Wednesday, March 30, 2011

FASD Listservs and Supports for Families

My son was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in 1993, at the age of six. The doctors at the Hospital for Sick Children told us that Michael's brain had been damaged in his birthmother’s womb from the alcohol she drank during her pregnancy with him. 

We adopted our son when he was seven days old. Though he had ongoing health and behavioural problems ever since he was a tiny babe, we had no idea there was something physically wrong  causing the problems. The doctors at the hospital who examined him when he was born pronounced him healthy. Our family doctor, though aware of the many problems we were having, assumed Michael was just a highly energetic child who happened to have a series of health problems.

While it may be hard now to believe that people didn’t know the dangers of drinking while pregnant, that’s the way it was. Like cigarette smoking. People honestly didn’t consider smoking unhealthy until the U.S. Surgeon General spoke out about it in 1964. Doctors smoked. People smoked in restaurants, movie theaters, airplanes. You wouldn’t dream of asking someone in your home to go outside to smoke.

The same thing with alcohol and pregnancy. The general pubic, and even most doctors at the time Michael was born had no idea of the danger alcohol causes as it flows across the placenta into the womb. The first time anything about the syndrome showed up in the medical literature was 1973. For the next twenty years, not much was added to it.

Needless to say, there was little support for the families like us who had children with FAS (now referred to as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – FASD) because so few cases were diagnosed, and general awareness of the disorder was minimal. Money and services were directed to supporting families with other issues, particularly Down Syndrome and autism.

The situation for FASD families hadn’t changed much until recently. However, slowly, governments and social service agencies have become more aware that nine children out of 1000 in Canada are born with FASD, the largest cause of mental disabilities in children. Right now, it is estimated that 300,000 Canadians (and their families), suffer from FASD.

I was delighted recently to receive an email from an FASD educator providing a list of “listserves” for people needing support regarding FASD issues. Such a list didn’t exist years ago. We parents were on our own finding help, support and services. But then FASD advocates like Teresa Kellerman, Bonnie Buxton, Brian Philcox and Diane Malbin came along and put FASD on the map. They are amongst the FASD pioneers.

There is still little financial support for struggling families, and much ignorance in the social service world about how to help individuals with FASD and their families. Alas. Yet health and social service professionals, along with the general public are becoming more aware of the dire, lifelong effects of FASD. We can only help that along with awareness will come concrete help.

In the meantime, let me share with you this excellent list of  sites that direct you to FASD support organizations and mailing lists to join for additional information. If you know of anyone who has a child with FASD or works with children or adults with the disorder, please pass it on. And to those of you with an FASD child, I wish you courage.

To any of you interested in learning more about FASD, I direct you to this excellent site.

FASD listservs 
(internet mailing lists and support links)

(for persons working in the field of FASD across Canada
 & internationally - news, articles, reports, events)

(for individuals, parents, professionals who deal with FASD)

Olderfas mail list
(support list for parents & mentors of adults with FASD)

(for FASD Ontario Network of Expertise and Ontario FASD committees & coalitions)

(support for Ontario families with children or adults who have FASD)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who's Neil Young, Anyway?

Americans went cuckoo last month when Arcade Fire’s Suburbs won the most prestigious Grammy award for Album of the Year. Unhappy Eminem fans took to the Tweetways, asking “Who’s Arcade Fire?” 

Well, we had our turn last Sunday at the 2011 Junos. Some younger Canadians sadly showed their own… well…lack of musical knowledge, when Neil Young walked away with two Junos – including a surprise Artist of the Year award.

How did the young'uns  respond to our legendary rocker’s win? With similar tweets. “Who’s Neil Young?”  Oh, my.  Look it up and listen to him, guys. Then tweet again, okay? 

I loved this year’s Junos.  Shania Twain and I probably have only one thing in common (wish it weren't so). It’s our overwhelming pride at the present Canadian music scene, and deep sentimentality for some of our greats, including Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Burton Cummings, Bryan Adams, The Band, Carole Pope, Ann Murray and Joni M.  Who am I missing. Someone, for sure.

Okay, so this year. First off, I have to get it out of my system. I’m not happy Drake went away empty-handed. I mean, London’s Shad is great and all, but Rap Artist of the Year? Wasn’t there something Drake could have won, other than my nomination for Best Juno Host Ever? He was smooth, hilarious, a welcomed self-deprecating, and bright. The Grammys should make an immediate beeline to hook him up for their 2012 show.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can get on with acknowledging my Juno highlights.

I loved hearing a great performance by Arcade Fire and seeing them garner four awards. I got to see my beloved Robbie Robertson. Neil Young’s Humanitarian Award thank you speech was all it should be. Broken Social Scene was (were?) great as ever. Even Shania Twain made my heart slightly flutter. But not as much as K’naan. And Chromeo. Who knew they existed and could be so much fun? Not me, but I do now. They’ve entered my coveted playlist.

For anyone not attuned (!) to today’s pop music scene in Canada, please, please go online and listen to as many Juno winners as you can. You will be pleased. And all you Canadians out there, PROUD (you'll be, too). You can forget The Biebs, though, unless you're under 15.

The Suburbs, Arcade Fire

Neil Young

Arcade Fire

Meaghan Smith

Arcade Fire

My World 2.0, Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber

TSOL, Shad

The Suburbs, Arcade Fire

Teenage Dream, Katy Perry

Said The Whale, Hidden Pony

A Place Called Love, Johnny Reid

Le Noise, Neil Young

For all of you who made it to the bottom of this list, I congratulate you.  As your reward, I’m reprinting below a very humourous and clever Juno Drinking Game I found online created by Aaron Brophy (CHARTattack). I don’t know Aaron, but enjoyed his humour so much, I’m reprinting it here, with thanks to Aaron.

The quiz will make sense and be most fun to people familiar with Canada’ present-day music and artists, as nominated at the Junos. Much to my disappointment, I’m not sure that includes any of my friends and family. It’s a lonely world I live in.

