Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Desirable Person

This picture has nothing to do with this post. I just like it.

"What is desirable in a person is kindness, and it is better to be poor than a liar."
Proverbs 19:22

One of the big challenges of teaching is to provide instruction - especially correction - without adding humiliation to the mix. And, while this is true at any age, I think it must be especially true with adult students. Especially adults who are taking professional development or special-interest courses. 

Remember when I wrote about "conscious incompetence"? It is a horrible feeling, being aware of one's own lack of skill. The word uncomfortable doesn't begin to describe it. 

Yesterday, I took a course in media relations. It was a very good course, with lots of practical exercises and critiques. Most of us in the classroom had many years of communications experience and even actually had some media experience as well. But one person had clearly been thrown in the deep end. 

As we individually prepared for our radio interview, the teacher, Carl, saw that one student, let's call her Nancy, was flushed and had written only three or four words on her paper. Her body language spoke dejection. He spent a couple of unobtrusive minutes with her, quietly working through the problem, then allowed her some time to finish the task and pull herself together. 

When it was her turn to record an interview, he let Nancy choose whether to go first, last or somewhere in between. He gave her space and time to feel comfortable, so she could do her best, so she would be able to learn rather than feeling stressed (which effectively blocks all incoming information). When it was her turn to be critiqued, he was encouraging but also provided constructive pointers. 

I happened to leave the classroom at the same time as Nancy, and I asked her how she felt about the day. 

"Well, it wasn't easy," she said, "but I'm glad I did it. I feel like I learned a lot and will be able to apply it to my job."

Today, I reflected on how I witnessed his caring and kindness towards one student who faced a bigger mountain than the rest of us. It could have gone differently. She could have left feeling wounded, and we bystanders could have felt embarrassed for her, perhaps angry on her behalf. Instead, we not only learned some skills for dealing with the media, but we also shared in a very positive human experience. It felt good to be part of that, even if only on the periphery. 

So, thank you, Carl.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


UPDATE: Picture of Steve's temporary solution.

I have at least one friend who loves winter. She loves skating, snowshoeing, tobogganing, and just playing in the snow with her daughters. She doesn't mind bundling up in many layers.

Myself, I find winter beautiful, especially on a sharp, sunny day, and I don't mind the cold (especially as I seem to be equipped with my very own heat pump), but I think even my friend would agree that there is one aspect of winter that is a decidedly two-edged sword: freezing rain.
Beautiful scenery
Yes, it creates some wonderful scenery (and I sort of regret being too lazy to go out and capture some night-time pictures of the glazed trees, but the pizza was hot and the Chardonnay was calling), but it is treacherous.

On Friday morning, our little side-street was lacquered with about three inches of glistening ice, sprinkled with a generous continual spray of fresh drops. According to CBC, Ottawa police reported 69 collisions between 6 a.m. and noon Friday. I'm sure the insurance adjusters will be writing cheques for weeks.

And if your vehicle happens to be outdoors, you will find it encased in ice, as Stephen did this morning when he went out to start our van up for its weekly workout. The driver's door was frozen. Even after he chipped away the ice, it was immovable because ice had dripped down between the frame and the rubber seals.

So Stephen got tough and pulled out a crowbar!!! If I were facing this challenge, I might have been more likely to grab the blow dryer (or gone back to bed), but Steve is a manly man and grabbed the more assertive tool.

Then this happened.
Yah. That window is not supposed to open.
So even parked in our driveway, the poor vehicle didn't make it through the ice storm unscathed. We are not amused, despite Steve's expression here.
"Stuff happens."
UPDATE: Here's the temporary solution, until we can get the window repaired. Not bad, I think.

P.S. This poor van. It most recently lost a wheel while driving on the freeway, but its stories of trauma go further back than that.
Honestly, as with many an aging Hollywood star, I'm not really sure how many parts of this car are original issue.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Our family's year in pictures.

You've probably seen most of these pictures, but I just wanted to share the book I've put them into. This is the third year I've compiled an album like this for Steve's birthday (which happens to be in January). I MUCH prefer this to printing photos at, say, Wal-Mart, picking them up and putting them into old-fashioned photo albums.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Everyone should have a soldier in the house.

