Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Thanksgiving is the most under-appreciated holiday. No one really decorates, there isn't a big lead-up, and when it's over, people are too busy talking about Halloween and Christmas to reminisce about the day that just passed.

I'm guilty myself. The meaning of Thanksgiving has often become lost in the naps and the turkey and the long weekend. This year, I'm making a point to say what I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful for my health. While it may not be perfect, I could be much worse off, and in the grand scheme of things I don't have any room to complain. I'm able to walk, to play with my kids, to watch the world around me, and to spend time at home instead of in a hospital. There are people with cancer and ALS and hundreds of other ailments who remind me how lucky I am to have my health.

I'm thankful for a husband who not only got up early Sunday morning to put the turkey in the oven, but who also peeled, cooked, and prepared all the vegetables and side dishes while I visited with my family in River Bourgeois, and even did the dishes afterward. We get to spend all our time together, enjoy the present, and talk about the future. We're best friends, and I'm thankful that he chose me to be his wife. There are women who have become widows, or who spend holidays alone, who remind me how lucky I am to have my husband.

I'm thankful for two smart, happy and healthy boys who breathe life into our house. They might also destroy said house in the process, but it's when they're gone and the house is quiet that we remember how important all that noise and chaos is to our continued happiness. There are people who have lost a child, or who can't conceive, who remind me how lucky I am to have my kids.

I'm thankful for my house. It might be modest, but it's where I am the most comfortable and it's mine. We have heat, water, and electricity, along with a million non-essential services, and considering the state of the world, that's about all a person can ask for. There are homeless people, and people living in deplorable conditions, who remind me how lucky I am to have a home.

I am thankful that my husband has a good job. We might not own a yacht or summer in Greece, but we get by without having to worry too much about how. Not only that, his job is at home, which means he doesn't have to go away for months at a time in order to provide for his family. There are people who have to sell their most valuable belongings to buy groceries, and men working away from their families all year long, who remind me how lucky I am that my husband has a good job.

I am thankful for my car. It may be a very material thing, but I haven't always had one, and I know what a challenge and a hassle it can be to live your life when you have to rely on others to drive you from place to place. Being able to jump in a reliable, comfortable vehicle and go where I need to go is a luxury I appreciate. There are single mothers who walk all over town and people who miss doctor's appointments because they have no transportation, who make me realize how lucky I am to have a car.

I am thankful for my extended family. My dad, who is always ready with sound advice when I need it; my siblings, who are some of my oldest friends; my grandparents, who after over 93 birthdays apiece and 69 years of marriage, continue to set a great example of how life is meant to be lived; my friends, many of whom I consider to be family, and for good reason; and to all of my other extended family members who contribute to my life in so many positive ways. There are World Vision commercials and episodes of Oprah to remind me how lucky I am to have my family.

Lastly, I am thankful for Cape Breton. Of all the places I have lived, nowhere compares to the way of life lived in this beautiful little island. I am so glad to be able to raise my kids in a town where everyone knows everyone else (whether they always want to or not) and everyone looks out for everyone else (whether or not they even realize they're doing it). There are news reports out of Detroit and Toronto that remind me how lucky I am to have Cape Breton.

I hope everyone takes the time to remember what they're thankful for.

Keeping the Faith

I went to church every weekend from the time I was about five years old, until I graduated from high school. I don't mean usually, I mean every weekend without exception. When I was younger, around the time I made my First Communion, I'd even go with my grandfather once or twice during the week. At the River Bourgeois School, the first hour of every Thursday was set aside for religion class.

I was an alter server from the time I was old enough to be until I was nearly the height of the priest, and I was always in Youth Group. I may not have been the most devout parishioner (that title would be hard to earn considering the competition), but to say I was a God-fearing, faithful church-goer is a fair statement. I'm not just a big-mouth with a bone to pick; I feel strongly that I have experience and knowledge to guide my words on this subject.

As a young girl, I believed that the church was above the law and would have defended just about any aspect of the Catholic religion. Even if someone made a valid point about an inconsistency or negative point within Catholicism, I was quick to point out that Catholics were only responsible for following the rules, not making or enforcing them. Don't lie, cheat, steal, swear, or kill, or else you go to Hell. It didn't have to make sense, necessarily; belief in what I had been taught trumped everything.

And this Hell business isn't an exaggeration. I had a priest in junior high school tell a girl in our grade 7-8 religion class that she would go to Hell if she lied to her parents or kissed a boy before she was married. I was in the room when he said it, and I remember her running to the bathroom in tears. And, even though I was old enough to know that was wrong, I stayed loyal to the Catholic Church, no questions asked.

I was unmarried when I had my first son in 1998. Like everyone else from River Bourgeois, I expected to have him baptized at St. John the Baptist Church. Imagine my confusion when the priest in the community at the time, told me he wouldn't baptize my son because he was conceived out of wedlock. That was very difficult for me to accept, and it deeply upset and embarrassed me. Luckily, Fr. Hughie D. MacDonald, in my estimation the greatest priest in the entire world, baptized him in Isle Madame without hesitation, and my faith was renewed.

When my second son was born, I still wasn't married yet. And, when we attempted to have him baptized in the community to which we had just moved, we were told it couldn't be done unless we had proof that we had regularly attended Mass somewhere for at least two years. Again, we found a way, and still, I didn't lose faith.

I tried to enroll my oldest son in religion classes a few years ago. The person I encountered was so rude and dismissive of me and my "lack of commitment to the Church", that I left abruptly and never took him back. While I had to wonder how the church, inclusive and accepting as it claimed to be, could again make me feel like I didn't belong, I STILL didn't lose faith.

Faith isn't something people are questioning in light of what has happened recently within the Catholic church. My beliefs are unwavering, and little that could happen in the news is capable of changing that. However, Catholics all over the country are questioning the church - maybe not you in particular, but many people are. To those calling this questioning a "lack of faith", understand that it has less to do with God than with the men who claim to represent him.

It's that same feeling you'd have, for lack of a better analogy, if you heard of a police officer injuring someone while drinking and driving. It's a terrible and dangerous thing for the average person to do, but for the very person and institution that vocally admonishes such behavior to be responsible for such a horrendous act, is blatant hypocrisy.

I have had my share of run-ins with my church, but it took an incident like the one last week for a decades-long lapse of accountability to translate into serious uncertainty on my part. How can the religious establishment break rules they're so strict about enforcing on me? And how long are we, the faithful, expected to keep our backs turned to modern-day justice in favor of contributing with well-intentioned ignorance to a corrupt structure of resistance?

For me? No longer. And God understands my point of view, just as He does yours.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Does This Look OK?"

Can we establish that men will never understand women, and vice versa? Perfect, thanks.

Wait a minute, let me revise that. Women understand men just fine, only we don't like what we've found and spend our lives trying to change them to suit our emotional requirements. And men understand women a lot of the time, they just can't be bothered analyzing our emotional instability.

Having recently attended a wedding with most of my high school and college friends, the majority of whom are married as well, husbands and wives and all their psychoses were a frequent topic of conversation. And, while many aspects of marriage and partnership were discussed, one dilemma in particular cropped up several times. After much serious thought, a panel discussion, and even a few drunken sobs, my friends and I compiled some ideas, with which I have constructed this quasi-thesis. Hey, it's worth a try.

The question: What am I supposed to say if the wife asks, "Does this look OK," and I don't think it does?

The answer: Lie. No, seriously, just lie (in most cases; I explain below).

She has just spent the past hour getting ready, picking something out, doing her hair, putting on make-up and jewelry, and slipping into heels. At this point, she's not looking for your opinion; if she wasn't sure it looked good, she wouldn't be modelling it for you. She's just looking for validation. And, since confidence looks better than any name brand, it's in everyone's best interests to do your best validating and move on. She thinks she looks good, now it's your job to reinforce that.

If you hate the style or color, that's irrelevant. You're a guy, after all, and probably know less about women's fashion than she does. If there's something you think might look better on her, too bad. Cross your fingers and hope she wears it next time around, but never suggest alternates after she's already made her decision. That black dress she pours herself into that you happen to love, will look terrible if she's not comfortable in it or doesn't believe she looks her best.

Now, having said all that, there is an exception to this rule that is crucial. You don't want to be insulting, but sometimes it's necessary to hand out a little tough love. You're her husband, and the only person who is permitted to dole out the brutal honesty she'll sometimes need. I suppose there are underlying body-dysmorphia issues simmering somewhere beneath the surface of this circumstance, but that makes it no less your problem than it is hers, since you're the one who has to be the bearer of bad news.

Sometimes when she sees an outfit, she loves it so much that the common sense screaming "don't buy it!" is drowned out by the flood of endorphins created at the sight of such a beautiful outfit. Even after she gets it on at home and sees that it's very obviously too small, comfort, practicality, and resignation are thrown out the window in favor of primal spite. She will wear that dress if it kills her, and there is little you can do to change her mind.

Little, but not nothing. This is the only circumstance when telling her she looks bad is acceptable. Trust me, despite her resistance to reason, she doesn't actually want to be seen out among other women with even a miniscule muffin top hanging over her belt. She doesn't want to be "that woman", the one other women are laughing at because of her ill-fitting outfit. So, tell her you're saving her from that, and that she'll thank you in the morning (she won't, but tell her that anyway).

