Friday, December 21, 2012

The Best Way To Spread Christmas Cheer

 It's the last day of school for the year! Or it would be if the kids weren't having a snowday thanks to ALL THIS SNOW. The younger two went outside and frolicked in the snow and the oldest kid stayed inside and worked on her Christmas presents, bless her industrious little heart. And it is SO close to Christmas, which means that I will now show you my favorite Christmas decorations.

This is what our tree looks like this year. As you can see by our coloured Christmas lights, we are not Communists:
 I spent all of Christmas tree set-up day last weekend feeling PRETTY hard done by because our tree is a bit.. spartan. Charlie-Brown-esque. But throw on a zillion decorations and three miles of lights and you can barely tell!

And now for the close-up tour:
He's REALLY old - from about 1900 and super-fragile blown glass. He used to have an elf buddy with a mushroom hat but I broke him because I suck.

Also note the leering snowmen who like where this is headed. Anyhow, someone brought ups back the kissing kouple from a trip to Holland.

The kids had Monday off, too - geez, what a short week - and we made cinnamon-applesauce dough and cut out hearts for the tree and our house smelled OVERPOWERINGLY of cinnamon for a few days.

SO CRAFTY. We made tons of these hearts.

St. Nicholas sometimes brings Christmas ornament kits, which is wise of him and one year we made zillions of these pretty little angels:
 Isn't she sweet? Less sweet is the memory of the tense day we made them, when one kid was in trouble in her room ALL DAY LONG. But the angels are pretty! Begone, actual memories!


I don't love these dumb lumpy bears but the kids do. They have magnets in their noses, so no matter where they are, they swing together like a lovestruck new couple:

This is my favorite thing - it's a winged girl holding a white fox, riding on a deer and Bill put her in my stocking the Christmas we were expecting The Girl:
I see the ornament and I briefly feel again that wild fear and that wild hope.
This is a very fragile old tree topper - too small to go on top of our tree, so it just hangs hugely off to the side:
It used to be on my grandma's tree and now it is on mine.

These are my favorite - wee little birthday candle-holding angels, long broken. I think they're from the 30s:
They have the sweetest wistful little faces. Also seen in this picture: OUR MAGNIFICENT GINGERBREAD PALACE. The Girl made it this year and she is obviously going Big Gingerbread Places.

She also made this gorgeous tree at school out of a magazine, spraypaint and glitter:
"You must be really artistic too," some well-meaning soul said to me the other day and I laughed and laughed. My friend C gave me the stern bookish angel behind the tree.

And here you can see the box the angels get stored in and that I set out because it's so pretty, the Christmas card my Uncle Ron and Aunt Lori sent (made with one of his photographs), and a jar full of antique glass balls - too fragile to hang up anymore:
 They look dusty in the picture but they're actually covered in tiny fine cracks!

I love this time of year. And now I am off to bake some cookies. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and your family.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gift Ideas for Husbands, Specifically MINE.

Bill is a prince among husbands, a fantastic guy all around - devoted, compassionate, hard-working - and if everyone was more like him, the world would be a better place unless you used bad fonts on a menu, in which case you'd probably be shot.

But what DOES one get a fine, artsy guy like that? The automatic lazy male defaults - sports stuff! beer products! socks! - would just make him sad.

You get him books like this: The Upset: Young Contemporary Art. That was easy.

He would also like the Sawvivor Saw for Christmas. 

Nothing says "Merry Chirstmas, Baby!" like a fine camping saw, I always say. NOTHING.

I WAS going to get him a copy of Cards Against Humanity, but they were sold out the day I was shopping. It would still be a dandy choice for him. He loves games like that.

Makey Makey


I also tend to get Bill soulful yet manly short story collections. This year's pick: What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver.

I also got him a fine squishy old Irish guy hat, which the website no longer has but I bought it at Old Navy. GREAT CHOICE, ME.

He also loves Baileys so I tend to get him some of that in both drinkable and candy form. It's CHRISTMAS. Have both.

Another book! Shop Class as Soulcraft, just so he can feel justified in his lifelong insistence that it's very important that kids learn practical skills with their hands.

And that's it! That's all he's getting. It should be - I hope - a merry Christmas for him. And for you and your family, too. What are you getting YOUR husband/partner/self for Christmas this year?

(for more fun gift lists, check out Nicole's suggestions for Nicole and Nan's suggestions for Star Trek fans.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

People. People Who Read People.

People Magazine's Official Hot Man of The Planet Earth Contest Issue is out, and as usual, they got it ALL WRONG. CHANNING TATUM? Is that even a NAME people have here on Earth Planet? Are we THAT dazzled by abs? Are all our libidos set to Beefy And Simple O'Clock?

I am, a good friend informed me, SO WRONG. Channing Tatum IS terribly sexy, she assures me, but she likes blond jocks. And I am certain that he is a lovely man, in his own way, but if it was Beck Magazine, the Hot Men List would be different - darker haired men, for one, and more... oh, complicated and yet good-humoured and geeky and smarter and also with that certain special something that suggests to ME, at least, that they might like my sort (non-hale, non-hearty, endlessly talkative, fragile hypochondriacs. Who DOESN'T enjoy that?).

I am fully aware, in an aside, that these men are (for the most part) actors and that their public personas and their private lives might be disappointingly different. Don't know, don't care.

The People List, Graded
1. Channing Tatum - He's not, as I said, anything LIKE my type. But he's not a HORRIBLE choice either. B-.

2.  Blake Shelton - He seems affable enough, and I like doting husbands, but he's once again NOT MY TYPE - too blond! Too outdoorsy!  C+/B-.

3. Chris Hemsworth - Take everything I said about not wanting blond muscly guys and wanting dark haired smart complicated guys and throw them out the window because HUBBA HUBBA. Some good, kind human being made this video:

*fans self*
WHY IS HE NOT THE SEXIEST MAN OF THE YEAR? This seems like a much more popular choice.

4. Max Greenfield.
 That's certainly not a sexy photo, is it? There are better ones:
He's appealing. B.

 5. Ben Affleck
On the one hand, there was Argo and on the other he's aging SO well AND he's a doting dad and so I'm going to have to give him an A-, which I never would have done BEFORE.

 6. Richard Gere.
NO. F.

7. Matt Bomer
Oh, sure. A-.

8. Oscar Pistorius 

9. Denzel Washington
 A fine-looking man, yes. Hannah addressed the issue we all have with his permanent spot on the People List well, and I'll add another hopeful voice chirping for Idris Elba. B+ for Denzel.

10. Damien Lewis.
What? No. C-.

11. Paul Rudd

12. Bradley Cooper
A C+ for Bradley Cooper, Human Golden Retriever. 

The Beck List, In No Order Whatsoever

Henry Cavill

Viggo Mortensen

Benedict Cumberbatch

(only when he's Sherlock Holmes, though, and certainly not when he's giving one of his myriad regrettable interviews. Shh, Benedict. Let me love you.)

Sufjan Stevens

Jon Hamm

 Captain Hook on Once Upon A Time
Not coicidentally, this show recently went from something I lazily watched sometimes on Sunday evenings to MUST SEE TV.

 Colin Farrell

Santiago Cabrera

David Beckham

Gael Garcia Bernal

Mark Ruffalo

This is such a good post. I think I might love it.
Did I miss anyone? Let me know!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Curse Is Come Upon Me - My Yearly Oprah's Favorite Thing's Post.

 Here it is: the primary  reason that I still have a blog, the post that makes me feel more stressed out and guilty than all my other posts combined - my yearly Oprah post! This year, I decided to drag other people down with me, namely my oldest child, M., and my dad. And we're off!

Jetson E- Bike. I actually saw one of these in person while I was out riding around with my dad. A portly woman tootled by on her electric bike and my dad and I stared, awe-struck, and then laughed for a solid five minutes. Perhaps I am missing this bike's zippy electric charm. That sounds exactly like something that might pass me by, so instead, I will say, in practical fashion, that I don't know about everyone, but generally Christmas happens in the WINTER here and not during safe bike riding season. It's also close to 2 grand. Do we like anyone $2000 worth? And the answer is no, of course we don't.

Ralph Lauren Colourful Sweater. - "It's $198!" exclaimed M. "THAT IS QUITE EXPENSIVE!" Is the Recession not happening where YOU are? Perhaps you're rich and you and your rich friends exchange luridly-coloured sweaters with each other while laughing richly. And while I'm sure it's a perfectly nice cotton cable sweater in bright colours, is it REALLY worth $200? No. So what you're paying for is visible membership in The Rich Person Sweater Club, which I hear is a nice place.

