Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reflections on a Messed-up Wednesday.




 I was 19 on 9/11.

I mention that, not because I think that what happened in my city yesterday is at all on par with what happened hundreds of miles away and 13 years ago, but only because that's the last time my chest felt the same sort of hollowness.

Yesterday, a man shot a soldier at the war memorial downtown. Yesterday, that same man walked into Parliament and attempted to kill more people. Yesterday, my city became a hashtag.

It was strange to see Ottawa on CNN, the BBC, Fox News. Stranger still to see them talk about us as though we weren't in the room. And yet it was somewhat exciting - I acknowledge that Canada has always had a complex about this - if you want Canadians to talk about your tv show/album/comedy sketch around the proverbial water cooler, mention anything Canadian in passing.

There was no clue that morning that yesterday would go the way it went. TB noticed a large black armored cop car on his way to work around 10am. He thought nothing of it other than "cool!" and made a mental note to mention it to me.

By suppertime, we were fully immersed in the cliché of the footage looking like a movie. I don't know how else to describe it - I have never seen a police officer with a gun raised in my city. I'm still basically the most naive person you'll meet.

People in coffee shops say that everything has changed now. For the record, I don't think it will. Oh, sure, if you're a tourist hoping to see the Parliament Buildings for the next while, your day is going to get a little longer. I actually breathed a sigh of relief that my job requires less visits there than in the past, if only because i can't imagine how the coat-off-phone-off-xray-bags-metal-detector-hand-scanner process can get even *longer*. And I can only imagine how much more AWESOME this is going to make the 2015 election cycle. But even today, people are moving freely, maybe stopping to chat at a bus stop to share a "can you believe it?" and a "in this city?" with a stranger, but everything is basically normal. Everything continues.

The news anchors from other countries say that Canada has lost its innocence. Which is, to be honest, pretty effing condescending. We are not a nation of children. We understand that madness and blind rage and misplaced hatred are realities, even if we hope it will never touch us personally. But we have weathered worse and, sadly and likely, we will weather it again.

The talking heads on the television say that Canada is more angry than anything. This might be true, generally, but I'm not angry. Surprised, a little. Perhaps a bit drained. Shaken somewhat. But I cling to the knowledge that people are inherently good. That it is so much easier to be good. And when that doesn't work, I fall back on the black humour that has served me so well in the past as well.

And I even realized that this time, I'm no longer astounded when things like this happen. I've lived for a long time now knowing that the world is a place where guns won't disappear and buildings won't stand forever and planes don't always go where they're supposed to. So this is just our turn now. And it's terrible, and it's made me sad, and I know we have to "do something to confront this scourge" but I'm just not feeling it right now.

I do feel a bit guilty, and a bit smug, if we're being totally honest. I made a promise to myself, a few years ago, that I would stop being an apologist for my city. If you talk to anyone about Ottawa, it won't take long before you hear someone trot out the "city that fun forgot" line. And it was easy just to go along with them, nodding sagely as they expounded on the virtues of other, more worldly cities.

I get it, I do. For every museum and beautiful landscape and great restaurant and lovely shop, there is also a downtown core that rolls up its sidewalks at midnight, an infuriating amount of crabbiness that makes every joyous sound a noise violation and every public event a traffic nuisance, and an urban sprawl that makes it genuinely difficult to get anything to take off. It's also where government sits, so it automatically gets a bad rap from anyone who dislikes the political side of things.Ottawa is a city of transplants and bureaucrats, people who came here for a job and decided, or had it decided for them, that they would not leave. There is a really lovely tight community here of shop owners, restauranteurs, artists, and activists, but there are also a lot of people who wish they were someone else and really can't wait to shit on this city that they would rather not call home.

But now, of course, it seems gauche to trot out the eyerolling snarls that Ottawa is terrible. Which means that I'm free to let my love for this place shine without fear of a caustic response. And that's where the guilt comes in. A good young man is dead for absolutely no reason. A place that seemed so removed from any of this now has a black mark against it. And yet I love my city just as much as I did yesterday. Not to get too hipster about it, but more than once I've found myself mumbling one of my favourite Simpsons quotes under my breath:

"I knew the dog *before* he came to class!"

But mostly, I'm glad that people are taking a moment to realize that Ottawa is it's own kind of lovely, and is full of good people, and that Canadians are, for the most part, resilient, and kind and strong and sensible. And I will repeat this mantra in the coming days, because if the media blame game is going the way I think it's going, we'll all need the reminder.

13 years ago, the memory that stands out most clearly for me is the moment after our University class let out early. We all walked out into the sunshine, mingling with the government workers who had also been set free. All slightly dazed, as if not quite understanding how the weather didn't get the memo: this wasn't the time for blue skies, Autumn; no one should have this amount of sun on their face.

Yesterday, I spent the majority of my afternoon on lockdown inside my windowless office - a somewhat redundant warning, as I spend nearly every weekday afternoon on self-imposed lockdown inside my windowless office. But when I left the building that afternoon, dreading the long trip home ahead of me, I noticed, again, that no one had bothered to tell Mother Nature that this was a long, sad day. Sun dappling the faces of passersby, satisfying crunches of leaves under boots, crisp nip in the air. As Stefon would say "This day has *everything*". Like the city didn't have a care in the world.

Proof perfect that the world continues moving, unabated. Perfect proof that, despite it all, we will, too.




Friday, August 22, 2014

State of the Summer: The Season So Far

Permit me a moment to embrace my inner old person and talk about the weather here, won't you? Thanks, dearie. Pour yourself some Pimm's.