For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy Aaron’s delightfulness:


Performers and presenters general interest section:

* How many back-up dancers were Chromeo able to afford for their bammed up Juno performance? 1 drink for each dancer onstage

* That drummer from Down With Webster's hair completely hypnotizes you: 1 drink

* I got drunk watching the Juno Awards and it was all Broken Social Scene's fault: 1 drink for every BSS member who's on stage

* City And Colour face game: 1 drink every time Dallas Green is shown on camera not smiling

* Someone does a "volcano" joke that nobody gets: 1 drink per volcano joke

* K'naan's wearing a sharp hat: 1 drink

* Metric face game: 1 drink every time Emily Haines is shown on camera not smiling

* Buck 65 uses any of the following words during his award presentation — gosh, golly, shucks, jeez, jeepers, or jiminy: 1 drink per reference

* Hey, Hedley's still around: 1 drink

* Holy shit, look at those jackets The Sadies are wearing: 2 drinks

* Royal Wood and Ben Mulroney present an award together and make a joke about their haircuts: 3 drinks

* Every time someone says the words "Neil Young": 1 drink

* Elf singer spotting! Sarah McLachlan, Sarah Slean and Sarah Harmer are all seen sitting in the same section in the same frame: 5 drinks

* Johnny Reid performs: Pee break!

* The guys from Blue Rodeo appear and it makes your mom happy (because she secretly lusts for Jim Cuddy): 2 drinks

* Someone goes, "Who the fuck is that?" when Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley comes onstage to present an award: 1 drink for the person who said it, 2 for everyone else

* If the show ends with a giant group rendition of Neil Young's "Rockin' In Free World": chug

* If the show ends with Tokyo Police Club playing through the credits: 1 drink

Eye-rolling industry sub-section

* Every time Bruce Allen is thanked: 1 drink

* Every time "my label" is thanked: 1 drink

* Every time any variation of "most importantly, you, the fans" are thanked: 3 drinks

* Every time Jesus or God are thanked: 1 drink

The Drake sub-section

* Every time Drake is on-screen: 1 drink

* If Drake does a throw in a wheelchair: chug

* Any time Drake comments on how beautiful/lovely/hot all the ladies in the audience are tonight: 1 drink

The rest:

Feist got to write her own presenter lines. And they're totally heartfelt, but don't make any sense: 2 drinks

* Deadmau5 has the balls to spend the whole show in his mousehead costume and doesn't appear in his normal human form: 5 drinks

* Gonzales does, says, or wears ANYTHING weird: 3 drinks

* Gonzales plays it straight: no drinks, just tears, because The Man has officially co-opted Gonzo

* Arcade Fire are our conscience. They get to be the ones to do the "Japan" speech: 3


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Doing the Appalachian Trail: What to eat?

Thanks for coming to my site! 

Before I talk about hiking the Appalachian Trail, let me tell you about my new book!  

Demeter Press has just pubished Not Exactly As Planned: A Memoir of Adoption, Secrets and Abiding Love.  

The book is now available for online order in paperback and e-reader from  Amazon.   

 You'll also find information about the book and book reviews, including: 

"Couldn't put it down."  "It made me cry, laugh, and cry some more"  "It's a book about love, so surprising it was such a page turner."

 I’ve always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail since I first heard about it from friends in college, many moons ago. They spent six months hikinAg the 2,181 miles from Karahdin, Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, passing through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina on the way. 

It took Jean and Ric six months to complete the trail. They had to carry everything with them, including camping gear, clothes and food.

Though the paths go mainly through wilderness areas, they pass through some towns along the way. Hikers often send pre-made meal packs ahead to post offices in these towns. Others restock at the local grocery stores. It’s important, they say, to maintain a minimum recommended 2000 calories a day of energy while on the trail. Many people plan for 5000.

Most hikers these days have freeze dried food packets and high density nourishment/energy bars. They generally plan out in advance how to most efficiently take in their calories and vitamins for the six month march.  

To supplement meals, a usual staple is trail mix, or GORP  (good old raisins and peanuts?). Wondering how GORP got its name, I just read that two California companies, Hadley Fruit Orchards and Harmony Foods claim that trail mix was first invented in 1968 by two California surfers who blended peanuts and raisins together for an energy snack.

However, of more interest to me is that trail mix is also mentioned in Jack Kerouac's 1958 novel The Dharma Bums when the two main characters describe their planned meals for a hiking trip.  Good thinking, guys. I bet it was an excellent counterpoint to the drugs and booze.

My friends Jean and Ric most likely carried GORP with them, but I do remember that the two main staples they lived on for the six months, to the horror or fellow hikers and nutritionists, were Wonder Bread and Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese. They’d compress loaves of bread in their packs because they didn’t take up much room, and figured they’d get their required protein from cheese product in the mac.

Guess it worked. Not many people hike the full Appalachian Trail, and certainly not on Wonder Bread and Kraft dinner.

Well, maybe they really aren't all that impressive. I've one-upped Jean and Ric. I just completed the trail  on one cup of coffee, cream, no sugar.

Update: When I first published this blog, I attached a link to a video that showed someone walking the Trail in one minute, that is, the video was one minute and the "walk" was recorded in super-fast motion, obviously. That's what I meant by  the last paragraph above: "I just completed the trail on one cup of coffee, cream, no sugar." That's the length of time it took me to watch the video. Unfortunately, the link to that video no longer works, and someone out there in internet-land attached a vimeo link to another site instead! While I appreciate the many hits that ensued on this blog. I've just removed the link

Friday, March 25, 2011

Middle East Mayhem: For me, more questions than answers

I see Libyan rebels on CNN gunned down on the streets. Someone has to do something to help them, I think. Why doesn’t the UN hurry up and make their decision to enforce a no-fly zone over the country and take down that madman Gadhaffi?

I’m like millions of other westerners watching a mighty revolution take hold in the Middle East. The People want democracy, they say. Enough with repressive dictatorships. “Our time has come.” Who in their right mind could argue with that?

Overall, Egypt has gone relatively smoothly, Syria a little less so, and I’m never totally sure what’s happening in Bahrain, Yemen and even Saudi Arabia (revolution in Saudi Arabia?). I just need a few more pictures. Then I’ll know for sure. Right?

Until then, I remain swept away with concern about Libya. The Libyans struggle is so compelling. They’re taking on a brutal regime, a torturer, a psychopath. It’s clear that the rebels, on the side of the angels it appears, can’t stand up to Gadhaffi alone. They need “us.”

Though I’ve never put much faith in the decisions world leaders make when it’s come to who they choose and support as allies (since both Gadhaffi and Saddam Hussein were at one time amongst the chosen), it’s probably for the best that such decision-making isn’t in my hands instead.

I’m a little untrustworthy and fickle about my values and interests, it seems. Who would have thought I, a ‘make love not war’'60s anti-Vietnam war peacenik, would be a likely candidate to stand beside the military hawks? But here I am.  I’ve been saying “Go get ‘em” in recent years, more often than not. 

