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Midlife and Mistresses

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Middle age is when you choose your cereal for the fiber, not the toy!

Normally when I read Scott Feschuk’s articles in Maclean’s magazine, I laugh so hard I pee my pants.  This is not as bad as it sounds because I usually only get to read Maclean’s in the bathroom, so don’t worry. 

A recent Feschuk column, however still humourous, was a bit more philosophical as he contemplated his own midlife crisis.  What really caught my attention, without the accompanying incontinence, was a comment in reply to his column.  A Dr. Drummond, author of the The Midlife Crisis Handbook  (how perfect is this for that hard-to-buy-for-in-midlife-crisis someone on your list?), pointed out that, “Midlife Crisis is a term first used by Elliott Jacques in a research paper in 1965 where he discussed the angst of middle aged men in big business. They were asking the question, Is this all there is? and really struggling with whether or not their feelings called for a big change in their lives.  A functional Midlife Crisis is a massive shortcut to living your dreams when it is done well and done on purpose.”

If posing the query, “Is this all there is?” designates a midlife crisis, then everyone in my family is having one on a fairly regular basis – particularly around dinner time.

Secondly, a “…massive shortcut to living your dreams?  There’s only one shortcut I know to living my dreams, and it’s called Lotto649.

So in contrast to Dr. Drummond’s definition, clearly the midlife crisis that all your neighbours want to talk about is a dysfunctional Midlife Crisis:  running off with the secretary, buying a motorcycle or a leasing two-seater sportscar – none of which are particularly sensible for a married man in his midlife! 

I took a different approach and recently preempted my husband’s midlife crisis by giving him permission to take on a mistress.  Yep, a marital hall pass.  My one and only condition was that she have her own car and is willing to drive our kids to hockey.  Not surprisingly, he has no takers so far, and my dear husband is suggesting that’s because the 30-somethings in his life aren’t big on hockey.  I say the 30-somethings in his life aren’t big on him.

Funny how the crises of most women involve altering the effects of time, whereas for men it involves fooling the effects of time.  As for me, I figure I’ve had at least a dozen midlife crises along my journey, which Dr. Drummond thankfully points out is perfectly normal.  It’s doubtful I would mourn the choices I’ve made in life and entirely unthinkable for me to take dysfunctional action to undo any of them.  I have no shortage of complaints about what new dysfunction plagues my body and mind these days but the midlife decisions that plague most women hold no controversy for me:  if it involves needles or knives, I just need to get over myself.  Which means of course that most of my midlife crises go entirely unnoticed…that is … until that crisis is interrupted by yet another of Life’s existential mysteries:  did we run out of peanut butter again?

How will you handle your midlife crisis?

Gift Giving for Teenagers!

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Hey!  A short article of mine was recently published at  I invite you to have a read:

I may be known as Aunty Gift Card to my nieces and nephews for their birthdays, but I am decidedly anti-gift card at Christmas. Ripping open an envelope on Christmas morning is about as exciting as ripping open a report card: they already know what’s inside.

Teenagers are a rare breed to live with on a good day… never mind to shop for. They either want everything under the sun or they don’t want anything at all; proving my long-held assertion that teenagers cause hair loss in parents. Add to the stress of selection – the cost! In addition to my own three kids (ages 15, 14, and 11), I have 11 nieces and nephews for whom I shop (read: I need to stay within my budget).

Here are some suggestions to make gift giving easier for teens and tweens.

If you still think Hello Kitty is just cute little pink lunch bags and pencils, then you and I have been living under the same rock. I recently checked out their line of totally far out make-up compacts at Sephora which include eye shadow palette and blush for $35.

The famous Coach line of handbags is far too expensive. And really? What teenager deserves be walking around their high school with a handbag nicer than mine? But they seriously want one. So, why not a little wristlet, instead for under $50. This cuties can easily hold their cell, iPod and lip gloss (but not a hair straightener, sorry).

You don’t have $999 for the MacBook Air on his list? Really? So? What now? If your teenagers has a lap top (any many of them do), why not consider getting them a cool skin (aka cover sticker). At you can chose from a huge array of funky designs – and not just for their lap tops but also cell phones and iPods too. You can also create one of your own buy uploading pictures or designs. While they might be a little disappointed they didn’t get that new lap top, for under $30, at least their old laptop, iPod, Blackberry or cell will look brand new!

How about a pair of really neat earphones? Sorry, epic fail on the teenage lingo. I mean, I am stocking up on some totally sick skull candy for their iPods and MP3 players. There’s usually a whole aisle of them at Best Buy or Future Shop, but you can also occasionally find them dirt cheap at Winners!

