Empress of the Universe

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My Hair Dilemma

I recently passed my 47th birthday. It didn't seem like a monumental day (it's not like I crossed over into a new demographic category; now THAT'S traumatizing). My family made it special for me, but other than that, it was just another day. I don't know how I got to this age. I mean, I feel like I've only been on this planet for 25, maybe 27 years.

I am having a problem though. My natural hair color has turned almost totally grey (or white or silver, I'm not sure which). Of course, I have spent a small fortune over the past 15 years to color my hair -- sometimes for my own amusement (wonder what I'd look like blonde) and, lately, for far more practical reasons: to hide the grey.

I've tried highlights on a dark base, highlights on a light base, light colored hair, dark colored hair. Nothing actually hides the grey.

I read with interest recently about Anne Kreamer's new book, Going Grey - What I Learned About Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity and Everything Else That Really Matters. Kreamer calculated that she had spent $65,000 over twenty years coloring her grey hair. She became empowered and went au naturel, so to speak. Her experience not only changed her life, but changed her perspective on life, too.

I'm not ready to go full-out grey YET but I think I'm ready to ease into it. So I've been seeking a colorist who will highlight my hair GREY. It seems the world has not yet caught up with us boomers. Every person, product, place assumes I want to COVER MY GREY. But that's not what I want to do. I want someone to artfully ADD grey to my hair so that as my roots grow in they truly do blend in. I want platinum and silver and white streaks.

All of my internet searches return hundreds of thousands of sites with advice on covering up the grey, but nowhere can I find a product or specialist to GIVE ME MY GREY! I read a couple of cases where women were complaining about a stylist who had botched a coloring job and their hair turned out grey. I followed those links in the hopes that they would include the failed color formula. I was hoping to be able to present it to my stylist and ask for the same results.

Attention L'oreal, Clairol, Garnier, Goldwell.... if you make hair color, please start marketing permanent shades and highlights for the boomer market. I'll be your first customer!

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Our Own Little Darwin Award Nominee

Yesterday morning when we awoke, the light on our phone was flashing, indicating that there was a message waiting on our answering service. It is our custom to look at the call display before checking the messages; it's like a sneak peek to see who may be thinking about us. More often than not, call display shows Unknown Name Unknown Number, in which case we may not check the message for a few hours. After all, everyone we know has a name.

Yesterday's call display showed the caller's very Distinctive First and Last Names and telephone number. Funny thing, the caller left a message around 2:30 in the morning, yet none of us had heard the phone ring.

Finally, just before 4 p.m., we checked the messages. We were all a little shocked to hear a threatening voice warning us: "Your time has come to an end. I will be taking your life tomorrow at 6 p.m. (Evil laugh.) Goodbye."

Usually, you'd feel threatened hearing a message like that, but one could just make out the sounds of a young teen laughing in the background. It sounded like a prank call. I mean, who says "You'll by dead by 6 PEE-EM tomorrow." If I call you about a date, I may say something like "I'll see you at 2 o'clock tomorrow." I frequently use "p.m." when writing, but I can't even imagine using it in conversation. I thought it was polite of him to say the formal "Goodbye" instead of just hanging up, like I guess I'd expect serial killers would.

We didn't take it too seriously as an actual threat to our safety, but we did want to report it to the police. While waiting for the police to come, I thought I'd do a reverse look-up on the number. It turns out the number is a local cell phone.

I then used Canada411 and found four local families with the same Distinctive Surname. I used Mapquest to identify one of the streets as being in our neighbourhood.

In a moment of inspiration, I decided to look up the name on Facebook. Bingo! There he was. Mr. Distinctive First Name and Last Name, a student at a local high school.


The police officer was incredibly impressed with what he called "my investigation." I told him that I am the Empress of all Google searches. He complained that the police don't have access to Facebook as part of their investigative resources. Facebook is blocked on police computers.

Now you could hardly call this an "investigation." In total, the entire process took less than ten minutes.

The police will be making a visit to the young man's school and then speaking with his parents. Kids need to know that there are consequences to their seemingly 'fun' and 'innocent' pranks.

We're all safe, we think. As for me, I've offered to do online research for the regional police on a pay-per-search basis. After all, my first "investigation" appears to be successful.

Twenty minutes after writing this, we heard back from the police officer. It seems Mr. Distinctive First and Last Name was known to police. The officer had already been to his home and spoken to the kid and his parents. The cop seems to have warned him that he's lucky we're such good people and don't want to press charges, otherwise, he'd be spending the night in jail waiting to see a justice of the peace tomorrow morning. From what the officer told me, I'm pretty sure we won't be hearing from the kid again.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Me and Marcia Brady

I was surprised today to learn that I am THIS MUCH younger than Maureen McCormick (51), the actress who played Marcia Brady in the timeless TV show, The Brady Bunch.

I've taken to doing that a lot lately..... comparing my age to the ages of Hollywood celebrities. For example, reading my daughter's hand-me-down edition of People magazine today, I learned that I am younger than Valerie Bertinelli (47), Michelle Pfeiffer (49), and supermodel Iman (52!). That got me wondering about my age relative to other celebs.

You can find ANYTHING on the internet in 30 seconds or less!

My birthday is 10 / 15 / 1960
which means I am 46 years old and about:
34 years 4 months younger than Andy Griffith, age 81
30 years 11 months younger than Dick Clark, age 77
29 years 7 months younger than Leonard Nimoy, age 76
27 years 6 months younger than Carol Burnett, age 74
24 years 9 months younger than Alan Alda, age 71
23 years 3 months younger than Bill Cosby, age 70
17 years 11 months younger than Linda Evans, age 64
15 years 9 months younger than Tom Selleck, age 62
12 years 10 months younger than Ted Danson, age 59
10 years 6 months younger than Jay Leno, age 57
6 years 9 months younger than Oprah Winfrey, age 53
5 years 8 months younger than Kelsey Grammer, age 52
2 years 5 months younger than Drew Carey, age 49
0 years 8 months older than Michael J. Fox, age 46
4 years 1 month older than Calista Flockhart, age 42
8 years 4 months older than Jennifer Aniston, age 38
12 years 2 months older than Alyssa Milano, age 34
17 years 1 month older than Colin Hanks, age 29
22 years 10 months older than Mila Kunis, age 24
30 years 8 months older than Madylin Sweeten, age 16

and that I was:
1 years old at the time Beverly Hillbillies first aired
3 years old when the Addams Family first appeared on TV
5 years old at the time the first Star Trek episode was televised
10 years old when All in the Family was first shown
11 years old at the time the TV series M*A*S*H began
14 years old when Saturday Night Live first aired
17 years old when CBS introduced Dallas
20 years old during the first airing of Hill Street Blues
21 years old at the time the first Cheers episode was televised
25 years old when L.A. Law was first aired on TV
26 years old at the time the series Married with Children began
29 years old when Seinfeld was first televised
30 years old in the month Home Improvement began
33 years old at the time the TV series Friends began
35 years old when Everybody Loves Raymond first aired
38 years old when Who Wants To Be A Millionaire began in the US

Click here to see the TV Age Gauge and find out how old (or how young!) you are relative to the stars, too.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

New Art Blog

I've set up a new blog to showcase my art. Feedback and suggestions are always welcome.


Monday, September 10, 2007

My Brad Pitt Fantasy

Wait! It's not what you think.....

I've had more than enough of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie! They're on the cover of every magazine, the on-again, off-again non-marriage, the children (adopted, natural born, yet-to-be-conceived), the $500,000 necklace, the villas, the movie sets, this city, that city, this country, that country. Now the ever perfect Mr. & Mrs. Smith and perfect little baby Smiths have graced our fair city for the Toronto International Film Festival. Both Sunday newspapers (The Toronto Star and The Toronto Sun) had almost identical Brangelina pictures in vibrant 16 million colors on their front page.

I never would have thought this possible, but I am overdosing on Brad Pitt.

Now some of it is our fault, I must confess. A week ago, my husband and I went to the movie theatre to see Ocean's 13 and then to top off our private Brad Pitt film festival, we came home and watched Fight Club on DVD.


Yesterday afternoon, as I took out the garbage, sorted the recycling and washed the kitchen floor, the TV played in the background. The news outlets and entertainment shows were buzzing with sightings of the glorious couple.

And thus my fantasy did begin.

I imagined Brad and Angelina in their fabulous home in Malibu, or Maui or Malawi. They were doing their fabulous Sunday afternoon things: lounging over lunch, the TV playing in the background, the children giggling happily amongst their fabulous toys on the floor. I pictured Brad, a fabulous cup of coffee at his fabulous hand, opening the newspaper and saying to his fabulous non-wife:

"I am so sick of hearing about Michelle Henderson."

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sarah & Jeremy's Wedding - August 25, 2007

A glorious celebration of love!

Sarah & Jeremy’s Wedding

This slide show randomly picked 50 of the almost 100 photos from Sarah & Jeremy's wedding. To view the rest of the photos or to view these photos on Webshots, click here.