That's right. I’ve never forgiven Bill Clinton for not going into Rwanda to stop the merciless slaughter of 700,000. And now, Libya. My (knee jerk) reaction, after seeing nightly footage of what’s happening there has convinced me that the West and UN must do something.

I’d probably unequivocally stand behind my belief if I didn’t stop for a brief second to ask myself a few sobering questions.

They’re questions I don’t have answers for, unfortunately. I can only hope the world leaders do, but I am ye of little faith. They don’t have a good track record.

I am going to give you a link here so you can look at what I consider to be the best, and most moving war photography to come out of the Middle East in recent weeks. While you’re looking, please consider, as I do, some of the questions I’ve been wrestling with. Perhaps you can come up with better answers than I can.

The questions begin:

If we hadn’t been barraged by videos and photographs of pleading Libyans asking for our help; been exposed to constant CNN coverage; or received Facebook and Twitter messages telling us what was going on the Middle East, would we have been equally concerned if only reading newspapers  or watching short news-on-the hour reports?

What if recent massacres in Darfur had had similar coverage? Why didn’t “we” intervene there, where government sanctioned slaughter of non-Arab Sudanese is estimated at close to 300,000? Because we didn’t see their blood-soaked, screaming faces often enough on TV?

Okay, so we have intervened in Afghanistan and Iraq, though I’m not exactly sure why in the case of Iraq other than it was the distorted will of the U.S.’s own madman, George Bush and his Halibuton oil company cronies. In both cases, what exactly has it done for the Iraqis and Afghanis? Have we liberated the women from male oppression? Have we subdued Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan?  How do we feel everytime a Canadian soldier is killed? That his life was taken for a just and worthy cause? 

So what exactly is our objective in Libya? Yes, we want to support the rebel forces and take down Gadhaffi, but UN military forces deny they are going after Gadhaffi.

What if air strikes don’t knock him out and his supporters keep on killing people anyway? Do we step up attacks on land? Do we have any real clue what kind of government the rebels will be setting up  should they win? Look what happened in Iran after their revolution. We’re not so nuts about the present government there, are we?

And one of the biggest questions for me, why did we decide to go into Libya and not Sudan, Congo, Rwanda. Why did we standby and watch ethnic cleansing in Bosnia? Oil, perhaps? Better CNN coverage?

And what about other areas on the verge of eruption? Will we go into Yemen, whose government has already mowed down protesting civilians? What about Syria?

What will happen if UN planes inadvertently strike civilian populations?Besides the innocent loss of lives, imagine the backlash. We don't need no backlash.

And who are these rebels, really, the ones my (bleeding) heart honestly goes out to?

Are they similar to the Afghani men I equally felt sorry for when they were being invaded by the Russians? The ones with the wool hats and shawls who, once the Russians left, became the dreaded, oppressive Taliban?

How good of a judge am I, of character or political alignment, really?  Do I have any real understanding of Middle East, Arab, Muslim and tribal politics, sufficient  to know who is my friend, enemy or really on the side of democractic, humane civic pricnciples? I fear not.

And as for our interventions, where do we stop? Where does it all end? In Libya? If so, why?

President Obama recently said, regarding the decision to enforce the no-fly zone, that it is “a chance  to align our values with our interests.” What the hell does that really mean.

From what I can tell, both the government’s and my own values and interests are in constant flux. I wouldn't trust either of us.

"Politics have no relations to morals."   Machiavelli

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tax Time and Sweet Potato Fries

I rummaged through a dozen or so messy files today, pulling out crumpled slips of paper, bills, statements, invoices and receipts from the past year. It’s tax time. That means I’ve got to reckon with the hundreds of itty bitty bits of paper I’ve shoved into files during the past year, some labelled, others that I never bothered putting headings on. I obviously didn’t think today would ever come.

Like every other year, I’m supposed to bring some order with this stuff. It doesn’t come naturally. Making organized piles and tabulating numbers to slot into predetermined categories related to my life as a freelancer is a bitch. My mind would rather design a mud hut or invent a new recipe for corn pone than figure out what to do with all this detritous.

My brain wasn’t made for filing out tax forms.  I don’t even like sitting in the same room as an accountant, and that poses a problem as well. Revenue Canada won’t be taking either factor into consideration when April 30 comes around.

I’ve been miserable all day, dreading the meeting I’ve made tomorrow with a C.A., knowing full well he'll be telling me that I'm missing some important papers, didn’t do my additions correctly and should be able to tell him what my investments’ gain/loss ratio was for the past year. Huh? Doesn’t it say on one of those itty bitty slips? 

I had great fortune for a brief moment today, however, as I browsed through my files. In the middle of one marked “Tax Receipts 2010,” I ran across something that should have more appropriately been filed in “Favourite Recipes 1998.”

How it got into Taxes 2010 is a mystery. As I said, I’m not good at filing. Finding an article I had written many years ago for The Globe and Mail when it still had a “Food” section is living proof of my organizational challenges. Nevertheless, even I’m surprised at how far afield this article found itself.

Aren’t I lucky it did. Unfortunately, the article’s date has been torn off the page, so I’m not quite sure when I wrote this little piece, so cleverly titled “There’s Something About Breakfasts.”

It’s a sweet little article. I must have written it sometime in the late 1990s,  but it has the surprising ring of something written in the early 1950s. I think, perhaps, it’s a little too sweet. My editor at the time obviously didn’t think so, who am I to judge. Nevertheless, I ‘m not completely sure it passes the test of time.

Never mind. It’s WAY more interesting than the Rev Can Tax Form or my T4s will ever be. Perhaps they should get me to rewrite them. Hmmm. Perhaps…'There’s Something About Filing Your Income Tax Return On Time.' Catchy, isn't it?

Here’s the first paragraph from ‘Breakfasts’:

“There’s something special about breakfasts. They warm your innards; brighten your day; stick to your ribs; give you that get up and go. Sure we’ve become a little sophisticated lately and learned to love Cajun brunches, three-cheese omelets and Bloody Caesar starters, but really, is there anything else that quite warms our hears the way hot blueberry muffins do, popped fresh from the oven?  Or crispy sweet potato hash browns flecked with bits of onions; pots of homemade jams or perfectly browned French toast that you drown in pure maple syrup?”

Yo! Bring them on!

This intro is followed by recipes for the muffins, hash browns and Banana Bread French Toast, all sounding mightily good. Unfortunately, the article was torn in half and the French Toast portion is MIA. All I’ve got are the recipes for the muffins and hash browns.

