Thursday, August 25, 2016

Numbers Are Hard.

Our receptionist at work is married to a very nice man, who is usually pretty-on-the-ball, and generally can be counted on to be sane and reasonable. (He writes letters to editor of our local paper, and not only does he get published regularly, he generally make some sense, which is more than can be said for most of the other people who get their letters to the editor published.)

This kind and sane man was looking at the paper today, to determine the weather forecast for an upcoming trip he has to the States for work. After checking out his destination's likely weather, he wondered what he'd be missing here at home while he was away. He mused to his wife: "its going up to 29 on Monday, 30 on Tuesday and 31 on Wednesday! Wow, that's hot! Except, wait a minute??? It's only going to be 1 on Thursday? What gives?"

And that's when he realized he was looking at the date, and not at the temperature.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Travelling Loudshoes

It's summer, and that means that we feel compelled to get in the car and GO somewhere. Anywhere. Maybe it's because a Canadian winter means that driving is a hazardous and high-strung undertaking that we feel obligated to take to the road when we are able. Something about the possibility of dying of hypothermia makes you think twice about leaving the city in January, you know?

I love a good road trip. And living in Canada means I get lots of opportunity, since this is a big place and our  motto should be "The Country Where Everything is Far From Everywhere!" We think very little of driving two hours to go to a concert or a ball game, and I know loads of people who spend a half a day in a car getting to a cottage for a weekend. People in Europe think this is crazy, because they could spend a half a day in a car and see four countries. Once, when two of my cousins and I were driving to Montreal from here, they asked me if I needed someone to read the map and navigate, and I told them it was actually pretty easy: you just got on the highway here, and stayed on it for 8 hours, and then got off in Montreal. They were boggled that it was just one road.

The Loudshoes went to Toronto this weekend, which is only a couple of hours on the road, but judging by the amount of food we brought to sustain us, you'd think we were crossing the Great Plains to claim a homestead. I'm not sure what we thought we might encounter on our trip, but we were armed with ALL kinds of snacks, just in case our blood sugar dipped dangerously low in the 60 minutes between leaving the house and making our first bathroom stop.
 AND, as required by law in Canada, we stopped at Tim Hortons before leaving town. Everyone knows that it is impossible to drive anywhere in Canada without a large double-double in hand. (Especially to a hockey arena.) The Mister does not drink coffee, so it's up to me to ingest all the caffeine necessary to maintain our citizenship.

The People In Charge Of Rest Stops Along The Highway have improved their game immeasurably in the past few years. When I was a kid, the food available along the 401 was incredibly awful; soggy french fries, flimsy hamburgers and a lot of greasy, beige stuff that looked like it used to be edible. Then, they sold all the franchises to McDonalds, and if it still wasn't all that great, at least it was predictable. Now they've got a couple of restaurants at each location, which give you a bit of variety, at least, and a fighting chance at getting a salad or a sandwich with ingredients that you can identify. And every one has a Tim Hortons. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

The People In Charge of Rest Stops Along The Highway should be commended for their Department of Bathroom Enrichment, because they have done a bang-up job. I'm pretty sure that department is staffed entirely by women, because they clearly knew what they were doing. The bathrooms are big, and clean and there are 157 toilets at every one. So many toilets. Nary a line up.With bales of toilet paper at each one.  And the sinks! There's dozens of them, with loads of dry counter space to put your purse while you wash your hands in the adequately sized basin that does not splash water all over your shirt. My one, small, tiny little grievance is that they have these industrial hand driers that blow air so hard that you have to work to maintain your balance and they are LOUD. Like, you should probably be wearing ear protection, loud. And when two or three women are drying their hands at the same time, it's like being in a gymnasium with a jet engine. I'm not sure why they felt the need to install hand driers that could wake the dead, but I'm so happy with the rest of the Department of Bathroom Enrichment's work that I will give them a pass.

We drove to Toronto, went to a ball game, and the next day, did a bit of shopping, and then came home. We were gone for a little over 24 hours, and only 4 or 5 of those were actually spent in the car, but we managed to generate a small mountain of garbage. The van was a slovenly toxic waste dump on wheels by the time we pulled into our driveway.  I guess all that snacking means that there's going to be some litter, but I'm not sure how we managed to create that metric shit-ton in such a short time. The Bottled Water Graveyard in the very back is going to take some time to excavate.

