Monday, December 21, 2009

Sticky Pudding and a cup of good cheer!

"Because I've odd ideas about Christmas. Because I have all that money can buy. I want more people, but no more things."
Howards End

I've got to agree with Margaret Schlegel on this one. As I get older and acquire more stuff, I find that providing Christmas gift lists gets harder and harder. I don't need any more things, just more people. Or rather, more time with the people I like.

Yesterday was the Annual Holiday Lunch* with the girls -- oh, and husbands and children and even a dog, but really it's the girls that matter here. This particular group of girlfriends all centres around the lovely S. who married an adorable Englishman in 2005 and went to live in London for a few years. In her absence, and missing her dreadfully, us bridesmaids would get together for lunch or dinner every so often and boom! a group friendship was cemented. I adore these women. They're so funny and so bright, they sparkle. They eat everything I put on their plates. They're wonderful. And now that S. is back in Canada with husband and daughter, the group is complete and all's right with the world.

You would think. But not quite. The fly in the ointment is that, despite the fact we're all in the same general geographic area, we still can't seem to get together more than once a month, and that's if we're lucky. What has happened to the world that we're all so busy? Children, jobs, family commitments, I know, I know, it all adds together to eat up every moment of free time, but suddenly the year is over and you realize that all your communication with your friends is electronic and you can't remember what they look like. It's kind of sad, when you think about it. Your friends are the family that you get to choose (what a luxury!) and here we are, squandering it because we're all so busy that in some cases 2 years may go by before you can actually pull together a casual dinner.


Ah, well. What can you do?

Resolve, I guess, to make the most of the time you do spend together. Try to ensure that there's at least one high-quality weekend away a year together. Keep dreaming of renting a house in Sonoma together. And seal the deal with food, of course, as N. did yesterday with her superb roast beef for lunch and I did with this heart-stopping dessert made specially for S. who counts herself as something of an Sticky Toffee Pudding expert. It passed the test.

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Toffee Sauce**
1 1/2 cups pitted dates, chopped
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp.baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of allspice

For Toffee Sauce:
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter

Combine the dates and water in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid had been absorbed by the dates or evaporated. Puree the dates in a food processor, blender or stick mixer.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter with the brown sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix flour with baking powder and baking soda. Add to the wet batter and then stir in pureed dates.

Spoon the batter into a buttered & floured 9" x 13" baking dish. Bake in a 350° over for 35 to 45 minutes or until the top feels firm when gently pressed in the center.

While pudding is cooking, make the toffee sauce by combining cream sugar and butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan. Bring to a boil then cook, boiling and stirring for about 3 minutes. Let cool slightly.

When cake is done and cooled slightly, prick with a skewer to make lots of tiny holes. Spoon half of the toffee sauce over the cake.

When ready to serve, heat remaining toffee sauce (stirring all the while) and spoon over individual portions. If you really want to kill them with kindness, add a scoop or two of highest quality vanilla ice cream.


* this event does not, in fact, happen annually because of scheduling conflicts. Go figure. However, I am determined to make it so and start by labelling it, quite firmly, as the Annual Holiday Lunch.

**adapted from Food & Whine:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

And so this is Christmas

Okay, so Christmas.

It's been intimated around the office and on Facebook lately that I'm a Grinch or a Scrooge, that I lack Christmas Spirit and all that. And the thing is, it's absolutely not true. I love Christmas. I love the last wheezing gasps of the old year and the promise of the new. I love that there's all this lovely time off, that there's days and days of feasting ahead, the whole giving and receiving of gifts and good wishes. I love all the lights and the shopping (bah! humbug! on this online shopping thing – I need to see and feel the gifts I’m choosing for you) and the whole suspension of reality. It’s lovely and from mid-December onwards I’m capable of tearing up at the tiniest thing, sentimental fool that I am.

But the thing is, it can’t be forced. You can surround me with all your tinselly shit and good cheer at the office all you want, but until that mid-December moment comes, I just won’t feel Christmas. I have to wait, every year, until something triggers it for itself.

Last year it was the night my husband and I decorated our first Christmas tree together (we’d been married for 5 years but had never had a tree before because we feared what our border collie/lab mix dog would do to it in our absence) with all these wonderful old glass ornaments from his grandfather’s house. It was such a nice moment, and the house smelled so good, and the ornaments were such little nostalgia-globes, and I think we watched A Christmas Story afterwards and laughed, and maybe it snowed, and maybe I’d had a few too many glasses of cabernet, but whatever it was, that was the night I felt Christmas for 2008.

Well, tonight was the night I felt Christmas for the first time in 2009. And it’s all my sister’s fault.

My elder sister is mentally handicapped, which, for anyone reading this who has a handicapped relative or friend knows, is a situation that’s incredibly layered with emotion and meaning and good stuff and bad stuff and, just, stuff. Anyway, about once a month the two of us go out for dinner. Sometimes when I pick her up she’s had a bad day and is grumpy, but lately she’s been in fine form almost every time we have dinner. Tonight was no exception.

We sat in the crowded restaurant, chatting as we do on these evenings out about how busy or not busy the restaurant is, how things are in the house where she lives, about what she’s going to order (complete with the dessert that she promises to never tell our mother about, yet invariably does, so thrilled is she to have snookered me into buying her dessert when my parents never give in on that) until the waitress came to take our order. Looking up at the 20-year old server with bright eyes and a smile, my sister stuck her hand out and introduced herself to the girl, saying “Me, Andrea.”

(I always have this teeeensy moment of fear when my sister makes any sort of gesture to the outside world, when she breaks her focus away from me and reaches out to someone else. Because I never know what sort of reaction Andrea’s going to get and there’s nothing worse than to see someone recoil from her, as though she’s a monster of some sort. It’s a reaction that hurts, that ruffles all those layers of emotional stuff -- she’s as familiar to me as my own skin, how can she be a monster to others – that’s just so damned rude and yet what can you do. You can’t blame people for their instinctive reactions, that’s just who they are, just as my sister is just who she is.)

So, yes, I held my breath as my sister trustingly introduced herself to the young waitress. And I was richly rewarded as the girl, without missing a beat, laughed and put down her tray, shook hands with my sister and said “well, hello, I’m Michelle!”

And that was it. That was the moment when the whole Christmas spirit or whatever you want to call it started to trickle in. For Andrea, simple contact with non-handicapped people means a lot. I think it makes her feel like she belongs, like she’s less different. And, because of the way she is (in the sense that she’s not always in such a great mood that she’ll reach out to the outside world) and because of the way people are and the way they handle difference, it’s something she doesn’t get to experience on a regular basis. So Michelle the waitress’ kindness in treating my sister like anyone else, a tiny event she likely forgot minutes after it happened, meant the world to Andrea right at that moment.

And then, about an hour later, as Andrea and I finished some Christmas shopping and she loudly and happily wished the cashier a Merry Christmas with great, innocent enthusiasm, well, that pretty much sealed the deal. Put out some cookies, crack open that box of tissues, prepare for floods at the first sentimental t.v. commercial, Christmas 2009 is officially open for business.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The problem with blogging (Part Deux)

The problem with blogging is that sometimes the only things you want to write about are the things you absolutely should not write about in the public domain. Your dysfunctional relationship with your family or your employer, for example. Or about your observations on Christmas, which is a time of year that you adore, but that has a dark side that you'd like to explore in print, but you don't want to scare your mother (who is the only person reading your blog, of course), again. Or about how some of your most meaningful conversations these days are happening on Twitter with strangers you'll never meet and though you tell yourself that Twitter is like a big ol' virtual cocktail party, there's a part of you that thinks it's all so weird. Or about how too much vitamin water will give you a case of the electric scoots. You know, stuff like that.


PS The photo is the cover of Scared of Santa: Scenes of Terror in Toyland, by Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins (Harper Paperbacks, $10)Read more: . 'Nuf said.

Monday, November 30, 2009


There's this blonde driving down the road at 100 miles an hour, and she’s knitting.
A policeman on a motorbike chases her for twenty miles before he manages to pull up next to her. "PULLOVER!" he screams at her.
"NO, SCARF!" the blonde screams back.

