Thursday, May 14, 2009

13 going on 30

An urgent email from my friend in Zambia arrived in my mailbox yesterday. 

Her thirteen year old daughter had been invited to a Prom.

All good, right? 

Well, perhaps you'll remember a) what it was like to be a hormonally charged thirteen year old who alternately LOVES and HATES everything and b) the amount of emotional distress that went into choosing your own perfect outfit for the event. 

As a side note, I need to mention that I attended my own high school Prom with Ralph Celentano. I was a vision in polyester. Ralph carried an umbrella, even when it wasn't raining. When he went to pin the corsage on my chest, the pin went down my top. I can say, with 100% certainty, that I am decidedly a late bloomer who has gotten much better with age. 

Anyway...back to our story.

Magnify daughter's stress by about 150 because she's living in Zambia. Any she never asked to move here, did she? (You can hear her voice reaching window shattering peaks.) 

What do teens love to do? Go to the mall? How many malls in Lusaka? Not too many.

Daughter wanted to order something online and get it shipped to me so I could take it over. Not a bad idea really, except that I'm leaving today.

Tears. Tantrums. Tiaras.

So, I said, everything is returnable. 

Why not let me take a shot at finding you something. If you don't like it, no worries. I'll take it back.

I had a picture of the type of shoes she was looking for, but the dress...all she could tell me was black, classy and no bubble hems. That pretty much or two dresses.

Her Mother said, "Ooooh, you're brave. I KNOW her, and I can't figure her out!"

To which I replied, "Years of living with gay men has given me an enhanced shopping gene. I'll invoke Donatella."

What'd I get her?

  • The Jessica Biffi Dress (in black) from Winners.
  • Silver strappy sandals 
  • A matching silver clutch.

The sandals are the EXACT pair she emailed me. This should help. But the dress. It's darling. But it's a crap shoot.

She'll probably hate it, but it sure was fun to go shopping for the daughter I'll never have. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today I am....

  • Wearing underwear with bad elastics, because all the good stuff is packed.
  • About to start my course of anti-malarials.
  • Getting that fluttery butterfly feeling that comes from embarking on a big trip.
  • Getting seriously excited about the "work" portion of the trip, which looks like it will not only involve school visits, but a journey to meet flood victims and learn how CARE's emergency preparedness training helped several villages mitigate disaster.
  • Resigned to the fact that if I get gored by a rhino, anyone who comes to muck out my house will take one look at my floor think I didn't own a vacuum cleaner.
  • Missing my cat, even though it's only been one day.
  • Excited about being back on the dark continent.
  • Eating what's leftover in my fridge. Today's morning snack: smoked oysters.
  • Giddy for two weeks without deadline.
  • Getting ready to leave tomorrow.

Monday, May 11, 2009

When will I be happy?

When you read my mind.
When you stop picking at that.
When it gets warmer.
When it stops being so muggy.
When you call me.
When you stop calling me.
When I go away.
When I come back.
When we watch something I want to watch.
When I move.
When I get more sleep.
When you stop snoring.
When I clean my house.
When you behave yourself.
When you stop hanging around with the wrong crowd.
When you stop drinking so much.
When you admit what you've done wrong.
When you take back what you said.
When you stop what you're doing.
When you start thinking of me for a change.
When I find a new job.
When this project is over.
When I buy new furniture.
When I lose weight.
When I tone up my underarms.
When the weekend gets here.
When I meet someone terrific.
When I drop this loser.

When will I be happy?

If you're not happy here and now, you never will be.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Great customer communications

My pal in Ottawa forwarded the following customer communication to me because she was so impressed by it. It's just a simple, automatically generated text message, but it perfectly captures a quirky tone that makes this company stand out from the rest. I thought I'd share it with you on this fine seven-more-sleeps until I'm on holiday morning.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
CD Baby loves Heather <>
Date: Thu, May 7, 2009 at 2:48 PM
Subject: Heather - Your CD Baby Order! (#47494XX)
Heather (email address)

Heather - 
Thanks for your order with CD Baby!

=== Shipped Items ===
** Shipped on 2009-05-07: **
2 of DOUG RILEY, W/ TYLER YAREMA & JOHN ROBY: Stride ($13.47 each)

GRAND TOTAL : $36.50 - US Dollars

Your CDs have been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CDs and polished them to make sure they were in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CDs into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved "Bon Voyage!" to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, Thursday, May 7th.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby.  We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as "Customer of the Year."  We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to 

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


CD Baby
the little store with the best new independent music (503)595-3000

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I scream for (and with) ice cream

I had ice cream with a funeral director last night.

I'm not kidding you.

I've been working on a big In Memorium project for a large charity. The project has many facets, but one of the key targets is funeral directors. 

My pal KM hooked me up with a friend of hers who, after ten years working in television, made the drastic (maybe not so much) career shift to the funeral biz.

All the research I'd read up until now confirmed what I observed when I finally met C. She loves her job. She's passionate about it, in fact. And she loves to talk about it.

