Thursday, September 22, 2016

Summer Catch-Up: Halifax, Part One

About two weeks into the summer, Matt said he had a fuckton of airmiles and Eve and I should go somewhere while he and Angus were busy with Goddamned Baseball. I looked at the calendar, and the next time I was on Facebook, I asked Hannah (HI HANNAH) if she was around the last week of July and not only was she around, she was on holidays from taking care of a passel of small children that week. Hardly daring to hope, I then asked Anne Marie (HI ANNE MARIE) if she was around that week and she was too, so I told Eve we were going to Halifax in a week and a half. She said "cool".

Then I had a massive panic attack about traveling alone with Eve and flying and getting around and packing and sleeping in strange places and possible sea monsters and a bunch of other stuff and thought "maybe not". Then my wonderful husband talked me down from California or Asia or wherever the hell he was at the moment and booked the flight and rental car on points so I couldn't chicken out. He is a good man.

So we got to the airport and through security without incident (okay, that's not strictly true, I walked through and beeped, so I went in the big scanner and then the guard said "I'm sorry, you alarmed in the chest area ma'am" and I said "story of my freakin' life" and then I got a little action from a woman in uniform), and got on the plane. Then something went wrong with the plane and we sat on the plane for a long time while maintenance people got off and on and turned things off and back on again, but they left the air on and gave us water, which is not always the case as I understand it, so we were okay. Then we got off the plane because we needed a new plane, and got sandwiches and Starbucks with the vouchers they gave us, and Eve was okay because hey, Free Starbucks. In the end the delay was longer than the actual flight, but we weren't really on a tight deadline and had no connection, and we had books, so no biggie.

We landed and went over to get our rental car. This was my first time renting a car without another driving adult and having to figure out directions. I told Matt to get me one with a GPS. I love my GPS. I have a close, intense, possibly co-dependent relationship with my GPS. He said "no cars have them anymore - everyone just uses their phone." SAY WHAT? That's just STUPID. You're not supposed to be looking at your phone while you're driving, you're supposed to be sitting straight, with your hands at ten and two (or nine and three if you want to be all crazy and newfangled) looking at the road listening to the calm, reassuring voice of your beautiful GPS telling you when and where to turn.

Fortunately, I have Eve, who is in many ways more like my sister than me. I handed her the phone and started driving. She said "Mom, you're CRUSHING this" very reassuringly, but I told her to maybe wait until we were out of the airport parking lot before she laid on the praise.

Also fortunately, as Hannah had said, the road from the airport into Halifax and where Hannah lives is a nice, uncrowded, twinned highway, not a "bonkers six-lane Ontario monstrosity".

We got to Hannah's at about nine-thirty at night. Pay close attention here, because this is important: Hannah welcomed us into her house and cooked us lobster, at nine-thirty at night on a Wednesday night of her one week of day-care-freeness of the summer, on a day when she had spent hours laying a new floor in her downstairs bathroom, two days before her oldest son's birthday.

*excuses self to go send Hannah a nice gift*

She did make me sleep in the nap room, surrounded by empty cribs and creepy dolls, but still - above and beyond.

Thursday she took us to Peggy's Cove during what was apparently the busiest Peggy's Cove season in recent memory. Hannah and I enjoyed the ocean view and Eve and Hannah's three boys enjoyed looking for Pokemon with Eve's phone.

Thursday afternoon we drove into the city to find our hotel, which was fine until the very last minute when we ended up in a you-can't-get-there-from-here situation and possibly went down a one-way street the wrong way and finally found the hotel parking lot and decided that the rental car could stay there until we drove back to the airport. We also got briefly lost in the huge, airless parking garage before we figured out that we should have driven a little further around before we parked. Once we got into the elevator, Eve confessed that she'd already been texting for help.

We checked into our room and then went down to walk on the Waterfront. Apparently there are a LOT of Pokemon hanging around the Halifax Waterfront. We found what Eve pronounced the most perfect fish and chips ever.

We went to Anne Marie's house for dinner and met Sheila - the three of us went to high school together an unmentionable number of years ago (my general rule for this time of life for most things is Never Do the Math, which come to think of it is a rule that's been in play through a lot of my life). It was half of our usual girls' week-end group of six, but still very nice.

