Thursday, June 18, 2015

This Is Forty Or, Why I Love My Friends So Much

From: Janet
To: Allison, Matt, Margot, Michael, Collette, Mark, Gerry

Subject: Dave

Hi guys,
Dave had a bike accident on Saturday morning. He had his foot locked into his bike pedal and couldn’t get it unhooked quickly enough and fell over onto his shoulder.  Luckily, a nice Samaritan stopped and called an ambulance and even brought Dave’s bike back to our place.  Dave should be going in for surgery today and will have his arm in a sling for the next 6-8 weeks.  Hopefully he’s up to doing wings this Tuesday and can tell you all about it himself.


From: Allison
To: Collette

Subject: At Hospital

With Matt. Possible kidney stone. Guard your husband. Bad week for men in our group.



From: Collette
To: Janet, Dave, Margot, Michael, Mark, Gerry

Subject: Matt

So…Matthew in in the Queensway Carleton now.   Rushed there by ambulance.
They suspect kidney stones.
I’m sensing a trend…Mark, Michael, or Gerry next?  Maybe we can set up a pool?


From: Margot
To: Allison, Matt, Janet, Dave, Collette, Mark, Gerry, Michael

Subject: When it rains....

Michael already lost his gallbladder so hopefully he will get a by this time.


From: Collette
To: Margot, Michael, Allison, Matt, Janet, Dave, Gerry

Subject: When it rains...

On the contrary…he’s in a weakened starting position, more open to a possible attack.
 I’m not sure from what exactly---some sort of unusually high gall-needing food that will wreak havoc with his digestive system and leave him in a puddle on the floor. Only to be rushed by ambulance to the Queensway Carleton to be ignored for many hours. 
From: Gerry
To: Michael, Margot, Allison, Matt, Collette, Mark, Janet, Dave    
Subject: When it rains...                                                                                                                                       
Open to possible attack... FROM A BADGER!
From: Michael      
To: Gerry, Margot, Allison, Matt, Janet, Dave, Collette, Mark
Subject: When it rains...
I think I'm susceptible to psychological attack. I'll be checking every twinge, itch, or change of body temperature for the rest of the day against WebMD. I may spend some time concentrating on not hyperventilating after I accidentally become conscious of my own breathing and start over-thinking it.  I'll also be scanning the dark corners for badgers.
From: Gerry
To: Michael, Margot, Allison, Matt, Janet, Dave, Mark, Collette
Subject: When it rains...
From: Matthew
To: Michael, Margot, Allison, Janet, Dave, Mark, Collette, Gerry
Subject: When it rains...
I am on my way home from hospital, feeling much better. Hopefully see everyone at J. Canuck's tonight.
From: Gerry
To: Matt, Allison, Michael, Margot, Janet, Dave, Mark, Collette
Subject: When it rains....
From: Gerry                                                                                                                                     
To: Michael, Margot, Allison, Matt, Collette, Mark, Janet, Dave      
Subject: When it rains...     
 In spite of my general badgeriness, I won't be making it tonight.  While not hospitalized, I do seem to have either a head cold or some allergy thing going on that's making me drip mucus rather heavily.  Lack of oxygen + beer may be fun, but sleep is desperately needed to recuperate.
From: Collette
To: Gerry, Matt, Allison, Margot, Michael, Janet, Dave, Mark
Subject: When it rains...
It's probably Ebola. It starts out like that.
3 down, 2 to go....

Monday, June 15, 2015


Sometimes I think, wouldn't it be nice to invite a bunch of people I really love over to my house. Maybe once the garden is in...

...and the osteopermums have had a chance to recover from Lucy biting their heads off...

...and the lone remaining bellflower had just bloomed.

Collette would come over early and help me juice a hundred lemons and limes and we would play music and sing along.

Maybe I would mix some awesome newer friends in with the awesome older friends, and not worry at all that they wouldn't mix well, because everyone knows that awesome goes with awesome awesomely well.

And even though it rained all the rain there ever was the day before and I really had doubts about whether the promised sunshine would show up, it would show up...

...but the temperature would be cool enough for me, and warm enough so that I wasn't sitting in my back yard alone.

