Monday, October 31, 2011

Department of Homeland Whatnow?

I'm attempting to get one of those speedy border passes through the Department of Homeland Security.

If I succeed, I will be that woman, you know, the one who scoots around the regular line, feeling the hot glares on the back of her neck from all those sweaty onlookers as they drag their bags slowly forward and she waltzes right into the security pat-down line.

You can't make a mistake, or worse, lie about anything when you fill out these forms. Because if you do, you're banned from using or getting another card for life. But the first question on the online form is so confusing I reckon I'm snookered before I even start.

It says: list your paternal name, then your maternal name, then your first name. they mean my married name i.e. last name, maiden name and first name? My married name IS my maiden name.

Or do they mean my father's last name, my mother's maiden name and my first name? What about my husband's last name, which I sometimes use socially?

Turns out they don't really know either. I called the Montreal office and Big Shocker, no one was there to pick up the phone. Quebec's motto should be "It's not my job" followed by a Gallic Shrug.So I phoned the Toronto office, finally got a human and she said "the paternal name is the last name you go by, and the maternal name is your maiden name." My maiden name IS my paternal name. I live in Quebec, so we are required by law to keep our maiden names. So do I write it down twice?

The she gave me another number in Ottawa.

This time, the woman said "the paternal name is your last name, the one you use now." (So, my maiden name.) "And the maternal name is any other name you've used."

Huh? So I told her I use my husband's last name sometimes, plus I'd been married before, like 30 years ago, and I used his last name at that time so is that what they want under "maternal name"? Yup. Are you sure? "Oh yes," she laughed. "This happens all the time. Put down any or all other names you've used."

So I go back online and it seems like I'm filling in more names than Elizabeth Taylor and then I see a teensy, tiny, 'help' button in the upper corner. Clearly they don't want you to use it, or they'd make it easier to see.

It says paternal name is your current last name and maternal name is your mother's last name.

If I can't get past the first page on the form, the likelihood is I'm going to be standing in the back of the line with the rest of the sweaty plebs, practicing my glare.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hallowe'en has gone to the dogs

I were going to choose a Hallowe'en costume for Buddy, this would be the one.

But I won't do it.

Because it's cruel.

Terribly, terribly, terribly cruel.

Here Buddy...come to mama...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Squirrel Melt Anyone?

If you're squeamish, don't read this.

If you love squirrels, don't read this.

Go make yourself a peanut butter sandwich and watch The X Factor. This post is to Cute Overload what Jaws is to The Little Mermaid.

So this blogger from T-dot, clearly a sensitive fellow and squirrel lover, happened upon one of the little critters after it was broadsided by a van.

The guy hopped off his bike, rushed to the scene and tried to "find a pulse" on its limp, furry body. He looked a little closer and thought "she" might have been nursing. The clues? It appeared she hadn't showered for several days, her tail was stained with spit up and her kitchen was full of dirty dishes.

Not knowing what to do, and unclear on the concept of roadkill, he called Toronto's animal services for advice.

Their response? Put it in a bag and leave it on the porch and they'll see about coming to get it in the morning. Um, that's why it's called roadkill. Also, they told him to watch the Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch before he called them again.

Not exactly the "proper send off" he was hoping for.

Btw, this is how we give squirrels a proper send off in our 'hood:

The Boris, aficionado of squirrel tartare

So I say, why not use that roadkill, or as I like to call it "free protein," for Squirrel Melts? They're "a nice weekend snack maybe while watchin' the football game." According to this expert squirrel chef below, it is very versatile because it's good hot or cold.

It's also low fat and as free range as it gets. Some say it tastes like a cross between lamb and duck, others more like wild boar. Nowhere does it say it tastes like chicken.

Grey squirrel is even flying off the shelves in the UK according to this article THE ULTIMATE ETHICAL MEAL:A GREY SQUIRREL. Best of all, it's free. And plentiful, if my backyard is anything to go by. And since the UK is known the world over for its fine cuisine, if they're saying eat squirrel, it must be good.

So get out your aprons and cookbooks shotguns and pickup trucks and hit the mean streets. If you're lucky enough to live in Toronto, it won't take long to get dinner out of that city park and on to your dinner table.

Not for the squeamish. Seriously, you have been warned.

And if you can't bring yourself to cook and eat one, there is always Roadkill Art.