If there's one thing soldiers are taught, it's how to shine a pair of boots. We won't get into why it is important that a soldier's boots be shiny, we will simply accept that it is. And then we will reap the benefits of having such a skill in the household.

Did you see what happened to my favourite leather boots while I was in Toronto?
That is some serious salt damage right there.
The tips of the toes are sopping wet with salt water.
I was a little distraught because I do like these boots - they are extremely comfortable, great for walking, and they look unique with their foot-forming shape. (They kind of remind me of those old "Earth shoes.")

As soon as I could, I covered the salty spots with moist paper towels and was pleasantly surprised by how much salt came out. (Yay, osmosis!) But the leather still looked rather sad.

So this past weekend, I paid Brian (who is an Army cadet) to give those boots a good cleaning and polishing.
Clean and smooth
Isn't that kind of amazing? I immediately applied a fresh coat of waterproofing. Then I gave him two more pairs of boots to treat.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bucket List

The Morning Walk

When Anne and I go out a walk,
We hold each other's hand and talk
Of all the things we mean to do
When Anne and I are forty-two.

And when we've thought about a thing,
Like bowling hoops or bicycling,
Or falling down on Anne's balloon,
We do it in the afternoon.

            ~  A.A. Milne

That has been one of our favourite poems since we were courting. In fact, I think I have a card somewhere in which Steve changed "Ann" to "Nan," one of his pet names for me.

Indeed one of the pleasures of being a couple is the idea that we can make long-term plans together.

As Steve's retirement draws closer (summer of 2014), we've started talking "of all the things we mean to do when Steve and I are fifty-two." Chief among those things is travel (like 99% of the population of retirees). So while we soaked up some sunshine this past weekend we contemplated our "bucket list" of places we want to see.

We do have slightly differing travel styles.

Steve likes a more adventurous excursion. He would gladly backpack across Europe, staying in hostels, and flying stand-by. He will eat from roadside vendors in developing countries. He would enjoy a bicycle-camping tour or a hiking vacation.

I am a more cautious traveler who likes her comforts (and no insects!) and likes to know where her next bed will be. I will happily try new foods, but get rather anxious if I'm not sure the kitchen is clean. I enjoy a little walking, but am not up to a full-day (or full-week) bike or hike trip.

Neither of us particularly wants to go anywhere where there is political unrest.

Wherever we go, we would like to stay for several weeks, since that is the real luxury of retirement.

With those things in mind, here is our [first draft] travel bucket list.


London, Paris, Rome (though not all in one trip)
Scotland: distillery tour, Glasgow, Hawick (pronounced "hiyke," whence the Sibbald clan came)
Ireland and the Hebrides
Florence & Venice
Peru: Machu Picchu  (we want to go there while we are still young and mobile enough to climb those mountains), Amazon, Galapagos

NEXT TIER - in no order

St Petersburg
Prague & Vienna
Southern France, wine & cheese!
New Zealand
New York City
Cape Cod
Egypt: Nile cruise, Valley of the Kings
Ireland, Hebrides
Trans-Canada by train
Newfoundland: L’Anse aux Meadows
Yucatan ruins

That's the list, so far. What's on your list? Are there places you recommend we go (that we've missed on this list)? Where would you go AGAIN?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Where to begin?

We left Ottawa on Friday, while snow and freezing rain drove sane people into warm rooms -- or toasty trains.
Lake Ontario breakers, as seen from the train.
I'm SO glad we didn't drive to Toronto.
Another shot from the train. All that blowing snow: brrrrr!
We had an afternoon to kill before visiting my Aunt Winkie, so we went up to the Art Gallery of Ontario and took in the Marc Chagall exhibit, a wonderful show. (I had no idea he was Russian, born Moishe Shagal. It always makes me sad to learn that someone changed his or her name to "conform;" our names are so much a part of our identities.) We also saw some Rodin bronzes in the central court.
Andrieux d’Andres Vetu, by Auguste Rodin
Then we went back into the miserable weather, where this happened:
Salty slush at every corner. I evidently had not waterproofed my boots adequately.
Fortunately, I was able to soak out most of the salt, but it still needs a few more treatments.
One day later, we were in Las Vegas, land of perpetual sunshine.
The water looks enticing, but it was only 20 degrees (C) out, so we did not venture in.
That very first evening, we went to see Cirque du soleil's LOVE show about the Beatles. We showed up early to pick up our tickets, only to find that the show started mere minutes from our arrival! That could have been disastrous!

