Monday, April 28, 2008

Diddly Dee Potatoes

Funniest. Scot. On the Planet.

Danny Bhoy was raised outside Edinburgh, born of an Indian father and Scottish mother "the most humourless couple you will ever meet" and is now an Australian citizen. He's also a Montreal favourite and was voted King of our Comedy Festival. (If you've never been to Montreal, the summer is the time to come as we have world-class entertainment every year, including the Comedy Fest and the Jazz Fest.)

Funny and damned good-looking, a lethal combination in any man, and wtih an uncanny ability to do accents, Danny Bhoy rules. If he decides to come back to Montreal, I'm so there. Here's a taste.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Year of Wonders is, in a word, Wonderful

I've decided to do an occasional book review about books I really like. I don't know if I'm getting pickier or less patient these days, but I find very few books really tickle my fancy. More often than not, I simply lose my concentration and just give up. Or worse, I end up throwing it across the room or giving it away. If I really hate it, I'll chuck it in the recycling box where at least it'll do some good without inflicting pain on anyone else.

A friend gave me a copy of YEAR OF WONDERS by Geraldine Brooks. Now, I love historical novels as a rule, but I wasn't sure I would be able to get into one subtitled "A Novel of the Plague" however well written it was rumoured to be. Well, I started it early one Saturday morning, and spent the day in my nightgown, unwilling and unable to put the book down long enough to get dressed. That's how good it is. It's not a big book - I finished it that evening - but it is like a Faberge egg, tiny and perfect. It is exquisitely written, and Brooks has a knack for language that draws you into the time and suspends you there.

This is a story of the bubonic plague, and how it affects one small village in Derbyshire in 1666. It's based on the real village of Eyam, Derbyshire. When an itinerant tailor unknowingly brings the plague to the village, the local rector advises all inhabitants to isolate themselves for one year to prevent the spread of the disease. This is the story of that year, told from the perspective of Anna Frith, a young widow and the rector's servant. This is more than a story about the plague. It's about the human condition, where bravery, greed, prejudice, hate, envy, sacrifice, and love all play a part. The only bit I felt was weak was the epilogue, as the tone was inconsistent with the rest of the book, but it's not a big deal as the rest of the book makes up for it.

British historian,GM Trevelyan is quoted on the ROME website and it sums up how I feel:

"The dead were and are not. Their place knows them no more and is ours today...The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once on this earth, once on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow".

And if you haven't watched the series ROME, there's nothing more to say except hie yourself over to Amazon and order the complete series (two seasons) and prepare to stay in the next few weekends. Two words - Titus Pullo.

Next on my reading list: RATS Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Secret Life of Plants?

Some people find nature photos erotic. I just don't get it. Midge, for example, told me to look up cycad male cones. Okay.

A tree crotch is just a tree crotch, right? Nothing remotely erotic in that.

I think these people must be perverted. Shame on you.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A rose by any other name

....may smell as sweet, but it looks a bit naughty, no?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Flowers blossoming in Spring whoo hoo!

Right now, I'm not sure which I love more - my camera, or the fact that it's finally finally FINALLY warm outside. The little violets were the first things to pop up, and the roses, well, the roses were a gift from my sweet husband, "just because" he said. The top photo is pretty close to their natural colour - a brilliant, vibrant yellow. I toned them down for the close-ups. I'm amazed at what this Nikkor 18-200mm lens can do. I thought I might get a macro-lens, but now I'm not sure I need one.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Unclaimed moola

The Bank of Canada might have some of your money. Seems lots of people move and just forget they have a few dollars here and there at their old bank. That money is just sitting there in the Bank of Canada, twiddling its green thumbs, waiting for you to go HERE and type in your name to claim it.

Good luck.

Oh, and if you find any, I want half.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Asparagus Lemon Pasta

This is so good, and zingy and fresh-tasting, you'll want to rub it all over your body. I suppose one could add some seafood or chicken to make it more substantial, but I liked it as is.

Asparagus Lemon Pasta from Gourmet Magazine.

