Humour

Very soon, I’ll be boarding a plane for the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton Ohio.  My first experience with this workshop (and any writers workshop, really) was two years ago.  I would guess that eighty percent of the 350 attendees were woman like me, of a certain age like me.  Throw in a few punchlines and a little wine and you have a fermenting cocktail (which I will affectionately refer to as the Dayton Dazzler)! While in the company of so much comedic virtuosos (both the faculty and the attendees), not to mention the neighbouring drum corps competition, I was able to come away profoundly inspired but also a little intimated (and moderately deaf). I wrote about this anxiety in a post-workshop post about The Burdon of Bombeck (as in, “Hi my name is Astra and it’s been sixteen days since I last wrote something funny”).

There have been so many questions posted on the attendees’ Facebook site by newbies!  I feel I’d be doing my part as a veteran Ermatolgist (as coined by the ever wit-faced Amy Sherman) to address them so the freshman Ermatologists have as much fun as us upperclassmen!

Do people have wine in their hotel room?

You don’t get out much do you? People have wine in the hallways, in the bathrooms and occasionally even in the bar. Bring it.

Do I really need to bring business cards?

You must have some other mechanism by which to make yourself truly unforgettable.  Bring it on.

Is it okay to wear bathrobes and fuzzy slippers to the sessions?

Not many people can rock that look but if you can … I say bring it!.

Carry-on or checking a suitcase?

You can’t take liquids in a carry-on (unless three ounces is what you call a drink, in which case we likely won’t meet this weekend), so I say bring it (the suitcase that is)!

Will there be t-shirts?

There will be t-shirts, glowsticks and glow necklaces, Hang Ten foam fingers, sun-visors, ball caps, slotted sunglasses, and over-sized multi-coloured beach balls.

I’m actually not 100% sure about any of that but it will be an event worthy of such rockin’ stuff!

Do people change for dinner?

Absolutely; I’m a totally different person at dinner. Who isn’t?

What goes on Saturday night?

What happens in Dayton, stays in Dayton (that’s all I’m gonna say)!

What a difference two years makes!

Can’t wait to be Dayton Dazzled and Bombecked!

Erma

You can tell an awful lot about a woman by the contents of her freezer.

I have a friend who, despite having three kids, has a truly immaculate home, unlike my own home with three kids which seems to be rife with kid clutter and dog dirt. Whenever I come home from her place, I am inspired to tidy up just a little.  If nothing else, to at least wipe the dogs’ drool off the patio door. Well, this time I went for broke:  I cleaned out my bottom-drawer kitchen freezer!

There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about my kitchen freezer. In fact, a freezerful of je ne sais quoi. As I was cleaning it out, I was not at all surprised by the number of containers with unidentifiable contents, or the amount of food with freezer burn beyond rehabilitation.  I was, however, a little grossed out with the amount of dog hair I cleaned out of my freezer – which seems to be immune from freezer burn. Pretty sure this explains the string of declines for any dinner invites I extend.

Delighted with my Saturday morning’s accomplishment, I gathered the family (except the dogs) around the kitchen frig and presented them with my handiwork. “Ta da!” I announced, to a primarily indifferent audience.

“What’s that?” asked my husband, pointing to a little square Tupperware container amongst the ice cube trays and frozen treats.  “It’s Fishy” I whispered. “It’s fishy?” he asked. “Why does fish get its own corner of your freezer?” which would be a very good question in a normal household. “Shhh! Not fish,” I corrected, “Fishy.

“Fishy’s alive?!” screamed my daughter jumping up and down. Sigh.

“No honey, Fishy is not alive.  He is still very much dead.  He just happens to be still very dead in our freezer.” A now thoroughly confused husband then said, “I’m going to regret asking this, but what is a dead Fishy doing in our freezy?”

“Well, when he died, we were on our way out the door and didn’t have time to give him a proper funeral.”

“Sooo, when exactly did Fishy die?” asked my husband, glancing over at the fish bowl on the kitchen counter that contained a very much alive Beta fish.

“Three years ago.” I answered “Give or take …”

Needless to say, after having her dead fish replaced with a new alive one, the urgency surrounding a proper pet burial had diminished, and we all sort of forgot about the whole thing – until today.

Despite the wasted food and a long-overdue funeral, I truly feel like I accomplished something that morning.

The patio door, however, is still covered with dog drool.

