Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Maybe a better person than I can understand this:

We're in the 21st century right?

Check this out.

For those of you who don't feel like clicking on the link, here is are a few excerpts from the article:

KHARTOUM, Sudan - Sudanese authorities began questioning a British teacher on Tuesday, one day after she was arrested for insulting Islam after her young students named a teddy bear "Mohammad."

...If convicted of insulting Islam, she could be sentenced to 40 lashes, six months in prison or a fine, lawyers said.

...Teachers at the school said Gibbons had asked her class of 7-year-olds to choose their favorite name for the teddy bear and 20 of the 23 had voted for Mohammad.

- MSNBC.com

Those of you who read my blog know my feelings about Islam and how unfairly I think Muslims are treated due to all of the negative media coverage out there. I have Muslim friends who are lovely, generous, friendly people and have always kept an open mind about our differing belief systems.

How can any person possibly justify whipping another human being for naming a teddy bear?! This teacher did absolutely nothing wrong - in fact, she encouraged her students to name the bear and went along with the popular vote. Now, because the parents of these kids have complained that naming a toy Mohammed is insulting Islam and their Prophet, this poor woman could be "lashed" or sent to jail.

The question I'd love to ask is: how do we even know that these kids were naming the bear for the Prophet Muhamed in the first place? Given that there are so many Muslims living in Sudan, there are a lot of people named Mohammed, so is it possible that maybe, just MAYBE, these children named the bear Mohammed because that is the name they consider most popular?

When I was growing up, Jennifer was a really popular name. Every girl in my class had a stuffed animal, doll, or other toy named Jenny. I think it's safe to say that no teacher or grown-up had forced us to like the name or use it to identify our toys...

This is the branch of Islam that I just don't understand. People being beheaded, whipped, having their hands chopped off, sent to jail, stoned, etc., for crimes against their religion. Yes, it's their culture and I have no right to make judgements, but I simply can't sit by and not comment on a British teacher being punished for allowing her 7 year old students to name a TOY.

I am so disgusted right now.

It's hard to believe that people can behave in such an archaic manner. Stories like that are the reason I hesitate to travel to such countries, which is sad because I'm sure they are well worth seeing...

The parents of these little kids are responsible for teaching their kids about right and wrong. It's their responsibility to ensure their children grow up to be good Muslims (and good people). Will they punish their kids for naming the bear after the Prophet? Or is this punishment meant solely for the teacher (who's religion remains unknown - but being British it's a definite possibility that she is a white Christian)?

Lots of questions are unanswered here, but one thing is definitely clear to me: if more people are going to learn to see Islam for the beautiful faith that it is, we need a lot more stories about the good things that come from it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

British wildlife

A Canada goose in Kensington Gardens

Cranky swans and geese fighting over bread last fall

A proud mommy

Pretty boy

Posing for the camera

"Hey you! Got any peanuts?"

A coot out for a stroll

Beautiful grey heron

Not sure if he had a sore neck or if he was just confused by something...

cheeky squirrel

Friday, November 23, 2007

Two for One

Another video. This time it's a clip from The Office to remind us all that a new episode should have been on air tonight, but isn't due to the writer's strike.

I fully support the writers and am very impressed that so many celebrities are out there marching and picketing with them. These people get paid very little to create the fabulous storylines for shows like The Office, Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Desperate Housewives, and Ugly Betty. There is no reason for the studios to collect as much as they do. I can't remember the exact numbers but they get incredibly small percentages of the profits, and don't receive anything for internet sales.

In a video on YouTube, members of the cast and crew of The Office were interviewed about their positions and opinions about the writer's strike. They all marched alongside the writers, while two people who helped to write all of the webisodes that you can find on YouTube, and that NBC requested they create revealed that they weren't paid anything for creating these at all, even though they are wildly popular and make the studio a ton of money.

So I'm going to start posting clips and fanvids from my favourite TV shows every once in awhile to show my support for the writers. Hopefully they get what they deserve soon.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Now I know why my mom was so mad at my little brother for mooing at the wild buffalo

I have no words...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Julie Moon

One of the greatest things about my friendship with Julie is that I have no idea when it started. We met in grade 1, and have literally watched each other grow up.

Through going to different high schools and universities, traveling to different countries, and now living very far apart (she in the Northwest Territories and me here in Ontario), we've always managed to be friends.

I missed her wedding because I was in England.

We've missed graduations and birthdays and all sorts of special occasions, but have always stayed friends.