And maybe there would be a cute little baby-type person who would toddle around reading us an ABC book and sitting down periodically to dust off her feet. 

And of course she would be beautiful, because, duh, look at her mom. 
(*Remembers that Cynthia brought trifle and there is still some in the fridge. Leaves for a while*)

And my neighbours wouldn't have to call the police on us for being too loud, because...(also, some people went next door with Paul to smoke cigars and look at his Mustang convertible, which was cool because I felt like my birthday party had excursions).

And there would be purple martinis, because purple. And martinis.

And cupcakes. 

And the cutest cupcake-labeler ever.

And the purple martinis would make Pam's head go from this position... this one. 

And Collette and I would test out whether our magical ability to always take a good picture together when we're tipsy had a drink limit. 

And hopefully there would be inappropriate pictures taken at some point, from which I will remove any identifying features to protect the guilty. 

And maybe at some point there would be a photo that looks like it was taken by the bodiless head in the cooler from the end of Dawn of the Dead, which would be intriguing, because, no hands!

Which is to say, although I didn't have everyone I wanted in my back yard, due to stupid geography and sick children and monstrously unfair biking accidents (it's fine, he's patched up and home with a stockpile of very good painkillers), and the end came way too soon, I pretty much got everything I wanted for my birthday. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Philanthropy Dilemma

A few years ago when Angus was having three boys sleep over for his birthday, one of the moms called me and said her son was nervous about bringing a stuffed animal that he needed to sleep with. She said "I just told him 'Angus's mom is super nice and she won't let the other boys make fun of you'". That was nice to hear, but in general I think of myself as 'pretty nice' as opposed to 'super nice'. There's a significant degree of self-interest there - I just tend to feel better about making people feel good than about making them feel bad (when I was young I sort of thought that was a no-brainer, everyone-feels-that-way kind of deal - turns out, not so much), and if I can help someone by going slightly out of my way (let's not get all crazy here), I'm in.

I give people a solid chance when I meet them, I try to make shy people feel welcome, and I'm willing to give people a second chance, but I also hold years-long grudges on ridiculously thin pretexts (should have RSVPd to that party invitation, Rob, now you're dead to me).

I'm not one of those people who stick their hand up for every single thing. I've helped in the school library almost every week since Eve was in JK, but I don't go for pizza day or hot dog day (except when I'm there already for shelving or running the book fair). I volunteer in the class regularly, but I don't do a shift at every single other school event like some people do. I am not one of those volunteer-for-everything people who run around frazzled and overcommitted, partly because I always feel slightly exasperated by those people (as well as grudgingly admiring), and at this point in my life, I know my limits; if I did that for school and community work, I would have nothing left for my family, and I'm not willing to make that trade in order to be thought of as a super-volunteer. No one's ever going to worry that I'm going to ruin my health trying to save the world.

But I'm gullible and soft-hearted. When we lived in Toronto, my husband said I must be on some list of TO's Top 10 Most Exploitable Resources for Criminals. My wallet got stolen because I didn't lock it up at work and teen-age boys got into the back store room. Every yahoo with a sob story got money out of me. And this is the thing. I don't mind being a nice person, a rule-follower, but I hate feeling like a sucker. If there's a stupid rule and I realize I'm the only one following it, I have a really hard time still following it just on principle. If someone's taking advantage of me, I want to be aware of it and I want THEM to be aware that I know what they're doing, and I'm letting myself be taken advantage of because I'm nice, not because I'm stupid.

(Although every now and then, I would have to sort of admire the lengths some people will go to for a scam. The guy who came into the bookstore where I was working, talked about Urban Peasant cookbooks with me, special ordered a book, then went through this elaborate charade of "I left my kids playing in the park and then threw my jacket in my car trunk with my keys in it and I need to call a locksmith, oh, the locksmith costs a hundred dollars cash on a Sunday"? Yeah, there's a special place in Hell for people like him, preying on people's better nature and then making them suspicious for the rest of their lives, but come on, that took some serious planning and creativity, not to mention acting skills.)