Coming home is always nice; one's own bed is delightful, and the cat was very happy to see us. Even if I do have to make my own coffee there.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Party Animals

The Mister and I threw a party yesterday, and the both of us are really feeling it today. Not because either one of us is hung-over or anything, but because we don't entertain very often, and we aren't very good at it. I hear people all the time saying "we love to entertain", and I'm delighted, because that means I can be a guest at their house. (I am an excellent guest, just to tell you. I bring a small but tasteful gift, I am a charming conversationalist, I eat whatever is put in front of me, and if you keep pouring the wine, I will probably drink it and go home before I throw up.)

I will take a  moment to comment on the phrase "throwing a party", because that's exactly as violent and as haphazard as that when I do it. Like "throwing up" and "throwing under a bus".

Maybe it's because we both work on Saturdays, and everyone else's weekend is half-way done when ours is getting started, but giving dinner parties and bar-b-ques and the like just isn't something we do very often. And because we don't do it often, it's never a slam-dunk. I always feel like I'm just getting away with it.

I'm in a frenzy of activity before a party, trying to figure out where the food will go and how I will serve it and how many plates do I need and what kind of platter will that go on and I know I bought napkins and the towels in the bathroom need to be changed and I'm going to need a corkscrew out there and someone has to go buy ice because I forgot and now the fridge is full and I can't put any more in there and by the time my guests come, I have a strong urge to tell them where the booze is and I'll see them later as I now need a nap. It never seems to be as effortless as Martha Stewart seems to keep telling me it should be.

I love my friends and family, and none of them would ever give a rat's ass about how clean my house is, or how we get everything together, and if they did, they're not my real friends anyway. But, you can live with all sorts of ridiculous things until you invite people over and then start looking around as if you were a guest. That dusty old lampshade? Hideous. The overflowing bookshelf? In need of a good cull. The clumps of cat hair on the carpet? Yuck. The bathrooom you've been meaning to paint for months? DO IT BY SATURDAY!
The Mister and I agree that we really should entertain about every 4 months or so, because we get so much done around the house that we'd never do otherwise. The prospect of visitors galvanizes us like nothing else.
I make up for the surroundings by feeding people really good food until they burst. And I ply them with liquor until they don't notice the dust bunnies under the dining room table.

I have my Book Club Ladies over a few times a year, and they are completely amicable and gracious, and are far too well brought up to bat an eyelash at the unmatched tea cups and squeaky dining room chairs. They appear, at least, to be far too enamoured of my bread pudding with whiskey sauce to notice. I would be lying if I didn't say that I am deeply jealous of the rest of them; they seem to entertain with aplomb, with centerpieces that co-ordinate with the theme of the book and napkins that match the tablecloths, and furniture they did not get at a garage sale. AND they make desserts that would make you swoon. Clearly, I am just not as adept as they are at this.

Yesterday's party was for our staff, and again, they all know me, are well acquainted with my slovenly habits, and seem to be eager to come here anyway. Again, I think its the food that's the draw. I had several requests for my foccacia (always a fave.) and for the Mister's freshly made samosas and onion bhaji. I made creme brulee cheesecake and the Mister cooked chicken wings over a firepit, and then everyone else brought salads and devilled eggs and a cheesy crab and lobster dip that was insanely delicious. Just after we started to eat, the heavens opened and we got a serious amount of rain for the next few hours, but we all crammed into the breezeway and nobody seemed to  mind that we had 12 people packed into a space meant for 6.
I think the fact that everyone was woozy from the food comas helped.

After a lovely few hours of eating and drinking and talking, eventually our guests drifted away, all seeming to have had a good time. The Mister took care of cleaning up outside, and I poured myself a glass of wine and put on some music and found myself enjoying the best part of the day for me; the cleaning up. Not because I like cleaning, far from it, but there's something very satisfying about creating order out of chaos, and humming along to the music and just enjoying the solitude and quiet after a few hours of talking and cooking and being in charge. Then, my very favorite part of the day, when the Mister and I sit down with a drink and chat. (Every couple knows that the best part of any party is the post-party note-comparing.) Not only do I love sitting down after a busy day, and talking to the Mister, but I know the house is clean, there's plenty of leftovers in the fridge and best of all? It will be another few months until we do it all again.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Handy Hands

The guy I married is just great; he is charming and funny, kind and smart. He’s a really good father to our girls and a wonderful husband, son and uncle. But you know why I married him?
He can DO things.

