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Fifty shades of white

GC and I have kind of lived together for years. But our living arrangement has always involved maintaining two houses, with his stuff in his house and my stuff and us and the animals in my house. We want to consolidate so we’ll have one mortgage payment instead of two, and one of each bill instead of two. So we’re fixing up his house (painting and replacing some flooring and changing some light fixtures and toilets and window coverings) and then we’re going to move in there. Then we’ll fix up my place and sell it.

Even though we’re not doing the actual work ourselves, there’s still a lot of work we have to do. Like figuring out what to do, and researching, comparing, planning, thinking, deciding, and shopping. And then we have to find people to actually do the work, check their references, schedule them, communicate with them, supervise them, and pay them.

It’s important to do research, but it’s also important to stop doing research and make decisions. The law of diminishing returns applies here. There’s only so much you need to know about toilets, for example, before you’re ready to pick a toilet. Still, it’s easy to disappear down rabbit holes of toilet research, and worse yet, to be that person at the Christmas party who is apparently obsessed with toilets. Ahem.

You can spend $79 on a toilet, or you can spend $6,000 on a toilet. There IS a difference. The fanciest toilet we’ve actually seen with our very own eyes is at Preston Hardware. It’s the one that senses you’re in the room and greets you by raising its seat in anticipation. You can’t NOT pay attention to a toilet like that. It was all I could do not to start a conversation with it. It even comes with a remote control, which is what caught GC’s attention.

“But what does the remote control actually control?” asked GC.

Apparently the remote controls things like seat heat and individual preferences for bottom-washing features. Maybe one person likes to have their bottom blasted with hot water and then dried with a cyclone of hot air, while another person prefers a gentler cleansing, and a delicate drying cycle. That’s what the remote’s for. (Frankly, I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of washing anything in the toilet.)

Anyway, we chose the American Standard Studio Elongated-Bowl Right-Height toilet at about $400 each. We chose it mostly because we had grown weary of toilet shopping, and there it was. But then, a couple of days later, at a Christmas party, a toilet expert told me that I might find the Right-Height toilet the wrong height because I’m short. My feet will dangle, like they did when I was a child.

“You should have done like me and sat on it while we were in the showroom,” said GC. (Is it just me? Was I being a prude, or would you also have felt funny about sitting on the toilet in the showroom at Preston Hardware?)

Anyway. We’re very research-oriented, but GC and I are not very good at decision-making. Here’s what we tend to do. We get a general idea of what we want. For example, say we want white paint for our baseboards and window trim. We go to the store to buy white paint. We discover that there are 50 shades of white. We take 50 paint chips home. We become absolutely convinced that 49 of these are the wrong shade of white and one is the right shade of white, but we don’t know which is which. We look at them a lot. We talk about them. We google them. We ask our friends which ones they like best. We discuss the names of the colours and which names we like best. Would you rather be surrounded by Snowfall White or Winter White? Would White Christmas feel all wrong in July? We buy samples of our five favourites and paint little bits of trim in different shades. We decide they all look identical or they all look completely different, or they inexplicably seem to change radically from one moment to the next. We become paralyzed by indecision. We no longer trust our senses.

Finally we meet with the painter and start to go into the whole complicated history of our dilemma. He cuts us off. “Oxford White,” he says. “Always use Oxford White.”

It’s nice seeing it all falling into place, though. At this point, the painting’s done (Revere Pewter and Oxford White, an unbeatable combination), most of the floors are done, the blinds are ordered, the light fixtures are purchased, the electrician’s booked, the new toilets are being delivered on Monday. It looks pretty damned good.

Now I just need to declutter, pack, move, fix this place up and sell it. (It sounds so simple when I put it like that.)

spacestation(By the way, this is the most expensive toilet in the world, although technically it’s not really in the world. It’s the space station toilet. It cost $19 million. It has leg braces to keep people from floating away, and special fans that suck all of the waste into a septic tank that converts the liquids into drinking water.)


Death is such a sudden and jarring thing. It doesn’t matter if the person was living on borrowed time, or if death came swooping in out of the blue, years ahead of schedule, it seems we are always caught off guard. Never more so, I think, than when somebody’s child dies. Even if that child is an adult, if they have a parent, they’re somebody’s child.

