Embassy Suites owes me a new dream!

I’m currently in Niagara Falls attending a conference. Last night (Feb. 19), my ad manager and one of our friends from P.E.I. went over to the Copacabana Restaurant across the street from our hotel to have some dead cow on a stick. Basically, it’s some rip-off of a famous Brazilian (or maybe it was Argentinian?) restaurant where hot looking guys serve you hot meat sizzling on skewers and you make an absolute pig of yourself.

Good times!

Fast forward several hours. I’m lying in my nice soft, comfy hotel bed  – dreaming of good-looking shirtless Brazilian men serving me skewers of meat – when this heart-stopping, annoying noise that I can only describe as a cross between a whoop and a bray erupts out of nowhere, causing me to sit bolt upright. I’m completely disoriented, wondering where the Brazilian men went.

All I could think was: where did my Barzilian men go, such as this poor lost lamb who looks like he needs help. Don't you think so?

All I could think was: where did my Brazilian men go, such as this poor lost lamb who looks like he needs help. Don’t you think so?

I manage to clamber half asleep out of bed and proceed to examine every piece of electronic equipment I have in my room – two computers, mobile phone, e-book reader, clock radio, shoe shine machine – trying to figure out which one is making that horrible noise. I even checked the fucking Jacuzzi tub!

Suddenly, this disembodied voice comes over some loud speaker hidden in my hotel room ceiling (who knew?) – causing me to jump about eight feet into the air – telling me the hotel fire alarm has been activated, the fire department is on its way, and that I need to evacuate the building.

So I stand there in the middle of my suite trying to decide what to do. Visions of the great 2000 Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers Conference debacle come to mind – Hilton Hotel, London, Ontario, 21st floor, three fire alarms in one night, rubber legs for days. All I can hear is that horrible braying alarm and The Clash – Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? (Some might describe those two things as being one and the same – as a fan of The Clash, I do not.)

The Clash drank lite beer? WTF?

The Clash drank lite beer? WTF?

I get dressed. The room next door to me is filled with screeching young girls panicking as they try to save their make up bags and hair flattening irons. Me: I grab my room key, purse, mobile phone, e-book reader and a handful of small liquor bottles from the minibar and start the long trek down the stairs from the 25th floor.

I have made it to the 16th floor when the disembodied voice, which reminds me very much of that asshole game voice in The Hunger Games, comes back to inform us panting, exhausted guests crowding the stairwell that, hey, it was all some big mistake; we weren’t going to be burnt to a crisp in the Towering Inferno, and it was perfectly safe for us to return to our previously scheduled program, re: unconsciousness. I made it to the 19th floor before my legs gave out. I manage to crawl to the bank of elevators and push the up arrow repeatedly for five minutes straight. Somehow, I manage to return to my room.

I'm sure this is what the screaming girls next door to me were imagining as they packed their make up and hair products.

I’m sure this is what the screaming girls next door to me were imagining as they packed their make up and hair products.

And now I’m sitting here – wide awake, thanks – thinking: You know what? If it hadn’t been for that clattering clarion call from hell, I would now know what happened at the end of my shirtless-Brazilian-waiter-with-dead-cow-on-skewer dream. So guess what? Embassy Suites, you owe me a new dream!

I Will Never Be Mother-of-the-Year – Like Ever!

A few weeks ago, I was out with some work colleagues at one of our favourite restaurants celebrating the retirement of one of our own, a man I’ve worked with since I first started as a wet-behind-the-ears magazine editor at the tender age of 28.

Sigh – I can still remember back to when I was 28 and drove a black, two-door, sporty-looking car rather than a honking huge minivan – but I digress.

I had a car just like this one. It even had the fancy bra and everything. God it was a piece of shit but it had two-doors.

I had a car just like this one. It even had the fancy bra and everything. God it was a piece of shit but it had two-doors.

Anyway, our buddy was pumping back the drinks and we were having a good time when one of the women in the group brought up the subject of her children. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve figured this out yet or not, but I’m a bit of a smart-ass. Actually, I’m a big fucking smart-ass. So, when people start telling me about their wonderful, angelic, gorgeous children, I usually start talking about what little shits my two Goobers are. Not because they actually are – hell, all kids have their projectile-vomiting-pea-soup-Exorcist moments – but because I like to interject a little bit of reality into these types of conversations. My ad manager usually plays along, agreeing with me about my Goobers’ horrid behavior (she should know, she’s actually babysat them).

So, I’m joking about my Goobers when the co-worker sitting next to me – a man – states: “I guess you’re never going to be Mother-of-the-Year.” I laughed, my response being: “Damn right!”

I will never, ever win on of these. But that's okay; it would just get dusty.

I will never, ever win one of these. But that’s okay; it would just get dusty.

Fast forward to this evening. Like most Wednesday’s, I am responsible for transporting my son to and from his Cub meeting – they’re currently in the middle of making their Kub-Kars so this is really important shit. As I back my huge honking minivan out of the driveway – which is currently a very narrow, single-lane plowed through deep snow – I veer off course slightly and end up driving up a snow bank. I have no problem getting the vehicle out – one of the actual benefits of driving a big honking minivan – but I joke to my Goober that I’m acting like I have just learned how to drive. His lightning quick response: “About fucking time!”

And then it hit me – like a tonne of bricks to the head – I sure as shit am never going to be Mother-of-the-Year because I’ve made one of my Goobers a carbon copy of me: a foul mouthed smart-ass.

