Monday, February 27, 2012

February 29, 2012 - A Perfect Day for Cake

Here we are in the longest year in four years. At 366 days, depending on how the first two months have gone, it might end up feeling like a pretty LONG year. But if you put a positive spin on it, this extra day of February 29th could make this year the best you’ve had in…four years.

According to wikipedia, the knower-of-all-things, Leap Year happens once every four years, in order to catch up with ….stuff.
“A leap year (or intercalary or bissextile year) is a year containing one additional day (or, in the case of lunisolar calendars, a month) in order to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year.[1] Because seasons and astronomical events do not repeat in a whole number of days, a calendar that had the same number of days in each year would, over time, drift with respect to the event it was supposed to track. By occasionally inserting (or intercalating) an additional day or month into the year, the drift can be corrected. A year that is not a leap year is called a common year.”

Huh….pretty heavy stuff if you ask me. If we didn’t have this extra day, we would be thrown off kilter forever, and never catch-up…on anything.

So instead of worrying about catching-up, maybe we could make this a day of celebration and have a Leap Year cake! Or we could celebrate the fact that we have an extra day for Christmas shopping and getting our income tax reporting done on time – no excuses. We won’t see this day again for another four years, and who knows what may happen in the next four years, so let’s enjoy it. Maybe it’s a good idea to buy a newspaper dated February 29th, so we can look back in four years’ time and say things like ‘remember when,’ or ‘it happened on this day.’

The folks at wikipedia say the extra day, also known as leap day, acts as “…a corrective measure, because the earth does not orbit around the sun in precisely 365 days.” It better be extra sunny out on that day because as tradition in the British Isles, women may only propose marriage on Leap Day. Who wants rain when they are granted one day in four years in which to propose…

And for those folks born on February 29th who FINALLY get to have a proper birthday, it’s another reason to celebrate – with cake! (This is turning out to be a pretty good day, if I do say so myself.)

Y2K-panic happened in 2000, having everyone fearing for our computer-based lives. January 1st, 2000 came and went, and we lived to see another Leap Year that following February 29th. I think our computers are set to withstand an extra day, so need to panic, there.

Aside from the birthdays and the extra day for Christmas shopping and income take reporting, it could be a day to celebrate this one extra chance to fulfill goals or resolutions made at the beginning of the year.

Since the last Leap Year in 2008, what did you accomplish in the last four years? If your answer is ‘nothing,’ that’s silly because EVERYONE has accomplished SOMETHING, even if it was organizing your underwear drawer. Make this February 29th a time to make a four-year plan, as opposed to a five-year plan which can seem overwhelming. As goals and dreams are often more achievable in shorter increments, why not make a four-year plan and make the most of February 29th, making February 29, 2016 a quirky goal date.

Aside from being thankful for this extra day we have been granted, if you having nothing better to do on February 29th, you can still eat cake. If you have been dieting since January 1st, technically this day doesn’t count, because you won’t have it on your calendar again for another four years. So go for it.

So with February 29th right around the corner, I wish you Happy Leap Day/Week/Year! Make the most of it!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ode to the Label Printer

It’s funny what you think about or observe at the most dire of moments.

I recently had surgery; nothing like brain or spleen, just abdominal hernia repair. And anyone who has had any kind of surgery knows it can be nerve-wracking. In the hospital as you are moved from holding area to holding area, you get asked name, rank and serial number (for lack of better words) about 80,000 times to ensure you are who you say you are and that you know why you are there. It gets exhausting, but I would hate to have someone else’s chart attached to my stretcher and end up having my elbow removed.

So on that fateful day when I finally made it to the final holding area, tensions were high, mainly mine, and I knew it was the last stop before heading into the room of bright lights and masks – and no, I wasn’t about to star in the Broadway performance of Phantom of the Opera. Other patients were lined up beside me for one last identity confirmation – and for one last chance to back out. I was scared, nervous, dreading the aftermath/recovery (yet looking forward to the funny little painkillers). Folks in green scrubs and masks were bustling about, machines were beeping, and the tears (mine) were fighting to leak out. Good thing I was mascra-free.

I reminded myself I was there for a hernia operation, and I was fortunate – it wasn’t a matter of life or death. The clock on the wall ticked down to the moment of truth. Anxiety from the folks in other stretchers ran high, and those folks bustling around in green scrubs, funny-looking shower caps and masks were making me more and more nervous with every pass.

I was praying to every God available (he was rather busy that day – I hope his Blackberry was working), when I saw it.

A machine that at any other time would drive me crazy, but right then was saving my sanity.

A label printer.