I wish I had access to a scanner and my mom's photo albums because inside them you would be able to see the two of us as cute little kids playing at birthday parties, growing into awkward pre-teens who were so cool that we decided to do a lip-sync and dance to "Heaven is a Place on Earth" by Belinda Carlisle in grade 7. When we became teenagers and discovered boys, we spent hours and hours giggling about our latest crushes and dreaming about our futures.

Julie was the yin to my yang when we were growing up. She was always on my side (even when i didn't deserve it), and basically lived at my cottage during the summers when we were teenagers. I can't even count the number of hours we spent in the attic at my camp playing Super Mario Brothers on our Nintendo, drinking copious amounts of Pepsi and inhaling giant bags of chips, with chocolate bars and candy as desert. These yummy snacks were almost always courtesy of Julie's dad*, who would show up every week or so to bring her more clothes and drop off a bunch of food so my parents wouldn't feel like they'd adopted a third child. **

I can remember a golden three days year ago when the sun shone and the temperatures were at their summer best. Children played outside in the woods, went swimming and did all sorts of exciting summer things. We sat in front of the Super Nintendo without moving (except to get more Pepsi and take trips to the bathroom) for the entire three days. Imagine two young girls sitting in a dark attic on bean bag chairs, surrounded by pillows, with a garbage can on each side, one filled with Kleenex (Julie had a bad cold. Might've been from lack of fresh air and sunshine...), with tiny cups of Pepsi beside a two-litre bottle, half-eaten bags of dill pickle chips (mmmm), no less than 5 chocolate bars, and brown paper bags filled with mixed up candy.

And they say today's children don't live healthy lifestyles. Imagine what experts would say about OUR parents - letting us do something like that!

Eventually we grew out of the little girl stage, graduated high school, and went our seperate ways to university. Still keeping in sporadic touch, I always got excited when it was mentioned that Julie was coming back for a visit. The months or even years apart disappeared and we would talk just like we'd seen each other yesterday.

It's the kind of friendship people find once in a lifetime and I'll always be thankful for that.

Since I'm the type of person who purchases 40 post cards during a year abroad without mailing even one (yes, I suck at mail), I haven't been very good about sending letters, etc. to my oldest friend who lives so far away. Even though she sent me a card and bridal magazines (my first!) when she found out Jeremy and I were engaged... If I can make New Year's resolution, it's to be better at sending mail.

So I thought I'd write up a blog post so everybody (and by everybody I mean the 5 people who read this blog) will know two important things about my friend Julie:

1. She's a fantasticly-amazingly-wonderful person and I'm glad we've been friends for 22 years
2. it's her BIRTHDAY!!

I can't remember what it was like to not be your friend. We might not be a daily part of each others lives, but please know that I think of you often and always smile at the memories of years past. When I was terrified about moving to London, your pep talk helped get me through it - and for that I can't thank you enough.

It's funny to say we've been through so much together when we've spent a lot of our lives apart, but somehow I always feel like you're with me, cheering me on.

I hope your birthday brings many wonderful things (your first as a Married Lady!!) and that you know how many people are wishing you all of the joy and happiness you deserve.

Thanks for being in my life.
Love & Miss you lots,

* Interesting fact: we gave her dad credit for YEARS for bringing us all of the unhealthy treats I mentioned. Last summer, we all got together before the move to London and it came out that her mom was actually the person who bought the pop, candy, chocolate bars, and chips for us, with her dad being elected to bring them to us. Still trying to figure out a way to thank her mom properly ;)

** Both of my parents would probably say that it still felt like they had a third kid since she basically lived with us for weeks at a time and would only go home when her mom complained about forgetting what she looked like.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Confessions of a Bad Blogger

Okay, I gave up.

Something about not having the creative juices or the time to post something worthwhile to read each day made me hesitate before hitting the "publish" button a couple of days ago.

I could have done it. Put out one of the dullest posts ever to be written out into the internet and waited for you all to die of boredom or decide immediately to remove me from your blog rolls. Instead, I opted out of NaBloPoMo with no small amount of shame, but a renewed promise to myself that my posts will be better written and more interesting than they have of late...

I think part of the problem is that I've been going through a roller coaster of emotions lately. Being fired threw me out of what was quickly becoming a comfort zone and has forced me to take a hard look at myself and the future I am hoping to achieve. Being a horrible procrastinator, I still haven't taken care of a few things that need attention Right Now.

If I can be completely honest with myself, I think part of the reason behind my hesitation is fear.

I blame England. And Windsor. And the thousands of dollars in debt that has me counting pennies and living paycheck-to-paycheck each month.