Personally, I have no problem with my children swearing, as long as the word (or words) being used fits the situation, is meant in jest and is not hurtful to another person – the dog and cats are open season. I do have a BIG problem with the C-word and generally don’t go there, although my Goobers have informed me they hear it from other kids at school all the time.

It wasn’t the swearing that made me laugh with a slight hysterical edge. It was the realization that, by example, I have taught my son comedic timing and he will now be burdened with the need to make every situation – no matter how horrific, depressing or awkward – into a stand-up routine. And that sucks.

I can remember as a little kid, my mother coming home from work to find me sobbing, upset because kids at school were teasing and making fun of me. Her response – a la Singin’ in the Rain – was make ‘em laugh. So I did, using the one thing I already knew they thought was funny – myself. Rather than wait for the big bully of the schoolyard to call me a fucking pizza faced fat bitch with shit-for-brains, I would call myself that first. It was ingenious. Soon, I was known as that weird funny girl and treated with a certain amount of reverent respect because I wasn’t afraid to make other people laugh at my own expense.

Donald O'Connor and his famous Make 'em Laugh performance from Singin' in the Rain.

Donald O’Connor and his famous Make ’em Laugh performance from Singin’ in the Rain.

But – looking back on it as an adult – that particular method of dealing with bullies and uncomfortable social situations is a tricky tight-rope to walk. You have to be pretty sure of yourself and have a lot of confidence to repeatedly beat yourself up mentally for the big laugh. I was neither one of these and it was damaging. I certainly don’t blame my mother for this – she gave me the best advice she could at the time. But when it comes to my own Goobers, I’ve tried to steer clear of the make ‘em laugh approach, relying instead on the you’re-better-than-that, they’re-just-jealous, ignore-them philosophy.

But obviously, if my son is any example, some of that joker crap managed to seep its way through. And I’m to blame. For now, I’m going to watch to see what develops, how he chooses to use his comedic skills. Hopefully, he won’t turn down the self-deprecating route and I can provide him with some other pointers.

I will never, ever, ever be mother-of-the-year – like ever. But I can always hope for smart-ass-of-the-year!


The big black blob of blah

It’s been a tough week. Not tough in the sense of hard or difficult. It’s been tough in the sense of BLAH.

I have a big black blob of blah that builds up inside of me from time to time. And, no, I haven’t been smoking wacky tobacco or popping illegal drugs. It’s “big” because it’s constantly growing, feeding on the disappointments and negativity in my life. It’s “black” because that’s what my mood becomes when it shows up. I call it a “blob” because it works pretty much like that creeping amoeba-like alien that Steve McQueen had to deal with in the movie – it covers everything and cuts off all that is good and light, growing bigger and bigger as it consumes more and more. And “blah” is pretty much self-explanatory – that’s how I feel inside when it’s around.

The big blob of blah has been around for a long time, pretty much since my teenage years. I’ve always envisioned it looking like a really evil black Barbapapa. One day I’ll feel fine – laughing and joking – the next it’s “clickety-click, Barba-trick” and the blah descends.

My big black blob of blah isn't smiling like this hairy Barbapapa.

My big black blob of blah isn’t smiling like this hairy Barbapapa.

I try to work through the big blob of blah, forcing myself forward, always forward. Get dressed, go to work, do work, socialize with co-workers, go home, interact with the Goobers and the Genius, try to write. But the blob is made of sticky stuff. Peel it from one surface, and it’s soon stuck to another, like an annoying burr of negativity. And lately it’s been getting worse.

Back when I was young and gung-ho to change the world, I composed a mental list of experiences and accomplishments I hoped to achieve in my lifetime. The list was lengthy and – shall we say – overly optimistic. Here’s just a sampling of the feats I was going to do:

  • Win an Academy Award – At first it was going to be in an acting category, then I moved on to directing. Now I’d settle for original work or adapted screenplay. Who am I kidding? I’d settle for best gaffer, focus puller or coffee-getter.
Never going to win one of these babies. Just as well, I don't dust.

Never going to win one of these babies. Just as well, I don’t dust.

  • Write a “great” novel – Of course, along with that “great” novel would come fame and fortune, a Governor General’s Award, possibly the Orange, Giller or Man Booker prize, and the opportunity to adapt it to film, thus leading to the Academy Award.
  • Earn a university degree – When I toddled off to university many, many years ago, I was an immature idiot. I partied like it was 1999 (actually it was 1989) and blew all kinds of opportunities, mainly the chance to earn a degree. It’s something I’ve regretted very much. I have tried various times to get that ever elusive degree but life always becomes too busy and formal education falls by the wayside. So, alas, I only have an honours diploma.
The iconic image of the University of Toronto where I lasted exactly two years in pre-med. I just wasn't blood thirsty enough.

The iconic image of the University of Toronto where I lasted exactly two years in pre-med. I just wasn’t blood thirsty enough.

  • Travel around the world – I have been to some amazing and beautiful places in my life, such as Israel, Egypt, Mexico and England. But currently I seem to be stuck in a rut of work trips to Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin. These are lovely places with great people but when you say Des Moines, exotic and exciting doesn’t come to mind.
  • Win the Triple Crown with a filly – I love horses and I love thoroughbred horse racing. I’ve always dreamed of owning a horse farm stabled with some of the fastest horses in the world. Of course, their bloodlines would all trace back to the great Man o’War, the original Big Red. Breeding and training a three-year-old horse capable of winning the Triple Crown is a great achievement and hasn’t been done in about 40 years. And it has never been accomplished by a filly.
The great Man O' War romping down the home stretch in the 1920 Belmont Stakes.

