Wednesday, December 31, 2008

what does this say?

Someone gave this second hand t-shirt to my 10 year old son a few days ago. It's never been worn and still has the tags on it. It's a really nice shirt but we all agree that he can't wear it until we all know what it is he is proclaiming to "love."

We've established that it is Japanese. It came from here but the web site does not offer up any translations.

So - do any of you read Japanese?

Updated: Perhaps it isn't Japanese, despite coming from a Japanese company. A couple of people have suggested it looks like Arabic. I have no idea. Thoughts?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

just like dr. doolittle


Son (to Father) - "Do you ever talk to our animals? Really talk to them? Mama has entire conversations with the dogs."

Father - "Do they talk back?"

In my own defense, I come by my craziness when it comes to love of animals honestly. My sister is every bit as bad as I am with her cat, Iggie, and my mother can talk to and play with just about any animal for hours.

My mom came from a family of thirteen kids. When we were growing up, my sister and I loved hearing the stories of the animals that lived in and passed through her family home. We still beg to be told these stories and have begun to share them with my kids.

There was George, the budgie, who used to perch on my Grandfather's head (and who died when he came in for a landing, missed and ended up on a hot element).

There were many, many cats, including Fiona (the beautiful), Fluffy (who lost the tip of his tail) and Kelly (the favourite). There was Nicky, the dog that loved to ride on the my uncle's motorcycle. And there were the various animals my mother's oldest brother brought home (often rumoured to have been gambling winnings) - the rabbit (it arrived on Easter and my mother collected hundreds of little "raisins" that the rabbit kept "laying." Fortunately, she didn't try and eat any.), the monkey (banished after he started swinging from the curtains) and the chicken (that my Grandmother found tied to the table leg in her kitchen).

Really, compared to the way my mother grew up, my house with its dogs and cat is really very quiet.

And yes, I do talk to my animals. They are very sympathetic listeners.

Monday, December 29, 2008

book review: "no such creature"*

I really like Canadian writer Giles Blunt and enjoy his series set in Northern Ontario. All his books feature interesting storylines and are populated by complex characters. The setting of Algonquin Bay (modeled on North Bay) is itself a character in the book - cold, dark and somewhat remote.

And the books really are dark, even compared to other murder mysteries. By The Time You Read This, the last in the series featuring police detective John Cardinal, opens with the suicide of Cardinal's wife. I found it heart-wrenching and I can understand why the author chose a change of pace for his latest novel.

No Such Creature is in some ways very different from Blunt's police procedurals but despite the injection of humour and the relocation to sunnier climes there are a couple of twists that are no less devastating than the author's previous novels.

"Tooling across the American southwest in their giant Winnebago, Max and his nephew, Owen, seem harmless enough, the actorly old fellow spouting Shakespeare like a faucet while his young charge trots him through select tourist destinations along the road. But appearances, as you might imagine, can be deceiving.

Old Max is actually a master thief, and young Owen's summer vacation is his careful apprenticeship in a life of crime. Pulling heists is scary enough, but ominous signs point to the alarming fact that The Subtractors are on their tail, criminal bogeymen who stop at nothing to steal from other thieves. The road trip soon turns into a chase, by turns comic and horrifying. The most disturbing twist: Owen's slow realization that the person he loves most in the world is the one who can do him the most harm."

The book features snappy dialogue, characters that are larger than life, events that test the "willing suspension of disbelief" and little touches or irony that have the ring of authenticity. I was reminded of both Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen but I never felt like I had read this book somewhere before.

In some ways, Blunt tries to do too many things with this novel. I was never sure if I was reading a caper, coming of age book or a story about fathers and sons. But Blunt mostly succeeds in creating a story that's about all of these things. Certainly, I cared about the characters, laughed out loud several times, felt the mountain tension and found myself turning pages compulsively.

No Such Creature is entertaining, amusing, heart-breaking and surprising. You might be disappointed in the ending but you will never be bored.

And you know, those books where you can see the ending coming a mile away? Even with lots of foreshadowing, I was still wondering what would happen ten pages from the end.

You can read an excerpt here.

*This is book was sent to me via Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

a traditional holiday

My family is cross-cultural and, at least, when it comes to my spouse and our kids, very secular. We do, however, celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas and, the last few days, I have felt the stress of preparations for familial celebrations acutely.

Most of this was of my own doing. I was feeling inadequate and judging myself for having such a messy house. There are no decorations (except the tree, which we put up on Monday) and I have certainly not done any holiday baking.

Every level surface was covered in layers of clutter. I also found that stuff that doesn't usually bother me so much (the fact that most of the knobs are missing from our kitchen cupboards, our counter tops desperately need replacing, our bathmats and towels are all frayed and, in a number of places, the wallpaper has been torn off the walls) was making me absolutely nuts.

I did manage to put a dent in the mess but not until I had driven everyone in the house crazy, too. By the time afternoon rolled around my spouse was trying to get me to take deep breaths and my oldest son was referring to himself as "S-erella".

Then, when everyone (my parents and sister and brother in law) arrived, I just decided to let it all go (OK, the wine helped). As the evening unfolded and I relaxed, I was reminded that we were all there to enjoy each other, that I am a grow-up now (even if I don't always act like it) and that all expectations around our own particular traditions were being met.