The show, like every other Cirque show I've seen, was incredible. (No photography allowed, of course, so I'll have to use words.)

I've seen Cirque four times now. I've also seen an episode or two of the television version, and I have to say, television does not even begin to do it justice. In the theatre, the audience is surrounded by the experience. It is not like a regular stage play where the action takes place in a designated space in front of you. In a Cirque show, the entire volume of the theatre is in use - above, below, around, in front, behind.

At any given moment, there will be a performer slowly descending from the lights, or crawling in from the wings. Lighting does not just illuminate or create a mood, it is part of the artistry. You cannot imagine the lighting for Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. It was breathtaking.

In most Cirque shows I've seen, the music transcends time and place. It is operatic in scale, the vocals exquisite, of course. In this show, the Beatles music was all familiar, of course. Even so, it was not just background noise. The drama expanded on the music.

Cirque is famous for its costumes, and this show was no exception. From wartime frumpery to corseted royalty, clowns, angels ... The costumes were part architecture, part clothing.

Enough. If you enjoy live theatre and haven't yet seen a Cirque show, I highly recommend it. The tickets are very pricey, but it is worth every penny.

The next day, (after a lunch during which we made up our "bucket list" of places we want to travel to after Steve retires), we watched Iron Lady in which Meryl Streep channels Margaret Thatcher. I was pleasantly surprised to find it a love story, in which Jim Broadbent (a chronically under-appreciated actor, in my opinion. You may remember him as Iris Murdoch's husband in Iris) plays an adorable and supportive Denis Thatcher.

We capped off the evening with a comedy show at the Improv.

Monday, Steve's birthday, was leisurely. We took a nap, played cards, then went to some galleries downtown.
My children will not know what this is. It is a typewriter eraser.
I had heard that Dale Chihuly, whose work I have followed since I saw his exhibit in Florida in 2006, had a gallery on the strip, so we made a beeline there. We were not disappointed. (I had a very hard time choosing which pictures to post here.)
A chandelier, if you will. I think it cost approximately $100,000.00
Let's get TWO!
As a former stained-glass artist, I am fascinated by the magic of glass, colour, and light.
This was about 20 feet high.
A close-up of one of his smaller pieces. The white spots are bubbles in the glass.
Dale Chihuly was severely injured in a car accident in 1976 and has not actually blown glass since then. Instead, he designs the pieces on paper, chooses the glass rods (the colours), and directs the production of each piece. As you might expect, there has been some conflict when glass-blowers who have worked for (under) Chihuly have struck out on their own and have subsequently created works in a similar style.

We bought a book.

And then we wandered into the other nearby galleries. I'm sure the cost-per-square-foot here is astronomical, so the artists who had galleries were similarly out of this world.
A Richard MacDonald [click on the Art link] bronze sculpture.
I was permitted to take one or two photographs.
Note that this photograph is not tilted or misaligned. 
Richard MacDonald's works are reminiscent of Rodin in their energy, their seeming defiance of gravity. After speaking with the gallery representative (who happened to be a nephew of the artist), we learned that MacDonald is indeed considered to be the New Rodin, and that Rodin was his inspiration.

We bought some greeting cards, suitable for framing.

Already, my eyes were saturated, my mind boggled by the creativity around us, then we walked into the gallery of photographer Rodney Lough, Jr. Upon walking into the gallery, I stated knowingly that the photographs were undoubtedly HDR. I was wrong. His works are all taken on an 8" x 10" negative. At incredibly small apertures and lonnnnnng exposure times, to make incredible depths of field. No surprise, photography was not permitted in this gallery, so you'll have to pop over to his website for a view. Here is a link to my favourite of his pieces.

This will probably be our last trip to Vegas. We've been here twice and, though we've enjoyed the shows and galleries, we feel there are other cities - and countries - that we need to see.

