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So long, Cookie

December 30, 2010 4 comments
Waverly Cemetary, Sydney (#118)

Image by Christopher Chan via Flickr

The eulogy was short, just like Cookie’s time with us.

It went something like, “Those hours you spent in our house were among our brightest.  You lit up that tank like no other fish in the sea.  You fought valiantly with your one fin, and didn’t even complain.  You are an inspiration to all of us, and we will never forget you.  Go bravely into the sewage.”

Flush.  So long, Cookie.

My daughter had awoken to our worst fears: Cookie floating on the top of the tank.  The other two fish seemed nonplussed, and swam on their merry way in and out through the plants and rocks.  One down, two to go, I couldn’t help thinking.

Her tears were plentiful and anguished.  I felt horrible, but of course was thinking in my head, “See? this is why I didn’t want to go down this road.”  My instincts are always dead on, sorry for the pun.  Yet even the doubting Thomasina I was expected at least a week of uninterrupted bliss before something hit the fan.  Cookie was only with us thirty-six hours.

I am guilt ridden, both for poor Cookie’s plight and for my daughter’s tears.  Naturally, I blame my husband, who was in charge of the treacherous transfer (“Didn’t they tell you how to do it properly?”) It relieves the burden of responsibility somewhat from my shoulders; yet my daughter does not fall prey to these tricks we learn as we age; who is responsible for this tragedy is of no significance to her, she just dwells with its aftermath.  There is no bringing back Cookie.

But luckily, there are many more fish at the store, so they have traipsed back to where it all began, to find a replacement Cookie.  As well as a state of the art heater, just in case cool water temperature had anything to do with Cookie’s failings.  You see where we’re going with this.  Broke.

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Categories: Parenting Tags: , , ,

Welcome to the family/RIP, Cookie

December 29, 2010 5 comments

My daughter was adamant: she wanted a new sibling for Christmas, and failing that, a dog.

I love my child dearly and would unthinkingly throw myself under a bus for her, but I have my limits.  We settled on a fish.

They say the key to effective parenting is consistency.  Fittingly, I have been carefully consistent in my message that I am finished with having babies – if I smell that coconut body butter that you slather on your extended belly to avoid stretch marks one more time I can’t be responsible for my actions.  As for the dog, I’m conveniently allergic to fur.  I am, of course, lying through my teeth about this allergy, but it is the simplest and most effective way of quelling their pleas that surface biweekly.  I sleep at night, despite this tiny white lie.

I have been resistant to bringing any pet into our home for obvious reasons, the inconclusive list including odors, noises, and upkeep.  But there is another major problem: they die.  As much as I want to avoid the trauma for my children, it is me who I am most worried about.

I have been there, and it’s not pretty.  The day we brought our family’s puppy home ranks among the most incredulous of my childhood.  We loved Buffy, despite the fact that she barked ferociously day or night if anyone stepped foot on our property.  She was a beautiful sandy colored cocker spaniel, with freckles on her nose and bottomless eyes with the eyelashes so long and seductive they needed to be trimmed regularly.  As much as she loved our large family, she passionately hated strangers or any other thing that moved, so walking her was an exercise in restraint, literally, and not for the faint of heart or weak in stature.

Buffy during Christmas 1981

Buffy lived a long life, but her death hit me hard.

In the same way I can’t watch Animal Planet lest an antelope become an afternoon snack for a Cheetah, I can’t stand the thought of any pet under our care meeting its maker, be it gerbil, cat, hedgehog, frog or fish.  Besides, I watched Finding Nemo; it is the ultimate nightmare for any fish to be resident in tank cared for by a nine year old girl. Yet I was feeling guilty for denying my child the pleasure of a pet, so I caved.  We got her a fish tank for Christmas, with the promise she could pick out her fish on Boxing Day.