These are the things you can count on during the holidays at my house:

1. We will light the Chanukah candles (we have a felt menorah and the real thing) and, in lieu of a prayer we will sing loudly and off-key. We call Chanukah "the festival of fried things" and we always make sure that we eat lots of them (latkes are a particular favourite and my spouse and his brothers each believe that theirs are the best).

2. On Christmas Eve, everyone will come over in the late afternoon. My spouse will have to run one last errand after the guests arrive and I will excuse myself to go wrap all my presents (careful wrapping is not a priority in my family).

3. My mom will bring chicken pot pie and tourtiere (a French Canadian traditional pork pie). My sister will bring a celiac-friendly, kosher chicken pot pie (my sister and I are both married to Jewish men).

4. We will begin to unwrap all our presents to each other shortly after dinner. Despite the fact that we will all have declared that we planned on restraint, we will open presents for hours.

5. The first present we each get will be socks.

6. My spouse will put out crackers, cheese and pickles that almost no one will eat because we are still full of tourtiere and pot pie.

7. My sister and I and the kids will all get pajamas.

8. My brother-in-law will give my mom a bottle of wine.

9. We will put out a snack for Santa (we tracked his travels on Google Earth). This year, we left him a banana, blueberry, chocolate chip muffin and apple juice).

10. The next morning, D. will wake up first. We will keep him in our bed for a while so that the others can get a bit of sleep (this morning, D. woke me up to say, "Mama! You fell back asleep!" but he also read to himself for more than an hour).

11. The kids will go and wake up my mom in the attic guest room and we will go downstairs.

12. Santa will have come. Euphoria will ensue. This year's haul included DS games, a hot wheels set (for D.) and a big red bean bag chair (for S. but D. has been eyeing it).

13. We will all find chocolate in our stockings (fair trade, except for D. who has a nut allergy. Santa hasn't been able to find a distributor of fair trade chocolate that's safe for him. D. gets a Mars bar).

14. My brother-in-law will bring a bottle of Baileys
(one of the many reasons I love my brother-in-law) and most of the grown ups will pour liberal amounts into our breakfast coffee.

15. I'll go for a post-breakfast dog walk with S. and my sister. They will wear their pajamas.

16. We will have a Christmas dinner, consisting of a turkey with all the fixings. T. will roast the turkey and veggies, mom will make the cranberry sauce and my sister makes the stuffing and desserts. We will all eat until we can't move.

Something we did last year, which we are making into a tradition is watch a movie on Christmas day. Last year it was Elf. This year's choice is Get Sm
art. Going to go do that now.

May you all be enjoying your good traditions, surviving the meshugas and spending time with people you love.

Happy holidays!

Friday, December 19, 2008

still recovering from the concussion (and it wasn't even my head).

On Tuesday afternoon, I was at a craft sale doing some holiday shopping with a friend (who had booked the afternoon off to hang out with me). We had only been there about forty-five minutes when my mobile rang.

I was expecting it to be my spouse, wanting to consult about a present but it was one of the administrative staff from my older son's school. She told me that he had fallen and hit his head at recess. Some time later, he had told his teacher that he was "feeling weird" and she had sent him to the office. The woman who called me said she was worried about him but wasn't able to get much out of him, as he was "being very non-verbal."

Anyone who has ever met my son would never ever describe him as "non-verbal." I knew that something was wrong. When I got there a few minutes later, he was sitting there quietly. He didn't react much when he saw me and seemed to be having trouble speaking clearly (he did say that he didn't want to leave school because they were going to be building K'nex bridges. This was another warning sign for me - my son being distraught at the idea of leaving school). He was also disoriented and unsteady on his feet.

Once we were home, I consulted with Mr. Internet and came to the conclusion that I had to call the doctor. She got us to come in right away, and, after examining him, asked that we go immediately to the children's hospital. She offered to call an ambulance because she didn't want my son to be unmonitored during a potentially long drive (there is a transit strike in Ottawa right now and it has caused traffic to be very backed up during rush hour). Within a few minutes, four paramedics arrived.

We were bundled into the ambulance and taken to hospital. Poor S. had to keep getting his blood pressure taken and answer the same questions over and over again. The paramedics were really wonderful and I could tell that they were as relieved as I was when he went from not knowing what month it was to listing the items on his Christmas list (there are forty-five of them, including a flat screen TV and a Blackberry).

One of the paramedics told me that it is often this way with concussions that they can get better in the first couple of hours or much worse. We were all very relieved to see such a dramatic improvement.

He was so dramatically improved, in fact that when arrived at the children's hospital, we were no longer on the fast-track for treatment. By the time we saw a doctor (a resident, actually) hours later, my son was talking, cracking jokes and the headache and nausea had disappeared.

Diagnosis: mild to moderate concussion. Elapsed time between head bonk and being back at home: eight hours.

By the next day, S. had completely recovered and was giddy with the joy at the prospect of a day in his pajamas.

I on the other hand, am still exhausted. A concussion can really take a lot out of a mother.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

every time

When I turn the corner after chemo, I always want to do EVERYTHING.

Read a book.

Walk my dogs.


Organize my house.

Cook something.

Go shopping.

Knit (or finish languishing projects).

Get caught up on my email.

You'd think I would have been doing some of those things when I was recovering and I did, but it's just not the same when you feel like crap.

I had my first cup(s) of coffee this morning since chemo. And it wasn't even my usual half-caf.

I want to do EVERYTHING NOW. And I don't know where to start.

So maybe I'll just sit on my couch for a while and listen to my kids squabble over pizza.

