Monday, 8 April 2013

Something I Don't Get

Ok, so... one recent day I was driving to a meeting downtown.

I don't get downtown much these days and so I was, I have to admit, pretty stoked.  Felt energized and happy.

I was even able to get past the atrocious driving of my fellow Ottawans (OMG PEOPLE LEARN ABOUT THE TURN SIGNAL AND STOP BEING A DOUCHEBAG), such was my joy in getting back to my old stomping grounds.

There was a truck driving ahead of me, down Queen Street.  Nondescript, a red pickup.  Then I noticed the bumper sticker.  Not a fan of the bumper sticker, generally, although I do prefer them to personalized license plates.  Still don't get that.  Anyhow.

The sticker was simple.  A couple of figures, a couple of symbols.

It had a male figure, then a "plus" sign, then a female figure (like, the old-school bathroom sign kind, so you didn't walk into the wrong one, but who hasn't done that at least once to possibly embarrassing social consequences? And if you have... hell, stop being so uptight about it... we girls have enough to deal with and frankly the constant lineups because the powder room facilities have been poorly thought out in terms of supply (NOT ENOUGH STALLS) and demand (WE PEE A LOT) issues... Seriously, F*** it. I don't wait in lines when there's no lineup at the men's side, and I don't apologize for it.  Use the men's, ladies.  For God's sake, it's not as if we don't all know about basic biology! Anyhow....)

Where was I...?

Right.  The sticker.  A Man plus a Woman then an "equals" sign then the word "marriage".

W. T. F.

Seriously.  I was so enraged I nearly rear-ended the truck.

Passive aggression when it comes to politics is not acceptable.  If you believe it, you need to be prepared to have the conversation like a grown up.  A bumpersticker is not in any way the methodology behind an adult conversation.  It's designed to piss someone off without consequence or discussion.

And that is just plain shitty.  If you believe it, talk to me about it.  Explain to me why it's your business who loves whom and who wants to be part of a loving partnership and family unit with whom.  Don't slap a cheap sticker on your truck to be evocative and then drive away without providing a solid policy rationale based on data, evidence and facts.

Yes.  That's right.  I'm challenge-functioning a bumper sticker.  I'm "miller-ing" a bumpersticker.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


A True Fact About Me:

I love the Muppets.


I'm a 41 year old executive.  I have good taste and style (if maybe a little quirky).  I drink decent wine.   I know a little bit about art.  I have cool friends.  I am in a serious and excellent relationship with a serious and excellent guy who has a good job.  I don't live with my parents and haven't for quite some time.  I own a home and a car (well, technically the bank owns them... but you know what I mean).  I wear 4 inch heels regularly and spend a fortune on nice clothes.  I'm not a weirdo.

But I can't get enough of Grover and Cookie and Kermit and the gang.  I was very excited one day to discover, on the magic of the inter web, this thing called Muppet Wiki.  On the Muppet Wiki, there's this feature called "Random Muppet".  You click and it generates (you guessed it) a Muppet character at total random.  The day I found it, I couldn't stop clicking on it and giggling my ass off for well over an hour.  Every now and again, the Boy, doing Serious Boy Things, would call out "ARE YOU STILL LOOKING AT THAT MUPPET THING?" Eventually he gave up.

For years I have thought that I missed my calling.  Should have been a Muppeteer.  Could anything possibly be more fun than the idea of living among the monsters and gigantic birds and imaginary friends at Sesame Street?  Singing and dancing your way through the alphabet or basic math?  Sometimes I like to PRETEND I'm on the Muppet Show and I break into song at home...and sometimes even at work.  I'll admit - some people stare or even look away, trying desperately to pretend it isn't happening.   And I will also admit that I take some glee in singing louder when that happens.

Sometimes I think I am getting younger as I get older.   Sometimes I think that's a problem.  But then, the Boy's kid says "Foxy laughs more than anyone I know!"  So, I think I must be doing something right.  If not, at least I am having fun doing it!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Calvin... part two and out of sequence

Today, one of my worst fears came true.

My dog, my puppy, my sweet Calmonster, has Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.  Colloquially known as CCD or doggie alzheimer's.

Calvin is approximately 13 years old, give or take.  He has been with me eight short years and in those eight years he has given far more than anyone has any right to expect from anyone else, man or beast.  He is my best friend, my faithful companion, an oasis of acceptance and the purest love.  He is never disappointed, never upset, never even remotely annoyed with me.  It would never occur to him.  He has no malice in his great big furry heart.

