Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Eve

My aunt called us all on December 23rd to confirm that she had electricity at her house and the party would proceed as scheduled.   This annual birthday party has recently been upped from a bi- to a tri-, since my cousin's new husband has a birthday around Christmas just like my mother's mother (Bubbe) and Ken.

I arrived early to help my aunt with last-minute preparations.  This consisted of setting the table (twelve chairs crammed around a table that can comfortable accommodate six - it gets a little cozy), and then keeping an eye on Pepper to make sure he didn't do any table-arranging of his own.  This is Pepper.  He's a good boy.


Pepper says: "Mrow?  Mrow?  Mrow?  Mrow?"  which translates roughly to: Pay attention to me I can haz pats? I can haz salmon?  I can haz salmon? I can haz salmon?

Nutmeg is an old lady and spent the evening snoozing on her pillow by a heating vent.  This is Nutmeg.


My aunt refused most of my offers of help in the kitchen because she was too disorganized and panicked to do more than one thing at a time.  Dinner was a little delayed on account of the chaos, but that was no problem.  When it was finally served (rice with fried mushrooms, green beans, butternut squash, and, obviously, salmon) it received rave reviews.

My Bubbe was pleased.  This is my Bubbe.


It was her 93rd birthday.  She's looks good for her age, doesn't she?  Also, she looks a lot like The Queen.  Don't you think?  This is The Queen.


They have the exact same nose!  Isn't that freaky?  Just slap a little lipstick on my Bubbe, and an enormous red hat, set her hair, and throw some pearls on her, and there would be nothing to distinguish them.  MY BUBBE AND THE QUEEN ARE TWINS SEPARATED AT BIRTH.  Don't tell anyone.  It's a secret.

In the end, Pepper did not get to taste the salmon, but he did get a lot of pats on the head.  And now that I have resolved the only dramatic tension in this non-story...  THE END.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Next Plague is: Ice

I am cozily tucked up in fleecy jammies and sheepskin booties in my warm, bright home.  Lucky me!  CBC news estimates that a quarter of a million people in Toronto are currently without power, and some of them may not get it restored until Christmas.  Bah humbug.

I can never quite get my head around calling this type of weather an ice storm.  It's not at all stormy.  If the air temperature were a few degrees warmer, it would be nothing more than "persistent drizzle".

Ice has been building up slowly but surely since yesterday evening.  I almost wiped out on a slick patch on the way to my friends' house.  But that was on a little-used walkway in my condo complex. Once I got to the main streets things weren't too bad.

Arriving at my friends' house, I left my open umbrella on their porch.  When I emerged again, several hours later, it was encrusted with ice.  I had to do a little extra work to collapse the canopy.  It was crispy.

We took the drive home slowly.  The roads had enough traffic on them to keep them above freezing.  But a few miles from home we hit a blacked out zone.  No street lights.  Dark homes.  I assumed we'd get through it, but on and on it went.  We looked hopefully for electric lights, but only saw them on in a few institutional buildings, of the type that has backup power.  By the time we were almost home and still in the dark, I had steeled myself for a long, cold night.

We saw a greenish flash light up the sky as a transformer exploded.

But lo and behold, two blocks from home we discovered: electricity!  Our neighbourhood, which we affectionately refer to as Condotropolis, was just outside the blackout zone.  Like I said, lucky us.  I do feel badly for all those people who weren't so fortunate.

We're not completely off the hook yet.  There's more freezing drizzle in the forecast, and, just as worrisome, gusting winds.  Ken and I have flashlights, candles, and extra blankets laid out, just in case.

Here's where I wish I could post the photo I took of a gorgeously ice-encrusted tree outside my window, however I can't get any cell service today (clearly some ice-related issue), and I'm too lazy to start downloading apps to make my Android phone talk to my Mac home computer, so that's that.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Flushed with excitement

N.B. There are references to poop in this post.  If poop offends you, please do not proceed.

***

As you all know, a little while ago there was a fire in my workplace.  The following week, we had flooding, as a blockage 60 feet down the sewage lines caused every toilet in the place to start overflowing almost simultaneously.  (Someone had to stay until 2:30 in the morning to get that one sorted out, but fortunately it wasn't me.)

Logically, what follows next?  Drought, of course.

On Thursday morning, when the early shift (6:00 am) arrived at my workplace, there was no running water.  A water main break had flooded the street overnight, and the process of repair required us to be waterless for a few hours.  Luckily the water was turned back on by 8:30 am.  Business could continue as usual.  No problem, right?

You know how when the water's been off for a while, when it comes back on the faucets spit and kick?  Because air bubbles are being delivered along with the water at high pressure?  So, that was happening.  Again, whatever, you let the water run for a little while, stand out of the way of the spurts, and eventually it normalizes.

One girl who I work with headed to the ladies' room as soon as the water came back on.  She had to do a couple of numbers.  After taking care of business, she stepped on the flush lever.

Two offices over, another two ladies were standing together having a discussion.  A muffled sound stopped them in mid-sentence.  One turned to the other and asked "Did you just hear a bang?"  As the words hung in the air, the girl who had been in the bathroom ran past their door.  Shards of white ceramic were sprinkled in her hair.

The toilet had literally EXPLODED.  When girlfriend flushed, a monster air bubble shot into the part of the toilet where the metal pipe fastens onto the ceramic bowl, and literally blasted that area to pieces.  Fortunately, the bowl itself remained intact.  Unfortunately, girlfriend's poop (along with a goodly amount of water) was blasted out of the bowl.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.  Unfortunately, "someone" (she eventually went back to do this herself) had to chase down her poop, which was floating around on the floor, and tidy that up before anyone could witness her humiliation.

When one of my employees told me over the phone that a toilet had exploded, I thought she was exaggerating.  I thought: she must just mean that it overflowed, or it made a loud gurgling noise, or something.  When I got to work, and saw for myself that chunks of porcelain were scattered on the floor, I could hardly believe my eyes.

The emergency plumber couldn't even believe it.  He's never seen such a thing happen before, and that's his job.  I am seriously starting to think that my workplace is cursed.  Why am I still working there?  I have no idea.  In the past several weeks alone we've had fire, floods, a fight, the lawsuit, and now an exploding toilet.  I mean, what the...?  What is going on here?

It also got me thinking about all the things that have exploded at my workplace over the past two years.  There was the toner bomb, which wasn't technically an explosion, but which had similar results.  Then there was the battery explosion, which was an honest-to-goodness detonation.  And now this.  How many things have exploded at your workplace in the past two years?  Anything at all?  A bag of microwave popcorn at the worst, probably?

I had no idea that being an office manager could be so fraught with danger.  I'd probably be better off working in a sawmill, or being an electrician.  An electrician working 80 feet up with no safety harness on high-voltage wires, over a lake of lava swarming with evil lava-gators.  Sheesh!

Appendix A:  Cross section of toilet.  The area that exploded was the chamber at the upper left-most corner of the diagram.  In case you were wondering.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Remembrance Day

This week, at work, a fight broke out in the waiting room.  Fortunately, it didn't get physical.  Unfortunately, there were raised voices, swearing, and name calling.

