Thursday, July 31, 2008

Technological Breakthroughs

I'm really proud of my mom. Her computer skills are improving slowly but surely, and she's daring to do more by herself.

Once was, she would see any unfamiliar option on the screen, and immediately her brain would go into a state of panicked paralysis. Now she's actually exploring on her own, clicking through drop-down menus to see what her options are, running software updates, and surfing the internet late into the night.

Of course there's still room for improvement, but the biggest difference is that she's actually enjoying using the computer now, at least some of the time.

She's most comfortable with e-mail, having learned how to do forwards, add people to her address book, and even (this was a very intimidating concept only a few weeks ago) send attachments. Look out world - Red Hot Computer Skillz coming through!

Last night she called me when she couldn't get her e-mail working. I did tech support while she ran back and forth between the computer and the phone in the kitchen. She doesn't own a wireless phone, unless you count the cell phone which she just got a few weeks ago.

Last time I was over, I had to point out to her that her cell phone would be most useful if she carried it with her, in her handbag, instead of leaving it lying on a bookshelf where it had been gathering dust since she bought it. Now I do believe she keeps it in her purse, although I'm not sure if she's ever turned it on.

So, last night, after she'd been running back and forth for half an hour, I suggested that next time she might want to call me from her cell phone so that she could sit in front of the computer and talk to me on the phone at the same time. I know she likes to stay in shape, but the back-and-forth got tedious after the 20th round-trip.

That kind of blew her mind: the way in which I suggested she use these two unfamiliar pieces of technology at the same time for maximum efficiency. I'm confident that she's up to the challenge of cell phoning and computing simultaneously. She's a smart lady.

I wonder what technology she'll embrace next? One of these days will I show up at the house to find her rocking out to Guitar Hero? It could happen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dinner at the Pastor's House

I wasn't sure what to expect, but I wasn't nervous either. The pastor, K, seemed like such a warm, genuine person. His smile alone had put me at ease when we met. He's a wiry, fit man who must be in his late 50's, according to his life story, but who looks ten years younger. He has great posture and preaches with passionate energy.

Ken and I arrived at his little bungalow at the appointed time of 7 o'clock. We were welcomed in by K's wife, L. We passed them our host/hostess gifts. They offered us a seat and a glass of guava nectar.

We learned that K was born on the tiny island of Mauritius, off the east coast of Madagascar, which is off the east coast of Africa, south of the equator. His mother was French and a non-practicing Jew; his father was a non-practicing Muslim. Initially K's dream was to become a fine artist. He stopped and gestured around the living room - all the oil paintings on the walls were his creations. Beautiful! The man has skill! He moved to France to go to art school, and was introduced to Jesus there.

Considering my own newbie status to the Christian faith, I always feel more comfortable in the presence of converts. Technically (according to Jewish law), K was also born a Jew. It's like, we're practically related! OK, well, maybe not. But it does make a big difference to me that he's coming from that perspective. I know that he can speak to my experience as a kindred spirit.

L was very much a traditional hostess, although neither of them were at all stuffy or formal. We were offered starter snacks on a table with a white doily on it, and after some introductory conversation we were asked to be seated at the dining room table. L served us Mauritian chicken curry stew from a tajine.

(This isn't my photo - I swiped it to illustrate what a tajine is.)

I had been a little worried about the curry, as K had been building it up quite a bit since he invited us for dinner, but it wasn't insanely spicy. Just hot enough to be delicious.

The conversation turned to matters of faith. K inquired after my own story, and then Ken's. He and L asked us quite a lot of clarifying questions to figure out where we were coming from. At one point L got up from the table and returned with a bible, to look up a quote that K had referenced. At that point I had one of those weird splits where the critical part of my brain backed right off from the rest of me.

"Woah!" it said. She just brought a bible to the dinner table!"

"Yep," I said to it. "We're at the pastor's house, remember? This type of thing is to be expected."

"But... it's so WEIRD!" said my critical brain. "I was willing to play along for the sake of good curry and pleasant conversation, but do you really expect me to take this seriously? Isn't it a little much?"

