Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A difficult day at work

Today's Horoscope: "A difficult experience at work will open your eyes to the fact that your mood swings are more harmful to you than anything else. That being said, a period of great professional achievements is getting started."

Good gawd, I hope so. I'm having a nice little cocktail (or four) instead of supper---a hefty shot of vodka over lots of ice with a modest amount (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) of pure Quebec maple syrup stirred in. What would you call that? I'm sure there's already a name for it. Maybe a Boozmopolitan.

I was about ready to quit my job today. I can't quite recall the reason, now---something about few resources, limited contacts, ancient software, and a scatter-brained co-worker who praises me with faint damns. Not really---she responds to my ideas and suggestions with a long-drawn-out "great" or "excellent" à la Office Space. I get the idea that she's not quite with it. But she does have a lot on her plate...and I do have 17 more years of experience at this kind of work.

So since I can't recall the exact reason for wanting to leave a modest-paying job with absolutely no benefits in this lean market, I attribute it to a mood swing. After a soothing cigarette in the early afternoon, I went back to my desk and spent a whole three hours re-reading a policy document and an associated procedure to determine that, yes, they are both quite coherent but only one needs some adjustment before they're both approved.
This, by the way, is a view of a sunset of the Bromont ski hill around Christmas from the picture window of my parents' former home. Using good binoculars, you could faintly see skiers going down the slopes under the night-skiing lights---over eight miles away.
And the maple syrup was produced by my brother's former landlords.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Changing Clocks AND Calendars

So Daylight Saving (not Savings, please) Time has come to an end. Time to put the clocks back. And get another hour's sleep. But I don't think I've ever had to change the calendars and clocks on the same date. This is my funky electric kitchen clock from Value Village.

Falling back has fewer consequences than springing ahead, apparently. I've heard that car accident rates climb on the couple of days after DST begins in the spring, because people have "lost" an hour's sleep and are even more stupid on the road in the morning than usual. My parents sometimes forgot to change the clocks and as a result we were sent to Sunday school an hour early. A woman I worked with was so oblivious she couldn't figure out why her daughter's daycare worker was giving her dirty looks until Wednesday, when I asked her if she'd changed her clocks. She was dropping her daughter off an hour late every day.

My problem is that I can't figure out whether it stays dark later or gets light earlier in the days ahead. Oh, I just figured it out! It's 6:48 am ET, and it's getting light! I wonder if I do figure it out every year or whether I just forget.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Green, red, orange, yellow, white, and blue

Would be nice colours for a flag, wouldn't they? But they're the recommended colours of the vegetables and fruits we should be eating more of to get all the phytonutrients and antioxidants every day.
  • Green leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, and other greens like Brussels sprouts and broccoli
  • Red like sweet red peppers and tomatoes, and apples, raspberries, and strawberries
  • Orange like carrots. And orange peppers, and oranges, and many kinds of winter squash
  • Yellow like, um, yellow peppers? Pears?
  • White like mushrooms and onions; maybe garlic...
  • Blue like, well, blueberries. And blue, red, or black grapes, I guess. I'm not sure where eggplant fits in there, since most are only purple on the outside.
You can look all these up yourself, of course.

Food guides suggest five to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. But put the veggies first---while fruits have fiber and good nutrients, most are higher in sugar. In fact, children should be the ones getting as few as five servings a day---adults should get up to twelve. Most vegetables have fewer carbohydrates and more fiber. Adding just a serving or two a day (one small apple, one orange, one cup of broccoli, half a cup of carrots, etc.) can benefit your belly.

Some folks say you should eat not one but three apples a day---there's even a diet for it. Apples have lots of soluble (pectin) and insoluble fiber (skin). I halve an apple, trim out the stem and blossom ends, and remove the core with a melon baller. In fact, I've never used a melon baller to make melon balls. Less waste and you can eat cored pears and apples at your desk with little mess and no sticky fingers. The Red Delicious variety is supposed to be the best.

I like kohlrabi. It's a good substitute for potatoes or turnip in beef stew. I think you can steam or boil the greens (but slugs have been at the leaves in this image!!), but I usually just throw them out. Handsome Stranger likes to play with the peels.

I just came back from the store where I picked up six packages of frozen veggies on sale (Green Giant Essentials). Harvest season is getting ready to end, and southern Ontario has terrific farmers. But I might as well just dump the fresh produce I buy right into the composter from the reusable shopping bags. I'll eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches for three nights in a row instead of washing, slicing, and steaming or roasting the food I buy. My freezer drawers are packed full of frozen veggie and fruit bargains, as well as stuff I've frozen myself. But the fresh produce on the fridge shelves is getting all wrinkled and less appetizing. Maybe if I washed a few pots, and cleaned off the table, stove, and counters...

