Saturday, December 29, 2012

Wintery Summary

My holiday season is proceeding happily.  I hope that you can say the same for your own.

As always, I spent Christmas eve with family, celebrating my grandmother's birthday.  This is my younger grandmother - a mere spring chicken at 92.  My older grandmother is 96.  And a half.  She says that when you get very old, the halves start to matter again.

Christmas day was spent at Ken's mom's house, with his two brothers and the younger brother's fiancée. It went as usual: my MIL and BIL (the younger one) seem happy to have me there as an audience for their stories, but they show absolutely zero interest in any conversation that I volunteer. I'll tell a brief, funny story, and by the time I'm on the second sentence my MIL will be fiddling with the food on the table and my BIL will be playing with his shoelaces.  When I hit the punch line they don't even pretend to smile.  Nice.  The fiancée seemed to be taking her cues from them.  Ken's older brother isn't really in the equation as he is mentally disabled and is approximately the social equivalent of a three-year-old.  It made for a rather long lunch, although I must say that my MIL put out a lovely spread of smoked salmon, fancy cheeses, fancy crackers, sliced baguette, olives, and (the big crowd-pleaser) a large hunk of duck pâté with blueberries.  I mean the blueberries were in the pâté, as though it were a muffin.  You'd think it would be gross, and it did look a nasty bruised shade of purple, but it was delish.

We didn't have any plans for Boxing Day, however Ken could not resist browsing the Birks website. Of course they had a sale.  Ken had not given me a Christmas gift, which I didn't mind whatsoever, however when he offered to take me shopping at Birks I'd have been a fool to refuse, right?  I am now the proud owner of a gorgeous matched set of earrings and a necklace.

On Thursday I went back to work, thinking that my holiday fun was over for a couple of days.  However, my girlfriend who lives in British Columbia (in a little town in the mountains) was in town with her husband and three kids, and she called me mid-afternoon to invite me for dinner at her in-laws'.

I love spending time with this friend and her family.  I've known her since we were in the first grade together, and we were best friends from grade 4 through grade 8, almost inseparable.  I've known her husband since we were all teenagers, and consider him a friend too.  They have three great kids, two boys, (10 and ? 8 maybe?) and a little girl who's now 4 and is the cutest little munchkin you can possibly imagine.

My friend's MIL is one of those old-fashioned-type ladies who always has her hair up in a kerchief, an apron tied around her waist, and never stops fussing and puttering around the kitchen.  When we arrived (my friends picked me up at the train station) she had finished feeding the kids dinner, and was preparing our dinner.  It was no small affair either: roasted potatoes, three different kinds of vegetables, seasoned tilapia, spicy rice casserole with beef, and a delicious homemade soup.  She never sat down and ate.  She was constantly back at the stove warming up more food, squeezing a slice of lemon over your fish, offering beverages, offering napkins, dropping ice cubes into your glass, worrying that you wouldn't like the food, assuring you that you didn't have to eat if you didn't like it (of course it was all fantastic).  After dinner there was tea and sweets.  And then, just when I thought dinnertime was done, she started all over again making dinner for her daughter, who prefers to eat late.  I wasn't sure why there was a smoking pan on the stove until she rolled up a ball of from-scratch dough in order to fry a fresh, homemade roti.  (She had to season the pan first.)  Woah!  I don't know if I would have found her attentiveness enjoyable if I lived there (it was a bit much) but for a one-evening treat it was great.

And so it continues.  I'm looking forward to dinner and games with friends tonight; brunch with other friends tomorrow; and a wild all-ages, child-friendly New Year's Eve party.  I tell you, no one gets excited about shouting HAPPY NEW YEAR! like a crowd of hyper-excited kids who are up several hours past their usual bedtime.  It's all good, so very good.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

'Twas the day before the night before Christmas

With mixed feelings, I went downtown today.  I was a little worried about getting smushed to death by frantic last-minute shoppers.  However, I needn't have worried.  It was a beautiful, sunny day!  And everyone was stupendously cheerful and friendly!

I think it helped that I was in and out of the Eaton Centre mall before noon.  It hadn't yet filled up to the brim with anxious, desperate people.  Instead, I saw young parents walking their small children around the mall, oohing and aahing at the window displays and decorations.  A tickled-pink baby waved hello to one of the giant reindeer-made-of-lights.

I was at my parents' house for dinner yesterday, where I hung out with my furry little brothers.


My mom was test-driving a new dish: roasted, mixed winter root vegetables.  She's planning to serve it for my grandmother's birthday on Monday.  She wants me to arrive early to help her prepare the dinner.  This is all well and good, except I realized immediately that I'd be stuck peeling a big pile of carrots, turnips, parsnips, beets, and potatoes with her absolutely useless, ancient peeler.  My hands hurt just thinking about it.  So I stopped in at The Bay and bought a fancy new peeler for her kitchen.  Kind of a "for you for me" gift.

I didn't have to wait in line long to pay, and when I got to the counter the cashier was in fine spirits.  I can't remember how we got on the subject, but I told her how I'd just been in Dundas Square patting a reindeer.


There were two of them there, munching hay in a small enclosure, overseen by two miserably cold handlers.  Another clerk perked up his ears at this news.  I explained how the reindeer were smaller than I'd imagined, between the size of a goat and the size of a donkey.  Also, their antlers were impressive and their fur was very soft.  (Yes, petting was allowed.)  Both cashiers got pretty jazzed about the idea of going to meet the reindeer on their break.

Next stop was the Annapurna restaurant, Toronto's oldest vegetarian restaurant (est. 1974) and "dedicated to the oneness-world vision of Sri Chinmoy."  I had arranged to meet a friend there for lunch.  I love Annapurna's simple, healthy food and the calm, pastel atmosphere.  Ken finds the food bland, and refers to the oneness-world vision as a cult.  Cult or no, they make a fantastic peanut-butter-chocolate-chip cookie.

And that was enough excitement for me for one day.  I headed home for a nice warm nap.  Now Ken has just called to me from the next room "Want to go to Mandarin for dinner?"  Oh, yes, yes, and double yes.  I'm outta here.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eating All The Foods

Last year, when I wasn't doing well, I developed some eating problems.  The list of foods that I was comfortable eating shrank down to a select few.  I wasn't happy eating food I hadn't prepared myself.  I didn't want to try new things.  I feared contamination.  No wonder I lost my butt!

As I got better, I pushed through my anxieties and started eating a wider variety of foods again.  I'm now eating more freely than I have at any time in my life.  I don't mean huge quantities.  I start eating when I'm hungry and I stop when I'm full.  I'm not paying too much attention to counting calories, except to make sure I don't under-eat by accident (which is easy for me to do).  And I'm enjoying my freedom quite a lot.

Today I ate sushi.  And I don't mean California rolls.  I ate raw salmon on rice.  It was excellent!  I also had red bean ice cream (delicious) and some questionable baked goods that my grandmother had been storing in the back of her freezer for God only knows how long.

Last week I ate pork that I hadn't tested with a meat thermometer when it came out of the oven.  (Ken had taken our digital probe thermometer to work in order to test the hot water temperature at a newly constructed building.  He also took our silicone spatula.  I'm not sure why he took the spatula.)

I'm still a little compulsive around hand-washing.  For example, when I was a teenager I wouldn't have thought twice about eating a hamburger and french fries with my hands after shopping around the mall all day, without scrubbing up first.  This never seemed to harm me.  However, I would have a very hard time doing that today.  I can't help thinking of all the things I touched: door handles, money, the plastic tray you carry your food on...   I read of a study that showed that plastic trays in food courts have as much poop bacteria on them as the average toilet seat.  Now, we never knew that until just recently, and I think it's fair to say that over 99.9 % of people who eat in food courts suffer no ill effects.  However, I will not eat a sandwich with my bare hands in a food court, no thank you very much.

(How do I get around touching food in a food court?  a)  Wrap the item in paper.  b)  Use a fork and knife for items that one would normally consider "finger food".  c)  Don't order anything that needs touching.)

