See the People

Posted: July 15, 2016 in Uncategorized

It has been a looooong time since I have posted here, but this seemed like a good message to share (Past Deadline column, Perth Courier, for July 14/16).

See the people

I think, maybe, we aren’t seeing people anymore.

I mean really seeing them. Seeing that they have hearts and minds and thoughts and emotions. Seeing that a person isn’t just there to do a thing for you.

I think, maybe, we aren’t seeing that everyone comes from somewhere. They have been influenced by things. The split-second choices they make are, all at once, a combination of the circumstances of a moment (such as fear) and an accumulation of everything they are and the experiences they’ve had.

Sometimes choices have bad consequences.

I’ve been struggling to find words to talk about the things happening in the United States – the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the black men shot by police in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, and of the five police officers killed in Dallas.

With everything that is being expressed on television and in newspapers and, especially, on social media, it’s a din. It feels as if everything has been said and nothing has been said. It’s a cacophony of indignation and sorrow and fear and rage and even hope, but it’s hard to digest it all.

If I stand back from the din and turn off the social media and just think about it, I always come back to the people.

I think of my friends and colleagues who are police officers. I think of the work they do – the hundreds and thousands of interactions they have with people that are really, at the core, just about helping and making things better. I think about how, time after time, they face people who are having their worst day ever. Or how they are the ones who go to the places where people are intent upon doing harm to others, and they try to stop it to keep others safe.

Sometimes people are carrying guns for no apparent reason – or simply because they can. Sometimes people want to kill police officers just because of the job they do.

And sometimes a collection of moments – of split-second decisions – doesn’t end well.

The shootings in Baton Rouge and Minnesota have led to more fear and distrust and outrage. Often (as seen by the events in Dallas) it translates into hatred of the police.

I think of the police officers I know and I worry about the moments they will find themselves in. When the spotlight shines on the bad stuff, it’s important to remember the myriad moments that go unseen – when things go well and help is provided and bad days turn into better ones for someone.

I see police officers who are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives. People who coach teams and teach karate. I see them as people – friends and neighbours.

It was hard to find words after the shootings in Orlando, too, when 49 people were killed in what has been called the deadliest incident of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the U.S.

I kept thinking of my friend and neighbour, a transgender man, who is one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I know. We try to solve the world’s problems over the fence while we weed our vegetable gardens. I thought of a gay colleague I admire who is a community leader and who has profoundly affected the lives of many in our community.

I attended the vigil for Orlando that was held in Perth. My neighbour and my colleague both spoke and their words were healing, but as I looked around at those assembled I felt such sorrow to know that peaceful people are killed simply for being who are they are.

Someone asked me that evening why there were police officers at the vigil. The question made me feel sad.

Because they want our friends and neighbours and colleagues to feel safe, and they want to show respect.

We can’t all be the same. We all come from somewhere. We are made by our experiences. Sometimes those experiences shape us in unpleasant ways. We all carry hurts and joys and opinions and wounds that affect us. We have different gods – or no god. We are different colours and genders and orientations.

But we’re all people. It’s not always easy, but it’s important to try to understand the layers and what makes people tick. We all have hearts and minds and thoughts and emotions.  We’re all feeling our way through this world.

Please see people and be kind.

This week marked a big milestone as Past Deadline #1,000 was printed in The Perth Courier! Kinda hard to believe! The text of the column is printed here, along with a little gem featuring a fresh-faced, not-tired-looking young thing who had just published her first column. It’s an image of Past Deadline #1 from Nov. 22, 1995. I wrote #1,000 before tracking down and reading #1, and it’s kind of neat to see what I thought Past Deadline would be. Seems like a kazillion years ago.

One thousand

I used to keep a journal, but life got busy and it fizzled. When the kids were born, I kept records of firsts because my recall capacity is unreliable, but that waned, too. Their baby books are crammed with mementos, but it’s an unorganized compilation, to say the least.

I often admired the clever, organized moms who did scrapbooking – recording milestones with photos and labels and keeping it all together. I was not (am not) that mom.

At least there is this column, and you are currently reading number 1,000. That calls for some celebratory chocolate, I think!

Past Deadline began in The Perth Courier on Nov. 22, 1995 and I have written a column almost every week ever since. Over those 19 years the word count has been adjusted from time to time, but I figure it amounts to some 600,000 words. That’s longer than War and Peace! (You’re saying: “Yes, we noticed.”)

