Saturday, January 26, 2013

Winter survival tips

Earlier this week, Ottawa earned the title of coldest capital on earth, when temperatures dipped down to -32C (-41C with the windchill). For my American friends, that is -24F (-42F).

Quel honneur!

The thing about this little deep freeze that I am finding particularly astonishing is that everyone is talking about it. As though it never, ever gets cold here. In Canada. The country known for its prowess at sports played entirely on ice. Which is frozen water. Which is what happens when it gets, you know, cold....

So why are my Facebook and Twitter feeds full of comments about the weather (a crime for which, by the way, I am also guilty)? And why is it that the first thing that anybody says to me - whether it's on the bus or at the office or in my local Starbucks - is something like "Man, it sure is cold out there today"? And why are the national media outlets leading with stories about winter every single day? Did we all collectively forget that last year, we went through winter as well? And the year before that? And the year before that? And the year before that? And the year... well, you get the point...

Why is the weather so newsworthy?

I just don't know the answer to that. But I do know that everyone - myself included - is getting tired and cranky of all of this cold. Particularly since the second most popular batch of comments on Facebook and Twitter are from those jerks I know friends who are vacationing on the beaches of the Caribbean, where it is approximately 70 degrees warmer than it is here and where we would all rather be.

Well, everyone, that is, except for the Beast.

Earlier this week, one of my friends posted this PSA about pets and winter on Facebook. Pet stores and vets across the city are reminding people that they should lessen their pets' exposure to the elements during frigid times like these. And other human companions I know keep telling me that their dogs don't want to set foot outside right now, not even to pee.

Fergus didn't get any of these memos. Not one. He still insists on spending 2+ hours outside every single day. This weather doesn't stop him. In fact, he seems even more energetic these days.

He may be an Aussie by breed, but that is surely Canadian blood - or ice - running through his canine veins.

So, faced with the plight of being the human companion to a dog who wants nothing more than to be outside running across icy rivers and rolling around in banks of snow, I have decided that I have no choice but to embrace this cold, barren, Canadian winterscape and make the best of it. And to do so, I am taking my cues from Fergus. Here are the top five winter survival tips that I have learned from my dog.

5. It is never too cold to run

I know what you are all thinking. Somebody, somewhere - probably at the Running Room - once told you that there are temperatures below which you just shouldn't run. "You'll develop ice crystals on your lungs," they say. Or "Ice is slippery," they say. And I admit it. I believed it too for awhile. I never ran outside if it was colder than -17C (1F). Instead, I'd go back to sleep. Because I wouldn't want to inadvertently freeze my lungs while making my way to the gym to run on a treadmill either...

This all changed when the F-Bomb became my running partner. Regardless of the bad news delivered to me by the local weatherman when my alarm goes off at 5:00am, Fergus is right by my bedside, licking my face and wagging his bum, urging me to do the exact opposite of staying warm, curling up, and going back to sleep. Up I must get, and outside I must go. And if you're going to be outside at -32C, you might as well run and get the exercise part over with sooner, right? Which is why, just this past week, I found myself running three times, in windchill temperatures of -28C, -41C, and -31C respectively. This is what I looked like coming back from a breezy run at -28C.

Frosty, n'est-ce pas? There are no pictures of me coming back from a run at -41C or -31C, by the way, because when I pulled my iPhone out, it seized up and died of hypothermia. So just picture this shot, with about three times more frost, blocking up all the air holes on my lovely neck gaiter.

I, however, did not suffer the ill effects of cold induced hypothermia. Neither did Fergus. And so, my friends, as long as you are appropriately covered, it is evidently never to cold to run. (Although admittedly, I hope that I never have to test out that theory in temperatures colder than -41C).

(And if you don't believe Fergus, you can check out this article as well)

2. Layers and anti-chafing products will increase your enjoyment of the outdoors in extreme weather

Fergus recommends that everyone needs at least two good layers - a nice soft undercoat that can easily be shed when it is too warm (and which is currently all over my floor), and a long, fuzzy overcoat that protects against the elements.

In his case, this 2-layer system seems to do the trick, no matter the weather. In my case, there are a few variables that need to be taken into consideration. How cold is it? What type of activity am I going to be doing? How much will I be exerting myself? How cold is it? It's taken me a bit of trial and error, but I've now got a flow chart to help me figure out what to wear when I go outside with the dog. And it works. Very well. Whether we are snowshoeing, running, or just going for a casual stroll downtown, we both stay good and warm.