This is no time for an unsteady hand, husband. Be assertive and be clear, without being hurtful or using descriptive terms you don't understand. "You can't wear that, dear, that silky stuff makes your butt look like a hot air balloon," is not what she wants to hear, but, "Honey, every time you see a woman in a dress that tight, you make fun of her," might be a better start.

Women are not like you when it comes to getting dressed, guys. We don't smell our clothes to see if they're clean, and we don't have to ask you whether or not something matches. We know how to use an iron, when an outfit needs a scarf, and where to buy the perfect t-shirt. What we do not want, being the brimming encyclopedias of fashion that we are, is a misplaced two-cents from someone who dressed like Kurt Cobain before we came along. For the most part, we know best. You guys get power tools, we get clothes, so don't burst our bubble unless it's absolutely necessary.

A New Adventure

If you hear wailing sirens in the Tamarac area after lunch on Wednesday afternoon, don't be alarmed - I'm sure they're only coming for me. September 9 is my baby's first day of pre-school.

How does this happen? I know it's a cliched question, but it truly feels like he's too young to be going anywhere without Mommy. However, I'm very aware of the real story within the story: he's perfectly ready; it's Mommy who's got the cold feet. And, thankfully, his first independent foray into the world is being facilitated by the very best person for the job.

Last year at this time, when I had a busy three-year-old, someone suggested I enroll him at Fun Time Kindergarten. I definitely wasn't ready to let him go that early, but I started asking around to find out what the place was like in preparation for the following year. I've talked to dozens of parents, and every single one of them has repeatedly sung the praises of Fun Time.

And not just, "yeah, it's a good pre-school" praises; kids who have spent a year or two with Miss Tammy have never forgotten her. They send her Christmas and birthday cards, they drop in to visit, and some even cry to go back to her class when starting Grade Primary. Imagine what a force you'd have to be in a child's life to account for that kind of admiration years after the fact! Stories like those I've been told are what gave me the confidence to send him this September.

Every night before bed, we tell him a story, and since I secured his spot in June, that story has had to be about school, as per his instructions. He's nothing if not a fan of repetition, so the story is basically the same every night.

"We'll get up in the morning and have breakfast, and then..."
"But Mom, what's for breakfast?"
"Lucky Charms, maybe. And then we'll put on a new shirt and new..."
"But Mom, what shirt?"
"Maybe the one with Mickey Mouse on it. So, after that we'll put on some new..."
"No, the one with Buzz Lightyear on it."
"Buzz Lightyear it is. So your new Buzz shirt, some new pants, new sneakers, and we have to remember your school bag."
"And we have to remember to put some extra clothes in my school bag 'cause in case I get dirty."
"Yes, we do. And then we'll get in the car..."
"No, I'm going on the bus!"
"No, honey, you can't go on the bus. Mommy has to drive you."
"Your father is dead meat when he gets home. Anyway, we'll talk about the bus later, ok?"
"So, we'll get to the school and who's going to be there?"
"Miss Tammy."
"And who else?"
"Miss Tina."
"And who else?"
"Lots of kids who are gonna be my new friends."
"Right. And then what do we do when we get to the school?"
"First, I have to hang my jacket up and my school bag, on the hook that has my name on it. Then I have to give you a big hug and a big kiss and go in the class and see everybody."
"Right, and where is Mommy going to be?"
"At the grocery store waiting to come pick me up."

Every night for the past three months we've had that conversation. And as of Wednesday, it will be something he actually gets to do.

I know I should only be happy about his new adventure. He's going to learn so much this year, from socialization to songs to writing his name. He's going to go on field trips, make crafts, and get progress reports. I'll even get to see the cutest graduation ceremony ever at the end of the year. What makes me nervous is being without him.

We play a lot. We crank the music and dance around the house when it's time for me to clean up. We make a huge mess baking cookies and he helps me dry the dishes when we're done. We go to the park and the mall, we play super heroes and cars, and sometimes we just watch TV. But, whatever I'm doing on any given day during the week, I'm used to doing it with him.

It's going to be really difficult to get used to him going on an adventure without me, but I'm leaving him in good hands. My baby's not a baby anymore.

The Common Goal

In Canada, when someone decides to have a baby, it's a often a complex decision. Aside from the various social factors that have to be considered, the big question always comes up: "Can we afford it?" Food, diapers, child care, clothing, college - all those things add up fast. But, luckily, one thing we never have to wonder or worry about is the actual up-front cost of pregnancy and childbirth.

If I had been living in Maine four years ago, here's roughly what it would have cost me to have my son: $1400 for pre-natal appointments, $6200 for the birth itself, another $2400 for a 2 day hospital stay, $600 for ultrasounds, and $250 for a post-natal check-up. The total is $10,850, and that's for a run-of-the-mill pregnancy. Any mother or baby complications or health issues make that number skyrocket.

Arrangements can usually be made to pay the bill over time, and the average cost of a monthly post-partum hospital bill is $800. Imagine that. On top of stress, pain, discomfort, sleep deprivation, and the sometimes staggering everyday cost of this new human in your house, you're also faced with an extra $800 bill every month.

Health care is absurdly expensive in the United States, and childbirth is only one example. If you have a broken ankle, it's going to cost you, from the doctor's treatment, to the X-ray, to the cast. If you need stitches, that's going to cost you. Even if you go see a doctor and there turns out to be nothing wrong, that's going to cost you, too. If you go to the emergency room without health insurance, they can (and often will) refuse to treat you.

Living in Nova Scotia, it's hard for us to wrap our heads around paying for health care. This isn't to say we take advantage of our system (for the most part), only that we can't imagine a world where anyone is sick because they can't afford to make themselves well. That's not the kind of people we are around here. We have fundraising benefits to help those who have fallen on hard times, and often put ourselves out, if only temporarily and on a small scale, for the sake of someone else.

So, is that the root of the U.S. health care crisis? That American citizens are so selfish they'd see their neighbors suffer before giving up an ounce of personal comfort and security? Or, are they so fearful of government control that they're willing to settle for health industry corruption for the sake of avoiding some perceived socialism?

I'm don't subscribe to Michael Moore's politics in most cases, and I usually disagree with his method of delivery, but his movie "SICKO" is one of the most compelling films I've ever seen. It examines health care models in Canada, France, Mexico, and other countries, and compares them to the United States. It shows us milling in and out of doctor's offices and emergency rooms without paying a cent. It shows the French enjoying their paid, mandatory 8-week illness recuperation time. And between the personal accounts of poverty causing death and bankruptcy due to sickness in the U.S., there was a noticeable tone and attitude among American taxpayers throughout the movie: they want and need things to change.

That's why I am annoyed at the opposition to President Obama's proposed health care plan. The same people who crave change are preventing it for reasons that, quite frankly, are petty and just plain not good enough.

Sure, maybe it's a good idea for health care to be regulated on a state level. Maybe a government run, tax-exempt system would damage the private sector irreparably. There are probably dozens of provisions in the proposed Bill which need to be tweaked and even a few that have to be completely re-written.

The point is, for the first time in a very long time, someone in power is trying to put in place a system which would help the most unfortunate Americans and avoid negatively impacting the others. Obama is not perfect, but his intentions are clear - health care for all, so as to eliminate the current, long-standing crisis. And what does he get for his efforts? Resistance from Conservatives at every turn, bad press, and even heckling in an open session of Congress.

It's time for Americans to forget about partisan politics for long enough to look at the big picture. Representatives from both sides of the aisle are capable of putting a system in place that will truly help people, and it's about time they get their acts together and do it, with Obama leading the way. No one should be sick just because they're broke.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Winning the Battle

There comes a time in every overweight person's life when enough is enough.

When you realize you're not getting any younger, and you don't want to be fat and inactive and useless throughout your thirties, nor do you want to be riddled with weight-related health problems by the time you hit the big 4-0.

When you acknowledge that all your previous weight-loss "attempts" weren't really attempts at all, since going on that worthless soup diet or eating nothing for days to fit into that dress for your friend's wedding, was just a quick fix and not really a commitment.

When you stop making excuses about exercising and realize that your hour-long Big Brother watch-a-thon could be just as easily spent walking in place in your living room as it is sitting on the couch with a bowl of popcorn.

When you figure out that body-slimming undergarments don't actually make you smaller, they just redistribute fat to places it wasn't before.

When watching televised accounts of incredible weight loss becomes less about drowning your "why can't that be me" sorrows in a Big Mac and throwing the remote at the finale of The Biggest Loser, and more about motivation and inspiration.

When you can no longer call it "baby weight", especially since your baby is able to tell you that, "Mommy, you have too much chubbs on your butt."

When you resign yourself to not having a "cheat day", since people with as little discipline as you do have become the size they are because of willy-nilly cheat days that spiral into cheat months.

When you stop blaming your thyroid problem for the way you look and realize your weight is of your own doing (I have a serious thyroid problem - in fact, I'm guilty of using the excuse myself - and I can tell you with certainty that a thyroid problem, even one as out-of-whack as mine, does not cause a 50lb weight gain. You can't eat deep-fried wings and laze around your house and still blame your weight on your thyroid.).

When you reach the conclusion that losing weight is a simple formula of burning more calories than you take in, and that even the fancy and expensive "miracle pill/supplement/concoction" isn't going to solve your problems for the long term.