It took a long time for me to settle in to some sort of rhythm with Past Deadline and, arguably, it will always be a work in progress. For a while the column suffered a bit of an identity crisis and ping-ponged between politics (I sure had a heyday with George Dubya), local issues (waste management made me swoon), general interest and humour. Now I at least define it as “trying to be a humour column.”

What I have come to realize, though, is that once you sort through the hyberbole and occasional exaggeration, I’ve managed to maintain a nice little journal. I hope you don’t mind that I shared it.

I think, maybe, I was always a bit of a closet columnist/blogger. I used to keep diaries when I was a kid and I would wax rhapsodic about the trials, tribulations and angst that beset my young life. Oh, the woe and drama of being a teenager! I would show my writing to my friends because I thought it was pretty darned poetic. Then I would say to myself, “Why did I show that to my friends? That was pretty darned personal!”

At least it prepared me for the hazards of oversharing by the time the Interwebs came along. Not that I never overshare, but (believe it or not) I’m much smarter about what gets left out, for sure.

That became more and more relevant when my kids and their friends learned to read – not to mention their friends’ parents talking about “hahaha what your mom said in the paper.” Although I assumed my short people would find it as hilarious as I did, that wasn’t always the case. Now whenever anything related to family events gets written, it is first vetted by The Committee.

What a lot of milestones have been covered!

Fairly early on in this column’s existence there was a wedding, and during that series of missives about planning for “The Wedding Monster,” the term “Groom-boy” was coined. Some love it, some hate it – but it stuck. (Those Wedding Monster columns earned me a provincial humour column award back in the day.)

Readers have become acquainted with the pets – including Oreo the Rabbit, Myrtle the Turtle and the cats: MacGregor, Filibuster and, most recently, Ramsey. You have experienced the fun times, the messy times and some sad goodbyes.

When we decided to get tropical fish, you read about “The Fish Tank of Doom.” I know a lot more about aquarium water chemistry now, and we’ve had a much more successful time of it since those early days.

You learned of my foray into running and the resulting Stupid Foot issues, and you have endured my ongoing self-improvement activities (or lack thereof).

And, of course, you have read about my parenting experiences with Boychild (newly 13) and Girlchild (9) – from pregnancy through infancy and toddlerhood and going to school and all that comes with it.

I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated your comments over the years. I have readers of all ages, which I take as a huge compliment. So many times, especially when I have written about parenting young children, I have been thanked for saying things that people think about but could never express. I am thrilled that I can be that voice for some of you.

So thank you, readers, for hanging in there with me. I hope you’ve had as much fun with Past Deadline as I have. Now…what to write about next week….

Perth Courier Nov 22, 1995 A3

Here is Past Deadline from the Sept. 25/14 issue of The Perth Courier.

The week that was

 Sometimes we take life one day at a time.

Other times, we step it up a notch and go a whole week at a time. I particularly remember this to be true during pregnancy when paying attention to developmental milestones.

It was also quite relevant immediately postpartum. All the books said the first six weeks were the toughest, and everybody got into some sort of rhythm after that. I remember this milestone.

There seems to be a milestone week for college semesters, too. I’ve been teaching long enough to know that, in my experience at least, the first three weeks are nutso bananas as everyone gets used to each other and their new schedules. After three weeks, we all get into a rhythm. Like babies. Sort of. Hopefully with a lot less crying and fewer poopy diapers.

Sometimes you start off a week thinking you’re “going to get ahead,” only to end it wondering “what the heck happened?” When this becomes the norm it is called the “week-to-week planning cycle.” I like to think it’s a form of “living in the moment” with an occasional twinge of panic thrown in. I mean, why prepare a lesson plan weeks in advance and miss the chance to incorporate some new, up-to-the-minute punctuation invention, right? Ahem.

Some weeks feel more like a month. And that’s how last week felt.

Monday was a busy day. I changed hats so many times I started to forget who I was. By noon I was already wishing for Friday (because the weekends are always sooo restful).

Tuesday featured a trip to the orthodontist with Boychild for a regular check-up related to his braces. He went into the exam area, only to return a few minutes later.

“They want to see you,” he said, a huge grin on his face. “It turns out I have a mutant, freakish tooth.”

“Well of course you have a mutant, freakish tooth,” I thought.