How fussy are you about food?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Mother's Kitchen

Ever since she retired, my mother has spent most of her waking hours in her kitchen.  She's a good cook (although she does tend to over-salt things when she's flustered).  She's one of those Jewish mothers: Eat something!  You're too thin!  Take anything from the pantry!  Have more!  No really, what can I get you?

It's quite lovely, actually.

On my shopping list:  Potato peeler for mom's house.  Of course I want to help out when I'm over there for a family dinner, but anything with a blade in her kitchen is as dull as a letter opener.  Sharp blades are dangerous!  You might cut yourself!  Ken brought over one sharp knife, which she keeps separately in its original plastic sleeve and never uses.  Her potato peeler is one in name only.  You may as well rub the the side of your finger against a raw potato to get the skin off.

My mom never had a microwave oven in her kitchen until she moved last year.  The new house has one built into the cabinetry.  She's afraid of using it, the way some people in the late 19th century were scared of using electricity.  I tried to show her how to at least use it as a digital timer, but I don't think she's got the hang of that either.

In her old house, my mother used a small telephone desk at the end of the kitchen counter as command central for all her papers and plans.  No matter that she had a proper desk in a study.  That room was used for storage only.

Her new house is bigger than the old one.  She no longer has to share a study with my step-dad; there are more than enough rooms in the house for them to each have their own office.    However, she consulted with Ken (who has a good head for design) on how to cram her computer desk into the kitchen.  Yes, you read that right, she wants her computer and main paperwork area in the kitchen.  It's not as if she uses the internet for recipes or cooking how-to tips.  She just likes being in the kitchen, because it's cozy, and that's where the tea is.

I think that Ken and I, between us, may have convinced her that putting her desk in the kitchen is a silly idea.  I mean, her main complaint has always been that she doesn't have enough space for herself and her own projects because my step-dad likes to spread his papers all over the house.  She could have a whole room to herself with a door that closes!  Why cram herself into a corner if she doesn't have to?  And why expose her fancy computer to the humidity, grease, heat, and spills of the kitchen?  Ken, after lengthy arguing against her plan, may have persuaded her, or she may change her mind back again.

All these eccentricities aside, I am always happy to hang out in my mother's kitchen and be fed.  Her cats feel the same way.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bang

This is a list of things that happened at my work this week:

  • A man whom I've worked with for over ten years got very sick and had to be taken to the hospital.
  • A woman whom I've worked with for around five years might be forced out of her job because of a jealous spouse's suspicion that she's having an affair with the man she works with.  I can absolutely guarantee that there is no affair happening.  It breaks my heart to see this poor woman in tears over the situation.  She's done nothing but an excellent job and is getting kicked in the teeth for her troubles.
  • A long-term employee was discovered to have done something sneaky and illegal, which will definitely require them to be canned.  Fortunately this is not my employee.  Unfortunately this is the employee of one of my best friends (another manager).
  • One of my favourite older guys in the organization (what a sweetie!) handed me his letter of resignation (he's retiring). I will miss him.
  • A piece of equipment in my computer server room exploded.  No exaggeration.
  • A computer virus infected our file server. 
These things are on top of all the ongoing drama: peoples' messy divorces going over various bumps in the road; other people's moderately concerning health problems causing worry; squabbles; miscommunications; new people settling in; new computer software settling in; and a quajillion other things that escape me at the moment.  *sigh* 

Today I worked from home.  Often working from home is relaxing.  I can make myself a nice, hot lunch from scratch, and I can take some extra-long breaks if there's nothing in my inbox.  Today the phone never stopped ringing and the e-mails never stopped flowing.  The only advantage to working from home is that I slept in 1.5 hours instead of spending 45 minutes commuting each way.

My work has a high ambient level of drama and disaster.  Usually I can roll with that and still maintain my good humour.  In fact, anything less and I might get bored.  But this week?  This week was off the charts.  The thing that really threw me was the explosion.

I was standing by someone's desk in conversation when we heard a very loud bang, almost like a gunshot, followed by a second, almost-as-loud bang.  I was mildly concerned, but upon looking around I didn't see any immediate disaster.  People in the area were muttering "What was that?", to which someone answered "Probably something fell over" and they all went back to work.  Then someone who'd been closer to the computer room came rushing in, talking very quickly and almost incoherently, followed by two more people who were both loudly proclaiming "Get Spark!  Get Spark! There's been an explosion!"

Er...

Since when did I become the resident expert on explosions?  Like any sane person, my instinct was to run away.  But I am a Leader, and Leaders have to be Responsible, so I put on my game face and marched towards the trouble.

There was definitely a bad, chemical, burning smell in the computer room.  Burning... was something on fire?  I went around behind the rack of computer equipment to assess the situation.  A couple of women were standing in the doorway shouting at me to get away from the computers in case there was another explosion, but I didn't see that I had much choice.  I had to determine whether or not I should pull the fire alarm and evacuate the premises.

I didn't see any signs of smoke or flames, so I immediately called my trusty computer consultant to evaluate the problem.  Their closest representative would take 40 minutes to get there.  I asked if I should shut down all the computer equipment, but everything seemed to be working normally so I was advised to just leave it running.  We proceeded as usual, except that every five minutes I ran back to the computer room just in case some smouldering embers had burst into open flames since I last checked.  It was a very unnerving interval.

It turns out that two of the batteries inside one of our uninterruptible power supplies had blown up. I guess battery acid corroded the casings and caused a short.  The technician said it was due to age.  (They were only three years old!)  When he pulled the metal housing out of the rack, a full hour after the explosions, it was still so hot that he couldn't touch it with his bare hands.  He found some rags in the cleaning closet to use as oven mitts.

Fortunately, although the soldered-on tops of the batteries had blown off, the external casing had contained the force of the blast, and no battery acid had spilled out.  It's a freaking miracle, in my opinion, that no one was hurt and no equipment was damaged other than the batteries themselves.  One of my employees was standing in the room when the explosions occurred.  She just about had herself a heart attack from the first sudden BANG!, but nothing that couldn't be put to rights with a glass of wine (or two, or three) that evening.  If you want, search up some images of "battery explosion" and you'll see how destructive such things can be.

I'd like to hold up a big, red STOP sign to keep any more disasters away, at least for a couple of days until I recuperate my emotional equilibrium.  There have been too many adventures in Sparkland this week.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Baby Spark


Hey look!  It's Baby Spark.  I'm on my grandmother's kitchen floor, with my friend Lemon Head.


You know you're old when: your diapers were fastened with actual metal pins.  So pointy and dangerous!  


Here I am crawling around in my grandmother's backyard.  My grandmother still lives in this house.  I visited her backyard a little while ago.  It was smaller than I remembered it.


Something in my smile in this photo looks very like me now.


Here I am in my parents' bedroom, holding my friend Floppy Kitten in one hand and a lens cap in the other.  


Look at these smooth, shiny golden ringlets!  How much do I wish that my hair still looked like this? Very much.  Nice 70's outfit, too, isn't it?  It's dated all the way down to the shag carpet.


I feel that I look very glamorous in this shot.  I have no idea where I am.  Looks like I'm in a horse-drawn carriage.  Did I perhaps go through a very early Hollywood starlet phase that I don't even remember?  And this was my starring role as a pioneer woman heading out to survive in the wilds of Saskatchewan?


Any pioneer woman worth the title would, of course, have badass riding skills.  As you can see I kicked it up a notch by riding a giraffe.


And that is pretty much all of the baby photos I have in my possession.  The rest of them, perhaps a few dozen, are probably in a box in my mother's basement, among all the other boxes she hasn't unpacked yet since her move in September 2011.  Floppy Kitten has gone missing, but I still have my friend Lemon Head.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Almond Joy

Today was a berry beautiful day.


I woke up early and jumped on the sleepy-guy train, heading downtown.


When I arrived at the mall, I found myself staring up at the rump of a ginormous reindeer.


There were more humungous reindeer further down the mezzanine.  Can you find all three in this picture?


I wandered around the shops, trying to find a gift for my work's Secret Santa exchange, but everything was too damn expensive.  I gave up and stopped in a café for a cup of jasmine tea.  I wish this photo was scratch-n-sniff because the tea smelled heavenly.  I worried when I found something green in my chocolate cake slice, until I remembered that it was a chocolate zucchini loaf.


