Wednesday, January 9, 2008

i have a new job

This entry was posted simultaneously on three of my blogs: an organized existence, the greener cleaner and the rest of my life.

I just found out today that I have a new full-time job: Artistic Administrator for The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, Canada's first professional choir dedicated to performing Afrocentric music of all genres. But through the mysteries of cyber-space management (and the fact that I always save several empty "draft" blog posts in each of my blogs every month), I am not actually writing this post until more than two months later - Sunday, March 16, to be exact.

I didn't write about my new job until now (March) because for most of my first two months on the job I was secretly terrified that I might be fired at any moment. It's not that I was doing a bad job... it's just that I wasn't sure I was doing a really good job. And I wasn't sure if my employer, the Chorale's Artistic Director, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, thought I was doing a good job, either.

Can I say that I LOVE my new job, though? It's been both challenging and rewarding, and is pushing me to grow professionally and personally in so many ways. At the end of every day I am ecstatic that I get to serve the amazing musicians who can do this:

I am inspired and lifted up by this group of people. This is a very special organization that touches so many lives in a very important way.

Brainerd and I were chatting with an arts colleague recently, and this person mentioned that her own organization had gone for several months without hiring someone for a vacant administrative position because they decided they were going to wait for just the right fit. Eventually someone walked through the door with that special aura about them that told our colleague she'd found "the one."

Later that day I asked Brainerd if he had felt the same way when he hired me - expecting him to answer in the negative (which he did). (Can I say that one of the other things I love about my new job is that I feel I can talk freely to Brainerd about almost anything?) The thing is, it wasn't obvious when I was hired that I possessed all the skills and experience needed to do this job well. Brainerd had made a list several months earlier, though - a list of all the qualities that he wanted in his future administrative head. And the longer I'm at this job, the more he is realizing that I have most of those qualities.

How many jobs have you had where you've felt you were the answer to someone's prayer? It's pretty sweet...

I'm still doing organizing and eco-friendly consulting on the side, but I'm pretty selective with the clients I take on now. Feel free to contact me about a project you'd like help with, and if I can't do it myself, I will refer you to someone I can.

(And don't be afraid to hold out for "the one" while you're at it...)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

for the love of listening

I was driving down Mount Pleasant Avenue in uptown Toronto this afternoon when I passed by a small chocolatier’s called LeFeuvre’s. I have vivid memories of visiting this shop just over a year ago with my ex-boyfriend, MacKenzie.

Mac was an actor who did historical re-enactments; he went into schools and recreated characters from Canadian history. His repertoire included a French seigneur and the RCMP officer Sam Steele. His most popular character by far, however, was a First World War infantry soldier based on the real-life reminiscences of Fred LeFeuvre, a Canadian who served with the 2nd Division, 4th Brigade, 19th Battalion.

After the war, Fred returned to Canada and eventually opened his eponymous chocolate shop. Of the many staff which must have passed through his employ over the years, one – a young man named David Morris – took the time to listen to Fred’s stories, and later crafted them into an hour-long monologue that would give Canadian school-children first-hand experience of war.

Dave is founder of the educational acting company, History Comes Alive – and Mac was one of the company’s actors.

I think Fred LeFeuvre (Mac always pronounced his name “Le Fever”) got under Mac’s skin in a way that many of his other characters never did. Dave told Mac about his time spent working in the chocolate shop with Fred, and Mac wanted to walk through that door and see the sights – smell the smells – that were part of Fred LeFeuvre’s daily existence after his life-altering war experiences.

All Mac knew was that LeFeuvre’s – the shop – was located somewhere along Mount Pleasant. I was so new to Toronto at the time that I had no idea where to tell Mac to look. We traveled downtown on an errand, and on our way back we finally spotted the tiny storefront in the main commercial area along Mount Pleasant, south of Eglinton.

Mac was like a little kid – he could hardly contain his excitement. It was early evening, and the impenetrable December darkness had already descended. We weren’t sure if the shop would even be open, but hadn’t counted on the popularity of chocolate in the last-minute rush towards Christmas.