To say the summers are short here is a ridiculous understatement. If the year was measured in the heights of Hollywood actors, summer would be Danny DeVito*. This summer in particular has been an especially weird one. We've had some real downpours, as well as the normal week or so of unbearably hot weather, a couple of great swimming days and then... bam. Fall. Like, I've worn tights to work twice this week without feeling like I'm crawling out of my skin. I wore a sweater to a going-away party... and it was being held in a sweaty bar. The dog doesn't bite us when we put her in a shirt. Even for Canada, this is weird.

Ours is a city that clings to summer like a static-y sock to a slip, however, so even though the nights are cooling off and the stores are full of pea coats, it ain't over till it's over. We will gather on patios and shiver in tents and eat frozen novelties while rocking a cable knit until at least Thanksgiving.

When the summer started, I made an informal list of things I wanted to do before its untimely end. Now, technically I have until September 21 to say I got 'er did, but I've actually made amazing headway on it already. Which is maybe why, though everyone from the trained meteorologists to my notoriously fickle sister has said it's been a crappy summer, it really hasn't felt that way to me. Anyway, here's what this summer has held so far:

Summer 2014 Bucket List

#1 Fact: California Barbie UNO is the greatest invention the gaming
world has ever known. Even if it's a bit racist.
1.  Have a picnic

Last year, during our city's biggest garage sale, I managed to score me a picnic basket. All wicker and retro, with cutlery inside, it was a hipster's wet dream and only $5 (because some ne'erdowell had already made of with the blanket). "But will you use it?" my sister asked, to which I replied "um, obviously!"

It then spent 14 months collecting dust in our basement, kept warm by its brethren, beanbag chair and full-length mirror.

Driven by a desire to enjoy one of the warmest days of the year (and also to prove my lousy sister wrong), I finally dusted off the old girl a few weeks back.

Spite never felt so good. Found a shady spot under a for-real willow tree, kicked off our shoes and supped upon cheese, artisnal meats, olive and rosemary bread, two kinds of salad, lemonade, and brownies. I made the MVP decision to buy a bottle of water on the way down, which ensured only one of us got heat stroke. We learned that the California Barbie UNO game I picked up for free in my old apartment's laundry room is, in fact, amazing, and that I can only eat two Reese Peanut Butter brownies before I want to throw up. I'm still hoping we'll get another picnic in before it turns cold (or maybe even after? Fall picnics sound like something twee people do - probably already a wedding theme on Pinterest?). But either way, consider this one crossed off.

2. Find a couple of good pairs of shorts

This might not seem like much of a "goal" for you kids, but trust me - for me, shorts shopping is only slightly above bra and bathing suit shopping in the circles of clothes-shopping hell. Luckily for me, I managed to snag not one, but TWO pairs of shorts I enjoy this year, as well as two pairs of capris. I also got rid of two pairs that were just not going to happen for me, ever. Painful, but freeing.

3. Wear a bikini

Remember what I said about short shopping? I would do it every day until I retire if it meant I didn't have to go bathing suit shopping. This year, however, in anticipation of a warm-weather vacation, I decided one bathing suit wasn't going to cut it, so I bought two more - this one and, more scandalously (for me), this one. Surprisingly, it's the latter that's seen the most action this summer. I wore it for the first time in Mexico (where I comforted myself that I would see none of these people again) and have worn it in the pool a few times since. Not brave enough around anyone but strangers and family at the moment but y'never know...

4. Go swimming a 1/2 dozen times

Like I said, since I bought the bathing suits, I've been all about perfecting my butterfly stroke game.

5. Wear more dresses

Okay, last fashion-related item. I'm usually a dress gal, but as a woman-of-heft, often times, wearing a dress in the summer is downright unbearable. Enter Bandelettes. I never thought a pair of lace bands could be such a game changer, but here we are. Finally, I can wear a dress all day, and most of the night, without being uncomfortable. They're not perfect - they can roll up a tiny bit if you don't get them just right, the silicone can be a bit irritating to the skin after 10+ hours, and one pair got a hole along the inside seam very early on (though they were replaced free of charge!) - but they have allowed me to go through most of this glorious season without wearing tights or shapewear or shorts (though, again, now I'm wearing tights... lousy Smarch weather)

This new discovery allowed me to wear the following new dresses with delight:
Photo credit: http://bethemuse.ca/

I may or may not have a problem. 

I choose "may not".

6. Host a Clothing Swap

Just in case I do have a problem, however, I really need to host a clothing swap. Every weekend without plans, every online grazing born out of boredom ends up testing the tensile strength of my closet bar. I still have a month left to get rid of stuff before summer's over, if not by a swap, then on Facebook or drop the load at the consignment store/charity depot. My bedroom clothing rack is looking less "New Girl" and more "Hoarders: Buried Alive"

7.  Go to the independent movie house more often

Since the only first-run movie theatre moved out of our downtown core (Don't even start, it's ridiculous), I made a pact to support our city's independent theatres more frequently. It's been a rollicking success so far. I even bought a membership to one of them and have already made my money back on it, seeing Chef, The Grand Seduction, and this little gem, all of which were delightful:
#7 If you liked The Room, but felt its production values were too high,
and its plot too plausible, you'll love Fateful Findings.
We've got a couple more lined up for the next few weeks as well, and I'm hoping this is a trend that continues into the Winter.