Anne Marie finished the night proving what a loving mother she is by finally going out on the porch and allowing her son to put his "tarp full of water on the second floor to be released while someone is out on the porch admiring the plants" prank into effect. He later allowed that ping pong balls might have been a better way to go.

We went back to the hotel, where I had jacked the air conditioning up to arctic. Eve said she'd be fine with an extra blanket. I got out of the shower and found her like this:

She's sensitive.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Summer Catch-Up: Bluesfest

I took Pam the first night because for some reason Eve was not intoxicated at the prospect of seeing Joe Jackson and Billy Idol. Funny thing about liking music in the eighties - without the readily-available wealth of Internet information that exists now, you could like a musician without knowing much about them at all. For this reason, I'm pretty sure I didn't know Billy Idol was British until just before Bluesfest. I also didn't know Joe Jackson was British. Or white. This made Angus laugh almost as much as watching the video for Rebel Yell.

Joe Jackson was stylish and smooth and the show was really cool - he started alone on the piano and then was joined by drums, bass and guitar one by one, and then they finished the same way, and when he left the piano kept playing. I loved his old stuff and I did end up wanting to search out his new stuff, which isn't always the case. 

Billy Idol was exactly the same as thirty years ago except a bit more leathery. He seemed to be having a total blast and still sounded good except for one song early on where he was having earpiece problems and we were afraid it was all going to go horribly, embarrassingly wrong, but it got fixed. 

Considering this has been the driest Ottawa summer in years, we got rained on A LOT at Bluesfest. Before the Lumineers (transcendent show in the pouring rain), we went over to watch The Cult with Collette and Rachel. The girls took off into the crowd and Collette went to get a grilled cheese. Someone in The Cult said something about "all lives matter". I hissed in disbelief. Collette came back with her grilled cheese and said "I didn't know that Cult guy was an ignorant bigot". I said "Eve is flipping out in the crowd right now." Three minutes later, I got this text:

We brought a friend for Eve whenever we could manage it. For Alessia Cara and the Decemberists, this worked out really well. 

For Sam Hunt, things went a little sideways. We got there and everything was fine, but then there was a severe thunderstorm rolling in so the announcer said they were postponing the concert to "keep the performers safe". I found the corresponding "but screw all of y'all out there in the open field" implication sort of amusing. We took shelter in the museum, along with everyone else there. Remember I said Eve and I were okay with crowds when we were outside?

It was a little unsettling. We were all jammed together, it was humid because of the heat and the rain, and every time we said "it can't possibly keep thundering and lightning-ing like this" we would see another enormous flash through the skylight. Finally we decided we were going back out no matter what. We made our way back to the doors and got out and it was only drizzling. I suggested that the girls should drown their frustrations in deep-fried festival food in case we didn't end up seeing any music.
So they did.

And then the show went on anyway, so it was all good.

Then there was Red Hot Chili Peppers Night, aka The Only Time I've Almost Died in a Crowd at Bluesfest. I thought nothing could be worse than going down to the Monster Stage to see Hawksley Workman last year and then having to fight through the Kanye crowd with Eve to get to the exit.

I was wrong.

I was down with Collette and her family watching Coleman Hell. When we walked up the hill to the big stage, the kids took off to the front, we lost Collette's husband entirely and the two of us were behind two really tall guys to the right of the stage. It was okay for a bit (this picture is from when I said "hey tall guy, can you take a picture for me?), but Collette couldn't see so she suggested we move towards the back and try to get more of a centre view. I agreed, because why not?

Big, big mistake. Huge.

It was nothing but people. A dense, sweaty, hostile wall of people. Okay, not everyone was hostile, but there were enough that the overall vibe was not friendly. People kept doing that thing where they think if you just keep pushing a space will open up, and sometimes they're right but this time there was literally no space. It was claustrophobia and fight-or-flight-with-no-possibility-of-flight and panic and awfulness. It kept seeming like we MUST be almost at the end, but THERE WAS NO END.

Finally I saw a fence and pulled us into the corner it made, which was actually the area right by a line for the bar. A minute after I did this, some drunk chick freaked out and got taken down by security and the security guy pulled the fence in and closed out the heaving crowd so we had some breathing room. This was cool with us - not so much with the people still waiting to get drinks that were closed out and only let in a few at a time. I never drink at Bluesfest - the lines are too long, I hate being drunk in a crowd and/or in the dark, and why would you increase the number of times you have to use a port-a-potty? 