This essay was written for the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.  It didn’t win but was great fun to write.  I put on my best “Erma”.  As many of you know, I learned so much from the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop held every other year in Dayton, Ohio, its faculty and most importantly its attendees.  You can read the winning entries here.

If the regular hockey season is responsible for my proclivity for coffee and pinot grigio, then the minor hockey playoff season is to blame for my increasingly regular consumption of energy drinks and tequila.

playoff ladder

The intensity of the playoff season is largely due to its unpredictability. Until the regular season league standings are final, we never know who we will face first in the playoffs, when the games will be, where the games will be and what practices will now be added to the schedule – or even if we’ll make the playoffs at all!  Hockey dads have no doubt analyzed numerous playoff scenarios and while I’m reasonably certain these scenarios where rhymed off several times over various dinner conversations, I think I tuned out around mid-January!

There is an entirely different atmosphere around playoff hockey, filled with traditions and superstitions.  Although most players are too young to sport playoff beards (at least until about Midget level anyway), nothing says ‘playoffs’ to a minor hockey player like a new outrageous hairstyle.  I really thought I’d seen the last of the mullet in my high school years, but it makes an unfortunately popular comeback around playoff time. And in striking contrast to the mullet, another playoff favourite is the military buzz.  The mane of choice for my two boys was decidedly the “hockey flow”.  A respectable playoff flow necessitates serious lock-nurturing of this long-ish hair (meaning, sporting a toque or baseball cap pretty much 24/7 to “get her goin’.”). If you ask me, a flow is just a millennial mullet (but no one is asking me).

Playoff hockey also intensifies players’ irrational behaviours.  Superstitions that are typically reserved for just the goalies during the regular season suddenly become major team events during playoffs. It could be the same t-shirt, the same toque or ball cap, and yes, even the same socks, all to be worn with religious regularity and without interruption right through to the Championship game – or elimination (which I am forbidden to speak of except in secret hand signals to my husband). The same goes for seating arrangements in the dressing room, and even in the car during carpools.Those who aren’t quite daring enough to trim their locks (meaning their mom didn’t give them permission) may be otherwise playoff-inspired to tint their locks (if their mom gives them permission). A whole bench of Billy Idol look-alikes.  Girls’ playoff hockey hair is certainly not left out in the cold either, as the low-lights in various team colours are decidedly playoff chic.

faceoff

Is it just me or does it seem that, between the hair, the rituals, the music and the whatnot, the more painstaking the preparation for playoffs, the sooner the team is eliminated from action? I wouldn’t dare say so before or during playoffs – that’s an epic jinx – but sometimes the lead up to the playoffs lasts longer than the playoffs themselves!  Oh well. At least their fashions are all set for NHL playoffs, and hopefully I can finally wash those socks!

So what is my best advice for survival of the post-season?  Take it one superstition and one tank of gas at a time.

Now, where’s my shaker of salt?

I don’t mind when my husband goes away on a boys’ weekend – really – I don’t. I have noticed, however, some fairly significant differences between a boys’ weekend and a girls’ weekend.

golf

For starters, men don’t know how to count.  A boys’ weekend is never forty-eight hours – it’s more like ninety-six hours.  Women have a different word for that – it’s a freakin’ vacation, is what that is. A girls’ weekend on the other hand, starts on Friday and ends on Sunday. It’s. A. Weekend. We’re gone for maybe forty-eight hours, but usually more like thirty-six hours.  That’s ok though, because by my counting, I can plan two girls’ weekends for every one boys’ weekend.

Planning a boys’ weekend is pretty easy too:  pick a date, pack your golf bags and head out the door.  Planning a girls’ weekend involves, um, more.

I’ve noticed most moms, myself included, are exhausted just getting out the door for a girls’ weekend given the Herculean effort involved in organizing a weekend away.  Yet, despite the effortlessness that seems to accompany planning a boys’ weekend, I have noticed that they don’t seem to come home very well rested at all.

During a girls’ weekend, I may text my husband that I arrived safely, ask if he found the casserole in the freezer, and remind him about our son’s baseball game. I would never text my husband asking him, “Can you check on our line of credit?” or better yet, “I talked to the police officer and it’s cool”. There’s not much to text from a girls weekend.  “I ate and I slept” isn’t all that exciting. I could ratchet it up a bit and say, “I laughed so hard that wine came out my nose” but am not sure if anyone at home would be interested in that one either. Or better yet, “spent four hours at the spaspa today – better than sex.” Yeah, I pressed cancel on that one too.