My wonderful vet and friend calmly examined him and confirmed my fears around his behaviours.  The pacing.  The constant panting.  The getting stuck in corners.  The turning around to smell something and forgetting which way we were going.  The obsessive attachment to being exactly where I am and the anxiety when he can't find me.  The deepest of sleeps - so deep I spend 5-10 minutes every evening trying to rouse him so we can head upstairs to bed.  And that's all on top of the stiffness and weaknesses from the arthritis.

BUT.... But.  He still greets me every day at the door.  He still jumps around in excitement when I arrive home, no matter how long we've been apart.  He still grabs a toy and carries it around, triumphantly, in his mouth, whenever something SUPER exciting is happening ("ooh! the door! someone's at the door!""ooh! hey! that's a cookie! i like cookies!" "ooh! hey! you're here! i thought you were in the laundry room!").  His little stub of a tail still wags furiously at the sight of me and he still straightens himself up to his full height, at attention, putting his best foot forward, whenever he sees another dog.  Still trying to impress everyone.  He still assumes every random stranger is his best friend.  He still is completely unfazed by cars ("CALVIN! That's a TON of METAL. GET OUT OF THE DAMN WAY!") He still finds joy in the springtime weather, smelling all the smells there are to smell... and in the fresh snow, leaping through it like a gazelle (ok, a slightly overweight three foot tall fuzzbucket of a gazelle... more like Chewbacca on a good day, really...) My neighbour even just today commented on how frisky he was looking on our post-work walk.   He still chases the cats and is desperately fond of anything resembling food.  His heart, lungs, blood pressure all good.  More tests to come, and we will come up with a plan to try to protect his brain and his body for as long as we can and for as long as he wants us to.

I was too scared to inquire after prognosis.  We'll do that later.

I don't want to be thinking about this.  I want to play and cuddle with him and scratch his ears and not weep into his soft fur.  I don't want to define him by his age or what he can't do.  This beautiful, kind, soulful, sweet, gentle and big hearted dog was found alone in a barn and went through at least two shelters before being sprung by rescue and then adopting me.  I don't know what happened to him in his first 5 years of life.  It's immaterial to me, anyway, because I won't define him by experiences in my imagination and beyond his control, whatever they were.  We live in the present.  And in the present, he is loved, deeply. I want to keep defining him by what he CAN do and who he IS, the big turkey.  I think I owe him at least that.

So that is my promise to you, my Calmonkey.  I will have a little cry and then we will go on and cherish every moment we have without sorrow for what will certainly be, as it will for all of us, at some point.  Like Dr C says: Dogs live in the now.  And so we, Team Cal, will live in the now, together, and I will take your lead in finding joy in every minute.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Calvin Chronicle, Part One: The Calmonster Preview

My former partner and I, animal lovers, both grew up with dogs.  And we had agreed early on in our long relationship that, one day, when we had a house, we would have a dog.

And one day, we had a house.

Then we agreed that once our 1920s kitchen was renovated, we would have a dog.

And one day, our 1920s kitchen was flashed forward into the 21st century. And we started looking for our dog.

We started stalking PetSmart and the humane society website, discussing incessantly what kind of dog would suit our lives and lifestyles best.  We had cats, and so needed to be sure that there would be compatibility.  I had grown up with an Airedale and a Standard Poodle, and many cats.  He had grown up with a Golden Retriever.

So many conversations and arguments ensued.  It was an endless loop.  I wanted another Airedale.  He wanted a Golden.  Impasse.

We continued our stalking efforts, and soon became enamoured by the Greyhounds that the rescue would bring to meet people at PetSmart.  We filled out the application and waited.

As we waited, we continued to research, and stalk.  And we loved them more and more.  But....the more we researched...the more doubt began to creep in and we began to realize just how important this choice was - for the dog, and for us.   Greyhounds are sight hounds.  They cannot run offleash in an unfenced area.  We wanted an easy offleash companion.  The cat question loomed large.  Eventually, we sadly came to the right conclusion: beautiful and sweet dogs, but not the right breed type for us.  We withdrew our application, and the research and stalking continued.

Next, there was Tank.  Tank was a beautiful, amazing, wonderful Keeshond.  My partner's boss' ex-wife bred Keeshonds and was looking for a home for Tank, a young male.

We took him home for a weekend, to test out the match.  This isn't a story about Tank, so I will leave it to this: in a heart wrenching decision, we determined that sadly,  as awesome as he was, this, too, wasn't the right match (and Tank wound up in absolutely the right home, happily ever after).

