Wednesday, February 29, 2012


I am planning a very big important project at work.  That software that the entire office needs in order to function: we're changing it.  Everyone will be affected.  There will need to be changes to workflow (because we are digitizing a whole lot of processes that were previously done on paper), hardware installations, and lots of training.  It's going to be a huge change, and, even if it comes off without any technical hitches, people are going to whine, bitch, and complain for weeks, because that's what happens anytime there's a change of this magnitude.

The software was sold to me by a salesperson whom I trust. I worked with him for over a year, on and off, on this deal, and experience has taught me that he's intelligent, trustworthy, and thorough.

Finally our contract was signed. I was handed off to the implementation department.  I got my first call from the head office in British Columbia, three time zones away.  The department head spent half an hour on the phone with me sketching out a basic plan for data conversion and a staff training schedule.  It seemed like a good start.

Five minutes after I finished speaking to the department head, I got a call from the Local Implementation Lady.  (I shall refer to her as LIL.)  I thought that she was calling to follow up on her boss's call.  She was not.  She was not aware that he had just called me.  She started asking me all the same questions that I had just gone over with him.  I felt annoyed because she was wasting my time, but she was so cheerful and friendly that after her call I felt a little guilty for being so irritated.  I once worked for a company that had its head office in another province, and head office never kept me in the loop on anything.  I thought "I should give her a chance."

So.  Yesterday we had our first major (telephone) meeting regarding this project.  The attendees were to be Lil, myself, and my two helpers on this project, let's call them Lee-anne and Joan.  There had been a clear e-mail exchange in which Lil specified that she would phone me to begin the meeting.  I called Lee-anne and Joan into my office at the appointed time, and we chatted while we were waiting for the phone to ring.

15 minutes later my phone rang.  It was Lil.  She said, in a gently scolding tone, "Running a bit late, aren't we?"  I tried to determine what she was getting at.  "Didn't you get my e-mails?" she asked.  No, we were all sitting here waiting for you to call, as we had arranged. 

I opened my e-mail and sure enough she had sent me an invitation to join a conference call.  I told her that we would all just sit around my desk with the phone on speaker and that would do just fine.  I was willing to let this hiccup slide.

However, over the course of the phone meeting, Lil completely undermined any confidence that I might have had in her.  She was unprepared for the meeting.  She couldn't remember what documents she had sent me, and hadn't carefully gone over the forms that I'd filled in and sent back to her.  She kept asking me for information that was available in the completed forms.

By halfway through the call she'd forgotten our names.  She started calling me Glittering Pink.  Better yet, she merged Lee-anne and Joan into Jo-anne.  I wasn't sure if she even remembered that they were two separate people.

Lil had no idea who our sales rep had been and didn't know that my technical experts had already had long conversations with the tech support department at her company.

She didn't seem to be listening very well when I explained our business to her.  With a rapidly increasing sense that this woman was completely clueless, I tried to think of something that might help her to grasp the facts of our situation.  I offered to have her over to our office for a walk-through, to meet "Jo-anne" in person (both halves of her) and get an idea of our environment.  She said she didn't see why that was necessary "because it says here that your sales rep already did a walk-through".  Sure he did, but she didn't even know his name 5 minutes ago, what good does that do her or us?

By the end of the phone call I deeply despaired of Lil's ability to pilot us through these uncharted waters.  Joan and Lee-anne were having a hard time not laughing out loud as I mimed various gestures of frustration over Lil's cheerful, empty chatter.  Lil seems to believe that her job is to soothe our "irrational fears" of change.  Frankly I feel my fears are very well-founded.

Rest assured that no one is converting anything until I'm satisfied that our preparations are solid.

I got flowers to cheer myself up.  Aren't they pretty?

Saturday, February 25, 2012


At 10:20 pm last night, there were two men in my kitchen, digging through my garbage, declaring "There's got to be a three-way in here somewhere."

The two men were Ken and our electrician friend, Jon.  They were looking for a three-way switch that was thrown in the trash because we had planned to replace it with a timer switch.  Jon ran into problems that I didn't understand, something to do with "travellers". It was determined that we didn't have the right wiring and the fancy timer was not an option.  Hence, we had to backtrack and reinstall the original three-way.

