Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Carpe diem

Friday was a busy day.  A busy start to a busy weekend, in truth, but this is Friday's story.

Across the road from my office, there is a landscaping joint.  They sell stone of every description, soil, mulch and whatnot.  (You probably didn't know this, but you can buy whatnot by the yard.)  In a spontaneous fit of Friday enthusiasm, I decided that we should visit this fine establishment on our lunch break, to see what could be had.  Now I'm sure that looks can be deceiving, but you'd have thought from the expressions on their faces that the good people of Stone Paradise had never seen a chick in a skirt and heels pick out flagstone, chips and dust, topsoil, and mulch.  They should try getting out more.

After laying out the proposed flagstone garden path in the SP parking lot, we summed up, arranged for delivery of our purchases, and took our dusty selves back to work. My colleagues were amused by the grimy hand prints on my skirt, but I'm not sure my red suede slingbacks will ever be the same.

We had a busy Saturday planned -- dance lessons, planting trees with the Scouts, more dance lessons -- and Sunday called for rain.  I was afraid that the 1/2 yard of chips and dust was going to turn into a solid mass in my driveway, so I wheedled and cajoled until Doug agreed to help me lay the path that evening.

At 7:30pm we left the house.  In our driveway lay the chips and dust, 400 lbs of flagstone, a yard of topsoil and 3 yards of mulch.  But by 10pm the path was laid, the topsoil was down, and we had a lovely path to go with our aching backs.

Carpe diem?  Ha.  We didn't just seize the day.  Oh no, we grabbed it by its desultory Friday neck and shook it like a terrier with a rodent.  Every last ounce of garden fun was wrung from the day, and my front yard is vastly improved as a result.  Pictures to follow!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


So let's get the python thing out of the way.

Writer and generally fine human being Carl Hiaasen famously said about snakes, "You give them rodents, and they give you pure, unconditional indifference."  Unlike Carl, I have not had a lifelong affinity for the creatures.  I don't recall ever being afraid of them, but I wasn't always trying to catch wild snakes in the underbrush either.

Snakes actually weren't on my radar at all until I became pregnant with my son.  While strolling at a summer fair, I crossed paths with a middle-aged woman and her pre-teen daughter, both of whom had largish snakes draped around their necks.  I was entranced.  One minute I was enjoying the sunny day and the fair around me, and the next minute I was seized with the desire to hold a Boa Constrictor.  Bolshie pregnant woman that I was, I waddled up and asked if I could at least touch the snake. The snake owner was as astonished by the encounter as I was -- apparently she rarely gets accosted by pregnant women.

Based on that single serpentine encounter, I decided that it would be marvelous to get a Boa Constrictor.  A colleague advised that I should wait until the fetus looked less like an hors d'oeuvre to the snake, and I reluctantly agreed that this was probably wise.

Then, as most parental aspirations go in the post-childbirth period, it was all forgotten in the intense early parenting years.  The baby grew into a fine 7-year old lad with a remarkable vocabulary.

"Mummy," came a voice from the back of the car one day, "I want to be a herpetologist."  I nearly drove off the road, trying to puzzle this out.  "Studying infectious diseases?" I hazarded.  There was a sigh and a chuckle from the cheap seats.  "No! A doctor who studies snakes and reptiles, silly."  I was slightly mollified.  Better to be the mother of "the notable Dr. Nicholas Umptyfratz, respected Herpetologist", than of "that creepy snake guy next door."

Moreover, he wanted a snake, and he wanted it now.  I'll confess to being just a tad taken aback.  It's one thing to be a not-quite mother, fantasizing about how cool it would be to own a snake herself, and quite another to picture said reptile in close proximity to a being that has become more important than you could have previously imagined.  Germs, snake bites, and asphyxiation were now foremost in my mind.  "Hmm, let's talk this over with Daddy" was my reply.

After some negotiations that would have made the CAW proud, the terms were agreed upon.  They were as follows: 1) Nick would have to do all the research on breeds and then sell us on his choice; 2) Nick would provide a life-cycle cost analysis so we could decide if this was a sound purchase; and 3) Nick would have to save up the money.  Ha! His father thought he had him there.

Well, didn't that plan backfire.  After a short time we were informed that a Ball Python would be the best choice.  Not a Boa Constrictor, I queried.  "They are not suitable for novice handlers," I was gravely informed.  Humph.

After that, a list of costs was flourished.  Not only that, but a suitable python-procurer had been chosen.  Super Pet, it was decided, was the preferred source for snakes, chiefly because Nick felt they had the best customer service, in addition to competitive pricing.  Both Doug and I felt a little dazed by this point.  Apparently we'd brought forth some kind of herpetological market researcher.