8. Go to the free outdoor movie screenings near our house


#8: Over 500 people agreed: everything is cool
when you're part of a team
When we were first looking at moving into our house back in the summer of 2012, one of the things that struck us as being particularly awesome about the neighbourhood was that the park across the street showed movies projected on a giant screen during the summer weekends. I swore then that we'd take advantage of that the following summer, but we never did. This year, however, we made a pact to attend at least one - and we did! We went on opening weekend to see The Lego Movie (which is just perfection, AFAIC). It was such a cool experience to have a bunch of people - families, singles, hipsters, middle-aged hippies, etc. just hanging around, eating indian food (food truck sponsorship is a beautiful thing) and drinking from smuggled thermoses of wine, laughing and enjoying themselves. Also, a month later, I'm still laughing at this, the finest scene in cinema history as well as the greatest use of "Jock Jams" to date:



Hoping to go back to see Singing in the Rain this weekend, if it isn't rained out again. (irony! coincidence!)

9. Get a pedicure

Preemptively crossing this off as it's booked for next Friday, along with a facial - apologies in advance to whatever pour soul is tasked with my pores/soles.

10. Eat on patios

I'm leaving this one uncrossed, because even though I've eaten al fresco at least 4 times this year, I'm an Ottawan, so that's not even close to enough. Gonna need to at least 2 more patio dineages to this list before I'm even close to satisfied.
I've also eaten enough of these suckers this year to make it
on the Greenpeace watchlist.

11. Throw a party

Turned 32, invited some pals to our place, made all the food, lit sambuca on fire, dressed the dog in a tshirt, used my outdoor voice past 3am. Done.

#11: I even had it catered!


#12: The only thing greener than these babies is my thumb.
12. Build a better vegetable garden

I am so damn proud of my garden this year. We've had some issues (Squirrel Green Bean Massacre 2014: we shall not forget ye), but so far we've had two dinners worth of green beans and four delicious tomatoes (with a tonne more coming, it seems). Possibly my proudest produce is my cucumbers. Little Lebanese-ish guys, we've had two great looking (and tasting) ones already, with another 5 (!) starting to grow. I have an absurdly strong love for how they wrap around our wooden posts, sometimes securing themselves over the course of only a day. I've almost started personifying them, which is super weird, because then I eat them.

13. Pickle some of summer's bounty

Shut up. You'll be the nerd once I'm eating princess-worthy spicy garlic pickled beans and you're crunching on your pedestrian Bicks like a garbage person.

14. Build a "container" garden

Anyone who's ever been to my house knows that our backyard is not a thing of beauty. It's all cracked asphalt and pine needles and one scary-ass shed that probably has some horrific tales to tell*, but it's large, especially for downtown, and it's ours. Last year we got a patio set and a barbecue, and this year we added a bird bath, picnic table (thanks, neighbours who sold it to us for $40!) and a hammock. Oh god yes, a hammock that doesn't need trees. But what I really wanted to add was some colour. One side of our backyard has a walled area against the fence and there we were able to grow rhubarb as well as whatever lilies the squirrels didn't eat, some tulips and, of course, 8 metric tonnes of mint. But the rest of the area was rather unused. We had one large, rickety wooden container garden that we filled with the aforementioned cucumbers, beans, green onions and tomatoes but I wanted flowers, damnit. So enter the hipster's workhorse: the pallet.
#14: Please note the bedraggled Canada flag, trampled in the dirt,
 as physical proof of #11
This isn't even a picture of the flowers at their best but I'm terrible at remembering to take pictures of these sorts of things. We've been able to keep pansies, celosia, roses, gerbera daisies, calla lilies and other assorted pieces of awesome going since June. I'm inordinately proud of my little guys, and having this burst of colour has really improved both the backyard and my mood. I kind of can't wait to get started on next year's. Because I'm 50.

15. Get my driver's license

#15 Suck a butt, multiple choice
Yes, yes, it's true. I'm in my 30s and I never learned to drive. I did have a driver's permit once, when I was 26, but as I only used it as ID it wasn't detrimental when I let it expire. I made a commitment to get the damn thing back this year, and TB agreed to do it, too. I kind of miss his old license, however, because he hadn't updated it since he was 16, and he had this cute, pouty thing going on in his photo (quiet, that's not creepy)

16. Eat on every food truck in town

Two years back, the city loosened its restrictions on the sizes and requirements for food carts, with the idea of revitalizing the downtown area with mobile urban goodness. This is one of my favourite decisions that our municipal government has made. I have tried, very gamely, to visit all of the food trucks our city has to offer, but the fact of the matter is, some of them are in places where I just don't go very often, so it's been a bit of a challenge. But, that's essentially what this list is, so I rolled with it. Here's where I've been so far:

Relish Truck  - Had a really tasty mac n cheese here, tasty, spicy condiment known as "red sauce", quality chunky bacon, good, stringy cheese. Was jonesing for a sandwich, though, but all they were serving that day was fancy KD, so I'll have to go back.

Dosa - Never had a Dosa before, which is ludicrous, because these guys are literally a 2 minute walk from my house. Two friends and I sampled three of these, and I have to say, I was mostly "meh" about them. I think I should've the more traditional dosa, not filled with much, rather than the ones we had, filled with (underripe) avocadoes, or cheese and onions. That being said, I'd go again, if only for their insanely good soup and solid plantain chips.

Angry Dragonz  - This one would have been an instant favourite if not for the ridiculous amount of cilantro (the devil's own son) in their layered bowls. It basically made it so I couldn't eat any of it. However, that white-kid staple of thai cuisine, pad thai, was really solid and that, along with some of their fantastic skewers is enough for two people to share for lunch. I'll remember to ask that satan's bouquet not kiss my meal.

Still a couple of food trucks to go, but I think I made great headway this year.

