Don't Play me for a Sucker

Saturday, August 28, 2010 | | 0 comments

Something didn't add up.

My son came down the stairs this morning with a red lollipop in his hand. Signs of licking were obvious. Without being asked, he said his sister had given him the lollipop because he had given her a stuffed pony he found in the basement, that had belonged to her "when she was little." She's only eight now, so the precise timeline of littleness is unclear. I was quite certain though that my daughter was still sound asleep, and she's not one to give away lollipops, even for the safe return of long-lost ponies. The whole story smelled fishy.

My wife asked him if he was sure that was how the lollipop came into his possession.

"Yes, she said 'oh, thank you for the pony, you can have this lollipop'," was his quick reply. The cover story had obviously been rehearsed.

"So, is she awake now?" we asked.

Without blinking, he replied, "No, she gave me the lollipop, then went back to sleep."

He's good.

However, there was no chance any of that had happened, so it was time for us to call his bluff.

"Fine," he started, resignation in his voice. "She's asleep and I took the lollipop from her candy box."

Apparently, we have candy boxes. Who knew?

"I tip-toed very, very quietly into her room and took it from the candy box on her desk."

I suspect there never was a pony.

In seconds, he had gone from good Samaritan to cat burglar, but that was good enough for my wife.

"Thank you for telling us the truth," she began. "It's okay because you told us the truth."

I waited for the rest of the summation, but realized it wasn't coming. I said, "Um, maybe we want to mention something about the stealing part?"

"Oh right!" she said. "We don't take things from our sister's room. That's not okay."

My son put on the perfect hang-dog look and said, "Okay, I won't."

"Why did you do that?" asked my wife.

"Cause I like candy."

Finally, the truth comes out.

My Son and his Super powers

Thursday, August 26, 2010 | | 0 comments

When I started writing this blog, there were certain things I never expected to write about. This is one of them.

Lately, there has been something wrong with my son. I don't know what he ate or what other reason there could be for this problem, but he is having some really bad gas. And although I feel for him, I truly do, his problems pale by comparison to the horrendous living conditions he has subjected the rest of us to on a far too regular basis.

In our house we refer to them as "toots," although as I write that it seems about the silliest thing to call them. In my son's case, there is no tooting that preceeds nor accompanies these awful blasts, just silent and deadly strikes. Some warning would be very much appreciated, but these are the definition of sneak attacks.

Since this problem started, I have been getting angry with my son each time he inflicts his issue on the rest of us. Is this fair? Does tooting break any laws? Is there a house rule which precludes tooting? The answer to all of these is no, but I just can't see myself grinning and bearing it. I understand that it needs to happen, and he hasn't chosen this odour (that hits you like mace), but it's just not a thing that can be ignored. It can't.

And I know he tries to avoid this problem. Yesterday, he was on the couch, and I heard him say, "hold it in, hold it in!" so I know he wishes he wasn't slowly killing us. Last night, while still on the couch, he said "Daddy, my tummy really hurts!"

Why doesn't that surprise me?

Feeling the weight of the family on his shoulders, he then said, "I don't have to go to the bathroom, but I can't stop farting!"

At times like these, we abandon the word tooting.

"That must be my power," he continued. "I'm a superhero."

The Morning Workout

Monday, August 23, 2010 | | 0 comments

I decided that it was time to bring back the morning workout.

The morning workout and I go back about 10 years. If I recall correctly, my first attempt lasted one, maybe two workouts. I remember dizziness and nausea which lasted several hours and the repeated question, why am I doing this?

A few years later, I was ready to revisit the morning workout, but this time, I felt the need to run outside. Dizziness and nausea were gone, but the question remained. In fact, the question intensified when I found myself running on ice and snow, sometimes slipping and falling on the sidewalks and roads. There is something about lying on your back, looking up at the still-dark sky, wondering if you will be run over by a snow plow that causes you to reevaluate the morning workout. The suicidal morning runs lasted about three weeks.

I don't know what changed, but somehow the morning workouts reappeared a year or two later and this time they stuck. Each morning, I woke at 5:30 a.m. and worked out for a full hour before going to work. I felt great and stayed to my routine better than I had at any other point in my life. This lasted for a year or more and I don't know why they stopped. As of this morning, they're back and I'm going to see how long I can keep it going.