"Get used to it," I said. "You and I both know that I need this faith to get me through the rest of my life without falling back into depression. We've tried everything else. Unless you want to start taking medications, this is it. Take it seriously."

"grumph" said my critical brain, and shut up.

(I maintained enough self-control not to use my out loud voice for this exchange.)

I left with a stack of books on loan from K, some old questions answered, and some new ones already forming.

This past Sunday, the other pastor, B, was back from holiday. His wife, M, made some comments to the effect that she would like to get to know us better, so there may be another pastor's house dinner in our future. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

2 Awards and a Meme

I am the recipient of much generosity this week!

Firstly, Ron kindly offered me the Arte Y Pico award.

I will plagiarize Ron's description verbatim: This award was created to be given to bloggers who inspire others with their creativity, and for contributing to the blogging world in whatever medium.

(Don't you love how I announce an award for creativity by plagiarizing? That in itself could be considered creative...)

Of course there are some rules to be respected:

1. You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award through creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogger community, no matter of language.
2. Each award should have the name of the author with a link to their blog.
3. Award winners have to post the award with the name and link to the blog of the person who gave them the award.
4. Please include a link to the Arte Y Pico blog so that everyone will know where the award came from.

I would like to pass this award along to the following worthy bloggers, in alphabetical order:

1. Nicole at Nicole B Photography

2. Syb at No Moron Left Behind

3. Tink at Pickled Beef

4. Saviabella at her blog of the same name

5. Whatigotsofar at Whatigotsofar version 2.0

There is also a meme component of this award, which requires me to list 5 little-known facts about myself, so here goes.

1. I was born 6 weeks early, breech (i.e. ass-backwards) and weighed 4 pounds, 4 ounces at birth. Anyone who remembers me as a newborn can't tell me enough about how small I was, even now, whenever the subject comes up. I kind of wish I'd waited until my full term to be born, because then I might have my birthday on Hallowe'en, which would be so cool!

2. For reasons unknown, I never developed baby teeth (i.e. molars) on the left side of my mouth. The pediatric dentist my mom took me to told her that it meant I was dying of some horrible bone disease. My poor mom. I was fine, and in fact there was that much less teething for her to deal with. My adult teeth came in just fine, and I didn't even need braces.

3. Ever since I started sleeping on a pillow-top mattress, I no longer sleep with a pillow under my head. It seems redundant, and my neck is happier that way.

4. I almost never eat a whole chocolate bar at once. Half is enough. I wrap up the other half for another day. I don't find this odd, but everyone else seems to think it's like, some kind of superpower or something.

5. I had a nose ring for less than a year. I took it out when I got hired to a corporate job. Sometimes I miss it, but I wouldn't re-pierce my nose because the healing process was a pain in the rear.

And now... Another award!

San at A Life With A View has been so kind as to award me the Just Plain Fun To Read award.

This award was developed by Daryl at Out and About in New York City. I would like to pass it along to the following worthy bloggers (in alphabetical order):

1. Dianne at Forks Off the Moment

2. Karen at Smiling Through It All

3. Leighann at Pessimists Need Love Too

4. Jenski at Where To Start?

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Recently I was at the Yonge-Eglinton mall, which houses a big, bright, shiny Indigo bookstore. I have done my fair share of shopping there. But the bookstore that I find hardest to resist is a scruffy little hole-in-the-wall that's located underground in the Eglinton subway station. I have a very hard time walking past it without going in, and once I'm in there's no way I'm leaving without two or three new books.

I justify it by the fact that it's a discount bookstore, offering 50% off the suggested retail price. The fluorescent red price stickers seduce my inner bibliophile.

You can tell how long a book has been there by how dirty it is. The air quality in the subway station is poor, thanks to the constant crowd of buses idling at any of a dozen or so bays just down the hall. All the black, sooty particulate that belches out of their tailpipes finds its way into the store and settles into the pages. After I've been browsing in there for a while, my hands look like I was just fingerprinted at the police station across the road.

It's actually really disgusting and I can't explain why I'm not more put off by the filth. I think at some level I'm convinced that the dirt is only a superficial mask for unknown treasures. Others may be put off, but I'm going in for the gold!

