Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Importance of Soup

I've been in my current job for 9 years.  I don't think I could find a better one if I tried.  That's one of the things that's been bumming me out lately; the owner of the business is now in his 70's and talking about retirement.  I'm not sure if the business will be able to survive without him*, and if it does it might not maintain the warm, supportive culture that makes it so special.  I know I should just count my lucky stars that I've had so many good years and leave the rest in God's hands, but it's tough not to cling to something so good.

*I'm not exaggerating about the survival question.  The nature of our business is such that the owner has had to face continual legal and financial challenges to keep it open.  Most of those challenges involved locking horns with powerful authority figures including the government and government-sanctioned regulatory bodies.  He's beaten all the challengers so far over more than 20 years.  I'm not sure if anyone else is up to the task.

It's a nurturing work environment.  I feel that my co-workers are closer to me than many members of my family.  Last week a woman on my staff brought in a giant container of homemade soup for all of us.  I was in the middle of a super-busy afternoon when she showed up at my office door with my portion, served up hot from the kitchen in a proper soup bowl, with two slices of multigrain baguette, still warm from the toaster, resting on a little napkin.

I swear that was the best bowl of soup I ever ate.  Carrot, potato, leek, and ginger, it was, with some magical blend of spices that made my eyes roll back.  I could probably get paid 30% more per year for what I do, in the corporate sector, but I bet I would be miserable.  I've worked in other companies, and they couldn't pay me enough to stay more than 6-12 months at a stretch.  Seriously, that soup was priceless.  It was made with love.

I'm praying that we get to enjoy love for as long as possible.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2nd Anniversary

Yes!  We made it!  Ken and I have been officially together for 10 years.  We took our sweet time getting married.  Yesterday was only our second wedding anniversary, but really it meant more than that.

Ken surprised me with a gift.  A genuine Tokidoki handbag!  It's very cute, on a fantasy theme, with fire-breathing dragons, genies, and fairies printed on it.  Obviously awesome and a very generous gift.  Those bags don't come cheap.

He also said he would take me out for dinner, but first I should check in our furnace closet because there was some kind of leak and he was worried that it might have damaged something I had been storing in there.  Feeling a bit worried about the state of our pipes, I went to the closet and opened the door.  Everything looked normal.  I was confused. 

Ken was right there behind me saying "Hey, look, no leak!  But what's that on the floor?"  I looked down.  There was a big bag on the floor.  A Birks bag!  For those among you not in the know, Birks is the fanciest of all the Canadian jewelry retail chains.  Birks is the kind of store you go into to gawk at the $20,000.00 engagement rings and then run the other way quickly when the salespeople start to move in.

The Birks bag was full of boxes, all a signature shade of bright blue and tied with brown ribbons.  I was a little overwhelmed and couldn't bring myself to dig in right away.  Ken urged me on.  "Start with the smallest one," he said.

I opened the blue box.  The top lifted off smoothly to reveal a little brown box-within-a-box.  I took out the smaller box and popped the top.  It held a pair of lovely pink pearl earrings.  Don't let me hear you asking if they were real.  Everything at Birks is real. 

I put on the earrings immediately.  They are gorgeous, of course.  The next box revealed a pearl bracelet, and the next a matching necklace.  Not round, white pearls, but a soft selection of slightly odd-shaped ones in shades of pink, peach, ivory, champagne, pale plum, and soft grey.  They are highly iridescent, some of them almost to the point of appearing metallic.  Lovely, amazing, breathtaking.  I put them on.  Their weight rested smoothly against my skin.

I thought back to our conversation of the previous evening.  Ken had been casting about for a gift idea for me for our anniversary.  I suggested a piece of costume jewelry.  He asked me what I thought of pearls.  I said I liked them, but did he know that they're made of oyster snot?  They're basically, like, really expensive oyster boogers.

I would like to revise that statement publicly, if I may.  It was love at first sight with my shiny, silky pearls.  Ken never does anything by halves.  I love that about him, and it's one of the reasons why I married him.  He picked the perfect gift to always remind me of why he's the best husband in the world for me.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weighty Cosmic Ponderings

I have gone all introverted lately.  I have given myself permission to set aside my sense of humour for a while to ponder the weighty matters of life.  I feel that it's appropriate to do so "for a season", to borrow the Christian phrase.  Of course this makes me phenomenally boring and self-obsessed.  It's not a state of mind that is conducive to blogging.