She was over the moon excited.  She skipped into our house with her plastic bags containing her carefully chosen protege, three small fish that if cared for properly would double in size over the next year.  She had already named them: Elmo, Ernie and Cookie (as in Monster).  We were pet owners for all of five minutes when disaster struck: Cookie got caught in the fish net during the transfer into its new home.  Cookie appeared to be traumatized, if not physically marred by this procedure; we weren’t sure (he?she?) would last the night.

We waited on edge for Cookie to make a comeback.  “Cookie’s gone!” she shouted, which I immediately assumed meant he had been eaten by the other healthy fish in the tank, weakest link theory.  Half an hour later she reported a Cookie sighting – “I see him! He’s floating on top of the water!” – which caused my husband and I to exchange wary glances;  I knew this day would come, just not so quickly.  But Cookie was indeed swimming on top of the water, although slowly and like Nemo, missing a fin.

The news report in the morning: Cookie lives. We narrowly dodged that bullet, now it becomes a waiting game.  If I was a gambling girl, I would put my money on a funeral conducted toilet bowl-side before the New Year.  Meanwhile, I will try to remain detached from Cookie, and hope my child fares better with pet mortality than I historically have.

Categories: Parenting Tags: , , , ,

I’m dreaming of an intoxicated Christmas

December 27, 2010 8 comments

At the risk of sounding like a lush, Christmas dinner is just not Christmas dinner without a glass of Viognier – my favorite turkey pairing wine- or at the very least, some liquid containing alcohol, be it moonshine or cognac.  Like Art Garfunkel’s lackluster solo career without Paul Simon, turkey dinner is bland and tasteless without wine, and my mood is certainly not as festive.

That I have married into a family that does not drink is a source of considering wrangling, not to mention countless thoughts of “what was I thinking?”.  Imagine, if you will, spending an entire day trapped within the confines of your in-laws house, a pack of sugared-up children squealing in delight as they chase each other around, and no rum for your eggnog in sight?

Without beer goggles, hopelessly mundane conversations become unbearably hopelessly mundane.  That story about the time my sister-in-law was doubling her Barbie on her bike, and turned to watch her hair blowing in the wind causing her to fall and break her wrist is not as charming the tenth time around.  With a glass of wine in hand I suspect I would be more patient.  I consider weighing in with my own memories of the time I mistakenly drank my father’s glass of whiskey – I was pretending I was in the Flintstones, I was Betty, Wilma was giving me medicine, incidentally – and my 5-year-old self drunkenly fell down the stairs in front of my parent’s company.  I keep this memory to myself – this would be akin to blasphemy.

Years ago, when I got myself into this mess, remaining sober on celebratory occasions was not a big deal.  Back when my social life was in full swing (another way of saying pre-children), waking up without a hangover, or at the very least that sour taste in your mouth, was a welcome respite on Boxing Day.  Those sweet stories of my betrothed’s childhood were charming the first time around.  But as my family has grown, so has my need for a cocktail once the clock chimes five.  My social life now null and void, occasions like Christmas can provide the perfect excuse for even earlier cocktails.

Alcohol causes nothing but trouble, my in-laws argue.  Admittedly, alcohol has gotten us into some hiccups along the way in my own family (a family where the question is would you like a dash of eggnog with that rum?).  There was the time my teenaged brother fell into an alcohol induced sleep with a cigarette burning on our ottoman, and we narrowly escaped our house being burned down.  But for the most part, spirits add festivity and fun to our gatherings.  Those tiring stories become riotously funny.  Tongues loosen, guards drop.  Very rarely, scores are settled.  Always people are teased mercilessly.

The hard stuff adds color.  Christmas dinner with my in-laws is conducted in black and white, and yields ho-hum, stilted conversations.  For instance there is much discussion over the done-ness of the turkey. The conundrum of keeping the white meat moist while cooking the dark meat properly has been dissected and debated to the tiniest detail.  The hours spent on this topic would surely have produced world peace had that been the debate.  This year my in-laws barbecued the turkey: a whole new day dawned.  The teetotalers were so enamored by this progression that the lumpy mashed potatoes and dressing (with or without raisins – always good for a fifteen minute discussion) were scantly noted.

