heart rhythm was normal in every respect except for the b.p.m., which was spiking up to 130.  They couldn't figure out what might be causing the problem.  They even did a pregnancy test on me (My first ever!  Historical day!) which came back negative, of course, or this post would have a different title.  They were afraid to give me a sedative to calm me down, as all the "sedatives" I've ever tried have resulted in exactly the symptoms I was currently experiencing: rapid heart rate.  Chances are, drugs would just make things worse.

The doctor said she felt badly for not being able to offer me more.  She wrote me a referral to get a Holter monitor test done next week.  She said that if the symptoms became unbearable over the weekend I should come back and she would admit me to the cardiac ward where they would start the Holter test right away.  Then the nurse came to take the nasty IV needle out of my arm and Ken brought me home.

This morning the symptoms started as soon as I stood up.  I toughed it out until 9:00 am, and then called my mother.  I expected her to freak out.  Instead she said: "Oh, that's something that runs in our family."

Oh really.  Nice of you to let me know now.  Is there anything else I should know about my family history before we go on?  Are we prone to fake appendicitis? Might I grow an extra nose one day, from the middle of my forehead, but it's nothing to worry about?  It'll dry up and drop off spontaneously after around three weeks?  Seriously, people need to be warned about these things.

Apparently my mother and her father are both prone to bouts of sinus tachycardia, triggered by physical or emotional stress.  My mother said that when it happens to her it usually resolves gradually within 2 or 3 days.  Of course, as soon as I heard that my anxiety decreased, and within five minutes I was feeling measurably better.  I'm still feeling kind of weak and weird, but it's a world of difference from 24 hours ago.

Now I'm going to go out to buy some easily digestible iron juice to help me recover from those five unnecessary tubes of blood.  *sigh*  That's a month's worth of iron supplementation undone in a day, and this anemic sickie can't tolerate high-powered Palafer at the moment.  I can't even stomach meat.  So I'm going to wobble off to the health food store to find myself some Floradix.  Wish me luck.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


If you've been following my Twitter feed, you know I've been sick.  Tummy flu, or at least something with a powerful element of nausea.  I spent most of Sunday lying down, feeling exhausted, and then on Monday morning at 12:30 am, the event I had been dreading finally came to pass: I upchucked for the first time since 1997.  I guess it's like riding a bike; once you've done it once, you can go back to it at anytime without having practiced.  Although in most other ways, it's not much like riding a bike at all.

The worst part wasn't the actual barfing, although that was unpleasant.  The worst part was the horrible, unrelenting dizziness that had the whole room spinning around me  if I so much as moved my head an inch in any direction.  For four long hours, I stayed as still as possible, fearing that if I stood up I would pass out and break my face on the floor.  I would have about five minutes break from the dizziness right after each barf attack, and then it was back into a nightmare of vertigo.  It was a long, long night.

My loving husband kept a vigil with me, bringing me chamomile tea (which I promptly upchucked) and other necessities.  Around 4:00 am when he started nodding off, I encouraged him to go to bed, seeing as I was starting to feel marginally better.  Instead, he rolled himself up in his duvet on the floor next to me, preferring to stay close in case I needed him.  I can't tell you how grateful I was to have him there.  I can't imagine anything lonelier than having to weather a stomach flu without anyone there to help.

The next morning, my body was still keyed up on adrenaline, and I knew I had a brief window of energy to fetch supplies for my recuperation.  I grabbed my granny buggy and took a walk to the supermarket, where I bought a selection of baby food in jars, plain cereal, plain crackers, and juice.  That's been my lot ever since.

I'm on the mend, but I've a ways to go yet before I'm well.  I'm exhausted, and still a bit feverish.  And that is my sad story for today.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Breaking Ribs to Save Lives

Good news: CPR is easier than you thought!

I used to be scared of taking a CPR course. I thought it would be gross, involving lip-on-lip action with someone other than my husband. Also, I figured it was probably complicated, with lots of steps to remember, and counting, and if you did it wrong and the person died you could get sued.

I was wrong on all counts. First of all, four Canadian provinces, including Ontario, have passed Good Samaritan laws. According to

Good Samaritan Law or Doctrine:a legal principle that prevents a rescuer who has voluntarily helped a victim in distress from being successfully sued for 'wrongdoing.' Its purpose is to keep people from being so reluctant to help a stranger in need for fear of legal repercussions if they made some mistake in treatment.

Cool! Check your local laws to see if there's an equivalent in your area.