Finally, for the rarer-than-Mother-Theresa-rare-Teenager who really, really, really doesn’t want anything for Christmas… buy them a goat. Er – rather – buy a village in need of a goat through one of the many charitable organizations offering Gifts of Hope such as Plan Canada, Unicef and Oxfam. Mango trees, baby chicks, classroom essentials, sanitary essentials, anti-malaria bed nets, among many other popular choices, are available for sale.

So I wish you every success with your holiday shopping for teenagers. I still have hair which proves these gifts have all been well received by my family – and by my wallet. Happy holidays!

Hey, did you know there was a postal strike going on?

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Has anyone actually noticed that Canada was in the midst of a nationwide postal strike? I’ve heard a fair bit about it on the news but quite frankly, I haven’t otherwise even noticed.  Well, I take that back.  I HAVE noticed that while these postal workers are heatedly debating preservation of their essential service to Canadians whereas I can take a breather from cleaning all the junk and direct mail flyers from my neighbourhood super box.  Yes it’s true.  While I did briefly enjoy mail pick and delivery right from my college apartment door while in university in the US, I have not had home delivery of my mail in Canada since – oh – like, 1983.  Probably the last time I saw and honest to God letter carrier too.  Seriously, I am not missing the daily ritual making of two piles of mail:  one that goes directly to the recycle bin and mail that comes into the house.  You know the pile that comes into the house is a tiny fraction of that which feeds my Blue Box.

If I hear one more postal worker complaining on the news that they are not going to be able to retire at age 55 like they’d planned, I seriously might just go – well – postal.   If my taxes going up again in order to subsidize the pension benefits and/or pension shortfall of one more public servant, Crown or pseudo-crown corporation employee, I might just send them my early withdrawal penalty fees from personal retirement savings funds (oh wait, they’re on strike) .

But you know, I’m a pretty reasonable person (other than on Monday mornings), and have been known to change my opinion on many things over a glass of Chardonnay (not on Monday mornings), so I thought before ranting too loudly I’d quickly take a look at the CUPW website to see what’s the hold up with getting my next issue of Canadian Living (note to self:  email Transcontinental Media about switching that account to e-subscription).  The union’s main website page announces where and when the next rallies and demonstrations are being held.  Oh great, so now in addition to not getting my daily dose of real estate must-haves in my neighbourhood, it’s also going to take me longer to get home as I attempt to divert these gatherings.  Okay, so when I did finally navigate my way to their Program of Demands (pretty sure CUPW introduced that term to my kids right around toddlerhood) under their Key Resources heading, I found their most recent newsletter from their National President dated August 2010.  Seriously?!   Have there been no updates to the members since?  I honestly could not find out what actually caused the screeching halt of the delivery of greeting cards from yet another charity looking for donations to my mailbox.

I was getting a little freaked out that I might miss my next Columbia House CD shipment (“Did you know you can still buy CDs?” my daughter asks one day.  Thwack.), but then remembered they went bankrupt last year because of this “…obsolete media…”  I guess they thought iTunes was just a fad.

Heaven knows I will miss my opportunity to claim my millions from Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes.  That’s ok because I am one of the over 60% of Canadians saving for my own retirement and it looks like I am not doing so any time soon. 

It also looks like I’m not going to get that postcard from my sister who is visiting Italy right now with her family.  Not to worry, however, for I know within 10 minutes of her arrival home, she’ll have all those photos posted to a shared Shutterfly site.  In fact, knowing her, I should probably check my email for she may very well have already done so while travelling (unlike me who relied on the postal service and mailed film and mementos home from a once-in-a-lifetime trek through Europe in 1989 that never arrived…ever).   

It is absolutely tragic that I will fail to be informed about what’s on sales this week at Giant Tiger (your all-Canadian family discount store).

Ah well, no matter.  Looks like the posties will be legislated back to work next week to resume this essential service to Canadians, so  I have no worries than that the one personally hand-written piece of mail we do get – birthday cards from Grandma – will safely arrive in time for our next family birthday in August.

Long live the internet.

Diary of a 16 year-old

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Homework for a class I’m taking in memoir writing involved buying a journal.  Oh – and using it.  I’m trying not to roll my eyes but I have never “journaled” or kept a diary and thought this was quite a tedious assignment.  Nevertheless, a trip to Indigo-Chapters is one that my daughter and I enjoy – each to our own corner of the store – so off we went on a school supply shopping trip for me.  Though my corner is usually Fiction or better yet, Starbucks, this visit involved a trip to the Paper section.  My daughter has led me there on numerous occasions to seek out one of the many journals she has maintained in her lifetime.  She is ten.