Quite honestly, I don’t remember ever making either recipe, but I can presume I did. I’d hate to give the impression that recipe writers don’t actually make the things they tell YOU to, but I know for a fact that it’s sometime the case. Yes, Virginia, it’s true. Now be quiet, go to your room and I’ll make you blueberry muffins in the morning if you’re good.

I’ll leave you (and all thoughts about my taxes) with the sweet potato hash brown recipe. My intro to it says:  “This recipe comes from Bonducci’s Restaurant in Northampton, Massachusetts, famed for its breakfasts.”

The recipe sounds great, but I can’t guarantee it. I’ve never been in Northampton, Massachusetts as far as I can recall.

Sweet Potato Hash Browns

3 sweet potatoes, peeled
2 chopped onions
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, minced
white pepper

Coarsely chop sweet potatoes into bite-size pieces, not too small. Mix with onions in large bowl. Melt butter, add garlic. Pour over sweet potato mixture and toss until all potatoes and onions are well-coated. You may need to melt more butter if potatoes are large.

Spread mixture on a cookie sheet in a single layer if possible. Sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Bake in 500F oven until brown and crisp, between 30-40 minutes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Complaints Choir Complains!

We, the Toronto Complaints Choir, took our show on the road today. First stop, St. Lawrence Market, to entertain the unsuspecting noon hour lunch crowd.  We certainly complained, and, I hope, entertained. It sure looked like it. A look of recognition seemed to resonate through the crowd as we rattled off complaints, one by one (melodically, of course), By the last stanza, spontaneous  sing-alongs were in evidence.

For those of you who may not have read a previous blog I wrote about Complaints Choirs around the world, I’ll give you a brief rundown now.

The concept was developed in Finland by two musicians who thought it would be fun to transform the huge energy people put into complaining and turn it into something fun and creative.

In the Finnish vocabulary there is an expression "Valituskuoro," meaning "Complaints Choir" and it is used to describe situations where a lot of people are complaining simultaneously?

The musicians thought, "Wouldn´t it be fantastic to take this expression literally and organise a real Complaints Choir!" And they did. They solicited complaints (about anything people wanted to complain about), put them to music, solicited choir members, rehearsed and held spontaneous performances in public places throughout the city.

Their success in Helsinki prompted the organizers to encourage other major cities in the world to do the same. This winter, a Complaints Choir was formed in Toronto through the World Stage Theatre at Harbourfront. After receiving more than 1000 complaints from Torontonians, a composer was hired to take The People’s Fodder and turn it into something musical.

Local musician Bryce Kulak rose to the challenge and composed a delightful, fun, and charmingly melodic song, squeezing in as many complaints as he could. People like me (non-professional complainers!) signed up, and after weeks of rehearsals, the first performance was belted out today in front of Future Bakery at St. Lawrence Market.

The audience? Whoever was in the vicinity at the time. Noon-day lunchers, strolling shoppers pushing bundle buggies, peameal-bacon-eating children and wandering souls taking sushi and fried veal sandwiches back to the office.

There were about 50 or so of us in the choir today, our musical accompanists, and our fearless leader, Bryce, directing us from a podium set up in an aisle between coolers of raw meat and bakery shelves filled with plump ryes breads and oozing butter tarts.

Bryce created something akin to a Broadway musical hit song. It was so catchy, that by the end of the seventh (and last) stanza of the song, I saw dozens of people singing along with us. Smart move on the organizers’ part to hand out song sheets to the crowd. It was particularly smart because the cavernous market place seemed to suck up a lot of our sound. In such conditions, it’s hard for people to make out the words. And though the melody we sang is so compelling, it’s the words, aka the complaints, that make the song so special.

So what did we complain about?  You name it.

How I wish you could hear the lines sung, as they should be, rather than read. Well, you can. The video is near-perfect for a singalong. So let me give you some  idea of what Torontonians have to complain about, and did. We’ll be complaining again tomorrow after 6:00 at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Here are some excerpts.

Nobody signals in their cars
No good 30s singles’ bars
Why do the Maple Leafs always lose?
I hate getting tiny rocks in my shoes.

Stickers on pears pull the skin right off
Please use your sleeve when you sneeze and cough
Please stop hogging that subway pole
I wish I didn’t have this unsightly mole.

The TTC is not o great
Crowded, expensive, and always late
Where are all the bicycle routes?
Upstairs neighbors walk in boots.

Where are the attractive single men?
Bugs are invading my house again
We are people not sardines,
Not everything is about you, teens!

Why don’t my children ever call
They take all my money and spend it at the mall
Why should I cook for you every night
When washing the \dishes is such a fight?

Toronto’s G-20 was a police state
I can’t get laid and I can’t get a date
Why can’t artists make a buck
Standing ovations for shows that such

Double –wide strollers are in my way
Too timid to say what I have to say
Nobody cares about your status updates
Nathan Phillips Square should sharpen their skates.

Each of these stanzas are punctuated with a rousing chorus where we harmonically repeat a decisive and common rant, including Rob Ford (Rob Ford, Rob Ford, Rob Ford),  Litterbugs, etc., Escalator Blockers, Dog Poo and Pee on the Seat.

I’ve greatly enjoyed being part of the choir and watching the creative process take shape. Bryce (and the organizers) did a fabulous job taking 1000 raw complaints and turning them into something fun and so very creative.

In a world filled with so much turmoil, from the earthquake and nuclear breakddown in Japan, the mess in Libya, and, closer to home, yesterday’s murder of a developmentally handicapped 80 year-old, it’s hard to take ourselves too seriously. Fortunately, we don’t. By playing with these complaints, we acknowledge they’re real, universal and deserve mentioning. Complaining feels good some times. It’s a nice outlet. We all need it.

And as the Complaints Choir’s fearless leader, librettist, composer and seemingly all around good-guy has written:

There isn’t anything wrong about it
Should be a complaining song about it
I hope you’ll all sing along about it
It’s time to finally shout about it.

Complain! Complain! Complain! Complain!

But not too much, okay?  It can get pretty boring after awhile.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Lamentation of Swans: in praise of collective nouns

A Lamentation of Swans: in praise of Collective Nouns (see below)

Thank you for coming to my blog.

Before I write about this blog's main topic, I'd like to tell you some exciting news.

My new memoir, Not Exactly As Planned, is now available for sale from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle. To order please click here

You'll be glad you did!

