Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring? Ring.

I wore shoes outside today for the first time since November.  Huzzah!  Warm weather has finally arrived!  I don't see any signs of greenery yet, but it's bound to burst out soon.

My mom and I went to the One Of A Kind craft show and sale today.  Man, that thing has gotten HUGE.  There were 450 vendors in an enormous hall, the size of an airplane hangar.  We stayed for around 3 hours and only managed to see half of the booths.  There was even an IRL Etsy section.  Kind of weird; it's the first time I've seen an online business make the leap into bricks-and-mortar(-ish) retail, as opposed to the reverse.  I guess it's a sign of the times.

There were all the usual items on offer that one might expect: handmade soaps, pottery, jewellery, knit-wear, etc.  I was on the lookout for an interesting handbag, because the one I'm using now is starting to look a bit chewed-on at the edges, but surprisingly I didn't see any that I wanted.  I didn't have anything else particular in mind; my plan was to browse.  Although I did allow that I might buy myself a piece of handmade silver jewellery, if I found one that was calling my name.  Ooh, shiny things...

My mom was on the lookout for some gifts, and managed to find a couple, but she was looking for stuff that could easily be transported overseas in a suitcase, and there wasn't a lot that fit the bill.  We saw a lot of handblown glass vases, sink-sized wooden serving bowls, metal-and-rock sculptures, and large paintings.

I was tempted by hats.  There was an average of one handmade hat booth per aisle.  I stopped to try one on, (lime green raffia with two bows at the back) but was put off by the rather sour saleswoman.  I turned up the brim, which made the hat look cute.  She came over to me and turned the brim down, just to show me that it was adjustable, but that made the hat look bad.  Then she tried to bond with me by asking "Parlez-vous fran├žais?" but when I answered "Oui" she didn't seem to have anything further to say to me in either language.  She would have had a better chance at selling something to me if she had just left me alone to try things on without harassment.

In the end I decided to treat myself to a pretty ring.  YOLO, right?  The name of the design is "bubbles".

I was pulling my wallet out when my mom stopped me and insisted on paying for it.  Aw, mom!  Are you sure?  She was sure.  And so the ring became that much more meaningful, because it is a gift.

To be honest, the best part of the afternoon was when we stopped for tea and had a good chat, and now I have the ring as a souvenir. :-)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Welcome Mat Says "Go Away".

It's still too dang cold.  Currently the mercury is sitting at -8C.  (That's 17F for you 'Mericans.  Get with the metric system already!)  Technically I could have gone out for a walk today, but it's just ugly out there at this point.  Nasty, black snowbanks; lots of yellow snow and poopies; ice patches just waiting to sit you down on your bottom.  No thanks.  I think I'll stay in and finish my book.

Which I did!  According to last week's post, I read 200 pages this week, and finished the Afterword To The Paperback Edition this afternoon.  No wonder I've been feeling a little eye-strained.

I did add some excitement to my home by inviting my step-mom and my elder bubbe (she'll be turning 98 in May) over for lunch yesterday.  I kept things pretty simple.  I'm not exactly the hostess with the mostest. I literally cannot remember the last time I had someone over to my place before Saturday.  But I can bake a potato and load it with tasty toppings, open a salad-in-a-bag, and set a pretty table.  Making tea and putting out a plate of cookies wasn't too stressful either.  I do believe that we all enjoyed ourselves.

My lack of hostessing is based on several mutually reinforcing factors.  Firstly: my friends either live way the heck out at the far corners of the GTA, (that's the Greater Toronto Area, or endless urban sprawl, for you 'Mericans) or clustered in one neighbourhood many miles away.  If I'm meeting a friend from the other side of the city, we meet halfway at a restaurant.  If I'm seeing my group of friends who all live in the East End within a couple of blocks of one another, obviously I go to their neck of the woods.

Secondly: I am trying to stay out of the politics of my mom's side of the family.  I don't want to get deeply into this, but there are some people who are downright vicious score-keepers regarding who has done what when and who owes what to whom.  For example, I invited some relatives over to my home when I first moved in, but they were displeased with the way in which I invited them, and therefore refused my invitation.  Now, all y'all know that I am a courteous lady.  It wasn't that I issued the invitation resentfully, or rudely.  They objected to the timing of it.  They were invited over after someone else who they felt was being favoured over them.  (That was not the case.  It was just how it worked out.)