I coveted some crazy stockings.


Then, bored with shopping, I bought a package of raw, organic almonds and walked to Queen's Park to share them with the squirrels.

Queen's Park was abuzz with activity.  The CityTV crew was there, getting all their tech in place for tomorrow's Santa Claus parade.  A young beardo was walking around, carrying two huge, furry microphones, muttering numbers into them.  Employees with "Security" jackets stood around looking cold.

I found a bench and began handing out almonds.  I think I had around six squirrels in attendance, but it was difficult to tell them apart.  The most aggressive one was black with a white tip on his tail.  I kept trying to explain to him that I had plenty of nuts to go around, but he felt compelled to continually chase the other squirrels away.  As soon as he turned to chase another invader, the one he'd just dominated would sneak back to me.

It was interesting to see the squirrels' competing drives of hunger vs. fear.  When I held out a nut, some squirrels would run straight at me, and then, passing an invisible boundary, would, without slowing down, make a tight U-turn and run away again.  I had to pitch overhand to get nuts to my shyest customers.

Eventually I started getting cold and hungry.  I was down to the bottom of the bag.  I started eating the almonds myself.  The squirrels hung around, staring at me.  Finally a very energetic dog ran into the park, and started flipping out, like:

ERMERGHEEEEEEERD! SQUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURRRRRRLLLLLZZZZZ!!!

And that was pretty much the end of the nut party.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lost and Found

Here are a few disjointed thoughts about my week:

Work is making me loco in the coconut.  I have posted some of my exasperations on Twitter, if you're interested.

Hey, any creepy stalkers out there dying to know what my hair smells like?  It's your lucky day!  I recently discovered Nature's Gate Herbal shampoo and conditioner.  They both smell so deliciously spicy that I can't wait to jump into the shower every morning for my wake-up shot of aromatherapy.

Toronto is a big city.  Sometimes it's mean and coldhearted.  Up in my neighbourhood, near the city limits, people are decent enough to say "Good morning" and "Thank you" to the bus drivers.  Not so downtown.  The the closer to the financial district one travels, the less friendly the locals are.

I had a very pleasant spontaneous conversation with strangers yesterday, in the mid-town area.  I had stopped to visit a green conure parrot at the pet store.  Her name is Lula.  She's been there for a while.  She looks like this:


I was dangling my scarf over the cage and she was trying to bite it.  This is a game that she seems to enjoy.  A woman who looked to be in her early 70's came over and began to chat with me about Lula.

It was nothing special, just remarking on how smart birds can be, and how pretty Lula is.  We had been conversing for a few minutes when a middle-aged man eating a cup of frozen yogurt wandered over and joined us.  He had once had a pet green-cheeked conure.  He said his bird had been very clever and affectionate.  The bird could speak with an impressive vocabulary.  The man did not have his bird's wings clipped because he felt that it was cruel.  Unfortunately he then took his pet outside, and the bird immediately flew away, never to be seen again.

Shortly after that we all said our Good Evenings and went our separate ways, but I was struck by how unusual it was to have made friends while out on the town. I wish that it could happen more often.

And finally, DarcsFalcon encouraged me to post a photo of my new and improved size 3 butt.  I can't disappoint my fans, so here it is:



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Personal Growth

I've put on a few pounds in the past year.

This is a good thing.

A year ago, after my illness, I was a real scrawny chicken.  My butt had gone missing.  My face was kind of pointed and weaselly.  I've always been an ectomorph, but this was a step too far.

I worked diligently at gaining weight.  I started eating an Mbar at snack time daily.  These energy bars boast 380 calories per serving.  (They're also delicious.  I recommend Cherry Chocolate and Pineapple Coconut.)

I gained back all the weight I'd lost, and a few pounds more.  I'm as well-padded as I've ever been, and despite the inconvenience of growing out of my pants, I'm happy about it.  I'm definitely still thin, but no longer scrawny.  People have been telling me that my face has filled out pleasantly.  Also, my butt grew back.

I actually feel warmer.  True fact: fat really does act as insulation!  I'm much more comfortable with a little cushion against the cold.

Up until last week I was squeezing into my old pants, but I finally couldn't take it anymore.  I ran out on Friday for an emergency larger-pants purchase.  I bought 3 pairs at a store where I've never been able to buy pants before, because their smallest size was too big for me.  Now it's just right.

The new pants are at the shop being hemmed.  Until then I'm wearing only my pants that contain at least 3% Spandex.  Thank heaven for a little give.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pets

I miss having a pet. 

I always lived with at least one cat until Ken (Mr. Allergic) moved in.  Since then I've had to make do with houseplants.  There was that one winter when a snail lived in one of the potted plants that we brought in from the patio.  Sammy.  He was a good boy.  He went back outdoors in the springtime and we never saw him again.

Then there were the Sea Monkeys, but they were neither cute nor cuddly.  They were mainly a pain in the rear.

If Ken and I move into a bigger home next year, I'll be able to have a pet.  We can designate a room for my hobbies, and Ken can stay away from it if there are furred or feathered creatures in there that make him sneezy.  I've been considering my options.

1)  Guinea Pig


Oops - wrong picture!
I meant:



Aw, isn't he/she cute?  GP's are adorable, and unlike some other rodents they are sensible and do their sleeping at night.  They are social animals, so if you want happy guinea pigs you need to put at least two together in the cage.

2)  Bird:


I like the idea of having a really smart bird and teaching it to talk.  On the other hand, I'd feel bad leaving such an intelligent creature locked up in a cage with nothing to do all day. I wouldn't be as interested in having a bird of ordinary intelligence.  I prefer a pet that I can interact with.  If I can't snuggle it, it had better be able to chat with me.

3)  Hedgie


These guys are super-cute, and have some very handy qualities.  They're not rodents, so you can let them out of their cage to have a stroll without worrying that they're going to make a beeline for your computer desk and chew through all the cables.  Also, some of them can learn to use a litterbox.  (Unfortunately you can't tell until you try if your hedgie will be cooperative in that department.)  Also unfortunately, they are nocturnal, so you don't get much facetime during the day.  Fortunately, however, they are solitary animals, so they don't mind hanging out all by themselves.

4) Chubby-face Fish


I just want to moosh this guy's blobbulous cheeks.  I'm not sure how much I'd enjoy keeping fish.  I'm a little concerned that the novelty might wear off pretty quickly and that tank-cleaning duty would be a hassle.  On the other hand, they are beautiful and soothing.  They are quiet, they don't scratch or chew, and they don't shed.

You tell me: which pet should I get?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Investing

I almost got involved in a real estate investment.  Last month I was hyped and ready to sign off on it, but Ken felt squeamish.  Thank goodness for that.  I mean, I don't think it was a scam, but it probably wasn't as good as it looked either.

This was the investment opportunity.  The company, let's call them Big Grin Sales Inc., buys up oldish concrete high rise apartment buildings.  They make some improvements to them, legally divide them into condo units, and sell the units to individual investors at a profit.  It's the same idea as buying a large pizza for $5.99, dividing it into 12 slices, and selling the slices for $1 each.  That's where BGS Inc. makes their money.

The units are legally transferred to investors, however the tenants who live in them remain.  The tenants shouldn't notice any difference in their experience of living in the building, except maybe the lobby's a little spruced up.  The tenants continue to pay rent every month, and that rent goes to pay off the investor's mortgage.

There's also a Rental Pool agreement.  Let's say there are 100 condo units in the building, all owned by investors, and lived in by tenants.  Everyone gets 100% of their rent every month.  Then one tenant moves out, and that unit sits empty for 2 months until the management company finds someone else to live there.  Instead of that one investor missing two months of rent while everyone else continues to collect, the loss is shared amongst all the investors.  Everyone gets 99% of their rent until the vacancy is filled.

