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It was one of those perfect winter days today, where the snow fell in big, slow flakes and made everything look beautiful. There was no wind and it was mild. I took Jasper for a long walk, then got the kids and when we got home, Asher and Boo played outside for a long time with the dog. It was idyllic and fun and helped me breath properly again. Here are pictures. Lots of pictures.

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He loves to smush his whole face in the snow.

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I don’t want to go on about it, but the reason it was so nice to watch everyone romp around was that my cat, Theo, died yesterday at the age of four, very suddenly. He developed crystals in his urine, his bladder got blocked and his kidneys were damaged beyond help by the time I got him to the vet. He died in my arms shortly thereafter.

He was a marvelous cat. He was utterly-unfeline-like in his friendliness and love of everything. He purred at his vet appointments. At one, he had to take a medication that had the side effect of calming them down and when the vet walked in, he was lounging on her counter, purring happily. She said, “Wow, that stuff really mellows them out sometimes.” I told her, “He hasn’t taken it yet. This is just his personality.” Even my mother liked him, and my mother hates cats.

I miss him so much.

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When I first met J, getting to know his family was a bit overwhelming. He has a much larger family than I do, and many of them are loud and assertive. Scary. Fortunately, a lot of them are very nice people. I felt instantly comfortable with his aunt, Edna, his mother’s sister. Edna made me feel like she thought I was the most marvelous person J could have brought through the door. Her house was a warm, chaotic place and she made the best matzah balls ever.

Three years into our relationship, I decided to convert to Judaism. I made J’s parents promise not to tell Edna and didn’t phone her either, as I wanted to see the look on her face myself. I knew she was going to be delighted.

I never did get a chance to tell her. One morning at the school where she taught, Edna went to the office to ask them to call her husband, as she had a bad headache. Then she collapsed of a brain aneurysm. We got the call to drive in, as Edna was in the hospital and “it doesn’t look good.” We drove straight in, not saying much on the two-hour trip. I was still firmly convincing myself she would be fine.

She was on total life support. Her children were there, one from far away, and her sisters and their spouses. We all waited all night for the doctors to do one final test. They would take her off the breathing machine. They didn’t think she’d start breathing in her own, but if she did, there was some hope. She didn’t.

I loved Edna. We all loved Edna. I discovered at the funeral and shiva that it wasn’t just me she made feel so special, it was everyone she met. It wasn’t that she was shallow. She really cared about people and had a gift of showing it. I knew Edna for three years and she’s been dead 13 years and I still miss her, which is a pretty good example of her impact.

When J and I were expecting our first child, we came up with a boy’s name and a girl’s name, both after Edna (Maya isn’t Maya’s real name). A month later, my nephew was born and he too was named for Edna. A few months after that, J’s cousin had her second child and another baby was named for Edna.

The three cousins are very close, despite living in different cities. Not only are they close in age, but they hold pride at being Edna’s namesakes.

The fact that they don’t know Edna is weird to me, give her huge impact on this family. I was thinking about this a couple of days ago, as we reached the 13 anniversary of her death. I was thinking about how, when I grew up, the missing family member was my mother’s father. He died when I was three. I don’t remember him. I remember my mother being gone for a long time, as she spent several weeks in England during his final illness. I remember her returning with my grandmother and a big scary dog (or at least, so it seemed at the time). But nothing about him. I realize now that I don’t even know what I called him – Grandpa? Grandad?

I feel I know a lot about him, though. My mother kept many of his books, and he had a lot. I used to like to poke through them and read quite a few as I got older. My mother told me stories about him and things he used to say (one of my favourite is – and I hope I get this right – “Skinny women are for hanging clothes on and plump women are for taking clothes off.”) I have seen lots of pictures, too. My mother looks like him. He has a face that suggests a great sense of humour. I think he would have been interesting to talk to. I think I might have ended up arguing with him a lot, but I always felt they would have been respectful arguments, intellectual arguments. I think we would have understood each other.