The great Man O’ War romping down the home stretch in the 1920 Belmont Stakes.

  • Meet and be friends with some of my favourite authors and celebrities – Yeah, right! Welcome to Fantasy Island! This has been a steadily shifting list that once included David Hasselhoff (from his Knight Rider days) and Mr. November from the 1986 or 1987 Chippendale’s calendar (I can’t remember which year). Now I’d want to have a dinner party with The Bloggess (Jenny Lawson), Matthew Gray Gubler, Margaret Atwood, Dan Aykroyd, Donna Tartt, Bill Murray, John & Martin Marquez, Jo Nesbo, and a steady stream of famous dead people (Alfred Hitchcock, Sylvia Plath, James Mason, Jane Austen, John Belushi, Charlotte Bronte, etc.). And then I’d probably want Taylor Swift to write and sing a song about it (I’m joking).
An image of John and Martin Marquez from the play Boeing Boeing. I guess the stewardesses could come to the dinner party too.

An image of John and Martin Marquez from the play Boeing Boeing. I guess the stewardesses could come to the dinner party too.

  • Win an Olympic gold medal in the Three-Day Event – I can still remember the day my high school boyfriend informed his mother this is what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” The stunned minute of silence paired with rapid eye blinking should have been my first hint this was maybe a bit much. Now, I’d be happy if I could fit into my riding breeches and heave my fat ass up on a horse.
  • Win the Nobel Prize for Literature – In order to win this baby, you have to have actually written a book; well, several books. And they would have to be REALLY FUCKING GOOD. About the only criteria I currently meet for obtaining this great honour is the fact I have a pulse.
Never going to win one of these either. My luck, my girl Goober would steal it to put with her track & field medals.

Never going to win one of these either. My luck, my girl Goober would steal it to put with her track & field medals.

So, as you can see, having a firm grasp on reality and setting realistic goals are not my strong points. Thus leading to the big black blob of blah. I’m getting older and older and older and with each passing year, accomplishing even one of these dreams is becoming harder and harder to attain. And that bums me out. BIG TIME. I had all these great ideas and optimistic goals (well, overly optimistic) and I haven’t been able to come close to even one of them. And the big black blob of blah likes to remind me of this – often. As a result, I take lots of blob-busters, rest on couches in tastefully lit rooms and talk to nice, understanding people, and wonder when the big black blob of blah will finally consume me.

HELP! Am I really that “off-putting” and horrible?

A few weeks ago Kristen Lamb, who I follow, wrote a blog entry entitled: 8 Tips to Make Sure Everyone on Twitter Hates Us. I was intrigued because Twitter and I, we just aren’t gelling.

So, I read her advice and thought I would drop her a line asking for a little one-on-one assistance.

Kristen, Love the blog and particularly this post. I’ve been trying to get people to follow me on Twitter but I’m having a hell of a time. I Tweet links to my blog (which I think is funny and informative – maybe it isn’t?), I make funny comments about news and other items I see on Twitter. I try not to be offensive or too edgy, just (hopefully) funny and sarcastic. What do I get? Crickets. There are also a few Twitter accounts I follow and I would love them to follow me. They seem like funny, witty people. I try to engage them in social interaction. Silence. Like you said, I thought Twitter was a tool to be social with other people. Instead, these people just want to be social with people they already know and see every day. I don’t get it? Is it me? Am I expecting too much? Am I that unlovable? Do I suck that bad? Please help!
Manure Gurl

This was Kristen’s helpful advice back:

This is where hashtags help. It’s like communities or groups where people chat. #MyWANA is a good place to start. Also try hashtags of favorite shows or hobbies. Look for ones where people are actually TALKING and that will take trial and error.

I also received this response:

Do what Kristin (sp) suggests, but here’s something to add to the list…and please don’t take it the wrong way: re-visit your decision to identify yourself as “manuregurl.” I don’t know if you’re a farmer, daughter of a farmer, and don’t want to offend farmers in general, but it’s an off-putting moniker, to say the least. It’s about as appealing as naming yourself “Sh*thead”, but more importantly, it sends a message that you don’t take yourself or your blog seriously. And if *you* don’t take yourself seriously, why should an anonymous reader/Twitterer/blogger/potential agent or publisher? -Just a thought. And FWIW, I’ll follow you and your blog – promise. 🙂 Best from Nashville.

So, after I read that, I promptly took it the wrong way. What didn’t help was The Genius agreed with this person – he too thought my name was “off-putting.” I cried, wailed, pulled out my hair and ground my teeth into mere stubs. A few days later, I came up for air.

Is a Twitter handle like Manure Gurl really like calling yourself Shithead? I don’t think so. But maybe there’s something wrong with the way that I think. After all, I’m the one who originally picked the name.

As for the not taking myself too seriously comment – guilty as charged. I don’t take myself too seriously. I currently take three pills a day to ensure I don’t. I used to take myself and my life and everything going round and round in my head too seriously. I’ve been down that path and I have the mental and physical scars to show for it. Once in awhile, I rebound and it isn’t pretty to see. But I don’t think that should stop someone from reading and enjoying my writing. At least, I hope it doesn’t.

So I would like to know – do you consider my Twitter and Blog name off putting? Am I a shithead? Do you feel that’s why I don’t have many people following me or reading my Blog? What do you think I could do to make it better? How do I get more followers and readers? Should I start all over from scratch with a name like Bubbles R Gr8 or Happy!Happy!Joy!Joy! ?