Some people on staff ran into the middle of the fracas to break it up.  The entire event was over in the course of only a minute or two.  I joined another manager to speak with the instigator in a private room.  She, the instigator, wrapped up her side of the story all pretty for us, and put a bow on it.  We asked to make sure it didn't happen again.  Then I thought I was done with the issue.

It was after noon, and I was just clearing off my desk for a lunch break, when a receptionist came to me and said that one of our clients was still upset about the fight, and wanted to speak to me.  I invited the woman into my office.  I didn't think that it would take long to sort things out.  Frankly, I was hungry, the morning had been a long one, and I just wanted to get it behind me so that I could relax properly on my break.

The woman in my office had never been to our facility before.  Nice first impression we were making.  She had travelled a long way to get there.  She was a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan.

I have been following current stories in the news media of young veterans in the U.S. and Canada: their PTSD and troubles readjusting to civilian life; the lack of adequate support systems for them; the agony their families go through trying to help them.  Never before had I sat down face to face with a real, live veteran.

I'm not going to get into the details of exactly why this situation had upset her.  Suffice it to say that it had already been a long day for her, and the conflict seemed to have stirred up memories of other injustices.  She told me "I have seen my friends die.  I have fought for this country.  How can someone speak to me like that?"  Or words to that effect.

Obviously I didn't have any answers for her.  All I could do was listen, and echo back what I was hearing to show that she was understood.  I said "I cannot imagine what you have had to endure."  I agreed that most civilians don't know how to behave or discipline themselves.  She fought back angry tears and struggled with a mighty effort to hold herself together.  She said, of the woman who insulted her, "She's lucky I didn't lose my temper.  She is just really lucky that I didn't lose my temper."

It's been a long time since I looked into the eyes of someone in such a raw state of woundedness.  She spent 20 minutes in my office, and by the end of it I was almost ready to start crying along with her.  I thanked her from the bottom of my heart for everything that she has done for our freedom.  It was difficult, and I was left shaken by the experience, but I am grateful to have had the chance to say thanks in person.  At least that one good thing came out of it.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Unfaithful

There's a show on Oprah's TV channel called "Unfaithful: Stories of Betrayal".  I've watched a few episodes.  Each hour is split into two 30-minute segments, and each segment tells one couple's story of how an affair affected their relationship.  There are some moderately spicy re-enactment scenes. Most of the stories end in a reconciliation of the married couple.

The stories are surprisingly alike.  Couple falls in love.  Couple marries.  Stress is introduced into their relationship via kids/finances/health problems/fear of commitment.  One or both individuals allow themselves to respond to the flirtations of another man/woman.  The attentions of this third party makes the cheater feel temporarily fulfilled.  Things get physical.  "I knew it was wrong, but I wanted to do it anyway, so I did."  They don't expect to get caught.  But they get caught, and by the time they realize the consequences, it's too late to go back.

I have never been involved in an affair, as a cheater, or a cheatee.  (To the best of my knowledge.)  I mean, one time my high school boyfriend said he couldn't take me to a dance because he was going to a family gathering, and then I found out that he had been out with some of his guy friends and that other girls were there, so I screamed at him in public and ran into the nearest washroom sobbing my face off.  But that's about it.  Hey, we were teenagers.  It's par for the course.

I did allow another man to kiss me once, right at the very end of my first marriage.  But I didn't just "let it happen" without any forethought.  It was planned.  The plan included not going beyond kissing.

The situation was that I had been with my first husband for 12 years (married for 5), and due to a multitude of factors my self-esteem was very low.  So low, in fact, that I wasn't sure if I could even attract another mate, if I left my marriage, which I was already considering. I also wasn't sure if I would want to be involved with anyone else. I figured that with so much at stake, I needed to run an experiment.  I needed to base this life-altering decision on proper data.

I picked a guy I'd been friends with for over a year who seemed safe, i.e. if I succeeded in getting him to kiss me, he'd stop when I told him to.  And that's exactly what happened.  I proved that I was still attractive (at the ripe old age of 28), and that getting involved with other men might actually be fun.  And also I called a halt to the proceedings after a bit of kissing, because I was only willing to go that far while I still had a wedding ring on my finger.

I gave myself one week to think things over thoroughly.  Then I told my husband that I was leaving him at the first proper opportunity.

What happened to the guy I kissed?  Believe it or not, I ended up marrying him next.  Yup, it was Ken.  Apparently I just don't do casual relationships.

I still can't get my head around the thought process, or lack thereof, that leads someone to pursue a full-on affair.  I think I'm constitutionally incapable of it.  Seriously, one man in my life is quite enough.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Infested!

My husband doesn't understand why I like to watch Infested! , a show on Animal Planet that presents, in documentary format, stories of people who have dealt with pests in their home. He says "it's horrible", and he's right.  Why do I want to watch a re-enactment of someone's near-fatal reaction to a spider bite?  Why would I expose myself to footage of piles of slithering snakes?

Honestly, because I find it fascinating.

Yes, the stories can be a bit repetitive at times.  There are only so many variations on the "home full of brown recluse spiders" theme.  I've seen at least three "bats in the attic" episodes.  But it's interesting to me not only because I get to learn something about animals and insects.  The stories push at and cross the boundary between human society and the rest of the natural world.  It challenges the idea that nature is something that only happens "out there", and that we get to control how our lives interact with it.

I have lived in a house that could have qualified for an episode of Infested!, although I didn't perceive it that way at the time.  For a short while, when I was a student in university, I lived in a house with  mice (and a few other humans).  If this were an episode of Infested!, the voice-over would tell you that the mice had been attracted to an abundant food source (someone had spilled hamster feed behind a piece of furniture and left it there, unbeknownst to any of us until we moved out).  Then they made themselves comfortable and multiplied.

I wasn't too worried by the presence of these mice.  I felt that it was bad manners for them to poop in the dish drainer, but that was easily cleaned up.  Occasionally I'd see one scurrying around out in the open, and it would look cute and healthy.

They bothered me most at night, banging around in the heating ducts.  They were also a constant presence in my bedroom, on account of that was where the previous resident had spilled the hamster food.  I slept on a foam mat on the floor, and sometimes one would scuttle across my legs.  It was annoying because they woke me up.  I remember once sitting bolt upright in bed and quickly turning on my bedside lamp.  The mouse who was halfway across my duvet stopped in his (her?) tracks and stared at me.  I stared back, as menacingly as I could.  We stayed like that for what seemed like a long time, until the mouse turned tail and disappeared. 

If this scene were re-enacted on Infested!, a biologist would have appeared on the screen next, running through a list of all the diseases mice can carry: rabies, plague, the pox, nuclear dysentery, Indonesian barking flu, and that thing that makes your ears turn black and fall off.  (I made some of those up.)  I guess my point is that it wasn't that bad, living with the mice.  None of us came to any long-term harm.  I've also had to live with a handful of giant cockroaches, and although they were creepy they weren't really so bad either.

