Climbing The Walls

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not very athletic. I only run if something is chasing me, although my idea of exercise HAS evolved from drinking wine while peddling a recumbent cycle to taking a brisk walk with the dog. It’s brisk because it’s the only way I can keep up with him—he’s currently terrible on a leash. He already knows the word ‘Walk’ and goes out of his mind with joy when he hears it to the point that you can barely get the leash attached to his collar before he’s out the door and gone. I’ve tried all kinds of things to calm him down but nothing works:

Me: Heel!
Atlas: Heal what? I’m fine.
Me: NO, stay by my heel.
Atlas: Then I’ll miss that awesome telephone pole. Also, there might be some squirrel sh*t that I have to smell. Ooh, a butterfly—come on!!

Cookies don’t work—well, they work until he’s swallowed them, and then he’s right back to strangling himself with his collar. He WILL sit at the corner, long enough to earn a ‘good boy’, then he laughs and dashes away, dragging me behind him. At 5 months old and 40 pounds, he’s hard to control but at least I’m getting my cardio in. Once everything opens up, I’m definitely taking him for obedience classes, mostly because he’s been trying to drink my wine when I’m not looking.

Anyway, aside from my daily race around the block, I don’t do anything too strenuous, so the other day when Kate asked, “Hey, do you want to go rock climbing with me?” my first instinct was to say “Yes”, because I love hanging out with her, and my second instinct was to whisper to Ken, “My god, what have I done?” He whispered back, “Just climb the kiddie wall—you’ll be fine.” I found some old exercise gear in a drawer, put on some running shoes, and we set out. I should mention that my daughter has her own rock-climbing shoes, so that should tell you exactly what the differential is between us in terms of rock climbing acumen. We got to the facility and walked in. It was huge, with walls of grips going up twenty feet at least, surrounded by 2-foot-thick mats. “Where are the ropes?” I asked. “Why isn’t anyone got a rope around their waist?” Kate informed me that this was ‘bouldering’ which is basically free climbing, so there went my dream of just swinging casually from a rope like a trapeze performer (also in this dream, I’m holding a glass of wine. It was a nice dream). We got up to the counter where we were met by a perky young woman.

Perky Young Woman: Hi! Is this your first time bouldering?
Me: Yes.
PYW: OK, let’s go over some safety guidelines. First, do you know how to fall?
Me: I think so, but I generally tend to avoid it, so I’m probably not an expert or anything.
PYW: OK, well the important thing is to keep your arms crossed over your chest. Don’t stick them out or you might break something.
Me: Exactly how much falling is going to be involved here?
PYW: Haha! Also, don’t touch the ceiling or any of the ductwork when you get to the top.
Me: You’re very optimistic about that possibility.
PYW: Haha! The walls range in difficulty from Beginner to Really Super Hard Crazy Advanced. (*Note: she didn’t actually say ‘Really Super Hard Crazy Advanced’, but I can’t remember the actual name and that’s what it looked like.)
Me: Just point me at the kiddie wall.
PYW: Hahahaha! We don’t have one of those.

Meanwhile, Kate had already chalked up her hands and was raring to go on a course that was on a backwards leaning incline (see pic 1). She directed me to a VB section of wall, which is to say Very Beginner, which I regarded dubiously. “How do I start?” She showed me and then said, “You try it.” I put one toe of my rental shoe on a grip, grabbed a handhold, and was immediately immobilized. I looked to her for help, but she was halfway up another wall, kind of like Spiderwoman. “Keep going, Mom!” she called out as she scaled the wall like a professional. I persevered and managed to make it up the course, which was straight up and had substantial handholds (see pic 2). Still, I made it to the top, about 15 feet up, and got a little excited until I realized that I had to climb back down. I might have looked like a gecko but at least I didn’t fall (see pic 3). I ended up doing a couple of other sections—one was even slightly harder than Beginner, as Kate cheered me on, and then I spent the rest of the time proudly watching her. The next morning when I woke up, I was only slightly screaming from the pain in my arms. And I can’t wait to do it again.