As I made my way through my single scoop of low-fat Pralines and Cream, C talked about some of challenges of her job -- reconstructing accident victims, dealing with difficult family members, and the competition that ensues when two funeral homes "compete" for the same funeral.

It was fascinating.

I've thought more about death and the business of dying over these past few weeks that I've been working on this project, but I can't really imagine doing it for my job. 

But C claims she's never once been frightened or spooked by the experience. Part of this she attributes to her agnosticism. She does concede that other more "spiritual" members of her team have a heightened sensitivity to the souls with which they work.

One of C's duties at work is dealing with pre-planning. Folks can go in and pre-pay their funeral so that their family members won't be left with the task of arranging and paying for the inevitable.

It's actually a really good idea. My parents have done this, and when my Dad died I was extremely grateful that all of the arrangements had already been made. 

I'm not sure I would have had the fortitude to work through the details at that time.

Now, once again, I find myself a victim of my own marketing. I've been thinking about pre-planning my own demise. Not that I'm planning to go anytime soon, mind you. 

It's just that if I want my remains scattered over Baskin Robbins, I'd better let someone know about it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


The definition of catharsis is: the purging of emotional tensions. A release of emotion after an overwhelming vicarious experience, resulting in the purging or purification of the emotions, as through watching a dramatic production.

In other words, I laugh, I cry, it becomes a part of me.

I've had two cathartic experiences as a result of Hot Docs seen over the course of this year's festival.

The first was through laughter, and a little film called Best Worst Movie.

The film explores the cult classic Troll 2. Incidentally, Troll 2 has absolutely nothing to do with Troll 1 and, more importantly, there are actually no trolls in the film. It's the undisputed worst movie in history.

Paul Michael Stephenson, the director, was a child actor in Utah(!) when he filmed Troll 2. He tells the story through the eyes of George Hardy, one of the leads of the film - an Alabama dentist, turned actor -- and Troll 2's director, an Italian crazy man, who refuses to see the film as an artistic failure. Not to mention, the cast of misfits that make up the remainder of the cast.

The results are hysterical. My delightful film-going friend and I were entranced.

Rarely have I seen something that has left me gasping for air because I was laughing so hard. You must see this documentary. And, by all accounts, you should probably own Troll 2. It'll probably cure cancer.

Now for catharsis of another kind: The Way We Get By.

The film follows three remarkable senior citizens who volunteer as troop greeters at the airport in Bangor, Maine. They thank soldiers who are departing for and arriving from Iraq.

When they're not at the airport, the film shows them struggling with their own issues -- aging, failing health, loneliness and depression.

It's clear that they connect with the soldiers on a deep level -- that sometimes our society casts our elders and our soldiers away, when they are no longer of use.

Trust me, you'll need two handfuls of hankies for this one. I had to go into my purse a few times. But there's redemption. I promise.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

From Stone Orchard

I'm reading this wonderful little gem of a book that I've been meaning to read for years.

It's a collection of Timothy Findley's memories from years spent on the rambling farmhouse that he owned with his life partner, William Whitehead.

From Stone Orchard beautifully captures the pastoral life the couple built for themselves after leaving the theatre to write full time, but it's also a virtual who's who of Canadian literati. You'll find mention of their neighbour Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood and Pierre Berton. Even Susannah Moodie makes an appearance, albeit posthumously.

Most interesting is how Findley weaves in how the place serves as inspiration to his work. Early on he tells of tearing down old farmhouse walls to find a carpenter's notes beneath. Anyone who has read Famous Last Words will instantly make the connection.

Findley talks about how, in the country, neighbour is a verb, and being neighbourly is prized above all else. He also cites this Robert Frost poem, which I'll share with you on this fine Tuesday morning:


Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say '.Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Canadian CARE Package

What might Canadians living in Zambia be missing?

I can tell you, because it's filling an entire small suitcase, and likely spilling over into my personal stash, as well.

Here's a selected list of the things I'm taking with me next week.

1) A crepe pan
2) Maple syrup
3) Low-fat microwave popcorn
4) Marshmallows (to cancel the effect of the above)
5) Kraft Dinner
6) Tim Horton's coffee
7) Red licorice
8) A tray to make popsicles at home
9) A pair of boots

Since I'll be visiting schools while I'm there, I also found a ton of great stuff at Dollarama on my way home last night. This included the ABC chart, some addition and subtraction flash cards, and some certificates that say "Good Job!". This stuff is non-existent in rural African schools and I'm really excited to see the teacher's faces when they see the supplies.

I think I'm going to have a hard time concentrating at work today. In my mind, I'm already half way round the world.

Friday, May 1, 2009

In Treatment

I've been working through the boxed set of
In Treatment, the Gabriel Byrne swoonfest in which the Irish actor plays a likable and confident, yet deeply flawed, psychotherapist to five sets of patients.

It's riveting.

The best part is that you actually feel like you've been shrunk by the end of each episode. The series does a nice job of showing us how deeply rooted many of our insecurities are and how most of us do a terrific job of complicating our lives.

Each episode lasts a mere half hour, which is perfect for those of us who have a hard time committing to things.

I'm kidding. Kind of.