After the offended parties gave me a thorough tongue-lashing by telephone, I did end up rather favouring the other relatives over them.  I never did invite them again.

I think it was the year after that that my health broke down.  Although I am now relatively well, I have not challenged the standing presumption that I don't have the stamina to play hostess.  It's just easier that way.  Not to mention that my condo has a small living/dining room, and I'm honestly not sure if I could fit everyone around my table without moving the sofa out onto the front lawn.

Finally, Ken and I are a couple of stubborn old introverts, and frankly we're resistant to letting Other People into our space.  I know this isn't anything to be proud of, but we are who we are.  How about you guys?  Do you love  a home full of happy, chatting guests, or are you snails who feel there's only room for you in your shell?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Winter, day # 1,684,203

It's getting more and more difficult to drum up interesting blog topics as this blasted winter drags on.  99% of my time could be summed up as follows.  "I went to work; I slept; and in between it was too freaking cold to go out so I stayed in and read/watched TV."  The only advantage to this state of affairs is that I am making excellent headway through my giant book about the Russian Oligarchs. I just got past page 300 out of 500.  *fist pump*

Initially I was impressed by how readable this book is, but the story has become increasingly complicated.  I have to keep track of businessmen who all seem the same to me, with names like Khodorkovsky vs. Korzhakov vs. Kiselyov.  The conglomerates are multisyllabic  monsters, ex. Samaraneftegaz and Yuganskneftegaz.  Who bribed whom to buy what at a criminally low per-share-price is a question to make one's head swim. However, it's -12 C (10 F) outside, so I may as well settle in and keep reading.

The question on my mind most mornings is how to dress for my Arctic trek to work.  We're at that stage when conditions may call for knee-high boots and the Extra-Fluffy fleece under my parka, or it may be more appropriate to go for the waterproof, calf-height boots with quick-dry pants because of the possibility of being splashed by passing cars.  My route to work takes me past a large (many city blocks in area) park, and the wild terrain has a tendency to sneak out past park boundaries onto the sidewalks.

There is a wind corridor that funnels a never-ending supply of drifting snow over the pedestrian walkways.  It doesn't matter how many times the city sends their little Bobcat plows past that area; it's always knee-deep in snow.  Consequently, as soon as the weather warms up, it becomes a trough of mud.  The scariest time is when the deeper ice hasn't fully melted yet, but a river of muddy water is flowing on the surface.  I can just picture myself taking one wrong step and sitting down into a freezing mud bath.  That would be the worst.  Fortunately it has never happened.  Yet.

If it does happen, I will be sure to relate the story to you in excruciatingly embarrassing detail.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

(The) Ukraine

Every once in a while, I make an effort to read the news.  I subscribe to two online newspapers (The New York Times and The Globe and Mail), and my motivation to log in and pay attention tends to peak just after I receive my monthly Visa bill. Once I've been reminded that money is being sucked out of my pocket, I temporarily feel that I may as well use the services that I'm paying for.

I'm following the situation in Ukraine with interest.  (Everyone used to call that country "The Ukraine", and the recently-invaded peninsula "The Crimea", but now it's just Ukraine and Crimea.  I can understand how the extra "The" got added by listening to my co-worker who immigrated from the-area-formerly-known-as-Yugoslavia.  She has a tendency to use "the" in front of every noun, proper or no.  For example, we have a lady called Dana who comes by once per month to do complicated stuff with our invoices.  My co-worker refers to her as "The Dana".  As in "The Dana will be coming here on Friday."  So it's no wonder that we got confused about Ukraine and Crimea - immigrants from that area were throwing in that extra "The" 'cause that's how they roll, and we figured they must be correct because they're from there.)

Politics in eastern Europe is incredibly complicated, but I'm starting to get a handle on it.  It helps that I'm currently reading a book about Russia during the transition from communism to capitalism. It's fascinating stuff.  It has shed some light on why the Russian immigrant customers at my work are difficult to deal with.  In communist Russia, according to this book, the counter in a state-controlled retail establishment or government-run office was a barrier separating enemies.  Getting anything, for example a package of toilet paper, or permit for whatever, was like pulling teeth.  Only the people with the most persistence and the best connections prospered.  It was a Darwinian system that selected for bulldog-like stubbornness.  At my work, we try to explain that in Canada "I'm sorry but I can't do that for you" won't change if they stand at the counter for another 45 minutes badgering us, but it's a tough sell.  I guess the less insistent Russians are all still in Russia, because they wouldn't have had enough tenacity and resources to emigrate.

