Friday, January 9, 2015

Order Your Groceries Online From Spinneys

It works, it actually works!

Such is my gratitude at finding an online grocery-shopping service in Lebanon that I have crawled out of my writing void just to tell you about it.

I knew Spinneys offered online shopping – a long time ago I saw the signs in Spinneys saying so – but I didn’t give it a moment’s consideration because online stuff doesn’t usually work in Lebanon.

But this does. And, like all life-improving discoveries in Lebanon, it came through word-of-mouth. An acquaintance told me about it and, seeing the look of disbelief on my face, assured me that it was easy and reliable.

I remembering questioning her sceptically, almost belligerently, like an immigration officer trying to find out the lie in her story. “So do you mean to tell me that they have all their products listed on their website and you just click on what you want and they will bring it?”

“Yes,” she said. “They don’t have absolutely everything that you can find in one of their stores, but most things are there.”

“But surely you mean just non-perishables,” I said. “Canned and dry things.”

“No, it’s all there. Frozen, refrigerated, and all the fresh fruits and vegetables, too. And they keep them separated in the delivery van, too. The cold things come in a refrigerated compartment and things that shouldn’t be near food ­– like bathroom cleaners and detergents – get their own compartment.”

“But how do you pay? I don’t like putting my credit card information into a local website in this country.”

“You don’t have to. You don’t pay anything until they bring you the groceries, and then it can be credit card or cash. When you’re filling out your order online you tick the box for either cash or credit card payment upon delivery. I use a credit card and the guy who brings the bags up carries a little wireless credit card swiper with him. I’m telling you, Jenn, it’s easy. Try it.”

“Stop lying and tell me why you really want to enter Canada!” I bellowed, grabbing her by the lapels.

No, I didn’t. I thanked her, cast my doubts aside, and the next day placed my very first online delivery order with Spinneys.

And she was right. It was easy. You create a user profile with your name and phone number, but it’s really short. Actually, before you do that you should make sure they deliver to your neighbourhood because they don’t cover every area of Beirut. There’s a map showing which areas they deliver to, but even if your neighbourhood is blacked out I suggest ringing Spinneys on the phone and double checking. My neighbourhood showed itself it to be out of range, but because we are very central and areas on all sides of us were covered I rang them and found out we are covered.

When you fill in your address information they also provide a little map with a push-pin which you can stick in exactly where your building is. This is a wonderful feature for Beirut, where street addresses mean almost nothing.

Once you’ve done that and are logged in you can begin your order. As soon as you pick your first item a “My basket” opens on one side of your screen, showing the products you have selected and your running tab. Here also you will find the answers to two of the first questions which popped into your mind when you heard that Spinneys has a delivery service – and that ought to be written on the main page but are not (there is no FAQ section on the website, either, unfortunately, but that’s okay because it is a simple site to use). First, you will see a note on your shopping tab stating that there is a minimum order of 100,000 LL (67$), and secondly, that delivery is free. That is to say, there is a 7,500 LL delivery charge written with a red strike through it, as if delivery were only temporarily free for promotional reasons but will one day will cost you the five bucks. I don’t know. It is certainly free right now, that’s all I can say for certain.

As far as I can tell – though I haven’t done an actual study – prices on the online site are exactly the same as in Spinneys stores.

Their website is good but not perfect by any means, nor kept as up-to-date as one could wish. Keep that in mind at all times and you’ll be fine. Some things are mixed up in name or in category (potato chips are in the ‘Snacks’ section, and called ‘chips’ even though there is a ‘Crisps’ section, and in the ‘Crisps’ section there are no chips/crisps although there is some breakfast granola).

There is a space to add a note at the bottom of your order, so you can clarify things here. (For example, the mozzarella I order has no option to select in what form I want it – a solid block, slices or shredded – so I specify this in the note section.)

You can choose your delivery to come within a three-hour range: 9 a.m. to noon, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., or 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. It doesn’t tell you how near to the delivery time you can place your order, but it will stop you when you submit it if you’re too close to the delivery time. I know that if you want your groceries to come the same day in the afternoon you must order before 7 a.m.  As for punctuality, I’ve ordered from them five times so far, and three of those came within the stated delivery time, and two of them were about half an hour past it.

