July 30, 2007

Barry, FloJo, Ben and Me

When I first glanced over this headline, I thought it said 'sports sandals', not sports scandals. Both are an affront to the senses, but one is obviously more headline-worthy.

The writer wants to know why we forgive our sports stars for doping. Or worse yet, why do we pretend they don't? He speaks to several university profs who laugh at the idea that sport is now about anything other than money and glory. They remind us we get what we pay for, literally. The piece also tracks back to 1904 when the American winner of the marathon, Thomas Hicks, used strychnine to hold off exhaustion. Cripes, you'd think if you used strychnine the only thing you'd have to test for would be time of death.

I think guys like Pete Rose (gambling is cheating) and Barry Bonds are a joke. I think the whole Tour de France is as big a farce as the former East German swim teams. China has been growing athletes to order forever, and when Canada's Ben Jonson lost his gold medal for using steriods, it was then handed to Carl Lewis. Who in 2003 was named in Sports Illustrated as having taken banned substances. Either way, the whole sport lost a little of its varnish for me. The death of Flo Jo (Florence Joyner - she of the dragon fingernails) tells the important part of this story. A huge problem in all of this, real or rumour? I don't trust any of it anymore. And hence, I care less.

Long rumoured to have taken steroids, her premature death should have been a wake up call. But we don't care what happens to our athletes after the summer of love - we've become such a bunch of instant gratification junkies that we consume and use not just goods and experiences for our entertainment value, but people as well.

If our girls look at models and think they can naturally be that thin, then our boys are looking at jocks and thinking they can naturally be that big. Or fast. Or strong. And we have the mistaken idea that sports stars are role models. Maybe in another time, they were. But now? I don't know anymore. I expect so little from everyone from politicians to celebrities that I'm rarely disappointed.

Premature deaths and illnesses should be making people think, but if children enter into a lifestyle it's long before they can be properly making those decisions for themselves. It's kind of the Judy Garland syndrome for jocks. Keep her high, keep her working, she'll be fine. Yeah.

I read a cool thing a while back, where Aaron Sorkin, a writer, was lamenting that if people go to a play or movie and spend the whole time trying to figure out the background behind the words ('oh, is that character really the writer's wife? Is that one the business partner?'), that they might as well not bother. If you can't absorb the action in front of you without constantly thinking about the sordid underbelly, you have missed the point.

Too much sport misses the point these days.

July 28, 2007

Mother's Day Winners

Well, I've been to Mosport racing twice now (rained out once), and the second go took. We had a clear day last Friday for the winners of the Toronto Star Mother's Day contest, and we took full advantage. The full story is here. I met some really terrific women, we had a lot of fun, and got treated like royalty.

Great way to spend the day. Next time your office is kicking around some golf tournament idea, direct them to the Bridgestone Racing school instead. Or if you really want to get someone a great present, give them a day here. We had a blast.

July 27, 2007

Beth-Anne Russell

Thank you, Beth-Anne. You saved an old lady's life. After seeing her wandering on a rural road, you called police when they issued her picture and asked the public for help. She is 90 and has dementia.

But your story, for me, isn't about that wandering senior. She's safe now. It's about you. As you and your husband passed her earlier that day, you said you didn't want to risk a fight with your husband by asking him to stop. I don't much like your husband, Beth-Anne. Sorry.

When you saw the pic on TV and called the police, you also announced you were driving back 45 minutes to help them. Your husband got "very mad", but you grabbed a flashlight and went anyway. You met the police at midnight in an isolated area, and found the fragile woman yourself lying in the tall grass. You stayed with her until medics arrived. You are my hero. I really don't like your husband.

You sound like a thousand other women I've known, and many more I've heard from. Their compassion, their values and their instincts are squashed by some man they've been told is more important than they are. Maybe their parents drilled this into them, I don't know. There was a time when women were considered chattle, but that time is not now.