I have to say, I'm glad that I don't live with any uninvited guests anymore.  And I'm glad that I don't live in the southern U.S., because I would definitely draw the line at scorpions.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Truth Stranger than Fiction

The stuff going on at work that I can't talk much about is still happening.  If anything, it has intensified.  My life is like a Dan Brown novel.  A nice little narrative, with a compelling protagonist.  Some friends become enemies, and enemies become friends.

But seriously, these are things that are actually happening in my life right now:

  • A Russian billionaire, rumoured to have ex-KGB bodyguards.
  • Corrupt lawyers and accountants.
  • Lawsuits, and threatened counter-suits, and threatened counter-counter-suits.
  • Meetings being recorded on audio-tape for the record, because no one's word (or memory) can be trusted anymore.
  • Top secret information.
  • Friends actually becoming enemies, and enemies becoming, if not friends, at least allies.
  • Unexpected plot twists, sometimes more than one per day.
  • Arson.  (Not directly in my office, but in the business next door.  No one was hurt. Our suite was filled with stinky smoke and we had to be professionally decontaminated.  Probably unrelated to all the other stuff that's going on, but a nice touch, don't you think?  Definitely the cherry on the cake of my week.)
In short, all the stuff that you read about or watch in thrillers, depending on whether you're a movie or a book person, is all actually happening in my life.  Short of actual murder, kidnapping, and explosions, it's all there.  Every stupid plot point that I used to roll my eyes at and say "That would never happen in real life" is happening in my real life.

In closing, I present to you the lame joke that I've recited to everyone at work, because what else is there to say?  "We've had floods here, and now a fire.  What's next?  A volcano?  Or Godizilla ripping the roof off?"





Monday, November 11, 2013

HarpFest!

My mother gave me a gift certificate from the Royal Conservatory of Music for my birthday.  Now there's a gift idea!  At first I thought it was for music lessons, like maybe she wanted me to study yodelling or something, but fortunately it was for the RCM concert series.

As you all know, I have had some STRESS in my life lately, so I decided to sign up for the most soothing music available.  What could be more relaxing than a harp concert?  I can't think of a single thing.  So, I ordered tickets for my mom and I, and we went together on Sunday.

I even said to my mom, as we got settled in our seats, that I had picked this concert almost as music therapy.  I didn't want to subject either of us to crashing, angst-filled pieces such as Rachmaninoff has been known to produce.  Little did I know, we would not be hearing The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, or anything even close to it.

It turned out that all of the pieces on the program were by contemporary composers.  In fact, more than half of the composers in question were right there in the auditorium.  And despite my intention of avoiding a musical experience akin to listening to someone's internal experience of a migraine, it was pretty hardcore. 

The pieces included a lot of dissonance, weird time signature shifts, and even smacking of the harp strings with an open palm.  (Bad, bad harp! I told you to stay in tune!)  It was weird, but interesting, and strangely enjoyable.  Besides solo pieces, we heard a duet of harp and vibraphone, and even a quartet of harp, vibraphone, cello, and violin.  The harpists (there were two of them, taking turns) got sounds out of the instrument that I didn't know it could make.  There are a lot of pedals around the base of the harp that were used during these pieces.  I'm sure some of them match the functions of the pedals on a piano, however others seemed to be employed for pitch-bending, which I wasn't expecting.

The most challenging piece was a duet for harp and voice (mezzosoprano).  A statuesque, grey-haired lady stood onstage and explained that the lyrics were excerpts from Nietzsche's nihilist writings.  Then she opened her mouth to sing, and the sound that came rolling out was incredible.  I could feel my eardrums beating in time with her vibrato.  Every hair on my body rose up.  Anyone who might have been nodding off by that time must have sat straight up.

The singer belted out streams of frightening, guttural German, while the harpist plucked energetically beside her.  It was difficult to hear any relationship between the line of the song ("melody" would not be an appropriate term here) and the sound of the harp.  They must have been related, because they came together during certain passages, but I could not imagine what the sheet music looked like.

As if that were not enough to get the point across, the singer played percussion instruments as she sang.  The ultimate one was a pair of wooden blocks, roughly 4" x 4", which she clapped together vigorously.  When she'd had enough of that, she took one in each hand and flung them vehemently to the floor. 

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the concert.  Even more surprisingly, my mother did too.  I think it had something to do with being up-close-and-personal with the musicians and composers in that intimate little hall.  It's not the type of music that either of us would chose to listen to on the radio, but experiencing it bodily was a whole different kettle of fish.

In case you're curious, here's one of the harpists who played at the concert, performing pieces from one of the composers whose work was represented.  I could not find the exact pieces on YouTube; partially because they're not exactly Top 40 hits, and partially because several of the pieces were brand new.

I still have some money left on my gift card.  What next?

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Wedding

First of all: thanks, you guys!  Your prayers and wishes have power; my bubbe is back home from the hospital.  She's not quite 100% just yet, but she's working on it.  Yay!

Things I have done this week:
  • Handed out candy to around 200 child visitors on Halloween, all of them scrumptiously cute.
  • Took Friday off to go to the Royal Winter Fair, where I conversed with talkative goats, ogled the bare buttocks of two-day-old piglets, and was impressed by a 926-pound pumpkin.
  • Bought 4 books for $4 at a dusty but fruitful fund-raising book sale.
  • Attended a wedding.
  • Attended Game Night with my besties, and helped the hosts out with their serious problem of leftover Halloween candy.
  • Scrubbed my house from top to bottom, which was tiring but completely satisfying.
Any of these could fuel an entire blog post, but I'm going with the wedding, because it was the most unusual.  The bride and groom are grandparents, in their 50's.  I don't know them well, but they are close friends of my friend, Val the Bingo Queen.  Val was their maid of honour, and they were kind enough to invite us because they are the type of people who welcome new friends into their circle.

Our first challenge was the find the venue, a hall in a Royal Canadian Legion out in the wilds of Scarborough.  The GPS directed us to a T-junction at the end of an overpass, with nothing but trees to be seen in every direction.  "You have arrived at the destination," it said.  We didn't think so.  Fortunately we spotted a little sign that said "RCL" with an arrow and it was just a short drive down the road to the left.

The weather wasn't bad, for November in Canada.  It was a few degrees above freezing, overcast, and spitting rain.  The wedding party was shivering outside, under an overhang, smoking cigarettes.  The bridesmaids were all wearing purple gowns and silver high-heeled sandals.  The wedding's theme was "Winter Wonderland" and the colours were purple and white.

This bride and groom are not wealthy.  However, the bride's two grown daughters had done an amazing job of dressing up the drab Legion hall for the occasion.  There was no wedding planner, no florist, no helpful staff.  The daughters had been at the hall all day up until midnight the day before, and again since early that morning, to make it perfect.

The round tables were laid with white, satiny tablecloths, overlaid with square cloths of translucent purple.  Gorgeous centrepieces had been handmade by filling vases with white florist's sand and standing silk flowers and silvered branches in them.  The place cards were done in calligraphy, each one decorated with two tasteful sparkly gems.  These were propped up in little Styrofoam "snowballs", which someone had clearly scooped one at a time with a melon baller or an ice-cream scoop.