I was staking out a spot for my brand new journal, with a big letter A on its front cover, in my night table drawer, when I came across an old diary of mine.  So I lied; I did keep a diary; but only for about 4 months of my life.  My aunt bought me a small one for Christmas one year and I managed to keep it up for an astonishing 4 months in the year 1980.  My daughter was in the room, and was obviously curious about its contents.  What the heck?  I read aloud from a random page…

“When I write in this diary, I think about my daughters reading it and what they will think.”  I know, but I swear that really was on the page that I randomly flipped open and read to her.  She looked at me with such amazement that you’d think two cosmos collided.  She was wriggling and giggling with excitement so I read on to find out what other profound predictions I professed in 1980.

I was 16 years old in 1980 and a very average 16 year old at that.  I was not out struggling for social justice or campaigning for peace, I wasn’t plotting to overthrow my parents’ rule and  I wasn’t depressed or raging or even writing bad poetry.  I was, in fact, entirely ordinary, working as a waitress in a truck stop, studying for exams, angsting about my hair and playing a bit part in the local theatre company’s production of The Sound of Music.  Oh and I had a huge crush on a boy named Chris (“A.G. loves C.R.” was emblazoned in a big heart in the back cover!).

“Oh, Mom!” my daughter chided, “You were such a drama queen!”  It dawned on me that a) the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and b) my daughter was making a connection.  She realized that this evil thing that takes away her iPod and makes her eat broccoli was once young and frivolous. 

So, I am now determined to do this journal business – if for no other reason than for the conservation of my own memories and emotions (perhaps no longer so young and so frivolous).  She may have a ten year old herself one day (and it’ll serve her right) and look back on this, and her own, journals!

Domestic Bliss

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If there is domestic nirvana, Good Cleaning Lady she be.  I’ve been without this heavenly bliss since July (that’s right – JULY – don’t come visit!).  My husband and I have employed a cleaning lady since very early in our marriage.  For the first few years of our wedded life together, housecleaning was the only thing we fought about (I’ve matured now to the point that I have since found other mundane things to fight about).   I seemed to be doing it every weekend.  In 1991, $40 got your entire apartment cleaned, plus whatever laundry and ironing was lying around.  Of course the apartment was about 400 square feet; laundry was limited because we had all this disposable income for dry-cleaning and who, quite frankly, who irons anymore?  Fast forward almost 20 years now and our cleaning lady of 5 years leaves a voicemail saying she’s off to Germany for the month of August and will call me upon her return.  No sweat – we’re at the cottage for 2 weeks…how bad can things get?  Except…she does not call back at the end of August!  I let things go a couple more weeks until I am wading through dust bunnies and dog hair a foot deep.  I misplaced my daughter for a whole hour.  Finally found her after an anxious game of indoor Marco Polo!  . 

Our cleaning ladies have been the glue that keeps our marriage together – or just my uncomplicated version of the Other Woman I’m not sure.   It is entirely possible that this woman, after 5 years of promoting peace and non-violence in our matrimony has divorced us.

So since the end of August I’ve been the domestic Goddess around here.  Though after 4 hours of sweat labour, I feel more like a cross between the Tasmanian Devil and Pigpen.  I’m truly enlightened too:  a good cleaning lady may be hard to find but well worth the effort and way cheaper than marriage counseling.

Help Wanted!

Yellow cars…

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Those of you with children know the age-old travel game of counting cars on the highway.  In my younger days, I counted purple corvettes.  Volkswagon’s reintroduction of the VW Bug saw the return of Punch-Buggy –No-Punch-Backs.

While in Tuscany recently with my family, our days typically involved at least an hour of car travel to and from our destination of the day. Each day, my three kids, along with whichever cousin was along for the ride, would count the yellow cars.  Any type of motorized vehicle counted, but they had to be yellow.  Not amber, not flax, not mustard and certainly not golden.  Yellow.  While Italy may be known for its colourful people and amazing food, their cars are disappointingly grey, black or white.  So the counting yellow cars game proved to be more of a challenge than usual, and I found myself helping them out by being on the lookout.

On our last day in Italy, we were traveling to Florence, about 45 minutes north of our resting spot, La Fattoria Romignano.  Our road trip the day before had yielded a banner crop of yellow cars.  The count was high, so there were equally high expectations for today counting the yellow cars en route to Florence.

My son was up to about 24 yellow cars by the time we reached the outskirts of the old town.  Then it happened.  I could hear the guttural noises emanating from my husband’s throat.  He excitedly began started the play-by-play:  “Coming up on our left hand side!  Wait…wait…wait. Now!  Look!” 

Strapped to the back of a flat bed trailer truck was the supreme trophy of the yellow car counting game.  We were witness to the mermaid of the deep, the unicorn of the forest, the elf of the North Pole.  We saw a yellow Ferrari.  After the ooos and ahhhhs, one of them said, “That’s just gotta count for extra!” This sighting was of particular importance, for we did not see another yellow car for the rest of the tri – or perhaps they just faded from our view!

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