As for chafing, there is a lot of salt out there on those sidewalks in the winter. And since Mr. Princess refuses to wear his dog booties, we've learned to protect delicate puppy paws in other ways. Vaseline, my friends. Make sure you have some Vaseline. Also works to prevent sweat-induced runner's chafing under that nasty sports bra. And, according to Fergus, it also tastes good. At least I assume it does. Why else would he walk around the house licking the Vaseline tracks that he leaves after I slather his feet with the stuff. He is so gross... 

3. Embrace snow. Because there is no such thing as too much of it.

Nothing has the power to cripple a city like a snow storm. School buses get cancelled. People call their bosses to say that they won't be in because it would be too dangerous to drive to work. Double Decker buses flip over and land in ditches.

You'd think Canadians had never seen snow the way we react to a few centimetres of the stuff.

And the whining about snow. My God. It's like the eighth plague that the Bible left out or something. Did we all forget how much fun we used to have as kids building snow forts?

Admittedly, I used to be a snow hater. A few years back, Ottawa was about 20cm shy of setting a new record for the greatest amount of snow accumulated over the course of the year (the record being 444.1cm). Local media went around interviewing people, asking them if they wanted us to get a bit more snow before the spring thaw so we could beat the record. At the time, I remember wanting to swing my snow shovel to the back of the happy-go-lucky heads of those people who kept saying "Ohhhhhh.... I hope we get a bit more snow so we can beat that record!"

But Fergus taught me that the best part about winter is snow. And nowadays, I love the white fluffy stuff. I love it so much that I went out and bought snow shoes just last year so that him and I could go hiking through the woods on the snowiest of snowy days.

I check the weather each and every day to see if we are going to get more snow. And when we do, I wake up early, throw on my snow pants and my snowshoes, grab Fergus' toys, and head out the door, with him bouncing along beside me. Sometimes, we play fetch:

Sometimes, we make snow angels:

And sometimes, we just run around like crazy:

And we always have fun. So if you want to survive winter, you'd better just learn to love snow!

2. Shovelling is not a chore. It is good fun and lots of exercise too.

Nobody likes to shovel, I know. It's hard work, especially when snow is heavy and wet. And then there is that snow plow jerk who comes by to clean the road, leaving that ridge at the end of your driveway. And if you leave it there too long, it freezes over, and is impossible to remove. And you can't justify buying a snow blower because your driveway is too short. And your wife won't let you hire someone to do the shovelling for you because you are able bodied, and it would thus be a ridiculous expense. So you just have to keep [expletive] shovelling all that [expletive] snow.

But then again, shovelling can be good exercise. And more importantly, it can be loads of fun.

Don't take my word for it. Watch these videos instead, and see how much Fergus enjoys shovelling!

1. Spend time outside with your best friends.

If misery loves company, and winter makes people miserable, than winter must love company too. (At least I think that's how I remember logic working from my first year philosophy class!) At any rate, spending time with Fergus outdoors in the winter is loads of fun. But it is loads more fun when our best buddies tag along. So if you want to survive winter, go grab some of your best friends and get out there. Fergus guarantees that it will put a smile on your face!

And with that, my friends, Fergus and I are off. It is -22 outside this Saturday morning, and it is promising to be a clear, sunny, albeit cold day. I think we will go find ourselves some woods to hike through.

Happy winter!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Those Turks know how to bathe...

I am a spa slut.

It's true. I spa around. I bounce from one treatment to another without an ounce of regret. Facials, body wraps, Nordic baths, salt scrubs, manis and pedis.... I've done it all. And I'm hardly faithful to one aesthetician. Oh no. I play the field. And if someone new comes along, I will dump whoever I am currently seeing without so much as a word of explanation or farewell.

Oh yes, I have lots of notches on my terry cloth robe...

Which is why, while in Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago visiting the house of plague, I cajoled my sister into sneaking out with me for lunch and a spa date. And on this very trip, my friends, I discovered the ultimate in spa experiences...

... the hamam. Or Turkish bath, if you prefer.