Friday, December 12, 2008

boy we were young

In our early thirties but still so young, in hindsight.

There are two kids now.

The babe in this picture is just a head shorter than I am.

I have not seen T. without a beard since shortly after this was taken.

We have lots more gray hair between us.

We still have that red couch.

So much has happened since this picture was taken.

There's not much I would change.

Except for the cancer.

But not much else.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

against "the tyranny of positive thinking"*

"It is...widely believed that, once you have a cancer a positive attitude and a good mental state positively will affect the outcome of the disease..."

"Blaming the patient helps those who do not have the disease feel safe, and perhaps superior. If we can identify something the patient has done, or chooses to do, then maybe, the reasoning goes, then we will not get that cancer if we are careful. Hence our desire to find things in patients' lives that set them apart from healthy people.

...It may make us feel better at the expense of the patient but it simply isn't a reflection of the the truth."

Excerpts from "Cancer Is A Word, Not A Sentence" by Dr. Robert Buckman.

I listened to the tail end of a talk by Dr. Buckman on the CBC the other evening. It was called "Humour As A Coping Strategy or Laughter, The Second Best Medicine." His point was that, while humour absolutely does help us cope, it doesn't cure is or as he said, "Medicine is the best medicine."

I wish I had a transcript (updated to add that the podcast will be available on December 29th. Really worth checking out. I really enjoyed the part I heard and, ironically, found it to be very positive).

Laughter, love, friendship and a positive attitude can definitely help us cope with having cancer. Medicine, however, remains "the best medicine."

*This post is for my friend S., who coined that brilliant phrase.

Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

snippets from around the web

I had chemo yesterday and spent today feeling lousy, restless and out of sorts. After finishing up some homework for this online writing course I'm doing, I've pretty much got nothing left for the blog.

This is why I love the internet! Here are some of the posts I've been reading and thinking about over the last little while.

1. This is what Ottawa looked like today. And today was the first day of a city-wide transit strike. A good day to be stuck in bed, I think. One poor guy was interviewed after walking for two and a half hours and he still had a ways to go. And then a full day of doing electrical work. I hope he caught a ride home with someone.

2. Anyone with experience dating folks with young kids? Blondie is asking for advice.

3. The Maven posted this great video the other day of her toddler having a tantrum (posted with his permission). I showed it to my tantrum-prone son and he was wowed by it. Also amused. And perhaps a bit awed. But he hasn't had that kind of tantrum since. Is the Maven on to something?

4. The Yarn Harlot had fifteen knitted presents to complete between mid-November and Christmas. She plans to achieve this with a schedule designed by Lene. It even factors in knitting plain socks in the dark during her kids' school concerts. This makes me think two things. I think living with The Harlot would be very stressful right now. And, I want Lene to organize my life for me. The post also includes a list of the pitfalls of knitting Christmas presents for loved ones. I wasn't even considering this but now I doubt I ever will.

5. Eden had to take her son to emergency to have a tick removed. It all sound very harrowing. And horrifying. There are no ticks in this cold clime at this time of year, right? There has to some good coming from all this snow.

Monday, December 08, 2008

like crack (or at least what i think crack would be like)

My name is Laurie and I am a Twitter addict.

In July, I barely knew what it was (and I couldn't fathom how anyone would bother with a site that was just about reporting what you are doing. Did I care that someone was eating a sandwich or waiting for the bus?). Now I check it a hundred times a day.

I am obsessed with coming up with pithy things to say (in 140 characters) and I worry about my Twitter "peeps" when they are silent for too long.
I even signed up for Qwitter, so I can be notified when someone stops following me (and find out which Tweet of mine preceded their abandonment). Then I wonder, "What happened? Was I not interesting enough? Not funny enough? Did I annoy them when I sent online (((hugs))) to a virtual friend?"

The first step is admitting that you have a problem, right? I'm going to turn off the computer right now.
After I check one last time for new Tweets. Besides, it's not as if I send Tweets from my phone. Yet.

Follow my on Twitter! I'm lauriek.

Do you Tweet, too?

Chemo tomorrow, which should keep me off Twitter, at least until the Demerol wears off.


Obviously, I married him for his looks.

He's even got blonde groupies.

These women can't keep their hands off him.

And since what's good for the gander is good for the goose...

And our two beautiful children wish to included.

Suddenly, though, things took a sinister turn.

Look out little lovebirds!

This is where it starts to get truly disturbing.

Friday, December 05, 2008

all about love (and money)

It's a PD Day today, so rather than try and write anything of substance, I thought I would share a little video.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Gay marriage has been a legal right in this country since 2005. Here's hoping that, soon, we all live in a world without bigotry.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

two part book meme

I stole this one from Blondie.

Part 1: Nearest Book Meme

"The rules are as follows:

Open the nearest book to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence on that page, and also the next two to five sentences. The CLOSEST BOOK, NOT YOUR FAVORITE, OR MOST INTELLECTUAL!

Okey dokey. Here it is:

"Many puppies find their way to a nipple on their own."

I think that's relatively self-explanatory. It's from "Tibetan Terriers: The Little People." I keep it handy because it's a nice flat book to write on, so it was also the book I used when I did a version of this meme on Facebook. That time it called for the first sentence on the same page, which was about getting the mama dog to eat the placenta. Consider yourselves spared.

Part 2: Seven Weird Book Facts About Me

Well, I don't know if they're weird or not but here are the facts.