So on this Facebook group for moms in my area, someone posted that she was helping out a single dad with two kids who had used up all the food bank resources in his area and needed food for the week. I was going grocery shopping the next day anyway, so I said I'd pick some stuff up and drop it off at her place, which is a half hour away from me.

And this is my problem - I leap to the rescue, because I can afford it, and theoretically I have the time to drop off the stuff, but then I start experiencing not-super-nice doubts about the legitimacy of the whole thing. I don't know this person. I don't know the person she's claiming to be helping. Am I just being a total dupe? HAVE I LEARNED NOTHING?? I couldn't get this picture out of my head, of me and my liberal guilt buying food and driving it right to her door like a magnificent chump while she .... I don't know, twiddles her thumbs and chuckles evilly like a criminal mastermind? Hey, I'm not super-nice AND I have an overactive imagination.

So I told her I couldn't drop it off after all and waited to see what would happen. She said she would get her husband to pick it up on the way home from work.

So, fine. If she's really helping this man, then I helped. If it's a scam to get food for herself, then presumably she needs it. And I was going for groceries anyway. I'm only half a sucker. Right?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

What's Happening

Things have let up in general the past couple of weeks - easier course, no big appointments, no big volunteer commitments. This should mean that I write MORE, not less, but it keeps not working out that way. I really need to put myself on a schedule. I really don't know why I keep not doing this (the words "self-defeating personality disorder" do spring to mind). I'm even worse with the blog I'm supposed to be doing with Hannah and Nicole, and you'd think I'd snap fucking TO for that one because I love them and I'd really like to not be the whiny little suckhole who has to be rescued or talked down from the ledge every time my turn comes up (which is EVERY THREE WEEKS, it's not like I'm ever on a tight deadline).

I had a dream last night that we discovered that there was a low-grade carbon monoxide leak in our house - not enough to kill us, just enough to explain why I've been so irretrievably dim lately. Like trying to buy tickets to Hairspray for a Sunday matinee and ending up with tickets for a Saturday night performance. Like being on the verge of FINALLY wrapping my sister's birthday gift and taking it to the post office on Monday, then realizing that she's actually coming to Ottawa ON FRIDAY. And going to put a cash deposit down on cupcakes for my birthday party and then pulling out my checkbook and writing the woman a check - I assumed she ran a cash business, but I don't know, if you have a Facebook page does that mean you're all official like? I just got a blog pitch from Conscious Media Relations for "books that cover such topics as inspiration, memoir, self-help, personal growth, women and men's empowerment, wellness and healthy aging, conscious living, spirituality, conscious parenting, life quality enhancement, global and personal advancement, paranormal, sustainability, nature, environment/green living, and social causes, etc," and I'm like "lady, you lost me at 'conscious'"

In other breaking news, Angus grew his hair out for months just to torture me...

Check out the Billy Idol sneer.

...then got tired of having to shower every morning just to avoid looking like a vagrant.
Eve keeps saying "your head looks so small!"
This is Eve and Lucy helping with the gardening.

As humble as this effort is, due to time restrictions and bodily infirmities, I thought nothing at all was going to get done, so I am inexpressibly grateful for this.

Lucy subsequently ate the Gerberas. Oh well - my mother DID say they had to be deadheaded frequently...

Lucy found a nasty old tennis ball in the back yard and it has become her new totem. We play a game where she comes to the door to be let in, drops the ball because it too big to hold for long, I open the door, she tries to grab the ball and scramble into the house, I close the door again, ad infinitum. It passes the time. 