17. See More Live Performances 

#17 If you think we didn't spend a great deal of our time remarking how
it was "Almost a triple rainbow!" you really don't know us.
I don't know what we did to deserve it, but the God of Rock was very spiteful towards us this year. The only day we managed to make it to Bluesfest, it poured like I've never seen it pour before. At the last second before I left the house, I grabbed a couple of "novelty ponchos" that TB's mom had given me as part of my birthday present. My sister scoffed at first, worried that we'd look like idiots, but when the rain poured so hard that they suspended the concerts for 1/2 an hour, she put that bad boy on with all the enthusiasm her gangly body could muster. Every once in a while, we'd see some young girl or guy, tank top plastered to their skin, mud caked down their legs, shivering around a beer coozie of Molson Canadian and we'd look at each other's ponchos and yell "MVPs!". We remained warm and dry through the torrential rain, but our backs were killing us after 5 hours of nothing but standing. And also because we're 50. Still, glad we managed to squeeze it in.

Thinking of going to Folk Fest next month, too, although that's mostly just to prove to myself that Blues Traveller is still alive.

We also took the family to see The Book of Mormon (fantastic, yet again), did 11 Fringe Plays (tied for our best year ever), snuck near the grounds to watch Lady Gaga for free, went with a friend to Glengarry Glenross at The Gladstone - I've done just fine this summer, I think, especially considering I'm such a hermit I might as well be a throw pillow.

18. Visit a Farmer's Market

Um, I'm white. Duh.

18. Go to a fair

This one kills me, but I don't think it's going to happen. The local fair was cancelled when they started redeveloping the land it was on. I tried to get the family excited about the New York State Fair, which is my fatty happy place, but no one else was feeling it. My mom, especially, was all "noooo. I want to have foot surgery. And I don't want to walk on my caaaaast" like a total baby. Whatever, her pills make her feel like she's at the fair all the time - lucky baby. Still, late summer fairs are a thing. Let's see if life will still hand me an actual rollercoaster instead of a metaphorical one.

19. Go to a cottage/go glamping

Another one that's probably a no-go this year. At first, we thought it might because TB had been holding out on me and confessed his family had a cottage. Cue outrage. But it turned out the only weekend it was free was when we were already seeing Book of Mormon. I tried really hard to reserve something else but everything that was reasonably priced/not the set of Cabin in the Woods was taken or really far away. I honestly had no idea that so many people were hurting for a yurt-ing. Next year, I'll try to get in there before all the city folks with boners for a dock take all the prime real estate.

20. Find a new summer drink

You know I got this one in the bag. Much like I find myself.

Non alcoholic

Alcoholic

So, now that I lay it out before myself (and really, let's face it, myself is the only one still reading at this point), I actually have had kind of a lovely summer. And I'm really going to try to hang on to these memories when i'm buried beneath 14 lbs of freshly fallen sadness. Hope you're all having a good one, too. Wear sunscreen. Or don't, I'm not your mother.


And now, my summer jam:





*winter would be Brad Garrett
*we're scared to knock it down in case it releases its evil upon us

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Games We Play

Recently, TB and I celebrated 8 years together. A quarter of our lifetimes, now, most of it probably spent binge-watching premium cable programming and eating kosher dill pickles while making poop jokes. We had a fairy-tale start, a rocky first few years, and have mellowed out into something that works well for us.

Somewhat relatedly, I feel like I've been giving a lot of relationship advice lately, some unsolicited*, some not, and it's got me thinking about what it is that I really like about my relationship with TB**. Sometimes I'm scared to talk about it, because, as I learned from my deeply suspicious Jewish father, the minute you start to talk about how good something is, that's when God decides to take it away from you. So I try not to beam about the things that make me happy in case I look like an idiot once they inevitably disappear.

Which, I think you'll agree, is a pretty shitty way to go through life.

So, in an effort to beat back that particular way of thinking, let me say this about us: we can be a fucking riot.

Seriously. We're not like Paul Blart funny or anything but I get a kick out of our silliness and I think that's one of the things that holds us together even when things are going pear-shaped. I could talk about my philosophy when it comes to relationships - the importance of the "teammate" element, the need to discuss the language you use when expressing affection - I don't consider myself an expert, and would feel strangely about giving advice on the topic. So I'll talk about one aspect of our relationship that I am an expert on and really enjoy: games.

I don't mean physical, tabletop-type games (though we've been known to Settle a Catan or two in our time), but stupid, silly games we play when we're out together that make me smile. These aren't just for couples, mind you, but we do play them most when we're together. They've also become a bit of a litmus test - if you would play one of these games while out and about with me, we could probably be friends. If not, um, well, we could probably still exchange pleasantries at a dinner party. But I'd be thinking about snagging another canape the whole time.

Anywho, without further ado:

Game 1: Oh, there you/we are!

Items needed: Friends/Family/Partner; Passersby.

Instructions: Find strangers around you that remind you in some way of your present company. This could be as simple as two people with similar body types, people who are enjoying an activity you yourself enjoy - craft fair attending, buffet lunching -  or even just being in a group of people the same number as your party. Personally, I've found this works the best if you focus on people older than yourselves. Once you've found your target remark brightly, "Oh there we are!"  Point out things about them to your companion as though you were looking in a futuristic mirror.

"Oh, you decided to wear your orthopedic sandals today, while I went with the Crocs - isn't that just like us?!"
"Oh, we shouldn't have invited you to this movie, you're sleeping already!"
"I'm so glad we're carrying the same handbag! You picked that up for me at your Red Hat Society get together, didn't you?"

Like I said, this isn't strictly a couples' game; I've played it with friends and family as well. It's versatility is key to its popularity - we can play wherever we are -whether strolling by the marina, hiking in the Andes, or any number of imaginary situations I could list. I could even see this working in a zoo.