Beth-Anne, you did a truly brave thing. I know if you'd been driving alone, you would have pulled over instantly and helped that poor woman right away. I know that. We all do. Thank you for doing what you did, because I think it took years of suppressed strength to do it. You need to know that many men would have pulled over instantly. They would have right there beside you to assist this woman.

Mr. Russell? You should be ashamed of yourself. We need more women like your wife. When her fear of you almost overwhelms her intent to save a person's life, you have to wonder about you, not her.

Beth-Anne Russell describes herself in the article as "a plain old person". She's 51. She hasn't even started being old, and I hate that she thinks she is. May her inner superhero now soar free. We'll all be better for it.

July 26, 2007

Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty...

Though I'm a sucker for cats, I'm rarely a sucker for cat stories. I'm not enamoured of all those cute kitten pics all over the web - I have two cats of my own who provide endless hours of entertainment. Well, mostly endless hours of sleeping. Doesn't matter; I love my cats. I will tell you yours are cute.

I do, however, love this story of Oscar the cat. Seems the two year old lives in a nursing home in Rhode Island, and whenever someone is about to die, little Oscar curls up beside them for their final couple of hours. It's no fluke; he's done it 25 straight times correctly, and now finds himself in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Apparently, he's a rather pissy little thing otherwise, not your typical cute little pet. Nope. He does rounds, like the doctors and nurses do, makes his selection, and then curls up. And the part I like best? Families are comforted by this. I don't blame them at all. It's like having your own private usher. How wonderful to know your loved one won't die alone. They may die with a crabby little whatsit by their feet, but they don't die alone.

One family didn't want Oscar in the room of the person he'd nominated; he paced and yowled outside the door. Oscar has a job to do, and like most working animals, it is apparently hard to deter him.

I've spent time in nursing homes, and around people who are aware they are dying. I can't think of a place Oscar wouldn't be welcome.

My only itch on this whole thing? My cat, Maggie, sleeps on my feet every night.

July 25, 2007

Email Jail

Seems like every week, I'm reading another article about how to ditch email. And here's another one.

I know people who work in various industries, and for some of them, the sheer volume of email they receive on a daily basis is ludicrous. And the same statistic most of these articles cite holds true: 85% of it is junk. Not related to their jobs. Filler.

This piece also relates another growing comment: dealing with email is making people dumber - actually dropping IQ points (for lack of a better measure, we'll go with that for now). The distraction quotient is huge - hours a day wasted in email sorting, exchanging, expunging or ignoring. Because yes, you even know when you're ignoring something.

Go through your address list. Who makes you wince? I know. The people who forward every stupid joke (regardless of how dated),every chain letter (I've died a thousand deaths by now), and every bogus urban legend (quick check on Snopes.com would stop most of these, folks). But I guarantee you who the worst offenders are. Those Who Will Not Let The Conversation Die.

You try to be tactful; you try to to sign off; it doesn't matter. They respond to every single thing you send, and sometimes continue long after you've stopped. This is fine with my friends. This is not fine with people who are working. Especially when it is me who is working.

I long ago learned that the one-worders ('yeah', 'right!', 'ha!') carry on these conversations (?) with many, many people. So they are doing this constantly, with everyone they email. How on earth does this work? I feel like I'm trapped in high school, on the phone - 'no, you hang up, no you hang up...'

I can't imagine working in a real kind of job and having to joust with endless streams of jokes and banter. The garbage spam that comes in makes me nuts enough - though there are days that learning tricks of the stock market while gazing at my enlarged penis while I make extra money working from home starts to seem at least entertaining.

Part of my work is comprised of email from people I don't know. Readers, editors, media and others, it's all fine. I enjoy it. There are people I here from once, who then disappear into the ether. There are people I hear from regularly, and there are people I wish I did hear from but don't.

But to deal effectively with the stuff that matters, I have to purge the stuff that doesn't. I'm pretty blunt - I tell people my time constraints, because I don't want anyone waiting for a reply that's not coming. But when I email people, I assume they're busy.