 Not Exactly as Planned is a captivating, deeply moving account of adoption and the unexpected challenges of raising a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. Rosenbaum writes about family, community and the ability to rise above a tragic diagnosis with insight and clarity, while weaving in the everyday aspects of life: birdwatching, bar mitzvahs, saving the Toronto Islands, the collision of 60s idealism with the real world,and family secrets. With compassion and humour, she tells a story that is achingly unique yet universal to all parents

One reviewer said: "I  loved it. I read it in three sittings. It was so heartfelt and well-written, clearly by an amazing person who shared her life unsparingly, with honesty and zest. Kudos to her family for allowing Linda Rosenblum to lay bare their personal journey." blog.... Enjoy!

Over 100,000 Tundra swans arrived at Long Point Bay in Norfolk, Ontario last week, after crossing Lake Erie during their spring migration from North Carolina and Chesapeake Bay in the U.S. After refueling, they’ll slowly make their way to nest in the Arctic Circle.

It’s an awe-inspiring sight to see thousands of these swans in flight overhead. I once had the opportunity to see such mass arrival, over 30 years ago, when I volunteered to band birds at the Long Point Bird Observatory in the area.  I will never forget the swans' majesty (nor deafening honk).

Thinking of  swans “en groupe,”  (or collective mass), my thoughts returned to the subject of yesterday’s blog: the beauty of the English language, and my desire to share it in its many forms. How does a collective mass of swans relate to any of this?  Follow me.

I started wondering what the name of the collective noun was to describe a group of swans. I knew it was a herd of elephants, team of horses,  clutch of chickens and  pod of whales. But what would I call a bunch of swans? 

A little research revealed the answer. A Lamentation (of course)! 

You see, I’ve returned, as promised, to the richness in  our language. What could be more beautiful to say, picture or see than a Lamentation of Swans. Parliament of Owls, perhaps?

One of the craziest oddities of the English language is that there are so many different collective nouns that all mean "group" but which are specific to what particular thing there is a group of: a herd of elephants, a crowd of people, a box of crayons, a pad of paper, etc.

There is great diversity in the collective nouns associated with animals, from a sleuth of bears to a murder of crows. I so enjoy these terms, I couldn’t resist making what I hope will be a very enjoyable list, below, of the correct terms to describe some  animal groups. Some terms you’ll know (swarm of bees, pack of mules), others you’ll simply wonder ‘how and why did anyone come up with a name like ' chine' to describe a  group of them darn crazy polecats?'

I’m not sure who made up the terms, but whoever did deserves a medal. Some are beautiful (exhaltation of larks!), some fun, and all, clever. The choice of group name doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason in regards to the animal it describes. There may be a wonderful story behind each, though, so I will do a bit of further research, Should I find anything of interest, I’ll share.

In the meantime, I’ll assume that someone with a real love of English, a bit of mischief in his or her soul, and great vocabulary came up with the idea for a husk of hares, convocation of eagles, clan of hyenas and  murder of crows.

The collective nouns below have been selected. Please excuse my formatting. I'm giving up in my quest for getting the lines straight.

For a full list of the collective nouns, click here  Excuse the poor set-up below!)

colony            of            ants
shrewdness   of            apes
congress        of            baboons
sleuth            of            bears
lodge             of            beavers
hive              of             bees
swarm          of            bees
flock             of            birds
sounder       of            boar
brace            of            bucks
swarm          of            butterflies
wake            of             buzzards
drove           of             cattle
clutch           of            chicks
cartload       of            chimpanzees
bed               of            clams
quiver          of            cobras
cover            of            coots
band            of            coyotes
congregation of        crocodiles
murder        of           crows
herd             of            deer
litter            of            dogs (puppies)
pod              of            dolphins
aerie            of            eagles
herd            of            elk
mob            of            emus
business    of            ferrets
school        of            fish
leash          of            foxes
army          of            frogs
gaggle        of           geese
colony       of            gulls
prickle      of            hedgehogs
brood        of            hens
team         of            horses
cry            of            hounds
charm      of            hummingbirds
scold        of            jays
smack      of           jellyfish
deceit       of           lapwings
exaltation of          larks
leap         of            leopards
pride       of            lions
lounge    of            lizards
plague    of            locusts
sord        of            mallards
company of          moles
pack        of           mules
parliament of       owls
bed         of            oysters
company of          parrots
covey      of            partridges
flock        of            pigeons
string      of            ponies
pod         of            porpoises
pack       of            rats
rhumba of           rattlesnakes
storytelling  of    ravens
crash    of            rhinocerouses
run       of             salmon
harem  of            seals
shiver   of            shark
flock     of           sheep
chine   of            polecats
string  of            ponies
passel  of           possum
warren of          rabbits
nursery of         raccoons
rhumba of        rattlesnakes
crash of             rhinocerouses
murmuration of  starlings
pod       of         whales
pack     of         wolves
zeal       of        zebras

Try dropping a few of these fabulous terms casually into conversation one day, as in:  “I heard that a rumba of rattlesnakes was making it difficult to hike in the Grand Canyon.”  People will beg for more, so it’s probably good to memorize ten of your favourite nouns to keep your audience happy.

My favourites? Passel of possum; storytelling of ravens; exhaltation of larks; lounge of lizards and deceit of lapwings.  

What are yours? 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Speaking Well, Writing Good

I really do care about the English language and its future. This probably comes as a shock to my family and friends, many of whom think I do a particularly expert job of mangling it.

They may be right. I do, in fact, remember falling asleep in my public school grammar glasses and had no idea how to do the parsing thing teachers were so keen on.

That’s probably why I still don’t know, no matter how many times I’m taught, when to use ‘which’ and when to use ‘that.’ I’m forever putting quotation marks before a period. When I write long sentences, my subject and verbs often don’t match (I’m told), and I’ve never been particularlygood knowing whether my friend and me went to the corner store or whether it was I (who picked up the jug of milk).

Of course there are the debatable errors I make, as when asked “How are you today, Linda?” and I respond cheerfully with  “Good!” I think the “Well!” brigade may be losing this battle, but only time will tell.

My pronunciation and American accent don’t bode all that well here in Canada, either. It took a dear friend to point out that I left out the ‘d’s in  the words shouldn’t, wouldn’t and couldn’t, making them only one syllable. Shount, wount and count.  “It makes you sound dumb,” she said. I immediately reinserted the d’s  which automatically added another syllable.

I understood what my friend meant since I too have my own prejudices. When people mix up there, they’re and their, your and your’re, and it’s and its, I think they’re, well…not smart. 

