Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lost in the Country

On Easter Sunday Eric (my brother-in-law) and Sarah (his wife) took us to one of their favourite walking trails outside of Edmonton - the Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary. We asked Timothy if he wanted to ride in the van with Angus and Eve and he was very enthusiastic about the prospect. We followed Eric and Sarah in their car for a while. A fairly long while. There was construction. There was dust. Timothy informed us that we were in the country - he knew this, he said, because there was a lot of dirt. There were a few turns that almost happened and then didn't. We checked the directions and wondered why Eric was driving past a turn that we were supposed to make, according to his directions. Eric pulled over. Matt got out and they conferred. Matt came back and informed me that Eric had only written the directions out for us. We turned around, still following Eric (I was unclear, at this point, as to why Eric wasn't now following us instead. I found out later that Sarah was unclear on this as well). We drove back down the highway and Eric turned left, across the other side of the highway onto a dirt road. We waited for the oncoming cars to pass before we followed him. Timothy watched all this rather anxiously from his car seat.

Timothy: "Are we going to follow my Daddy?"
Me: "Yes.'
Timothy: "Why are we not going after Daddy?"
Me: "Because when you turn left you have to let all the cars going by go first or they'll hit you."
Timothy: "Daddy's car is DISAPPEARING."
Me: "We have the directions, Timothy. We'll catch up with them in the parking lot."
Timothy (forlornly): "Daddy's car is very far away now."

There was much clamour and rejoicing when we got to the parking lot and Daddy's car was there. He was almost five when Baby Fen came along - I think sometimes he suspects he's being phased out.

("What? I wasn't worried.")

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Easter Baby

We went to Edmonton for the week-end to visit my (fairly) brand spanking new nephew (no offense to my brother-in-law and his lovely wife and their quite appealing five-year-old, but let's be honest, the baby was the major draw). According to Sarah, he was undergoing a veritable 'cuteness explosion' before our very eyes, after three months and change of being gormless and unengaging and having a head that smelled like feet - I think she was just trying to make us feel less bad for not seeing him until now.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives: Book Review

I'm participating in a blog tour for Penguin Canada's new release, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, by Vancouver writer Zsuzsi Gartner, which I jumped all over chiefly because of the title (that's a kick-ass title, is it not?) and the comparison to Lorrie Moore. The last collection I read that was compared to Lorrie Moore fell quite short, although I allowed that this might be in part because I adore Lorrie Moore with a slavish, stalkerish, slightly creepy degree of adoration. However, this book richly deserves the comparison.

Gartner has a firm grip on the grating jargon of post-modernity and a knack for subverting it with a wicked, clear-eyed sense of humour. She effortlessly skewers practitioners of what one character calls "spiritual wankery". Motifs are white teeth, homeless people, and the scene in The Sound of Music where the nun removes the distributor cap from the Nazis' car - now that I think of it, this little triad is not a bad way to sum up the last century or so.

In Summer of the Flesh Eater, a mulleted, cut-offs sporting "specimen" moves into an enclave of enlightened, evolved couples consisting of professional women and stay-at-home Dads who favour dinner parties featuring honey-glazed fiddleheads and syringes of wild morel cream. Soon, the neighbourhood's Ritalin-infused children are disdaining their "computer animation camps" and "Urbane Kids Cook! classes" in favour of the "root beer and processed meats" dispensed by the newcomer. "It had all been amusing at first...like having a Molson ad shot on your very own street" mourns the narrator, imposing a Darwinian filter over the catastrophic collision of people who might as well be different species.

In Once, We Were Swedes, a journalist tries to inspire her disaffected students while suffering from the effects of having witnessed atrocities in the Sudan. There are whispers of dismembered bodies discovered in garbage bags around her city, and characters display a disconcerting tendency to age rapidly or regress to immaturity. The scenes of her speaking IKEA with her boyfriend Rufus, who specializes in sustainable design but longs to start a rock band and wonders if they are "too white, too settled, too happy" are brilliant, as are the scenes of homeless people building shelters out of mayoral campaign signs and being hailed as designing savants.

Floating Like a Goat is a mother's letter to child's grade one teacher after the child "does not meet expectations" in art class. The mother's righteous anger over a teacher who insists that people must be drawn with their feet touching the ground and with the background filled in starts out as a letter that any mother could imagine writing (I was right there with her), and then devolves beautifully into a surreal, grief-stricken meditation on art, burgeoning and unspent potential, and desire.

