The seductive pleasures of the airline lounge

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Just a short one…Box 761 will have what I’m thinking of as “postcards” while we are away… I don’t have the inclination to write long posts, but want a place to put pictures and quickie thoughts.

I write this while sitting in the swanky Star Alliance lounge in the Vienna airport. We just arrived after a fairly grueling (cramped, over-warm, middle-seated with screaming child and slightly demented older gentleman across the aisle. The food was bad and the movies weren’t interesting).

I LOVED it. It’s all in the process, right? It was nothing a few drinks and a good book wouldn’t cure.

What I’m reading right now is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/americangods.htm), a novel he wrote a decade ago and which I am shamefacedly just discovering. He is also the mastermind behind one of my fave characters ever – Coraline.

Like I said I’m writing this from the lounge. I’ve just finished eating a nice breakkie, and then took a shower. A lovely hot fabulous much needed Star Allliance shower.

This is definitely the way to go.

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just… breathe.

What’s so much better? I am.

Not sure if you recall my previous post about my withdrawal efforts, but I’m getting there. Pharmaceuticals are a bitch, and I’m staying away from the damn things from now on. I’ve been doing some reading on Paxil, and although I really appreciated the almost immediate relief it gave me, I wonder now if it was worth it (and wonder if my relief would’ve been effected just as well with a sugar pill. Who knows?).

If there’s one thing I should’ve learned by now, it’s that no matter how crappy things are, they will always get better. Always.  Time will take care of it, usually. Not the inevitable counting of minutes, days, hours but some applied effort, some time to take a deep breath, some time to see the arc of the story unfold. Usually, things become clearer, right?

Breathing is the key for me these days. I mean, how many times have I counselled my daughter – take a deep breath, relax – while she was in the midst of a spasm? How many times have I seen that breath turn into instant and an almost magical soothing of those tortured muscles? How many times do I have to see that until I take my own good advice and take a few deep breaths myself?

I don’t doubt that there is better living through pharmaceuticals. Not at all. For me, though, I’m starting to have a sick feeling that the drugs are worse than the condition for which they were prescribed. For me, I think that maybe a more holistic approach will work. I don’t have a condition that has to be treated with medication; it got me through a bad time, and then it caused a bad time. This is a common story, and I’m lucky that I’m not dependent on these drugs in order to function in the world.

So, no. I’m not saying that breathing, or warm baths, or a walk around the block are solutions entirely. What I can say for myself, though, is that all three of those things seem to be helping me. They’re helping me a lot. One reason they’re helping is that I finally decided that I needed the help, if that makes any sense.

These days I’m not pretending to work at relaxing. I’m really putting in the time, and it’s making a difference.

Imagine that. Just… breathe.

Sarajevo

And now for something completely different…. Mr. 761 and I are leaving for  two weeks tramping around Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro. We’ve planned some of it, but are leaving much of the Montenegro leg of the trip to our whims. It’s a little wee country so we’re going to wander about and stop where something grabs our fancy.  So far, what we have planned is to fly into Sarajevo and spend several days there. We’ve arranged for a room in a pension right in the old town – not grand, but will serve our purposes. I plan on being out and exploring most of the day.

After a few days in Sarajevo, we’ll be  travelling down the coast to Dubrovnik, Croatia. I’m

Dubrovnik: a walled city. A gorgeous Adriatic coast line, and no cars. Such loveliness!

especially excited about this one. We can’t rent a car and drive through three different countries, really, so we’re going to bus/train it down to Dubrovnik.

After Dubrovnik, we’ll wander over to Montenegro (train?) and then rent a car and really explore. We’ll have about a week there and then Mr. 761 goes back to KAF from there, and I fly home to Canada and the breathtaking autumn in Nova Scotia.

Montenegro

More Montenegro

MORE Montenegro!

Now, I have to admit that while breathing is helping, the planning and anticipation of this holiday is also helping. I can’t lie to you about that….

This will be the second trip that Mr. 761 and I have ever taken together (I do not count driving to Disney in Florida with the kids, as much um… fun as that was. Sorry kids!). We decided on these places because they are new to both of us – it’s so much fun to explore and discover these new places together, I think. Mr. 761 will keep up a running dialogue with regard to food and atheism and toilets; I will do my best to wax on about the history and beauty and food and romance. Between us, we’ll be able to give you all a fairly complete (if quirky) view of this part of the world…. stay tuned.