Yesterday I did go in to school to help out with the last hot dog day - I don't usually, but I was going in to the library anyway, so I figured I'd see if they needed help, and they did. I had to wear plastic gloves that made my hands feel like they were suffocating. I was okay at opening the buns and stuffing the wieners in (hee), but I was crap at rolling a hot dog up in ONE napkin - I kept getting three or four. Stupid gloves - people wear those to do brain surgery? Note to self - avoid needing brain surgery. Then I went into the library and started the end-of-the-year shelf reading, which is incredibly satisfying. When I'm shelving books, I often have the impulse to rip a whole shelf apart and re-shelve the whole thing, but I don't often do it because of all the other books that need shelving. Shelf-reading means you do exactly that, and when you're done, the books are SHIPSHAPE, I tell you, not a number or letter out of order - so unlike the rest of my life (looks around at objects on kitchen table, which include iphone, ipad, bag of Epsom salts, packing slip for Lunapads and a blue origami flower.) Then I drove home and took Lucy out for a walk and realized it was about fifteen minutes until school dismissal, which meant if we walked back to school we could meet Eve and she could show off Lucy to her friends. So we did. We came home happy but exhausted and dehydrated. Lucy went to have a nap. I had to make dinner. I was bitter about the division of labour until I realized I could have black bean empanadas for dinner and Lucy had to have Science Diet. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Mondays on the Margins: In Which My Mind Remains Stubbornly Closed

I went to the gym. I was going to literally just do that - step over the threshold just to see if I still could. I was in a good routine up until Christmas. Then I skipped January because I never go to the gym in January - all the new people plus the mid-winter blahs just make it a completely untenable situation. Then, due to various injuries and concomitant mood flattening, and getting the puppy, January just stretched out... and out.... and out...

So today I got up, got dressed, then told myself as long as I got INTO the gym, I could turn around and leave and get groceries and go home, if I wanted to. Since I didn't burst into flame or become magically surrounded by a pointing-and-mocking mob the instant I stepped in the door, I thought I'd do a few arm weights. It's a start. Sometimes it feels like all I'm ever doing is starting over and over, but I guess that's marginally better than just stopping and never starting again.

A woman approached me in the change room as I was getting ready to leave and asked if I could help her. I was worried that helping her would require some kind of arcane gym knowledge which clearly I do not possess, but she had put on a heavy backpack and all she needed was someone to reach the clips and join them together for her. She was extremely grateful and I was thinking that, when someone asks you to help them in a way that's extremely easy, it's like they're giving you a gift.

Then I came home and finished my second book review assignment. The instructor has encouraged us to be open to trying out genres we don't usually read, so I decided to combine two of those and read a Cowboy Romance. I could have piled even more genres on - there are Cowboy Mystery Romances, Western Christian Romances, Gay Cowboy Romances - probably not  Christian Gay Cowboy Romances, I guess - but I thought I'd start simple.

"Be open-minded", I thought. "Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised", I thought.

A Western Romance: Paul Yancey: Taking the High Road (Book 8). So, it's a series. They're ALL called A Western Romance, with a different first name inserted, because they're about a family of NINE BROTHERS, and each book details the pairing up and marrying off of a different brother. I guess for every book that transcends its genre there has to be a whole lot of other books lying there being untranscendedly genre-ish.

Real actual book cover
Our hero (because in this book, he is not just a protagonist - he's a hero): "In common with every other member of the Yancey clan, Paul's character encompassed many sterling qualities, born and bred into him by conscientious but loving parents blessed with more money than time to spend on their rambunctious sons. He possessed the ability to take charge and prevail during any dicey situation; a practical, no-nonsense approach to problems; a compassionate helping hand when the situation warranted; and, most of all, the capacity to learn and adapt to events as necessary."

Conscientious but loving? Shouldn't that be conscientious AND loving? Blessed with more money than time to spend on their rambunctious sons? Was that supposed to be the opposite?

"There ain't nothin' like bein' out there, one with nature, fightin' the elements, risin' to every challenge." Dropping every g that threatens to pretty up the end of a word too much...

Paul needs a team to guide him through the Sierra Nevadas, so he settles on Ezra Ferguson and his son, Teddy... damn, Teddy has pretty eyes, and that strawberry blonde hair.. WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME? Oh, thank God, he has BOOBS. "The twin mounds of a prominent and quite obviously feminine torso", to be exact. "You can't bring a girl up int' that rough country, not when --" Oh, fine, she can come, otherwise how will I I ever fulfill the tediously formulaic requirements of this series, without turning it into a Gay Cowboy Western Romance?