Alessandra was the beloved daughter of a dear friend of mine. I knew her when she was a little girl but hadn’t seen her in years. Much had changed for her in that time. She’d grown up, and she’d faced challenges with her mental health, which had led to challenges with her physical health, and these challenges had led to other challenges, as disabilities so often do.

A couple of weeks ago, Alessandra died unexpectedly, of natural causes, in her sleep, at the hospital. Because of the level of care she required, and the critical shortage of supportive housing in the community, Alessandra had lived mostly in hospitals in recent years. She was at a good place when her life ended – she was happy, in love, and things were going well.

There was an open mic at the memorial service, and people were invited to share their stories, memories and thoughts. Her mom started, and was followed by a steady stream of people who shared their memories with great love, humour, tenderness and respect. It was the most touching celebration of a life I’ve ever attended. It left me wishing I’d taken the time to know her as an adult, and to be her friend.

Here are some of the things I now know about her – some of these things I remember from when she was a little girl, some are things her mom has told me over the years, and some are things I learned on Thursday.

Alessandra was a larger-than-life presence at the hospital, and made friends with all the nurses, patients, and hospital staff. Everywhere she went, she talked to everybody. She got people to tell her their stories, and she remembered all these stories. She also shared her own stories. She loved people and introduced everybody to everybody else. Alessandra’s version of “us” included everybody; nobody was an outsider. She was generous in every sense of the word. She attracted people into her life who could love her absolutely for who she was, and vice versa. She lived wholeheartedly in the moment. She was spontaneous. She was intense. She was kind. She was loyal. She was brave. She loved animals. She sang. She was always in motion, even after she ended up in a wheelchair. She danced with Propeller Dance. She made friends easily. She lived life large. She had a big smile, a big voice, and a big personality. There’s a big hole where she used to be.

Though Alessandra died young, I think people who live wholeheartedly in the moment get a lot more mileage out of time.

Her aunt, Arleen, read a poem she’d written for her. Sometimes people write tribute poems which are sweet but awful. This was not one of those poems. This poem left me in goosebumps and tears.

Mayor Rob Ford: Way worse than Larry O'Brien

I’ve been riveted by the Rob Ford debacle, but I am conflicted about it. On the one hand, Rob Ford is – and always has been – a repugnant, pugnacious, pig-headed, hypocritical, right-wing bully, so there’s something kind of appealing about watching him self-destruct in such a spectacular way. I just want to grab some popcorn and sit down to watch the news…even the re-runs are good. On the other hand, I sometimes see hints of humility and glimpses of misery and I’m reminded that beneath that ugly veneer there’s a human being in extraordinary pain. He’s losing everything that matters to him, with the possible exception of his dysfunctional family, and I probably shouldn’t be enjoying the spectacle. To quote a 2008 article by John Barber 2008 article, “Watching is ghoulish, not watching impossible.”

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe Rob Ford’s addicted to crack cocaine. He’s way too fat for that. (Nor do I believe his claim that he just did it once.) He does have a monumental drinking problem though. His drinking has led him to risk everything that presumably matters – or should matter – to him: his job, his staff, his reputation, his volunteer coaching gig, his driver’s license, his life, other people’s lives. In the last week alone, Toronto City Council, the Toronto Argonauts, the Santa Claus Parade, Ford Motors and Iceberg Vodka have all taken steps to distance themselves from him. (On the other side of the ledger, Charlie Sheen has come out publicly in support of him.)

If this were happening to a politician I liked – or even one I was indifferent to – I would be sympathetic. Bad enough that his career and personal life are spiralling out of control, but how humiliating for it to happen in full public view. The media attention is intense and relentless. (Of course if he would just stop saying such outrageous things every day, the media might look elsewhere for news, but he can’t seem to help himself.)

I was talking to a friend the other day – someone who has zero interest in politics and who has a long (and ongoing) history of addiction – and he said, “What the hell is wrong with that guy? He should just take a pill and go hide somewhere. He’s gotta be on drugs to keep doing what he’s doing when it’s so obvious to everybody else that it’s over for him.”