He will, alas, go back to this:

while I return to thislifted from the internet

Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Some articles of interest:

Charlottetown

Mr. 761 and I are in lovely Charlottetown PEI to visit our future Chef, Erica. I brought her here last week and moved her in to residence; Mr. 761 wanted to come visit and check it all out. I’m never averse to a visit to PEI…. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite places.

Mark bought himself an iPod Touch, for the camera, he says. I think it’s for the Angry Birds.

Off to brunch with Erica, Mr. 761, and some Ch’town friends!

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Box 761: Fear and (self)Loathing Edition

I think I look angry a lot of the time.  It’s not really anger, though.

It’s fear.

I’m afraid most of the day, it turns out. I worry about my kids, about my husband in Kandahar, about losing control of the tiny bit of peace I’ve managed to carve out for myself. It’s all very precarious, this. Every time I feel a tiny burgeoning equilibrium, something happens and I’m thrown again – thrown into a panic that I’ll never get it back. Every time it happens, the panic digs in deeper.

This is called Post Traumatic Stress.

I have spent years in the war zone they call “disability”, and more (though with generous leaves) in the theatre of “divorce wars”.  I was on the front lines of the “alcoholic parents” campaign, and have battled my own addiction issues.

Wah, right? So what. What do I have to complain about?  I have a funny, smart, and handsome  husband who returns my never-ending love. I have time, and money, to help my children with their lives. I am not starving, nor am I unhealthy – except for self-inflicted stuff like eating too much sugar and not exercising as regularly as I should.

I’m not making excuses, I’m just establishing provenance, really. All of those things led to my having the type of personality that allowed me to over-do. Feeling like I have nothing to complain about is part of the issue, isn’t it? I over-did to the point where I’m actually pretty much depleted. I have no more, and though I keep trying to live in the world and respond the way I always did, I really don’t have any more, and can’t.

This flashes in my head. A lot. Sometimes there are also sirens.

Sometimes I appear “normal” but right underneath I’m on red alert. Because of my particular circumstances, sometimes I need to be on high alert. That makes this harder. How can I relax if when I do someone puts my daughter in harm’s way? How can I be unafraid if I can’t trust those people I put in charge of one most precious to me?

I’m hyper-vigilant, and anxious. I respond to most things as if they are a threat to me or to my family; I’m irritable and jumpy and often leak tears without being able to really stop them.

I really hate it.

I was talking with a friend the other day and probably, you know,  over-sharing. I told her that I felt broken. And I do, but didn’t realize it until I said it out loud. And it’s not just sometimes – like, I can turn it on and off. It’s all on a continuum of broken.

I’m trying to work on it, but it’s very hard. I have trouble figuring out how to fix it. My doctor gave me anti-depressant/anti-anxiety drugs, and they were great but masked things. I didn’t feel quite real (but it was nice not to cry, you know?). I’m weaning off them now and they’ve thrown me into a tizzy that’s lasted several weeks now. I’m more agitated, and have been acting badly – over-reacting, and alienating and going from 0 to 100 so fast my head hurts.

It’s a process, right? The reason I’m trying to wean off these pills is because I don’t want medicated health. I want health. That the withdrawal is so taxing and so very very prolonged says to me I don’t want that stuff in my system. I was on what they call a “sub-therapeutic” dose, apparently, so it’s pretty frightening… I mean, during this withdrawal period, I’ve acted worse than I did when I was prescribed the drug! She gave me Ativan to deal with the withdrawal, but I’m starting to think that pharmaceuticals aren’t the answer for me.

Exercise helps. Eating right helps. Laughing helps.

There are days, you know, when I think that I’m hurting now because I’m maybe just not strong enough, or didn’t try hard enough… maybe it’s lack of character? Maybe I’m just toxic and everyone should shun me.

But I’m not, and they shouldn’t.

What’s toxic is the feeling that I’m out of control of my feelings. The feeling that I have to rely on others and can’t always trust them. Toxic is trying to pretend I’m not hanging on, some days, by my fingernails.

Parents of  children with chronic conditions often get chronic conditions themselves. We did everything we could for our kids – and that was not inconsiderable. We had smarts, energy, passion, and money. We were wily and hopeful and educated. We had many gifts. What we didn’t have was enough support. Now that she’s no longer in school and is over 19, we have a lot more support than we ever did. Maybe that’s why this is hitting me so hard now… I took a breath, and had a moment to think.