Giro Sport Design Reverb - $48 for Oprah readers. "That is an expensive helmet for something the colour of a booger with a visor," said M. I don't know if I think it's expensive, so much, but I DO think that giving bike helmets to other adults is a strange thing to do at Christmas. Do people do this? Is this something that happens? I'm trying to imagine my face upon opening up a big tempting box and finding a bike helmet. I think I'd cry.

H20 Gift Set - Was $122 but is now $98 for Oprah readers. "I first discovered these products at David Copperfield's house," writes Oprah.You know, if I was rich and famous and knew other rich and famous people, I would most certainly name drop. I can't quite imagine name-dropping David Copperfield, but perhaps he's an expensively sea-scented delight and a joy to all who know him. Name dropping count: 1.

Metallic Pink Tory Burch "Michelle" Tote - A lovely enough item, I guess, but a) on what mythical planet do people give each other $395 tote bags for Christmas and b) how come I wasn't born into this group?

12 Pack of Julep Nail Polishes, selected by Oprah herself - Originally $168, now $84. M pointed out that we own a MILLION bottles of nail polish and probably did not spend $168 total on them. But these nail polishes are non-toxic while ours are probably warping our genes AS WE SPEAK, which serves us right for being poor. But - in all fairness - $84 is actually not a crazy price for a large boxed set of high-quality nail polishes, even if I'd be aghast if someone bought me it.

Indian Bangle Bracelet - $31 for Oprah readers.
Well, that's not TOO bad, right? I mean, I don't like it but it's also not the cost of a new kidney and those who like shiny costume jewelry will like it.... wait a minute....
Bougainvillea’s cuff bracelets are made with water buffalo bone and semi-precious stones. 
I find this icky. I'm not all THAT sensitive, but I prefer that my costume jewelry not be made of animal bones. I'm dainty that way. And are a water buffaloes bones THAT much more attractive than a cows? Does being an undomesticated animal give your bones an exotic hue?

12 Pack of Lafco New York Gift Soaps - $238. "WOW," said M, who up until this moment did not know that rich people dropped $238 on gift boxes of soap for each other. She also wrote "WOW" in the magazine's margin in case I did not sufficiently know how boggled she was.
Name dropped: "Mr. and Mrs. Colbert." Name dropping count: 2.

Pave Diamonds Initial Necklace from India Hicks- Was $370 but is now $296 for Oprah readers. "I suppose if you absolutely have to have a $370 necklace, this one would do as well as any other," my dad grumped.

Bose VideoWave II 46" High Definition Television - $4,999 (but substantially MORE in Canada, for some reason.). Perhaps this is the sort of thing rich people give beloved spouses for Christmas. Do they? Is this what they do? M is rolling her eyes at the VERY idea. As it is, I don't even like MYSELF enough to spend 5 grand on a TELEVISION when I have 3 kids who need food and shelter and (theoretically) future expensive educations. So no.

A festively-scented candle with an R. Nichols illustration on the outside - $36 for Oprah readers. "RIPOFF," wrote M. My dad, unbelievably enough, DISAGREES. "Those are nice little things!" he said. "That seems like a fair price for them." My dad - unexpected fan of the festively illustrated seasonal candle.

Kidskin Leather Wallet - $138. This involved a long explanation to a very horrified M about what "kidskin" was, since she thought at first that it was KID skin and thus in extra horrible, Swiftian Modest Proposal territory. "It's still weird," M says. "First you have to find your wallet in your purse and then you have to search through your wallet for your stuff." Guess whose mother has only just started carrying a purse and has yet to grow up enough to carry a wallet?

Recycled-Steel Toile Dog Food Cannister and Stoneware Bowl - $56 and $32. "What do you get for the dog that reads Architectural Digest?" wrote Oprah, which has caused me a lot of philosophical musing. What WOULD I get for a dog that both COULD read and had pretentious reading tastes? "You give him to a scientific testing facility since I don't want to be taken over by smart dogs," says M. "Or you give him dog treats and tell him to get a job and buy his own stuff." Spending $56 on a tin to hold dog food! THE VERY IDEA!

Hotel Collection 600 Thread Count Bedding - $80 to $360. "For anyone who loves to hang out in bed," wrote Oprah.  "For people with no lives," grumped M. "Here, let's buy you some stupid expensive bedding and make your bed extra-comfy." But what does she know? She's young and still has hope in an interesting future. I like nice sheets. I don't expect anyone will buy me these because THEY ARE EXPENSIVE.

Tempur-Cloud Supreme Mattress - $2699. I LOVE A COMFORTABLE MATTRESS. I WANT A NICE SOFT BED. GET ME THIS. M is out of the room and not here to point out that people don't actually buy each other mattresses for Christmas that cost two grand. Moving briskly on!

Coach Down Puffer Jacket - $458. "This perfect down puffer.... manages to be nice and warm without making you look like the Incredible Hulk," writes Oprah and yet, as M pointed out, the green one is EXACTLY THE SAME COLOUR AS THE INCREDIBLE HULK.

Michael Kors Glam Metallic Studded High Tops - $195. "There's a zipper! A buckle! AND LACES!" exclaimed M, completely horrified. "AND THEY ARE ALSO TACKY! OF ALL THE SHOES IN THE WORLD!"

Wine Chilling Corkcicle - $25 - Here we have it! This list's affordable option! ONE FOR ALL MY DRUNKEN FRIENDS! Except we're still in a Recession and I don't BUY presents for my friends, do I. But if I did, I might buy them a giant icicle to keep their booze cold.

Tom Ford 4 Pack of Lipsticks, Hand-Picked by Oprah - $192. Exclamation mark! I don't know why this dazzles me so much, but that's a LOT of money for four lipsticks. The individual lipsticks in the Tom Ford collection are $48. $48! I felt like a giddy drunken sailor buying a TWENTY DOLLAR lipstick the other day. CRAZINESS.

Dyson Bladeless Pedestal Fan - $450. Name dropped: THE KARDASHIANS. Name dropping count: 3.
Does this being owned by the Kardashians make it less appealing for anyone else? I'm sure it's a completely fine expensive fan but I don't generally tend to buy fans for Christmas, a holiday which - as I've previously mentioned - OCCURS IN THE WINTER. Maybe it's hot where you are and you are also rich. Here's a fan that the Kardashians like for your consideration.

Microsoft Surface Tablet with Keyboard - from $495. I don't know about you, but the one finger limited interactivity of tablets counts AGAINST them for me. This one comes with a keyboard but how much can you really do WITH it? We're pretty demanding of our computers in this household and tend to find tablets underwhelming as a rule. Still, it's attractive.

Wagging Tail Portraits - $229 for a set of 50 pet picture cards. Here is a photo of Frank - who is STILL HANGING IN THERE, WAY TO GO BUDDY! - carefully photoshopped to look like art:
Bill has asked me not to be snarky about this entry. It's hard times for commercial artists these days. So you want to get a bunch of cards with your dog's painting on them made up? Here you go. And in the meantime: ADMIRE MY FINE CAT!

Q37ci Elliptical Trainer -$3099. Names dropped: Bob Greene (4) and Gayle* (5) who is shown working off "blue velvet cake" and more on THAT later. "If you love to eat, it's a really good idea to try to make yourself love to work out," writes the O editors and now I am so depressed because oh no, this is a true statement. In the meantime: this is very expensive but maybe you would mean it very lovingly if you gave it as a gift, mean it to say something like "I love you and want you around for as close to forever as I can." What I worry that your recipient would hear, though, is "You're a giant fatty and I'll only love you if you keep your butt high and firm." So maybe only get people three thousand dollar elliptical machines IF THEY SPECIFICALLY ASK FOR THEM.

*I'm aware that mentioning Gayle is probably not name-dropping so much, but I'd brag if I was hanging out with her. She seems fun.

Rowallan of Scotland Leather Covered Jewelry Box - Was $525 but is now $420 for Oprah readers. "What do you get the woman who has everything?" ME? Personally? Doesn't SHE ALREADY HAVE EVERYTHING and maybe what she doesn't need is YET MORE STUFF? And yet.