We kept digging and kept researching.  We knew we wanted to adopt, we knew we wanted a dog and not a puppy (cute, but we weren't ready for the intensity of training and raising a baby), and we figured a rescue dog who had been fostered with cats would have potential.  Whether the dog was a purebred or not was immaterial - it was about understanding what we were getting into and being educated enough to give any adoption the best possible chance of working, for us, the dog, and our resident felines.   By chance, in the process, through the miracle of Google, I stumbled upon a website for the Australian Shepherd Rescue and Helpline Inc (ARPH).  Neither of us knew the breed, but in researching somewhat, this beautiful, long-haired, medium-sized, square, usually tailless herding dog seemed to speak to us, and so I enthusiastically emailed the Ottawa-based coordinator, Doris.  Doris responded almost instantly, inviting us to attend a "Bounce" - when Aussies and their People run around together in a large gathering at an offleash park. We'd get to meet around 20 dogs and ask as many questions as we could think of.

We went.

We fell in love.

The rest of this long love story with the Aussies will be saved for another post.  But the important part for now is that we wound up adopting a "senior" dog: the beautiful, perfect Savannah, a well-bred show dog who was inexplicably abandoned by her owner/guardians at 8.5 years old.  (That's right. Show dogs wind up in rescue, too. There is no discrimination in the unfairness and evil of abuse and abandonment.) You couldn't have dreamt up a better dog.  Truly.  She adopted us and took over in her busy, steadfast, brilliant and charming way - we often said we expected to come home to find her in an apron, feather dusting the house.  She was special: The Boss Lady.  She kept us and the felines in line.  And she and my ex had a special relationship from, literally, the instant we met her at her foster home.  She loved me, no question, and i loved her right back.  But she and Ex were soul mates and it was beautiful to see.

Soon, we decided that, as they say, we "couldn't have just one Aussie!" And, ok, I admit it:  I wanted to be the dog's favourite! :)

So we started looking for a brother for Savvy.  There were a few close calls, but the right one didn't come along until the Ontario ARPH coordinator e-mailed me to say that a 4-5 year old male had been brought up from the US and was available.  Would we like to meet him?

We stared at his photo - a silly looking boy, black, white and brown, a tricolour, like Savvy.  He had been found in a barn in Connecticut, and spent time in shelters in Connecticut and NY before being sprung by ARPH and moved to ON for fostering.  His history was a mystery other than that.  We called his foster home and talked for an hour.  And then we agreed: he sounded like a good Beta to Savvy's Alpha.  Let's meet halfway - he was being fostered in Mississauga - so we decided to meet at a park in Darlington.

We loaded Savvy into the Subaru and drove the long drive from Ottawa to Darlington.

On arrival at the appointed spot, the three of us got out of the car.  Savvy stretched her legs, and Ex and I watched the crowd of Aussies and their people gathered around to wait for us.  We wondered which was the mystery dog: Calvin.  As we walked toward the crowd, one of the dogs came running toward us and stopped halfway, looked, burst into an enormous, silly, grin, turned tail (or lack thereof!) and ran back to continue playing with the other dogs.  "What a funny looking Aussie!" we laughed, "he's so long! He looks part wiener dog!"

And that, my friends, was Calvin.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Ball of Confusion

...that's what my world is today... hey, hey....

Thanks, Love&Rockets, for a song I always hated but that now is tormenting, haunting, and plaguing me, playing loudly inbetween my ears over and over, all day long.

The thing is, I'm a fundamentally happy gal.  Annoyingly chipper most of the time, screamingly optimistic behind a thin and somewhat giggly veneer of irony and sarcasm.  The glass is always 100% full.  Sweet. Nice. Laughs and smiles a lot.  Direct.  Honest.  Easy to talk to.  Etc.

Breaking news:  I'm a spoiled brat.

I am so used to getting what I want, sans effort, sailing along, that I really have no idea how to decide what I want or develop strategies to get it.  I'm a generalist with a sharp mind, charm, and even better luck.  I rarely know exactly the answer but I always know who to ask to get it... so I do.  And people usually tell me.  That's my strategy.  And man, am I lucky.  I have great acquaintances and the most awesome of friends: wonderful, kind, brilliant, selfless, successful people who want to help and sincerely want the best for me.  So I consult.  Surely someone will tell me what to do; I will implement their advice, et voila!  Happiness ensues, The End.

Here's the rub, boys and girls:  The more advice I get, the more confused and upset I get.  And the more confused and upset I get, the more I consult... until the inevitable breakdown when I completely shut down. 

We've all been there, even the most positive and social among us.  The shutdown comes along when all avenues seem to lead to oblivion, and you want to stop the madness.   And right now, I just want to stop talking about it.  But I can't. Because if I do, then I cannot effect change.  And inertia is not an option.

Catch 22, thy name is K.