I swear I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. I don't know what's more strange. The guy making art out of roadkill, or the people paying more than 50,000 pounds for it.

Rick Mercer

And this is why we love him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Surrey International Writers' Conference Part Deux

If you are an aspiring writer and feel you need some motivation to keep going, check out this awesome keynote speech by Robert Dugoni.

It will turn you around.

I guarantee it.

Go HERE to listen.

This day we write!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Surrey International Writers' Conference

I just got back from my annual writers' conference in Surrey, British Columbia. The SiWC was amazing, exhausting, exhilarating as it always is. It truly is the best writers' conference in the world. My heart is full to overflowing.

On the flight back, there was a sweet young mom of three sitting one seat over who was having such an attack of nerves my heart went out to her. She was flushed and shaking, fidgety and close to tears and that was before the plane had even left the hangar! When we started to move, she asked if she could hold my hand. So I reached over the outwardly calm but slightly disconcerted man in the middle seat who probably wished he'd been seated anywhere else than sandwiched between these two crazy female bookends and I held her hand, and rubbed the back of it in slow circles with my thumb. I used my soothing mama voice, the one that convinced my kids there were no more monsters hiding under the bed. I got her calmer, got her distracted by asking questions about her kids and her life. (Then the man in the middle thought he'd help too, and mentioned a guy he knew who was in a plane crash but it's okay, he survived it. Even if we do go down, we'll probably be fine! Venus to Mars, come in Mars. Stroke the hand, stroke the hand!)

gratuitous flower shot to break up the text

Anyway, at the SiWC, we have days packed with workshops, and long nights in the bar talking writing with friends and fellow writers. Where else can you chat about Queen Elizabeth I with Anne Perry in the elevator, Diana Gabaldon about what makes a good sex scene, and Michael Slade about some guy getting his kicks from dressing dogs in panties, all in the same day? Or sit with the ethereal novelist and professional puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal, who had us in stitches describing a Passion Play gone horribly wrong. Or hear Jack Whyte not only sing his hippopotamus song but convince hundreds of people to join him in the chorus?

For me, the highlight of the conference was listening to the wise, charming, witty, soulful and very inspiring Ivan E. Coyote. When I leave one of her workshops, I not only feel like a better writer, I feel like a better person.

You know, when I attend the conference every year, there are always signals from the universe, little nudges, wee "woo woo" moments where I stop and think was that a coincidence, or do I need to pay close attention to something.

oh look, another gratuitous flower shot because, you know, too much text

When I was in line to board the plane in Montreal to Vancouver, I chatted with a woman and I wrote down her name, as I often do, thinking I might put it in a story. A few days later, Ivan told a story in her workshop about a friend of hers, a good friend, with whom she'd lost touch, and her last name was Bean. Twenty years later, Ivan was teaching a bullying workshop and she was approached afterwards by this wonderfully odd boy who was succinct and wise beyond his years. His name was... Eliot Bean, son of her friend.

The woman I talked to in line at the airport? Her name was Elaine Bean.

Ivan said to look for "watershed" moments. I write for a magazine called Watershed.

Ivan said one of her interests is Roma caravans, because her grandmother was Roma. I've recently been researching caravans for a story (including the day before I left for the conference) and I have a fat file on them as it's always been a dream of mine to own one.

Odd, no? But not, you know, earth shattering.

While I was standing in line to board the plane in Vancouver to come back home today, I chatted with the woman walking beside me. (You see a trend here, right? Yes, I talk to strangers, only if they're receptive, but I've had many an interesting conversation.) Turns out Heidi is president and general manager of an artist management company in Montreal.

Where are you coming from, I asked.

"The Yukon," she said, where she'd just attended the Western Canadian Music Awards.

yep, another one

And then I did that thing that makes every Canadian roll their eyes when they're talking to someone from outside the country. "I've just heard an amazing speaker from the Yukon," I said. "Do you know Ivan E. Coyote?"

"Know her? I just stayed with Kim Beggs, a good friend of Ivan's who has performed with her." And with that, Heidi gave me a CD with some of the artists she works with, including Ivan's friend Kim.

And then Heidi asked if I'd ever considered writing music bios. See? Magic.

When I tell you there is some kind of amazing alchemy that comes out of the SiWC, you'd better believe me. And in case that's not woo woo enough for you, the man sitting beside me on the plane mentioned his son, a news anchor, is named Tyler Fleming and Heidi, sitting in front of him, twisted around and said, "Hey, that's my nephew's name."