1. I have read 61 books this year. So far.

2. The best books I read this year were (in no particular order) are The Book of Negroes (published in the US as Someone Knows My Name) by Lawrence Hill, The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, The Outlander by Gil Adamson, The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss, Life Mask by Emma Donoghue and Affinity by Sarah Waters. The weird thing is that every one of these books would be classified as historical fiction. I didn't think I liked historical fiction.

3. The first "chapter book" I read was a Bobbsey Twin book.

4. I went on to collect Bobbsey Twin books (I think my parents might still have my collection in their basement). I also liked the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden.

5. I wasn't allowed to read Nancy Drew. I have no idea why. My parents weren't big on censoring books. The other verboten reading materials were, Harlequin Romances, comic books and The Women's Room by Marilyn French (all of which I read clandestinely).

6. I am way more awed by famous and talented writers than by other celebrities.

7. I am a very heavy user of my local library. I currently have 16 books out and 104 items on my Request List (some of these are on hold, so that they don't all come in at once). On the one hand, this means I have a hard time getting to all the books I own (or have borrowed from friends and family). On the other hand, I keep getting new books to read for "free." It's like going shopping without the dip in my bank account. And if I don't like a book, I can return it. Guilt free.

I deleted the part of the rules where I have to tag a bunch of folks. Do the meme if you want (I especially enjoyed this one). Let me know if you do, though!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

the day my life changed

I had an echocardiogram today. They are a pretty routine part of my life; I have them every few months to make sure that the Herceptin isn't damaging my heart. So far, so good.

It's kind of boring lying there, so I started to play a little game with myself. When I lay down at the beginning of the test, my resting hear rate had been 65 bpm (beats per minute), when I worried about my results, I noticed that it had shot up to 75 bpm (I could also see on the screen that my heart was whooshing away but I couldn't tell whether it was doing it's job efficiently). I took a few deep breaths and my bpm dropped again. I remembered that I have only bought one Xmas present and my rate went back up into the 70s. Up and down it went (I hope that I didn't affect my results by doing this).

And then it occurred to me that today is December 2nd.

Exactly three years ago, I found the lump in my breast. That day, the world tilted on its axis (I felt it do that as I stood in front of my bedroom closet not quite believing I had this big hard mass on the side of my right breast) and my life was irrevocably changed.

If you had told me at that moment, how the next couple of years would unfold, I never would have believed that life could be as good as it is right now, despite the cancer. Don't get me wrong. If I could choose to have never had cancer, I would.

I hate having cancer, hate being in treatment, hate the restrictions placed on me as a cancer patient and I do still grieve for all I have lost. There are many, many ways, though, that my life has changed for the better since December 2nd, 2005.

Maybe that's why, when I remembered the date, my heart rate didn't budge.

Whoosh! Whoosh!

Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.

book review: "any given doomsday"

I think of myself as a fairly discerning reader.

I've read lots of really good books this year, filled with challenging stories, beautiful prose and ideas that nourished my soul.

Any Given Doomsday, by Lori Handeland was definitely not one of those. And yet, I devoured it.

I requested this book from
Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program because it looked intriguing and the publisher (St. Martin's Press) was giving away an unprecedented 1000 review copies. A couple of months passed between when I was notified that I was getting a copy and it's arrival, by which time I had started to hope it would never come. Most of the reviews for the book were scathing (I tried to avoid reading these but the words "piece of trash" did leap out at me) and the average rating on Library Thing is only two and a half stars.

The book is filled with examples of over the top, staggeringly cheesy writing:
"Everything about him was dark - his eyes, his clothes, his heart."
"He'd always had an unbelievable way of looking at things, and when he'd looked at me, I'd wanted to give him everything I had. Back then all I'd had was me."
"I hadn't noticed Jimmy moving closer as we spoke, but now he was too close, trapping me on the cot. If I stood, my entire body would slide against his. If I stayed where I was he'd continue to loom over me, his crotch level with my mouth. I licked suddenly dry lips.
'There's something I have to tell you.' he said, and his voice was rough, as if he'd been running several miles through ice and snow.
I lifted my gaze to his, the movement brushing my chin against the suddenly bulging zipper of his pants. 'Tell me.'"

There are also some inexcusable grammatical and language errors (especially egregious from a big publisher like this one):

"He didn't have to sound like he could care less."

"The less people who know about them, the less chance an un-people might kill them."

"He was thinner than normal, and pale too. I hadn't noticed until now because the usual shade of his skin was so much darker than most." (than most what? white people? human beings? super natural beings?)

The story is mostly good fun, in a gory, completely implausible sort of way. It's pages are filled with every kind of monster imaginable: dhampirs (half-vampire, half human), skinwalkers, berserkers, werewolves, demon killers and even fairies.

The book has a somewhat religious bent, in that heaven and hell are real places and the bad guys are the descendants of fallen angels who mated with humans. The main protagonist, Liz Phoenix is a psychic ex-cop, who, at the opening of the book has a vision that summons her to the side of her former foster mother. When she arrives, she finds that the woman has been brutally murdered. It turns out that Ruthie, the foster mom was a seer and a leader of a movement called "The Federation." Ruthie proceeds to groom Liz as her successor from beyond the grave (Liz hears Ruthie's voice at regular intervals and has entire conversations with her when her dreams take her to a white picket-fenced house in heaven, where Ruthie continues to take care of children). Liz sets out for Arizona and then New York City in pursuit of knowledge and demons. She also learns that she is an empath...the kind of empath who can take on the powers of others but (get this!) only if she has sex with them.

