Sunday, April 26, 2020

How I learned that water and cat litter don't mix

Last Saturday, my wife, Helena, and I decided to ease the life of our 14-year-old calico cat, Mehitabel, by installing a litter box on the main floor.

Actually, this is also to ease our own lives because Mehitabel is getting on, and the basement stairs aren't the cake walk they used to be, so she (Mehitabel, not Helena) has been finding little hiding spots on the main floor and relieving herself. And we'd rather not have to deal with that.

The cat is still hale enough to go down the basement to watch TV with us and we've left her food down there so she has to extend some effort to eat and get exercise, but we relented and went out to buy another litter box, and as of Saturday, the shower stall beside the kitchen was off limits to humans. It's where the new litter box is.

The following discussion was actually had in Canadian Tire: "What colour should we get?"

"Doesn't matter to me."

"Let's see, there's purple, green, blue. Mmm, I like green, but blue goes with the tiles."

"Nobody's going to see it but Mehitabel."

"Still. Let's get blue. I mean green."

We bought one without a cover because it's easier for the cat to negotiate.  

We got home. 

"Let's open it," I say."I think we should clean the shower stall first," said somebody who wasn't me. ("We" of course means Pete. Imagine. Cleaning the shower stall for the cat's litter box. "We" don't do that even before my family comes to visit.) 
But the previous Saturday, I had been faced with a writing deadline. And, faced with a deadline, I'll do anything rather than write. So I had scraped the soap scum off the shower walls a week earlier. It didn't have to be cleaned again. 

We unpacked the brand-new litter box. Mehitabel was excited and test drove it before we even got it into the shower stall. She didn't actually use it; she just walked around tentatively, like somebody at a new beach getting a feel for the lake bottom. We were all pretty pumped by this point. 

his was going to be good. 
Except we forgot to tell our son, Michel. He was staying over at his friend Chris's house on Saturday night. 

On Sunday afternoon, we're at my mother-in-law's house and Michel texts that he has arrived home. But he's going to go out biking. 

We get home two hours later. Helena goes for a walk to the grocery store. 

I go into the bathroom beside the kitchen And that's when I learn that that before Michel went biking, he took a shower. Or at least started one. 

Imagine a science-project volcano, with stinky grey lava dripping down the mountainsides. Where the cat litter box used to be was a small mountain of goop. And it was oozing. (The upside is, it did sort of match the tiles.) 

You don't have to be a forensics expert to know what had happened. If you mix clumping cat litter with water, it begins to expand. And if you fill up a clumping litter box with water, it becomes the Blob from Outer Space. It smells like I imagine embalming fluid smells. It glues itself solidly to whatever it touches. And you can't just wash it off, because the more water you add, the worse it gets. 

If you were going to ship it in a big truck, you'd have to have one of those orange triangles that indicate hazardous materials. Actually you should need special training to be allowed to handle it. And a hazmat suit.

n order to clean this thing, I had to heft the 40-pound mountain of goop out of the bathroom and into the backyard, and then spend the next hour figuring out a way to separate the blob from the plastic litter box. 
A fancy Canadian Tire litter box like this one includes a separate tray with a bottom that is actually a screen and works as a sieve. But when you try to pour soaking wet clumping litter through it, it becomes a cement-like screen so you have to get a screwdriver and poke it through each individual tiny rectangle. There are lots of them. 

You can't squirt this stuff off, but I did hook up the garden hose to do some of the after-cleaning, in the process learning that I had run over the nozzle in the garage. So I had to change that first. Have you seen news coverage of the aftermath of a tsunami? That's what 10 square metres of our backyard looked like for about an hour. 

Michel got back from biking just in time to help me finish the cleanup. Then he needed another shower. 

Like they say, First World problems.

How to recycle kitty litter

I got my start in journalism by delivering the Globe and Mail newspaper.
Alex & Ed are a couple of posse cats

I was around 12.

Before I continue, I should wait for the laughter to die down. The laughter is coming from any of my siblings who might be reading this, because here are the facts of the matter:

I, Peter, technically did have a Globe and Mail paper route. But it gets complicated.

What you may not know is, the Globe and Mail, one of Canada's oldest and most respected newspapers, was and is a morning paper.

And I was, as a child, spoiled.

How spoiled, you ask? My late mom went to the trouble of having NINE babies before me just so that on those days -- and they were frequent -- when I did not feel like "doing" the paper route,  mom could get one of my older siblings to do it. But I still got paid. True beautiful fact.

Also that's why my brothers and sisters might well wet themselves laughing when they read about me having a paper route.