If you happen to be my mother-in-law, I’m sorry to be disrespectful, but offer me a glass of wine next year and I guarantee you will prefer my slightly intoxicated state.  If this makes me an alcoholic, then so be it; the first step is admitting it.  Next year I’m bringing a flask.

A Christmas Miracle

December 24, 2010 2 comments

‘Home for Christmas’ takes on new meaning to a family who has had a child in the hospital for the last few months.time passes slowly in the hospital

I call my nephew, Brennan, a child, but at sixteen he is caught between being a child and being a man.  He still has the innocence and nonchalance of youth, but the wisdom that age brings for understanding medical terms and diagnoses.  These combined characteristics have made him a dream patient for his team of doctors and nurses, but what a nightmare these past seven months have been for Brennan and his family.

Under normal circumstances, he has been a picture of health.  A terrific athlete at anything but especially baseball and basketball, he was hoping to add football to his list by trying out for his high school football team this year.  But last May he became ill with what seemed a lethal stomach virus, and dropped 25 pounds off of his already thin frame.

Since then he has bounced around from emergency rooms to x-ray rooms and has seen the inside of every imaginable department in the Isaac Walton Killam Hospital in Halifax.  What ailed him seemed like a guessing game to the medical community; diagnosis ricocheted from a bad virus, to celiac disease, to Crohn’s disease.  Finally, they settled on lymphoma.  The game ascended from bad to worse.

Brennan has endured being a human pin cushion with heartbreaking stoicism and a shrug of the shoulders.  He learned the hard way that you never know what a day might bring.  He was deprived of food for what seemed an eternity under the Crohn’s blanket. The new, updated lymphoma diagnosis meant he could eat, but the lethal chemotherapy drugs took the pleasure out of food altogether.

Brennan finished his last round of chemotherapy last week, and the prognosis is finally looking positive, this nightmarish chapter of his life hopefully closing.  He came home for Christmas and, fingers crossed, forever yesterday.

Santa came early, anything else that happens this Christmas is extraneous.  Merry Christmas Brennan, and to all a good night.

Home for a daypass in the summer

The Groupon Buzz

December 23, 2010 3 comments
Groupon logo.

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever noticed little pockets of conversation, or keywords themselves, that follow you everywhere you go?  Little words that, if the world was one big comic strip, would be the bubble thought above almost all heads, right up there with ‘sex’ and ‘chocolate’?  Buzz words that our collective pop culture speaks of, almost uncannily in unison?

Right now, that buzz word is Groupon.  As though I was freshly dipped in honey, this word is following me everywhere I go.  Move over Twitter, there is a new phenomenon in town.

For those who live in a vacuum, Groupon is an online discounter that provides you with mega deals on local stuff – anything under the sun that I know exists although I haven’t personally seen it for weeks.  Today’s Groupon deals offer a 3D golf lesson using a simulator, or a revitalizing facial, both at 60% off the normal cost.  Restaurant deals, weekend getaways, and merchandise at greatly reduced cost also figure prominently.  Once you sign up, you get an email each day announcing its main deal, with a couple of other promotions in the side bar.  So if golf lessons aren’t your thing, perhaps you could be enticed to open your wallet for some bling, or a river rafting adventure.

I frequently hear about Groupon during my favorite pastime, grocery shopping.  “I bought it today on Groupon for 75% off!”  The other night on our way to dinner, our chauffeur/designated driver somehow parlayed into “… Groupon, the fastest growing company in history!”  Last night, getting a pedicure at Edgemont Village’s newest nail bar, aptly named Get Nailed, I casually asked the store owner how business was.  “I did a Groupon promotion and now, it’s great!  3000 people bought the deal in a day!”  She now has enough business to ride out 2011.