"Oh there you are! Where did you get that fetching new hat?"

Variations: "Oh, there I am!"; "You didn't tell me dad was here!"

Oh there I am! Is reserved for children that remind you of your former self. My former self is usually a slightly chubby kid in a grape juice-stained t-shirt. If I see someone who fits the bill, for example, I chirp "Oh, there you are, 10-year-old me! Where have you been, swimming perhaps?"

You didn't tell me dad was here! Is only for people who know my dad. Basically, literally everywhere we go, there's someone or something who looks like my dad. Sometimes we use qualifiers "Oh good, short dad made it to the theatre" or "Asian dad seems to like it"

Game 2: I Didn't Know Your Album Had Dropped!

Items Needed: Friends/Family, unusual or grating background music.

Instructions: Mostly, background music is just that - something that happens to be playing while you're busy doing other things. But sometimes, just sometimes, either due to monotony, or a terrible backbeat or inane lyrics or a myriad of other issues that take the music out of the banal background and into the frustrating foreground. IDKYAHD! is just the thing for situations like this.

Like "Oh There You Are!" this is one that can be played with just about anyone, but for some reason, we play it almost exclusively with TB as the performer. Maybe it's because we know about his deep love of pan flute performance (not joking) and that makes us believe he could get behind almost any genre of music.

Essentially, as soon as I hear music that's out-of-the-ordinary - whether it be incongruous to our surroundings or repetitive and seemingly unending, or remarkably cheesy- I'll gasp, wide-mouthed, turn to TB, shove him gently and say "I didn't know your album had dropped!"

Now: the key to the game being successful is for the participants to fully commit to the banter. I can always count on my sister or TB to keep up the ruse. Usually our follow-up conversation will go something like this:

Me: IDKYAHD!
TB: Well, I wanted to keep it quiet, you know, until the label had gone through with it.
Me: So, is that a recorder you're jamming out on?
TB: Oh yeah, it's a pretty underused instrument, I just wanted to really give it the treatment it's due, y'know?
Me: Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, it kind of sounds like you're just blowing into it randomly. And then, like adding a drum beat and a female vocal track over it?
TB: Well, I'm part of an experimental underground recorder movement, you probably haven't  heard of it. Also the background vocals are mine; I sing a solid alto.

<Continue until someone breaks and busts a gut laughing. The non-laugher is the winner.>

I've played this game at an Indian buffet restaurant when we realized that we were listening to some kind of experimental jazz flute compilation

It basically sounded like this, but with more sitar.
I've also played it when a cabbie switched to a Christian rock station that was playing a song that just had the word "holy" as its chorus. I've played it when the local University rock station was playing some fan-made death metal, and when the bubble tea restaurant we like was playing a K-pop cover of a Will Smith song. I've played it while watching Fox, I've played it during a beatbox, and so on. I never get tired of it and, bless him, neither does TB.

Game 3: Name! That! Dog!

Items needed: A dog. Literally any dog. I've done it with my dog, even though I actually, officially named her already.

Instructions: Shamelessly stolen from the fabulous Susan Blackwell, this game is exactly what it sounds like. Any time we see a dog on the street, I turn to TB and say, in the style of a game show announcer, "Name! That! Dahhhhhhg!" and then we both immediately yell out the name we think that dog has (or in many cases, should have). There's no real "winner", though usually one of the names will get an "oooh!" of approval and that should be considered the dog's new name going forward.

I've been messing up on this lately, taking too long, too concerned with getting the perfect name ready and not trusting my instincts enough. Though this might just be a new nervous habit, borne out of the time TB named a small scottie dog "Earl" and we considered just abandoning the game forever because it really was just the most spot-on of names.

I've also played this game as "Name! That! Person!" - it doesn't quite work out the same. My sister and I still try to guess the Jeopardy contestants names before they pop up on the screen, though. Our success rate can only be described as abysmal.

BONUS GAME: What's Their Story?

Items needed: Passersby; a Flair for the Dramatic

Instructions: Let your eyes wander over a crowd until you see a person that stands out to you for whatever reason. Turn to your friend and say, softly and suspiciously "What's Their Story?" Then you and your friend take turns adding details to the situation, whether it be their home life, the reason they're out today, their favourite things, their sordid past, whatever floats your collective boats.

This is a bonus game because I've only played it with my friend C (who is killer at it), so it's not actually a couples game... yet.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

So there you have it. 8 years of being in a relationship and this is what I have to share. Oh, also, communication, compromise, casual intimacy, appreciation of interests, support... yada yada yada snoozefest. Basically, if you forget all of that, just focus on the dog game and you're golden.


*mostly because I am still working on making things not all about me, even when I'm trying to be sympathetic and helpful. I'm a work-in-progress on that front.

**I almost typed "TV" which is a whole 'nother kind of deep, abiding love.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Lessons from a Dog: Stop and Smell the kibble

I woke up late this morning.

My "Hot Gossip" alarm clock went off, emitting a low, constant buzz, the only sound it can make now that it's well over 20 years old. I turned it off, rolled over and continued snoozing. A few minutes later, TB's phone alarm began to ring, some dated tinny tune that he silenced with a grumble.

I have no idea what happened between 7:15 and 8:26. Well, I mean, I know I slept but that's all I got. When TB came out of the shower I barked at him, "Why didn't you wake me up?"
"You looked so peaceful!" he answered
"I'm not peaceful now! I'm a ball of anxiety! I'm late!"

