Tuesday, February 28, 2006

$ missing, $ taxed

I had that sinking feeling today. A panic that started slowly, but steadily grew.

My wallet was missing.

At least a dozen times I rifled through my shoulder bag, as if somehow I would find in it's pockets something I had not seen on the 11 other searches. I did the same thing with my jacket pockets. The floor of the closet. The floor of my car. The floor underneath the heap of clothes in the bedroom. I even opened kitchen cupboards (I tend to throw my wallet into my grocery bag, so it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect that it might turn up in the crisper).

But I was not so lucky. The panic grew.

Retracing my steps, I remembered that I went out on Sunday night for dinner with V and a friend he had just driven back from Toronto with. Although our friend generously picked up the tab, I know I had taken my wallet with me. With shaking hands, I looked up the restaurant in the phonebook and left them a hopeful message.

In order to take my mind of things, while waiting for his call back I did my tax return. I had money on the brain anyway, so it seemed appropriate. I've also realized in recent years that there is really no need to strain myself doing taxes. No matter how precise I think I may be, no matter how carefully I enter each amount on each slip, add and subract the various lines - my work is always corrected by some unknown employee of Revenue Canada. Why even bother? Each year I am tempted to simply scrawl a few random numbers on the form, toss it and all my receipts into the envelope and mail it in. Knowing they will redo it anyway takes away any incentive to get it right.

So with half my mind still running over where else my wallet might be, the other half placed a few numbers here and there on various forms and schedules. (Why schedules? It's not a time sheet.) The phone call from the restaurant came just as I was filling in the last lines.

"Unfortunately," he said, "... we do have your wallet."

"I was just teasing you." I twittered a nervous laugh.

So the story ends happily after all. I got my wallet back. And I got my taxes done.

Friday, February 24, 2006

espresso dating

Have you heard about this one? Starbucks has teamed up with Yahoo! Personals in what they call 'Espresso Dating'.


The site includes a dating guide and dating suggestions - and stories of success: i.e. "lingered over lattes... got married in April"!

I tell you, if I didn't have such lovely date myself, I'd be tempted to join - if nothing else then for the $10 Starbucks card you get just for signing up! Even if the dates suck, I'd have at least 5 grande coffees or a couple of fancy lattes.

Yet even the promise of free coffee may not be enough to lead me to cast on-line for my chances at true love. I've always been one to despair about Internet personals - although I do know several people for whom it's worked out quite well.

I did, briefly, put myself up on lavalife. There were a few things I found strange about it: first, it seemed to create a false perception that there were hundreds of matches for me. Scrolling through the photos is like walking up to a buffet table the length of a football field. All this, just for me!!! But all these options actually make people pretty darn picky. You walk past the bagels, which on a regular day you quite enjoy, because you're sure there is smoked salmon and brie farther along. When you meet people in a human setting, such as at a house party, you are one of perhaps a dozen 'options' in the room and actually score a better chance of connecting with someone than when you are one option in a thousand.

The other thing I noticed about online dating - and this leads from the last point about the sheer size of it all - is that it encourages arbitrary criteria. So I'd search for men between the ages of 30 - 35, who were over 5'9" but under 6'2". I could even choose if I wanted someone who was interested in having kids yet didn't have any, who had an income over a certain amount and who lived within a certain radius of my home. Interestingly, V had a lava profile on line at the same time as I and yet in our searches we never came across each other since our ages 'don't match'.

I did get a few hits on my lava profile. A man in Niagara asked if I wanted to meet for a date, but I considered the 6 hour drive a little much. A man in his 50s, with the tag line 'I'm ready!' sent me his photo. (Did it take him 50 years to get ready for dating?) I had one awkward coffee date with man who had lied about his height and his weight.

But to be honest, I found that having a profile up there - while at first an exciting for all the suggested possibilities - was just another source of discouragement. Perhaps for some people, those photogenic ones with a knack for writing witty intros - it's a great ego boost. But for others like me it can just be one more place you feel like you are being sized up, compared to the multitudes of others, and in some way found lacking.