And not just any label printer, but the exact one as in the office where I work. The machine that is constantly the bane of my existence as every time the machine has a minor hiccup in production, panic erupts and I am calmly summoned to fix it. If I don’t line up the ink roll and refill labels ‘just so,’ it won’t work. It is so outdated that when it eventually does die, not even our highly skilled technological repair department will be able to save it. I wonder which doctor goes to work on saving their label printer’s life?

I wanted to jump off my stretcher, open-backed nightie flapping behind me, and grab any scrub-covered porter/nurse/doctor and tell them that I – I, LISA - could fix it, if needed. I KNEW that machine. It was something I could relate to in that holding room of flashing lights, beeping machines, wires and tubes.

The focus it gave me momentarily kept away the inevitable panic before being wheeled into the land of anaesthetics, bright lights and face masks.

I will always cherish it because at a time of angst, stress and tumultuous emotions, it gave me strength and courage. Yes, a piece of plastic the size of your average toaster saw me through a scary time of great vulnerability.

I will never take that label printer for granted again. I will never cuss its good name. I fully intend on planting a big ruby-red lipstick smooch on that hunky piece of plastic when I return to work from the land of funny little painkillers (hmmm… I might have to save a few funny little painkillers for when I go back to work).

I intend on getting that little machine bronzed one day, and as I do, I know I will remember to not take the unexpected little things for granted, for it’s those that can get you through when you need them most.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chicken Soup for the Dog

Who would have guessed that a tiny, shivering, English Springer Spaniel would affect my sleep for many years?

On a dark and stormy night one early Autumn, my parents escaped into the night, leaving me in charge of my sisters – with my grandparents who lived upstairs as back-up, of course. Mom and Dad NEVER went out, and with their excuse of needing to go to the bank (on a night like that?), my radar was up.

They did come back - with a tiny, shivering puppy in their arms! That little liver and white puppy was a thrill for my two sisters and me. But the excitement would be short-lived.

Barely a week had gone by when Princess fell ill with an extreme case of kennel cough. After three nights at the veterinarian’s office, medication and fluids pumped into her round the clock via intravenous, the vet finally gave her the all-clear to come home. While we bundled her up, the vet scratched his head; he was surprised she had survived.

As the skin-and-bones puppy came home once again, nursing her back to health was forefront. When we weren’t feeding her chicken soup (recommended by the vet at the time), we were wiping her runny nose. Always tired, day by day she grew stronger.

Many evenings were spent watching TV with my Mom after my sisters went to bed. I would sit in the big easy chair, and with a little help, Princess would clamber her way up to my lap. Although getting stronger and almost recovered, a tissue was still sometimes needed for her nose. Both growing into our teens, our lanky bodies found a way to curl-up comfortably on the big chair. Eventually, as her body grew, the chair and my lap did not. She wasn’t a puppy anymore, as so she thought, and much to our dismay, the floor at my feet became her ‘spot.’

Shortly after Princess recovered, I caught a nasty flu bug. Sick in bed, too tired and weak to even get up and watch TV, I barely ate and lost weight; Mom was on the verge of taking me to the hospital. One afternoon while drifting in and out of sleep, I was instantly aware of my bed moving. Princess had jumped, pulled and dragged her way up my bed. This was a first.

Her excitement at both a new place to play and seeing someone she hadn’t seen in a while had her jumping in the blankets and pouncing at my legs wiggling underneath. My laughter, a rare sound those days with me being so sick, had Mom running, wondering if I was beyond delirious. Seeing the dog on my bed, some colour in my face, and laughter bouncing off the walls, she left us.

Since Princess had figured out how to get on the bed, with no coaxing from me, she found her new sleeping spot. Through my teens, right up until I married and left home, she slept down between my feet. Sometimes she jumped up with me at bedtime, sometimes not. In the middle of the night, however, she would eventually make her way up, and every morning I would wake to find here there. The weight of her down at my feet became a source of comfort and security to me, and eventually it became such the norm that when she wasn’t there, I definitely noticed. Not even the addition of a cat to the house, and my bed, would change where Princess slept.

My two sisters and I dragged her everywhere. To the playground, up the slide, through the snow – you name it. She was the family dog - our pal - and we loved and cared for her equally.

When I left home after getting married, and unable to take her with me to our rented apartment, she took up night-time residence on the floor between my sisters’ and parent’s bedrooms. I missed her and her comforting weight on my bed, but I saw her when I could.

About a year into my marriage, my husband had to go out of town for business. Seeing an opportunity to spend time with my family, I stayed overnight in the family den on the pullout sofa-bed. When I went to bed that night, who found her way, however now getting older, onto the bed? Princess. And there we slept, as if time hadn’t passed.

As the way things go, I moved on with my life, and Princess moved on to her next life. Having a family and busy life gave way to new experiences, memories and traditions, but the heartache lingered for a long time; she was never far from my mind. Through the years I had (another) cat who slept down at my feet, and even a clingy toddler who took up residence in the same spot for a few months. Their presence not only resurfaced memories and love for the dog who made me laugh that day I was so sick, but also gave me the best, comforting sleep.

