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,". "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 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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

Let's pretend I had a paragraph here apologizing for the long gap in entries. Let's imagine it was heartfelt and thorough and not only answered for absences but made you, the reader, feel better about yourself and your own life path. Now let's smile at the thought of such a moving paragraph, and let go of all irritation and disinterest associated with this blog.

Good. Very good. Namaste.

Basically, as my mother would (very confusingly) say, I've been busier than a one-armed paper hanger. February/March are my most overloaded times at work, and this year was no exception. However, let's face it, I still found time to be an undisputed boss at Candy Crush, so I've obviously still got my priorities skewed.

Y'know, 2014 is shaping up to be a strange little year. I don't know what to think of it at all. It started out pretty blah, what with continued illness and neverending winter and vague sense of disappointment in many aspects of my life. But as the buds turn to blossoms (or, I assume they will after another month of snow squalls), so has life turned to "huh. that could be fun." But just as I start to lift my head up, something else comes back down to crush it. If nothing else, I'm keeping humble, which is a good thing. I'm choosing to see it as such.

Frankly, I'm worried Buenos Aires
is running out of buildings.
I live with a very real fear of jinxing things so I didn't mention anything here (or, really, to anyone other than my family) until I was on a plane, but I got a really awesome opportunity to go to Paraguay and Argentina last month. My work sometimes involves travel, but it rarely involves travel that isn't an accompaniment of a larger delegation or a "tag along" to a fact-finding trip or some such. I was incredibly lucky and got to go there just to attend meetings with my coworker that were relevant to my work. It was amazing. Besides the opportunity to meet and (ohgodI'mactuallyusingthisword) network with contacts I'd either never met or had only encountered virtually, the trip was a chance to soak in a little culture and warm weather during a bitterly dull winter.

I'm not really what you'd call a "seasoned" traveller, so any chance I get to go anywhere is met with a sort of giddy enchantment coupled with a tummy-roiling nervousness; this trip was no exception.


Slightly different skyline in Asuncion
I'll confess something kind of embarrassing: I used to be really afraid of flying. I didn't take my first "grown up" flight (i.e.: one I remembered) until I was 24, and even then only because it was pretty much the sole way to get from Oregon to Ontario without taking a fortnight off work. I still am not a great flyer and I continue to loathe overnight flights (I never sleep on planes which always makes for a hilarious first day of travelling). I don't whimper any more, but for me, travelling is never about the journey- it's all destination, baby. So after 17 hours of waiting in airports, boarding planes, removing and repacking luggage, I was so so ready to just *be* somewhere.

Somewhere lovely. Somewhere like this:

Ugh. I can't believe it snowed again this week. Gross.

I'd been to South America only once before - in Venezuela about 3 years ago- and I jumped at the chance to go again. Latin American politics is actually pretty interesting, even if you're not well-versed in that kind of thing. There's a passion and an unpredictability that makes it engaging, almost like a tele-novella at times and I genuinely enjoy working on a lot of the issues I'm responsible for. You couldn't find two capital cities more close in geography but different in appearance than Buenos Aires and Asuncion, I think. But I fell for them both all the same.

It's a brick... house.
But enough about my nerdiness - let's get to the trip itself.

The main focus of my travels was on Paraguay. Little kind-people-having, land-locked, great food-serving Paraguay. While most of my work brought me to the capital, Asuncion, I also had a chance to visit some of the smaller communities which was amazing on its own.

In Buenos Aires I got to meet first hand with a bunch of my colleagues who were just voices on phone lines, but also got to see the city a bit.
In between the meetings and the taxis and the note takings, I managed to squeeze in a few amazing steaks, some killer wines, some sightseeing, some shopping (duh) and spent a few glorious moments just basking in the sun's rays on little benches here and there. Which doesn't sound like much, but after the winter we've had? Well, let's just say a butterfly landed near my foot and I almost burst into tears.

Hall of Heroes in Paraguay
Don't let the cloudy sky fool you - it felt like 45 degrees in Asuncion that day.
Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires - is it creepy I went here three times? 

Casa Rosada - Buenos Aires' answer to the "White House" I suppose

An awesome little bar in Buenos Aires that's hidden in the basement of a flower shop.