It’s still not ideal, but it’s getting there. To give them credit where it’s due, the VON has been doing a pretty darn good job lately, no missed visits for a couple of weeks now. They’re consistently showing up, and I’m starting to think I don’t have to wait for that particular other shoe to drop. I’m hopeful, I really am.

I’m not writing this blog to get sympathy, or to get a free pass on bad behaviour. I’m not writing it  because I love to hear myself talk (though, really? I do. Who doesn’t?).

I don’t even think that this is particularly original, you know?

I think, though, that it’s important to get it out there. It makes me feel better to write this. It seems more real when I write it, when I see it there. I wonder whether or not it would have helped me to see something like this – a few years ago, maybe? Maybe I wouldn’t have tried so hard to do it all on my own. Maybe I would’ve entered therapy earlier, or wouldn’t have let myself get so burned out that there was nothing to fall back on. I remember wanting to go to a workshop about caregiver burnout, but didn’t  have – you guessed it – a caregiver for my daughter. Besides, I wasn’t burnt out. That was for other people.

Weak people.

I want to stress here, especially because Vicky reads this blog, that it’s not her. It’s not her disability that’s put me where I am today. It’s a whole perfect storm of stuff that has made me how I am today. The mixture is pretty banal, actually – emotionally damaged parents, role-models who taught me to swallow anger and then spit it out ten-fold mixed with a personality that makes me want to please and help and to not admit when I need help. Add to that years of chronic sleeplessness, years of feeling one mistake away from failure; years of chaos and drama and yes, real emergencies…. well, I just sort of finally caved under it all.

It’s not pretty, and I’m sure that I’ve alienated  people and that some people think I’m a jerk. I have to live with that, I guess. I hope that the people I love know that I’m a work in progress. I hope they know that I feel broken much of the time but that I can see a time when I will be repaired.

There are days that are better than others, and there are days when I sit here and think that there’s nothing wrong with me that a swift kick in the pants wouldn’t cure. There are days when I respond to everything like it’s a threat to my life and limb.

Yesterday we had a crisis. The weird thing was that after all those days of responding to not-crises as if they were, a real bona fide crisis merely made me calm. Not sure what mechanism is going on there, but because I asked for help and was so graciously supported by some of my friends, it was not the end of the world. Fear was bested by my asking for help, and by acknowledging that I can’t do it all alone. Very simply, that feels like the right path for me to have taken.

Some days, like today, I feel oddly (because so rare) calm. Today I feel like I slid a few ticks along that continuum and that there’s a clear shot at mental health in my future. Life is good, today. In fact, I’m pretty sure life is always pretty good; it’s my ability to see that fact that changes.

PTS and PTSD Info:

FYI:

Symptoms of PTSD: Increased anxiety and emotional arousal

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled

Some common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Anger and irritability
  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame
  • Substance abuse
  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Feeling alienated and alone
  • Physical aches and pains

PTSD isn’t only for the military. Here are a few good sites to look at if you need information:

Sometimes I am the water

My last post felt pretty personal, and I liked it. I feel like I took a little part of me, washed it clean, and put it back in place – just a bit more shiny, a wee bit lighter.

And that, there, is what I’m seeking these days – a bit of lightness.

The funny thing is that it’s there, but I forgot to notice it. I’ve gotten into the habit of lurching from one drama to another, to stewing in chaos and tripping over obstacles that jump out into my way, without warning. What I’m learning, though, is that this is really just a viewpoint. It’s not how things “really” are. It’s all linked to how I’m looking at it. This isn’t a “turn that frown upside down” blog post – don’t get me wrong. It’s never as easy as just pretending things are good.

What I’m talking about is my habit of seeing the worst, of waiting for another shoe to drop (and lots of times? It does drop – that’s what makes it so difficult – there’s no way to anticipate). This is about my temperamental and situational predilection for trying to harden myself up, to be prepared for anything that will jump out of the shadows at us. I’m talking about my high-strung-cortisol-pumping nervous system reacting to the world in a way that has made me clench my teeth in my sleep, use sugar as  a mood enhancing drug, has carved worry lines in my face, and made me sort of unpleasant to be around sometimes.

You know what lowers cortisol levels? Laughter. Tears.  Both work, so it seems to me that I can choose which one I want to use, right? I’m going to choose laughter a lot more from now on.