The evening was otherwise successful.  We had two very important repairs done.  1) We now have a functioning overhead light fixture in our kitchen for the first time in over a year.  The mood lighting (two standing lamps) was fun for a while, but honestly a romantic atmosphere wasn't helpful with chopping cabbage or scrubbing dishes.

2) Our old, slightly demented thermostat was replaced.  It would occasionally forget its programming, or simply not turn the furnace on when asked.  It was always a risk to press any of its buttons, because you never knew what input was going to cause it to go on the fritz.  Last week I had put the temperature down because I knew we were going to be out of the house all day.  When we came home I tried to put it back up.  The numbers on the display panel increased, but the unit was not actually triggering the furnace.

I tried pushing every button on the panel, which usually works, eventually, but this time it was stubbornly unresponsive.  The daffy old thing had left me no choice.  I wound up and punched it.

The furnace powered up immediately.

As you can see, the relationship had taken a dark turn.  I don't want violence in my home, especially towards helpless, elderly appliances.  It was time for a new thermostat.

We had a couple of light switches replaced.  One was audibly shorting every time we touched it.  It would go "GZZZZT!" and we would shake our heads and say "that doesn't sound good".

It's great being friends with an electrician.  We met Jon in his professional capacity. He's only a few years younger than us, and we get along well.  When you have to have workers in your home, it can feel invasive and uncomfortable.  Ken and I enjoy having Jon over.  At dinnertime we all sat down and ate together.

He didn't quite finish everything on our to-do list, so he'll be back next week.  He's going to have dinner with us again, and bring his laptop so that we can see photos of his three-year-old daughter.  I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Status Quo

I feel that it's time for me to do a little update, for those of you who are curious about my personal life.  Here it is:

I'm still somewhat crazy.

Is anyone surprised by this?  Show of hands?

*crickets* *consipicuous lack of raised hands*

Judging from the fact that anti-depressants are the most commonly prescribed type of medication, and the other fact that 34% of Americans can be defined as alcoholics by the standards of some news article I read recently but don't remember well enough to link to, I'm probably not any more crazy than the average North American.

I'm still dealing with panic attacks of varying intensity, usually on weekends when I'm not following my comfortable routine.  I've been pretty good at talking myself through them, and it's been a couple of months since someone has had to ask me "Are you OK?" because I've suddenly gone all pale and sweaty in the middle of a conversation.  Certainly it sometimes takes a massive effort to maintain my smiling game face, and I feel exhausted later, but at least I'm not completely paralyzed by anxiety.

I figure all that I can do is to keep trying to live a normal life, not let fear get the best of me, and meanwhile be gentle enough with myself that I'm not too overwhelmed.  There are things shifting deep within my psyche which are too raw and amorphous for this blog, but suffice it to say that I do feel I'm making progress of a sort.  Sometimes it's 3 steps forward followed by 2 steps back, but it's still progress.

Driving update:  I have been behind the wheel of my mom's automatic car twice, and I'm getting the hang of it.  I've driven in mostly-empty parking lots and barely-used side streets.  I have also started learning the manual gearshift in our car, by shifting from the passenger seat while Ken does the rest of the driving.  Hey, it's a start, and I haven't blown up the engine yet.

That's pretty much it for headline news.  I've been keeping life simple.  Lots of relaxing after work, and social engagements have all been low-key.  It's working.  Doesn't give me a lot of material to blog about, but that's OK with me.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I've been phoning my Buby (my maternal grandmother) more often since my Zaidy died.  Her short-term memory is a bit random, but she's still plenty lucid enough to carry on a conversation.  I tell her stories about what I've been up to lately, and because she's always been a bit agoraphobic it doesn't take much to impress and entertain her.  She's never owned a cordless phone or an electric typewriter.  There has never been a microwave oven or a CD player in her home.   Computers mystify her completely.

I've decided that I need to encourage her to tell me stories about her past.  I'd like to learn as much of her history as I can before it's too late.  During our last phone call, I found out that when my Zaidy's parents (my great-grandparents) were alive, they always had a dog in the house.  Whenever one dog died, they'd get a new dog.  All the dogs were named John.

I thought that was a pretty good story.

