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, 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

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.