Now that I’ve let the disability cat out of the bag, while I promise that not everything I write will be about it, I have to tell you that my daughter’s disability touches almost all parts of our life. That’s the thing about it – you can’t just shut it off for a day, right? She can’t say “hm, I don’t feel like needing a lot of care today“.  It can be maddening, and scary, sometimes, having this person rely on me for everything.

Like her, I can’t take a day off – no parent can, really – not unless we have someone reliable to take over. See Vicky’s amazing blog post of the other day to see her side of this.

All of that said, while I worry and fret and clench my teeth and have little melt down tantrums, I forget. I forget that it’s not all about waiting for that emergency. Sometimes I feel like the lifeguard, unseen in the photo above – standing, literally guarding life. And yes, sometimes I am.

Sometimes, though? I am the oars of that boat.

Sometimes, I am the boat.

Sometimes I am the water, buoying it all up.

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Don’t you love the photos, above? My very talented friend Patty Maher took that photo. Go to her site and look at the amazing photos and read her wise and elegant, spare prose. It’s well worth your time. Today, her photos reminded me that it’s sometimes all about reframing something, making a choice in how to look at things. Thanks Patty!

Since it is World Photography Day (how serendipitous!) I’ve made her the official photographer of Box 761 today. Here are a few of my favorites of her photos:

   

          

Box 761: Special Needs Edition

One of three most precious to me, and the centre of my biggest silence

More interesting than what people write about, sometimes, is what they don’t write about. All sorts of things can inhabit those silences.There have been whole months when I’ve written nothing, and there’s usually a reason for that. And when I do write, there are some things that I don’t mention.

The yawning silences in Box 761 have been largely constructed to obscure disability: my (step)daughter’s disability and how we all work together to accommodate it, and our reactions to a world that doesn’t always accommodate itself to her needs….

One reason I didn’t write about it was that it didn’t really feel like my story to tell — it’s hers, right? And I kind of wanted to make “Box 761” a place where that particular issue wasn’t always at the forefront – a place where my story lived.  So, when I started writing here I was just coming off a long period of working in the disability community, volunteering in the disability community, and mothering in the disability community of Box 761, and I wanted to write about all the other things that are me.

Disability has a way of taking over if you let it.

I  was also uneasy – worried about falling into a “mommy blog” pigeon-hole. Or into the even smaller, deeper “special needs mommy blog” hole. It was important I carve out a spot for myself, somehow.

I forgot, though, that mothering has become who I am, not only what I do. It’s not all of me of course, but it’s a big lovely rewarding frustrating boring challenging awe-inspiring part of what I do every day. It’s a privilege to do, especially since these gorgeous women who I mother aren’t my biological children, but are instead a gift given to me first by Mr. 761 and second by those amazing children themselves.

Jeez. add the husband in Kandahar and you’ve got a Lifetime Movie of the Week!

(Daughter Number Two will warrant her own post later — she’s leaving us to go away to school soon and no doubt I’ll be in a teary empty-nest mood one day and write a sappy love post to embarrass and secretly please her. Plus, we need to discuss how much of her I can, you know, discuss.)

Here’s the thing, though. Being a (step)mother has completely altered my life. Vicky’s disability has completely altered my life, altered how I see the world, how the world sees me. So it is also my story,  and I guess it’s time to talk about it a bit.

Vicky and I talked about it the other day, and she told me that she didn’t care what I wrote about, and that she’s fine with it all. She just started her own blog, too, so if you’re interested click here to meet my fine (step)daughter in person…. Today she wrote an especially fabulous, funny poignant and strong blog. It made me run back here to this  draft and start working again. I’ve started this more than once, and it’s tough slogging for some reason.

When I read specialneedsmommyblogs I tend to think they fall into a few different categories: the ones that make mommy seem like a Saint (and while my halo is a bit shiny, I’m definitely no Saint, lemme tell ya); the ones that are all about how Inspirational and Special their child is; the ones that have an overt religious message (like, “Billy’s being born with his eyes turned inward and flippers instead of knees is a Gift from God”… um, yeah, some gift, Thanks a lot God. Did you keep the receipt?). There’s also AngryBlog (with a lot of “why’s?” and not enough “how’s), the SappyBlog, the CheeryBlog….