Looking back, why a few of them didn't, like, kill me and make it look like an accident, I'll never understand.

I do remember playing cowboys with my brothers Eddie and Alex. I was the bad guy and they were the posse and about to hang me when my mom stepped outside just in time so they never got the noose around my neck and I've been telling myself since that they wouldn't have gone through with it but still.

Having a Globe route in Sudbury was no walk in the park.

For one thing, like I said it was a morning paper, which meant delivering before school! In winter! In Northern Ontario! The local evening Sudbury Star was delivered at a much more civilized time.

Making matters worse was the fact that, almost every house received the Star, so if you delivered the Star and had, say, 25 customers, your afternoon route would only involve a walk of about two city blocks.

But those of us who proudly delivered the big city Globe and Mail that came all the way from Toronto served a more sophisticated, erudite and sparsely populated audience. So if you had 25 customers you had to walk way further and up and down a bunch of streets.

Sudbury is one hilly place. We lived on the north-south street called Eyre and our school St. Albert's was at the top of the hill and some mornings, the northwind was so nasty we would walk backwards up to school. I'm not making that up.

Imagine walking backwards up that same hill on a dark wintry morning carrying newspapers.

And the distances! I had one customer in the apartment building at the southwest corner of Douglas and Regent streets and another up way north of there, at the T where Stanley meets Pine. To  me, it seemed like the distance from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other when in fact I just googled it and it's one click or---at the time--under a mile.

I'm guessing I kept that cruel paper route a couple of months, tops. It involved way too many early mornings for me. Or even for my brothers and sisters.Who likes doing stuff like that at such a horrible time of day?

So I quit.

And why, you ask, am I telling you all about this now?

Simple. I wanted a topic for my blog.

But I'm feeling kind of lazy and not up to actually composing a story.

I decided to take the easy route and just republish something I wrote for that self-same Globe and Mail, in 2012, It's about our old cat; and if you click on her name  Mehitabel, you can read the piece and at the same time revisit what I said earlier about the Globe being "sophisticated" and "erudite." Ha.

Pretty clever way of  avoiding work, huh?

My only other choice would be to ask one of my brothers or sisters to pinch hit for me like they did with the paper route and God forbid we get their account of what I was like as a kid.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Wait in line at Costco for you? I'm in!

HOWDY PILGRIMS: Grocery stores like Lobaw's and Costco are brick-and-mortar shrines
 to the miracle that is the supply chain.
We're just back from a Saturday trip to Costco and man was it fun!  

For starters, we didn't have much else to do with our morning. We could have stayed at home and watched the news to be reminded of how nasty things are out there, but that'll keep. 

Costco was a welcome diversion and did not disappoint. Sunny out, no wind, and above-zero temperatures. I really do need any exercise, however minimal.

The single down side? We only got to spend a measly 90 minutes with the young couple in front of us in line. 

They were all shades  of interesting.

She, Marianna (I've changed her name) just last week won her Permanent Resident status in Canada and was still beaming about it. She's from Kazakhstan, and her mom, 60, and dad, 62, are still there and guess what: They're in the self-same situation as us. Standing away from other people lined up for food.  

Marianna and I joked that it would seem like old-home week to them because her folks are old enough to remember the bad old days before Perestroika, when U.S.S.R-ians were forced to line up for every thing, all the time; and often by the time they got to the end of the line the shelves were empty.  Not quite like queuing up at Costco where the shelves are still jammed with as much food as any civilization could imagine.

(I must add that while we talked we maintained the two-metre separation. If you can't hold a decent conversation at six feet, you're not trying.)

Marianna works for an investment house and she says the wildly fluctuating stock market's keeping her busy 12 hours a day. She, like me, works from home and, like me, misses her office and co-workers something awful but at least we're working.

Carlos is from Chile and he, too, says the family back home's also keeping six feet apart and lining up at the grocery store. "Except for those Pinochet years," Carlos said, "Chile has never had those Soviet Union lineup problems. 

This was his first time in the Costco lineup, though he said he drives by it every day en route to work. 

So I asked, "what do you do that makes you essential?"

He and his brother repair roofs. On that issue, here's Carlos: "People's roofs still leak, even in a quarantine." 

She asked what I did for a living. "This," I said. "I ask people questions." 

I told Carlos and Marianna that I get all optimistic talking to people like them because hard working, smart, considerate newcomers like them are the future of this country; and not only because they laughed at my jokes. 

Something just occurred to me. 

THAT REMINDS ME: The price of gas has never
been lower!
Because we're all staying at home so much more, we don't do as much stuff. We don't have as many disagreements to complain of or victories to brag about. I'm talking victories like getting all the greens on our drive downtown. Or finding a great parking spot. 