But my profile has been off-line for almost a year now. Thanks to an offer to sub in for a basketball game, I met someone the old fashioned way. And it was even Valentine's Day - so when both of us were willing to go for drinks with the team after the game, it was pretty clear neither of us had someone to hurry home to... and here we are, one year later.

If I had been dependent on lava, I may be dating someone who is the right height, age and proximity to me - yet not the uniquely right match for me as V is.

Monday, February 13, 2006

great canadian wins

It's nice to be able to be patriotic and a couch potato at the same time. Seldom are such opportunities afforded. Fortunately, with Olympics being shown almost around the clock on television, I can cheer for Canadian athletes while sitting on the couch and knitting the day away.

Well, to be honest, I don't actually cheer. I've never been much for yelling at a television. But I'm thinking 'Com'on Christopher, don't let that Korean duo get by you! Skate, Cindy! Skate!'

Admittedly, I know almost nothing about any of these sports (luge, anyone?), but the athletes make it all looks so easy that I can be forgiven for thinking I simply can encourage them to just go that little bit faster, smoother, higher...

Canada has managed two medals so far - both earned by young women from Western Canada. (And the Canadian women's hockey team absolutely pummeled their opponents 16-0 & 12-0!!) I know I have nothing to do with their wins, but somehow their triumph makes me happy. Odd isn't it, how we identify with things so beyond ourselves. I guess that's what patriotism is, or cheering for your team or your local gal. You take on this athlete or team as an extension of yourself, and somehow their wins, or losses, reflect back on you. This has always puzzled me, but this weekend I decided not to worry so much about the psychology behind it and just root on our Canadian team.

But there is one win this weekend that I do feel personally proud of. After a tight race, a come-from-behind shocker and a back-and-forth struggle for the lead.... I managed to pull off a 288-269 win against V in Scrabble. Oh sweet victory!

Here is photo proof. I'm holding the 2 extra points from V.

Okay, you may find a questionable word there - but in my defense I did think it was legit. And V did not contend it. Anyway, I let him have ghats and dis.

You may also notice the stylin' fingerless glove I have on - I had finished it that day. (Watching racing makes me knit faster.) I finished its mate on Sunday.

So all in all it was quite a successful weekend. Sometimes you have to coat-tail on the victories of others. Sometimes you have to celebrate your own small ones: a finished knitting project and (finally) a Scrabble win over my brainy love.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Is this a steak I see before me?

When the doctor's office calls to say you need to come in to discuss your blood work, it's not such a good feeling.

I gave up 4 vials of blood last week - and then on Monday the doctor's office called. She wanted to book an appointment Thursday or Friday to discuss the results.

A feeling of dread. I've never had problems show up in my blood before. Do I have some A serious illness?? I tried not to fret, but there was a dark shadow on my thoughts.

I only recently got a family doctor. Never had one before. This is all very new to me. She actually seems to care about my health, my general well-being. She remembers my name and things I told her on prior visits. She is also no-nonsense and old-school. I have a feeling she would not suffer fools - in her patients or her friends. I like this about her.

"I am assuming something about you," she said as she sat down across from me in her sunny, little office. "You don't eat beef, do you?"

"No, I don't."

She then showed me my blood counts for iron and B12. "Maybe if I show you the numbers, you'll start eating sensibly," she said. Iron should be over 110 - mine is 40. B12 should be 150, mine is half that. These numbers were circled on the print-out of my lab results, like errors on an exam.

I told her that red meat makes me sick and I usually throw it up. She said she had never heard of any medical reason for that. She didn't deny that I might throw up from eating red meat, but she had never heard of a loss of enzymes that wouldn't enable me to digest it. "But I always say I don't know very much," she said with a modest laugh. (I have the feeling she knows very much indeed.) She said the medical field is so vast, that each person can only know a little bit of it.

But, as for me, she wants me to go on iron and B12 supplements and get my blood tested again in 3 months.

