Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lego Man in Space

Deb: These are two Scarborough Ontario boys, Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad, friends from grade school who put this amazing little project together. When Asad came to Canada from India he could not speak any English and Mathew befriended him and involved him in this project some years later. When asked by interviewers how they are going to build on Lego Man in Space, they said, “We are just going to concentrate on good grades and graduating this year and getting into good universities.” Lovely boys with something to tell their grandchildren. 

This is the interview:

This is the whole unedited journey:

Monday, January 30, 2012


Deb: Mom and I spent the night in the emergency ward. She lost control of her electric wheelchair and rammed into her chest of drawers, splitting her legs open. She required several stitches in both legs. The doctor was further concerned that infection would set in, given that they could not suture the whole thing due to large pieces of skin that had come away from the leg. This was a very serious concern given the fact that her leg was already compromised from her gangrene a few months ago and still on a slow mend.

A plastic surgeon was called in to see her and gave instructions to the nurse regards bathing and dressing the wound and gave us an appointment for follow-up in two days, at which point they would do a skin graft.

We had arrived in the emergency room at 8:30pm and finally left at 5:30am. The care was attentive and thorough and Mom was grateful and said so to each person who helped her. But as the hours wore on her patience wore out. She just wanted to go home and became increasingly frustrated. She had never had stitches in her life and was frightened. Add to that the fact that the doctor could not properly “freeze” the compromised leg and said that she would certainly feel the sutures as they were administered, which sadly she did. She was a trouper though, squeezing my hand and bearing up the best she could. When she cried or called out, she would apologize to the doctor who told her, “Mrs. McGrath you have every reason to express your pain and many people could not bear up what you are going through, so yell away.” Bless his heart.  

After she was stitched, they came to transfer her to another part of the emergency department as this one was closing down given the lateness of the hour and the fairly slow night in the waiting room.  The orderly who was wheeling her received an emergency call. He started to run down the hall and, turning to me over his shoulder, said, "Stay with your Mom, I will be right back." In seconds he came running back towards us toting a large white cooler marked “Human Blood” and ran through the large heavy doors right in front of us marked “Trauma”.

Strangely enough I had not even noticed we were in front of the trauma ward as I had been chatting with Mom, trying to keep her mind off the stitches, the possible infection, and her mounting panic around the even slight possibility that she should wind up back in the hospital for an extended stay as she had done in November.

Suddenly the trauma doors swung open and my heart jumped into my mouth. There were people on stretchers, blood everywhere, police rushing about, doctors suiting up, nurses running in, voices calling out and the flash of metal, sharp against the bright overhead lights. My mouth was dry and open, my eyes wide. My heart was beating like it wanted to escape me. Suddenly a nurse, shocked that we were standing there, pulled a bloody gloved hand across a curtain. All that was left were the sounds. Sounds like I had never heard in my life.  And it seemed ... well, it seemed like TV. I had never been that close to anything like that and I was overwhelmed with the reality of it.

As our orderly returned, rushing us away from what we should not have seen,  I sputtered out, "Is ... everyone ... okay?” He said with sadness, "It's not good.” “Was it a car accident?” “Yes ... it’s bad." As we rounded the corner, I began to wonder if I had even seen what I know I had seen. It happened so fast. Maybe it wasn't real. After all I had horrible insomnia the night before and after all it was well after 2am at this point and I was punchy. But I was reminded that it was all too real as people were still running by us towards the trauma room and I could still hear the ching of their I.D. tags which were opening the heavy doors, admitting them to that horrific scene.

As we walked quickly on, the pounding in my ears was abating and it was just starting to seem like a bad dream when we came upon the "Family Quiet Room", which was filled with crying frantic family and friends who were waiting for word about the accident.

The accident that was bad.

They were waiting to find out about their loved ones who were receiving all that care from the people with the chinging I.D. tags. They were waiting and praying for good news from the event our orderly had described  as...

It doesn’t look good.

We walked by them in what seemed like slow-motion, offering weak smiles and glances of hope. Some of them looked back and my eyes locked with their visible panic. As our silence thickened, our orderly Gregory stopped abruptly and turned to us. He looked my Mom in the face, smiled a broad smile and said, “Mrs. McGrath, aren’t you lucky!” My mother, kind of shocked by this odd chirpy statement amidst this scene, faltered a little but said, “Yes ... yes, I am ... I know I am.” He continued, “I work here every day and I see all sorts of horrible things. But what stays with me is the kindness, the humanness. I don’t know exactly what is going to happen to the people in that room, but I know they are receiving the strength of skill and the best of the human spirit and that is all any of us can do. That is why we are here, Mrs. McGrath. You are here having your own trauma and I am not belittling that one bit. But you are here with your daughter who loves you and who you love. Terrible things happen. But it’s love. To love and be loved and to know it. That is what I am grateful for every day I wake up, every day I get to work here, and every night I lay my head on the pillow.”

He wheeled us into my Mom’s E.R. room, “You are lucky. Good luck, Mrs. McGrath,” and he left.

All the way home that morning I thought of those people we had seen. I don’t know what happened to them and I pray that they pulled through.  But thanks to Gregory I was reminded that they were loved. That they too were lucky.

Barbara: What a story, Deb. My heart was pounding the whole time I was reading it. We haven’t had a chance yet to talk about that night with any real detail and I thank you for sharing this.

There’s nothing so soul-shifting as sudden accident. How everyone is forced to stop in their tracks and cling to the pulsing heart of things, which is the heart of everything: love love love. My heart goes out to those people and the shock they faced that awful night and must probably continue to face now. I also hope and wish for a healthy recovery for your dear Mom, Deb. Love. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Yearning (…or, Yeeeeeeaaaarrnnnning)

Barbara: I watched an extraordinary film the other night called Pina. Now this blog post isn’t really about the film, but I’m going to do a quick pitch for it anyway. It’s a documentary about legendary German choreographer, Pina Bausch (and because I loved it so much, I’m embedding the trailer at the end here). Mostly a pure dance film with only a bit of interview and old footage of Pina in rehearsal (sadly, she died recently), it captures the essence of modern dance and its powerful spirituality. Why am I telling you this? Because one of the sound bites in the film is a dancer saying that one common theme for Pina was in the question of why we, as humans, yearn so much.