I bring my selections to the cash, where the owner types up the prices and tries to lure me into buying one more book for an additional discount. I usually decline because I've already got enough to carry all the way home. The owner then pulls out his ever-present tool of the bookstore trade: a vacuum cleaner. With the upholstery attachment, he carefully vacuums my books, sucking as much soot as possible from the cracks in the binding and between the pages.

Now that's customer service! Has any bookstore ever vacuumed your books for you? I didn't think so.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Etobicoke Park in the Rain

The way this summer is going, if I waited for sunny weekends to go to all my favourite parks, I wouldn't get far. This weekend it rained pretty much non-stop, but darned if that was going to keep me from going to my favourite park in Etobicoke by the lakeshore. As you can see, it was a mite gloomy.

For you non-Torontonians, "Etobicoke" is pronounced with a silent "k". Say "Ee-TOE-bi-coe". Very good.

The ducks weren't bothered by the rain.

Nor were the Canada geese.

If you peer into the mist, waaaaay across the lake you can see a skinny little spike right in the middle of the photo. That's the CN tower, the world's tallest free-standing structure. It doesn't look like such hot potatoes from this distance, does it?

I wasn't the only one desperate to squeeze some summer fun from the rainy day. Here are some brave folks swimming in Lake Ontario. Personally I wouldn't put my face in that water. I'd be scared of getting pink-eye. I hear the storm drains are prone to overflowing on very rainy days, floating a dose of raw sewage into the lake. Even wading seems kind of dicey under those circumstances.

Here's a dog shaking himself off after a dip. His owner is still front-crawling off the left edge of the frame. I was surprised that the dog showed no interest in chasing any of the five swans who were paddling along just in front of him.

This is a hint of how pretty the park is in brighter light. There are huge swaths of wildflowers, trees, and swampy areas. The place teems with wildlife. We saw birds whose names we didn't know, and several fancy butterflies.

If I get a chance to go back on a sunny day, I'll get some photos that'll knock your socks off. In the meantime, you'll have to make do with these soggy offerings.

That's all for now, folks!

Until next time, goodbye...

Sunday, July 20, 2008


When life's been really hectic, I crave the calm atmosphere and yummy veggie cuisine at the Annapurna Vegetarian restaurant. Lucky me, I got to go this weekend. Here's what it looks like inside. Yes, that is a trickling fountain in the foreground.

The restaurant is run by people who follow the spiritual teachings of Sri Chinmoy . All the servers are adherents of his philosophy. I don't know if it qualifies as a religion, because I'm too busy sucking back delicious soya milk smoothies (soy milk, banana, dates, cinnamon, and honey - woo!) to do in-depth research while I'm there. I do know that they teach meditation classes and sell books by the cash register.

Sri Chinmoy's sayings are posted on the sugar packets, and also on the walls under interpretive paintings. They are inspirational and soothing. Here's one:

"Peace is the indomitable response to life's every challenge." I can buy that! Then there are some that are less accessible to the uninitiated...

"The sex of peace is just inside your mind's silence-sky." Err... That one goes over my head, but it sounds promising. I might have spent some time thinking about it, if I weren't so preoccupied with my enjoyment of the fabulous curry lunch special plate (chick-pea and spinach curry, veggie curry stew, and rice with cashew nuts - mmmm! Fabulous.)

On the walk back to the car, I saw some flowers. I'm not so good with flower names. This one is a tiger lily perhaps?

And these unusual flowers - I don't believe I've ever seen them before. What do you suppose they're called?

Phallus Blossoms, maybe?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mysterious Tub

I found something else on my walk. A giant plastic tub of blue stuff. It's about 9 feet high.

I don't know what's in there, but there's room for 2500 gallons of it.

I find it troubling that this mysterious vat is sitting out in the open, within the reach of children and mischievous teenagers. It could be raspberry Kool-aid, but somehow I doubt that. It's within a stone's throw of the community centre pool. It's probably filled with dangerous chemi-kills.

