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?