I think a big part of the reason Ford won’t step aside or step down is that he lives in a sports metaphor. In his simplistic world view, you never give up, no matter how hopeless it looks, no matter how badly you’re losing. As long as you’re conscious, you stay in the game – you owe it to yourself, your teammates and fans. Rob Ford simply cannot throw in the towel; he lacks the flexibility, self-awareness and good judgement to re-evaluate the situation and concede defeat.

I feel for his wife, Renata. He has kept her out of the public spotlight throughout his entire political career, trotting her out only twice: once on election day, and again on Thursday when he told the media, in these exact words, that he didn’t eat some other woman’s pussy because he had more than enough to eat at home. (Bizarrely, he appeared to think he was taking the moral high ground here.)

Quite apart from being crude and disrespectful to women in general and to his wife in particular, I think we all could’ve done without that picture in our heads. He called a press conference a couple of hours later, and his wife was made to stand by her man, looking awkward, while he apologized for saying it. He didn’t apologize to her – he didn’t even acknowledge her presence – he apologized generically, and angrily.

You have to wonder what was going through her mind at that moment. Was she wondering if everybody was looking at her and thinking about her aforementioned pussy, which figured so prominently in his latest screw-up? Was she thinking about how unbearable it would be if he lost his job and stayed home 24/7? Was she thinking about the time she had him arrested and removed from the house during a domestic assault? Was she thinking about what a pig he is? I’d bet anything she was not thinking that she loves him so much she’d do anything for him, even this.

I wonder how it’s all going to end?

Bunny Love

ivan2Thanks to everybody who voted on the bunny’s name. We ended up going with Ivan. I know, it wasn’t even on the list…but I decided to name him after Ivan Coyote, who is one of my heroes.

bunnycondoGC and I built the bunny’s house ourselves. It’s a four-story condo, and it took us three evenings to make it. We’re very proud of it. And Ivan likes it.

They say you can teach a bunny to use a litter box. Bunnies will generally go to the bathroom in one particular corner of their house. That’s where you should put the litter box. I started by putting the litter box on the ground floor in the back left-hand corner. Ivan then pooped in the 2nd floor front left-hand corner. I moved the litter box there. Ivan dragged the litter box into the middle of the second floor, and continued pooping in the 2nd floor front left-hand corner. We’re still negotiating.

ivan3But you know what’s lovely about him? I feel almost blissful when I hold him. He is so soft and sweet. He snuggles in and I can feel his twitchy bunny nose on my neck and I melt.

I also like watching him eat lettuce. He just munches his way through it like he’s some kind of lettuce-eating machine. I gave him a carrot and it took him a whole day to eat it. But lettuce? Lettuce is his favourite treat. I like how easy it is to make him happy.

The other animals are quite curious about Ivan. Rosie and Duncan both visit the bunny every chance they get. When Rosie comes back from a walk she bounds straight up the stairs to see if the bunny’s door is open. (We keep Ivan in his bunny house in my sewing room with the door closed, because we don’t want the other animals scaring him; they’re only allowed to visit under supervision.)

Simon the African Grey is fascinated by Ivan. He perks right up when I carry the bunny into the living room. He comes over to see him, and he coos at him and looks at him from every possible perspective, including hanging upside down. The other birds are interested too, but not as much as Simon.

Someone expressed surprise the other day that we got a bunny. Apparently very few grown-ups get bunnies for themselves. But you know what? I think the world would be a much kinder, gentler place if every grown-up had a bunny.

This afternoon I had to call Rogers and complain about my bill again. I was dreading it because it’s so aggravating. Anyway, as soon as that call was over I went and scooped up my bunny and let him work his bunny magic on me. Within minutes I felt peaceful and happy again.

Introducing our newest family member

BunnyLook! We adopted a bunny! This is not just any old bunny either, this is the sweetest, mellowest, most inquisitive bunny EVER. He’s got the funniest little bunny bum and a twitchy little bunny nose and he’s incredibly soft and cuddly. I always wanted a bunny!

We don’t actually have him yet. We bought him and all the bunny paraphernalia like a water bottle, a bunny hut, hay and bunny food. But he’s going to stay at Critter Jungle (our favourite pet store) until Friday. That’s because I’m leaving for Saskatoon today (I’m going to a conference) and also because we need to get a good rabbit cage and get it all set up before we bring him home.