Artificial respiration is not required. What? How can you keep someone alive without the kiss of life? Well, it seems that when you are pounding away on someone's heart, you end up working their lungs like a bellows. Proper chest compressions go down to half the resting height of the chest, and then back up again, which sucks air in and out of the lungs, which equals breathing. It may not be very deep breathing, but your patient will get some oxygen as long as the airway is clear.

Our teacher said compressions-only CPR is the next great trend. It's so new that he's not officially supposed to be teaching it yet, but it'll be on next year's course. Therefore, no counting of compressions or breaths is required.

Spark's short course in CPR*:

1. When you see a person collapsed on the floor, first check for environmental hazards before approaching them. You don't want to be the next victim of toxic gas or a gang fight.

2. Tap them and shout "Are you OK?" a few times to see if they are responsive. Hold your ear over their mouth for ten seconds to see if there is regular breathing. If they respond or if they're breathing, they're not dead, so they don't need CPR.

3. If they don't respond, call 911!

4. Here insert more protocols if the person was choking, to clear the airway. Things are also different if you're dealing with a child under the age of 9. However, if you've got an adult who is probably in the midst of a heart attack, proceed with compressions.

5. It's not recommended that you bother to try to find a pulse. It's hard for medical professionals to find a pulse on a wide-awake person. Joe Average is probably not going to be able to locate a pulse one someone who is unconscious with low blood pressure. Here's the thing: if their heart is beating, you're not going to stop it by doing CPR. The worst you're going to do is break some ribs. (Good Samaritan Act!) And if they're dead, they can't get any deader. So you may as well start compressions to give them a chance of being resuscitated once the paramedics get there.

6. Put one hand on top of the other, palms down. Interlace your fingers. Lock your elbows. The instructor said, and I quote, "Find the centre of the nipple line". I'd say a better way of putting it is find the spot directly between the armpits. Place the heel of your bottom hand on the bony centre of the ribcage over the heart, and start pumping!

7. Each compression should be halfway down the depth of the ribcage. As I mentioned before, there is a 99% chance that you will break ribs. If you don't compress deep enough, there's no point to the exercise. Even with effective CPR, a person's chances of surviving a massive heart attack go down by 10% with each passing minute. Most ambulances take 9-10 minutes to arrive. So compress that chest like you mean it, because you may be giving that person their only chance at survival. Also, at the top of each compression, all your weight should come off your hands for a fraction of a second.

8. Sing "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees. Out loud. Seriously. That is the tempo you need to keep up with your compressions.

9. Recruit bystanders to help you. CPR is exhausting. You probably won't be able to keep up effective compessions for more than 1 or 2 minutes at a time. Coach your helpers on how to do the compressions properly.

10. Keep it up until the ambulance arrives and the paramedics take over.

11. Go have a good, stiff drink. See, you can do it! I knew you could!

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I have only taken one CPR course and I don't guarantee that my notes were 100% perfect. This post is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to be a real CPR education. If you'd like to get properly qualified, please take a course from an accredited instructor.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Missing Muskoka

The Muskoka Sands Inn. From 1980 to 1983, when I was 7 to 10 years old, my parents and I vacationed there every summer for two weeks. Because I was a kid, soaking up every second of sensory input and weaving hours of detailed memory-fantasies, in my mind it's like we lived there for months on end. Beautiful months upon summer months.

Muskoka is a rural region around 2 hours' drive north of Toronto. It's cottage country, a mosaic of lakes, rivers, and forests. You know you've arrived when the highway starts cutting through outcroppings of granite. Speckled, rough walls of veined pinkish or rusty rock loom over the car on both sides as you fly from the city towards your vacation. It's the Canadian Shield making its presence known.

The Muskoka Sands Inn still exists, but it's been totally renovated. I was only back there once since they rebuilt the place, and I didn't like the new look. I preferred the quaint, 1960's guest cottages that used to surround the main building. My folks and I used to stay in the same one every year: The Elm. My room had an orange shag rug, wood-panelled walls, and a brown-and-vanilla floral patterned quilt on the bed. The tap water from the bathroom sink came out smelling like the lake.

Lake Muskoka was the centrepiece of the resort. Most of the people vacationing there windsurfed, water-skied, and para-sailed all day long, stopping only for beers, burgers, and fries on the patio restaurant over the boathouse. On Sundays a live band played jazz on the patio, and I was allowed to order a banana split after lunch. I had to eat it quickly before it melted in the hot, August sun. Then if I was lucky my parents would give me quarters for a few games of pinball inside the restaurant.

Once every two weeks, the servers from the Inn put on a water skiing demonstration. They did tricks on inner tubes, made human pyramids, and, as a gimmick, skied on their serving trays.