The linked piece opens with a bank exec who finally smashed his BlackBerry on his kitchen counter because of the continual email overload. He didn't get in trouble. The investment bank he worked for instead changed the way they do business. There's a list of tips at the bottom - they're good ones. Claim back your life.

But don't forget to write.

July 24, 2007

Writers & Editors

Many of you who write to me are writers, or writers-in-waiting. You ask for advice (though I don't have much depth in the field - I've only been at it a few years - I help where I can), and sometimes direction.

One of the first things I always say is that you need an editor. Not your mom, not your spouse, not your best friend. It can't be someone who is going to love anything you do because they either love you, or love anything they read. Not gonna help.

This is the best thing I've read in a while on editors. It's in Salon today. I love love love the description of what a great editor is, and how they help the writer. And only an idiot writer turns down help.

My learning curve in this business has been abrupt, and there have been days I am just swinging by my fingernails. Writing is such a personal thing to do, and yet you turn it out for anyone to read. And then you sit back and wait for the punches. A great editor will do one of two things: show you how to avoid those punches, or help you prepare for them. There are times that someone hating what you write isn't such a bad thing. What's tough is when you're surprised.

The piece is essentially mourning the lack of the editing process in so much web-produced content these days (like my blog entries!), and while I believe there is a place for the naked, raw impact of some sites, I also dread a loss of structure and guidance in the more formal world. Writing is a harsh business; you'd better be prepared to walk through flames to make it.

So, cheers to my wonderful editors. I've been blessed, and benefited from many years of expertise in a very short time. Their names are on the mastheads of my papers - they'll probably kill me for listing them here in case they think they're going to get blamed for some of the stuff I publish.

There are others I trust implicitly who aid and abet even when it's not their job. You develop tight, odd little relationships with those who know the real you. Especially when they wisely prevent you from showing it to anyone else.

Dear Jerry

You wrote an article that I linked on July 14 that black bears are friendly. Shy, cuddly little berry eaters. I adore you, and I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt. You have very big brain, and I know you do research better than any writer I know.

But, today, this. Something has body snatched the black bears, Jer. Some mutation is taking place, and it is scaring me. Over to you.

July 21, 2007

Short, Sweet, Perfection

A Mini Tale

Here's a link to the feature that appears in today's Star. Jackson and I had an awesome trip to Tobermory in the Mini Cooper S I had for a week or so from BMW Canada. It doesn't show the cover photo of the harbour in Tobermory - with my both us smiling like fools from the back of the world's cutest car. Pick up a copy.

Today's Powershift is based on the Mini too - it was a blast.

July 20, 2007


If stuff from the 50's is your thing, head down to the Bayfront in Hamilton tomorrow (Saturday). It's a celebration of the cars, the Elvises (Elvi?) and all things greaser.

I'll be there at about 2 for a few hours, it runs from noon til 8pm.

Weather is supposed to be great, come down and say hi, and support the United Way and Mission Services.

Watch Cheney Call In Every Chit...

While I nurture a secret glee in W taking it where he's been sticking it to the rest of the world for so long, the fearful implications of a slipped probe negates the glee factor.

Tomorrow's headline? "Surgeons surprised to find the Head of the United States"

Why Couldn't It Have Been A Rabbit?

I love the outdoors. Especially when it stays there. While out two days ago, my cell phone rang. "There's a squirrel in the kitchen!" said my son Marc. "Why?" I asked. If you knew my sons, that's really not such a lame question.

"I don't know! There's a freakin' squirrel in the kitchen, and Maggie is going nuts! I think she caught it!". Maggie is the brave cat. JoJo was hiding in the basement, like a good guard cat. I raced home, scared to open the door. All was quiet. But it was quiet like Stephen King novel-quiet. I tiptoed around, waiting for a squirrel to launch onto my face. Marc was back up on the computer upstairs. Apparently, his entire duty consisted of calling me, then leaving the room.