(What? Okay, so not the best use of blogspace, but I've been knitting a lot and I'm bored. And blonde.)


Monday, November 9, 2009

It was 20 years ago today...

I remember watching the live coverage of the Berlin Wall falling the night the border opened between East and West. I stared at the t.v. in the dorm lounge at school, my reaction ricocheting between amazement, disbelief and a vague sense of worry about just how it would all play out.

I'd been in Berlin just two years before, having spent about five weeks of the summer of '87 in Germany with relatives and friends. That trip, my Hanover relatives took me to Berlin for a long weekend. A visit to my father's cousin in East Berlin was scheduled for the Sunday. At the last minute, however, I bowed out of going. For one thing, the very thought of crossing Checkpoint Charlie was enough to induce a panic attack (I've always hated dealing with anyone in uniform -- I believe this phobia began at the hands of some evil Brownies in grade 2), and then I also needed a day away from my very kind (but occasionally overbearing) relatives. By that point in the trip, I'd been someone's guest for at least 3 weeks and my need for alone time was almost a medical condition. And, to be honest, there was something kind of creepy about my West German relatives' attitude, this weird sort of smugly schadenfreudish air -- oh, the poor Ossis, they seemed to say, what would they do without our annual visits to bring over our high-quality hand-me-down clothes and shoes and foodstuffs? I had the feeling I'd be encouraged to look at the East like it was a diorama in a museum, its residents like animals in a zoo, to be entertained by the lack of shiny consumer products.

So, off went my aunt, uncle and cousin, to visit the Ossi relatives across the Wall, while I spent the day blessedly alone, wandering the shopping areas around the Kurfurstendamn, eating currywurst from street vendors and eventually making my way through the Tiergarten, a huge park, to an elevated lookout platform by the Brandenburg Gate. If memory serves, this platform, which was about 25 feet high or so, was situated at the end of the Strasse des 17. Juni, a broad boulevard that swept through the tree-filled Tiergarten to meet the Brandenburg Gate, which is a 18th century triumphal arch type of thing. The Wall crossed over the boulevard here, blocking you from the gate and the neighbouring Reichstag building. All you could really see over the wall was no-man's land, an empty stretch of nothing. I don't remember seeing any people, or guard towers, or dogs, but it's quite possible they were there, too.

It was the Reichstag that really held my attention. The huge building was a scorched ruin, heavily pockmarked with bomb damage from WWII, its windows vacant and black. In my memory, there was nothing but empty meadowland in front of its stone steps -- I have a distinct mental picture of the contrast of long grass and wildflowers in front of the desolate ruin, but again, this could be some embroidering on the part of my brain. Seeing the bomb damage made my head explode -- it's one thing to grow up hearing stories of WWII from my parents who were small children in Berlin at the time, stories of air raids and evacuations, of shrapnel from phosphorus bombs making apartment buildings glow at night for months afterward, of raising rabbits in the apartment for food, of the Blockade and the Airlift (and the weird to them food that got dropped from the Rosinenbombers), of black market trading, it's one thing when these are just stories. But it's another thing entirely when you see, in person, a building that played a role in that horrific conflict (though what war isn't horrific) standing still-damaged, over 40 years later. It was, in an odd way, like sudden, unexpected slap.

Or, at least, this is how I remember it.

I spent a long time wandering along the Wall itself that afternoon, reading all the graffiti. Some of what had been written was simple and heartfelt, but a lot of what I saw was very stupid. A lot of anti-communist epithets, sprayed on with the kind of cowardly bravado only possible when there's no chance of an answer from the other side, do you know what I mean? Honestly, what's the point of writing "F#$ You, Commies!" or whatever, on a section of the Wall entirely surrounded by trees?

The whole experience was eerie. As a Westerner, used to having the freedom to do anything and go anywhere, the concept of restricted liberty was almost too much to understand. This was likely another reason I bowed out of crossing the border to the East to meet Renate and Rolf, that I just wasn't ready to wrap my head around the enormity of what the Wall and the Iron Curtain and the Cold War really meant. I was 17 and just not ready to try to understand the politics of how it all happened and what it all really meant. It was easier to deal with in books and films, at one remove from my own life.

And then, two years later, on a November Friday night, I watched from the cocoon of my university dorm as that same bit of wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate came tumbling down. I remember waiting for the guns to fire, thinking it all seemed too simple, that it was all some sort of horrific trick. I remember thinking of my un-met relatives and wondering whether they were part of the crowd (they weren't). I remember worrying that there'd be riots or some other sort of violence, maybe not immediately but at some point because how on earth was this all going to work??

But it has worked, in its own way. For people like my father's cousin, who lived a nice life there behind the wall, it was difficult to see symbols of their old culture dismantled, such as the Palast der Republik. There must have been (and likely is still) great tension between the West and the East as the city reshaped itself. I wonder what its like to have been a part of a separate culture for over 20 years and suddenly that culture is gone, subsumed into another? On our last trip, my mother got into a conversation with a woman at the opera, a long time resident of Berlin. Mum had noticed that people were speaking the Berlinerish dialect more and more this visit than in other past trips. The woman replied that, in her opinion, the dialect had been kept alive more so in the East than the West and that its increased usage was an attempt by the Easterners to maintain their cultural identity as something other from the cosmopolitan Berlin community.

However, as a visitor, the reunified Berlin is a wonderful thing. The museum system is finally, mostly sorted out, you have a choice of three (count'em three!) opera houses, the Reichstag is entirely renovated with a new glass dome on top, you can travel easily to Dessau or Leipzig or the Spreewald, and you never have to stand at the top of a lookout platform and have the past slap you in the face. The past is still there, mind you, there are a million little reminders across the city so that you can never forget, but it's no longer akin to stepping from technicolour to sepiatone.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Kitchen Is Closed...To You!

My baby turns 2 tomorrow. That means on Sunday I will have the big family party for her. That means I will have about 25 -30 guests for dinner, coffee and cake. This is life in my family. My husband comes from a fairly large family, as do I, and almost all of our family members reside in the Greater Melonville Metropolitan Area.

To be honest, I really enjoy the planning and preparation that goes into these gatherings. I like to feed people. (Slightly off topic, but just bear with me for sec, have you ever watched something like Biggest Loser, or a Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz show about weight loss, and they always talk to some fatty who blames her girth on the fact that she comes from a culture or ethnic group where food is the centre of all important gatherings or celebrations? Really? Like don't we all? If someone knows of the culture or ethnic group that celebrates weddings or births with fasting and abstinence could you let me know?)

Anyhoo, the point is, I believe in Kara's motto for entertaining " For God Sakes If You Are Going To Invite People Over For A Meal Then Break A Sweat." Do the work. Make an effort.

Of course once all the revelry is over there will be clean up. Its part of the bargain, and I am more than willing to deal with it. I have a fabulous dishwasher, and a husband who is more than willing to help with the heavy lifting.

Here is my problem. Some people can't take no for an answer. I always have a couple of guests who will prance into my kitchen and begin to help with clean up. There are a number of problems with this. First off ,my kitchen is freakishly small given the size of my house. Not only is it small it is a victim of bad design. This means that only one person can comfortably work in the kitchen at any given time. Two, they decide to clean up at the end of the meal portion of the evening. This is usually the time that the gifts are opened. Invariably I end up missing most of this because my "kitchen help" is constantly ducking into the living room to ask where I keep my flatwear, or where they should put the serving platters. Thirdly, on the off chance I take your offer to help either with prep or clean up you have to be a bit of a self starter. If you come chasing after me to get my approval on every cucumber slice, or you need me to pat you on the back and thank you with every item you dry, well, lets just say I'll give you the approval and the thanks, but I can't guarantee there is going to be a whole lot of sincerity in my voice. Also, I really don't think its cute or funny that you have a habit of breaking something everytime you "help" me in the kitchen. Lastly, just stay out of my freaking kitchen. My kitchen is a small sacred space. When you come into it uninvited, or worse force your way in even after you have been told your help is neither needed nor wanted you are violating my personal space. You might as well fashion a speculum out of my salad tongs and ambush me for a surprise pap swab because I find your presence just that intrusive and unwanted.