It's a spiky, discomfiting collection. Houses are swallowed by the ground, characters are harassed to insanity by things they want and can't have, and by the people who have them. The Adopted Chinese Daughters' Rebellion is a brutal send-up of the perceived smugness of some people who adopt foreign children -- I have to admit I loved most of this one, but she lost me with the footbinding (and yes, I acknowledge that that may have been the point). Mister Kakami turns Gartner's pitiless eye on the film industry, in a Heart of Darkness-inspired view of a director who goes missing while filming on an island which is an aboriginal Canadian "sacred site". Angels inhabit the bodies of young teenagers in We Come in Peace, seeking to recover sensory experiences, with disastrous results.

Someone is Killing the Great Motivational Speakers of Amerika is my favourite story title; it is also one story where I was caught off-guard by the earnestness of the narrator, who in fact wasn't a sham, but was genuinely trying to help, albeit in a questionable manner. It also features my favourite passage, regarding the reaction to the disappearances and deaths of several prominent motivational speakers: "Deepak now travels Kevlar-coated, with two armed guards, in an electric vehicle reminiscent of the Popemobile."

I usually try to keep short story collections to be parceled out one at a time, but I ended up gulping this one down in two short gulps. It was a disturbing, elating experience.

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives will be reviewed by The Literary Word on April 20th, In the Next Room on April 21st, and Bella's Bookshelves on April 26th. I've resisted looking at any other reviews until now - I'm interested in seeing what everyone else has to say.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What can I say? Sometimes it feels good to be mean.

I'm mostly over being cranky. Mostly. I'm generally a nice person. I smile at people when I walk past them, I hold the door for strangers, and if somebody does something embarrassing in public my first impulse is usually to help or pretend I didn't notice, rather than point and laugh or record it and post it on Youtube. But periodically I develop a mean sense of humour. Pam and I went to the craft show today and on the way there we mocked all the joggers running as fast as their scrawny little legs could carry them. Then we mocked the people who lined up to get in two-for-one with strollers and speculated on how many of those strollers were actually empty or filled with fake babies. We mused about whether Pam should force-bathe her husband with lavender bath bombs since lavender is supposed to be relaxing and he's been really stressed lately, which as you can imagine is really annoying for Pam. Then I remarked how it's really annoying when you're just walking by glancing at someone's stuff politely but then they corner you and explain in painful detail how they crocheted these floral toilet-seat-covers from recycled all-natural unbleached cat hair while you're trying to smile and thinking "Christ, I was just trying to get to the chocolate-covered soybeans at the next booth!". Of course, then I went into one booth that had clothes and I was trying to find a size and the chick there was talking to another exhibitor and totally ignoring me, and that pissed me off too. Okay, maybe I'm not totally over being cranky. But Pam and I loved the stuff at Yasmine Louis Textile Printing -- she takes shirts and silk-screens her own photographs and text on them(our favourite ones said "Sometimes TV is so good" and "I lied and went to a matinée", and "I changed my mind".) Plus she has fabulous hair - I bet people looked at her hair when she was two and knew she was going to be an artist. If I had better hair I totally would have amounted to more.

It was a pretty good day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Can I Be Downgraded Back to the One that Works Please?

Why do upgrades almost always SUCK? My computer recently interrupted my work to blip and beep its way through an 'upgrade'. When it was done, everything was slower and I couldn't get a new post window in blogger. I can if I use Google Chrome, but then when I try to read other blogs I can't close just their blog window without closing everything, which I keep forgetting, so then I keep accidentally closing everything and having to log in to my own blog again, which SUCKS. Our PVR recently turned itself off and when it came back on it professed itself to be in 'standalone mode', an 'advanced service' which means it can play back shows without a cable hookup - not so much a bonus for us since we don't tend to carry our PVR around on our shoulders. The new improved PVR cable box wouldn't let us actually watch our tv, but this was just part of the great new 'advanced service'. Which SUCKS.

Every time I figured out how to use the Loblaws Photolab website they would 'improve' it to the point where I couldn't use it any more. Once I fired off a pissed-off email in which I decried the constant need to upgrade and improve everything instead of leaving well enough alone and said various other stuff that made me sound like a cranky eighty-year-old (I avoided the terms 'newfangled' and 'the good old days' at least). Then I figured out that it actually was possible to access the former version of the uploader. I restrained myself from replying to their polite letter which said as much with 'Fine. Shut up. I hate you.' but I totally said it in my head.