More webshots:

Jeremy & Sarah

Click here to see Joe Summers' webshots albums.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

$1 Million for Cricket, $0 for Christine Lee

The news today has been dominated by the scandal in the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration. Minister Mike Colle doled out $32 million in grants to cultural groups including $1 million to the Ontario Cricket Association (what cricket has to do with citizenship or immigration is the next question*). The thing is, the Ontario Cricket Association had requested a grant of only $150,000. An auditor's report revealed that the Cricket people spent $360,000 of their grant and parked $500,000 in a term deposit. That's how we get our taxpayer dollars working for us.

In the meantime, my sister, Christine, had to find $50,000 in private funding in order to visit the Cleveland Clinic to have a gastrointestinal pacemaker implanted to try to restore her health to the level it was when she had her first (government funded) pacemaker. Christine's story was the subject of a Toronto Star article in October, 2006. Click here to read about her plight. The Ontario government refused to fund or reimburse Christine's surgery and would not allow her to have the surgery here since the GI pacemaker is considered an experimental device -- even though they had previously funded the exact same surgery, the exact same device.

A million dollars for cricket and nothing for Christine. It's hardly a laughing matter, but Chris is a landed immigrant in Canada. Too bad we didn't know the ministry was handing out funds.

*The connection between cricket, citizenship and immigration? According to the now former minister, "Cricket is a sport that brings together a number of, basically, ethnic peoples..." I guess all ethnic peoples, particularly those who play cricket, MUST be either immigrants or citizens, right?

For more information about Christine's fight with the Ontario government, please click here to visit her blog. When Michael Moore was researching stories for his movie Sicko, I sent him a snapshot of Chris's fight. But Canada was the hero in his movie so, unfortunately, her story didn't fit his agenda.

If you're outraged by this story, please share this post with your family and friends by clicking the envelope icon at the bottom of this post. Or leave your comments. Thank you.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

I Confess....

I am hooked on Canadian Idol. So hooked, in fact, that for the first time ever, I made sure to watch the show this evening live -- so that I could call in and register my vote for the next Idol.

Lju and I are both rooting for Jaydee Bixby from Drumheller, AB. Instead of sitting him in front of the TV to watch Teletubbies when he was a baby, his parents must have played hours and hours of Elvis archives. The kid has a voice with such depth and resonance it belies his 16 years. (16 years for gosh sake!) I haven't heard -- or seen -- anything like this kid in 25 years -- or maybe ever! If his sincerity is an act, then the kid deserves an Oscar, too. This handsome young boy is going to be a superstar! I promise, I'll buy his CD the day it hits the market! I think I must have used the automatic redial at least 25 times to register our votes for Jaydee tonight. (Thank God it's a toll-free call!)

But I must confess that I also registered half as many votes for Carly Rae Jepsen, too. Here's another superstar. She's exotically beautiful, tremendously sweet and her stylings are sophisticated in a way that neither American Idol nor Canadian Idol has seen. The moment captured immediately following her audition was priceless. Zack Werner begged her not to take the gold ticket and to, instead, sign with him and make a record right away. I was right there with him. She deserves a record deal and tour, pronto. I'll buy Carly Rae's CD the day it's out, too. I can't wait to hear a mix of originals and interpretive cover tunes. But I still would like to see Jaydee win.

It's a very tough field right now with this top 9. The weakest performances tonight, I think, were Dwight D'eon and Martha Joy. Both have terrific talent -- I'm rooting for Dwight because I'd like to see him buy his ticket off his dad's Nova Scotia fishing boat. I think Martha is just too classically trained for this show. She's got great pipes, but she just doesn't seem authentic when she's performing pop hits.

Greg Neufeld needs to stay at least until the top 5 because he is so good looking! He definitely wins for the best looking older brother (did you see last week's episode?) Be still my beating heart! (Poor guy... how does it feel to have middle aged women lusting after him?)

Tara Oram has a great set of pipes and legs, too. I really enjoy her performances and she looks great on stage. The thing is, her game face is a little too much like Celine Dion's. Irritatingly so.

Matt Ripley and Khalila Glanville both impressed the hell out of me tonight. They each gave amazingly soulful performances. Nice work, both, although Matt could use a little choreographic coaching (I wasn't sure if he was feeling the song or had heartburn) and Khalila needs to stop being so terrified on that stage. I take it she's terrified; I'd hate to think that she's really that unfriendly.

Brian Melo is a force to be reckoned with. I'm not fond of his musical choices, but the guy shows up each week to win. And he has the coolest creative facial hair. Top 5 for sure.

I find myself liking Ben Mulroney and all of the judges; they each have something to offer and their musical influences and tastes add colour to the commentary. Even Jake Gold is likeable. I don't think I can pick a favourite, I respect them all. They've come a long way from season one. Although they are certainly different than the AI judges, I think that's part of their appeal.

If you want to know where I'll be tomorrow evening -- I'll be parked in front of the TV awaiting the results of this week's voting! I confess....

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

By George, I Think I've Got it!

Today a friend sent a viral email with a powerpoint presentation attachment that made beautiful promises about my life if only I forwarded it to 10 people within ten minutes of opening it. Of course, if I didn't immediately forward the message, bad things would befall me and those I love.

I didn't pass it along. I didn't think the presentation was all that clever. The litmus test I use is whether my sisters will enjoy or appreciate the message. This one didn't pass the test.

So I hit delete instead of forward. And then it occurred to me.

A few years ago, before email overload, I was less discriminating about the forwards I would share with family and friends. I passed them all along -- although I admit a few times I included a disclaimer - "This is dumb, but I didn't want to take the chance of bad things happening to me if I didn't send it."

Then, as the world bombarded us with spam, and I began to appreciate how much time email wastes most days, I really did become more selective about which messages I'd pass along.

It became easier and easier to delete messages that promised curses on my life for the next seven years.

This morning it hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn't have breast cancer when I was forwarding those goofy, time-wasting, spelling-mistake-filled powerpoint messages that steal people's photography and art without credit, promising prayers, great riches, true love. Then I started deleting them. Then I had breast cancer.

So I'm going back to the bad old days -- I'm forwarding everything to everyone. I'm not taking any more chances!

Knock wood.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It's Always Something

I spent the day today in a series of doctor's appointments. I attended the first appointment this morning with my sister, Christine. We are initiating genetic testing for the breast cancer gene in our family. Before having a routine blood test, we had to meet with a genetic counsellor. My genes are feeling much better now, thank you.

After reviewing our family tree, the counsellor deemed that my father's side of the family was "suspicious." Chris and I started laughing hysterically. Maybe it's those dark, shifty eyes, or perhaps his swarthy complexion. This explains why he always liked Pink Panther movies and Tom Clancy thriller novels.

It turns out today's Toronto Star story was prophetic:

Breast cancer gene often passed down 'silently'
Jun 19, 2007 04:07 PM
Carla K. Johnson
Associated Press

CHICAGO – A deadly gene's path can hide in a family tree when a woman has few aunts and older sisters, making it appear that her breast cancer struck out of nowhere when it really came from Dad."
Click here to read the full story.

After our appointment in Mississauga, I went to the local hospital to see my specialist. It has been four weeks since I was discharged from the hospital and sent home with the Freedom Vac. For the past 28 days twenty-four hours a day, I have carted this wonder machine with me everywhere. It was like having a long umbilical cord that caught on EVERYTHING: kitchen cupboards, door knobs, lawn furniture, the bottom of the bathroom door (almost fainted from the pain). I was extremely grateful to have the machine and was very proud of my cleverness in rigging it up as a fanny pack so that I had much more mobility.

The good news is that my doctor today ordered the vacuum removed. The wound has healed enough to now be managed the good, old-fashioned way. Nurses will still come to the house every second day to dress the wound and ensure that it continues healing.

The bad news? I was shocked to be treated as if I had the plague. The attending nurse came in practically wearing body armour, equipped with a pile of tools for collecting samples. She ordered the doctor to put on gloves if he was treating me. He looked alarmed. "She's been tagged VSE," the nurse barked. They started medical speak about VSE. "Excuse me, isn't VSE an antibiotic resistant bacteria?" I asked.

After much yelling by the attending nurse, my surgeon and his head of nursing, combined with a number of phone calls to the infectious disease control (IDC) department, I learned that a patient in the room with me during my hospital stay was VSE positive. That means that I could be exposed and a carrier, too.

I lifted my head off the hospital bed and looked at my doctor. "So, what you're telling me is that I have cooties?" I asked. It helped diffuse some of the stress.

Why wasn't I notified? According to the very busy administrator in IDC, they're too busy. "Do you know how many faxes we receive every day?" she snarled at the second nurse.

If I am a carrier, I've infected hundreds of people in the past four weeks, including 32 people in the outpatient lab services at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga today alone. Then there's the risk to my sister Christine, who already has a compromised immune system and is recovering from her own surgery last week. (Please read about Christine's adventures here.) My own wound is at great risk, too.

I have to wait ten days for the test results. From the research I did on-line, it appears that honey is an effective antidote to VSE infections. Let's hope I don't need to know that.

