Tuesday, November 26, 2013


My husband doesn't understand why I like to watch Infested! , a show on Animal Planet that presents, in documentary format, stories of people who have dealt with pests in their home. He says "it's horrible", and he's right.  Why do I want to watch a re-enactment of someone's near-fatal reaction to a spider bite?  Why would I expose myself to footage of piles of slithering snakes?

Honestly, because I find it fascinating.

Yes, the stories can be a bit repetitive at times.  There are only so many variations on the "home full of brown recluse spiders" theme.  I've seen at least three "bats in the attic" episodes.  But it's interesting to me not only because I get to learn something about animals and insects.  The stories push at and cross the boundary between human society and the rest of the natural world.  It challenges the idea that nature is something that only happens "out there", and that we get to control how our lives interact with it.

I have lived in a house that could have qualified for an episode of Infested!, although I didn't perceive it that way at the time.  For a short while, when I was a student in university, I lived in a house with  mice (and a few other humans).  If this were an episode of Infested!, the voice-over would tell you that the mice had been attracted to an abundant food source (someone had spilled hamster feed behind a piece of furniture and left it there, unbeknownst to any of us until we moved out).  Then they made themselves comfortable and multiplied.

I wasn't too worried by the presence of these mice.  I felt that it was bad manners for them to poop in the dish drainer, but that was easily cleaned up.  Occasionally I'd see one scurrying around out in the open, and it would look cute and healthy.

They bothered me most at night, banging around in the heating ducts.  They were also a constant presence in my bedroom, on account of that was where the previous resident had spilled the hamster food.  I slept on a foam mat on the floor, and sometimes one would scuttle across my legs.  It was annoying because they woke me up.  I remember once sitting bolt upright in bed and quickly turning on my bedside lamp.  The mouse who was halfway across my duvet stopped in his (her?) tracks and stared at me.  I stared back, as menacingly as I could.  We stayed like that for what seemed like a long time, until the mouse turned tail and disappeared. 

If this scene were re-enacted on Infested!, a biologist would have appeared on the screen next, running through a list of all the diseases mice can carry: rabies, plague, the pox, nuclear dysentery, Indonesian barking flu, and that thing that makes your ears turn black and fall off.  (I made some of those up.)  I guess my point is that it wasn't that bad, living with the mice.  None of us came to any long-term harm.  I've also had to live with a handful of giant cockroaches, and although they were creepy they weren't really so bad either.

I have to say, I'm glad that I don't live with any uninvited guests anymore.  And I'm glad that I don't live in the southern U.S., because I would definitely draw the line at scorpions.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Truth Stranger than Fiction

The stuff going on at work that I can't talk much about is still happening.  If anything, it has intensified.  My life is like a Dan Brown novel.  A nice little narrative, with a compelling protagonist.  Some friends become enemies, and enemies become friends.

But seriously, these are things that are actually happening in my life right now:

  • A Russian billionaire, rumoured to have ex-KGB bodyguards.
  • Corrupt lawyers and accountants.
  • Lawsuits, and threatened counter-suits, and threatened counter-counter-suits.
  • Meetings being recorded on audio-tape for the record, because no one's word (or memory) can be trusted anymore.
  • Top secret information.
  • Friends actually becoming enemies, and enemies becoming, if not friends, at least allies.
  • Unexpected plot twists, sometimes more than one per day.
  • Arson.  (Not directly in my office, but in the business next door.  No one was hurt. Our suite was filled with stinky smoke and we had to be professionally decontaminated.  Probably unrelated to all the other stuff that's going on, but a nice touch, don't you think?  Definitely the cherry on the cake of my week.)
In short, all the stuff that you read about or watch in thrillers, depending on whether you're a movie or a book person, is all actually happening in my life.  Short of actual murder, kidnapping, and explosions, it's all there.  Every stupid plot point that I used to roll my eyes at and say "That would never happen in real life" is happening in my real life.