The funniest part of the whole ordering procedure is the page that appears at the end, prompting you to select your “personal shopper”. There are photos of two smiling women with their names below, and a third woman’s name without a photo, and apparently based on their appearance you are to award one of them the honour of selecting your products for you. Actually, I don’t think it means much. I’ve gone with the default, pre-selected name each time (I think her name is Layla) and sometimes I’ve gotten her and sometimes it’s been someone else.

The reason I know who is doing my shopping for me is because your personal shopper will call you while they’re filling your order. There are always a couple of items out of stock and your personal shopper will offer you the choice of something as close as possible in type and price. They’re fairly good at this, I find. If you had selected a mid-price parmesan cheese they offer another mid-price one. Same if you ordered a premium brand of something or a cheap brand of something. When I wanted Spinneys-brand white vinegar because it was the cheapest white vinegar they had (I only wanted it for de-calcifying my washing machine) and my personal shopper told me it was out of stock she offered the next-cheapest one as a replacement. They do it quickly and efficiently and – oh, almost forgot – they speak English.

I’ve had some mistakes, one or two small ones with each order. Pear and peach flavour Lipton ice-tea instead of just plain peach flavour. That sort of thing. Hardly anything to bother about. I always make sure I order all the pop and juice and water we could possibly need when I’m doing the Spinneys delivery because that stuff is so heavy and the two young men who bring it up to my apartment take it right into the kitchen for me.

I tip the two lads 5 thou each. I think that’s plenty – maybe too much (I’ll know from the sounds coming from M once he reads this). It’s just, you know, they work hard and don’t look like they’re rolling in dough.

And it’s a pretty darn nice service.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

No Vaccines for Lebanese Kids

            Yesterday when I took Noonie in for a couple of overdue booster shots the doctor could only give her one of them. The less important one.
            “Most vaccines are unavailable right now in Lebanon,” he told us.
            As I looked at him with my face in its customary what-kind-of-bloody-country-is-this expression, he explained.
            “All the vaccines are being shunted to the Syrian refugees. I can’t get my hands on them. I had the father of a two-month-old infant in here yesterday shouting at me because I can’t vaccinate his child. What can I do? I called the ministry of health and they told me it’s not their problem.”
            His soft voice hardened as he continued. “I said to the man on the phone, ‘If vaccines are not the responsibility of the ministry of health, who can we turn to?”
            “But this doesn’t make any sense,” I said (I’m always saying that sentence in Lebanon. I should just make a button to pin on my sweater). “Doesn’t the Lebanese government have the authority to dictate where vaccines are being directed in its own country? On whose authority are the vaccines going to the refugees?”
            “I don’t know exactly,” he said. “I believe the UN’s. But I’m afraid I don’t understand precisely how it is decided.”
            “So. . . we’ll just wait and do the DPT shot when it becomes available? And what about the hepatitis B shots my son needs -- are you able to get those?”
            “No,” he said. “No hepatitis B, either. And I recommend a typhoid booster and meningococcal booster for both of your children as well but they are also unavailable right now.”
            “I guess we’ll have to try to get them when we’re in Dubai or Canada,” I said after a long pause in which I attempted to wrap my cerebrum around this latest glimpse of what a shambles is Lebanon.
            He nodded. “That would be the best idea. I don’t know when I’ll be able to get them. The other thing you can try is if you know someone – you know, important – you can try to source the vaccines yourself.”
            I stared. “You mean, use wasta to get my kids vaccinated?” (Wasta is an Arabic word that translates roughly as ‘conduit’. In Lebanon it means preferential treatment.)
            He smiled. “Yes, wasta, if you like. There isn’t much choice, I’m afraid.”
            “And what about the parents of the two-month-old baby?” I said. “What are they going to do?”
            “Ah,” he said, his face falling. “Those people have no wasta. Nor do they travel outside Lebanon. They’ll just have to wait and hope their child doesn’t get sick.”