Today I've thought frequently about Rosanna Rosannadanna, aka Gilda Radner. Gilda, who died of ovarian cancer far too early, entitled her autobiography, It's Always Something, which is exactly what her character always told Jane Curtin on the original Saturday Night Live.

It's Always Something.

On the other hand, my sister Roni recently told me "90% of Everything Turns Out to Be Nothing."

I have a feeling both are true.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I Couldn't Make this Up if I Tried!

It seems Paris Hilton today professed a commitment to "stop acting dumb." Duh, broke that promise already, didn't she? Evidently, Paris made her stunning announcement in a collect telephone call from jail to Barbara Walters. If you were Paris's press agent, how would you handle this breaking news story? I mean, would you issue a press release on the subject? Let's not even discuss the poor little rich heiress making a collect call.... that's just too easy of a target, isn't it?

I wanted to post a picture of Paris on my blog so I thought I'd visit her website. Stop me from killing myself laughing. Under the headline 'Appearances' it actually says, "There are no current appearances planned." I guess she's tied up.

We could have so much fun with this.... Imagine the headlines over the next few weeks:
  • Mel Gibson Promises to Stop anti-Semitic Rants
  • OJ Simpson Vows to Find Nicole's Killer if it's the Last Thing on Earth that He Does
  • Rosie O'Donnell Pledges to Kiss and Make Up with Donald Trump, no Elizabeth Hasselbeck, no George Bush....
  • Gary Busey Swears to Not Act Insane
  • OK, that part WAS made up. This is too much fun! Send me your suggestions, I'll be happy to add them to the list....

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  • Thursday, June 07, 2007

    Don't Leave Important Things to the Last Minute

    Wonder what George Bush is doing today.Hot off the presses #1: Winnie Mandela was denied a visa to enter Canada the day before she was scheduled to give the key note address at a fundraising arts gala earlier this week. The gala was to include excerpts of a newly composed opera, The Passion of Winnie, based on her colourful and controversial life.

    Hot off the presses #2: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not meet with U2 frontman and global anti-poverty activist Bono during this week's G8 summit in Germany. The PM's spokesperson said, "The Prime Minister has spoken in the past via telephone with Bono and obviously the Prime Minister has a very full agenda for the next two days."

    The news/talk radio station phone lines have gone crazy the past couple days with spirited, but not always intelligent, debate about whether Winnie is being unfairly targeted and whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper is out of touch with today's global issues. The callers are passionately divided.

    But it seems to me that everyone has missed the point. The opera based on Winnie Mandela's life has been in the works since 2003. Although the producers may not have finalized their funding that far in advance, I'm certain the premiere has been scheduled for at least a few months. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the organizers contacted Ms. Mandela first to see when she might be able to visit Toronto, then scheduled the event around her commitment. So, you know you're going to Canada in a few months and you need a visa. Isn't that something you do -- or your people do -- MONTHS in advance? If she had been denied the visa a month or two before the event, it would hardly have been the breaking news story it became. Convicted criminals are denied entry into Canada all the time. It's only news because someone left it to the last minute.

    Same thing with Bono and Prime Minister Harper. I'm sure the dates of this year's G8 summit were long ago published. As one of the G8 member countries, our PM was fully expected to attend. Why didn't Bono's people request some time on the Prime Minister's itinerary months ago? I know from my international travel experience, you confirm all of your appointments long before you leave for your trip -- especially those most critical to your mission. You sure as heck don't show up and hope to get a meeting.

    And then complain about it when you don't.

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    Monday, June 04, 2007

    That's Another Fine Art We've Lost!

    The world should be mourning the loss of Saskatchewan farmer, Gus Wickstrom, who died this weekend at the age of 69.

    Why is that we know so much about Paris Hilton, but, until now, we've never heard or read about poor, not-so-old Gus?

    Gus Wickstrom of Tompkins, Saskatchewan was one of a dying breed of weather prognosticators using the spleen of a pig. According to the Toronto Star:

    "...Wickstrom would slaughter a pig, pluck out its spleen, bite into it, and come up with a forecast for the area around Tompkins in southwest Saskatchewan.

    Wickstrom was so good that he was featured in The Old Farmers Almanac and his prognostications were published in several community newspapers and websites."

    Evidently Wickstrom was 90% accurate in his long-term forecasts. The most forward-looking forecast you'll get from the Weather Channel is 7-days -- and even then, with all their fancy equipment and science, they're not always that accurate.

    Gus learned his technique from his father. The Star continues the story:

    "According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, there was some method to his long-range six-month forecasting system.

    He would divide the spleen into six areas – one piece for each month. The piece closest to the pig's head shows the current month while the bottom represents the end of the forecast period.

    Where the spleen thickens would indicate a change in the weather – likely a cold spell."

    Gus also claimed that he could forecast wind and rain by biting into the pig's spleen.

    The thing I'd like to know, of course, is HOW THE HECK DID THEY LEARN THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE? Imagine back in the dust-bowl days, a coupla farmboys, having just completed all their chores, are sitting around playing truth or dare.... Well, you can picture the rest....

    I do hope that Gus passed his knowledge and expertise on to the next generation before he, um, passed on. I, for one, would hate to think that pig spleen weather forecasting is now exinct.

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    Thursday, May 24, 2007

    With Breast Cancer, a Week is a Very Long Time*

    Just home from a couple days in the hospital. I hate to admit it, but it was a very good thing for me. Almost 72 hours doing absolutely NOTHING but healing. Obviously my body needed it. I have a wound that, with traditional packing and closing, the doctor anticipates would take two months to heal. Instead, they have hooked me up with a Freedom Vac that should heal the wound in one-to-two weeks!

    Our cat is more than a little freaked out! She sure missed me the past couple days. Now she's most curious about this little black shoulder pack that accompanies me everywhere. It purrs like a male cat in heat. The Freedom Vac is supposed to give you the freedom to carry on with life -- I'm not sure I'll be making a visit to the grocery store. If you didn't know it was the machine, you'd think I had uncontrolled flatulence! We sure won't be going to the movie theatre anytime soon, either.

    The Freedom Vac is just slightly bigger than a portable DVD player and weighs about the same as a laptop computer (their website says 3 pounds, but I must have the older model). It's new and takes a little getting used to remembering to bring it everywhere with me. After we got home from the hospital this morning, my father asked, "What happens if you forget to take it with you?"

    It's like that scene in the movie 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' when Toula is working at the travel agency with the headset on and Ian comes in to see her. (Click the link to watch the movie clip!)

    *Today's blog title was inspired by Harold Wilson, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, who said "In politics, a week is a very long time." Courtesy of The Book of Origins by Trevor Homer.

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    Sunday, May 20, 2007

    No Wonder You're Tired All the Time!

    "Women constitute 53% of the earth’s population. They perform two-thirds of the world’s work for which they earn 10% of the income. They own 1% of the property and they have 100% of the children. Given these statistics, women should hold the majority of the political power in the world. -– Helen Caldicott, M.D., pediatrician, anti-nuclear activist, author of If You Love This Planet

    We don’t because we are too tired from looking after our families, jobs and homes." -- Lorna Vanderhaeghe

    Lorna Vanderhaeghe, a researcher and journalist in nutritional medicine, offers a valuable website on women's health and nutrition, including free access to the online book, "An A-Z Woman's Guide to Vibrant Health." I highly recommend spending some time at her site. While much of her focus is on women's health, she does research and review topics of general interest and has a few vitamin/supplement formulations designed especially for men, too. Click here sign up to receive her free enewsletter.

    Yeah, I know I said I wasn't going to blog about my battle with breast cancer. It has consumed my life; I guess I've changed my mind.

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    Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    The Bystander Effect

    The Bystander Effect is described in Wikipedia as “a psychological phenomenon in which someone is less likely to intervene in an emergency situation when others are present than when he or she is alone.”

    In the parable of The Good Samaritan, two men bypassed the victim without offering any help. Psychologists coined The Bystander Effect in the 1960’s after the sexual assault and murder of Kitty Genovese in New York. Kitty’s assault and murder was witnessed by over 35 people, yet nobody intervened to stop the attack.

    I’m a participant, not a bystander. I don’t necessarily gauge my reaction according to the people around me, I assess the situation and take action. I evaluate a situation and interpret whether it’s an emergency. In the next second, I ask myself if I have a responsibility to take action. Then I choose the most appropriate action.

    Even in non-urgent situations, I exercise the same process. I ask myself, ‘What needs to be done? What responsibility do I have in getting it done? Then I take action so that the required results are achieved.’.

    Sometimes doing nothing is the right action. But here’s the thing: if it’s also the easiest option to choose, then it’s probably not the right thing to do.

    Maybe just knowing the Bystander Effect exists helps me not become one.

    from CBC Sunday Report (May 13, 2007)

    I am uninspired, my thoughts are scattered and unfocused, so today's post is courtesy of my sister, Christine Lee.