Long story short, in place of the lovely, large eye tooth we were waiting for to fill a big gap, a tiny, conical tooth has appeared. Our orthodontist says it’s only the second one she has ever seen. She called it “special” and “rare,” but we think “mutant” and “freakish” is more fun.

It could also turn out to be “expensive” and “annoying,” but I’ll get back to you on that.

Wednesday featured a full day at one job followed by many hours at another and capped off with the emergence of a nasty, sinus headache.

“Is this week over yet?” I asked.

When I woke up on Thursday, I still had the headache, which made leading a field trip with some of my students quite delightful. Part way through that day, while dining with my students, it dawned on me I had forgotten to give Boychild some lunch money. Fortunately, I had packed him some snacks and juice boxes, and he now entertains his friends by puncturing the little hole for the straw by using his mutant, freakish tooth.

It’s rare and special, for sure.

On Friday the headache kept me company through all of my classes. I’m pretty sure my students weren’t too alarmed by the fact my right eye was red and watery and looked like it might fall out. I’ll know if they don’t come back to class this week. (Mutant? Freakish?)

On Friday night I went to bed early, again, missing the opportunity to mock the late news (a favourite pastime) three nights in a row because of said headache.

Finally, it was the weekend. And even though I woke up with the headache on Saturday morning, it didn’t linger all day. Things were looking up! The headache didn’t even return after I came home from running errands in the afternoon to find the wind had uprooted the patio table’s umbrella, tossing it against a chair and tearing the fabric.


And it didn’t return after the glass table shattered while I was trying to put the umbrella back in place.


I sat down in a chair, surveyed the very sparkly scene and thought, “Well of course my patio table just exploded.”

The good news is I think I have managed to pick all the pretty little glass chunks out of my pockets.

Apparently patio season is over at my house or, at least, any activities involving a table.

I’m ready for a new week, please.

Glass table go boom.

Glass table go boom.

Here is Past Deadline from the Sept. 18/14 issue of The Perth Courier.

The head bone’s connected to the gut bone

One time, a long time ago, a work-related decision arose. It was something new and different. I kept asking myself, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”

My head said it was a logical thing that could eventually lead to something good. My gut had an entirely different opinion. “This isn’t the best thing for you,” it muttered and grumbled.

I ignored my gut, thinking it was over-reacting and that I was just nervous about the new thing.

Well, it turned out that although it wasn’t the worst thing for me, it certainly wasn’t the best, either. And from then on, I have tried to listen to my gut.

I’m guessing you’ve all, at some point, been faced with a set of facts that seemed perfectly logical to your brain, but left you with a nagging feeling in your gut.

I don’t know about you, but I find it really hard to listen to my gut. I think it is because I am not a risk taker. I’ve always been pretty cautious. I follow rules. I respect authority (mostly), and you won’t see things like bungee jumping and riding the world’s biggest and fastest roller coaster on my bucket list.

So when faced with a new thing or a big decision that comes with uncertainty, I always have to sort out the “gut feeling” versus “being overly cautious/nervous.”

Why am I talking about this? Well, you may have noticed (if you didn’t blink) that I recently threw my name into the municipal election race, and then almost as quickly pulled it back out. The kerfluffle comes back to my gut.

Truly, I had been contemplating running for council for many months. I had talked about it with several people, and I received a lot of encouragement. In almost equal measure, though, came the question: “Are you sure it won’t be too much?”

I knew it would be a heckuva lot. My gut was muttering. I knew, for the most part, what I was getting into since I’ve been a municipal government groupie in various capacities for more than 20 years.

I’m also the mother of two school-aged children. I am a communications consultant. I teach college courses part time. I’m chair of the police services board. I volunteer.

But I had it all figured out, oh yes. In my head, the ducks were lined up.

I filed my papers.

Some new ducks flew in.

They weren’t big ducks. It wasn’t as if a flock of Canada geese barged in and landed on top of all the other ducks, but it was enough to send ripples through the pond.

That muttering gut feeling I had been carrying around ever since I started thinking about a council run, and especially when I had all but filed the papers, started shouting: “Have you lost your mind, woman? Your clone has left town! There’s not enough of you to go around and tend to all of these ducks!”

So I listened. Finally. I felt a bit silly. After I un-filed, and after I received nothing but kind words and several comments of “you would have been great, but we wondered how you would have managed it all,” I really felt as if a whole flock of skittish, quacking ducks had flown away, so to speak. (Maybe a butterfly analogy would have been better.)