Of course, I don’t know any of this for sure, because he’s dead. That pisses me off. It has pissed me off for a long, long time. When I was younger, going through his books, I’d feel cheated out of not being able to know this man. I had to rely on others memories because I didn’t have a single one of my own, and that really annoyed me. I missed him.

So I was thinking of Edna, and I was thinking that, as painful as it is, I wished that Maya felt the same way about Edna as I feel about my grandfather. I wanted her to have enough of a sense of the person Edna was to miss her. I’m not sure why. What has missing my grandfather gotten me? I guess it is just that my mother managed to communicate to me not only how much he meant to her, but what kind of person he was. Missing my grandfather keeps him real that much longer. I want Edna to be real to the generation of children who never met her.

Ironically, just last night, Maya and I were chatting before bed and she brought Edna up, asking what it was like when she died. Then she asked me what was so special about her, and I tried to describe her, give Maya a greater sense of who she was. At one point I paused and Maya blurted out, “Oh, it just makes me so mad that I didn’t know her! It isn’t fair!”

I told her I knew exactly how she felt, and that she was right, it isn’t fair that she didn’t know Edna. But I’m glad she feels that anger, because now I know we successfully passed on who Edna was.

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I found my camera, but still don’t have any pictures of snow-puppy. I do have pictures from Boo’s birthday party, now a couple months old. But here are a couple anyway:

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She wanted a gymnastics party, because as far as she is concerned, if you can’t climb it, jump on it or jump off it, it is no fun. For those people who are deluded into thinking that at least girls are calmer than boys and don’t treat the house like a jungle gym, I invite you over to my house to witness Boo do things like leap from the top of the bunk bed like a spider monkey to the floor. Or worse, to the rocking chair.

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Here are several of the kids waiting for their turns. The tall boy in the white shirt is Boo’s boyfriend. Isn’t he cute? Well, actually, turns out he’s one of her boyfriends. The little guy behind him is the other one. Too bad you can’t see him better, because he’s cute too.

We discovered this the other day when Boo announced, “I have a boyfriend and D has a girlfriend!” Odd way to put it, but we’ll play along. “Who are they?” Maya asked. “Well, I’m D’s girlfriend and C is my boyfriend.” We pointed out that it sounded like she has two boyfriends and she was just delighted with that notion. I’m going to have to watch that one closely.

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Someone just found my site by googling “what judaism means to me.” I find this odd. It doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing the internet is going to tell you. Speaking of, we took the whole family to synagogue this Saturday and plan to continue. We fell out of the habit at our old shul because there was nothing to keep the kids engaged, making the whole experience increasingly unpleasant. We are back on the wagon, though.

Asher threw a huge fit because services bore him silly. In truth, I sympathize completely. Just sitting and not being allowed to doodle, or knit or read something else at the same time is difficult for me as well. He solved his problem by refusing to enter the sanctuary, wandering around the rest of the building until he found a friend. I solved the problem by reading the Torah (and commentary) in great detail. It was actually quite nice. I think we all enjoyed the experience more than we expected to, which is good, because we are determined to make this a regular activity.

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Jasper has started intermediate training at Petsmart, where he did the beginner class. Same instructor too. She is great. He’s learning to stay longer, wait (which is different than stay), and heel. Heel is the one I just couldn’t quite figure out on my own. I did have a go at it now and then, and something must have sunk in, because he got it the moment I tried and while other dogs are making it 4 or 5 steps down the aisle before bolting, Jasper makes it up one aisle and down the other. Of course, it helps that he is brilliant.

Our latest move is teaching the dog to ‘touch.’ “Touch ball” is this week’s command. Every time Jasper pokes the ball with his nose or paws at it, he gets a treat. At first, he found me waving the ball in his face very annoying and tried to bite it. But he soon clued to. The instructor has great plans for ‘touch,’ like teaching the dog to turn off lights or pick up their own toys and put them away (I asked if I could bring my kids to the next class, so she could teach them that trick too).

This class is smaller than the beginner, not surprisingly. There are only 4 other dogs. One is a tiny little poodle, which I find odd. Most dogs in training classes are large, I guess because most people aren’t concerned about being able to control something that weighs only 7 lbs.