But I'm trying to do better. Tonight I went to the kitchen to make myself a PB sandwich, and instead I microwaved a Green Giant package and put it in a bowl of reheated beef and vegetable soup. Now I feel all virtuous again.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fatal Light migrating bird casualty

I don't usually walk around with a dead bird in my pocket. If it had been a House Sparrow (pest!), starling (pest! pest!), or other common bird I could identify, I would have kicked it to the curb.

My former co-worker LH notified me one evening of the location of two "sparrows" that had hit the office building. I picked them up after work and identified them as a pair of Brown Creepers that had hit the tower on their way somewhere. I did a little research and phoned a couple of people, and a few days later LH and I were on our way at lunch time to the Biodiversity Centre at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). A very nice bird man confirmed my ID and took the bodies away. Then LH and I rode up the elevator and had a luscious lunch at the then-existing JK at the ROM (JK = Jamie Kennedy, renowned Toronto chef and former restaurateur). (Ten percent discount for members! Real cloth napkins! Fine dining! We felt both pampered and virtuous.)

Brown Creeper Photo © Michael J.Hopiak / CLO

A good bird site, especially if you think you might know the species, is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website. They even provide links to bird songs.

But this one's unknown to me. The closest I got was a Henslow's Sparrow, but the males, females, and even juveniles have obvious stripes on the head and this one has a dark grey cap with no stripes at all. The colours are very close too---olive green around the neck, bright rufous speckles on creamy breast, bright rufous feathers on back, wings, and tail, pinkish underside to beak, buff eye-ring. But it's got that grey headcap. I'll have to get my Sibley and Petersen and National Geographic guides out and see if there are variations. It could also be a Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, or a Lincoln's Sparrow. And it could be a juvenile Dark-Eyed Junco, but it should have its adult markings by now (late October).

Anyways, I picked it up just outside my office building on Friday. 
It hadn't been dead for long; rigour had set in, but its black eyes were still clear. I put it in my coat pocket, then transferred it to a small paper bag (I have many---I eat too many muffins on the way to and at work), and to a freezer bag and into the freezer when I got home. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) is staffed by volunteers (I think) and works with office managers to turn out lights at night to keep migrating birds from crashing into high-rise windows. People trek to high-rise buildings before dawn and pick up and record fatalities and injured birds, and work to get the live ones rehabbed and back to their routes. And there's a collision reporting page in case you do find a dead or injured bird: http://www.flap.org/new/colrepfr.htm

UPDATE: It's a Fox Sparrow. I got a clue from my Petersen's guide and googled for a live image.

UPDATE October 29: I'm being a good honest blogger and removing the photo of the Fox Sparrow. The photographer has copyrighted all his images and I didn't ask permission to use that one.

You can see Doug Backlund's beautiful photos here: http://www.wildphotosphotography.com/WildPhotos/birds2/fox_sparrow2.htm

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The first cut is the deepest

I got another nice stack of mail today, including a notice to pick up a parcel at the post office, which closed at 3 pm today (an eBay purchase; more on that later); my November transit pass; and a PandG Brand Sampler. Like the first one I got in May, the ends of the tough paperboard box were firmly glued, defying any attempt to open it by hand. So I grabbed my handy utility knife, and thought to myself, just as I started to cut towards my thigh, "Don't do it that way, you f*cking idiot!" as the blade sliced about 3 cm through my good Kenneth Cole slacks and into my leg. (Really, it's not much more than a good cat scratch, which usually come in threes, and a regular bandage on a diagonal covers it nicely. My skin, I mean---and I think I can patch the slacks adequately with some light-weight iron-on interfacing on the inside.)

In the dangerous box was a real grab bag of goodies: a full-sized Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (which is good, because I can't find my two-pack anywhere); a 60-ml sample (good-sized) of Olay Total Effects body wash; a Tide Stain-Release in-wash booster packet; two one-load samples of fabric softener (Ultra Gain and Ultra Downy), which I don't usually use, but I've heard they help in getting animal fur off clothes and linens; and a Gain laundry detergent sample.

My eBay purchase, which I'll pick up tomorrow, was a hand-turned French rolling pin made of black walnut. The wood came from a 150-year-old farm house in Kentucky, and the seller's husband has time on his hands, so he's making a bunch of these from antique wood.