In closing, I present to you the lame joke that I've recited to everyone at work, because what else is there to say?  "We've had floods here, and now a fire.  What's next?  A volcano?  Or Godizilla ripping the roof off?"

Monday, November 11, 2013


My mother gave me a gift certificate from the Royal Conservatory of Music for my birthday.  Now there's a gift idea!  At first I thought it was for music lessons, like maybe she wanted me to study yodelling or something, but fortunately it was for the RCM concert series.

As you all know, I have had some STRESS in my life lately, so I decided to sign up for the most soothing music available.  What could be more relaxing than a harp concert?  I can't think of a single thing.  So, I ordered tickets for my mom and I, and we went together on Sunday.

I even said to my mom, as we got settled in our seats, that I had picked this concert almost as music therapy.  I didn't want to subject either of us to crashing, angst-filled pieces such as Rachmaninoff has been known to produce.  Little did I know, we would not be hearing The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, or anything even close to it.

It turned out that all of the pieces on the program were by contemporary composers.  In fact, more than half of the composers in question were right there in the auditorium.  And despite my intention of avoiding a musical experience akin to listening to someone's internal experience of a migraine, it was pretty hardcore. 

The pieces included a lot of dissonance, weird time signature shifts, and even smacking of the harp strings with an open palm.  (Bad, bad harp! I told you to stay in tune!)  It was weird, but interesting, and strangely enjoyable.  Besides solo pieces, we heard a duet of harp and vibraphone, and even a quartet of harp, vibraphone, cello, and violin.  The harpists (there were two of them, taking turns) got sounds out of the instrument that I didn't know it could make.  There are a lot of pedals around the base of the harp that were used during these pieces.  I'm sure some of them match the functions of the pedals on a piano, however others seemed to be employed for pitch-bending, which I wasn't expecting.

The most challenging piece was a duet for harp and voice (mezzosoprano).  A statuesque, grey-haired lady stood onstage and explained that the lyrics were excerpts from Nietzsche's nihilist writings.  Then she opened her mouth to sing, and the sound that came rolling out was incredible.  I could feel my eardrums beating in time with her vibrato.  Every hair on my body rose up.  Anyone who might have been nodding off by that time must have sat straight up.

The singer belted out streams of frightening, guttural German, while the harpist plucked energetically beside her.  It was difficult to hear any relationship between the line of the song ("melody" would not be an appropriate term here) and the sound of the harp.  They must have been related, because they came together during certain passages, but I could not imagine what the sheet music looked like.

As if that were not enough to get the point across, the singer played percussion instruments as she sang.  The ultimate one was a pair of wooden blocks, roughly 4" x 4", which she clapped together vigorously.  When she'd had enough of that, she took one in each hand and flung them vehemently to the floor. 

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the concert.  Even more surprisingly, my mother did too.  I think it had something to do with being up-close-and-personal with the musicians and composers in that intimate little hall.  It's not the type of music that either of us would chose to listen to on the radio, but experiencing it bodily was a whole different kettle of fish.

In case you're curious, here's one of the harpists who played at the concert, performing pieces from one of the composers whose work was represented.  I could not find the exact pieces on YouTube; partially because they're not exactly Top 40 hits, and partially because several of the pieces were brand new.

I still have some money left on my gift card.  What next?

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Wedding

First of all: thanks, you guys!  Your prayers and wishes have power; my bubbe is back home from the hospital.  She's not quite 100% just yet, but she's working on it.  Yay!