So we waited out most of the rest of the concert in there until security kicked us out and by then there was a little more space to get to the back. We found out later that it was the biggest crowd in Bluesfest history, and Jesus I hope they learned something because they did NOT handle it well.

On the last day we went, we watched a bit of the Nelly show before heading over to get a good spot for Duran Duran. After the second person got punched bloody beside us, we cut that short; Eve, however, had been in the front row with a couple of friends so it was a tense few minutes texting her while she made her way through both crowds to find us. She said working the "I'm little and I'm looking for my mommy" strategy was very effective, and a couple of girls smacked their boyfriends in the head for using bad language or not letting her by fast enough, so that was nice.

Duran Duran was great fun. I didn't like their new stuff as much as Joe Jackson's, but there was lots of old stuff done really well, and the rain had stopped. In the end, the first night and the last were my favourites, which is kind of satisfying. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

This is Not That Post

Remember how I took Eve to Bluesfest for the first time last year and almost died of anxiety? But also found out that she loves Bluesfest as much as I do, because we both love live music more than we hate crowds? And crowds outside are different from crowds inside (usually - more on that later)? So this year I got us passes again and when it was time to drive there for the first time I felt a sort of baffled tenderness for last-year me because what's the big deal? And Bluesfest was wonderful.

But this is not about that.

Some of you might remember a big dress-code kerfuffle stemming from an incident on Eve's three-day year-end camping trip in June. A male teacher asked that a girl change her jean shorts because they made him "uncomfortable", I email the principal and vice-principal, the vice-principal doubled down on a bunch of stupid untrue stuff, Eve's idiot teacher made it all worse, I threatened to escalate my complaint and the principal sort-of capitulated.

Photo credit Dennis Deery

But this is not about that.

This is about me, the woman who had said "for God's sake, she was wearing a bikini two hours earlier, how much worse could a pair of jean shorts be?" sitting on a blanket at Bluesfest, with my head squarely at ass-level, looking around at a sea of flapping butt-cheeks, thinking...

"I may have been mistaken".

Kidding. Mostly.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Oh, Never Mind, Blogging's Dead

I was so anxious about the fact that I wasn't blogging back in - whenever that was. At one point, I started typing my URL and it didn't auto-populate to my site, but sent me to the Ottawa Public Library instead. I felt sick.

Then I thought - what the hell am I worried about? I don't get paid for this. I figured out quite a while ago that I'm not going to try to get paid for this. Are all my readers going to leave? Well, most of them are my friends, so chances are NOT.

I get confused about what exactly this blog is sometimes. Who cares? It doesn't have to be anything. I can just write about whatever random nonsense is in my head, or write down things that I don't want to forget, like how today after I took the kids to the meet-and-greet appointment with their new doctor at the ridiculously close-by new clinic, which lifted my kids-doctor's-appointments anxiety by eight hundred percent, we went to the Dairy Queen and they fake-fought hilariously and poked each other with ice cream spoons and then we saw one of Angus's friends and he was waving at me and I thought he was a total stranger because I hadn't seen him for a year and suddenly he looks like a man. Then when we got home, one of Eve's friends had moved our little green decorative chair from the side of the front step to right in front of the door and left a little pop figure of Hermione on it for Eve, but Angus was unfamiliar with pop figures and found the movie Annabelle terrifying and thought someone had left us an evil cursed doll, so he jumped out of the car, grabbed the doll and ran down the road screaming and tried to throw it in the bush.

So hey, if you're still here, thanks for waiting, or coming back. Apparently blogging's dead, but so is eighties hair and I'm still rocking that. I love hanging out with you here, and that's what I'm going to keep making myself remember.

Monday, July 4, 2016


Pam: "Come on, let's go to the gym."

Me: "But it's Monday. Who wants to go to the gym on Monday?"

Pam: "We always go to the gym on Monday. It's our gym day."

Me: "Didn't we just go to the gym yesterday?"

Pam: "That was LAST MONDAY."

Me: "What are we doing at the gym."

Pam: "Cardio and weights."

Me: "What kind of weights?"