My bungling of the language isn’t anything I’m particularly proud of, though I may have been in the past. But only slightly. Over 25 years ago I was working as a researcher on a current affairs television show. The producer was pleased with my work and thought I might make a good on-air host. She was interested in grooming me for the job. “But you’ve got to get rid of that American accent. And a brush up on your grammar wouldn’t hurt either.”

I took no umbrage about the grammar. She was right. It needed fixing. But I did get my back up about the accent. The issue of ‘accent reduction’ or ‘accent removal’ is a prickly one.

Where a person comes from is often a strong part of their identity (here’s an example of my subject and verb not matching, I’m afraid). Their accent is a reflection of that. Many people want to get rid of both the identity and accent the second they step on foreign soil, They’re seriously committed to leaving the past behind. I’m sure they have good cause.

Other people sport their accents with pride, or at least, acceptance. In my case, even though I had parted ways with my home country on many fronts, particularly political, I knew I was a product of my upbringing. I was American. Why pretend otherwise. I figured time would subdue my accent. It didn’t feel right trying to force it. It wouldn’t be me.

Okay, so I’m not a paragon of grammatical virtue, and accept the fact that my spoken language may be considered a bit unrefined. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know beautiful, expressive language when I see or read it.

I’m generally seeing less and less of the good stuff in day-to-day conversation and writing, unfortunately. And that’s why I say I really do care about the future of the English language. I’m worried that some of the most evocative and dramatic expressions handed down to us, particularly from the Bible and Shakespeare, may be disappearing.

So, in the wake of our growing use of the quick and expedient in our text messages, tweets and People-magazine-style writing, let us remember the many riches from texts past that still grace today’s language and continue to resonate with us.

I will start with words and expressions from the Bible: my brother’s keeper; salt of the earth; give up the ghost; scapegoats, an eye for an eye; casting your pearls before swine;  writing on the wall; the blind leading the blind; a house divided against itself (used by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysberg Address); dust and ashes; hold your peace; howling wilderness; how are the mighty fallen; out of the mouth of babes; through the skin of my teeth; my cup runneth over; broken heart; stumbling block; from strength to strength; heavy heart; woe is me; lamb to the slaughter; sour grapes; salt of the earth; safe and sound; eat, drink and be merry.

Now on to Shakespeare, who we have to thank for: all that glitters is not gold (Merchant of Venice); strange bedfellows (The Tempest); the naked truth (Love’s Labours Lost); wild-goose chase (Romeo and Juliet); bated breath (The Merchant of Venice); green-eyed monster (Othello); salad days (Antony and Cleopatra); short shrift  (Richard III).

Many of these words and expressions have been so overused that they’ve entered the realm of cliché. But isn’t that remarkable, considering their history and provenance? Talk about universality,  long-lasting at that.

Great orators like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., understood this concept of universality. King also knew the power of language and how to use language as power.

His memorable speech, “I Have a Dream," was delivered August 28, 1963 before more than 200,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. as part of the March on Washington. (Note to readers: if you go to this link to hear King's speech, you'll also hear civil rights protesters sining "We Shall Overcome."  Highly recommended: a real piece of history).

The speech not only helped to galvanize the already growing civil-rights movement across the country at the time, it also became one of the most influential and inspirational pieces of rhetoric in American history.

The speech is littered with stunning allusion and resonances from the Bible. I’ll print some of them here, but highly urge you to read or listen to Dr. King’s actual speech. It may move you to tears. I first heard it when I was 15 years old. I cried then and still do today. The speech’s beauty and power are truly remarkable.

Now for the Biblical phrases:

“No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

 “But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

 “Every valley shall be exalted, and very mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

“It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.”

 “… weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

There are also other allusions in King’s speech, in addition to the Biblical ones. For example, “five score years ago” invokes the Gettysburg Address, and “sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent” refers to Shakespeare, Richard III, act I, scene 1.

King knew how to use strong language from other sources to strengthen his own. I’m going to make a serious effort to do the same. Perhaps it will make up for some of my linguistic missteps. 

I’ll let Shakespeare do my plea bargaining:

“The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed- It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.”  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yeah! Grumpy People Live Longer

“Prom queens live on average five years longer than the rest of the population.” Spoken with authority by Quinn, the blonde cheerleading beauty and Prom Queen wannabe on this week’s episode of Glee, the thought gave me pause. This couldn’t be true, I told myself. If it is, the world is a far crueler place than I already thught it was. It’s just wouldn't be fair.

I have nothing against prom queens (or football captains). I’m sure I’d like both if I knew any. It’s only that there are other people I’d much prefer to have the statistical advantage that Quinn informs us prom queens garnered on the mortality front. Is smiling really that good for you?

I’m making an assumption here, so forgive me. And maybe times have changed, but in 'my day,’prom queens were relentlessly cheerful, and smiled more often than not, even when reason highly suggested otherwise.. It wasn’t a style I was attracted to then or now. Cheerful, good. Relentlessly so?  No. It’s about my nerves. It gets on them.

I tend to like people who have a good sense of irony and healthy respect for life’s absurdities. Curmudgeons, misanthropes and caustic people bug me after awhile, but can be mildly amusing until they do. And then there’s the non-prom-queen rest of us. What did we ever do to earn the early checkout time?

Well, it turns out. Maybe nothing. Because our dear Quinn may have gotten it wrong. Grumpy older people now have a good reason to cheer up - they'll outlive optimists, says a new study.

Researchers in California have found that being cantankerous is the key to reaching old age - this is because happier peopole are likely to take more risks through their lives including eating unhealthy foods, drinking and smoking. The findings, part of a 90-year study, cast doubt on reports that loving marriages, active social lives, raising children or owning a pet help people to live longer, according to results from the Longevity Project..

Researcher Leslie Martin said, "We came to a new understanding about happiness and health. One of the findings that astounded us was that participants who were the most cheerful and had the best sense of humour as children lived shorter lives, on average, than those who were less cheerful. Psychologists found that the most cheerful individuals, with the best sense of humour, die earlier on average than their counterparts with the set jaw and furrowed brow.\

Participants who were the most cheerful and had the best sense of humour as kids lived shorter lives, on average, than those who were less cheerful and joking,’ said DrMartin, of La Sierra University in Riverside, California.

‘It was the most prudent and persistent individuals who stayed healthiest and lived the longest.’
The researchers discovered that the happy souls went on to take more gambles with their health over the years. They were more likely to drink, smoke and eat badly.

Lead author Dr Howard Friedman said optimism could be helpful in a crisis.
But he added: ‘We found that as a general life-orientation, too much of a sense that “everything will be just fine” can be dangerous because it can lead one to be careless about things that are important to health and long life.’