Serves Four

1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally in 1/2" pieces
1 pound pasta, either bow-tie or penne
3 TBSP unsalted butter (I used regular)
3/4 cup 35% heavy cream
2 TBSP freshly grated lemon zest (2 lemons should do)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp salt or to taste
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
This is to get the other story out of your heads.

Boil water for pasta. Cook asparagus until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes, then remove and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat butter and cream over moderately low heat until buttter is melted. Stir in zest, lemon juice and salt. Remove skillet from heat and keep sauce warm, covered.

When the pasta is done and before you drain it, ladle 1/4 cup of the pasta water into the sauce, and then drain the pasta in a colander. Immediately add the pasta and the asparagus to the sauce, and cook briefly over moderate heat, tossing it for one minute to heat it through. Add parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the pasta with a little Parmesan and serve more cheese on the side.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tales From The Dental Chair or Just Another Poo Story

Yes, I know. Some of you have commented there seems to be a plethora* of poo stories on this blog. But what about a poo story that involves dentistry? How many of those have you seen?

*Note: The word plethora comes from the Greek word for "fullness" or "excess of body fluid" which works nicely with this story.

A woman called to say her three-unit bridge suddenly fell off and she asked what she should do next. This was a bridge which had been cemented temporarily, with instructions to come back within a couple of weeks and have it cemented permanently. As sometimes (often) happens, this woman put off her appointment and waited longer than she should have.

Okay, we said. It happens. Just bring it in and we'll put it back.

Not so fast. There was a slight problem with that plan. She had it, it just wasn't immediately accessible.

Seems she was having dinner in a restaurant with her boyfriend, and it was at some point during the meal that the unit came loose. She then swallowed the entire thing without realizing it. It wasn't until her boyfriend noticed the gap in her teeth and she checked herself out that she'd even realized what she had done.

We are talking about a three-unit bridge, people. Three teeth. Cemented together. And she hadn't realized she'd swallowed it? Now, I go crazy when a sesame seed is stuck in my teeth. Even assuming the woman doesn't chew her food, how can one not feel a THREE-UNIT BRIDGE going down one's throat? Or the big hole that's left behind?

We explained there are two options when this happens. One, you can pay for a new bridge. Two, you can wait until the item passes. She chose Number Two, no pun intended.

Several days later, she came in with a Ziploc bag, and settled herself in the dental chair. She then took out the now well-travelled unit and said in a heavy accent, "I clean this best I could but still, it smell like shit." And before he could move out of the way, she shoved the thing under my husband's nose as proof.

He concurred. "Why yes indeed, by Jiminy, it does smell like shit!" He handed it to his assistant, who promptly cleaned it, disinfected it, ran it through the various units to sterilize it, then dipped it into one last solution to remove any residual odours and promptly asked for a raise. The woman then grabbed the bridge, and smelled it with such vigour, the assistant snatched it back and admonished her. "You know, if you sniff any harder, it might end up in your nostril this time."

Satisfied, she had it permanently cemented into her mouth and off she went, another happy customer with a killer smile.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Star Trek and Naughty Bits

Well, I was going to do a post about the second half of my workshop last weekend - the importance of blogging for the freelance writer, and how to use photography to sell your pieces - but then I saw this again, and couldn't resist. I love the series EXTRAS. My husband can't watch it. It makes him squirm, literally, and he has to leave the room when it's playing. I, however, love it. Have you seen Kate Winslet playing a nun? I think I broke a rib, I laughed so hard.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On Ergonomics, Gladiators and Brad Pitt

I attended an interesting workshop sponsored by PWAC (Professional Writers Association of Canada, and pronounced Pee-Whack, which always puts me in mind of Whack-A-Mole.)

Called Freelancer Bootcamp, we covered accounting, ergonomics, blogging and photography. I'll talk about the first two today.

Listening to an accountant give a workshop on how to file a tax return is like going for a root canal - painful, but necessary. And I say this with apologies to my husband, who actually does root canals (though in all fairness, given how difficult it is to make tax law even mildly interesting, I suppose accountants can't be blamed.) Some freelancers in attendance must have found it useful since there were lots of questions, but since a) I have an accountant who handles my money and b) I don't have much money to handle, I mostly a) doodled and b) kept close watch on the baked goods until the coffee break.

