September 30, 2013

Chatterbox No More.

Monday, 7:45am

Buzzzzzzzzz.  The bus stop was noisy this morning.  Kids yelling, whacking each other with their knapsacks, three dogs being doggy, parents chatting.  I just smiled.  When one of the Moms asked me how my weekend was, I gave her the tried-and-true finger across the throat:

She understood immediately:  "Sick?"
I shook my head, then reconsidered and gave her the comme ci, comme ça move (stick out right hand, palm down, and rotate wrist gently to the left and right).  Conversation effectively over.

My vow of silence prevents unwanted, unnecessary conversation very nicely.  Small talk be damned, from now on I think I'll just utilize the "finger across the throat" trick whenever I don't feel like talking.  Like when I run into that annoying knitter in the Willage.  And yes, I know what you're thinking... that I am also an annoying knitter.

Monday, 10:00am - The Slip-up

There I was walking the dog, minding my own business.  A fellow blogger stopped me in the street and told me that he had read (and liked!) my Canada Writes story, Regrowth.  I was speechless! ---- get that?

!!  hahahahahahahahahhahahahhahahahahha
hahahhahahahhahahahhahahahaha !!

Okay, that joke was probably NOT that funny, but humour me.  
So as I said, I was speechless.  Here are my reasons:

1)  I hardly know this person and I certainly wasn't aware that he reads my blog
2)  He liked my story!  And he took the time to compliment me on it.  I was thrilled!
3)  It was the first time that I have had my writing acknowledged in public.  It made me really happy.

And so even though I was speechless, I spoke to him briefly, using my actual vocal cords (just to thank him and tell him that I had taken a vow of silence).

Monday, 5:00ish

People don't like the silent Christine; I can tell.  Nathaniel said:  "will you just speak already?".  Gwen has also implored me to resume speaking and R is really exasperated with me.  I don't give a rat's ass.  Gwen wrote this in my journal tonight at dinner:

Awww.  Almost makes me want to speak.


Other Slip-ups: Yesterday and Today
  • I said thank you to the cashier in the grocery store
  • I swore out loud, but that was just to myself so it doesn't really count
  • I answered the telephone. I had to! I talked briefly.  Necessary indiscretion.  
  • I drank a glass of wine, and promptly forgot about my vow.  I remembered as soon as I opened my mouth
  • Tonight after Nathaniel refused to do homework, whined and cried and turned his back on me, told me that he was no longer reading my words and then hit me on the way home FROM TAKING HIM TO GET A BLOODY ICE CREAM CONE, I told him to "get the fuck in the tub".  Again, not proud.
I'll see what hell tomorrow brings.  

Soundtrack:  You Talk Too Much by Frankie Ford

My Dad used to sing this song to me.

September 29, 2013

The Lips are Still Zipped and I've Decided to Add Another Day.


It is hard to be silent.  Damn hard, as a matter of fact.  It has taken some time for me to become accustomed to my new and less efficient means of communication.  By the time I've really figured it out, I will have to resume normal speech, which is why I have decided to add a day.

Some of the individuals who reside in this house currently dislike my vow (husband).  R thinks that I am being intentionally irritating.  Now there's some compassion.

Here are some of the things that make it hard for me to keep my vow.  (And yes, I've inadvertently broken it three times.  Once when Gwen said "Mumma?" (I replied with "yes?"), once when Richard asked me about curry-making (I completely forgot and started to answer his question) and today I accidentally spoke two words to a neighbour before I clapped my hand over my mouth).

Without further ado, here are the challenges:

1)  Loss of Pen and Paper

This is my go-to journal and pen:

I am constantly losing it.  LOSER!  I also keep misplacing the three additional pen and paper combos stationed in other rooms of the house.  The loss of these tools results in brief but annoying states of me being completely incommunicado.

2)  Theft of Pen
R and the kids like to steal my pen (to torture me).  Not kidding.  RB intentionally ran off with it earlier.  I followed him so that I could retrieve it.   When he realized how desperate I was, that he was robbing me of my voice, he began to wave the pen wildly in front of my face, like you would wave candy in front of a toddler to make her cry:
"Ohhhh---ho... " evil laugh ... "do you neeeeeeeeeed your pen?...   whaaaaaat? can't speak without it?" Then he laughed some more.
ha ha.  