When you finally admit that french fries aren't vegetables just because they're made from potatoes.

When enough is just enough, plain and simple. I've reached that point.

Being fat sucks. I've spent that past 12 years complaining about how much it sucks, yet I've failed to sincerely try to do anything about it. I've even written about it with the best of intentions of losing weight, but my words never concretely translated into actions.

I quit pop in mid-January, my biggest hurdle, and haven't touched a drop since. And, though I did see minimal results, I didn't change my eating habits. I went on a diet at the end of April, but through the chaos of kids' birthdays, the end of school, vacations, and many excuses, I fell off the wagon a month later.

Then I got on the scale. Yikes. That was "the point", and I haven't looked back since. All I had to change was my attitude.

I no longer feel a bitterness toward skinny people, food, or exercise. I don't harbour feelings of deprivation and resentment because I can't get a Blizzard, instead I feel strong and proud how I'm able to resist the temptation. I don't curse my husband's late night snack, I look at it with relief that it's not entering my stomach and disrupting my steady course.

I put a sign on my fridge that says, "you're only cheating yourself", along with two pictures: one of myself and one of Jessica Simpson.

Aside from the occasional glass of milk or juice, the only thing I drink is water. I have completely (and unbelievably) cut ice cream out of my life. Other junk food and sweets are cut to an absolute minimum, though not eliminated entirely. I make sure to eat breakfast every morning. I have a filling supper without stuffing myself up to the eyeballs. And I never eat anything after supper is over - not a carrot stick, not a cracker, nothing. Those are my changes, and it's working.

I've lost 35lbs because of those very do-able and realistic changes. The point I'm trying to make is, if I can do it, anyone reading this can do it, too. I was the best of the best excuse makers; the thyroid patient; the busy mom; the "did you hear about that new pill" queen; the chronic complainer. Not anymore, no more excuses.

And I've never felt better.

And the Winner is....

On Thursday evening, I attended the Festival of the Strait Princess Pageant at the mall. Great job, girls!

I miss the days when pageants were the centerpiece of a summer festival. Picture the Scooby-Doo dream-sequence effects, and bear with me.

The annual River Bourgeois community festival used to be a really big deal, and every year it began with the princess pageant.

Those in attendance for the packed-house Saturday night affair were probably oblivious to the meticulous preparation required for the show to go on. The contestants had, by this time, found sponsors (businesses and organizations to donate money for the girl's sash and other pageant-y things). They had already posed for the all-important Reporter photo shoot, where their picture would appear in a full-page spread opposite the festival schedule, noting their name, sponsor, and parents' names (so all the older women could say, "you know Lisa, at Joe-Jim's"). They had even attended a "tea", where they practiced their best smiles and manners at a get-together with the judges. It was all very serious business, especially to the girls who, like me, were too young to participate.

When the lights dimmed, a Master of Ceremonies announced the procession and the hall filled with more chiffon and frills than I care to remember, as was the style of "teenager fancy dress" back then. The girls, usually more than a dozen of them, filed up the center aisle, introduced themselves briefly ("Hi, I'm Lisa Smith and my sponsor is J&C Take-Out!"), and took their place on stage.

Once the judges had been introduced, it was time to get down to business. Each girl would give a more thorough introduction, telling everyone their age, grade, perhaps what they liked to do, what career they intended to pursue, things like that.

After the introductions came speeches. The topic was up in the air, completely up to each contestant, and it was always interesting to hear what the girls chose to talk about (even though the delivery mattered more than the content).

When the speech portion was complete, the girls would head downstairs to prepare for the talent competition. There were usually singers, dancers and piano players, but every year had a wild card - whether it be demonstrating a cadet Drill Team routine, or teaching the crowd how to cross-stitch. After everyone had shown their talent, the girls went to sweat it out downstairs while the judges made their decisions and the audience mingled and chowed down on coffee, tea and sweets. (For the record, River Bourgeois hall sweets are still in my top five favorite foods of all time.)

Eventually, the MC would inform the masses to be seated, the results were in. The crowd buzzed in anticipation every time and you could cut the tension with a knife; well not really, but I want to make it clear how intense a scene it was. The contestants nervously took the stage, the previous year's Queen took her mark in the wings after her swan-walk, and the envelope was handed over.

Miss Friendship, decided by the girls earlier in the evening by secret ballot, was announced first, followed by the expected squeals and hugs, and awarding of the trophies, flowers, and other pageant swag. The first winner was followed by 2nd Runner-Up, 1st Runner-Up, and finally Queen. It was all very climactic and wonderful, and I'll never forget it.

The very first pageant I attended was in 1984, where I met my future-best friend, Amy Doary, for the very first time. We were both very impressed with the pomp and circumstance of the whole thing, and our 5-year-old heads were just about spinning. We swore we'd be in it one day, and we would have - if only pageants hadn't become pretty much obsolete sometime after 1995.

Someone must have decided that being a teenager in a pageant was uncool, and that's a shame. Not only are they great confidence builders for girls at a crucial age, but they're a showcase of talent, a platform to experience public speaking and an excuse to dress up like a princess for a day other than prom.

Most of all, it's an excellent opportunity to bring a community together. Everyone is busier these days, and our local festivals are visibly suffering, with attendance, participation and volunteer numbers lower than they've been in years.

I'd love to see a big pageant in every festival, and a rightful Queen take her seat at the front of a parade float. It's something I'll always miss watching, and I hope someday they become "cool" again. (If there are any girls between 14-18 interested in participating next year, get in touch with me and I'll certainly be willing to help put it together.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Facebook Etiquette, Part 3

Welcome to the final installment of Facebook 101.

Pictures are a huge component of this site we love so dearly, so if you're going to partake, make an honest effort at doing it properly. Labelling your photos is always nice. A simple "Sam & Me in the delivery room" might seem obvious to you, but it could mean all the difference to someone dying to congratulate you, but who can't for the life of them remember your husband's name. And, that gelatinous pink blob might look like an exotic jellyfish to you, but without a label, it looks like sea junk to me.

For those of you who have so few friends (family members, acquaintances, other nearby humans capable of operating a camera) that you must resort to taking your own picture, please heed these warnings: Do not hold the camera in front of the bathroom mirror. Why the bathroom?? It's always in the bathroom! (Very astute observation, Kelly.) Also, don't make the pouty face. The "I'm-giving-you-a-kiss-through-my-low-end-model-flip-phone" face. And whatever you do, NEVER combine the two.

A few words about statuses. There is really no need to update your status more than a few times per day, even on an extrordinarily eventful day.

Furthermore, cryptic status updates like, "Sue wonders if her secret will get out," and "Timmy will get through this," do not make you seem mysterious. They point to desperation and attention-seeking.

Finally, never "like" and comment on the same status. The act of commenting alone indicates your interest in that status, so "liking" it is redundant and just sends an unnecessary notification.

Perhaps the most complicated Facebook situation one might face, for both parties, is the issue of "defriending". For starters, let it be said that it's perfectly acceptable to pare down your friend list from time to time; sometimes it becomes necessary, especially after a rush of ill-considered friend requests. There are people who belong on your list and people who don't, and that's just the way it is.

There are people who, unless they've been inappropriate in some way, you're obligated to keep on your list. People like relatives, spouse's relatives, and co-workers. Even if they send you some annoying gift with every message ("Here, friend, please enjoy this virtual chocolate teddy bear at the bottom of my inbox greeting").

This, however, is where loyalty and obligation pretty much stops and people start to become expendable. There are definite circumstances that necessitate a friend's removal, like consistent inappropriate language or information being posted on your wall. Another reason might be lack of communication. If, for example, you become friends with someone who has never responded to any direct message, post, comment, status, or anything else, you can justifiably eliminate that person from your list after a reasonable period.

Don't be tempted to clean house, though. It may seem appealing to rid your list of anyone you haven't spoken to on a regular basis or who doesn't have a lot of Facebook activity, but you don't know when you might need that girl in order to gain access to pictures of her really cool and unique wedding pictures, or to catch a glimpse of her sister's tremendous weight gain that everyone is telling you about. Weed, but don't tear up the whole garden.

Now, what to do in the terribly awkward situation of post-defriending run-ins, you might ask. Before you defriend, be prepared to never have the occasion to speak to that person face to face again. You've banished them from your Facebook world, and always assume they've already noticed. You now have no choice but to avoid them like the plague when you see them at the grocery store, and here's a tip: if you should happen to accidentally bump into them, the old, "oh really? yeah, there's something wrong with my Facebook account, a bunch of my friends just disappeared" excuse doesn't work anymore. People know better.

One day, you might find that you've been defriended by someone as well. Make no mistake, it was no accident, and re-adding that person is an insult to your integrity. You must swallow your pride and move on, and don't even bother wondering why. NEVER send them a message asking them.

And there you have it, three whole articles to help you navigate Facebook with the confidence of knowing you're doing it right. Take each suggestion with a grain of salt, though, since contributors to the Facebook series have all been guilty of their own faux-pas, I'm sure.

If I can leave you with one final piece of advice, it is this: never drunk-Facebook. You're just asking for trouble.

