October 30, 2011

All those other writers, and me.

I ate a pile of onion rings last night, which only reminded me I'm too old for such foolish indulgences. Christer brought them as a treat, and I should be glad he didn't bring bath salts or Turtles, but still.

I went to bed to read Herman Wouk's Marjorie Morningstar, which always reminds me that old fashioned isn't less relevant and that good writing stands the test of time. I like ol' Herman's characters, and I'm always reminded that character is character (or lack thereof) regardless of which era we're talking about.

"The blow stunned the girl for a week, and she went through agonies of jealousy and remorse, and fantasies of revenge, which amazed her with their violence. But she did nothing. There was really nothing to do. In a heroic last surprise, George had stood up from the chopping block, seized the axe, and hit her with it; and that was that."

And that was that. That piece summed up a feeling that's been squirreling around my head for too long now. Thanks, Herman.

It's been a chaotic month and I keep seeking tethers, like those on hot air balloons you see as they're securely bolted down. I want some of those, until I remember that the beauty of the balloon is when it is flying, not when it's nailed to the ground.

With my attention span wandering all over, I've also been reading Stephen King short stories. I love short stories. Lost art and all that, I am totally devoted to those who have mastered it. Alice Munroe - of course -and Shirley Jackson rock the form, and King, too can be a master. King's letting out more and more these days, as his writing becomes more of a window. He's always been his own main character, but the peeks into characters with OCD, migraines, and battles with typical middle aged creaky bodies has moved him past imagined horrors of the mind into the realization that real life is scary enough.

In the tub I was reading about Hemingway in Vanity Fair in an article called The Hunt for Hemingway. No matter how much my friends may rightly hate his misogynistic, often one dimensional writing, I can't help being drawn to it, and him. I desperately searched for six toed cats (my own Hunt for Part of Hemingway) while I was in Key West earlier this year. I deserved to see them. I didn't. I didn't deserve to see anything but random roosters and a spectacular sunrise. I won, after all. Sometimes the best things happen when you're waiting on something else. Or so I tell myself.

October 29, 2011

People, let me tell you 'bout my great friends...

Doncha love when I make you sing things in your head?

We shot my pilot yesterday. It was pretty cool. I'm working with some terrific people. (Oh, it's a show about helping women buy cars. But with my personality all over it. That should explain it all...)

It's not a show yet, it's an idea for a show, and it needs a home. This was the next step. Anyway. I called in so many favours from so many awesome people, and I am stunned at how wonderful they all were.

Burlington Hyundai (my local dealer) literally let us take over their showroom for 3 hours. They moved cars out, they let us set up cameras and lighting, I had an office to change in, they killed the music while we filmed, we took over sales desks for makeup etc, and let us hook up cameras in a brand new Sonata. They rock. Soooooooo helpful. Thank you to owner Vince, and Colin who came in on his day off, and the staff who helped us out so much.

Discovery Ford let me shoot some outdoor stuff at their place. Auto Park in Burlington on the North Service Road let us shoot indoors and out (and thaw out between takes...brrrr). Thank you both.

Ardent Automotive, my favourite mechanics, let us invade. Jim and Nigel both took a turn on camera - I totally put them on the spot, and they were perfect playing...mechanics. Knew I loved them for a reason.

But the women I called on have been remarkable. Truly. I am so fortunate. Arlene, my high school English teacher who I've written about numerous times, turned over her whole fabulous house to us. And, she went on camera! Priya, my beautiful, talented friend, didn't just work all day as my 'co-star' (heeeee), she did all the wardrobe. She let me invade her spectacular closet and made sure I looked better than I've ever looked.

Sarah played a perfect 17-year-old. Probably because she is. Michelle and Mary Lou (who showed up because Michelle made her) were perfect in small on screen shots. These women all traveled after work and school to help me out. My own sons came because I made them. They were less sweet about it.

Brandy, a true pro, spent all day from 7:30am on doing makeup and hair.

I have no idea what will come of all this, but having so many people step up with a simple phone call is extraordinary.

I'm lucky. I really am.

Labels: , , , ,

October 26, 2011

Miss you, Pop

Ah, wow. It's the 15th anniversary of my dad's death. I struggle with this day, this whole time of year, in fact. I woke up to drizzle and dark, and decided even the weather is commiserating.

I wrote this column two years back - it still says it all. I love that picture. Yeah, that was my wedding. He died exactly 6 years later - on my wedding anniversary. We won't talk about that. The man did like to have the last word.

I just drove Christer to work, and said something about the day. He couldn't believe it had been 15 years. "I was in kindergarten, right?" he asked. I said yup. He turned 5 a week after his Pa died. He remembers, though it's fading fast. Too fast. "You okay?" he asked, peering at me as I peered through the windshield wipers in the still-dark morning.


