Friday, January 25, 2013

Small World Stories

I grew up with a girl who was born on the same day as me.  Every year, in grades 1 through 6, we held hands at the front of the classroom while our classmates sang "Bonne Anniversaire" (we were in French immersion) to us on our birthday.  I was always glad that I had a birthday buddy, because I was shy and it would have been hard to stand up there all by myself.

Much, much later, I met someone else who has exactly the same birthday as me.  My current birthday buddy is a man I work with.  He joined the company a few years ago, and we discovered that we had this in common.

Then, at the company Christmas party, I met his wife.  She looked awfully familiar.  Turns out that she was in my class in grades 1 through 6, and was one of the voices singing "Bonne Anniversaire" to me and my childhood birthday buddy many years ago.  Not only that, but she's still in touch with my childhood birthday buddy.  They're friends, their kids are friends, and they hang out on a regular basis. Every year at the Christmas party we talk about setting up a reunion.  It probably won't ever happen, but I like getting an annual update on my old birthday buddy's life from my new birthday buddy's wife.

If that wasn't enough to convince you that it's a small world, consider this.

I have a girlfriend who's a real Downtown Girl.  I met her when she was selling shoes in Toronto's fashion district (that's Queen St. West, for those of you in the T-dot).  She lives in a slightly run-down, artsy, colourful neighbourhood called The Junction.  It's not exactly downtown, but it's within shouting distance thereof.  She lives in an apartment in a building that's over one hundred years old, with an original claw-footed bathtub.

Recently Downtown Girl quit her job at the shoe store and went back to school for a career change.  Her new qualifications could potentially be a fit for my workplace (although not in my department).  She came out to the suburbs to meet me for lunch, to get a tour of my workplace, and to meet the other department manager.  Imagine my surprise when she eyeballed one of my staff and said "You look very familiar.  Did you ever work at the airport?"

Here's the story:  Downtown Girl and My Employee did both work at the airport years ago.  My Employee had a desk job in the customs office.  She used to buy her lunch from a restaurant where Downtown Girl was a server.  They started chatting when they met on the bus to and from work.  They figured out that they were both from the same city in Ukraine, and not only that but they had both gone to the same primary school.

As if that weren't enough, here they were meeting again, randomly, although we were nowhere near the airport and both of them had changed careers.  Our minds were blown by the odds against this reunion.

Your turn.  What's your best small world story?

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I've had a few piercings in my life.  I've had a total of six* holes poked in to my ears over the years, of which two remain functional.  I also wore a nose ring for a while, in 1997-8.  I took it out when I went job-searching in the corporate world.  Sometimes I miss the nose ring, but then I recall having to do nostril maintenance with a Q-tip and the nostalgia fades.

If piercing makes you squeamish, you may wish to stop reading now.

I have always avoided heavy earrings because over time they can pull a neat pierced hole into a long, stretched-out slit.  I have been careful to maintain my piercings.  In fact, I have one pair of earrings with slightly thicker-than-average posts, and I sometimes need to use a little hand cream to get them in.

I mentioned a while back that Ken took me to a fancy jewellery store on Boxing Day.  Well, there were some very pretty earrings there that had thick posts.  I wanted to try them on, plus there was a salesperson who was very eager to see me fall in love with them.

I couldn't get them to go in, so I asked the sales guy if he could find a drop of hand cream.  He produced some that they normally use to get tight rings off of ladies' fingers.  I lubed up the earring, but no matter how I wiggled it and pushed it, it wouldn't go into my ear.

The sales guy wasn't willing to give up so easily.  He asked if he could give it a try, and I made the mistake of allowing him to do so.  He pushed and shoved that earring so forcefully that I had to ask him to stop because he was hurting me.  And thusly, my right ear was injured.

I have been having trouble with that ear ever since.  Miraculously it never got infected, but it got to the point where the injured area would heal shut overnight and I would have to basically re-pierce my ear every morning when I put my earrings in.  Very, very uncool.  Also, OW.

So I've stuck a pair of simple, silver studs into my ears and I'm going to simply leave them in until March.  It takes 6 to 8 weeks for a fresh piercing to heal. It's a shame, because I enjoy my earring collection and always match my ear jewellery to my outfit.  Oh well.  Silver goes with everything.  I should have both ears back in working order in time for spring, when hats and hoods come off, so that'll be good timing.

Also, I think I'm going to start wearing heavy earrings every once in a while, and stretch out those holes a little, so I can avoid having to deal with this situation again.

Do you have any piercings?