Facebook Etiquette, Part 2

Last week, I laid down the basic rules of a positive and successful Facebook experience. This week, I'll discuss a few rules and guidelines that target more specific problem areas, ones even veteran Facebookers might not be aware of.

To start with, while the very existence of Facebook encourages sharing personal information, airing grievances is best saved for private phone calls and personal confrontations. Starting a "Jane Finch is a dirty hoser" group is not the way to go about things. Likewise, I don't need to see a bunch of four-letter words in your status, or pictures of your best girlfriend pretend-spanking you at a pub crawl. Neither does your boss.

Of my research into the topic of Facebook pet peeves, this one earned a landslide victory: STOP TAKING QUIZZES. Nobody cares what Twilight character or literary time period you are. No one cares which Spice Girl you resemble or what color your aura is. Really - stop. And anyway, why would you want to know that? What purpose does having that information serve in your life? And what purpose do you think it will serve in my News Feed, cluttering up all the important stuff with sparkly ponies and astrological signs?? (In case you couldn't tell, that was a direct quote from a friend of mine. It was too succinct to modify.)

On a related note, the "when will I get married/how many babies will I have/how will I die" calculators are not scientifically accurate, just so you know.

Joining too many groups cheapens the value of your membership in the ones you actually care about, so think twice before becoming a member of "Please bring back Tart n' Tinys, Wonka company". (I know Tart n' Tinys rocked your socks off - mine, too. But, at least save your confectionery loyalty for a far superior candy like Punkys.) (Wow, talk about digressing.) What I mean is, no one will value the opinion of a "CTV Atlantic Newstalk" contributor if they're also a member of "Eminems new album sux, and no I'm not a hater it just does".

Don't invite people to events if they don't live in the same province. I, a resident of Cape Breton, will not be attending your poetry recital in Saskatoon next Tuesday night, girl I went to elementary school with. Did you really think I would?


A unilateral relationship status change, on top of being immature and unfair, will only result in confusion for everyone. Make it a mutual decision, especially before you announce you're in a new relationship or informing someone you're filing for divorce. If you handle your relationship status with grace and poise, people will say, "Hey, that person is pretty responsible with his/her use of Facebook in a relationship setting", increasing your odds of finding another potential mate.

FYI: if you have somehow gained access to the Facebook profile of an ex/ex's new flame/other person in whom you should have no interest anyway, you're a creeper. If you return more than twice, you're a stalker, so stop. Facebook stalkers are not cool.

I am not even remotely interested in zombie/bumper sticker/graffiti/pet-raising/friend-buying/game-playing/green patch/gift-giving applications, and one would think that preference would be clear after me ignoring your invitation fifteen times.

Growing a baby in a virtual clay pot is all kinds of wrong.

Speaking of babies (and this rule also applies to pets and cars), posting 56 pictures of your sleeping, immobile newborn might fill your heart with parental pride, but it does nothing for most others. One would have been fine, two perfectly acceptable, even three if you're really worked up. But an album full? C'mon. Wait until the baby is at least capable of an expression.

Also, probably not a great idea to post pictures of your baby in the bathtub. You don't know what kind of weirdos might be scoping out your pictures, even if you think your privacy settings are iron-clad.

Try to comment selectively on your friends' pictures. The one-two-three picture-posting rule loosely applies to this as well. If you have something notable to say about a particular picture, by all means, leave your two cents. But, there's nothing worse than seeing 34 notifications, clicking on the little red flag, and seeing that Aunt Mary Lou has committed the mortal Facebook sin of severe over-commenting. Not only is it a buzz kill (ooh!! ooh! I wonder who left comments on my.....Oh. Aunt Mary Lou. Again.), but then I have to read "wow" and "cute" and "looks like fun" a tedious 34 times.

When I started writing about Facebook etiquette, little did I know that the material would span not one, not two, but three whole articles. I'll conclude next week.

Facebook Etiquette, Part 1

Why didn't I think of this before?

I'm an enthusiastic Facebook participant, as are most of the people I know. To date, there are more than two hundred thousand registered users on the site - making it a breeding ground for social and behavioral faux-pas, especially with numerous format changes feeding the fire.

One would think, with such a huge population, Facebook would by now have some formal etiquette in place: cue Gina, along with some of her more vocal and opinionated Facebook friends, to deliver the goods. To be fair, these rules aren't necessarily all mine, remember that. The last thing I need are dozens of people throwing sheep at me.

Let's begin.

First of all, it's not Question-mark-book, it's Facebook. Get a picture. Assuming you're an established Facebooker and have already have pictures of yourself on your profile, then a shot of your puppy or your toes on the beach in Cuba will do. Something to differentiate yourself from the other question marks, if you please. An avatar, anything.

Unless you have no actual interaction with anyone on your friend list, your profile picture should actually look like you. I know, I looked skinnier and younger ten years ago, too - but putting up a good picture from 1999 isn't fooling anyone, and it creates suspicion and, ultimately, disappointment.

Put a little effort into building your profile. “I don’t read” is not a favorite book, just as “NEthing but country” isn’t favorite music.

A few words about friending (which is only a word in Facebook world. In every other circumstance, the correct verb would be "befriending". If you didn't know that already, we're probably not friends).

Knowing "of" a person (or even having met them) is not the equivilent of knowing them, and is not a susbstantial enough reason to friend them . For example: I hear Heidi Saarloos on the radio every day and have even met her briefly on one occasion, but since I do not know her, I have not sent her a friend request, even though we have friends in common. Get my drift? (Just using you as an example, Heidi. I'm sure you're lovely.)

Friending those who aren't your actual friends is a matter of personal choice, though it is generally frowned upon in the Facebook community, and fairly earns you to the title of "creeper" and the description of either "nosy" or "desperate to win the very lame 'I-have-the-most-Facebook-friends' competition".

If you must friend someone you don't know well, include a message explaining why you are doing so. For example, "Hi, I'm your roommate's cousin!" would suffice. (But wait, why would you want to be friends with your roommate's cousin? Weird...)

Friending someone you don't particularly like is also tacky. They know you only want to scrutinize their pictures, so maintain your dignity and don't bother. If you ignore this rule and they accept, fully expect them to do the same thing to you.

Never friend an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend unless you're prepared to see status updates and pictures that you probably don't want to see.

Writing on your own wall is somewhat of a "faux pas". People will look at the post with pity and think, "aw, she must be new."

Poking is the lowest form of Facebook communication and should be done sparingly and in moderation. There is absolutely no reason to body slam or throw a sheep at anyone.

If someone has sent you a message to which a reply is appropriate, do so in a timely fashion. Never read the message and decide to write back at a later time; that person will see your post-message Facebook activity, and your not making their message a priority might cause them tremendous insecurity. And then they might call you crying and ask if you're mad at them, which is at once ridiculous, terribly awkward, and a good reason to terminate the friendship (both on-line and in real-life).

Some messages are wall-appropriate, and some aren't, so know the difference. "Hey girl, I had a great time last weekend!" is a perfectly acceptable wall post. "Hey man, you were sooooo drunk when we left the strip club...who bailed you out?" - that's more message fare.

When posting pictures, make sure they're rotated in the right direction. If they aren't, no one will look at them, which completely defeats the purpose.

And by the way, it's cheating if you un-tag yourself in a picture just because you look bad. They got you fair and square, so be a good sport and let everyone else laugh. You'll have your chance, even if it doesn't involve the same person.

These are the more broad, sweeping rules that even beginners should know. Next week, we're really going to crack the whip.

Monday, June 15, 2009

They Come in the Night

This Thursday evening past, I was sitting in my living room, plugging away at an article for this week's paper. Having just celebrated my wedding anniversary on Wednesday, I decided to write about what I've learned about marriage over the last few years, and indeed it was coming along nicely.

I had almost finished when my dog started doing his "let me out to pee" dance in front of the door. I put my laptop down, opened the main door, put him on his leash, and grabbed the handle of the outside door.

You will not be reading an article about the rules of marriage this week, due to events that occurred when I looked out the glass pane of my door.

There, clinging to the screen, exactly at my eye level, was a June bug the size of an albatross. Not a finch, not even a quail, but an albatross. He knocked on my door and asked to borrow a sweater. And it fit.

I suppose it didn't exactly happen that way, but those with a fear of June bugs will understand why I'm exaggerating. They are, after all, a present threat.

I'm a tall, hefty girl without a lot of fear. It's not like one of those old phobia episodes of Maury Povich, that I'm scared of hair or tomatoes or people named Bernie. The things I'm afraid of are, in my mind, legitimate and justifiable.

Like tornadoes. I can't imagine why people choose to live in Kansas, Oklahoma, or anywhere else defined as "Tornado Alley" (hello? would you live in a place called "City of Torrential Floods"?), but I guess that's their choice, and they're willing to take that chance. I, on the other hand, will never visit any of those places, let alone park my mobile home in the middle of the potential melee. I am terrified of tornadoes, and the shock of seeing one would kill me before the funnel cloud ever could. But tornadoes, while a legitimate fear, aren't a present threat.

Same with rats. Wet rats, specifically. I had the occasion to see a giant, wet wharf rat when I was young (thanks for taking that picture to school, Mitchell Burke), and the horrifying image has been seared into my mind for over 20 years. To make matters worse, shortly after seeing that picture, a rat darted out from under our shed, ran up my leg, and jumped off my shoulder. By rights, I should still be in intensive therapy. But, while rats are a legitimate fear, I don't live near enough to any notoriously rat-prone areas to consider it a present threat.