We have far fewer encounters with, say, uppity ticket takers and/or bored sales clerks; way less run-ins with strangers; and because we don't drive, there's no near-misses in traffic though my brother Eddie says a near-miss is really a hit because a near-hit would be a miss. But I digress. You know what I mean. 

Every office has at least two people who incessantly talk traffic.

Not any more.

Because we're doing and seeing less stuff, we're all probably bored-er than ever.

All the more reason to visit Costco.  

Not only do you get to meet fascinating people from around the world, you get to compare the latest in protective face mask styles and now I'm wondering whatever happened to those two old WWII gas masks we had in the house we grew up in. Not only that but why did we have them in the first place? There I go digressing again.

Anyway, an hour ago, just before I decided to write this, my daughter Ria phoned from Ottawa and asked how the trip to Costco went, I reported thusly:

"It was fantastic! 

"You should see all the food they have on sale there!  Everything you ever could want and more. 

"Ria get this. Your mother and I now have more food than we need! Imagine! And we still have money left over. How lucky can a family be!"  (Ria's used to this but she also knows I'm not b.s.'ing.)
SAY CHEESE: Winner of the No(baby)bel prize for snackfoods 

How Costcos and Loblaws remain stocked with all those pre-cooked chickens and boxes of clumping cat litter and colourful dish and laundry soaps and breads and and pizza pies and giant special occasion cakes and multi-coloured marzipan cookies and Babybel Original Cheese and everything else no civilization ever in history could have even dreamt of, remains a Lourdesian-scale miracle to me. 

Not only was I lucky enough to be born during this time in history, I am so fortunate that somebody went and invented Zoom and Microsoft Teams and all those other social media things, just in time for this this furshlugginer quarantine!

Twenty-four-seven I remain acutely aware of the fact that a certain bunch of my forebears got to Canada aboard a typhoid-ridden ship. My great-great-great (ish)  grandmother somebody Kelly left Ireland with three more kids than she arrived in Toronto with because that's how many succumbed to typhoid on the trip over. Being stuck at home with Netflix is pretty stinkin' luxurious.

With that, 3 tips before you head out to Costco.

1. Eat before you go.You already know you shouldn't go for groceries when you're hungry. But Costco doesn't have any of those great little snack tables these days. Just a heads-up.

2. Don't be in a hurry. Then again if you're an always-in-a-rush sort, you'd never have made it this far with my blog.

3. Keep your distance but please talk to strangers. They're more bored than they've ever been and will welcome the diversion. Like you just did.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

And hence we were all as good as bread

“What about 'crooked as a dogs hind leg?

talked the same lively language alright.
That is how my sister Bertholde responded to my blog about our late dad Tom's effort to come up with  a phrase that would get used by a bunch of people in everyday conversation and the phrase he made up was as good as bread.

Crooked as a dogs  hind leg was one of Toms countless other sayings that Im pretty sure he didn't actually coin. Like every dad, Tom had what seemed like an endless supply of things that he said.

My mom, Huena, too. Though when it came to people who might rip you off, she used the expression so crooked hed have to lay on his back to look down a well. Or maybe Tom said that one, too. I forget.

Thats probably why they fell in love and stayed married so long. They spoke the same kaleidoscope patterned neon-light-filled colourful language. Plus it seems they knew a lot of crooks in common.

Heres one of  the odder Tomisms: I haven't laughed so hard since the pigs ate my little brother.” 

My big sister Bertholde says she thinks I haven't laughed so hard since the pigs ate my little brother is, and I quote her: hilarious...then again it might not be if you're a little brother. 

Me to Bertholde: "Ya think?
PETE'S CLOG & QUADRILLE: Yours truly at my niece
Jens wedding Ottawa Valley dancing.” Its a thing. Google it.

I just thought of another. My mom used it to describe people who werent all that graceful on the dance floor.

Hes got a Protestant foot. 

Reminds me of the joke about members of a certain religious sect  not doing it standing up because it might lead to dancing.

It also makes me wonder if Huena ever actually watched any of her own kids dance.  The thought brings to mind another Tom-and-Huena fave: For the love of God! 

On a sober note, every day my mom said a prayer for all the men who worked in the mines. On the opposite of a sober note, Tom had this one at the ready: One beer is just right; two is too many and three isn't half enough.”  

And for a household where fart was considered a swear, my folks sure invoked deities a lot. In our house, you couldnt take the Lord's name in vain, but praying was okay. So when mom saw, say, my brother Tom get up to something worth cussing about, she said, Jesus Mary and Joseph! Or, truly exasperated, it was God give me strength.” 

