Archive for January, 2008

Monkey Girl

We took our kids wall-climbing yesterday. All of them, even my diminutive 5-year-old.  It was quite the sight.

All three of them had a great time. We knew Maya would, as she’d done it before. We were pretty sure the other two would too, but it was hard to imagine the rock-climbing place let someone as small as Boo try it. They had no problem.

Boo, as I may have mentioned before, climbed to the top of the piano when she was about 8 months old. We have a metal-frame bunk bed in the basement and I put away the ladder to stop toddler Boo from getting to the top bunk, so she climbed the frame, repeatedly. I figured she would like wall-climbing.

I was wrong. She loved wall-climbing. She went up the easy walls like a monkey. The next step up was a set of walls where the holds were sometimes quite a reach for her, but she’d just stop half-way up the wall and consider her options, then keep pulling herself up. She’d get right to the top, rappel down and demand to go right back up. After 2 hours, Maya was worn out and her hands hurt. After 3 hours, Asher was wiped. J had to drag Boo out of the place after about 3.5 hours.

I wish I had my camera with me to take a picture of my kids hanging on to little holds two stories up. But I don’t feel too badly, because I suspect I’ll have a lot of other opportunities to take photos, especially of Boo.

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Guess where I was at that time last night? I was walking through a huge park near here. A year ago, if you’d told me I’d be having a nice stroll through the park in the middle of the night in winter, I’d have thought you were completely bananas. But Jasper and I didn’t get our walk yesterday and he started begging. He makes his wishes very clear.

So off we went. I got the coolest things for the bottom of my boots. They make it very easy to walk on ice, so I can stomp confidently over anything.

The reason I wanted to go to the park was so that Jasper could run around off-leash. Of course, the by-law says he’s not allowed in the park at all, but I figured there wouldn’t be too many by-law officers hanging around at that time in winter. It did occur to me that, being a woman, walking in a deserted park late at night might not be considered to be a particularly smart move, but I figured I had the dog as apparent security (I call it apparent, because if anyone appeared remotely threatening, Jasper would come and hide behind my legs). Also, I have these impressive metal studs on my boots, and since Jasper was off-leash, I had his leash in my hands – a nice flexible rope with a big metal clip on the end of it. I was quite willing to whack anyone who bothered me. As it was, I saw no one.


I’ve been watching the first season of The Dog Whisperer. I think Cesar Millan is cool, although it isn’t necessarily the way I’d do things. I’ve watched a lot of shows made by another dog guru called Stanley Coren, who was dealing with doggy psychology when Cesar was in diapers. His show did exactly the same thing – help people deal with messed up dogs. Naturally, they face some very similar problems and deal with them in completely opposite manners.

For example, if you take a dog who fears something irrationally, like the noise of a vacuum cleaner, Cesar would turn it on and force the dog to stay in the room, then make the dog get closer and closer, himself staying completely calm, until the dog realizes there is nothing to fear and relaxes. By not reassuring the dog and remaining completely calm, he helps the dog calm down. It works, and fast.

Stanley would take a different tact, putting the dog near the quiet vacuum and rewarding the dog with treats until its calm, then turning it on from a distance and repeating the process, ramping it up until the problem is solved. His method is to take away the negative association and replace it with a positive one. It takes a little longer and also works.

They are both firm on the idea that you have to make the dog realize you are the boss – the pack leader – by requiring the dog work for everything you give him. For example, Jasper doesn’t get dinner until he does something we demand, usually sit and wait until we give him the okay. This keeps them understanding that they have to listen to you and prevents them from developing anxious behaviours that result from thinking they have to be the boss.

Cesar and, to some extent Stanley, also believe that when you walk your dog, it should be slightly behind you with its head at your side, because the pack leader goes first. I don’t enforce that, letting Jasper wander all over. But I’ve noticed lately that when Jasper is uncertain about the situation, like when we are walking along a busy street, he naturally falls back and lets me walk just ahead of him.

Another advantage of a submissive dog is that you can dress him like an idiot and get away with it.

New Year’s eve, 12:30 am:



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Yogamum, the evil thing, turned me onto audible.com, where I found a ‘book’ that is the first two seasons of This American Life. Forty hours! Woo hoo!

The show is heading into its 13th year, which makes for some interesting listening. For one thing, it is just at the very start of web access (at one point, the host does mention that someone has a web site, and gives the address this way: “Go to http …”).