Last class, we went out into the store to work on something – the instructor likes the distractions – and as we exited the training room we passed a girl about 20 years old. When she spotted Jasper, she yelled, “Wow!” Then she followed us. She watched the training session, commenting repeatedly on how beautiful my dog was and how much she loved him. As we headed back to the room, she told me in a voice of complete sincerity, “I just love your dog so much that if I could, I’d steal him.”

I was glad to be going into the training room and away from the crazy dog stalker, but she followed us in! She sat beside Jasper and kept trying to pat him, but he was having none of it. I don’t know if he independently decided she was nuts, or if he was picking up vibes from me. When the class ended, I confess bolted ahead of the others, leaving the stalker trapped behind the other dogs going out the door, and then quickly left the store, double-checking that no one had followed me from the parking lot when I left.

There’s the down side to having the most marvelous dog in the world.

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More snow! Yesterday, I fell asleep instead of taking Jasper for his walk, which resulted in him barking at gremlins he insisted were out in our backyard at midnight. In a few minutes, I will tackle all the fresh snow and take him out. He’s adorable leaping about in the snow (I’ll see if I can find my camera to demonstrate), but trying to dry him off is a nightmare. And yet, I cannot bear to cut his fur down more and reduce his teddy-bearness.

The first snow of the season is always a logistical nightmare, no matter how organized I think I am. I brought up dozens – no exaggeration here – of mittens, and yet yesterday morning none of them could find any. I have no idea where they all are, and I am pissed off. Asher insisted his snowpants fit, but they don’t, but he won’t upgrade. Asher and Maya need new boots, as do I.

I didn’t think it was urgent until I picked them up from school and Asher presented me with soaking-wet boots. Really, they could not have been wetter if he’d thrown them in a swimming pool. I guess waterproofness wears off?

So we were off to the big show store near here, along with maybe half the city. Three children and a huge shoe store after school is my idea of hell, and every year I manage to get trapped in it. Thankfully, we found boots for the boy very quickly, because he was the urgent one. None for the girl, though. Poor Maya – the problem with being tall is that the clothes appropriate to your age don’t fit your body. She wanted cool, colourful kids’ boots, but she wears women’s size 7 (or 8, depending on the fit). In the women’s section, we were faced with rows and rows of stylish black boots. We finally found some she liked and they had a rough seam running right over her ankle bone. How stupid is that? So she still needs them. I didn’t even try to look for me. I’m not a total masochist.

The snow makes me want to knit. I just want to sit in front of a nice fire and knit. Instead, I get a row or two done while singing lullabies or waiting in the car for the school bell to ring.

Currently, I am knitting:

hats and scarves for the AG dolls (2 hats done so far)

a sweater for Asher that I started last winter, really big, but if I don’t get my butt in gear on it, he’ll still manage to outgrow it before I’m done.

socks for Maya – one finished.

socks for Boo – one finished.

a baby sweater for the friends whose baby arrived 4 months ago.

a scarf, probably for Asher.

I just got lovely wool and a pattern for a winter hat for me, but have resisted starting it. Don’t know how long I’ll last, though.

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Snow! Snow! Woo hoo, snow!!

Okay, I don’t actually feel that way, but the children – both human and canine – sure do. In the backyard before school, Asher tried to make a snowman out of the perfect, sticky snow, but every time he got the snowball to a decent size, Jasper lunged at it, ripping it to pieces. Asher couldn’t even be angry with him, it was so funny.

Snow that actually sticks to the ground caught me by surprise. I’ve been meaning to go get a decent pair of walking boots for my treks through the woods with Jasper, which I have no intention of stopping just because it is winter, but haven’t yet. Now I have to go out today. And remember to load blankets in the car to protect it from wet dog.

At least I’m pretty much organized for Hanukkah, which in itself is a Hanukkah miracle. I still have to finish knitting the cute little hats I am making for the girl’s AG dolls. I got one hat finished in the time it took to attend a Judy and David concert, even though I had to pause to stand up and spin like a dreidel, and eat Boo up like a yummy latke, etc.