You get my point. I know I’m not being entirely fair here, and I think that what I mean is that none of those felt to me like blogshoes I could fit into. I’m just not sure how to be authentic, how to fit all of these different sides into one blog space. I  knew that writing was therapeutic for me, and wanted to explore that first. What’s funny is that writing about her is probably the best therapy in many ways. Wonder what took me so long to get to that point?

So, as much as I may not want to be a “mommy blogger” (whatever that is – and many  heartfelt apologies to all those women out there who want the label), there are days when I want to write about this very important part of my life. It is important, and it is worth talking about. And let me tell you – “stepmother” is not always an easy role. And while I’ve been  so utterly fortunate in that – there was a hole to fill, and I stepped  right into it, into their arms – there’s a whole book in that, I can assure you.

All that said, “Special-needs-step-mommy-blogger” seemed just a little too unwieldy, yeah?

some days, it's just there - it is what it is and it's part of the normal routine.

Vicky’s disability is both straightforward and very very complicated.  She was born with cerebral palsy, which is a sort of catch-all phrase for “we’ve ruled out everything else but see motor skills issues, etc.”. Her CP affects all four of her limbs, so they call her a “quadriplegic”. That does not mean she can’t move or feel — she’s not paralysed. It’s just that the messages she tries to send her muscles are often slow to get there, or get crossed somehow. She cannot walk, nor can she hold a pen or get herself in or out of her wheelchair without help.  There’s a whole long list of stuff that she can’t do.

There’s also a long list of what she can do of course, but in our culture, we often really focus on what people can’t do. We do this for a variety of reasons – in V’s world, doctors, teachers, waitresses, passersby… all of them tend to focus on what she can’t do. This is a convenient way to pigeon-hole her, to classify her. Certainly I do it myself sometimes – there are shortcut terms that we use when talking to doctors or nurse managers or social workers – she  “needs help with almost all of her ADL’s” we’ll say. (That’s “Activities of Daily Living” to you uninitiated.)

She also has a pretty severe learning disorder – called non-verbal learning disorder (NLD). I find this the most challenging part of her disability, largely because it means that her brain isn’t wired to “read” non-verbal communication. She is very literal

image courtesy of ClipartOf.comsometimes, and social/cultural idiom can be difficult for her to understand. She has had to learn her world in a way that would be challenging to anyone. Luckily, she was born with a really big brain and a sense of humour. I have learned to try harder to say what I mean, to rely less on lazy language, and to keep an eye out for potentially confusing situations that we’ll need to discuss later. These are useful tools for anyone, so yeah, it’s not all bad.

Vicky would, though, prefer very much not to have NLD, if given the choice. Navigating the world in that chair is hard enough, without not understanding all the signs along the way while she’s at it.

Some days, it's ALL there is.

Lately we’ve had trouble with the people who are contracted to do her care. She and I have been talking about this frustrating situation, and this morning she wrote about it (see above link). She understands very clearly, the primal link between herself and me, her caregiver. Probably in a way that I don’t always even register, she’s twigged to the concept that her very survival depends on there being someone around who will – reliably and safely – be able to do those things for her that she needs to do.

I’m just a nice lady whose kid has a disability. I’m trying as hard as I can to help her and the world naturalize this disability. I want her to leave my house and be a full citizen. I want her to be unafraid of saying “this care is not adequate”. Hell, there’s a LOT of things I want for her, same as I want for my other daughter — I want them to be citizens of the world, with all the rights and obligations that entails. I want them both to be pain free, as much as can be arranged. I want them to have safe places to live. I want them to have friends and secrets from their parents (not big ones, though, okay guys?). I want them to live in a world that is free of their feeling guilt or panic because they want to, say, get out of bed in the morning. Or, I dunno, not sit in their own filth because their care is unreliable.

See? Simple.

But I digress. I do that often when Vicky’s care is concerned. It’s pretty complicated. And it’s not just her, you know? It’s stories like this in today’s paper. It’s worrying about everyone else on that missing Aide’s roster — who went without food? Who slept in their chair that night? Who couldn’t get in touch with their emergency contact? Who didn’t want to complain for fear of reprisal of some sort?

This is the kind of stuff that literally keeps me up at night. Every time I start to bitch about something in Vicky’s life I start to think about other people less fortunate than Vicky, people who don’t have enough money or any family support. I’ve basically made her quality of life my full time job at present and I still can’t guarantee she’ll have it. It’s enough to make one weep. It’s what makes me keep doing this grinding, frustrating, agonizingly angry-making daily struggle to make the world see.