The formal dining room, where breakfast and dinner were served, also overlooked the lake. It was a big, wide room, surrounded on three sides by glass windows. The sunset views were phenomenal. There was a parquet dance floor in the centre, and on Saturday nights the same jazz band that played at the boathouse would play big band music in the dining room while all the grownups danced.

My favourite moment in that dining room occurred when a server was bringing a huge tray from the kitchen to restock the breakfast buffet. It was filled with little glass cups full of stewed prunes. The server lost his footing as he stepped onto the dance floor, and lobbed the entire tray up into the air as he flailed for balance. It rained stewed prunes that morning.

My favourite place to be was in a special little cottage shaded by ancient trees, next to the shuffle-board courts. This was the potter's cottage. The owner of the inn was married to a sweet Dutch woman who had set up her clay studio there. She made beautiful dishes, mugs, and vases which she sold in the front room of the cottage. She used to let me stand quietly in a corner of the studio, watching her throw pots on the wheel. It was like magic, seeing a slippery, grey lump of clay turn into a bowl right before my eyes.

Once she let me make some bowls and stamp them with my initials. My mother still has them. It was only years later, when I took a pottery course and sucked at it, that I realized how much help I must have had making those neat, symmetrical bowls. She must have pretty much made them for me and then let me take all the credit.

On busy, cold days, I miss the Muskoka Sands Inn. I miss wading knee-deep in the cold lake, letting the minnows kiss my ankles. I miss taking walks with my mother, holding our breath while walking through clouds of gnats. She always ended up with at least one bug in her mouth, no matter how hard she tried to keep them out. I miss falling asleep in my squeaky twin bed, listening to the maple trees rustle in the wind outside the cabin window.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Monkey Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Wedding Story

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lost: The Quest for Roti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Acronyms and Acrimony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Sea Monkey Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Icing on the Cake

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

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

The most useful truth lies somewhere in between. Interdependence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Bachelorette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A La Carte

Ken and I don't cook for ourselves much these days. We're just too tuckered out by 6pm to face shopping, cooking, and cleaning. Maybe we should try harder. Sometimes I think so. But it's so much easier to pay someone else to hand over a plate of food.

Sometimes we throw caution to the winds and eat whatever. All day breakfast with really fatty salty bacon. Big, juicy burgers with fries and onion rings. Chinese food glossy with oil and cornstarch. Last time we went to Asian Legend, the lemon chicken was like a sweet, citrusy chicken donut covered in gooey sauce. At a certain point "decadent" becomes "gross".

For my birthday we went to Baton Rouge, the ultimate Canadian slightly-classy pig-out destination. They specialize in grilled meats, especially ribs, served on large oval platters with your choice of sides, usually a pile of fries big enough to choke a horse. This one time I was eating dinner there, and a horse actually came in, gobbled all the fries off my plate in one mouthful, and then choked to death right there on the floor. No one was willing to attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Well, it seriously could have happened.

Like I said, it was my birthday. We showed up on a Monday, which happens to be the day for discounts. 10 oz. of ribs usually goes for $19 and 16 oz. is usually $25, I think, but on Mondays the 16 oz. is only $ 20. So of course I ordered the larger portion. That's why doggie bags were invented.

We also ordered up a couple of strawberry Daiquiri's. If you can believe it, neither of us had ever tried one before. They are very easy to drink. I could barely taste the rum. We waited for our food to arrive. Ken took advantages of pauses in the conversation to thoughtfully lick sugar crystals off the rim of his glass.

Ken ordered a second Daiquiri when we were partway through our meal. He said that it tasted stronger than the first one. By the time he got to the bottom of the glass, he was claiming that either they made that one a triple or someone had slipped him a roofie. He did seem a little loopy.

"You've seen me drink!" he said. "I can have six drinks before I get tipsy!" I'm not sure sure about that. The fact is that when you're at home on your couch, drinking to unknot a stiff back at the end of a long day, it's a lot easier to miss how tipsy you're getting because you're not expected to get up and walk around, or carry on a civilized conversation. Ken doesn't drink all the time, don't get me wrong, but when he has one of his nights I do notice that the Most Watched YouTube videos suddenly seem much funnier to him than usual. By which I mean, there is uninhibited giggling. Therefore: tipsy!

But not after only two drinks. This was something unusual.

Fortunately we were within walking distance from home. On the way back I held Ken's elbow just in case. He walked in a gentle slalom pattern, and serenaded me with an improvised song about how there are a lot of condos.