A few things I've learned about morning workouts:

1. You will never, ever feel like waking up. The sound of your alarm will be a horrible noise each and every morning, forever. It never gets easier. Just get up.

2. Morning workouts never conflict with anything else. The only excuse you ever have to miss your workout is more sleep...understandable, but see #1. This is the beauty of the morning workout.

3. Eat something. I don't think it matters a whole lot what you eat, just that you eat. Your workouts are better with something in your stomach and that's the goal.

4. Work out at home. If possible, consider getting some weights and/or do body weight exercises and avoid going to the gym. It's easier, faster and there are fewer excuses to miss a workout.

5. Running outside on snow and ice is just stupid. Trust me.

Coffee Networking

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 | | 0 comments

As part of my job search I've been doing a lot of networking. If you're unfamiliar with the term, it's as simple as talking to people you know, who refer you to people they know, and so on. The idea is that you're building relationships with people with the hope that you will be able to help each other in some way, now or in the future.

More and more, the people I'm meeting are suggesting that we have our meetings at coffee shops. I like coffee, so the idea appeals to me a great deal, but it doesn't come without some challenges that will be discussed in this blog.

The first challenge is that often I've never met the other person and don't know what they look like. Sometimes the other person will offer a description of themselves and this is one time that you hope for some ridiculous abnormalities. Hearing "I'm average height, build and have medium-length, brown hair," is disastrous. Hearing "I'm nine feet tall, have a snake tattoo on my face and a moustache that wraps around my head," is ideal.

When no description is available, I have often looked people up on LinkedIn and have found their picture there. One must remember that it is common to find the greatest picture ever taken of a person on social networking sites, and that this is sometimes merely a guide as to who you are looking for at the coffee shop.

There are times when I simply have no idea what the other person looks like and have used two tactics: standing by the door and hoping that I can spot the uncertainty in someones eyes who is unsure what I look like and randomly approaching anyone of the same gender as my intended target. For obvious reasons the first option is preferable and with some practice, it is possible to look at their eyes without being really, really creepy.

The other problem I've encountered is having several coffee meetings in a day and experiencing caffeine overload. I suppose though that this allows me to provide a more helpful description of myself:

I'm average height and build, have medium-length brown hair, and will be shaking uncontrollably somewhere near the door.

Your Service McSucks

Monday, August 16, 2010 | | 0 comments

On our way to the cottage on Friday night, we stopped at the McDonald’s restaurant in Fergus. I have ridiculously low expectations of what I’m going to get at McDonald’s in terms of food quality, price and service, but things were so bad at the “drive thru” window, I think I need to blog about it.

Can I take your order?

Yes, I’ll have a Big Mac meal with a Sprite for the dr-

Is that everything?

Are you kidding?
Uh, no...I’ll also have a Chicken McNugget meal with a Co-

Is that a (garbled) or (even more garbled)?

Pardon me?

Is that six or ten?

Um, six.

Is that everything?

No, I’ll also get a cheeseburger happy meal-

Is that a girl’s toy or a boy’s?

This one is a girl’s toy...

With fries and a coke?

No, with apple slices and-

And the next happy meal?

For the first one, I want apple slices and milk for the drink...


Aren’t you going to cut me off?
For the second, I’ll get a snack wrap with fries and a chocolate milk.

Is that everything?


Ok, so that’s one Big Mac meal with a Sprite, one cheeseburger happy meal with a milk and one snack wrap happy meal with chocolate milk?

No, you forgot the McNugget meal with a Coke.

Did you want any sauce with that?

Yes, sweet and sour please.

That’s $26.52, drive up.

They handed us our food and my son informed me that he already had the toy that came with his meal. I stayed at the window with the toy in my hand, preparing to ask for an exchange for a different toy. None of the mcpeople ever looked out the window, so I waited and waited. Finally, the window was opened and the girl tried to hand me the drinks for the car behind me, before I could tell her why I was really there.

No exchange was possible, they forgot the sweet and sour sauce and the napkins.


7 Ways to Stay Mad

Thursday, August 12, 2010 | | 0 comments

I wasn't in a bad mood when I woke up this morning, but somehow I am now. There are plenty of great articles written about how to get out of these kinds of moods, but very little written for those who choose to stay angry and ruin their day.