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    Thursday, May 03, 2007

    Way Too Much TV

    Today, two weeks after my surgery, I still have a very limited range of movement. I cannot turn my torso from side to side and can only sleep sitting up or flat on my back, if I can sleep at all. My attention span for great literature is quite limited. I started reading John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" and rereading my favourite book of all-time, "Larry's Party" by Carole Shields, but both books are too heavy to hold beyond a few minutes. Even some magazines are too heavy; the new issue of Oprah Winfrey's O magazine has more than 400 pages for God's sake! This means I've spent the most time ever in my life watching endless hours of television.

    Some of my viewing choices have been extraordinary TV - yesterday I watched a two-part, four-hour documentary by director Spike Lee about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that was both disturbing and compelling. It is a combination of social commentary and filmmaking art. It's featured on the Movie Network this month and I highly recommend it. Set your PVR to record it on May 24.

    I also confess to enjoying a 4:00 a.m. presentation of "10 Things I Hate About You," a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" starring a very young Heath Ledger. The script was surprisingly sharp and the lead actors very strong for their young ages. Overall, it reminded me of an upscale kind of John Hughes movie twenty years after the original Brat Pack movies.

    It seems though that for every hour of quality presentation, there are 10,000 hours of useless, moronic, uninspired crap. Someone offered Star TV as a good source for mindless programming. I almost choked when I saw this program in the line-up: "Hollywood Stars: An In-Depth Look at Jennifer Aniston." Now, it's not that I'm not a fan of hers, after all, where would I be without 37 episodes of Friends every day? but has Jennifer Aniston done anything with depth? I'm guessing that the follow-up program after that would be something like "The Many Sides of David Schwimmer."

    Have you seen the current Clearasil commercial? The one where the older brother counsels his younger brother on getting clearer skin? It's like watching a poorly dubbed movie from Hong Kong, except both the brothers are speaking English. It's just that what their mouths are saying is not what the voices are speaking. I tried to find a copy of the commercial on-line, but, alas, it seems unavailable. For the budget Clearasil has for buying commercial time, you'd think they'd have invested a little more to ensure they had a good script from the get-go.

    Speaking of commercials, there is a current Chrysler Sebring commercial on the air, perhaps you've seen it? Not one to miss many details, I actually try to read the fine print. Often car commercials warn "Stunt driver on closed course. Do not attempt." The Sebring commercial actually states in very small white print along the bottom of the screen: "Always sit properly in seat and securely fasten seatbelt." OK, I understand the seatbelt warning, but what driver needs to be reminded to "Always sit properly in seat"? (Click here to read the fine print on the Chrysler website....)

    There is a program I didn't see: "Hollywood's Greatest Mysteries." It inspired me to wonder: how did the producers of "The Toy" and Nacho Libre ever get the money to make their films? Didn't anyone ever read the scripts? If Tori Spelling's father hadn't been one of TV's most successful producers, would she have ever had an acting career at all? Why did the early "Everybody Loves Raymond" writers change the twins' names from Matthew and Gregory to Michael and Geoffrey?

    It's 4:30 in the morning. Why am I spending any time at all thinking about this crap?

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    Sunday, April 29, 2007

    Why I Haven't Called or Written

    These past two weeks have been very difficult. Forgive me if I haven't written or returned your call. Sitting at the computer takes more muscles than I have right now. You might not think it, but talking on the phone takes a tremendous amount of energy. I am lacking in both muscles and energy right now.

    My days are measured in increments between pain pills. The accomplishments have been few -- two trips to see the doctors, my first shower after surgery, washing my hair on my own, sleeping through the night.

    I've had a few set backs in the past couple of days so the pain has been extreme. Friday night I took to bed and, since then, have ventured no further than the bathroom. My husband has been promising that every day can only get better. It's a good thing I am an optimist; I believe him.

    It seems cancer is a major theme in our family's life.

    My mother's father, my Uncle Dave, died of lung cancer almost nine years ago. My cousin, Cathy, one of Uncle Dave's daughters, is the chair of the Allen Park, Michigan Relay for Life event to benefit the American Cancer Society May 19-20, 2007.

    Cathy has asked my sister, Roni, and me to be the poster children of this year's event. I am honoured.

    Cancer runs up both sides of our family tree. On my mother's side, her brother, Dave, and sister, Rosemary, both died from lung cancer. Breast cancer seems to come from my father's side of the tree, including my father's sister, Pat, then Roni, now me.

    During this battle with breast cancer, I am already grateful to the American Cancer Society for their on-line resources and support. If you would like to support Cathy's Relay efforts, I'd be grateful, too. After all, I'm one of the poster children for cancer this year.

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    Monday, April 23, 2007

    Smelling the Spring Flowers

    Today is day 5 post-double-mastectomy-breast-cancer surgery. It is difficult to remind myself that life is good. This is a horrible disease, a painful antidote, a life-changing event over which I have very, very little control. Not easy to accept for a self-admitted control freak.

    I have been so tempted to name this post "Tits and Pussy." I figured it would likely generate a lot of readers, many of whom would have been so disappointed by the content. The tits part, I think, is self-explanatory. For almost two months now my breasts have been the centre of my universe. For five days now, the centre of my entire being. The pussy part might be a little surprising to some. It seems that our cat, Chia, cannot forget that I have saved her life twice in the past couple months. Since I came home from surgery last Wednesday, she has not left my side. If I dare leave my bed without an attendant, she follows me, tattling at the top of her lungs to anyone who'll listen. In telling a story to my mother yesterday, I pretended to cry. The poor cat started to panic. It took hours of petting her with my one good hand to convince her that I was not in any danger. Most people have a guardian angel - I have a guardian cat!

    Believe it or not, it has been wonderful having her here for comfort and love. Most of the burden of caring for me has been on the strong shoulders of my wonderful husband, Ljuban. After all, he's been my primary care-giver, drain-emptier, pee-assister, hair-washer, tea-maker, up-and-down-the-stairs-runner, with much-appreciated assistance from my Mom and daughter, Shannon. But it's been the cat who's been there to make sure that I've adjusted my pillow properly, have my left arm elevated, am covered and warm even though the windows have been open on these beautiful summer-like spring days. She's the only one who knows if I've been crying, hurting, grimacing, shifting position by degrees.

    She's been my loyal companion through countless episodes of The Munsters. Yes, The Munsters has (have?) been my escape through this recovery. My brother, Joe, lent us the box set some time ago where it sat largely ignored on the DVD pile. What better way to not think than to immerse yourself in the antics of America's first ghoulishly funny family? Once I am well, I probably won't watch another episode again as long as I live (I hope), and I'm sure I shall quickly forget them all, but these past few days and very long nights, they are my refuge. It takes far less commitment than watching TV. If I fall asleep I can quickly rewind to my last conscious memory. It generates only a few belly laughs, a few more chuckles and is incredibly well-written, well-acted and wholesomely entertaining. I have enjoyed watching the evolution of the writing and production teams, the characters, costumes, budgets over time. Since there are credit courses in university on shows like Seinfeld (I don't get it) and The Simpsons (ditto), there should certainly be critical analysis courses on The Cultural Evolution of The Munsters.

    I'm sorry if you haven't heard from me. I have written very few emails since it takes a lot of energy to sit up and type at my computer. My left arm is very numb, and seemingly feeling numb-er the more the medication wears off. It is even more difficult to find the energy to talk on the phone.

    I have a lot of thoughts although very few are coherent. Far fewer are interesting at this time to anyone other than me.

    I have been blessed with an abundance of spring flowers, thank you dear Friends! Our bedroom is quite colourful and lively, so much so, that we have started spreading the bouquets and arrangements throughout the house.

    Today I ventured out for a "walk" -- it was my first time downstairs and a few steps beyond our front porch -- to enjoy the spring flowers now blooming in our gardens.

    Instead of focusing on my pain, misery, feelings of despair, today's post is entitled "Smelling the Spring Flowers" because it is positive, optimistic and hopeful. And probably more family-appropriate than "Tits and Pussy."

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    Tuesday, April 03, 2007

    Chia Update April 3, 2007

    Chia came home from the 'hospital' on Saturday, March 31 after 11 days at the veterinarian's. She was not yet out of the woods, but they had weaned her off the intravenous and thought she could probably best finish recuperating at home. I wanted to wait a few days to make sure she was improving before publishing an update.

    The first few hours she was home, she found deep, dark places in the house in which to hide, as I've noticed sick cats do. After about five or six hours, she started venturing out of her hiding spots and was starving for affection. Her fur was coming out in handfuls - I think from both the trauma of being sick and being away from home for so long.

    She has hardly left my lap. Yesterday morning she had to visit the vet's office again. The goal was to take blood to ensure that her kidney levels are improving. While she's become quite accustomed to the vet, she was not fully cooperative so they weren't able to get a conclusive test. The vet told us to make sure that she's eating the new, low protein food and drinking plenty of water.

    Chia's eyes look brighter and her face looks happier. I tried to get her to pose for an updated photo, and this was the shot we got. She's not fully back to her old self, but we are both quite hopeful.

    Thank you to everyone who's written or called with concern about our little kitty.

    Now to collect the $2,100.00 in vet bills that we've paid to save her life!