And then he saved.  Boy, did that kid save.  Birthday presents? Super Pet gift cards, please.  Christmas? Super Pet gift cards.  Aunts and uncles were cajoled into buying snake tank paraphernalia instead of trucks and games.  And after almost three years, we were ready.

Now all that was left to be done was to name the serpent.  After much earnest debate, Nick's new pet was to be christened "Rommel" after Afrika Corps Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. (The boy's a World War II buff.) You must understand that at this point, the words "snake" and "python" had become synonymous for me, and this is my only excuse for the next bit of utter dopeyness.

Driving to Super Pet (naturally) one day, and Nick is talking snakes from the back seat.  I am thinking of the million things I need to do, and hear only "blah, blah, snakes, blah them Monty." It dawns on me to question: are all snake owners World War II-obsessed?  After all, Nick calls his snake Rommel, and most others call them Monty.  (I have been paying attention during at least some of the war chatter that goes on in our house, and surmise that Monty must be Field Marshall Montgomery.  You know, the beaky-nosed British dude who won the war.)  Wait, I muse fuzzily, my son is naming his snake after a German Field Marshall... To this day it is a source of astonishment that I didn't hit anything during my mental ruminations about the possibility that my son is some kind of Nazi-sympathizing wingnut.  I am, at this point, utterly convinced that there exists in my offspring some hitherto-undiscovered snakey-WWII pathology.

Like all reasonable beings, when I have a scary new theory, I want to bounce it off an impartial ear.  So I get on the phone with a friend, and start to tell the story.  He's busy, and I don't get past "Monty".  "I get it," he says a trifle impatiently, "Monty Python, ha ha very funny."  There is a short silence while I find something very hard and flat to bang my forehead on. "Er, yes," I say, "lovely talking with you."

And so, Rommel came home to live with a wonderful young man who shows no signs of psychopathology -- herpetological or otherwise -- after all.   Three years later, we have settled in for the long haul, and Rommel will soon be moving in to his new custom-built tank, complete with waterfall.  As anticipated, I am enjoying having a python in the house, and I rather think that Rommel enjoys my company too.

Just don't tell Carl Hiaasen I said that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

La plus ça change...

The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus said that "everything changes and nothing remains still", while a continent away but around the same time, the Buddha declared "Decay is inherent in all component things". 2500 years later, Smash Mouth opined that "we could all use a little change" and Sheryl Crow agreed that it would do us good.  So how come we're not convinced?

Pundits and rock stars aside, most of us just aren't good with change.  In the past six months, my team at work has changed supervisors, seen two team members leave to work in other areas, and is welcoming an old colleague back into the fold.  Oh, and we've all swapped roles: it's the Support Services do-si-doh!  People in neighbouring areas come over and nod sagely at us.  "Lotsa change, eh?" they say, making sure to keep at a slight remove in case it's catching.
Spring is full of positive changes.  (Fall's changes are just as necessary to the seasonal cycle, but have less effective PR reps.) For gardeners like me, it's a time of plotting, planning, and rubbing one's dirty hands with glee.  I'm trying to embrace the changes in my life, and I'm giving the neighbourhood notice of this new intent by ripping out my front lawn.  Right now it's a sea of dirt, and I'm not sure if my ideas on paper will translate successfully into action, but one thing is for certain: it's going to be a change.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

About Last Night

Funny how Date Night can go off the rails.

Last night was indeed DN, following an enjoyable afternoon stalking our favourite artists on the London Artists' Studio Tour. We had tickets to see Orchestra London play Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, featuring our brilliant concertmaster Joseph Lanza. (Big shout-out to Joe, who was fabulous as always. We are blessed with a talented orchestra indeed.)

About 2 minutes into the music, the phone goes off. Yes, we are philistines who leave the phone on -- albeit on silent -- during concerts and the like. Sue us, we have young children, and one of said babes was in the woods far away and had complained of an iffy stomach when we'd dropped him off on Friday night. Hence, my spouse left the auditorium and took the call.

Thank goodness Doug made it back in time to hear the sublime last half of the concerto. (Did I mention Joe Lanza is godly?) After furious arguments back and forth during intermission, we bailed on the concert, raced home, relieved the startled babysitter (and her very disappointed charge) and then I took off for the hour-long drive to the lakeside camp to retrieve my ailing child. Fortified by a double-shot of Starbucks, I made it in record time, pulling off the highway into the camp's driveway less than an hour after I left town.