The thing is my family is a busy one. These days it seems like we have most of our meals in shifts, or we are keeping one eye on the clock to make sure we are on time for pick-up or drop off as the case may be. So when I have a chance to get my whole family together to celebrate a happy occasion with a meal I have prepared specially for them, I want to enjoy the company. I'll tend to the mess after everyone goes home, and if I don't do it then, I deal with it in the morning.

I put in a lot of hard work to ensure that everyone would have an enjoyable evening, so put the dish cloth down, exit the kitchen and for godsakes, relax and enjoy yourself.


Monday, October 26, 2009

And now for something completely pointless (though quite pointy)

A few months ago, the husband came home with a new digital camera. Like a real digital camera. I don't really understand 90% of what it can do, but I will tell you that it takes outstanding pictures.

I had to photograph some rice pudding for an article on the weekend and decided, since the light was right, to take some pictures of the husband's latest antique corkscrew. Look at that effing clarity! Damn, I love that camera.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Maybe baby? Maybe not. Tales of a NON "Mommyblogger"

A friend of mine just made a big decision regarding fertility, or rather, treatment for infertility. Having been there myself, watching her struggle with the question brought the whole damn issue right back to the foreground for me.

I never really wanted children. In fact, for most of my 20s, I found the whole notion of pregnancy quite revolting -- I believe "parasitic" was my adjective of choice. And then I met my husband and my opinions on children were turned upside down. Well, maybe they did a quarter turn. Because it wasn't so much that I'd gone to bed disliking children and woke raving to open a daycare, it was more that I was so in love with my husband and our joint existence that I suddenly had the urge to replicate it/us. The intensity and unexpectedness of my feelings about my marriage caused me to fall in love with the idea of a small version of us. A rounded, blonde haired, blue eyed us, who combined my husband's dry wit, great legs and generous heart with my, well, something fun from me too. Of course, we joked that any child we created would need serious math tutoring, probably from preschool onwards, and would be terrible with money. Our child would be a hopeless dreamer, probably paralytically shy in groups, precociously verbal, and likely lead an intense inner life. A real nerd, in other words.

We even tossed around names, ridiculously old fashioned monikers for our imaginary, nerdy child. Oliver Hugel for a boy (Hugel is an Alsatian wine producer whose wines I particularly love), or keeping in the wine theme, Lucy Claret. Charlotte Louisa was a longtime contender, finally ousted by Prue, short for Prudence Dorothea.*

It took a few years of marriage to find out that I have a thing, a condition that makes conception highly unlikely and then to learn about the various options available if conception, indeed, was what I wanted. So, rather late in the game (in baby-making terms, I was already geriatric) we started that process. The doctor explained the various routes to baby (more complicated than your standard Insert Tab A Into Slot B) and I chose the least invasive and least mechanical option. And endured about a year of regular blood tests, ultrasounds, doses of chemicals, and a terrible cycle (punny!) of hope/disappointment, hope/disappointment as the treatment failed to bear fruit (again, punny!) over and over again.

What is mildly interesting to me is realizing that, at the time, it was all quite normal. It very quickly became normal to give up a daily vial of blood (let me tell you, a technician who can take your blood painlessly becomes someone you add to your Christmas card list if you have to do it for long enough), and take doses of hormones and start your day with a thorough rogering by an ultrasound wand, not to mention planning every bit of marital intimacy to the minute so that it coincides with your body's medically-assisted phases. It all became totally normal.

But it wasn't natural. Which, in the end, was what killed the whole thing for us. Well, that and the fact that the clinic was relocating to another community and the whole thing was going to become that much more inconvenient. Apparently, my limits on humiliating medical procedures are geographical. But, anyway, the point is that there was nothing natural about my attempts to do what some would argue is the most natural thing on earth. And this, in the end, begged the question of whether the whole thing was meant to happen. So in January of this year, I said no more. There were a few months of minor-key emotional turmoil about this decision, and I still flip-flop a bit on how to answer the bog-standard So Do You Have Kids? question at parties (do I tell the truth and deal with the sympathetic Why Don't You Adopt question, or do I just say no and deal with the silent You Must Hate Children baleful stare), but ultimately it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Kate, herself the mother of four children under 10 years of age, has suggested that the universe actually intends for me to mother others, meaning that my maternal instincts and skills have been, and will continue to be, put to use mothering my friends and family (sometimes an alternate mother is a good thing) and pets, and pets of friends and family, and so on and so forth. She wrote, "It's easy for me to see you as a mother, because you already are one." Just not in the conventional sense.

So, it will just be the two of us 'til the end of time. There are still moments when that makes me sad, that we'll never get to play the "she gets that from YOU" game, that my husband's innate good fatherdom will never be exercised on anything more taxing than the dog, that we won't get to make something so amazing together. Of course, as time goes on and I listen to trials and tribulations of the parents I know, the list of reasons why I should be happy I'm not a parent (I never have to deal with other parents, I never have to be on Parent Council, I never have to play Bad Cop, I never have to say no, I never have to pay for orthodonia) grows. And besides, lots of my friends have adorable, healthy, beautiful children that I can play Auntie to and then give back when their diapers become too full, or their questions become too difficult. To be honest, looking around our tiny unkempt house, chances are good that we'd just lose a baby to a family of marauding dustbunnies, anyway.


* It is a strong possibility that the universe didn't give us a child because no one under 68 should be saddled with Prudence Dorothea as a name.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Misty Watercoloured Sepia-Toned Glasses

This afternoon, at some point, I had a really great idea for a blog entry. Something I really wanted to discuss with whoever it is that reads this (Hi, Mum!), something a little fun and a little thought provoking.

And then I went to my parent's house for my sister's birthday dinner and was drawn, like the proverbial moth to the flame, to the photo drawer (we've never been the scrapbooking/album making types) and it obliterated every thought I had in my head. And now I don't remember what the hell I was going to tell you about.

(I used to have an incredible memory. When I worked at the opera the first time around, I was like a human back-up disk for our donor database. I could remember donors' postal codes, for pete's sake! And now? Not so much. I really need to start playing those sudoko games or something to sharpen my wits. Except I always forget how they work.)

So, instead, let me tell you about the family photo drawer. I love, no I lurrrrve the photo drawer at my parents house. It's a big, wide, shallow drawer in a huge oak wall-unit that they've had since the late 60s, and it's absolutely stuffed with photographs, negatives and a few boxes of slides. Remember slides? Why was it that sometime in the 70s everyone went to slides? Was it because they were nice and small to store? Because surely to God they didn't come into vogue because finding a place to project them was so much fun. Remember the hum of the slide projecter, and that delicious schlish-click noise as the slides changed? Oh, and the smell of hot dust from the light bulb? Oh, slides.

Anyway, the drawer is full to bursting with photographs, all loosey-goosey, no organization whatsoever, most of them not even labelled. There are lots of black and whites from the 60s when my parents first came to Canada and had a darkroom of their own (the photo-enlarger is still in their basement if anyone's interested), and many of the prints are somewhat curled as I went through a period as a child where I liked to roll them into cylinders, I don't know why. Then there's lots of colour photos from the late 70s/early 80s where the photos have this interesting matte texture. I somehow remember that you could choose whether you wanted them developed in glossy or matte and my mum liked matte because then fingerprints weren't an issue, which was important when your youngest daughter is forever manhandling the photos. There are pictures of my brother's bike races (Ontario Junior Champion at 14, don't you know!) and my mother's art work over the years, pictures of the house in all stages of renovation (two additions, several interior changes and at least two porches built since 1971), pictures of my father and brother building stuff, Christmas pictures, more pictures of the family cats than anyone cares to see (besides me), and way, way too many pictures of my embarrassing haircuts circa 1983-89.