(Trust me, that's not intended as an insult to the Russians in Russia.  God knows I couldn't have survived there with anything resembling my mental health intact.)

In case you haven't been following the story, here's my version in a nutshell.  As I understand it, Ukraine is broke.  Will the country be bailed out by Russia or by "The West"?  Which is another way of asking: who is going to end up with all of the political power over Ukraine?  Russia has called dibs and moved troops in.  The U.N. has condemned the move, and demanded that Russia withdraw.  Putin has responded by basically saying "Troops?  What troops?  Oh, those guys aren't mine.  They're some other guy's guys.  I can't control them."  It's kind of a like a kid standing in front of you with his hands over his eyes, saying "You can't seeeeee meeeee!".  The U.S. Department of State has published a simple, helpful document which gives more details.

Anyway, basically life is pretty rough over in eastern Europe, and I am feeling grateful to my great-grandparents for emigrating from Russia and Poland to Canada.  They got out just in the nick of time.  Otherwise I might have been the one who had to escape in dangerous circumstances with only one suitcase to hold everything I own, and hardly knowing any English.  I might be the one calling our invoicing lady "The Dana".

Sunday, March 2, 2014


I went to Ripley's Aquarium.  It was totally worth the $ 30 entrance fee.  Look, eels!

These are plain old eels.  Further along, there was an electric eel in a tank that gave real-time feedback of the eel's electrical output.  The feedback was in the form of a zig-zaggedy digital readout, and a sound that goes "GZZZT".  I found the constant GZZZT-ing a bit ominous so I moved along quickly.

These are sea pens.  As in, they resemble old-timey quill pens.  If you touch them, they emit phosphorescent mucus.  At least, that's what the display panel said.  I didn't get a chance to test that out.  They were waving back and forth in the water looking... very fleshy.

This lumpfish was approximately the size of a loaf of bread.  I thought it was a pretty big fish until later, when I encountered an 800-pound grouper.  I swear that grouper was as big as my desk. Gi-freaking-normous.  Unfortunately, the lighting in that area was not conducive to photos with my lame little phone camera.

Anemones.  The orange one may have been a cinnamon anemone.  I hope so.  (I was not able to find any supporting documentation for this theory.)

Don't you just want to drizzle some icing on it and take a bite?

Sea stars.  I did not know these came in purple.  Cool.

The Pacific kelp forest was beautiful and enormous.  A wave machine had the whole tank in constant motion, especially up near the surface.  It was really neat to see the entire 3-D field of sea life moving with the water.  There's no land-lubber equivalent, except perhaps a flock of birds flying in synchrony.

Everything I saw was backed by atmospheric, film-soundtrack-type music, piped in to enhance the otherworldly experience.  I'm sure it was also to drown out the sounds of the many pumps and other machinery it takes to keep the place going.  I think if I worked there and had to listen to it non-stop it might make me want to shoot myself, but for my own visit I enjoyed it.

Tropical corals in the Rainbow Reef:

The Dangerous Lagoon was the highlight of the tour.  A moving sidewalk brings you through a tunnel under the biggest tank of all, full of sharks, rays, and a zillion smaller fish of every description.  It's eye-poppingly gorgeous.

It is also possible to step off the moving walkway to take photos or just gawk to your heart's content.  Sawfish!

It was tough to get photos of some of the faster-moving creatures on account of the dim light.  Slow shutter speed + zippy stingrays = nothing but a blueish blur.  Not to worry, the website has some pictures of the stingrays for you.

Baby seahorse:

Momma shark:

Baby shark:

Don't ask me about specific species names and whatnot.  I didn't have time to read all the signage.  I wanted to look at creatures!  Maybe I'll read the signs next time.

The jellyfish were also stunning, but by the time I got to that section my phone battery was almost dead.  But trust me, they were fabulous.

Basically I would like to gather all of you together for a group tour of the facility.  We would bring good cameras to take pictures of each other getting photobombed by crazy fish-beasties.  And make sure you wear a shirt with sleeves that roll above the elbow so that you can reach into the Touch Tank and pat a stingray.  Who's in?