Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Dog photography: Harder than you think

It is surprisingly hard to get a decent photo of a pet.  Mostly because all dogs sort of look the same, and who really wants to see photos of other people's pets?

Too bad.

I give you, so-cute-you-could-bite-him (back):

Ziggy with his slipper


Ziggy with his ball

Ziggy with his rope




Ziggy in the snow



Note that I have taken apart his little coat and sewed on an extra panel with snaps, as the velcro wasn't holding very well.  Also note that you only need to be concerned about me and my mental wellbeing when he shows up shaved and wearing baby clothes.  Dog clothes are fine and are perfectly normal.  As are dog boots, which he apparently needs as the salt hurts his wee widdle paws, yes it does.



Help me.



Monday, 21 November 2016

CBR: Bring back the magic!


Full disclaimer:  I loved the Harry Potter books.  I’m a total Harry Potter nerd, and have already turned Vaughn into one (he was Harry for Halloween last year) and am easily working on Ailsa (who wants to be Hermione next year) and little Ginny Weasley – I mean, Tamsin.  After reading the first four in a row, I became one with the kids who penned letters to J.K. herself, wishing, begging her to write another and tell us more about Hogwarts.  In 2006, Chris and I stood in an extremely long line at Chapters at midnight to buy the 7th book (along with young teenagers and their parents… turns out that Chris knew the man in line behind us.  “I’m buying it for my 14-year-old daughter,” he shrugged and smiled.  Chris and I:  Awkward silence).  We lined up for an hour to watch the premiere of The Goblet of Fire (and were bitterly disappointed and furious when, with 10 minutes to go, upon Professor McGonagall’s announcement that “A boy is dead!” the picture suddenly went black, and we could still hear the movie, but not see it).  (We got free passes and a refund.) (Humph.)



So, when I saw J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy in my mom’s books-to-pass-on box, I nabbed it up immediately, unsure of what to expect from a non-Harry book.



Well.


It’s no Harry Potter.  At halfway through the book, I was less than impressed.  Pagford, a (fictional) rural town in England (I had to look it up), is a far cry from Hogsmeade.  The characters are unhappy, foul-mouthed, rude, selfish, unattractive, and self-destructive.  They dabble in deceit, drug-use, domestic and child abuse, prostitution, and generally being terrible people.  They use the c-word!  (!!!)  (this is not as shocking in the UK, I suppose, but yikes!)


I’d like to think that Rowling wanted to distance herself from the world of wizards and magic, to prove that she could write something so different from the Harry Potter series just to show that she’s versatile, and a REAL author – like there was any doubt of that.  That her original books appeal strongly to – and are compulsively read by – kids and adults alike, is enough to cement her place as a writer, and on re-reading her books (as I’ve been doing with Vaughn), I am often struck by her descriptors and turns of phrase.

And then there’s Pagford. 


Up to about the three-quarter mark, I was reading it out of a fascination with the vulgar... I felt slightly ill while reading, but couldn't stop.  

And then.  And THEN!  

When I finished it, I had to admit again what I already knew:  man, she can write.  It's a gift to be able to create characters and situations that come alive, outcomes that people care about, and for me, to be able to put down a book and be so moved and impressed by its ending... wow.  (I can't even describe it as more than "wow".)


I followed it up a few months later with "her" other new book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  It's written as a screenplay, which was a bit off-putting at first, and is actually written by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne.  It has Harry only in a supporting role, with his second son as the main character, and Draco's son as his best friend.



Amazingly, it came to life with warmth and humour - I felt that the characters and personalities from Hogwarts are still there, and true to themselves as adults.  Draco's son, Scorpius, may have even replaced Ron as my favourite (though he's still top-two) wizard; he's the most endearing Slytherin ever.  And I stand by that.  The characters are goofy and flawed and real.

All in all, J.K. Rowling's story, from starving single mom to an author world-renowned for her talent is an inspiration to me, and the fact that she is still creating and producing more, branching out in different genres, knocking it out of the ballpark each time, is amazing.

(hey, I started out cranky...) 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

I'm aliiiive!

Alternate title:  Insulate good times, come on!  Install some insulation...  by Kool (in my mudroom) and the Gang

(apologies)

Ok, ok, I know I've been completely incommunicado lately.  And by "lately", I mean "since February".

This blog tends to quiet down when there is too much stuff going on in my life.