Now I have friends who have travelled to Turkey, and so I have heard about the fabled hamam. The hot and steamy room, the luxurious salt scrub, the attendant who massages and bathes you in warm and cool water as you lie on a heated marble slab, the lavish rose-scented soaps...

The description sent me into fits of relaxation delirium. And propelled Turkey onto my vacation short-list. It also left me wondering if I might find a spa offering such services somewhere closer to home in the meantime.

Not surprisingly, no such luck in boring old Ottawa. So I set my sights on the more cosmopolitan centres of Montreal and Toronto. Still nothing. Vancouver, maybe? Nope. Only spas that offer steam rooms at best, but nothing that comes close to the extravagance of the hamam described to me by Turkey tourists. I felt sure I would have to wait until I set foot in the Middle East...

So imagine my surprise when I did a quick Google search of Winnipeg spas and found that an authentic Turkish hamam existed at the Ten Spa, located in the Hotel Fort Garry.

How in the world did this little corner of heaven on earth end up in Winnipeg?

I mean, no offence, Winnipeg. I'm from you, and I get that whole gateway-to-the-prairies charm thing that you've got going on. But let's face it. When I say "Winnipeg", the words "Turkish", "bath", and "mind blowing spa experience" do not come to mind. More like "cold", "flat", "perogies" and "The Forks". You can hardly blame me for expecting no more than a ho-hum pedicure from you, can you?

Well, however the Fort Garry Hotel pulled this off, I am glad they did. Because it is, quite simply, a heavenly experience.

Now admittedly, it started out as quite a scary experience. You see, there are a couple things I feel you need to know about the hamam. The first is that there is no clothing allowed in the baths. No bathing suits, no short-shorts and tank tops. All you wear is this:

... the pestemal, a small piece of checkered cotton that you wrap around you like a towel. And the ones offered to you at the Ten Spa are not knee-length on women as this image would have you believe. In fact, when wrapped around a woman's chest, they make Daisy Duke's outfits look like a nun's frock. But what's the big deal, right? I mean, who's going to see you wearing this piece of cotton tissue anyway? Just you and the hamam attendant, after all.

Weeelllllll.... not exactly. You see, the other important piece of information about the hamam is that it is communal. And not communal as in boys-together-in-one-room-and-girls-together-in-another, which is how said friend experienced the bath in Turkey. Communal as in boys-and-girls-all-together-on-the-same-heated-slab-of-marble. Being-bathed-and-massaged-by-hamam-attendants-at-the-same-time kind of communal.

Now I would like to think that I am not one of those prudish girls who is overly hung up on things like public nudity. So what if another hamam goer's bits slip out of his or her pestemal. A body is a body is a body. It's nothing I haven't seen before. No big deal. I mean, I played a game (or twenty) of strip poker with my friends when I was in university...

But here's the thing. I was really drunk for those games of strip poker. (I also hid behind a plant to cover my nudity whenever I had to get up from the table to get a beer). Plus, like most other women I know, I have body issues. And some days, I like my body less than others.  Especially on days that come after being out of the gym for two-plus months because of injury. More especially on days only a week or two after the holidays, when I gorged myself on sugary treats. And most especially on the same day that I decided to go back to the gym, only to discover a distinct muffin top shape sprouting out of the top of my gym shorts.

And then there were was all that unwanted body hair to think about. I hadn't seen my aesthetician for a bikini-and-leg-wax in weeks! What kind of roughage would spring forth from that skimpy pestemal! Could I really let all of those strangers see my hairy legs and ungroomed bikini line?

Oh God!!!! Could I really go through with this?

Yes. There was a moment of panic. But then I remembered that I could no longer call myself a spa aficionado if I passed up an opportunity like this one. Plus I am a proud Manitoban. I wanted so badly to rub it in the faces of my Montreal and Toronto friends that my hometown could boast the best spa in all of Canada, despite its humble prairie-ness. I owed it to my prairie pride to give this communal bath thing a whirl.

So I took a deep breath, suppressed my almost-bubbling-over-the-surface panic, wrapped my muffin top and hairy bikini area in a tiny pestemal, and with my eyes glued to the floor, avoiding all contact with every other human being in the place my head held high, I walked straight into the common waiting area and waited for the hamam attendant to call my name.