Annoying, isn't it?  Annoying to experience and consume your thoughts and lose sleep over and wail to your long-suffering peeps about.  Annoying to deal with your friend who is in the throes of it because your friend feels bad about bothering you about it so doesn't want to talk about it but talks about it constantly and even when she doesn't she's so distracted and looks so sad, on the precipice of tears, that all the other friends gather around to talk about how to deal with it because they love the friend and want them to be happy and want her back.  It could be about anything. Love, family, friends, career, finances, housing options, kids, pets, choice of tile for the bathroom.  It's a soap opera without the flattering lighting and daytime eveningwear.

So, what's an eternal optimist with a hefty guilt complex overtaken only by a searing sense of self-confidence to do in these situations?

She reminds herself of how f#^%&*ing fortunate she is.  She sends a love letter to her friends.  A promise to suck it up and get 'er done.  A letter of gratitude for their patience and total lack of eye rolling and Moonstruck-style face-slapping.  And a promise: to always have their backs, no matter what, no matter when, no matter how.  A solid-as-a-rock, capital-P, Promise.  No judgment, ever.  No  questions asked.  No explanations expected or needed, ever.   And a sincere, bottom-of-the-heart thanks for their support and love and advice.  Because no matter what, they will all succeed, to astronaut-esque levels.  In this life, and in any Hereafter there may or may not be.

We already have, because we have each other.  And at the end of the day, my wonderful, brilliant and beautiful friends, you ground me, and you give me wings.  I thought of that today, when thinking of the One Who Has My Heart (and thanks to The Friends for that, too... for the intro, the encouragement, the calmness in the face of panic, the sanity and the reason and the encouragement and the judgment-free zone, and the shared happiness).... but this is true of True Friendship.  For me, it is my Girls who are my collective Red Bull.  T'will ever be thus.  Je t'aime, pas mal follement, mesdames.


Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Joys of Cooking, Feeding, and Eating

I never learned to cook as a child.  My mother stopped working outside the home after I was born and dedicated herself to looking after me, later adding my younger and disabled brother, and taking care of our small-town maritime home.

My mom comes from a large and disparate family of Ukrainian, Roma, and Irish descent.  People of modest means, as a rule, and the ability to transform the simplest and most humble ingredients.   But also people with an appreciation for the basics - cabbage and potatoes, plain and inexpensive cuts of fish (I am a maritime girl!) and meat. I was never a big meat eater - in fact, I didn't touch red meat or pork for over 20 years and have only recently started to delve back into a broader menu - but i remember always being excited when the corned beef and cabbage was on the stove.  The fall-apart, melt-in-your-mouth textures and perfectly balanced tastes still bring back wonderful memories.

But, I was a very picky eater, bookish and uninterested in kitchen work. My view on the kitchen was much like my attitude towards my dad's failed efforts to teach me how to change a flat tire: "Why should I do that?  Other people will do it for me."  A practical (and let's face it - spoiled) child, I was.  My dad says "You always did march to the beat of your own drummer."  I was, and remain, stupidly independent, and even more stupidly stubborn.  I think now that if people had just let me alone and not tried so hard to interest me, I would have shown an interest in the kitchen much earlier. (As an aside, my views on cars have similarly developed.  Go figure.)

But, that's all speculation.  The truth is that I lived on peanut butter sandwiches, Lipton chicken noodle soup, and mainly vegetables (I would monitor jealously the amount of veg that others took at dinner time) for years.  I gained a lot of weight during my university days (the Freshman Forty!) due to a lethal combination of a sudden cessation of a very active lifestyle, and a diet of beer and pizza.  I expanded my horizons to include tuna sandwiches on moving to Ottawa, and went through a period of eating nothing but steamed broccoli while working for Greenpeace (I kid you not).

I didn't really start to appreciate the wonders of food until I met my (now-former) spouse - a man who had been the last-born, among a very large family, and who was essentially left to his own devices from a young age.  Two years into our relationship, one day, I just started to cook.  I don't remember it, much, other than feeling a bit shamed that he did ALL the cooking.   And, as per usual, in my zero-to-sixty way, I took to it.  I devoured cookbooks and experimented and played and shopped and admired and tasted my way to being pretty comfortable in the kitchen.  We didn't cook together due to my whirling-dervish-anything-goes-fake-it-till-you-make-it-study-a-concept-via-several-recipes-get-the-gist-figure-it-out-and-make-a huge-mess-while-you're-at-it ways (compared to his slavish devotion to a recipe and meticulous list-making and cleaning while you go ways...)  His way pretty much worked without exception.  Mine was always either a great success, or a spectacular failure.  But nevertheless for almost 15 years we ate very well; I am forever thankful to him for introducing me to a world of flavours and joy that a nice Uke/Roma/Irish/Scot/German girl from the St John River Valley might otherwise have missed.