Greeted by a chained gate and the pitch-black woods beyond it, I swore colourfully in a parentally inappropriate fashion, and considered my options. Option 1) Call the adults with whom my son was camping in 1-degree Celsius weather. Lucky me, no cellphone reception. Option 2) Call out futilely into the dark woods in the hopes of attracting the ranger's attention. Considering that my family claims not to hear my voice when I call them from upstairs in our admittedly small house, this option's chances of success were slim indeed. Option 3) Walk back along the fence line out to the highway, around the end of the fence and in to camp that way. Tried it, but lo and behold there is an almost invisible wire fence that runs along the highway perimeter of the property. Sigh.

There was no hope for it. A fence stood between this mama tiger and her sick cub, so climb it I would. Now, two X-chromosomes is all I have in common with Lara Croft, so there was no graceful run-vault-land happening this dark night. It was more like Homer Simpson trying to scale Everest with the promise of a donut at the summit.

The first human I encountered mutely pointed the way through the dark to the ranger's cabin. Imagine my surprise when the ranger sheepishly explained that the heavy chain and padlock were mostly for show, but rarely employed. I could have unhooked the gate and driven through. Lara Croft would have shot him merely for the annoyance and humiliation factor, but I did not.

By this point I'd lost all the time I'd gained from my caffeine-fueled Andretti impression, and it was just after 11PM when I finally got to the site. The cub was a sorry looking camper with saturated boots and a wicked head cold, and looked pathetically happy to be picked up by the scruff of his neck and carried back to the family den. He was emitting adenoidal snuffling noises before we'd reached the first small town on the route home, and slept through even AC/DC on the stereo.

Date Night ended with a collapse into bed at 12:45AM beside my sleepy mate, content that all the Hyphenators were where they should be. It was a decidedly unromantic but satisfying end to a mid-life evening.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gucci (or "Payback's a dog")

Dogs, like people, will treat you as badly or as well as you will let them.

I love my neighbourhood. Homogeneity gives me the creeps, so our little enclave of diversity suits me well. I must confess though, the students in the rental house across the street try my patience. They party until 5am, with cabs coming and going, and they all talk on their cellphones about matters SO important that they figure we will all want to hear their conversations, and oblige our presumed curiosity by speaking at high volume. On this side of the street, a lot of deep breathing happens while we try to retain the shreds of our compassion.

One of the denizens of the rental is a creature that looks like an angry white rat with a bad perm. Last evening, Dexter and I were gardening, when said creature decided to leave the gaggle of girlies and come across the road for a visit. Dexter, like the utter gentleman he is, stood patiently while "Gucci" made his acquaintance, and then growled his displeasure when Gucci displayed a complete lack of good manners and laid pipe on Dex's turf.

Gucci's owner -- we'll call her "Barbie" -- stood listlessly on her side of the road, plaintively calling "Gucci, Gucci come here, Gucci wannagoforawalk, Gucci come ON". Effective, it was not.

The next 30 minutes were decidedly entertaining. Gucci decorated my lawn in several spots, Gucci investigated the neighbourhood signs, Gucci trotted off down the road towards a busy intersection, and all with Barbie trailing 5 feet behind. Dexter and I watched in astonishment, before I ventured to ask why the hell she didn't just grab Gucci by the scruff of the neck and take him home.

"He's such a bad dog," was the reply, "he'd bite me. He bites me all the time."

Dexter and I eyed each other thoughtfully and decided that the time had come for a little unsolicited advice about 2-year old Gucci.

"Is he neutered?" we enquired. No, he was not.

Dexter rolled his eyes, and I tried to avoid doing likewise. "You know that's part of the problem, right? I mean, really," I said, sarcasm starting to take over, "you're not going to breed him, right?" Imagine my astonishment when Barbie confirmed that yes, her mother had just purchased a Pomeranian bitch and they were indeed going to breed dear Gucci. At this point, Dexter gave it up and stalked off into the house, and I watched the rest of the show by myself. Eventually Barbie came back to clean up Gucci's messes on my lawn, and tearfully confirmed that she had indeed been bitten while herding Gucci back to their house.

Gucci, like all of us, has his issues. Barbie probably leaves him alone a lot, and deprived of his pack, he lashes out in the only way he knows. Combined with "short man's syndrome" and the innate dominance of an unneutered dog, it's a recipe for disaster. Barbie's making her own life miserable, and doesn't even appear to know it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Welcome to the Milk Bar

It's amazing how much you can tell about a person by looking at their hands. High-powered executives with bitten nails, for instance. How confident are they really? Right now my hands are looking shockingly old, especially when every wrinkle is lit from the Mac's glow. If the light was better -- and I had my glasses on -- I could see the dirt under my nails, left there even after being scrubbed with Lee Valley's much-vaunted "World's Kindest Nail Brush". Maybe gardeners like me need a crueler nail brush?