But!  Now that the aforementioned "stuff" is over, there will be more writing, blogging, witty-joking, and updating on my extremely fascinating life!

For example, guess what I did this morning?  I insulated the crawlspace over the mudroom!

In May, our home inspector pointed out that the mudroom was "built on a concrete slab" and "had no appreciable insulation overtop", so would "probably be extremely cold".  And it is.  It's been on my list since we moved in August.  However, due to physical issues and extreme unwieldiness, it has been impossible to do until now.

I've had 2 weeks to recover from my 2am trip to the hospital on Halloween (and subsequent, wonderful 2-day vacation), and have been venturing off my couch two to three times a day to slowly walk our newest family member.  I even tried to jog down my street this morning.

Too soon.


Introducing our newest bundle of teeth and fur:  Ziggy, with his best friends

But, DG responsibilities can't be shirked forever, so I hauled the giant ladder out of the storage room (please send email reprimands directly to Fis), lifted off the panel in the roof of our carport, and changed into fibreglass-friendly sweatpants tucked into my socks, long-sleeved shirt tucked into my sweatpants, work gloves and a festive blue bandanna to cover my hair.  No, there are no photos.

I can almost stand up in the highest point of the space...which didn't need insulating, unfortunately.  I had to squeeze between framing that was about 3 feet high (but sloping down to the floor) and 18 inches wide, balance on joists 18 inches apart, and somehow roll pink insulation along, bumping my head on the sloping roof beams and coughing up a great deal of what I hope was dust, but was probably fibreglass.

The recurring thoughts I had during the whole 45-minute ordeal were:

  • I've missed my calling!  Tiny people like me are perfect for crawlspace insulation jobs.  (Much like my plan to man the subs of the Canadian Navy entirely by people of my size, which was thwarted in 1998, 1999 and 2001 - your loss, Canadian Navy!)
  • It must suck to be normal sized.
But, now that it's done (and I'm showered), I look forward to reaping the rewards of my work by feeling an almost-noticeable temperature change in the mudroom.  The next project, of course, involves weatherstripping the front door!  SO FUN!

Also, I think I can totally justify doing absolutely nothing for the rest of the day.





Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Regae revaeb, aka The Family Toothbrush

Warning:  Long post.  The funny bit is at the end, but you need a bunch of background to get there.  Heh.

My eager little Beavers took me camping last weekend.  It had the potential of being the Best Weekend Ever, and definitely moments of the Worst Weekend Ever, but overall was just a nice balance between the two (such is life). 

We” packed up our bags on Friday afternoon.  I was smart enough to print out the packing list and make two piles on Thursday night:  one of Vaughn’s clothes and one of Ailsa’s.  I had stayed home on Thursday with the ongoing lingering effects of this terrible flu/cold and a wicked bad sinus headache/migraine, so didn’t do much, but felt fairly prepared when I went in to work on Friday.  The plan was that I’d work during the morning, teach my class at 12:15, then go straight home, shower, pack, pick up extra mittens at Winners, pick up the kids at school at 3, load up the car, and go.

Ha ha… ha…

I waited, sweaty and cold, for the bus to come by after Attack.  It didn’t.  The sign stated that it came every 15 minutes at that hour.  Let me be clear:  it did not, and does not, ever.  I was shivering from head to toe, and my half-hot-chocolate/half-coffee (post-Attack treat) was cold by the time the bus arrived 45 minutes later.  It filled to bursting, drove slow, stopped too long at every stop… and I got home at 2:28.  I sprinted into the house, hopped into the shower to try to get feeling back in my body (and to stock up on extra heat for a cold weekend in the woods), and raced off to pick up the older Hufflings at school, for about 3:04.

As soon as I got to the office, Ailsa said, “I have to go to the bathroom”.  The combination of Distracto and her snowsuit put us to 3:25.  And we still had to buy mittens.  Winners had grownup mittens only (on sale!  Yay me!).  We went home.  The kids emptied their backpacks while I ran around like a madwoman, packing my own back, running down the list three more times, and putting fire blankets, pillows, and the three sleeping bags I retrieved from the top shelf of the garage…with a ladder…in the cold… in big black garbage bags.  We were ready to go!  The kids were wonderfully helpful in loading the back of the minivan I had borrowed from my parents:  sleds, backpacks, garbage bags, my duffel bag, my backpack full of mittens and hats, and we were off!