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Today: The In-Laws, The Natoor and Curry

            Today when I was out doing errands I had to pass right by my in-laws and decided to pop in to say hi to them. They like that, or at least they pretend they do.
            Every single time I pay an unexpected visit to them my father-in-law opens the door in his t-shirt and boxer shorts, and then walks off down the hall to put on trousers. I don’t know why he does this. I’ve already seen him open the door and then walk down the hall. If the sight of his legs would be too much for me then I would already be stupefied by the time he exited the room.
            Today was just as it should have been, my father-in-law looking through the peep-hole and then opening the door in his boxer shorts. But today my mother-in-law was in the doorway as well, ironing a stack of clothing. This is where she puts the ironing board: right at the front door. There is just so much about my in-laws that I don’t understand, you see. And what was my mother-in-law ironing today? A pair of sweatpants. I recognised them as one of the pairs my father-in-law wears when he goes walking in the mornings.
            My mother-in-law wore her industrial-strength back support. It’s a thick, body-cast type manifestation of neoprene, plastic and metal that wraps all the way around her torso and keeps her back from bending. She says it helps her when she’s ironing sweatpants and doing other chores that are essential for genteel life. I’m not sure I would be entirely at ease in a brace that didn’t allow me to bend. What if I was on a horse, trotting through a thick stand of trees, and saw a big branch coming right at me?
            My own mother, too, is fond of ironing things like dish towels and tablecloths when she's run out of clothing to press. Is this strictly a mother thing? The sight of wrinkled textiles seems to trigger some mechanism in their brains and they can't rest until they hear steam wafting out of a hot iron. I wonder if my mother-in-law likes bitter marmalade, for I believe that is another mom thing. I must remember to ask her.
            When I was leaving my in-laws I ducked my head in at the natoor’s hovel to say hello to him (remember, we use to live in this building) but he wasn’t in. A bunch of children stood in the gloom of the windowless room. These would be Nowras’s offspring, not many months arrived from Syria. Only the eldest boy had been present when we lived in the building but Nowras had sent for the rest of his kids and his wife when the fighting in his homeland got too close to them.
            I learned from Kassem that the eldest boy, who’s around thirteen years old, was now working full-time serving coffee at a little shop in a nearby neighbourhood. This is the boy who, on a visit to his father around the age of eight, announced that he would never go back to school and would stay in Lebanon and help his father look after our building.
            This isn’t quite as romantic as it sounds. Nowras’s duties, though spread out over a very long day and evening – a natoor in Lebanon is expected to be available every minute of the day or night – amount to little. Except for washing the building’s eight flights of stairs every Saturday, he may not do more than an hour or two of real work each day. He is nearly always standing around, smoking something which looks like a cigarette but smells like garbage, and watching people come and go out of the building.
            He performs a lot of useful tasks, like watching for a parking spot to open and then buzzing on the interphone the building resident who requested the information, or going to buy a bag of bread or bunch of parsley for someone. These things just don’t add up to much actual work. He is also the neighbourhood’s biggest snoop and gossip. To illustrate what I mean, I can tell you that exactly two days ago as M and I and the kids drove past the building on our way to the beach Nowras saw us. I said to M, “Tonight your dad is going to call us and say, ‘I heard you went right by the building today and didn’t stop in to see us.’” And he did.
            I think Nowras’s eldest son observed his father’s undemanding workload and decided it would be a fine sort of life for himself. He settled in with his father and could be seen thereafter, occasionally doing a spot of work around the place but more often strolling up the street eating chips from a bag. He got a bit fat. He seemed contented but I suspect he may not have been fully capable, at the age of eight, of understanding what impositions on his life quitting school would have. Nor, I’m sure, did he sit down with a pencil and paper and work out how he would ever be able to afford an apartment or the upkeep of a wife and children on 300 dollars a month (his father’s salary). And that’s presuming he knows how to write and add up numbers.
            Last fall when Nowras’s wife and remaining children came to live with him M asked Nowras how many children he now had and Nowras answered, “Around nine.” We have been quoting that at least once a week ever since, and have yet to weary of inventing new ways to make fun of it (“Do you know, there are around twelve months in the year.” Or, “I just realised that when you count in Mom and Dad I have around two parents,” etc.)
            When I got home from my errands and began to unload my groceries I saw that it was already noon so I decided to start cooking lunch and finish unpacking once the food was simmering on the stove. I had planned in the morning to make Thai green curry with fish because it was easy, healthy and delicious. At least, I thought it was delicious. I had used to make Thai green curry with chicken but recently switched to fish and the kids had seemed happy with it.
            Only Noonie was happy with it this time. Dude, who generally eats anything as long as it has protein in it, fiddled with his fork and, when I asked him if he wasn’t enjoying it, said he preferred the dish with chicken.
            But M, now, he was in vintage form. When I set his bowl down before him he stared at it and said, “What is this? Have you made a jigg’s dinner?”
            He was referring to a traditional Newfoundland dish -- which he hates.
            “It’s Thai green curry,” I said crisply. “With fish.”
            “But it’s not green.”
            “No, well. I didn’t make it very strongly flavoured. I made it the way I think it is best. Just taste it.”
            “But curries are supposed to be strongly flavoured.”
            “If you want more of the curry paste I’ll add some to your bowl. It’s no problem.”
            “No, no, it’s all right.”
            I began to eat my own curry.
            “When I roomed with the Asian guys in university,” M began, and I knew what was coming, “they used to make green curry and it was totally green in colour. They would simmer chicken – bone-in chicken, for flavour – and potatoes and other vegetables together in the curry sauce for hours to soak up the flavour. It was a highly flavourful dish.”
            “Do you want more curry paste or not?”
            “No, no, it’s no good adding it at this point. It won’t blend in properly.”
            I went back to eating my food, but more quickly now. I wanted to finish and get out of the room.
            “Of course, they always used chicken. You can’t use fish in such a case because it will become totally mushy.”
            I shovelled in the rest of my food, got up, and took my plate into the kitchen.
            I had to put away some laundry and when I came back to the kitchen I saw M’s plate beside the sink, much of the sauce and rice still in the bowl. M almost never leaves food in his plate. This was a strong statement indeed.
            For a brief moment I considered bellowing, “Anyone who doesn’t like my cooking can bugger off!” but I didn’t.

