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There I was, playing with my nieces, ages 1 1/2 and 3. We were playing “school” which is the 3-year-old’s favourite pretend game. But, since it was dark outside, she stated that she didn’t normally go to school at night.

I suggested, in the spirit of pretending, that we pretend it was dark because of a solar eclipse. She looked puzzled as I waxed on about the moon moving in front of sun and making it dark for a few minutes. Then she ran away to her mom, wailing. I gathered up the 1 1/2 year old and went to see if what I had just said had really scared her.

And of course, it had. In my zeal to explain some strange beautiful rare event in the world, I had planted a picture in her three-year-old mind of the sun crashing into the moon and all the world going dark. Good work, Einstein, I thought, as I held the small crying girl and tried to make it right again. Nothing bad happens, no one gets hurt, I assured her.

What was I thinking, trying to explain the cosmos to a three year old, albeit a totally brilliant three year old. Who I made cry like I haven’t heard her cry since she was a small baby. Oh, there’s no worse feeling in the world than making a kid cry and knowing it’s your fault.

You never can tell what your words will do in the mind of your listener.

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I have come to a conclusion: I am not the master of my dog, at least not in his adorable brown eyes. No, to my furry beast, I am a slave, a large, fur-less, biped slave with handily opposable thumbs. When he whines, I walk him. When his water bowl is empty, I fill it. (And the number of times that bowl needs filling, you would think this dog spent his days criss-crossing the Sahara rather than lounging sleepily on the couch, which we cover with a blanket JUST SO he can jump up on it.) When he looks at me, looks at his empty food dish, and looks back at me again – intently – I feed him. Sometimes he throws in a little lick of the dish for emphasis. I am so soft. I melt. I reach for his cookie jar.

He can be fast asleep, but if I so much as touch the lid of that thing, he knows and comes running across the room and assumes the position. Sit, look up at me, a whine and a meaningful shift of the legs to tell me he wants a cookie. Now. Yes, perhaps a trick is the price of the treat, but lets face it, he does not do so much as what I tell him as whatever he thinks will look enough like a trick in order to win the food. And you had best believe, the eyes are on the prize the whole time, not the giver of it.

Of course, being a slave gives me lots of exercise. At least twice, you’ll find me running down the stairs with the dog leading the way whether it’s cold, hot, raining, snowing, or blowing. He’s got me on a schedule for those too. When I come out of my room dressed in the morning, he’s waiting for me. And in the evening too, when I’ve finished my dinner, and I do mean the second, the dog seems to say, “Okay missy, you’re done, it’s Levi time. Let’s go let’s go let’s go!” I do like these twice or thrice daily walks (the husband claims to be made of stronger stuff when it comes to the furry little tyrant so I end up giving in and going more often methinks), but still… sometimes I wish I could go a day without looking at the vacant old asylum next door or the creepy trees along the pathway. And Levi’s a stout, strong dog with no sense of direction and tendency to sniff endlessly at random clumps of grass… he’s not the easiest dog to walk.

So he’s pretty much got me where he wants me, this dog of mine. What am I getting out of our relationship, besides an admiration for the ability to survive solely on looks and charm? Wish I could do that, by the way. In his own way, Levi’s pretty low-maintenance. He doesn’t care about toys so I don’t have to buy him loads of $$$ chew toys and kongs and tennis balls. He doesn’t bark at other dogs like some of the little yappers around here, nor does he mess up the house or destroy things. Last, when all his needs are met, he’s a total couch potato. A big brown snoring lump by your side.

For all that he runs me, he does give me companionship and occasionally entertainment. It’s been almost two years since we got him, and there is satisfaction for me in how much Levi has bonded with us and trusts us. He lets us play fight with him, and occasionally even lets me give him a belly rub. He sometimes even lets me hug him without resisting or giving what Don calls “get away from me kisses.” Lick, distract, squirm, and where’s the cookie, that’s the technique.

I take secret joy in the fact that this bonding has happened pretty much at the exclusion of every other human on earth. My dog is a one-woman dog and that’s fine with me. I’m pretty much of it has to do with the regular food supply. One day when we thought we had lost him, it turned out he had run back around the building and straight for the front door.  He knows where his food dish is. The only other people the dog is not terrified of are the ones who have fed him, like my uncle, a reliable source of wieners.

Objectively, my dog is cute. People always want to pet him, but he sometimes practically jumps out the way. The most he’ll do is very tentatively sniff a hand. I try to tell him that no one is ever going to hurt him, that I’ll protect him. I try to pet him reassuringly as he lays beside me on the rug with his head stuck as far under the coffee table as possible. He sighs, maybe falls asleep down there. I’m a good slave to the wee beastie.

My sister thinks that using the phrase “former Woodlands grounds” is too formal. She suggests, “Old Loony Bin Lawns.” It’s good to have family who can understand what it is you’re really trying to say.

In my family, a really special occasion calls for fondue. Since I was just a little child of the 70s, my parents have pulled out the electric fondue pots and we cook juicy cubes of red meat, whole mushrooms and gouda cheese coated in special batter right at the table. Buttered buns and baked potatoes with sour cream, bacon bits (real ones) and green onions are served alongside.

Fondue is truly a feast. It takes an enormous amount of prep work to cut up all that food, prepare the various condiments (plum, barbecue, tarragon cream and horseradish sauces), and to set up the table. Did I mention we cook the food in a mixture of peanut and canola oil? Last night, I was in charge of running extension cords from the three pots in various directions and taping them down to avoid the disastrous effects of an accident with hot oil.