Meantime, our father exclaimed, when awed: “Holy ole teapot cream jug and sugar bowl!” I know. Rough stuff.  

Another? My mom said when you sing you pray twice. Also, every day, as we traipsed off to school or wherever, Huena advised, Offer up  your steps,” implying that everything you do you should involve higher-order thinking. Or maybe simply that God is watching so you will get caught. 

And thats why none of us, me, Eddie, Alex, Charlene, Mary Leona (who died in infancy) Norma, Tom, Pat,  Mary or Bertholde ever sinned. 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Legal tips for making it through the quarantine

CATTUS TROPHY: (Cat in Latin is cattus)
My late father Tom once told me he always wanted to invent a phrase that other poeple would use. And he told me the phrase he had come up with was “as good as bread.

It works for me. When something is, for example, going along just right; or fits a situation perfectly, its as “good as bread.

Tom wasnt a writer. He was raised on a farm in the Ottawa Valley then moved to my hometown of Sudbury where he and my mom had 10 kids and he and his brother Ed ran a transportation business.

But I sure get that notion of coming up with something everybody says.

Whats more,  I have a similar plan.

Get this: One of the really great aspects of my job at The Lawyers Daily is that I learn new words regularly, almost every week..

And once this mind-numbing quarantine ends and my brother Eddie can come visit again, Im going to clobber him at Scrabble. Last week, I learned the word quango. A few days before that? Homologate? Like I said. New. Words. Regularly.

But that is not the point of my story.

My point is I have a word-related ambition like Toms. And it is as follows:

Not long ago, one of the brilliant lawyers I have the opportunity to work with told me about the Latin legal phrase “mutatis mutandis."

If youre already familiar with mutatis mutandis, you are not invited to that aforementioned Scrabble game with Eddie. Ha ha. But I sure didnt know what it meant until the lawyer, Lawrence David,  explained it to me.

Its one of those phrases that you like the sound of even before you know what it translates to: “moot-tattis moo-tandus. Disney could write a song around it.

Heres the plan. I have made it a COVID-19 project to drag mutatis mutandis out from the shadows of the courtrooms and into the street.

The world needs--especially because of that thing thats going around--mutatis mutandis. I want to make it as popular as a few other foreign-language phrases that have migrated over; like, say, ad nauseum, Or pro bono even.


Heres Wikipedia on the matter: “Mutatis mutandis is a medieval Latin phrase meaning 'having changed what needs to be changed or once the necessary changes have been made.

And heres Petes Blog&Grille on how it works vis-a-vis (another!) COVID-19: Last week, my neighbour Chrissy Lumley invited me to play Scrabble but because were all holed up, we can’t visit so wed have to play online. The Scrabble game could take place but we wouldnt be able to eat pizza and drink beer while playing. So we would play--I hope youre paying atttention here--mutatis mutandis. (Though if Chrissy reads this and finds out I know words like quango and homologate she might rescind the offer. But I digress)

Heres more mutatis mutandis.

At my office, every Thursday at lunch time, a small group of us used to assemble in one of the larger meeting rooms and--under the guidance of another staffer named Harpreet who happens to be a trained meditation teacher--we meditated for half an hour. For the record, its one of the most memorable and refreshing ways Ive ever spent a lunchtime.

Except then COVID showed up and we all had to scurry home, which is where I work from now.

But we still, every Thursday, meditate mutatis mutandis.

Instead of sitting beside a much younger and fitter colleague, I sit alone in my son Michels old bedroom, which is now my office and heres an upside: I dont feel the slightest bit self-conscious.

We may be enduring one of the weirdest time periods of a generation, but I think were most of us learning how resilient we can be.

I also happen to think COVID-19 is making us appreciate little things more. I'm writing this on Good Friday, and almost every commercial operation in town is locked up tight. Tomorrow, things will be a lot looser, so at least we can line up at the store, even if we do have to put on a mask when we go in.

Were taking less stuff for granted and that has to be good.

Normal life continues, mutatis mutandis.

Not bad, eh?

One more thing: I asked another lawyer that I work with if he had any ideas for spreading the news about this fabulous phrase mutatis mutandis. (I sometime wonder if my co-workers think I'm weird.)

He very wisely suggested engaging the services of a platform that has far more credibility than Petes Blog&Grille, and thats Iris the cat.  Then he suggested the version you see on the sign up there.

He also requested anonymity. The manss got a reputation to uphold, after all.

I like the folks I work with. Theyre good as bread.