He almost had me when he brought up Brad Pitt as an example of a good deductible. If I were to fly to L.A. and interview Brad Pitt and come back straight away, I could deduct the entire trip, he explained. But if I stayed for two weeks (because, say, Angelina was out of town and Brad needed companionship) then I wouldn't be able to deduct my airfare. Excuse me? What difference could it possibly make to the Quebec government if I stay one night or fourteen in the arms of Brad Pitt? The airfare stays the same. I puzzled that one out until that workshop was over.

Bernie Shalinsky on the other hand, the ergonomics expert, was more interesting. He explained, using illustrations of stick figures with bendy spines slumped over their improperly positioned stick computers, how the right set-up in a home office can help productivity. This was of special interest to me, seeing as I broke every single rule he laid out and I paid for my transgressions with a frozen shoulder last fall. And while 'frozen shoulder' doesn't actually sound that bad, it meant months where I couldn't sleep, wash myself, lift a grocery bag or laundry basket, vacuum (now that I think of it, there were a few advantages) or move properly. Months people.

So, if you want to avoid problems like carpel tunnel, neck and back pain, and yes, frozen shoulders, he suggests the following:

*Take a break every 20 minutes.

This one is problematic for writers, particularly fiction writers, since they get into the zone, and can't just walk away and or they'll break the flow. But Bernie insisted an hour is the longest one should go without moving around and/or stretching.

I like the so-called 20/20/20 rule. Take a break every 20 minutes, even if only for 20 seconds, and look 20 feet away.

*Use a proper chair.

The new design is one that incorporates five splayed legs on rollers, proper lumbar support, with an open back with room for ones buttocks. There should be an adjustable spring underneath to increase or decrease the tension, and the back should tilt back slightly. Rocking is also good, and no arms is best. This one was a surprise to me. Apparently, your arms and shoulders will be more relaxed if you leave the arms off the chair. This is one of the biggest mistakes he sees in offices. Just rest your arms on your lap and you'll see what he means.

*Have an adjustable height work surface.

This is clutch, as we're all different heights, so positioning the chair is not enough. Place the keyboard tray in such a way as the shoulders are relaxed. If you don't have a desk tray, and the desk is 28-30" above the floor, it's too high for most people.

*The keyboard should be positioned just above lap level, and the keyboard itself should be as flat as possible.

You need to maintain a flat, neutral wrist position to avoid carpel tunnel. Keep your elbows at a comfortable, open angle. You want to avoid reaching for anything - keyboards, as well as phones, pens, mugs of coffee. And if your keyboard has those little plastic feet attached either fold them away or break them off. Do not use them to lift the keyboard.

*Don't use a trackball on a mouse.

It can lead to thumbitis. No one wants thumbitis. Ask a Blackberry addict about thumbitis. You will have a lot of pain, and get zero sympathy. In fact, I'm guessing you will be mocked cruelly. (And now I'm left wondering if this is a new condition, or if gladiators had carpel tunnel problems from improperly supporting their wrists from waving their swords about, or thumbitis from lugging their shields in battle. If they complained about thumbitis, it isn't in any of the records, unless they were the ones thrown to the lions.) The Roller Mouse Pro has a trackball built into the keyboard centre.

*Use a headset for the phone.

No more squeezing the phone between your head and neck. The reasons are obvious.

*Use a wedge footrest.

This supports your feet and lifts your legs so you have proper seating posture. Ditto for the wrist rest, if you feel you need one, but don't use it for your wrist. Use it to support your palm, which lifts your arm into that neutral position.

*Place the computer screen directly in front of you.

It seems like common sense, but you don't want to look left or right, or strain even in a small way, because over time the little movements like tilting your head forward a few inches can add up to a big pain in the neck. It should be about arm's length away. If you have problems seeing the screen, you can get glasses made specifically for computer use. Make sure the screen is clean, and increase the font size and viewing size so you reduce eye strain.