I know it’s a simple question. Maybe even an obvious one. That we yearn is self-evident. But how often have you asked, Well, why? Why do we yearn?

We all want something so achingly badly, it hurts. To find love, to create something substantial, to leave a mark, to connect, to feel joy, to feel calm, to be safe, to have more, and then just a bit more, and on and on. But it’s always something that is just beyond our grasp.

And because we’re all so familiar with this fundamental state, I won’t keep on it. But when you ask “why”, well, that’s when the concept really gets interesting.

Do we yearn because it is an exquisite pain, something bigger than us, something so heartfelt it reminds us we’re alive? Do we yearn because it forces us to keep pushing ourselves to greater heights. I mean, without yearning, would any of this—this, look around, all this stuff—be here, or would we still be back in caves, not even a fire to warm us because we haven’t yearned it into existence?

I know what I yearn about. I yearn about love. So I seek it out, always striving to keep it around me, truly suffering when it is threatened (or worse). I yearn about getting my work out there, not so that it’ll be some award-winning achievement (although, sure, that would be nice), but in a way that will collect people around my “tribal fire” so I can tell them a story—true or fiction, both—and we can laugh or cry or wonder together (hello, blog buddies!). But here’s the rub: even when I have these things, the yearning doesn’t go away. The yearning yearns for that something to either be more than it is or it yearns against the fear that it might go away, as if there is an absolute certainty that something great will end and I will suffer.

So what do you yearn about? And why do you think we yearn at all?

Deb: What a provocative subject, Barb. Yearning, I think, is what keeps us going. I myself yearn for a very long life. That has always been my yearning. I want to live well and I want to live long. I yearn to travel the globe with my family. I want to see as much of it as I possibly can. The long life I yearn for will help with that quest. My yearning changed over the years. When I was younger it was always about art, and it still is, but not as strong as other yearnings, I guess. Clearly my yearning is still learning! 

PINA - Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost - International Trailer from neueroadmovies on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Piano Puppet

Deb: Here for your enjoyment is a delightful little escape. It is long, but you don’t have to watch all of it to get a taste of this very original delightful offering. For all I know it has been around for years, but I have just seen it and yes, it was darned hard to remember he was a puppet. I have acquaintances who are more puppet-like! :-)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Deb: When I was living in L.A. twenty years ago, I wrote some spec scripts. For those of you who might not know, a spec script is a script you write for an existing, current show to try and secure a writing job or agent. One of my scripts was for Seinfeld. My Seinfeld episode had Jerry falling in love, a true love, which he had never done on the show. She was a gal in the tourism industry and she was funny. Very funny. A natural wit. Jerry was smitten by her beauty, wit, and charm, and especially by the fact that she was not in the entertainment field and had no interest in it at all. In the end, despite his love for her, his male comic’s ego could no longer stand the fact that everyone, including him, thought that his girlfriend Annette was funnier than him. He ended it, broken-hearted, but secure in the knowledge that he would return to his rightful place in the group as “the funniest”.

This character was based on my dear friend Annette with whom Barb and I had a three-way last year. Okay, just read that sentence and thought, “Wow, if anyone is reading our blog for the first time, they are GOING TO BE BACK BABY!”

Digression aside, I must tell you that Annette is quite simply the wittiest woman I know, and trust me, I know plenty of witty gals. She is a brilliant writer and the stuff she posts on Facebook is simply hilarious. Sometimes I only have time to “like” and sometimes I leave a comment.  This fall and Christmas season I was not on FB as regularly, so the other day I sat with a cup of tea and opened her FB page and read for hours. What a delightful time it was.

Barbara: As Annette’s brilliance is what we want to feature today, I’ll just pop my head in here and add, Yeah, the woman’s a genius. So funny you wish she had, like, a TV show or a regular column in the paper or a webisode series or … I don’t know … maybe her own BLOG!!! And she is so sweet, she’ll probably be all shades of red just reading this. Annette, come out, come out, wherever you are!

Deb: The following is a very small example from FB of the one, the only, The Wit: Annette.

*Ran my first 5K this morning... Just kidding.... I'm on my second muffin...

*Why does using a straw make it so much harder to accept there's no more soda?

*I'm sorry, previews, but raving "Best Movie of the Year" means nothing to me on January 20th.

*Have finally come up with suitable epitaph for me for when the sad day comes... "She died doing what she loved... judging strangers on the internet."

*Ever notice how you never meet anyone who's quietly on a juice diet? And while we are sorta on the subject, horses are vegans too but you don't hear them neighing on and on about it...

*Jury duty... The sobering reminder that one day your life could be in the hands of a guy wearing Velcro shoes.

*Given what a perennial distraction it proves, I'd delete my Facebook account, but there's some shaky marriages I'm keeping an eye on.

*So you're feeling a tad scared and anxious because it's Friday the 13th? Well here’s my sympathetic take on that… If there's only one day a year when you wake up irrationally afraid, you're doing okay, my friend!

*I'm currently standing in the 10 items or less line, holding 14 items, freaking the h*ll out.

*If I learned I only had a week to live and could go anywhere in the world, I think I'd go to the hospital... because that sounds pretty serious!

*The only thing that would make my morning more productive is actually doing something! It's not looking hopeful mind you but it's good to have a plan...

*Looks like I’m going to have to abandon my New Year's Resolution to only say nice things about people... Just isn't working as in my case it was the equivalent of a vow of silence.

*Snowflakes as far as the eye can see... all identical!

*The Slippery Slope of New Years Resolutions: January 1st: Resolve to go to the gym every day. January 2nd: Feel guilty for not going. January 3rd: Pie for breakfast!

*My new years resolution for 2012? I will be less laz

*I've never had personalized license plates... but don't worry, I still know how to waste most of my discretionary income! IAMGR8 has nothing on me!