Then there are the millions of vacation photos. Now, in our family, "vacation photos" doesn't mean pictures of people sipping mai-tais at a swim up bar in Cuba. For us, "vacation photos" means picture after picture of buildings and streets and trees and patterns and reflections of light on water and details of textiles in castles (never mind the gilt walls and Meissen tea-service, would you look at these tassels???) and photos of ravens eating our leftover cheesecake on top of a Bavarian mountain, and snow shadows and lichen and pebbles and, on one memorable occasion, my mother's hind end in the air as she picked blueberries on the side of a cliff in Cape Breton. And numerous, dimly lit (and therefore slightly blurry because the film was too slow) pictures of paintings and artifacts in galleries and museums. Our vacation pictures must be incredibly dull for other people to look at, but then, they're never taken with the purpose of showing other people. They're taken by us, for us, to remind us of the little specifics that we hang our family memories on. For example, in the past decade I have been to Dessau twice. Both times, without thinking, I managed to take the same photograph of the same railyard from the same bridge. There's something delightfully old-school DDR about the track/power line arrangement that caught my eye. Twice. But the point is, I didn't take the pictures for your viewing, I took them to remind me, years from now when the former East has been fully spruced up by the German government, of how it used to look.

There are pictures of my parents' relatives, mostly on my mother's side although we do now have a few copies of old pictures from my father's side thanks to my father's cousin in Berlin. Tons of old black & whites (well, sepia-ish, actually) of New Years parties and other celebrations with people I've never even heard of. There are a handful of mystery photos of people we truly never knew that somehow have gotten mixed into our photo drawer. There are baby pictures and wedding pictures and endless class pictures and a few newspaper clippings and the thing is that each one of these artifacts is absolutely, 100% precious to me.

Actually, all old photos, whether they belong to my family or yours, are precious to me. I tend to live in the past, and not necessarily my own past. I don't know why this is, but I've always been this way. I have always loved to listen to my mother's stories about growing up in Berlin during and after WWII, so much so that in many ways her stories have become my stories (stories which I will pass on to anyone who cares to listen, ad nauseum, by the way) and when I go to Berlin I don't see the city as it is, I see it as it was. Which, of course, is impossible as there is no "was" for me in Berlin, but I tell you that's how it is.

(I suspect it's because the past is known. It doesn't move around, it's there to be analysed, dissected, revered and enjoyed. Whereas the future is unknown and I'm not that comfortable with the unknown. The picture above is of me in my favorite place as a very small child, the laundry basket. I liked being in there because I was safe, I could see my mother, and I knew the boundaries. Doesn't that say it all?)

I have always loved reading autobiographies and memoirs, and spent a bizarre (now that I think about it) amount of time as a youngster reading about old Hollywood stars and the studio system when everyone else was reading Bruno & Boots or Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Books. I was the 12-year old who knew about Sam Goldwyn and Darryl Zanuck and Irving Thalberg and Fatty Arbuckle, for goodness sake. I was a weird kid.

But I digress -- the point is, that really, when it comes right down to it, what I've always loved are stories. Real stories, based on real lives, on what really happened, or at least our interpretation of what really happened. And that's what our photo drawer, and your photo albums or scrapbooks or boxes of slides, are all about. Stories. Tales. Legends. Family. What came before you and what shaped you. This is what I like to know. You.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Can't Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me

Okay, there's not actually a woman-eating clown here. It's just a saying we have in our house. A house which is remarkably clown-free, if not clown-sanitized, because of my husband's complete and utter phobia about them*. In fact, I'd have illustrated this post with clown image (not Gacy, though), but I can't because he reads the blog and I don't want him to connipt right there in front of his computer (we have the fridge magnet, right, so that won't scare him).

Does anyone, actually, really, love a clown? Apparently someone does because the tradition persists and every year countless children are entertained (or terrorized, depending on your viewpoint) by adults in grotesque make-up and ridiculous costumes who insist on playing tricks in the name of Fun! and Whimsy!

The Spec is running its Readers' Choice awards program again and there's actually a category for Best Clown. Admittedly, in this city of 7 hospitals, the people who run around in makeup entertaining patients (the aptly named Clownz on Roundz) are likely performing a wonderful service and lightening the mood in many a ward. But do people actually hire clowns for birthday parties anymore? I want to know. And do the children like them? Or is it just upon reaching adulthood and looking back that you realize the inalienable creepiness of a clown?

(Kate knows a clown. She's even hired said clown for school events. We don't speak of it, though.)

Anyway, I suspect, having spent a pleasant hour this week babysitting a three-year old of my acquaintance, that children probably do like the occasional clown. Playing in the sandbox with the wee man and getting drawn into his intricate game of pretend (Heaven Help You if you fall out of character while playing pretend -- "No, Kara, YOU'RE THE TOW TRUCK!"), I was reminded just how much little people can suspend disbelief. To someone like little N., a clown isn't an adult hiding their humanity behind a sinister mask of greasepaint and pancake, it's just a clown. A silly creature with big feet and droopy drawers and a funny voice. Just like the Cookie Monster (please tell me that kids these days know about Cookie Monster) isn't a puppet on t.v., he's just a big blue thing that likes cookies and sings songs about cookies and says Nom Nom Nom when he eats cookies.

Damn, I wish I could enjoy that kind of innocence again. Sometimes a clown is just a clown.


*He also hates Home Depot and the day he girded loins to shop there and came, unexpectedly, upon a clown in the mailbox aisle is one of my favourite stories.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Guess What I'm Doing This Labour Day Weekend?

I asked Christopher to bring me some roma tomatoes and peaches from Niagara, the tomatoes for saucing and the peaches for freezing.

Being incredibly dumb when it comes to weights and measurements (I caught a fish and it was thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis big), I asked for a bushel of each without realizing just how much fruit that would be.

Guess I'll be spending this Labour Day weekend labouring over the saucepot.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Accidental Gardeners

Remember the film version of Witches of Eastwick? The Cher/Jack Nicholson vehicle, not the new t.v. version with Paul Gross ("Eastwick"). Anyway, you'll remember that the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer played Suki, a local journalist and divorced mum who got pregnant. A lot. At the drop of a hat. And her fertility extended to anything she touched. Especially zucchini. She had zucchini everywhere and in everything.

I don't share the character's fecundity in terms of children, but you might as well call me Suki when it comes to the vegetable patch. The specimen in the picture is not the largest zucchini we've had this summer, but I needed to pick it for dinner tonight and couldn't resist taking a photo.

You do take your life into your own hands when you enter the Veggie Zone at our place, it's a bit of an edible jungle. Our carefully planted and caged heirloom tomato plants? The ones that I actually planted at a decent distance from each other this year? An almost impenetrable, tangled bank of greenery with glints of red and yellow where the fruit hang amongst the leaves. The herb garden? Cilantro, parsley, basil and God knows what else, all well over a foot and a half tall. The couple of sprouty spuds I tossed in for the heck of it? Hefty taters.

But here's the thing: we are terrible gardeners. We operate on the once-it's-planted-it's-on-it's-own principle (I have a hard time remembering the needs of something that can't talk, bark or miaow at me) and our sad houseplants are (un)living proof of our neglect. But, despite this inattention, stuff just grows for us. My mother, an avid gardener who's persevered for decades on a lot cursed with sandy soil and heavy shade to create a lovely jungle, regularly stands in our front yard shaking her head at the sprawling greenstuff around her. For example, there's one purple flowered plant, we have no idea what it is ("It's a Canadian wildflower!" says the Christel), that we've never seen taller than about 20 inches. In our garden? Over 6 feet. The reason someone was able to break into our car and help themselves to our ipod and g.p.s. without the dog noticing? Because it was parked in front of the house and all but invisible through the foliage. Our 70lb dog and 26lb cat can simply disappear into the backyard in an instant, the wiggling leaves and faint sound of Lucy's bell the only hints to their whereabouts.

Of course, it's not actually growing for us. It's the amount of excellent triple-mix we buy every year (Satellite Garden Centre, for those of you in the Hammer area), the amount of sunlight we get on our lot, and my mother's judicious foundation planting. All we contribute is a horticultural aesthetic based on tolerance and ignorance -- "Oh, you mean that's a weed? But it's so pretty!" or "Pruning? Wha?" -- and a belief that time spent on lawncare is time wasted.