While Oprah's gift list may be SPECTACULARLY out of touch with how most human beings exchange gifts, there is nothing wrong with the idea that gifts are a tangible sign of our love for someone else and our desire for their happiness. And so, if THIS is the one thing that would make your wife very happy and you can afford it, than by all means. It is, as my dad pointed out, a rather nice thing, with all its little drawers and compartments. I personally much prefer the $125 Florence model, but I don't want that one, either. I'm not really a jewelry fan.

Josh Groban's Noel CD YET AGAIN - In case your grandma doesn't have it yet or lost last year's copy.

Dr. Dre Powerbeats Earbuds - $150. M wrote the following story of celebrity headphones in the margin: "When I was 8, I bought some Hannah Montana headphones at the dollar store when everything was still a dollar. I'm 13 now and I lost them this summer but they still worked and sounded good when I lost them." The moral of this story, I guess, is that Miley Cyrus should get in on the lucrative field of celebrity headphone design again, because she could make a MINT. I have nothing against expensive headphones, by the way - I have a lovely pair of noise-cancelling headphones and they make my life a MILLION times better.

Curtis Stone Kitchen Solutions Stainless Steel Oilcan - $60. "So there I was, telling Curtis Stone how chic this stainless steel oilcan is, not realizing that it's from his very own line!" wrote Oprah. THAT MUST HAVE BEEN SO EMBARRASSING, OPRAH! PLEASE TELL ME MORE! But there is no more, just a somewhat-attractive metallic can for olive oil and so many questions. Names dropped: 6.

4 Classic Coffee and Tea Bowls on a Matching Tray - $20 and very, very lovely. Every year there is something I actually want on the Oprah list and so far, THIS IS IT. This and the zillion dollar mattress.

Edward Bess Perfume - $125. Ugh, buying perfume for people as gifts. Perfume smells so weirdly different on individuals that how about we just buy perfume for people that they've asked for? I'm sure this is a perfectly fine perfume, but make sure that the recipient has tried it out first and likes it before you spend $125 on it.

Bonded Teak Knife Set - $400 - On the one hand, these are good knives and good knives DO cost money. On the other hand, $400 is a HUGE amount of money and knives are a weird thing to give for a present. Also, don't forget that when you give someone knives for a gift, you must get a token amount of money from them in return so they're "buying" the knives from you, in superstition land, and your friendship is not thus severed. Important scientific news you can use!

Swing Design  Tray and Boxes - from $70 to $120. "I think it was Paul Simon who said, "Preserve your memories: they're all that's left you," writes Oprah and cheer up, Oprah! It's going to be okay! You have your dogs and your electric bike even if people aren't watching your new tv channel. And in the meantime, whoo! these are some expensive boxes! They're also in the luridly slimy frog green colour that Oprah apparently loves and I do not.

Back Home Pajamas Set - $160 - "The satiny pima cotton feels like you're wearing nothing," writes Oprah, which isn't as reassuring as she might hope. I like my pajamas to feel like pajamas. I don't want to wake up in the middle of the night and have to spend valuable could-be-sleeping time trying to figure out if I am actually naked and thus needing to get up and put ON pajamas, because only hippies and communists sleep nudely. As far as pajamas go, they're all right. I find cotton pajamas chilly and they're way out of my price range.

Lancer Skin Care Luxury Face Care Collection Set - $250 "Merry Christmas, honey! I've been noticing that you're very very old and wrinkly."

Earth Balance Coconut And Peanut Spread Gift Pack - $15 And here we have a nice inexpensive gift for MY WORST ENEMY TO GIVE ME! it's gluten free AND vegan, as though those are positive qualities in a Christmas gift. Okay. My allergies aside (I have SEVERE coconut allergies), this gift pack also comes with a cookie cutter, recipe card and bamboo spreader so it would probably be good for the very nutritionally worried person on your gift list. It's fairly cutely packaged, too, so I've decided this would be a dandy gift for the nutritionally fretful person that you only want to spend $15 on.

Wakaya Perfection Organic Ginger Powder - $24. "If I blindfolded you," writes Oprah, "you'd swear this organic ginger powder from Fiji was just grated off the root." MOM! OPRAH IS THREATENING TO BLINDFOLD ME AND FEED ME GINGER POWDER AGAIN! The website says that this is a "30 Day supply" of ginger, which is making me look askance - what are people doing with ALL THAT GINGER?

56 Count Box of Artisinal Pigs In Blankets with 2 Dips - $68 for Oprah readers. Despite the fact that this DOES sound delicious - I AM SO HUNGRY - it is also a lot of money for pigs in blankets. I'd still eat them, do NOT get me wrong.

Pipcorn Holiday Crate - $88. For four bags of "pipcorn" which is a hullless variety of popcorn, apparently, and PEOPLE PAY $88 FOR FOUR BAGS OF POPCORN THIS PLANET IS AMAZING! I love it here. People are NUTS. And M got bored and wandered off to make guacamole, which cost us maybe $1, but we'll sell it to you for $50 because PEOPLE WILL PAY ANYTHING FOR ANYTHING.

Mel and Rose Wine Spirits Moscow Mule Kit - $131. "I suggest drinking at least two when you're at Yosemite trying to pitch a tent in the rain with Gayle King," writes Oprah, and doesn't that sound like fun? I'd like to go boozy camping in Yosemite with Oprah and Gayle. Not mentioned: Steadman. If someone gave me this for Christmas, I would be their best friend FOREVER. I'm still not giving it to anyone, though.

A blue velvet cake. $34 for Oprah readers. Gayle picked this - and then had to work it off on the elliptical machine mentioned earlier - but I find it off-putting, like something out of Dr. Seuss. Still, I'm sure it's TASTY and I wish someone would buy ME a cake. I LOVE CAKE. Would I eat blue cake? YES I WOULD.

Bellocq Tea Arelier Chai Gift Set - WAS $85 but Oprah readers can get it for $68 and I am BOGGLED by this. THIS TEA IS MADE OF GOLD, PEOPLE! IT WILL MAKE YOU LIVE FOREVER! (As a nice aside: they are donating 10% of sales to the American Red Cross, which is good of them.)

Trio Jam Pack - $29 for Oprah readers. This is fine. Homemade jam is a splendid gift and if you've made jam and the recipient does not appreciate it, DROP THEM AT ONCE. RIGHT THERE.

Casa Dragones Sipping Tequila - $275. While doing last year's list, I learned that sipping tequila is a THING and that I have been missing out on this thing, so I got some for a friend's birthday and then made her sip it with me. "Oh, this is nice," the poor woman said. "Like a really fine, smooth gasoline." This bottle of tequila is REALLY expensive!

Dark Secret Chocolate 30 Day Box Set - $54 for Oprah readers - Hrm. 2 little dark chocolates to be healthily doled out every day for a month. It's okay, I guess? I prefer my chocolate to come in luxurious truffle form, to be eaten in bed as I read my new stack of Christmas detective novels in my new pajamas that ABSOLUTELY feel like pajamas, but maybe this would be a nice treat for someone who likes to approach food in a rational, clinical fashion.

Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Silver Tequila - $52. More tequila! This one is less heart-breakingly expensive.

Sabatino and Co. Truffle Oils, Truffles, Truffle Slicer - $28 to $80. "Lisa Marie Presley sent me a truffle basket five Christmases ago, and it was a revelation," writes Oprah, dropping her 7th or 8th name. The rich are very different than you and I. They send each other truffle gift baskets.From this point on, all food products go in a strange truffle-y direction.

Trufa Secra Cured Meat Gift Set - $50. This is my dad's favorite. Nice knife, nice cutting board, some cured meat - "This is a STEAL!" - my dad says. You may safely buy it for me as well.

Cypress Grove Chevre - $15.50 for Oprah readers. This chevre has truffle flavours, which almost certainly means that it's going to wildly appeal to some people and revolt the rest. I think this is a fine gift but M gagged at THE VERY THOUGHT OF GOAT CHEESE. Oh hush, child! It's delicious! "It tastes like dirt," she said, "SWEATY DIRT." I think we know what Santa's bringing THIS year!

Tarfuflanghe Truffle Pasta - $6.50 to $22 for Oprah readers. Um, I guess? Maybe?

Truffle Butter - $17 to $31 for Oprah readers. I have no clue. I've never eaten a truffle, so I have no idea if I think this is a splendid luxurious idea or a big tub of grody ickiness.

The only person besides Oprah to have their own list this year is Adam Glassman. Luckily, his list was pretty dandy.
For The Label Queen
Lela Rose for Target + Neiman Marcus Dress - $100. This is a very pretty, flattering-looking dress. I actually would like it very much.