The sex scenes in the book are more than a little troubling, since the Liz is either drugged or coerced into participating (I would warn survivors of sexual assault to stay away). One review I skimmed suggested that the author wanted her character to be scene as "a good girl" and that, if she chose to have wild sex with skinwalkers and the like, she would be tarnished by that. I would have vastly preferred for her to find out that she could gain powers through sex and then set out to have a good time for the greater the good (I was also annoyed when she envied the powers of a female character but wouldn't even consider the idea of sex with her because, you know, she's just not into women).

If some books fill you up like a satisfying meal, then Any Given Doomsday is like a bag of Cheetos (or the no-name copy of Cheetos). Sometimes, I'm just really in the mood for the Cheetos (and sometimes eating the Cheetos makes you feel a little queasy. And, as my older son said, when I told him about this metaphor, you need to go wash up because you have Cheetos all over your fingers).

This book is meant to the be the first in a series. Will I read the next book when it comes out? Probably not. But I may go looking for some more trashy fun.

Monday, December 01, 2008

make parliament work!

Do you want a coalition government for Canada? Go
here now and read how you can help.

Go here to email your MP.

Canadians deserve a government that will work for all of us in these tough economic times.

meaner than fiction (and short-sighted, too)

According to a recent article in the New York Times, soon-to-be-Ex-President Bush is trying to ram through some changes to the
Code of Federal Regulations before Obama takes office. Some of the new rules, which have the "force of law" in the US, would:

"make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job;"

"make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas;"

"reduce the role of federal wildlife scientists in deciding whether dams, highways and other projects pose a threat to endangered species;"

"allow coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys;"

give "states sweeping authority to charge higher co-payments for doctor’s visits, hospital care and prescription drugs provided to low-income people under Medicaid."


If a fictional President in a novel or movie attempted to do these things in his last days of power, would we find it believable?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

30 posts in 30 days

Well, I made it.

I posted a lot of "filler" this month. I also found that many of the more substantive posts that I have wanted to write (book reviews and news of the conference I attended) remain in draft form. The need to keep cranking out the posts made me less willing to go back to half-written ones and edit them, lest they take up too much time. I will enjoy giving myself the space to write more thoughtfully and to give myself the time to set things aside.

On the other hand, NaBloPoMo made me dig a little deeper, take in the world in a different way (I was constantly wondering, "could I blog about this?") and post some things it never might have otherwise occurred to me to share. The post that probably got the most reaction was the one about toilet sprouts.

The very first year, I did NaBloPoMo, I was diagnosed with mets and never missed a day. In contrast, I faced many fewer challenges this year. On the other hand, November 2006 was filled with stories that were more compelling than the SpeedFit. At least I think so.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

meet the 'speedfit'

The brilliance of humanity never fails to astound me.

Why just go for a run when you can take your treadmill on the road?

This is a real company and they are completely serious. S. thinks we should ask Santa to bring me one.

Friday, November 28, 2008

what's in a name

I have lots on my plate today (and I don't mean Thanksgiving leftovers, living in Canada and all) so I thought it would be a good day for a meme. I stole this one from Average Jane.

1. WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother’s & father’s middle names):
Marie Leslie.

2. NASCAR NAME: (first name of your mother’s dad, father’s dad):
Alexandre Christopher.

3. STAR WARS NAME: (the first 2 letters of your last name, first 4 letters of your first name):
Kilaur (I kind of like it!)

4. DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal):
Blue Dog (or should that read Blue Dawg?).

5. SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you live):
Anne Ottawa (that's just plain odd).

6. SUPERHERO NAME: (2nd favorite color, favorite alcoholic drink, optionally add “THE” to the beginning):
The Red Black Velvet (or alternatively Red Wine but I don't like that nearly as much).

7. FLY NAME: (first 2 letters of 1st name, last 2 letters of your last name):

8. GANGSTA NAME: (favorite ice cream flavor, favorite cookie):
After Eight Chocolate Chip (now that's just silly).

9. ROCK STAR NAME: (current pet’s name, current street name):
Lucy Fourth.

10. PORN NAME: (1st pet, street you grew up on):
Kelly Smerdon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

being kids together

I want to thank everyone who took the time to leave advice or thoughts on my post about tantrums.

As a direct result of your comments, I kept five year old D. home this morning, just to hang out and have fun together.

We played Dog-Opoly (like Monopoly, except that instead of buying property, you buy dogs. It's a laugh a minute) for almost two hours. We danced to the soundtrack from the SpongeBob Squarepants Movie (D. insisted that we take turns dancing while the other watched. He's a real little showboat). We went out to lunch at Subway.

As we were eating our sandwiches, I said, "I'm feeling happy."

"Me too!" he said.

He ran happily into the school when I dropped him off. Our morning went by in a heartbeat. I realized how quickly he's growing up. He can read and add up two numbers on dice (his future as a gambler looks bright. He even blows on the dice before rolling them). And, as a dancer, he really does have some great moves.

We had fun. And we cuddled. It was good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

the opposite problem

I know several women who discovered they had breast cancer much later than they ought to have, because they were refused access to screening, their doctors dismissed their concerns or their breasts were so dense that tumours were not easily detectable by ultrasound or mammogram.