The last two years have taken their toll: a formerly optimistic, albeit naiive person who always seemed to have it easy has been turned into a skeptical, cautious girl who still feels like she's a teenager sometimes and often wonders when life got so hard. Maybe this is a normal thing for people in their late 20s who have not yet found work in their chosen fields? Or maybe it's just Growing Up...

Okay, so I don't really blame England. Or Windsor. These changes in me have come about as the result of a series of bad / uninformed choices - all of which were made in good faith that Things Always Work Out for the Best.

I'm afraid of what might happen if I try my best to get to where I need to go and it still isn't good enough.

Do I take a retail or customer service job just to pay the bills and get through Christmas? Knowing that neither job will be a lasting position or one that will get me any closer to the goals I've set for myself? Or do I use things like the London Unemployment Center to help me spend 8 hours a day for three weeks searching for contacts and positions in my field? Would doing that be wasted time?

Visiting there felt a little bit that way. I sat in the office of a perfectly lovely counsellor, told her my story about getting fired, and discussed my options and goals for the future. She told me that I was highly skilled and clearly a person who would be fantastic in pretty much any of the jobs I've been searching for. She said I just need to make the right contacts. Then she suggested trying their Job Hunting Club, where trained professionals would help us to perform successful job searches and make contacts in our chosen fields. It all sounded great until the 8 hours per day for 3 weeks part came up... Even with the sporadic Mad Science work, I'm not sure I will be able to take part in this program.

And I've hesitated to make this decision because I honestly don't know what to do: work in a going-nowhere-dead-end-job for a while just to make money, or keep on living like a pauper and worrying about every penny for another month or two and try to find somebody in the school board who'll give me a chance.

I don't want to regret the choices I've made. After everything that's happened since we moved to Windsor, I'm tired of the mistakes and wrong choices and just want to know what the hell to do to get me to where I want to be. (and I don't quite trust that this Job Hunting Club will be the answer)

Right now, I want to be working in jobs that will help take me a step closer to finding my classroom. I want to be making enough money that we can afford to go out for dinner or to the movies once in awhile, and the sting of debt from teacher's college and the London Experiment will be lessened by regular payments on my credit line and saving money for the future.

Usually, I try to write my posts with a happy ending. A positive statement or two (that more than anything else demonstrates just how optimistic I can be) that lets all of you know that I will get through things.

Tonight, I'll refrain from that. Mainly because right now it would be a lie.

I think it's okay for people to feel down once in awhile, to admit that they screwed up and that mistakes made in the past sometimes catch up with our present. And I think I needed to come to this point before starting to post here again.

I'm not depressed. Just feeling blue and wishing that life wasn't so damn difficult all of the time. Anybody who knows me will understand that tomorrow morning I'll wake up, look out the window, see our beautiful yard and tell the world to "bring it on!"

I'm giving myself the night to feel sad.

And tomorrow I'll get out of bed and try all over again. Cause things have to work out sometime, don't they?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another one bites the dust

Instead of bringing you a travel story, I have to write about something else because life has interrupted once again...

Despite being dumped by my former company without any explanation, this week hasn't been too bad. My Mad Scientist work has kept my very busy, and I'm starting my job hunt with a renewed determination to find something in my field. Or at least something that will help me achieve my goal of finding my classroom.

This week has been a lot of fun - lots of running around for Mad Science - feeding little kids blue cotton candy while teaching them about things like underwater volcanoes and tea bag rockets. They had a great time and I went home each day with blue sugar all over my hair.

After today's lunch program, I got home, turned on the shower and after a few minutes realized that the bathroom wasn't warming up.

No hot water.

Laughing to myself that perhaps I'm under some kind of jinx, I went downstairs to check the hot water heater out.

And stepped into a puddle.


This time didn't involve a carpet or nocturnal trip to the bathroom, but once again we have become victims of a dead hot water heater.

A call to my landlords (a great couple from Toronto who are super nice and take very good care of the house) revealed that this was a rented hot water heater.

From Reliance. Again.

"Yep, they told me that they'll try to come out tonight, but if not then they'll be here between noon and 4pm tomorrow afternoon".

(cue me rolling my eyes and banging my head against a wall)

"Melinda? Are you okay? What's that noise?"

"Oh nothing, it's fine. I've dealt with Reliance before. I know how they work (cough, cough)".

So here we are, boiling water to do dishes and wash up. Again. Waiting for Reliance to show up and fix or replace the hot water heater. Again. And praying very very hard that this time it's not going to be three days before I get to have another hot shower.