Tracy Reese for Target + Neiman Marcus Plates - $40 - Do I want these? No I do not. These are the sort of grown-up decorate-y sort of things that make me realize how inadequate I am as an adult because I just think "BORING!" and move briskly on.

Brian Atwood for Target + Neiman Marcus Gloves - $50 and I am sensing a trend here. I also don't like gloves. They don't keep my hands warm enough. Me + Mittens = BFF.

Oscar de la Renta for Target + Neiman Marcus Tote - $60 - I don't want this but that doesn't mean that it's BAD. It's fine enough as a thing, I GUESS. Meanwhile, my winter coat pockets are stuffed full of kleenex and my keys and my mitts and I look like a goof, so why would you go by my judgement?

For The Indie Spirit
I'm all about... journals - $16 to $20. While I don't know what I'm all about ("Having frequent colds" and "Sulking" were strangely absent) this would be all right for the thoughtful teen on your list.

May28th Customizable InstaWatch - $44. Make watches from your Instagram photos! I seem to know a lot of people who send me bad Instagrammed pictures of what they're eating for supper. I'm going to make them watches from THOSE pictures (no.).

Wantful Gift Book $30 and up. Huh. This is sort of weird. You answer a visual questionnaire about the person you want to get a present for and they make a pretty 12-item printed catalog for them. Then they pick out the one thing that they want and the Wantful people wrap it and send it to them. There's a range of price choices and it's an interesting idea, at least.

Liz Claiborne Gold-Plated Initial Bangle - $20 - Are you very, VERY keen on your initial? I'm not - I can't even decide if I should go with B (the obvious choice) or R (MY ACTUAL INITIAL). This is a pretty-enough object, if your recipient likes jewelry AND it's not expensive, either.

For the Creative Kid
Unlike Oprah, Adam Glassman does not live in a child-free world and his list has some sensible, pleasant ideas for ACTUAL CHILDREN:

Emi-Jay Hair Tie Ornament - $37. At first, I thought WTF IS THIS? It's a clear ball filled with beige hair-ties and headbands... and then I went to the site and found out that the collection was made by a) two teenagers and b) proceeds go to a variety of worthy charities and now I feel BAD for my initial reaction. I don't find the COLOURS of the hair accessories in this ornament that attractive, but if you poke around the website, you can find lots of pretty, reasonably priced hair things that actually WOULD make a nice stocking stuffer/small gift for the girl/young woman on your shopping list. So that was a nice surprise as I grouched around this morning.

Empress Arts Crayon Set - $15. Cute and not crazy expensive. My 7 year old thought this was a dandy gift.

Money Scholar Bank $38 - Again, a fairly spiffy item - a bank that looks like 4 surfboards, to help kids learn to budget for spending, investing, saving and giving. The website has different banks, too, if your kid doesn't like surfing.  The only problem with them that I can see is that as a Canadian, some of our coins wouldn't fit - but it's a fine idea.

Kid Made Modern Art Toolbox - $27 (I linked to a similar item). - This is fun. Either of my daughters would love to get this, and they're 13 and 7. Collections of art supplies are a good idea for artsy kids.

For the Stylish Man
Graphic Image Monogrammed Box of Cuff Links - $85 - Boy. This is boring. I GUESS someplace out there, there is a dapper man who is like "NO WAY THIS IS AMAZING!" in which case, please get this for him.

Natural Designs Woodturning Birch Pens - $37 each - These are fine if you need to get a gift for a corporate boss-type, maybe? It's a lovely item, at least.

Sid Mashburn Pocket Squares - $45 each - $45! I had the weird experience of listening to my mom trying to explain to my dad what these were used for. He still didn't get it.

Victrinox Swiss Army Knife - $24. I DO like Swiss Army Knives. They are fun AND handy and sort of imply that the gift recipient is a rugged, adventurous manly man who might at ANY TIME need a corkscrew or the ability to cut open packaging. My dad also approves of this gift, unlike the 3 proceeding it, which just made him stare in nameless horror and dread that someone might GIVE THOSE TO HIM FOR CHRISTMAS.

For The Fun Seeker
Purple Old Navy Toggle Coat - $40 (but it's actually on sale for $29 when I looked at.) Absolutely fine. I'd like a purple coat with toggles, because a) purple is my favorite colour and b) I love toggles but IT IS NOT AVAILABLE ON THE CANADIAN OLD NAVY WEBSITE. Why NOT, Old Navy?

Axwell USA Lucky Dice - $70 - I can't even imagine a life where someone would WANT these.

Talking Heads: The Vent Have Portraits - $75. An art book of portraits of ventriloquist dummies. "No. NO. BAD," said M, who is terrified of ventriloquist dummies. ABSOLUTELY PETRIFIED OF THEM! And I'm sorry, but I have no opinion on the book because I'm too busy giggling at M, who is still ranting about dummies in the next room. Hee! Between this and the goat cheese, M is going to have A Very Special Christmas.

Reebok Sneakers - $100  - Running shoes. Um. They're fine.

For the Luxury Lover
Mia Flats - $70 - Shoes are such a weird thing to suggest getting someone for a gift because shoe sizes vary so much and shoes are so oddly personal. I wouldn't do it. Also, these shoes have some sort of glittery outbreak and I don't like them.

Meridith Marks Earrings - $450 - Expensive diamond earringzzzzzzz.

Napa Cakes Panforte Fruit And Nut Cakes - $15 to $125 - GROSS. CAKE WITH NUTS IN IT. Way to ruin my holidays, Adam Glassman.

Fabulous Furs Faux Fur Ice Scraper - $25
This is really, really ugly, like a small gross furry vermin animal - the kind of thing you'd pay someone to get OUT FROM UNDER YOUR PORCH - with a weird beak-y protuberance. Shudder. However, I DO find non-vermin-looking mitten/ice scraper combinations a sensible gift for people who live in cold climates. I've seen them at Canadian Tire and Mark's Work Warehouse for under $15 - they're probably available lots of other places, too.

O's 2012 Beauty Gift Guide
And we're back to Oprah! This is mostly perfumes with a few expensive other odds and ends and one big exception that M and I REALLY REALLY want.
Padlock Perfume Natural Spray - $99 - The same rant about perfume I said earlier on in the page applies here. TRY IT OUT FIRST! The padlock perfume bottle is really pretty, at least.

Polaris Holiday Set - $85 - Man perfume. I realize that it's generally harder to drag a guy to the cosmetic counter and spray him with colognes, so sometimes yes, one must guess. That's what I do with MY husband, with mixed success.

Houbigant Paris Orangers en Fleurs Eau de Parfum - $180. Another perfume! This one has the virtue of coming in $600 versions, which I find BREATHTAKINGLY expensive. That's a lot of money!

Laura Mercier Lip Lacquer in Laque Rouge - $24 and Illuminating Eye Colour in Gilded Moonlight - $24
Yes to both of these for me, please. I like them. Otherwise... uh.. does your recipient wear makeup? If not, don't get them a bright red lipstick. Get them a tinted lip balm.

Perlier Honey Miel Shower and Bath Cream - $30 - Oh sure. This is nice. Expensive enough that it feels like a luxurious gift without being so expensive that your recipient would feel guilty, and honey shower gel SOUNDS pretty, too.

Sugar Soiree Mini Lip Collection - $65. If this wasn't $65 for 8 MINIATURE lip balms, I would think this was dandy. But it is and I don't. Too much money.

Jaboneria Marianella Moisturizing Milk Bars - $14 each. Expensive soaps. Have we run out of things to say about expensive soaps now? They're soap, they cost a lot of money, you either think they're fine or you're my dad and start ranting about how much perfectly serviceable Ivory Soap costs, the end.

 Violight Rockee Toothbrush - $15 - WAIT! There IS something on the Oprah list for kids - a TOOTHBRUSH! HOORAY, YOU LUCKY CHILDREN! This one balances, Weeble Wobble-style, on its butt, which is... okay. Santa tends to buy fun electric toothbrushes on sale and use those as stocking stuffers, so I have no moral ground here. Or Santa doesn't. Take your pick.

Sephora Colour Daze Blockbuster - $50 (or $60 in Canada) - I'm linking to the Canadian one for ease of shopping for Bill, ahem COUGH COUGH M AND I WOULD LIKE THIS FOR CHRISTMAS.