Ultimately, though, who cares why the stuff grows, I'm just glad it does. We're already planning for a fourth raised veggie bed in the driveway (this is why we park on the street, our sunny driveway is full of vegetable beds -- yes, we're that kind of eccentric) for next spring and I'm taking notes on how the veggies behaved this summer so I can perhaps keep some kind of control over them next year. Tomatoes growing upside down from buckets have been part of our plans for a few years now, maybe we'll get to them in 2010.

But, then again, who do I think I'm kidding?


Sunday, August 23, 2009

(a note on the previous post)

Regarding Shermer: it's the town I hate, Mum, not your house! Yes, we'll be there for Christmas! Sheesh.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again (and why would you want to?)

Kate and I used to joke about "taking the geographical route" out of a problem. In other words, just leave. And while it seems awfully cowardly, sometimes it really is the best option. Sometimes it's best to fly instead of fight.

Take, for instance, the town where I was born and raised. Let's call it...Shermer. No, it's not a fictional town in Illinois, but it's both a bit of a stage set (cardboard castles, you see) and the kind of place where John Hughes storylines actually happened. I'm sure I've noted it before on here, but the high school I attended was the kind of place where the Saabs and Audis in the parking lot most certainly did not belong to the teachers, where conspicuous consumption was a competitive sport, where teenage boys were as cruel and cold as James Spader's "Stef" in Pretty In Pink.

Anyway, I hate Shermer. I really do. It was a great place to be a kid in the 70s, wonderfully green and safe, a town where you could ride your bike for miles with your friends, exploring and playing elaborate pretend games for hours, returning home for dinner tired and content. But as a teenager, Shermer sucked. I suppose if you're the right kind of miserable adolescent, it doesn't matter where you are, it's all going to suck. But I do believe that Shermer, at least East Shermer (considered the rich end of town) where I was, was an especially crap corner of the globe.

I dreamed of getting out of there when I was young. The summer some friends of mine got to live at a cottage and get summer jobs in a fun lakeside town 3 hours away, I nearly died of envy. But I just never knew how to make an escape happen, so I bided my time until university when I could legitimately leave the dreaded Shermer. And, of course, wouldn't you know it, by the time I hit university, I was in my first serious relationship with a very nice young man...who lived in Shermer. So I spent all four years of university shuttling back and forth between school and my bloody hometown. And then after graduation when I had no money and fewer prospects (art history degree AND I graduated into a recession), the logical choice was to move back home, where, because of jobs and such, I ended staying throughout my 20s.

During that 5 year period between graduating from university and finally moving away from that benighted place, I just dealt with it. I had to! Not only was I living there but I was also working for a community arts organization where the fact that I was born and raised in Shermer was often to my advantage. I was so rooted in the blasted town it would have been impossible to fight it. If I'm honest with myself, I will admit that at that point, I'd likely convinced myself that it would be okay if I never got out.

And then! And then I had the opportunity to work for another arts organization in another city. Not too far away in terms of physical distance, unfortunately, but worlds away in every other way. Shermer's a bedroom community, the Hammer's a city in its own right, with a long history, diverse population, fascinating terrain (7 waterfalls in this city!), great art gallery, a university, and several massive steelworks that light up the night sky (Blake's "dark, satanic mills" comes to mind every time I look at them), and most importantly, NO ONE FROM SHERMER EVER MOVES HERE.

Except me, of course. Within months of taking the job I'd decided that the 20 minute commute was far too much time spent on the road and I moved out of Shermer and into the lovely Hammer. And I began to breathe. And unclench the muscles I'd unknowingly kept in rictus since entering adolescence in Shermer. Life became an entirely different thing than I'd known before. And then I bought my house and life was so sweet it was almost unbearable. And then I met my husband and I pretty much believed I was living the earthly version of heaven. And all of it happened after I left that bloody town. Choosing flight over fight was the only possible route to becoming the adult version of me.

And how do I know this? I know this because whenever I have to spend time in Shermer, all those muscles clench up and I suddenly revert to some miserable ghost, this person I used to be and am not now. It's like I'm Sybil and just being there brings out some alternate personality. Invariably, visits to Shermer -- specifically visits where any significant amount of time is spent NOT at my parents' house -- will render me mute and I drive home in a melancholic funk that dissipates completely about 10 minutes after I get home to the Hammer.

Yet, I keep having to go back. Over the past year or so there's been a number of reunionesque events, official and otherwise, and I keep attending them even though they make me wretched. The problem is that there's a number of people from my past who I actually enjoy the idea of knowing again, so I'm always torn between my desire to see them again and the pure loathing for the venue of choice which is always in bloody Shermer, a geographical location practically designed to bring out the worst in me.

Hopefully the destructive, magnetic pull of the dreaded Shermer will take a few months' hiatus and I can just enjoy my self here in our little cottage in the Hammer, with the husband and the dog and the cat and our books and our lives together. Of course, the Christmas season and its attendant visiting is coming, but with the 300 bottles of wine in this house, hopefully I'll be able to deal with that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bon Appetit!

Haven't written much lately because there really hasn't been that much going on, at least nothing positive (having to euthanize your cat and the subsequent bizarre antics of your remaining pets does not a fun blog entry make) that was typeworthy.

In fact, I was beginning to despair of ever having anything to say again. To paraphrase the Julie Powell character in the movie "Julie & Julia" (I don't think this line was in the book), blogging is "all about me, me, me!". And, frankly, I'm just not that interesting. Or, at least the stuff I can write about sans pseudonym isn't that interesting.

BUT, while I've got you, on the subject of Julie & Julia, it's a charming little movie and well worth the exhorbitant price of admission. Nice balance between the two stories, some deliciously over the top acting (there's a scene featuring Child and her sister and you'd think they were Muppets the characterization's so ridiculously animated), interesting chemistry between Tucci and Streep and lovely set decoration. The set for Julie and Eric's apartment had so many elements and bits and pieces that the husband and I own, it almost looked like home. If our home was eclectic and clean, instead of eclectic and on the verge of being condemned for mess.

(On that subject, we got to the movie theatre too early so walked over to the bookstore for a browse before the flick. I picked up an astrology book on a sale table and it opened to a section about Taurus (me) and Cancer (him) and the first sentence was, "Taurus and Cancer will have the tidiest house on the block", a sentence that makes liars out of both of our birth certificates.)

Back to J&J for a minute (honestly, it's such a sweet way to spend 90 minutes, and what is modern cinema but escapism?), all that butter and cream completely reawakened my desire to cook, a desire that had all but left me for most of the summer. It's been such a busy season, between the husband's schedule and my own it feels like we've barely been home long enough to open the fridge much less cook properly. But now, with the crazy tomato jungle beginning to bear ripe fruit (take your eyes off your tomato plants for just a week and they go crazy, toppling their stakes and cages and running rampant all over the driveway) and the peppers not far behind, the prospect of generous tomato salads, fresh sauce and soups makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

So back to the kitchen we go. Some friends and I are going to get together to put up some jars of tomatoes (and peaches in my case), hopefully starting a new annual tradition. My mother's given me a jar of sourdough starter that I've got to begin using in earnest so that the starter remains invigorated. There's a bunch of peaches on my countertop right now that are begging to be made into a pie. Autumn's coming and it's time to fatten up for winter.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Yo, Noah!

We returned home from vacation last week to discover that our part of the city had suffered a flash flood of Biblical proportions while we were away, so sudden and overwhelming that it flooded and closed the expressway a few blocks from our house. It’s shocking to come home to a house that smells like a mouldy beets in a large cat box, but what can you do? So, we got out the camera and began snapping pictures of our wet basement and sodden belongings, and called the insurance company. Why, I don’t know, other than that’s what you’re supposed to do when you own a home and it gets damaged.

If you’ve ever wondered why our insurance premiums are so high and we get so little for it, I’ll tell you why. It’s because insurance companies waste a lot of money and time and extend those costs to you, the consumer. Listen to this:

I called our insurance and explained the situation but since I was calling after hours, I wasn’t speaking with an insurance agent of any sort, merely a very pleasant operator who couldn’t do anything more than take down my information and tell me not to touch anything and that an adjuster would call the next day and that they’d be sending out a damage restoration contractor soon after. Okay, fine.