It’s why I was on anti-depressants for a while and felt like I wasn’t good enough. It’s why I often felt guilt that brought me to my knees – I wasn’t doing enough, doing it well enough, doing it nicely or politely or in a way that wouldn’t make me crazy. I’ve become a kind of weirdly earnest,  annoying zealot. Did you read what I wrote earlier? “I’m just a nice lady whose kid has a disability. I’m trying as hard as I can to help her and the world naturalize this disability.

Who the hell write that they just want to help the world naturalize disability? hee hee. Only the parent of a child with a disabilty could write that with a straight face. Why don’t I just try to cure world hunger and bring about world peace while I’m at it, eh?

I’m working on that.

How? Well, this blog today, for one thing. There were days when I wanted to write – felt positively itchy with the need to write something, but didn’t. I didn’t write because I was afraid: afraid that I couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand because I was dealing with day-to-day life for Vicky; afraid that writing about it would seem whiny, or that it would make me angrier, or weepier, or make her feel bad.

How is it that I live in a world where my daughter feels bad because of a condition that none of us had any control over creating?

So. Everybody has that something that is their cross to bear, you know? What writing and reading about this does is put it all in perspective. All those blogs I mentioned earlier? They may not be “me” but you can bet that I read as many as I can find. I may not always agree with them, but they sure as hell made me realize that I’m not alone in this ridiculously complicated world of parenting a child with special needs.  Writing one adds my  voice to the mix.

Vicky is empowered by the internet and is finding her voice, there and out in the “real world”. I’m trying to do the same, and the only way I can do that comfortably is to turn up the volume a bit, make those silences disappear. What I can tell you is that the daily work of making the world see and hear my daughter is more accessible all of a sudden. And I’m not alone in it, because I’m following her lead now.

More libraries than Tim Hortons? Yeah right.

Hm. I’m afraid that I’m giving the impression that I forgot I am a blogger… as I said in my last post, I’ve had some things to take care of.

Life intrudes, right? I’ll tell you about it sometime soon.

My One-year mark with Box 761 has just passed, and while I should have probably, you know, written something, I didn’t. Oh well. I’ve had another year with Mr. 761, who has his own blog now by the way — make your way over to here and prepare to laugh. Gawd, he’s funny.

I’m not going to write a lot today. But I’m mulling over what to write. My invective toward the CBC last year tired me out, and made me feel slightly soiled near the end — I’m trying now to avoid things that make me crazy, so odds are the Hunger Games will go without being mentioned here again (unless I really really can’t help it, you know how it can be, right? Sometimes I just can’t help myself).

Today I’m going to leave you with this most ridiculous thing I’ve read in ages. So ridiculous that I can’t really even understand it. How is it that I live in a society that values writing, and writers (and readers, and voters) so little? Jeez.

Read this, and weep, dear friends (here’s the link):

Doug Ford blasts Margaret Atwood over libraries, says “I don’t even know her”

Paul Moloney

Urban Affairs Reporter

Councillor Doug Ford has fired back at world-renowned author Margaret Atwood for her criticism of suggested library cuts, telling reporters: “I don’t even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is.”

yeah. Our appetite for books *way* exceeds that for Timmies.

Ford also said that the literary icon and activist — who took him to task on Twitter for saying, erroneously, that his Etobicoke ward has more libraries than Tim Hortons — should get herself elected to office or pipe down.

“Well good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don’t even know her. If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is,” said the councillor and advisor to his brother, Mayor Rob Ford, after a committee meeting on proposed cuts.

“She’s not down here, she’s not dealing with the problem. Tell her to go run in the next election and get democratically elected. And we’d be more than happy to sit down and listen to Margaret Atwood.”

Atwood, an activist on literary and human rights causes, waded into municipal politics in a minor way last Thursday.

She retweeted a Twitter message asking people to sign an online petition, started by the library workers’ union, telling city hall to ignore consultant KPMG’s suggestion to “rationalize the footprint of libraries to reduce service levels, closing some branches.”

Many of Atwood’s more than 250,000 Twitter followers complied, promptly crashing the

A triple-triple?

server hosting the petition.

