August 31, 2007

Of Birthdays and Dead Princesses

Here's my Princess Diana moment: on my youngest son's third birthday, I opened the front door to grab the Sunday paper. Blazed across the cover was the tackiest headline I have yet to read: DI DEAD

Yup. My baby turns 13 today. I never bought another Sun (forgive me: I used to do all the crosswords every Sunday), but I remember being shocked that the woman was dead. Not really affected, but shocked. I never quite got the whole Diana thing, probably because I thought she was a fairly ordinary woman thrust into a difficult role, and I'd long since tired of the whining. She knew what she'd signed up for; if you find it's not to your liking, make a classy exit and shut up. She was a pouter, and I hate pouters.

I once had an acquaintance who would serve these odd cheeseball things at parties. It was essentially a big ball of not-great cheese formed into a baseball, then rolled in something. It was actually pretty gross, but everyone would stand around and exclaim that it was awesome. It wasn't. It tasted like Kraft singles melded together. I'd look around and wonder what I was missing.

Diana Spencer was my cheeseball. I always wondered what I was missing. She was beautiful, she worked the press like a puppetmaster, and I do believe she actually gave a damn about the causes she lent her name to. She adored her kids. But the supernova/change the world stuff? I don't think so. I think Diana was mostly about Diana.

CBC is running ads about 'was there a conspiracy?' and I just sigh. She was killed by a drunk driver. She wasn't wearing a seatbelt. Haven't the players milked enough out of this already? Ten years on, publications are still parsing her evey word for deeper meaning. Guess what, guys. There isn't any. Sometimes a cheeseball is just a cheeseball.

August 30, 2007


There can be a certain kind of (twisted) bliss in pain - it reminds you that your body is indeed alive, and still attached to your head.

I have endured some general snickering that I would approach the upcoming trip to a frosty mountain in Argentina by working out, bulking up and buckling down. But I learned long ago that a mental thirst and emotional desire are rarely enough. Of course as I drag my poor, throbbing body over to All Canadian Fitness every other day, I am usually keen to revisit my reasoning.

With the boxing, I had to go every day. This time around, I'm experiencing the luxury of every other day. It's practically pina coladas on the beach in comparison. Though a cabana boy other than Adam would be nice. The only thing he hands me are 45 pound metal disks to march up and down the sidewalk with. My workout has become some people's halftime show.

Here's a fact: If you're contemplating getting into shape for something - anything - I recommend the crazy countdown technique I am perfecting. The second time around is a year later, and I can't believe that my muscles have the memory that they do. It gets easier.

We are building up my upper body, because I don't want to drive off a cliff in nutty conditions. The last thing I want is for someone to Google 'female journalist hurtles Land Rover off a mountain' and have my name pop up. Though I realize that now I've just written that, that is exactly what will happen. I would shrug if I could.

Adam has devised a workout that will mimic the conditions I am likely to encounter. I sit there working a heavy disc like it's an imaginary steering wheel. I told him I felt like dork. He told me I looked like one. He also told me to quit whining, and asked if I'd been eating better. The man has the body fat of a raisin, and I eat potatoes for breakfast. I pretended I didn't hear him.

August 29, 2007


I'll be on CHCH at 5:30 (repeat at 11:30)'s back to school!

Plonking Down Your Money...

To raise a toast to the last week of summer (the munchkins head back to school on Tuesday, so it's over for us), doodle around in the New Yorker this week. Tons of great reads.

If you're a winer (as opposed to a whiner), there's a cool piece on fraud in the big leagues of trophy wines. You know when you hear that someone has paid $127,000 for a bottle of wine, and you think to yourself "hmmm, how the heck would they know the difference between that and the one with the penguin and the cat tangoing on the label?". Well, that's what I say, anyway. I love wine, but seriously, I've always thought the really pompous gits who buy 200 year old wine are getting hosed, big time.

Turns out they are. But the story is a scream. I'm lucky enough to have some real wine smarty pants in my circle of friends, and at their rather exhorbitant expense I get to taste some pretty nice wines. Of course, the downside is coming home and pulling another bottle of plonk from my own rack, though I've heard that Tuesday was a very good year.

The New Yorker also has a smorgasboard of stories about food as a running theme that unites us all, and several of them are terrific. Sedaris nails it (as always) revealing the funny, funny food of his youth. Follow it up with the gut punch from Donald Antrim about his father cooking, and a hilarious piece from Gary Schteyngart ('Sixty-Nine Cents') as a newly planted Russian teen in America.

Take a few minutes to read the shorts - nice way to round off the summer. And if you're a serious wine snob, the first piece might give you pause.