I ran around the house, fixing my humidity-hating hair into some sort of 'do, slashing at my face with blush brushes and fingertips of foundation, throwing a dress over my head, throwing a pug out the back door, throwing some food into her bowl all the while cursing my deep abiding love of sleep.

I packed my lunch, let the dog out a second time* and put on my shoes. 2 minutes to spare. I opened the door to let the dog back in and... she wasn't waiting for me by the step. I called her name. No movement. I looked into our backyard and there she sat, pretty as a picture, soaking up rays in the middle of our outdoor rug.

"Lily!" I called, "I have a treat for you!" I palmed a few pieces of kibble and held them out to her. She continued to look up at me, calm, beatific, and utterly uninterested in the paltry pieces of "food" I offered her.

This is completely unheard of. I once watched this dog eat a maple key that was in a cobweb.

"Come on girl, here you go, eat your damn kibble, come on, come here."

Nothing. Not a budge.

I sighed. I couldn't blame her. It was beautiful this morning. The air was warm, with a touch of heaviness, a preview of the oppressive heat that'll be here by his afternoon. The backyard looked especially green, no small feat for a place that's nearly all asphalt and advertised in the real estate listing as "parking for five". Even our table and chairs, cloyingly referred to as a "chat set" looked inviting. But it was now waaay past time to be at work and I was all ready to leave so I knew what I had to do.

I went inside, logged on to my work computer, checked and responded to some emails and wrote a note to my colleague:

Woke up late this morning - sorry! Time got away from me, logged on from home. Be there soon.

Then I went outside, sat in a lawn chair and just... breathed. Lily hopped up onto my lap and the two of us sat there, letting the breeze ruffle her fur as she lay her head in my hand, eyes closed as the sounds of people going through their mornings stirred around us.

It's been a crazy couple of days - weekends spent working for 3 or 4 hours each day, last minute work projects that need to be done yesterday, summer plans getting changed and made, and changed again. I've been perpetually tired, even as I recognize the moments of enjoyment or beauty or fun that peek through. And so it seemed like a necessity, this 10 minutes for myself, scratching a lazy dog under her chin and behind her ears and we sat, doing absolutely nothing.

And only after we were finally settled did she eat the kibble.

She's not doing much for my professional career, but she's one hell of a life coach.




*Clever jerk that she is, she's learned she gets a treat every time she does her business outside. So now she never does both bathroom activities both on one trip. Smart little wiener. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I got Spring Fever, and the only cure is more Spring.

What a difference a little vitamin D makes.

Watered by my happy tears
We spent a ridiculous amount of this past long weekend outside, gardening (because we're old), drinking (because we're not that old), walking and looking at houses in our neighbourhood (because we're still pretty old) and generally sunning ourselves (because we are in solidarity with the dog). It was, in a word, gloooooorious.

I've made it clear how much I despised this winter, to the point that I actually scooted down somewhere warm twice this year - something I've never done before. But this Spring has been like a re-awakening for me and, I think, this city. It sounds overblown and ridiculous, but somehow, everything seems possible again. I took the four flights of stairs this morning instead of the elevator; I signed up with an organic food delivery service; we walk the dog twice a day now, instead of the popular "no times a day" method we employed for most of January; our dinners have gone from store-bought lasagna and crispy onion strings to steaks, corn on the cob, and copious amounts of sangria; I TOOK THE STAIRS INSTEAD OF THE ELEVATOR, PEOPLE!

I feel unstoppable lately, like everything is on my side and nothing's gonna bring me down and lots of other adages that can be found in the lyrics of most late 90s bubblegum pop songs. Which is good, because I think summer is going to be pretty bittersweet. If last year's mass exodus of people moving out of the city was hard, this one's going to be damn near unbearable. But that's something for future me to worry about. For now, it's making plans with friends, enjoying late night strolls with a snorting pug and smelling lilac-scented breeze float through open windows. It's a damn delight.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

An Ode to Champ

Thanks for everyone who read my last entry and retweeted it, gave me lovely private comments, etc. It was a really hard thing to put into words, and one of the only things I've ever written that made my heart hammer as I wrote it. So, again, thanks for the kindness. Let's move onto something more positive, shall we?

Last weekend I thought we were watching an animal die.

We were walking Lily on a Saturday night. It was late for her, about 11:30, but still early for us. As we left the house, we saw what I believed to be a rat. I involuntarily sucked some air between my teeth.

"What the hell is that?" I said
"I... don't know." said TB, "But it looks like a squirrel."
"Squirrels aren't that small," I countered, "And they don't hop like that."

Turns out TB was right, it was a squirrel (I owe him a Coke). A small, clumsy one who didn't seem to understand how to walk without weaving. The "me" of squirrels, as it was. It didn't seem to mind us getting closer to it, which made no sense, if you've ever seen how fast a squirrel can move. We hemmed and hawed about what to do but in the end, we decided that if it was still there when we came back from our walk, we'd do something to help it.

As we came back around, there was no sign of the little guy. Crisis averted, we went into the house, disposed of Lily's leavings and gave her a treat that smelled like garbage, which she loved. And then we stared at each other.

"Should we look for the squirrel?"
"It's late.. it's probably just sleepy."
"Aren't squirrels diurnal?"
"I don't know."
"Yes you do. This is exactly the kind of thing you know."
"Yeah, you're right. They are. Maybe we should look for it?"
"How would you pick it up though?"
"I could wear gardening gloves. What would we put it in?"
"I could get one of Lily's towels."

And so at about midnight, TB crept around our neighbourhood, whispering "Here squirrel, squirrel, squirrel" (or so I assume) until a few minutes later, he came back to the house with a triumphant look on his face and a tiny ball of fluff in his hands.