It is an interesting reminder of how quickly my world has changed. Here I am, charging the iPod, watching a DVD of the Dog Whisperer that I rented on-line in a smaller window while I write on my blog in another window. None of which I would have imagined doing a decade ago (makes me half-fearful/half-excited to see how different things will be in the next ten years).

I just listened to show on closeted gay men, who stay married rather than come out, and that really did seem quite old. I know that there are lots of places where being gay is still just utterly shocking, but the descriptions these guys gave of the impossibility of being gay and having a ‘regular’ life seemed so foreign.

When I was a kid, I didn’t think anyone I knew was gay, not that I thought much about it all. At an adult, I can look back and realize that one of my best friends in high school was gay. He moved away in grade 11, so I can’t confirm it now, but I’d bet a lot of money on it. It also occurred to me that one of my favourite babysitters was also gay. I can’t explain it beyond gaydar. It is just obvious in retrospect. Recently, wondering if I could find out what had happened in her life, I googled her and discovered that she’s apparently a respected medical researcher. The only other clue to her life was an obituary notice in which she is mentioned as the ‘life partner’ of the dead man’s daughter.

Given how homosexuality seems so normal to me now, how regular, I have to confess that it seems weird to me that my kids still find it so … titillating. They keep forgetting the gay people we know are gay and are shocked all over again whenever it comes up.

A couple of days ago, Maya made a yellow star – like Jews were forced to wear under the Nazi regime – for a project at school. She commented that she’d rather make one in pink. I told her that they did have pink stars, for people who were put in camps for being homosexual. Then I said, mostly to myself, “I wonder what they did with gay Jews? Did they have to wear both?”

Maya actually said, in a tone of disbelief, “There are no gay Jews.”

After I stopped laughing, I once again listed our gay friends and acquaintances.

It’s 1:40 am. I can’t sleep. I have no idea where I am going with this. I just thought that was really funny. Where do they get this stuff? When I pointed out (once again) a relative is gay, both the older ones said, “But he’s not married to another boy!” No marriage, no homosexuality, I guess. I know a lot of Conservatives and Republicans who would just love that to be true.

Oo, I think I’m actually feeling the possibility of sleep! I’m going to stop rambling about gay people and go to bed.

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I’ve gotten in trouble several times in the past couple of weeks by referring to Maya’s ipod as ‘my ipod’. I tell her it is just a verbal shortcut, but she knows that is crap. That thing never leaves my body. In fact, I’ve discovered that if I wear my sweatshirt with a sweater over top (not unusual for me), string the wire down under the sweater and put the ipod in my sweatshirt pocket, no one can see it. I have long, shaggy hair and it beautifully hides the ear buds.

Occasionally, I make a show of handing it over to her, like when we return from school. I say, “I had your ipod while I walked the dog. Here it is.” She takes it and hides it somewhere, but I watch surreptitiously and retrieve it at the first opportunity. I should probably just buy my own, but it seems like such a waste of money, given that Maya is at school all day and, in truth, rarely listens to it when she is not.

I’m hooked on This American Life, an NPR radio show I’ve known about for a while, but never had decent access to. I am a huge fan of both David Rakoff* and David Sedaris, who are regular contributors. I have now become a huge fan of Ira Glass, the host.

The current shows download to my (Maya’s!) ipod for free, but that is too slow for me, and there are years worth to be had. They cost just under a buck per show at itunes, which is a great deal for an hour’s worth of quality entertainment. But since there are hundreds of old shows, this is going to get expensive. I’ve been picking and choosing particularly interesting topics.

When I run out of This American Life shows already downloaded, I still have tons of CBC (Canadian public radio) shows to fall back on and a lot of them are really good too. I’ve also downloaded two books so far. I wish I had an ipod since I was a kid. I used to walk slowly home from school, reading as I went. I developed really great peripheral vision. I try to read while cooking, knitting, folding laundry – anything, really. The ipod has basically given me that ability.

The other day, up at the cottage, I cleared our skating rink on the lake, shoveling for over an hour, while listening to a fascinating This American Life on the concept of sissies. The show was so interesting that I cleared the rink exceptionally well, since it wasn’t over and I didn’t want to go inside and not hear the end of it. The idea of me managing to stay shoveling for an hour pre-ipod is pretty much unimaginable, since I have an extremely low boredom threshold and, trapped alone with my own thoughts, would have snapped after about 15 minutes.

The only downside is that I sometimes fail to fully pay attention to my own children. I fake it as they ramble on, secretly listening to David Rakoff describe how badly he hated chicken-catching on kibbutz when he was a teenage and trying not to laugh inappropriately.