Sharks, too. Though I would never go past my ankles in the Caribbean (ask my travel mates), I don't loose sleep over an impending Cape Breton shark attack. You get the point, I'm sure.

June bugs are different, they're a present threat. They arrive in late May, like clockwork, and there isn't a single thing I can do about it. There's nothing I can spray and nowhere I can hide, unless I want to leave North America all together.

A friend said to me, "They say there's a purpose to everything under God, but I haven't found a single good reason why June bugs exist", so I decided to research exactly what they contribute to our ecosystem.

I found out the, ahem, phyllophaga is a New World scarab beetle with three sets of legs and a penchant for deciduous trees. Not only do they attack the roots of garden vegetables, causing poor and stunted growth, but since they live underground, they've been known to cause lawns to turn yellow and die, with such severe damage to the grass from their subterraneous munching that said grass can be rolled up like a carpet.

In as much reading as I've done about June bugs over the past few days, nowhere have I found a single useful characteristic or positive attribute, unless you count "medically harmless" (which you shouldn't, since it's not true, if you consider heart attacks caused by one unexpectedly flying into someone's hood).

All the reading and venting in the world won't do me a bit of good, since these hateful, hard-backed creatures will still be infesting the Strait Area for the next month. Hitting the side of my house with the force of a meteor; flying around my porch light like a possessed swarm of locusts; stomping around my patio at night, waiting for an unsuspecting Gina to wander outside, all for them to leap forward into my long hair and lay eggs...heaven help me, I'm going to have nightmares just from writing this article.

June bugs were put here to scare us, people. Get used to it, and may the force (or the heavy shoe) be with you.

Eleven Down

My oldest son just turned eleven this past week - I know, where does the time go? How is it possible that I am old enough to have an eleven-year-old child?

I could write a book about the lessons I've learned and facts I have gathered since his birth, but this is a short list of more recent revelations.

One, boys have their own little world that I'm not completely welcome in. There are no more playdates as boys get older; now, I hear a knock, I see a figure bolt by me, I hear a door slam, and they're gone. As long as they're behaving, I suppose I don't need to know exactly what they're doing, but it's reached a point where my daily inquisition is met with eye-rolling and "I dunno, just stuff. Skateboarding, whatever." Whatever indeed.

Two, boys' hygiene is a complete contradiction. The same kid who will flat out refuse to wear the "lame" shirt I just bought him, will walk around with a four-inch wide mustard stain on the front of one he likes. He'll beg me to let his hair grow out to a certain style, but would go to school with epic bed-head if I didn't thrust a brush in his direction every morning. He saves his money for cool sneakers, only to let them disintegrate on his feet without the least bit of concern. I can't comprehend how someone so picky about their appearance in some areas, can be so unconscientious about it in others.

Three, as he gets braver, I get more scared. The first day he strapped on his bike helmet for a solo spin around the block, I wanted to chain him to the house. Frantic questions screech through my mind every time he wants to push the boundaries of his current permissions: will he remember the hidden driveway? does he know my cell phone number? what if something happens? Most of his new ventures leave me swallowing my fear, giving him the chance to prove himself and earn my trust, and then holding my breath until he walks back through the door.

Four, I will most definitely be a monster-in-law. With girls entering the picture as of late, I'm fairly certain he can see the terror in my eyes every time I see "her" (whoever "her" might be that particular day) number come up on the call display. I used to think it was so cute when girls would be around, the ones he claimed, with genuine disgust, were "gross". Now, girls are the enemy, but only to me. The future does not look bright in that department, and I'm afraid I might have to search around for those chains I mentioned, from the bicycle days.

Five, he's a child and a teen in equal parts. While he makes his own toast, prefers a shower over a bath, and watches pg-13 movies, he's also mommy's baby when he's sick. He loves to give hugs and play, yet he's quickly closing in on the height of his dad. Pretty soon he won't have a bedtime on the weekend, but I can always be sure he's going to tell his little brother "I love you" before sleep. (I'll have to try to remember that when they're wrestling each other into submission.)

Six, in some cases he knows more than I do. At his birthday party, we had decided some Wii and a movie would occupy most of the night's agenda. I took the liberty of popping a DVD into the player, only to see a blank screen remain on the television. In my defense, the electronics in my living room would, for most, require a Harvard degree in Information Technology and Engineering, but to my surprise, he had the movie up and running in mere minutes. Those darned kids and all their fancy doo-hickeys. Tarnation.

And finally, seven, drugs are the scariest things in the world. All you can do is talk and talk and talk and hope something you say sticks, but when it comes down to it, they're going to do what they're going to do. The worst part: short of holding their hand in the halls of the high school, there isn't much you can do about "the drug situation" except pray that your stories and explanations have led them in the direction of saying no. I have been having the drug conversation for years with my son, and I think I have him convinced that drugs are for the kids who don't have the confidence to be themselves, and that sooner than later, they'll be the stoners who all the cool kids make fun of. Keep your fingers crossed that my brainwashing will pay off.

Wish me luck. I hear the next eleven are even harder.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Aunt Ida & The Bucket List

When I was young, my grandparents had an organ in their living room. It was very old and small, only about four octaves of keys on the right side, a few dozen chord keys on a panel on the left, and a pedal that didn't work.

I couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 when I took a sudden interest in this organ. Since no one in the house played an instrument, I had to go it alone, and the first few attempts I made were nothing more than one-finger renditions of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". I used to watch people play piano on TV, mull over my own playing, and think, "hmm, this is going to be harder than I thought."

One day, Aunt Ida came to visit (she was actually my Grandmother's sister-in-law, but when I was young, I considered every older female family member to be my aunt). At first the visit was no different than an other, but only until Grandma told Aunt Ida about my piano ambitions. She was very pleased and moved to the organ bench to show me how it was done. I don't even remember what she played, but I do remember wondering how she could possibly make such beautiful sound from those few dozen little keys. And then I was on a mission.

I spent the next few months pouring over the books that came with the organ; a difficult task, since I couldn't read music. But, in pestering Grandma half to death with, "how does this one go?", I used her singing and humming to memorize the melodies to a few standards. Before long, I could play "My Wild Irish Rose", "Home on the Range", "Long, Long Ago", and others (the names of which escape me) from these books.

Repetitively banging away at these songs on the organ led me to discover that I could quickly pick up the melodies to other songs, without having any sheet music for them. Over the next few months and years, I taught myself how to play piano by ear. When people would come over to visit, I would always end up putting on a concert in the living room. The favorite was always "The Rose" by Bette Midler.

I'll never forget waking up Christmas morning when I was 10, and seeing a brand new keyboard. It wasn't fancy by today's standards, but back then, it might as well have been made out of solid gold as far as I was concerned. A "real piano", oh, the things I could do! The songs I could play!

For my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary party, I played "Wind Beneath My Wings", my grandmother's favorite song, for the whole crowd. I remember being as proud as a peacock, though looking at myself on the video of that evening all these years later, it's obvious I was scared to death. After all, Donald MacRae and Joe Oram had just played for that same crowd; it was a tough act to follow.

Then came the business of piano lessons. Since I was quite good for my age, without being able to read music, it was decided that formal lessons might do me some good. Mr. Digout made an attempt, as did Ms. Thibeau, Mrs. Garrison, and even the great Henrietta Doary, but to no avail; me, my parents and grandparents, were all told that my self-taught methods would be impossible to break, and that lessons would not do me any good.

In my formative years, I became a fixture at variety and Christmas concerts, pageants, plays, and other amateur venues that allowed myself and others to take the spotlight. Still, as much as I loved the applause, playing piano alone in my bedroom was always my favorite place to shine.

I haven't played the piano in years, and I'm not even sure I could anymore. But, I remember well the pride and satisfaction I felt just from being able to play once upon a time, pride that turned an article about my new venture into an article reminiscing about my piano-playing days.

That being said, my dear departed Aunt Ida would be happy to know that I've again taken her advice. The same woman that encouraged me at the piano had, for years, begged me to take up violin. She assured me I'd be good at it, and even though I had never so much as held a fiddle before, learning to play has been on my bucket list for many years.

I finally got my hands on one last week and the learning process has begun. I may not be able to play like Donald MacRae yet, but I don't let the squealing sound of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" discourage me; after all, it worked last time around.

A Dying Breed

Imagine reading this job advertisment in the paper.

At your disposal: big screen television with satellite and surround sound, a movie collection, a Nintendo Wii with American Idol Karaoke and Guitar Hero, Playstation 2, phone with unlimited long distance, laptop with high speed internet, novels and magazines galore, and a refrigerator full of food.

Your duties: keep open ears, use common sense, behave, and let the dog out to pee when he starts dancing in front of the door.

Your qualifications: mature, responsible, reliable, drug-free.

Salary: negotiable.

Any takers? Believe it or not, we haven't had a single one, which begs the question, where have all the babysitters gone?

I babysat from the time I was 13 years old. There are no restaurants or corner stores in River Bourgeois, so if we wanted to work, we had to baby-sit. There wasn't a huge market, but girls usually found one or two people in the community who they regularly sat for.