 

And They Call It Puppy Love

Last week, I was getting dinner ready and feeling very lonely. Meal prep was the one absolutely certain time that Titus would hang out with me, lying by my feet and waiting for me to “drop” a few pieces of whatever I was chopping on the floor. He was very patient about it, and would instinctively move his head out of the way whenever I needed to open the cupboard with the bowls, and we would practice our Harry Potter spell commands while I was working. So on an impulse, I posted in the local Facebook group: “Looking for a dog to borrow while I’m getting dinner ready. Must like bacon and cheese.” It got a few laughs, but then I got a message from a kind friend who knew someone nearby with a litter of puppies. She sent this picture:

Guess which one I immediately wanted? It was obvious that he was a talker, and even more obvious that he was yelling, “Ma! Come get me!” (He admitted later that he was actually belting out that first vocal in Sabotage by the Beastie Boys because the other puppies were “being boring”, which made me love him even more. We arranged to go out the next night to the family’s farm to meet the puppies and choose from the available ones. When we arrived, one little guy came running right to me, and it was him! He hadn’t been taken yet so I decided on the spot that he would belong to us, and also that his name would be Alistair so that he could be my puppy butler. Fortunately for everyone, that name, and the concept of a puppy butler, were both immediately vetoed. We had a week to decide on another name though, because all the puppies were being rehomed after their first vet check and shots this past Thursday. So the hunt for a name began. I was determined that his name should be something like Titus, so we tried out several different options:

Me: I like Fergus.
Kate: No.
Ken: What about Rufus?
Me: Then we’d call him Roofie for short. I don’t want to be out in the yard yelling Roofie, Roofie!  What about Lazarus?
Ken/Kate: Ew, not for a dog.
Me: I like Sirius, but then people would call him Siri and expect him to provide weather reports and whatnot. Like “Siri, play the Beastie Boys.”
Ken: You want words that end in ‘us’? Fungus, mucous, an—
Me: Stop. What about Atlas? He’s going to be pretty big and strong, and also, he’ll help us find a new direction. It’s literal AND figurative.
All: That’s a great name.

So it stuck. It was a very long week, waiting until Friday to pick him up. In the meantime, on Wednesday night, Ken and I were watching TV when the emergency alert on our phones went off, scaring the sh*t out of us. Apparently, there was a tornado bearing down on our town and we were instructed by the Weather Network to take shelter immediately, which meant that Ken immediately went out on the front porch to “watch the sky”. We have a tornado safety plan, despite the fact that tornadoes are few and far between in our area, because I’m the Queen of Worst Case Scenarios, so why WOULDN’T I have a tornado plan? But in the five minutes between the alert and it subsequently being cancelled, my thoughts weren’t about OUR safety:

Me: OMG, do you think the puppies are OK? Should I call the farm?! Do you think they have a tornado plan?!
Ken: It’s fine. The storm is to the west of us.
Me I DON’T KNOW WHERE THAT IS, KEN.

Ken is nothing if not helpful, so on Thursday after work, he called me out to the courtyard where he’s building the new gazebo, which will never be finished, because he’s now decided to put a belvedere on top of the roof. “Look up there,” he pointed, and on top of the belvedere he had placed a small gyre with an arrow. “I fixed it in place so the arrow points North,” he said. “Now you’ll always know which way you’re facing.” And because it was such a sweet gesture, I DIDN’T tell him it only works if I’m IN the backyard when there’s a tornado approaching.

At any rate, Friday finally came and we headed out to pick up Atlas. A lot of the puppies had already been taken home by their new families and there were only a few left. As soon as we got out of the car, one of them came bounding over to me—it was Atlas. It was as though he already knew us and couldn’t wait to go home.

 

And now he’s home. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an 8-week-old puppy—we haven’t had one in years—and I’d forgotten how high maintenance they are for such tiny creatures. He had a great first night, only waking up a couple of times to be taken outside, but I was so worried about him falling off the bed that I could barely sleep. And yes, he’s sleeping on the bed with us, and I don’t want to hear about it. He’s very good-natured, but he gets bored very easily. Luckily, we have a LOT of toys that he mostly likes to chew on because he’s going through that phase where he wants everything in his mouth. Here are some of the games we’ve invented for his and our amusement:

Teddy Attack: This involves one of us bonking him lightly with a large stuffed bear while the other one squeals “Ooh, ooh!!” He enjoys this immensely and the game usually ends with him trying to eat the bear’s face.

Finger-licking Good: This is a game HE invented. It involves him trying to eat my fingers. Apparently, they’re “delicious”.

Pinball Wizard: Ken takes a rubber ball and bounces it off walls and cupboards in the kitchen while Atlas chases it and attempts to pounce on it without falling over sideways. My job is to rescue the ball if it gets stuck under the cupboard, and to upright Atlas if he can’t get up.

The best thing though is that after about ten minutes of vigorous play, he falls asleep for at least half an hour, which is what he’s doing right now by my feet as I write this. It’s a month today since Titus passed away and while Atlas will never replace him, he’s already found his own place in our hearts.