October 23, 2011

Till Debt Do Us Part

This episode ran on Slice last night, and is linked here to view on the web. Go to Episode 5, Melanie, 'Single by Choice'.

A single mom was struggling to make the money work while on maternity leave - and it wasn't working. Melanie had a Mini Cooper she was absolutely in love with. And while I agreed it's an awesome car, it wasn't working for her.

Gail marches her through her budget - I help her get over her car. Nearly. Sniff. But kids are worth it=)

Labels: ,

October 20, 2011

What's in your 'Bookmarks'?

You know, the stuff you think will be so necessary you hit 'bookmark this page', and then after weeks or months or years, you realize that the list is so long anything beyond the first 20 items is unfindable. What's in yours?

I have what you think I'd have: Weather, Overheard in the Newsroom (so, so funny), Twitter, Facebook (though why I don't know, I hate FB), Craigslist (I get bored; don't judge), Tiny URL (because sometimes bigger isn't better), the New Yorker, a universal conversion site (because I constantly have to change from miles to kilometres and things like that; my brain is quite imperial, my editors are not), my bank, Mapquest (though my sister calls it Meanderquest, and rightly so), Urban Dictionary (when I want to know what something rude or disgusting means and don't want to ask my kids), whatever I'm currently working on, which can mean a list of articles on leasing, minivans, winter tires, driver's ed, asbestos, finding a therapist (not for me; I get asked a lot - go figure), Porsche Panamera (don't be jealous), Audi R8 ( don't be more jealous), brake pads (put away your jealous pretty quick, didn't ya?), Aldo (what? You think boots just happen?) and the usual scroll of about 20 newspapers. That pic up top, however is a loose end. I just laugh and laugh when I read it, so I keep it in my bookmarks even when I purge every other extraneous thing.

I read all these things about 'extreme' sports. Like Extreme Fighting. The only thing I practice is Extreme Habit. I come downstairs every morning, grab the paper, feed the cats, change their water, put on the kettle, and grab the paper in the exact same order, every day. It is so predictable that if I forget to get the paper, Maggie stands by the door and points. I trundle through my links in the exact same order, every day. No, if I do that differently, Maggie doesn't point. She's just a cat, people.

Most of the horror stories you hear from people are about their browser histories. I have one friend who has begged her friends to race to her house if she dies to clear her history before her parents get there. But browser histories are just recent things. I often go chasing off on a tangent like a squirrel chasing a nut with some topic or other. That would only reveal how I was thinking that second. It's my bookmarks that reveal the real me. And I've just discovered how boring I am.

Et tu?

October 17, 2011

Things you can learn by watching Judge Judy

1. There are many, many people who consider 'my income tax money' to be their only, or main, source of income.

2. There are many, many people who borrow money for bail against this income tax money.

3. There are many, many people who will lend their friends bail money. Just until they get their income tax money. They never get their money back. But they do seem to have a lot of friends who need bail money. I cannot recall any one of my friends asking me for bail money. After watching Judge Judy, I might pause before jumping in my car. Unless they're getting income tax money, soon.

4. If you are on disability benefits, the smartest thing you can possibly do (other than admit this to Judge Judy) is:
a) try to get training for a different kind of job.
b) go out and buy the biggest pickup truck you can find. On credit.

5. There are many, many people who believe 'aspiring rapper' is a career direction.

6. If the witness you are bringing to court has a tattoo on his face, leave him at home.

7. There are many, many people who believe a 5 year old computer, a torn up couch and some random dishes are worth $5,000 when they get thrown out of an apartment. Judge Judy does not agree.

8. If you are 20 years old, have 3 children, no husband and are living on welfare, the best thing you can do is:
a) get training for a job.
b) get pregnant.

9. It is awesome to watch people use big legal words in court. Especially when they have no clue what they mean. Awesome.

10. When you receive your student loan money, which impresses Judge Judy more?
a) when you pay your tuition.
b) when you buy your boyfriend, the aspiring rapper with the tattoo on his face, a Lincoln Navigator.


October 16, 2011

Hey, Catelli: How stupid do you think I am?

I buy that Catelli Smart pasta. You know, the stuff in the purple boxes. It says it is a high source of fibre; higher than normal white pasta, though not as high as whole wheat pasta. I would buy only whole wheat pasta but the boys say it's like eating cardboard, and there they drew the line in the whole wheat sand at our house. Fine.