I sent him to find our brave neighbour, Jan. Jan feeds squirrels. By hand. I think he names them. As far as I'm concerned, it was probably one of his squirrels anyway.
We both got flashlights, and creeped around like the Hardy Boys looking for a squirrel. I warned him if I found it, there would be much screaming. "What colour is it?" I yelled. "Black," replied Computer Boy.

We couldn't figure out how it got in, hence we couldn't figure out how it may have gotten out. I wanted it to have gotten out. You have no idea how many closets and dressers and tables and couches and cabinets you own until there is a squirrel loose in your house. Jan said all kinds of reassuring, but stupid, things like "well, a squirrel would have gone up, not down" and "the cats aren't acting like there's a squirrel in the house" and "I'm guessing (italics mine) it's probably left".
These are all statements it's very easy for the not-sleeping-here person to make.

We finally found a hole in the screen over the kitchen sink (remind me not to store almonds in that basket thing that hangs from the ceiling. It is squirrel bait). Jan laughed, and said the thing must have ripped a way in, tangled with Maggie and shot right back out. He left, though I told him if his phone rang at 2am, it was us. Answer.

The cats came out; the squirrel was gone; Jackson was staying at friends, and missed all the fun. Last night, 24 hours after the Squirrel Olympics were over, Jackson came into my room at midnight. He told me the squirrel was under his bed, he was sure he'd heard it, and even Maggie might have.

I assured him it was gone. And now we no longer have the boogeyman to be afraid of, but we do have the squirrel.

July 19, 2007

Conrad Cornered

I've left Conrad Black's recent conviction alone, mostly because, what's the point? It's been well-covered, badly- covered but mostly over-covered already.

But in today's New York Times, a writer from Calgary wrote a piece that made me smile and nod. "Yes," I thought. "That's it." Now, don't get me wrong; I think it's wrong-minded and foolish to try to sum up a large group of people with one or two nouns, unless it's 'warmongers', 'death hawks', or 'republicans'. But I'm getting sidetracked now.

Canadians are far more complicated than we are given credit for, and most of the tolerance we're so famous for is exhibited towards each other, as far as I can tell. We have enough nonsense here at home to contend with, and little time to be telling other nations how to live their lives. We would make very good in-laws.

But, as my favourite line in the linked piece says, " ...there is nothing so frighteningly passive-aggressive as a well-irked Canadian." This is where the Conrad Black thing comes in. This is the true summation of his trial, whatever the lawyers said be damned.

We do not like to see our famous Canadians behaving badly, not even in a but-we-secretly-do kind of way. We don't want to see Alanis Morrisette barfing outside the Viper Room (and we don't), we do not want to see our best comics in rehab (what if they cured the funny?), and we don't want to see any of our politicians in cowboy hats. Or on jet skies, Stock.

So when ol' Conrad got rich and got pompous and got busted, it would be easy to haul out the word sheudenfreude (well, not so easy, I had to look it up). But it's more than that. He dissed us. I remember writing a column back in 2005 about Conrad surrendering his Canadian citizenship because that is what got our passive-aggressive backs up. Live high, spend much, be long-winded for as long as you have wind - but don't go stomping out of the country like a spoiled brat because you don't like what's for dinner. When my editor ran the famous pic of Conrad as a cardinal (the Catholic kind, not the bird) and his wife as Marie Antoinette, I realized I actually only needed a headline and that pic.

I actually believe that Black has an awesome brain. His work is meticulous, his research unbelievable. But he's so buried himself in a pile of his own hubris that I can no longer even hear his cries for help. Dunno if I'd throw him a ring if I could.

Journalists have compiled lists of Black's best (worst?) examples of overspeak. They are jawdropping. It's like he's on a personal mission every day of his life to use only words that have more than 20 letters in them. I stumbled over the word for this the other day. Sesquipedialian. It means words that are a foot and a half long. I love this word. It is my new favourite.