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    Friday, March 30, 2007

    Guest Post - Petcetera Vice President Richard Kaga

    I received a reply this week from Petcetera in reply to my complaint about the recent Menu Foods recall. I asked Richard Kaga for permission to reprint his email here:

    "Dear Michelle,

    Thank you for expressing your concern. I visited your blog and was saddened to here of Chia's condition. We hope she is able to recover from it. We were first made aware of the recall on Saturday morning, March 17th and immediately sent instructions to all stores to remove the affected product (specific brands of wet food cans and foil pouches) from the shelves. Since then we have updated our website several times, followed up and provided additional direction to our stores, and answered numerous inquiries from customers. Your comments regarding what was communicated to you by our Ajax store were disappointing and have been addressed with them. We understand how important this matter is and it has been our highest priority since it was announced.

    Richard Kaga
    Vice President
    Canadian Petcetera Limited Partnership"

    I'd like to think that my one small voice is helping to change the world in a positive way.

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    Friday, March 23, 2007

    Kicking Cancer Ass

    My sister Roni is beating cancer with a combination of courage, fortitude and 17 pair of kick-ass “cancer boots.” I think her wonderful husband, Wayne, bought her a pair of boots for every chemotherapy treatment plus a few extras on those really tough, really low days. She’s been a strong, brave soldier – even when she didn’t want to be. Having completed chemo, Roni is now undergoing five weeks of radiation. Every day she reports which pair of boots she's worn for that day's treatment: purple with fur, black patent leather, brown suede... I think she's most looking forward to getting a few new pairs as she nears the end of her treatment regimen.

    Now, I guess it's my turn. Just over a month ago, I learned I have breast cancer. Same as Roni. Same as my Aunt Pat. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. It's my turn to join the club. Statistics say 1 in 9, I'm thinking it's a lot more pervasive that that. After all, I have three sisters; this makes it two in four.

    If you're a regular or deep reader of this blog, you may know that I had a mammogram and breast ultrasound last September. Turns out the doctors missed it then. (BTW, I take back every nice thing I said about that mammo machine.)

    Since "the boot thing" has already been done, Roni and Wayne sent me my very own pair of kick cancer ass shoes to wear to my first appointment with the breast surgeon.

    These are definitely kick ass shoes. In fact, they remind me of the shoes worn by Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz.

    Surgery is scheduled for April 18. I don't quite know what to expect after that. Some of my recovery will be different than Roni's, some of it may be similar. It's a good thing I've taken these last six months to get healthy. I've lost 25+ pounds and have been working out to tone and strengthen my body. I didn't know it then, but I suppose it has all been so I'd be healthy enough - emotionally and physically - to kick cancer ass.

    Although I may update from time to time, I don't plan to blog about my cancer experience. It's far too personal.... I mean, it's not exactly the same as confessing that I watch American Idol. (More on AI later.)

    And besides, right now, I'm still worried about our cat!

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    Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    Chia Part 3

    Chia is in the hospital. She's spending the night at the emergency clinic in Whitby. The prognosis is not good. She has renal failure.

    Last Friday, upon learning of the pet food recall, I sent an email to Colin Perkel, the writer for Canadian Press who broke the original story in Canada. I wrote to object that there had been "There had been no complaints from Canadian pet owners".

    Mr. Perkel filed a follow-up story today, quoting me from my blog. Click here to read today's CP story.

    In fact, there have been hundreds of reported cases in Canada. Here are just a few of the confirmed stories:

    Winnipeg Free Press

    The Globe and Mail

    CBC News

    Even the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association has acknowledged the link between tainted food and an increase in renal failure, particularly in cats.

    The saga continues. Let's hope we're one of the stories with a happy ending.

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    Monday, March 19, 2007

    I Smell A Class Action Suit - Where Do I Sign Up?

    It's been confirmed. Our cat, Chia, has been eating an assortment of Special Kitty cat foods I purchased at Wal-Mart. Luckily, we buy a combination of Whiskas (not affected by the recent recall) and Special Kitty. It appears as though perhaps we delayed the onset of deadly complications by randomly alternating the foods she's been eating over the past month. Last Thursday evening my husband made the connection between the Special Kitty food and the cat's erratic behaviour. From that point, we started feeding her only Whiskas.

    The thing was, she wasn’t eating. On Saturday morning we took Chia to the vet. To say that our cat doesn't like to visit the vet is a severe understatement. This wonderful, gentle, loving cat, who also happened to be very weak from not eating, turns into a vicious, demon-possessed wild creature in the presence of a veterinarian. The vet told us one of the symptoms of renal failure is a foul odour from the cat's mouth. Unfortunately, the vet was in a bit of a hurry and didn't want to take the time to fully investigate Chia's health. She sent us home, $150 lighter with some food samples, and told us to watch her closely during the next 24 to 48 hours.

    Every time the cat meowed the most vile smell emitted from her mouth. I can only imagine what death smells like; I'm sure it's not unlike this.

    Sunday morning the cat was definitely worse. In our experience, cats hide when they are sick. We couldn’t find Chia anywhere. Eventually, she came weakly after we had been calling for a long time. She had eaten nothing, had not taken any water, had not eliminated anything into her litter box. We called the emergency clinic. After waiting almost three hours, she was seen by the emergency vet. Their recommendation: $1,200 in tests.

    While we were waiting at the emergency clinic, at least six big dogs (all from 75 lbs to over 120 lbs) came in, all with identical symptoms to our very sick cat. In fact, Chia would normally consider a dog her mortal enemy. That many dogs would surely notice the smell of a cat sitting on my lap. They were all so ill, they didn't bother with each other at all. In fact, Chia laid in my arms like a weak child, wrapped in a blanket, mewing softly from time to time in pain.

    The one thing it seemed all of these dogs had in common was their pet food, a combination of premium brands (Iams and Eukanuba) and grocery store brands (President’s Choice, Price Chopper, etc.).

    Chia did finally get a huge spunk of energy when it was time to be examined by the vet. As Lju tried to help lift her on to the scale, she chomped down with hundreds of pounds of pressure, puncturing his index finger in four places and drawing a stream of blood even in her weakened state. It turns out she had lost 5 oz. in weight since Saturday morning. She was definitely becoming sicker.

    We had to pass on the $1200 in investigations. We left another $150 lighter and went to the pet food store to stock up on fresh food. I stayed in the car with the cat while Ljuban went into the store.

    I first read about the pet food recall around midnight on Friday/Saturday morning. (It appears the company serviced the original media release around 4:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon.) We shopped at Petcetera Store #125 (there are 46 Petcetera locations in Canada) on Sunday afternoon at exactly 2:57 p.m. My husband consulted with two of the workers on the floor, explaining that our cat was severely ill from the tainted food. They were well aware of the recall. Not only did they still have Eukanuba and Iams foods on the shelves, they actually recommended the Nutro Natural Choice brand to my husband, telling him it was safe because it was produced by a Canadian company (Menu Foods, the recalling company, is a Canadian Income Trust). Of course, trusting their expertise, he purchased the brand (luckily, together with some Techni-Cal). We checked all of the brands against the recall list. More than 38 hours after the recall was announced, not only were they still selling a recalled brand, they were, in fact, recommending it. At the time of this post, the Petcetera website has no mention of the pet food recall on their website.

    Just now, I checked the Menu Foods site again. It seems they have added two additional brands of cat food (yesterday there were only 40 brands listed) – but they do not show the list as having been updated as of today’s date.

    Yesterday, I also visited the Eukanuba and Iams brands websites. It is important to know that Iams had no notice on their website as of yesterday. The linked press release was posted today, although not identified as being of today’s date. I could find nothing about the recall on the Whiskas website. Senior management at Master Foods, the makers of Whiskas, should be ripped to shreds on this one. Any director of publicity or marketing should know rule #1 in a time of crisis: post a press statement reaffirming trust in your brand while your competitors are being slammed in the market. As of today’s date, the Master Foods website states “There are no new Press Releases / Backgrounders / Fact Sheets in the last 90 days.” If Master Foods needs a new Vice President of Marketing, they know how to reach me.

    Hooray for Royal Canin foods, maker of Techni-Cal. Their director of PR is on the ball.

    I am outraged at the way this has been managed by Menu Foods, its licensors and its competitors. I am disappointed in how dismissive two veterinarians have been to the urgency of this matter. Never mind the economic risks, I am disillusioned yet again by the health risks of globalization. I am appalled at how slow retail has been to react. It’s no wonder people became so very ill and died from eating tainted spinach. Wait for something really big to get into our food supply. We can only hope that society will respond with more urgency to save human lives. This should be a lesson to us all.

    In the meantime, we have spent more than $350 and our cat isn't out of the woods yet. Do I smell a class action lawsuit? Where do I sign up?

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    Saturday, March 17, 2007

    Menu Foods Wet Cat Food Recall

    Our cat, Chia, has been sick most of the week. Yesterday my husband made the connection between the assortment of Special Kitty foods she's been eating and how lethargic and seemingly "sad" this cat has been for the past seven days. We purchase all of our Special Kitty wet and chunky cat foods at Wal-Mart.

    This evening I read about the pet food recall at Menu Foods, one of North America's largest pet food producers.