August 28, 2007

Argentina Bound

I am going to the clouds. No really, it's something called The Road to the Clouds.

As a guest of Land Rover, I'm one of several journalists who will be flying to Argentina, and embarking on a five day adventure in the mountains of north west Argentina. We drive Land Rover LR3s up 16,000 feet to Pasa Abra Del Acay, one of the highest driveable mountain passes. In big capital letters and smaller italicized ones, it keeps reminding me this is through extreme conditions and is not for the faint hearted.

There will be snow; there will be camping; there will be hostels; there will be one woman journalist. Rumour has it the first question she asked was where she would pee.

So. In anticipation of this quest, I have been hitting the gym again. I returned to the scene of my boxing extravaganza of one year ago (my, how time flies between crazy things!) and I've once again enlisted the help of All Canadian Fitness, and Adam Higson and Ernie Schramayr.

I'll keep you posted, but it's tough to type with shoulders that feel like they've hauled a team of oxen with a hundred pound yoke. That Adam....he just smiles so sweetly right before everything goes black.

August 24, 2007

Sign Language

Heh. This'll make you smile. Crazy signs from around the world (you know how they say something gets lost in the translation?), brought to you by the Guardian (and moi).

August 22, 2007

When Ads Attack

Bad ad time again.

If I see one more Whiskas advertisement with the guy - the loser, sweater-vesty, clammy- hands kind of guy - pretending he's a cat, I just may barf.

I am working and making dinner (which means I made a phone call, but, whatever). I look up, and there is a grown man scratching in a litter box while his 'owner' (apparently, only women own cats - hmph), pinches her nose and curls her lip.

This is beyond gross. And if they actually want me to believe that they can give me something that will make my cats poop perfume, I will check my ID to see if I was indeed born yesterday.

I could carefully insert breath mints in my cats arseholes and they would still reek.

This company must hate cats, and women.
And I hate their ads.

August 20, 2007

You're Never Leaving the Island...

While sitting on the couch at the cottage, swaddled in blankets because it was so damned cold, I stuffed The Office, Season One into the DVD, happy in the knowledge that the phone couldn't ring. There isn't one.

We got to Season Two, where Michael Scott and the Gang are in the parking lot. Someone plays Desert Island. You know, what movies/books etc would you take if you were stranded on a desert island?

It may have been the setting, the cold or the wine, but I got to considering this. And I decided it was something we could all play. We can make it up as we go along - but it's fascinating to see what other people consider pivotal in their lives. I'll go first, and you can all make fun.

Movies: In no particular order (and with a little cheating), I'd have to take
Big Night and Diner (counting it as one; they're both about food and dialogue)
Lonesome Dove (TV miniseries, still the best western I've ever seen - I fall in love)
Stand By Me (just beautiful coming of age piece)
A Streetcar Named Desire (Williams and Brando - both flawed, both perfect)
Fargo, Raising Arizona, O Brother Where For Art Thou?, The Big Leibowski and Miller's Crossing - told you I'm cheating. But I want the Coen Brothers to make me laugh.

Books: This is tougher. I'm moody in my reading.
The Last Picture Show - Larry McMurty has never fallen out of my top 5. Ever.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare - probably a cheat, but I have an edition with them all, so that's the one I want. If I have to take individuals, probably Richard III and King Lear. And the sonnets.
A Prayer For Owen Meany - John Irving taps into something mystical in this one.
The Great Gatsby - I read it every year anyway, and I may be there awhile...
Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath - anything Steinbeck, nearly.

Maybe these lists should be ten. Or twenty. I'm lousy with music, but feel free to introduce the music list. I might learn something. I'd like to.

Have at it, folks.

August 16, 2007

Make It Go Away...

Argh. It's been a week from hell.

Though I hold you all near and dear to my heart, there is sometimes poop everyone should just step around. My week is that poop.

I'll be back Sunday.

August 13, 2007

WalMart ShmalMart

Am I allowed to like this? Am I allowed to have not just read, but devoured David Olive's piece yesterday on WalMart's stumbling? Let's pretend I am.

I don't like WalMart. Their win-at-any-cost strategies are deplorable, and have left towns and, more importantly, people, sucked into the undertow of their wake. I won't shop there because there is literally nothing I can't find somewhere else at similar prices. At stores that pay their employees decent wages and benefits, at stores that are clean, and at stores that actually staff areas to help you.