Pam: "Arm and leg."

Me: "We did that last time. You have to rest your arms or legs between sessions. Or something."


Me: "How about we just go cupcake shopping?"

Pam: "You realize that in real life Mindy Lahiri would probably be very unhealthy and have no friends, right?"

Me: *grumpily picks up gym bag*

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Surly Thursday: Not Crazy, Just a Little Unwell

I still don't feel like writing. But I told myself I have to write a blog post or exercise, and I REALLY don't feel like exercising, so here we are.

I become more and more aware of my mood cycles as I age. In April my friend was here and I said I felt like she was mad at me or hiding something, and when she looked shocked I said "but I'll believe you if you say I'm wrong, because I remember the same thing happening last year before your birthday. I think this is the time of year when you get distant and I get paranoid."

I had a brief burst of wit and energy in May - decluttered a bunch of areas in the house, framed and hung up a bunch of pictures that had been lying around for years - and then June hit me like a hammer. And I realized that I invariably feel completely etiolated in June, even though I'm happy that the school year is ending and the structure of our days will change and the weather is better. Way to make NO FUCKING SENSE, mood cycle.

Photo credit Scott Hart
 I roused myself to hitherto unseen heights of house-cleaning the week before my birthday party - you can actually see WALL between pieces of furniture in the living room and dining room now, instead of stacked-up kindergarten art (yeah, my kids are practically adults now, piss off) and paintings that my husband likes but I don't (trees and rocks, they're great, maybe better outside than in) and rolls of wrapping paper and gift bags (it would be a TRAGEDY if we had to go all the way downstairs for one of those). And it was quite satisfying. Then we had the party, which was fabulous.

Then..... *that sound of something falling before it explodes, but no explosion, because an explosion would take energy*.

I'm working on my penultimate course for my diploma. I miss my placement. I loved my placement. I should have done that placement last, because any other placement will invariably suck by comparison. I just want that job, now, with, like, actual pay. I am finding it hard to give any kind of fuck percentage about this course, even though it's on children's programming which I'm theoretically interested in.

I find myself nursing resentments over throw-away comments my friends made months ago, or bracing myself for my mother to make comments about my hair or my weight or my driving before I see her, or dreaming of fighting with my sister over things we would never fight about. And then I realize that there's one common denominator here, and it's not all the OTHER horrible people in the world. Uh-oh.

I need new orthotics really badly - every time I walk anywhere I hobble around with a burning lower back and twisted-up feet for days after. So am I hastening with great alacrity to order those orthotics?

Photo credit Troy Tolley
Not so much.

I read another book today that wasn't really worth the two hours I spent reading it. I keep saying I'm going to stop doing that, and then I don't. My taste for writing has matured, but my juvenile sense of curiosity invariably sucks me in to any book that has a mystery that I can't immediately figure out. Then even when it all becomes predictable and the dialogue is clunky and I know I should go read something substantive instead, I just don't.

It's okay. It will pass. Probably. Eve got out of grade seven with good marks despite, not because of, most of her teachers, and I'm proud of the resilience she's developed throughout a pretty challenging year (more on that in the next post). Angus is baseballing all over southern Ontario and the states right now and having a blast. I will force myself to work on my course, and walk, and order new orthotics, and blog. Because it makes everything better, or at least helps me keep a handle on everything getting worse.

If anyone needs me, I'll be over here in the red tent.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mondays on the Margins: Twist and Shout OR Stop F*cking Comparing Everything to Gone Girl Already

For the love of Gillian Flynn, could every freaking publisher stop marketing every freaking new book as the next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train? Yes, Corporate Reading thinks we're all sheep that follow every new trend and then every other trend coat-tailing on the first trend, without any ability to discern quality for ourselves. Could we just not?

For the record, I read both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Hey, I'm as susceptible to hype as anyone, I just take a breath before I leap in, and I don't buy, I borrow. Here's the thing about Gone Girl; Gillian Flynn has actually been around for a while. I would have read Gone Girl even without the blow-up because I had read her previous two books and found that she's actually a really good writer. Her books are dark mysteries that also have some solid and uncomfortable insights into the icky parts of relationships and family and self-image and identity. This is also true of Gone Girl, and that's what I think makes it a great read, not just the 'twist' that seems to be the hook that publishers think will grab everyone.