I love most words. But unlike Black, I recognize that if you're talking and nobody wants to listen, it's a pretty lonely existance. Sure you're the smartest person in the room. Because you're the only one in it. Which just might end up being closer to the truth then he realized.

July 18, 2007

Rabbits Breed Like, Well, Rabbits

I've only read one article about the proliferation of rabbits in the area this year, which is surprising. I feel like I'm living in a Disney film.

We have bunnies everywhere, all the time. They are cute as bug's ears, especially compared to boring old squirrels, but they make my cats nuts. The cats watch from the various windows as the rabbits neatly eat all of my hostas. Where I carefully planted big blotches of daisies last year, there are now sawed off little plant stumps. They apparently like daisies. They're in clover when they're in clover, but I worry that they're getting too tame, especially the young ones. We have one we've named Bagel because he likes bagels.

JoJo, the stupid cat, makes brave lunging motions at the screendoor at them. You could put an actual rabbit in JoJo's mouth, and she would just look at you blankly. If I opened the screen even an inch, Maggie, the smart cat, would have that rabbit cleaned and dressed and suspended over an open fire with a stick up it's arse before you could say 'step away from the bunny'.

For awhile there, we'd call the kids to come see the bunny. Now, nobody bothers. All the people that used to say that squirrels are just rats with bushy tails are now telling me that rabbits are squirrels with long ears.

I don't care. I'm just waiting for Bambi.

CH Live@5:30 Wednesday

Tune into CHCH at 5:30 today - what would you do if your kid decided to become a vegetarian/vegan?

Hint: It'd be fine with me.

July 17, 2007

What Do You Wish For?

Because some days you just have to vent a little, here is my crabbyface wish list for a beautiful Tuesday in July.

I wish my dishwasher got the damned dishes clean. It is rapidly becoming just another cupboard. Argh.
I wish the downstairs of my house was as clean as I forced everyone to get the upstairs on Sunday night. If you come over, go directly upstairs. Do not look at the living room.
I wish I knew a great lawyer who worked for the good of his/her heart. Or, at least not 450 bucks an hour.
I wish a publisher would call me up and say "Hey, Lorraine, how's the book going, can I see something?". To which I would reply, "of course." (Then, I could probably find that lawyer....)
I wish I had a deeper understanding of the stock market, quantum physics, tree pruning and men.
I wish someone would invent something called The Wine Diet.
And potato chips. Wine and Potato Chips.
I wish my wee cat would realize that even though she likes to sit on the computer mouse as I work, it makes it very hard to work. And that work pays for her very expensive food.
I wish I cared more that so many of the things I want are shallow. Some days, I just want to not feel like a loser for not being able to save the world.

July 16, 2007

Bonus Motherlode

The Spec and the Star are running different columns today. This is the link to the Star one, the other one is in the regular slot to the left...

July 15, 2007

New Yorker Fiction

'If I Vanished', a nice piece of fiction in the New Yorker. It grapples quietly with the nature of how a relationship implodes, and the forces that seemingly have no impact except in retrospect.

It uses as a backdrop a crappy Kevin Costner western (I know, I know, that's an oxymoron), but its lack of importance is sort of the point: You'll go looking for answers in the stupidest places if you're desperate enough. It's an old premise nicely tweaked.

At a certain age, you enter preservation mode. You can only send up so many balls of fire before the inferno singes you raw. I love this line from the piece. "Sometimes one stops listening to a beloved masterpiece in order to continue to love it."

July 14, 2007

...And Bears, Oh My.

First, let me own up to the fact that the guy that wrote this piece , Jerry Langton, is a friend of mine. He and his wife have been forever. I like him. We have eaten large quantities of great food together, quaffed even larger quantities of wine.