Buby used to look after me when I was very small, when my mom was a single mom.  If I had a stomach-ache or a cold and couldn't go to daycare or kindergarten, my mom would drop me off at Buby's house.  Buby would entertain me with her collection of Superballs, which she kept in a kitchen drawer.  She had them in different sizes and colours.  My favourite was a clear one filled with sparkly rainbow flecks.  We also used to play a Jewish card game called Pisha Payshe.

Whenever I see my Buby, there's a very good chance that she'll tell the story of The Night She Lost Me.  I've heard that story many times recently.  It goes like this:

"You were sleeping over at our house.  You were only 4 or 5 years old.  I put you to bed and tucked you in.  Later I went to look in on you, and you weren't in the bed.  I thought you must have gone to the washroom, but when I went down the hall to check you weren't there.  I started to get worried.  I told your Zaidy 'I can't find Spark!'  We looked all over the house for you.  You weren't anywhere to be found.  We got very worried.  But the doors were locked so there was no way you could have gotten out of the house.  Finally I went back into Auntie N's old room where I had put you to sleep, and I noticed a little foot sticking out from under the bed.  I looked down, and there you were, under the bed, fast asleep.  We picked you up very carefully, and put you back into bed, and tucked you in, and you never even woke up."

I can't imagine sleeping through the experience of falling out of bed onto a hardwood floor, but there you have it.  That's a pretty good story too.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where the Streets Have Names

Toronto has some odd street names.  Take Avenue Road, for example.  And that's just the beginning.

There's a street in my neighbourhood called Parkview.  One time I walked along it until I finally came to the park it was named for.  I was curious to see what the park itself was called.  I circled around to the front of the wooden sign.  It read:  "Parkview Park".  So, the street is named for the park which is named for the street.  Whose idea was that?

Yonge Street is always a tough one to explain to out-of-towners.  We pronounce it "young".  You can always tell if you're talking to someone from a foreign call centre if, when confirming your shipping address, they rhyme it with "sponge".

Supertest is a favourite of mine.  It sounds like a place where exciting science experiments happen, or maybe car races.

Once, while house-hunting, I visited a street called Dingwall.  Even if the house hadn't been a wreck, I don't know if I would have considered it.  I wouldn't want to have an address on Dingwall.

The list of bizarre Toronto street names certainly wouldn't be complete without mentioning Cummer.

I've never understood why certain streets are referred to as "the" followed by their name.  Danforth Avenue is commonly known as The Danforth.  There's also The Queensway.  But no one ever refers to The Yonge, or The Supertest.  (Or, I must add, The Cummer.)

When Ken and I were hunting for condos a few years ago, we ran across quite a few condo developments that had named their private drives creatively.  My two favourites were from the same complex.  There was Fashion Roseway, and Flaming Roseway.

I was thinking that it would be pretty cool if we combined some of our odd street names to make even better names, such as The Flaming Queensway.

Obviously they should put me in charge of naming new streets.  Now that this post is up, I'll be waiting for the job offer.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Importance of Toes

There is a shift going on within me towards a mindset that I don't know how to describe.  I took a crack at it a couple of posts ago, when I described that lately I need a lot of time alone, outside, to just be, but I'm not sure if I really managed to get my state of mind across.

The difficulty is that it's a mainly non-verbal experience.  I quiet my mental chatter down to an intermittent murmuring, and breathe into the moment.  I become receptive to the input from all of my senses, especially proprioception.

Suddenly, my feet have become important.  I'm conscious of where they're placed relative to my body.  If I'm standing, is my weight evenly distributed?  When I'm living in my head, I tend to lean all my weight on one leg, or turn my toes in towards each other.  If I'm sitting and I quiet my mind, I'll suddenly realize, without deliberately drawing my attention to my feet, that my toes are clenched.  So I relax them.

Up until around two weeks ago, I wore slippers at home all the time.  I have three pairs of slippers.  There are the quiet leather moccasins, the scuffs with rubber soles (good for kitchen work, to keep my socks out of the puddles that inevitably drip onto the floor during washing-up), and the seriously warm sheepskin booties.  I wanted to protect my feet from cold, hard floors.  I was always in one set of slippers or another.

Now, in the middle of winter, unaccountably, I prefer to pad around in my stocking feet.  I'll resist putting slippers on until my feet are uncomfortably cold, if it comes to that.  I want to feel my soles meet the floor when I stand.  I enjoy being conscious of the movements of walking.  I like being aware of my toes.