To sum it all up with minimal loathsomeness: Though I am aware that life is a constant cycle of death and rebirth, every loss leading eventually to some type of gain, lately I've been feeling like everything is rapidly dropping off the end of a swift and merciless treadmill.  There have been a lot of changes lately (at work, with my health, with friends and family), and more changes coming up on the horizon, that all seem to be on the loss side of the equation.  Normally I think I'm pretty good at taking life as it comes, with a reasonable amount of acceptance, but I got overwhelmed and now I can't seem to help fighting against the changes.  Of course one can't win that kind of fight.  I just end up feeling helpless and exhausted.

One thing I never thought about when it comes to aging: everyone around you ages all at once.  That sucks!  I always thought I could age gracefully, and accept my parents' aging, etc.  Thinking about each person aging and eventually dying one at a time wasn't so bad.  It seemed natural and bittersweet.  But you don't get to deal with it one person at a time.  The whole parade of people I care about are all marching towards the cliff's edge, and although it might seem stupid it's something that only struck me recently.  My beloved friend Val had a stroke last week.  It was minor and she will fully recover, but yikes!  Not to mention she revealed to me that she could drop dead without warning at any time from a brain aneurysm, due to the way things are set up inside her body.


So anyway I've gone all emo and am grappling with issues of mortality, existential angst, and too much time spent listening to the news, which makes the entire world seem constantly embroiled in horrible catastrophes.  I suppose it's an appropriate mid-life crisis, and I'll get through it eventually, when I can work through to some kind of more peaceful acceptance of Everything.

Yesterday helped.  I went downtown and met a friend for lunch.  It was raining and chilly when I left my house.  By the time we paid our bill, the sky was a brilliant blue and the restaurant had propped their doors open to let a warm breeze waft through the dining room.  I packed around 20 pounds worth of now-unnecessary warm clothing  layers into my bag, and we set out on a gorgeous walk.  I managed to heroically walk and shop, carrying this stupidly heavy bag, for several hours.   This is a good sign.  It means I'm physically stronger than I thought.

Spending relaxed, quality time with my friend was lovely.  However, the most remarkable event of the day took place on the subway train on my way downtown.  I took a seat near a man with a violin case at his feet.  One stop later, a family got on with two young boys, aged around 3 and 5, who were fussing and bored.  The violin man took out his violin.  First he quietly plucked "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star".  The smallest boy sang along.  Then he took up his bow and played "Old MacDonald Had A Farm".  He got a smattering of applause at the end.  He went back to Twinkle Twinkle and played it, this time with two-string harmony and all sorts of fancy little embellishments.  More people were getting on at each stop.  A crowd gathered round, smiling, oohing and aahing, and encouraging him with applause.

Pretty soon the violinist stood up and treated us to a beautiful mini-concert.  He was good, too.  Really good.  His tuning was absolutely perfect, his timing and dynamics creative in a way that gave each piece character.  He was obviously a musician all the way from the soles of his shoes to the calluses on his fingers.  It was amazing to be there for that spontaneous concert; to witness how music powerfully shifted the mood on the car from glum boredom to engaged happiness.  That man made everyone's day by doing what he obviously loves to do.  It was a splendid creative act.  It gave me faith that not everything is dropping off the end of the treadmill.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Collection 2011

OK, all y'all deserve something a little more upbeat from me, and here it is!  Ken took me shopping at Vaughan Mills mall on Sunday, and it was super-awesome-fun.  I forgot all my troubles, had a chocolate-soy-ice-cream waffle cone, and got all stylish for spring.  There are a couple of purchases here that didn't get got on Sunday.  I will explain as we go along.  But first, I introduce you to the world's greatest ever socks, courtesy of the Holt Renfrew Last Call bargain outlet:

(In case you can't quite make out the image, that's a stag's head looming out of a profusion of wildflowers.  Also, feel free to be impressed by my ability to balance on one leg while taking a photograph with no flash in low light with almost no blur.  I balance good!)

These shoes were purchased on Queen St. West a couple of weeks ago at Get Outside.  They are supremely comfy and OMG the coolest.  I am also proud to add that they are made in Canada, are water repellant, and have some kind of high tech lining that claims it will keep my feet cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  Whatever, I'd wear them even if they weren't marvels of modern technology.

Impulse buy at Bass Pro in Vaughan Mills Mall.  Was: $140, marked down to $43.  Who could resist?

The truth is that I had just bought a new spring coat, although maybe it was more of a fall coat considering that it's black.  So I guess I still needed the other coat to be my spring coat, right?  Anyway, the black coat is more fantastic that you can even see from a still photo.  The "white" bits are sparkly silver tinsel.  It's all very fancy.

I found it at a little boutique in my neighbourhood.  The saleslady claimed that her sister owns the coat factory in Korea.  I'm not 100% sure that that's true, but it's a compelling story.