3)  Chickenscratch
My handwriting is ugly and unpredictable. The children and R frequently complain as they try to decipher my words.  This - the complaining about my handwriting and the piss-poor appearance of said handwriting - annoys all of us.  I don't think it looks so bad.

4)  Reading Challenges
Gwen is a novice reader but she is getting a LOT of practice.  She doesn't really have a choice if she wants to communicate with me.  I think that my vow is really good for her; her reading has improved immensely in one day!

5) Greetings and Salutations: The Man Nod, Flashing the Peace Sign, and Other Non-Verbal Gestures
I took Django for his early morning constitutional and saw several people that I knew.  Neighbours said "hi","good morning", "hello" and "how are you?".  I did what I could.  I gave the "man-nod" (rapid nod while making eye contact), flashed peace, smiled and waved.  The good news is that I did not give anyone the finger this morning; however, two members of my immediate family have been on the receiving end of it in the past 24 hours.  not proud.

See below for additional examples of convenient and in some cases, pointed, non-verbal gestures.

I accompanied Gwen to her soccer this morning and the coach asked how I was.  I pointed to my lips and then drew my hand quickly across my throat (see second picture from the bottom, right side).  This was effective, as the coach understood my problem.  Conversation over.

6)  Insults to my Intelligence, and Laughter at My Expense
Right now, my family thinks that they are a bunch of comedians.  Here are some of their choice observations:

Nathaniel:  "I like Mum's vow of silence.  It saves me a lot of pain in the ears".

While playing a game of Rat-a-tat-Cat with the family, Richard screamed at me for "yelling" at him (huh?  How can a silent person yell?!)  and so I wrote:  "TONE!"
Richard: "You're yelling at me!"  
Me: "Seriously? I am NOT yelling".
I think Richard needs to take a vow of silence.

I was obviously COMPLETELY DESPERATE here as I ordered Nath to go play on the computer

Richard upon seeing me approach with book and pen in hand:  (smugly) "Oh, shall we have a little chat?" ha ha ha

Nathaniel, in disbelief, after only 6 hours of me not talking:  "Dad, Mum's still on the silent streak!"


Oh, they are a funny bunch, are they not?

It's not all bad though, people. I am liking the new and silent me.  And my throat feels a bit better.  I will write one more entry about my vow.  Check back on Tuesday.

And because I am a child of the 80's, here's Depeche Mode's Enjoy the Silence for your listening pleasure:

September 28, 2013

My 48-Hour Vow of Silence.

I have taken a vow of silence.

Stop laughing!

I'm serious.

As quite a few of you already know, I have problems with my vocal cords.  I talk too much, too frequently, too loudly.  I always have, I guess.  When I was in my early twenties, I worked at a chocolate shop, and it was there that I had my first real problem.  My throat ached, I could feel myself straining to speak and it was difficult for me to serve customers.  I went to a specialist, voiced my concerns and he told me to shut up.

I didn't listen.

Five years ago, I began to worry that there was something deadly wrong with my vocal cords.  I was incredibly hoarse, my throat was sandpaper, and the discomfort became acute.  My voice began to change.  It had always been either "husky" or "sexy" (depending on who described it), but it was rapidly becoming gravelly and it sounded awful.  I was an engine in need of oil.  I began to refer to myself as the Marlboro (wo)Man.  People have always told me that they like my voice, but believe me when I say that there is nothing sexy about vocal cord nodules.

Things worsened.  I love reading to my children but I had to cease reading completely - I couldn't do it - it was too painful.  I barely spoke.

I was quiet and miserable and things did not improve.  I needed a solution.  My physician referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT).


Funny aside:
The doctor that my g.p. sent me to was wonderful, but he was obsessed with clowns.  Clown kitsch reigned supreme in the office and by that, I mean it was EVERYWHERE.  Shit like this:


and this:

and this:

I thought it was weird.

The guy in the above picture actually looks a bit like the ENT specialist.  When I met Dr. S. for the first time, I said:  "What's with the clown thing?"