Over 2,000 homes in the area were affected, many severely (houses condemned as floodwaters wash out foundation walls, etc), so I was trying to be patient while also creeped out by the amount of wet crap just sitting there, rotting, while I was at work the next day. When I really hadn’t heard anything, I called them. Again, I didn’t talk to an actual insurance adjuster, just a very nice operator who sympathized and told me to just follow the process through and wait for the adjuster to call and the restoration guy to come over. Okay, fine. At this point, I was hoping to find a copy of our policy so that I could read it for myself but that was proving impossible in the oversized hamster nest we call a home office.

However, other than giving me a craving for crawfish etouffe and blackened catfish, I figured living over a swamp was less than optimal for us and decided to begin the clean up a.s.a.p. Fans and dehumidifiers were set up and several loads of laundry were done to save the clothing that had gotten soaked in the flood, and a box of TSP was purchased to help sanitize hard surfaces that had gotten soaked by stormwater (and possibly sewage) that came up the floor drain.

By the time the insurance-company-hired- damage-restoration guy was able to come over on Friday (four days after the first call to the insurance company), the basement was actually looking pretty good. Yes, we’d lost boxes of personal, sentimental papers. Yes, we’d lost about 4 cases of wine. Yes, there were books and cds and dvds and our huge magazine collection (we’re hopeless packrats and great lovers of all things magazine) that were irreparably sodden and destined for the recycle bin and/or landfill (boo!), and yes ,the subfloor was going to have to come out. But, all things considered, it wasn’t bad. The fans and dehumidifiers were doing a great job and the house didn’t smell like beets/cat box any more. I was feeling pretty upbeat and lucky about the whole thing.

So you can imagine my surprise when restoration dude (who, I cannot stress enough, was sent to us by our insurance company) told me that anything that had been touched by stormwater (which likely was about 10 inches in depth during the flooding) would have to be destroyed and that he’d have two guys in to start the job within 30 minutes.


In seconds, I went from feeling like a survivor to feeling like a victim. Was the flooding really that serious? Was my home in danger? Was water, at that very moment, threatening the very underpinnings of our home? Were they really going to start demolition that fast? And, more importantly, was this all going to be covered by insurance???

I was assured it was. All of it.

And then I snapped back to my senses and began to question the whole thing. So, restoration dude was going to demolish my entire basement and throw everything out? Oh, hell no. There was something wrong with this picture. Yes, I agreed the subfloors would need to go, absolutely, because they’d probably trapped water beneath them. But what little drywall there is in the basement wasn’t displaying a whole hell of a lot of capillary action water damage and might need, at best, a few inches removed, not a whole two feet or more. And what about the few precious (to me) pieces of furniture that were being temporarily stored down there? I’m not throwing out a Danish modern loveseat from the 60s when all it needs is a little refinishing on the feet. It seemed like a whole hell of a lot of overkill to me.

And, more importantly, I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be covered by insurance. Although no adjuster had actually called to discuss our policy with us during the week, a cursory look at their website indicated that unless you had specifically purchased a special policy to cover water coming up your sewer drain, you weren’t covered. And no one had ever tried to sell me a specific policy to cover water coming up my sewer drain. In fact, I hadn’t known such a thing existed.

So, in the time it took for restoration dude to leave and his crew to arrive, I called the insurance company again. When I finally got through to an actual person, I was told that no, we don’t have sewer back up insurance so none of this demolition would be covered.

Are you $#%@ kidding me?

What makes me crazy about this story is not that we don’t have coverage because chances are we’d never have been able to get it in the first place, as this sort of flooding has been known to happen in our area before. What makes me crazy is this:

  1. That the insurance company could have saved itself and me AND THE OVERWORKED RESTORATION CREWS a lot of time if they’d just had an adjuster call us and say No, You Don’t Have Coverage For This Type Of Damage, Sorry. Then we would have really gotten into the clean up immediately, instead of only doing the minimum in order to keep things in place for the adjuster to see.

  2. That the insurance company sent the restoration guy over without checking to see if we were covered by this also means that, had I not been outraged by the waste (see point #3, below) and questioned the process, his crew would have gone ahead and demolished everything and we would have been on the hook for the bill. Without knowing ahead of time how much this kind of work would cost us! Who buys any service without knowing how much it will cost ahead of time?

  3. That the restoration company was ready to just destroy everything in our basement (I’m presuming this would have included our fully functioning washer, dryer and furnace as they were also touched by storm water) and toss it all, and then invoice their total cost to the insurance company. This makes no sense, given the limited damage we (luckily) suffered. What a waste of money to destroy salvageable items! Yes, there were many basements that were completely decimated by water that rose up to 5 feet in depth, and then stood there a long time before draining – BUT OURS WASN’T ONE OF THEM!

All of this is a huge waste of time and money that eventually trickles down to us, the consumers. We bear the brunt by having to pay increasing premiums for insurance, because the insurers are incurring larger costs by not paying attention to the details. And it’s bred a weird attitude in people, a weird “What does it matter, let insurance pay for it” culture that denies the very fact that in the end we all still pay for it through increased premiums and decreased coverage.

So, take this tale as a warning, gentle reader, or just a reminder to take care of yourself and your belongings by:
a) Finding and reading your home insurance policy, and purchasing extra insurance while you still can
b) Keep valuables of any sort in waterproof containers (or, profit from our loss by purchasing Rubbermaid stock)
c) Never trusting a story that seems too good to be true (What? You’re going to rip out this subfloor that I’ve been planning to remove myself and rebuild it all for me, and insurance will cover it? Hot dog!)

Now, where did I put that crowbar? I’ve got some anger issues to deal with and luckily, there’s some subfloor that needs some attention.


PS For those who were wondering, the archive of homemade naughty snaps ( found during renovations did, in fact, survive the flood. Of course. THOSE were above high water, while my husband's early columns and various other bits were not. Sigh.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Going to the Chapel.

Coming soon to a blog near you...

I lose my nut on the wedding world....but I have hurt my back and have to go put ice on it again.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Let's See How This Goes...

I have been in a vicious cycle of not posting anything on this blog, and then really wanting to, and then sitting and down and writing a little something, and then thinking it is really stupid, and then I shut the computer off, and then the guilt sets in and then we start all over.

My biggest problem right now is that I have so damn much to blog about that I honestly don't know where to start.

I could talk about how thanks to an activity that one of my children is involved in I get to spend some time every week with the most negative woman in the world. Soul sucking negativity. Everything is a chore and a burden to this woman. The first time I met her she spent a couple of hours telling me every detail of her quest to become a mother. Since that first meeting she has spent every minute of our time together complaining about how hard motherhood is. I am going to make a very real promise to post more often because you will really need to hear all the details when I finally go off my nut and scream " What the fuck did you expect?" at her. And trust me that day is closer that you might think.

( Child #3 just appeared in the doorway to tell me that Child #4 is up from her nap)

I could talk about how if you are going to run a group or activity for children, could you at the very least pretend to like the little rug rats? How about when we arrive at the door for Gluesticks and Glitter Art Camp, I'm not greeted ( and by greeted I mean totally ignored) by a gum chewing teenager, who stands slumped over a table and glares at me and my child. Seriously, this summer we have an activity scheduled every night ( Mon- Fri) at 6pm and every Saturday morning. We have a couple of weeks of day camps and hockey school too. Of course all of these are commitments of our time and our money. So if 6 people have to rush through dinner, and then chug across a rain sodden field to get to mini soccer could you at least introduce yourself, find out who the hell I am and then at least make an attempt to learn my childs name, so you don't accuse her of not listening when you call her Hannah.

I could spend some time bitching about Jennifer Weiner and asking why she gets the big bucks to write books when the last two have had the exact same freaking ending.

( Just so you know, since I started this a few minutes ago, I was told the baby was awake, I have received a request for a drink, a request to start dinner, asked for the 4000th time since 2pm about when the 7pm showing of G-Force starts, and was given one bulletin that the aforementioned baby has made stinky pants)

I am going to go now and deal with my family, but I am making a promise to you that in the next 24 hours you are going to get the " Since When Did Planning a Wedding Get So Weird" post.