What would YOU want from this list? I'd pick out the bowls, the makeup set and the bed, thanks, while my dad wants the sausage set and the goat cheese, N wants the kid art sets and M wants the big makeup set and NOTHING else. And finally: I hope you enjoyed this year's list - please let me know if you did!

And now I am DONE writing about Oprah for a solid year, HOOOOORAAAAY!

Monday, October 29, 2012

For Frank, Who Is Dying

When I was in my char-hearted, callow youth, one of the things I found privately the funniest was people who spent inordinate sums on keeping their elderly pets alive. Since we've solved all human suffering and all, I would scoff. My pets - if I was weak enough to have any - would be handled with a practical hand. I would not go into debt for their care and their lives would not be artificially extended.

So of course we found ourselves rushing our old man cat to the vet - who is AN HOUR AND A HALF AWAY on Christmas Eve IN A SNOWSTORM two years ago because he suddenly stopped being able to walk and then found ourselves cheerfully agreeing to his expensive diabetes treatments because of course. Of course we would - he is not the IDEA of a cat, and he is not YOUR cat who I do not care about - he is my own cat, my Franky, taken from my parent's farm right after we married when he was a lanky young cat and Bill and I had yet to figure out that loving something - anything - meant that they would have the power to hurt you, forever. Even me, with my protective coat of sarcasm and distance.

"He's a philosopher!" the vet told us, which we found somewhat dubious since we think he is only slightly smarter than a fern. But no, she insisted, he was in fact a thoughtful cat, taking everything in and then she taught Bill how to give injections to a towel and we brought him home, expensively saved from death's very clutches and could not look each other in the eyes for a few days because here we were, silly over a cat.

And now he is dying, a gentle old man's death, little bit by little bit.

"It's okay," Frank, who is philosophical about these things, says. "Being a cat means I don't have the first idea about death, anyhow."

We could take him to the vet's to be put down, but it's such a long trip and he finds it so scary and we don't want his very last hours to be horrifying and traumatic and so instead he is sleeping away the end of his life at home, getting frailer and frailer every day.

I don't have any anecdotes to prove that he loveable. He's just my cat, a sweet shy cat who much prefers Bill but who will consent to me rocking him like a baby, even now. He has no meanness in him. It has never occurred to him that he is much bigger than our other cat, who pushes him around and takes the best food, never occurred to him to scratch our toddlers and their obnoxious hair-pulling love. He has tried his best, we think, to be a good boy. He has, we think, loved us back.

If all it took was money to keep you, Franky, our sweet dumb cat, we'd spend it. But time is unknitting you, undoing your bones and every day brings less and less of you, an enviably sweet and sleepy death and meanwhile all I am left with is unreliable words and no actual way to say - in this unfamiliar, earnest tongue - how sad I am, how undone I am, you good boy, you sweet sleepy thing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

An old post, up again.

I closed my old blog because it suddenly felt too private to have up without editing and I didn't feel up to the task at the time, but I'm feeling much better these days. Sarah linked to this haunting, beautiful post this morning, and asked me about the following post, so for her, I am posting it again.

I feel better these days, but this story from nearly six years ago now still haunts me. Probably it always will.

Friday, 9 March, 2007

I've written about this before.

Everyone has secret anniversaries, days they keep in their heart. The day someone died, the day you first kissed your husband, things that make an ordinary day suddenly this sacred thing.

So today, last year, I got very sick.

My kids - the older two - had Scarlet Fever. My doctor looked at me and took my temperature and worried that I had bronchitis again because I did have a deep, gross cough and so she gave me some antibiotics and sent me home.
I didn't mention that I'd pretty much stopped peeing several days earlier, because it didn't strike me as a big deal. I'd realize mid-afternoon that I hadn't gone to the washroom all day and think, hmm, maybe I should. My urine - and this is way too much information but anyhow - was deep brown and fetid, something that I noticed with a detached interest, like I was already on the moon, from someplace far away where little details like that no longer mattered. The Baby would cry and I would look at her and wonder where she'd come from and why was she making that sound?

And so this day last year - the first Friday of the March break - I'd been having weird irregular heartbeats all day, like my heart was suddenly jackhammering out of my chest and I was falling down a lot while I walked and I noticed, with no real interest, that my temperature seemed to be a bit high. I phoned my husband and told him that I was feeling very well and could be come home? I didn't tell him any of the things that struck me as irrelevant - that I wasn't peeing, that my heart was being weird, that I kept falling down - and he said, quite reasonably, to put the tv on for the kids and just to rest until he got home at his regular time.

He got home and looked at me with some concern. I wasn't acting quite like myself, was obviously very sick. He wanted to take me to the hospital but I just wanted to have a bath and go to bed, and I lay there in the dark with my heart going BOOM BOOM BOOM like something dreadful walking towards me.

The next morning my husband insisted that I go to the hospital. I wanted to phone Telehealth first, because I was sure that all of this - the not peeing, the heart stuff, the high fever - was nothing. The nurse on the line suddenly sounded tense when I told her what was going on, and told me that I had to go the hospital immediately, that I had to promise to leave within the next 20 minutes. We dropped our sick older kids off at my in-laws and drove to the nearest tiny rural hospital, 20 minutes away. The emergency department led me straight to the Serious Emergency Room, with me dreamily thinking the whole time that they were making an awfully big fuss.

They were worried primarily about my heart, and asked me to give them a urine sample to rule out pregnancy so I could have chest x-rays. I obliged and handed the cup of urine to the waiting nurse, who gasped out "JESUS, HONEY," when she saw what I'd given her. And then a young girl came into the emergency room who had been kicked in the head by a horse and needed to readied immediately for air transport and there was only one doctor and one RN in the whole hospital. They paused midway through getting her ready to run into my room and tell me that I should file a complaint with the hospital, that they were horribly dangerously understaffed and that I wasn't getting adequate treatment. I wanted to go home. The young curlyhaired RN came running over and whispered to me that she wasn't supposed to say this, but that if I went home, I would die.

I spent two days in the emergency ward. My fever would suddenly spike. I had seizures, came close to going into a coma, my white blood cell count plummeting and my heart rate at 145, 155. My husband sat beside me crying, holding our baby. I remember almost nothing of this, just little scraps. My dad came into the hospital with a chocolate dog and a note that said "Stop malingering." They moved me into a regular room - and regular hospital beds are like airy pieces of Heaven compared to the hard, flat examination tables that I spent the last several nights on - but moved me the next morning into isolation. My mom was back and she took my baby away, bringing her over for me to kiss first, and I kissed my little baby thinking that I was never going to see her again. You can imagine, I suspect, how that felt.

I spent a week in isolation. There was a chair overlooking the parking lot and the endless snowy field going away from the hospital and I'd sit there, feverish and feeling like this was the last of my life. I was on massive doses of iv antibiotics, on a constant heart monitor, on oxygen, and I felt lost in the massive tangle of tubes and wires. My husband printed out recent pictures of the kids and my daughter made me a long chain of buttons that I held onto almost constantly, like it was the thin thread keeping me from floating away. The nurses were kind - one red haired nurse would come in and sit with me, talk about American Idol and sneak me treats from the cafeteria to try and tempt me to eat. I slept most of the time.

The doctor released me from the hospital when my heart stopped acting up, when the massive infection was gone from my system and my fever was gone. He had a serious talk with me about my low white cell count, how hematologists in the nearest Big City had been following it with some concern and suspected that I had leukemia, that I had to go the next weekend once I was strong enough for massive testing. And so I went home, desperate for my children and sure that I was only going home for a little while, that I was going to die horribly.

A few days later, my white blood cell counts went back up. I had a viral infection that had sent them shooting down, nothing worse. (edited to add - that wasn't what caused me to get so sick, though - I had a septic kidney infection, which means that the infection in my kidneys had spread into my blood and from there into my other organs. By the time I was in the hospital, my lungs and heart were beginning to fail.) Friends came and stayed with me all day for the first few weeks out of the hospital (I don't write about them often, but I have lovely friends), watching the kids, keeping me company, and I felt frail and like the rest of my life had been thrown into this high relief, because I came so close to being absent from this, from my life.

And so that is today's anniversary. Tonight I will drink some wine and likely eat some pizza and feel a mixture of gratitude - I do enjoy being alive - and a darker emotion that I have trouble expressing, this animal terror that I can so close to dying and now know that someday I will.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Who Cares About the 1%?