Teddy's fairly kick-ass, actually. Shoots a rabid wolf, slings the heavy saddlebags, and makes a mean campfire cherry cobbler. And Paul? He...DRIES THE DISHES, at one point, which probably would have had Teddy right out of her buckskins except her Paw was right alongside. To be fair, Paul does admire her intelligence, self-reliance, humour and ability to field strip a rifle almost as much as her begging-to-be-explored breasts. But then, just so we don't get any wrong-headed ideas about his manhood, we are assured that "he was a normal red-blooded American male, after all, not some eunuch stuck in an Oriental harem". Ahem. *Checks that the book WAS actually published in 2015*. 

All this I could sit comfortably with. It's a western, after all. A western romance. That takes place sometime not too long after the Civil War. But THEN, the whole group is attacked by a bounty hunter who has clear intentions of raping Teddy. She dispatches him with a cast iron frying pan - all good. THEN, as she's about to kick him, her father says "Ain't right t' go kickin' a man when he's already down, though, is it? Haven't I taught you better'n that?" SERIOUSLY? Yeah, I'm out. 

The whole thing had this curious way of meandering along in a courtly, old-fashioned vein and then suddenly jabbing you (hee) with a sudden shocking crudeness. The author bio says he was born to a poor family in the Fiji Islands, but "thanks to his own grit, determination and the support of his loving parents, he was able to embark on a journey that has seen him attain a good education and work in many parts of the world", and that he writes "drawing on his experiences in life and emulating the styles of his favorite authors". So maybe he's had some really weird experiences, or maybe he emulates really different authors in quick succession. Or maybe that's just how westerns roll these days, I wouldn't know. This book was certainly not a gateway drug. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Not a Sponsored Post

I don't really want to become a one-post-a-week blogger, but I'm not feeling inspired, so I'm going to just tell you some stuff that may or may not be of any interest.

We had friends over on Sunday of the long week-end, had a non-barbecue barbecue (I did everything in the slow cooker because Angus and Matt were in town but were at double-headers on Saturday and Sunday and I still think I'm going to blow myself up every time I light the barbecue). We played board games, which some of our friends do regularly but I almost never do because I hate most of them. Games that involve strategy, like this one, or this one? Hate them - I suck at them and find them tedious. Card games? Hate them - they make me wonder why everyone doesn't just read more. But I like trivia games and silly word games. My brother-in-law and his wife gave us this game for Christmas.

This was extra funny, because I had already bought this game for our New Year's Eve party.

We didn't even end up breaking open the Drunk one, Smart Ass was such a hit. We played it at Christmas...

Then the kids kicked us out and played it at Christmas....

We played it at New Year's. 

We played it on the May long week-end. 

We played it at other random times in other people's houses. Here we have Smart Ass with a cat's ass. 

Oh wait, actually that's Clue (hated it) with a cat's ass  but we played Smart Ass later and the cat's ass probably made an appearance then too.

It's a simple trivia game with a few categories (Who Am I, What Am I, Where Am I), a question and then a series of clues that make it successively easier to guess the answer. If you guess wrong once, you're out for the duration of the question. This is why the kids can play it - they just need more clues. You have to strike a balance between guessing too early and waiting too long (three guesses which I have a bigger problem with). 

We played Drunk Ass on our last get-together too. It's not actually a drinking game (yeah, okay, it's totally a drinking game, but you don't have to play it that way). The trivia just involves questions about various types of alcohol and cocktails, and then there are sobriety tests that, at this point in our lives, are just as funny to do while sober, or mostly.

So apparently I love board games, as long as they involve trivia. Or booze.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Mondays on the Margins: Writing About Books for Marks

In my School Libraries course last term (the one with the instructor who annoyed me), I did a Book Talk project on five YA books that had been made into movies. I thought I did an awesome job, but of course the instructor found all kinds of nit-picky details that weren't in the assignment instructions but we somehow should have just guessed that she wanted. One of her comments was "you should be honest about whether or not you've read all the books - students will be able to tell if you haven't, and you'll lose their trust."

SAY WHAT? As IF I'd do a book talk on a book I hadn't read. If I hadn't read it, I would just read it the night before. Okay fine, I can't read every single book in the library, but I can read all the books I do book talks about - are you saying you don't, Ms. Instructor, because maybe that's why I don't trust you. Hmph.