*Some think the economy is slowly recovering. Others think it's on the verge of collapse. I think about shoes mostly...

*I just want people to accept me for who I pretend to be!

*Just caught the news that Anthony Weiner is now a dad. Wife, Huma Abedin, gave birth to a baby boy, Jordan Zane Weiner. Naturally, The New York Post welcomed Jordan Zane into the world in it's inimitable way with a front page headline reading, "A Little Weiner", "Baby boy for Huma and louse." Hope mom's not a scrapbooker!

*It's intriguing to see how much worse celebrities looked "before they were famous" until that painful moment that you realize that's how you look now!

*Almost a full year away and all the stores have their Christmas stuff up already. Just staggering...

*What an incredible Christmas Eve...We had so much fun pretending that the scratching sound from our attic was reindeer and stuff...

*"I am Santa Claus." "No you're not." "Yes I am." "OK." - Miracle on 34th Street in tweet form. And that's all she wrote folks... It's into the car we go... Happy Holidays!

*The best 5 seconds of my life are when I wake up and have no idea I'm a human or have responsibilities.

*It's cute when they put expiration dates on snacks like I won't eat them as soon as I get to my car.

*Out of all of Santa's reindeer, the one that sounds most like a street name for crystal meth is all of them.

*And I? Well I took the road less traveled by, and now my GPS won't stop recalculating...

*The best thing about telepathy is... I know, right?

*I'd put money on it that now that it's been a few years, she's "The Girl Who Really Regrets Getting That Dragon Tattoo."

*How annoying is it when you're about to take a great photo and somebody calls your camera.

*During this season of giving... remember every day is a gift... though many are filled with non-returnable things you didn't ask for and don't want!
*A little primer that may serve you at this party-centric time of the year... Stages of inebriation: Sociable, fun, hilarious, inappropriate, bitter, sad, need new pants, need new friends!

*If the old adage about "opposites attract" is true, I probably should have looked for someone who gets up early and does stuff...

*Thought process of the guy who invented eggnog: "Man, I could really go for a tall, cold, glass of eggs right now."

*"How about a month of non-stop obligations, budget-busting overspending, less-than-desirable travel conditions, very short, dark days and bitter weather?" - The pitch for the month of December.

*Great job keeping crap out of my eye... eyelash that's currently in said eye.

*Would it not make more sense to dump Gatorade on the losing head coach?

*...It’s Chinese New Year and I’m still writing Rabbit on all my checks... Don’t you hate that? 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Empathy: Pass It On

Okay, everyone, thanks to much encouragement and despite a great fear-of-the-unknown, Deb and Barbara have finally joined Twitter!! Check out our sidebar link––and please join us in the Twitterverse (although how in hell we will be able to limit ourselves to just 140 characters is anybody's guess)!

In light of yesterday's post, here's a great video that reminds us just how important empathy is to our evolution. Don't be scared off by its length, it is really fascinating (and, if you've already seen it, definitely worth a second look). Would love to hear how it resonates with you!

Monday, January 23, 2012

When I Was A Lesbian

Barbara: The other day a short Youtube video got circulated and re-circulated on Facebook among many of my friends. It moved me so much, I felt compelled to 1) share it here, and 2) open a discussion by sharing my own personal experience. The film itself (embedded below) is a kind of trailer for a young filmmaker hoping to raise funds to make the actual film itself (from the link, it looks like he’s reached his goal)—a documentary about the challenges, accomplishments, joys, obstacles, tragedies, and cultural journey around being gay. I was moved to tears when I watched the video—oh, the terrible injustices made against so-feeling “Second Class Citizens”, but also OH! we have come a long way too.

Being a glass-half-full type, I always hang onto that: we CAN change, and we HAVE changed.

When I was thirteen, I had just entered high school (a year early as I had skipped Grade 3 … I know, high frickin’ accomplishment…). It was Grade 9 and I was full of all the usual hormone-y, aching, hopeful, vibrant-yet-vague desperately romantic dreams of an adolescent girl with limited experience. This was it: I was finally (yes: FINALLY! …shut up) going to find love. The year started off slowly, but I was still scoping this new jungle, searching for prey.

Not long into this, my first high school year, I found myself playing in the freshly-fallen November snow—a veritable bonanza of childhood delight—with my best friend, Louise. She had decided to go to another high school and for the first time, we weren’t spending every minute together. So an afternoon together out in the bright, sunny cold of my front yard, throwing snow bundles at each other and just reveling in the fresh air and each other’s company, seemed like the best way to celebrate this (now rare) opportunity…. And then, it happened.

I almost can’t remember who moved in first, but I do remember the bright halo of sunlight around us, the snowflakes frozen in my mind’s eye, each flake uniquely starred and suspended and glistening in the air between us, when our faces came together and there was a kiss. I say “there was a kiss” in that general way because I don’t really remember the actual details. What I believe I remember is her kissing my cheek, but then I also remember leaning toward her, as if there was intent behind my actions too. I will say this—it was pure joy.

And then we came apart and both turned our heads in unison to register that a boy—an older boy who went to my school, a neighbor but one who I rarely if ever spoke to, a cute boy, one who might have been part of the vast array of possibilities I had amassed in my adolescent dreams—was walking past, his head now turning away from us, but obviously having seen us, a slight (not attractive) smirk on his lips. Even at thirteen, only just barely familiar with the whole high school protocol and order, knew—KNEW!—that this was going to be bad. Bad enough that I desperately called out to him for the first time in my life, called as if I was throwing a hook around him and trying to pull the moment back: “Hey, Bradley (or whatever his name was)!!!” But he just shrugged and continued on. And then both Louise and I succumbed to hysterical laughter, falling into that now treacherous, cold snow as if we didn’t care about a THING in the world!

