Tuesday, March 27, 2012

And Furthermore...

Good news item #1:

The ditzy project manager is being replaced!  Hallelujah! 

She continued to prove her uselessness.  Her most recent e-mail to me mis-spelled our company name. It was not just a wee typo, but a complete reconfiguration of the letters.  It was as if she had referred to this blog as Sparventures in Kadland.  Her boss asked me if there was any way I might feel confident in her work if he supervised her closely.  I said no.  She's basically hopeless. So, I'm getting a new project manager! I'll let you know how the new guy/gal works out.

Good news item #2:

My driving is improving, little by little.  Two weekends ago Ken drove us to an almost-unused road and I got behind the wheel of our car for the first time.  It has a standard transmission. 

Wow.  I mean, I knew standard would be tough to learn, but it is so tough!  We ran through all the motions in mime three times before I turned the engine on.  Then I got rolling.  I shifted from neutral to first, from first to second, and then back to neutral and came to a full stop.  I managed that three times.  Ken turned the car around for me and I took another run at it.  When I got back into the driver's seat I forgot to release the parking brake, so we stalled.  At that point my brain went into overload.  Still, I did manage a little shifting and I didn't break the car.  So that's good.

Last weekend I drove my mom's automatic car on Wilson Ave.  For you non-Torontonians, that is a busy street, with two lanes in each direction plus left-turn lanes.  Traffic was booting along at 60 km/h.  I had not been behind the wheel of a regular car in traffic in two weeks.  My total time driving in traffic so far clocked in at under ten minutes.  Ken pulled over in a driveway and let me get into the driver's seat.  Passing traffic was just whipping past, going "SHOOM!  SHOOMSHOOM!  SSHHHOOOOM!" I crossed myself and turned onto the street.  And then!  I was driving!  Ken had to help me with lane changes because I have not yet mastered the skill of building a mental 3D model of the space around the car from the images in the mirrors.  But I did alright.  I can claim to be the master of the smooth stop.  No lurchy braking from this driver.

The Rant

I've been watching a fair bit of HGTV lately and there's an element to it that frustrates me intensely.  I believe that North American society's obession with current decor has become obnoxious and harmful.  Home buyers cannot seem to tolerate anything less than this year's decorating trends.  Perfectly beautiful, clean, white fridge?  Unacceptable!  Give me stainless steel or give me death, they cry!  Unmarred, off-white countertops?  Remove this abomination from my sight!  If you do not provide me with granite  countertops immediately, I will pour gasoline over this house and drop a match on it!

(Personally I'm not partial to granite for home decor.  It reminds me of tombstones.)

On Property Virgins, I watched a couple walk into a freshly renovated bathroom and declare disapprovingly "Well this will all have to go."  Seriously?  Probably no one has ever even peed in that toilet yet!  What is so wrong with this beautiful, brand new bathroom?  So the tiles are beige.  So what?  It's neutral.  Pick out some cheerful bath towels and a pretty shower curtain, and you're all good!  I'm sure the only reason that the homeowners re-did the bathroom that way in the first place was because their real estate agent told them that they had to.

I don't mind people having aesthetic preferences.  Everyone's entitled to their taste.  But can we not be just a little more tolerant of imperfect superficialities?  Has everyone forgotten this little matter of the environment?  Do we need to throw almost-new, not-at-all-worn-out building materials into landfill because they're not the right colour? 

My kitchen counter is a fairly hideous shade of green.  In fact, if you look at it closely, it's a splotchy mess of two shades of green and two subtle shades of purple.  I would never have chosen it in a million years.  But hey, it's just a kitchen counter.  Most of the time when I'm in the kitchen, it's covered with dishes or ingredients.  And when I'm not in the kitchen, who cares what it looks like?  I could change it out for something more pleasing, but I can't stomach the thought of ripping out a perfectly good countertop and throwing it into a dumpster.  It just seems so selfish.

There are so many ways other than major renovations to beautify our personal spaces.  Don't you think?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The (non-political) Tea Party

A couple of weeks ago, I received a very proper invitation to a Mother-Daughter Tea Party.  The envelope was decorated in stickers shaped like little pink teapots, and it was sealed with silver sealing wax.  This is the invitation:

Quite something, isn't it?

The lady organizing the tea party followed up a few days later with a preparatory quiz.  The answers to all the skill-testing questions start with "tee" or "tea", or a sound-alike.  Ex:  A person who helps you learn is a _________.