On an average night, I'd arrive at around 7:00pm, say goodbye to the parents, and play with the kids for awhile before tucking them in bed. Once they were settled, I'd have to clean up (like my mother had instructed me to every time I went to baby-sit. "They're paying you, the least you can do is tidy up and do the dishes.")

I'd spend the rest of the evening doing homework or watching television, unless the kids woke up, which rarely happened. Once the parents arrived home, usually at around 2:00am, they'd thank me, hand me over $25 or $30, and drive me home. As I got older, the only thing that really varied in this scenario was that I'd drive myself there and back.

It may not have been much money (about $5 per hour), but hey, it was money, and since you can bet my parents weren't throwing $30 at me every time I left the house, it was money I cherished. I babysat every weekend night I could, even as I got older, since making money was always more appealing than blowing it on junk food and garbage, like I would if I were out roaming around with my friends.

Cut to years later, and I found myself looking for a babysitter. Even five or six years ago, it wasn't all that difficult to find someone. I had a bevy of young girls waiting by the phone for me to call, since I paid a whopping $40 for a night out.

But now, with two young kids, a home in the middle of Port Hawkesbury, and a desire for a night among adults, a babysitter is harder to find than a four-leaf clover. We've been looking for two full years, and haven't found a single suitable candidate (well, one, but we only found her a month or so before she left for university).

We've been told we're a bit too picky, but this is our children we're talking about. We won't settle for less than absolute trustworthiness and maturity since their well-being is our top priority. Our "no drug users" stipulation has, sadly, limited our pool of candidates, by their own admission. We could easily find someone who is 12 or 13 to watch them, but that's only a year or two older than our oldest son, which, as far as I'm concerned, is too young to baby-sit a three-year-old. If you have a 12-year-old baby-sit your toddlers, that's your decision; it's not a chance that I, personally, am willing to take.

So where are all the high school juniors and seniors? What do they do on the weekend? It has been suggested to us that we're wasting our time, for several reasons.

They have part-time jobs and aren't willing to give up their nights off to work some more. Fair enough, it's good to see young people working. But (and this is just friendly tip), for any teenager who would rather baby-sit than don a visor, I dare say you'd make as much money babysitting as you would working a few shifts a week at a fast food place.

Others have said it's because parents are giving their kids enough spending money that they don't have to work. I can tell you this much, my sons needn't think that, at 16, they'll be getting $20 from me every time they leave the house. A few bucks, whatever - but parents giving their perfectly able-bodied and employable teenagers an endless stream of cash? Wow.

I've heard everything from, "they're out at the bars" to "they're home taking care of their own kids" to explain the elusiveness of good, occasional babysitters in town.

Whatever the reason, it's not making my quest any easier. Do I just not know the right people? Or are there really no babysitters? Drop me a line if you can shed some light.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Stagette Chronicles

November, 2008: I, as hostess, commit to throw my sister's bachelorette party in mid-March. Plans are put on the back burner because, really, who needs more than a week to plan a party?

December, 2008: Party planning officially begins. An extensive search of eBay commences after seeing the meager selection of stagette supplies in the Strait area. I place my orders.

January, 2009: An entertainment company from Halifax is consulted. Due to the apparently strenuous nature of dancing in a g-string for seven minutes, the best negotiated price I could land was $750. Upon hearing that news, I thanked the company for their time.

Later that day: A second entertainment company is consulted, with similar results. I let loose an angry tirade about children in Sri Lankan sweatshops doing twenty times the work for a fraction of the money those half (and sadly, because of new "labour laws", only half) naked grease-bags are demanding. They're ugly and old anyway, a pathetic novelty, I remind myself. Time for plan B.

Later still: A third, more PG-13 form of entertainment is consulted, booked, and sent a deposit. A conference room is booked at a local hotel to accommodate the upcoming antics.

February, 2009: Invitations are sent via Facebook. Over 20 people confirm. I start considering which small home improvement projects can be started and finished in four weeks. My husband immediately dreads the coming four weeks.

The day after: Local businesses thrive, especially those selling home decor items. Purchased: paint and painting supplies, a new bedroom comforter set, various picture frames, vases, plants, candles, assorted other unnecessary junk that matches and compliments. (At present, I'm still negotiating a new dinette set.)

Late February: Our entertainment cancels, citing, "someone booked us in Halifax that night, and it's much cheaper for us to just do a party here." After pointing out the extra charge I had agreed to pay for travel expenses, I expresses disappointment (read - fly off the handle in blind rage) and demand a deposit refund, like, yesterday. The lady says to keep them in mind for our next gathering. I suggest that her and her troupe hold their collective breath and sit by the phone waiting for my call.

Two days later: My eBay order arrives. I find an incorrect color scheme on four items. What else will go wrong?

Early March, 2009: I decide to tackle a painting project far beyond my experience and capability. Reinforcements are called in and painting of the long-anticipated kitchen backsplash begins. The task of measuring and taping the applicable area proves much more difficult than we originally thought. Several unplanned snack and chat breaks are taken to avoid frustration and "mission abort". Task successfully completed.

Two hours later: A shock of Sesame Street green infiltrates my lovely taupe universe. Panic button is officially slapped. My reinforcement serves up encouragement and tall glass of merlot. Crisis averted.

T-minus 4 days: One of four iron-on t-shirt transfers is defective. Discovery of this fact is made while I attempted to transfer the patch onto my own t-shirt. T-shirt ruined. Adding insult to injury, I burn my finger on the iron. Wonderful.

T-minus 3 days: I try not to contemplate egg salad vs. ham sandwiches and where people are going to park and mental to-do lists, as I complete tax returns for three different people. The tax returns then have to be re-done for fear of careless mistakes I might have made because I wasn't concentrating. I say goodbye to two wasted hours of my life I'll never get back and finally get to bed at 1:30am.

T-minus 2 days: I order a banner from a printing company. Not realizing the cost of paper has seemingly gone up about 7000% since I last purchased some (a month ago), I reluctantly lay down $25 for this blessed accessory. It's four feet long and a little over three inches wide. It has a total of twenty letters printed on it. It's made of paper. Twenty-five dollars.

T-minus 1 day: I begin the hunt for last-minute items. The shelves I want are gone from the store, and another store has sold out of the martini glasses I need. Upon my arrival home, the dog gets excited and pees on the welcome mat. My new room spray smells like Play-Doh. I burn my finger while boiling the water for Jell-O shooters. Like clockwork, I cut my other finger (the third digital injury as many days) while chopping celery for the veggie tray. I chalk it up to it being Friday the 13th.

Day of the party: It's now 12:10am on Saturday, March 14th. I'm on my way to bed, seeing as I've completely exhausted myself over the past few days. The thought of acting out and staying up late is almost more than I can bear. My sister better appreciate this party.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Not Buying It

I didn't plan on writing this article, but I feel it incumbent upon me to speak for a small, yet (in my opinion) sensible, group of women.

When I was young - who am I kidding, up until...well, not so many years ago - Valentine's Day was a big deal. It was the day when us single ladies cursed the woman in the cubicle beside ours when a huge bouquet of red roses was delivered to her desk. It was the day that we completely ignored those red roses like they weren't a big deal, when really we wanted them more than we wanted oxygen pumping into our lungs. February 14th was the day we pretended all the fuss was ridiculous, when we rolled our eyes and made fun of the squealing girlfriend whose boyfriend just sent her a diamond bracelet. Then we went home and watched Jay Leno, ate a big bowl of ice cream, and cried about being single and not having Valentine's Day presents.

Maybe not every single gal, but quite a few.

Ten years later, I have seen the light. I now have a husband who understands the significance of Valentine's Day. Even though he has no use for it personally, he knows his spousal responsibilities as have been set out in the "V-Day Code of Conduct", if you will. He knows what he's expected to buy and what he's expected to do. And, like the wonderful husband he is, he sucks it up with a smile and acts a sport through it all.

Now, I know some of you wives are going to gasp reading this: my husband loves to buy me jewellery. Imagine that People's flyer arriving in your mailbox the first week of February, and picking out whatever you want! He also lives by the motto "spare no expense" when it comes to these matters, and left by himself to decide, I'm sure there would be flowers, jewellery, candy, stuffed mammals of every variety, and more pink and red than anyone needs to see in a lifetime.

Luckily for him, I don't want it. As a matter of fact, I have forbid him from buying any of it. Now that I'm in a position to celebrate the perfect Valentine's Day, we choose not to celebrate it at all. Let me explain why.

When I was single, I wasn't jealous of those squealing gaggles of girlfriends because I loved flowers so much; it was because they had someone to give them those flowers in the first place. That's all we bitter hens desired, was someone to publicly proclaim their love for us.

I had someone proclaim their love for me in a church in front of all our family and friends, and that's a pretty big deal, better than any singing telegram or vase full of carnations. Once that happened, the novelty of gushing romanticism wore off for me, since I had seen what a real proclamation was all about.

V-Day is the most contrived "holiday" in history. There isn't any real significance behind it, except that the 1870s British tradition of exchanging homemade cards with people you cared about, has been turned into the most genius mass-marketing scam ever masterminded. And sorry, I'm not buying.

I'm not trying to get down on all you lovebirds out there - and I know you're out there. It's great that you turn all romantical and stuff on 'the big day'. If that's what you want to spend your money on, far be it from me to stop you.