I think in that moment, she knew what I knew, but we never spoke of it. Anyway, she didn’t go to the same school as me and this boy. Our friendship might have petered out of its own accord, or maybe I pulled away from her, subconsciously angry and resentful that my imagined glory years in high school, my years of discovery and experimentation and LOVE had now been snatched away because of one brief kiss on the cheek, but anyway, that was one of the last times I ever saw her. 

The next day, I went to school and the nightmare began. The news was circulating fast. The high school was large enough, probably 800 students, to make me feel like the whole world had ostracized me. In 1976, it was a bad thing to be a lesbian. It meant I had to walk the halls to sneers and snide remarks. It meant I was stared at and whispered about. It meant being openly groped—my barely-formed, bra-less, but intensely private breast was openly grabbed one day by a Grade 9 boy as I made my way down the hall. He mumbled some incomprehensible but certainly vile gay slur while his friends guffawed and jeered after me. I was burning with this unknown rage: it was not outward anger, but seething anger forced inward at myself. I had done this. I was wrong.

In all fairness, many kids at school probably didn’t know and/or didn’t care. But when you’re thirteen, those people melt into the uninteresting background, no longer significant. Thank god I found the after-school drama program and was able to immerse myself in the extraordinary experience of performing. And the drama kids were crazy-fun and sweet. Of course we never spoke of my sexuality. I don’t know what they thought. Thank god I found my next best friend and her circle of gentle friends. They all made me feel welcome and “normal”.

So if I say I know how awful it can feel to be ostracized and mocked and assaulted for being gay, even though my experience is only a slight one compared to so many of yours, I can say it with some visceral experience. It sucked. It sucked because it was so emotionally painful at the time, it sucked because I was definitely not gonna get any of those 14-year-old boys that I dreamed about, and it sucked because when I finally did land a guy two years later, I emotionally subjugated myself to him. It does “get better”, as they say, but it does take an awful lot of work and an awful lot of support (which, btw, you need to ask for). And it’s a whole lotta fuss for something that, at its core, is love, pure and simple. Interesting bookend to this story, many years later, I discovered that a few of the brightest lights from high school, the ones who lit up the place with their loving support and which included that high school best friend who saved me, turned out to be gay.

But the real truth here is, growing up, I knew as little about being gay as any of those other ignoramuses. I couldn’t imagine men or women being together and choosing that. And I certainly didn’t equate that connection to love. And all because we never talked about it. It never came up at home and I never asked about it. It was just a turn of phrase, a … slur. It took years of cultural exposure, of education, of discussion and contemplation, for me to first understand and truly accept it, and then take it completely for granted. Even for me, who considers myself to be an open, curious person, it took a process of intellectual and emotional development.

It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is the reason I see hope in how far we’ve come since the ignorant old days. The more we communicate, the more we expose, the more we share our experiences, the more we sift and search and examine our collective psyches like careful archeologists, the closer we get to true intelligence, to goodness, to enlightenment. (And please don’t point to the bible and say it never refers to same-sex marriage—if in the 1970s we weren’t talking much about it, let’s assume that in the early hundreds it wasn’t really on the radar. Oh, and here’s my favourite quote from the trailer below: “If God doesn't want homosexuals, why does He keep making so many?” Amen, indeed.) And the sooner we share our enlightened, accepting knowledge with our children, the easier it is for them to skip all those awkward growing stages … and get right to the good part.

Deb: This is a brave post, Barb, and I thank you for it. I had only recently heard this story from Barb and sympathized with her adolescent self, struggling with the injustice of it. I had no idea, Barb, that you struggled to understand homosexuality and I think it is a testament to who you are that you sought out information. And of course, once you learned what it was, you had no issues at all. The key was learning about it. As a result of your “les-be-friends” incident it was confusing to you at your young age. Why wouldn’t it be when you knew so little?  You set out to find out as much as you could about it and ... you got there. That is the crux of this story for me. You were confused about something you didn’t understand and you sought information.

That, for me, is what is missing in bigotry. Bigots shut their eyes and hate. Bigots close their minds and judge. They don’t seek information because, heaven forbid, they should find something reasonable that would challenge their immovable stance. It’s fine to not understand. And for those who gather information and still do not understand, it’s imperative that they step back and live and let live. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

iBrought An Apple To My Teacher

Deb: iJust purchased a new Macbook Air, so light iCan balance it on my finger. My old MacBook Pro decided that after six years of faithful service it was time to hang up its hard drive. iKnew this would involve getting to know a new computer from scratch so iDecided to purchase the $99.00 one-year Apple plan which would tell me everything iNeeded to know about the care and feeding of my new Mac.
Art by Deb's Finger
iHave made this purchase in the past, only to have it go the way of the gym membership that you pay for and never use. This time, iThought, it’s going to be different.

$99.00 is a good deal, but it is now translating into an excellent deal, the deal of deals, the deal of a lifetime!

The reason is simple. iHave decided that after years of handholding and above-the-waist with my various computers that it is time for me and my new Macbook Air to go all the way.  iDecided that iAm going to take advantage of every single class Apple has to offer. Every single class. iHave already reaped the benefits from three One To One’s (single class with client and “Genius” teacher), and with the patient guidance of the various Geniuses assigned to me, have learned the ins and outs of each key, program, application, and symbol my MacBook Air has to offer.

iAm not even daunted by the fact that iHave only retained forty percent of the info. Hell, iFigure that iAm forty percent smarter about my Mac, so that is win-win. Plus iHave my One to One site where iCan go for refreshers, tips and videos. Sweet. So iHave chosen to take iPhoto next and iTunes after that! And iWon’t stop until iKnow this computer inside and out!

iMay have just become Apple’s worst nightmare!