And then, today I read in the Globe and Mail that a new study coming out of Norway, revealed that some cancers will disappear on their own and that more sophisticated testing, such as the MRI, can lead to "overdiagnosis":

The study, published yesterday in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, suggested breast-cancer screening may be leading to overdiagnosis, with about 22 per cent of cases likely to resolve themselves without treatment.

Once a breast cancer is found, however, it would currently be considered unethical not to treat it. So - if the theory is correct - large numbers of women may be having surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and other treatments that would never have been needed if their cancers had not been detected.

[]Radiation can damage the heart and coronary arteries. A previous randomized controlled trial showed that about one in 10 women who receive radiation for breast cancer will die from heart damage attributable to the treatment, he said.

In a telephone interview from Oslo, Dr. Zahl said that if he and his co-authors are correct, two women die from complications of breast-cancer treatment for every woman saved by screening.

"And that's a very bad tradeoff."
The study's authors argue that, since it is considered unethical to treat cancer once it has been detected, more aggressive detection can lead to unnecessary treatment that may cause more harm than good.

I was feeling a little uneasy when I read this article and trying to articulate why, when I read a response from Dr. Amy Tuteur (thanks to Jenny for the link). Her last paragraph was the clincher for me:

Finally, and most importantly, there is no way to tell the difference on mammography, or by any other technique, between the cancers that will disappear and the ones that will go on and kill the woman. Without a practical way to separate those who need to be treated from those who do not, the finding is intriguing and worthy of further investigation, but cannot guide us in determining the best way to screen for breast cancer and the best way to treat it.
It's hard, when reading this stuff, not to consider my own situation. My breast cancer was diagnosed after I found the big, hard lump in my right breast. The kind of cancer I have is aggressive, and by the time we found it, fairly advanced. If I had had an MRI and my tumour had been discovered before the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, the chance of metastasis could have been much lower.

How would doctors know which cancers to ignore and which to treat?

Until we have the answers to those questions, this study seems to me to be meaningless.

And I hope it doesn't used as a reason to deny tests to women who are high risk or who suspect they might have breast cancer.

Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

canada reads

The CBC just announced the five books and panelists for this year's Canada Reads competition:

"Canada Reads announced the contenders Tuesday for its annual contest to choose a single book all Canadians would enjoy reading.

The field has five Canadian books, including two debut novels and works by Quebec's Michael Tremblay and New Brunswick's David Adams Richards.

CBC Radio One, host of the Canada Reads series, also announced members of the panel who will defend the five books in an effort to get theirs chosen.

They are:

I haven't really paid attention to Canada Reads since the first year. This year's list however, contains two of the best books that I have read in 2008 - The Outlander and The Book of Negroes (
which I loved so much that I might actually get emotional if someone says anything bad about it. It was published in the US and elsewhere as Someone Knows My Name, something the author had mixed feelings about). This makes me intrigued enough to want to read the others (Mercy Among the Children is the only one I had heard of. It's about a part of the world I know very well and I fear it will depress the hell out of me).

The panelists will make it interesting, too. I like Avi Lewis, and Nicholas Campbell is always entertaining.

I think I need to log onto my library' s web site and place some requests.

Care to join me? Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

Monday, November 24, 2008

"are you a writer?"

The guy at the UPS Store asked me this question (I was using UPS to send some photos to my publisher because
PSAC members at Canada Post are on strike).

I looked around to see to whom he was speaking.

Then it dawned on me.

"Yes, I am."

Or at least I'm working on believing it.

I've mentioned before that I have been meeting with a coach since last January. Joyce has a Masters in Education and is part therapist and part life coach. She works with lots of struggling artists and writers, many people currently working in the labour movement and several cancer survivors.

I have always made my living with words but this year I pledged to begin to think of myself as a writer. This need for this had become acute as I relinquished the sense of identity I had derived from full-time work and as the struggle to stay alive had (thankfully) moved the back burner.

With Joyce's input and guidance, I established three goals for this year:

I wanted to finish my book. I am proud to say that I accomplished this (although it never seems to be quite done and I am currently reviewing the copy-editing). I could not have done this without Joyce.

I wanted to build links to other younger people with cancer and spread the word that many of us are living long and well with metastatic breast cancer. I feel really good about my contributions to this blog, Mothers With Cancer, BlogHer and MyBreastCancerNetwork.Com. I also attended a wonderful conference, organized by Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

This networking has gone so well that I burned myself out a little. I have taken a step back of late.

My third goal was to write fiction. I started by playing around a little with my "morning pages" (which I don't always write in the morning). I read and did exercises from several great books (Writing Down the Bones, The Artist's Way, Bird by Bird and The Writer's Path).

Joyce suggested that I needed a writing group and it dawned on me that I could start one. I've done that.

Joyce suggested that I should sign up for an online writing course that would give me some progressive assignments to work on. I did some research and registered for one called "I've Always Wanted To Write Fiction." We are in week four and I am up to date on my assignments.

I am not thrilled with what I have produced so far but I am proud that I have done it. My prose still seems stilted and pedestrian but I am putting my toes in the water. Everything I have read tells me that art takes hard work. I may not be Virginia Woolf (or even Sue Grafton) but I can make art for its own sake. And mine.

And as I re-read this blog post, I realize that I have come a long way this year.

Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

my brain is a sieve

I was really looking forward to my book club tonight. I even tweeted about my excitement.

We read Run, by Ann Patchett. I really liked the book but I was especially looking forward to getting out and seeing my friends.

I really wanted a beer with dinner (we were having pizza) but I passed because there is always wine at book club. I even got my spouse to pick up a bottle this afternoon, so that I could contribute.