Groupon has got to be the greatest invention since the hula hoop for small business owners.  It cleverly puts those with something to sell in front of thousands with money to burn, so long as they are getting the deal of the century.  Many who wouldn’t normally consider river rafting will find themselves donning life jackets and facing the rapids this coming May to cash in on their skookum deal they got today on Groupon.  Even better for the companies offering the deal, are those who buy today on Groupon only to completely forget about their prepaid adventure.  This cash infusion can be used to propel these small businesses into the new year and beyond.

It is a brilliant business model, as Groupon’s stupendous revenue attests.  By helping businesses grow, and arguably helping consumers save money, they are in turn helping themselves to become a dynasty that thumbs its nose at the likes of Google and its six billion dollar offers.

I have yet to buy something on Groupon, although I have mentioned its deals to people who may be interested in its offerings – and by that old method of word of mouth, not via email in order to reap the $10 reward for referring a client.  A friend mentioned he was looking for a picture on canvas for a bare wall; next day low and behold Groupon was offering a deal on such pictures, with free shipping.  One strange coincidence, or were magical powers involved?  No wonder Groupon turned down Google.

This could be my day for buying a Groupon deal.  I am not one for lying naked on a bed while a stranger examines my pores with a magnifying glass, and then proceeds to torture me with a variety of instruments under the futile guise of returning my skin to its former glow.  But for half the price, maybe I’ll buy two and bring a friend.

Such is the power of Groupon.

To Facebook or not to Facebook

December 22, 2010 2 comments
Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

This is a question that can easily divide a room in half at a party amongst people my age: “Are you on Facebook?”  Unlike teenagers and twenty-somethings, my peers are more hesitant to adapt new social networking practices, treading cautiously and making sure no credit card numbers are required before joining.  On the other hand, just like some school aged children, those not using Facebook are quick to sling arrows and insults towards those that are.  Just like all of those insecure bullies on the playground.

In the same way that a gun can be used to protect yourself, or murder someone, Facebook can be put to good, productive use, or it can be abused and exploited.  If you’re careful, Facebook doesn’t need to be the three headed monster lurking in your closet, contrary to what its critics tell me.

I have been on Facebook for a few years now, and am happy to count amongst my random list of friends some of my oldest and dearest childhood buddies.  I don’t exchange messages with them on a regular basis, but am happy that I know how to reach them if I want to share a memory with them, and if I’m ever in their city, I will look them up, since I now know where to find them.

Naysayers tell me they are in touch with all of the friends they want to be, they don’t need an online presence for this purpose.  That’s their prerogative.  But if life wasn’t so busy and these people still lived in my neighborhood, I would still ask Kyla if she could go bike riding after dinner, and ask Trina to come over, see if Jacqui could pick me up on her scooter, or ask Angie to go to a movie.  I would love to be able to do this, but these friends are now scattered across the country and busy with careers and families.  Facebook is as close to a playdate as we can come.

With almost my entire family on the opposite coast of Canada, Facebook is a great way of sharing photos.  We tried Flickr after our family cruise, but I have long since forgotten both the site name (Regan Cruise? Family Cruise? Booze Cruise?) and password.  Facebook is so much easier.  Every now and then I post an album of recent photos, and although I can almost hear a collective groan from the rest of my Facebook friends, it helps my family recognize my children who are growing like weeds when they disembark from the airplane each summer.

As for people who say it is nothing but a pick up place, or a place to connect with old boyfriends, I’m still waiting with bated breath, but no one has tried to pick me up.  There’s always next year, I guess.

Besides all of its obvious uses, Facebook is a huge part of our pop culture.  Ignoring it is like ignoring the World Wide Web.  Whether or not the powers that be at Facebook should install a “dislike” button has sparked a massive online debate – over the top, in my opinion, but fascinating to see how passionate Facebook users are about their network.   Or to see how much time people have on their hands.