The author then started tweeting about the library fight, mocking Doug Ford’s Tim Hortons comment on talk radio, and telling the Star that Toronto’s libraries are “astonishing. I’ve done research in them.”

She tweeted Friday: “Twin Fordmayor seems to think those who eat Timbits (like me) don’t read, can’t count, & are stupid eh?” and later asked her followers to check out library books, hold a book club in Tim Hortons and submit their names to win a visit from her and possibly other authors.

Atwood was publicly quiet Tuesday, a day after writing that she would be away from Twitter for a week writing her next novel. Calls to her publisher and private office have not been returned.

Both “Margaret Atwood” and “Doug Ford” were briefly “trending” worldwide on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, meaning they were among the most discussed topics on the social networking site.

Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) stood by his contention that some of Toronto’s 99 libraries should close, adding he would shutter one of the three in his Ward 2, Etobicoke North ward “in a heartbeat.”

“All my point is, in my area at Rexdale and Kipling, there’s a library in an industrial area that is an industrial plaza and no one knows it’s there. But it’s there.

“Why do we need another little library in the middle of nowhere that no one uses? My constituents, it wouldn’t bother them because you have another library two miles one way and two miles the other way.”

His comments about Atwood left some council colleagues bewildered.

“It’s just not something you say one of Toronto’s, and Canada’s, literary giants,” said Councillor Mike Layton. “She’s Margaret Atwood — she’s pretty important and a source of pride to a lot of people. What I’m hearing from people is mostly embarrassment about his remarks.”

Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), a rookie member of council’s left wing, said he would be “surprised” if Ford meant he has never heard of Atwood, one of the world’s most honoured living fiction writers, with awards including a Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin and two Governor General’s Awards, for The Circle Game and The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Whatever he meant, to tell somebody they have to get elected before we’ll listen to them is just rude. But he was equally dismissive with two CUPE (deputants) who had just told us how they clean up blood and puke in police cells and don’t want to lose their jobs to contracting out.”

Um, 761 pardons and a road trip….

Hey all. I took a break there. I think I’m back… I just had a few things to take care of.

Today I’m leaving for lovely Prince Edward Island. It’s just a two day trip; if it were a

That's SO much like us, it's scary

movie it would be a mash up of Thelma & Louise and “Driving Miss Christy”… it’s a girl power road trip and a drive to accompany my friend Christy Ann Conlin, who is giving a reading, visiting a book club, and delivering a workshop (yeah, in two days… whew!).

Christy Ann is the author of the amazing Heave… a book I’ve read more than once. I loved it the first time, but love it more and more each time I read it. I’ve given it to countless friends and family members and urge total strangers to read it. It’s funny and heartbreaking and gritty and sparkly and wise. I know that girl, Seraphina (and I’m pretty sure we drank together back in the 80’s), and I am eagerly awaiting the next tour de force from Thelma er, Christy Ann. Here’s her page on Amazon — you should go there and buy her books. Her chilling Dead Time freaked me out a bit, I have to say – made me look askance at my teenage daughters, briefly. Christy Ann has a gift with finding the truth in characters, and showing it so lovingly, and so honestly, that you can’t help but think they might bump into you on a walk downtown. Pay attention to what they say and do, you will be happy you did.

As far as this trip goes, I am merely going along for the ride, and will be wandering about downtown Charlottetown, and visiting with an old friend I haven’t seen since grad school (thank you, Facebook!). I am really looking forward to this trip — it has been a while since I was footloose.

I’ve left my children in the charge of the most efficient and competent (and funny) woman I know. I have no worries at all. This makes me happy.

Will write more later.

Tonight’s event is from 8-10 at

DB Brickhouse (former Off Broadway)

Sydney Street
Charlottetown, PE

Review: Plants for Atlantic Gardens, by Jodi DeLong

none of these helped

Okay. We all know that I love my gardens, but hate gardening. I can’t help it. I find it hard to plan, hard to figure out where to plant, what to plant, and how to plant it. Every single year I have to look up what bloody zone I’m in at least 10 times (5a? 5b?). If you add the pathological fear of having an earwig touch my hand as I weed, I’m a mess with the whole thing.

Problem is, I have quite a bit of yard. I love pretty things — flowery things, blooming lovely smelly butterfly-enticing flowers and shrubs. I adore that moment when I plant something and I can see how it has improved the aspect of the yard. I like sitting with a drink on my deck and looking at pretty things.