Last week this newspaper ran an editorial encouraging people, particularly women, “to lean in” and run for municipal office, rather than staying on the periphery, as I will be doing. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. Sure, more women should be involved but, really, more women AND men should lean in.

Part of the reason the decision was so hard to begin with is because I know what councillors have to do. I know it is a hard job. It can be, at times, all-consuming. I admire people who take it on because the vast majority truly have the best interests of the community at heart and they want to help guide it to be the best it can be.

Sometimes, though, one has to know one’s limits, and follow one’s gut. As much as women, and men, can aspire to great things, they must also know when the time is right – for them and for their families – to do so.

I wish all the candidates the very best. Don’t forget to vote!


Here is Past Deadline from the Sept. 11/14 issue of The Perth Courier.

No one likes an angry turtle

One thing I love about the end of the summer “holidays” is that everyone gets back on a schedule.

This can, however, also be a rather daunting ordeal, especially with kids changing schools and/or teachers, not to mention having to learn to live, all over again, with the crud that Mom insists on packing in those lunch bags on a daily basis.

Have I mentioned how much I hate packing lunches?

There’s also the upheaval in the morning shower routines, since some of us have new departure times.

It’s hard enough for the humans to get used to all of this, but there’s one little guy in our household who also has had to adjust to new routines after a languid summer of hanging out with the short people. A fellow could nap in peace for a good part of the day when his peeps were nearby.

Yes, Ramsey, the newest member of the household, experienced his first back-to-school transition with us. For the most part he has emerged unscathed. Cats, after all, are relatively unflappable and come with those convenient nine lives. (Not that any of the activities related to routines around here have proven to be deadly to cats.)

I’m sure he has noticed the increased flurry in the mornings. He tends to hang around in the kitchen, hoping for a cat treat, while Mom mutters and fills those darned lunch kits and packs bags. He also likes to follow everyone into the bathroom (never a solitary moment at our house!) for supervisory purposes.

There are multiple alarm clocks, several “get movings!” and a doorbell or two – certainly a much busier start to a kitty’s day.

And then, suddenly, everyone is gone, even Mom. She often sat in the home office in the summer, but now spends a lot more time teaching in classrooms.

Short of setting up hidden cameras and monitoring Ramsey’s activities, we can only speculate as to how he fills his days when everyone is gone. Since the house is not destroyed when we get home, I am inclined to believe he spends a good chunk of time snoozing. It’s a cat thing.

For a long time we were a two-cat family. It started when Groom-boy and I both worked full time at the Perth Courier a kazillion years ago. In fact, we also had a rabbit (Oreo), along with the omnipresent Myrtle the Turtle. The prevailing theory then was that (awww) poor MacGregor needed company while we are at work. So along came Buster.

After Buster died we went for more than a year with one fur baby while Myrtle watched from the comfort of her aquarium. We contemplated introducing another cat, or maybe a dog, but figured it would be too hard on the elderly MacGregor.

The topic has arisen again, however. There are short people in the house who think Ramsey needs a friend – especially when we are gone.

I am not short.

Groom-boy, it seems, is occasionally short. Actually, he just likes to stir things up. A colleague at his work had some kittens to give away, and yours truly was the recipient of several texts, stories and even photos about how the cute kitties needed homes.

I think Ramsey would eat ’em. I’m not even kidding.

Ramsey is an indoor cat, but he gets a huge thrill out of staring out the window at anything that moves – whether it is animate, inanimate or non-existent. (Cats, you know, have vivid imaginations.)

When he sees something wildish, such as a squirrel, chipmunk, rabbit or raccoon, he tends to go still, except for (sometimes) his very expressive tail. He concentrates fiercely on whatever is on the move.

And then there are cats.

If Ramsey sees another cat, he becomes extremely agitated. Sometimes he yowls, despite being neutered. If one of his humans comes to the window to see what’s going on, he hisses and usually tries to scratch.

I don’t know if he thinks he is protecting us from the Fierce Outdoor Feline or what, but the message I get is this: I don’t think a second cat would be a good idea.

And you know what? I am totally fine with that. Ramsey seems okay with dogs, but I’m not sure we’re ready to break into that whole new industry.

Besides, I think Myrtle gets jealous, and no one likes an angry turtle.

Taking a break from guard duties.

Taking a break from guard duties.

September updates! Here is Past Deadline from the Sept. 4/14 issue of The Perth Courier.