The fact that the squirrel had only gone a couple of feet and didn't do more than make angry squirrel noises when we picked him up made us think something was wrong with him. He was small, not baby-small, but small enough to be at least an unruly toddler. But he had a fine looking tail and didn't appear to be injured so we put him in our backyard. I got him a dish of water and a cracker with some peanut butter on it (Lily was furious that I was giving her favourite food and her travel water dish to some sort of dirty rodent!) and we stood nervously over him. We ended up putting him in our dilapidated shed to protect him from the elements and whatever nighttime creatures would fight him for the aforementioned peanut butter. Then we named him Champ (after this scene, naturally) and went to bed.



That night I dreamed he dropped on me from above. I did not sleep well.

In the morning, we took a look in the shed and TB announced he had vacated the premises. We high-fived our squirrel recovery skills and went about making brunch for my mama for mother's day. TB idly checked his phone and noticed a text from our next-door neighbour.

"Hey, I think that squirrel you were trying to catch ended up at our place. I took him in. My mom's coming over later- should we drive him out to the country?"

Crapski. Not only was the squirrel not out of the woods yet, but our neighbours had seen us traipsing around after rodents on a Saturday night. Our cred will never recover.

We told our neighbour to come over with him and started googling what the hell you do with a lethargic squirrel. We gave a call to the Humane Society but they said that if he was bigger than your palm and had a bushy tail then he was a juvenile and they recommended just setting him free. When our neighbour arrived with him in a large box, however, we realized that would basically be a death sentence. He was smaller than we recalled, for one thing, and this was driven home when he began suckling at our neighbour's finger. Ah, geez.

We called back. Yes, this is the squirrel people again. He seems like he's younger than we thought. Like, he doesn't know how to walk right, and he has trouble getting over curbs. And he's trying to suckle. He won't survive in the city. Please just tell us crazy people we can do something.

Finally, they relented, said they took in squirrels, and if we could get Champ out to their place, they'd see what they could do for him. Unfortunately, they said that if he was just too young and helpless they would euthanize him.

We considered our options.

"He'll die out here in the city. He'll get hit by a car."
"But we might be sending him to his death anyway. He might have a chance on his own... with help."
"We are not adopting a squirrel."
"He can be an outdoor pet!"
"That's not a thing."

In the end, we decided a chance at a free life courtesy of professionals who knew what they were doing was probably better than a life of junk food and dog chases with dumb old us. But as our neighbour folded Champ back in the box, and we watched him toss and turn a bit, my heart ached for the fluffy little guy. I hope he turns out to be a fighter.

It was appropriate this went down Mother's Day, this group of people coming together to help something small and vulnerable the best we could. Though Mothers get a lot of (well deserved) attention this time of year, it's a nice time to think of all who are caretakers of those who need it. To all lovers of lost causes, thanks for your kindness towards the small things in life.



And hang in there, Champ.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

On the privilege of safe responses

Can I get a little serious here for a second? I can? Aces.

I was reading an article today about women who say "I have a boyfriend" as a way to have men leave them alone in clubs or other social settings. The author argues that doing so
completely removes the agency of the woman, her ability to speak for herself and make her own decisions regarding when and where the conversation begins or ends. 
For the most part, I agree. For one thing, it's dishonest. There are countless examples online of men complaining that women "play games", that they say they have a boyfriend when they don't.  I think most of us want to be honest, and I believe that when it's clear the person is pursuing you romantically and you're not interested, saying politely but firmly, "I'm not interested"  should be enough. Additionally, the fact that that phrase is usually successful at deflecting unwanted attention is problematic in the first place. A quote in the article put it perfectly:
Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest.
Boom. Yes.

But I get why people use it. Because it works. And I hate that it works, but sometimes you don't care what is the 'activist' answer or the 'intelligent' answer, sometimes you just need what's effective. Let me regale you with a (bit of a long) story.

I'm not much of a club-goer. I always feel under-dressed (or over-dressed, depending on your take on these things), I'm not a great dancer, and when it comes to drinking, the pennypincher in me hands over $8 for a mixed drink very reluctantly. I usually end up going out only with people whose company I thoroughly enjoy... which makes it all the more frustrating when I can't hear their jokes or I lose them in the crowd. That being said, I still do it from time to time, usually for a special occasion. And this particular night was a goodbye party for an acquaintance of mine before he moved to Brazil for a few years.

The bar wasn't particularly crowded at first, and I quickly found a few friends to chat with, or at least try to ("IT'S GOOD TO SEE YOU!" "WHAT?!" "I SAID IT'S GOOD TO SEE. YOU." "NO, HE'S GOING TO SAO PAOLO, NOT TO RIO!"). We drank a little, we talked shop, we ate free cheese (it was a weird night). But as we were huddled in a group, trying to figure out where the goodbye boy was, a wiry man with an impish grin moved in behind me and started talking to me. I was polite, smiling in this crazed way I have when I'm uncomfortable, and tried to respond to what he was saying but he was either drunk, high or otherwise not entirely in charge of himself and it was hard to keep up. He immediately started draping himself over me, telling me I was beautiful, offering to buy me a drink, then drinking from mine (yeeeeah. Charming). I'll be fully honest, before I saw how out of it he was, his offer to buy me a drink was at first, somewhat flattering, even if I didn't feel right about accepting it. But as he became more and more insistent and "hands-on" for lack of a better term, I began to worry about what exactly would be in that drink when it made its way back to me. I politely (Canadian politely, even, which is 3.8 times more polite than responses of other nations) turned him down repeatedly.