            I’m in my forties now. Life is too short for bitterness. So I came over here to Antoine’s at the Souks to write about my day. And here is where you see me now, just finishing up what may be an unusually boring blog post, even for me.  

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Old Bras

            Have you ever stashed a pile of your old bras and underwear under a couch cushion, left the house and then had your fifteen-year-old son bring all his friends over and discover the hoard?
            Let’s say, just for fun, that this very thing has happened to you. Let me ask you one thing further: were the bras in the stash very, very large in size? I mean, were they so big that a single cup could be used to catch a person leaping from a burning building? And how about the undies? Could you make a comfortable hammock from a single pair?
            If your answer to any of the above questions was no I’m afraid that that however badly you want to sympathise with me -- and I know you do because you who read this blog are my good, kind friends -- you really cannot.
            Naturally you’ll want to know why I was stuffing old bras and underwear under the couch cushions. That’s a reasonable question and one I will hasten to answer.
            It was cleaning day yesterday. That meant Selma was coming to our house – remember Selma? The woman who tried to poison me by putting bleach in my tea cup? -- and in Selma I have the equivalent of a weekly thrift store pick-up. The woman will take anything I give her. It’s extremely convenient for me, and, as far as I can tell, singularly delightful to her. She gets far more excited about a second-hand pair of pyjamas than the generous tip on her wages.
            Now, you know that I’ve changed my clothing size in the last six months. This has been lovely, of course, but it has required me to buy a lot of new clothes. Some new Tommy Hilfiger shirts and sweaters I brought back from Canada last summer never did get worn. I was saving them for winter but when winter came they were too baggy. I was sad about this and kept taking them out and trying them on in the pathetic hope that they, like my body, would have magically shrunken. Finally M told me that if I was considering gaining weight again so that the sweaters would fit he would be happy to get on a plane and go to the store in Calgary where I bought them and get me some new, smaller ones.
            As an aside, but one well worth mentioning, I must tell you about M’s colleague at work, Joseph. One day Joseph and M got talking about weight loss and Joseph said that a few years earlier his wife had lost quite a bit of weight. She collected up all her old, baggy clothes and told Joseph to throw them out because she didn’t want to tempt fate. Joseph gathered up the bags of clothing and went outside with them but he didn’t throw them out. He put them in the car, drove to his parents’ house, and asked them if he could store the clothes there for a while. “A year,” he told M. “I just thought we’d better keep them for a year. They’re pretty expensive to replace.”
            So I was facing the same decision with all of my old clothes. Would keeping them be tempting fate? They did add up to a lot of money. Luckily the paucity of storage space in our present apartment made the decision easy for me. There just wasn’t room for them. Once I started buying new clothes to replace what had become too baggy I had no space left.
            So I packed them all up (all except those Hilfiger items – they’re still in the top of my closet) and put them in bags for Selma. This did not happen in one stroke but over the course of several months. There was a long transition period before the last of my old clothes was too big for me, and even then the flow of clothes out of my closet didn’t dry up entirely but slowed to a trickle as some of my new clothes, the ones bought when I first began to shrink, became too baggy themselves.
            Selma was thrilled to get the clothes. Even the biggest jeans, which I suggested she turn into sofa covers (no, I didn’t really), could find a home somewhere amongst her extended family. And she loved all the cotton shirts. She takes a fairly big clothing size herself and probably has a very trying time finding clothes in Lebanese stores, where the largest pant size is often an American 10 or 12. Plus, of course, she’s poor.