Each young genius assisting me is so patient and so informative that after the first half hour iWas actually able to stop myself from saying, “Yeah, it’s hard for me because iWasn’t brought up with this.” Or, “We didn’t have computers.” Or, “iLearned to type on a manual typewriter.” And my personal favourite humiliating statement, “iLearned to write with a fountain pen!” Man, why aren’t the geniuses allowed to slap you or tell you to shut up? But no, they just wait until you finish with your excuses, smile and continue. iHave no doubt that their lunchroom conversation this day revolved around, “What the fuck is a fountain pen?”

iKnow what you’re thinking, and iShare your concern! What is my husband going to do now with all that free time? How will he fill his days when he no longer has to troubleshoot, fix, download, upload, recall passwords, find passwords, reset passwords, and find lost documents? iHate to sound callous, but there’s nothing iCan do about that. He is going to have to fend for himself. He is going to have to find a way to fill all that extra time, reading or playing a video game or watching a movie. i’M sorry but he will just have to deal. And iWill placate and comfort him by reminding him that there are many more things outside the computer world that iWill still not get and still need his constant help with. iHope to God that’s enough for him!

Because Mama’s in Apple school!  Suddenly it is all about me and my personal set up, personal training, and personal projects. Relationship stuff will just have wait. And when the day comes that iCan say with some level of conviction the words, “iGet it, iReally get it!" ... only then, can we resume dinner’s-out and conversations.

Until that time iHave a job to do and iWon’t stop until it’s done!

Thank you, Apple. iHeart you.

Barbara: Oh gosh, Deb, you are ADORABLE! Or is that uAre??? On top of the laughs I got from this post, I harbour a deep and ingrained jealousy. I envy the students of today, the ones getting educated, the ones who are opening their consciousness to new and ever more marvelous things. And those of you who, at the end of your school day, can actually apply that knowledge in a useful way—on your COMPUTERS??? Oh, man iWant, iWant, iWant!!

Congrats, Deb, but know I will be aiming secret sidelong glances in your direction, pretending not to but still peering over your shoulder and trying to copy your homework. Fair warning.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

When Many Voices Come Together

Barbara: The last couple of days have been interesting politically. Here in Toronto, the local mayor presented a budget that would cut millions of dollars from sacred and beloved social services and arts. Everything from libraries to community centres to public pools as well as arts grants and funding were on the chopping block.

(This reminds me of Colin’s Facebook post yesterday: “Thanks … for this quote from Ricky Gervais in Esquire: ‘Churchill's advisors once came to him and said, "We're going to stop all funding for the arts so we can put that into the war effort.’ And Churchill said, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’ EXACTLY!!)

Anyway, here in Toronto, people were outraged, but the mayor pressed on, determined to push the cuts through. Well, the ground shifted in some deep social ocean floor and the peoples’ voices swelled, and a tsunami of protest washed over the dry hallows of city council—not destroying it, but drenching it in good, logical, responsible sense—until councilors representing many of the wards in our city did something unheard of. Going with the population tidal wave, the majority voted against the mayor. As it says in this newspaper article, this was a “stunning rejection”, and if it had “occurred at Queen’s Park or on Parliament Hill, [it] would be considered a vote of non-confidence in the government.” And yet, it happened. Because so many people voiced their outrage about this mean-spirited budget that our politicians were compelled to listen and act.

Yesterday, there was a major internet blackout (you may have noticed no Wikipedia, no Reddit, no Wordpress, etc) opposing SOPA and PIPA, two proposed American bills that would enforce copyright laws to such a broad degree that freedom of speech was close to being forever compromised (…if it's not posted on the internet, does it make a sound?...).

Now Wiki and Reddit and Wordpress, etc, are major powers and I wouldn’t just randomly support them. Also, as a writer and film industry veteran, obviously I consider copyright a serious issue. But we are at a crucial time in our history—we are now determining how we develop, how we progress, and how we communicate, and we can’t just lump our precious freedoms, rights, and innovations together and lock them behind the gates. We need to work toward finding a viable solution that protects both copyright and freedom of speech. 

But I'm not an expert here. For me, the moral of the story is this: Wiki and Reddit and Wordpress, etc. would never have been able to manifest the kind of political reversal that’s happening as we speak without millions of voices rising with them to protest. Here's what was already happening yesterday. Here's another primer, and here's an article about the new order. Special mention goes to a certain loyal blog reader for her helpful links here and for her concerned phone call to her local Rep. Maybe she'll tell her story in the comments section??? 

People, you can do amazing things!! Don’t ever forget that you can—and should—speak out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How To Travel With Friends

Barbara: Since Deb and I and the boys just got back from our amazing trip to Costa Rica, I thought it might be fun to start a convo about traveling with friends. I mean, let’s face it: it’s one of those adventures that sounds appealing in theory, but often ends in quasi-comic disaster. We’ve all heard the stories of a group of friends heading off together to some distant land, only to find their dreams of sun-dappled rest, smart cocktails, and scintillating conversation suddenly morph into nightmares of personality clashes, mismatched expectations, and money mayhem.

First off, I will say this: Phil and I and Deb and Colin make EXCELLENT travel partners. When the kids were younger, we traveled together over several years to ski in Panorama, BC. My memories of those trips just burst with giddy laughter, silly game-playing, and sassy cocktail hours. 
2005: Zoolander was the movie theme for our first shared Panorama trip:
sun and wind whipped, that's right, we're supermodels... 
And the boys? Brandishing "Le Tigre" and "Blue Steel", of course.
So we knew going in that Costa Rica wouldn’t be ruined by unexpected conflict.