I'll venture that this is a physical manifestation of my renewed willingness to be here.  I mean Be Here, as in, live on this planet, at this time, in this place, in this life, in this body, under these circumstances.  It feels like I'm experiencing an embodiment of acceptance.

Does any of this make sense to anyone but me?

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Jumbo Boy (front and centre) and The Inspector (apparently inspecting his own navel)

It came to light recently that two of my colleagues are super into Bingo.  Ken and I had already played once with my friend and colleague Val.  This time we arranged to go with Val, Val's guy, and the other manager, Annie.

The Bingo hall was crammed.  There were 15 prizes of $1,000 to be won over the course of the evening, and that's more than enough scratch to draw a crowd.  As we stood in line to buy our cards, I admired the decor.  The previous hall we'd been to was dim, damp, and had rain dripping from holes in the roof into big plastic trash cans throughout the room.  This new establishment used to be a banquet hall, so it was bright, watertight, and sported crystal chandeliers instead of holes in the ceiling.

Val helped me figure out what to buy.  We stood in one line to buy books of Bingo cards and a chance for something called the Toonie Pot.  There was also something about an X,T, and L bonus, but don't ask me to explain it.  Val and Annie said that we'd have enough work to do just keeping up with the caller in this hall because he moved quickly from one number to the next.  They'd keep an eye on our cards and let us know if we could yell Bingo for any of the bonus prizes.

We stood in another line to buy "Balls" tickets.  The whole Balls thing is optional, but Ken was jazzed to play because he really wanted a chance to stand up in the middle of a crowded room and yell "Balls! I've got Balls over here!"

Balls tickets are made of two layers of thick paper.  You rip back the paper on the first layer to reveal three strips of potential prizes on the second layer.  It's kind of a low-tech version of the one-armed bandit.  You end up with three rows of symbols: fruits or shamrocks etc.  If you're lucky, you get three Bingo balls.  Then if you're extra-lucky, those three Bingo numbers get called in one game before Bingo is called.  Once they call the third number you yell "Balls!" and win a cash reward.

I bought Ken $10 worth of Balls tickets, at $1 each.  He ripped open all the paper strips, and guess what he got?  Bubkas.  Zip. Nada.  No balls at all.  He was severely disappointed.

We played through the two hours (with an intermission in the middle) and boy, they weren't kidding when they said this caller was quick.  We were playing a four-strip, meaning that there were twelve Bingo cards to each game, divided into four vertical panels, with each Bingo number appearing once in each panel.  The number would be called and you'd have to find the number four times, once in each panel, and dab them all, quick-like-a-bunny, because if you hesitated you would miss the next number, and once you fell behind there wasn't much hope of catching up.  I got dizzy because I was focusing so hard that I forgot to breathe.

You can get a little ahead of the caller by watching the TV monitors that are mounted everywhere.  They show the Bingo ball a couple of seconds before it's called over the PA system.  I would dab my numbers fastfastfast and then snap my head up and stare at the monitor to catch the next ball as soon as it was visible.  When there's a thousand dollars potentially riding on any missed number, you pay attention.

There were five of us there, and we made a deal that if we collectively won $250 or more we would split our winnings 5 ways.  Less than $250 and whoever won would just keep their cash.  It would have been a great system, if any of us had won anything, which we did not.

However, we had a good time, and actually did manage to socialize a little in the intermission, and during a couple of the "special" games where you only have to monitor one strip instead of four.  We're planning to do it again soon.  I know Ken won't be satisfied until he gets some Balls.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Renamed by a Polish Contractor

My parents' house is being renovated by a friendly Polish contractor.  He speaks English well, with a slight accent.

The Polish contractor has a soft spot for my parents' cats: Doodles (the lithe, active one) and Tinker (the big, lazy one).  He carries on conversations with them.  In fact, he has given them new nicknames, which my mother feels may suit them better than their original names.

Doodles, who is curious and has a burning desire to observe all of the work going on in the house, has been nicknamed "The Inspector".  Tinker, who has a burning desire to eat and then have his belly rubbed, has been nicknamed "Jumbo Boy".

I never liked their original names.  I used to call them Stinker and The Dude, but I may adopt Jumbo Boy and The Inspector.  Naming things, people, and pets properly is important.  I think that Polish contractor has a special gift for it.