I gathered up my purse and my knitting. I hadn't organized a ride, so I got ready to call a cab. I looked up the host's email to confirm her address and because I wanted to make sure that I was planning on going to the right house. My memory is not what it once was.

I was right about the house but wrong about the date.

My book club is November 30th.

My kids felt bad for me because I took a shower and put on clean clothes for nothing.

I am sulking telling myself that, next week, I will enjoy myself twice as much for having had to wait.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

crushing on jamie oliver

I love him for his potatoes.

Last night, I made this.

I am, at best, an indifferent cook. I am working on changing this, as I don't think it's fair for my spouse to do all the cooking. Also, if I want more control over what we eat, I need to contribute.

This week, I made (or helped to make) an unprecedented four meals. Macaroni and cheese (with onions and garlic). Chicken cacciatore in the slow cooker (with bottled tomatoes, onions and garlic). Updated hamburger helper (my friend L. instructed and did all the chopping. I browned the meat and stirred a lot).

So, as you can see, a recipe that requires fresh herbs and boiling the potatoes before they go into the roasting pan is a bit of a departure for me (I roasted my first chicken two years ago. At least three times since then, I have roasted the chicken upside down.)

Last night, I painstakingly followed all instructions. It wasn't that hard. And it worked. The potatoes did not look as golden in as in the photo but they were delicious.

I don't even like potatoes and I had seconds.

And more for breakfast, swooning and moaning all the while.

I kept saying, "I made this!"

I'm still a little stunned. I have never, ever been able to say about anything that I have cooked, "That was the best I ever had." It felt good.

Friday, November 21, 2008

the worst idea ever. or am i just too uptight?

Please help us settle an argument.

My spouse, who grows sprouts in our kitchen, thinks this is a good idea. So does S., my oldest son.

I think it's disgusting. My sprout growing friends (yes, I have sprouting friends) agree with me.

Take a good long look and let me know what you think.

It's a theoretical discussion because, as long as I live in this house, we are not growing sprouts in my toilet.

- More cool how to projects

Thursday, November 20, 2008

coping with cloudy skies

We have been struggling with temper tantrums around here lately.

When my spouse and I turned to the Internets for advice, we came up with some wildly different, even contradictory advice:

1. We need to institute a "systematic behavior management plan" that includes time-outs. The time out should not start until he is seated and quiet.

If I could get him to be seated and quiet, I wouldn't need a time out.

2. We need to investigate his diet and exposure to allergens. Also, hugs are more effective than time outs:
"Until you find one that works, however, hold your son gently when he falls apart and talk to him softly in a singsong."
When my son is having a tantrum, I can't really get my arms around him and the screaming tends to drown out my gentle crooning.

3. Call the cops and have the kid arrested.

This is what one Florida school did:

"To subdue the unruly kindergartner, school officials phoned Avon Park's police department ("committed to enhancing the 'Quality of Life' of the community"). When the cops arrived, young Desre'e attempted to resist arrest by crawling under a table. But Avon Park's finest pulled her out, cuffed her, put her in a police cruiser, drove her to the county jail, and charged this 50-pound menace with a felony and two misdemeanors."

I think I'll call the doctor, make sure he never gets too hungry, talk to his teachers (they assure me that the tantrums are not occurring at school or day care), reinforce good behaviour and keep hoping that it's just a phase...


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

it's come to this

This is now a 'cute kids and animals' blog.

I have a very good friend in town for a couple of days. We are hanging out.

Regular programming will no doubt resume post-visit.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

feeling nostalgic already

This was taken just a few weeks ago. The leaves are mostly gone now and winter is in the air.

Monday, November 17, 2008


This was actually taken on chemo day but it kind of sums up what I feel like doing. Note the bed, the book and the laptop. The only thing missing is a great big chocolate bar.

And yes, that is the world's meanest cat, all cuddled up with me. Don't be fooled by appearances. One false move and he'd slit my throat.

I've actually been doing some non-blog writing today, so not much left over for this space. Please bear with me. There will be a more substantial post one these days, I promise.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

lest we forget (part two)

My spouse and my ten year old son are reading Maus together right now. So, so hard.

I am glad S. wants to learn this but so sad he has to learn how cruel people can be.

S.: "So they were just allowed to shoot Jews for fun?"

T.: "Jews were not considered human."

S.: "They were treated like vermin."

S. and T. together: "Like mice."

T.: "Not all the Germans felt this way but when your government and all the news and your neighbours are all telling you one thing...People get swept up."

So hard.

Friday, November 14, 2008

what he said

"I think we are asking the questions that will get us funded, not the questions that that will solve the problem."

- Lovell A. Jones, PhD, MD Anderson Cancer Center

(This was part of the closing key note to News You Can Use, organized by Living Beyond Breast Cancer. The conference was excellent but this last session, entitled "Helping Promote A More Equal Approach to Health Care", just blew me away.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

very reassuring

Me (after a harrowing conversation among a group of my friends) to my dear spouse: "Are you leading a double life?"

Long-suffering spouse (who has been single-parenting lots of late): "Are you kidding? My first life is out of control. Why would I want a second one?"

Good enough for me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

lest we forget

Photo: Chameleon for Wikipedia. (Wikipedia Commons).

To remember is to end all war.

Monday, November 10, 2008

happy birthday to dear dd

I love you very much and I hope you are having a wonderful day.