    The Canadian Press story by Colin Perkel reported:

    "Menu Foods, one of the leading North American private-label and contract manufacturer of wet pet-food products, produced more than one billion containers last year.

    It supplies its products to 17 of the top 20 retailers in North America for sale under store labels such as Master Choice, Compliments and Select and manufactures for several national brands.

    The story further reported, "One dog and a "small number" of cats in the U.S. are reported to have died from kidney failure after eating the food....There had been no complaints from Canadian pet owners."

    Um, excuse me! I'd like to complain about this. What are we supposed to do now? Luckily, we had some Whiskas wet, chunky food. But it has just now occurred to me that Whiskas brand may be affected, too. Unfortunately, as of the time of this post, the Menu Foods website is not accessible.

    I had noticed that our cat had no energy. She always comes when we call her name. Nothing this week has been enough to inspire her to move off the sofa. On those few times when she has ventured a little further, I noticed that she was extremely uncoordinated -- she slipped off the sofa several times for no apparent reason.

    What do we do now? How do we ensure that our cat will recover with no lasting side effects?

    Updated March 17, 2007: The Menu Foods website is now working, and, in fact, the Special Kitty brand has more than 100 affected products. I am happy to report that the Whiskas brand is NOT made by Menu Foods. Can you guess what kind of cat food she'll be eating from now on?

    I tried posting a comment to the Menu Foods website but the form is not working. Instead I sent them an email. Any chance they planning to reimburse pet owners their veterinary bills?

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    Friday, March 02, 2007

    Give Me A Hand, Would You?

    From AOL news: A young doctor who admitted to severing a hand from a cadaver as a medical student, then giving it to a stripper, was fined Thursday and told to stay out of trouble for 15 months.

    “I never knew it was illegal,” the doctor said. Oh yeah, sure. “I just thought it was kinky, not illegal,” must be how he rationalized it. Come on! How many people do YOU know keep a cadaver hand on their dresser?

    Maybe she was just a really busy stripper and she said to the guy, “You know, I really could use an extra hand around here.”

    I guess we have to hand it to the judge. He could have punished the guy with community service. You know, like giving hand-outs at the soup kitchen.

    Thank goodness the stripper never said to him, ‘Have a heart.” He might have interpreted that as a question. Someone should tell this guy that we don’t REALLY give HEARTS for Valentine’s Day.

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    Monday, February 26, 2007

    Air Canada - Love 'em and Hate 'em

    My daughter came home yesterday for 24 hours for a 'real job' opportunity from her 'retirement' in Florida. It was a harrowing day for her. After four hours sleep, she left her villa at 5 a.m. to go to the West Palm Beach airport to catch a 7:00 a.m. flight, stopping in Washington, DC before continuing on to Toronto. At 7:30 a.m. she called to let us know her flight was delayed. An hour later, she called again, this time to let us know that the flight leg from DC to Toronto was cancelled due to bad weather. They would put her up in Washington and fly her out sometime Monday.

    In all my years of business travel, there are two things I have learned: don't complain about mechanical delays or delays due to bad weather.

    Shannon's bag had already been checked through to Toronto via Washington, but since her appointment was in Toronto at 9:00 Monday morning, being stranded in Washington, DC was not going to help. I told her not to board the DC flight; don't worry about her bag, it will get here eventually (it still hasn't, but that'll be another story, I'm sure).

    Now, how to get her to Toronto? She checked at the Air Canada desk but all flights to Toronto from West Palm Beach were booked solid. In the meantime, I was on the phone with Orbitz (where she'd booked her flight) and she was surfing the internet via wireless connection, trying to find a way to get her home.

    Voila! She found a reasonable fare and flight for the same day, leaving from Fort Lauderdale and coming to Toronto via Ottawa. Only problem was, Shannon was in West Palm Beach. And her friend had dropped her off at the airport. She called her friend in a panic to came back to pick her up and race her to Fort Lauderdale. If it all worked out OK, Shannon would land in Toronto around 6 p.m.

    They got there with minutes to spare. Air Canada - Love 'em #1. The ticket agent processed Shannon through quickly (no bags to check, remember?) and helped her move through the security line (bypassing thousands of spring break travellers). When she got to her gate, a lovely ticket agent offered her, instead, a direct flight to Toronto (no stop in Ottawa) leaving an hour later and arriving an hour earlier. Shannon was thrilled to accept. Air Canada - Love 'em #2. They upgraded her to business class. She landed at 5 p.m., twelve hours after she left that morning.

    Since she was coming home for a business opportunity and has obligations to her team in Florida, she was scheduled to stay for only 24 hours before returning to West Palm Beach on her $109.00 ticket. After hearing how stressful her trip home had been, her team leader gave her an extra day before needing her back. She inquired in Fort Lauderdale about a change fee to move Monday's return flight to Tuesday, instead. She was told it would be $130.00 to change, but she'd have to do it online or on the phone. Now, $130 to change a $109 ticket might not be acceptable to you and me, but Shannon was stressed and homesick. But there wasn't time to make the change before getting on her flight.

    I tried to help by making the change online. The change fee reported a fare difference of almost $400. In the meantime, she had gone to Shopper's Drug Mart to replace the make-up that had flown as far as Washington, DC and studied for her test for today's meeting. It was almost midnight and she'd had a stressful day. I offered to call Air Canada to make the change over the phone since the on-line thing wasn't working out to $130. After more than an hour-and-a-half on hold with Air Canada, I gave up.

    Today, we awoke at 6 a.m. to get ready for the trip downtown. I gave Shannon the news that I was unable to make the $130 change. She was disappointed. We thought we'd try at the airport after her appointment, since she was due to fly out today anyway.

    She aced her test and we made our way to the airport. Upon arrival, she got in a very long line to see a ticket agent. In the meantime, I picked up the courtesy phone, which was answered after two rings. I inquired about the fee to change her ticket so she could return tomorrow instead of today. $400. Shannon started to cry, she was so disappointed. She needed that one day of rest and recovery. I think she really wanted her Mom's cooking.

    She removed herself from the line and went to check-in to get her boarding pass. After finalizing her paperwork, we decided to inquire about her bag. We were sent to another Air Canada agent at the other end of the terminal. We asked about her luggage and were directed to yet another area. As we walked away, Shannon doubled back and asked about the cost of changing her flight. The agent clicked a few buttons on her computer and told her it would cost $40.

    Air Canada - Love 'em #3. The agent made the day a million times better for Shannon today with a change fee of $40.

    The same change that I had just 20 minutes earlier asked another agent about? In less than 20 minutes, the fee went from $400 to $40. In less than 24 hours, the fee had gone from $130 to $400 to $40? Nothing else had changed.

    Air Canada - sometimes it's hard to love 'em.


    Saturday, February 24, 2007

    Parental Discipline Deficit Disorder

    The end of civilization is nearer.

    Jim Coyle of the Toronto Star summed it up in this essay, introducing the latest "give it a medical name so everyone has something to blame it on": Parental Discipline Deficit Disorder. Surely, you've seen adults afflicted with this condition: those who have abrogated their responsibility to teach their children the difficult and important lessons in life; those who cater to their children's whims, desires, tantrums; those adults too afraid to say 'no' to the little person who rules their lives.

    In his column, Mr. Coyle included a reference to the recent book, "Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank." Oh how I wish I'd been clever enough to think to market that blog rant into a book. I love imagining the author pitching the concept to a publisher.

    Courtesy of my sister, Christine, here's the latest, and perhaps lowest (although I'm sure someone somewhere is slithering under this low rung): "Fashion house accused of marketing children as "little sexual beings," grooming them for sexual predators with a T-shirt featuring the slogan "Future Porn Star".

    People thought I was nuts when I protested my then-six-year-old niece singing Britney Spears's “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” complete with pole-dancing stripper moves. If only the world had listened....

    What kind of call to action is necessary for today’s parents to take charge? Sadly, the majority can’t say no to their children; how will they protest fashion and media sexploitation of children?

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    Thursday, February 22, 2007

    Happy Anniversary!

    Although we are nearing the 10th Anniversary of the date we met, and it’s now just more than 2 ½ years since we married, this special anniversary celebrates 5 years since my husband and I quit smoking!

    Five years smoke-free! Hooray!

    That’s somewhere between $22,000 and $25,000 that we have not spent feeding the monster. We’ve saved our bodies the ravages of at least 46,000 cigarettes each – not to mention sparing our families, our cars and our home the stink of 92,000 disgusting butts.

    Oh the time we wasted smoking! I can’t remember how often I told my daughter we would do something “right after this cigarette.” As smokers we’d linger, usually a little too long, after dinner. My day couldn’t begin until I had those deep drags off the morning’s first cigarette.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we managed to bank those savings, either in time or money. We were extremely motivated in the early days: each morning we’d put $5 in a box we kept on the dresser, recording our ‘deposits’ in a little notebook kept inside. Last week I peeked in the box. It held four US pennies, a button and the notebook showing six deposits of $5.00 each and six IOUs for the same. (Lju had made the deposits, I had made the withdrawals.)