Please be honest. I know there aren’t many of you out there who follow or read my blog but maybe you could ask some of your friends or fellow Twits and bloggers. I’d like to get this right, if I can. As I stated once before, I’d like to make this a success because I don’t have a lot of successful things of my own in my life – at least, nothing I am actually capable of seeing.


Holy Sugar!

In my capacity as a magazine editor, I receive a lot of press releases, media packages and appeals for publicity. Most of them are complete shit and have nothing whatsoever to do with the subject matter of my magazines. But that’s okay because I always enjoy receiving free crap and swag, including weirdly shaped jump drives (I have one that looks like a chicken), squeezable stress animals (a pig in a bathing suit? WTF?), child-sized gardening tools (can we say re-gift), a plethora of reusable cloth grocery bags, boxed soup base (don’t ask), and enough coffee mugs to supply a caffeine addicted Moms and Tots group.

The email press releases are even stranger and most are borderline weird. But I received the most bizarre, crazy, out-of-this-world shocking one this morning.

I’m currently in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, attending a conference and when things get down right boring, I check my email. I actually laughed out loud during a presentation (very rude of me) when I read the subject line of this one: Ontario Students Using Sugar Daddies to Fund College.

My thumb had been hovering over the iPhone garbage can but I stopped myself. This sounded interesting; this sounded bizarre; this sounded like a form of prostitution. I had to learn more.

For some rather weird reason, Leroy Velasquez from an Internet company based in – you guessed it – Las Vegas (with a remote office in the Ukraine – I wonder what they do there?) – thought I needed to know more about a website being advertised as the world’s largest Sugar Daddy dating site with more than 2.7 million members.

I'm not talking this kind of Sugar Daddy.

I’m not talking this kind of Sugar Daddy.

Sugar Daddy? I thought that was just some stupid term the Republican Party in the U.S. trotted out when wanting to bad mouth the possibility of helping women fund birth control pills. It seems I was wrong.

According to the press release, they are a web-based service interested in helping people find that “beautiful thing” – a mutually beneficial arrangement. And why are those particular relationships so beautiful? Because “all successful relationships are beneficial to both people.”

Obviously, we’re not talking marriage here.

According to the website: “older, wealthier men and younger, more beautiful women have been seeking each other out for thousands of years. It’s a tradition that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

Of course it isn’t, especially if you continue to provide them with a website to continue doing their icky, chronophilia/borderline prostitution transactions that makes most people’s skin crawl and provides your company with a healthy financial profit. But I’m sorry; I digress.

So the way this website works is “SugarBabies” (re: desperate college girls with big boobs, small waists, gorgeous hair, no money, who are tired of eating pot noodles and KD) read and agree to the website’s membership statement (whatever the hell that is), select the type of account they want, fill in a one-page profile and then activate their account after they receive an email confirmation. Once the website profile is filled in accurately and their photo is “approved” (meaning they’re good looking enough to join the stable of other young women) they get to use the website for free. “SugarDaddies” or “SugarMommas” who fill in their profile accurately and have an “approved” photo are provided with a free trial – 10 free emails. After that, they need to upgrade to a paid service.

The user testimonials are rather humorous.

“I love beautiful young ladies, and I am not ready to commit,” says a handsome dark-haired guy who looks to be in his late 30s, early 40s. He’s holding a fan of Benjamins in his hands. “This website is the perfect dating website for me.”

Of course it is, you shallow, money-grubbing asshole with commitment issues. Not that I’m judging …

“As a … Sugar Baby, I get two big questions from my girlfriends,” says Kaylee, a college sophomore with bleached blonde hair and a fondness for denim. “The first is always, ‘How do you do that?’ So I tell them. Then they ask, ‘How do I do that?’”

In other words, Kaylee is now recruiting her friends into prostitution because, hey, what are friends for?

And then there is the classic:

“Men my age are too immature,” says a sexy blonde college sophomore who is busy getting a shiny wrapped gift from her grey-haired Sugar Daddy, who looks old enough to be her dad. “My current arrangement is wonderful. Unlike other cash strapped students, I am pampered with expensive gifts (which she probably promptly sells on eBay). My sugar daddy is the sweetest man I know. He is my mentor, my benefactor and my lover.”

Awe, isn’t that sweet?


The sad thing is I don’t know whether to pull my hair out in frustrated disgust or applaud these young women for their cold hearted, calculated, entrepreneurial spirit. At the moment, I’m leaning toward disgust because, when I made my first stand for women’s rights as a naïve Grade 8 girl, I was fighting for the opportunity to take machine shop with the boys in my class rather than home economics with the girls. And you know what? It never once crossed my mind to give the shop teacher a blow job to get what I wanted. My father always said I didn’t have a head for business. But I still ended up taking machine shop that year without compromising my morals and I have a beautiful wooden bowl I formed on the lathe to show for it.

And just a heads up to all those people out there who have the cash or the hot bod to use this service (there’s obviously at least 2.7 million of you) – it is available in almost every U.S. state; the Toronto area of Ontario, Canada; all the sexy places in the UK, like Sheffield, Devon and Cornwall; eight of the biggest cities in Australia; plus Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, and Ireland.

So get busy all you successful and wealthy benefactors plus you attractive guys and girls willing to do almost anything for money. It sounds like you all deserve one another.