I completed my pre-tea-party homework.  (I did need a little help from Google on question 19.)  I also dug my pearls out from the back of the jewellery box.  I had to make at least an attempt at dressing like a lady for this event, obviously.

When we arrived at our hostess's home this afternoon, we were greeted warmly.  She had obviously put a lot of thought and effort into setting the table.  My favourite detail is the Precious Moments figurine offering up a tea service on a little tray.  Those are mini Lindt chocolate bunnies peeping out from our specially folded pink serviettes.

Good thing I brought my completed tea quiz, because our hostess was handing out prizes for a job well done.  I got to take home this twee magnet.  It's around 3 inches wide.


My mother and I brought gluten-free baked goods for everyone to share, and flowers for the hostess.  At the close of the afternoon, the hostess insisted that I take home all the leftover sweets.  I did not protest very vigorously, and she sent her daughter into the kitchen to pack me up a bag full of cupcakes and three different kinds of cookies.  I was kind of expecting that to happen.

However, she did take my mother and I by surprise by presenting each of us with a bouquet of the same pink roses that had decorated the table.  As if she hadn't done enough for us already!

Thus ended our Victorian-style tea party.

My mother and I will eventually cooperate to host our own Mother-Daughter Tea, but I tells ya, the bar has been set very high.  This tea party was a tough act to follow.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Getting my nerd on

This afternoon I hung out at the library with these guys.

They're from a book on heraldry that I picked off the shelf at random because it was huge and ancient, therefore potentially interesting.

This book was originally published in 1908, so it should be safely out of copyright.  The edition I lugged over to an armchair and opened on my lap was a reprint from 1968.

I read a little bit of the introduction, and immediately liked the author.  He was keen to explain to the reader that the modern science of heraldry in the (brand new) 20th century was way beyond the amateurish speculations of Victorian scholars.  He dissed one lady historian in particular, saying that she had "managed to compress an unconscionable amount of rubbish" into her writings on the subject.  Now if that ain't a classy put-down, I never heard one.

The book was enormous.  I needed two hands to carry it.  I neglected to check the page count, but it contained seemingly endless catalogues of the coats of arms of every family alive during the medieval era.  Every little detail of every illustration was meaningful.  It was taken with great seriousness.  I, on the other hand, had a hard time taking it seriously.  I mean, come on.  Look at this dude:

Did a knight actually run around covered in badly drawn birds?  I suppose if he was right there in front of me, ready to run me through with his sword, I would flee without stopping to point and laugh.  But if I did get safely away, I would have a good chuckle  at his silly bird outfit later.

When I got tired of the heraldry book, I heaved it back onto the shelf and went upstairs.  There's a new art exhibit every couple of weeks up here, by local artists.

Looking up...

It's a pretty nice library.  I visit it every two weeks or so, after I've met a friend for our regular breakfast chat.  It's peaceful there, usually.

Do you enjoy spending time in libraries?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Degrees of Separation

I was at a wedding many years ago.  The ceremony was officiated by a mullah.  He spoke of the roles of a husband and wife as two columns holding up the same roof.  The structure would have more stability if they were not placed too closely together.

I have never forgotten that image.  It rings true to me. 

I have never been able to understand, for example, how some couples can sleep spooned together like a couple of puppies.  That, to me, would be claustrophobic, not to mention sweaty.  In fact, Ken and I stopped sleeping in the same bed shortly after we moved into a two-bedroom condo.  We bought a single "guest bed", which I then took to sleeping in whenever Ken's snoring got out of control, and that occurred so frequently that soon I moved in there for good. We've both been sleeping better since then.

I have heard descriptions of "old married couples" out for dinner at a restaurant, during which there is little or no conversation.  Young people look with discomfort upon this apparently lifeless interaction.  They assume it means that the marriage is no longer fulfilling, and that the couple is probably jealous of the young, lively couples out for dates all around them.

Personally, I love that conversation is optional when Ken and I are together.  Sometimes we talk, and sometimes we just float comfortably side-by-side, in our own thoughts, but with the knowledge that the other is there should we feel that we want to share something.  I love that we know each other so well that often there is no need to explain ourselves.  In fact last night we had a complete conversation that went like this:

Ken: Oh...

Me:  Oh!

Here is the translation:

Ken: You've turned out the overhead light, as we often do when we're watching TV, but I don't think you noticed that I'm trying to read something over here, although the TV is also on.

Me:  You're quite right!  I did not notice.  I apologize for interfering with your source of illumination.
(Then I turned the light back on.)