An aisle had been laid down the centre of the dance floor, demarcated by lines of white fairy lights wrapped in white tulle, with fat, white candles down each side.  The candles were set on the floor, unlit, while guests took their seats.  They made me nervous.  One was kicked over by accident.  I visually located the fire extinguisher, which coincidentally was right by our table, just in case of a problem once the candles were lit.  Tulle and open flame do not mix well.  (Or they mix very well, if you like a little extra excitement.)  The aisle ended at a white trellis, hung with dark green ivy and more twinkling white lights.  It was magical.

The ceremony was touching.  There were tears of joy and photographs and cute children dressed up in miniature evening-wear.  Nothing caught on fire.

The main fiasco was dinner service.  Unfortunately the so-called caterers (more like a couple of moonlighting cafeteria ladies) were not up to the task.  The maid of honour was expecting what you would expect, thinking of a wedding dinner.  The reality was: only the head table was served.  The rest of us had to get up and file through the kitchen to get our dinner.  It was not a buffet.  The kitchen was just a crummy little kitchen, with signs in it like the one that said "There are thousands of  things to eat in this kitchen and all of them are beans."  We were given paper plates and plastic cutlery for the salad course, and then had to re-use them for the main course.

I'm all for saving the environment, but it did seem a little less than elegant to be carrying my cardboard plate, all mucky with mayo from the macaroni salad, back to the line-up to be served my entrĂ©e.  Apparently the caterers hadn't mentioned that they would not be providing plates and cutlery.  The maid of honour, who had made the arrangements, was mortified.

Frankly, given the circumstances (a very drafty, chilly hall and a growling stomach) I was happy just to get a hot meal, and  not to suffer any food poisoning afterwards.  I'm not sure how the bride felt about it, but she seemed happy enough.  She danced the first dance with her new husband wearing a strapless, white satin gown, and white flip-flops with plastic flowers on them.

It was a lot more relaxed and a lot more fun than a few stuffy weddings that I've been to.  Ken and I were glad to be there.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bubbe Business

On Sunday evening, my 97-year-old bubbe was admitted to Sunnybrook hospital.  The diagnosis was pneumonia.  I had been worried about her since the previous week, when she complained about a cold that just kept hanging on.  She had become very short of breath.

Well, what can you do?  People, even great ones like my bubbe, can't live forever.  I prepared myself for the worst.  But amazingly, she appears to be pulling through.

Medically, it's a bit complicated.  She may not have pneumonia, or if she does it's compounded by fluid build-up around her lungs from congestive heart failure.  At any rate, they managed to get some of that fluid out of her, and it's done her a world of good.

Ken and I visited her yesterday.  She didn't look as bad as I'd feared.  Shortly after we arrived, her dinner tray was delivered.  With great effort (she's still in a weakened condition) she sat up in bed, but once she was comfortably propped up on pillows she ate willingly, with an appetite.  Her conversation was lively.  Her eyes twinkled and she made the nurses laugh with her stand-up-style one-liners.  (As the nurse adjusted her nasal cannula, which loops over one's ears, she remarked "See? Even without my hearing aids in my ears are good for something.")  We're told that, with adjustments to her medication, she should be able to go home soon.

However, in her inimitable way, she told us that she was/is quite determined to die, like, now.  She said that she's happy with the life she's had, and that this is "a good time to go".  I know that she doesn't want to end up in a vegetative state.  She probably thought that this health crisis would be a convenient way to avoid that.  And given her iron will, I wouldn't be altogether surprised if she lay herself down and gave up the ghost by sheer willpower.

On the other hand, it's a little difficult to take her plans seriously when she's asking us to wrap up the extra cookie from her dinner, for later.  Also, keep that grape juice in the little sealed cup.  She might want it.  Because she will be very much alive, I expect, and peckish for a snack, before she gets on her computer to continue dominating me at online Scrabble.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Visit to Spark's House

Hi!  It's nice of you to stop by for a visit.  I mean, if you would've called first it might be a little tidier around here, but it's not too bad.  

What's that lying out on the dining room table?


Oh that.  It was my mom's bright idea to buy me a subscription to the Canadian Jewish News.  She's still hoping that I might change how I think about being Jewish from my background to my foreground.  Don't hold your breath, mom.  *Flips through paper*  Just as I thought, nothing of interest again this week.  *Files paper in the recycling bin*

Can I offer you something to drink?  Let's see what we have here...  Milk.  Orange juice.  Ken's Clamato.  (You can have Clamato if you want, but have you checked out the sodium levels in that stuff?  You may as well drink salt.)


What's that next to the yogurts?


Um.  Guppies?  With hot chili flakes and sesame seeds.  I take no responsibility for these.  Ken got them as a gift from the Korean butcher down the street, and has actually eaten some.  :-p

The salt and pepper shakers are from my sister.  They are playing leapfrog!  Isn't that cute?


Shortly after I took this picture of the bunnies, Ken was stirring something on the stove quite vigorously, and the bunnies fell down and each one lost an ear.  :-( Never fear - I bought Gorilla glue and I will repair them.  I heard that Gorilla glue can be used for other animals, such as rabbits, although it may be a bit of overkill.  If you have a broken gorilla, however, it's just the thing!

A friend of mine made this stained glass ornament with an Egyptian cat in the centre.  It hangs from our dining room light fixture.  


What's that in the background?


This belongs to Ken (although he didn't draw it).  I have never been able to understand what it signifies.  Feel free to take a guess in the comments.

I have some tiny rugs.


These coasters are replicas of real rugs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  My grandmother gave me a cheque for my birthday with instructions to "buy something you don't need", and this is what I chose.  There's a fourth rug, but it's under Ken's beverage at the moment.

Well, thanks for stopping by.  I'm going to go back now to reading my cheerful book,  "A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation" (by Eric D. Weitz).  Seriously, this type of stuff puts my little problems in perspective.  I can always say "Well, at least I'm not in any danger of being deported to a Gulag."

Take care!  Stay in touch!  *hugs*

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thanksgiving Long Weekend

Yes, it's Canadian Thanksgiving today.  Happy happy!  I celebrated with my table gaming* friends at the First Annual Thanksgaming Dinner.  We ate; we laughed; we tried to beat each other into gaming submission.  I got to spend some quality time with Ceilidh (pronounced "Kaylee" - it's Gaelic), my friends' 5-month-old kitty.  I am totally in love with her.

"Hello!  Nice to meet you!  I'm an adorable, squirmy kitten!"


Look at those paws.  This cat has got 7 toes on one of her front feet, and 8 on the other.  She even has opposable thumbs.


I believe my friends are going to wait until after her first birthday; then they're going to sign her up for piano lessons.  Meow!

Before the Thanksgaming Dinner, I provided personal shopper services to my aunt.  She was desperate.  She told me "Spark, it's bad.  I only have one pair of work pants left, and I have to keep one finger through a belt loop while I'm walking or they fall down.  I'm going to have to wear my pyjamas to work soon"

My aunt, despite being slim, pretty, and looking 15 years younger than her age (she's 59), hates shopping and feels that nothing ever looks good on her.  She does have a slightly poochy belly, but so does just about every woman her age.  I mean, it happens.  The connective tissue that holds one's organs in gets saggy just like everything else as one ages, and gravity does its job.  Obviously there's a market for women's clothes that accommodate a middle-aged tummy.  If it were impossible to buy clothes to fit ladies like my aunt, just about every woman over the age of 50 would be out and about wrapped up in bedsheets, so clearly it's not Mission Impossible.  You just need to exercise a little patience.