            Well, it happened that yesterday I had a few bags of clothes ready for Selma to take home with her and in one bag were some underwear of Dude’s, as well as bras and underwear of my own. They were all ones in really good shape – I wasn’t about to give Selma transparent undies with holes in them – but I couldn’t make up my mind whether to give them to her or not. I figured I’d give Dude’s -- what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him -- but did I really want strangers seeing and wearing my underwear? Charity has its limits, heaven knows.
            If the bras in question hadn’t been my beloved, ultra-supportive Olga bras that Theo put me onto I probably wouldn’t have hesitated to chuck them when they got too big. But I had a soft spot for the Olgas. Those bras changed my life. They got me through some really tough times with more lift than boobs like mine had right to. A part of me thought that maybe Selma would love them the way I had, and in this way the bras would live on through her, achieving something like undergarment immortality.
            In the bustle of cleaning and changing bed linens and avoiding death by blunt trauma I forgot all about the bags until it was time for Selma to go. When I saw that she was about to leave I suddenly remembered that I had made up my mind to remove my undergarments from the bags. But because I had left the bags near the door there was no easy way for me to remove them without Selma seeing, and if she saw she was definitely going to ask me to leave them in.
            When Selma walked over to the kitchen window for a moment to see if her husband had arrived to pick her up I seized the opportunity and grabbed the bras and undies out of the bag. There was no time to transport them out of the room so I shoved them under the cushion of the nearest couch.
            As soon as Selma was out the door I heard the dryer chime singing and trotted to get the hot clothes out. Then I needed to fix lunch for Noonie and straight after that to get ready for my Arabic class. 45 minutes after Selma departed I was heading out the door myself, bra stash forgotten.
            Dude sometimes brings his whole gang of friends home after school or basketball practice to play PlayStation and hang out. He called me when I was at Arabic class and asked if it was okay if the boys came over. I barely gave it a thought. “That’s fine,” I said, and turned my mind back to the inexplicable rules of Lebanese prepositions (“The dog is barking on me”; “Your house is far about mine.”)
            The bras remained forgotten – at least, to me -- until I got home and found them on my bed. I had just clomped in to throw my purse and sweater on the bed and froze in mid-toss when I saw the bras lying there. The bedroom door had been closed, I suddenly realised.
            The boys were gone at that moment, but not for good. They had gone down to the marina to eat at Classic Burger like they always do when they come over. They would be back. I crept down the hall to Noonie’s room and asked her if she knew anything about the bra exposition but she had heard nothing.
            Mercifully the boys didn’t linger on when they came back from dinner. They all grabbed their bags and left immediately again. I stayed in my bedroom till the last voice had died away.
            Then I came cautiously out of my room and found Dude. “Okay, just hit me straight,” I said. “Who found the bras and how did they make it onto my bed?”
            “Oh, the bras,” Dude said. “Well, Karim N found them. Why were they under the couch cushion?”
            “Karim N?” I said faintly, bringing to my mind the face of one of the less shy boys. Small mercies. “Did he say anything?”
            “Well, he just came in to the living room, sat down and then said to me, ‘Can you take these bras out of here?’”
            “Did he seem horrified?”
            “No, not really. But he didn’t seem to want to get too close to them.”
            “Understandable,” I said. “So then you brought them into my room?”
            “Yeah,” said Dude. “And closed the door behind me.”
            “Well,” I said.
            There was really nothing else to say about it. What was done was done. Dude seemed mercifully unaffected by the experience and for that I was grateful. I went in to the bedroom, got my Olgas and giant briefs, and stuffed them all into the garbage.
            I’m sure there is a lesson or theme in here somewhere, I just can’t make it out. Advising you not to leave your bras stuffed under the sofa cushions seems like something you may have figured out on your own already. So I guess I’ll just wish you good luck. You know, like in a general way. Good luck!