I remember how the aroma of the store embraced us in a heady, hot bath of bittersweet. There was no staff in the front of the store, but a door was open to the workshop in back where the chocolates were made, and a tired woman got up from her creations to step behind the counter, waiting to serve us.

Mac is a naturally gregarious guy, and he quickly sought to engage the proprietors – whom he knew were no longer connected to the LeFeuvre family – in conversation. But they were busy filling last-minute orders, and weren’t interested in indulging Mac’s curiosity, or listening to his story.

In the end, Mac simply bought several boxes of chocolates for family and friends, and we were pushed back out into the cold night.

There’s a quote that I came across a few days ago, from a woman named Barbara Ueland. She says: “Unless you listen, you can’t know anybody. Oh, you will know facts and what is in the newspapers and all of history, perhaps, but you will not know one single person. You know, I have come to think listening is love, that’s what it really is.”

I never saw Mac perform “The Soldier”, as he called it. He stopped doing the character several months ago; the raw emotion of the role tore strips off his beautiful tenor singing voice, and he didn’t want to risk permanent vocal damage.

But I think about the boy who saw things that no human being should ever have to see… and I think about the man who chose to make chocolate – a modern symbol of love – for a living.

I think about the love of a listening ear, lavished by a hired shop boy upon his elderly employer… and the love that hundreds of schoolchildren have spent upon this same man’s memory, via Mac’s proxy.

If love is the currency of exchange for storytelling, it seems to me that stories must be very valuable, indeed. Yet I have spent countless hours listening – to family, friends, lovers and strangers – and never once asked myself what I was receiving in return for my love.

One of the active ingredients in chocolate is theobromine, whose name comes from the Greek roots theo and bromis, literally, “food of the gods.” Among its many side-effects, theobromine is considered to be a vasodilator – that is, it opens the blood vessels – and a heart stimulant.

Call it poetic fancy, but I wonder if stories don’t act in exactly the same way. If stories, themselves, are nothing less than the food of the gods.

Come share in the listening with me…

Saturday, January 5, 2008

the easiest dessert ever

This is one of Mom's favorite things to serve to guests after a simple meal. It's basically just thawed frozen fruit and store-bought cake, but it has a sophistication that will leave even a gourmand satisfied. To see the entire Facebook album with photos and descriptions, click here.

1. Start with some frozen berries - easy to find in the freezer aisle of your favorite grocery store.

2. Sprinkling the berries with a little sugar or honey will help soften them as they thaw, and create a rich juice that's like ambrosia.

3. Buy a pound cake. Mom also uses angel food cake, which dieters will love because it's so low in fat.

4. Slice the cake, one slice per person.

5. Top the cake slices with the thawed berries and a drizzle of the juice. You can also garnish with whipped cream, ice cream, or a dusting of icing sugar or cinnamon. (For dinner last night with a friend, I opted for plain cake and berries.)


Like many Facebook members, I have become addicted to Scrabulous - the Facebook Scrabble craze. I played a handful of Scrabble games as a teenager, but it wasn't until I saw the film Akeelah and the Bee that I realized that there was Scrabble... and then there was SCRABBLE.

After a friend casually invited me to join him in a friendly game of Scrabulous several weeks ago, I have become fascinated with the rules and strategies of tournament Scrabble. I've read up on Scrabble, employed selective use of Scrabble-related tools from time to time, and have enjoyed seeing my Scrabulous scores gradually rise, accordingly.

Many times during a standard game, though, I have desperately wished for a little... flexibility... in the rules. Maybe it's my creative side coming out, but I've often taken a combination of letters like JTAILAE and wondered why, exactly, I can't play a perfectly good pretend word like JAILATE (definition: to put in jail).

I recently played a "Challenge" game of Scrabulous with my first Scrabulous buddy, and I suggested a future game where we could play made-up words (in "Challenge" mode the board will accept words that aren't in the TWL or SOWPODS dictionaries) - provided, of course, that we could come up with believable (or at least entertaining) definitions for our new words.