But Jer, I read your article today about bears not being dangerous, and I need to spank you a little. See, at our cottage, we have bears. Where I recall one incident up there with bears in the first 30 years we owned the place, we now see them every year. And I mean in the driveway. When my sister was up last year, she just got the kids in the cottage and two landed on the front deck. A baby one was swinging on the railing of the deck. A bear, not her kid.

There are more of them, they're getting bolder, and they're getting angrier. Jerry's article quotes a guy who knows more than me saying their character is not to attack people, that's what grizzlies do. Fine. We only have black bears. But you know, to me, when 4 bears are headed for me and the kids, I only see the 'bear' part of that.

We have neighbours whose cottage is tucked up into the furthest end of the forest. They are the first cottage. The bears emerge from here, and we're lucky that these people call everyone and put out the warning. They've seen bears go after their dog, they've had them scratch on the cottage trying to get in. We watched a baby bear tear up a tree stump looking for bugs - with one good tug of his big paw. I know they prefer berries. But they will also crank over BBQs looking for leftovers.

Some are calling for the return of the spring bear hunt; I always believed the closing of the dumps up north pushed the bears closer to the cottages in search of food. We used to see them playing on the piles of garbage - I know, not a really quaint northern nature picture, but the truth - and only once can I recall bears near the cottage when I was growing up.

Whatever the reasons, there are absolutely more bears now, and I don't feel especially safe walking through the woods anymore. We're pretty isolated, and we used to walk for miles not worrying. My dad made us wear a bear whistle - just a chrome whistle - so we could whistle if we got into trouble. Nobody ever used it, but we felt like some kind of superhero with the magic whistle on its cowhide string around our neck.

Maybe Jerry is right, and a whistle is enough. But I'm thinking it's instead time to invite Jerry to the cottage to test out his theories. But knowing Jerry, he'll race up there to prove me wrong (grin).

July 12, 2007

Hear This...

Make your kids read this article. Really. Run around the house chasing them with it. I know I will, if I can rip the headphones off my teenager's ears long enough to make him listen.

From the NYT, it's a piece about how baby boomers have lost their hearing because of all those stupid concerts we went to in our misguided youth. Remember towers of speakers, packed a storey high on both sides of the stage? Remember standing right in front of them? I do. Guess what? We blew our ears out.

For the performers, it's even worse. Most of the your favourite musicians are approaching stone deaf after years on the road. Hearing aids are a nice accessory for leather pants and a Fender stratocaster. That's a guitar, which I only know because my kid told me.

We used to sneak into grubby bars in Toronto to hear punk bands, which, well, if they weren't any good, it didn't matter. They made up for talent with noise. We'd leave with our ears ringing, screaming at each other we'd had a great time.

The problem is, hearing loss sets in years later. But instead of gramps needing the hearing boost, it's going to be us. We will pay dearly for becoming one with the music. I beg my sons to not crank those stupid little headphone ear thingees they wear, but I fear it would be like telling me to sit further back when I'd paid more money for my chair inside the speaker.

I know someone who's half deaf in one ear because a fire cracker went off next to it. He was the one who set it off, so it's hard to feel bad for him. But it was a 12 year old who set it off, and a 37 year old who's dealing with the consequences.

Anyone who's shouldered a rifle for hunting for any length of time probably experiences a little range loss as well. It's all the stuff we take for granted. Baby boomers being the self-absorbed bunch that they (we) are, I'm sure we're only inches away from designer hearing aids that people will start demanding whether they need them or not. But I'm still going to beg my kids to take care of their hearing.

I'm as blind as a damned bat, and losing another sense will have me just chucking it all and pulling on my Helen Keller t-shirt. But unlike love, which - I hear - is better to have had and then lost, I can't imagine not missing something I've taken for granted forever.

Come to think of it, that's how you lose love as well.

July 11, 2007

Think You Have In-Law Problems?