Still not ready to flip that calendar

Labour Day weekend always makes me nostalgic – especially if I spend any time at Murphys Point Provincial Park, which I happen to do a lot.

Even without thinking about it you can hear and see and feel the summer winding down. In our backyard in the evening you can hear it in the chorus of crickets and katydids and other creatures that sing the night away.

The breeze that rustles the leaves has a tiny bit of chill in it, and even the leaves sound different – a little crisper. Perhaps they are bracing for their impending change of colour and tumble to the ground.

Throw in some “wind in the pines” sounds and it takes me right back to the summers I spent working at Murphys Point as a student. I would spend those last few days of summer soaking up every ounce of the park I could before returning to school in Ottawa, where I lived in an apartment on a fairly busy street corner. It wasn’t always easy to go from being lulled to sleep by the sounds of loons and owls to the grind of trucks gearing down for red lights.

End of summer...Murphys Point Provincial Park

End of summer…Murphys Point Provincial Park

The end of summer meant saying goodbye to a beautiful place and one set of friends before a whirlwind of new classes and returning to a different set of friends. It left me feeling excited and yet wistful.

Fortunately, that nostalgic feeling was always offset by the joy of shopping for school supplies. Oh, how I loved new binders and pens and highlighters and…yeah, I was a bit freaky that way.

I still get a decent kick out of buying school supplies for the short people in the house (one of whom will soon be taller than me because apparently someone has been sneaking some sort of fertilizer into his apple juice). The only catch is that when it’s time to buy school supplies for them, it also means it will soon be time to pack lunches, too. Oh, joy!

Have I mentioned (just last week) how much I loathe making lunches? No matter how many clever “school lunch miracle” websites and magazine articles I see, I can’t ever seem to get past the “Man, I wish I had a clone who could do this and clean the fish tanks, too” feeling. (I wouldn’t make the clone do the lunches and the fish tanks at the same time. That seems both risky for the fish and unsanitary for the lunches.)

Fortunately, we’re getting to the point where the short people can do some of lunch-making duties themselves, although they may not realize the scope of My Grand Plan yet. The purpose, obviously, is to leave me with oodles of time to clean aquariums. Or, you know, work. Or sleep.

As I write this, I’ve got to say that Labour Day really snuck up on me this year. It was a bit like that “endless running” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when two guards at a castle watch Sir Lancelot running toward them in the distance across a huge field. He never seems to get any closer and then, suddenly, he is upon them, sword drawn and, well, chaos and mayhem ensue.

Well, perhaps Labour Day weekend wasn’t a bloody battle or anything, unless you count our annual “leave it to the last minute” shoe shopping for the kids.

Every year we say: “Next year we won’t wait until the last weekend to buy the shoes.” See, we like to wait as long as possible because, well, kids’ feet grow over the summer, especially if you are spiking their apple juice with fertilizer (apparently). By the time we get there it is a struggle to find two matching shoes that are the same size. If only it were cool to wear two different shoes to school. New trend?

Despite all of the preceding and the tangible signs that summer is, indeed, winding down, I am still in a bit of denial. How could I not be? I mean, since last winter stretched from November to April (or was it May?), and this summer featured a discernible lack of heat waves and long stretches of sunshine (didn’t miss the rampant humidity, though!), I feel as if I could use just a bit more.

Perhaps I should go distract myself by perusing school lunch ideas…ugh.

Here is Past Deadline from Aug. 28/14 in The Perth Courier. (Almost done with August!)

Umm…did summer just happen?

 I’m told summer is winding down.

It has been hard to tell by the weather. If you were to gauge things like seasons by weather, as we Canadians are wont to do, then I think Summer 2014 took place during the first full week of August. Happily – and luckily – that was also the week we were away at a cottage.

Then the monsoons of “Augtober” came. Roads washed out. Rivers rose and currents strengthened. Flooding forced the cancellation of outdoor events. We donned sweaters and slickers. It was awesome.

Okay. Not awesome.

Mostly, I spent the month of August glancing furtively over my shoulder at the wall calendar and saying things like: “Omigosh! Is it THAT weekend already?” and “Omigosh! Is THAT due tomorrow?” and “Omigosh! WHERE is my clone?” and “Omigosh! You have to be WHERE tomorrow, Girlchild?”

Where did the time go?