Returning from a boys’ weekend and walking into the house involves the onerous task of dumping the dirty laundry into the hamper and storing the golf clubs in the basement.  Returning from a girls’ weekend and walking into the house, well, it just brings tears to my eyes.

So despite their differences, what happens at a girls’ weekend, stays at a girls’ weekend and for sure, what happens at a boys’ weekend, stays at a boys’ weekend.  Maybe the texts should too.

Soul Sisters Weekend 2014 seems just a little too long away…

There it is …

The deadline is looming…

Just a few days away…

We can see the “Submit” button from here…

Just have to click it and we’re done …

admissions officeI’ve been helping my teenage son complete his post-secondary school applications.  It wasn’t that long ago that I remember filling out my own university applications.  Actually, I do remember now – it’s been over three decades since I even looked at a university application!  Oh well, those applications – they were some great memories.  

I can’t believe how streamlined the entire process is now.  This whole world wide web online application thing is pretty nifty.  Since Canadian schools are the only ones on his radar, there are no SATs to take or scores to submit, so the application itself is fairly standard – at least for the Ontario universities.  What it lacks in applicant differentiation, it makes up for in efficiency and simplicity!  We entered his OEN (Ontario Education Number), his student number, his high school code, then pointed and clicked our way to the Submit button.  His application to Manotick Co-Operative Nursery School back in 1999 wasn’t even this easy – and that involved an in-person interview – because arranging an interview with an alumnus would have been over the top, right?

Now comes the hard part:  the waiting.  This I do remember being extremely tedious.  What follows, God willing, is the equally challenging task of deciding which post-secondary institution I want to visit on a regular basis – I mean – which is the right environment for my son.  Of course, the task of paying for that choice – er –  opportunity of a lifetime – is also still a task at hand as well. As I was saying, God willing …

I’m not sure about my son, but I found the entire university application process so easy, that in fact, I told him that I was thinking maybe of applying to university all over again myself.

Silence.

“You’re kidding, right?”

Of course I’m kidding dear!  I can hardly leave your father in charge of redecorating your bedroom, now can I?

Bring on those offers, Admissions, I got my paint chips all lined up!

paint chips

So, there needs to be a reason? Certainly not in my books, but in this hilarious book, Reasons Mommy Drinks, Lyranda Martin Evans and Fiona Stevenson (Three Rivers Press, 2013) give 100 reasons that Mommies drink, along with 100 cocktail recipes (seriously ladies, you couldn’t come up with 365?!) that are almost as funny as the motherhood anecdotes after which they were named. I highly recommend reading it (and copying down the recipes!).  It was a little tough reading a book about drinking during my annual month of detox, but then again, it was refreshing to recall all those ‘new mom’ experiences of new mothers – mostly because I’m well past that stage and can actually laugh at them now.

There is the cocktail aptly named “The Silver Scream” named after mommy’s first foray into humanity after childbirth at a Mommy and Me movie, or a yummy concoction called “A Mudslide” which follows a not so yummy experience with explosive poo.  Well, who hasn’t had an experience with explosive poo and who doesn’t need a drink after it? Of course nothing celebrates baby’s first steps like a drink called the “Walk ‘n’ Roll”, and nothing will restore your sanity after listening to children’s music all day, like the “Raffi-tini”, best served “with Baby Beluga caviar” – bwahahaha! (Oh, yes new mothers, you WILL have that song in your head for the rest of your lives).

The book chronicles the first 18 months of motherhood and though I am now 18 years into motherhood, I still remember all those crazy, sleep-deprived baby days – and how badly I wanted a drink!  Sadly, the book starts off with a series of mock-tails (buzzkill alert) until page 31, beyond the anecdotes of nursing.  And sadly that’s pretty much how motherhood started in real life too, wasn’t it? I wish this book had been around when my first born was 18 months old and my second was already 4 weeks old.  It would have given me great comfort – and great inspiration for cocktails – to know that, a) I wasn’t losing my mind, and b) I actually was losing my mind but I was in very good company!

The only negative I have about the book was the ridiculously small print size.  I don’t know my fonts – all I know is I needed my 1.50 reading glasses to read this book instead of my 1.25’s and that made me feel old. Feeling old sucks.  Feeling old makes me feel like making a cocktail…

The Old Fart Work of Art

Ingredients
Sparkling wine, Prosecco or champagne
Crème de Cassis

Instructions
Pour a small amount of the crème de cassis in a chilled champagne flute
Top with sparkling wine then sit back and wonder where your teenagers are…

reasons mommy drinks

I keep all my New Year’s resolutions to myself – that way no one can hold me to them.

alcohol freeAs many of my friends know, every January I abstain from alcohol.  Stop laughing, I’m serious. This annual resolution – or 1/12th of a resolution – seems to be difficult to keep to myself and elicits much commentary by my friends and family alike. They are all very supportive, in a this-I-gotta-see kind of way.