The Mister can, and has: Cut and styled hair,renovated our kitchen, built and fixed every computer in our house, as well as a couple of other houses around here, made furniture that we actually use, built a shed ,re-sided our garage, installed a shower in our basement, fixed the air-conditioning in our van (saving us about $800),repaired every small appliance at the salon and at home and my mother’s house, installed a patio and a fire pit in our backyard (not in the same location), grown vegetables, and he can make one hell of a homemade doughnut. He knows how to change the oil in the car, get rid of computer viruses and strip and clean a rifle. (For the record, he cannot get his dirty laundry in the laundry basket or watch a movie with the sound on a reasonable volume , just in case you thought he was perfect.)

I grew up in a house of academics, and although we were all creative enough and happy to get our hands dirty, we were not really a family of “do-it yourself”-ers.  Not too long after myself and the Mister were engaged, my brother and his then-wife were living in a married students’ residence at the university, as they were both grad students at the time. Their bar-b-q had been stolen, a really nice one, as it had been a wedding gift, and as money was tight, they were in no position to buy a new one. They were quite disappointed about it; they really liked having a bar-b-q. We were all at dinner at my parents as they told this story, and as it happened, my parents neighbours had set out an old bar-b-q of theirs for garbage pick up the next day.
 The Mister suggested that they ask the neighbours what was wrong with it and see if they could fix it. My family was gobsmacked. Fix it? You can FIX a bar-b-q? The Mister found out what the problem was, determined the solution (it needed a new burner) and proceeded to go out, get the part, and some bar-b-q paint (who even knew there was such a thing as bar-b-q paint????) and with a minimum of fuss and money, gussied up that bar-b-q so it would work again, and looked like new. We were slackjawed and speechless with wonder and admiration. My family looked at him and looked at me and all of a sudden were intensely invested in my marrying this man. They liked him just fine before this, but now they could see that there was going to be an enormous benefit in having him around, and they wanted to make sure I sealed the deal as quickly as possible.

The Mister’s latest do-it-yourself project is to make his own kilts. He takes  a length of plaid and pleats it and hand-sews it and does all sorts of other magic on it to make it hang properly and then he wears one to work every day. (As one of my friends said, “what a weird mid-life crisis.”) For the record, I LOVE a man in a kilt. Even before “ Outlander “ I was a big fan of kilts. I begged the Mister to wear one for our wedding, but he refused on the grounds that his “knees were too knobby” and that he didn’t want the focus to be on them and not the bride. (You see how thoughtful he is? And manipulative?) I guess he has either embraced the knobbiness of his knees or my 23 years of gentle suggestion  have worked.

And let me tell you, he makes beautiful kilts, perfectly pleated and meticulously sewn. I knew that all the pleating and sewing would be a pain in the arse, but I had no idea all the other stuff that goes into the structure of the kilt; horsehair canvas and steeking and oh-so-subtle shaping that goes into making it hang just right. They are a work of art. AND he looks very snazzy in them. He’s bought all the jackets and socks and nifty bits and bobs that go with the kilts, but for the most part, he just wears normal everyday shirts to go with them, and it really does just look like regular workday clothes, and not a costume on him.

He has about 20 kilts now, ranging from his namesake plaid in a very heavy wool to a nifty purple and grey number that I particularly like. A few people have asked if he’s made one for me, but I don’t really want one; I don’t think this particular backside would be enhanced by plaid. (“Can you make my bum look much, much bigger, please? Bigger, and wider. Really, like a garage door. ,said no woman ever.)

I’m pretty lucky to have snagged him in the first place, but the handy part? Such a bonus. I’m hoping his next obsession will be to fly planes or make shoes. You know, something I can use.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Ready, Set, BAKE!

Let me tell you about my new favorite obsession. It’s a show about baking. 

No, really, a reality show where people bake. They just bake their little hearts out.  It’s freaking fabulous. 

Hear me out.

First let me explain that in Britain it’s called “The Great British Bake-Off”, but in North America it’s “The Great British Baking Show”, something to do with trademarks on words like “bake-off” and a certain company has a dough boy. (“Bake off!”and  “dough boy” sound slightly nefarious when out of context, now that I think of it.) Also, the started showing it in North American when they had already had three seasons of it in England, so our first season is actually their fourth season. I am feverishly trying to find the first three seasons because I love this show so much.