Epilators: Oh, They Work

            The only reason I didn’t get an epilator until now is I thought they must not work well. If they did a good job my friends would have told me about them years ago.
            Well, either my friends are even more behind the news than I am or they’re cruel and want to see me suffer.
            It was my Arabic teacher, Rima, who mentioned epilators a couple of weeks ago. We were watching the Lebanese movie, Caramel, which opens with a scene of “sugaring” (same idea as waxing but using a sticky ball of hot sugar). Rima made a comment about the ritual of sugaring and then added, “But of course we have Braun nowadays.”
            She was referring, of course, to the Braun epilator. I knew that much. I had been looking casually at epilators in stores for over a year, wondering if it was worth spending the money on something that would probably require the hairs to be somewhat long and therefore repugnant before it could catch hold of them, and which would likely miss at least half of them.
            Rima’s comment lit the torch of hope deep within my soul. She made it sound as if epilators were so effective that they had utterly displaced sugar as the root-ripper of choice in Lebanon. When it comes to beauty secrets I believe Lebanese women are far ahead of their Western counterparts. I have an idea that Brazilian women are like this, too. Both Brazilian and Lebanese women are probably far too fond of plastic surgery for Canadian sensibilities but they prioritize their physical appearance. They are not hypocritical about it. We Canadian women pretend we don’t care about our looks as badly as we do, and look down our noses at those who make great efforts to improve their appearance.
            The next day I flipped open my laptop and began a search for Braun epilators. I didn’t even consider any other brand, not only because of Rima’s reference but also because of all the small household appliances I’ve ever owned, the Braun’s have always been about ten times better than any other brand. Now when I need to buy a small appliance I generally just make a beeline for the Braun display and choose one from among them.            
            I read some reviews about Braun epilators and was further encouraged. Hair removal was nearly complete, the ladies said, and the hairs only needed to be a couple of millimetres long. The only negative comments were about the pain, which nearly everyone said became less with each use of the epilator.
             My heart swelled with glorious visions of stubble-free legs and pits (and more? If things went really well, who could say what I might decide to pluck?) and prepared to take the financial plunge. That is to say, I prepared to ask M to pick one up for me from duty free.
            Braun has several models of epilator, with more tweezers as you advance up from their cheapest model, the Silk-épil 3, with 20 tweezers on the rotating head, to the Silk-épil 7 with 40 tweezers. I think the different models do exactly the same thing but you’ll have to make more passes over the skin with the cheaper model to get all the hairs. The best one, the Silk-épil 7, cost 562 Dhs (153 US dollars) in the Dubai airport duty free.
            I texted M, who was in South Africa at the time and would be coming through Dubai on his way home, and asked to him to make the wholly worthwhile investment.  M, who never questions my expenditures, especially those related to clothes and beauty, said he was on it and when he came home a few days later I found the 7 sitting on my dresser.
            I read the instruction booklet and plugged the epilator in to charge. But dig this: it was already charged. You see what I’m talking about with Braun?
            In preparation for the epilator’s arrival I had allowed about five days post-shave hair growth on my legs. The booklet says that the optimum hair length for epilation is 2 to 5 mm and, bending over to get a good look at my legs, I felt satisfied that the hairs were nicely within those parameters.
            I gently scrubbed my legs with exfoliating gloves during my shower to make sure there was no skin lotion residue left on them. A clean hair is an easy-to-pluck hair. Plus, you don’t want to grease up your epilator. Of course the Braun is entirely washable if you do need to clean it. In fact, it can be used in the shower, it’s totally water-friendly.
            The epilator has two speed settings: ‘1’ for wimps, and ‘2’ for real women. Do you really need to ask? Of course I selected ‘1’. A light came on, the little machine made a noise like a tiny jet engine warming up, and I dipped it down to alight briefly on my shin. I’d read quite a few remarks about the pain, you see. I was afraid.