Creative Wednesdays – Keeping Faith

This is a piece I wrote a few months ago. It’s deeply personal, but I’d like to share it with all of you. For a little context, if you’ve followed me for a long time, you’ll have noticed that the name of my child has been changed in all my posts to Kate, my wonderful daughter, who told me she was fine with me sharing it:

Keeping Faith

I stopped believing in a higher power
A few years ago
But sometimes I wonder if I’m wrong
Driving down a dark road
There’s something coming with flashing lights
I pull over for ten seconds but
It’s only a tow truck and
I’m mad
In a hurry
Then I wonder if there was a reason
Like a deer up ahead that I just missed by those ten seconds
And I think about the deal I made with somebody’s god,
A long time ago
That if I could finally have a baby
I would love it forever no matter what
And when my beautiful boy came to me
Crying, saying
I’m in the wrong body
I’m really a girl
I didn’t think about the deal
Or anybody’s god
I just answered I will love you forever
No matter what
Then up ahead I see a doe and her fawn crossing the road
About ten seconds away
Enough time to slow down and remember
It takes two to make a bargain.

My Week 71: Subway Etiquette, Don’t Mix Wine and Cold Medication

Wednesday: Subway etiquette

Every morning, right before I go into my office building (by the regular door, NOT the revolving door. And yes, I choose to ignore the sign that says “Please use the revolving door. Help us conserve heat” on the grounds that a) the building keeps its lights on all night, so let’s not get all uppity about ME wasting power and b) I have an irrational fear of revolving doors and it’s just better for everyone if I’m not shrieking and panicking first thing in the morning. Sorry for the long sidebar), I get a copy of The Metro, a kind of local paper from this poor guy who stands by the subway entrance every morning looking like he’s DYING from the cold, I mean like he’s in PAIN. They must pay him a lot to do this, because I know there’s no way in hell I would pass out newspapers in this weather for less than like a gazillion dollars and all the wine I could drink. The Metro focuses mostly on downtown Toronto events and features writers who are not quite at the national level, but it’s still interesting and has good recipes on Thursdays. On Wednesday, there was an article about “subway etiquette”. It wasn’t anything earth-shattering, pretty common-sense stuff like “Let people off the car before you enter” and “Be aware of your surroundings as not to hit people with your shopping bags”. After reading through the article, it occurred to me that the author had obviously NEVER BEEN on the subway, because if this is all she thinks is needed to make the subway a pleasant experience for everyone, she’s living in a fantasyland. The same fantasyland where the downtown corridor DOESN’T smell like urine and garbage and people DON’T bark at you on the escalator in College Park. (I told a colleague about being barked at, and she said, “Oh that guy. He’s barked at me before” like it was a perfectly normal thing to do.)

At any rate, after reading The Metro’s tips for subway travelers, I decide to put together my own list of do’s and don’ts for Riding The Rocket. That’s not a euphemism for other “downtown activities”, it’s the cute slogan that the Toronto Transit Commission uses to encourage people to use public transit.

1) Don’t spit in the recycling bins on the platform. The other day, I was waiting for the subway, standing near the containers for recycling, paper, and litter, when a well-dressed woman crossed in front of me and spat into the recycling bin. All I could think was “Whuh?” Like, it literally made me inarticulate in my own head. Ken has this obsession with washing empty cans and jars in the dishwasher, and I always tell him it’s a waste of time because the recycling people will just wash everything when they get it anyway. I made that up to bug him, but now I really hope it’s true. If you really have to spit in public, like if there’s absolutely NO F*CKING WAY you can help it, at least use the litter bin. That sh*t’s just going to the dump, not reappearing as a yogurt container or a juicebox with someone’s expectorant embedded in it.

2) Don’t talk to yourself. People get scared when you do that, especially if you’re having an obviously angry and animated conversation with someone imaginary, or with the cigarette packet in your front pocket. Your own personal narrative needs to stay in your own personal head. Or bring a puppet with you so that people will think you’re a ventriloquist; a whole new career might be waiting.

3) No dancing to invisible music. I’ve actually seen this more than once. The first time, it was a woman (I think) in what seemed to be a full burka with nothing visible except her eyes. Then suddenly, she started doing this crazy dance up the aisle towards the door and waited there for another three stops, just jiving away. She might have had earphones on under her headcovering, but based on her behaviour, I was like “I don’t think she’s really Muslim…” Then there are the guys who play air-guitar, who drum on the seats, or just randomly sing along to whatever the alien chip in their tooth is broadcasting. It’s like unintentional busking where NO ONE wants to give you money—they just want you to get off the subway.