To the gas station.

Filling up the tank, I recognized Rusty, the kids' Beaver leader at the next pump. “How late are we?” I asked. He was still planning on dashing home to quickly eat (it was 5 by now), so I figured we were on track, so we hit the road!

To Loblaws.  (more mittens) 

At Loblaws, the kids begged to stay in the car, so I ran in to grab more on-sale mittens (2 for Ailsa, 1 for Tamsin for next year, and 1 nice warm pair for me), plus some candy for the drive home.

At this point, it was 5:20.  Back in the car, I pulled out Mom and Dad's GPS, and punched in the address. Not found. I punched in the postal code. Not found. I gave up and used my phone. We drove until 6, in the dark, down an unfamiliar highway (I was sure that we were going the wrong way), till we found a Tim Hortons. Soup is a nice quick meal... unless you have 2 kids and are on the way somewhere, in the dark. Back and driving, my phone told me that we still had an hour and 40 minutes to go. Sigh.

At 7:25, Vaughn pointed out that Ailsa was asleep, and that it was 5 minutes before bedtime. Still 45 minutes away. And my phone had been on continuously, so was burning hot against my thigh.

We finally pulled off the last of the main roads at about 8:05. Still 7km to go, and the last bit was turny and windy, and my phone wasn't responding very well. But we made it! We pulled into the parking lot of Tamaracouda, to see Rusty, the leader from the gas station, directing traffic. “How far behind you were we?” I asked, expecting at least 30 minutes. “About 10.” Score!

After some initial confusion, the three of us got settled into Cabin 3 with 2 other moms, 1 dad, and 3 little girls. And 8 bunks (do the math). Luckily, one mother-daughter combo wanted to share a bunk. Good for them! We met at the dining hall (5 minute walk) for mug-up (nice big glass of milk and cookies), then back to the cabin (6 min) to get ready for bed. Everyone grabbed their toothbrushes and... toothbrushes! 

Somehow, even though it was at the top of the list, “toothbrush” slipped through the cracks. As did “soap”, “washcloth” and “towel”. Luckily, I am nothing if not vain resourceful, and as I had brought my makeup bag (containing a travel toothbrush and small toothpaste), we all had access to the Family Toothbrush. This was fodder for all sorts of fun jokes, like, “No, Ailsa, your day is TUESDAY,” and “I wonder what Chris and Tamsin are doing without the toothbrush this weekend”. So fun.

With everyone clean(ish, without soap, washcloths, towels, etc.) and in their jammies, everyone climbed into their bunks and fell asleep.

Just kidding!

It was about 10:30. Each kid had their own story, complete with giggling and squealing and loud shouty noises. The last one seemed to go on forever, but the light was finally turned out, and I said, “Goodnight, Vaughn and Ailsa.” And Ailsa yelled, “Mommy! I have to go to the bathroom!” (Remember that nice big glass of milk?) 

So, out of bed, into boots and coat, off to the bathroom (3 minutes in cold and dark). Back in the nice, warm cabin, the kids are still squirming and giggling. At about 5 am (I'm guessing), Vaughn has to pee. At about 6 (still guessing – it's dark, but starting to brighten), Ailsa has to pee again. I resolve to cut off liquids at 2 pm the next day. Suddenly, there's a knock at the door, Rusty pokes his head in, and our day has started.

The day was pretty wonderful, I have to admit. Beautiful, perfect, not-too-cold weather.  Breakfast was eggs and toast. We went snowshoeing (just as much fun as it had been at Brownie camp, in 1983), then went to the dining hall (7 minutes away) at 11. Good! So hungry! All that fresh air and exercise! ….for crafts. Apparently, Beaver camp does not include snacks. As a compulsive snacker (who did not realize how snacky I really was until there were no snacks), it was a rough go till 12:30, but it was worth it: deeelicious hamburgers. Two of them. Nom nom nom.

The afternoon's schedule was full of napping and much-needed quiet time. 

Just kidding! We went sledding! 

It was a long walk to the hill, and a long walk up, and a reeeeally long walk back to our cabin, where I insisted that the kids have quiet time. Vaughn cuddled up with me and actually fell asleep for about 15 minutes, but Ailsa was interrupted by two of the other miscreants coming back in, squealing and giggling. Vaughn snoozed on for another 2 minutes, till his buddy popped in looking for him. Well, it was something.