But why do we travel so well together? I’m afraid mutual love and admiration are not enough when you’re in close quarters. But here’s what does work:

1.     Let things slide. Go in with a come-what-may attitude and you will evade a LOT of conflict. This is rule #1 for very good reason!
2.     That said, do some planning ahead. Compromise is 9/10s of the law of travel. Like this:
3.     Agree on how to deal with money matters ahead of time. We split any bills we received (asking the server to accommodate this at the start of our meals) to avoid that clunky “my turn, your turn” quandary. We also agreed on how much we would tip. It may feel a bit awkward at first, but believe me, it’s way less awkward than suddenly realizing you hate those ungrateful-heathens-formerly-known-as-friends for taking such blatant advantage of you or for being such social idjits. Not that this has ever happened to us, but this seems to be the number one complaint in those nightmare-traveling-with-friends scenarios.
4.     Agree on what you’re going to do to some degree. Some people look forward to spending the week just lying on the beach, some prefer exploring and shopping, some a mix of both. If you plan ahead, even just a little, you can avoid the frustration of either being that guy who’s always bored and disappointed or listening to that guy who’s always bored and disappointed. The best part of this preemptive plan is that some of the divides occur within a couple, so now individuals can potentially enjoy more cake whilst also having it as people split off in diverse groups to do what most appeals to them. This rule applies to traveling with your kids too, btw. When we go on hot-weather holidays as a family, Stefanie and I prefer beach, book, and snorkeling, while Phil and Michele go for the diving. Not only does splitting the group allow for everyone’s tastes to be satisfied, but it gives you great re-cap talks at the end of the day over vacation dinner.
5.     Waiting for others can be a pain. It’s okay to agree to disagree about what time to get up, or eat a meal, or get a drink. This is everyone’s holiday. We would often let happenstance guide us in a “we’re sure we’ll bump into you at some point” kind of way. Even amongst the couples themselves. Phil might decide he wants to sit by the pool instead of waiting in the room while I shower and “beautify”. Deb and Colin might decide they want to get up early and sit by the lodge fire instead of waiting for us to get our sweet asses out of bed. That kind of thing.
6.     And last but not least—and this comes NOT from personal experience, but from sharing a resort week with guests and kinda getting to know them from afar—but try, please please try, not to bicker. Bickering is so … ugly. It sounds petty and feels irritating. It’s not the Muzak you want in the soundtrack of your trip. Every resort trip we’ve ever taken has included some version of the Bicker McBickersons. I don’t how they do it, but they manage to suck the light from the very equatorial sun itself. While these aren’t my own friends, I’ve felt sad and empathetic for the poor sods forced to travel with them. If you can’t say anything without bickering, don’t say….yadda yadda.

Now it’s your turn. Any great tips (and/or tales) to add to this list???

Deb: Barb, I think you pretty much covered it. All the potentially awkward things were taken care of and that left it open for relaxing, easy travel.

I do hate the deciding what time breakfast is on a trip, though. I love it, of course, when there is something planned and we can all meet an hour or so before said event to eat and chat with anticipation. But on the non-scheduled days, I love just saying, “See you at breakfast.” That way the early birds can go down for coffee and meet the later birds when they arrive. We did this on our trip and it was perfect. If one couple had eaten they would join the other for a second or third cuppa. No one felt pressure.

The only thing I do not enjoy on a trip—and we only had to endure it once (LOL)—is shopping with boys. Boys. Shopping. No. Now, in fairness, Phil is not too bad because at least he was interested in maybe getting himself something, although he did say, “Why are you girls going to the closest shop first? Why not do this shop at the end???”  Oh Phil. Poor well-intentioned Phil. The answer is that we must “scout”, boys! We must know what is nearest the hotel. In this case, the shop right outside the gates at The Harmony had all the treasures we could hope for. Had we not “scouted”, we would have spent our budgets before we even landed there. Rookie mistake, Phil, rookie mistake.

However, and I say this with love ... compared to my husband, Phil is one of the Sex and the City girls when it comes to shopping. My husband abhors shopping. Bless him.  And the beauty of him is, he does not try to hide it. We went into a very chic men’s shop and Phil looked around at a few things. Colin stood outside. When I poked my head out the door, this is how the convo went:

Me (holding up stunning simple gorgeous fabric T-shirt): “Honey, I am going to buy you this shirt!”
Him: “I don’t want it, thanks. I already have a shirt.”

And so it goes. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Yoga Mat

This ad has been making the rounds ... and it's so funny, we had to share. We blatantly pulled it from this blog: MindBodyGreen. But then again, they pulled this genuine ad from Craigslist, so we figure it's fair game (the Craigslist ad no longer exists, btw, so we can't link you to the real deal anymore). We bow, however, before the clever (frustrated) yogi who was trying to sell his now redundant mat!

Yoga mat for sale. Used once. - $1 (Bellevue)

Yoga mat for sale. Used once at lunch hour class in December 2009. Usage timeline as follows:

Register for hot yoga class. Infinite wisdom tells me to commit to 5 class package and purchase a yoga mat. I pay $89.74. Money well spent, I smugly confirm to myself.

Open door to yoga room. A gush of hot dry air rushes through and past me. It smells of breath, sweat and hot. Take spot on floor in back of room next to cute blonde. We will date.

I feel the need to be as near to naked as possible. This is a problem because of the hot blonde to my left and our pending courtship. She will not be pleased to learn that I need to lose 30 pounds before I propose to her.

The shirt and sweats have to come off. I throw caution to the wind and decide to rely on my wit and conditioning to overcome any weight issues my fiancée may take issue with. This will take a lot of wit and conditioning.

Begin small talk with my bride to be. She pretends to ignore me but I know how she can be. I allow her to concentrate and stare straight ahead and continue to pretend that I don't exist. As we finish sharing our special moment, I am suddenly aware of a sweat moustache that has formed below my nose. This must be from the all the whispering between us.

Instructor enters the room and ascends her special podium at the front of the room. She is a slight, agitated Chinese woman. She introduces me to the class and everyone turns around to greet me just as I decide to aggressively adjust my penis and testes packed in my Under Armor. My bride is notably unfazed.

Since I do have experience with Hot Yoga (4 sessions just 5 short years ago) I fully consider that I may be so outstanding and skilled that my instructor may call me out and ask me to guide the class. My wife will look on with a sparkle in her eye. We will make love after class.

It is now up to 95 degrees in the room. We have been practicing deep breathing exercises for the last 8 minutes. This would not be a problem if we were all breathing actual, you know, oxygen. Instead, we are breathing each other's body odor, expelled carbon dioxide and other unmentionables. (Don't worry, I'll mention them later.)

It is now 100 degrees and I take notice of the humidity, which is hovering at about 90%. I feel the familiar adorning stare of my bride and decide to look back at her. She appears to be nauseated. I then realize that I forgot to brush my teeth prior to attending this class. We bond.