I like when the purple boxes go on sale. We use an entire box for a meal. It's not enough for leftovers, especially after Ari has come back after dinner and snagged the stragglers to eat cold, but it doesn't get wasted. Yesterday, I saw the sale sign on the purple boxes. Yay for me, I thought. I grabbed a bunch and flung them in the cart. That is how I shop: I fling. I despise shopping.

I got home and realized something was wrong. The box I usually buy of rotini (which we call roller coasters; penne are whistles; don't ask, it goes back to when the boys were really little) is 454 grams. The new box? Which isn't marked 'new' or 'different' or 'rip off'? 375 grams. Piss off, Catelli.

This has been going on for years, and is nothing new. The first product I noticed doing it was Crest, which is Proctor & Gamble. They shrunk the tubes of toothpaste and kept the price the same. That made me angry, especially when they jacked the price, anyway. Because I have a love-hate relationship with Proctor & Gamble (I love Pantene shampoo; I hate their vice-grip relationship with Wal-Mart), I just started buying Colgate stuff. And of course they all started mucking with the sizes.

Never have I watched manufacturers have so much disdain for their customers. Surreptitiously shrinking sizes instead of raising prices (if a cost goes up, just say so), I lived through a period of time where I thought I was growing. Everything felt smaller in my hand, like Gulliver must have thought when he asked some Lilliputian in the shower to pass him the Irish Spring. I'm sorry. I just started laughing at the visual of Gulliver showering with Lilliputians.

We already don't believe much of what you tell us (manufacturers, not Gulliver. I believe Gulliver; he has that honest look about him). I look at the label of detergent bottles that say '525 loads', supposedly coming out of a bottle the size of my cup of tea sitting right here. I am very aware of how much detergent I use, and I have front-loaders that require less, and I read that piece in the NYT about how to stop using so much dish and laundry detergent. By ignoring the recommended amounts that manufacturers say. I did that. The repair guy was right. They count on two things: that we will just slop in the amount we watched our mom use, and that we will never remember by the end of the bottle how many times we've opened it.

But this time, Catelli, the magic number is *one*. I use *one* box of rollercoasters when I make my world famous tomato-and-sausage pasta. Guess what? I can count to one, every time. Only now, for THE SAME PRICE EACH, I will have to open *two*. I can also count to two, but I will not do it because I will be forced to do one of two things: make too much, or put part of a box back into the cupboard where it will be passed over again and again as the boys reach for a new box, because everybody knows there is not enough in a half empty box to actually do anything with. And there it will sit until there are a bunch of orphan half empty boxes, and I will finally jam them together, regardless of what kind of pasta it is, and Ari will look at me and say "Is this like that time when we were little and you said we were having a fun surprise dinner, but it was really you just trying to use stuff up?".

I'm tired. I don't need 47 different choices of deodorant. I've actually stood in the aisle at Shopper's with my sons, as they try to tell the difference between having armpits that smell like Ocean Mist or Fresh Breeze. They're teenage boys: they mostly smell like camouflaged bog. Just call it Better Then You Smell Without It. I don't need an array of air freshners - just call it Better Than What You're Trying to Cover Up.

I buy those party packs of gum, because it's cheaper to buy that in the grocery aisles then the boys buying individual packs. Way cheaper. I toss in any and all somethingmint, because nobody cares when they're digging for a piece of gum down the seat of the car and they're desperate. If it would be cheaper to simply give us less options, THEN HERE'S THE PERMISSION TO NARROW DOWN THE FIELD. Guess what? The auto industry figured it out; surely you can too.

I thought about just calling the 800 number on the box to bitch. But you know what will happen? They'll send me coupons. I don't want coupons. I want transparency and fairness for consumers. I don't want to be patted on the head and sent away with hush pasta.

Companies spend a fortune on focus groups and marketing and panels and trade shows. You know what? Just stop ripping me off.

Labels: , ,

October 15, 2011

Driver Training

A question I get asked frequently by parents is "what's the best driver training for my teen?"

Read today's piece on DriveWise and simulators. After an interview with Ron Fellows I did a few months back, he strongly recommended the simulators they use. When it was time for Ari to go, I took him based on that recommendation. DriveWise schools are all independently owned and operated - do your research.

I'm sold. Simulators are a great bridge between classroom and car. They can't replace either one, but it's a step in the right direction. The students also love them, and if you remember how dry and boring the classroom component of driver training could be, you won't be surprised that something so interactive gets their attention. They're used to learning this way. I urge you to consider it when checking out schools.

I also recommend advanced driver training courses for everyone - not just new drivers - but that step between a G1 and a G2 still requires this initial type of schooling. You have options: this is one of them.

Labels: , , , ,

October 13, 2011

Are Mommy Bloggers Whores?