Here is my list:

1. Look for someone to blame for your problems. Unless you are totally alone in this world, (and choosing to stay angry for long periods increases the likelihood of this possibility) you have someone in your life who is more responsible for your unhappiness than yourself. Assure yourself that their actions are chronic and deliberate. Blame can be ascribed indiscriminately and without any logical connection to the problem.

2. Dwell on the problem. Think about how bad it is and resist any temptation to look for solutions. Then, try to make the problem worse than it really is. You will know when you've completed this step when the problem is in fact now as bad as you willed it to be.

3. Fill your head with negative thoughts and repeat negative phrases. Now is the time to beat yourself up and remove the emotional tools used to solve problems. Make sure negative phrases are not chanted as this may be soothing and defeats the purpose.

4. Get in the proper physical state. Sitting in one place for long periods of time works well. Basements are the ideal place in the home at this time, but caves or sewers are good alternatives. Pacing can be used between periods of sitting, but any more than that resembles exercise and is to be avoided. Frowning, scowling and sighing work well while sitting, pacing or cave dwelling.

5. Pile it on. Surely this is not the only problem you have going on in your life right now, so use this time to try to tackle all of your problems at once. Writing a list of all earthly problems (yours and those which don't apply, but someday could) can be a good idea, but avoid this step if writing or list making is therapeutic in any way.

6. Avoid talking to people who want to help with the problem. They serve no purpose here unless they can be added to the list of people to blame.

7. Take no action. The process of thinking about the problem and emphasizing its impact on your day is the only way to really build up to a boil. Any action could lead to a better frame of mind or, worst of all, a solution to the problem and therefore is never worth the risk.

I trust this article has been helpful.

Indian Food

Monday, August 9, 2010 | | 0 comments

I love Indian food. I hadn't had it in a while, so last night we ordered from our favourite spot, a place called Modern India. If there is anything especially modern about the restaurant, I haven't figured out what that would be, but they make excellent food and we've been customers for years.

I first tried Indian food when I was 19. I had been "hired" to drive two restaurant owners and an actor from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival from Stratford to Chatham, drop them off at the train, pick them up in London, then return home to Stratford. Apparently I had my name down at the Department of Truly Strange Jobs that summer and they had come through yet again.

When we reached London, my passengers decided that we should stop to eat and asked me if I liked really spicy food. I told them that I did, but probably had something like corn relish in mind. They knew a good Indian restaurant and off we went.

The food was very spicy, but nothing I couldn't handle...for a while. Soon, a strange sensation overtook me, as though I was being choked, and I excused myself to go to the washroom. I was alarmed to see steam coming out of my ears, accompanied by a train whistle. My eyes watered so much, I may have actually been crying. I tried to cool my tongue down by putting it in the sink and running water over it, but it somehow seemed to make the situation worse. I thought about escaping through the small window in the washroom, but realized the Department would learn of the escape and I wouldn't be considered for the chicken catching job next week.

The ultimate insult was that at no time was I ever paid for my driving and assume that torture by Indian food had been my payment.

But somehow I couldn't stop thinking about the interesting flavours of that meal and over time I learned to cope with the heat.

When I was first married, my wife and I would go to the only Indian restaurant in the town where we lived. They soon recognized us and offered us poppadoms, "compliments of the house." We were made to believe that only the most loyal customers received this honour, but I don't believe anyone ever paid for poppadoms at that restaurant. I've never ordered poppadoms in my life, but to this day, my expectation is that they would always be free.

We moved and were thrilled to find that our new home also had one Indian restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant was nearly empty every time we went and we were not surprised when it closed.

When we moved again, there were two Indian restaurants and both were excellent. It was at one of those restaurants that I dined with an Indian friend of mine and learned something quite interesting-when a non-Indian person says they want their food prepared hot, they get an eight or nine (out of 10). When an Indian person orders hot, it's a 50. It was during one of these meals that I discovered the magical soothing powers of plain yogurt.

We have several Indian restaurants to choose from where we're living now, but we love the food at Modern India and I can't imagine taking my business anywhere else. Ordering has become as simple as saying my name and they assume correctly that our order will remain unchanged from last time. I think our friend at the restaurant believes my last name is my first name, but it's much too late to correct him now.

Now if you'll excuse me, I believe I have some left-overs in the fridge.