Read more about the Longevity Project, begun in 1921, when researchers began following 1500 children until their deaths.

The results may make all you grumpy people out there smile. It did so for me. But what’s so good about that? According to the study, nothing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mt. Fuji in Red

In 1990, the acclaimed Japanese film maker Akira Kurosawa produced a 'magic realism' film called I Saw a Dream Like This, based on his actual dreams during different stages of his life. The film has two nightmare sequences. The second is called:

Mount Fuji in Red (see the youtube video)

In it, a large nuclear power plant near Mount Fuji has begun to melt down, painting the sky a horrendous red and sending  millions of Japanese citizens desperately fleeing into the ocean. Three adults and two children are left behind on land, but they soon realize that the radiation will kill them anyway. 

As you will see, the scene is scarily prescient and poignant. Life and Art criss-crossing. Bigtime..

Japan is so entrenched on my mind at present,  I've  temporarily stopped internally debating whether the UN and/or western nations should intervene against Gadhaffi (and our own oil self-interest) with a no-fly zone (or more). We didn't step in in Rwanda, and look what happened. We did step in in Iraq and Afghanistan and look what's still happening. Stop. I can again worry  about Libyan rebels tomorrow.

It would be presumptuous of me to wax about Japan. What do I know that the rest of the world doesn't? What I can do is encourage us all to help. Prayer and good thoughts won't do it.. My understanding is that the best thing at this stage is to send money. Clothes, blankets and other items are too difficult to ship and distribute appropriately right now. Money.

But beware. The scamsters are already in place, as they were after Hurricane Katrina and the last tsunami. (Who are these people? .Do they look like us, brush their teeth every morning, open doors for people, shop at my Loblaws?). So I'm  recommending we consider the tried and true agencies like the International Red CrossCare Canada, and an organization I'm involved with and whose work I greatly support, Ve'ahavta.  They're all only one click away.

Once we've made our donations, I suggest we then pray. How nice it would be if the world's collective good energy could anihalate the bad.

If only. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Trash Talk

I’ve got too much Stuff. Really, it’s s not my fault though. The leopard-patterned silk scarf and hard-boiled-egg slicer just entered the house one day, found places for themselves and never left. They settled in, making perfectly comfortable homes for themselves. They’re so quiet and soft-spoken, I hardly know they’re there.

Yes, I’ve become an enabler. But what am I suppose to do? I don’t have the heart to face the multi-coloured wool shawl I crocheted thirty-five years ago and haven’t worn since. What am I suppose to say? ‘You no longer mean anything to me? I never thought I’d say this, but I can live without you? You’re outa here?. Good-by and good riddance?’

Yep, that’s exactly what I’m suppose to say, but I don’t have the guts. Too much anxiety. I hate confrontations. What if I’m making a mistake and change my mind? Can I get you back? All this angst over a half-embroidered pillow case I was making as a wedding present for a niece who’s been married eight years now and has two kids, the oldest being six?

It’s nuts, I know.  So, I’m going to change. We have a very small house. Spring is coming and there’s something about spring. And, this is no small thing, Both Oprah magazine and Canadian Style and Home devoted their most recent issues to “de-cluttering.”  I’ve always liked to think I‘m on the cutting edge of something, so I’m going to see what I can do about this de-cluttering thing they’re talking about.

I’m feeling pretty confident. I think I can do the reqired purge. it. Damn, I know I can do it! (Dr. Drew says resolve is very important to help enablers break deeply-entrenched patterns). So I’m getting ready by walking around the house, looking at half-filled vials of out-of-date antibiotics, muttering “It’s time.”  But I haven’t made any serious moves yet. Soon, though. I’m inspired.

 One fork is easy
      To clean; Look, A single pair
               of socks – and they match!
                                                –Kristy Davis, renter of a small, single room in Brooklyn       

When I was in my 20s, I read about a guy who wanted to reduce his possessions down to 27. Perhaps he had a particular reason for choosing that number, but for some reason he didn’t explain, it was 27, not 23, 25 or 32. Though the exact number seemed arbitrary to me, the concept was appealing. He never wanted to be tied down to his possessions, and I guessed he figured that with only 27 things to look after, he could pack up and go anywhere, anytime with no fuss or bother.

I liked the non-materialist approach to life and idea of being so free. I actually thought long and hard about how I could do it. Maybe I would have had a chance before I had a family, but I tried reconsidering the thought recently, and by the time I counted my husband, two children, dog, leash, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hair products made especially for frizzy hair, my cell phone, charger, plate and a set of silverware, I was already over my quota.

Since I couldn’t make the magical number 27, I began to wonder how many possessions I actually do have. Which begs another question. In the counting, do I have to include the blackened bananas in the freezer waiting for quick breads I intend to make with them, or the baggie filled with parmesan cheese rinds I intend to pop into simmering cauldroms of minestrone soup I will, of course, be making as soon as the quick breads are out of the way?

Not sure. I'm starting to get confused. Obviously in the name of fair and unbiased journalism, Oprah's editors (who published the above quote), decided to also publish an article by a woman who LOVES being surrounded by STUFF. The mistake I made was reading it during my little pause a minute or two ago to get myself a cup of coffee (and no I didn't spill it into my computer this time. See yesterday's blog). I’m worried about the effect reading this may have on me. The author makes some very good points.

From Mary Randolph Carter, author of a A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life (Rizzoli):

…a happiness contained in all the stuff, the stuff that makes up the warmth and lived-in-ness of this 12th-story apartment, our home, filled with the clutter that is, in my mind, the poetry of our lives, the fingerprints of our experiences, the expression of our humor, the things we can’t live without: toppling-over mountains of books, walls patchworked with paintings, children’s drawings, Polaroid montages, tables embellished with waxy candle drippings, still lifes of wooden bric-a-brac, ripe wax fruit, paper poppies and dried lavender in chipped pottery and tarnished silver pitchers., sofas strewn with squishy pillows, yesterday’s newspapers, opened handwritten letters ­– the things that give shape to who we are, that reveal the moments of our lives to visiting friends, like turning the pages of a handmade scrapbook or a family album that melds past and present, opening the door to the ones we love, and showing them what we call living.

I’m now torn. Is Carter just a writer who could make a case for anything, as she so beautifully did here? Or does she have a point? I shouldn’t let her nicely-crafted spiel ruin my resolve, though. She’s probably talking more about the beauty of a pottery water jug I bought a lifetime ago on a trip to Columbia (and never used), than she is about three near-empty bottles of shampoo or the solid gold earring still sitting in my jewelry box, waiting patiently for over ten years now for its mate to return.