I read this article in today's Toronto Star with a great deal of interest. With so many new bloggers entering the arena every day, the field has become ripe for those who naturally want to turn their hobby into a career. Can't blame them. There are some very good writers out there who deserve to be paid for their words.

I've watched this particular field from the sidelines for the past decade or so. The pioneers, the first to actively keep blogs and grow within the discipline, are some of the heavyweights noted in the linked piece. There are others, notably in the States - The Bloggess springs to mind. Longevity is a key to success, monetary or otherwise. So is good writing. Humour helps, a lot.

But the twist of late has been the bold, unvarnished venturing into product placement. Is it fine with you if the woman who relays stories of her darling two-year-old now peppers her prose with the fact that Huggies are the best? Or that this Peg stroller runs rings around that store brand one? Do you notice? Do you care?

Here's the thing: you have a right to know who is getting what currency for which services. If said blogger is a paid spokesperson for Brand A, that should be clear. And quite frankly, that will dismiss their opinion in mine. Period. I am aware I am not speaking for everyone. Otherwise, endorsements from everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to that old dude on the oatmeal commercial wouldn't work. And they must work, or nobody would be doing them.

The article touches on the handwringing that some bloggers experience. Funny. All they need to do is look up things like the rules that apply for the industry I work in - automotive. You want to talk an industry where the writers get called whores? We might come out a nose behind the travel writers, but the stench lingers on all of us.

Let's cut right to the chase. One time I flew business class on a junket to San Francisco with Rolls-Royce and stayed at the St. Regis. There. Let's throw all that bait out there in the first sentence. I wrote up the lovely experience of driving this spectacular car - that's my job. And some wannabe auto writer fired in a letter to the editor calling me out. Here is my response, and applicable links. it was three years ago, but it still applies.

Here's the thing: I don't have a Facebook page or a Twitter account where I casually mention Armor All or Turtle wax, mostly because I don't casually mention anything except what my cat is eating or what ridiculous show I'm watching because I can't find the good remote to change the channel and I'm too lazy to get up. And if I did mention Armor All or Turtle wax, you would have a right to know if those companies or their retailers were paying me to do so. Transparency matters.

Now, conversely, let's say that Armor All decided to pay me, say, a quarter million dollars a year to pimp their product. Just a round number (are you listening, Armor All?). You would not be much surprised to hear me go on and on how I use Armor All for all my polishing needs, and I would drink it if I could get the sprayer off. I would LOVE Armor All, because I was being paid to love it. And as a consumer you would pause, and think, 'Hmmm. I was considering acquiring something for my polishing needs, and even though Lorraine really loves Armor All, there are several other products that do the same thing. Perhaps I should weigh the fact that they pay her a quarter million dollars a year, and decide for myself'. But you could only have this think with yourself if you were aware of my payday. If you thought I was just being chatty and social and all networky and helpful, you might mistake my love of said product as genuine and unfettered, when it actually was quite fettered.

I'm actually confused about the confusion. Magazines and newspapers and television and radio all run ads from many sponsors within the same issue. A website can accept advertising and maintain the same parameters. But if you're going to tell me about one kid's cereal, you should be prepared to tell me about all the other ones in the category. If you're going to recommend I take my kids to Disneyworld, it shouldn't just be because they hosted you there. Decent reviewers of experiences need to acknowledge that the experience they are getting is not the normal one, most of the time. You need to talk to other people, wander off the path, and ask different questions.

If I wanted to compare strollers (and I don't), I would approach 3 manufacturers and outline my pitch, note my readership, and ask if I could review the appropriate product in the appropriate price point. I would then write up all three strollers and do a proper comparison. This is useful information for a consumer. A blogger getting a thousand dollar stroller and saying, "I loved it!" doesn't help me much. Then you donate the strollers to Goodwill, or return them. (I always have to give the cars back, and I pay for my own gas when I have a press car). You build up a reputation as being fair and smart.

Manufacturers are smart to want feedback from the end users of their products, and they're right to realize there is a huge untapped source of information in these Mom blogs. But there is a right way and a wrong way to extract that information, and I think hard learned rules in other industries could be applied to this one.

In that link on the Rolls-Royce piece, I noted my first lesson in all this, the salsa lesson. That has stayed with me all these years, and is still a good litmus test. Oh, and the salsa was horrible, by the way. Horrible. But sticking to the rules meant I never had to say otherwise.

*Note. I use Armor All. I also use other stuff when I can't find it in the garage. I've never received even free product from Armor All. We're not allowed to, as those rules at the Star are so clear about.