I do this because, like many, I tend to overindulge in the all manners of food and beverage during December and have convinced myself that abstaining from alcohol for one month will set my life back to  Zen.  No way am I giving up comfort good in January so alcohol seems to be the appropriate sinful pleasure to slash instead of slosh. I’m pretty sure I can pull this off. God knows I was pregnant three times and breastfed three kids while abstaining from alcohol. But as the gap has grown considerably between the present day and my birthing and breastfeeding days, and I find it more and more of a challenge to do this annual “cleanse” – or is just because now I am mother to three teenagers? Judging from my Christmas presents, my teenagers may also think it’s a challenge for me.

For my first cleanse five years ago, I decided to go flat out and tried ‘Dr. Joshi’s holistic detox – 21 days to a healthier you’ made famous by Gwyneth Paltrow. I know, but I liked her back then, didn’t you?  Joshi promotes a detox diet regime – with no red meat, no dairy, no fruit, no wheat, no alcohol, no coffee, no sugar and no artificially processed foods. Yeah, so basically cardboard (you might know this as rye crackers). I recall reading a Canadian Living magazine writer’s review of this cleanse at the time and she wrote that she felt awful the first three days, then rather “kittenish” when she awoke the fourth day.  Clearly the kittens she knows are starving, acerbic, hypersensitive creatures with a razor-sharp tongues because that’s pretty much how I felt the fourth – and subsequent – days.  Of all the forbiddens on Dr. Joshi’s list, the hardest for me to give up was my coffee. It was not an enjoyable January and I have since then decided that giving up the alcohol is going “cleanse” enough for me. My friends and family generally agree.

The January detox doesn’t start until after the Kingston hockey tournament and it ends January 31st when the Nepean and Cornwall hockey tournament begin. Am I making excuses? Have you ever tried to make it through a minor hockey tournament weekend without alcohol? I rest my case.

So right out of the gate, my month-long January cleanse is reduced to 27 days. I am almost half way there, already.  Hooray! A toast to me! Oh wait …

Wish me luck on the home stretch… and keep all sharp objects (and chardonnay) away from me.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?

no alcohol

I remember fondly the Christmas presents my children used to make for me at school. I still have the classroom-crafted Christmas ornaments from Kindergarten, the decorated Santa’s cookie plates from Grade One, and will simply never part with the rendering of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer done with hand prints for the antlers and footprint for the head from Grade 3. I am so glad that I wasn’t the classroom volunteer that day! Somehow Christmas Gifts for Mom dropped off our school board’s educational curriculum some time before middle school. Such a shame.

It was about middle school, however, that I suggested to them that just because they weren’t making things in the classroom anymore, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still get us a gift. I mean after all, the time had come for them to fully appreciate the old saying that “it is better to give than to receive”. Lord knows their dad and I have been doing a lot of giving over the past seventeen Christmases.

Generally their Gifts for Dad came out of my wallet and the Gifts for Mom came out of Dad’s wallet but that was ok. It was still fun to find a little something under the tree to enjoy along with our Christmas morning mimosa – my husband’s and my mimosas, not the kids (that would be wrong, right?). I’m so glad we started this new tradition because now that my children are all teenagers, I can tell that they truly enjoy picking out the perfect gifts for their parents.

So what was under the Christmas tree for mom this year, you ask?  Well, my oldest son bought me a set of wine glasses, my middle son bought me a Mason jar with a straw (with a heartwarming dedication, “for the cottage”, along with it) and my daughter, my youngest, bought me a coffee mug and a half a kilo of coffee. My mother, who was visiting for Christmas, suggested “Your children seem to know you well.” I couldn’t tell if she was impressed or disgusted.

Christmas 2013

Well, yes, they do seem to point to the things in life I appreciate the most, given to me by the people in my life who I love the most. Anyhoo, no matter. I love my presents and will no doubt put them all to good use. After all, my kids are undoubtedly the ones I have to thank (or blame) for needing them in the first place!

Was there something special for you under the tree this past Christmas?