Vacation Fun and Games

Friday, August 6, 2010 | | 0 comments

On our first day at the cottage my son found a bag full of board games in the garage. There was simply no question that we were going to play each and every game in the bag and within minutes I was reviewing the long-forgotten rules to Chinese checkers.

The marbles had just started to dance when my daughter uncovered Monopoly, the classic game from Parker Brothers, and we’ve had a family game going ever since.

There are three teams-myself, my daughter and a combined entry of my wife and my son. My son rolls the dice for his team and what a spectacle that is. It begins with a fanfare, sung loudly as he rolls the dice around in his hands, stopping only when someone urges him to “please roll!” He slowly and deliberately counts eat dot and is quick to scold anyone who attempts to help or otherwise speed up the process. He’s all about the action and cares little about the play of the game beyond dramatic dice rolling, slow counting and the exchanging of coloured paper. Excitement overtakes him and he needs to be reminded that crawling onto the table on all fours, standing on the game itself, and kicking game pieces onto the floor are not enjoyable actions for the other players.

My daughter might not realize that Monopoly is just a game. Her focus on acquiring properties, building houses and hotels, and amassing wealth is so intense that she may truly believe she is moving into Marvin Gardens once the renovations are complete. She’s learning a lot about negotiation and leverage and teaching us about greed.

I’ve had quite a bit of time to think about the game and how much fun we’re having as a family during my many periods of incarceration. I’m not sure what life was like in 1935, when the game was first launched, but apparently real estate investors were often jailed. Worse yet, they also had to live with the embarrassment of losing their $200 salary for not passing “Go.”

My wife thinks I’m trying to take advantage of my daughter in property trades and laughs at my misfortune, calling it karma.

You may be right dear, but we’ll see who’s laughing when I’m banging my cup against the bars and you need $200 for groceries!

Vacation sadness

Wednesday, August 4, 2010 | | 0 comments

Yesterday, we lost a member of our family.

Ella the gerbil passed away at 5:38 p.m.

Ella went by many names: the brown gerbil, the big one, the bigger one, the really big one, and sometimes the fat one.

While Ella was certainly big, she was also loved, especially by my daughter. On her seventh birthday, we gave her two gerbils as her birthday present. I was anti-pet and especially anti-rodent pet, but I agreed to the idea of two furry creatures that would live their entire lives in a small cage in my daughter’s room.

Somehow it was agreed that the gerbils would be shared-the brown one would be my daughter’s and the grey one would be my son’s. My daughter thought hers should be named Ella and my son thought his should be named Alex, after himself. We told him many times that Alex was a female, but he never listened, cared or agreed.

The two kids played with the gerbils as much as you can play with gerbils. They aren’t animals that like to be handled or petted, but my daughter would pick them up against their will and hold them. Only once was she ever bitten. I can’t recall if it was Ella or Alex who did the biting.

On a few occasions the gerbils made escape attempts and once I was called in to capture the fugitives. I locked myself in my daughter’s room, sat on the floor and made futile attempts to catch them with my hands as they dashed past me. Two hours later, daddy had mastered the art of gerbil trapping and both animals had been returned to their cage. Gerbils will do anything to avoid capture, including running up your leg, inside your shorts until you are forced to abandon your position, but I’d rather not talk about that at this time.

We’re on vacation this week and the gerbils travelled with us as we enjoyed three days of camping. We realized yesterday that Ella wasn’t well. By mid afternoon she was barely moving and my daughter wondered if she was still breathing.

As we headed down the road, towards our cottage a couple of hours away, Ella’s situation grew dire and the updates from the back seat became frantic.

“Daddy, Ella is on her back and her legs are up in the air.”

Oh no.

I knew that we would deal with the death of the gerbils at some point. I really didn’t want them to experience the loss of a pet in this way, watching those last painful moments as life slips away, but unfortunately that’s what happened. As we sat in traffic, all eyes on Ella, she began to shake and soon she was gone.

Uncontrollable tears and wailing followed and I could only drive on, wondering how to answer the questions that came next. Burial plans were discussed and I must somehow figure out how to preserve Ella’s body for four days until she can return home with us.

Ella, you went by many names (sadly, we have now added "the dead gerbil") and you were a good pet. You’re in a better place (and I don’t mean in a box in the basement) and you’ll be missed.

RIP Ella the gerbil