My first ever pair of leather gloves from Danier at Vaughan Mills Mall.  I could not resist the pretty shade of teal.  I'm into teal these days - you can see they almost match my shirt.  Unfortunately in this shot they look quite like the rubber gloves I use to wash dishes.   Really, they're quite classy and sophisticated.

Finally, a cautionary tale.  My favourite winter slippers crumbled just before the season was over.  Since I never know when I'm going to be down for the count with a fever and feeling chilly-toed, I went on a quest to find a replacement pair toot sweet.  Retail stores had very little slipper selection left, since everyone was thinking about spring even though it was still snowing.  So I took a leap of faith and went online to make my purchase.  I spent many hours choosing the exact right slipper of my dreams.  I located the one and only online store that could ship them to Canada.  When the box came I was all excited, until I ripped it open and found these:

As they say, close, but no cigar.  I had spent a fair amount of time deliberating between these two styles, the Juliet (on the left) and the Bootee (on the right).  What I had in fact ordered was the Bootee.  And now I have one of each.  At least I can say for sure that the Bootee was the right one for me: it's a little roomier in the toe, although otherwise they fit almost identically.

I e-mailed the vendor,, to let them know what had happened, but no one replied to my e-mail.  This immediately raised warning flags in my mind.  If I were to box up the slippers and send them back over the border they might get caught at customs, or they might go back to the warehouse but there was no guarantee that I'd be issued a proper refund.  I mean, if they can't return a simple e-mail at the customer service desk, how can I trust them to get my shoe order right if I give them another chance?  They might send me another order entirely next time: men's size 12 extra-wide white running shoes or something.

I assessed the situation.  I have one right shoe and one left shoe, both in Ladies size 8 which fit just fine.  The Juliet slipper is a little tight in the toe, but it's sheepskin - it'll stretch.  They look fairly similar and if I walk around in them without looking down I can barely tell that they're not a matched set.  Then, one chilly evening, I wore them while watching TV, and OMG my feet were SO WARM AND COZY AND COMFY!!!1!  That clinched it.  I am keeping them.  Some people wear mismatched socks.  I can wear mismatched slippers.  P.S. Don't buy from because they'll get your order wrong and not care.  

If anyone out there has the matching opposite pair of slippers, (someone must have gotten them by now), please let me know in the comments and we'll arrange an exchange.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What do wireless networking and cantaloupe have in common?

I got my blood test results.  They were reassuringly and frustratingly normal.  I have one hormone that's a little low, and I could stand to take more vitamin D.  I am no closer to understanding my strange bouts of aching fatigue.

I brought the test results to Dr. H (the ex-MD turned homeopath).  He gave me another go at the machine that goes FWEEEP, this time testing for food sensitivities and, subsequently, the condition of my internal organs.  Nothing special came out of the organ testing.  When it came to food sensitivities, a few more no-no's were tacked onto my existing list: mushrooms; cantaloupe; cane sugar; all forms of vinegar; green tea; and chocolate.  That's right: the machine said that sugar and chocolate should be completely eliminated from my diet.  :-ppppp  That's all I have to say about that.

After the machine testing, I was ushered into Dr. H's consulting room.  I swear, the man talked at me non-stop for over an hour.  He has a lot of opinions, and while I do believe that some of what he had to say might prove to be useful, the more he talked the more my impression of him dimmed.

Dr. H is an extremist.  If I hadn't spent 4 years working in the alternative health industry in my early 20's, I probably would have been overwhelmed by everything he said, and I might have tried to implement all of his suggestions.  Fortunately, I've long since learned the lesson that there is a law of diminishing returns.  Some lifestyle changes are worth making: like eating more vegetables.  Others aren't worth the trouble.  I'm picky enough about everything in my life without adding unnecessary rules.  The line between fastidious health maintenance and paranoia is a blurry one.

Here are some of the notes I made during my meeting with Dr. H:

  • Discontinue all use of wireless electronics immediately.
  • Battery alarm clock - not plug-in.
  • Get rid of microwave oven.
  • Walk barefoot on wet grass.
  • 4-day rotation diet.

I am not planning to follow up on any of these suggestions.  Yes, I do believe that I am sensitive to electromagnetic fields.  I got rid of my electric blanket for that very reason.  However, were we to shut down our wireless network, our home would still be flooded by signals from the 19 of our neighbours whose wireless networks are available from our living room.  We may as well leave ours on and enjoy it. 

With regards to the other suggestions, I must wake up with the CBC morning news.  Nothing else will do.  I refuse to trade my clock-radio for a travel alarm clock that ticks in my ear all night, then wakes me up with ugly beeping and honking.