I find it tough these days to find the time to really devote to the kitchen.  My style of cooking is relaxed,  experimental and curious, and consumes a lot of time.  It's playtime.  And as i mentioned, sometimes it is entirely unsuccessful.  I hate to be rushed at the best of times, and so currently it is a real challenge to find the time.  But when i do, it is a joy.  Days when my current beau and I putter together side by side, experimenting and cooperating and judging (in a positive way) and helping each other's efforts.  Like the day we took 2kg of home-sun-dried tomatoes and two litres of home pressed olive oil i had bought at a farmers' market during our trip to Italy and we turned them into jars of sun-dried tomatoes to give as gifts, mixing them with fresh Ottawa farmer's market herbs and garlic and preserved lemons from our trip to l'Isle d'Orleans.  (Incidentally these are so delicious his almost-9-year-old daughter asks for them at almost every meal!) Days like today, a solo New Year's Day, where I get to experiment with cuts of meat that are a mystery to me but looked good in the store yesterday.  It's been hours of puttering, under the watchful (well, occasionally watchful and mostly sleepy) eyes of my dog and one of my cats.  It's been experimentation as I did my research, found the basic recipes, and manipulated them to suit my tastes and what happened to be in my fridge (no powdered mustard or powdered garlic for the dry rub? No problem!  Grainy dijon and three cloves of fresh garlic and it's a wet rub!  Don't want to open a nice red wine for the sauce? No problem! There's port in the fridge and some dijon will round it out so it isn't too sweet.  Darnit.  Threw out the last thyme sprigs... alright, rosemary it is!  No beef stock? OK. Chicken will do!)

At the end of the day, the creation of interesting and appealing tastes for the people I love, along with the fun of what is, really, at the end of the day, just a big chemistry experiment, is a joy.  I revel in that feeling of inspiration when seeing something beautiful or interesting, whether at a regular grocery store, or a specialty store, or a farmers' market, or reading a magazine or cookbook.  I get to be a kid again; I get to do some intellectual analysis (ok... this works... WHY does it work?  Why DOESN'T something work?  How can I fix this?); and, the best of all: I get to make my loved ones smile.  I get the option of being fancy, creative, artsy; or simple and homely.  I get to be inspired by my loved ones - their likes and dislikes.  And no matter how it turns out: it's fun and it's relaxing and always a learning experience.  And hey, sometimes: it's delicious! (If it's not - well, hell, there's always take-out.  :))

What could be more rewarding than that?

Monday, 31 December 2012

Intro: Writers Write

A few years ago, during one of my periodic career semi-crises, a friend asked me what i really liked to do.  I said:  "write.  i like to write."

He looked at me pointedly (or, at least as pointedly as someone who'd enjoyed the grape as much as we all had that evening) and said: "Writers Write."

That is all i recall of the conversation.  But, it has stuck with me.  I like to write.  And, a writer should write.  So.  Here i am.  Finally. Writing.

Those who know me will know the following truth:  I am a mermaid, sans tail, ni scales: I like shiny things.  I am easily distracted... ("ooh! shiny!").  Pretty much everything is interesting to me, to some degree or another. 

I also...have the attention span of a gnat... except when i get REALLY interested in something, i need to know EVERYTHING about it.  NOW.  Happily, there is only so much room in my brain, so something always gets pushed out by my interest in something new.  Plus, there's the aforementioned brevity of attention span.

So, really, I am always learning.  Sometimes about the same things, over and over again.  Just like they're new!  

This blog is a gift to my FB friends who occasionally comment (neutrally, natch!) on the length of my (apparently) novella-esque "status updates".  I have no intended theme:  random observations, thoughts and rants... broad comedic commentary... snide asides... eyerolls and deep sighs... giggles.... and joyful announcements on the coolness or lack thereof of things... the occasional heartfelt loveletter to pets, nature, friends, and family...notes of appreciation...figurative shakes of the head.... rages and raves.

When I was a little girl, I was a capital "B" Bookworm.  Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy was the best story and the one I kept returning to, over and over.  At 41, a woman who is not particularly sentimental nor prone to hoarding stuff... my dog-eared, split in half, missing the cover and the first few pages, copy of Harriet the Spy remains a treasured possession.  (Desperately trying to find it in French... for reasons i will explain in a later post... anyone?)  Harriet's nanny, Ole Golly, liked to quote Kipling's If... "If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs...." It rings in my ears.  Always has; probably always will.  So, in homage to Kipling... on this New Years' Eve, I resolve to  try to fill the Unforgiving Minute, with 60 Seconds' worth of long-distance run.