No, I won’t let Carter ruin my resolve, but for better or worse (most likely worse), she’s given me permission to enter  into this whole de-cluttering thing with a minimum of haste. But just to show I’m serious and still committed to chucking Stuff, I’m going to make a pledge right here and now.  I’m going to give away or throw away every non-essential item that came into my mind while writing this blog. The leopard-patterned silk scarf? Out. The granny-squared crocheted shawl?  Out. Earring and shampoo bottles?  Ancient history. Hand-painted Columbian water jug? See you at the Goodwill. Antibiotics? I no longer need you. I’ll be fine without you.

But why is it that I can’t bear to toss the bananas and parmesan? So difficult is it, I’m heading downstairs right now to bake a banana bread and start a pot of minestrone soup for dinner. Like I don’t have other things to do? It can’t just be the cost of these two items that’s throwing me. So what is it? Why is food so hard to throw out, particularly if we think it's still ‘good.’

Guess the baking and soup-making will keep me too busy to do any more decluttering today. Probably a good thing, though, since I just reread the title of Mary Carter’s book. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I had misspent my life because of my perfectly kept house. As if there was a chance.   

And the concept of ‘purging’ has such negative connotations these days, doesn’t it? Best to avoid anything too extreme.

I'll report back.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Computer, A Cup of Coffee and Me

They're not a good mix. As brutally evidenced by my experience yesterday. You may have noticed I was out of computer commission. Here’s why.

I was sitting at my desk writing about the importance of keeping one’s premises neat and decluttered. Household organization as the key to an organized brain. Or something equally earnest along those lines. Unfortunately, I never got to the organized brain part. Clutter, stupidity, multi-tasking and resulting mania got in the way.

It all began rather innocuously. Halfway through writing the piece, I got up, went into the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee and brought it back to sip. I cleared a little spot amongst all the papers next to my Mac laptop and plopped the old mug down. So far so good.

With my eyes still on the computer screen, I reached blindly for the cup. And missed. Within a nanosecond, I had knocked it over and a mug of steamy, milky coffee spilled onto dozens of papers, including bills, and the right-hand side of my keyboard. Into, as well as onto.

‘You idiot’ was all I could think, but smart enough to momentarily quit with the chastising so I could swing into action. I ran and got a cloth, did the requisite mopping and drying, then sat back, waiting for the results. I shut the computer off, pulled out the battery and waited. After 15 minutes I put it back together, but not much was happening. I tried a hair dryer on a cool setting. 

I had some relatively good news in another 15 minutes.  I could access all my documents. But the keyboard didn’t work. Actually, that’s wrong. A few letters did, but nothing on the right side of the keyboard. Forget the brackets and quotation marks. Try writing anything without access to your Backspace and Delete keys. I have new respect for them.

Then I went into my email inbox. The opened page kept changing back and forth in size from minimal to full page. Then it settled into a page with the two versions of the same inbox line-up  side by each. When I went into Word and brought up my blog text, the letter Z kept printing itself across the page, filling up dozens of empty lines. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. That wouldn’t be so bad if I was trying to describe the sleeping sounds made by a howler monkey. But that wasn’t the case. My hand was nowhere near the keyboard.

I was beginning to panic, but not as much as I would have if I couldn’t start-up the damn computer or thought my documents were somehow lost. I made a mental note, right then, telling myself that besides being an absolute idiot, I am also mildly intelligent. I bought the services last year of Carbonite, a company that does computer back-up of all my files. Memo to myself and anyone else reading this. Make sure files are backed-up. Always. Forevermore.

Now a day later, my husband has attached a spare keyboard to my laptop so I can use the computer. It worked. I can pick up and respond to emails, finish my blog and do a few other random things before I take the laptop in to be fixed tomorrow. I’ll undoubtedly be out of commission for a few days again while it’s being serviced (and hopefully fixed).

In case there was opportunity for self-help in this experience, my husband went online looking for entries by other ditzes like me who had spilled their own errant liquids into computers, and yes, there were. Dozens of them. I liked having company, but more importantly, these people were kind. They shared detailed explanations on how to take your keyboard apart, clean every key and get it back in tip-top shape.

Nice, but I wouldn’t dream of trusting myself to the job. Maybe my husband will take it on, but there's only so much I can ask of a person. Since I believe there’s hope elsewhere, I'm keeping in mind the old age. Sometimes it's better to pay.

So what did I learn? Who knows. Most likely nothing other than  it's good I don't take honey or sugar. Will I drink coffee again while on the computer? Yes, I probably will. Will I try to be more careful? Yes, Ma, I’ll be more careful the next time. Does it really work like that? No, I multi-task and do so many things without paying close attention, it’s amazing that I don’t have more mess-ups than I actually do.

Can I change my brain and mildly ADD self at this stage of the game? I've already tried. So, in the name of being a mature person, I take full responsibility for the accident, but I’ve moved on from the ‘You’re an Idiot’ stage, to 'sometimes you're really stupid' stage. Sometimes is the operative word here. Martha Stewart would say that's a good thing.

There are a few things I’ve culled from this experience, though. How extremely difficult it was going through the whole day yesterday (OMG, a whole day!) without being able to use my computer, whether to write, check emails or look up some facts (did I use to look up facts and definitions so often before?).

It once again reminded me of how dependent I am on this thing, and I don’t like it. I also noted how much I'm now using emails instead of calling people (and we know where this is headed . Facebook next, right?).

Case in point. I had an email I needed to respond to about upcoming plans for Wednesday. Two friends and I are suppose to go to a major gardening show here in Toronto. We needed to firm up plans. But since my computer was down, how? Like, duh. Pick up the phone and call the person, dummy.

Actually, I needed to call two people, not one. I called the first friend and explained the situation. Then, instead of hanging up and calling the second person, I asked the first to email and finalize the plans with the third friend.. Like why couldn't I just have called her, too? What would it have taken. A minute?

It's not like I can't stand the sound of her voice or anything. The only reason to explain it is this. It's easier to email people than talk to them.  There's less engagement. Doesn't take so  much energy. Well, that's pretty darn pathetic when it starts applying to people I really care for. I can't blame this completely on my ever-increasing dependency on computers. Old age must be creeping in. Note to self. Change.

The only other lesson learned, or really, lesson underscored. And you should pay me a million bucks for sharing it with you (but I'll take a new Mac in lieu). Back Up Everything. Now.