Thursday, April 26, 2012


I can handle small talk, in small doses.  I'm referring to the type of chit-chat generated between people who don't know each other well, and who aren't especially interested in getting to know each other better.  I don't mind a little banter about the weather, or witty repartee.  But my tolerance is limited.  After half an hour or so of shmoozing, I'm ready for it all to be over with already.

You can therefore imagine how enthusiastic I was about a work function at which I was expected to shake hands and make nice with almost-strangers for over three hours. 

I've never seen my workplace look more beautiful.  A large room was cleared of desks and equipment and converted into a reception hall.  There was a DJ, a buffet of hot food, servers circulating with hors d'oeuvres on trays, a bar at the entrance, and a bar at the rear.  There were rented chairs and tables, and little white candles everywhere.

The caterer did an excellent job.  The servers were unbelievably friendly and helpful.  With around 100 people in the room, a server approached me.  I was holding an empty glass.  He asked me if he could get me another orange soda.  I was so impressed that he remembered what I was drinking that I said "Yes, that would be great!" even though I didn't really need more soda.  I ended up holding a glass full of soda and ice cubes for the next hour.  It made my hands very, very cold.

One advantage of hosting an event on site instead of renting a facility is that I could go to my office every now and then to unwind.  I'd put my freezing soda glass down on my desk, close the door, and surf online for five or ten minutes.  Then I'd feel ready to go back out on the floor (soda in hand) to meet more humans wearing suits.

I wore a nice blouse, blazer, and pants. Most of the women in the office changed into dresses.  Just prior to the start of the event, they clustered together in front of the mirror sticking on their false eyelashes.  I got a few pointers on how to apply false eyelashes, on the offchance that I should ever want to wear them.  (I'll probably never be bothered.  My naturally stubby eyelashes will have to do.) 

A couple of the women were also stepping into brand-new pairs of high-heeled shoes, purchased specially for this event.  Me, I wore a nice pair of flats.  No way was I going to set myself up to be on my feet for hours in heels.  The next morning all the gussied-up ladies had blisters.  One of them had such sore feet that she had to take a painkilling pill in order to fall asleep.  I tell you, it's just not worth it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Second-hand Cashmere

I decided to get smart.  Instead of shopping around at chain stores, trying to find a semi-formal dress for my cousin's June wedding, I was going to do something I hadn't done in many years: visit this store that sells gently used designer clothing on consignment.

When I was a kid my parents were struggling on every level, including financially. My mom used to take me shopping at the thrift store regularly.  I thought it was great.  No two items alike - now that's a very interesting kind of store!  Some of my favourite clothes, like my multi-coloured hippie poncho, had been pre-loved.  And they all came with that magical, mysterious, back-of-the-closet smell embedded deep within the cloth.

I continued to buy second-hand until I married Ken.  He convinced me to buy new clothes more consistently, as part of an overall self-esteem-boosting makeover.  After watching five seasons of What Not To Wear, I got pretty good at dressing myself.  I figured out that I'm not a size Medium, for example, and that wearing clothes from the boys' section wasn't the best way to flatter my figure.

Shortly after I cut out my visits to Value Village, Toronto's media started paying a lot of attention to the city's booming bedbug population.  Bedbugs can travel via clothing.  My new habits had one more reason to stick.

However, after years of buying exclusively new clothes, I decided to trust Ex-Toggery.  Supposedly they're picky about the clothing they take in.  I guess it's no worse than going to any other public space in the same neighbourhood, like sitting in a theatre seat that someone else has just vacated.

When I entered the store, the first thing that hit me was that musty, back-of-the-closet smell.  It hasn't changed since the 1970's.  What makes clothes smell like that?  I mean, even clean clothes smell like "closet" when you haven't worn them in a while.  What is up with that?

There was a pretty good selection of clothing on the racks.  Nice cashmere sweaters for $50.  Silk blouses.  Top line designer jeans.  I flipped through the hangers to see if any amazing finds would jump out at me, but nothing did.  A couple of pretty tops that caught my eye were both labelled "dry clean only", so forget that.

I inspected two racks full of dresses.  There was only one that I liked that was also in my size: a Holt Renfrew house brand frock.  The tag claimed the original ticket price was $500.  It could be mine for a mere $100.  It looked well made.  It was a dark, almost violet blue; sleeveless; lace laid over a layer of thick satin; a plain, fitted top flaring at the waist into a knee-length skirt.  I tried it on.  The zipper stuck.  It fit perfectly except for the waist, which was uncomfortably tight.

And that was the long and the short of my shopping experience at the thrift store.  I didn't find a dress, but it was kind of fun poking through the cast-off designer duds of the super-rich (or the super-in-debt, more likely).