Elizabeth Wurtzel - author of Prozac Nation (remember that? From the early 1990s?) apparently would like to slap me. Really! She said so in the Atlantic:

I am going to smack the next idiot who tells me that raising her children full time -- by which she really means going to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments while the nanny babysits -- is her feminist choice.

I don't even know what Jivamukti classes ARE! But that's because I'm an idiot.

Before I write this, let us talk about credentials. Elizabeth Wurtzel lives in an affluent section of New York City, writes memoirs and has no children. I live in a non-affluent section of Northern Ontario, mostly write emails and have three children, who I am raising full-time. I apparently do not exist:

To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met -- none of whom do anything around the house -- live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income. 

I can't wait to tell my husband about his high-paying job in finance/entertainment that allows me to live my feminism-ruining life of pedicures, mysterious Jivamukti classes (SERIOUSLY WHAT ARE THOSE?) and hot pool boys (I HOPE.). My slatternly housecleaning can also be nicely blamed on my maid, which is handy. Okay, no. In all honesty, I know very few wealthy people and I don't know ANY SAHMs who get to live a life of rich loafery - although unlike Wurtzel, I can apparently imagine the existence of people I have not met. Some women are rich and useless and exist only to display their husbands' wealth! Feminism should forbid it!

*eye roll*

Here is a brief biographical description of me: I spent my early 20s having a complicated, drawn-out breakdown, much like Elizabeth Wurtzel, non-idiot; although it didn't occur to me at the time to write a profitable memoir about the whole miserable experience, so instead of finding myself with a book at 26, I found myself instead newly married AND accidentally pregnant (within the same two weeks, dammit!) and very, very fragile.

I had been working part-time and was writing a lot at that time and this was 13 years ago, so it was before the era of subsidized childcare for low-income families in Ontario (and WERE WE EVER) and without a degree, I had few options for decent-paying work. Hooray for me! I made great choices! But making bad choices is okay, says Wurtzel, so long as they're for love (or sex, whatevs.):

I really don't consider it my feminist business that an awful lot of strong and solid women -- Simone de Beauvoir, famously -- are idiots about love and romance any more than I care that Helen of Troy's face started a naval war, because we are all fools for love.

WE ARE? But I made an AWESOME marital choice! Seriously, marrying my husband was the smartest damn thing I ever did. I couldn't have done a better job if I'd chosen him rationally, which I certainly did NOT do. And here's where Elizabeth Wurtzel and I suddenly diverge: I DO judge you if you spend your adult life making moronic, predictably stupid, life-damaging romantic decisions. COME ON NOW. CUT THAT OUT.

For the longest time I would not date anyone who would now be called a one-percenter because money and power are such a potent combination, and if I am going to be bossed around, I don't want that to be the reason

Er, what? I wasn't sure about this, so I phoned my husband at his sole-wage-earner of the family job and asked him if he bossed me around.

"No?" he said. Did he know he has all the power in our relationship, I demanded? He only sighed heavily. Here's the thing: he doesn't boss me around. HE NEVER HAS. This is because he's a decent human. Tricky, eh?

So was staying home with my child a bad decision? Well, no - economically, it made sense at the time, and it made sense from my health's perspective as well. The childcare options available to us at that time were NOT great - and let us not pretend that all child care options are equal. Of course they're not - and so we did the best we could with the choices we could make.

And was it the wrong choice?

Well, possibly, from my stand-point NOW. But it was the very best choice I could have made at the time with the resources I had available to me.  Making a bad choice doesn't necessarily mean you've done the wrong thing and even knowing what I know NOW, I would still choose to stay at home with my kids. Childhood is short and it was fun. But am I  - and my choices - to be granted the same respect Wurtzel grants women who spend their  lives needlessly miserable because of men who don't deserve it? Apparently not, because I'm getting lumped in with the useless show-trophy wives of the very rich. Apparently not, because the love I feel for my  children does not rate the same respect as Simone de Beauvoir's desperate love for the unfaithful, frog-like Jean Paul Sartre and the decisions I make do not deserve the same respect as Simone de Beauvoir's decisions (among which - seducing underage students and then pimping them out to Sartre. L'amour!) because MY possibly-bad choices involve money. OH.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

All My Halloween Posts In One Place, For My Friend Who Asked

Here You Go.

The Big Red Dog
(1st published 2009-10-6)

They say big dogs age faster, but this one, the biggest I've ever seen, has been around for years. His friends - the little poodle, the sweet-faced bulldog - died ages ago and now he wanders around the island by himself, growling at nothing, his giant feet shaking the ground as he walks.

The tourists stopped coming a few years back. We told the media that it was an accident, but you know how it is when people get something into their minds.

Emily came back from university after only a week. Everyone in the town thought it was for the best. Now she stays in her house most of the time. Sometimes at night I think I see her passing by my window, walking with her giant dog.

In the light of the moon, you can't see that he is red.
In the light of the moon, he looks like a giant black dog wandering the island.

I think I can hear her voice talking to him, but I can never hear the words that she says.

I think they walk to the graveyard, maybe. Someone in town swears she saw Emily standing by the graves of Charley, of Jetta, of that nice boy Emily dated in high school. Accidents, the town agreed. All accidents.

The tourists stopped coming anyhow. Now the stores are empty and all of the Big Red Dog souvenirs are covered in dust. This year's Big Red Dog Festival was attended only by the townspeople and a few reporters, Emily blinking in the bright sunlight as she rode on the giant dog's back, the floats from other years following behind, faded and old.

Emily only walks around the town at night now, her giant dog beside her, shaking our houses as he walks.

I think he stopped outside my house last night. In the light of the moon, he looked black.

Halloween Story 2
for Kelly
(1st published 2009-10-7)

She always closed the bedroom door behind her gently.

He knew right from the first night that the gentle door closing was not a good thing, that someone who did not mean harm would close it in the regular noisy sort of way. Or not close it all all.

He does not like this big green room, with the mice scratching in the walls at night.

He does not like the nightly bowl of mush that he must eat while she watches him, her large dark eyes unreadable.

"Hush," she says, if he tries to speak. "Hush." And like the door closing gently, the word is a warning.

Why is the moon so bright? he thinks.
Who is this old woman?
Why are we dressed like rabbits?

"Hush," she says.

Halloween #3

The Trouble With Papa
(1st published 2009-10-9)

It was a beautiful fall day in Bearville, but Sister wasn't out playing with the other kids. She had something on her mind.

"Mama," said Sister, "Why does Papa always wear the same overalls? Why does he always eat in the shed? How come Doctor Bear has been here so much this week?"

"Now, now, Sister," said Mama. "There is nothing for you to worry about. Have an oatmeal chewy caramel cookie and go play with Brother."

"Oh boy!" said Sister and happily ran to the park. Papa was thumping and yelling in the shed.

Brother and his friends were throwing a baseball around and having a friendly argument.

"I think zombies are a curse from God!" said Freddy, throwing the ball to Too Tall.

"Ha!" said Too Tall. "That's because you're stupid. Everyone knows that someone becomes a zombie when another zombie bites 'em."

"I think -" said Brother and stopped when he saw Sister coming. "Let's talk about something else now, boys!"

They played ball until suppertime, and then Brother and Sister walked back home together. Papa was still thumping and yelling in the shed.

"Papa sure is busy right now!" said Sister.

Brother looked sad. "Hey Sister!" he said. "Look at that neat cloud!"

That's funny, thought Sister. It was almost like Brother was changing the subject.

Doctor Bear was just getting into her car as the cubs got to their house.

"Is everything all right, Doctor Bear?" asked Brother.

"Everything is much the same, Brother," said Doctor Bear. "Remember what I said about helping Mama look after Sister."

"I don't need Brother to look after me!" said Sister. "I am almost eight years old. I can look after myself."

"Of course," said Doctor Bear, but she seemed distracted. "Goodbye, cubs. I'll be back tomorrow morning."

Mama called them in for supper. "Cubs," she said while they were sitting at the table. "Tomorrow, Papa and I are going away on a long... vacation. You are going to go stay with Gram and Gramps! Won't that be fun?"

Sister thought it did sound like fun, but she wondered where Mama and Papa where going. She wondered what Papa was making in the shed that was keeping him in there all the time. She wondered why he was thumping and yelling so much.

All of a sudden, Sister had a great big idea. After everyone was in bed, she would sneak out of the house and go see what Papa was making in the shed! It would be such a good surprise!


Halloween 4# 

(1st published 2009-10-13)

"Class, today we're going to learn about the food chain," said Mr. Owl.