Why do I love it so? Partly, because it’s so beautifully and wonderfuly British.  Everyone is an amateur baker,and so impressively polite and gently with each other. They are all nice people who just want to do their best. American reality shows focus on unecessary manufactured drama and interpersonal conflict, and I have no idea why. (I work in a hair salon and am the mother of two daughters….I live that stuff every day.)  This show has contestants that actually give each other a hand and seem genuinely delighted for one another when they succeed. It makes me teary.

Secondly, there’s no money involved. None. Everyone is just competing for the title of winner, if you can believe it. No one is giving impassioned speeches about why they “deserve” to be there, or giving the side-eye to someone else who “shouldn’t” be there because they aren’t one-legged and  blind  and need to go to India to perform kidney transplants on orphans. Its nice to see a competition that is genuine but not cutthroat.

And then there’s the food! Oh my god, the food! These people bake the most delicious looking, fabulous stuff! I spend the hour drooling and in awe. It’s not just because the “Showstopper” segment is eye-popping (you should see what these people can do with pies!), but because I want to make almost every single thing I see on this show. How do I make Italian meringue! I need to make my own puff pastry! Where have custard tarts been all my life?!? Why have I never heard of Kouign Amann??? It’s inspiring.

And lastly, I love this show, because the world in 2016 is terrifying. For the first time in my adult life, I have chosen to turn off the news….there is just too much heartbreaking, frightening and soul-destroying shit going on right now. And I have absolutely no control over any of it, and it makes me anxious and distburbed and apprehensive. This show provides one hour in the week that is a haven from all that; everything is sweet (literally and figuratively) and gentle and utterly civilized. Who wouldn’t like a world where the worst thing that can happen is that you have a soggy bottom?
And I appreciate that very much.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Just Do It. (For Gods' Sake.)

My dad’s last few years of his life were pretty unpleasant for him, healthwise. Things had deteriorated to the point where he was pretty much housebound and in a lot of discomfort most of the time. Now, my dad was not exactly a health conscious kind of guy; he smoked until his 60s, he enjoyed his beer a bit too much and he never met a pork chop he didn’t’ like. Really, considering how appallingly he looked after himself, it’s a bit of a miracle it took 75 years to catch up to him. But catch up with him it did. He had heart problems and some crippling arthritis, and believe  me, both of those made life very difficult for him.

I realize that there are not insurance policies when it comes to one’s health. You can take all the vitamins  you want and run marathons regularly, but there’s a certain amount of chance that you really just can’t avoid. (Look at Lynda McCartney….the woman grew her own organic vegetables for goodness sake, and she still died from breast cancer. I  mean, if she can’t avoid it, who can? Why not throw your hands up and have the cheeseburger? With bacon?)

But clearly, there’s a few things you do have some control over, and I am willing to concede that diet and exercise are two of them; nobody’s life is better when they are carrying an extra 50 pounds on them. I hate to admit it, because I am very predisposed to eating cheesecake for breakfast and staying in bed and reading all day. The worst part of my day is spent at the gym.
After my dad died, I figured I have likely another 30 years on this earth, and I could spend them like him, or like my mum, who is 81, walks without aid, is sharp as a tack and doesn’t even take naps.

So, I went back to Weight Watchers and I called the gym to book a personal trainer for a few sessions. Before this, technically, I went to the gym two or three times a week, but I think to say I “worked out” would be generous…..I watched tv while I strolled on the treadmill and halfheartedly flung the machines around on the lowest weight settings, but that’s about it. Better than nothing, but only a tiny bit better than nothing.

Weight Watchers and I are old friends, we stay in touch and occasionally have a coffee and catch up, but we haven’t had much of a real conversation in the last few years. I decided to go back to the meetings, and you know, actually do what they told me to to do. Its amazing what can happen when you start paying attention to what you are putting in your mouth. A revelation, I know.

I went to the gym and had a guy named Travis (why are all personal trainers named Travis? Or Britney?) give me some guidance and firm but gentle encouragement (“Yes, you have to do this every time. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, three times a week. No, I’m not kidding about that either. Listen, nobody’s making you do this. Here’s a Kleenex, please stop crying.”) Travis gave me some concrete goals to work towards and made me come back to him every so often to see how I was doing. And as someone who places far too much value on other people’s opinions, I have to say, this really worked for me. ( I cannot tell you how much I loathe the usual approach to “motivation” that the fitness industry usually employs. When someone, anyone, but especially someone dressed in spandex yells “FASTER” at me so close that I can feel their kale-breath on my neck, my inclination is to lie down in the fetal position and pretend to be dead until they go away. It’s the same think I would do if approached by a grizzly bear, FYI.)