They played outside a while longer, then off we went to the dining hall (11 minutes) for another craft.  The kids were surprisingly into it, and made themselves nice little pillows. Dinner was a LOT of rice, corn, gravy, and what looked like chicken souvlaki would look like if I made it by boiling the chicken skewers without seasoning them at all. Still, I didn't make it, I didn't clean it up, so I ate it and liked it. We walked back to the cabins (14 minutes) to get dressed warmly enough for the campfire, and I bundled Vaughn's gear off with Ben's dad – they had planned a party in their cabin, and I said he could sleep over.

Once fully dressed and wearing our fire blankets over top, Ailsa had to go to the bathroom. We eventually made it to the campfire, roasted 2 marshmallows each, and went back to the dining hall for mug-up, this time, nuclear-hot hot chocolate with marshmallows, skits, and then back to our cabins (15 min) to brush our teeth with our Toothbrush, kiss Vaughn goodnight as we went to Ben's cabin for the night, and get settled in for a good night sleep.

Just kidding!

Although I had made sure that both kids stopped at the bathroom before bed, I decided to take a peek up on Ailsa's bunk just before the lights were turned out. Beside her, an empty water bottle. AAAAARGH!

I dragged her back out into the cold,out to the bathroom, amid sobs of “But I don't have to gooooo....”, made sure she went again, and went back again to get tucked in and have the lights turned out. Sleep was elusive, though, as the bed-sharers squabbled for about half an hour over who was taking up too much room, and more rustling. But I finally fell asleep for the rest of the night.

Just kidding!

At 1 am, Ben's dad returned a sad and shaky Vaughn to me. He had tossed and turned, talked in his sleep (he does that), fallen out of his top bunk, and thrown up on the floor. SO... here he was.

A good mother would instantly worry about her child. She would check him for concussion* and be concerned for his current and future health. 

None of this even occurred to me.  First, I was just so tired.  But mostly, have you ever seen the movie Airplane!? There's a scene in which Dr. Rumack, played by Leslie Nielsen, explains to Elaine that any passenger who had eaten fish would get violently ill in the next short while. The pilot (Peter Graves) overhears this, and his eyes slide over slowly to look at his plate, which holds only a fishbone.

That was me and ... the Toothbrush.

All this to say, I DID do unintentional concussion checks on Vaughn, by asking him periodically whether he felt sick or thought he might throw up again (on me).  I was mostly just waiting for Ailsa and I to throw up, as we had obviously been literally rubbing each others' germs around our teeth and gums for the past 29 hours.  However, he wasn't warm, seemed lucid, and we actually enjoyed a really good night sleep until Ailsa woke up to pee, around 7.   

The morning flew by:  breakfast (French toast!  yeah!), then sledding, then packing up to go home.  We made good time, and both kids were unconscious within 5 minutes of starting the car.  
All this to say that the days were amazing, the nights were hell, and I can't wait to go back next year!  

With extra toothbrushes.  (the soap is still optional)


*Note:  Vaughn is still super smart.  I don't think it was a concussion.  Stop judging me.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Monday, 7 December 2015

HO Ho ... ho ... humbug.


This weekend, we picked up the Christmas photo card -- no small feat, as first I had to take a decent photo of three Hufflings, preferably all looking the same way and smiling nicely.  This of course took three separate shoots to do, and the outcome was not three Hufflings all looking the same way and smiling nicely, though it definitely captures their character -- made a list of who will be receiving them (it's an elite group this year, what with the insane cost of stamps and all) and pulled out the recipes for the baking we’d like to do.  At this point, it feels like we’re done, but I can’t help thinking that we maybe haven’t actually sent any cards or baked any cookies.  Or shopped.  Huh.