Here's the thing about The Girl on the Train - it's a really solid book, for a first novel. It has great narrative energy and the writing is workmanlike. I felt that it lacked the depth of Gone Girl simply because Hawkins hasn't had the time to develop those writing chops, but she very well might in forthcoming work.

So now every new book, especially debut work, is being touted as the next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. Well, yeah, because every publisher wants you to buy up stuff by their new author and create another feeding frenzy that will make them rich. And hey, I'm all for Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins getting rich off writing - something that is really, really hard to do these days. But I'm not a publisher, and I don't have a horse in this race. What I can do is tell you about some books that I've read that have a twist, if you like that kind of thing. And I do - if it's done well, and supported by great writing, and works to subtly undermine things in a clever way, there's nothing more delicious than a good plot twist. What a lot of these 'next Gone Girl' writers and publishers don't seem to realize is that a plot twist is nothing without a good plot to twist, or good writing to twist it well. And a lot of readers (present company excepted, naturally) don't realize that you can read backwards as well as forwards - it doesn't always have to be about the Next Big Thing.

So here's my list of, um, I don't know.... the last Gone Girl? Gone Girl Precursors? Really Good Books that Mostly Have Some Sort of Twist and Who Actually Gives a Fuck About Gone Girl, Let's Move On? No, that's unkind, I'm not blaming the book, just the shallow lowest-common-denominator shilling.

There are seventeen - not ten or fifteen twenty or any kind of round number because this isn't a neat little magazine list!

Exmoor Trilogy by Belinda Bauer (Blacklands, Darkside and Finders Keepers): These work as standalones, but they are a magnificent work of melancholy mystery with a visceral sense of place when read all together.

Monkeewrech by P.J. Tracy: On the whole, this series is a little uneven - some entries are brilliant, and some are mediocre mysteries that still have a really fun cast of characters. The first one really needs to be read first, though (I didn't read it first. Slight regrets).

The Scarred Man and The Animal Hour by Andrew Klavan: I could write a whole post on this author in the category of whether you can still love books by people you come to strongly dislike personally, but I won't right now. I read these years and years ago, and to me they exemplify classic noir storytelling with hard-boiled characters, flawed steamy romances and cracking good twisty mysterious plot elements.

Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card: See above about authors with problematic opinions on stuff which I feel strongly about. I can't tear myself away from his storytelling, though. This is more of a meandering family story where the mystery smacks you in the face, but it packed a real punch for me. 

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane: I also adore his Kenzie and Gennaro mystery series - like, it's in my top five mystery series list. But this fits square in the psychological-suspense, slow-build-of-dread, shook-my-head-in-wonder-when-it-was-over category. 

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton: I also liked her earlier mysteries, before she started her Lacey Flint series. There's a substantial danger that this will get confused with Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - if you end up with one instead of the other, just read it! Happily, they're both pretty good. 

To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman: In direct contrast to how I usually feel, I really like Lippman's Tess Monaghan series, but I LOVE her standalones, particularly this one and Every Secret Thing. They both have some very deft writing about class divisions, adolescent female friendships, and how the effects of crime reverberate around a society in sometimes unseen ways. 

The Treatment and The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder: Dark, twisty AND twisted - not for the faint of heart. 

The Last Child by John Hart: With some books, you just feel like the author squished up a bunch of broken hearts and wrote the book in broken heart juice. You might think I'm a monster for liking this. "Like" isn't even the right word. 

Sanctum by Denise Mina: 

Land of the Living by Nicci French: She has amnesia but is not a brain dead moron. In fact, she takes control of her own victimization quite admirably. 

Judas Child by Carol O'Connell: Dark and messy and brilliant. 

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah: Leads you down the garden path and then clobbers you with a bird-feeder. Wholly unreliable narrator. I had no idea where this was going. Still catching my breath. 

Oh, and there's this book The Widow that's supposedly also for fans of You Know What, and you know how I always say even if someone you like doesn't like a book, don't let that stop you from reading the book and deciding for yourself? On this one, do yourself a favour and let me decide - it's utter crap. 

(I apologize that I seem to have let Surly Thursdays creep somewhat into my Mondays on the Margins post. I will attempt not to make this a regular thing).