Could they not have come up with a more secure means of storage? Methinks this must be in violation of safety bylaws. If not, we need better bylaws.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A walk

Come with me on a walk in my neighbourhood. I love how green it is in the summertime.

The houses are divided into two types. The older homes are almost all bungalows. This one is cute.

Some are quite modest, like this one.

And then there are the new monster homes. Here's a mansion with a two-story foyer and three garages. It's a popular style.

There are also a lot of homes like these, with stone exteriors and metal accents. The metal looks like copper when it's being installed, but it doesn't turn green, so maybe it's brass. I'm not sure.

On every block there is at least one site where one or more old bungalows is being torn down and/or a giant mansion is being built. Here's an odd couple side by side. The monster home looms over the little bungalow.

I like the bungalows. I hope that some of them are preserved. They allow for more greenery, with pretty gardens in front instead of giant parking pads.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Car Overboard

Sunday morning, just before 10:30 am. Ken and I are on our way to church. Two blocks away, we hear sirens approaching our area from several directions. A fire truck zooms past. I have that passing thought: I hope the church isn't on fire... But of course it won't be. It's always someone else's emergency.

Except this time. We round a corner to find several emergency vehicles converged on the church parking lot. There are two fire trucks, an ambulance, and a police cruiser. A handful of people are clustered together, looking at a hole in the wooden boards bordering the parking lot. All the emergency personnel are gathered around this hole.

On the other side of the wooden boards is a giant hole in the ground. A condo development has been hard at work excavating. We can't see how deep the hole is, but we assume it's enough to accomodate at least two layers of underground parking.

The firemen work together to rip the top sections of the damaged boards away from the rest of the wall. As the gap widens, the tail end of a car becomes visible, barely sticking up out of the hole. Rumour has it that an elderly couple and their grandchild, a baby, are in the car, moments away from sliding nose-down into the depths of the pit. The driver hit the gas instead of the brake while parking, and they blasted straight through the wooden hoarding.

Now, in a scene straight out of a Hollywood action movie, they are poised on the brink.

As more and more people arrived for church, the crowd grew. Yellow police tape was put up to around the scene. More rumours flew through the crowd. We all watched anxiously as the crews formulated solutions. I put my head down and prayed.

Finally we were called into the church to pray together.

Fortunately, all the occupants of the car were safely evacuated. They had bruises from hanging face-down in their seat belts, and the driver was understandably distraught, but it was as good an outcome as anyone could have hoped for.

By the time the service was complete, the Big Tow was there, winching the car up out of the hole.

The angle of the car in this shot is the same angle at which it was "parked" at the edge of the hole.

They gently lowered the car down until all four wheels were once again on horizontal ground.

The guy with the camera is from one of the local news shows.

I was pretty shaken up by the incident, even though I didn't know the people in the car. I found out later, from the evening news, that the hole was only as deep as the car was long. They weren't in any danger of sliding into an abyss, as we all assumed. That impression certainly added to the drama!

All's well that ends well. Thank God.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Feelin' Good

Folks, I'm happy to report: I'm feeling really good today. Even though this week was stressful at work, even after the temp fiasco, even though the weather forecast calls for thunderstorms today, I feel surprisingly steady and optimistic.

I have noticed significant changes in myself within the past two weeks. Ever since I recovered from my mini-freak-out, I feel that I've been moving from strength to strength. And it's coming from a very unexpected source.

Keep in mind that while I am immersing myself in Christian writings, podcasts, TV shows, and prayer, there is still a large and active portion of skepticism in my mind. I spent 35 years doubting and questioning. That doesn't go away overnight. I'll always be the type of person to examine and test every concept before I accept it. And I'm really used to dismissing anything related to religion as a bunch of hot air.

So even though I'm reading, listening, or watching, my inner skeptic sits back with its feet up, making its presence known. Sometimes I stop and ask myself: Am I really doing this? Do I really believe? Are these feelings just wishful thinking? I'm incapable of swallowing new ideas hook, line, and sinker, even if I wanted to.

Despite this mistrust, I find that the material is having an impact on me. I feel stronger, more confident, peaceful, and centered.