It's 20" x 2.5" and has a nice weight. Black walnut is worth its weight in gold in some parts. Here it is next to my maple pastry rolling pin. I've since rubbed some food-safe tung oil on it to keep it moist.

Now I just have to clean off the kitchen table, get some pastry flour and lard, and try my hand again at making a pie.

UPDATE: I picked up my new rolling pin at the post office Thursday night. It's beautiful, and somehow a bit bigger than I expected. Instead of pie pastry, I think I'll make pasta dough. I've had much better luck with it. And it's fun squashing it in the pasta maker that I got at a discount at Value Village (someone had stolen the table clamp and crank, but I had spares here at home).

Office Space

While speaking to my manager yesterday about working conditions (she's very solicitous), I was reminded of starting my first full-time job as a tech writer in Toronto. The building was due for renovation and there was limited office space. For the first three months I carried my working papers, desk supplies, and reference books in boxes (cheekily labelled "Karen's Desk" and "Karen's Office"). When I came in in the morning I'd ask my boss where I'd be working that day. I counted---23 different work spaces between July and October. Finally I was assigned an actual office with a door that closed. I shared it with another technical writer and we got along famously.

But sometimes I'd come in and sit down and find that my PC was missing. A manager would "borrow" it for presentations because it had the right pin count in a PS2 slot or something.

Eventually the building renovations started and my team and a couple of others moved to temporary office space. I had an office. With a push-button phone. And a door that closed. But my insensitive boss (when she got pregnant, and declared that every woman should have at least one baby, and I said I didn't want to ever, she said I should anyways and give the baby up for adoption) would open my door, speak to me, and leave without closing the door again. This happened a few times one afternoon, and I got up and closed the door after her each time. The last time I guess I sort of closed it a bit more firmly (I mean, the glass didn't rattle or anything, but it was close to a slam), she opened the door again, looked at me oddly, and closed it again.

Other than that it was a fine place to work.

At this new place, I'm getting eye strain due to the overhead fluorescents, and I can't figure out how to adjust my chair, and after three weeks I still don't have access to the network folders. But at least they're not paying me...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hiding the cats from the dog catcher

I got a nice big stack of mail the other day---my eBay purchase, a detergent sample and coupons, and not one, not two, but four notices that I need to renew my pet licences.

In summer 2008 there was a cash grab revenue-generating and youth employment initiative by the City of Toronto: young persons were hired as enforcement agents for Toronto Animal Services (which I've visited when in the area; a nice place to shop) to snoop around people's homes looking for evidence of domestic animals (cats and dogs). Then they'd knock on the door and make people buy licences ("Annual licensing [sic; US spelling] of dogs and cats is the law in Toronto..."). There are lots of outdoor cats (and indoor ones, if I count those that like to sit and look out their front windows) and a few dogs on the street. Well, I didn't wait for some pimply-faced clipboard-carrying municipal-ID-wearing punk to knock on my door and intimidate me by looking over my shoulder at the dust bunnies made of cat fur lining the stairs. I went online and bought a licence for each indoor cat ($15 per cat if it's sterilized, which mine are). And you're supposed to attach the licence tag to the cat (mine don't wear collars, and I don't believe in superfluous piercings). Licencing cats and dogs has been the (by)law since I've lived here, but I probably could have gotten away with not doing it. And I don't think they even did our street in the end.

I got renewal notices in July and ignored them. After all, I wasn't working and didn't want to spend the money. Now I get them again. I have only a few days to renew in order to obey Municipal code chapter 349, or a Municipal Enforcement Officer will come to my house, count the cats, and fine me $240 per miscreant. I tried to figure out a way to let them know I no longer have four cats staying with me (betrayal, I know; can I build a secret room to hide them when the Guardians of the Peace burst through my door? Can I declare that they are Domesticated Ungulates of the families Artiodactylus and Perissodactylus, Anseriformes, Galliformes and Struthioniformes and are thus exempt from the licencing rules?). But the layers of fur on every surface, scratching posts, shredded furniture, and all-pervading litter box smell will betray me. I'm a good corporate citizen, generally, but this gets my goat, so to speak. (By the way, did anyone get that? Goat sort of = Artiodactylus?)

Now that I'm working the money should not be such a problem. But it is---I found out on payday that my employer pays in arrears, just like EI (after the two week waiting period to receive benefits or pay, there's another two weeks to wait). So I don't get paid until the end of the month.