ENT seemed discomfited.  I felt a bit ashamed, but still I pressed on.  I guess I don't know when to quit.    "Why clowns?"  ENT was evasive and mumbled something about hiding behind a happy face, masks and emotions.  Hmmmn.  I told him about an exhibit about clown sex that I had heard about on the CBC.  Uncomfortable silence.  Then he asked me more about it.  I told him what I remembered.  He seemed interested.

We got down to business.  He soaked a cotton ball in a numbing agent, and I watched, horrified, as he inserted it into my nose with a long pointy thing.  There was worse to come.  After a minute or two, he removed the cotton ball and shoved a tube up my nose.  It snaked down my throat.  Uncomfortable is an understatement.

ENT told me that I had a growth on my vocal cord and that he would monitor it for a couple of months.

It grew.  My symptoms worsened.  It had to come out.  There is a story by Margaret Atwood about a cyst; it's called Hairball.  I thought about my growth.  Would it begin to talk, like the boil in How to Get Ahead in Advertising?  

The "thing" was removed.

At my first post-surgical appointment, I noticed that a LOT of the clowns were gone.  I said nothing.  


Today, I was at an outdoor festival at the Western Fair Market.  My throat has been very hoarse for the past few days because I was cheering the children on at a cross country meet.  Big mistake.  I am paying for it.  My throat aches.  I have decided that my vocal cords need a rest.

On the way home from the market, at 3:48pm, I announced to the family that I was taking a vow of silence.  The three of them cackled.  My husband said:  "Is that a promise?"  I nodded and laughed my head off.

I am almost 7 hours in.

Just in:  Nathaniel has hijacked my blog!  Richard and Nathaniel were laughing at what I had written when I came in to the office and saw N typing madly:




The boy is laughing uproariously at this.

I will tell you more about my silent adventure tomorrow. In the meantime, Simon and Garfunkel perform a tune just for this post:

September 06, 2013

The French Invade Canada

It is September and I haven't written anything about my Nacel experience.  It be time, people.

Nacel Canada is a not for profit organization that pairs international students with hosts, "promoting international understanding and language education... enhancing cultural and linguistic awareness".  So in a nutshell, London and area families host one or more French students (from France, not Quebec) for a period of 3 or 4 weeks.

Payment is $600 for four weeks.  This is not a money-making venture.  A three week stay pays $450.  You are expected to pay for all the student's meals (includes dining in restaurants) and incidentals.  The student pays his/her own admission to places like Canada's Wonderland.  I found that with all the sightseeing we did, we spent a LOT more than $600; however, I was perfectly happy to do so.

You can click here to read a more detailed account of the first half of this story.  If you don't want to read the first part because you are lazy, disinterested and/or pressed for time, here's what you need to know:

In July, Nacel's program administrator, Gayle, called me and inquired about the possibility of us hosting a student for a month.  She had an emergency situation and was desperate.  I stepped in because I like to play the heroine.  :-)

Clémence, a seventeen year old girl from Nantes, arrived on July the 4th.  Before we met, I did worry that she might be a big French freak!  My concerns were completely unfounded.  She was friendly, had a good sense of humour and she quickly made herself at home.  By the "making herself at home" part, I mean that when I told her I didn't make breakfast for my children, and lunch was often serve yourself, she wasn't shy about getting acquainted with the kitchen.  I suppose that if you are hungry (and every day there exists a very good possibility of experiencing said hunger) you will seek out food.  At 17, you should be able to fix up some food for yourself.

C was a typical teenager:
  • she was attached to her tablet by umbilical cord 
  • she had a deep and abiding love of potato chips and "Starbuck" (she couldn't say it with the 's'!).   
  • she liked to sleep and hang out in her room
She also did a fair bit of jogging; I am uncertain whether that is typical of the youth of today.

I was supposed to homeschool C but she would have none of it.  Her words:  "I didn't sign up for that".