So here are a few Scrabulous variations that I'm suggesting:

1. Proper Name Scrabulous
So many times I've drawn a combination of letters that have spelled a perfectly good proper name, and of course I haven't been able to play it. In Proper Name Scrabulous, you can ONLY play proper names (of people, places or things - including businesses and companies) or made-up proper names, provided you include an entertaining description of the name in the message section. (Note: Any secondary words that you create in a given play must also be proper names or made-up proper names, with accompanying descriptions if necessary.)

Examples of playable words:

KESHAWN (which is actually the name of a little boy I know)
RAYMONDI (definition: the proper, collective name of a set of male twins, bestowed by a particularly lazy pair of parents who couldn't be bothered to come up with two different names for their boys ("i" being a pluralizing word ending, of course))

2. Totally-Made-Up-Word Scrabulous
None of the words that you play may be actual words in the TWL or SOWPODS dictionaries. You must, however, make some attempt to create words that are quasi-believable - i.e. that use standard prefixes and suffixes, word roots, or are inventive twists on real words. Each totally made up word must come with a definition - preferably an entertaining one. (Note: Any secondary words that you create in a given play must also be totally made up, with accompanying definitions. Kudos to players who can create themes with their multiple word plays.)

Examples of playable words:

INGUT (definition: a bar of gold after being eaten by a large animal)
REPROSE (definition: to rewrite some prose)
CREWATE (definition: to select a crew for a jobsite)

(I hope it goes without saying that playing "ZWKLDMI" on a triple word score with the definition "what my infant son says after spitting up" is an abuse of this particular game variation. And your opponent's goodwill.)

3. Somewhat-Fake-Word Scrabulous
A syncretized hybrid of traditional Scrabulous and Totally-Made-Up-Word Scrabulous. You may play real words or fake words, and the fake words must follow the rules of Totally-Made-Up-Word Scrabulous, above. You must, however, state at the beginning of the game which version (Totally-Made-Up-Word or Somewhat-Fake-Word) you are playing - and you may not switch versions part-way through a game already in progress.

4. Slang Scrabulous
A variant of Somewhat-Fake-Word Scrabulous, where you may play only real slang or made-up slang words. (Note: Any secondary words that you create in a given play must also be totally made up or real slang words, with accompanying definitions. Kudos to players who can create themes with their multiple word plays.)

Examples of playable words:

SIC (definition: The "cool" spelling of the current use of the word "sick" to mean something really awesome.)

I also welcome your own inventive variations of Scrabulous games. Friend me on Facebook or the Scrabulous website to begin one of these fun matches...

Friday, January 4, 2008

how to feng shui your bedroom to attract a mate

I was talking with an organizing colleague a couple of months ago, and was interested to discover that she was taking a course in the Chinese art of feng shui.

My colleague and I are both single, and she was especially excited to reveal how to arrange your bedroom to attract a romantic partner. (I must say, I was especially excited to hear it.)

Turns out the key is to have two of everything. (Sounds kind of like the theory that "like attracts like".) (Or, alternatively, a good biblical flood plan strategy.)

Here is a photo of my feng shui-ed sleeping area, in which you may observe:

  • One bed. (Ah - but I am a crafty one! My king-size mattress is actually two twins.) (A future note will detail how to avoid falling into the crack between the mattresses while "coupling".)

  • Two blankets. (They're both for me. Everyone knows that guys are always hot.)

  • Two pillows... times three. (I hope six is a good feng shui number. Anyone?)

  • Two throw pillows. (These - like most throw pillows - are totally useless and will drive men up the wall. But at least I have two of them...)

  • Two baskets. (I used to have just one, on my side of the bed. I added another basket for the man - even though he won't know what the hell to do it. (See "throw pillows", above.) I use mine to hold my glasses while I'm sleeping. I have an aversion to stepping on them when I get up to pee in the middle of the night.)

  • Two chairs: his and hers. Mac really loved the masculine one on the right (a plastic Muskoka chair covered by a sheet). So I already know it comes male-approved.

  • Two more throw pillows - one on each chair. (Mac didn't know what to do with the throw pillow. See "throw pillows", above.)