I was a Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad groupie

The great man himself, Charles Bukowski

The great man himself, Charles Bukowski

This is my first feeble attempt at a “Charles Bukowski” style poem. I know it’s hideous, so try not to laugh too hard. And, by the way, there is nothing biographical about this poem AT ALL! SNICKER! SNORT!

Lady Godiva


I played the bedpan
In the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad

Wearing a yellow hardhat
In slogans.

9T3, Oh Goo! Harf up a lung!

I did it all
In the New College
That was my home
My sisters
My family

I drank peach schnapps
Straight from the bottle,

A liquid education
Mixing drinks
With chemical precision.

A party cup
Of Long Island Iced Tea
To wash down
The quadratic equations.

Rum and Coke
Seemed a biological

Tequila with beer chasers
Was more than a
Trivial Pursuit.

My lowest
Was gin
And apple juice.

A mat on the bathroom floor
To blot the
Juices of others.

The thermodynamics
Of university passion;
A PowderPuff halfback
In a Devonshire universe.

Of garbage can liquor
And toga party chasers.

Staggering Spadina senseless.

Sex in communal showers,
Sex in dorm room bunk beds,
Sex in restaurant washrooms,
A merry widow of straps and
Tangled limbs
Handcuffs and fellatio.

Garters, stockings,
Teddies and Clancy.

Holding hands
In the darkness,
Lips and tongues

A Skule education
A pre-med major

On my back
At the
University of Toronto.

Want to know more about the bnad?

I never played with the Bnad when this happened - way before my time!

I never played with the Bnad when this happened – way before my time!

The Genius

My husband’s a genius.

I’m sure you already know this since I usually refer to him as The Genius in this blog. Once in a while, I forget about his mental prowess and have to be reminded of his ability to puzzle out the most complicated mechanical procedures. It’s easy to become complacent when you always have someone around to repair your iPhone when it goes all kooky or replace the windshield wiper motor in your car when it goes on the fritz. Sometimes I need a reminder. This past Christmas Day provided one.

The Genius is the youngest of six and, let’s just say, the rest of his siblings are no mental slouches either. There are two university professors in the mix, a retired high-level banking executive, an accounting wizard, a social worker and, of course, The Genius, who works in engineering. Those that still live in southern Ontario gather every Christmas Day with their children (and grandchildren) at the home of one of the sister’s to celebrate the holiday as a family. It’s a tradition they’ve had for many years, at least as long as I’ve been part of the group (about 15 years). A huge turkey dinner is had and gifts are exchanged among the younger children.

Sometimes, the siblings have an opportunity to show off the cool “toys” they received for Christmas and this past gathering was no exception. The hostess of the annual celebration had received a Bose speaker plus an Apple TV system. The problem was, no one knew how to install the gifts so they worked on her antiquated flat screen TV. Various people tackled the problem throughout the day but no one could figure it out. The final verdict was a new TV would probably be needed to make everything work.

I have a bad habit of volunteering The Genius for various projects without first checking with him – fixing my parent’s water pump and a complicated washing machine repair come to mind. So I kept quiet as I watched the small groups try their best to work through the problem. Wires were connected and reconnected, rerouted through various devices. It was looking like a dog’s breakfast of coaxial cable and power cords. I finally looked over at him and whispered: “Do something!”

Half asleep after a rather filling turkey dinner and hesitant to rise from his very comfortable chair, The Genius sighed.

“I don’t want to just take over,” he whispered back.

“Hook the damn thing up!”

Assisted by his oldest nephew, The Genius surveyed the situation, moving cords and reattaching cables. It made sense to him – of course, it was gibberish to me. It took him about 10 minutes to do what no one else was able to accomplish – connect the Apple TV and satellite system to the TV and have the sound come through the new Bose speaker.

It took him a further 30 minutes to explain to his sister how to use the system. About 20 minutes of that involved him standing patiently waiting for her to finish venting about the fact she didn’t even want the new speaker in the first place.

I leaned over and whispered to the oldest in the family: “He’s never that patient with me.”

She laughed, explaining it was a privilege reserved for older siblings.

Later, The Genius sat down again, exhausted from having to go through every step required to use the new system.

“That was painful,” he said.

“Isn’t fighting with your gifts part of Christmas?” joked one of his nephews.

Of course, the kicker is they weren’t even his gifts.

Currently, The Genius is busy working on setting up my new laptop computer. He’s puzzling through how to transfer about 3,200 ebooks and an iTunes library of about 1,800 songs without losing anything.

I know he’ll figure it out. He always does. It’s one of the reasons I married him.

Most women I know tell me wonderful stories of romantic spur of the moment trips to Paris or helicopter rides over Niagara Falls – the moment I knew I was going to marry The Genius occurred as I watched him take apart the under-sink plumbing in a hotel bathroom.

We were in Stratford, Ontario, for my job. I was putting in a marathon weekend of watching and writing reviews for three Stratford Festival plays. The Genius was my guest. We had already seen two – Equus the night before and a matinee of another play, the name of which escapes me. Our final play was to be an evening performance of Death of a Salesman starring Al Waxman of King of Kensington plus Cagney and Lacey fame.

I was in the washroom getting ready when one of my diamond stud earrings fell off the side of the sink and down the drain. Shit! I went back into our hotel bedroom, explaining to The Genius that, like an idiot, I had lost my earring and it was gone for good.

Five minutes later, he was crawling into the under sink cabinet, a toolbox from the trunk of his car next to him. He soon had the plumbing apart and was banging the P-trap on the floor. Out popped my diamond stud earring plus 85 cents in change. A few wrench turns later, the plumbing was back in place and we made it to the play with time to spare.