He’s a little boy bunny, four months old, and he’s a Lionhead. As you can see from this picture – which doesn’t do him justice – he matches Duncan and Rosie.

What do you think we should name him?

Which bedside table is which?

One of these bedside tables is mine, and the other one is GC’s. But which is which?



What is she saying?

Kazoo is a 16-year-old Double Yellow Headed Amazon parrot. She talks. We don’t always know what she’s saying exactly, but we always know what she means because she’s remarkably expressive.

Take a look at this video and see if you can tell what she’s yelling at the 7-second, 27-second and 37-second marks. This is something she yells at least a few times a week. Maybe it’s French? (She spent her first 13 years in a Francophone household.)

Sometimes I worry that the neighbours will think it’s me yelling like that…

It gets crazy loud in here when I play this video, because all the birds get excited and then they start answering their own calls, and it’s like having 10 birds in the room instead of five!

Doubting Thomas

The other morning as I was waking up, someone on CBC was talking about a project called Basically, it’s an online matching service, in which host families in Canada are matched with newcomer families (refugees, new immigrants, foreign students, etc.) for Thanksgiving dinner. It started in Toronto last year, and spread across Canada this year.

Naturally I decided to check it out. You know, just to see. However, when I went to the site, part of it didn’t load. All I could see was this “Get Started” button, so I clicked it. It asked me a few questions, like my name and email address, so I provided those. Then it asked how many people I could host, and I said one. But I had no intention of actually registering, I was just trying to get deeper into the site so I could learn more about it. When it asked me the ages of my children, I closed the window. I figured I’d have to at least run it by GC before inviting total strangers to dinner.

GC and I talked about it that evening, and GC was concerned it might feel a little awkward, and did it mean we’d have to clean the house? We thought maybe it would turn out to be one of those things that sounded good at the time, but then on the day it was scheduled, you wished you hadn’t committed to it. That made sense so we decided not to do it.

The next day I got a message thanking me for registering and telling me I’d get my match the following day. I immediately wrote back and said no, it was all a big mistake, I hadn’t meant to register, terribly sorry about the misunderstanding, maybe next year, yada yada yada.

I didn’t get a response until the following day, when an email arrived saying they’d found me a match! His name was Thomas and he was a 19 year old physics student from France. The email was sent to both Thomas and me, and I was encouraged to email him to make arrangements.

So, um, this was awkward. I immediately wrote to Thomas and said how much GC and I were looking forward to meeting him on Sunday. I told him who else would be joining us, and I told him what time dinner would be, and I asked if he needed a lift. He wrote back and said how wonderful it all was and he hoped we would be patient with his English and he didn’t need a ride, he’d take the bus or his bike.

Sunday morning we popped the turkey in the oven and cleaned the house. Around 4:00 the guests started arriving – my son, Rob’s son, my friend Kathryn. But no Thomas. I kept checking my messages, and there was nothing from him. Was he lost? Had he gotten a better offer? Had he not intended to register in the first place?

thomasThomas never did show up, but we had a really good time without him. The site had urged us to take photographs of our Thanksgiving gathering, so here’s Thomas’s chair and plate.

After dinner we made an extra plate of food up for James’ father, who is still in the hospital with his broken neck, and we all traipsed over to the Civic to deliver it.

Thomas called the following afternoon. “Is it today?” he asked.

“No, it was yesterday,” I said.

We then had an awkward conversation in which neither of us really knew what to say. I briefly considered inviting him over for leftovers, but it seemed like the window of opportunity for Thomas and me had closed. After I got off the phone I noticed that he was calling from a Toronto area code, so maybe he doesn’t even live in Ottawa.

Anyway. I’m happy the house is clean.

Sad chalk message on the sidewalk

1handFriday morning I was walking to work along Somerset Street. It was a drizzly morning, so this sidewalk chalk message was probably still fresh yet destined to disappear almost immediately.

As I stopped to take a picture of it, my old friend Mike, who lives on Somerset Street, stepped out of his apartment building. We puzzled over the chalk message together, trying to figure it out. Mike thought he probably meant to write “I am a hobo…”

Whatever it meant, we agreed it was sad.