Franklin and his friends took out their science books.

"Some animals are herbivores," said Mr. Owl. "They eat plants. Some animals are omnivores. They eat plants and other animals. And some animals are carnivores."

"I know!" said Snail, waving his appendage around. "Carnivores just eat other animals!"

"That's right, Snail," said Mr. Owl. "Some common carnivores are wolves, coyotes and foxes."

The recess bell rang. "Don't forget, kids!" called Mr. Owl. "We are having a math quiz after recess!" The kids dashed into the yard.

All except for Fox, who was sitting thoughtfully at his desk.

"Hey," said Fox out loud. "I'm a fox." And he slowly looked out at the yard full of rabbits and turtles and beavers. "I'm a fox," he said again. And with that, he walked out into the school yard.

Halloween 5#

(1st published 2009-10-16)
Once there had been a mother.

He remembered her, a bit - her breath that smelled like communion grape juice and cigarettes, her harsh laugh and her sudden rages, the way he was frightened and small and hiding underneath his bed, in his tent, under the slide at the playground, hiding from her giant hitting hands and her loud voice.

Ruby made her go away.

He didn't remember much of that night - nothing much more than Ruby giving him warm funny tasting milk at bedtime and then his sleepy awareness of raised yelling female voices and a sudden loud noise and then silence. Then he woke up the next morning to Ruby bright and extra cheerful and the kitchen extra clean and a new vegetable garden in the backyard.

He likes working in the garden. He likes putting his hands in the dirt, likes watering the fat jolly vegetables. Ruby smiles and brings him lemonade and they have picnics for lunch and sometimes he sits on the swing even though the swing is getting smaller and smaller all the time.

He keeps forgetting to ask Ruby about the shrinking swing. He forgets sometimes that Grandma went away a long time ago and finds himself standing in front of her house where strangers live now. He forgets that Mom went away, too, and hides under the piano bench, hides under the front steps, until Ruby lures him out with gummy worms and trips to the ice cream store.

"Ruby," says their neighbour Mrs. Huffington over the fence. "You're doing a wonderful job looking after him, but your whole life is passing you by."

He remembers that sometimes, the way he remembers the surprising bits of red in the kitchen, the loud sound, his mother's sharp breath and giant hurting hands. But then it's time for a picnic and the sun is bright and it's time to work in the garden again, their special garden where the vegetables come up so big and ripe.

Halloween #6

(1st published 2009-10-17)
"Rooby roo!" brayed the arthritic Great Dane, painfully hobbling into the brightly painted van.

"Good job!" said the bespectacled young woman, her brown page boy hanging in her face as she reached over to give the dog a biscuit. She offered one as well to the unkempt young man sitting beside the dog, but he shook his head and turned away to look out the window.

"We've got a really tricky mystery today, Scoob," said the blond young man, driving the van. "There's been a..." His voice broke. The red-haired young woman in the seat beside him sobbed loudly and blew her nose into a designer handkerchief.

"There's been some really mysterious hauntings at your vet's office!" said the young woman with a forced cheerfulness in her voice.

"Ruh-oh!" said the dog. "Rosts!"

"Yes!" said the young woman. "Ghosts."

The blond young man pulled the van into a parking space at the vet's office, but no one hurried to get out. The unkempt young man beside the dog still did not say anything, his shoulders shaking.

"Ghosts," the young woman said again and sighed, unbuckling her seatbelt and reaching across to the elderly Great Dane, who was staring out the window with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. The red haired girl blew her nose again.

Halloween #7 

(1st published 2009-10-19)
She is the strongest girl in the world.

At night, her names float in my head like wild songs: Comestibles. Delicatessa. Windowshade. Mackrelmint.

That house is empty, my mother says. Little girls are not allowed to live by themselves like that. Stop talking foolishness.

Her red hair stands out like fire. Her monkey chatters on her back.

You are too old to have imaginary friends, my mother says.

She rolls out cookies on the kitchen floor, has a treasure chest full of gold. Her father is a pirate king. She can lift her horse over her head, outrun a thousand policemen.

I'm afraid we are going to have to take you to the doctor, my mother says. The pastor visits and they have a hushed discussion behind a closed livingroom door.

She scratches at the kitchen window and grins in, her eyes sparkling with green.
I have two pistols, she says. One of them is for you.

Halloween #8

(1st published 2009-10-20)
The Hundred Acre Woods Is Heaven
(with deep and slightly heartfelt apologies to Ray Bradbury)

Christopher Robin - Chris to his friends - got to his feet and felt the wincing sore spot on his head. He was standing in a wooded area, and felt almost at once a startling rush of deja-vu. Where was he? Why did this place feel so familiar? Where had his friends gone?

"Peregrine! Jemima!" he called. But the sound merely echoed around him, and only a flying bird answered. "Phillipa?" he called again. There were no answers. I must have fallen farther than I thought, he said to himself, regretting listening to Jemima's teasing requests to explore the old forest on her father's estate, regretted his fumbling bravado that had resulted in his falling down that seemingly endless hole and ending up... here. Wherever here was.

He tentatively started walking forward. "There will be a path on the other side of this tree," he thought and indeed, there was one. He followed the path and found himself blinking in the startlingly bright sunlight of an open clearing.

"Christopher Robin!" a voice called. A handful of small animals were running towards him. They stood looking at him expectantly. He stood confused for a moment and then had a horrified rush of remembrance. Sh*t, he thought. They're my bloody stuffed animals.

For years - for 15 years , he had avoided thinking about them as much as possible, feeling an overwhelming shame when he recalled his childhood obsession with them, the elaborate fantasy games that had overwhelmed so much of his terrifyingly lonely early childhood. And yet here they were again and his head was throbbing with pain and he couldn't remember how to get back.

"Christopher Robin!" said the small yellow bear again. "You came back!"
What was his name? Chris thought desperately and then remembered - Pooh. The freaking bear's name was Pooh. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I came back. You're all... um, looking good. How have you all been?"

"Whoo hoo!" said the bright orange tiger. "We've been waiting for you, buddy boy! We've kept everything just the same!"

"Oh, that's great," said Chris, looking around for a path that led out of the forest. "Say. Any of you guys know the way out of here?" There was, he remembered, a path out of the forest, but for the life of him he could not remember quite where it was. If I could get in, he thought, I could get out, and he thought of Phillipa and her surely growing anxiety as he did not return. He looked back at the stuffed animals gathered around him and was startled to see their hurt faces.

"You don't want to be here, Christopher Robin?" asked the yellow bear. "You aren't happy to see us?"

"Oh no, no!" said Christopher hurriedly. "I'm delighted. Yes. So very pleased." The animals looked slightly mollified, and the yellow bear stepped forward, his paw raised.

"Let me show you around, Christopher!" he said. "We have so much to talk about!" Christopher nodded and let himself be led off. I can watch for the path out, he thought, with a feeling of rising panic. The bear chattered on, seemingly without restraint, although Christopher caught him - Pooh, what a name, he thought - watching him out of the corners of his eyes. If a stuffed animals eyes could have corners.

"Let's play Pooh Sticks!" said the bear, leading him to a small bridge.

"Pooh what?" said Chris, repulsed. The bear mutely picked up a stick and threw it over the bridge and looked pointedly back at him. "Oh. Um, okay," said Chris, and threw a stick over half-heartedly.

"Not in the mood for Pooh Sticks?" said the small bear. "All right, follow me! We have a giant party planned for your homecoming!" He took off down the path at a surprisingly quick rate, and led Chris up a small hill and down around a corner - how big was this forest? where was he? - and sitting at a long table under a spreading tree were nearly a dozen stuffed animals - the tiger from earlier, a kangaroo with a joey in her pocket, an owl, a small pink pig wearing a sweater, and others hopping around in their small chairs.

"Sit!" said one. Chris awkwardly sat in the small child's chair. "Wear your hat!" commanded another. Chris snapped the elastic string of the party hat under his chin. "Eat!" "Pour the tea!" "Speech! SPEECH!" Their voices were a cacophony.

"THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING!" screamed Chris, his panic nearly unbearable. The animals all looked at him silently, rising to their feet.

"What was that, Christopher Robin?" said the yellow bear, his voice full of menace.

How could I have ever thought they were small? thought the young man as the animals crowded around him, blocking out the sun, and his last, desperate thought: Where DID the path out GO?

Note from me - I'm skipping the Arthur one, because I've always felt like it was the least artistically successful one in the whole series. Poor Arthur.