I didn't think that it was my job to sit her at our dining room table and force her to read the newspaper and discuss current events, especially as her English was already almost parfait, much better than my French.  And so, my homeschooling efforts were more surreptitious:   we talked a lot, played board games (Rummikub, Cartagena and Rummoli), we cooked together (muffins - I have posted two recipes below), we went for walks and hung out.  These are all excellent ways to learn a language.  We also went on a bike ride, but I couldn't get her into the pool (too cold!) or get her on White Water Canyon (her hair!) at Canada's Wonderland. 

Before you read about all the fun things we did while C was here, I should let you know that we hosted another student in August, who was also in an "emergency" situation.  What is with Nacel and all of these emergency situations?  The second student was fifteen years old, also from France (Toulouse) and had been staying in London with a family of 5.  Both parents worked and the children were cared for by a nanny, who had her own newborn to look after in addition to the others.  Without going into too much detail, no outings and an army of small children who require care do not make for a fun trip.

Jeanne fit in to our family amazingly well.  She was quiet, helpful, considerate and very good-natured.   She and Gwenny, my seven-year-old daughter, loved doing each other's hair and cuddling.  They were very cute together.

By no means an exhaustive list, here's what we did over the course of July and August:

Sunfest is an annual summer festival held in Victoria Park that promotes music, dance and visual arts.  The day we attended was bloody hot.  Clémence seemed to enjoy the tunes and the artisans.  My kids? Not so much.  Their highlight was hanging out with a large group of pierced, tattooed and grubby hippies in a drumming circle.  Gwen hula hooped and Nathaniel slack-lined.  The odour of patchouli was overwhelming.  One girl's shirt read Fuck Malls.  I was glad that Gwen couldn't read.   

Cottaging near Parry Sound
My awesome neighbours, Nic and Caitie, invited us up to their heavenly spot on McKellar Lake.  We swam, fished, feasted on the fish we caught, played games, toured Parry Sound, read mags and thoroughly enjoyed Canadian cottage life.

Nic and Nathaniel, and a little fish-wrangling.  This is one of Nathaniel's big catches that we later dined on,  I think.

view from the Parry Sound water tower

top of the water tower - it was windy!

Self portrait

Sunset and thin slice of moon, ahhhhhhh...

Grand Bend
My sister-in-law and her family hosted our student for three days at their cottage. GB is a teenager's paradise:  there is a trashy and expensive strip with shops selling beachwear and souvenirs, and divey bars and restaurants all frequented by the scantily clad youth of today.  I think Clémence enjoyed it.

Here we are enjoying a lobster boil (mini potatoes, shrimp, chorizo, lobster and corn) in honour of my niece's birthday.

Paul and the giant pot
I annoyed and disgusted everyone at the party by discussing how the lobsters are boiled alive.  I think it's important to acknowledge how your food gets to the table and how it is prepared.  This doesn't always make me a popular person, but I can't help myself.  So while I am not comfortable dunking a live lobster in a pot of boiling water, I did eat the cooked lobster.  I guess that makes me a hypocrite.  It seems to me that there must be a more humane way of killing lobsters than by boiling them to death.  As I have never hosted my own lobster boil, I have not researched potential solutions to my ethical dilemma.

Here I am, ostracized by the rest of the guests.  :-)  At least DjingDjang still loves me.

Django and I before our haircuts.  

Now, we both look idiotic.  Who am I kidding?  We look idiotic here too.

Salty brine (water, lemons, garlic, paprika, salt and peper, herbs) prepared by Paul

The big dump.  

I drank a third of a cup of butter.  As disgusting as it sounds,  I dipped everything in butter,  even sausage.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are awesome, generous hosts and they really know how to prepare a feast.

Clovermead, Sparta, Port Stanley
I took Clémence and two Spanish girls that my friend was hosting to Clovermead, which is an apiary near Aylmer.  There's a shop that offers samples of flavoured honey and an historic "town" that you can tour.

The Spanish students and Clémence, in front of one of the many bee displays
We also visited Sparta, which was a first for me.  Sparta is purportedly the candle capital of Canada

Try to say "candle capital of Canada" five times fast!