I brought my aunt to a store where I've previously found clothes for my mom.  My aunt bought 3 pairs of pants, one very pretty skirt, and a chic top.  Not bad!  Then I helped her to choose a new pair of shoes.  (These, in black.)  We strolled the wide corridors of Yorkdale mall, window-shopping.  Then we stopped for sandwiches and coffee.  Throughout, my aunt kept talking about the fact that she needed new jeans.  We went into several stores and looked at the jeans, but she didn't want to try any of them on.  Near the end of our expedition, she finally turned to me in frustration and burst out "See?  I'll never find any jeans that fit!"

I asked her:  "How many pairs of jeans have you tried on so far today?"

She stopped and had to think about it for a moment.  Then she laughed.  "None," she said.

"Well," I said, "maybe you shouldn't give up before you get started."

Minutes later, we went into Old Navy, where my aunt finally tried on some jeans.  And hey, guess what?  She found a pair that fit!  And they were on sale!  Whaddaya know.  Good thing she has her trusty niece around to talk some sense into her.

I didn't buy anything for myself.  I did try on a sweater at Old Navy but it made me look like a sausage.  Oh well.  I have more than enough clothes already.

* I have been informed that "table games" is the correct terminology to describe what we play, which includes both board games and card games.  We do indeed play at a table.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Targeting

Pigeons, looking slightly menacing.  We are watching you!


Last weekend, I took a trip downtown.  I don't even remember why.  I strolled through Yorkville, which is the fancy neighbourhood where you can buy a handbag for $1,000 or more.  Gucci, Prada, Chanel: it's all there.  I liked this display in the Manulife Centre mall, inspired by the Toronto International Film Festival.  Isn't that a nifty little projector?  I also like the shiny, red shoes, but I probably wouldn't be able to afford them.


This weekend, by contrast, I decided to check out the new Target in my neighbourhood.  It used to be a Zellers.  I have never been inside a Target before.

The parking lot at the mall was relatively deserted.  There were a few cars close to the entrance, but further out the only occupied parking spot had been claimed by this goose.


I went in and toured around the store, checking prices and rubbing fabrics.  It's certainly brighter and tidier than the Zellers was.  Some items, like toothpaste and dish detergent, were a dollar or more cheaper than at my local supermarket.  The clothes were meh.  I wasn't tempted by any of their fashion items.

I bought one thing, just for the heck of it.  As I approached the cash register area, a manager directed me to a young employee who was overseeing the self-check-out area.  "Please help this guest," he told the employee.  Guest?  Oh for heaven's sake, just call me a customer.  I know that co-opted vocabulary is used with good intentions, but I find it irritatingly manipulative.  Anyway, the young lady who had been assigned to help me was genuinely friendly and sweet, so it was all good.

My hostess assisted me with the use of a complicated cashiering robot.  Scanning the item was easy.  But then I had to find the robot's mouth, to feed coins into, and then a slot to slide a bill into.  My change came out of a spout in a third location, and my receipt printed out somewhere else.  I think perhaps they would have been better off to stick with human cashiers.  It certainly would have gone a lot faster if I hadn't had to stop and locate input and output interfaces at every stage of the transaction.

Will I go back to Target?  Maybe if I'm in the area, to see if there are any good sales.  But I wouldn't go out of my way to visit that store.  I mean, as I said, it's in my neighbourhood, but it's not on my way home from work.  It's either a very healthy walk from my house, or I'd have to wait for a bus.  Plus there's nothing else in the area of the store that I'll go out of my way for.  At any rate, it was a fun little exploration for the afternoon.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Big Hair

Yesterday I told my stylist that I had decided to grow my hair long because I want to "embrace change".  He got worried.  Usually when clients come in with a request for something really new and different, it's because their marriage or relationship has broken up.  He thought this was my way of telling him that I was getting a divorce from Ken.

What!?

Thankfully, that's not an issue at the moment.  Ken and I are still BFF's.  The (potential) change I want to embrace is the situation in my workplace, which, incidentally, is still hanging in limbo and don't hold your breath because I have no idea. 

I've been dreaming of a headful of long, silky hair which I'm forever plaiting into smooth, glossy braids.  I know the reality won't be quite that lovely.  My hair has a tendency towards frizz, and when I used to braid it I had to strike while it was still slightly damp, and then it usually took three or four attempts to get a nice, even plait without a lot of short bits sticking out in the middle or big, floppy loops at the hairline.  Despite the hassle, I miss fussing over my hair.  It always did turn out looking pretty in the end.

I thought my stylist might be annoyed by my decision.  I figured that long hair would be more trouble for him to cut, without as much scope for creativity.  In fact, he's excited by the prospect!  Which is fantastic!  He's never seen me with long hair; I started going to him after I had it all lopped off around 6 years ago.  And although he gives the impression of being a bit of a scruffy punk, he's the best, most committed hair stylist I've ever had.  He takes pride in his work.

We talked about the last time I had long hair.  I used to keep it all one length, like a thick, heavy curtain, because I didn't feel that I had any other options.  Every once in a while some hairdresser would take it into his or her head to layer my hair, but that would just make it pouf out uncontrollably. My current stylist explained: back in the '80's, when I was still willing to experiment with layering, the proper technique for "texturizing" (i.e. thinning out) puffy hair like mine hadn't been invented yet.  Seriously?  That makes me feel so old!  I was born before the technology to deal with my hair even existed!  At least I'll manage to experience it in my middle age. 

(Or at least I assume I'll live to see my hair grow out.  I don't think that's too wildly optimistic.  It should only take a year.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dutiful weekly update

The past week has been pretty good.

I celebrated my birthday.  One of my friends baked me a delish-tastic cake, and gave me knee socks that say "BOOKWORM" up the sides.  Another friend gave me a bag full of ice cream.   I got a birthday card hand-lettered by a six-year-old, with some of the letters facing backwards.  And I went to a huge second-hand book sale and bought as many books as I could carry home.  So obviously life is pretty great.

On the other hand, there have been some developments with my super-top-secret work situation.  In a nutshell, there is a small but real possibility that I might be out of a job in a week or so.  The more likely alternative is that I keep my job, the situation drags on in limbo, but I have to terminate one of my employees.   Don't even ask why.  It's a long story and I don't feel like talking about it.

So even though I have a lot to be grateful for right now, and that's what I'm trying to stay focused on, life is kind of weird at the moment.  I mean, I actually took home some of my personal property from work, little gifts people had given me and so forth, so that I won't have so much to carry home in a cardboard box if I get the axe.  No one knows what's going on except a small handful of managers, so with everyone else I have to pretend like everything is normal.  It's pretty disorienting wondering if this, say, might be my 3rd-last day of work, or my 5th-last, but carrying on as though nothing has changed. 