I'm a little foggy. My husband's in Italy and I only let the kids sleep with me Saturday night when I could sleep in. Sunday night I put them to bed in their own rooms, changed my bed, took a shower and came out into my lovely private space, read for a while, then laid awake for most of the night in complete peace. Sigh. Yesterday I was kind of grumpy. At one point I yelled 'Jesus Christ, do you have to make such a racket? Settle down already!' Fortunately, it was at a pot of boiling eggs on the stove and the kids were still at school. You'd think a little water on the burner was a federal case, though - I'm sure all that hissing and spitting wasn't really necessary.

So I'm not exactly sure what Anonymous meant by the comment on my last post saying I should add a Twitter button. I don't do Twitter and I'm not sure why I would want a Twitter button. Sounds suspiciously like an upgrade, or perhaps an advanced service. In which case, count me out.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In which I state the blindingly obvious, with GREAT EMPHASIS

So I've come to the conclusion that I was REALLY DEPRESSED for most of February and March! That sleeping until eleven or twelve after the kids were off to school and not being able to get off the couch and telling myself comforting things like "oh well, so I'm lazy and worthless and probably not entitled to really take up space in the world - it's okay, my kids might amount to something" was NOT actually a moment of insight, but an indication that I was SEVERELY MELANCHOLIC and probably needed some help.

Upon coming to this realization, I marched upstairs to where my husband was innocently watching some kind of event in which overpaid sweaty mercenaries throw stuff or hit stuff with sticks or run around like idiots, and ambushed him with "EXCUSE ME. Did it not occur to you at any time in the last few weeks that I might be SEVERELY DEPRESSED?" I was all ready to club him with the time when Eve was a baby and I was going back on a low-estrogen birth control pill which had made me kind of loony with Angus, and I asked my husband to keep an eye on me for evidence of looniness, and then I became convinced that a woman from his preschool program who really liked him and offered to babysit was going to kidnap my children, and I reverse-directoried her phone number and drove by her house and copied down her license plate number and then one morning I woke him up and said "You know how I've been convinced that Maggie was going to kidnap the kids and I drove by her house and copied down her license plate number? Did you not think that was LOONY ENOUGH to maybe raise some concerns?"

So that occasion, on which he acquitted himself LESS THAN ADMIRABLY was on my mind. But at this point, he just said calmly "well, seeing as how you've been sicker than you've been in years and coughed until you broke all the blood vessels in your eyes and chest and shoulders, and the one inhaler that worked made you throw up for three days straight, and we weren't sure the antibiotics they gave you were approved for human usage, it seemed like maybe depression was a REASONABLE REACTION."

So I said "Fine. Shut up. I hate you." Because now I've totally turned the corner, and I'm back to my logical sweet self.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Feel the love Part 2

I have something called atypical asthma. I don't wheeze -- I cough. I cough a lot. After I exercise, if I go outside and it's cold, if peaches are in season -- I cough. If I get sick, I get a cough that needs an exorcist and an act of congress to get rid of. My airways are more volatile than Charlie Sheen.

The other day I coughed and Eve, lying on her tummy looking at a book, said, without looking up, "Yeah, you've been coughing most of my life, because of your fake asthma."


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Switched at Birth?

I've mentioned my friend Patti here before. Patti's fit and athletic and so freaking nice you can't even really hate her for it. In high school she was off biking and running and skiing and swimming while I was at band practice and choir practice and piano lessons and singing lessons.

Patti's oldest kid is taking singing lessons and singing in the Kiwanis choir. My oldest kid is a jock. Patti and I spend a lot of time laughing our asses off at this situation -- we'd be laughing at each other more if this didn't also entail laughing at ourselves. Patti can't carry a tune in a basket and I'm fit for helping Angus drag his hockey bag into the dressing room, and then it's a humiliating round of me trying to put knee pads on his elbows and crap like that until he dismisses me while hoping nobody notices that we're related.

Remember how I let my son get freak hair for hockey playoffs? Today I took him to hockey and my Dad came to watch the game. He got his second hat trick in the last four games, and the other two games he got one goal each. The team has 21 playoff goals and over a third of them are his. And I always tell people he's an awesome baseball player but hockey is just for fun. I told him if the flaming fauxhawk has the same effect on his marks he can keep it forever.

But no matter how much I try -- and I really do try -- I can't tie his skates with my warped-by-pregnancy wimpy hands, and I can't remember what the hell offside means. Hey Patti, can I take Penny to choir practice this week?