I had saved up some money and was looking for a safe place to invest it.  These days you can't even keep it safe stuffed under your mattress, because inflation will eat away at its value.  I'm totally over mutual funds.  I held some in my RRSP for several years, and the value kept dropping.  Every year I would complain to my bank and every year they would throw fancy phrases back at me.  "Long haul investing!"  "Dollar cost averaging!"  Whatever.  After the third year in a row of losing value, I cashed out and switched it all into GIC's.  It's earning a pittance of interest, but at least it's not shrinking.

I get really annoyed with my bank.  I'm a saver by nature, and when they see that they can't wait to get their hot little hands on my money.  Every time my chequing account rises over a certain limit, I get a phone call from the bank.  Some honey-voiced woman called "Melissa" or "Katie" helpfully wants to talk me into buying, you guessed it, mutual funds.  It makes me want to punch them through the phone.

Anyhoo, due to Ken's reluctance, I looked into this real estate opportunity a little further.  Amazingly, I found a couple of real estate lawyers willing to spend time giving me free advice over the telephone.  Lawyers?  Working for free?  *shrugs*  Just when you think you've seen everything...

The bottom line was that the rental pool condos don't tend to be a very liquid asset.  Because they're just rental units, without their own washer and dryer, and lived in by tenants who may not take very good care of them, they're difficult to sell.  You have to find someone else who wants in on the investment scheme.  Either that or you take your chances ending up with a scruffy, cigarette-smoke-smelling unit that you could lose money on in a sale.

So I've pretty much given up on that idea and instead Ken and I are going to do our real estate investing by moving to a bigger home.  We want to move from a two-bedroom flat into a three-bedroom townhouse in our current condo complex.  Maybe sometime next summer.  I'm already planning how I'm going to use all the extra space.  So exciting!  :-)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Soft Skills

One of the "soft skills" I wish that we all learned in primary school is how to check in with each other on how we're feeling.  It doesn't seem to be common knowledge in this culture we're living in.  That's a shame, because it could help us to avoid a lot of stress and conflict.

Here's an example.  I was at work, speaking with a woman to has a tendency towards sarcasm, and she made a comment which I wasn't sure how to take.  I didn't know whether or not she was being sarcastic.  I slept on it overnight, and when I woke up I still felt irked by what she might be implicating.  So I asked her to speak with me in my office.

I said "Remember the other day when you said [insert ambiguous phrase here]?"  She remembered.  "Were you being sarcastic when you said that?  Because I wasn't sure how to take it."  She claimed that she was not being sarcastic.  OK, I'm her boss, so maybe she had been sarcastic and wasn't owning it, but I still felt better for having spoken with her.  I got my bad feelings off my chest without attacking her for them, and she had a chance to either clear up the misunderstanding, or gracefully take an out while still getting the message that I wasn't happy with what she said.  It was a win-win situation, and when we were all done there were no more ugly feelings kicking around underfoot.

Whenever possible, I train my staff to check in with each other.  Sometimes when I have to facilitate a conflict that involves a long history of people getting on each others' nerves, I simply have them both agree to call a time-out when things are starting to escalate.  Either one of them can say "Hold on a minute.  I feel like you're getting upset with me.  What's going on?"  or  "Woah, you just raised your voice.  Do you want to take a break and come back and speak with me when you've calmed down?"  The point is not to be condescending, but to be genuinely concerned and helpful.  If it doesn't work, they can get me involved.

Just the other day I discovered that sparks had flown between Employee X and Employee Y.   X was in Y's office, doing something that was a part of her job.  Y felt that X was not respecting Y's personal boundaries.  Y therefore felt justified in speaking to X with an offensive attitude.  X hadn't had any intention of causing offence, therefore she felt unjustly attacked, and snapped back.  Y, who felt that X had it coming, didn't back down.  It ended with bad feelings on both sides.

When the exchange was reported to me, I assured Y that, while I could see her side of the story, I knew X well enough to vouch for the fact that she would not deliberately cross Y's boundaries.  I explained to Y that X is one of those people who doesn't naturally have a good sense of boundaries, but that once they are explicitly explained to her, she'll respect them.  I said to Y that X would probably put her foot in it again, because she's done that regularly around the office, but if Y could just approach her gently next time, and check in before attacking, I was sure things could be resolved peacefully.  Y agreed to give it a try.  I assured Y that if X was uncooperative I would personally sort things out.

We could all benefit from taking a breather before going on the attack.  We could all benefit from checking in with others before acting on the assumption that they meant to push our buttons.  It's as much of a benefit in one's personal life as it is at work.  I don't manage to do it all the time, but when I fail, there's always that other technique: offering an apology and asking for a do-over.

Can you imagine if we all learned these things in primary school?  I didn't pick up the techniques until I was a student at a psychotherapy school a few years ago.  It's so blindingly obvious once someone shows you how to do it, but until then, we struggle and get hurt.  Spread the word!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Funwashing

My workplace is in transition from being a small, family-owned business to becoming a proper, corporate environment.  We are having some growing pains.  To help us out, my bosses hired a consultant to offer helpful suggestions, and brainwash the employees.

Note:  Names of people and programs in this post have been changed to protect... me.

The consultant, I'll call him Barry, gave a long presentation to the entire company about his program of improvement, which is called "Think Like a Boss".  The goal of the program is to improve the business's profitability while at the same time improving the workplace environment for the employees.  Everyone is supposed to have loads of FUN implementing the Action Plans.

Barry had some sensible ideas to offer.  For example, he made the point to everyone on staff that "entitlement" is a problem  He defined "entitlement" as "feeling that one deserves a reward without having worked for it or otherwise fulfilled the criteria of being deserving of said reward".  For example, the employee who feels it's unfair that he didn't get the promotion to a management position, because he's been working for the company longer than the person who was promoted.

Maybe working for some companies is so much like being in jail that "time served" is all it takes to move ahead.  Not where I work, thank God.  There are a few other items to consider, such as organizational skills, the ability to stay calm under stress, communication skills, patience, etc.  So that was a point that I agreed with.

Other points, not so much.  For example, in a smaller meeting with the Key Personnel in the organization, Barry gave us guff for not having a marketing plan.  We do have a marketing consultant who does work for us on an as-needed basis, but there's no plan in place.  Barry looked at all of those assembled, expecting someone to put up his or her hand to volunteer as the leader of the Marketing Plan Team.  We all sat on our hands.

When Barry didn't get the message that none of us had the time or expertise to take on the project, I stated this directly.  "Oh," he said, "marketing's easy.  There's nothing to it!  I can give you the four main points of marketing right now."  I sat up in my chair, prepared to be enlightened.  "All you need to know is Who, Where, When, and How!"  proclaimed Barry.  And that was all he had to say to me on the subject.

Um, say what was that now?  Some flaming b.s., is what it was.  I shot back at him "But you could say that about anything!"  I mean, heck, why don't we plan a trip to the moon?  After all, all we need to know is Who is going (us), Where we're going (the moon), When (a.s.a.p.) and How (with some metal, a soldering iron, and team spirit).  Right?  

The other thing is that he wanted us to give cute names to all our Action Items.  For example, we could call a paper-saving plan "If a Tree Falls in the Forest, We Hear!"  Because, as all y'all know, that's how to make things FUN!  *epic eyeroll*

Anyhoo, the bottom line is that I believe the program will be good for the company, if we can get past the goofy parts.  I also like Barry a lot.  His enthusiasm is genuine, and he was very patient with the Key Personnel and our huge collective load of cynicism.  The proof will be in the pudding.  (Mmmm.... pudding...)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thoughts of the Week

1)  I have a favourite pair of comfy pants and a favourite comfy shirt that I wear around the house.  I bought them from different stores at different times.  They both developed holes this week.  :-(  What is up with that?  *sulks*

2)  On Thursday I was exposed to undercooked chicken, courtesy of a catered lunch at my workplace.  Among the other dishes, there were cubes of meat that had obviously been cooked on kebab skewers.  I took four.  Because I'm kind of paranoid about food that I haven't prepared myself, I cut them in half before I ate them.  The last one was red inside.  Not pink, not ambiguous - full-on raw.  Then I couldn't remember if I'd checked all of the other pieces.  I felt a little nauseated and nervous.  So did the people around me, who'd been merrily eating away without a care in the world until that moment.  I Googled "salmonella" and found that it normally has an incubation period of 6 - 72 hours.  I am now at hour 73!  And I'm fine!  Take that, salmonella.