I may just include a review of G-Force

( This has nothing to do with anything, but I lost my reading glasses a couple of weeks ago, and read a review of G-Force and thought that it said that that Zack Galifianakadacawhatever guy played a "super-gay guinea pig" instead of a "super-spy guinea pig"


Unusually Warm & Fuzzy

Chicago, I'm happy to report, was fabulous as always. The city itself is a joy to visit, not only because it's so logically laid out (thank YOU Mrs. O'Leary's cow) and architecturally fascinating, but because the inhabitants are friendly as hell and drive in a civilized manner. And the food is fantastic.

But the other nice thing about the weekend was the affirmation that old friends are sometimes the best friends. Our annual visit to Chicago is partially about letting me get my fill of burritos as big as swaddled infants (La Pasadita, I heart you) and letting the husband go nuts at Sam's Wine & Liquors (lunchbox let down this time, but we still think American wine stores are like Disneyland for adults) but it's mostly about seeing our friends Jeff and Seann, a pair of fun, intelligent, warm and wonderful people who let us invade their home every summer for a long weekend.

It occurred to me this visit, as Jeff reminded me of some embarrassing aspect of my past, that one of the benefits of being in your mid to late 30s is old friends like him. I've known Jeff for 15 years, and as much as I don't need him to recount the Dreaded Bucket story of 1994, and he doesn't need me to remind him of the time he McGyvered spats out of tape when his middle school marching band was on its way to Comiskey Park and he'd forgotten that essential piece of marching band regalia (this makes my cry with laughter but it would take too long to explain why), as much as neither of us needs to remember this crap from the past, it's awfully nice to have someone around who does remember it. It's awfully nice to have friends who, though they live far away and you only see them once a year at the most, can just pick up the conversation where you left off the last time and keep talking. It's nice to know someone for long enough that they've seen you change from a bewildered-recent-university-graduate to the adult you are now (and vice versa), even if it does mean that the dumb, dumb, DUMB crap you did in your 20s had a witness who is unlikely to let you forget it. But that, in itself, is a benefit. It's good to have people around who won't let you forget who you once were and appreciate who you are now.

I feel like I should wrap this up with some sort of pithy, kick ass conclusion but frankly that's enough Jack Handey-esque warm & fuzzies for today. Suffice to say, old friends are the best friends and La Pasadita burritos are totally worth a nine hour, cross border drive.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Introverted Extrovert/Extroverted Introvert

We're off to Chicago tonight for a mini-vacation and I'm so excited I can barely think straight. How I love that city.

Besides the obvious joys of the City of Big Shoulders (burritos, ribs, pizza, beer, sausage, beer...oh and art & architecture too!) and getting in a good visit with some old friends, there are two great things about this trip:

  1. We're driving there. It's about 9 hours if you take the highway the whole way, but we like to break up the trip to the city by staying overnight in Michigan and doing a little shopping. This means that on the way to Chicago I get to spend a day and a half alone with my husband, with no hyperdog barking at us when we hug (I'm sure the reason we don't have children is because our ridiculously jealous dog is secretly administering contraceptives) and no jealous cats competing for our attention by (cat a) not eating and (cat b) overeating. There will be quiet when we want to be quiet, and talk when we want to talk, we will consume Nibs and beernuts (our preferred roadsnacks) by the sackful, and we will get to sleep in a bed not recently befouled by cat b who seems to be making an artistic statement using urine, poop and our duvets as her media of choice.
  2. This is the last major commitment of the summer. Other than this trip (which I AM delighted about, trust me) and very fun wedding that I'm looking forward to in August, this mini-vacation is the last major commitment on the calendar. There is nothing else that I need to prepare for, cook for, board the dog and cats for, there is nothing else on the books that requires small talk or chat of any sort. And that, my friends, is pretty damned thrilling because July has been one long whirlwind of social gaiety and I am on the verge of a teeeeensy little breakdown if it doesn't stop soon.

Not that any of the social whirlwind has been forced on me. Oh no, no at all, in fact it was all my idea. I'm the one who agreed to events and trips on three subsequent weekends, I'm the one who decided to throw a big party for husband's 40th, I'm the one who decided that a night class comprised of two lectures and two tutorials per week was doable. I'm the one who agrees to dinners and lunches and all that stuff. And I'm the one who ends up panicking and cancelling and getting sick because of it.

I am, by nature, about 50% recluse. I would be delighted if I could stay home and potter around all day and not talk to people. When I left university, I said I was going to get a post-grad diploma in museum studies & conservation JUST so I could get myself a job labeling stuff in the basement of some museum and not talk to people. Half the reason I took to Facebook and Twitter like a duck to water is because you can communicate with people without actually having to talk to them. Okay, okay, I'm not a total freak, I don't mind talking to people in person (mostly), but I do loathe the telephone and I find it extremely difficult to talk to someone if I can't see their face. I get depressed (and frankly bitchy) if I don't get enough time alone, and will become physically ill (I can spike a fever like a five year old) if I don't get enough time to spend at home with no more company than my husband and the pets. I am the all time worst person to send to a conference because I just want to go to the sessions and learn stuff, I have no interest in "networking", which is apparently the whole point of conferences. Speaking in front of a crowd or group fills me with a gagging fear and my voice will get higher and faster in correlation to my discomfort -- I once had to make a presentation to a city council defending a grant application I didn't believe in and by the time I finished the only mammals that could have heard and understood me were bats or dolphins.

So what do I end up doing for a living? Do I spend my days shuffling around some museum basement, wearing acid free cotton gloves and labeling the detritus of the past, blissfully alone and silent? No. I somehow fall into fundraising, an industry based entirely on building relationships with people, a process that involves talking and being with people. All. The. Time. And I do it, and sometimes even well. I'm a great rodeo clown to have on a donor call as I can (usually) draw even the most recalcitrant person into talking about themselves while the other development officer zeros in for the actual donation request. I can write a wicked grant application and chat up funders like no tomorrow. If I believe in a cause I can sell it like Elmer Gantry sellin' that old tyme religion. And I kind of get a kick out of working events like golf tournaments and gala dinners.

My boss says she's much the same way and describes herself as an introverted extrovert, or perhaps an extroverted introvert, I can't remember which way it goes, but at least there's evidence of other freakily unsocial people ending up in this business. My mother figures I'm genetically predisposed to this type of behavioural confusion because I'm 50% her and 50% my father. My mum, left to her own devices is a pretty darned social person and before various small town arts organizations treated her like shit and took all her fun away, she was an eager volunteer in the community. My father, on the other hand, is so economical with his words that my friend Angela didn't actually hear him speak until about 4 years after she met my parents ("Omigod, your dad spoke to me, YOUR DAD SPOKE TO ME!").

But, whatever. Given that a windfall o' cash isn't likely to happen and I've got to work for a living, it's a pretty good gig and you do get to meet some very interesting people. And working in a museum basement might not be half the fun I think it would be. But a girl can dream, can't she?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I Lied About Not Procrastinating Anymore (OR You People Are Going To Start Thinking I'm Obsessed with Shapewear)

So, I was going to write about how Roland Barthes and his semiotics (wait, that sounds a bit Motown..Tonight At The Apollo: Roland Barthes & The Semiotics!) fills me with cold, leaden fear.

I was going to do that, but first, I've got to finish this damned assignment for tomorrow's class. Remember that post a few posts ago about how I wasn't going to procrastinate anymore, about how at 39 I was older and wiser than in my undergraduate years and I know the value of sleep and blah blah blahdy blahdum?

Yeah, not so much. I am clearly in all-nighter territory now and it's a bit ridiculous. However I will say that this situation is not purely a product of procrastination -- there's a bit of that to be sure, but I also just haven't been happy about my essay for the past week. It's been revised any number of times and it's still not great. How do you write about foundation garments for men and limit yourself to 500 words? I ask you. 500 words on such a rich topic? It's torture. There are just so many things to say on the subject of the Core Precision (tm) Undershirt by Equmen . Check it out for yourself, you'll see what I mean.