Yes, it was one of those best-laid-plans kind of summers, when busy schedules and bad weather conspired to make it difficult to randomly get to the beach.

It was, at least, the first summer in a long time that I didn’t count the days until the kids went back to school. Okay, well, there was that one time when they fought for half an hour about whose turn it was to use the computer and it was pouring rain and we were cooped up and I had a deadline and…well…nobody died.

A phrase I have found myself using more and more as the kids get older is “work it out.” It is usually preceded by: “Maaaawm! [Insert sibling name here] is doing [something ridiculously trivial] to meeeee! Make [him/her] stop!”

“Work it out,” I holler (we holler here), “because you won’t like my solution.”

Separation played an integral role in surviving a rainy summer. Girlchild seemed to be signed up for everything going. It meant I had to be her taxi driver, but it kept her busy and left Boychild to Do Stuff Without Little Sister Bothering Him. It definitely kept the squabbling to a minimum.

Of course the kids are SOOOO excited to be going back to school. They are so thrilled that I thought I would share with you their “Top 10 Reasons To Be Happy About Going Back to School” list. Ready?

Okay. Number one: [cue sound of crickets].

Well, never mind about all that.

Don’t worry. I happen to have a “Top Three Reasons I Am Glad School’s Coming” list I can share. And before you feel gypped about it not being a Top Ten list, remember that Top Three Lists are much more concise.

Plus I am running out of space here.

First, obviously, is the learnin’. It’s absolutely fantastic that everyone is going back to school so they can expand their precious minds and absorb knowledge like sponges. Or whatever it is they do. Regardless, they will be gone all day doing it, which means the home office will be a tiny bit quieter.

Second is lunches. It will be nice to not have to stop part way through the day to present lunch menus and take orders (or deal with the complaining when options are not presented). Besides I just LOVE preparing lunch bags. Love it love it love it.

Do you suppose if I repeat that often enough it will be true? The thing is, the excitement of preparing lunches wore off about seven years ago – and that was before Child Number Two even started school.

Okay. For real. Here’s a good thing. Number three: routines. I love routines – and I don’t mean song and dance numbers, although they’re okay, too. Once we get back into a normal schedule it will be easier to, for example, stick to that wonderful food plan I’m on. Vacations and road trips and enablers being home make it pretty darn difficult to avoid food challenges, such as Timbits (for the road trips), barbecues, ice cream, s’mores, chocolate left over from the s’mores, etc. I need to get back on track so I can go bathing suit hunting in earnest next year.

First, however, I need to work on bedtime routines, because they seem to have stretched later into the evening. That could mean a rather rude awakening for a fellow who has to start going to school an hour earlier this year. (Hmm…future column idea?)

So thanks, summer, or whatever that season was that we just had. It has been…something!


Here is Past Deadline from the Aug. 21/14 issue of The Perth Courier. (Still catching up….)

Captain who and his trusty sidekicks?

We spent an August weekend in Toronto visiting some great friends and some cool fish. As usual, the car journey represented some opportunities for column fodder.

We tend to make an annual summer trek to the Big Smoke, and it seems that at some point during the weekend, every year, Groom-boy’s car gets very excited about it. Last year on the Gardiner Expressway he accelerated quickly to get into another lane, and his car took the opportunity to purge a giant cloud of black exhaust.

The first time it happened, it scared the pants off of us – not to mention the cars behind us, which backed off considerably. There was no backfire sound, but enough smoke to make us wonder if we should pull over and do a circle check or drive to the nearest garage. We’re not sure why it does it since it’s a fairly new car.

This year we were travelling on the winding road between Westport and Kingston en route to Toronto. We were stuck behind a slow guy who had an alarming tendency to ride the centre line, and we were anxious to get around him. There aren’t many opportunities to pass on that road, so when one finally came along, Groom-boy tromped on the gas.

You guessed it – enormous cloud of black smoke. The annual blow-out. “Engage smokescreen,” we hooted, because we are a family of owls.

We giggled for miles. It didn’t affect the slow guy we had passed, but the car that had been directly behind us dropped way back. We have that effect on people once a year.

It also earned Groom-boy a new nickname by Girlchild: Captain Carfart. (Am I allowed to say that word in a family newspaper? Heehee. Feel free to call him that if you see him.)