The cat is no longer with us, and the toddler is now too big to sleep in my bed. With no one at my feet, and despite the fact that my own upward creeping age is likely the culprit for notorious bad sleeps, I wonder…

Maybe it was those early years of feeding her chicken soup when she was so sick, that led her to offer comfort at the end of my bed; I will never know. But I do know that I still miss her, twenty years later, sleeping down at my feet. Maybe a bowl of soup before bed would help me sleep…….

Saturday, February 4, 2012

One Confused Cat

Was she a cat or a dog? Some days, I didn’t know.

Some days, I don’t even think SHE knew.

Yes, some cats can be trained to fetch toys. As the natural hunters they are, their instincts urge them on, often resulting in gifts brought to their owners.

Some ‘gift’ when you come home to find a dead snake or bird on your living room floor.

But Snickers was a bit confused. As an indoor kitty, and much-loved at that, maybe her strong hunting instincts were smothered; her sense of who she was, blurred. Since she couldn’t hunt outside, her inner hunter/retriever found ways to act on these ‘feelings,’ various prey within the house falling victim to this cat/dog.

And she had a few favourites; one of them, drinking straws. We had to stop using them.

As you would walk through the house carrying a drink, a pair of calculating eyes would be trained solely on the straw. At first, the sound of your glass toppling over if you left the room was testament to what happened. Eventually, though, she perfected her skill. No sooner would you get comfy on the couch when the ‘ferocious’ feline would stalk your drink. Delicately tilting her head to one side, she would grasp the straw with her teeth, and gingerly pull it out of the glass – without knocking the whole thing over.

With her prize in her mouth, she would skulk away with an air of pride and entitlement, her possessive growl vibrating through your still-standing glass. The grand finale was her feeble attempt at posing her hefty Tabby body like the Great Sphinx of Giza, with the straw cradled between her paws.

And then look at you.

Were we supposed pat her on the head and say “Good kitty…er…dog”? I am sure if she were allowed, she would have buried it in the backyard, then demand dog food.

But it wasn’t the straws that had us in a twist.

Over time, socializing and entertaining with other adults all but faded away with our busy lives of kids, jobs, and the never-ending antics of our three cats. But maybe we should have looked further into why we didn’t socialize anymore.

Because coming home after work, occasionally with a friend or co-worker for dinner, and finding certain ‘prizes’ on the floor – in plain view before I could scramble to pick them up - would have anyone second-guessing their choice in friendships.

In the middle of the living room floor, or in the foyer of the front door where no one was sure to miss it, would be either a pair of my husband’s socks, or better, his underwear. Wool socks and white underwear seemed to be the best choice.

The ever-increasing scratches on the front of my husband’s dresser drawer were telling, and out of the three cats, we knew Snickers was the culprit. But how did she do it?

We caught her in the act one day and watched the process in awe. Up the side of the dresser she would climb, using each drawer’s edge as a step, until she reached the sock/underwear drawer at the top. With her back legs as leverage on the drawer below, she would wedge her front claws into the top of the closed underwear drawer, and pull.

Dangling by her front legs, and clawing her back legs at the drawer for purchase, she would hoist herself up into the drawer. After rooting around she would emerge with her so-called kill clamped in her mouth and jump down, leaving a drawer looking as though ransacked by a burglar in her wake.

Even though we were right in front of her, down the stairs she would stealthily creep, the socks or underwear in her mouth muffling her trademark deep-throated ‘kill’ growl. Once in the living room, her growling at its peak, she would drop her kill, lie on it, and then – silence.

Mission accomplished, and after lying on it for an unspecified amount of time, she would simply get up and walk away, her great prize forgotten. She wouldn’t play with it like ‘normal’ cats. We never figured out what made her pick one over the other. What made it a sock day? What made it an underwear day? And it didn’t matter whether we were home or not – her fetish had no scheduled time. With a small house, everything could be heard floor to floor. So when a drawer was being opened, we knew what would come next.

Like the straw, we knew we should do something. Knowing we needed to acknowledge her feat, we submitted, uttering assurances of ‘good kitty.’ What else could we do?

What was to be learned from the piles of underwear and socks on the living floor? We can be whoever we want to be, break free from barriers, restrictions and labels, and do what comes most naturally to us.

Saying that, I don’t intend on carrying around underwear and socks in my mouth anytime soon.

Snickers is no longer with us, but her memory lives on through the remaining scratches on my husband’s dresser drawers. And although I can finally stock straws in my house and use them, no less, I still sometimes hesitate, and reflect.

Many say that cats are ‘easier’ than dogs. True or not, I wonder; did I really have a dog all along?