To sum up- I'm tired, but inspired.

That's what the SiWC does every year.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Inspiration is everywhere

TMB Bank Thailand put together this 5 minute video of a little football club that could.

If you watch Amazing Race, you'll have seen this village on the last show. The entire town floats off a little island in the south part of Thailand. There is literally no solid land on which to build, but the kids wanted to play football (soccer to us Canucks.) So watch what they did.

See if you aren't in tears by the end of this story. You might want to click it and go directly to YouTube so you can read the sub-titles.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tide Commercial

Have a look and see what you think about this. Then read what I think.

I actually wrote to the company to say I found it offensive, on so many levels.

They replied:

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on the Tide commercial. Tide celebrates individual style, and we know kids are creative and sometimes choose to wear what they want - not always what mom suggests.

Our intention wasn’t to convey an unfavorable relationship between the mom and daughter or to express an opinion on what is or isn’t appropriate to wear. Our intention was to play up the humor of what happens when mothers and children have differing style preferences.

We take your feedback very seriously, and I’ll share your comments with the rest of our Tide team.

Interesting. "Tide celebrates individual style"? Really?

I wrote back again:

I understand that's where you were aiming with this Tide commercial, but your creative team completely missed the mark.

Of course mothers and daughters don't always agree when it comes to clothing choices. I've raised three kids, two of them daughters, so I know what kind of battles teenagers and their moms go through as one side struggles to express themselves and the other struggles to let go (and it's not just girls, btw.) I get that. But what this commercial suggests is that the mother is disappointed not only in her daughter's clothing choices, but where they might lead. It implies that the girl's rejection of pink "feminine" things and her interest in hoodies, cargo shorts and "gettin' dirty" while she plays with car garages are making her daughter kind of butch and possibly (gasp!) a lesbian, implying there is something wrong with this.

What kind of message is that? Gay and transgendered kids are being bullied and committing suicide because society and sometimes their own parents do not accept them as they are. Have you seen the "It Gets Better" campaigns on YouTube?

Say it was a father and son in the commercial, and the son was wearing pink and playing with dolls, and the father expressed disappointment that he couldn't change the way the kid dressed. Would it still be funny?

Kids struggle so hard these days, looking for their own identities while stereotypes are thrown at them from all sides, especially young girls. The fact that this aired during an episode of Teen Mom only adds to the irony.

I took time out of my day to write this because it's important. Thanks for taking time out of your day to listen.


What do you think? If you like, go HERE and tell Tide yourself.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Trick for Buddy

I need to teach Buddy this trick.

He can flop on the floor and play dead, but this?

This is the best. Promise. I get the giggles every time I watch it.

13 Observations made by Lemony Snicket...

This is brilliant. It was posted by the equally brilliant Neil Gaiman.

13 Observations
made by Lemony Snicket
while watching
Occupy Wall Street
from a Discreet Distance

1. If you work hard, and become successful, it does not necessarily mean you are successful because you worked hard, just as if you are tall with long hair it doesn’t mean you would be a midget if you were bald.

2. “Fortune” is a word for having a lot of money and for having a lot of luck, but that does not mean the word has two definitions.

3. Money is like a child—rarely unaccompanied. When it disappears, look to...keep reading here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Breast Cancer and Your Man Reminder

This is just so...exploitative

Where was I?

I need a new phone for Christmas.

Hey, I'm providing a public service, people.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ode to Timmy

For my non-Canadian readers, Tim Horton's is one of our national treasures. The coffee and doughnut chain was founded in 1964 by hockey player Tim Horton who unfortunately died in a car crash ten years later. He never saw just how successful his company would become, i.e., the largest fast food chain in the country. Nowadays you can spot a Timmy's from Kelowna to Kandahar.

Oh, it's more than coffee and doughnuts, my friends. It's a mecca for caffeine-starved, carb-craving Canucks, especially in the winter when we're heading out with a carload of kids to a pre-dawn hockey practice or shuffling off to work in the morning.

We are a loyal nation. We all worship at the altar of Timmy's. Ask any Canadian what "roll up the rim to win" means and he or she can tell you. We all roll up our rims and hope for the big one. Actually, a few years ago, two local families got into a heated battle. One girl found a winning coffee cup in the garbage can at her primary school. She couldn't figure out how to roll up the rim, so she asked an older girl to help her. Turns out the prize under the rim was a car worth $32,000. The older girl's family insisted they deserved the prize. The younger girl's family said something along the lines of "Nuh uh, you don't!