Eliminate all use of microwave ovens?  Let me get this straight.  I am not supposed to store my food in plastic containers.  I am not supposed to eat food made with yeast, which eliminates bread (and bagels!) and therefore sandwiches.  I am not supposed to heat food in a microwave oven.  And I'm not supposed to eat fast food.  Gee, looks like I won't be eating lunch on work days anymore!  Unless I care to consume cold leftovers, which I would need to bring to work in a glass jar.

See how easily these things can get out of hand?

Other things he told me.  The FWEEEPing machine indicates that I am sensitive to mould.  No headline news there.  Mould isn't good for anybody.  What else?  He claims that I have the "imprints" for Lyme disease.  Did I spend much time in the country as a child?  Go camping?  Ride horseback? Have I ever been bitten by a tick? No, no, no, and not to the best of my knowledge.  Could I have been bitten by a tick and not known it?  I suppose anything is possible.  Considering that there is no definitive blood test for Lyme, we'll probably never know.  Personally, I think it's very unlikely.

So, what does he want to do next?  Test me on the FWEEEPing machine to see which supplements would be best for me.  OK, I'm game.  What else?  He has something he calls the Biocomp which supposedly emits vibrations which cancel out the bad imprints he found, like the one for Lyme disease.  Well, I'm not so sure about that, but I suppose it's worth a try.  

The bottom line is that he's not nearly as cutting-edge and knowledgeable as I had hoped.  Most of the advice that he gave me consisted of things I've heard a hundred times before.  EMF = bad.  Organic = good.  Black mould = bad.  Please, tell me something I don't know.

I thought he might have access to European studies on alternative medicine that no one is paying attention to yet in North America.  I thought he might have run studies himself.  I thought he might be able to do decisive tests to find out what is actually wrong with me, if anything.  Sometimes I think that I'm fine and it's the world that's just too much: too tiring, too polluted, too screwed up.

As my hopes faded away, I have to admit that my disappointment turned into a feeling of depression that has stuck with me for the past few days.  I'll get over it.  I'm actually doing alright these days.  I'm tired, but not to the point of shuffling.  I'm a little achey today, but that's just because it's raining.  Nothing serious.  In fact, my blood tests showed that my iron has gone from the "anemic" range to "insufficient": Hurray!  I'm only 6 points away from the lowest "normal" count.  I'll get there.

As for whether or not Dr. H is going to be of any help to me beyond lightening the exhaustingly heavy burden of my wallet, only time will tell. I'll give his Biocomp a chance.  We'll see.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


I made it.  Got through the crazy week.  As if firing that nice woman wasn't enough, I also had to call the police on Thursday because an angry husband-and-wife couple phoned my workplace to make some threats. When I wouldn't meet their unreasonable demands, they promised me that they were on their way in to cause a ruckus.  They did show up a little more than an hour later, and there were some very tense moments while I and one other manager dealt with them.  In the end the worst thing that happened was some harsh words and the man pounding his fist on our countertop in frustration.  The situation was handled, mostly thanks to the other manager, who knew them as clients who had been to our facility many times before.  But still.  It was a worry-filled day until it was clear that nothing serious would come of it.

I guess I'm taking the opportunity of these challenging times to deal with some other downers that have been at the back of my mind.  If I'm going to feel grim I may as well deal with everything on the list, right?  Then I can get over it all and get back to being happy and grateful for life.

The other thing I'm trying to come to terms with is that I've lost a friend.  I'm not sure why.  Last time I saw her was last fall when she was going through some tough times.  She was depressed and in the middle of a financial crunch.  I think I did a decent job of being there for her.  We hung out and talked in person and on the phone, and in the end I loaned her $120 to get her through to the end of a tight month.  I didn't care whether or not I ever saw that cash again.  I know people well enough not to loan my friends anything I might resent later.

That was the last I saw of her.  I called her several times since then, but the one time she did pick up the phone, we were "disconnected" and she never called back.  I know that her phone is kind of wonky, and we'd been disconnected in the past, but she had always found a way to get back to me later, even if it meant calling from work.  I also sent her a few e-mails, and only got one in return.  The subject line said "Hi."  There was nothing in the body of the e-mail.

I guess that's it.  She was a good friend when she was around.  I miss her.  Lately I've been thinking of her every day, resisting the urge to call or e-mail one more time.  I have a bad habit of chasing people who have rejected me, which only compounds the my pain in the end.  She may yet show up again, on her own schedule, but for now I have to find my way through to where I can let go.  I've had to do that before for other friends.  It always takes me a really long time.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I ain't no Donald Trump

I fired someone today.  It was necessary.  She was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.  There could be major repercussions for our business if I didn't replace her.