Up to that point in my life, no one had ever done anything so thoughtful for me. It has stuck with me all these years. It can be difficult living with a genius – the banging in the basement, tools scattered everywhere, burnt off eyebrows from those failed experiments. When it gets really bad, I remember that diamond stud earring plus the 85 cents. I think I bought a Coke with it.

Remembering a friend

My family lost a close and very dear friend back in February 2007. I think about him everyday. Back when it happened, I even wrote an editorial for one of my magazines about him. My publisher at the time pulled the editorial. He told me no one really cared about happenings in my own life. I disagreed, believing my readers  – mostly farmers – would be able to relate. Even so, I caved and wrote something “more suitable.”

I’ve saved that editorial all these years and I’ve decided to publish it here. The Genius once read it at a Toastmaster’s meeting – all the women cried. So be prepared.


My family lost a close and very dear friend recently.

My children had known him their entire lives, my husband for the past nine years or so, and I had been close to him (and he to me) for his entire life.

He was a joker and a free spirit who loved everyone. And everyone loved him right back. He was also the kind of friend you could rely on. When life was tough, he’d be there to talk with and lend a shoulder to cry on. He had a rough side, too. He was a risk taker, an explorer with an enthusiasm for life. We used to joke he’d probably die in mid-stride, on route to a new adventure.

Cancer got him in the end; his body shivering with pain, his breathing laboured.

His name was Jasper – Crystal Creek’s Jasper Jynx to be exact. He was my dog and, simply put, one of my very best friends.

Jasper as a puppy.

Jasper as a puppy.

Jasper entered my life 12-plus years ago, a headstrong liver and white coloured English Springer Spaniel puppy who cried and whimpered almost non-stop for the first two weeks he lived with me. I almost took him back to the breeder I had bought him from. But I persevered and he soon settled down.

If he could be described in one word, I think it would be exuberant – nothing got that crazy dog down. Everyday was a new adventure, every step a new discovery. He was my constant companion. If I went to the store, he rode shotgun. He slept under the covers of my bed at night. And when I went for evening walks on my parent’s farm, he was 20 feet ahead of me. We would walk four miles a day, from one concession to the next and then along a side concession and back again. His flag of a tail was always in front of me, never behind, always urging me on.

When I met my husband, Jasper was there. He was part of my “dowry” (along with a Clydesdale-Saddlebred cross mare named Bobbi) and made the move to my new urban home. My husband, a city boy who had never had a pet dog (which seemed very odd to me at the time and still does), wasn’t very enthusiastic about his new, four-footed housemate. To his credit, he built Jasper a state-of-the art, fully electrified and insulated, heated doghouse (our friends used to joke that all it needed was a computer and Internet access). But the dog didn’t use it for long. Soon, he was basking in the heat or air conditioning of the house. But never the bed – that’s where my husband drew the line.

A more mature Jasper.

A more mature Jasper.

Jasper and I just weren’t meant for city life. Eventually, my husband and I moved from our cramped city home to a small farm in the country. We hadn’t been in our farmhouse a month before Jasper started cleaning up the new neighbourhood, rousting both an opossum and raccoon family out of our barn and killing a fox.

Nothing gave him more pleasure than to chase barn cats and wild rabbits. The strange thing was, he was always good with the pet rabbits. We once had a massive rabbit break-out – the bunny equivalent of The Great Escape – and it was Jasper who caught them all, one at a time, dropping them at our feet unscathed, with only a few damp hairs and very hurt prides.

When the children came, Jasper was there. He wasn’t sure what to make of them. They smelled interesting but made a lot of noise, especially when he tried to clean their ears. They also didn’t move out of his way. But my husband and I seemed to like the babies so he put up with them. He never growled or snarled when his ears or tail were pulled. He followed the avoidance philosophy – if one of the little critters was bothering him, he’d just get up and leave.

Alex was very gifted at cleaning children's faces. Not all the children enjoyed this.

Jasper was very gifted at cleaning children’s faces. Not all the children enjoyed this.

Unfortunately, the kids grew up and became faster. I had difficulty explaining to my tear-stained little boy that Jasper wasn’t meant for riding. My daughter was convinced for the longest time the dog was really her brother. Both kids were also fond of pretending Jasper was their long-lost mother. I hadn’t the heart or the ability to make them understand the dog was actually a male – a neutered male at that. Jasper would roll his eyes and try to keep one step ahead of them as they crawled after him, yipping like puppies.

My daughter thought she was related to Jasper for the longest time. She thought he was her brother.

My daughter was convinced she was related to Jasper for the longest time. She thought he was her brother.

This past Halloween, my daughter insisted the dog dress as a skeleton, complete with glow-in-the-dark bones. It wasn’t long after that he actually began to resemble his Halloween self, the flesh melting from him. His sleek physique and shiny fur disappeared. We tried changing dog food, thinking perhaps his teeth couldn’t handle the crunchy kibble anymore. We tried soft food and soon shifted to canned. He lost weight while his stomach ballooned.

A visit to the vet before Christmas ended in tears. Tumours were growing near Jasper’s liver and spleen. He hadn’t long to live. We gave him the best Christmas ever, complete with liver pate and shrimp. He had a wagon ride to the bush to chase squirrels and bunnies. He ate ravioli and cheeseburgers everyday. And for the last week of his life, he slept on our bed, between my husband and I.