Okay. So it’s the upkeep I don’t like about gardening. I have, in fact, managed to convince myself of the wisdom of solving that problem with money. There are plenty of people willing to weed my garden for cash.

My only other problem, then, is finding a way to beautify my surroundings with plants and shrubs that will thrive. Luckily, my friend Jodi DeLong just wrote a book that pretty much solves this problem.

If you’ve been reading my blog at all, you’ll know that I’m not a shill. I don’t write a review unless I think a book is worth writing about. She’s a friend, but if I didn’t like this book, I wouldn’t have a review here.

This book is as useful, if not more, than my other favorite gardening activity (aside from looking at it with a drink in my hand): shopping at the local nursery.  I love going to my local nurseries (there are several around here that are really great)…. I wander aimlessly, buy things that I don’t know the name of, and end up planting them in the wrong place and wondering why they don’t thrive. This book will help with that, and I fully intend to either bring it with me to the nursery, or make notes from it that I will keep in my bag.

There are a couple of things I know to be true:

  • aside from the nicotiana I buy every year and plant in the same spot by the big rock I stole from Harbourville beach, I always plant perennials.
  • go for showy: flowering shrubs are great, and not as picky as flowers can be.
  • you can plant magnolias in Nova Scotia

The rest I’m going to have to learn from reading Jodi’s book.

I’ve been reading it for a while now — the stunning photography (all from the able and

(c) Jodi DeLong

pulmonaria-hybrid

loving camera of the author, by the way) has done much to help me through the interminable winter that was February 2011. The photographs are lush and lovingly organized; generous and in many instances spectacular. Reading her very approachable text and looking at these photos, I got a picture in my mind of the author — wandering all over her land in Scots Bay, crouching and waiting by the pulmonaria (at right) for the perfect moment when the sun hit the petals and showed it at it’s best. Knowing that she took these photos, that these plants are all in and around the Atlantic Region, makes it easier for me to trust it.

I’m an index gal. Any book I get, I look at the index. It’s a game I play — Browsing the Index — and it’s often how I separate an okay book from a good book. Good news — this book has a great index. I played Browsing the Index for several days (hey, I’m a geek, okay?) and the only time I stumped it was when I tried to find something about perennial Sweet Peas (L. latifolius). I love them, and managed to find some in a local nursery a few years ago, but usually they’re considered an annual (and so wouldn’t be listed in this book).

That said, aside from navigating from the index, the book also offers some efficient and well thought-out structure to help the questing gardener: a Plant Hardiness Zone map (thank the gardening gods for that one!) starts it off, along with some introductory material. Then a section each on Shrubs and Trees, and Perennials. Each plant has the same very useful information: family, hardiness, bloom period, growing requirements, height, where best used, propagation, problems and notes. There is also a sidebar of recommended species of each plant — very useful. Each subsection is generously illustrated with more of Jodi’s gorgeous photos, and backed up with her inimitable style – chatty, smart, passionate and oh so readable.

I’ve never enjoyed a gardening book more. Her voice is friendly and smart and funny. She peppers her writing with anecdote and humour, along with the amazing detail and careful science. Her section on “Garden Bullies” (goutweed, for example) is a cautionary tale. The sections are arranged alphabetically  (instead of some complex and completely unintelligible (to me) of phylum, genus, species or something weird like that). The Appendices are great  – snapshots of Deer Resistant Plants (not a problem for me, but for many it is a life-long battle), Plants for Pollinators, Salt and Drought-Resistant Plants, Plants for Moist or Wet Soil, and a list of Nurseries.

Jodi DeLong is the author of “The Atlantic Gardener’s Greenbook”, writes regular gardening columns for the Chronicle Herald and is a gardening editor for Saltscapes magazine. She is scheduled for a number of book signings and talks in the next few months.

She’ll be signing books at the Box of Delights book store in Wolfville, NS  on 05 March from 2-4 pm. She will also be speaking at the Woodlawn Library in Dartmouth on 10 March at 7 p.m.; to the Dartmouth Horticultural Society on March 14; the St. Margaret’s Bay garden club on March 16, the Brookfield garden club on March 22 and at Ouestville Perennials in West Pubnico on April 9. Phew!

Her website is a terrific read and well worth the visit.

Plants for Atlantic Gardens is a softcover, 252-page book, published by Nimbus Publishing. It retails for $29.95.