By the time we’d stopped laughing and reached the 401, we had moved on to licence plates. I’ve mentioned before (at least once or 35 times), that when I was a kid and we went on family road trips, I would write down every licence plate I saw. There weren’t many personalized plates back then, but I recorded an abundance of American and out-of-province plates. Pretty colours! That was before you needed to sell your first-born child to afford gas. People travelled far. (You’re in luck, Boychild. Toronto is close.)

Girlchild has picked up the tradition, except she records hers electronically. Times change.

So we were moving along nicely, managing to avoid engaging the smokescreen, when we spied a car with the licence plate AUG 14 04.

Interesting, especially since it happened to be Aug. 14, 2014. It was a young couple – perhaps the date marked their wedding anniversary? Maybe a birthday? Birth of a child? Day someone got a driver’s licence or bought the car? Day they had successful surgery? First job? First communion?

We were tempted to roll down the window and honk and holler something generically congratulatory, but what if the date was marking something terrible? Or what if they were angry maniacs who would have thought our congratulatory gestures were something aggressive and road ragey?

So we kept driving. It also occurred to us they might have had the licence plate so long that they forgot they even had it. Maybe they had been driving along all day, people pointing at them, getting friendly waves and thumbs up and big smiles from the optimistic people and averted eyes from the pessimistic ones. Maybe they were getting totally creeped out by the whole thing.

“Why is everyone pointing and staring today, honey?” the man would say.

“I don’t know,” the woman would answer, “but don’t forget we need to get some catnip to celebrate Fluffy’s 10th birthday today.”

“Good memory!” he would say. “I really need to write that down somewhere.”

“Yeah,” she would say. “Umm, stay back from that grey sedan. The people keep looking at us and I think they might be axe murderers.”

“Good heavens! That’s Captain Carfart, Legend of the Gardiner Expressway!” he would exclaim, dropping back. “You just never know when he might engage his smokescreen. Very unpredictable guy.”

Next year I think we should travel in costume. Oh, and we’ll have to work on names for all of his trusty sidekicks. Hmmmm…..

car fart

The nightly brown bullhead visit.

The nightly brown bullhead visit.

Catch up time! Here is Past Deadline from the Aug. 14/14 issue of The Perth Courier.

The awesome adventure of “Outside”

Last week (read: back in August!) we had a few days’ vacation at a cottage. There was only limited television and no Internet, so you know what that meant?

We went “outside”! A lot!

The weather was beautiful, too, so there was no excuse to stay inside. There was one day I probably should have retreated from the heat and sun for a little break (which has been kind of a rare thing to say this summer – or even this year, for that matter), but other than that it was absolutely delightful to just exist in the fresh air and sunshine.

I absolutely love watching Boychild and Girlchild enjoy the outdoors. It’s something I have lamented about forever because Kids Today™ just don’t go outside like we did in the olden days. When I was a kid we went outside, uphill both ways, until either a) the street lights came on or b) Mom calling us turned into one large bellow from Dad (and then we knew time was up for real).

These days crowbars, cajoling and threats of “lost privileges” are often required in order to get the short people out the door. Probably it happened, but I honestly don’t remember having to be persuaded to go outside. Usually it was the opposite. “Come in for your bath – your feet are black!”

I was lucky enough to grow up not far from a river, so when I wasn’t busy playing a variety of creative pretend games with the throng of girls on my street, I was off with my brother exploring shorelines and swamps, catching frogs, snakes, turtles, tadpoles and fish, or sneaking up on families of groundhogs to take pictures, peering under rocks to try to find crayfish or looking for turtle eggs.

We set everything free, although that part didn’t always go smoothly. One time my father insisted my brother and I return a pail of baby bullheads to the exact spot we found them, which happened to be in a golf course. We snuck back and crept to the river. While I released the fish, little brother captured a ball. I was alerted to this by a woman shrieking at him. We did some running that day.

At the cottage, Girlchild spent a lot of time looking for critters and capturing them with a camera. One favourite subject was the school of giant, well-fed sunfish loitering near the deck looking for treats. They were like pets – and even kiss (taste) toes and fingers if you patiently wade amongst them.

Every day at dusk, a pair of brown bullheads came in to feed. We saw a huge, dinosaur-like snapping turtle (and a smaller one), who cruised by and scattered the fish. There was a pretty resident watersnake or two and, consequently, only a smattering of frogs. We also spied a mink, a barred owl, loons, a buck, osprey, heron and many other birds.