I feel sad when I think about losing my job, mostly because of the relationships I've built up at work over the years.  Some days I can keep up the illusion that nothing is going to change, but not every day.  When I get tired of feeling sad, I feel numb.  I know that nothing can last forever.  Maybe what's making it so difficult is not being able to talk about it.  Keeping this huge secret from everyone I've always been so transparent with makes me feel that I'm already at a bit of a remove.

Well, no one is dying; I'm incredibly re-employable; and maybe the future has something even better in store for me.  So no matter how things go, I'm going to be okay.  I promise.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

No wiener required

Thanks for all your kind comments on my last post.  I did speak with my friend, and she heard me out without getting upset.  We're all good now.

Today's topic is something that I didn't expect to be writing about in Toronto in 2013.  I was raised to believe that women can do anything men can do, with the exception of a few obvious biological functions.  Sometimes I forget that I was in the first generation to be raised with these beliefs, at least on a society-wide scale.  In my mother's day, boys took woodworking classes and girls took sewing.  In my day, we all had to do both (and metal shop, and cooking basics).  I find it weird when I run into older peoples' beliefs about gender roles.

I recently took over responsibility for the light-bulbs at work.  It sounds like a joke.  How many Sparks does it take to change a light bulb? Ha ha.  But in an 18,000 square foot facility, believe me, there are a lot of light bulbs.  And as we have almost no windows or skylights, the lights are always on, and they burn out at a tremendous rate.

There are various types of fixtures to be dealt with.  The trickiest are the recessed pot lights.  Frankly, I think they are badly designed.  I took my first crack at changing those bulbs last week.  I brought out the 6-foot stepladder that I had purchased when we were at our previous location: an office with lower ceilings.  The ceiling I'm dealing with these days is 10 feet up.  I had to stand on the second-last step.  I was feeling pretty wobbly, and would have liked to brace myself against a solid support, but you need both hands on these stupid fixtures to pop the bulb casing out of the bracket, twirl the old bulb out, twirl a new bulb in, and whack the damn thing back into the ceiling.  I had a helper (a girl even shorter than me) to pass the bulbs up and be my spotter.  Nonetheless, I wasn't feeling especially secure up there.

An older, male client observed "Aren't there any men around here to do this?"

Well then of course I had to prove that I could do it myself.

There is, in fact, a man around that I could have asked for help.  He wouldn't have objected.  But why should I, when I can do it myself?  I mean, this guy is a Filipino.  If he's taller than me, it's not by much.

So I stubbornly stayed on task until I ran out of fresh light bulbs.  I gained confidence each time I completed another fixture.  Finally, covered in dust that had rained down on me from the ceiling tiles, I called it a day.

Upon reflection, although I was proud of having done the job like a daredevil, I realized that the wisest course of action would be to buy a taller ladder.  So I did.  I placed an order with an online company which promised next-day shipping.  Next time I would have an 8 foot ladder at my disposal.

As so often in life, a solution to one problem created another problem.  The 8 foot ladder was shipped in a 70 foot truck.  That truck could not deliver the ladder to my work address, because it was too big to turn around in our parking lot.  Fortunately, the building next door has a loading dock area.  I arranged for the driver to park there, just a one-minute walk away.  Then I brought my helper girl out to the truck with me.  I figured we could each take one end of the "featherweight" aluminum ladder and carry it back with us.

The driver was an older man, maybe 60.  When he saw us coming, guess what he said?  "Aren't there any men around who can do this?"

I said "Who needs men?", and we two ladies carried the ladder back across the parking lot without a problem.

I mean, I have nothing against men in general.  I'm sure these older fellows were just trying to be helpful, or wondering sadly when chivalry had died.  Sometimes it's handy to have a human with more strength and/or height to help with things, and it just so happens that slightly more often than not those stronger, taller people are male.  But I also really like doing things myself, when I can.

With a tall enough ladder, the sky's the limit. ;-)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

That Uncomfortable Moment When...

In the course of my work, I have facilitated resolutions to many interpersonal conflicts.  It's something I feel confident doing.  Even when I have to take the two combatants into our boardroom for a monitored "airing of feelings" session, I only get a little bit nervous.  Not all relationships can be patched up, but most can.  It's very satisfying to walk into a room with two people who are giving each other the stink-eye, and walk out with good feelings all around.

Most of the time, I'm refereeing between two of my own subordinates, or between one subordinate and a manager from another department.  Subordinates are the easiest to deal with, obviously.  They have to listen to me and they have to make an effort towards resolving the problem, if they like their jobs. 

However, it's a whole other kettle of fish when I have to confront a peer with their behaviour.  Especially when that peer, another manager, happens to be someone I count among my friends.  We lean on each other for support during bad days, and sometimes we spend time together on weekends.

This friend of mine has been getting too aggressive with my staff.  A couple of days ago, she loudly confronted one of my ladies in an open area of the office, within earshot of at least a half-a-dozen people.  My staffer wasn't entirely blameless, but that doesn't justify my friend's outburst. 

My friend has had a bad couple of weeks, and my feeling is that she was indulging in "kicking the dog", without being conscious of it.  You know, that situation where your clients and service providers are ticking you off, but you have to be polite to them, so when you finally have a reason to get irritated with an underling you take out all your frustrations on them?  That.

I can't ignore the situation.  Our organization has policies in place that specifically protect employees from harassment ("any behaviour that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms, or verbally abuses a person and that is known or would be expected to be unwelcome").  This is required by the Ministry of Labour of Ontario.

I have two options.  1)  I could report the behaviour to my boss, and let him handle it, in which case my friend would probably come back to me and ask why I didn't just speak to her myself; or 2) I could speak to her myself.  And I will, speak with her I mean.  I feel that I owe it to both of us to give that approach a try.  But I have been going over and over in my mind what I need to say and how I might best say it, and I'm still not feeling sure.

The thing is, in the five years since I've known her, we've never had a serious disagreement.  This will be the biggest challenge to our friendship so far.  Will she be willing to hear "constructive criticism" from me?  Will this affect our working relationship?  Will it create politics amongst our other friends in the office?  I feel that we probably have a strong enough bond that she will be open to what I have to say.  At the same time, I'm scared!

Either way, I'm going to be brave and go ahead with the confrontation as best I can.  It was not possible to do it today, so it'll be tomorrow or Monday.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lake View

I didn't have anything to blog about, so I went to the lake, just for you.  Okay, maybe not just for you.  I love the lake.  I hadn't been there in a long time.  Now that I live in Willowdale it's just a little too far away to pop down there casually, on a whim.  But I had free time today, so off I went.


Ooh, there it is!  Looking all blue and inviting.

I found myself a spot with a good view, and had a sit.  Me and my new friends hung out and watched the water sparkle.


That shot is not zoomed in at all.  The seagulls were so close I could have reached out and grabbed one if I wanted to.  It was slightly tempting.  Their feathers looked so soft and nice.

Some lucky people live in fancy condos right on the water and get this view every day.


Okay, see the boardwalk across the water?  We're about to head on over there.


And here we are, looking back at the corner where I was sitting a moment ago.  Apparently this is the duck area.  (If you want to see more detail, click on any photo to get the LARGEST POSSIBLE VIEW.)