Judy and David, for those not in the know, are a Canadian singing duo for kids, based in Toronto. They do concerts all over North American, but aren’t exactly the level of the Wiggles in popularity. They are, however, marvelous. My kids have been into them for a long time and, even though the older two passed on being seen at one of their concerts this time, they are happy to play their CDs at home.

They have lots of clever stuff, like spoofs on fairy tales and fun music that teaches math concepts. But the reason I really love them is for the looks on my kids’ faces upon discovering that Judy and David have a CD called “Matzah Ball Rock” and a Hanukkah show. Not do Judy and David, who are, like, way famous (because they are on TV!), turn out to be Jewish, but they have a whole concert aimed at Jews! Whoa. Blows them away.

The show really was great. David came out dressed as King Antiochus (the big baddie) and ordered the audience to bow to him, then started to cry as the children yelled out, “No way! We aren’t listening to you!” Then Judy came out as Judy the Maccabee and called him King Anti-tuchus (tuchus being the Yiddish word for your bum).  I thought Boo was going to choke, she laughed so hard.

My favourite part of the show was getting to watch Boo’s face as she watched the show. That’s always what I like best when I take the kids to any live show. They are so engaged, dancing and singing and their faces are pure joy.

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Two evenings ago, Boo told me at bedtime that her left eye hurt. I took a look and could not see anything, so told her she’d feel better in the morning – standard parent line. Also wrong – by the morning, her eye was practically swollen shut. It wasn’t red and there was no apparent bite, not that there’s anything around to bite her right now.

Our doctor wasn’t in, so we saw a colleague. After ruling out the same stuff I ruled out, she sat and stared at Boo for several moments, then said, “Well, I don’t think you’ll need to go to the children’s hospital for IV antibiotics, but I just want to ask my colleague for a second opinion.” That was a bit of a shock. The second doctor agreed that oral antibiotics were the way to go, but they warned me that if Boo got worse or developed a fever, it was straight to the hospital for her. Of course. Because J is out of town.

Sure enough, after dinner I noticed she was looking kind of run down and her eye had become very red. She had a fever. I’m very lucky my parents live in the same city. My mother came over and off we went.

I have to say, it was the least awful ER trip I think I’ve had. We came armed with multiple amusements, we actually got put in an examining room after being called from the waiting room, rather than being stuck with chairs in a hall like the last two times I was there, and Boo was in a great mood. Unless someone touched her eye, it didn’t particularly hurt. Once we got to the examining room, we read, snacked and she talked incessantly as I got sleepier and sleepier. They even had the wherewithal to send a nurse in to apply a topical numbing creme to her hand in case they needed to put an IV in once we were finally seen.

When the doctor, who appeared to be about 12 years old, came to take a look, she proclaimed it still only periorbital cellulitis, instead of the more dangerous orbital cellulitis. Basically, it means the infection was still only around the eye, instead of  in it. Nevertheless, she agreed it wasn’t pretty and it was not good that the eye was still worsening on the antibiotics, and decided to give her a single dose of IV antibiotics. Yay for the numbing creme!

Boo immediately became my favourite child this morning for actually compensating for going to bed at 12:30 by sleeping in until almost 10:30 am. The other two like to keep to their mornings schedule, no matter how little sleep they’ve had – frequently a cause of great parental suffering. Anyway, the eye looked way better this morning, but hasn’t improved much since then, making me even more grateful for the heavy-duty drugs.

Ironically, I missed seeing the video I had rented, Michael Moore’s Sicko. I watched it today, though, as Boo and I lounged around. I’d read beforehand about the various methods Moore uses to manipulate situations, etc, but even given that, the movie is shocking. I knew Americans paid a lot for health care, but I had no idea how awful the situation clearly is.

I’d love to know where the Canadians who claimed to have never waited more than an hour for hospital treatment live, because I’ve never had one shorter than 2 hours. Last night, I showed up at the ER at 8:30 pm and left at 12 midnight. I didn’t resent the wait at all, though, especially seeing some of the really sick children coming through. Three and a half hours doesn’t seem outrageous for emergency care. A lot of people do end up waiting a lot longer, mostly because they are waiting to be seen for non-emergency problems. If you are going to show up at the ER for a sore throat, even a really sore throat, you are going to wait. Unfortunately, in this city, it is pretty much impossible to find a GP who will take on new clients, which leaves people going to the ER when they shouldn’t (rather than a walk-in clinic).