I swear to God, I waited there, practically naked, for an hour. I might have started sweating. At one point, I thought of eating some of the snacks that the spa attendants had laid out, since food is often my default when I am nervous. But then I remembered my muffin top and opted instead to read a fashion magazine. Where I was confronted with perfect women and their perfect, smooth, hairless, muffin-topless bodies, who would all look fantastic in the piece of tissue I was wearing...

Just as I was about to turn and run, the hamam attendant called my name.

And the hamam attendant was a HE.

I was so totally not prepared for this. I mean, I've had male massage therapists. But every single other spa treatment that I have ever received - from pedicures to waxing to full body scrubs - has only been administered by women. And women at least understand about letting your leg hair get a little unruly. We've all been there. But a man? Nobody told me that I would be practically naked, surrounded by other men and women, while a man bathed and massaged me...

But I fought the urge to run. Because at that point, in a room full of strangers all wearing pestemals, do you really want to be the wuss that runs away? No. You don't. And so I followed the attendant through the door to the hamam area, and into a small tiled room, where he offered me a cup of tea and a Turkish delight, and explained to me how the rest of the afternoon would unfold. Then he left me there to enjoy my tea while he "got ready".

I assumed that "getting ready" meant filling some bowls with water and getting some soap out. But no. "Getting ready" meant putting on a pestemal of his own. I don't know why this shocked me so much, given that clothes in a bath house make no sense at all. But seeing my male hamam attendant wearing nothing but a pestemal, coupled with by now knowing that he would be pouring water all over me and lathering me up, made me audibly gasp.

Of course, that might have had something to do with the full-sleeve tattoos and the six pack that his shirt had been hiding up until that point...

Needless to say, I very nervously followed my scantily clad and gorgeous hamam attendant into the actual hamam. And the first thing I noticed was four other people in various states of bathing or repose. And I couldn't help myself. I looked to see if I was skinnier than them...

Oh come on!!!! Don't judge me!!!! You know that you would all do it!!!

(And in case you are wondering, I was skinnier than almost everyone in the hamam).

Realizing this immediately made me feel better, albeit only slightly. With a bit more confidence in my step, I plunged myself under a hot shower, the first step in the hamam experience. Not only did it feel wonderful, but I noticed that the pestemal, when wet, actually starts to expand. I must have gained three inches off that thing once it got wet! Enough to hide my wayward bikini line! Score another point for my confidence.

Next, in my now-as-long-as-a-modest-strapless-dress pestemal, I made my way over to a small corner of the hamam to self-administer a salt scrub so that the pores could get good and open. Admittedly, there isn't much relaxing about this part. I mean, I undertake a similar exercise as part of my home showering regimen at least once a week. Plus, I couldn't help but think to myself that all that pore-opening salt was only making it easier for my hair to grow. As I was losing myself in the feeling of familiar panic that had so overwhelmed me for most of the day so far, my extremely gorgeous hamam attendant came and found me. "How are you feeling, Jay?" he asked.  "Ummmmmm.... er..... ummmmm.... fine, I guess," I stammered. He smiled, likely laughing on the inside at my obvious nervousness. "Good," he said. "Come with me. We'll begin the bathing ritual."

Now it seems to me that when a man with full-sleeve tattoos and a six-pack, wearing nothing but a pestemal, who looks a little like Lenny Kravitz, asks you to "begin the bathing ritual" with him, you should probably be positively giddy. But. I. Could. Not. Stop. Thinking. About. Body. Hair. Thus ruining the excitement factor a little. Still, I followed the attendant as he led me to a spot on the large marble slab at the centre of the hamam. There, he told me to lie back, to let my legs dangle over the end, and to relax.

I laid back. I let my legs dangle over the edge. But I did not relax. I couldn't. I was too busy squeezing my legs together to hide my bikini line. I was squeezing so tight that my hips and tailbone were jutting up straight off the marble slab.

And I stayed that way for a good five minutes, as the attendant poured hot water all over my legs and shoulders to remove the salt. I kept telling myself to relax and to let go. But somehow, I just couldn't.

Until the attendant sat down behind me and began to massage my neck and scalp.

You know, my husband could get me to do anything, and I mean a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g, if he just took the time to learn how to give me a proper scalp massage. It is my Achilles heel. I cannot resist the feel of fingers entwined in my hair, tugging gently as they knead away all that tension. And so, as the attendant's supple fingers drilled their way into the knots in my neck and shoulders and then through my hair, I literally felt the tension that my body was holding onto melt away. My hips softened. My tailbone dropped down to the marble. And my legs, ever so slightly at first, inched apart.

By the time the attendant placed a cool cloth on my forehead, signalling the end of the scalp and neck massage, I am pretty sure you could have driven a truck through my legs, they were spread so wide.

But then, he moved to my feet. Immediately, the tension came back, as I clamped my legs tight together so that he would not see any unwanted hair. I am sure I heard a little giggle escape his lips as he lifted my left foot and rested it on his shoulder, forcing me to pull my legs apart. I struggled, but only for the moment that it took for him to knead my sore runner's feet. Then, there was nothing left to do but sigh and give myself up - muffin top and hairy legs and all - to the intoxicating effect of the heated marble slab, the cool cloth on my forehead, and the foot and leg massage.

I did not want this treatment to ever end.

Nor did I care anymore about hair or fat cells or other strangers seeing all of the above. I could not even think anymore. My body, by this point, just was. Completely relaxed, in a state of bliss, and spread eagle on a heated slab of marble. Surrounded by strangers. Being manipulated by a half-naked man who could see all my lady bits if he really wanted to.

And the hamam experience does not end there. Once the attendant was done with my foot massage, he left me a bottle of water and whispered that he would be back in a few minutes so that we could begin the next phase of the ritual. When he returned, I could not imagine rising off of the marble - my body felt like rubber. My mind was so empty of thought that I am quite sure I forgot how to walk on my own. He had to take my arm and guide me to another corner of the hamam, because I was too out of it to get there on my own.

There was no one else in this next corner of the hamam. Just a massage table. And the intense scent of roses. I was asked to remove my pestemal and drape it over myself as though it were a blanket as I lay down on my stomach on the table. The attendant explained that he would administer a full body exfoliation and rose-soap scrub. To do so, he would have to fold the pestemal so that it covered only my bottom. "Did I mind?" he wondered. "No," I dreamily exclaimed, without hesitation, completely forgetting that I have this unsightly muffin top that I don't want anyone to see. When it came time to flip me over onto my back, he noted that he would need to fold the pestemal to cover only my bikini area. "Would you like a towel to cover up?" he asked, nodding every so perceptibly towards my breasts?

It is worth pausing here and saying that I don't love my breasts. They are certainly not my greatest asset. They used to be, when I was about 60 pounds heavier and they were, well, big. Now that I am more fit, they seem very small and very withered to me. And when lying on my back, what little of them remains splays awkwardly to either side, leaving this gaping canyon in the middle of my chest. It is for this reason that, when receiving other spa treatments, I always keep them covered. I just don't like other people to see them. Ridiculous as that might sound, them being "just breasts" and all.

But this time, in my state of complete and utter relaxation and dreamlike reverie, I just shook my head and said, "No. That's fine". And let the girls fall freely to either side of my chest. And I didn't even care. I didn't care about the inch or two extra freely exposed around my waist. And I didn't care about the extra leg and bikini hair.

It was so unbelievably liberating...

When it was all over, the attendant left me for a few moments while I re-wrapped myself in the pestemal, and then brought me out of the hamam, where he wrapped my head in a towel and brought me more tea. Then he brought me to the relaxation room, where I was reunited with my sister, who had opted for something other than the hamam.

"Must have been good," she said. "You look doped up."

I smiled.

"Was he your attendant?" she said, as she pointed to the man who had just led me through the ritual.

I nodded.

"Wow! He's smoking!"

I nodded again.

"What's your husband going to say?!?"

I shrugged.

"Are you ever going to say anything?"

I just smiled, put my finger to my lips, and said, "Shhhh. Not yet. I just need a few more moments." Then I laid back on the couch and closed my eyes, feeling the best that I have felt in a long, long time, wishing that I could somehow bottle that feeling and take it back home to Ottawa with me.

Later, when my sister and I were driving home and I told her all about it, she asked me how I ever felt comfortable enough to go through the hamam experience, particularly the part where my breasts weren't covered up. "I didn't feel comfortable at first," I explained. "But then, at some point, something happened, and I just gave up worrying about everything. My body, what I look like, what other people around me might think, and how naked I was. I just stopped, and let the sensation of complete relaxation take over." I paused for a moment, and then said, "You know, sis. It was the first time that I ever really relinquished control, and just lived in the moment. And I gotta say, it felt fantastic."

And now, here I am a few weeks later in hamam-less Ottawa. Back to a regular waxing schedule. Back to chastising myself for growing a muffin top, which has led to adding more gym and yoga sessions into my exercise regime until I wither it back down to normal. Back to worrying ever so slightly about what others might think of me when they see me naked in the yoga studio or gym change rooms. Back to comparing myself to others. And back to sticking to spa treatments that don't include other patrons and that allow me to stay covered up.

But I am also craving that feeling of complete surrender, if only for a fleeting blissful moment, as I lay on a heated marble slab, surrounded by other almost-naked strangers.

Perhaps I should just quit my job and open a hamam in Ottawa. Really. You will all thank me later.

Monday, January 14, 2013


This is my Dad, 59+ odd years ago. Today, he turns 60.

Social convention demands that we treat this particular birthday as a milestone. It does, after all, mark the successful completion of yet another decade on this earth. An achievement to be sure - especially with me as your offspring.

To celebrate, my entire family - parents, siblings, husbands and wives of siblings, and kids of siblings - planned to embark upon a Caribbean adventure. But alas, I come from a family of bloody procrastinators. All of us, without exception, left the finding of the dates for our island voyage to the last possible minute. By which point it became impossible to work around the multitude of events and goings-on filling our respective calendars. Because we are extremely busy procrastinators. Nephew is playing in his first hockey tournament. Niece can't miss her provincial mid-term exams. Brother-in-law's parents are coming to town. Sister-in-law has to be back in time for some work-related training. Mom has accounts that she needs to close. Hubby has to be in Toronto at the end of January. I have surgery in February. And so on, and so on, and so on. Getting ten people coming from two cities together for seven uninterrupted days proved to be too complex. Not to mention stressful.

And so, before we descended into a spiral of "Why don't you change your plans, you selfish jerk?" "No, why don't you change your plans, you more selfish jerk?", we made the family decision to postpone the trip until next year sometime, promising that we will NOW agree to and carve out a date for 2014.

(A date which, by the way, has yet to be selected. Stay tuned to this blog next year around this time to see if we actually follow through. My money is on us ending right back in this same place.)

Anyway, ruining my father's dream of having his entire family go on a trip with him has left me feeling quite characteristically Catholic - that is to say, guilty. And so, knowing that my kid brother was heading home to Winnipeg for work last week, I sacrificed the rights to my first born child (which I don't want anyway) to pay for a last-minute ticket. At the very least, Dad could hang out with his three kids for a couple of days. Even if it was here...

instead of here...

Okay, okay, okay. So it's not the same. I get it. But it's the thought that counts, right? And besides. I got him a Kobo and made him a birthday cake.

Sadly, however, he didn't really get to enjoy the surprise visit, the e-reader, or the cake. Because he was sick. Oh so very sick. The missing-work kind of sick. And my Dad never misses work. Ever. So pretty effin' sick. And not just him. My nephew was home from school with a fever. My mother was home from work, too weak to tell me everything that I was doing wrong while making Dad's birthday cake. And by the time I left the 'Peg, my niece and sister were well on their way to succumbing to this pestilence. (Latest reports suggest that my brother-in-law is now confined to his bed.)

Nothing says "Happy 60th, Dad" like a rampant case of the plague.

I feel pretty rotten about the whole darn thing. A less fabulous 60th birthday party you could not plan. Poor Dad... :(

I also feel rather introspective. My Dad is sixty. Sixty. Not very old, I know, but older than he was this time last year. With all the baggage that growing older means. Maybe seeing him so sick had something to do with it, but I've spent much of today coming to terms with the fact that my Dad, who I have hero-worshipped most of my life, is getting older. And able to do just a little bit less than he was the year before.

How depressing! And birthdays - milestone ones or otherwise - should not be about the passage of time. They should be about the celebration of life!

And so, tonight, although he is 2,600 km away, I am raising a glass of red wine in a toast to my Dad, and thanking him...

...for spending countless hours teaching me how to play baseball in our back yard, and then turning around and playing dolls with me on the living room floor.

...for forcing me to learn how to parallel park a 1979 GMC Sierra, with the cap on, so that I can now park any vehicle on any street in any city.