So, goodbye, Vegas. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I HATE feeling ripped off.

(This post will not be going into my Gratitude Journal.)

I hate dealing with customer service. I hate telephone trees. I hate paying for one thing and receiving something quite inferior in value.

(Yah, I know: first-world problems.)

Remember my frustration trying to order flowers last December?* Well, I ended up looking for local florists in each of the three locations I was sending flowers.

It's always hard when you order flowers: will the arrangement be as nice as I hope? The photographs online are always so lovely, but the actual item may be quite different. And they all reserve the option of "substitutions," which begs the question of whether the end product will in any way resemble the promised item.

My in-laws thanked us and then sent me a photograph along with a very warm, heartfelt thank you.

I looked at the picture and felt very disappointed. Here is what I ordered.
FTD Season's Greetings Bouquet
Elegant, monochromatic, compact (so you could use it on the dinner table but still be able to see the other guests), modest, but still festive.

This is what they received.
Also, purportedly, an FTD Season's Greetings bouquet.
A gangly, foliage-heavy, red and white arrangement in a garish vase. Yes, I realize that on a checklist, they match:
  • A few white roses: check
  • Mums and carnations: check
  • Wintry foliage: check
  • Christmas baubles: check
  • Christmas-ornament-shaped vase: check
But you cannot convince me that they are comparable in aesthetic appeal. The sales picture was created by a true floral artist. The delivered product was created by someone with as much skill as I: I am very good at plunking flowers into a basic vase and arranging them using the "lift and fluff" method.

I, however, do not charge for my floral services. I have sent them an e-mail.

I am grateful that my in-laws were happy with what they received, but they are gracious people, so it doesn't surprise me. Besides, who doesn't enjoy receiving flowers? It's always such a pleasant surprise.

*Follow-up on the Sears fiasco: Sears has not responded to the letter I sent them. I did go into a store and, after much frustrating time over the phone with the credit card department, reactive my card and cash in my Sears points for $160. As soon as I get the statement with the $0 balance, I am closing the account.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Putting Christmas Away

A Bombay Company ornament
Now that Epiphany has passed, we really had no excuse to procrastinate about taking down our Christmas decorations. This is a chore I do myself because I'm a little bit obsessive about how my ornaments go away.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Resident Handyman

This post is part of my Gratitude Journal. Go here to find out more about the Gratitude Journal.

Man at work.
Over the years, Steve and I have made a lot of improvements to the homes we've lived in, from minor things like putting up shelves to major improvements like finishing a basement or renovating a kitchen. 

Last winter he impressed me by figuring out what kept causing our bathtub to stop draining, and then fixing it in short order. (Unfortunately, this was after I'd already paid a plumber to fix it. Which said plumber did not do.) 

Most of the time I've taken for granted all the skills Steve brings to the table. He can handle basic plumbing, electrical, and carpentry and drywalling. Almost any renovation project I can imagine, he can implement. I am truly spoiled.

But while we were absentee landlords, we had to hire contractors to refinish a bizarre laundry-shower-bathroom-electrical closet-dungeon in the basement of our rental property. I was sadly shocked at how expensive it is to hired skilled labour! 

Recently, he ripped out a chunk of wall and has started building a curved arch where once there was a flat rectangular lintel.

The reason we ripped out the section of wall was this:
I forgot to take a "before" picture!
See how tight the wall is to the edge of the stove? In fact, the wall got progressively thicker so that it actually blocked the oven door from opening properly. You could yank it open, but it was a vigorous affair (and don't even think about holding anything sloppy like pie in your other hand). 

Fixing this inconvenience had long been on our home-improvement list. We debated shaving down the wall, narrowing a small part of it ... a number of options. And then we hit on the idea of simply widening the opening and re-drywalling without corner bead (which is what made that small bit of wall thicker. 

"And, oh, while you're at it, Steve," I asked, "could you put in a nice elliptical curve at the top?" 
In progress; still some puttying, sanding
and painting to be done.
No sooner asked than done. He was even patient with me when I changed my mind about the shape of the arch. 

So, for all of Steve's hard work in making our home a better place, I am very, very grateful. 

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