Supplements I bought on my way home. Can't wait to start the iron ones tomorrow. The National Institute of Health's Dietary Supplement Fact sheet lists "side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, dark colored stools, and/or abdominal distress". Well hopefully if I can get my iron up quickly so I can stop taking them. But what's this? 3 1/2 ounces of chicken liver has 70% of my daily intake. Love that chicken liver.

I should maybe state here for the record that I have been a mostly vegetarian for years. I'm learning to eat chicken and fish, but I like my them disguised by plenty of spice. I also have a real problem with the texture of meat and can't shake the image of chewing through what was once living flesh.

Yet it seems I am paying the price for my squeamishness. Both iron and B12 deficiency are caused by lack in diet of meat, fish and dairy products.

Still, the B12 lack doesn't seem so serious. Although the NIH Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet warns that B12 deficiency can lead to "anemia and dementia". And I should really try to avoid that dementia thing. There is hope though: 3 ounces of mollusks have 84.1 micrograms of B12 - which is 1400% of my recommended daily intake. Skip the supplements and had over the mollusks.

Is it time to reconsider a vegetarian diet? Am I destined to become a meat eater?

I'll let you know in 3 months.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

one very bad school

Yesterday I did my last presentation for the MS Read-a-Thon winter tour. Thank goodness it was the last and not the first. It almost was enough to scare me off public schools forever.

It had actually been slotted in for the 18th of January. But the presentation was cancelled - not once but twice - due to freezing rain. This was perhaps an omen I should have heeded.

I arrive about 15 minutes before the 1 o'clock scheduled time. The office receptionist tells me to go to Mrs. M's classroom - which is dark and empty. Luckily public school gyms are always easy to find, so I go in and set up my stuff.

After about 10 minutes a lady comes and introduces herself as a volunteer who is going to help with the Read-a-Thon. That's nice, I say. She asks what I'll be doing in the gym and I tell her about the assembly.

"You're brave," she says.

"Why?" I ask. So naively, so confidently, I tell her that I've done assemblies with up to 600 kids. I don't expect the 300 at this school to be a problem. Again, I am not heeding the warnings.

The volunteer then disappears and I do not see her again.

It is now one o'clock and the gym is empty. I go back to Mrs. M's classroom. She is just coming in from outside and suggests I tell the volunteer lady to get an announcement made that the assembly will start. But volunteer lady has disappeared. I wander around the school looking for her till I see teachers bringing students to the gym.

The classes trickle in. A teacher wearing sweats and a t-shirt thinks to take chairs out from beneath the stage for teachers to sit on - something which is usually done before I arrive. But he doesn't want to bother pulling out the whole rack of chairs. He tries to yank out just one chair, but it won't come. So he pulls the rack partly out and tries again. The chair still won't come. Cursing under his breath, he labourisouly bends down to pull the rack out.

I guess he realizes at this point it would be rude to take just one for himself, so he tosses a few others out. No one comes to help - so I take some from him. He does not acknowledge me except to push chairs toward me, scraping them along the gym floor like fingers on a chalk board.

By now the gym is filling up with children and their excited voices. Three little girls in the front row are lying on their bellies, kicking and squirming like frying bacon. Older students are slouched against the far wall.

Mrs. M and her grade-one class are among the last to arrive. It is now about 1:15. At last it seems everyone is here, so she stands in front of the rowdy assembly and without fully quieting them or getting their attention, she says something about Mrs. Grace from the MS Society here to talk to us about Multiple Sclerosis and Reading. She smiles at me and sits down.

I begin as I always do - 'Hello, my name is Anita Grace and I'm here to talk to you about 3 things: Multiple Sclerosis, Reading and how MS and Reading fit together.' Then I lead into my attention-grabbing intro: a rainstorm. "But first of all. It's kind of funny weather today isn't it. Sort of raining, sort of snowing. You know what I think...'