  • Two lights. (They're both on one side, admittedly - but it's his side! He gets manual turn-off rights. (The wall switch is actually on my side. Hee hee.))

  • Two book cases... times two. All the books are currently mine. I will make room for his books - for a price.

  • An even number of books. (Okay, not really. I have no idea how many books and magazines I have, and I am not about to count them. This one item may be reason I have not yet attracted a mate, though. Hmm...)

  • One boom box. But again - on his side. It has two speakers - does that count?

Then there is the small item of the guillotine paper cutter on top of the second-from-the-left book shelf. I have a funny feeling that it is particularly bad feng shui. Perhaps I can counter its negative effects by supplying a second woman in the bed...?

DISCLAIMER: I am not a certified feng shui practitioner. Any information shared in this note is for entertainment purposes only. I will not be responsible for any havoc that attracting a mate may wreak in your life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

happy new year - or something

This is the story of a New Year’s Eve which unfolded in two (very different) parts - and the story of the morning after.

My story actually begins the day before New Year’s Eve, when I mentioned to my church choir director that I would probably be travelling to London at the end of January to celebrate my father’s birthday.

The choir director commented that my father must be an Aquarian. Yes, indeed he is. (And how does the choir director know this? He is also an Aquarian – his birthday is two days after my father’s.)

I joked that my father’s zodiac sign was the reason that he (my father) and I had always butted heads. (My inside voice groaned: Did I just say that out loud? To the Aquarian choir director I respect and admire?)

When I was a girl, I found an astrological romantic-compatibility chart and was astonished to discover that my parents - an Aquarian and a Taurean - were supposedly a very poor romantic match. The kicker is, my birthday is one day after my mother’s. Also within the calendar boundaries of Taurus.

The conversation with my choir director turned to other things, but I went home from church that morning wondering to myself why Taurus and Aquarius were not supposed to get along.

An internet search proved very fruitful:

“This is an unusual combination, and the association isn’t likely to last long. Taurus is fixed earth and Aquarius is fixed air. The two signs form a natural square between them, signaling challenges and conflict. Aquarius tends to be very social, easy going and willing to try everything at least once. Taurus, on the other hand, is very sentimental and forms emotional attachments to things, feelings and people. Read: they do not like change and usually hate trying anything new. Unless this couple has very compatible moon signs and other factors in their charts together, the combination is very unlikely to last long.”

Another site put it more bluntly:

“Taurus is closemouthed and conservative. Aquarius is unconventional and vivacious. Taurus is lusty and passionate. Aquarius operates on a mental plane. Taurus likes to be home and Aquarius likes to roam. Taurus needs security and Aquarius is a fancy-free loner. Not good for the long term. Aquarius has a careless attitude toward love that will enrage the highly passionate Taurus. Taurus is too possessive and jealous for Aquarius. Taurus loves home and Aquarius loves to wander. Both are stubborn in different ways.”

My memories of the conflicts between my parents bear some of this out. Dad is a gregarious visionary whose idea of a good time is to be out socializing every night of the week. Mom is a quiet homebody who loves nothing better than to curl up by the fire with a good book. Every night of the week.

(I should mention that my parents are still more-or-less happily married to each other after 44 years, though.)

This whole exercise got me thinking. I’m not one to put great stock in astrological predictions – maybe it’s just that I don’t seem to fit many of the characteristics of my sign – but I would love to find a good romantic match. And I certainly haven’t had much success so far.

I was curious to see what kind of man would be considered an appropriate partner for my “lusty and passionate” Taurus. Turns out that Capricorn seems to be the best pairing - with Virgo, Gemini and Cancer trailing somewhere behind. After reading through the combinations, though, I have to say I still felt more drawn to the tempestuous Libra and Scorpio descriptions.

If I am not in a relationship, New Year’s Eve is a non-event for me. I’m not a party animal (see the “homebody” bit, above), and the turning of a new year is, for me, less a holiday to celebrate than an opportunity to spend time in quiet introspection.

Which is exactly what I planned to do this New Year’s. I whiled away the first part of the day working at creative pursuits and cleaning my apartment, and then, with the suddenness of a switch being turned, I became quiet.