However, you might want to contemplate, if Valentine's Day is the day you celebrate your love for each other, what are the other 364 days for? I think it's important to be in love all year round, especially after you're married for awhile with a few kids running laps around your house. But even if you're supposed to pick one special day to celebrate, isn't that what your anniversary is for? I don't know about you, but with bills to pay and kids to feed, I'd sleep better at night knowing money was used for these things, rather than on overpriced chocolates or flowers that will be 50% off the following morning.

Ladies, if you agree, put your man out of his misery and let him know. He might think you're trying to trick him at first, since he's been pretty much brow-beaten since birth to appreciate the significance women place on February 14th, but a sincere explanation might make your Valentine's Day a whole lot lighter.

But guys, unless your lady really gives a convincing "don't bother buying me anything" speech, you better err on the side of caution and scoop something up, just in case. She might just be trying to trick you.

We do that sometimes.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Growing Up

I can feel it coming. It's like a big, thick, ominous fog rolling in from sea, and it's got it's GPS set on a spot right over my head. In just about a month, I will be thirty years old.

Thirty years old. Ten years shy of the big 4-0, half way to 60. How does this happen? I remember being in high school and thinking of thirty-year-olds as old fogies. Is that what kids in that age bracket think of me? It couldn't be, I'm only young, right?

I suppose that depends on who you are. If you're in your 50s, I'm just a spring chicken and you're probably annoyed at how old I'm making YOU feel by complaining about turning thirty.

If you're in your teens, you're probably glued to Facebook and not reading the newspaper. Carry on.

This whole "milestone birthday" thing comes at the worst time, too. As if the reality of sprouting grey hairs and stiff muscles weren't enough, I'm faced with a far more worrisome problem.

I guess I should have seen it coming, as the mother of two sons. Both of them are gorgeous, for starters. I don't mean cute, I'm talking stop-in-your-tracks, striking good looks. They have warm hearts, good manners, and quick wit. Not to mention, they can be saucy and miserable when they want to be, which is the perfect icing on the eligible bachelor cake. That's why I shouldn't be surprised about the girl factor.

In the past few months, my oldest son has started talking about a girlfriend. She's a little girl from his class, I'll call her Britney. At first I thought he was making it up to impress his father, since he was always too busy playing a sport to worry about girls. But then talk of Britney became more frequent, and more detailed. Conversations about everything from television shows to sawdust eventually become laden with "Britney this" and "Britney that" and "Chicken noodle? That's what Britney had for lunch today."

I should probably explain what a Grade 5 "boyfriend-girlfriend" relationship involves, so as not to alarm anyone. According to the moles I have planted throughout the neighborhood (sneaky, yet reliable), these relationship arrangements are made soon after the school year begins. The selection process isn't very complex, and from what I understand, the females are in control of boyfriend assignments. A boyfriend seems to be more of a ceremonial role than anything else, and I'm told there isn't even hand-holding. However, based on the phone activity in my house lately, you'd swear I was keeping two newlyweds apart.

Grade five courting is carried out largely through a series of networks. Britney will call her friend, Suzie. Suzie will call my son's friend, Bobby, who will call my son. The message? Call Britney. In the meantime, should Bobby not get this message to my son quickly enough, Suzie will then call our house to get the "calling Britney" process moving more quickly. In the course of five minutes, the phone will ring twice, I'll get two call waiting beeps, and there will be about sixteen messages on my answering machine, all of which are hang-ups. In case you're wondering, yes - this is exactly what I want happening amidst after-school chaos.

I could handle the calls if the girlfriend situation would stop at that, but it doesn't. Now the problem has escalated with the approach of Valentine's Day. I actually thought it was cute when my son suggested buying Britney a present, and I imagined him giving her a special card, a chocolate rose, and maybe a few dollars worth of candy. Imagine my disbelief to see him scoping out the display cases at the jewellery store looking for something that "doesn't look cheap". He said, and I quote: "She said she wants a bracelet, but only if it has diamonds, she said pearls are ugly. I think I'll get her that ring, it's only $79.99."

I have officially become old when my child wants to buy his (apparently high-maintenance) lady friend a ring that is more expensive than anything even I, a married woman, expect to receive for Valentine's Day. I suppose a marriage proposal is just around the corner, or at least that's what it feels like.

Where does the time go? One minute we're high school graduates, and the next minute we're Martha Stewart's key demographic. I still find myself referring to 1997 as "a few years ago", and now the kid I call my "baby" is analyzing the plot holes in episodes of Clifford and spelling his own name. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with how quickly life seems to be flying by.

Here's hoping there's still something to be said for the young at heart.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Gina the Writer

My writing quasi-career began not as a job, but as a blogger. And not even as a my-opinion-is-more-important-than-yours-type of blogger; I had written dozens of articles before I ever gave anyone the web address, and even then, it was by request. I really and truly wrote only for myself.

Now that I write for the paper, I have to generate at least one article per week. Normally, I pick through the hundred things in the news, or the thousand things that bounce around in my mind, and write about whichever one happens to be the most newsworthy, the most controversial, or sometimes just the easiest to pen 800 words about.

There have been weeks when I can't stop writing. Suddenly there seem to be a myriad of interesting and important topics, and I'll pump out five or six articles in a matter of days. I'll see something on the news or in the paper, and it consumes my thoughts to the extent that I've actually gotten out of bed to write a piece while the words were still fresh in my mind.

Here we are more than two years after I started blogging, and everything I write, while it may go through a more complex editing process than before, is much the same. I am very fortunate to be in a position where I choose the subject matter of my articles, and I have fantastically open-minded and tolerant employers to thank for that.

How strange that, even after more than 60 published articles, I still feel like a fraud calling myself a writer. I've never been to journalism school, nor have I take a single writing course. I wasn't pursued as a writer by any publication, I took a leap of faith and hoped someone would find promise in my work. Even though I am able to say I get paid for the things I write, I would never be so bold as to describe my occupation as "writer".

This train of thought has cropped up for a very obvious (at least to me), Freudian reason: lately I've had to go over my own work and choose which articles from the past year are the best. Not the funniest, not the most newsworthy, but the best in a technical sense. And this task of choosing puts me and my ego in a difficult position.

I don't know if my idea of funny was funny to someone else. Maybe the most hilarious moment of my week, which I wrote about in detail and with great flourish, soared over the heads of most others and fell flat.

I don't know if my explanation of an issue adequately told the story I was trying to tell. Maybe I had false expectations of the public's familiarity with a subject, didn't use enough back story, and people were wondering what in the world I was talking about.

I don't know if my work is good enough. Maybe, even though I know lots of big words and roughly where to place my commas, my writing is just a bunch of partially incoherent, irrelevant nonsense, by someone with too many opinions and not enough writing chops to properly construct a print-worthy article.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. I don't know. What I'm assuming are words uttered often among writers of my experience,and perhaps even occasionally by seasoned ones from time to time.

I'm reluctant to admit, this is the one area of my life where I have sufficient self-doubt. Not so much in the validity of my opinions, or the sincerity behind what I write, but in the cogency of my arguments, the clarity of my points, and the style from a technical perspective.

It is during these moments of self-doubt that, while I simultaneously end up turning them into an article for this week's paper, I have to remember that I do this for myself, just like I did in the beginning. I might have an audience larger than one, but that hasn't changed my purpose or my goal. And since my goal is to use the skills I have to rid my swirling brain of some of it's overwhelming content, I have accomplished what I set out to do before a single issue of the paper is purchased.

So I'm sitting here, for what has to be the fiftieth time, looking over my work from the past year and wondering which articles are fit to be judged by a trained eye. I still haven't even figured out which are those of Gina, the wife, the mother of two, the university drop-out and frequent windbag, and which are those of Gina the professional writer. I haven't even decided if those are the same people. But I have decided neither of them are going to stop.

The Battle of the Bulge, Part 3

I stand (well, actually, I sit) before you a changed woman. Through trials and tribulations, frustration and near death, I have beaten down the demons and tackled the powerful beast that has had a hold on me for so long.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have finally quit pop.

I use pop almost as a verb because, to me, it was never just a thing, it was a habit. I can say this now since I don't do it anymore: the first thing I would do when I got up in the morning was pour and drink a nice glass of pop. Isn't that disgusting? Coffee and tea are universally accepted as morning beverages, but I don't drink either of them, and pop gave me that jolt that I needed to face the day.

What's even more disgusting is that I didn't stop all day. I was lost without a glass beside me, not because I was thirsty, but because it had become a habit. Not to mention, I was addicted to the constant steam of caffeine. There were days when I would drink more than a full 2-litre bottle by myself. As of today, I haven't had a single drink of pop in two weeks, and that's like an eternity in pop-addict years.

What I didn't realize is how quickly I would see a change. The first few days I panicked when I found myself eating more, but only until I noticed that the food I craved had gone from chocolate bars and popcorn, to cereal and fruit. Not only that, the times I was eating had changed, too. My old routine was, fill up on pop all day, let the caffeine suppress my appetite, and then snack the night away. Now, I have a big breakfast, I eat smaller meals throughout the day, and snacks just don't seem appealing without my Big 8, so they've been reduced to a minimum .