We got in the canoe at least once a day to paddle through the marshy area at the end of the lake to visit “Turtle Log,” where we hoped to get close to the two or three painted turtles that routinely sunned there. We also checked out the schools of tiny fish that darted through the water plants in the shallows.

One day we were treated to a boat ride out into the lake by our neighbouring cottagers and we stopped a few times to swim in the deeper water. As I jumped off the boat I realized how nice it felt to swim without the water shoes we are so often forced to wear thanks to zebra mussels in our lakes and rivers here.

That particular freedom reminded me of childhood, when a sharp rock was probably the biggest threat to our tootsies. Then again, our feet were pretty tough because who wanted to wear shoes in the summer anyway?

And remember not having to worry about the sun? Okay, granted, my generation should have been worried about the sun and we’re paying for it, but there was a certain joy in not having to get slathered in sunscreen and/or bug spray (for ticks) or wear light colours or layers or water shoes. It was nice to just…go outside.

My kids don’t really know any other way, though, so it’s “normal” to them. I wonder what “normal” will look like when they reminisce in 30 years.

I sure hope “outside” is still an awesome adventure.

Here is Past Deadline from the Aug. 7/14 issue of The Perth Courier.

Grateful this isn’t another cat update?

 There’s a thing making the rounds on Facebook that goes by different names (no, not the flu) and varies a bit in terms of instruction, but it is essentially a seven-day challenge to list three things every day for which you are grateful or thankful.

Wanna play?

I thought I would take the idea and run – mostly because I figured you wouldn’t want to hear yet another update about my cat, weight loss or what kind of bathing suit I’m wearing. I realize I could be wrong, so I sincerely hope no one is sitting on the edge of his or her seat pining to know how many points a homemade scone is worth. (It’s five. Five points for a cinnamon raisin scone. And it was worth it.)

You never know, some of those topics might squeeze into the whole gratitude/thankful thing anyway, so don’t despair.

Anyway, due to space, I figure I will limit my list to seven – representing one per day. That’s probably all I can muster anyway. I really am a totally ungrateful brute.

So…number one would have to be family and friends. For family that includes both the ones who live with me and the extended family. I’m grateful my kids have grandparents and an uncle, aunt and cousin nearby, and that they have always been there to help. I am grateful for the friends who live here and that those who are far away still connect with me as if no time has passed at all. That’s awesome.

Number two: I am grateful for all my various “jobs” so that I can provide for the above-mentioned family who live with me. Being self-employed has made me a wearer of many hats, and I appreciate all those clients and employers and the diversity of experiences and challenges it has given me over the years. Self-employment has taught me to never take things for granted.

Number three connects indirectly to that making-money-to-buy-things angle because food costs money. I am grateful that in the last year I have finally started to get my act together and win the battle of the bulge. Coupled with that, I am grateful that I had the gumption to start the battle before being forced to do so for health issues. Even though I always knew what I should be doing in terms of eating better, I am thankful for the extra push I’ve had through a weight-loss program (and for those who inspired me to try it) and I’ve learned lots, too. For example, it reinforces that potato chips, even the plain ones, are not a free serving of vegetables. Same with apple pie – it’s not a fruit, dang it!

Number four: I am thankful for humour. I am grateful to my mom for being a role model in showing how to use it every day. To me a fine measure of a person is whether they have a sense of humour or not, especially in difficult situations. This might get me into trouble someday, but I’m quite certain I couldn’t live without humour. (Coincidentally, I also measure people by whether I would like to be trapped with them in an emergency. It’s good to know people who have the Voice of Calm.)

Number five: I am grateful for living in a place set in a beautiful natural environment, and that my kids appreciate it, too. I concede that we really, truly need to spend more time outside appreciating said natural environment. I find that nothing calms me faster than spending some quiet time absorbing the sights and sounds of nature.

Number six: Just as important as the wild, natural beasts are the domestic ones (which can also be a little wild). I have loved so many pets!  I am thankful we were introduced to our new cat Ramsey when we were, as he has been a delight and he mended our sadness over losing our long-time pet MacGregor.

I could go on but, finally, number seven: You! I’m grateful you have read to the end of this column so I can thank you for reading! I love having the opportunity to share in this space.

So stay tuned for the next gripping episode of Past Deadline, where next week your hero (that’s me) will endeavour to conquer the mysteries of life, the universe and everything.

Or it could be a cat update…you just never know.


Ramsey. Incredible attention hog.

Ramsey. Incredible attention hog.