4) Don’t laugh when the subway turns into “Inception”. This isn’t so much an etiquette tip, but just a reminder for myself. The Toronto subway has these new cars that swivel so they can follow the tracks more smoothly. They’re white inside with red seats, very futuristic, and when they start going around the corner, they bend. If you’re sitting in the middle, all of a sudden the cars ahead and behind you will swing away and kind of disappear, just like things were all weird and bendy in the movie “Inception”. When the curve turns into a straightaway again, the cars all swing back into a straight line. It’s quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, and every time it happens, I grin maniacally to myself. I can’t help it. And people either look at me strangely, or kind of nod and smile back, like they get it too. Here’s a picture of what it looks like; although it’s hard to tell, the next car has swung away. I’ve also included a picture of a squirrel who looks the same way I look EVERY TIME IT HAPPENS. No wonder I get weird looks.

subway

imagessquirrel (2)

5) Sit the f*ck down. What is wrong with people who INSIST on standing in the middle of the car when there are perfectly good seats available? Try taking the subway at rush hour when half the seats are open, but you can barely get on or off the car for all the people just standing there like idiots. Some of them are reading. If you’re that afraid of coming into contact with another human being that you would hold a book in one hand, hold the bacteria-ridden pole with the other, and try to maintain your balance in a moving vehicle for 5 kilometers, maybe you should just stay home. Me, I prefer to sit whenever I can, because you never know what’s going to happen. See number 6.

6) When you can’t get a seat and your subway car stops dead in the middle of the tracks, and you’re told the delay will be at least an hour and your arthritis is flaring really badly, do what I do—sink to the floor and sit there. At least 5 people will immediately jump up and offer you their seat, and when you struggle to get up, they will band together to lift you and support you. Because we all recognize that if you’re desperate and in enough pain to sit on the disgustingly dirty subway floor, you need some help. The subway might be a hotbed of weirdness at times, but people in Toronto are wonderful in a crisis.

Friday: Don’t take cold pills and drink alcohol.

This actually happened a week ago Friday, but I wasn’t ready to talk about it until now. I’m only telling it today because I think it’s important that people know how easily something like this can happen, and how the cold medication people play down the whole “mixing alcohol with this sh*t” issue. I was really sick last week, and finally resorted to taking a cold and sinus medication containing pseudophenedrine. It was OK in Toronto, where I would take it before bed and then go to sleep, but a week ago Friday, I was on the train, and I was feeling really crappy. I had a glass of wine, and right before I got off, I popped a couple of cold pills. Ken picked me up and we went to visit my aunt, where I had another glass of wine, which I didn’t quite finish. Then we went to Dominoes for take-out pizza, and while we were waiting, we went to the pub across the street to have a drink. So not quite three glasses of wine in about two hours. Let me state for the record that I’m usually able to drink as much wine as I want at any time of the day, on the assumption that “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” as my dad likes to say. In fact, it’s 5 o’clock while I’m writing this. Somewhere.

So we picked up the pizza, and then I had to go to the bathroom, so Ken stopped at McDonald’s. That’s the LAST THING I remember until I woke up in bed at around 10 pm. I don’t remember the drive home (thank god Ken was behind the wheel). I don’t remember eating dinner. I CERTAINLY don’t remember the terrible argument I had with K (and we rarely have a wrong word between us), where I ordered Ken out of the room, then irrationally insisted that K make a list of all the furniture she needed for university next year. When she refused, I got furious and told her that she needed to decide now, because “two months is like twenty years when you’re a teenager”, and I don’t even know what that means. I absolutely don’t remember bawling and accusing her of “leaving me forever.” I also don’t remember getting ready for bed. All I know is that I woke up at ten, looked at Ken and said, “What are we doing right now?” Ken just snorted derisively and kept watching TV. I said, “I’m going down to get a glass of wine. Do you want anything?” at which point, he looked and me and said, “I think YOU’VE had enough.” Then he told me what happened. I was totally confused and embarrassed. The package of cold pills didn’t say anything about not drinking alcohol, and even on the internet, it just said that mixing them with alcohol could make you sleepy. Then I read some other anecdotal stories from people who’d had similar experiences with the same cold medication—one guy said he had to go back to the pub the next day and apologize to his mates for being a belligerent assh*le, but he didn’t remember a thing after the second pint. So here’s a warning for you all. You never know how you’re going to react when you mix alcohol and medication, so better safe than sorry—don’t take the medication. (What? Did you really think I was going to say “Don’t drink”?! You know me better than that.)