...for letting me spend all of those after-school-hours with him at the grain elevator, where I learned the value of a hard day's work.

...for allowing me to make my own mistakes in life, no matter how painful it might have been to watch.

...for bailing me out when the mistakes were just too big for me to handle on my own, and for not judging me for needing his help.

...for patiently waiting for me to outgrow my awkward teenage years, and for having faith that our relationship would be restored once the hormones settled down.

...for making me fight my own battles instead of taking them on as his own, so that I would learn how to take care of myself.

...for exposing me to the world beyond our backyard, our town, our province, so that leaving the nest when the time came was not as hard as it could have been.

...for the tears that he shed the day I told him that Hubby and I were getting married, which I know he will never admit to, but I know they were there.

...for always making me look up every word that I could not spell on my own in the dictionary, so that I would learn to rely on myself before relying on others.

...for being my Dad, which I know was not always easy. But I know that I am a better person because of him, so I hope it was worth it.

I love you Dad. Here's to many, many more years as father and daughter.

And more importantly, here's to a plague-free, Caribbean-based 61st birthday.

1974. Mom and Dad on their wedding day. Look at those 'burns! 

Tuckered out after playing dolls with his girls.

My high school graduation in 1994. (Oh, those glasses...)

First-time, and proud, Grandpa, after the birth of my niece 

Hanging out on Christmas Eve

Finally getting rid of me... (Side-bar - look closely at the dress. It's the same one Mom wore in 1974) 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Farewell, primate

Perhaps you remember this post. Or this one. Or finally this one. All about Fergus and his Monkey.

If you've been following this story, or if you are just reading it for the first time, here's the Cole's notes version:

  • Fergus destroys all of his toys within a matter of days, even those that are supposedly the toughest of the tough;
  • I found a Monkey with tear-proof seams and bought it;
  • The lady at the pet store told me to keep it among my things for about a week so that it would pick up my smell, which would mean that Fergus would be more gentle with it;
  • Monkey slept in my bed and lived in my clothes basket for a week before I gave him to Fergus, who proceeded to whip him around violently, as he does with every other toy he owns;
  • Nonetheless, Monkey held on, sustaining some minor damage to his tail, which Fergus chewed through;
  • Fergus and Monkey have been best friends for two whole months now, and are still going strong.
Make that were going strong. 

That's right. Last night, our little herd suffered its first tragedy of 2013.

It started innocently enough...

Fergus was running around the house, sniffing in all the usual hiding spaces. Up and down the stairs he went, over and over again. The second floor, the first floor, the basement. Running around every single room in the house, sniffing away.

"What's up with him?" Hubby asked.

"He's looking for Monkey," I said. "Do you know where he is?"

"Yeah," said Hubby. "He's in the closet."

"Why don't you open the closet door and see if he will find Monkey," I asked.

And so off Hubby went to open the linen closet door. When he came back downstairs, he looked at the Beast and said, "Find Monkey!"

And like a bolt of lightening, Fergus was climbing the stairs, and about 3 seconds later, he came back with Monkey hanging out of his mouth and a smile beaming across his snout.

We played tug for a few minutes. Then we played some fetch. Then we played some Monkey hide-and-seek. And then, by 8:30, all three of us were beat. So we retired to the t.v. room to watch some Yes, Prime Minister and catch a few laughs. 

Just another Thursday night at our place. (Exciting, I know...)

Fergus settled in nicely at our feet on his dog bed, perching his head on Monkey as though his best pal was his pillow. 

And then things got quiet. Too quiet, when Monkey is around, frankly. I turned the volume down on the tv, and heard a distinct sucking sound. I peered over the edge of the couch, and spotted Fergus sucking on Monkey's head as though it were a pacifier. 

"Ah... Cute!" I said. "Hubby, look at our boy!"

"Turn the volume back up!" Hubby said. "I'm trying to watch this show!"

The grouch and I went back to watching the show. When the episode was over a few minutes later, I got up to go to bed, and reached down to pet Fergus. And that's when I saw it:

Monkey's ear. The sucking sound from earlier? That was Fergus, sucking the ear right off.

And where Monkey's ear used to be, there was just a big, gaping hole, with beautiful white mounds of stuffing ripe for the picking.