I wonder what the hell Baton Rouge put in that drink.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pickle Music

The fridge had gotten to that point. The point at which it was so packed full of half-empty sauce bottles; unopened jars of chutney and antipasto that had arrived in gift baskets two Christmases ago; and other abandoned condiments; that there was hardly any room left in it for actual food that we might actually eat. It was time to clear out the crap.

I apologize to Ken if I threw out anything valuable of yours by accident. I'm pretty sure you won't miss the jar of Patak's Curry Paste that had only a teaspoonful left in the bottom, but what about the half-full Chicken Tikka Sauce? Was that from last month or last year? If I got rid of anything I shouldn't have, just say the word and I'll replace it.

We did have some odd items archived behind the mustard and the peanut butter. For example, a 2 Litre (half-gallon) jar of cubed pickled beets. I assure you, I did not heft that sucker home from the grocery store. There's only one other person shopping for our fridge, and he hates beets. Will not eat them. I have tried. I like beets (just not the pickled variety), but Ken most definitely does not. So why was that jar taking up valuable real estate in our fridge? That's another story to be told another day.

Speaking of econo-sizing, we also had a 2 Litre jar of dill pickles (expired in July). I drained the brine down the sink and then tilted the jar over the trash bin, dumping out a large quantity of whole pickled cucumbers, giving them a poke to get them moving when they got jammed in the mouth of the jar. For reason I cannot justify, I found myself humming the William Tell Overture while performing this operation. That there is pickle music!

I rinsed out all the jars, took out the trash and the recycling. Now I have space in my fridge! For food! Trust me there are still plenty of sauces available. Sauce is always better when you've got something to put it on.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

South Asian Wedding Show

The South Asian Wedding Show could be heard pumping out thundrous techno-raga beats from all the way down the conference centre corridor and around the corner. From the ticket booth, we caught sight of flashing laser lights and clouds of fog from the smoke machines. Once inside the turnstile, we could barely hear each other for the din.

I haven't been to a ton of weddings, but from what I saw at this show, South Asian weddings put boring old white-people weddings to shame. Deep shame! There are various religious and cultural traditions which fall under the South Asian umbrella. From what I witnessed, this show covered weddings mainly in the Hindu tradition. I tell you, those Hindu kids know how to party!

The hall was bedlam. It was so crowded in the aisles that it was a challenge to get from A to B. Despite the fact that I'm obviously not of South Asian descent, the salespeople behind the tables were more than happy to pitch to Ken and I. He's half-white-half-Asian so maybe they thought we were engaged and our wedding would be in his family's tradition, which could be anything seeing that he's ambiguously brownish.

When I was two steps into the hall, a woman thrust a promotional postcard at me, held flat like a plate, a miniature iced chocolate cupcake balanced on top of it. I accepted the card and immediately downed the yummy cupcake. The next booth was promoting, and sampling, Johnny Walker Scotch Whiskey. We declined the booze, but helped ourselves to the plate of bite-sized dark chocolate pieces. The next booth after that was selling security services. After determining that we both work for a business that is rather under-serviced in terms of security, the sales guy gave us his card and his shpiel. Then, just as we were turning to go, he said "Would you like some chocolate?" He stepped aside revealing a plate full of Hallowe'en treat-sized candy bars. We declined, having had our fill already. No shortage of sweets there!

There were several dj-and-light-show services, all vying with each other for the loudest, flashiest booth. One of them literally drummed up an audience with a trio of live traditional drummers. Another advertised that their services included "pyro". Man, where were they when I was planning my wedding? We could have blown the lid off the church with some wicked fireworks! That would have been totally rad.

The sample table settings on display were extravagant, as was everything there. My favourite was the company who offered "silk" canopies tented over each individual table. There was a fake peacock (made with real feathers, I'm sure) perched on the edge of one of the canopies. Seriously, it makes me want to renew my vows just so that I can plan a wedding in which fake peacocks figure prominently in the decor.

If Ken weren't allergic to horses, he could ride in to our second wedding on a white horse. This is a Hindu tradition, and sure enough there was a white horse in the hall, munching on hay and looking rather annoyed by all the comotion. He was wearing a fancy red headpiece with gold ornamentation, and his front two hooves had been painted with gold sparkly nail polish. Hoof polish? Anyway, since I grossed out enough of you with my snake stories, I won't get into detail about how the horse sneezed all over Ken. Let's just say that Ken, and the guy standing next to him, were not pleased.

Lastly we took in a fashion show. Here's a link to the official photos from the show. Click on the small photos for more detail. It would take too many words to describe these outfits properly. If I had to put it in a nutshell, they were: silky, sparkly, elaborate, amazing. South Asian style is very different. I didn't like everything I saw, but many of the outfits that were jaw-droppingly beautiful.