Since it was Corn’s birthday, there were ten of us, plus baby Lauren (who managed to stay calm at least through the main course and only got cranky before dessert) and the two dogs who were banished to the backyard for the duration. The amateurs (poor Dan, what a time to be on the South Beach diet!) did a good job of keeping their food speared on to the fondue forks, and keeping their forks from getting tangled up everyone else’s in the pot. It takes practice to know how long to cook your food and keep the cheese encased in its batter. Runaway cheese floats to the top and burns to crispy granular detritus that attaches itself attractively to everything else.

Some people might do as many as three courses of fondue – cheese, oil and chocolate – but that’s overkill. Maybe if we were attended by fondue prep work fairies, or had superhuman fondue fork wrestling elbows. Chocolate birthday cake and coffee top off a defiantly unhealthy meal just fine.

I haven’t been updating as often as I would like to this week. Yesterday afternoon, another little person came into my life in the form of Kase William Owen. Luckily, this little nephew of mine is also a very good looking kid, because there is nothing worse than an ugly baby everyone has to pretend is cute. And while I’m on the topic of Seinfeld, the line he used in one of his standup routines plays in the back of my mind: “They’re here… to replace us.”

Last night after we came back from the hospital, I finished A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle. I have been hearing great things about Oh Play That Thing, so I had to read this one first. I was trying to find a review link for the latter book, but the stupid Globe and Mail Books website makes you pay to access their archives! Boo! And its not like Amazon needs me to direct anyone to their site.

Anyway, A Star Called Henry is just one of those incredible stories, told by a storyteller whom the reader can trust to take them somewhere. And the language! Reading his work, especially an epic tale like this one, you see how much language and images can be played with – without feeling “overwritten”. There is a real sense of sweep here, as Henry grows up in the slums of Dublin, becomes an IRA revolutionary in his teens, and… I won’t give away the ending.

Its cool how a writer can create such a strong fictional character and surround them with true historical figures. I have to respect the amount of reading and research and travel that goes into a novel like that. Then again, it also makes me ball up my fists and despair of ever having that kind of creative power and craftsmanlike discipline.

At the very least, I am grateful for a room with a door that closes to write in, a place to be surrounded by books and implements of possibility.

Those of you who don’t know me may tune out for a moment, but I am happy to report that I am now officially an auntie. My niece, Lauren Kathleen, was born yesterday morning, Friday, September 17, just before 10 am. In a terrific breach of temp etiquette, I had my cellphone on and ready to hear the news. Unfortunately, I was not able to rush right out and get to the hospital, but had to wait wait wait at my post, with next to nothing to do.

But when I got there, she was just over 6 hours old, and beautiful. The nurse had her swaddled up in the little green blanket, but she wanted to stretch and make faces. Of course, everyone wanted to hold her. I marveled at her tiny fingernails, her funny faces, scared to death of dropping her at the same time. And you know today, I’ve got to go visit them again.

My sister is doing fine too, and we are so happy that there were no difficulties and that this new little person is healthy.

I want to make a time capsule of the day she was born with newspapers and such. Any other suggestions?

The other night I went with my mother-in-law to the PNE. I was supposed to go before with another friend, but got so absolutely pissed off with that she was constantly changing the meeting time, and then also wanted to meet at the gate furthest from where I could park that I just couldn’t go and hang out with them and have a good time. I felt better for bailing, as you should never over-accommodate non-compromisers, but I had already bought the ticket.

So I called up my mother-in-law who just loves the Fair. We haven’t spent much time together in the eight or so years I’ve been with her son, so when I phoned, she thought I just was offering to sell her my unused ticket. Its not that I don’t like his family, as I have often been accused, we just don’t have a whole heck of a lot to talk about. I know a lot of people say this, but I suck at small talk and don’t exactly Eddie Haskell it in social situations.

Anyway, as long as you take take some money, its impossible not to have fun at the PNE. We saw the Superdogs, played Bingo, walked a little through the barns (sad how the agricultural component of the Fair has diminished), and checked out the amazing gizmo-and-crap building. I also ate a cheeseburger covered in greasy fried onions with a side of chips at Jimmy’s Lunch (she shared a few chips while eating the sandwich she brought – the junk food is bad for her diabetes), and rode the Coaster. We got some mini-donuts on the way out. mmm. cinnamony. Its like recreating childhood every time I go to this thing.

The PNE is an endangered institution. Some misguided crackpots in the neighbourhood, as well as in City Hall are under the impression that the vast parking lots of the PNE grounds should be turned into green space. Why? Who would go into them in that part of town? No one I know goes into the existing green space they’ve created on site. Methinks the proponents of this grand plan are just sour because they live too far away to cash in on letting people park in their yards during the Fair.

The best part of the night was successfully convincing her to go on a ride at Playland. One of the nicest ladies you’ll ever know, man was she nervous. In my first attempt, I picked out the tamest ride I could find outside of Kiddyland – The 1001 Nights, a smaller shorter version of that old classic stomach flipper, The Rainbow. Not that fast, doesn’t go upside down, she’s looking up at it as we’re standing in line, reads the useless legalese sign about “Guest with High Blood Pressure should not ride etc.” and bails. I went on it by myself – what a waste of four good tickets! After I went on the Coaster however, she still had her four tickets that we had bought, and decided to give the Wave Swinger another go after a self-imposed 40-year hiatus.

“The last time I went on a ride, I was dressed to the nines and wearing heels.”

I watched her get on, the thing lifts up the swings and starts revolving. Each time she came around, I smiled and waved, but she sat stock-still, legs crossed in front, gripping the chains, staring straight ahead. After she got off, I told her she looked a bit nervous. She said she was just having a wonderful time.

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