"No, thank you."
"I'm just here with my friends."
"It's really okay, thank you for the offer. I'm fine. No."

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Eventually my friends (who finally clued in that I didn't know this guy and was not eager to get to know him) "saved" me by steering me away from him and down to the dance floor. Problem solved, self-agency intact. Once there, we danced, we drank, we judged, it was a grand time. I quickly put the incident with Grabby Drinkbuyer out of my head.

We called it a night fairly early and were out of there by 1:30 or so. I offered to walk a friend home since it was pretty close and her street was only 7 blocks from mine. It was a nice night and I didn't mind the fresh air after the sweat and noise of the bar. We chatted until we hit her street, said our goodbyes, and I started walking home. About 2 blocks in, I gave my boyfriend a call to let him know I was on my way. He asked if I wanted him to walk out to meet me, and I brushed it off. He was home, cozily snuggled up with our dog, playing Dark Souls or Dead Space or whatever the heck he was into at the time. "I don't mind, it's okay," he said. So I relented. And I'm really really glad I did.

About 3 blocks away from home, an SUV pulled up beside me. A man leaned out, flashing a smile. At first, I didn't even notice. I had been thinking about the night, what I was going to do that weekend, whether it was too late to walk the dog, really riveting stuff. When he shouted "Hey!" my head snapped up, and my first thought was "directions. He must need directions." So I was confused, then, when he asked where *I* was going. "Home," I answered, and began walking again.  He grinned at me. "Why so serious? Why don't you smile?" Oh my lord. At this point, the "give me a smile" line was something I'd only heard other women complain about - I'd never actually heard it used it real life. This guy was like a cartoon of a harasser. "Why don't we talk?" he continued and at this point, I started getting uncomfortable. It was 1:30, I was in between two well-traversed streets but where I was was now was very dimly lit. "No thanks," I said, and consciously sped up a bit, head down.

The street I was on was a one-way, heading away from me, so I passed him, and he drove away. I didn't look back but I assume he turned onto another street. I shook my head- truly this was a night of bizarre interactions.

I continued for another block, when I became conscious of footsteps behind me, speeding up. I didn't think much of it until he was right beside me, the guy from the SUV. He had parked his car somewhere, gotten out, and caught up to me on foot. "Where are you going?" he asked a second time. "Home," I said, again, a little bit freaked out at this point. "Where are you coming from?" "A goodbye party" I answered. "Why are you walking so fast?" he asked, "I don't know you," I responded.

"You don't have to speed up, don't worry," he said, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I was massively uncomfortable. "I don't know who you are, okay, please don't," I said, speeding up a little more. It should be pointed out that even though I kept saying I didn't know who he was he never introduced himself.

And he matched me step for step. And he was close enough that his arm was brushing mine. And he was taller and stronger than I was. And the street was deserted. I remember thinking if I had an alderman, I should contact him about the lack of lighting in this neighbourhood.

My eyes scouted for my boyfriend, beginning to get worried. The man became irritated, his voice more clipped now, "Don't walk so fast. We're just talking. You don't have to be scared. We're just. Talking."

And that's when I said it.

"I have a boyfriend," I blurted out.

"Oh, do you?" he smiled.
"Yes," I said, and then squinted in the darkness, "and there he is."

TB came sauntering out, all 6'2" of him looking very menacing in flip flops and a grin.

"That's your boyfriend, is it?" he smirked. I had to admit, it did seem like an awfully large coincidence that just as things started to turn serious, this white knight appears out of nowhere. But already the man had changed his posture, he stood back, slowed his pace a little, gave me some breathing room. As soon as I caught up to my boyfriend I gave him a hug and said "Hi, babe."

And just like that, the tension broke completely. "Oh, sorry man," the guy said and jogged (jogged!) away from us, turning down a side street.

"Who was that?" TB asked.
"I have no fucking clue," I said, and gave him a quick rundown of what had happened. TB's face clouded a bit as he listened and then he put his house keys between his knuckles.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm going after him."
"Please don't. I just want to go home."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, please. I understand but let's just go home."

So we walked the remaining block to our place. And I gave my dog overly-vigorous belly rubs and I had a drink of water, and we discussed whether we should call the cops (we didn't. I never got a really good look at him and, since he didn't actually *do* anything but be creepy as hell, I imagined there wouldn't be a lot of good that would accomplish), and we laughed a little at the whole thing, so I wouldn't cry a little at the whole thing.

As I crawled into bed that night, I thought about how I hoped that guy didn't run into another girl who didn't have a boyfriend walking out to her. And how I hated the fact that I needed my boyfriend, and how lucky I was that I had him to need. I'm not traumatized by this experience or anything, I still go out at night, I still like my neighbourhood, I still think dudes are, for the most part, good. But it does occupy a little of my brain space and occasionally, though it pains me to admit it, I do think "what if?" and shivers run through me.

All this to say, I get this editorial, I really do. "I have a boyfriend" does seem like a shitty excuse to get someone to stop speaking to you, and as was the case with Grabby Drinkbuyer, I was able to deflect that situation without any utterance of a boyfriend. The excuse supports a system whereby women are still seen to be "taken" by their partners, rather than beings with their own agency who have the ability to control who they do and don't speak with.

But when you're on a darkened street, or outside a club, or at a party, and someone is telling you to smile for him and talk to him, and isn't listening to your "please stop"s - well if "I have a boyfriend" makes him back off, for God's sake, use it. Use whatever you need to feel secure and don't feel badly about it. In a perfect world, "I'm not interested" would be enough, every time, but this world is far from perfect. And I'd rather be flawed and safe, than right and dead.