I did have a mildly unpleasant encounter with a sour sales clerk.  I had already been in the store for around 15 minutes when she approached me to insist that I leave my granny buggy at the front of the store.  I told her I was happy to let her search it when I left, but since I was using it to hold my wallet and my cell phone (in a side pocket of the lining) I was not comfortable surrendering it to her.  She wasn't open to negotiations.  She said again, sourly, "I'll just put this at the front," took the handle right out of my hands, and wheeled it away.

I wasn't pleased, but there was hardly anyone in the shop, so I decided to relax and assume that everything would be fine.  So I did, and it was.  No one stole my stuff.  I didn't miss any calls.  Still, I'll think twice before I go back.  I'll make sure I bring a proper purse, next time, when I'm in the mood to buy some cheap cashmere.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shlepping Mall

I used to be such a mall girl.  I could spend hours happily shopping without getting tired.  In fact, I found it energizing.  Creating a personal style was an enjoyable and satisfying process. 

I still enjoy personal style, but I no longer love malls.  I don't think it's my imagination; malls in Toronto  have become unbearably crowded in the past few years.  The convergence of so many bodies; so much noise and motion in a constantly roiling kaleidoscope - it's a sensory assault.  Add to that: eye-straining lighting and poor air quality, and you have an environment that is physically and mentally exhausting. 

More than ever, stores are understaffed.  There's usually someone available to take your money, if you don't mind waiting in line, but no one's on the floor keeping the store tidy.  I've seen better organized garage sales than some of the department stores I've been in lately.  Clothes half-off their hangers, clothes on the floor, sizes out of order, and change rooms overflowing with the last customer's rejects.  It's hard work finding anything in that mess.

If there's something I have to buy, I try to patronize well-run stores in less-busy areas.  I'm not one to dig through a piled-high clearance table hoping for bargains.  But some things are hard to shop for, and I'm forced to consider all my options.  For example, I have until June to buy a cocktail dress to wear to my cousin's wedding.  There is nothing appropriate in my closet.  I have a hard time buying formal dresses, because I don't have standard proportions.  Unless I get really lucky I'll have to try on a lot of dresses before I find one that's halfway decent.

As much as I possibly can, I now shop online.  I can't wait for 3-D holographic home shopping so that I can try on pants over my high-speed internet connection.  That'll be sweet.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

No Regrets

"My biggest regret is that I never had children."
- a white-haired elderly male character in an insipid movie which was otherwise forgettable.

In the past calendar year, half-a-dozen babies have been produced by people I work with.  It's a bumper crop.  Consequently, a parade of squooshy infants has been through the office in the past few months.  Like every female of the species, my body is wired to drench my brain in happy-happy neurochemicals anytime I look at a baby.  Just watching a little newborn fast asleep, doing nothing at all, is enough to fill me with big-time warm'n'fuzzies.

I've written before about my choice to remain childfree/childless (take your pick - either one will offend someone).  At this stage of my life I'm completely convinced that it was the right decision.  Having a child is an intensifier of everything in life, the good and the bad.  My life has been plenty intense enough without adding parenthood to the stack of challenges. 

I don't worry about leaving a legacy.  I have opportunities every day to better the world by loving people and by taking responsibility. My relationships (with friends, family, and colleagues) have been mutually rewarding.  By supporting those who are parents I indirectly contribute to the well-being of the next generation.  I also sponsor two kids through World Vision.

What's going to happen to me when I'm old?  That's in God's hands.  It's funny how young people consider this question as though nothing will change between now and their "golden years".  At the rate technology is progressing I expect that Robot Nannies will be available for sale well before I become decrepit, if I'm destined to live that long.  If I need someone to tie my shoes or make tea for me and my rickety friends, Robonanny will be happy to help.

At least now that I'm almost 40 people have stopped making insensitive comments. I'd like to know why they feel that they're better qualified than me to make my reproductive choices.  A hairdresser I've known for all of 20 minutes, a friend of my parents who's only just been introduced to me, relatives who want a squooshy infant to snuggle, all of them feel welcome to weigh in.  I'm just glad that I trusted myself enough to withstand the pressure.

It's my decision, and I do not regret it.  Sometimes I wonder what my babies would have looked like, and sometimes I feel nostalgia for sweet family memories that I'll never have, but my life is good, and I wouldn't go back and change it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


I had a relatively quiet few months at work, but I knew that the lull wouldn't last.

Oh. Em. Gee.

What have I got going on here?  Well, let's see...

The completion of the Big Computer Project has been delayed.  We were halfway through the hardware installation when word came down from on high: the company is expanding.  Getting the expansion up and running takes priority over the BCP.  I had a nice plan all worked out, but it went out the window.