He’s buried along the windbreak just to the west of our house. We wrapped him in a blanket and buried him with his favourite stuffed toy, Clancy. The kids each said goodbye through their tears and my husband, the man who never had a pet dog, wept.

We look for Jasper everyday, forgetting he’s gone. The children are rallying for a new dog and we’ll probably get one in the spring.
But for now, we remember and honour our dear friend – Jasper.

As an update, we did get a new dog in March 2007. Her name is Jorja (pronounced Georgia), Spring Knight’s Jorja on My Mind to be exact. She too is an English Springer Spaniel but so different from our darling Jazzy. She is quieter, more sedate, steadier and less intelligent. But I love her to death and she loves me – as it should be. She sleeps beside my bed every night and follows me everywhere I go. She loves to lie on the bathroom mat when I have a bath and goes camping with us every summer.

The other half of my “dowry” – my horse Bobbi – joined Jasper along the windbreak in the summer of 2010. This is a sacred space to us now; it is not mown and the grass and weeds grow waist high there every summer. They would both like that – Jasper could hunt for mice and Bobbi could pull mouthfuls of grass. Heaven.

The Cow Whisperer

I’ve decided I should tell the story of the first farm animal my family ever purchased – Lilah the Holstein 4H cow.

As I believe I mentioned in an earlier blog posting, although my father was a businessman in his younger years, under his shirt and tie beat the heart of a farmer. When I was about five, we moved to a 50-acre farm adjacent to the Hatchley swamp (I’m not joking), located on the southern edge of Brant County in southwestern Ontario. My parents built a house on the property, which had soil that ranged from pure sand to boot sucking clay and produced the largest mosquitoes and snakes known to man. We moved in just days before the Christmas of 1975. The next spring, my father set to work building a barn. I believe he had it finished that summer and my mother spent her holidays from her off-farm job painting the trim around the windows (which came from a bus, I kid you not), swatting bird-sized mosquitoes and killing a steadily growing pile of snakes (a story for another day).

After the barn was completed and hay and straw had been moved into the loft, my father decided we should buy a cow. Now that I’m an adult, I must admit I’m not sure what my father was thinking when he decided we needed a cow, and a milk cow no less. Milking cows is a lot of work – they need to be milked twice a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, for as long as they are giving milk (they usually dry up just before they have a calf, which is typically an annual event on a dairy operation). That takes dedication and skill, skill I don’t think we as a family possessed at that time. But it didn’t matter – I was just a kid then and I was very excited by the prospect of a new animal to maul, even if it did weigh 1,000 pounds.

I’m not sure how the transaction came about or where exactly she came from or even how she got to the farm (I seem to remember something about her walking behind the truck but that can’t be true) but one day Lilah arrived at the farm. Lilah was huge – (well she looked huge to six-year-old me), a large boned, black and white Holstein, a milking breed. And she was fat, huge with a baby calf that was expected fairly soon. I was ecstatic – a two-for-one deal! My mother was leery.

Lilah was moved into the barn and a pen was quickly constructed out of straw bales. A pasture was also made near the barn in the apple orchard using old fence posts and barbed wire. During the day, Lilah would graze in the pasture and at night, she came into the barn. But since there was no plumbing in the barn yet, my father had to lead her down to the pond morning and night for a drink.

The cool thing about Lilah was she had been a 4H calf in her youth, meaning she was halter trained and spoiled rotten. She had been brushed, trimmed and coddled by the dairy farmer’s son and shown at fairs across the region. She was basically a very large cow that thought it was a dog. My mother would watch in horror as my dad tried to lead her to the water. Lilah would jump and buck and kick in her excitement and basically drag my father to the pond and then drag him back to the barn. She would lower her head and moo at him, trying to butt him with her forehead (a common cow behaviour) and my dad would have to hide behind a tree while she worked off her energy.

Lilah even came with her own urban … umm … rural legend: she had saved the life of the dairy farmer’s son by pulling the drowning boy out of an irrigation pond he had fallen in. Who knows if the story was true – I was ready to believe the damn cow could fly – but Lilah did have an interesting skill that not every cow possessed. She was broke to ride like a horse. Every chance I could, I would beg my dad to boost me up on that cow’s back so I could ride her around the field, clutching her built in “handle” – the bony ridge at her withers. She would start off the ride gently but once she had enough, she would take me under a low tree branch and knock me off.

Me as a little goober riding Lilah the cow in the pasture. If you look real closely, you'll notice she's considering walking under a low branch to knock me off.

Me as a little goober riding Lilah the cow in the pasture. If you look real closely, you’ll notice she’s considering walking under a low branch to knock me off.

I thought she was wonderful.

Everyday after school, I would jump off the bus, run up the driveway and check on the cow. As the due date of her expected calf drew closer, she was kept in the barn most of the time. One day, I came into the barn and was met by a deep moo and then a smaller little croak. The baby had come! Lilah was laying in the deep straw of her pen and beside her lay a little black and white calf. I was so excited, I jumped into the pen to see the little one.

Now, those of you who have a farming background already know that jumping into the pen of an animal that has just had a baby is a very stupid thing to do. No matter how tame the animal, you just don’t know how they will react to a human being in the mix. I was a naïve six-year-old and was clueless about animal behaviour. I curled up beside the calf and Lilah in the straw to enjoy the newest member of the family. And Lilah just lay there, chewing her cud.