I listened to music. Really listened – just lay on my bed, absorbing the sounds.

I had a bath - an amazing, luscious, restorative bath.

The bath alone deserves an entire chapter. I rubbed myself from head to toe (well mostly – I didn’t do my hair, which later turned out to be a good thing) with oil, in the ayurvedic fashion.

Then, slicked-up with extra virgin (I smelled like freshly-tossed pasta, especially since I also added immunity-enhancing oregano oil to the water), I lazed in the hot tub for nearly an hour.

Romans used to clean themselves with olive oil, scraping it off with a utensil called a strigil. Many religious traditions still practice anointing - smearing grease or oil on body parts in ritual ceremonies.

I wanted to feel cleansed; I wanted to feel blessed. I was well on my way to both, relaxing in damp languor on my bed after emptying the tub, when I got a phone call. It was 10:30 p.m.

Domenic, a business associate with whom I’ve been working on a new project, was five minutes from my place. Did I want to go out?

Now, Taureans supposedly hate change and spontaneity.


I was all over Domenic’s invitation, and when he called five minutes later to say he’d arrived, I was only two or three minutes from walking out my door.

(Ohhh, but I’m a low-maintenance woman!)

Dom took me to his favorite pub, where the music was loud, the live band was smokin’, and the celebrators were…fifteen to twenty years younger than me, on average.

I looked especially hot (if I do say so myself) in a long, slinky black skirt paired with a crisp, fitted white shirt buttoned too low in the front, cuffs turned back, a delicate pearl necklace around my neck. Not too shabby for someone who’d been wearing sweats and a t-shirt when the telephone rang.

Wispy tendrils of hair delicately framed my dewy face. (Thank you Jesus, I didn’t rub my head with the oil.) The music at the pub was so loud I couldn’t make myself heard unless I leaned in and spoke into Dom’s ear.

Crammed into a standing-room-only corner, I looked up into his warm eyes…and heard him say he was a Capricorn.

Now, my story could go several ways here - and if it were fiction, I know which ending I’d choose.

The reality is, Dom is still pining over his last girlfriend, and I’m still pining over Mac – plus we have a good business relationship that doesn’t need to be complicated by a little boot-knocking.

I did entertain some brief (cough) thoughts, though… (and thank goodness Dom has an aversion to reading, so is never likely to see this…)

I wondered how the New Year’s kiss might be negotiated, but when the time came he very politely bussed me on both cheeks in the Italian fashion. We went for a walk in the newly-falling snow when I’d reached my tolerance for amplifier-induced tinnitus, and I told him for the millionth time that his ex was only going to continue to disappoint him if he continued to revisit that relationship (a foible of his).

We waited for people to come move their cars so Dom could get his Range Rover out of the alley where he’d parked, and I went home exhausted, deaf and (once I’d bolted my apartment door at 2 a.m. to the accompaniment of my upstairs neighbour horking for ten minutes straight) cranky as hell.

“Taureans are quiet, gentle people, but they know their own mind. The thought of too much action can sometimes make a Taurean feel physically sick.”

No shit.

It was not the night I’d planned. I don’t regret spending time with Dom – he needed a friend after his ex took off to a New Year’s event without him. We talked about business, he talked about his fears and dreams…and I woke at 7 a.m. to the sound of the alarm clock that I’d forgotten to disable.

Is there a lesson in all of this? If there is, I hope it includes the observation that I’m more flexible than my horoscope gives me credit for.

Dom asked me at one point last night what I thought he should be looking for in a woman. I didn’t have a good answer for him at the time, but in retrospect I should have fallen back on the stars:

“[Taurus’] lovable and trustworthy nature relaxes the usually serious Capricorn boy, and [she] really bring[s] out his sense of humor.”

For me, I’m tired of looking through all the compatibility charts, searching for maybes. Whatever this New Year brings, I hope it includes relationships of all kinds – relationships with deep, sustaining love and respect on both sides.

(And maybe a playful attitude towards sex - with the right partner, of course...)