Another big difference in my routine is water. By replacing pop with water. while I may have to parade to the bathroom every ten minutes, I've found a way to stave off a snack-attack and get my eight recommended glasses per day. Drinking a whole lot of water might not seem like a life-altering activity for most, especially for those who do it already, but for someone who lived and breathed cola and nothing else, it's a big deal. You'll just have to take my word for it.

And the best part about quitting pop: incentive. I haven't dropped 50-pounds or anything, but my favorite jeans are now too big, my grandmother told me I lost weight, and better still, I feel much better. All this in two weeks? What will I feel and look like after one year? I can't wait to find out.

My one remaining obstacle is exercise. It's not that I don't like to exercise...no, wait, that's exactly what it is. I get that some people enjoy it, and that it makes some people feel better, but I'm just not one of those people. I've joined the gym before, and no matter how long I go or how many different machines I try, it's just not for me.

I'll admit that I make way too many excuses about exercising. I suppose I could manage to find an hour to go for a walk, but I won't, since the thought of leaving these screaming kids with their dad after he's spent 10 hours at work just seems unfair. So what's a girl to do?

I've narrowed the field to two options (not counting gastric bypass surgery, which seems very appealing at times). First is the Wii Fit. This little balance board comes with games that help you lose weight by shifting your body around in ways that it probably wasn't meant to shift. No matter, if it works, I don't care much about defying the laws of physics. I've heard tales of people having lost almost 30 pounds since Christmas, and that sounds pretty promising to me.

The second option is Zumba. Zumba is a 30 minute class that combined disguises cardio fitness with fun little salsa-like dance moves. I know a few people who have gone, had a great time, and whose legs burned like a bugger the next day.

Convenience is making me lean toward Wii Fit, but I'm open to suggestions.

In any case, I'm hoping to be about 60 pounds lighter by the time my friend's September wedding rolls around. You can start praying for me right about.....now.

In case you're wondering, I normally wouldn't chronicle my personal weight-loss efforts with a bunch of strangers, but I figure it's a good way to be accountable. Knowing I've told readers about my goals will give me more motivation to reach them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


So, how has your 2009 been so far? Good I hope. Here's a little taste of mine.

"You have reached Nova Scotia Power's outage line. To report an outage, or for outage updates, press one." BEEP

"To report a complete loss of power, please press one." BEEP

Happy New Year.

We first lost power a little before 3pm on Thursday. Not a big deal, we thought. We're right in the middle of town, I'm sure it won't be off for long.

Within about an hour, our generator-less house, completely reliant on electric heat, was getting pretty chilly. We all put on an extra sweater, gathered in the living room, and hoped the French doors would keep some warmth in until the power was restored.

We were wrong.

At a little after 4pm, with grumbling tummies and no means to cook, we bundled up and braved the blizzard, making our way to the only open restaurant in Port Hawkesbury. Half a kilometer later, we knew our efforts were in vain, since there was about four feet of snow on Reeves Street. Home we went, where we dined on cheese, cereal, and cookies. Yummy.

By 6pm (which was, by the way, the time NSP had originally forecast the power to be restored), our house was freezing. We would have gone to stay with someone who had heat, but the roads were impassable and the weather didn't look to be improving. We broke out the comforters and candles, turned on the radio, and hunkered down.

We waited. And waited and waited. The novelty of, "there's no lights and no TV, let's play with flashlights" wore off rather quickly, and soon we were two cranky adults and two bored children, all freezing to death in the dark.

Approximate restoration time went from 6pm, to 11:30pm, to 5am Friday. The flames of anger raging inside us did not, unfortunately, keep us warm at all.

The evening hours were spent mostly in silence. I cursed the power company, plotted murder on half a dozen people, tried to visualize a beach in Mexico, re-evaluated my thoughts about homeless people, explained the difference between candles and "decorative candles", planned the purchase of alternate heating sources, snapped at my husband, and swore to donate money and blankets to Social Services first thing in the morning.

We had to resign ourselves to the inevitability of bedtime, and wondered how we would make it through the night in a house with an internal temperature hovering around two degrees. With no hope of power restoration in sight, we called it a night. The sleeping arrangements were finalized and I found myself in bed with the two kids, both in layers and layers of socks and sweaters, our rib cages partly crushed by the seven comforters required to keep us semi-warm. My husband, ever the martyr, held his own in another bed with what blankets remained. It was a long, cold night.

Imagine our surprise to wake up and still have no power. We waited, most impatiently, for a few hours, but gave up when we could see our breath. To the in-laws we went, until the power was restored at 4pm on Friday.

We returned home and cranked every heater we had. By about 7:30pm, we were finally comfortable enough to remove a layer of clothing and start living again.

And at 7:47pm, the power went out.

The expletive-laced tirades that followed are not repeatable in this fine family newspaper.

What little heat had returned to our house was gone in no time flat, and like the worst case of deja-vu ever, we huddled in the living room, under blankets, listening to the radio.

I swore to keep calling the power company, and I did repeatedly until I thought their phone might explode. Let it explode, I thought; this is ridiculous. I'll call every fifteen minutes until they get so tired of hearing my voice, the person answering will drive to Port Hawkesbury and climb the pole to fix it themselves, just for the sake of shutting me up.

Maybe it worked, or maybe it was sheer coincidence, but regardless, the lights came on at 10:30pm. By 11:00, thanks to a few powerful space heaters, the kids were warm and sleeping in their beds.

I could easily write an entire article about Nova Scotia Power, but I won't. Intelligent, professional journalists have (and will continue to have) a field day writing about a huge corporation with mind-blowing profits and constant rate hikes, who still have not adjusted their equipment and practices to Nova Scotian weather conditions, even though those conditions have existed since the dawn of electricity. I'll leave it to them to sort out. My fingers are still too numb to type it all.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008 - A Year in Quotes

Quotes are great, aren't they? I've taken my favorites from this past year and compiled them here, to take you into 2009 with a bit of a chuckle (and occasionally, a nod of agreement).

The world is filled with irony, and here is proof: "I think the results last night prove the wisdom of my investment." -- Hilary Clinton, after winning an early primary, on lending $5m of her own money to her presidential campaign. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time, Hilary.

"We have no business qualifications, we don't understand marketing, and we're not very good at anything." -- Michael and Xochi Birch, who are set to make in excess of $850 million from the sale of the Bebo social networking site to AOL. Meanwhile, there are as many "X-rings" at Tim Horton's as there are double-doubles.

"I live to play hockey. I like to go camping and hang out with the boys, do some fishing. I don't want kids. I'm a redneck." -- Levi Johnston, boyfriend of Bristol Palin, and father of the baby she had a few weeks ago. Hindsight sure is 20/20. Quotes coming out of Hollywood are always good for a laugh: "I feel like I am 20 again, but with arthritis." -- Sylvester Stallone, 61, on his return as as Rambo. No word, however, on whether arthritis was the purpose of the massive amounts of injected anabolic steroids.

"There's always someone younger and prettier." -- Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, 35. She should really have a talk with Demi Moore.

"If I see something sagging, bagging and dragging, I'm going to nip it, tuck it and suck it." -- Dolly Parton reveals her anti-aging procedure. At least she's honest about it, right?

"What is the difference between God and Bono? God doesn't wander down Grafton Street thinking he's Bono." -- Irish TV personality Louis Walsh. Now THAT was funny.
"They are steeped in sin and, if eaten long enough or in quantity, will almost certainly kill you." -- Actress Emma Thompson on the scourge of potato chips. I think that description comes from Keira Knightly's diet book, "I've Been Starving Since 1992: An Actress' Guide to Deprivation and Anorexia".

"Everyone over 50 should be issued every week with a wet fish in a plastic bag by the Post Office so that, whenever you see someone young and happy, you can hit them as hard as you can across the face." -- Richard Griffiths, the 61-year-old actor. He might be bitter, but I bet he eats chips without shame.
"I go three, maybe four times a year to get tested for sexually transmitted infections and most of the time I don't even need to." -- Kelly Osborne. If you didn't laugh at that, you need to read it again.

One of the most interesting figures of 2008 was Sarah "Caribou Barbie" Palin. There are so many fantastic quotes by and about her, that I had a hard time picking out my favorites. Here are a few gems: "If BS were currency, Palin could bail out Wall Street herself. If Palin were a man, we'd all be guffawing... But because she's a woman — and the first ever on a Republican presidential ticket — we are reluctant to say what is painfully true." ―conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, writing in National Review. Thank you, Kathleen, my thoughts exactly.

"According to expense reports, Sarah Palin charged the state of Alaska over $21,000 for her children to travel with her on official business. In fairness to Gov. Palin, when she leaves them home alone, they get pregnant." ―Seth Meyers on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update". That one might be mean, but it's so funny I couldn't resist.

"I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is." -- Sarah Palin. And to think, Americans nearly ushered that level of Paris Hilton-esque eloquence right into the White House. Yikes.

On the bright side, President Elect Barack Obama let fly a few funny, sometimes inspirational, quotes of his own, like: "Washington is a place where good ideas go to die." Excellent point.

He also said, in his victory speech on November 4, "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer." Those lines will be quoted for years to come.
Finally, what would a list of memorable quotes be without a zinger from the outgoing George W. Bush: "I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office." Goodbye and good luck, Mr. Bush.
Happy new year, everyone!