Halloween 10
That Time Of Day Between The Afternoon And Full-Out Evening.

(1st published 2009-10-26)
"Darling," he said, the sunlight causing him to sparkle like a big shiny pair of gold lame leggings from Ardenes. He was as handsome as a Calvin Klein underpant billboard but totally hot and also in full colour and ALSO a vampire.

As always, she was thrilled to see him. And she was also wearing a white eyelet sundress, black high-tops, some colourful rubber bracelets, knee-length argyle socks, fingerless motorcycle gloves and a denim jacket that she'd carefully bedazzled to say "My Boyfriend Is A Hot Vampire." All that bedazzling had made her fingers bleed, but that was cool - he liked blood.

"Yeah," said some snarky inner voice, "Way more than he likes making out."

"SHUT UP!" she had told her inner voice. "Waiting is sexy. And cool. Those people who say that attractive male vampires are a metaphor for sexually unavailable gay men don't know what they're talking about!"

He was walking towards her now, striding like some He-God, coming to claim her, a plain mortal. His black cape flapped in the wind. His purple skin was luminous in the sunlight. His unibrow was like some holy caterpillar of manliness.

"One!" he cried. "ONE sexy girlfriend! MWAH HA HA!"

Thunder crackled. They embraced. Chastely.

Halloween #11

Are You There, God? It's Me, Maggot.

(1st published 2009-10-27)
One morning, after a night of anxious dreams, Sheila Tubman awoke to find herself transformed into a monstrous bug. She lay on her squishy bug back and wiggled her tail around - her arms and legs having vanished painlessly during her sleep.

"What has happened to me?" she wondered. She looked around her room that she shared with her sister Libby. Libby was squeezing pimples while frowning at herself in the bedroom mirror.

"Libby! A little help here!" Sheila called out.

Libby grimaced at her. "You are SO immature!" she said and stomped out of the room.

Sheila sighed and attempted to roll off of her bed. Finally, she landed with a heavy thump on the carpet and lay panting on the floor for a few minutes.

"Sheila!" her mother's voice called. "It's ten past seven! Hurry up and come out for breakfast!"

"Coming, mom!" yelled Sheila. She was startled by her voice, which was her regular voice, interspersed with a series of loud crackling sounds. Well, that's weird, she thought. She discovered that she could move around quite quickly by squirming, so she squirmed down the apartment hallway and into the kitchen.

"Oh, that reminds me," Sheila's mother said. "You need to clean that room of yours up TONIGHT."

Sheila attempted to heave herself up onto her chair. "Um, mom?" she said. "Can I eat my breakfast down here this morning?" Her mother sighed and placed her cereal bowl on the floor.

"Sheila," said Libby. "Stop making that disgusting crackling sound. FATHER! Make her stop!"

Sheila's dad looked down at her.
"Sheila," he said, sternly. "Stop showing off."

Sheila was hurt. And then she was distracted by the full garbage can in the corner.

"Hey," she thought. "Yummy!" 

Halloween, Finally

It Was A Dark and Scary Afternoon

(1st published 2009-10-31)
My dog thinks he is a WWI flying ace, I told my mother. She sighed and stared out the kitchen window and told me to go play outside.

"But it's dark out today," I said. "And there's that weird buzzing noise."

"Just go outside, please," she said and so I go.

I hate playing outside. The other kids avoid me, run from me laughing and shouting insults. I stand alone, the shadow of my head making a perfect circle on the ground.

"I'm having a party," catcalls Violet. "We are having snacks and pop and fun party games and you are not invited." All of the other girls - even my sister, my own golden haired sister - titter behind her, their eyes narrowed with malice. The dark skies crackled and the sun was hidden.

"Last one to the treehouse has to kiss him!" calls one of the girls and they all turn and run, shrieking, their feet throwing up gravel. My dog and a small yellow bird watch me silently as I walk by and as I pass I swear they laughed.

There is a boy on our street I sometimes spend time with.

He used to be the Sunday School champion, able to memorize each week's verse, coming home each week with gold stars and roles in the church play. But lately he's been spending all his time alone, muttering to himself and dragging his filthy blanket behind him.

"See that star?" he says, pointing upwards. There, in the mid-afternoon sky, is a falling star.
"The name of that star is Wormwood," he says.

A bird flies overhead. "Woe, woe," it cries.

The little girls cackle and laugh.

"And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year
were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number," he says.

Everything was quiet. Then a loud roaring sound filled the air and a great darkness began to descend. The little girls stopped throwing rocks at a cat and looked up, their eyes big. My dog moved his flying goggles off his eyes and clutched the yellow bird to him.

"During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them," cried out the boy.

I saw the flying star come crashing down in the nearby woods. Something huge stood up, throwing a giant shadow that blocked out the sun. The other boy covered his head with his blanket, shaking.

Fairly Odd 
(1st published 2012-10-12)

Daphne was probably the least popular kid in the school. It wasn't just that she was weird looking - although she was, with big jug ears and bug eyes and a too-small nose and giant teeth - but she also dressed like a mutant and never brushed her teeth and laughed too loud and smelled pretty bad and picked her nose in the middle of class and was pretty dumb. The kids didn't like her and the teachers rolled their eyes at her and tried not to touch her very much. Some kid stole her bike and some kid would follow her home and yell names at her and and some kid would steal her pencils off her desk and leave her looking around, wondering where her pencils had got to.

"That poor kid doesn't have a chance," my mom said to my dad as they watched Daphne bike - on her brother's too-big bike, now hers was gone - up and down the street all by herself. Her mom was gone - taken off with some old guy because she'd decided that she was "an artist" now - and her dad drank and my mom called Daphne "one of life's victims" to my dad when she didn't think I was listening. But I am always listening.

Keep Away Daphne, all the kids called her. She ate by herself and ran around the schoolyard by herself and even the teachers didn't like her and that was the way it had always been. Then I got chicken pox and was home scratching for two weeks.

My mom brought me in mid-morning, after listening to me whine that I was just fine, moooom, and we stopped at the main office while she explained that my scabs were healed over and to call her if I couldn't stick it out and then she walked me to my room - mom! - and I noticed, just out of the corner of my eye, that the big Student Of The Week spot on the bulletin board was Daphne. That never happens, I thought.

And then I walked into my classroom and everything was different.

All of the girls were sitting in a big cluster around Daphne, who was sitting right in the primo middle of the room spot, and Daphne had a big smile on her face... and her face looked changed, somehow. Prettier and cleaner, definitely, but after I looked at her for a second, I could still see the old Daphne underneath, like the prettiness and the cleanness was just a mask. She looked at me and smiled but the Daphne underneath - the real Daphne - did not.

Sit with me at lunch, Daphne! said Emma, the most popular girl in class.
Want to play Four Square with us? the boys in the corner called to her.
Oh, Daphne! said the teacher. Your test was perfect! And she knelt down and gave smelly old Daphne a hug, just like she never did before.
Rutger, the big kid who was always really mean to Daphne, was just gone. His running shoes were still underneath his desk and his books were still open on it. Where'd Rutger go? I asked Melinda, my best friend, and she wrinkled her face up and said Who? and went back to smiling at Daphne.

There was a pink pencil and a green pencil on her desk.

I walked home after school - by myself, because my friends were walking home in a huge mob around Daphne - and went out onto the patio to think. My house is a few houses away from Daphne's and I can see into her yard, if I wanted to - and her mom came walking out of their patio door and shook out a rug. Her mom, the one who had left her whole family to paint naked ladies and live far away.

Daphne walked into her backyard. Hi baby! said her mom. How is my favorite girl? I made you cookies!

There was a pink squirrel and a green squirrel with Daphne. One of them - the pink one- pulled on Daphne's pant leg and pointed at me and Daphne stopped hugging her mom and looked across the yards right at me and I went into my house pretty quickly.

I wasn't that bad to her, I think.

Sure, her bike is my shed.

Sure, I used to follow her home and say some mean things. But a lot of kids did that.

Sure, I would take her pencils.

But I wasn't as mean as Rutger. A lot of kids were as mean as me, and they're still here.

Maybe I'll wake up in the morning and I'll forget all this and Daphne will be the prettiest girl in the world and Queen of the Playground and who knows what else. Maybe. I hope.

Maybe I will just be gone.

I'm writing this down just in case.

And wishing - oh, wishing - that I had grabbed that pink pencil and that green pencil off her desk as I walked by this morning.