I wish I had some Hindu friends who might invite me to one of these unbelievable weddings. If the show was impressive, the real thing must be even better!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Snakes Quite Near Planes

Sometimes Ken and I swing by the convention centre out by the airport just for the hell of it. We check out the digital signboards to see if there are any good conventions going on that might be open to the public. This Sunday, we hit a double jackpot.

The first thing that caught our attention was the Reptile Retailers' Convention. Never been to one of those before - let's go!

It was in a giant airplane-hangar type space with bare, concrete floors: around 100 booths of all things reptilian, from snakes to frogs to turtles, and all the attendant gear. Most of the breeders were fairly low-key, running small, family businesses. The smaller live goods were on display housed in clear plastic take-out food containers.

I marched straight up to the first table loaded with stacks of small snakes coiled in plastic tubs. The vendor was a breeder of pythons. It only took a few curious questions before the guy on the other side of the booth pulled one of the snakes out for a closer look. It was all coiled up, napping I guess. I put out my hands and received the knot of snake. I thought it might react to being handled, but it didn't move a muscle.

After I'd held it for a few moments, the snake guy took it back from me to demonstrate the appearance of its belly. He uncurled the snake like it was a length of pliable wire. That got it going. When he put it back in my hands it stretched out and started flicking its tongue out to smell me. Yes, you heard it here first (or maybe not, but the fact remains) snakes smell with their tongues. It was a little freaky until I got used to the feel of it moving around and breathing, but once I did I would have been happy to hang out with it indefinitely. It was a beautiful creature.

It was happy to hang out with me, not so much like a dog is pleased to make a new friend, but because snakes like to be anywhere warm. As far as it was concerned I was a convenient source of body heat. I started to think that I might like to have a snake as a pet, considering that Ken is allergic to everything with fur and feathers. At least a snake is a semi-realistic option.

Supposedly snakes are easy to take care of. This is what I was told at the convention: they only eat once a week and only poop once a week. They don't bark, shed, or need to be taken out for walks. They'll hang out with you and watch TV if you like. And you don't have to feed them live prey. Yes there were quivering piles of worms and grubs available for sale, probably more for the geckos and lizards anyway, and the pinkies... Poor pinkies. Pinkies are baby mice or rats that have not yet grown fur. The mean old snakes like to eat pinkies for lunch.

Yes, it's kind of awful, but hey, I'm not a vegetarian. I'm a scavenger, eating meat that someone else has killed for me. No reason why I couldn't do the same for a snake: go to the pet store and buy a pack of frozen pinkies, then thaw one with a hairdryer once a week and leave it for the snake. That's the easiest way to do it. I don't think I'd be able to throw a live pinky in with a snake and watch the food chain at work. If you think that means I'm a hypocrite, fine. I maintain that I'm a product of our culture, and I have more important things to do than get all turned around trying to change that particular piece of my brain.

There were live pinkies available for sale at one particular booth. Four varieties actually: mouse pinkies, rat pinkies, and then the next stage up of each. Little rats and mice with their eyes just starting to open and a fuzz of the softest fur. The guy selling them was handling the furry ones like they were nuts and bolts, absently picking up a handful of them and sifting them through his fingers back into the pile. They didn't fall far, and then blindly burrowed their way back into the warm huddle. I reached out and touched one. It was soft as could be. Well, that's the natural order for you. Cute little things get eaten by big ugly things. If it weren't for all the comforts of civilization I'd probably have been eaten by angry bears ages ago.

The only thing that truly gave me the willies was the scorpion. It was stuck in the smallest type of plastic tub, the kind I fill with olives from the antipasto bar at Fiesta Farms grocery. That scorpion was pure bad, I'm telling you.

The turtles were kind of cute, in their wrinkly way. So were the exotic frogs, in every colour of the rainbow. We met a 2.5 foot-long monitor lizard sitting on his owner's lap, and some really, really big snakes. The big snakes eat full-grown rats, which were being sold, stone dead, in plastic-wrapped six-packs by an unsavoury-looking fellow at a barren booth full of styrofoam coolers. I wouldn't take his job, let me tell you. Can you imagine that? Running a business where your valuable inventory consists of cases upon cases of big dead rats? Could that possibly be fulfilling?

Anyway, I don't think I'll be getting a snake anytime soon. Those pythons grow to be three feet long, and pretty heavy. They're not really so cute then, I guess. Well, if I had a giant mansion where I could keep them in a special snake room with tropical plants and whatnot I might do it. But for now I think I'll stick to my houseplants.

Coming next post: what was the other part of the double jackpot? Stay tuned to find out!