At least the tree is up.  
Saturday’s fun included getting the living room ready for Christmas, which is a ritual in itself, before the tree even goes up.  This is how it goes down:  First, mandatory Christmas music plays.  ALL TOYS get put away in their designated spot (upstairs or downstairs, just not in my living room), donated, or thrown out.  This is actually a lot more fun to do than it sounds to most people.  I looooove to declutter.  Any non-Christmas books also get put away - upstairs or downstairs, just not in my living room!  The end tables get moved out, the couch gets moved, the 57 toys under the couch go through the keep/donate/throw out exercise, I sweep again and again, and Chris brings the xmas bins from the garage and the lovely, pre-lit tree in its old, dilapidated cardboard box, onto the back deck. 
This year, I cut through the 8th layer of packing tape holding the box shut (it is, after all, 8 years old) and take out the tree, one piece at a time.  Top piece (still on the deck):  shake shake shake, so extra loose “needles” fall out now while it's outside, bring it in.  Middle piece:  shake shake shake.  Bottom piece:  shake sha--- wait, is that mouse poop?  The bottom of the box is full of mouse poop.  On inspection, the last tree piece has several fluffy nests wending through its branches (also full of mouse poop).  I shake and shake, get the vacuum (Chris’ recommendation…which I was surprised by, because he has a very strong reaction to mouse poop and its alleged murderous properties, which is why I refer to any mice that he sees as “hantamice”), vacuum for a while, wonder how good is good enough... when I see a bunch of wires all chewed up.

My scream of BAH!  HUMBUG! was heard by the children inside the house, on the other side of the sliding glass doors.  My lovely tree is not only a hantatree,* but it is a fire hazard.

Vaughn was gearing up to get upset when I said that we had to throw out the tree, but cheered right up when I typed in “Canadian Tire” on the google.  He and Chris went out to pick it up at once.
The new tree is lovely and pre-lit, too.  It's 7.5 feet tall, and combines real-feel tips with less-real-feel tips, but was on sale, and was the last one in the store, so that's alright.
The old tree was dragged to the curb, clearly marked with a sign saying "Please leave for garbage:  Fire hazard, full of mouse poop and chewed wires."  It felt strange to leave such a sign, as most things we put out front are gone within 30 minutes, to be rehomed.  Chris even had to talk a woman out of taking it.
All this to say, even if nothing else is ready, even if the rest of the house is a bit of a disaster, and if the living room has a magnetic attraction for every non-Christmas toy or book to reappear every 15 minutes, ruining my imaginary holiday kingdom, and if we're out of Bailey's... wait, where was I going with this? 

* Am quite disappointed in myself for not somehow working Hanta Claus into this one.

Monday, 23 November 2015

This post is irrelevant

Sometimes I read books that have nothing to do with real life, either because they're fantasy, they're fiction, or they're true but from such ancient history that they can have no real value or meaning to anyone anymore.  After all, we don't live in the time of Austen.  Of Bronte.*  Of Shelley.  Of Ingalls Wilder.  (to name the last four authors I've read, anyway)

My kids will (probably) never have to draw water from the river, or build a log cabin with their hands.  They won't carve arrow tips.  They won't wear extra petticoats for warmth and/or modesty, or play with a pig's bladder for fun because their only other toy is a corn cob.  They won't have to face the dichotomy of getting married or becoming a governess.  They use snail mail only for thank you cards, Christmas cards and letters to Santa.

For that matter, any story written before 1990 has serious issues with its relevance to the life of a modern child.  I mean, why would you ever read a story about people who don't even have cell phones?  How could their experience possibly impact my own?  What relevance does it have?

The greats are great, and important, perhaps just because the stories they told were the first of their kind.  The experiences are completely unlike any that most of us will ever have.  But does that mean they're irrelevant?

Every day, this overpopulated world is full of more imitators and entrepreneurs with more time and more opportunity and better tools and more education.  But these classics still hold up today, awe-inspiringly so, in terms of wit, style, and brilliance, often despite -- or because of -- their simplicity.  These men and women didn't have the luxury of spell-check or a delete key.  Their stories were written by hand, crossed out and written again, without being able to cut and paste that paragraph onto the next page.  They were written, painstakingly, for a reason, to share their unique experiences (or unique take on shared experiences) with others, to caution, to moralize, to celebrate, but to share.  Every great artist could paint and sculpt and keep it to himself.  Every great singer could sing alone in their room.  But my historical authors, every one, were leaving their own mark, whether by letter written, book, or poem, published or not.

Isn't social media just the expansion of this human cry?  Every stupid Facebook post or thoughtless Twitter tweet, every (uh oh:  ignorance about to be exposed) ... um...photo? on snapchat or imgr or whatever-the-kids-are-into-these-days, and yes, every self-important blog post...all of these, every one, are all really just the artist/writer/originator/person, crying out into the darkness in the best way they know how:

I was here.  And I mattered.





* will happily accept pointers on how to get those two little dots on the e using an Alt combo