I might make fun of the Bible while I read it, or pay imperfect attention to it because Ken has the TV on and it's distracting my attention, but when I put that book down, I'm always amazed by how good I feel. I don't especially enjoy reading it the way I enjoy my regular books. I don't know how the feeling of contentment sneaks up on my while I'm reading. It only takes a couple of passages and I'll feel the effect. I have to say: it seems there really is something there beyond the words and the paper. It's certainly not something that I expected or even hoped for.

It's very weird.

The same thing happens with other material. I get something out of it that my intellectual mind wants to reject. It's beyond my rational understanding.

Prayer is even more powerful. I might not find the words of certain prayers to be aesthetically pleasing, or expressive of my own particular feelings, but reciting them, especially aloud, draws feelings into my heart, seemingly out of the blue.

My rational mind balks at the illogic, but my heart welcomes these new feelings. I have a significantly increased ability to deal with stress, and I'm much more likely to speak my mind with confidence. Hey, it works! I can't argue with that logic.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Temporarily Out of Service

As usual, my department is understaffed. I have availed myself of the services of a temp agency to fill the gaps.

This temp agency has always provided me with decent service. Around half the time they send someone who's truly excellent. The other half of the time they send someone who'll get the job done. All the temps they've sent have been professional and friendly. I have great faith in this company.

Since a couple of weeks ago I've had a temp on a long-term assignment. She's doing easy stuff that anyone with office experience could walk in and do, like alphabetical filing and answering the phones. She was doing a pretty good job too, until she got sick.

Yesterday I came in to find: no temp. The temp agency had left a message on my voice mail stating that my temp was sick and wouldn't be in. This confused me.



They have an infinite supply of these smiling, efficient ladies at their disposal. When I did call them back, they offered to send someone else over right away, if I wanted. Of course I wanted! That's why I hired the temp in the first place! Duh. I sincerely feel that a replacement should have been dispatched automatically.

Maybe that's not their protocol... Whatever.

That day turned out to be quiet, so I told them not to bother, but that if our regular temp was still sick by the next day, they definitely needed to send someone, because mid-week is our busiest time.

I walked in this morning to find my staff in a frenzy of busy-ness and NO TEMP. What?!

Yesterday I was willing to let slide, but today I was steaming mad! I had left very clear instructions, which they had not followed. I called the temp agency rep with barely restrained fury.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," said the rep, "I didn't understand. I thought you meant you only needed someone if Temp was going to be off for the rest of the week." Yeah. What part of "tomorrow is the busiest day of our week so we'll definitely need someone" was ambiguous?


In the end they sent Temp2, who saved our butts for the rest of the day. I guess I can forgive the agency for the screw-up. But I'll be keeping my eye on that rep if I ever deal with her again. Trust me, in future I will make sure that everying is painfully clear.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Goose Parade

On Saturday Ken and I went down to Toronto Island for a walk in the sun.

One of the feature attractions of the Island fairgrounds is a small zoo called Far Enough Farm. It's got an odd assortment of barnyard animals and exotic birds: pigs, cows, horses, peacocks, pheasants, and emus. There is also a population of big white geese that run free. They usually stick to their territory around the farm, but they are unenclosed, and mingle with the wild ducks and Canada geese.

I know that we're not supposed to feed the birds, for a variety of sound and practical reasons. However, we do it anyway. Every once in a while I try to "do the right thing" and abstain, but it never lasts. I'm a bird-feeding addict. I'm sorry, but it's an illness and not within my control. Until I find a Twelve-Step Program, those lucky birds are getting handouts from me.

All the birds get excited when they see snacks. The ducks begin quacking up a storm. The Canada geese hiss and snap at each other as they compete to stand closest to us. Seagulls, sparrows, starlings, and red-wing blackbirds hover hopefully on the periphery. But the big white geese blow through the crowd like the bullies they are, scattering all the other birds to the wind. They stretch out their necks and honk. Their beady little blue eyes bulge. They flap their wings to make themselves look bigger. And if you try to stand your ground, they will bite. Hard.