Hello, duckie!

I wanted to take a photo that showed the majestic grace and nobility of the Canada geese, but they wouldn't cooperate.  They kept sticking their butts in the air.


They are diving for seaweed.

Moving right along.  To the man-made pond!  With paddle-boats!  With a toddler in a toddler-sized paddle boat!  This kid, who couldn't have been more than three, was using hand cranks attached to each paddle wheel to motor around the pond.  He'd even figured out that if he cranked one forward and one backwards, he'd spin in a circle.  What?!  Man, that kid is a better driver than me.


There were a LOT of people in the open-field area of the waterfront, and a lot of booths set up under tents.  It took me a minute to figure out what was going on, but then I saw the banana-girl...


... and I knew.  It was the Vegetarian Food Festival!

I didn't stay long in that area because it was super-crowded.  However, I did take note of a couple of veggie puns.


Badum TSHH!

Come on, folks!  Let's have a little appreciation!

*taps mike*  Is this thing on?

Anyhoo...

This one was on a food truck.  Lovin' would be easy if your colours were like my dreams.


Having escaped from the crowded festival, I arrived at the wibbly boardwalk.


And climbed to the top of one of the hills.


Talk about a million-dollar view.

Long shadows are so slimming!  Actually, more to the point, they're talling.  I sometimes like to pretend that I'm tall.


That was it!  Having accomplished my mission, I set out for home.  And that, folks, is the end.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

CNE Photo Essay

I went to the Canadian National Exhibition with my aunt, the horse lover.  My aunt's first priority, naturally, was a visit to the Horse Palace.  This first picture is of the mounted police's horse stables.  I post this mainly for scale: note the height of the half-doors over which the horsies are hanging their heads.


There was a miniature horse exhibition on just for the weekend, and I was lucky enough to get to meet some of the teeny ponies.  This little fellow is standing next to a half-door that's around the same height as the ones above. He weighs less than 200 pounds.


The miniature horses' little hooves clopped delicately as they walked on the concrete floor.  Some of the families that had brought wee horses to show had also brought their dogs.  You had to look twice to see whether it was a dog or a horse walking on a lead, because they were almost the same size.

Here's a momma mini-horse and her 3-month-old baby.


The foal was for sale for $800.  What?  That's less than some purebred puppies!  I was very tempted to take him home.  He would certainly turn heads on public transit.

Speaking of animals out of context, this bear wasn't feeling well, poor soul.


We met a baby snowy owl with amazing, bright yellow eyes.


Next up, in a refrigerated display case: butter sculptures!  Who recognizes the first one?  Clue: He's Canadian and that big collar is where his space helmet attaches to his space suit.




I have to say, those are the best butter sculptures I've ever seen.

Next up, a one-month-old calf.  He was moving his lips in his sleep as though he were dreaming about drinking milk.


6-month old cow.  My, they do grow up quickly, don't they?


Piggies, or, judging from the themed food at this year's fair, perhaps I should refer to them as "pre-bacons".  Oh yes, there was a lot of bacon to be found in the food building.  Don't tell the piggies.


Turkeys, striking a pose.


Slightly disturbing potato people, "proving" that this vendor only uses fresh-cut potatoes for their fries.  Well, whatever they were made of, those fries, and the gravy, were delicious.


And that is pretty much all there is to tell of the CNE.  I didn't eat anything crazy, unless you count "fries for dinner" as crazy.  (It's certainly unusual, for me at least.)  We didn't ride the zip line.  My aunt bought a hot pack.  I didn't buy anything other than food and water.  There really wasn't anything that I wanted.  Just quality time with my aunt.  Awwwww!  But it's true, we had fun, and then went home before it got dark because we are a couple of old ladies.  :-)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fun Facts

Fun Fact #1:  Rugs aren't worth the trouble.

Years ago, Ken and I inherited six small, Persian-style rugs from his parents' house.  Some of them were pretty, others simply passable.  We had them cleaned and laid them out throughout our little condo.  They added a sense of warmth to the decor.

Recently we decided that it was time to have them cleaned again.  A Rug Guy came to our home, rolled up all the rugs, and took them away in his Rug Bus*.   (*actually a panel van.)  The place seemed a bit empty without them.

I stopped missing the rugs immediately the first time I vacuumed the house without them.  Our vacuum has a thingamajobber on the business end of the hose which has to be switched from one setting to another every time you transition from bare floor to carpet.  It was a huge pain to have to stop every few feet to switch from floor to rug to floor again.  I can't tell you how liberating it was to roll through our entire floor plan without having to switch settings once.

When the rugs came back clean, they went straight into the storage locker.  From there they were donated to a charity thrift shop.  Never again.  If I want warmth on my floors, I will put on slippers.

Fun Fact #2:  Surprise!  The bathroom smells great!

I picked up some environmentally friendly shower cleaner on sale.  The packaging is so minimal that I didn't notice that it was scented.  I used it for the first time this morning and it smells so pretty!  Maybe I should spray it on my wrists and use it as cologne?  I wouldn't have to worry about soap scum accumulation on my arms.

Fun Fact #2.1:  Fun Fact #2 was not a Sponsored Fact.

Fun Fact #3:  However bad your life is, the Weddell Seal has it worse.

I have been watching a lot of nature specials set in the polar regions this summer.  Snow always looks so refreshing when it's hot out.  Anyhoo, I learned about these seals that live in the Antarctic.  For some reason, (maybe they're not very smart), these seals do not migrate to warmer waters during the Antarctic winter.  They stay by the shore while ice builds up around them.  Eventually the ice gets so thick that they have to work at maintaining the edges of their breathing holes.  When the hole starts to shrink due to ice build-up, they widen it by scraping at the ice with their teeth.  According to David Attenborough's voice-over on this special, the Weddell seals spend so much time munching ice that they wear their teeth down, which makes it difficult for them to eat as they get older. Now that's a tough life.  I have spent a lot of time since seeing that nature special wondering about the meaning of a Weddell seal's life.  But I guess each individual seal has to figure that out for his or herself.



Here's another video, which doesn't mention the ice holes, but it does show cute seal babies:

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bubbe Update

Last month, Elder Bubbe's residence was flooded.  All the seniors had to be evacuated to a nearby hotel, where they lived for a week until the residence dried out and had power restored.  Bubbe, true to form, regarded the event as an Adventure Vacation.  She's back at home now, and busy as ever.

I visited Bubbe after work on Thursday.  She's allowed to have dinner guests in the common dining room.  The rule is that Dinner Starts at 5:30 pm On The Dot and one mustn't be late!  The last time I went there I was delayed at work, and then I had to eat really fast to catch up with everyone else.  The kitchen staff is keen to serve all the courses, whisk away the dishes, and kick everyone out of the dining room so that they can go home.

Bubbe is assigned to a table which she shares with three other senior ladies.  When she has a guest, the staff sets aside a separate table for her, but she always insists on squeezing me in on a corner at her regular table.  I don't mind.  I don't need a lot of space, and her table-mates are good company.