If the last time is any indication, I'm sure there will be updates to follow...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

5 Things

I've been saving this just for NaBloPoMo:

5 Things About Me that You Don't Already Know:

1. I was a part of a professional theatre company for a summer production called "Magic of the Musicals", as a pit band member.
I played the oboe and saxophone and was responsible for helping to put up and take down the set after each show. We were not very successful financially, but still managed to travel to several places around Ontario, including Ottawa, Timmins, and Gore Bay. My favourite shows were in Gore Bay, on Manitoulin Island, because we got to stay as a group in the campground during that time. Freshly caught whitefish on the campfire, singing songs with some very talented people, and enjoying the beauty of Manitoulin Island - we had a blast. During our tour, we also encountered a ghost, had an impromptu mini-Olympics competition, renovated an elevator, and got ourselves kicked out of a Harvey's in Ottawa for rowdy behaviour involving straws.

2. I still have one of my baby teeth.
Yep, it never fell out and the adult tooth never grew in. As a child, the dentist recommended that I get braces or succumb to other dental nightmares for "cosmetic reasons", but I refused cause I hated the dentist (what kid doesn't?!) Now I kinda regret it because I really don't like my smile - or at least showing my teeth when I do.

3. I've seen "When Harry Met Sally" over 100 times.
One of the best movies ever and I plan on seeing at least 100 more times. My friends and I used to watch it every weekend during our sleepovers. We can quote almost the entire movie, yet I still get mushy inside during the ending.

4. I've never worked for a retail or fast food franchise.
Yet. This one might change if I don't find something soon... So far though, I've been lucky enough to be employed in some very interesting places

5. I've been to over 100 cities in 4 different countries.
This one is almost all courtesy of my parents and their desire to show Canada (and a huge chunk of the USA) to my brother and I. We traveled by car, train, boat, and plane to each coast and enjoyed holidays all over the place. As a result, I've gotten to see and do a lot of very cool stuff:
  • Celebrated the 4th of July beside the river in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
  • Visited the West Edmonton Mall
  • Explored Washington D.C. in the middle of the night (and located "The Farm")
  • Gone caving in South Dakota
  • Encountered a buffalo in Yellowstone Park (and laughed at my brother mooing at it while my mom shouted at him to "GET BACK IN THE VAN!")
  • Went horseback riding in the mountains in Montana
  • Watched fireworks from the monorail in Disney World on New Year's Eve
  • Visited Tintagel, where the British believe King Arthur's Castle is located
  • Climbed up the Eiffel Tower, then wrote my name on the top floor
  • Ate a gigantic lobster fresh from the sea in Maine
  • Ran around Manhattan for an afternoon with some of my closest friends (we were 16 years old at the time and completely unsupervised)
  • Walked around on the Columbia Ice Fields
  • Have been in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean (off the coasts in Canada, the USA, and England), the Gulf of Mexico, and the English Channel
  • I've seen Mount Rushmore, The White House, The Space Needle, Disney World, Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Rocky Mountains (in Canada and the USA), The Liberty Bell, The Twin Towers, Niagara Falls, and many more amazing sights
Okay, there are a LOT more things that could be added here. I'm thinking this topic would be a very good series for my blog. Now I just need a title and a place to start. (any ideas? if one of those sounds interesting to you, let me know and I'll write about it)

I'll be back tomorrow with a travel story. From somewhere...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thanksgiving comes first!!!

(This one's for you Sully!)

(If you don't read his blog: first of all, you should. Second, this post will make a lot more sense after reading his latest.)

On November 1st every year, I like to do my version of Trick-or-Treating: I go into the Dollar Store, Giant Tiger, various grocery stores and other establishments that sell Halloween candy and buy everything at a crazy good discount.

Then I enjoy the candy goodness until Christmas.

This year, the stores pulled a fast one on me (and the hundreds like me who also wait until after Halloween to get their mini KitKats and tiny bags of cheezies). Instead of lowering the prices on November 1st, the Halloween candy stayed the same price for almost a week after the holiday. So I didn't get any. Not until I was in A&P looking for some buffalo wings...

People always tell you not to go into grocery stores when you're hungry, yet it always seems like that's the state I'm in when I walk through their doors. Being broke and hunting for a second job that will pay my ridiculous monthly bills, I've gotten pretty good at avoiding the temptation of "that sale on bags of chips" or "yummy looking box of jalapeño poppers". Not that day.