I love that are fiercely loyal and love with great ferocity.

I love that you are kind, compassionate and caring and yet you really know how to hold a grudge.

I love that you give so much of yourself to others.

And I worry that you don't always ask when you need something in return.

I love that you offered to come to chemo with me today.

But I am glad that I was able to say 'no.'

Thank you so much for being my friend. I am so lucky to have you in my life.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

by popular request...

Photos of the puppy. Or as the vet calls her, my "hairy little monster."

It is very difficult to get a good photo of a black dog. However, I discovered that a good camera can really make a difference.

Seriously in need of a grooming.

I was holding a treat in the air. I really love this camera.

She has a really long tongue.

J-Dog was unimpressed.

I spent the last couple of hours trying to come up with a post for NaBloPoMo. I also needed to re-take some photos for the book. Instead, I took photos of my dogs and turned them into a post.

Although, now I just want to photograph everything I own with this camera.

Too bad I have chemo tomorrow. Although maybe I'll take photos of that, too.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

last days of the alaska beauty queen

Photo: M. Slavitch.

October 31st, 2008. I was in Philadelphia when this was taken but I am told that the effect in person was even more spectacular.

By the way, those are my shoes. They fit S. perfectly. He spent the evening before Hallowe'en walking around the house in heels, with his hand on his hip, saying "You betcha!" It got to me every time.

S. says he didn't mind the shoes or the pantyhose. He did, however, find the fake boobs really uncomfortable.

I hear him on that one.

Friday, November 07, 2008

procrastination pays off

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may remember this blanket. Some of you occasionally ask me about it.

I have never sown it together. All 120 pieces still sit in a big basket in my bedroom.
Sometimes, I refer to it as my 120 potholders.

This blanket, however, has recently served to teach me a valuable lesson.

Last week end, I was fortunate to spend some time with my friends Jacqueline and John in Philadelphia (they came all the way from New York to hang out with me). During our visit, we talked a bit about my book. I told them that I was feeling lukewarm about the cover design (we were considering stepping stones. I loved the idea we were trying to convey of an unfinished journey but was finding the image a bit new agey). Both of my friends gave it the thumbs down.

I asked if they had any other ideas and Jacqueline asked if I had an image that was more personal, that meant something to me (and to which I owned the rights) that I could use.

I was doubtful.

That night, after we went back to our respective hotel rooms, Jacqueline went into my Flickr images and came up with an amazing concept:
"i love the metaphors for:
the optical illusions of the patterns
the imperfections
the coming together
possibility of
the warmth
and comfort.
the perspective of the image implies a path but the image is more personal and ALL YOURS."
She had made three different mock-ups from the photo above that included my title and name.

I love it!

My editor loves it.

The design/marketing team love it.

There was only one problem. The photo isn't high resolution enough to use, so I have to re-take some pics this week end.

The moral of this story? Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off for a whole year.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

book review: "the retreat"*

Reading The Retreat by David Bergen was good for me, in the way experiences that provoke and make you uncomfortable can be good for you.

But it was hard going.

Even at the outset, the reader is aware that the story will end in tragedy (and not just because it says so on the dust jacket). From the very first page, the sense of foreboding is almost oppressive. And on several occasions, I had to put it down and take a few deep breaths, so intense was my discomfort.

From the book's jacket:

In 1973, outside of Kenora, Ontario, Raymond Seymour, an eighteen-year-old Ojibway boy, is taken by a local policeman to a remote island and left for dead.

A year later, the Byrd family arrives in Kenora. They have come to stay at “the Retreat,” a commune run by the self-styled guru Doctor Amos. The Doctor is an enigmatic man who spouts bewildering truisms, and who bathes naked every morning in the pond at the edge of the Retreat while young Everett Byrd watches from the bushes. Lizzy, the eldest of the Byrd children, cares for her younger brothers Fish and William, and longs for what she cannot find at the Retreat. When Lizzy meets Raymond, everything changes, and Lizzy comes to understand the real difference between Raymond’s world and her own. A tragedy and a love story, the novel moves towards a conclusion that is both astonishing and heartbreaking.

Set during the summer of the Ojibway occupation of Anicinabe Park in Kenora, The Retreat is a finely nuanced, deeply felt novel that tells the story of the complicated love between a white girl and a native boy, and of a family on the verge of splintering forever. It is also a story of the bond between two brothers who were separated in childhood, and whose lives and fates intertwine ten years later.
The book is beautifully written, filled with complex, believable, interesting and unhappy characters. Woven throughout are the twin themes of betrayal and existence (there are multiple references to the way other characters treat Raymond as though he is invisible and his own need to "verify his own existence."

I most affected by the scenes involving Raymond and I found myself becoming almost frantic as I read about his attempts at survival after being abandoned on the island, as the snow begins to fall:
"He scraped together some moss and laid it down in the hole, and then he curled up in the shallow dip and covered himself up with more moss. He was shaking severely. He pressed his hands between his thighs and blew warm breath down the inside of his jacket...In the grey light he finally started a fire...he warmed his hands and feet and bent towards the flames like a requester who sees the possibility of salvation but is too abject too cry out."

I found Bergen's description here to be quite vivid and made all the more poignant by the fact that Canada has a shameful history of this sort of occurrence and that more than one such instance has ended in tragedy.

I can't say that I enjoyed The Retreat. It did however, move me profoundly. I will remember it longer than many books I have enjoyed and read with much more ease.

*This is book was sent to me via Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program.