I shudder to think of being in a situation where I would have had to take into consideration the cost of taking Boo to the ER, or  how I would have felt if the IV antibiotics were really expensive and I had to decide whether to pay or take a chance. I’m willing to wait an awfully long time for the right to get the care she needed regardless of our financial situation.

I know I’m rambling on here, but just one more thing. There is a lot of discussion and concern in Canada about wait times. Sometimes, people wait ages to see specialists or get services like CAT scans and that does suck. It is a weakness of the system. But after Boo was born, I developed a severe uterine infection and started to hemorrhage by the time we got to the ER. I was whisked right in and started on an IV, then taken up to a room within a couple of hours. The next day, we got a private room. When the doctors feared I had a blood clot, I got an ultrasound, and MRI and some fancy lung function test that required inhaling something radioactive the day they became concerned. Thankfully, those fears were unfounded.

Then, once I was stabilized after a week, rather than keep me in the hospital for the next week just because I required constant IV antibiotics, I was given a picc line (a tube threaded into your chest for long-term delivery of drugs). A tube lead out of my arm and into a fanny pack filled with my medicine, with a small attached computer delivering the right dosage, and sent home. Every day, a nurse came to visit, change the meds, and check me out. When the computer spazzed out, I phoned a number and got help instantly.

The monetary cost to us for all this care: parking fees. They even paid for prescriptions we picked up at the pharmacy during the week I was at home with the picc line, which we normally pay for ourselves, under the logic that I was still under hospital care and was only home to save them money (my sanity was just a bonus). I spent that entire second week feeling pure, unadulterated gratitude – for being alive, for being allowed to be home, for a healthy baby, for good friends and family, and for being Canadian.

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It was hot and sunny for the past two days. I was in absolute heaven. I thought after it got cold after our return from New York that we were done with the really good weather, but I was really wrong.

Yesterday, the kids and I took the dog on a long walk along the river at a spot we don’t normally frequent, because we popped in to visit friends with their new baby (She came home from China a couple of months ago and is doing amazingly, as well as being freaking cute. My three kids surrounded her on the floor and all tried to engage and play with her at the same time. Her mom and I were concerned that they would overwhelm her, but when she started throwing her arms in the air and cheering, “Ay!” we figured she was okay.)

Anyway, we came upon a great wooden play structure and while the kids played and the dog ran around, I gathered leaves into an ever-growing pile. There were a lot of leaves. It was several feet high when Asher spotted it and took a flying leap into it. Whenever I see people jump into leaves in the cartoons, I always think it’d still hurt, as leaves aren’t a great cushion. But when you pile them 3 feet high they are!

They spent a long time repiling and leaping in the leaves. Even the dog got into the act at one point. I let them bury me with leaves, and it was strangely peaceful under there (until I burst out growing and grabbing and children). Serious, serious fun.

Today, I took Jasper for a long walk in a huge, gorgeous protected park area, admiring the leaves and just reveling in the weather. I wasn’t the only one, and I’m toying with making up a card to hand out. It would say:

“He’s a Doodle, a Standard Poodle-Golden Retriever mix. No, he doesn’t shed at all, but some do. I have to brush him daily or he mats. Yes, I have to trim him, but I do it myself. It’s actually an unusual colour, most are blonder. No, they aren’t cheaper than getting a pure bred, since they are very popular. No, they don’t all get this big, but they are still generally pretty big dogs. 55 lbs. Yes, I know he seems like more as he is very tall and skinny. He’ll likely fill out in the next year. One year old. Yes, he is very calm for a one-year-old. No that isn’t typical. Thank you – we think he is great too.”

Because I have that conversation over and over and over. I’m glad people love him, but it does get a bit tired at times.

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And they make great family dogs, too!

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