I used to go to a WalMart for toys, because most other places had no toys, and I had two little kids I bought toys for. The Bay is a joke for toys, Sears is nearly as bad, and Zellers, at the time, only brought in toys at Christmas. I was stuck in tumble down aisles looking for Lego, dreading having to head to a surly check out. You get one, and only one, smile when you go into a WalMart - the greeter, who usually scared the crap out of me. Same at Blockbuster, for the record. You scare me. And if I've now just offended some WalMart employee ('I always smile!), well, I sincerely hope you're one of the few who are getting paid a decent wage with proper hours and full benefits.

They have okayed a WalMart to open near me. I live in a downtown core. There is already one huge WalMart a couple of miles away. Somehow, they are going to shoehorn another one into our tiny downtown, and create traffic nightmares. Our town council should all turn in their paycheques for this boneheaded move, as far as I'm concerned. You fight for the people that elect you - you don't cave to a monster of misplaced retail hell. And don't tell me there was nothing you could do: optics are everything, and the optics have left me steamed.

Olive's piece notes that WalMart is having trouble. Their growth has stalled, mostly because they've been unable to capitalize on foreign markets they believed were theirs for the taking. Germany kicked them out - the greeters spooked those staunch Krauts, and sent them running. Hmmmmmmm. Maybe it's my German background at play with my similar response.

Admittedly, when you're as big as WalMart, to experience growth becomes harder and harder. There's a Stephen King short story about a guy who's stranded on an island in the sea, and eventually has to start eating pieces of his own body to survive. It's a really gross story (classic twisted King), but I was reminded of it when I read the WalMart piece. Maybe it too will just start consuming itself until it goes away.

It's not a snobby thing - I can't afford to be snobby. But I truly believe that if you wander around a store big enough to house airplanes long enough, you will eventually fill your cart with all kinds of junk you never wanted and don't need. Over-consumption is the bane of our existence, and WalMart is a wunderkind at convincing you - and your kids - that you can't live without everything parked beneath a big yellow smiley face.

Buy better, buy smarter and buy less. Support stores that support their employees and keep this country's manufacturers working. Look for quality over quantity, because in reality, it's the only creed that will sustain you while you sustain it.

August 11, 2007

Music To No One's Ears

Because I have little to no taste in music (according to my sons), I had on some top 40 station the other day, or whatever they call them now. A song started up with this earthy voice announcing that 'they tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no'.

My first thought was 'cool voice, stupid lyrics. You don't wanna go to rehab, don't go. But shut up about it already'. I'm pretty much sick of hearing about rehab, what with the Britneys/Lindsays/etc of the world parading their stints in rehab like our old neighbour when I was growing up putting her big granny panties out on the line and making us all laugh. Rehab and granny panties just aren't good career moves.

Anyway, turns out this rehab warbler was a girl I'd heard of, but never heard. Amy Winehouse. She's a little beehived strip of a thing, covered in tattoos and attitude and apparently making much noise on the music scene. The rehab song isn't much of a trick - she's got a documented fondness for the partying life, and apparently finds time to make music in occasional sober moments. Whatever. Many greater have gone before her, and done it much the same way.

She's up for some music awards. I guess she's good, I'm just too old to care. But just last week, they announced that she'd been hospitalized for exhaustion. Slate did a take on why celebrities get so exhausted here. It's pretty much what you thought. It's tough being famous, and you need a time out sometimes. But if you're famous, you apparently need a doctor's note. It's usually as legitimate an excuse as when you call into work after practicing your strep throat voice to nab a day off.

But a further story on Winehouse said she'd actually had her stomach pumped for an alleged drug overdose. Ferchristsakes. The kid is 23 years old. She's some cutting edge tattoed singing marvel, apparently, and she can't get her sh*t together? She has a husband and a father right there. This is okay for them?

Once you're an adult, you're on your own with your booze and drug problems. But if it's been cultivated in childhood, other's bear responsibility. Lindsay Lohan keeps checking in and out of rehab like it's a KwikiMart. She leaves and heads straight to a bar, because it seems she chooses rehab facilities that are strictly for the mani-pedi-facial-at-11 set. It's not just unattractive to see girls heading their career into the toilet - it's downright dangerous to see families that have ridden their kids hard and put them away drunk abandon responsiblity for wrecked lives and damaged careers.

On a totally unrelated note, this news made me very happy. I'm a huge Alison Krauss fan and can't wait to see what this teaming with Robert Plant will produce. I actually have Zeppelin and Union Station CDs in my crazy collection. Now I can tell the kids I'm not so nuts after all.

August 9, 2007

Read Anything Good Lately?

No, it's not just you. The news is weak this time of year, and headlines are seemingly being pulled from unseemly places. Everyone is pulling the same stories off the wires, or covering the same event (or non-event) because there's nothing else to do.