Like an overused toy on Christmas that doesn’t see the light of Boxing Day, I go on Facebook sporadically these days, it has lost its shiny luster.  I don’t check my news feed everyday to see who has updated their status.   But I’m happy to be there in case an old friend looks me up, and I’m not above creeping – the Facebook term for looking at your friends profiles and pictures – in my spare time.  The world is becoming a smaller, more intimate place, and that has its benefits.

The Starbucks vortex

December 21, 2010 4 comments
Starbucks logo

Image via Wikipedia

Slowly, over time, I have come around to the green sign with the goddess-like siren at its center.  In mythology, this siren/mermaid attempts to seduce mariners with her sweet song, to his unfortunate demise.  He may have been a knowledgeable seaman, but proved powerless to the charms of this vixen. Fashioned in 1971, it was an appropriate omen.  Starbucks has become an integral part of people’s days, even the most coffee averse.

Typically for me, it is a tall americano; I am a simple girl, afterall.  At other times, when I crave high maintenance and drama, it is a grande, non-fat, extra hot, half-sweet vanilla latte.  I cannot order it without laughing.  On days when I need this boost, it is like putting a band-aid on my scraped knee: it doesn’t make the pain go away, but at least I feel like I am trying to something about it.

I am from the East coast of Canada, where Tim Hortons rules the roost, so it wasn’t an easy transition, especially since there are no chocolate dipped donuts at Starbucks.  Tim Hortons coffee – although always fresh, as their logo suggests – is more diner variety; it doesn’t come from a fancy espresso machine, but rather a drip style industrial strength coffee maker.  You commonly hear people approach the counter asking for “an extra-large double double, please,” which translates to a lot of coffee with a lot of cream and sugar in it.  Then they throw a toonie ($2) on the counter, and wait for their change.  Tim Hortons is the much more economical of the two, hands down.

Folklore abounds which suggests Tim Hortons puts nicotine or MSG in their coffee, people find its coffee so addictive.  Both claims of course have been proven false, the people spreading this rumor perhaps have yet to realize caffeine itself is the addictive ingredient.

Yet when I moved west, Tim Hortons didn’t follow suit.  There were no familiar brown storefronts with neon signs, but green signs with vixens in the middle were plentiful.  In fact, on every corner, it seemed.  That siren beckoned me again and again.  Before I knew it, I was accustomed to its verging-on-bitter, dark taste, and prepared to spend three times as much as I had back east for my regular cup of joe.  I was memorized less by the coffee itself than its sheer volume of storefronts.  When you start noticing a lack of Starbucks in Vancouver, you are nearing its outskirts.

I have steadily expanded my repertoire, discovering and falling for its eggnog lattes, Vivanno smoothies, vanilla rooibos tea, and its and oatmeal when I am traveling in lieu of cold scrambled eggs at hotels (and don’t let any barista bully you into choosing between the nuts or the dried fruit, you are entitled to both).  On the road, Starbucks becomes a refuge, a little piece of home amongst the chaos of uncertainty. I still seek out local mom and pop cafe’s, many of which rival Starbucks coffee and atmosphere, but if in a hurry and on a mission, sometimes familiarity works better.

By now I am addicted to this part of my day, as necessary as showering, or cocktails on Fridays, in that it is something I look forward to.  I like to change up my locations: I hit the Dundarave Starbucks for meeting my friend for writing dates, Ambleside Starbucks assures me easy parking, Park Royal Starbucks when I need to do other errands, Horseshoe Bay is my stand alone favorite, a restful Starbucks where you can watch the ferries docking and leaving. Its multitude of locations assures its usefulness, and it continually infiltrates my day.

For economic reasons, I frequently make coffee at home with my trusty french press with the broken beak, and after loading it up with Starbucks Breakfast Blend grinds, it tastes dangerously close to my typical americano.  I can’t seem to escape the clutches of that sea goddess; Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse in the world for a reason.  But on the days when my only glimpse of her is from the bag of beans in my own kitchen, I miss that siren with the Mona Lisa smile.