Tim Hortons, like a good mom, said they were not going to get involved and that they had to work things out themselves. Then a lawyer called for a DNA test to be done on the cup. (I swear I'm not making this up. This happened in a community close to my cottage.) The lawyer claimed that his unnamed client had thrown out the cup but was the rightful owner of the prize. Seriously?

What do you think is fair? Who do you think got the car?

Like the mom who heard a lamp crash in the rec room and stomps downstairs to investigate, Tim Hortons reversed their decision to get involved and announced they would award the prize to the younger girl who first found the cup. Yay! Tim Bits for everyone!

On a long, mind-numbing drive along the 401 from Montreal to Toronto, the regular sight of a Timmy's at the end of the exit ramp can lift one's spirits to the point where you can almost hear the celestial choir's voices raised in a big old Hallelujah. And that quick stop to pick up a large double double and a box of Tim Bits will inevitably end with the raised hand of the server (no baristas here) and the benediction "have a nice day." And you will. Oh yes, you will.

Now have a listen to this guy's experience.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ellen's favourite guests of all time

This kid slays me.

Part of me is charmed, another (bigger) part of me is so happy I don't have to live with this little one because I'm exhausted just watching her on Youtube.

Uptown Downstairs Abbey

A brilliant satire for fans of Downton Abbey. If you haven't seen Season One, there are some spoilers. Actually if you haven't seen Season One, you might not find these funny anyway.

If anyone in my family is reading this, Mama Ham would love to look under the Christmas tree and find the complete Upstairs/Downstairs series on DVD. Just saying.

Anyone else remember Rose? And Mr. Hudson? And Mrs. Bridges? And poor Ruby? And Sarah?

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Universe is Jiggly

Sorry I haven't been around these parts much lately. I was in Lancaster Pennsylvania for a week looking for Harrison Ford antiques for my sister. Now I'm back home and facing some choices for renovations in pretty much every room in the house. The outside stuff is done - windows, siding, garage door, front door - but now 23 years of crap accumulation has to be cleared out and that's daunting indeed. One look in my garage and I feel like one of those people featured on Hoarders. Only with fewer pizza boxes and slightly less cat feces.

This time of year, with the dwindling sunlight and rainy days, I turn into a bit of a cave dweller. In order to feel somewhat human again, I switch on my special light box to try to wrestle my seasonal affective disorder to the ground and get it in a choke hold. I push myself to get outside more often, and take advantage of the light we have until December 22nd, the winter solstice, my turning point. And don't even get me started on carbs. Carbs are like heroin for the next 3 months. But this too shall pass. It always does. Or I could move to Australia where their summer is just beginning.

Right now I have a small black distraction in the form of a Russian cat named КНОПОЧНЫЙ. This is roughly translated to Knopa, or 'Nopa for short which means "button" in Russian. It's my son's girlfriend's kitten and while she is back home visiting family, we get her cat. She is all black save for a spot on her chest and one toe and has the face of a Siamese, narrow and all eyes. (The cat, not his girlfriend. She is blond and lovely.) She is also a holy terror, spinning in circles, on and around furniture and resident cats and dog, until exhaustion sets in, at which point she stretches out on her belly, back legs flat out behind her. (Again, I feel compelled to point out I'm describing the cat, not his girlfriend.)

And if you are holding anything remotely resembling a dairy product, she's all in your
plate/bowl/cup face before you can say Got Milk. I'd take a photo but she's too fast for a photo, moving more like a lizard or tiny bird. (Oh wait, I can steal borrow one from Facebook.)

This is her usual pose. Always ready to pounce.

I'm getting such a kick out of her it's going to hard to give her back, but my cats will be thankful. Buddy is oblivious, despite 'Nopa's enchantment with his swishy tail.

But now, I'll share something with you that gave me great joy today. It's an explanation of why the universe is jiggly. You didn't know the universe was jiggly? Top scientists say it is, so it must be true.

This is set to music using auto-tune. The universe, made up of "12 particles of matter, 4 forces of nature" is "a wonderful and significant story."

Believe me, you've never heard quantum science explained like this.

Happy Thanksgiving, my Canadian friends. Let's all go forth and eat turkey!