3)  I've been doing a lot of hiring at work recently; I've filled three positions in the past month.  In one of my latest interviews, one of the candidates had worked for a fancy retail store with a three-syllable name.  She consistently mispronounced the name of the store throughout the interview.  Wow.  Just, wow.  Well, that was an easy way to eliminate a candidate.  (And yes, English was her first language.)

4)  Relative to my husband and parents, I would describe myself politically as a left-leaning moderate.  However, the limits of my leftiness have been tested recently by our free, promotional subscription to the Toronto Star, Toronto's lefty daily newspaper.  Every year or two they drop it off on our doorstep for a couple of months gratis, and then they call and try to talk us into a continued subscription.  Ha!  Not happening.  I just can't get with their point of view.  For example, they wrote  an article about a "Pumpkin Parade" that's a tradition in a neighbourhood park.  It used to be that people would show up with jack-o-lanterns to display, everyone would admire them, and in the morning city workers would show up to remove all the pumpkins from the park.  The city says they will no longer pay for the clean-up.  The citizens are pouting.  Hey, I have an idea: clean up your own mess!  Everyone who wants to contribute a pumpkin can write their name on it with a marker, and in the morning they're responsible for returning to the park to dispose of their pumpkin. Remember kids: it's your job to clean up your own toys!  Are you guys with me on this?

5)  I don't know who curates the contributions to The Meta Picture, but a lot of them really tickle my funny bone.  Like this one.  Or this one.  And this one.  Have fun!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Toner Bomb

I work with a woman; let's call her Stella.  Stella was using one of our fax machines when it ran out of toner.  She retrieved a fresh bottle of toner from the supplies cabinet, gave it a little shake, and installed it in the machine.

The machine said "I am out of toner.  Give me toner."  Stella said "I just gave you a bottle of toner."  The machine said "Give me toner or I will not perform any further duties."

Stella reasoned that that particular bottle of toner must be faulty, so she retrieved a different bottle from the supplies cabinet, gave it a little shake, and installed it in the machine.  The machine said "I am all out of toner.  How do you expect me to print anything for you when I don't have any toner?"  Stella said "I have just given you a second, brand new bottle of toner.  What more do you want from me?"  The machine answered "I must have toner, woman.  Give me toner or give me death."

Stella retrieved the third, and last, spare bottle of toner from the supplies cabinet.  As indicated on the instructions, she gave it a little shake and installed it in the machine.  The machine said "Why do you deprive me so?  All I ask for is a little toner so that I can do my job.  Do you delight in my empty cartridge?  Are you mocking me?"  Stella said "I promise you, I am trying to give you toner.  Can't you acknowledge the new bottle I just put into you?"  The machine wouldn't answer her.

Stella, according to her version of the story, then presumed that she must not have shaken the bottles of toner with sufficient vigour to activate them.  She removed the third new bottle, replaced the lid firmly (she claims), and then shook it very vigorously.

The lid flew off.  The plastic dispenser under the lid also flew off.

A huge plume of super-fine toner dust exploded into the copy room and spread out like a mushroom cloud.  Stella froze.  The haze of particles swirled lazily, and slowly began to settle.  Stella paused for one moment, in the evil inverse of a well-shaken snow globe, and then ran from the room.

Due to the laws of aerodynamics, a considerable amount of black toner cloud was sucked from the room into the hallway, in Stella's slipstream.

By the time the dust cloud had settled, there was a big, BIG mess.  Toner all over the floor, the walls, the surfaces, the copy machine, the papers that were spread out on the file cabinets.  The layer of toner under the epicentre of the explosion was thick, splashed out in an uneven star shape, as though there had been an actual fire that had burned its mark into the floor.

Of course it was my responsibility to deal with the problem.

First I called the technician that services the machine.  He said he'd get there as soon as he could.  (That turned out to be 2.5 business days later.  Nice service, guys!)

I also called the guy who runs our cleaning service.  He said "Hey, no problem, I have a shop-vac with a HEPA filter.  We'll have you ship-shape by tomorrow."  (You can't use a regular vacuum to clean up a big toner spill because the fine powder will sift through the bag into the motor and break it.)  I felt extremely relieved to learn that he could help me.

I came in the next morning and the room looked exactly the same.  I called the cleaner and he said "We had a little problem with the shop vac.  I think I have another one in storage. I'll try again tonight."

At this point I was desperate to get the situation cleaned up.  The mess in the hall was getting tracked all over the office, and we were missing the use of the copy room.  You can't sweep toner (it's too fine) or clean it up with water (it turns into black paint), so I did the only thing I could think of.  I went to the store and bought a 32-pack of Swiffer (TM) dusting cloths.  Then a co-worker and I put on masks and rubber gloves and went down on our hands and knees to Swiffer the floor.

We used up the 32 dusting cloths in pretty short order.  We managed to clean up a little less than half of the mess.  My mask wasn't very well-fitted.  I had a sinus headache that evening, and I sneezed toner dust for a few hours.

Thank heaven, my cleaner's second shop vac did the trick.  I arrived the next morning to a perfectly clean copy room.  Apparently I needn't have bothered with the Swiffers.  However, in case you ever run across a similar situation, they are pretty handy at picking up toner.  I just wouldn't recommend them for the scale of the explosion in my particular case.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Grand Tour

Today I met a girlfriend at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  We timed our arrival to coincide with one of the gallery tours.  The website said that it would be one of the following: African; Canadian; Contemporary; or European.  Luck of the draw!  Good enough for me.

As it turned out, they had lots of volunteers on the schedule for today, so we got to choose between all four tours.  My friend elected to view the African art.  I was game.  I'm always happy to learn something new, about any subject.

The tour guide seemed warm and friendly.  That was encouraging.  She brought us into the gallery and explained that the entire collection was donated by a man by the name of Murray Frum.  Then she told us a bit about herself while we milled about in the gallery entrance.  A couple of people wandered a few steps over to a case to admire some terra cotta figures.  Our guide said "Those are the terra cotta figures."  Yes, thank you.

Okay, moving along...  We stepped into the gallery proper.  She gestured at some masks hanging on the wall.  "Those are masks," she told us.  "They were used in rituals."  Huh, sounds interesting.  Tell us more!  She peered at the printed explanation on the display.  "These are from the Ivory Coast," she read to us.  "They are from the 1700's or 1800's."  Er, fascinating.

She brought us over to a sculpture of a male and female figure.   Can you guess what she told us next?  "This is a sculpture of a man and a woman.  The man is touching the woman, symbolizing that they are connected."  One of the visitors asked "Why is the man's torso represented by a rectangle and the woman's is more detailed?"  "Because," our guide told us, brilliantly demonstrating an example of 'begging the question', "his shoulders are squared off."

The rest of the tour continued in the same vein.  For the most part, our guide seemed satisfied to lead us around the gallery, pointing out the obvious.  "This chair is decorated with shells."  "This mask has three noses and four eyes."  She would have been the woman for the job for a tour group comprised of blind people.

We all politely stuck around for the full half-hour.  This lady was so sweet, none of us wanted to hurt her feelings.  We wandered around a bit and read the display blurbs on our own.  They weren't much more help.  Most of them gave a country of origin and a two-century approximate time-span, and that was about it.  Some of them described the materials as "hair" or "plant fibre" without specifying whose hair/fur or what type of plant.  I guess no one knows.

Once we were released from the tour, we wandered around the Canadian gallery, which was a much more satisfying experience.  There's nothing like a room full of snowy Group Of Seven paintings to make one look forward to winter.  (So white!  So blue!  So brilliantly sunny!)  Then we went to the café where my friend had a coffee and I had the world's best banana chocolate chip muffin.

My friend and I plan to go back to the AGO again soon.  (My mom gave me her second membership card, so I can get myself and a guest in free anytime.)   Next time I'll offer to lead my friend on a tour.  "This is a painting of a woman.  It's in a gold frame.  It's pretty old, so she's wearing a big hat."  :-)


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sick Husband

Ken has had a mild cold for the past few days.  He only had a sore throat and fatigue, and I thought he might bounce back pretty quickly, but unfortunately it has moved down into his chest.  When Ken gets a chest cold it triggers his normally dormant asthma.