About an hour later, my mother came home from work. My older siblings told her all about the new calf. After doing a quick head count, my mother asked where I was. Out to the barn the group marched and discovered me lying in the pen. My mother thought I had been trampled. But I was just curled up beside the calf, both of us sleeping while Lilah watched over us.

The little calf turned out to be a girl – a heifer – and we called her Rosebud in honour of my mother. Unfortunately, not long after her arrival, my dad had to sell Lilah, realizing there was no way we could properly care for this milk-producing machine. A truck came and got the pair. I cried as they drove away.

Making a buck

I had a rather horrific day at work this past week that  resulted in a night of insomnia. I was tossing and turning in bed, replaying the day and how I could have made it different, a rather futile exercise considering the day is past and I have yet to discover the secret to time travel. But as I was lying in bed torturing myself, I remembered some of my first employment experiences – cringe-worthy horror stories in themselves.

Like a lot of country kids, my first employer was my father. During the summer months and some weekends, my mother didn’t always have someone available to watch me while she was at work as my older siblings all had full-time summer jobs. So I would be packed off to spend the day at my dad’s office, which happened to be a manufacturing facility that built products from fibreglass and aluminium. My dad owned and ran the company with a partner and spent the day selling and managing the factory workers. I spent the day exploring the back fenced storage area for toads, frogs and wild cats, riding empty resin barrels like a horse, sorting sales brochures, playing with the adding machine and tracing routes on the large map of Ontario that was pinned to my father’s office wall. I also liked to fiddle with my dad’s address book, which was equipped with a metal arrow. You slid the arrow up the side of the address book to the letter you were interested in and then pressed a button at the bottom. Presto-chango, the address book would open to that page. I could play with that damn thing for hours.

After awhile, my father obviously got annoyed with me kicking around his air conditioned office. Or perhaps he was amazed by my prowess with the adding machine. Regardless, he soon found a summer job for me.

I guess I could have tried a lemonade stand but we lived in the country and only two or three cars went by our house each day.

I guess I could have tried a lemonade stand but we lived in the country and only two or three cars went by our house each day.

It started out with sweet corn. Although my father ran a manufacturing company, deep down under the collared shirt and tie, beat the heart of a farmer. And, as such, he had this great idea that selling fresh produce in the parking lot of his company, which was located along a very busy highway, was the perfect thing for me to do. So, he put out a table, a cash box, a lawn chair and what seemed like 100 dozen of fresh sweet corn and set me to work. At times it was an extremely hot and boring job. I’d read my Nancy Drew books and dream about that air conditioned office as I sat on the hot pavement in the direct sun, sweat dripping down the back of my shirt. I always seemed to have to use the washroom a lot. But soon I had enough truckers and harried factory workers starving for fresh sweet corn to keep me busy for hours. Huge semi trucks would pull over in front of my stand, hissing and whistling and chugging while the driver bought six cobs of corn from me (50 cents). Before the driver was back in the cab, he’d be husking a cob and eating it raw as he drove away.

The sweet corn was such a success, my dad decided to up the ante and invested in a truck load of peaches. The flats were stacked in the air conditioned office for storage and I would take a few baskets out at a time to set up my display. Soon I had truckers buying corn and baskets of peaches, juice dribbling down their chins as they drove down the highway, corn silk flying out the window. The smell of peaches soon overpowered the smell of fibreglass in the office and customers interested in fibreglass and aluminium products were soon buying baskets of peaches as well, unable to resist the aroma.

The sweet corn was such a success, my dad made me start selling peaches.

The sweet corn was such a success, my dad made me start selling peaches.

It was a very educational summer that taught me an important life lesson – how to add, subtract and make change in my head. My father checked that cash box every night and if the daily sales total did not match up with my sold inventory, I received a lecture on the importance of adding and subtracting money PROPERLY. I was soon a pro, counting back change from $20s without batting an eye.

The summer after that, I worked for my dad on our farm doing field work in the vegetable patch and picking up piles of potatoes by hand. I swear those potato rows were two miles long. He would harvest the tubers with a special machine that dug them up and dumped them on the ground behind. We had to grab the greenery and shake off any spuds still attached and then pick up all the potatoes and put them into bushel baskets we dragged behind us. It was back breaking work and I can remember laying on the front lawn trying to crack my back into place as the potatoes were being washed with the garden hose.

The summer I was 13, I dressed in my best T-shirt and shorts, tied my hair back in a ponytail, shoved it up under my black and white Flamboro Downs hat and mustered up the courage to pedal my bike down our concession road, just over into the next county, to ask Doug Arthur for a job. And for some strange, mysterious reason (I think it was the hat) he gave me one. The Arthur’s bred, trained and raced Standardbred horses. And I LOVED horses. I decided that summer the best job in the whole wide world would be to shovel horse shit and clean water buckets while surrounded by huge animals that liked to bite and kick you. I had experience with horses but not horses like these – pampered, spoiled, temperament divas who were coddled and had zero stable manners. My first day I had to be rescued from a rearing stallion who had managed to pin me in the back corner of the stall I was cleaning. I loved every minute of it.

I LOVED horses, even when they tried to attack me. I never claimed to be smart!

I LOVED horses, even when they tried to attack me. I never claimed to be smart!

Unfortunately the barn manager didn’t love me. I was fired after one week and told to come back when I was older – and faster at shovelling shit. I cried all the way home. But in my pocket I had about $300 in cash, the most money I had ever earned in a week. And I learned another important life lesson – sometimes it’s hard to make a buck in this world. But it’s really easy to spend it.