Things I have done this week:
  • Handed out candy to around 200 child visitors on Halloween, all of them scrumptiously cute.
  • Took Friday off to go to the Royal Winter Fair, where I conversed with talkative goats, ogled the bare buttocks of two-day-old piglets, and was impressed by a 926-pound pumpkin.
  • Bought 4 books for $4 at a dusty but fruitful fund-raising book sale.
  • Attended a wedding.
  • Attended Game Night with my besties, and helped the hosts out with their serious problem of leftover Halloween candy.
  • Scrubbed my house from top to bottom, which was tiring but completely satisfying.
Any of these could fuel an entire blog post, but I'm going with the wedding, because it was the most unusual.  The bride and groom are grandparents, in their 50's.  I don't know them well, but they are close friends of my friend, Val the Bingo Queen.  Val was their maid of honour, and they were kind enough to invite us because they are the type of people who welcome new friends into their circle.

Our first challenge was the find the venue, a hall in a Royal Canadian Legion out in the wilds of Scarborough.  The GPS directed us to a T-junction at the end of an overpass, with nothing but trees to be seen in every direction.  "You have arrived at the destination," it said.  We didn't think so.  Fortunately we spotted a little sign that said "RCL" with an arrow and it was just a short drive down the road to the left.

The weather wasn't bad, for November in Canada.  It was a few degrees above freezing, overcast, and spitting rain.  The wedding party was shivering outside, under an overhang, smoking cigarettes.  The bridesmaids were all wearing purple gowns and silver high-heeled sandals.  The wedding's theme was "Winter Wonderland" and the colours were purple and white.

This bride and groom are not wealthy.  However, the bride's two grown daughters had done an amazing job of dressing up the drab Legion hall for the occasion.  There was no wedding planner, no florist, no helpful staff.  The daughters had been at the hall all day up until midnight the day before, and again since early that morning, to make it perfect.

The round tables were laid with white, satiny tablecloths, overlaid with square cloths of translucent purple.  Gorgeous centrepieces had been handmade by filling vases with white florist's sand and standing silk flowers and silvered branches in them.  The place cards were done in calligraphy, each one decorated with two tasteful sparkly gems.  These were propped up in little Styrofoam "snowballs", which someone had clearly scooped one at a time with a melon baller or an ice-cream scoop.

An aisle had been laid down the centre of the dance floor, demarcated by lines of white fairy lights wrapped in white tulle, with fat, white candles down each side.  The candles were set on the floor, unlit, while guests took their seats.  They made me nervous.  One was kicked over by accident.  I visually located the fire extinguisher, which coincidentally was right by our table, just in case of a problem once the candles were lit.  Tulle and open flame do not mix well.  (Or they mix very well, if you like a little extra excitement.)  The aisle ended at a white trellis, hung with dark green ivy and more twinkling white lights.  It was magical.

The ceremony was touching.  There were tears of joy and photographs and cute children dressed up in miniature evening-wear.  Nothing caught on fire.

The main fiasco was dinner service.  Unfortunately the so-called caterers (more like a couple of moonlighting cafeteria ladies) were not up to the task.  The maid of honour was expecting what you would expect, thinking of a wedding dinner.  The reality was: only the head table was served.  The rest of us had to get up and file through the kitchen to get our dinner.  It was not a buffet.  The kitchen was just a crummy little kitchen, with signs in it like the one that said "There are thousands of  things to eat in this kitchen and all of them are beans."  We were given paper plates and plastic cutlery for the salad course, and then had to re-use them for the main course.

I'm all for saving the environment, but it did seem a little less than elegant to be carrying my cardboard plate, all mucky with mayo from the macaroni salad, back to the line-up to be served my entrĂ©e.  Apparently the caterers hadn't mentioned that they would not be providing plates and cutlery.  The maid of honour, who had made the arrangements, was mortified.

Frankly, given the circumstances (a very drafty, chilly hall and a growling stomach) I was happy just to get a hot meal, and  not to suffer any food poisoning afterwards.  I'm not sure how the bride felt about it, but she seemed happy enough.  She danced the first dance with her new husband wearing a strapless, white satin gown, and white flip-flops with plastic flowers on them.

It was a lot more relaxed and a lot more fun than a few stuffy weddings that I've been to.  Ken and I were glad to be there.