When Ken's asthma comes on it can do so quickly and with a vengeance.  I have spent all morning listening to his coughing fits with close attention, trying to determine whether he's catching his breath again or whether I should dash to the phone to call 911.

Of course I called the pharmacy as soon as Ken's coughing fits started sounding like a drowning sea lion.  We had been careful to ensure that he had repeats left on both of his asthma medications.  Hey guess what!  He's been healthy and asthma-free for too long!  Since his remaining prescriptions were first written in 2009, the pharmacist can't fill them!  For the love of...

Given the choice between taking a cab to the closest urgent care centre (an Ontario government invention which is halfway between a walk-in clinic and an emergency room) or calling the MedVisit house call service, Ken elected to stay at home.  So now we wait for a travelling family doctor who will come by to assess Ken anytime between 1 pm and 10 pm.  I'm really hoping it's sooner rather than later.

It's pretty cool, and heaven knows I'm grateful that all these services, including the house call, are covered by OHIP (the Ontario Health Insurance Plan).  I just hate hearing Ken struggle to breathe.  It's so frightening.  Stupid College of Pharmacist regulations - why can't they just sell me a damn inhaler?

UPDATE:  Big shout-out to the travelling Dr. Rabindranath and our local pharmacist.  Ken is now medicated and feeling much better.  :-)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bubbles

Yesterday I visited my 96-year-old grandmother.  She never ceases to amaze me.  Her memory is at least as sharp as mine, and she's funnier than most stand-up comedians.

My grandmother signs her e-mails "Love, Bubbe".  Bubbe, or buby, or bubby, is a Yiddish word that doesn't have an official English spelling.  My other grandmother goes by Buby.  My mother has an odd habit of spelling it "Bobby".  Anyway, I was texting someone that I was visiting Bubbe, and my phone auto-corrected it to "Bubbles".

If you knew my grandmother, you'd understand why this is hilarious.  Bubbe is the least ditzy person you can imagine.  Sharp as a tack, practical and down-to-earth, she's just not the type of person you would nickname "Bubbles".  It's funny like the time I texted that I was on my way to a massage and got auto-corrected to "massacre".  Ah, nothing relaxes me at the end of a long day like a good hour-long massacre!

I haven't visited my other grandmother (Buby, or Bobby, as you prefer) in a while, not since my mother told me that they've been having trouble getting her to bathe.  Buby/Bobby has three daughters looking in on her almost daily, plus live-in caregivers.  She's batty enough to defer basic hygiene, but lucid and eloquent enough to resist all the stratagems everyone is using to try to get her clean.  I'm not sure what the next step will be, but I think I'm going to put off seeing her while she's stinky.  She's got lots of people paying attention to her.

Bubbe and I had a good time together.  I showed her my CNE photos, and then we figured out how to program speed-dial numbers into her new cordless phone.  She's good company.  I hope she doesn't decide to stop showering anytime soon.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Grown-ups Fail

One of the scariest parts of getting older is coming to the realization that most grown-ups are pretty messed up and don't know what they're doing any more than you do.  At this point I've basically come to terms with that reality, but sometimes I still get let down.

I'm the I.T. gal at work, but my expertise only goes so far.  I rely on a consulting company to send help when it comes to tricky problems or installations.  Their staff are all relatively bright and thoughtful guys, and I've gotten to know a couple of them who are most often assigned to my workplace.

Last week our usual guys were both on vacation, so when I needed some installation work done they sent a guy I'd only seen a couple of times before.

I won't bore you with the technical details, but I had gotten a quote from Infrequent Guy's boss the week before for the addition of some new gadgets to our network.  I hoped/assumed that the boss had downloaded all of his plans to Infrequent Guy before sending him out to do the work.

IG showed up; I handed him the boxes of new equipment; got him settled in the server room; and let him alone to do his work.  When he was finished he stopped by my office to let me know he was on his way out.  I asked him if he could spare a minute to show me what he had done, because I like to keep on top of any changes to our network.

He took me to the server room and showed me what he'd done.  Trust me when I say it made no sense to me.  The idea had been to isolate a certain part of the network so as not to let the traffic generated by our new gadgets interfere with the rest of the network.  The way IG had plugged in the cables and equipment, even to my rudimentary understanding, obviously did not accomplish that goal.  In fact, it accomplished exactly nothing.  Other than adding some more cables to our setup, the flow of data traffic had not been changed in any significant way.

I asked IG to explain what I was seeing.  He agreed that what he had just done didn't accomplish anything.  I said "So basically we've spent X hundred dollars for no reason at all?"  Only then did IG offer to call the head office to get more information.  Turns out he had misunderstood what he was supposed to do, and the phone call cleared it up.  The problem would be solved.

But that doesn't answer this question:  Why would an experienced professional "install" a piece of equipment uselessly, knowing full well he was wasting his time and my money, and not take the initiative to call the head office himself?

If I hadn't asked him to show me his work, he would have cheerfully whistled his way out to the car park and driven off into the sunset.  This from a grown man who looks like a responsible and reliable citizen, who charges a big bucks hourly rate for his services.

Good thing I'm not just some dumb girl, like he was probably thinking.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

CNE 2012, a photo essay


When I attend the Canadian National Exhibition fair every year, the first place I always head is the petting zoo.  As an animal lover living in a big city with a fur-and-feathers-intolerant husband, I am creature-deprived.  I love being slobbered on by furry-lipped farm friends.  The goats, sheep, and llamas at the petting zoo are always happy to oblige.


Bring on the noms.

When I've had my fill of the petting zoo, I head straight for the farm building, where various agribusiness interests (Dairy Farmers of Canada, Egg Farmers of Canada, etc.) display items/creatures of interest and are available to answer questions.  For example, how long does it take a mechanical milking machine to milk a cow?  5 to 7 minutes.  Then they apply "teat dip" to make sure the cow's udder stays healthy. Do not confuse this with chip dip; it probably doesn't taste very good.


Piglet frenzy!

These piglets were frolicking so energetically that it was impossible to get a non-blurry photo of them.  They were running around and doing a bunny-like jump-wiggle move in mid-air.


Disapproving ostrich.


Timbit the Little Pony


Hey lady, make with the noms, or get out of my face.
(A.k.a. Minature Pony Side-Eye)


Alpacas


Alpaca mug shots.

Can you identify the alpaca in the first photo?


Does this shade of brown make my butt look big?



Nom delishus fence.

This 8-month old heifer (female calf) decided that my right arm looked tasty.  She stuck out her big, rough cow tongue and gave it a thorough licking.  If you are familiar with the roughness of a cat's tongue, a cow's tongue is like that x 10.  I was thoroughly exfoliated.  I didn't care, because I was busy rubbing her velvety neck with my left hand.  Baby cows are so lovely!

After I had been thoroughly slobbered upon, I went to wash up at one of the hand-wash stations they have set up throughout the farm building for that very purpose.  I lathered up to my elbows with antibacterial soap, like they do on Grey's Anatomy.  Well, that soap was pretty irritating to my raw right arm.  The freshly licked areas turned bright red.  My arm burned, stung, and tingled for a full 20 minutes.  I was all OMG I HAVE COW BURN!  Someone call for first aid!  But it settled down and this morning my arm is fine.

After that I was in the mood for some noms myself, so I sought out the food building.

The CNE has made a habit of featuring a new gross extreme food item every year, ever since they introduced deep-fried Mars bars.  After that it was deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried Twinkies, even so-called deep-fried butter.  I guess they decided that the novelty of deep-frying unhealthy crap had worn off, because this year they introduced the Eclair Dog.


Like us on Facebook? I don't think so!

I didn't see anyone eating an Eclair Dog.  I'm not sure if that makes me feel relieved or disappointed.

After lunch I shopped around the mall area and bought a couple of little trinkets.  Then I ended the day with a little of this guy:


I am a professional Rock Balancer.