It is now 110 degrees and 95% humidity. I am now balancing on one leg with the other leg crossed over the other. My arms are intertwined and I am squatting. The last time I was in this position was 44 years ago in the womb, but I'm in this for the long haul. My wife looks slightly weathered dripping sweat and her eyeliner is streaming down her face. Well, "for better or worse" is what we committed to so we press on.

The overweight Hispanic man two spots over has sweat running down his legs. At least I think its sweat. He is holding every position and has not had a sip of water since we walked in. He is making me look bad and I hate him.

I consider that if anyone in this room farted that we would all certainly perish.

It is now 140 degrees and 100% humidity. I am covered from head to toe in sweat. There is not a square millimeter on my body that is not slippery and sweaty. I am so slimy that I feel like a sea lion or a maybe sea eel. Not even a bear trap could hold me. The sweat is stinging my eyeballs and I can no longer see.

This room stinks of asparagus, cloves, tuna and tacos. There is no food in the room. I realize that this is an amalgamation of the body odors of 30 people in a 140 degree room for the last 55 minutes. Seriously, enough with the asparagus, ok?

140 degrees and 130% humidity. Look, bitch, I need my space here so don't get all pissy with me if I accidentally sprayed you with sweat as I flipped over. Seriously, is that where this relationship is going? Get over yourself. We need counseling and she needs to be medicated. Stat!

150 degrees and cloudy. And hot. I can no longer move my limbs on my own. I have given up on attempting any of the commands this Chinese chick is yelling out at us. I will lay sedentary until the aid unit arrives. I will buy this building and then have it destroyed.
I lose consciousness.

I have a headache and my wife is being a selfish bitch. I can't really breathe. All I can think about is holding a cup worth of hot sand in my mouth. I cannot remember what an ice cube is and cannot remember what snow looks like. I consider that my only escape might be a crab walk across 15 bodies and then out of the room. I am paralyzed, and may never walk again so the whole crab walk thing is pretty much out.

I cannot move at all and cannot reach my water. Is breathing voluntary or involuntary? If it's voluntary, I am screwed. I stopped participating in the class 20 minutes ago. Hey, lady! I paid for this frickin class, ok?! You work for me! Stop yelling at everyone and just tell us a story or something. It's like juice and cracker time, ok?

It is now 165 degrees and moisture is dripping from the ceiling. The towel that I am laying on is no longer providing any wicking or drying properties. It is actually placing additional sweat on me as I touch it. My towel reeks. I cannot identify the smell but no way can it be from me. Did someone spray some stank on my towel or something?

Torture session is over. I wish hateful things upon the instructor. She graciously allows us to stay and 'cool down' in the room. It is 175 degrees. Who cools down in 175 degrees? A Komodo Dragon? My wife has left the room. Probably to throw up.

My opportunity to escape has arrived. I roll over to my stomach and press up to my knees. It is warmer as I rise up from ground level - probably by 15 degrees. So let's conservatively say it's 190. I muster my final energy and slowly rise. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. Towards the door. Towards the door.

The temperature in the lobby is 72 degrees. Both nipples stiffen to diamond strength and my penis begins to retract into my abdomen from the 100 degree temp swing. I can once again breathe though so I am pleased. I spot my future ex wife in the lobby. We had such a good thing going but I know that no measure of counseling will be able to unravel the day's turmoil and mental scaring.

Arrive at Emerald City Smoothie and proceed to order a 32 oz beverage. 402 calories, 0 fat and 14 grams of protein -- effectively negating any caloric burn or benefit from the last 90 minutes. I finish it in 3 minutes and spend the next 2 hours writing this memoir.

Create Craigslist ad while burning final 2 grams of protein from Smoothie and before the "shakes" consume my body.

Note to self - check car for missing wet yoga towel in am. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rewind ... Snap!

Deb: Remember in Annie Hall when Woody Allen was trying to win an argument with a pretentious knob in the movie lineup? In order to put a stop to the inane back and forthing and secure himself as the winner, Woody casually goes behind a cardboard movie marquee and guides Marshall McLuhan toward his opponent, whereupon Mr. McLuhan puts said knob in his place.

How many times have we wished for that moment in life? How many times have we fantasized that we could call upon irrefutable proof when we are defending ourselves?
Art by Deb's finger

Last week we endured a huge kafuffle when someone in our lives angrily insisted that I had failed to impart to them some extremely important information, thus causing them undue stress, anger, and fear. They were very upset and proceeded to tear a strip off of me and three other innocent parties. The people he was dressing down had no idea to what he was referring as they had done nothing wrong. They were confident that I had done my part as promised and yet they were being lectured by this irate person.

The thing is, I had done my part. I had delivered in detail every piece of essential information needed, leaving no stone unturned. But my angry friend would hear none of it and insisted that the conversation had never taken place. I was miffed and frustrated. It had taken place. This I knew. But how to prove it?

Grasping at straws, I glanced around to see if Marshall McLuhan was maybe waiting for his cue in our powder room or crouched beside our piano, but he wasn’t.

So what does one do when these unfair moments occur?

I will admit that many times a day I may not be able to remember why I came upstairs, or what your name is, but when it comes to important conversations, I have a mind like a steel trap. As I was being dressed down by this irate person, all I could see in my mind’s eye was the replay of the exact conversation that had taken place between us. The problem was, only I could see it.

In the end, I was saved by my husband who piped up that he had been there for the conversation, and that I had indeed imparted every single morsel of information. Bless his beak!

But what about the other times when you do not have a trusty witness to jump to your defense? What then?????????

My husband, as I have reported before, often laments the “heinous lie” that was the jet-pack. He was positive that by now he would certainly have his own jet-pack charging in the garage. He does not give a damn that they have not cured the common cold. In fact he would be perfectly happy if they would give up trying for a cure and put all their brainpower behind his beloved, unrealized jet-pack.

Me? I want an earring. Just something simple, maybe a tiny gold stud ... but with the ability to instantly playback moments in my life in a full HD 3-D projection that also includes any person I am trying to prove my point to.