    We may not have the money or the time back, but we are so much richer for having quit. I cannot imagine the many experiences or things we would have done without if we were still buying smokes. In fact, we rationalize some of our purchases by the equivalent number of packs or cartons of cigarettes. For example, my monthly car payment is equal to about 5 cartons, or about what I used to smoke. I guess that’s why I always drove a used car!


    Sunday, February 18, 2007

    Mark This Date on Your Calendar

    A very frightening lead headline on the AOL homepage this evening warns:

    Asteroid Speeds Toward Earth
    U.N. Is Urged to Take Charge
    What Are the Odds It Hits Us?

    Well, I don't know about you, but that sure got my attention! After all, I saw the movie Armageddon. I remember the fear, panic, potential devastation so narrowly averted by Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and a young Ben Affleck.

    Call the air force, the National Guard, somebody boil some water! The headline was doing its job -- I had to read this urgent story. I had to know what our government is doing to protect us from this looming doom. I had to know NOW!

    Wait! Let me save you some time: Mark the date April 13, 2036 on your calendar. Unless you're over the age of 75, then I’m thinking that you probably don't have to worry about it. In fact, I'm not all that worried about it myself and I'm only (!) 46. It's still 29 years away. An awful lot can happen in 29 years.

    Imagine if you had read such a warning in 1979 about a catastrophe due to happen today? Would you have done anything differently in the past 29 years? Called your mother more often? Eaten more chocolate cake? Not quit smoking? Had more sex?

    OK, so cancel those calls to the military, maybe even the UN. But keep the water boiling – there's still lots of time for a nice cuppa tea.

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    Friday, February 09, 2007

    Coming Out of the American Idol Closet

    I am a secret American Idol fanatic. But I guess by the very nature of blogging, it’s no longer a secret.

    I have always enjoyed previous episodes of the show, but I never set my television viewing schedule around it, like I do with House, MD. That’s how it all started. We had set our TIVO – PVR to record House every Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. Then, Fox changed the schedule and put American Idol in the same timeslot. One lazy afternoon I curled up on the sofa to catch up on House and discovered American Idol in its place. I’ve been hooked ever since.

    Now, I don’t love everything about American Idol. I feel physically ill when the judges are childishly and intentionally cruel to some of the contestants. It’s the worst when a contestant truly believes in his/her talents only to find none. It’s difficult to not be judgmental when watching a show dependent on judges, but often it’s easy to identify those who are already marginalized in society before they open their mouths to sing a single note. The judges should be kinder to people’s hopes and dreams.

    The thrill of American Idol is seeing true, pure, unbridled talent in its rawest, unspoilt, and unmarketed form. Simon Cowell is a cruel man, but it is wonderfully exciting to watch his face in those first few moments of brilliance. The man is, without question, a tastemaker.

    Randy Jackson is likeable enough and seems to wear his heart on his sleeve. I love to watch his eyes as he’s taken aback by the first few notes of a talented singer; as he focuses on the performer’s face, his eyes move strategically to sum up the potential package.

    Paula Abdul is a useless judge, yet is critically useful in the group dynamic. She never speaks first, except to ask the others their opinion so that she can decide hers. Ironically, Paula Abdul was at one time a true talent with seemingly unlimited potential. But alas, she is proof that the Peter Principle rules.

    I would like to have the same passion for Canadian Idol – and for our hopefuls, I do. Any of our Idols has as much talent as the US winners; unfortunately they lack the same resources (i.e. audience, marketing, budgets). Sadly, the Canadian judges leaving me wanting.

    Here you have my American Idol confession. If you were to make a surprise visit to our house on a cold, snowy Sunday in February, you are likely to catch me with tears streaming down my face as another hopeful moves nearer or further from his or her dream of fame and fortune in Hollywood.

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    Monday, February 05, 2007

    Caller ID Bullies

    Twice in the last week we received telephone calls from bullies who have seen our telephone number appear on their call display who have then called us to find out what we wanted.

    In the first case, my husband had misdialled his parents' phone number -- dialing the last two digits as 11 instead of 15. As soon as he realized the dialling error, he hung up and proceeded to call his parents, dialling correctly, of course. Fifteen minutes after the original error call, our telephone rang. "Why did you call me?," the stranger demanded.

    This evening, the telephone rang about 6:15 p.m. "May I speak to Mr. Henderson," an older man asked. "I beg your pardon?" I replied. "Mr. Henderson. He called here today and I want to know why." Huh?

    Since when did your telephone number became your private property? I've got news for these Caller ID Bullies -- a telephone number is loaned to you by the telephone company while you are leasing their service. It is not your sole domain. Perhaps you can post a "no tresspassing" sign on your telephone to stop telemarketers from calling, but sometimes it's just a wrong number. Nothing like pointing out another human being's failings by calling them up on a misdialled number. Let's remember that Caller ID generally also reports how many times that number has called your phone. We're not talking stalkers here. It's just a wrong number, thank you very much.

    To the Caller ID Bullies: if I wanted to talk to you, Asshole, I would have left a message.

    But thanks for calling.

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    Saturday, February 03, 2007

    Sentimental? Or Just Plain Mental?

    I was looking for something in the basement today. Always happens like that - I start out looking for something and end up spending hours cleaning, organizing, completely distracted from the original task.

    I still haven't found what I'm looking for, but I did come across a tonne of Shannon's childhood memories. No, really, a tonne! She's an only child, remember? There were great pictures, cards, artwork she had made, letters from school, report cards, Brownie badges, certificates from riding classes, swimming classes, drama camp.

    I also came across this cartoon I had drawn, entitled "A Day in the Life of Shannon."

    Click on the image to enlarge. If you can't read it, it says:

    A Day in the Life of Shannon, Volume I. She woke up. Her cat didn't. She ate breakfast and read a book. She even put her dishes in the DW and read a book. She took a shower and read a book. She even read her book while she brushed her teeth! She even read a book while getting dressed and to catch the school bus. At school, all the other kids wanted to play. Shannon read her book instead. When the teacher was teaching math, Shannon would be reading her book. She even read her book while playing volleyball! Her team was happy when she scored 5 points! At lunch, she read her book (of course!). After school, she went shopping with her friends and she read a book!! When she went to the babysitter's, to the doctor's, even when she went to visit her Gramma, Shannon always had her nose in a book. Shannon loved to read! Especially when she went to bed! No matter where Shannon went, she read a book, except...... WHEN SHE WAS RIDING A HORSE! But when she went home agin, she read a book!

    Hey, I didn't say it was good.... I just thought it was cute! Especially the pictures of the cat, the drawing of Shannon spiking the volleyball from behind the book, and the plant on the table at "Gramma's" house!

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    Thursday, February 01, 2007

    It's Paris Hilton's Fault! No, it's Lindsay Lohan's Fault! No, Wait! It's Britney Spears' Fault!

    The Toronto Star today reported:

    Sagging underwear hurts bottom line - CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Underwear and hosiery maker Hanesbrands said its profit for the quarter ended Dec. 30 tumbled 78 per cent as the company made its transition to a standalone business and sales of underwear dropped.

    Our population is growing. There's a mini baby boom and our bulge of young people in the 18-30 year range is in the prime consuming demographic. Underwear sales should be INCREASING not decreasing.

    The only logical reason sales are down? The skanks of Hollywood have undertaken recently to going bottomless. This must be the start of a horrible, unsanitary new trend. Never mind beware of sitting on toilet seats. Beware of sitting, um, anywhere.


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    Sunday, January 28, 2007

    Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Pt I & II

    Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Part I - Guest post today courtesy of my parents:

    Thursday night, we were finishing dinner... Minta and her daughter Laurie were here....... when the doorbell rang. A girl asked if she could use our phone.... that she was staying across the road from us....and had had her purse stolen..... with all her ID and credit cards gone.... and wanted to call her mother who was out-of-town. I let her in and helped her make the call using our long distance code. She made a couple of calls...... and some small talk... how even if her mother sent money, she had no ID.... and she just needed a little money to get back home. She left.....and a couple minutes later came back to call a local friend...... to no avail. As smart and compassionate that we are..... we knew that we had to do something to help this girl....... so we fixed her a plate of meatloaf and salad to take with her..... since it would probably take her a few days to get home....... at least she wouldn't go hungry.

    After she left, Laurie said....this is a scam......... Well guess what.... THIS WAS A SCAM......

    The girl that we came to know as Allison.....had been to two other homes here.... with the same story. The police came and said somebody matching this description had been working the area the night before.

    Now we are quite concerned....... Will she return our dishes?....... Did she enjoy the meatloaf?

    Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Part II - I am planning a family get-together. In this day and age, in order to get all of our family together in one place you have to book far in advance. I sent out an email earlier this week with the subject line "Family Day," inviting everyone to join us Sunday, February 25 anytime after 3 p.m. for fun and games followed by dinner. I asked, "Call only if you're not coming."