Fergus was well on his way to performing a full scale lobotomy, thus wreaking digestive hell on his delicate belly.

What choice did I have? I took Monkey away, shot a few pictures so that I could keep you all updated, and laid him to rest n the garbage can under our sink.

It sounds like such an awful demise. But when you think about it, Monkey had a damn good life. He lasted 2 months and 4 days. That is about 2 months more than every other stuffed toy Fergus has ever had. Not a bad run!

So what have we learned from this little experiment? First, making a toy smell like me does not lead Fergus to be more gentle with it. Second, some toys are clearly made with better stitching than others. Monkey was one of those toys. Three, I am going to spend a fortune on toys for Fergus over the span of our lives together. But that's okay. Because they make him happy. Which means they make me happy too.

Which is why we already had another toy ready and waiting for him for just such an occasion.

Let's see how long you last, Kong Wubba. We'll call you "Red".

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In with the new

The first morning of 2013 could not have been more perfect. Although there was a little nip in the air (okay, a big nip in the air, as it was -22 with the windchill), there was not a cloud in the sky. So, with a fresh coffee in my hand and a broadcast of "This American Life" playing on my iPhone, Fergus and I set out for our first trip to the Arboretum of the new year. We spent two hours outside together, running through knee-deep-on-me and belly-deep-on-him snow, playing fetch, and greeting every dog that came our way. It was a perfect start to 2013. (Except for the part where I threw his fancy, brand new frisbee over the fence and into the parking lot of a Honda dealership.... Oops...)

Sitting nice, waiting for me to throw his frisbee 

Chewing on his frisbee

So much fresh snow!

Running through piles and piles of the stuff

We came home to a freshly cleaned house - including mopped floors - courtesy of Hubby. Which Fergus promptly messed up again by tracking snow and ice through the entire house. Nonetheless, it was nice to catch a glimpse of clean floors, if only for a millisecond.

The floors (and bathrooms and all other surfaces) were sparkling so because Hubby and I were getting ready to greet our nearest and dearest to our 8th annual New Year's Day Levee. What is a levee, you ask? Worry not. I did not know what a levee was either, until I married Hubby. A levee is a fancy word for an open house, and evidently, this is a very East coast thing to do on New Year's Day. Of course, it is normally the lieutenant governor of the province throwing such an event (for my American friends, that would be the Queen's representative). Hubby and I like to believe that we are equally important. And so while he finished cleaning, I rushed around my kitchen like a mad woman for 4 hours, putting the finishing touches on the way-too-much-food-again-this-year that I was preparing.

I will stop here and blow my own horn for a moment. I never, and I mean never ever ever, serve finger foods from a box. You know, the ones that come frozen and you throw them on a cookie sheet and bake them. No. Instead, I always make them from scratch. Which amounts to an awful lot of stress for a few hours days. This year's menu included:
- goat cheese crostini with blood orange and black pepper marmalade;
marinated chicken kebabs with lemon pepper yogurt sauce;
mini crab cakes;
- homemade hummus and pita chips;
- figs and mascarpone cheese wrapped in prosciutto;
- veggies and dip;
- homemade chocolate chip cookies;
- homemade rum balls; and
strawberry, lime and champagne cocktail.

Why do I make the holidays even more stressful by going through all this trouble? Because I like to cook. And because I like my friends. And this is my little way of showing them how much I like them.

(But mostly because I have an A-type, ultra-perfectionist personality, and I can't stand the thought of not being the best hostess in the whole world).

Delicious! (And yes, those are Winnipeg Blue Bombers oven mitts in the background...) 

Still delicious, but from another angle. With Fergus supervising form the background. 

There is always booze at a New Year's Day Levee. Including champagne punch. Hair of the dog and all... 

All those tears and that swearing that work is worth it once we open our doors to our friends, who trickle in and out in shifts throughout the day. And really, is there any better way to usher in the New Year? Well, if there is, we haven't found it yet. Which is why next year, we will surely host the 9th annual levee at the same time next year. Although perhaps next time, we will leave Fergus somewhere a little more quiet, as all of the in-and-out and doorbell-ringing is a little stressful on his overly excitable mind...

And so with that, my friends, I bid you the happiest of starts to your New Year. I hope that your 2013 started with a bang, as did mine, and that you make the most of your time with family and friends this year.