But before I can say that I think we could make a rainstorm inside which might stop it from raining outside, a boy shouts out, "It's foggy!" The rest of the assembly erupts into giggles, laughter and chatter. And they won't stop. I try again, "Well, you know what I think..." But instead of quieting down to hear me, they are getting louder. I try sshh-ing them. No go. I try raising my hand - the age-old quiet down sign. About half the kids raise theirs, the others are lost in conversation and laughter.

I look over to Mrs. M. She comes toward me. Without thinking I blurt out, "They are really bad!" Then I apologize; say I shouldn't have said that out loud.

"Boys and girls," she shouts and finally they hush. "This is not how we behave here. Now I expect you to sit quietly and listen to Mrs. Grace."

She hands them back to me with an apologetic smile. Trying not to let my frustration show, I tell the kids I'll start over and that I will give them one chance to make noise. They make the noisiest rainstorm I have yet heard.

But for the rest of the presentation, they remain inattentive and disruptive. It takes everything I have to keep a happy tone in my voice and a smile on my face. Many time I have to stop my talk just to quiet the worst of them. When I resume talking I can still hear a buzz of whispers. When I ask questions, some kids will raise their hands, but many others will simply shout out answers. I try to still pick the kids with raised hands to talk.

"But that's what I was going to say," a kid shouts at me.

Sometimes, to reward a quiet child with his or her hand up, I ask if there is a question. But these questions rarely have to do with my topic. One girl talks about her mom breaking her collarbone. One boy tells me he has a scar on his forehead. Another boy, with a comic expression and wild hand gestures, asks what's up with God if he is letting stuff like this happen.

"That's a hard question to answer," I say and for the hundredth time try to rein in their attention. By now I am just trying to get through this without entirely losing my cool. When I finally say all I need to, I ask if there are any last questions. But the kids are so loud I can't hear the quiet voice of whatever child I indicated. I give up. Shouting above their racket, I thank them for having me in to speak to them. "If you have any questions you can come and see me... Thank you and happy reading!" I do not say, as I usually would, that they had been a great audience.

Neither Mrs. M or any teacher gets up to thank me. I turn to get my materials together and find myself surrounded by children. The first little boy, with shy stammering and several false starts, tells me he has asthma before slipping away, replaced by 15 or more kids vying for my attention. They literally have me backed up against the stage.

"Are we all going to get prizes?"
"How do you get MS?"
"Someone in my class wants to know - do you have MS?"
"When do we get the prize posters?"
"I'm reading the 5th Harry Potter book."
"Is MS serious?"
"I have a scar on my tummy."
"Can I count a book I am already reading?"
"Your friend Tracy, is that her first name or her last name? Because there is a Tracy who is the author of Pokemon books."
"How many of your friends were born in the 20th century?"

No teacher comes to call the kids away. By the time I have heard from the last one and suggested he go back to class, the gym is empty. No volunteer. No Mrs. M. Again, I go to her classroom - taking the materials she had not yet collected or asked for.

"I'm so sorry about the kids!" she says. "I was so embarrassed. They aren't usually like that."

I'm sure. Anyway, here's your stuff. Thanks for nothing.

Ok - I don't say that, but I am thinking it. I give her the things and leave. As I am signing out in the office, another teacher apologizes for the students, saying they had been unusually bad.

Well thanks for stepping in and helping me out.

I had noticed, while up there like a clown on a dunk seat, that the teachers were mostly young and indifferent - as if they had long ago given up on trying to control these kids who could go to hell in a hand basket for all they cared. A few other teachers were older, middle-aged and large. One man, with pudgy hands clasped around a protruding belly, had old-fashioned coke-bottle thick glasses. He seemed as uninterested in his class as they were in him.

Oddly enough, as I am leaving I notice that on the other side of the playground is the Catholic school that had been one of my favourite schools this trip. There the principal drew her kids attention by holding a rainstick. The students had been attentive, eager and polite throughout my talk.

If I ever had to choose which of these two schools to send my kids to, I think I just found a good reason to convert.