And guess what? The clothes fit a bit better. My knees don't hurt anymore. I sleep better. I have more energy at work. All the things they told me would happen if I lost 20 pounds. 

I still don’t love the gym, and I really do want that third piece of pizza, but its also clear to  me that there is a bigger payoff here, and I can choose it or not. (And as Big Liver Girl says, life is all about choices.)

But, every now and again, I still get to lay in bed eating cheesecake. I am, after all, my father’s daughter. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Hello Kitty

We used to have a long, orange tabby cat named Toby, who I wrote about quite a bit on this blog. When we had Toby, we thought he was a perfectly normal cat, if somewhat demanding and noisy. When we had to put Toby put to sleep because of a large and ominous tumor, (a sad day) we realized what a fascist despot we had been putting up with all this time.

He wanted your attention NOW, he had to go outside IMMEDIATELY, he had an all consuming addiction to tuna that must be satisfied AT THIS VERY MOMENT' ......all frigging day, every day. Toby also had a terrible fondness for getting all up in one's business, with little or no regard for personal space....if he wanted to love you while you were trying to read a book then TOO BAD FOR YOU, YOU ARE GETTING LOVE!!  I imagine if Sadaam Hussein was a cat, this is how he would have behaved.

When Toby went, the girls wanted to get another cat right away, but I resisted, partly because I felt it wouldn't be fair to the next cat (you'd want the new cat to "take over" from the old cat.) but mostly because I wanted to enjoy the sensation of a clean house without anyone horking up fur balls all over the carpet for just a few weeks.

After the girls wore me down, we went to the local pet store that has cats from a shelter and found a sweet tortoise shell female with the most beautiful green eyes, and we took her home. We renamed her Luna, and its like she was always here.

We could not have found a more different cat than Toby...for one thing, Toby was a long, thin guy, prone to stretching himself out so long on a hot day that I thought he might never go back together again. (somewhat akin to putting toothpaste back in the tube.) Luna is, to put it politely, a sturdy girl. The first time I went to pick her up I was disconcerted by the fact that my hands did not meet around her generous belly. (I thought that might have been a result of having lived in a cage for a while and not getting much exercise, but no, she's that fat all the time.)
She also has proved to just be considerably more easy-going. When Toby came to live with us, he ran out of the carrier and under a bed and stayed there, more or less, for three days. Luna walked out of the carrier, looked around approvingly and decided "I live her now".

Toby was LOUD. So loud. He walked around the house meowing and yowling in the most despairing manner, like he thought he was the last living soul on earth and begging for the sweet release of death. Five a.m. was his preferred opportunity for this, and he did it regularly. Luna only meows loudly when one of us is outside. (We cant' figure out if she wants to come out and join us or if she desperately want us to come in) She has a little, almost silent squeak of a  meow, and she hardly ever does it, except for when one of us is holding her and declaring our love for her while she struggles to break free.

Luna has tragically short legs, like, so short she cannot jump up on counters or tables.This means she generally minds her own business. Toby HAD to investigate everything, even if it had nothing to do with him. And really, everything had nothing to do with him.

The biggest difference between the two cats is their philosophical stance on tuna. Whereas Luna sees it as an occasional and welcome treat that one eats until one has had enough, Toby approached it like a meth addict embarking on a week-long bender. He started urging me out of bed when the birds started singing, usually around 4 a.m, and did not stop hounding me until I got out of the shower and fed him the tuna. And even if I gave him his drug before I got in the shower, that did NOT mean I could get away without giving him more when I did get out of the shower. When he was done eating he would sniff around that dish with a singular determination, just in case there was more tuna he had missed, and then, if you could believe it, he'd come over while I was eating breakfast and demand more! The cheek of him! Once I thought I'd try an experiment; I had read that unlike dogs, cats will only eat until they are full and then walk away, so I figured I'd see if that was true...Really, would a cat eat tuna until he threw up, and if so, how much? The answer is yes, and about a quarter of a cup.

Luna is much more civilized on so many fronts, if a little less entertaining. But she is lower maintenance, too, so I'm ok with that.