Does he travel the country balancing rocks at special events year-round?  Does he specialize in rocks, or can you ask him to balance anything?


The fruits of his labour

It's impressive, but I wonder how you get onto this career path.  Was this what his guidance counsellor suggested?  "Jerry, you're failing every subject, but we're impressed by your ability to stand your pencil on end.  I think you need to focus on your strengths.  I mean, strength."

And that was about it!  I sure didn't have time to see everything, so you never know, there may be a second instalment coming soon.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Busy

This week has been packed, mostly with work.  Our new computer software that was supposed to be an upgrade is like an idiot savant that doesn't know how to tie its own shoes.  It can do all sorts of fancy things that the other program couldn't do, but those are nice-to-haves.  It falls flat on the must-haves, unfortunately.  Data entry is taking 4 x as much time as it used to due to the limitations on macros.  Therefore guess who has taken whom a buttload of data to enter this weekend?  Yes, very good, it's me.

I also haven't done any housework in two weeks, so I need to catch up on some basic cleanliness around here.

I have a haircut scheduled, because if my hair gets any pouffier people are going to start calling me "Fluffy".

And this afternoon I am committed to spending some time with a friend who is going through a major personal crisis.  She's a young mother of two going through an ugly divorce from a total a**hole, and he's being cruel to her through his lawyer at every opportunity.  She's seriously a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  At the moment her parents, whom she usually turns to for support, are away on vacation.  Ken and I are going to her place to hang out and keep her company.

So in other words I have a packed schedule - all very meaningful, but woah.  I won't mind when things slow down a bit!  OK, off I go to do lots of stuff.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

My Hero

It is with no excess of grace that my Big Computer Project has come galumphing to the end of its first phase.  I had planned it to flow as smoothly as a professional ballet dancer performing the waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  Instead, it staggered to its painful conclusion like a sloppy drunk.  However, with a few scrapes and bruises, we got somewhere.  We're using the new software, albeit clumsily.  I'll have to do a lot of polishing up before I can say this project is a success.

The trainer who was with us all week, (I'll call her Jill), is my hero.  She really did come through hell and high water to help us, and then continued to go above and beyond the call of duty every day.

I wouldn't say that everything that could go wrong did go wrong, as that would be overstating the case.  However, sometimes it felt like it was true.  For example, Monday morning started out with a series of technical glitches as Jill struggled to get access to our test database on the laptop computer which was hooked up to her overhead projector.  Nevertheless, we found a (clumsy) workaround and got the first training session up and running.

At lunchtime, she asked where she could find the closest available restaurant for lunch.  I directed her to a café in our building.  I had eaten there once and it was fine.  So off she went.  They served her undercooked chicken.  She had already swallowed a bit when she noticed it was raw inside.  We both prayed that she wouldn't get food poisoning.

Of course she got food poisoning.

Jill, being an absolute trooper, dosed herself up with Pepto and Immodium, and showed up after an awful night of technicolour yawns to teach a full day.  God only knows how she did it.  My hat is off to her.  She is one tough cookie.  (That was Tuesday.)

On Wednesday, halfway through the day of training, users' security privileges started disappearing.  It turns out that a configuration questionnaire which I filled in almost a year ago, which no one had explained to me, was being used to set up security access profiles.  On the questionnaire I had been asked to list everyone's "roles".  So, for example, I put myself down as an "administrator", because that's what I do in the organization: I administrate.  Turns out that in the software, "administrator" means "lowest level clerk who has access to nothing".  I had to call the software head office to get my Power User privileges restored so that I could go in and fix all the other profiles.

On Thursday Jill had to leave early on a personal matter.  She revealed to me that her mother has terminal cancer and she had to meet with a doctor to discuss palliative care.  "It's a terrible disease," she told me.  I said something sympathetic. She continued:  "When my son was diagnosed it was only months until he died."  Turns out her son, who was only 31, passed away a mere 6 months ago.  Frankly I'm amazed that she's able to function at all under the circumstances, let alone deal with all the b.s. that was going on with our project.

Friday you wouldn't even believe.  Jill was at the office at 6:45 am, to support my earliest staffer on our first day live with the new software.  She ran around all day, troubleshooting a staggering kaleidoscope of problems, amongst 10 panicked employees all clamouring for her attention.

As with any change, everyone was stressed out and fussing.  One of my ladies was literally panting with anxiety because she couldn't figure out the details of the software.   Jill would turn to me and say "So-and-so is feeling very upset because she can't print labels."  Off I would go to troubleshoot another label printer.  (I must have spent at least two hours on the phone with remote tech support fiddling with the stupid label printers.)  I could read between the lines of what Jill was saying, which was "I'm here despite grieving my son, in the process of losing my mother, and still nauseous and exhausted from food poisoning, and this twit is leaning on me for emotional support because of a printer glitch."  Indeed.  Despite this she stayed calm and professional throughout her 10-hour day.  I was the only one she talked to about any of the things she was going through.

At the end of Friday I presented her with a thank-you card signed by all the staff. (I had been circulating it since Wednesday, after the food-poisoning incident.)  I had also picked out a scented candle in a glass holder for her.  She hugged me, thanked me profusely, and then hugged me again.  She said she wouldn't read the card until later because it would probably make her cry.

I'm not sure if I'll ever see Jill again, but she made a big impression on me.  I'll never forget her steadfastness and inner strength.  You want a strong female role model? Or just an amazingly inspiring person, full stop?  I've got one right here with a heart of gold and a will of steel.  Anytime I'm going through several varieties of crap all at once, I'm going to think of her, and smile.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ready, steady...

I'm almost ready for next week, when my big computer project is being implemented.  I'm setting my alarm for 5:30 am on Monday morning.  I've stocked up on food supplies to make sure that I have plenty to grab for lunches and snacks.  It's going to be intense.

Among other things, I bought bottled peach yogurt smoothies.  Mmm, yummy.  Why should you care?  Because...

I haven't consumed dairy products since I was 23.  I had IBS and eliminating dairy really helped.  But since I brought wheat back online it got me to thinking.  I haven't had any regular tummy troubles in many years.  Maybe I could eat dairy now?  So I tried.  And I can.  Just recently I ate cheese for the first time in 16 years.  It's pretty freaking awesome.  (You may assume that I mean "being able to eat dairy products is awesome" or you may assume that I mean "cheese is awesome".  Both statements are true.)

So.  Now I am eating All The Things.  Except spicy things.  You can keep the spicy things.  I'll take the cake, ice cream, and macaroni and cheese.

I took myself out shopping today.  My main goal was to pick up a couple of bras.  Not my favourite activity, but a must-do once a year.  Boys, all imma say is you're lucky you don't have to deal with this.  What a pain up the arse.  I got lucky this year - I went to the store armed with a model number and size that fits me and it's still available!  That's the best possible scenario.  No need for the change room.  Just grab a few off the rack, pay, and run.  Trying on bras is even more frustrating and irritating than trying on jeans, if you can believe that.  Ladies, you know what I mean.

I had to walk through a sock sale to get to the lingerie department.  First I thought "I'm just going to walk straight through and not look right or left because oooh those are cute, hey how 'bout those?"  Then I had to look at every pair of socks in the department, because I'm a little sock-crazy.

I found some neat-o anklets made from recycled pop bottles.  They were being sold in 6-packs, original price $20, down to $9.  I couldn't choose between the pastel rainbow and the brights rainbow, so I got one of each.  Yup, that's a lot of socks.  But my philosophy is one can never have too many.

So anyway, wish me luck for next week!  :-)


Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Top Hat Café

Let it be known far and wide that the Top Hat Café at Trent Bingo Palace in Toronto serves fries and gravy that are a gateway to hedonistic bliss.  Did I win at Bingo?  No!  Do I care?  No!  The whole evening was worth it for those unbelievable fries.


You can see the Top Hat Café here in all its glamorous glory: sneeze-guard, stacks of styrofoam cups, and the Special of the Day whiteboard.  Don't tell me that's not classy.  Their logo is a top hat.  What could be classier than that?