*Beware of glare.

And not just from that guy in the next cubicle who resents your promotion. From windows and harsh overhead lighting, glare on the screen and in your eyes can create all kinds of headaches if you're forced to squint. Uplighting is a good alternative, as is a softer ambient light, but it's not always an option in an office environment. Some office workers have resorted to baseball caps or even golf umbrellas to keep the harsh light at bay. Take an old photographers' trick and make sure there is no contrast between the monitor and the background.

And to reward your patience and kind attention, I offer you this, because no blog on ergonomics would be complete without a photo of Brad Pitt playing a gladiator:

Friday, April 4, 2008

Cat, Cat, Dog, Doug

Bon weekend! From the gallery, courtesy of my new lover, Nikon.

The Kicia The Boris (don't worry, he's just yawning)

The Budster

The Dougster

Lexicography and Ham Butts

For all my fellow word geeks. Erin McKean talks about redefining lexicography courtesy of TED lectures.

"The internet is actually made up of words and enthusiasm."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Before men become men, they are their mothers' little boys

I read a beautiful post at Bush Babe of Granite Glen. She recounts the story of her baby boy's lost teddy bear, and why finding it was so important. You can read it HERE.

Little boys, they grow up so quickly and sometimes it happens in an instant. Bush Babe's story reminded me of my little boy and his blankie, a quilted, white cotton rectangle that started out as a changing pad. He didn't care. He loved this thing and it went with him everywhere. I wasn't allowed to wash it as the smellier it became, the more he loved it. "Leave it crunchy," he'd admonish me when I tried to sneak it into the machine. It got to the point where I'd want to pick it up with tongs. The binding at the edges started to wear first, because he liked to drag the blanket's edges through his fingers and under his nose, breathing deeply, while he sucked his thumb.

Round and round went this blankie through his tiny hands, and it was plain that the cotton must have had some magical properties since he turned into a limp rag when he touched it. At nap time, he succumbed quickly and quietly, his eyes rolled back in equals parts bliss and stupor, with the blankie stuffed in his face. But as the years went by, we faced a dilemma. He sucked his thumb with the blankie, and only with the blankie, and once he turned four-years-old, my husband the dentist gravely informed our boy he'd have to stop sucking his thumb or it would affect his permanent teeth.

Now, our little guy had a long history with this thumb of his. In fact, an ultrasound taken when I was several months pregnant showed him hiccuping and heartily sucking his thumb even then. It was not going to be easy to convince this child to give up a habit he's enjoyed since he floated around in utero. And since a blankie is to a thumbsucker what coffee is to a cigarette smoker, he'd probably have to abandon both at the same time for this to work. This called for tough love, but I sure wasn't going to enforce the new rules, and neither could my husband when it came down to it. Look at this little face (standing with his big sister) and tell me you'd do otherwise.
Our little boy was an intelligent child, and had a practical nature, so we sat him down, presented the problem, and asked him what he thought he should do.

After considering his options, he decided that he'd give up his blanket, and therefore his love affair with his thumb, when we brought our first puppy home. Rosie, a Black Lab, would soon be old enough to leave the litter and move in with us. That was several weeks away, so there would be time to adjust and accept the decision. Done.

Well, the weeks went by and in the flurry of excitement of bringing home our very first puppy, I forgot all about our boy's promise. I settled little eight-week-old Rosie into her crate that first night, and then I stood back to see if she'd calm down and sleep.

Then I turned and saw my little boy, solemnly walking down the stairs, holding his folded blankie in front of him with all the ceremony of a ring bearer at a wedding. If he had second thoughts, it didn't show on his face. Without a word or even a glance at me, he walked up to the crate and placed his blankie beside the puppy who had a good sniff, then snuggled into it.

Satisfied, he looked up at me. "Rosie needs it more than me. She's probably missing her mommy and all her brothers and sisters right now, and this will help her feel better."

That was the last time he sucked his thumb. And he became a young man right in front of me.