Patricia has a plummy British accent, and most of her stories start with "During the war..."  She used to live on a largish estate, with horses.  Elizabeth is a friendly local.  Francis used to be a social worker.  Bubbe is the oldest among them by far, at 97, however she doesn't like to let the other residents know her age.  The younger seniors avoid making friends with the senior seniors, because they figure that just when they start to get attached to you, you'll up and die.  Sad, but true.

Dinner was potato-onion soup, followed by fish sticks with corn and french fries.  The portions are modest.  For dessert one could choose one of fruit cocktail, applesauce, or stewed prunes.  Bubbe went for the applesauce, because it makes her pills go down more easily.  At one point I looked over, and she had stuck a big, white capsule into the top of her applesauce cup, as though it were a maraschino cherry.  If I'd been prepared, I would have taken a photo of it.

After dinner we went up to Bubbe's room.  Despite the fact that we had just eaten a three course dinner, topped off with a cup of the world's most watery coffee, she immediately offered me refreshments.  I said that I was fine.  She managed to restrain herself for all of five minutes, but then she just had to put the kettle on, and go digging in her cupboards for biscuits.  She laid out a plate with a variety of cookies, biscotti, and chocolates.  I guess the habit of being the hostess has not worn off yet.

I noticed she had a project in her knitting basket.  I asked what she was making.  She showed me this pattern, which she is executing in sage green yarn.


OMG - so 80's!  This was the back of the pattern.  It actually looks pretty good once you add arms.


As usual, Bubbe was wonderful company.  She's clever, funny, and down-to-earth.  Before I left she had me promise to register on a particular website so that we can play Scrabble online.  I don't know what she's doing to be such a super-senior, but I hope she keeps doing it for a good while yet.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Surprises

Life is full of surprises.  After a couple of bad surprises in a row, it's easy to forget that there are good surprises too.

Yesterday I discovered something unpleasant in the server room at work.  I went in there to tidy up a few things, and realized that it was in a much bigger mess than I'd realized.

Several years ago, at my work's old location, I didn't have a proper server room.  The most important computer, the one that kept the whole business up and running, was on a folding table in a storage room.  It wasn't the greatest set-up.  For example, someone's mouse would quit on them.  They'd go looking in the storage room for a spare one, they'd find one that "no one was using", and they'd steal it for their PC.  Yes, you have guessed it, they stole the mouse from the server.  People also regularly borrowed the boom box that "no one was using" - the source for the hold music on our telephone system.  Fortunately no major damage was ever done by these sneaky thieves.  But it wasn't ideal.

What was handy about having the server in the storage room was that I had a lot of shelving on which to store my extra computer bits and pieces.  I had everything organized in labelled boxes, and in bags within the boxes.  Every different kind of cable you can think of, adaptors, spare whatchamawhoozits, it was all there, and I knew where it all was.

Anyone who's ever had to look after a fair-sized computer network will realize that you can accumulate a lot of extra accessories in a very short period of time.  For example, let's say a printer goes to the big network in the sky.  You order a new printer to replace it.  It comes with a USB cable that connects the printer to the PC.  However, the old USB cable from the old printer still works just fine.  So you use the old one.  Same thing goes with monitor cables, power cords, mice (mouses?) and keyboards (included when you replace a PC), etc.  Not to mention that every item comes with a box full of packaging (bags, styrofoam, cardboard, instruction booklets, CD's, twist ties, bubble wrap, warrantee statements etc.).

You have to keep on top of that stuff or it'll add up pretty quickly.

When my server was in the storage room, everything was sorted neatly.  When we moved a few years ago, all my nicely labelled boxes were transferred to the new storage room.  And my servers were transferred to (*trumpeted fanfare*) a proper server room!  The new storage room isn't located next door to the new server room.  So what did my contract I.T. guys do with all the stuff I listed above?  They threw it into cardboard boxes in the corner of the server room, all higgledy-piggledy.   When a box got full, they just started a new one.

When I got into one of the boxes yesterday and started digging through it, I was stunned.  I thought that at least they were keeping the network cables in one box, the power cables in another, etc.  But no, there was no order to be seen.  I started pulling out fistfuls of tangled cables, multiple copies of identical driver CD's (you only need to keep one, if that), dusty spare parts, a surge protector with a dead beetle stuck to it....  I even found new things, inventory that I didn't know I had, because it was buried under old stuff.  Nothing major, maybe $150 worth, but still.

I called the contracting company and the woman on the service desk was adequately horrified by my story.  She apologized sincerely and offered to send someone help me sort out the mess.  I told her that I wanted to do it myself because I want to see exactly what I have in those boxes so I can decide what to do with it all, and update my inventory.  Those lazy guys who couldn't be bothered to stay organized are going to get in sooooo much trouble!  This is actually a good thing - it gives me a bargaining point for our next annual meeting to discuss their monthly fees.  If I can embarrass the sales guy enough he won't feel that he can bump up our rates.  Silver lining!

To balance that, here's a good surprise.  A temporary employee who just started has pleasantly surprised me.  He's only here for a couple of months to cover someone's medical leave, but he's caught on fast and is fitting in with the team like a hand into a glove.  He told me that while he was unemployed he spent some of his time writing letters to Canadian and American troops overseas, to encourage them.  Isn't that sweet?  He's one of those chronically under-appreciated people who is good-hearted and smart but doesn't look like he just walked out of GQ.  I (and my team) are super-happy to have found him, and he's obviously thrilled to be with us.  I wonder if I can find a way to keep him on once my other employee comes back from her medical leave?  We'll see.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Leopard is In

Yesterday I went for a walk and I took some pictures so that it would be like taking you guys along with me.  Are you ready?

The first stop was at my favourite shmata store.  Look at those prices!  Sun dresses for $6!  Hoodies for $13!  How could you go wrong?  Okay, I'll admit it, you could still go wrong.  But I did pick up a nice pair of pink sweatpants for my couch potato act at home.  They were a steal at $10, and they are very comfy.



I walked past the William Ashley store.  They may be snotty and overpriced, but they're not above using a pun for a window display.



Since I was in Yorkville, I took some notes on the latest fashions.  Stripes are still in.  Even basset hounds are wearing them.


Also, inexplicably, leopard spots are in.  Here is a sweater that says "Love" backwards and forwards, with three-quarter length leopard-print sleeves.  Is it just me, or are fashion designers getting desperate?  I mean, it seems like they'll do anything to produce original clothing, regardless of whether or not it actually looks good.


Blech.

The mall is under renovation.  I guess they think this is cute.  Kind of a chick-lit book-cover style of shopping encouragement.  Ladies!  Don't let your enthusiasm be dampened by the scaffolding!


Here is the leopard look for men.  Are all you guys  paying attention?  I expect you to study the mannequin and make sure this look is in your wardrobe for Saturday night on the town.  Or maybe even casual Friday at work, if you're feeling bold.


I did not buy any leopard print anything.  I did manage to finally spend the rest of a gift certificate that I've been carrying around since my last birthday.  (It's almost my next birthday.)  I bought a new cardigan (fuchsia, summer weight) because I am of the opinion that I can never have too many cardigans.

Finally, I stopped in at the library, where I discovered another pun.  IMHO this one is better than William Ashley's.  I approve.