*I had my ears pierced for the first time when I was 8 (2 holes), but I didn't take proper care of my earlobes, and eventually the holes grew over.  I had my ears pierced again when I was 16 (+2 = 4 holes).  When I was in university I had one extra hole pierced in my left ear way up near the top corner, through the cartilage (+1 = 5), but that one didn't heal well so I let it close over.  I had another extra hole pierced in my left earlobe (+1 = 6), but wearing an asymmetrical third earring went out of style after the '90's, so in the end that one closed over too.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mother Nature is Weird

I've been watching my way though a free course available on YouTube:  Human Behavioural Biology taught by Prof. Robert Sapolsky at Stanford University.  I am completely fascinated by what I'm learning.  The course investigates the roles of heredity and environment in shaping behaviour.  The aim is to explain human behaviour, but the course also presents the results of numerous animal studies to make various points.

For example, the case of the naked mole rat, (a.k.a. the "sand puppy", according to Google). According to National Geographic, this ugly little beast looks like a tiny, pink walrus, or "perhaps a bratwurst with teeth".  Professor Sapolsky explains that these guys live in elaborate underground burrows, in large communities.  There is division of labour.  Each naked mole rat has a job to do.  Except, researchers found when observing one community, there were a handful of lazy naked mole rats.  They just hung around in the burrows, eating lots of food that was brought to them by their buddies.  They ate so much that they got big and fat.

The researchers couldn't figure out why the other naked mole rats wasted resources feeding the lazy naked mole rats.  Until rainy season.  When rain started pouring down, each overfed naked mole rat backed his big fat butt into one entrance to the burrow, thusly plugging up the doorway and keeping rainwater from flooding the underground tunnels.  Take whatever lesson you will from this.

Another one of my favourite anecdotes from the course has to do with bees.  As you probably all know, bees communicate via "dancing".  A dance with particular parameters translates into "There is a significant food source if you travel around 10 minutes from the hive entrance at an angle of 80 degrees to the east" or something close to that.  Normally if a bee came back to the hive and did that dance there would be an immediate bee exodus to go take advantage of the food source.  That's pretty impressive in itself.

Here's the even-more-awesome part.  The researchers put an attractive food source onto a rowboat and rowed out into the middle of a lake.  They waited for a bee to discover the food source, then they monitored what happened inside the hive.  The discoverer bee flew home and danced the message "Hey guys I found a tasty snack 7 minutes outside the hive, 150 degrees to the left!"  But the other bees didn't believe him.  They were all "Yeah, right, I don't think so.  Dude, that's in the middle of the lake!  Pollen doesn't grow out there!"  And none of the bees went to investigate.

How could bees possibly be that smart?  I mean, do they even have a brain?  I'm thinking that they might have a tiny cluster of neurons inside their fuzzy little heads about the size of a poppy seed, or of sesame seed if we're being very optimistic.  How can they put two and two together to make four?  It's pretty amazing.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Epiphyte

Santa brought me an air plant for Christmas.  Buddha likes to hold it while he meditates.

An air plant, or epiphyte, is a category of plant that hails from the canopy of the rain forest.  They do not require soil.  This particular type, a tillandsia, does naturally grow roots, but they are used only for clinging to trees, not for the absorption of water or nutrients.  It sucks in water through the outer cells of its leaves.

Contrary to what the giver of this gift assumed, tillandsias require plenty of water and care.  They are soaked by rain approximately 2 - 3 hours per day in their natural environment, with time in between each soaking to completely dry out.  They are not like cactuses, nor can one be left floating in a bath of water for more than a few hours at a time, or it will rot.  In other words, the little buggers are incredibly high maintenance.

The lovely lady who gave me this plant didn't realize that it would be a bad idea to leave it on my desk unattended for a week, in a gift bag, over the Christmas holidays.  When I got back the tips of all its leaves had gone brown and crispy, and the plant had retreated into dormancy.  I had to go through several cycles of soaking it and letting it dry to get it back to something resembling good health.

We'll see if I have the patience to tend to this demanding plant every day.  I'll give it a try.  I'm testing to see if running warm tap-water over it for a few minutes each day will do the trick.  That would be preferable to having to prepare a bath for it, soak it, and then remember to take it out to dry after a suitable period of time.  My other plants are much easier to care for.  I water them once a week, on Sunday, and that's the end of it.

My grandmother gave me a couple of her plants recently.  Apparently everyone she knows thinks that plants are the best gift for her, so she has more than she can handle.

This one is very pretty.  The edges of the leaves are pink, if you look carefully:

This one is also from my grandmother:

In the photo below you have to look carefully to find the plant in the foreground with the flat, heart-shaped leaves.  It always blossoms at the winter solstice.  There's one bloom off in the background, peeking out from behind the forest of giant aloe tentacles.  In the foreground you can see two up-and-coming flowers, both still buds on stalks, leaning toward the right.  I'm excited to see the two new blooms coming in.  I had just removed one of the older blossoms, and I wasn't expecting any more to come in and take its place.

Anyone want to place a bet on how long that air plant is going to last?