Labels: , ,

October 12, 2011

Square Off - Wednesday

I'm co-hosting today, covering the Iranian assassination attempt, whether cities should sell off their performing arts centres, and deciding what is porn? Well, I made the last topic about that.

Join us on CHCH 11 at 5:30pm

October 11, 2011

I want to quit my job

I've found the new one I would like. I'd like to be a Sea Explorer. Read this.

Sea Explorers have found a treasure trove of $20 million dollars worth of silver. Now, I am aware that I am the only one capitalizing the words Sea Explorer, but I truly believe that it deserves to be. I've always loved boats and water and things (though admittedly, it's mostly the canoe kind of boats, but still...), and for anyone who doesn't know me, well, let's talk about silver.

I love silver rings. I wear three right now, and I'm on the hunt for a fourth. I have a special reason for wanting it, and when I find one, I'll let you all know. As if you care. I also have a pair of boots with silver tips on the toes. They're the second pair; I wore out the first. They're very pointy. I love them very much. I'd post a pic of my rings, but they're on two hands and I can't take a pic of both my hands. Unless I was a monkey. I'm not a monkey.

Anyway. I love silver. And the thought that there is a job that would let me find old silver, whilst sailing the seven seas (or even just the ones that have silver beneath them) is very happy-making for me.

They say you should always have a back up plan. Maybe this is my back up plan. I had to give back the Panamera today, which made me wistful. I would like to go hunt for silver. I would not like to meet up with pirates. The NYT has a pirate story (you can find it while you're in there reading the Sea Explorer piece - don't be lazy) about a couple that were kidnapped by pirates and held for over a year. And they weren't Johnny Depp-type pirates. I mean, how could that be bad? Kidnapped by Johnny Depp? I'd run around that cabin smashing all the emergency radios myownself.

October 10, 2011

Square Off - Monday

What makes a marriage work? A study asked women, and the results were interesting, and for some, shocking.

Join us at 5:30 on CHCH 11.

October 8, 2011

My gift to you on Thanksgiving

It's possible you've already read this if you're the type of person who has a site called Awkward Family Photos bookmarked for daily perusal. Roz. Oh, sorry, did I just rat out my sister? She can yell at me tomorrow in person, as we stuff fresh herbs from her garden up the wazoo of a turkey I just picked up. I also picked up 8 bottles of wine, but of course it's all about the turkey. Urp.

The link is to a list of demands from an anal retentive, uhm, person, regarding her family's Thanksgiving dinner. I love this stuff. I totally do. I'm so laid back about things like this, Roz and Gilly are always just a leetle bit terrified whenever I host a holiday. As they should be. The best dinners are the crazy ones, but Marney, in the link, is leaving nothing to chance. She's also the sister you'd like to drive a spike through (go on; you all have one) and this letter is fabulous. Fabulous.

What am I thankful for, you might be asking yourself? Or maybe not. Anyway. It's warm out, which is lovely. I have a Porsche Panamera Turbo S in the driveway, which also chases away the blues. The fridge is full, the boys are here, Maggie is on my lap and I changed all the beds today. Things could be worse. The fallout from my Crazy Column (I might trademark that) has been effusively positive and kind; I've been thankful for that. The next few months are busy, alternating between things like co-hosting the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Awards and speaking at mental health groups. And speaking at a Porsche event and grabbing a mic for fund raisers for mental health associations. If I wasn't nuts before, I would be now.

It's been a year of change. It's been wonderful and tough and I'm grateful for the same old things: wonderful kids, terrific sisters and a wall of friends who keep me anchored. I would never choose predictable, and it's a good thing: I've never had it yet. Many of you ask after the Poor Sod - he's well and we're friends and he's terrific with my sons. His own family has had a crisis this week, and I'm grateful they're getting through it. Good people. I wish them only the best.

I'm pushing ahead in new directions, working on a TV show that may or may not see the light of day. But don't bet against me;)

I took a friend of mine, Arlene, out last night. She was my high school English teacher and I adore her. It was a house party and we danced like fools, and I watched this wonderful woman flirt madly and shine after what has been a most challenging year. When I pulled up in the Panamera, she immediately let me know that "if the party was too quiet, we were blowing out of there to go pick up men". Little did she know that she is the party, and she doesn't need a car to prove it. There are people who are meant to have many incarnations, and she is most certainly one of them.

And so am I. The reinvention will continue, as always. To paraphrase something I heard somewhere, I bloom where I'm planted in my leather boots du jour.

Oh, and if you ever haul yourself to my table, you may bring anything you like, in any dish, with any spoon. Or nothing at all. I only want your humour and your humanity. And maybe a decent bottle of wine.

Labels: , , ,