I am on the record (repeatedly, and then some) for not being a huge fan of marriage for myself. Truth be told, I also do an awful lot of head scratching at the marital antics of others - and not because I'm flip about it, but precisely the opposite. It's a big deal too many people enter into lightly. Or blindly. Or both. Age has been my seasoning, and lengthened my reasoning.

But I do think you should enter into marriage with an intense scrutiny of all that you hold between you. The dynamic is going to shift; circumstances will change; the bond you forge will be twisted and tested, and if you've created a union of steel (rather than tulle), you will be able to withstand all the world can throw at you.

I wonder what this woman was thinking. Jane Felix-Browne, of England, has just married Omar bin Laden. Yeah, that's right. Osama's kid. She's been married 5 times before, he once. It must be love.

I'm not so sure that Ms. Felix-Browne-bin Laden will be able to withstand all the world can throw at her this time. She sighs that she would like to get the blushing groom a visa to visit England, but is finding it difficult. Apparently, the lad finds travelling anywhere a little tough these days. Apparently neither one could get a passport to Realityville before the nuptials.

Remember the Beatles' All You Need Is Love? They lied. You also need a clear head, a long-term plan and a father-in-law who doesn't have nuclear war heads trained at his head.

July 10, 2007

So This Is Why They Keep Calling...

Here's an article from Slate about people that give big gobs of money to their alma maters, and why. To get their kids into the school.

Duh. I never thought of this. My alma mater calls me periodically (though not so much anymore) looking for money. They enlist, usually, fourth year Business students (at least, that's who has always been on the end of the phone when I've picked up) to try and shake money out of the graduates that have gone ahead. Good luck in this house.

My alma mater (McMaster University) does some fabulous work, especially in research and business and medicine. They are frequently gifted with large wads of cash from happy, happy business people who usually end up with their name on a building, or a chair named after then. I couldn't afford to have a step stool named after me.

This article tracks donors at an anonymous, but big time, school in the States. Apparently, parents ramp up their donations as their offspring approach their college years. With the expectation that a little dough will grease the rails into those hallowed halls. And if it doesn't work, they stop giving immediately, which pretty much proves the point that it's the reason they're donating in the first place.

When a student calls this house, I have to patiently explain that because I chose not to teach, my degree is pretty to look at, but fairly worthless. A degree in English in an English speaking country means you're quite good at quoting dead poets and comparing the Bard's various themes, but apart from that, it's tough to make a living, let alone find one that will funnel money back to the place that taught you all those things.

I took the degree I wanted to take. But as most possessing liberal arts degrees will tell you, they don't call them starving artists for nothing. It's far easier to lower the cost of your maintenance than try to raise everyone else's appreciation for what you've chosen to do. I'm low maintenance.

And as such, it would never occur to me to think of buying my kid's way into anywhere. I think these parents are nuts. And the lesson their kids need to learn the most will once again be delayed.

I'm alive...

Check this space a little later today, if you like. I'm getting caught up after a few days at the cottage - so many things to rant about! I read papers up there, but no email or phone - which is a nice thing, though the lack of internet makes me twitch slightly, and causes the boys to ask if Mom's okay. If not, who's gonna make dinner?

July 5, 2007

Have Cat Will Travel

Just when you thought it was safe to go on holiday, the New York Times offers up this little horrorfest of housesitting nightmares.

If you have pets and go away, you always hit that dammit moment when you have to decide what to do with them. We usually take the cats up north with us when we go, though we now have to sneak around pretending we're not going anywhere. Under cover of darkness, we load bags into the van the night before, and walk around with our hands in our pockets, whistling aimlessly saying things like, "gee, it would be so nice to get away, too bad we won't be this year".

This is because putting a cat into a cat cage is like putting a cat into a bathtub. Or putting a cat into a headlock to trim its nails. Or, come to think of it, like getting a cat to do anything at all. Why am I so enamored of the ornery little buggers, anyway?