Another book in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series was launched on November 5, 2013. It’s called O Canada The Wonders of Winter with 101 stories about bad weather, good times, and great sports. A very typically Canadian book, it is filled with iconic Canadiana, community spirit, the great outdoors Great White North-style, hockey stories, snow stories, ski stories and stories about our internationally famous politeness and kindness and of typical Canadian holidays and traditions.

chicken soup for the soulOn page 178 of this book, you will find the forty-seventh story called The Angels of Hockey and it was written by me. The challenge for me was not in writing this 1,200-word piece, as the words and emotions flowed freely considering the subject matter which some of you might recall reading about in my post last year called, A Zamboni of My Own.  That would be the one in which my husband decided that the best time to go golfing would be during hockey season on a weekend where all three of our hockey playing-kids were in three different hockey tournaments.  I know. I know. I’m trying to forget it too.

No, the ultimate challenge for me turned out to be committing to the book launch party in Toronto and in publicly reading my story to about 100 people who had gathered to celebrate its launch.  I realized, though, if I could marshal the resources required of a weekend with ten hockey games in forty-eight hours and not kill anyone – and write a story about it which would ultimately end up getting published in a Chicken Soup for the Soup book – surely I could get myself to Toronto to celebrate this personal achievement.

So, I took the afternoon off work and drove four hours to Toronto from my home in Ottawa and arrived at the Keating Channel Pub and Grill at Lakeshore Blvd and Cherry Street, with my sister in tow. After all, you never know if this is your ‘fifteen minutes’ or not! I was soon directed to a group of thirty or so other contributing authors and we sat and signed one or two or 300 copies of the book for the publisher. Just the day before, I had received an email from the publisher asking me if I would be interested in reading my story to the crowd.  Of course my inclination was to say, “No way” but once again, you never know if this is your ‘fifteen minutes’ or not!  I was one of four people chosen to read and, while I realize the crowd was a gracious gathering of almost entirely family and friends, my mouth felt stuffed with cotton the whole evening.  So with a little liquid courage in hand, I stood and read my story, which took probably no more than four minutes and concluded with an appropriate amount of laughter and polite applause -mostly from my wonderful family, my cousins, their spouses, and my friends!

Soup book reading

I can take forward the experience of ‘contributing author’ and ‘public reading’ to my repertoire and still have ‘eleven minutes’ of fame remaining!

Oh yes, and my husband wished for me to add this disclaimer: no husbands were harmed in the writing of this story. Not this time anyway.

My dog Koda has a problem with impacted anal glands. Wait … don’t leave. I swear that’s what the vet told me! Let’s just say, she could have told me he needed canine breast implants, and I would have just handed over my credit card. Vets are awesome. I vow never to shake hands with one again.

So now Koda is on all kinds of meds for about two weeks.  Five pills a day, a syringe full of something else and – you probably guessed – antibiotic ointment twice daily to his badunkadunk.

Remember that stage when you disguised all your kids’ medications in every which way just to get them to take it?  The crushed Tylenol in strawberry jam? The liquid antibiotic sundae? Yeah, that’s the week I’m having.

“Peanut butter for breakfast?!” drooled Koda. “Yes! Yes! I’m a good boy! Yes I am! Gimme the peanut butter! I want the peanut butter!”

His brother Murdoch slinks out of the kitchen. He’s no fool. “You idiot!” yapped Murdoch, “It’s a trap. Why do you think you’re wearing the cone of shame?!” He knew well enough to stay clear during med rounds.

I was able to dispense Koda’s meds a total of exactly three times this way before he figured it out and licked all the peanut butter off the pills.  Time to move on.

“Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! I get wieners for dinner! It must be Christmas!” panted Koda. “Yes! Yes! Gimme the wieners! I want the wieners!”

Murdoch looked disgusted, “You forgot to say, ‘Hold the Cephalexin’, you twerp!”

Twice burned now, Koda is not falling for any more food tricks, much like my second and third children didn’t fall for the antibiotic sundae. Murdoch is clearly coaching Koda much like my firstborn coached his young siblings I now realize.

“Here’s what we gotta do,” arfed Murdoch, nudging Koda with his snout, “You just gotta suck it up, Man! It’s not a bad gig. Down the pills … fake a whimper … and presto! The bacon comes out! Don’t worry. I got your bacon – I mean – tail!”

Easy for Murdoch to say. He didn’t endure a reverse-Brazilian!

Another whole week of this circus.

koda cone of shame

About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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