            My fear was completely justified. It was as if someone had touched me with a small current of electricity. But the hairs came out! I kept touching down, working up to a steady, lawnmower-like buzzing back and forth over the skin and I could see a mostly-bare path behind the epilator.
            I steered the epilator back and forth and round this way and that to catch the hairs that grew in creative directions. There is a fine, bright headlight on the epilator which illuminates the area just before it so you can really see what lurks furtively in the shadows.
            An unexpected bonus about the epilator is that nearly all the hairs get collected inside the cap. It’s wonderful. I thought I’d have a disgusting shower of hairs to vacuum up afterward but there were only a few that escaped the cap. The added value of this feature is that seeing all the hairs collected in the cap gives you an incredible sense of satisfaction. It’s a tangible reward for the pain you’ve suffered.
            I only did my lower legs because the hair above my knees doesn’t amount to much but there’s no reason you couldn’t epilate all the way up to your eyeballs, if you wanted to. I did do the tops of my feet. The hair there is fine but it’s on my feet. I can’t see it without thinking of Bilbo Baggins.
            My legs were speckled with red dots for a few days, and they stung in the hot shower water, but I didn’t care. They were hair-free, and I was about to enjoy the long-term hairlessness that I previously thought could only come from waxing.
            It took me a week to work up the courage to epilate my underarms. I’d only ever had them waxed once in my life and that single time had so traumatized me that I’d never considered doing it again.
            I put the “sensitive area” head on the epilator to do my pits. This head reduces the number of tweezers that will come in contact with your skin. Still, it felt like a red-hot knife was pressing into my skin when the epilator’s tweezers bit in. I broke out in a sweat, it was that bad. You may not realise how serious underarm hairs are in form and will to live. They’re not just pretending to do something like your leg hairs. They’re thick, and when they’re stubble-length, fit for epilation, they have about two-thirds of their length buried under the skin. They have a big club on the root that to my fevered imagination looked like an anchor. I felt like I was tearing little trees out of my body.
            The worst part when you’re doing the epilation yourself -- and frankly, who are you going to ask to help you with it? -- is that you can’t make your underarm skin taut. The pain is very much worse when the skin isn’t stretched out tight because the tweezers seize the hair and pull it way back before it will surrender. This gives you a kind of bruising.
            My pits were sore for three days. But they were smooth, wonderfully smooth. No more dark shadow to be seen even directly after shaving.
            I have since done a second round on both my legs and underarms. I probably didn’t even need to do it so soon because I couldn’t see more than a couple of hairs in either domain. Doing my pits the second time was fairly easy because there were only a few hairs there. It still hurt like hell to rip them out but it was nothing like as painful as the initial slash and burn.
            Here’s an aside I want to share with you. While searching the net for reviews of epilators I came across a number of blog posts, written by men, proclaiming that they refused to date women who didn’t keep their whole bodies (except head and eyebrows) entirely hair-free. There was special emphasis on the need for the entire private parts to be as bald and smooth as royal icing. They actually wrote whole blog posts about these views. Well, I don’t know about you but if I was a single chick and a man shared that opinion with me I’d have only one thing to say to him: “What a lovely idea. Let’s begin with you. I’ll get the epilator and start on your back, and after that we’ll head south of the equator. When your balls are plucked entirely clean I promise to epilate my own area.”           
            Now you’ve heard the news about epilators, girls, and if you choose to continue shaving or waxing or whatever it is you do I guess I’ll try to respect your decision but, I mean, did you read this blog post? I’m telling you.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I'm Back. Did You Notice I Was Gone?