The expansion leads to: staffing changes.  Specifically, the woman who has been my assistant and teammate for almost ten years is being promoted and shipped off to the new location a.s.a.p.  *tear* I'm going to miss my best work-buddy. :-(  But it's all good for her, so I have to at least pretend to be happy about it. :-D

My assistant's departure has triggered a reverse domino effect.  She's out of the hierarchy, so a whole chain of people has to bump up one step, and a new hire is starting at the bottom of the totem pole.  There's training to be done, and smoothing of feathers as the groups works out a new dynamic.  It's always tough for people to accept that their peer has become their supervisor, so I'll be dealing with a lot of offended people in my office for the next few months, I'm sure.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. (Turn and face the strain.)  Ch-ch-changes!

With all this going on (not to mention the thousand-and-one practicalities of preparing to open a new office), it would be ever so convenient if I could simply shelve the Big Computer Project and forget about it for a while.  Of course, that would be too easy.  I have to at least get our old data converted into the new system and start using it, even though we're not going to bring the full functionality of it online until next year.  This is because our old software is no longer supported.  The company was bought out by a competitor.  So I still have to deal with a full week of training and converting issues, in the middle of everything else.

That would seem like a lot to deal with.  But wait, there's more!  For three easy payments of $19.99, you also get the handy Sham-Chop: Polishes your car by day, and makes mounds and mounds of delicious cole slaw by night!

Our phone system is being left in the dust by the forward march of technology.  The price per land line has gone up as the rest of the world switches to more advanced technology.  I have been investigating an option called PRI, which seems fairly straightforward.  But when my phoneo rep got wind of our expansion plans, she told me I should consider SIP trunking (whatever the heck that is) which would allow us to connect both offices to one internal phone system.  As I understand it, this may involve a complete upgrade of all the equipment currently in our phone room, and heaven only knows what else.  And it would all have to be done before our new location opens.


So.  That's the honey-do list so far.  Here's a question for all y'all: can you recommend a good project management software package?  I've outgrown my usual system of scrap paper and sticky notes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It's just me.

All week I've been having dreams on a recurring theme: I've lost my wallet, along with all my I.D.  As I search for it in subway stations or piles of trash, I fret over how much hassle it will be to re-create my identity.

Deep down, things have been shifting.  The movement is slow but sure, like the creep of continental plates.  You can't see the movement with your naked eye, but, over the years, it'll push up a mountain range.

When I started high school, I was quiet and shy.  While other kids were making friends with their new classmates, I sat very still, not sure if I should hope that someone would speak to me or hope to be left alone.

Eventually some kids did speak to me, and I made friends.  Some of them were good kids who I'm friends with to this day.  One of them was a troublemaker: Elizabeth.

Elizabeth had had a rough life.  Her folks were divorced, and they were crappy parents.  Her mother would specifically tell Elizabeth not to bother her for a while when she hooked up with a new boyfriend.  She was simply not welcome in her mother's home a lot of the time.  Her father, whom she lived with, was bonkers.  There was a lot of crazy, enraged shouting when things got going at that house.

On top of it all, Elizabeth was a cancer survivor.  She had a glass eye, having lost the original to cancer.

In many ways, she was a bad influence.  She encouraged me to lie to my parents, telling them that we were at her house watching cartoons.  In fact, we went to the Eaton Centre mall by ourselves so that she could teach me how to shoplift.  (I did steal, although not more than half-a-dozen times all told.  I was a smart enough kid to realize that the consequences of being caught weren't worth the risk.)

Elizabeth messed up my head in lots of subtly manipulative ways.  But I did get one gift from her that served me well for 25 years.  She taught me how to be funny, turning bad situations into opportunities for wry and ironic comedy.  She was as jaded at 14 as any full-grown adult.

Sometimes it's healthy to laugh at our troubles.  Life is plenty ridiculous, no doubt.  Sometimes it's better to laugh than to cry, for a change.  However, eventually I started laughing when I should have been crying.  Sometimes I couldn't get past the ludicrousness to actually feel the beating heart of my life.  This ability to turn tragedy into comedy turned into a defence against feeling the impact of truly sorrowful events.

I got to the point where sometimes I hated the feeling of a wry smile twisting my lips.  There was too much bitterness in my laughter.  I couldn't stop hiding from my heart, and the hearts of my friends.

Thanks be to God, that is finally changing.  As I approach my 40th birthday, I am ready and able to emerge from behind that shield of snark.  It's just me, sometimes sad, sometimes pensive, sometimes playful, and sometimes with a smile of  genuine, unadulterated joy.

It's a big change.  Ironic humour has been a major part of my public identity.  I'm certainly not leaving it behind entirely, but it's slipping into a less important role.  I'm not sure exactly who I am without that snarky edge, but we're all about to find out.