There are these moments, in this weird little life, and I don't care if it's in an opera house halfway around the world or in pub around the corner from your house, or at a friend's cottage, or even in your own backyard, where you just think "Holy crap. I can't believe this is my life." Instances when your heart is so full and your mouth is agape just a little and you think of how completely bizarre it is that everything you've done has somehow led you to this. Like the "you" from 10 years ago would never believe you'd end up here. If you're lucky, those moments are mostly positive ones. I am lucky. This trip was full of those moments.

I went to a concert one night in Paraguay, as part of a public affairs event that had been organized, and I was astounded at the standing room only crowd surrounding me. As a former arts major, I was thinking that you could never get a crowd like this to come to a free concert in French back home, even though it was much more likely to find Francophones there than in the middle of Paraguay. The night was memorable, full of lovely moments. Hearing this spitfire powerhouse of a singer belt Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf with such fervour, such passion that after the first song, the crowd was shouting, whistling, applauding for more. Hearing that same singer charmingly banter back and forth with the crowd, who instantly forgave her her broken Spanish as quickly as she egged them on in easy French. Saying to myself, "I am sitting in a Brazillian cultural centre, in the middle of Paraguay, with a Quebecois singer, singing songs by a Parisian and a Belgian for a Canadian celebration". Drinking wine and eating steak with that same singer, and a bunch of people you don't know and just laughing and talking and daring the Canadians to eat the meat that looks like intestines (it was intestines.)

Life is so wonderfully weird, sometimes, you guys. Not always nice, and not always kind, and certainly not always fair. But man, when it's good to you, it can be so so good. 


El Ateneo, a bookstore built into an old theatre. So basically, the closest thing to church for me.
I won't be such a stranger in the future. Promise.



Monday, February 10, 2014

Flupocalypse

Okay, maybe the title is a little over-the-top, but I am nothing if not true to my dramatic roots.

I am not a shrinking violet, a wallflower or a weak-willed hydrangea (I may have made that last one up.) but this year's Cold N Flu Season (CNFS) is just breaking me down in the worst way. I may not have the strongest immune system but if I do manage to catch something from the myriad of doorknobs, bus poles, and Starbucks countertops I touch each day, my body has the decency to throw it off after about a day or so.

I almost look forward to them, these little mid-week midwinter staycations. I sniffle and cough my way through Let's Make a Deal, The Price is Right, and a couple of judge programs, take a nap, make some toast, and then I'm right as rain by bedtime.

Not so much this time.

What started as a "that's a funny tickle in my throat" on Thursday night had rendered me into a snorting, coughing, leaking mess by Friday morning. And yet, if I'd known how bad I'd be by Monday morning I probably would have gone in to work on Friday. The weekend gave me a bit of a reprieve, I was able to make it to my parents for their excuse to eat exclusively fried foods Super Bowl get together, I managed to croak out a few songs with our Rock Band, No Losers Allowed, but come Monday, I was worse than when I started. I was basically in The Stand, people. M-O-O-N, that spells "Why can't I breathe through my nostrils or my throat?"

I firmly believe in the necessity of sick days and I think people should take them if offered, if only to spare the others in the office from hearing your sick ass sputter its way through briefing sessions, but I personally feel guilty taking more than one in a row. But I really didn't have a choice this time around. Guilt was too strenuous a feeling to have. I had to settle for "general malaise", and even that amount of concern necessitated a 2-hour nap.

The dog was delighted, of course, because as soon as I was on the mend (aka: Thursday, when I had to go back to work so I could accompany a visitor on a programme I'd created), TB came down with whatever I'd had. This meant Lily was surrounded by at least one of her humans all of last week. And plenty of Kleenexes to eat. Whatever I can do to make you smile, hound.

I've finally come out of the haze, still sporting a smashing cough, but at least able to function in an upright position, which is just aces. This is the busiest time of the year at work, so I'm actually relieved to be back, if maybe a little frazzled from the time I spent off.

Basically, every element of this winter, from the temperature, to the sicknesses, to the snowfall, has just been balls. I know I'm stuck on repeat here, but I am just. Done. Let me lie in the snow and let the drifts rush over me, burying me until the hot dog carts are back out.