The purple bingo ladies agree.  You can see them above, enjoying a sandwich.  They are wearing matching purple shirts and all-purple accessories.  Their dabbers are purple.  I don't know if you can make it out, but the lady facing the camera is wearing reading glasses with lavender-tinted lenses.  I thought that was pretty cool.

Contrast this with The Pickle Barrel, a restaurant with several locations in the Toronto area.  When I was a kid there was only one location. It was a homey diner that specialized in smoked meat deli sandwiches and chicken soup with matzoh balls.  Now, after some serious re-branding, they've gone all fancy schmancy.

Don't get me wrong - I like The Pickel Barrel.  I've had some very good meals there.  But tonight I ate at the Yonge and Eglinton location, and my meal was so lacklustre that it almost wasn't worth the effort of chewing and swallowing.

I ordered a burger with fries, gravy, and coleslaw.  The only thing on my plate that had any taste to it at all was the coleslaw.  The burger was completely bland until I spiced it up with a pickle and condiments.  The fries were limp and pulpy.  Even the gravy was lukewarm and lumpy.  Ken ordered chicken wings, and he too was completely unimpressed with his food.  Come on, Pickle Barrel.  Kick it up a notch!

I also have to mention that I saw a grown man behaving like a child today.  I'll let you be the judge of whether or not this was a good thing.  He was with his nine-year-old niece at the playground - I know this because his sister-in-law was sitting next to me on a park bench and we got to chatting.

The man sat himself down on a swing and pumped as hard as he could until he couldn't swing any higher.  Then he started yelling to get his niece's attention.  "JULIE!  JULIE LOOKOUT, I'M COMING TO GET YOU!"  Then (and here I should mention that he looked to be around 50 years old and not super-fit) at the peak of a swing he jumped off.  I missed the jump, but my attention was caught by the dust-cloud he raised when he fell hard on the sandy ground.  Ken and I winced together, but he rolled out of it and was off chasing his niece in a flash, with a huge grin on his face.

I had to laugh.  I mean, the enthusiasm of this guy.  He wasn't too cool for school, that's for darn sure.  He was having way more fun than any of the other adults in the playground.

When Ken I and got up to leave he was on the teeter totter with his niece, yelling "TEETER TOTTER TEETER TOTTER!"  He didn't show any signs of being developmentally delayed, if that's what you're thinking.  He was a fully functioning grown man enjoying himself in a way that pushed the boundaries of social acceptability, but was generally speaking harmless.  I just hope he's not too sore tomorrow.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder

In case you hadn't noticed (or in case you don't live in North America - I'm looking at you LL Cool Joe) this summer has been one long heat wave.  I don't do well at temperatures over 30˚ C (that's 86˚ F).  Toronto, existing as it does at the edge of Lake Ontario, does not know of such a thing as "dry heat".  Instead, we have the Humidex, a handy measurement of how quickly you'll begin to feel that you're suffocating once you venture outside.

The heat has changed my morning routine.  I usually like to start my day slowly, but this summer I'm up and at'em as quickly as I can manage.  I interpret the phrase "beat the heat" as one would "beat the clock".  It's a race for me to get out, get stuff done, and get indoors before 11:30 am, when being outside becomes almost unbearable.

I have lowered my fashion standards. I had not bared my legs in public for many years, because I don't like to expose my collection of purple spider veins.  It didn't matter how hot it got.  I was always willing to put on a pair of opaque tights under my shorts.  However, this summer has broken through my vanity.  At this point, if someone wants to judge my veins, or the slight pruning at the tops of my knees, they can go for it.  Screw it.  My motto for this summer is "It's too hot for shame."

My step-dad appears to have adopted the same motto.  I went to my parents' house this morning, and my step-dad was wandering around the house clad only in his Y-fronts.  I will spare you the details, except to say that he has furry shoulders, and he's almost 74 years old. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

I was impressed by the fact that he has absolutely no self-consciousness about being almost naked.  His body language remained exactly the same as when he's fully dressed.  I know that my mom wishes he would be more discreet, but I think it's better to err on the side of self-satisfaction.  Some of the saddest people I know are crippled by shame.  It's refreshing to see someone who's free of it.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Busy Doing Nothing

I could say that I've been too busy to post, but that would be a lie.  I suppose you could call it laziness, this urge I have to do nothing, except that it's an active nothing.  I'm not ticking things off my to-do list, but my lack of accomplishment is not due to sitting around.

I've been taking long walks.  My favourite thing to do on a sunny day is to get up early, before the heat hits, and go on an hour-long ramble.  I stop to smell the flowers, and you can see on my Twitter feed that I'm critter-spotting.  I get enthusiastic about chipmunks, garter snakes, irridesent bugs, and lawn-nibbling bunnies.  I wonder what people think when I stand in front of their house for ten minutes staring at their garden.  If they can't see the pretty birdy I'm watching they might think I'm insane, or casing the joint for a robbery.  In any case, no one has chased me away yet.

I have learned some things.  If those things are useless, do they count as accomplishments?

I learned how to play a new game.  It's a kind of role-playing card game called Munchkin.  I've seen kids play games like this in the past, and had no idea what they were up to.  There were six of us playing, and only one person had played before.  At first it was complete chaos.  I had cards in my hand ranging from "Level 8 Ghoulfriends" through to "+2 Obnoxious Halitosis".  I did what the experienced gamer told me too and tried to follow the reasoning behind what was going on.

The neat part was that all this confusion gradually resolved into a fun and logical game.  By the end  it made sense to all of us.

Actually the neatest part was when I won! :-)  I vanquished a Level 2 Ugly Chicken to sweep to victory.   Therefore I maintain: although it might seem that I'm not accomplishing much, I am very busy.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the bingo hall...

It had been ages since I played bingo with my friend Val, the Bingo Queen.  So, when she asked me if I'd like to go on Friday, I didn't hesitate.  I had bought my own dabbers since our last outing, and I was looking forward to cracking the seals on those puppies.

Val and I played one game starting from 4 pm.  Then our respective menfolk joined us for the second game starting at 7 pm.  All told I was at bingo for six hours.  That's quite a lot of bingo.

I'll spare you the tension: we didn't win one red cent.  We gambled every which way from Tuesday: the regular book games; the "specials"; the X,T, and L bonuses; the Toonie Pot; and lots and lots of Balls.  What did we have to show for it at the end of the day?  Bupkis.

(I just looked up the meaning of "bupkis" to make sure I was using it and spelling it correctly, and discovered that it is derived from a Yiddish word meaning "goat poop".  That sounds about right.)

I remembered from our last visit that the bingo hall contains a small cafeteria.  I was going to need to put some dinner in my belly at some point.  I figured I was covered.  When we arrived, around 3:30 pm, I took a spin through the food vending area to see what was on the menu.

Greasy, breaded fish filets and limp fries in steam trays.  Also, some kind of dark meat cutlets, identified as "Salisbury steak", sitting in a sauce of caramel-pudding-like consistency and colour.  If that was any kind of steak, I'm Justin Bieber's mom.

I hoped very hard that this was the dregs of the lunch menu, and that there would be something fresh come dinnertime.

6:30 rolled around and there was a break between games.  I moseyed on over to the cafeteria, and guess what was sitting in those steam trays?  The same food that was there when I last took a peek, 3 hours previously.

Fortunately I discovered that they would make a BLT to order, if I was willing to stand and wait for it.  I was.  Actually, it was a darn good sandwich.

I'm surprised by how much tolerance I had for bingo this time around.  Oddly, because I wouldn't have considered it a "skill", my ability to play bingo has improved.  It's not as confusing or as stressful as it used to be.  I can even carry on a simple conversation while keeping up with the caller.  I won't necessarily be paying attention to the pattern we're aiming for, but Val keeps an eye on my cards.  Even reading them upside-down across the table she can tell better than I how close I am to a win.

There's something meditative and comforting about marking off the numbers with nice round, bright circles of coloured ink.  It's aesthetically pleasing.  I always pick a dabber colour that will complement the colour of the cards.

Next time Val said we're going to go to a different hall that's less crowded.  Fewer players = a higher chance of winning.  We've been to the other hall before, around 2 years ago.  Their cafeteria was better.