            Well, hi. Sorry for being away so long. As usual I don’t have even a semi-gelatinous excuse. I haven’t even been busy in the normal sense, though I’m always busy in my own inexplicable way. Every week since my last post I’ve wanted to write something on here and I’ve started and abandoned about fifty blog posts in that time. So it’s not been a lack of interest in blogging but rather a lack of decent writing coming out of my fingers (though between me and you I blame my brain more than my fingers).
            But today I’m posting whatever I write. It’s going up, no matter how dull.  
            Since you last saw me I’ve undergone a kind of personal renaissance. I don’t know what else to call it. Remember how I said I was feeling weird? Well, it’s turned out to be a good thing, for the most part. I do feel weird but I also feel like I’ve woken up out of a coma. I don’t know what has changed, or why, but I’m enjoying life more now. I’m happier.
            After my parting comments the last time I surfaced on this blog (how I shouldn’t even be entrusted with potted plants) I have not only allowed the blog to nearly die but I have actually succeeded in killing the only two potted plants I owned. I threw them out a month ago. That’s kind of funny, don’t you think?
            In the four months since you last saw me we experienced a bomb going off 150 metres from our house, my sister Theo come to stay and had her own sort of spiritual rebirth and I bought a skirt that stops above the knee. Oh, and we made a rather painful decision to move back to Dubai at the end of the school year. It has been an eventful period.
            The day after the bomb I wrote about it but in the end didn’t post it. It felt cheap. What to say? You can google the gory details if you want. It was the Dec 27th assassination of minister Shatah. Because of the shock reverberations off all the tall buildings in our neighbourhood it sounded not like a single explosion but about twenty of them, a fraction of a second apart. It was terrifying and surreal.
            Not many days after that bomb Theo braved travel advisories and the sheer dismay of long-haul, economy-class travel to come to Beirut. I couldn’t have been happier. I wore a pink sweater to the airport and she said later that when she came out at arrivals the sweater stood out in the crowd like a beacon calling her home.
            We had a ripping good time. Theo, I feel at liberty to say, had the time of her life. In spite of the regular carnage in Lebanon people here know how to live. Theo had been squirreled up on her beautiful acreage on Vancouver Island for so long she’d forgotten about high heels and late-night cafes. After a month in Beirut she didn’t want to leave.
            As for my news about my new skirt, I realise it may not be strictly thrilling to you but it was pretty exciting for me. I had given away my last above-the-knee skirt years ago when the kids were infants and my legs got too fat to sustain public display. They are less fat now, yes, and I suppose I must tell you something about that.
            Five or six months ago when I began to feel weird, I suddenly stopped craving sugar. It happened almost overnight. I couldn’t believe it then and I still can’t believe it. The weight just started melting off me like magic.
            I’m not making this up. People keep asking me if I’m on some kind of special diet and they look at me with that peculiar eagerness which I suppose means they hope I’m about to reveal a secret weight-loss trick that no one else on earth has heard about.
            When I say it was like magic for me that’s because I wasn’t eating very much. My problem was never with eating too much food. I don’t even like food that much, to be perfectly frank with you. My problem was with eating too much sugar, so when I stopped craving it my caloric intake took a nose dive.
            I like to think of myself as a very confident person who can discuss anything without batting an eyelash but I have to tell you that this is embarrassing for me to talk about -- really embarrassing. I’m only doing so because to completely omit talking about something which has had such an enormous impact on my life would, I feel, sort of render everything else I say on this blog disingenuous. But I don’t want to go into a ton of detail and I think I’ve said enough to give you the picture. I’ve been dropping jean sizes and feeling better than I have since I can remember and that must suffice for you.
            In case you’re worried about me (really, you are too kind) I can assure you that I have had a full check-up with blood tests since all this began and I don’t ail a thing. My mother-in-law keeps suggesting to me in a theatrically horrified tone that I may have diabetes but alas for her it doesn’t appear that I will sink into a sugar coma any time soon.
            As for our upcoming return to Dubai, I’m going to talk about that another day. Mostly I’ve been pretending it’s not happening. Not that Beirut has turned into my dream place to live -- as much as I’m enjoying it these days -- but the kids are settled at their school and frankly, I think I had convinced myself that the next time we moved it would be to a Western country and hopefully to the red maple leaf itself. As comfortable a place as Dubai is, I just didn’t see us going back there to live. It’s been a harrowing mental recalibration.
            So that’s what’s been going on with me. What’s been going on with you? You can write to me, you know. I like getting letters.
            My address is:
            See you back here soon.