It wasn’t until that evening, when I was downloading the photo from my phone to my computer that I suddenly understood it. The message was written by Henry Cyr, the one-handed homeless slide guitarist, also known as The Only True Blues Man, according to one of my all-time favourite bloggers.

Henry Cyr is a bit of a legendary character on the streets of Ottawa. He used to be a carpenter until he lost his hand in an alcohol & work-related accident on October 6, 1989, and this apparently precipitated a downward spiral in circumstances which has lasted for 24 years now. According to people who know him, Henry Cyr is complicated, creative, industrious, energetic, entrepreneurial, opinionated, stubborn, tough and gritty. He writes songs and plays slide guitar on the streets, with a mug clamped on the end of his stump. He even has a bit of a blog, which he may or may not visit.

Henry can be charming, but he can also be pissy, depending on his mood. Once he snarled at me as I walked past him, something about how I could afford to shop at Eddie Bauer (I was carrying an Eddie Bauer bag) but couldn’t give a hobo a dime. Ottawa’s panhandlers are usually pretty polite, whether you give to them or not, and I know this because sometimes I do give and sometimes I don’t. I didn’t give him anything for quite a long time after that, but I’m not proud of it.

There’s a good piece about him in this somewhat dated but still interesting article about Ottawa’s panhandlers. (The last few pages are about Henry.)

Anyway. I’m sorry to hear he lost his home and his best friend.

Quite the Week

It has been Quite the Week. There was a more-or-less last-minute switch-about at work, which meant that I got to go to a conference in Montreal about HIV and housing, from Tuesday to Friday. Since I wasn’t going to be here for my son’s birthday, I switched his birthday dinner to Monday night.

We had just finished eating the birthday cake when the phone rang. It was my son’s father’s friend, telling me she was at the hospital with my son’s father (John). Something about a fall and a heart attack and it looked bad.

So GC and my son and I all raced over to the hospital, where we learned they didn’t actually know why he fell, but whatever precipitated the fall was the least pressing of his problems since he had broken his neck while falling down the stairs. (It’s funny how much more dramatic “he broke his neck” sounds than “he fractured two bones in his neck.”)

Anyway. We stayed with him and held his hand and lobbied for more and better painkillers until about 2:00 in the morning, after they had conducted all the imaging and neurological tests and were able to tell us more definitively what was happening.

The good news: he wasn’t paralyzed, and they didn’t seem to think he’d had a heart attack or a stroke.

However, the fractures were “unstable” which meant that if he moved the wrong way, he could end up paralyzed. So even though he was in a lot of pain and really wanted to change positions, he couldn’t. Secondly, there was bleeding in and around his brain. Not a huge amount, but enough that they wanted to keep a very close eye on him overnight. If nothing changed during the night, he wouldn’t need surgery. Instead, he’d be fitted with a big, heavy metal contraption called a halo, to keep his neck completely immobile for the next few months.

This is what the halo looks like, but John looks crankier than this guy.

This is what the halo looks like, but John looks crankier than this guy.

So that’s what they did. Big metal halo. He’s still in the hospital and will be released once he can walk on his own. (I went to see him yesterday, and he said he had walked on his own the day before but nobody saw him so it didn’t count.) He’s still pretty uncomfortable and he seemed uncharacteristically cranky too.

I sometimes take other people’s crankiness personally, so I had to keep reminding myself that he’s in pain, he’s immobile, he’s stuck in the hospital, his head is stuck in a 7-pound metal trap, he’s got a wicked headache, and he can’t smoke or drink as much as he might like. (They’ve got him on a nicotine patch and they’re giving him a couple of cans of beer each day.) At any rate, he’s got plenty of good reasons to feel cranky. And even though I think he’s bloody lucky to be alive and not paralyzed, I guess he’s feeling pretty unlucky for breaking his neck in the first place, which is fair enough.

Anyway. In other news…

Montreal was great: the conference was interesting, the hotel bed was so comfortable I asked the concierge for the make and model (it’s a Serta), and I had a lovely dinner with my Dad and Merle on Thursday. On Wednesday night I went to see the Chihuly glass art exhibit, which I highly recommend. It’s there until October 20th. Here’s a couple of shots I took of it: