Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Birthday Quick Hits

Happy Birthday to me. I usually couldn't care less about this day, but it does provide me fodder for the blog, so here goes.

The Husband has been wishing me a "Happy 4 Dozen" all day. Frankly, I could do without the reminder of just how many years have passed on my life's calendar, but his heart is in the right place. Why do I feel the overwhelming urge to purchase eggs or donuts? Some women get jewelry, I crave What a Bagel!!!

Younger Son called down from the balcony to inform me that a package had been delivered. The Husband was smirking, so I assumed that he had done something sweet and romantic. Imagine my surprise when I retrieved the box from security, only to discover it was filled with a special flax seed mix that The Husband favours and that he had had sent down from Toronto. Some women get jewelry, I get regulating fibre.

My boys bought me a very thoughtful gift. They know their mother so well. They bestowed upon me the latest 45th anniversary box set of The Sound of Music. ("What could they possibly have planned for the 50th anniversary?", she sarcastically inquires.)I think that this purchase completes my set!! It is number 22,342 in a limited set edition of 250,000. Not so terribly limited, if you ask me. It came complete with a book, four discs, a certificate of authenticity(???), and a small hand-painted music box that is supposed to play My Favourite Things. I say supposed to, because it apparently is malfunctioning. They offered to return it, but I am thinking that I can do without the cheesy sentimentality of the box. As Older Son so delicately put it in a way only he can, "Thank God that I don't have to hear that! I guess You really do exist!" Nice!! Some women get jewelry, I am bestowed with sarcastic wit!!

Facebook is remarkable. I have been inundated with birthday wishes from far and wide. I haven't received this much email that wasn't spam in months! Thank you to all for caring enough about me to check your Facebook feeds today and send me greetings. Seriously, it is nice to be cared about. Some women get jewelry, I get to collect friends.

Everybody enjoy my 4 dozen. I hope that your days are as lovely as mine is turning out to be.


Younger Son's Young Lady has gotten into the act and she appears to have me figured out in a very short period of time. An Edible Arrangements fruit thingy arrived a short time ago-many dipped in dark chocolate. Um......she's a keeper. Some women get jewelry, I am blessed with my children's excellent choices. Lucky? You decide.

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Thursday, 23 December 2010

It's Christmas, So Do a Mitzvah!

I heard a story yesterday that almost brought tears to my eyes. A true story that really defines that "Christmas Spirit" thing that we all hear so much about at this time of year. As a committed Jew, I must admit that Christmas is not really on my radar screen. I do love this time of year, though. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, published a blog post this week that actually articulated very well why I like this season and why Jews can learn much more from Christmas other than where to find good Chinese food. Here is one such tale.

We have a very good friend down here in the Southern Home. He is a single man who gathers his friends close. He is the first one willing to help when something breaks down. He has been known to spend hours fixing computer networks, setting up wireless systems, hunting for bargains for needed items that he has heard them mentioned once in a passing conversation, waiting around for cable guys when neighbours have been unable or unwilling to do so, and basically just being an all-around mensch!! He graciously watches over our place down here when we are north, as he does for both of my sets of parents and countless others in the building, and we have come to think of him as a part of the extended family. What our friend doesn't have a lot of, unfortunately, is family. He is an only child who lost his father many years ago, and over the past number of years has been the sole caregiver for his aging mother and aunt. Unfortunately, his mother passed away this past summer and his aunt is living in an assisted living centre. This will be the first Christmas that our friend will be spending without his mom, and as the holiday approaches it is obvious that is painful.

He has gone about his preparations as usual. He has decked out the building with his usual flair. (As a matter of fact, he was just informed that his lighting designs won first prize in the Hallandale Beach decoration contest.) His tree is up, and he continues to attend mass every Sunday leading up to Christmas Day. But he knows, as do we all with sympathetic pangs, that this year is different for him. I think it is getting to be all too much, and he has had moments of tremendous grief and sadness as one might expect he would. And then yesterday, I heard something rather wonderful. My dad and mom told me that they, along with 4 or 5 other couples-all Jews, by the way-are going to join our friend at midnight mass on Christmas Eve. I was so moved by this act of compassion. These people are committed Jews, every last one of them. Catholic mass is about as foreign to them as is the thought of travelling to Afghanistan. They are going because it is an act of love for a friend in need, a friend who has been there for them many times, and because nobody should have to celebrate their holiest days without family.

My parents and their friends have truly demonstrated the true meaning of Christmas this season. They have crossed ecumenical lines with one single act of compassion. These people are performing a Christmas mitzvah and I am so proud that they are my family.

Merry Christmas to all of you who observe and may the season be filled with joy and peace. B'simcha v'shalom!!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Stop The World I Want to Get Off!

My battle with motion sickness and being equilibrium-challenged has been well documented. Those who know me well have heard tell the tales of sketchy airline flights where I searched furiously in the seat pocket for an air sickness bag that hadn't been glued together by the previous occupant's masticated chewing gum, ferry rides over to the Toronto Islands whereby I needed to grasp the railing in order to keep from fainting from the dizziness that was brought on by the swells of Lake Ontario, subway trips to the Eaton Centre that induced nausea so severe as a result of traveling backwards through the tunnels,that I almost didn't make it to the Queen Street entrance ladies room, and car rides of more than an hour that had me hanging my head out of the window at 100km like a Labrador Retriever with tongue a-wagging! This cornucopia of problems doesn't even begin to address the beautiful cities and countries in which I have been violently ill. There was the launch over to Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica, the ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito, the ferry from Halifax to Charlottetown, a day long mess on a cruise in the Caribbean to celebrate a friend's birthday in Nassau, not to mention legendary nightmares in Capri, Sorrento, a sea day outside of Limon, Costa Rica, and the Mad Hatter's Tea Party ride in Disney World. In short, I am a f@$&ing mess when it comes to issues of motion and regulating my inner ear balance.

Studies have shown (sorry, I am at sea and do not have the ability to tag these studies at the present moment, but I am certain that if you Google "puking at sea" you will find some scientific bullshit that backs up my claims!) that motion sickness affects some people more than others and that it tends to be genetic. There are no concrete answers as to why some people can withstand pitching seas, dead drop roller coaster rides, and turbulent airplane flights, while others, like myself, tend to puke in their hats. All we do know is that the world does not stand still, even if there are those amongst us that hope against painful hope that it would.

I have refused to allow my handicap (and believe me-it IS a handicap) to stop me from doing all of the things that I really want to do and experience in this life. I have researched methods and medications. I am religious about diet and food choices so as not to exacerbate the problem. I have tried it all. Ginger, soda, sea bands, acupuncture, all forms of herbal remedies and visualization. Nothing really works, but I have learned to mostly cope. And then, an episode like Friday occurs.

We had booked a tour on the picturesque island of St. Lucia. If you have never visited, I suggest that you book now. The word "stunning" doesn't really do it justice. The island is small and actually derives much of it's beauty from the surrounding pitons and volcano. There is one main road on the island and in order to access anywhere, one must climb the mountains via this one thoroughfare, and then head back down to the coastal towns. The trip up was pretty uneventful. Our small group of eight was in high spirits, buoyed by the glorious weather, our fabulous guide and the free rum punch and island beer. We chatted with the locals, saw the scenery, ate some local bananas, and headed to a magnificent beach. It was all good, mon! And then it happened. The final stop on the tour was a visit to the volcano. It was fascinating, but reeking of sulphuric acid with a stench approximating rotten eggs mixed with old man farts. We climbed back into the van for the return trip back to the ship. Oh boy was I sick. Twin Son's Better Half, always the girl guide, was prepared with a plastic bag for me, sparing my hat. The Social Butterfly called out to our good-natured guide to please stop so that I might collect my bearings. Upon disembarkation for a much needed breath of air, I learned that another in our group, Holistic Mama, was just as sick as was I. I moved into the passenger seat, hung my head out of the window and prayed that the winding ride straight down the mountain was just a nightmare from which I would surely soon awaken. When I inquired of the driver if it was almost over, he giggled and answered with a brisk "No!" This was a ride that Six Flags and Walt couldn't have concocted in their overly furtive imaginations. The turns were hairpin, the speed was excessive, the drop an amazing 15% grade, and it went on for an hour and half.

When we finally made it back to port, Holistic Mama and yours truly were more than a little bit off kilter. I couldn't sit for fear of puking. Standing had me swaying at a 45 degree angle. I didn't realize that the world moved with such fury. My inner ear was shot and my equilibrium a disaster. The last thing I needed or wanted was to get back on the ship. The Husband decreed that walking was what I needed, so (God bless the man) he supported me until I could do it myself once again.

I realize that I am defying all Newtonian,Galilean, and Einsteinian laws when I cry for a reduction in the earth's rotational speed, but please-I simply cannot take it anymore. Stop the world! I need to get off!!!

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Friday, 17 December 2010

What's wrong with that?

I met a man yesterday in St. Maarten who seems to have found the secret to life. Seriously! No religious platitudes, no proclamations of eternal love or angst. He was simply happy. Marty is a transplanted Canuck who is blissfully living in the port city of Phillipsburg peddling candy. We searched Marty out because he is a friend of a friend and he was aware of our arrival. When the Social Butterfly had sent him an email before the cruise to ask his address, Marty had simply replied, "Don't worry. You won't need an address. Just ask for the Candy Man. Everybody knows me!"

After a day touring the island, we found ourselves back in Phillipsburg but with limited time before the ship was to set sail. Driving and parking in these Caribbean islands is a young driver's worst nightmare, (an entire world of nothing but parallel parking that goes on for miles) so an excursion to "The Candy Man" was beginning to look a tad optimistic. I am so glad that we made the effort. We parked the car and simply asked for the Candy Man! Marty was right. Everybody knew him. Within minutes we were in front of a sun-yellow coloured shop about the size of a mini van. Marty greeted us like long-lost relatives. He was floundering at home in Toronto, unable to find his place or his purpose, until he discovered his island paradise 2 years ago. He got some advice, borrowed some money I would suspect, and headed down to live in St Maarten full time. He works hard. 7 days a week, from 8 in the morning until 10 at night, but he is well-known, well respected, well loved and blissfully happy. He has everything he could want. He works his business, chats up the locals, has some close friends, and when it all gets to be a bit too much, he closes up his shop for a couple of hours and goes floating on his raft in the ocean and soaks up the sun. What could be wrong with that?

Marty is lean, trim, very tanned and was decked out in white linen draw-string pants and a white cotton dashiki. The only thing identifying him as a Canadian is the bright red Roots hat he sports. I would venture a guess that he has put socks on his feet since his arrival, and business suits and ties are a thing consigned to his past.

Marty did everything he could to make our short visit a pleasant one, even offering to pay for our candy purchases. (an offer we firmly refused) I was in awe of Marty. He seems to have found bliss. It may be off the beaten track, but it is genuine and seemingly lasting. Would that all of us could discover our purpose and passion as has Marty.

A quick postscript. We are actually leaving St Lucia as I complete this post. A beautiful island that deserves it's own post, but a ride through the islands has left me feeling a tad equilibrium-deprived. Think Space Mountain meets 24 hours at Le Mans and you might just get an idea of my headspace right now. More tomorrow.
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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Eavesdropping Conversations Onboard the Carnival Miracle

Our first few days aboard ship have brought less than ideal weather conditions. Cold, windy and more than the Caribbean's share of precipitation have been the norm, so we already winter-weary Canadians have had to source out other forms of entertainment. Following a rousing game of "Where are The Social Butterfly and his Lovely Wife the Sephora Queen, and why won't Carnival let them board the ship?", (a story for another time) we decided to pursue more pedantic and sedentary activities. The Husband and I have been engaged in some serious people-watching, and like any good voyeurs we have spent several hours eavesdropping on a myriad of conversations. Here is a small sampling.

An elderly lady corners a staff person and notices from her name tag that she is from Chile. Elderly lady with heavy Brooklyn accent inquires of said crew member "Oh you're from Chile? Do you know any of the miners?" Isn't that a bit like saying to me "Oh you're from Canada? Do you know Celine Dion?"

Another elderly lady wandering around the 7th deck looking aimlessly lost, stops The Sephora Queen (who is just as lost!) and asks her to help her find her cabin. Sephora Queen immediately figures out that cabin 4123 is not on the 7th floor and directs helpless elderly lady down three decks. Sephora Queen then returns to casino to find Social Butterfly because she can't remember her own cabin number or find it alone!

Speaking with a woman from Barrie who tells us that they have just escaped 1.9 metres of accumulated snow and are perfectly fine with the weather as is. Fantastic attitude. She also relays how her husband managed to smuggled his booze onto the ship and past the alcohol Nazis. We will keep that bit of trivia under wraps until the next cruise. Brilliant piece of Canadian ingenuity. The Husband is still unsure that we will actually see our confiscated bottles at the conclusion of the voyage. He is not at all happy about this little turn of events.

Retired couple from Dallas approach The Husband and myself as we are sprawled out reading our Kindles. The woman asks how we like them, and before The Husband can answer, her husband enters into a monologue about the importance of the tactile nature of books. We never asked his opinion nor did we care. The nice woman then proceeds to tells us what a computer illiterate her husband is, and how she is the one that does all of the online work in their house. She relays a story as to how she receives pictures of the grandkids on her iPhone, to which her husband replies "Yeah, sure. Nice picture. Grampa send $20!!!" Something tells me that there is very little new technology coming her way in Dallas.

A minor sampling of the various characters aboard ship. The weather isn't really looking all that promising for St. Maarten, but at least it should be warm. If not, I am finding many other ways to occupy myself and have a great time-if you exclude my rocky nausea-induced first twelve hours. Bygones. I'm on vacation!!!!!

Friday, 10 December 2010

AT&T: Please F*&# Off!

I will attempt to say this as nicely and as ladylike as I can-AT&T: Please F*&# off and leave us alone. Sometimes these hard sells are just a little bit more than a nice polite Jewish girl from the very nice and polite suburbs of Toronto, Canada can stomach. A bit of history is in order.

When we are down here in the Southern Home we have always used AT&T as our landline provider. We use another company as our cable provider and, horror of horrors according to the nice folks at AT&T, we use yet another company for our internet access. We don't want it any other way. We are happy with the arrangements we have, we like the service we are getting, and we are not willing to switch companies no matter how many times we are swamped with phone calls, emails, or flyers. We have told the torture experts at America's largest phone company this very message on the many occasions that they have inquired. We have also been stupid and lazy in not adding our phone number down here to the Do Not Call list. As such, the geniuses who sit in the sales cubicles (probably outsourced to some area outside of the North American perimetre) at AT&T continue to harass us about switching our provider. Yesterday, within a span of 2 hours, (no joke-2 HOURS!!) we received two separate phone calls, an email, and snail mail letter from this communications giant all imploring us to change our internet provider. How many times and in how many ways can we say NO politely? When the second call came in, The Husband, as only he can, tried very nicely to explain to the poor minimum wage/commission-challenged employee that we STILL were not interested in their services and would they please remove us from their call sheets. The dork on the other end said fine, but it might take thirty days to remove us from their lists. 30 days? Why? Can't they just take a pencil or a pen (I realize that these utensils have become somewhat archaic, but c'mon!) and scratch out our names with big, swift, and broad strokes? 30 days?

They aren't taking our hints and they aren't listening to our firm "No Thank-Yous" so what is left at our disposal. Maybe I should swamp their offices with emails, letters and phone calls and maybe I should only call during the dinner hour and maybe....Oh what the hell. AT&T-well you all know the rest.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Aretha Franklin - I Say A Little Prayer

A voice for the ages and truly blessed by the gods. Here's to recovery of good health to the Queen of Soul. Refuah Shelemah!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

What Shall We Do For 26 Hours?

It has been many many many years, fifteen in fact, since The Husband and I have made the winter exodus down to the Southern Home the old-fashioned way-via Henry Ford's grand invention. (Or in our case, the technological advancement of some genius Japanese engineers at Lexus!) The last time we attempted the drive, Bill Clinton was still in the White House basking in the afterglow of Monica, OJ's glove didn't fit so the jury acquitted, Yitzchak Rabin was brutally murdered after a peace rally, and the first Toy Story movie had just been released. A lifetime ago! The boys were quite young and it was the only way that we were able to afford a trip south for the four of us. Flights from Toronto at Christmas were and still are, quite expensive. By throwing the kids and their paraphernalia into our very suburban mini-van, we were able to make the drive in about 26 hours of highway time and get away for a couple of weeks at minimal cost. The  results were usually lovely and uneventful, but on the return trip in January of 1996, we were waylaid by Mother Nature, Pizza Hut and the good people of Kentucky. The story is long, convoluted and ridiculously  absurd, but suffice it to say that the four of us were stranded under 5 feet of snow in the hamlet of Mt Vernon Ky for almost 6 days with nothing to sustain us but cable TV (how I learned to loathe Nickelodeon) and a Pizza Hut that adjoined our tiny motel. None of this prose is in any way, shape, or form exaggerated. Honest!! If any of you faithful readers are really interested in the whole gruesome story, post a comment and I will continue.

It was because of that incident that The Husband swore off driving to Florida in the winter. That time was the last time. The rental car costs were nothing compared to another incident on the snow-covered interstates. But this year, he seemed open to the idea of a return trip. I am spending larger chunks of the winter in the Southern Home, and the irritation of not having a car all the time was beginning to wear. The cost of renting down here during the winter months is ridiculous. I was thinking of offering the car companies the soul of my first born son, but I believe that it is already spoken for. Thus, The Husband suggested (it was HIS IDEA!!) that we drive this year and leave the car here until the middle of March. He figured that if we left early enough in December, we probably could avoid the worst of the weather and vice versa come early spring. Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but his intentions were good.

Two days before we left, Buffalo got slammed with a major winter storm that closed the NY State Thruway for 24 hours stranding tens of thousands of cars. The weather channels were calling for snow showers, snow squalls, or snow flurries (anybody know the difference?) on every route available to us. In the end we decided to go with the known quantity, the tried and true. We headed down I75 just like before. The drive is a few hours longer, but at least we knew where we were, and the hope that the further south we travelled, the less the possibility for the white stuff. We decided to get a jump on the weather by heading out on Saturday afternoon after Shabbat morning services.

We were so concerned about the weather that we forgot that we needed to occupy ourselves for many hours of drive time. I75 is one of the most boring stretches of road ever constructed. What would we do? Here are a few impressions of 26 hours alone with a husband of 25 1/2 years.

  • We crossed the border around 4:30pm, just as dusk was hitting. Our border guard seemed to have a Napoleonic complex and kept asking us how much money we were bringing into the country. We said we only had a few dollars and he couldn't seem to grasp how that might work. When The Husband explained the concept of a ATM, he seem perplexed. He kept grilling us about our condo and our luggage. He didn't seem at all happy to be working on a cold Saturday night, and we were his convenient targets. God bless The Husband. His cool demeanour seemed to throw off The Emperor until there was nothing left to say. I, on the other hand, was ready to go all Waterloo on his ass. Off we went.
  • We had heard tales of snow in southern Ohio that day, so The Husband desperately wanted to stay in front of what might be heading north. By the time hunger had set in, we were cooked and fairly confident that we had avoided the worst of it. We stopped for the night in Bowling Green Ohio and we couldn't figure out where all of the college-aged young people in our hotel had come from. It turns out that we were staying directly across the street from Bowling Green University and a visiting basketball team had come into town for a game. There were a line of vans in the parking lot and a bunch of kids in matching sweatsuits in the lobby. It seems as though we got our room just in time. 
  • I finally got to taste Chipoltle's fine cuisine. The Husband and I have been very concerned as to what we would eat on this road trip after our nauseating experience with highway fare this past summer. The American Interstate's food system just wasn't considering vegetarians at all when it decided that Mickey D's was needed at every exit. My boys have raved about Chipoltle's for years, so when a franchise was next door to our motel, we silently cheered. Not bad for fast food. Huge veggie burrito, but very heavy on the salt. Still it beat out the alternative dinner of Doritos and Diet Coke. 
  • As we passed Mt. Vernon Kentucky the next morning, The Husband perversely exclaimed that we should stop at Pizza Hut for lunch. I decided that spitting out the window as we passed by was more to my liking.
  • There was more snow in Knoxville Tennessee than there was in Cincinnati. What is up with that? The temperature actually dropped from the morning in Bowling Green to midday in Knoxville. The squalls were worse the further south we travelled. Certainly not normal to our experience. By the time we stopped for the night 2 hours south of Atlanta in Perry Georgia, the thermometer read -5C. (For my American friends-that is f*&@ing cold!!!)
  • I just want it on the record that my knowledge of American midwest geography is better than The Husband's. He thought that Columbus was west of Cincinnati. We fought about it until we saw the sign directing traffic east. I win! (A big apology to Younger Son's Young Lady for that gaffe!!)
  • I love satellite radio. What a wonderful invention. The Husband, however is ready to murder me and any direct relative that introduced me to Broadway show tunes. Sirius/XM has a station on channel 75 strictly devoted to Broadway. After 6 hours of said music, The Husband got a wild look in his eye reminiscent of Freddy Krueger, Chucky, and Jason. I quickly switched over to the 60s channel strictly for self preservation. After hearing Marianne Faithfull sing As Tears Go By three separate times over the next 12 hours, I went back to Broadway. We are still talking, barely!!
  • Florida-what is up with the anti-abortion billboards on the highways? They are ubiquitous!! Every few metres or so, these huge nasty slogans screaming pro-life talking points came at us at 70 miles/hour. I tried to get a picture, but really-what for! What was even more distasteful were the gun and ammo ads that were right behind them. It seems it isn't okay to "destroy" a human life through a pregnancy termination, but it is perfectly fine to blow them away with an AK47 legally purchased at any number of outlets advertising on the Florida Turnpike. 
  • A few more random thoughts: Burger King has a veggie burger. Who knew? Not great-but edible. Perry Georgia? Not all that Jewish. The deer hunting magazines and Christmas decorations were everywhere, but nary a Channukiah. American mega churches seem to gravitate to the Interstates. What is up with that? We must have seen at least 10 with direct proximity to exit off-ramps. 
So we finally rolled in around 4:00 pm yesterday afternoon, and after an excursion more dangerous than the drive down (grocery shopping at Publix on Hallandale Beach Boulevard!) we are settling in. I love my man for doing every minute of the driving and I need to tell him publicly that he is way more than just my chauffeur. Any man who can put up with me and Broadway show tunes for 26 hours in a car with no escape hatch must be my B'sheret!! By the way, for all of my friends and family freezing and digging out, it was 0C this morning in Miami. Hope that makes you all feel a bit better.

    Wednesday, 1 December 2010

    Snuggie Hanukkah

    A sign of the Apocalypse? Wait that isn't very Jewish, is it? Well neither is this. OY!!! Chag Chanukah Sameach all and here's hoping you celebrate it better than this!