The entire town reeks of a scented candle.  Of course, we had to visit the main candle shop and I got sucked into buying an infuser that I later gifted to Clémence.  Why, you ask?  Because:
  • it stank like the town
  • C wanted it and offered to buy it from me.  There was no way that I was driving back there to suffer another visit to Stinktown
  • I was feeling generous and wanted to give her a going-away gift.

The girls made me stop the car and take many pictures of them beneath a Sparta town-sign, which they thought was hilarious!

I think they've seen too many Sparta Remix videos on youtube:


A word on Sparta remixes.  Do NOT look them up on Youtube unless you enjoy maniacal, anxiety-inducing, hyperspeed technosynth interspersed with King Leonidas screaming THIS IS SPARTA!  Here, I've made it easy for you, if you are indeed curious.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

As pour moi, the "Spartan" highlights were leaving the sickeningly sweet smelling candle shop and  yes! finding a mouldy twenty on someone's front lawn.  I treated everyone to ice cream and the shop we visited even had my favourite flavour - coconut!

Port Stanley Little Beach
After P.S., we stopped at Picard's Peanuts for a nut fix.  Well I wanted a nut fix, I am uncertain whether anyone else actually craved nuts.  I purchased a lot of chocolate covered items (toffee, peanuts, raisins, chips and pretzels).  I looked for some chocolate covered olives but I couldn't find any.  The chocolate covered carrots were also missing. ;-)

Our last stop was the Jumbo monument in St. Thomas.  This reproduction of the giant pachyderm has always appealed to me - it's very kitsch.  I can't help but wonder what it must have been like to see the train bear down on poor Jumbo.  And the elephant carnage on the tracks! Oi!  How did they remove Jumbo's body?  There's a story percolating...  I think I might have to do some research in the London Room...

The girls adored Jumbo.  Not as much as they obsessed over the Sparta sign, but still!

There's more to tell, but I will save that for my next post.  In the meantime, here are two of my go-to muffin recipes.  I use both of these recipes ALL THE TIME.  I am going to vent here for a minute.  You know what I hate?  People who refuse to share recipes.  I used to work with a woman who made lemon squares and she wouldn't give me her recipe and I love lemon squares.  So I share.  Because that woman really pissed me off.  As George Eliot wrote:
"What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"
Clémence contacted me two days ago on FB and asked me for some of my muffin recipes because she missed them!  That made me feel really good.  I know my muffins are yummy, but I didn't realize that C actually enjoyed them.  I mean, she ate them and all, but I thought it was for sustenance more than pleasure.  I have tweaked the recipes A LOT, and I can assure you that they are delicious and more nutritious than anything you will buy at the grocery store.  I usually make double batches, giving some muffins to my neighbours, keeping a dozen out on the counter and freezing the rest for lunchboxes.

I am assuming that most of you have a basic understanding of baking, so you will already know that you first mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, then mix up the remaining ingredients (wet) in a different bowl, and then combine the two.  Mix them together just until the flour disappears.  Don't over-mix or you will have tough muff.  From the Joy of Baking:
Mixing too much overdevelops the gluten in the flour which will cause a tough muffin with tunnels and a compact texture.  Only 10 to 15 strokes are needed to moisten the ingredients.  The batter should be still (sic) lumpy and you may still see a few traces of flour.  
A note on butter versus oil.  You will see that both of these recipes call for vegetable or canola oil.  I am pro-butter myself, but I have found that these two recipes have a better result with the oil -- the muffins are more moist.  And I am all about moist.  Hockey pucks masquerading as muffins will be rejected by this baker's maw.

Sorry for the chickenscratch below.  I actually tried to write neatly! I was going to take pictures of my recipe cards but they look disgusting (big greasy stains all over them) and make no sense to anyone but me.

You can use any combo of white and whole wheat flours, brown or white sugar and I often omit the salt.  To make cream cheese frosting, just dump some cc in a bowl, add icing sugar and milk or cream to thin it.  You can also add some vanilla extract.  Don't buy the fake vanilla extract.  Buy the real stuff.  

You don't have to use an electric mixer.  I usually just use a wooden spoon, because I don't like doing dishes.

Sept 11, 2013 - I just made the double chocolate zucchini today.  They ROCK! 


Soundtrack:  Martha and the Muffins.  Echo Beach