A sample usage might go this way:

Doctor’s secretary: ”Ms. McGrath, I am going to have to charge you for your missed appointment last week.”

Me: “But I called more than 48 hours before and cancelled my time.”

D.S.: “Sorry, Ms. McGrath, but I have nothing on the record to indicate that.”

Me: ”Well, I called and I spoke to a ‘Diane’ who took the message.”

D.S.: “Well Ms. McGrath, there is nothing in the record, so...”

Slowly and without emotion, my hand reaches up towards my gold stud and I tap it, ever so slightly. Before you can say Princess Leia, out streams a tiny projection flowing freely between us, showing clearly and with stereophonic sound, me making the call a full two days before the appointment. The projection ends with “Diane” hanging up the phone, spilling coffee on her desk, cleaning it up, and resuming her duties, the conversation with me, gone from her mind.

I tap the stud. Projection ended. I look the receptionist in the eye, my face neutral, my demeanor calm.


Oh what joy that would bring. Oh the satisfaction of it. I would have to go home and nap after such a triumph!

Okay, yes, I have allowed myself a generous helping of petty today.
But oh ... oh ... ohhhhhhhh, wouldn’t it be swell? Oh the places I could go. Oh the conversations I could recreate! Oh the points I could make, the proof I could offer.

Now I should say at this point that I am not an obsessively “right” person. By that I mean I do not always have to be right. Far from it. I am the first to admit wrongdoing or mistakes and I always apologize immediately and profusely.

But when I am right, when I have done my due diligence, when I have covered my bases to the nth degree and it is denied me in a loud angry tone?...

Where is Marshall McLuhan when you need him?

Barbara: Oh, Deb, this made me laugh so much!! And I know the actual situation you speak of because I was there when it was going down. This is so much more frustrating than the simple “two different versions of a story” because there were real repercussions here. I always like to imagine what would be the most beneficial response to any complicated human shenanigan, but, damn, if I can’t think of anything else for this sitch. I think you handled it perfectly by simply stating your case, presenting your defense, and finally letting it go. That said, I LOVE your earring idea. That is by far a more elegant “final word” than anything I could’ve come up with! 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Our Costa Rica Gift Of Happiness: Open Letter To Costa Rica And Happy Videos

Deb and Barbara: As a sign-off to this blogging week and to our 8-day travel diary of our trip to Costa Rica, we want to take this chance to just say a few more words.

We said it many times during our visit, but we were honestly amazed at just how much effort was being put toward eco-sustainability by Costa Rica in general and the hotels we stayed at in particular: Arenal Springs Resort earning its 4-leaf status and El Silencio Lodge and Spa and The Harmony Hotel earning their 5-leaves. Costa Rica obviously prides itself on these efforts—and the efforts pay off in the abundant wildlife, epic scenery, and pristine beaches that adorn your magnificent country.

However—and this is a big however—please, please keep it up! It could be very easy to embrace eco-tourism as an economic boon, but then cater to the whims of the modern age by mowing down your beauty to make way for roads, hotels, condos, and gallerias. Please resist this common failing.

Because it is your wild and diverse eco-systems alongside your environmental triumphs that make your country so very appealing and unique to the very tourists you want to attract.

Believe us, we know it is and will be hard. We are pleading with our current Canadian government to understand and embrace this forward-thinking philosophy, but instead they try to convince us that tar sands are good and eco-consciousness is baaaaaad. We’re not good with absolutes, but we will say it here: they are wrong. And if they don’t realize that soon, they/we will keep destroying this fragile balance in our own beautiful and largely wild country.    

For Costa Rica, we hope endless dairy farms won’t replace your forest and jungle, that more medical problems will be solved by the healing secrets in your flora, that you will continue to enlighten and lead the world, that you will show us how it’s done. And continue to show us that it CAN be done.

On our trip, we met a journalist who told us that for new development in Costa Rica, the government often doesn’t spend the extra money necessary to insulate the overhead wires, which can then kill wildlife as a result. If your electrical wires are electrocuting the monkeys and sloths so characteristic of your wilds, then we hope you will make the short-term investment necessary to coat those wires that will protect those creatures and your long-term ecological growth (just like your efforts that saved the turtles). One of the ironic moments on our trip was watching the howler monkeys cavort in the trees just above a sign announcing a condo development. Of course, people need places to live and stay, but so do the native animals—and so far you seem to be serving both needs quite well. Don’t forget, you won’t need all those condos and hotels if you mess too much with the unique sites tourists come to see. And also, your people won’t be so happy (see the Happiness Index) if their pristine country is overrun (or run) by the superficial needs of outsiders.

We dearly hope you will continue to charm many many generations of indigenous, local, and international guests as you charmed us with your distinctive balance between nature and man. You humbled us already. We long to be humbled again and again and again by the courageous policies of your country and your heroic nature sentries. 

When tourists ask for “a view of the ocean”, what they really want in Costa Rica is to preserve “a view of the ocean”. A view of an ocean that is clean and pristine and untouched. That’s why we came. That’s why we will come back.

Yours very sincerely, Deb and Barbara


This is from El Silencio Lodge and Spa where Andrey, the eco-concierge, took us on a tour of the grounds. We’re sampling organic herbs from their greenhouse garden.

This is from the 3-hour hike through the rainforest around El Silencio. Andrey showed us 3 waterfalls—this one being the largest: La Promesa Falls.

This is us during our visit with the Maleku tribe. We are discussing language with José, our gracious host.

Turtle Turtle

You can watch as many of these videos (or as few) as you like. The first 3 videos are short snippets (between 1 and 2.5 min long) of the turtles emerging from their sandy nest and trekking down to the sea. Notice how they need to rest along the way!

The last of these videos is the full journey from nest to sea and runs a cool 10+min. Reader’s choice.

You can still enter for your own Costa Rica Gift of Happiness here!

And a late PS: Please feel free to ask us any questions you might have about our experience. Now we might actually have some time to answer!