PS If any of you are wondering where Kate is, she's got 4 kids under 9 and school's out. 'nuf said.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hey, Lady!

This will be quick as I feel like death (husband returned home from business trip with cold last week, he's all better and now I'm sick) but tonight I dragged my sickie self to the second lecture and first tutorial for Cultural Studies and Consumer Culture. As this is a full 3 credit class crammed into 6 weeks, missing one night is equal to missing a whole week, so you can see how this eager beaver didn't want to miss out...

I'm taking this course out of interest and because it's been so long since I've been in university (Class of '94, Represent!), I thought it would be a good way to dip my toe in the waters of academia. Something fun that would help me figure out if I really, really wanted to go back for a second degree. This is only the first week and so far, so good, although there's been entirely too much time spent on administrivia in the first two classes. (Seriously, DUDE, you've told us about your lengthy and comprehensive website that covers everything from the course syllabus to sample essays, if it's this necessary to review the site in such detail IN class, then post-secondary education's in big trouble.)

Anyway, it's weird enough to be sitting in a classroom surrounded by people 20 years your junior, with a professor who's your same age (and who, so far, is in danger of being Massive Generalization Guy, but it is an introductory course so I believe there's some slack to be cut here), and trying not to be annoyed by the tip tip typing sounds of 50 people writing notes on their laptops. But it gets weirder when, during the tutorial, you're asked to interview the person next to you and then introduce them to the rest of the class. "This lady," began young Shiv, my partner in this process.

Lady? LADY? Oh, sweet merciful crap. I'm a LADY in my classmates' eyes. Honestly. Lady. What's next? The dreaded Ma'am?

T.S. Eliot's Prufrock has come screaming to the front of my brain numerous times in the past few weeks, suddenly apt in so many ways, and once again tonight. Shall I wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled? Do I dare eat a peach?


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summer Eating, Summer Cooking ("You can really taste the kale!")


Tonight, I picked up our first farmshare basket from Manorun Farm, a local organic operation.

After at least three years of planning to support a local farmer by purchasing a half-share for the pair of us, Christopher and I finally remembered to sign up with Manorun ( and send them our post-dated cheques. Behold, we are participants in Community Supported Agriculture!

We're quite excited about this whole venture. Not only are we delighted to support a local farmer, but we also like the idea of the weekly mystery box of ingredients. It's so easy to get into a bit of a cooking rut, making the same few meals over and over again because they're proven favorites and you don't have to think too hard. The amount of broccoli and pepper stir fry with tofu fritters we've eaten this past winter for this very reason is not to be believed. Now we'll get a basket of ingredients not of our choosing every Tuesday night and enjoy the challenge of figuring out what to do with them week by week.

Our inaugural basket contained a generous bunch of radishes (radiculous!), two bags of greens, a paper bag of dried beans from last summer's crop, as well as 6 good sized potatoes from the farm's cellar. Crowning the basket was a lovely bunch of chives, complete with their aromatic fuzzy purple blooms. In addition to the obvious salads, meals this week will include chive and potato fritatta, radishes with sweet butter and coarse salt (I'm a radish beginner. Having never really liked their biting sharpness, I'm thinking that the butter might mellow their flavour a bit for me) and likely the first egg salad of the season to help consume the big bunch of chives. Oh, and I just remembered a delicious dish I had at The Black Trumpet in London, Ontario that might help use up those radishes -- it was a seared salmon fillet dressed with a sauce of chopped radish and creme fraiche, so simple and so good.

Will keep you posted on how our first season as CSA participants goes. I see a lot of kale in our future, do you?


Monday, June 15, 2009

From Kitty Hawk Direct to My Heart

In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright performed the first heavier-than-air human flight in their new-fangled airplane. This magical invention begat over a century of expanded global travel, and, more importantly, the invention of airports.

I love airports. Train stations, too, but it's really airports that I could spend some serious time in. I like the bustle of them, the suppressed emotions (excitement, confusion, occasionally rage) in the air, the off duty flight crews clipping their way ever so efficiently through the crowds with their wheelie bags behind them, the over priced coffee and I-Heart-Whatever-City-We're-In souvenir t-shirts. But the thing I like most of all, more than taking off on a trip of my own, is the arrivals hall.

Just this past Sunday I went to pick up the husband from a business trip to Austria. A number of flights were arriving around the same time at Pearson's Terminal 1, so I had about 20 minutes to wait for Christopher to come through the doors. This gave me ample time to people-watch and I will tell you that if you want to witness pure human emotion, the arrivals hall at a major airport is the place to be.

Terminal 1 has a particularly good arrivals set up, because the travellers are slightly elevated above the waiting area, as though on a stage. So, with each swish-woosh opening of the automatic doors, the waiting crowd stands higher on their toes, necks stretched long and faces angled upwards, looking like a human version of a field of sunflowers. There's a collective holding of breath in the crowd as the travellers appear through the doors, and then a pause as each arrivee takes a moment to scan the crowd and each waiting person mentally processes whether this latest arrival belongs to them or not. And then, if you're lucky, there's a happy shriek and one of the sunflower crowd breaks free and dashes through the crowd, waving homemade signs or bouquets of flowers or just their hands as they charge up the ramp to their loved one.

(This includes me. I am an unabashed charger of ramps when it comes to picking up my husband at the airport and I don't care if I do look ridiculous.)

Airport arrivals always makes me think of those nature programs that show herds of animals, sheep in particular, being released into a field with their young. There's a moment of utter chaos and frantic milling about and then, like magic, the mamas find their babies and peace reigns again.

Magic and peace. This is exactly why you should, if at all possible, retrieve your spouse, parent, or friend from the airport yourself. It's not just about saving the $120 cost of a town car or shuttle, it's about that moment of pure joy, the rush of love (and relief, if you're a nervous nelly like me) when you see them come through the door and they're home once more.


Saturday, June 13, 2009


To all my sleepy Saturday morning neighbours, please accept my sincere apologies for the sudden burst of loud invectives, swearing (in both English and German) and stomping noises that immediately followed my reading of Leah McLaren's column in today's G&M Style section.

So, if your morning ablutions or coffee or walk with the dog were disturbed by my cries of "Sweet merciful crap woman, shut up shut up shut up!" and "Quatschkopf!" and "Why do you have a job?" and (again) "shut up shut up shut up!", and finally "You suck eggs Leah McLaren!", well, it's really all her fault.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A brief encomium

Today is Kate's birthday. Happy Birthday, Kate!

As of this summer, Kate and I have been friends for 15 years. This means that for the past decade and a half, I've not had to remember anything I've said or written in Kate's presence, not a single bon mot/pithy comment/blast of vitriol, as she is the memory keeper of this friendship. Seriously, her acute ability to store whatever nonsense pours forth from my piehole is something to be reckoned with. If she'd harness that power for the greater good of mankind, she'd be a formidable member of the Super Friends, kicking ass in the Hall Of Justice.

And, all references to the Hanna-Barbera cartoons of our childhood aside, she is my Super Friend. For 15 years, Kate has faithfully made me laugh, listened to me, given me her honest opinion when I come out of a fitting room, made me laugh, introduced me to the wonders of cross-border shopping, let me tell her how much she reminds me of Doris Day at least four times a year without telling me off, gotten drunk with me, let me float in her pool for endless hours, let me help choose her wedding dress, made me laugh, taken my suggestion for two of her children's names (Annabelle and Charlotte, it's all my fault and I promise not to be too heartbroken when you hit the I'm-Changing-My-Name-To-Tiffany stage of adolescence), always understood implicitly the absolute minutiae of my world and vice versa to the point where we speak in broken sentences because we don't have to articulate every thought (although that doesn't stop us), endured marathon phone conversations while I was stuck in rush hour traffic and needed someone to keep me awake, made me laugh, discussed everything under the sun with me, agreed to doing this blog, stood beside me on my wedding day AND most importantly, introduced me to my husband.

She is my sister from another mother, neck-and-neck with my husband for title of Funniest Person I Know, a true best friend (cringe-making, I know, to hear an adult use that term but it's just so fitting) in every sense.

Happy Birthday, Kate!
(cupcake image from