So we hide the cages and the coolers until zero hour, when we can corner each of them and stuff them into their cages. We then pack up everything else at lightening speed and squeal out of the driveway. The cat that puts up the biggest fight, JoJo, promptly goes to sleep. After all, that's all she had on the agenda for the day anyway.

Maggie sings us her special song all the way to the cottage. It's a mournful, dirgy little ditty she picked up from her Irish grandmother. I made that part up. We got her for free from a place advertising 'free kittens'. She's a mutt. At some point, she will flip violently onto her back, grasp the bars of her cage in a pathetic homage to 'Dead Man Walking' and howl all the rest of the way. There is more drama in this 7 pounds of calico than in any actress with an Oscar on her mantel.

Once we get there, we flip open the doors, they run around like idiots for ten minutes, and then get that look - 'Oh, yeah, we like it here. Forgot. Sorry.' And the trip home is this special hell in reverse.

But the choice would be to hand over our house to someone else, and frankly, now that I no longer know any university students who would jump at the chance to live rent free (or just parent free) for a couple of weeks, it's getting tougher to do. Our neighbour is great for coming in and playing/feeding, but these cats are used to me being around 24/7. I don't get out much. They get spoiled.

And after reading the linked pieced, I'm not so sure I won't just go on putting up with the cat travelling blues.

July 4, 2007

Raine, Raine...

When I was a kid, all the other little kids used to sing to me, "Raine, raine, go away, come again another day." There. You are now singing in your head. It's better than 'It's a Small World After All', though.

I used to put my head down and cry a little, not because I hated being called Raine (it was all my father called me. I was only 'Lorraine' when I was in trouble), but because, well, as usual, nobody would play with me. Some things don't change much.

But today I'm watching my yard sucking up this glorious drizzling rain, and feeling a little guilty in my pleasure because a friend of mine is stuck in a cottage with 4 teenagers, where rain is not so good. My backyard is rather large, and burnt to a crisp. When my parents owned this house, my dad had the whole yard carved up into gardens (and raspberries patches and garlic patches and woodpiles and compost heaps). Now, there's just pretty much grass.

Grass is a stupid thing to have in this country, and I feel guilty about it on too many levels. To assuage my guilt, I never water it. And then when I walk across it and my feet catch fire, I go back to the landscape drawing board. The thing is, a few years back, we had no grass. The grubs got it, and for about 3 years, there was nothing but a big ol' dirt bowl out there. Marc at the time was attending a rather posh school, and one of his posher friends looked out the back window and said, "Uhm, do you know you have no grass?". Every time my kids came in, it looked like they'd been rolling around in brown pancake mix. Of course I knew I had no grass. But I liked the diplomacy lessons this youngster had learned at his posh school.

So we eventually saved up and got grass, and the boys have run around playing soccer and beat-the-brother (rules are flexible) for a few years now. As they get older, I'm going to claim back the yard, plant some big trees, and try to phase out the grass.

But for today, I'll just enjoy the rain, and hope it's come in time for the farmers for whom plants aren't just decorations. And for all the childhood chanters? Looks like I'm back today.

July 2, 2007

You Have Nora

I liked this little snip today in the NYT from Nora Ephron. I don't always love her stuff (a little too chick-litty for me, too often) but this bit on email is spot on, and it's succinct.

I like email. It's quick and efficient, and I think a lot more contact is made because it's so easy to use. I hear from readers more often than I would otherwise, and it is convenient to respond. I do respond to anything polite, whether it's in agreement with me or not. I like hearing the other side, and some of my best ongoing repartees are with readers that are firmly planted on the other side of the fence. Even thought the grass is greener on my side.

Ephron notes that sometimes email can get overwhelming, and many people find they have to walk away. I think it's what you make of it. If you encourage endless back and forth with no end in sight, that's what you get. I know readers that don't much care if I write back anything substantial. They just want to have their say, and as someone who gets to have her say twice a week, the least I can do is acknowledge that.