Without an intern to go missing, there is little to exploit. I'm sure more buildings than usual aren't falling down, but it sure seems that way. One in Hamilton, one in New York, as well as several other countries. In Hamilton, there is probably some celebration going on, as the building in question is in the heart of Hess Village, the entertainment district. Recent articles have highlighted the incessant behaviour that goes along with kids out drinking - what goes in, must come out - and I'm sure people in some areas of Toronto are gazing intently at some of their buildings wondering how to make them also fall down.
Zoning happens, people.

The venerable Globe & Mail actually had a headline yesterday that read something close to this: Man Eats Own Socks to Avoid Breath Test. I can't link it, because they've disappeared it into their locked vaults. I do wish they'd scrap that feature, especially on stories that are hardly earth shattering. A story they posted today about how if a guy helps with the housework he'll get more sex hauled in the usual nattering comments of 'haven't you got anything better to publish?'. Well, no. Nobody does. Dog days, people.

I think I've read in about 24 publications now that women prefer men with soft, feminine features. Sure. Some questionable study is getting headlines it never could have dreamed of, say in October, because nothing fell down and nothing blew up and all the politicians are sitting on their docks somewhere.

For the record? I don't care what a guy looks like, as long as he folds laundry, feeds the cats, and pulls the cork for me.

Chivalry, people.

August 7, 2007

Vacation Express

To make getting to the cottage more do-able, I finally caved and bought a laptop. There's no internet up there (heck, there isn't even a phone), but I reasoned I could at least do enough work not to fall behind.

The only time the computer was up was for Jackson to play chess. I never went near it. I do a remarkable job of lying on the dock all day, however, listening to the siren song of vodka and iced tea calling my name...

I don't actually take something like a week off. I haven't since I started writing. Your brain keeps grabbing at words and ideas, like branches reaching out into a river and snagging on things. You can't stop it. And of course the one you let by will be the best.idea.ever. And so it goes.

The back to school flyers have started, and I'm still looking for more shorts for one of the kids. One of my mother's sayings flips through my brain right about now: A day late and a dollar short. I should have that printed on a T-shirt and just never take it off.

The news is full of the horrendous (monsoons, bombings, bridge collapses), the looming (foot in mouth disease) and the ridiculous (death threat poetry).

If less people are watching or reading, does it mean less people care? If I trundle out to the end of a dirt road to get my paper, instead of having it delivered to my house, does it have less import? Does not being connected to the world every minute mean it's waiting for me to get back?

Nope. Life, and death, goes on. I don't think we ever truly get a holiday from anything. As surely as I pack a bag with T-shirts and bathing suits, I carry with me a similar satchel of deadlines, story ideas, love, loss, angst and worry.

Don't leave home without it.

August 2, 2007

Live@5:30 Thursday

Tune in at 5:30 to CHCH TV (repeat at 11:30) for a look at the new HVP vaccine now available for teenage girls.

Boo, hiss, clap, cheer - I'll be on my way to my northern office - have a great weekend.

August 1, 2007

Why? Well, Why Not?

Oh, why not. For the past two days, everyone has had a go at this article that originated in the NYT on why people have sex. My turn. To have a go at the article.

A survey of 2000 people came up with a grand list of 237 reasons people have sex. 237. While I would naively like to believe there is only one great reason ("because you want to"), I can believe there might be several more. But 237? That's just crazy-making. Some of the reasons are downright hilarious - "to change the topic of conversation" (that oughta do it), "I thought it would be good exercise" (tell that to your partner, Exercise). Others were typically tragic - "to make money", "to boost my self-esteem" (nothing higher than sitting there later, wondering why you were so stupid).

Men and women both shared the top reason ("because I was attracted to the person"), though women were more likely to use the word "love" in their decisions. I'm thinking men probably use that word more before, and women after, and thus rarely the twain shall meet.

Personally, I think reasons change as people age, and this survey was conducted with university students. ("Because I was drunk" was a notable answer.) There are a lot that fall into the 'opposites' camp - from things I've heard over the years, of course. Like "to make him stay" and "to make him go", "because I liked her" and "because I hated her".

The full list is here - it's quite comprehensive, and might inspire the more determined among you to use the next year or so to go on a cosmic love tour. Or sex tour. Or whatever. After awhile, the reasons start to seem like the reasons we do anything. And as with most explanations, that just takes all the fun (#54) out of it. Reasons 183,184,185,187 and 189 just might put Hallmark out of business, but in such a memorable way.

I do know what Number 238 should be: "I have no idea why".

Actually, come to think of it, I'm surprised there weren't 2000 reasons.