This woman was someone I had grown to like over the better part of a year.  She is admirable in many ways.  She gave it her best shot.  We went through many trials and confrontations trying to make it work.

I got frustrated with her.  She got frustrated with me.  But still, we went through all that together.  We got to know each other well.  Not the details of our personal lives, but something more essential.  It's the kind of thing that bonds you whether you like it or not.

I'm sad.  I've been feeling down all week, knowing that the termination meeting was scheduled and unavoidable.  I knew that I would have to face her and say the words she'd been dreading.  I would be, at least on one level, personally responsible for throwing her life into chaos and uncertainty.  Mine was the hand that jerked the rug out from under her feet.  I watched her face go blank with shock as she tried to digest the fact that yes this was actually happening.

There was more, but although I write from behind a screen of anonymity, I feel protective of this woman's privacy.  I can't bring myself to share any further details of the terrible event.

All I can say is that I took no pleasure in it, except that I'm glad it's over.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Apocalypse Soon

April Fool's Gag

The kitchen at work:  I notice that someone has moved the bottle of dish detergent from the sink to the lunch table.  I think: that's a silly place for the dish soap!  I start to move it back to the sink, when I see a note taped to the bottle.

In Joanne's clearly recognizable handwriting, the note on the soap says: "Joanne with eat this on Thursday.  Thx."

Someone moved the note from Joanne's lunch to the dish soap.  I had a good chuckle at that one.

(This is one of those offices where if you leave "leftover" food in the fridge, scavengers will make off with it at the end of the day unless you specify that you intend to eat it later.)

Worst Customer Service Award

I ordered a product that should take two days to ship from the warehouse to my workplace.  Two weeks later I noticed that it still hadn't arrived.  I called the company.  They said that they had received my order, but the order form was out of date and they needed my approval to charge the new, increased prices.  It was nice of them not to bother to call me.  Very thoughtful to leave my order sitting in a pile on someone's desk until I noticed the problem.

I approved the new prices.  They said: "We'll ship the product today!"  A week later it still hadn't arrived.  I called them again.  Turns out they shipped it to our old address, even though the new address was clearly indicated on the order form, for both shipping and billing.  It had gone to the old address; it had been rejected by the new tenants; and then it had been returned to the warehouse.  Guess where it was?  Sitting on someone's desk, where it had been for a few days.  Again, no one called me to check in, and they were still claiming not to have any record of our new address.


I gave them our new address, again.  Then the sales rep asked me if I would like the invoice shipped to the same address.  Invoice?  I put a credit card number on the order form.  Did they not read the order form at all?  At that point I decided that it would be wiser to be invoiced, because that would give us the option of not paying unless I actually received the product.

It finally arrived today, one month to the day after I placed my first order.  Isn't it great to have suppliers you can rely on for fast, reliable service?

The Sky Is Falling!

During the months leading up to January 1st, 2000, I became convinced that Y2K computer problems might cause the downfall of our society.  I moved through the summer of 1999 with misty eyes, viewing all things through a touching lens of anticipatory nostalgia.  When everything turned out to be fine, I regretted all the energy I'd wasted worrying about the worst-case scenario.

Now everyone's got their knickers in a knot over 2012.  Supposedly on December 21st, the winter solstice, life as we know it will come to a cataclysmic halt.  Maybe there will be a nuclear catastrophe, perhaps a meteor with smash Earth to smithereens, or perhaps space-time itself will end.  Whatever, it's going to be bad times for all of us, and the worst surprise birthday party ever for my husband and my sister, who are both solstice babies.

I honestly don't have the patience to do detailed research into these predictions, but I am not impressed by what I have heard.  I did watch one documentary which aired on the History Channel.  It outlined how December 21st 2012 is the end of the ancient Mayan calendar.  Apparently there have been previous dates when sub-cycles of the calendar came to a close.  The prognosticators on the documentary pointed to these dates as evidence that something big is coming.

Their argument goes something like this:  At the end of the first era, the Mayans moved from mud huts into villages.  At the end of the second era, they moved from the villages into cities.  At the end of the third era they abandoned their cities and started over somewhere else.  And the end of the fourth era they walked away from their new cities, and no one knows what became of them.

So, let me get this straight.  Due to their spiritual beliefs, the Mayans made completely voluntary changes to their living conditions at the appointed times.  Life on the rest of the planet was business as usual during these transitions.  The changes only affected the Mayans.  Voluntarily.  The sky did not fall.  Space-time did not end.

At least my Y2K worries had some basis in warnings from actual scientists.  I think everyone needs to calm down about this 2012 thing.  Seriously, don't we have enough real problems to worry about?