Sometimes we'll spend whole evenings hardly speaking, as I watch TV and he plays video games in the other room.  Do I feel that I am a "video game widow"?  Not at all!  I'm very pleased to be able to dominate the remote control.  (I think it helps that we have a small home.  If we were on different floors in a big house that would be too much distance.  As it is we can hear each other moving around in the next room and the closeness feels safe.)  I also know that I can go to Ken anytime I need attention, and he won't be upset with me or consider me an interruption.  The arrangement is mutual.

How much closeness do you like to have, or would you like to have, in a relationship?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Flowers for Spring

Here you can see Domo admiring the tulips given to me by a friend.  In order to protect my anonymity, Domo offered to demonstrate my open-mouthed, wide-eyed appreciation of this thoughtful gift.

Ken and I took our new friend to a fancy vegan restaurant.    My Berry Buzz spritzer (wild blueberries, strawberries, sparkling water, and a twist of lemon) arrived with crushed rose petals and other edible flower bits on top.  Looks a little like potpourri, doesn't it?  It was very tasty.

My life has been feeling quite full lately, in a good way.  I am keeping my resolution to nurture relationships (of all types: friends, family, and colleagues) and it's a very rewarding process.  I can't recall the last time I felt lonely.  I often used to feel lonely because I was too shy to reach out to people.  That made me feel sad, which made me feel vulnerable, which made me turn ever more inward.  Now that cycle is reversed.

At work a project that has been looming on the horizon since 2003 (!!) is finally underway in a material sense.  I have been working on preparations to roll it out for over a year. I was initially intimidated by the prospect, but a series of delays transformed my fear into frustration, and a feeling of "Let's just get this over with already!"  It's gratifying to see stacks of equipment being unpacked: evidence that the project will eventually be done.

For now, my frame of mind is more Twitterish than bloggish.  I like that I can check in when I feel like it with a few bon mots and a photo.  No need to make a big production out of it.  I enjoy the haiku-like challenge of capturing the essence of a moment or feeling within a limited number of words and a single image.  It's much more immediate than saving up an experience, composing a post in my head for a day or two, and then sitting down to craft a story or essay out of it.  Twitter is about what's happening now, and then we can move right along to the next moment of this unpredictable and curious life.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


This morning I'm reading about Björk's latest project, and thinking about the importance of one's sonic environment.

I was slow to realize that I am sensitive to sounds, perhaps more so than the average person.  My moment of epiphany resulted from vacuuming.  I used to hate vacuuming. It seemed so irrational.  I used to tell myself "It's very simple, and it doesn't take long.  Just push the wand around the floor for a few minutes and you're done!  Stop whining and get on with it."  But I couldn't get over a visceral aversion to that particular chore.

One day something clicked.  I spotted a pair of earplugs on my bedside table. I normally wore them at night, to partially block out my husband, Mr. Snorey McSnorester.  I plugged up my ears before turning the vacuum on, and voilà, problem solved!  The essence of my vacuum-hating wasn't the action itself, but the overwhelming roar of the motor.

(Back then I was using a cheap but effective Dirt Devil.  Later I bought a fancy dancy Sebo, which is much quieter. I no longer have to wear earplugs in order to vacuum cheerfully.)

I'm not sure if my hearing is particularly keen, or if it's more a matter of innate sensitivity to sounds in general.  I can't stand the light fixture in Ken's room, especially when the dimmer is turned down low, because it emits a piercing, high pitched hum.  It doesn't seem to bother Ken at all.

The whining of motors of any size gets under my skin.  On a small scale, I sometimes get very distracted and annoyed by the external disc drives attached to our home computer.  They spin up at random times while the computer is backing itself up or doing other daily maintenance, and the dissonant, non-rhythmic sounds make me crazy.  On a larger scale, I have the same fingernails-on-a-blackboard reaction to the motors of some buses, depending on how the engine is working.  I always wear my iPod during my morning commute, to drown out the mournful, repetitive rrrrrrRRRRRRRrrrrrr, rrrrrrrRRRRRRRrrrrrr, as the bus creeps forward in rush hour traffic.

Don't even talk to me about the subway.  It's the absolute pits.  It's so loud that it can't be entirely drowned out by my iPod (as I am unwilling to damage my hearing for the cause).  The best I can do is put on some music and mentally focus on following the song in my head, instead of listening to the train screech and rattle through the tunnels.

Am I weird, or do any of you have similar reactions to your sonic surroundings?