    This afternoon, shortly after 3 p.m. the door bell rang. I tried to guess who it might be on this cold, snowy winter day since we weren't anticipating any visitors. I was pleasantly surprised to see four members of my family standing on our front step! They came in like we had been expecting them, taking off their coats and settling in. I started panicking inside; Oh my God! Had I invited them for dinner and then forgotten they were coming? I had seen them recently, spoken with them more recently than that, I had been thinking about inviting them over, so I guess maybe I had and then forgot! I didn't have anything planned for dinner yet, but hey, it's family, we can all whip something up, ya know?

    "Where's everyone else?" I was asked. The goofy look on my face must have been the first clue. "Family Day," I was reminded. Evidently, they had been looking forward to it all week.

    "Um, Family Day is next month," I said...."But you are ALWAYS WELCOME HERE, so we'll make today Family Day."

    We ordered in Chinese food and had lots of fun and laughs. And we've promised to do it all again next month!

    Please read the comments to enjoy the continuing story.....

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    Who Gave this Iguana Viagra?

    How could you report this story with a straight face? And why would you name an iguana Mozart? Forgive me Don Campbell, but this gives a whole new meaning to "the Mozart Effect".

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    Saturday, January 27, 2007

    Me as Movie Critic

    Since the words "random" and "rapid-fire" appear recently to be trademarked, I am pleased to present the quick and useless ramblings of my brain:

    Me as movie critic: This is the first year of my life that I have actually seen many of the movies topping the big categories at the 2007 Academy Awards. In this day and age that makes me fully qualified to comment on the recent nominations for Best Picture. I loved Little Miss Sunshine - it's a quirky little charmer from left field, but it is not even in the same league, same category, same anything as DreamGirls, which is a bright, powerful, magnificent film that was tragically overlooked by the nominating committee. There is no question in my opinion, on any level -- story, dancing, singing, production values, star talent and supporting talent -- DreamGirls outshines Chicago which won for Best Picture in 2003.

    You've Got Mail! It is far easier to comment on blogs than it is to write one!

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    Friday, January 19, 2007

    That Damned Cat!

    On Wednesday, shortly after noon and just before having lunch, I let our cat, Chia, outside for a little exercise. Chia was born in a barn and lived most of her life in the country -- she's definitely an outside cat. In fact, she rarely uses a litter
    box in the house; instead she will cry at the door until you let her out. If you won't come to the door, she'll start to follow you around the house, yelling at you to let her out.

    Unlike our other cat, Blossom (God rest her soul in cat heaven), Chia has a gentle personality. She loves to be petted, she "talks" to you all the time ("Do you want to go outside?" "Me-ow" "Do you want to eat?" "ME-ow" "Where have you been?" "Me-OW") She has a fun collection of toys and likes to play "monkey in the middle." In the summertime, she'll play "fetch" outside with a stick. It's the funniest thing to watch this little cat dragging a stick behind her after I've thrown it. When Shannon is away (like she is now), Chia sleeps cuddled around the top of Lju's head in bed with us. When you call her name, she comes running, sometimes as if she'd been shot out of a cannon. Doesn't matter if she had been in the deepest sleep - if we need to know where she is, she'll let us know she's there.

    After I let Chia outside on Wednesday, I ate lunch and then took a nap on the sofa in the family room. Usually, when Chia wants to be let back into the house, she appears at the sliding glass door near the family room and meows 'til we let her in. She wasn't there when I got up from my nap.

    I did a few things around the house, upstairs, downstairs, every time I walked past either the front door or the back door, I opened it and called for Chia. She never came. Made dinner, no cat. Lju came home as I was getting ready to go out for the evening - no Chia. He followed her footsteps from in front of our house down past the neighbour's garage, but it was too cold and dark to go looking for her.

    It was late by the time I got home -- Chia still had not come home.

    Now, you may recall that Wednesday was extremely cold (by this winter's standards). The temperature was forecasted to be -12 and Chia was outside, alone, and had been for almost 12 hours.

    I tried to go to sleep -- but I was too upset. With the help of an extra strong dose of sleeping pills, I settled down to sleep. I woke up an hour later, having dreamt that Chia was at the kitchen door waiting to come in. I got up and paced back and forth between the front door and the back door, turning on the lights, opening the door and calling her name. Eventually I fell back asleep, only to wake again a few hours later. This time I dreamt she had frozen to death. Again I went downstairs, opening both doors, calling.

    Thursday morning and she still hadn't come home. I worried that she had frozen to death somewhere in the neighbourhood. Or been attacked by an animal and unable to make it home. I asked my husband to take a different route to work, to make sure she hadn't been hit by a car and left on the side of the road to die. On a hopeful note, I told myself that perhaps a well-intentioned neighbour had brought her into their home for the night. Knowing that cat, she'd be at their front door first thing in the morning, crying to get outside. I waited for her to appear. I practically wore a path with my pacing between the two doors.

    Now, I am usually the first one to laugh at people who anthropomorphize their pets. I love animals and once seriously wanted to be a veterinarian, but to me animal lives do not have the same value as human lives. Animals are not a substitute for humans; your puppy is NOT the same as a child and should not be treated as such. I would never spend thousands of dollars for chemotherapy treatment for a dog with cancer, even if the dog had saved my own child's life. My vet accused me of being an unfit pet owner because I would not fork over $600 to have our cats' teeth cleaned.

    Chia is a symbolic cat. She was one of Lju's first gifts to Shannon when he and I first started dating almost ten years ago. She was the first thing that brought the two of them together (when she was 14, she's now 24!). Chia represented the common love that united the three of us together. When we first got her, she was small enough to fit easily into the palm of Lju's one hand. Shannon loved her first cat, Blossom, in a special way, but Blossom had a unique and well-established bitchy cat personality. Chia was all love, cuddles, kindness. Shannon loves Chia more than she ever loved Blossom because Chia returns that love.

    How would I -- how COULD I -- tell Shannon that Chia was missing? The last time Shannon went away, her cat died. What kind of irresponsible mother was I? Leave me alone for a few days with a cat and look out cat!

    Even though I pretended like I wasn't all that fond of her, secretly I love her and all she represents.

    I spent all day Thursday calling the Human Society, Animal Control, posting her picture and description on Lost Cat websites. I made up a poster with her picture on it, printed 60 copies and went out in the -10 weather to distribute them door-to-door on our street. I taped Lost Cat notices on all the mail boxes, hyrdo boxes, lamp standards. I made sure that, coming or going, walking or driving, you'd see our Lost Cat sign. One neighbour came out after finding the notice on her door. "I see your little cat all the time," she said. "She likes to snoop around between our houses and sometimes I see her running from across the street. I'll call you if I see her. Good luck," she said.

    Another neighbour was not as nice. After I taped the notice to the window of her front door, she made a big scene about coming out, tearing it off and ripping it to shreds. "I don't care" she yelled at me. I was in front of the house next to hers, taping notices to the lamp standard. I continued on my way and when I came past her house again, I saw that she had ripped the notices from the lamp standard, torn them up and thrown them into the snow. "I'm looking for my cat," I said. The neighbour looks like an old Italian widow, always dressed in black. "Gata mia," I said. "Why you asking me anything?" she barked at me. What I said next wasn't very neighbourly.

    I posted 57 of the 60 notices within a two block area of our house (the old bubba tore down 2 and I ran out of tape after posting 59). I went home and waited for the phone to ring.

    I paced back and forth constantly between the doors. I thought about what I would tell Shannon. Last night when I had spoken with her from Florida, she was all happy and excited and luckily, didn't ask about her cat. I knew tonight if she called, I'd have to tell her the news. It did not look promising.

    I tried to take my mind off it, but it didn't work. Lju was trying to be strong, but I think he loves that cat even more than I do. He was preparing me for the worst. By this time, she had been lost in the cold for more than 33 hours.

    I stood up and yelled to the universe that I wanted that damned cat to come home. Lju answered that if she wanted to come home, she would. I snapped back that if she COULD come home, she would. We settled on the fact that it was in God's hands.

    He got up to make a telephone call. Again, I went to the front door and opened it. THERE SHE WAS!!!!!!!!!!!! COMING UP THE FRONT WALK!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She was moving a little slowly, it was icy, but she looked fine! Her fur and her paws were not all that cold or wet.

    I screamed from the front door, "Chia! You're home! Come here, girl! Come here! Where have you BEEN?" Lju screamed from the family room where he was waiting for his friend to answer the phone. "Don't do that," he yelled. "Don't play games like that!" "She's really here!" I called back. He couldn't come or see from where he was on the phone. He stretched around the corner, pulling the phone away from his ear, just as his friend answered. "Oh my God! She is home!" he yelled into his friend's ear.

    I was almost hysterical. The fear, stress, guilt I had been carrying all day flooded over me. I would NOT have to give Shannon the bad news. No, in fact, this was a happy news story.

    Today, I shall go and collect all the Lost Cat notices from the neighbourhood. I'm pretty sure that she'd been taken in by a well-intentioned neighbour who then saw the Lost Cat sign and knew we must be missing her.

    Chia was pretty happy to be home. She wanted lots of love and attention. Of course, she slept last night wrapped around Lju's head. Oh, how I wish she could talk - I'd love to know where she had been those 33 hours she'd been gone in the dead of winter.

    We've let Chia know that she's grounded. She's not going outside for a long, long time.

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