Yesterday, I kept listening in the car after I picked up the kids, pretending to pay attention as Maya sang me a long Hebrew song she had learned. She complained that she had to answer lame questions about the song for homework. The equivalent in English would be: “In Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” where is the Little Star?” Granted, the questions and answers were in Hebrew, but it is still simple, make-work nonsense for grade 6.

She then told me that they will soon be singing it at the home for the aged next door to the school. I managed to follow both this and the discussion on the ipod, but both badly. To demonstrate I was listening, I asked her why, if they just learned the song to sing to the old people, did she have to answer pointless questions on it?

She stared at me for a moment, then said, “Because we have to answer questions on everything.” That struck me as a really profound description of grade school and I laughed for a long time. And turned the ipod off. Turns out, my kids can be just as entertaining. (but it stayed in my pocket, as backup.)


* I have a odd David Rakoff story. I am distantly related to him by marriage and knew him from family events like brises and weddings before knowing he was a writer. I knew he lived in New York and wanted to be a writer, but that was it. When his first book, Fraud, was published, I bought it out of some vague sense of familial loyalty, expecting it to be crap. Really, crap. Because, in my utterly Canadian way, I assumed that no one I actually knew, much less was related to – however distantly – could actually be really good. The book would sell 500 copies and sink like a stone, but I’d do my bit.

Of course, having bought the thing, I had to read it.

I loved it. I laughed out loud, sometimes to the point of helplessness, tears rolling down my face. Now, having read that and his second book, Don’t Get to Comfortable, plus heard a good number of his NRP essays, I am nothing short of a goggle-eyed fan, which makes casual conversations with him at those family events a bit awkward, because I am far to cool and Canadian to suddenly gush, “I’m just a huge fan. I love your work! You are so funny!” One, that ain’t me. Two, he’d die. So he has no idea. I feel kind of stalker-ish.

The biggest irony is that the title of his first book – Fraud – refers to his own feelings of not really being a real writer, that he’s faking that, among other things. It seems that he too, had some expectation that his book would sell 500 copies and disappear. Ah, the joys of being Canadian.

Anyway, he is a brilliant and funny writer. Go buy his books.

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Oh yeah

I have a blog!

Okay, I didn’t really forget. It’s just all these children and husband who kept hanging around. And now that they are gone, I’ve got work and laundry and stuff.

It is raining and all the lovely snow is melting. Here are pictures of when there was lots of snow:



That’s our patio table Jasper is using as a bed. All the snow has melted off now. At least the thaw waited until after our winter vacation.

I have nothing to tell. Rather, I have much to tell, but it will all take to long and then I will explode from the guilt of not doing something more worthy of my limited time. Here are some more pictures to make up for it. This is of Jasper being groomed:


And this is the final result. His slightly reproachful look is because he doesn’t so much love being brushed.


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 I have a deep New Year’s post waiting to go up, but it is on the laptop, and I am not, so I have decided to slide straight into the trivial for my return post.

Webkinz is so passe, don’tcha know? My kids have moved onto obsessing over Club Penguin, which is smart enough to let a kid be a member for free, only without being able to do any of the cool stuff. For that, you need a membership.


After much negotiating, I agreed that Maya and Asher could each buy a month, in hopes that they’ll lose interest in that time and not beg for more (oh look! a slippery slope! why, it seems to be getting closer!).

Of course, Boo was outraged. It is so unfair, she mopped, that they get memberships and she doesn’t, just because they are older and have their own money. I put her off for a bit, but then realized that putting up with all the moaning and begging wasn’t worth the $6 membership fee for a month. And I did see her point.

We delightedly logged her on, as she announced her intention to buy a yellow puffle (a little tribble-like pet), just as her siblings did. Oh, how she yearned for that yellow puffle. I checked her account. She had $138. I asked Asher how much a puffle costs. A mere $800, he informed me.


At this point, I had two choices. I could have Boo sit at the computer for about 4 hours, playing little games that make Penguin money until she had enough (money, or patience), or I could play the games for her and get it done much faster. Most of the games on Club Penguin are beyond her computer abilities.

And this was how I found myself on Club Penguin yesterday afternoon, playing Connect Four with some child somewhere else in the world (actually, the skill involved in one of the games had me suspecting I was playing another adult). I also went fishing, played a version of space invaders and a maze game involving melting ice.

Boo and I are now the proud owners of a cute yellow puffle named Puffle.

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