So my course right now is called Genre Fiction and Readers' Advisory, and so far it does seem like a Golden Age in Library Tech Courses for me. The whole discussion board is people going "omg, you loved that book? I loved that book! Have you read this book? I've totally read that book too!" And my first assignment is a book review.



But you know what's coming, right? Yeah, cue the choke.

But wait. What if I'm NOT as awesome as I thought? I don't usually do them for marks. I usually just do them however I feel like. People TELL me they're awesome, but those people aren't college instructors, mostly. I put in my student profile that I have a book blog - what if that set up an unreasonable expectation of greatness? What if I do it wrong? What if I leave something out? Think, think, overthink, obsess....

Give head a shake. Pick awesome book, write awesome review.

Here it is:


                I’ve been a fan of the horror genre since I was quite young, although at this point in my life I find that the best horror is at least as sad as it is scary, stemming from an archetypal fear of loss and mortality. Horror is also a very pure expression of Aristotle’s catharsis, as evoking the emotions of pity and fear is paramount in the genre.

                Also, although I agree with Diana Tixier Herald that “each genre follows rules governing plot and characters - and abides by certain taboos - that are acknowledged by authors, required by publishers, and expected by readers”, and that some “readers of genre fiction do not like to be surprised, and often feel cheated by twists in the formula”, I personally find that the best examples of genre fiction do tend to put an original twist on the genre blueprint.

                M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts succeeds admirably, in my opinion, in bringing a fresh perspective to a common horror trope (which is not revealed until partway through the book, so I won’t reveal it here), and in evoking pity and fear in abundance. The events in the book take place in a future version of England, after an event known as “The Breakdown” has caused widespread death and destruction. A small cast of characters are on an army base at the beginning, but events force them to flee into the dangers of the surrounding area in search of a new safe haven. Carey tells the story in the present tense, which lends an urgency and immediacy to the proceedings. He also reveals the full details of the threat gradually, building suspense throughout the opening chapters, which only tell us that a group of children are held on the army base and given the basics of a classical education by a succession of teachers.

                After the first violent upheaval in the action, the cast of characters is culled to four principal players: Melanie, who is infected, and considered by most other people to be a monster, yet she exhibits the most integrity and the strongest moral code of all the characters; Helen Justineau, Melanie’s favourite of the teachers, who is determined to protect Melanie at all costs, because she cares for her but also to atone for past transgressions; Sergeant Eddie Parks, stoic and embittered by the state of the world, determined to complete his mission and baffled by Justineau’s feelings for Melanie; and Dr. Caroline Caldwell, whose missionary zeal and ferociously single-minded quest for medical truth and personal glory have erased all vestiges of compassion or empathy or humanity. Later in the story, Private Kieran Gallagher is introduced, with a quick, vivid sketch that fills in his background and personality to an amazing extent with the fewest possible words. Carey has a gift for flawed, nuanced characters.

                The fact that the beginning of the book takes place largely in a classroom setting allows Carey to set in place a solid underpinning of great literature and Greek myth. The discussion of Pandora and Epimetheus creates resonant themes of human curiosity and hubris, while references to the Brothers Grimm foreshadow dark fairy tale elements with no happy endings. Words and language are important to Melanie throughout the story, as tools both to understand and control the world; this, along with Carey’s remarkably assured writing, strengthens the narrative thread and elevates it beyond much purely formulaic genre fiction. With Melanie and Miss Justineau, Carey perfectly renders the relationship between the worshipful student and the beloved teacher, while Dr. Caldwell’s solid, detailed scientific explanation of the pathogen that generated The Breakdown lends the story a chilling element of plausibility.

                Although there are moments of pathos and connection, the story is devoid of easy sentimentalism, reflecting on some fairly unpalatable but uncomfortably discerning truths about human nature. There is no deus ex machina or Hollywood ending, although the conclusion does contain a skewed kind of optimism.

                I would recommend The Girl With All the Gifts for anyone who likes intelligent, literate horror, and look forward to future books from this author. 


Let's be honest, yours are the only opinions that really matter to me anyway.