The geese can move quickly. Their big webbed feet push them through the water with an impressive show of power. On land, they run. This is not quite so impressive. Their legs are only around four inches long, so they really have to motor just to keep up with a regular human walking pace. When they run on any paved surface, their giant webbed tootsies make comical, loud slapping sounds. Begging the pardon of animal lovers everywhere, sometimes we lure them into a run just to listen to their funny feet.

Usually we get a crowd of between two and four geese, and that's plenty. But this time, we hit the Goose Jackpot. We found a gaggle of them grazing in a quiet, grassy area. Ken broke out the bread, and we were off to the races. All he had to do was rustle the plastic bag and several of them immediately broke into a run towards us. We started dropping bread bits and walked backwards slowly. More geese caught wind of the excitement and joined the crowed.

As the crowd of geese grew, we made our way along a paved path, luring them forward. It was difficult to get an exact count, but at the peak I think we had close to twenty of them chasing us, backsides wiggling energetically. The sound of forty webbed feet slapping against the pavement in surround sound was unparalleled in my experience.

At a certain point I stopped suddenly, for some random reason, without realizing that there was a goose racing hot on my heels. I braked, he didn't, and his beak collided with my rear end. It took me a moment to realize: I'd just been goosed by a goose!

I've eaten Salade Nicoise in Nice, France; I've bought Oxford shoes in Oxford, England; and now I've been goosed by a goose. Let no one say that I don't live a rich and exciting life!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Last Sunday, for the first time ever in my life, I went to church. As I've explained, this is a Big Deal. I'm not even 100% sure whether or not I'm ready to write about it, but what the heck. So far all my leaps of faith have landed encouragingly.

Strictly speaking, I did go to church once before, two Sundays ago. I had gone online and found an appealing website, stating that this church welcomed everyone in the community, of all cultures, and offered "lively musical worship". I expected that I might have to try out a few different congregations before one clicked for me, but this seemed like a good place to start.

The website noted that the Sunday service started at 11:00 am. Ken decided that he would come with me. So up we got on Sunday morning, dressed ourselves respectably, and arrived at the church around 10:50 am.

A Korean language service was already in progress, so we tip-toed around the foyer, picking up booklets from a wire spinner and generally being nosy. As the minutes passed and 11:00 grew closer, I started to wonder why no one else was gathering for the 11:00 am English service.

Answer: There wasn't one.

These people really need to update their website. Their completely English website.


So we hopped back in the car and went downtown for brunch, a walk in the sun, and raspberry gelato in Little Italy. After that I didn't feel so bad.

Next time I picked out a promising church, Ken ran a reconnaissance mission. He actually stopped in and spoke to one of the pastors. Pretty darn nice of him, considering that this whole Christianity thing is my obsession, not his. He didn't want me to be disappointed.

He brought home a glowing report of a beautiful, brand-new church building, and a friendly, genuinely sweet pastor. I was psyched.

This past Sunday, ten minutes before the service was schedule to start, we ran out the door, sweating in our proper clothes and dodging the raindrops which were just starting to fall. We live just a few blocks away from this church, well within walking distance. We sprinted most of the way there, so fearful were we of being tardy and receiving disapproving stares.

We needn't have worried. People were drifting in and getting settled in the padded pews for a good ten minutes after we pulled up at the door. A white-haired man greeted us and passed us a leaflet. We picked a strategic spot to one side, perfect for a quick getaway if things got dicey. Don't ask me what we were afraid of - it was just the unknown, I guess.

It was all good. We sang songs, the lyrics projected onto a screen overhead. The service was inspiring. It was based on the story of Exodus, which I am familiar with from my family's Jewish Passover services. That went a long way towards making me feel at home.

I found out that the pastors like to be addressed informally, by their first names. Anyone present is invited to take communion, not only those who have been baptized. It's a very friendly church. Apparently there's usually a Tea Social after the service, but it's been suspended for the summer months. Anyway, we were stopped by several people on our way out who just wanted to introduce themselves, welcome us, and encourage us to come back.

All in all it was a heart-warming experience. Coming from me, this is shocking. I'd never in a million years have predicted that I'd turn into a church-goer. But there it is. I'm already looking forward to next Sunday.