The very first thing I saw when I entered the store was a huge display of Halloween candy: chocolate bars and tiny bags of sweets just waiting for me to buy them. For "only $1.19!!!"

I grabbed 5 bags of candy (which yes, will last both Jeremy and myself until Christmas) and then noticed that there was a Christmas display right beside the bags I'd just greedily snatched. Little Santa Clauses smiled sweetly up at me, beside Rudolph figurines and Little Drummer Boy ornaments. I was shocked to see actual live Christmas trees decked out with red bows, and planted in festive buckets. Not even little trees! These are about 4-5 feet tall!

That's right folks: they keep the price of candy up until the week after Halloween, then they drop the prices of the Halloween candy and put them on display beside the over-priced, totally useless Christmas items. I mean, who is going to buy a Christmas tree on November 5th?! Yet a lady behind me pulled one into her cart along with her supply of cheap Halloween treats.

Since our Mad Science lab is located in a mall, I've spent a lot more time there than in years past. During the past week, the stores have slowly ushered in their holiday music and decorations, and the Santa display was just put up today. Everywhere you look there are candy canes and reminders that Christmas is coming (never mind that it's still 6 weeks away).

To me, the Christmas Countdown should start with Advent. Considering that's the ACTUAL time that people are supposed to be counting down to the birth of Jesus.

It's bad enough that people who don't even believe in Jesus or Christianity have taken this holiday and turned it into something so commercial that even religious people get tired of it. They take Christ out of the name and call it "Xmas" - something that pisses me off even though I don't darken church doors nearly enough for my anger to be justified. Don't agree with me? Imagine for a moment that we take Eid, one of the most holy days in the Muslim calendar, put it into mainstream culture with a cute little mascot, and start selling things in its name, so that eventually non-Muslims are wishing each other a Happy Eid. How about the celebration of Chanukah, start selling t-shirts and other items with the menorah on it, and shortening it to a commercially catchy name like "Kah!" or something. How angry do you think they would be?

My point is - people have cheapened this holiday (holiday meaning "Holy Day") and make us feel like we're letting our friends, family, and even some acquaintances down if we don't get them something good for Christmas.

(Hmm... this rant was supposed to be about something totally different...)

(So back to the original point here. Which I think was something about Christmas being advertised much too early.)

(That digression was pretty fun to write though.)

During our first year together, Jeremy made a rule that we're not allowed to put up any Christmas decorations until December 1st. I usually start to bug him during the last week of November, after sneaking in a few candles and the coloured lights.

By then, half the neighbourhood usually has lights up, and people's standard topic of conversation rotates around whether or not they're ready for the holidays.

The biggest paradox about this situation is that it gets to me every year. I catch myself humming Christmas carols in November and smiling at the little kids clustered around toy stores. I start planning my Christmas break (and often even New Year's) weeks in advance, and tell stories about the Christmases that have passed while thinking about what to get for people this year. Maybe I'm just a big kid at heart, but the sight of the house down the road with it's lights brightening the grey November sky still makes me smile, even though I know it's much too early for them to be lit.

Since there really isn't much that can really be done to stop the Christmas commercial machine, I am making a decision right now to not let them get to me. I refuse to worry about how much money will be there for Christmas gifts, and am making a point of enjoying the wait for my favourite holiday.

Bring it on, Santa!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

All I Want for Christmas is Satellite TV

Okay, well maybe not all, but it's definitely at the top of my wish list.

I made it for a year and a half without having any television access at all; watching reruns of old shows on various websites that stream such content, and revisiting DVD movies and episodes of Friends.

Finding television shows on the internet has turned into a bit of an art form for me: searching through various links that promise "free" TV shows often wind up leading to web pages that say "Only 29.99 for a $400.00 value!", or they involve downloading content instead of just streaming them from somewhere else. Since I'm not about to pay a website money or start illegally downloading things, the number of unwatched episodes is dwindling. (How many times can you watch that episode of Seinfeld with Kramer's butter tan?)

Recently I started doing random searches for videos to satisfy my TV addiction and discovered the world of fanvids.

These are videos often set to music that feature highlights from various shows, generally about the relationship between couples like Ross & Rachel from Friends and Jim & Pam from The Office.

Here's a recently discovered one (Jim & Pam - any Office fans out there will probably really enjoy this):

Unfortunately, my taste for fanvids is probably not going to last very long, so hopefully I'll find some new stuff to watch soon...

Among the list of frustrating and terrible things that has resulted from me losing one of my jobs is the fact that my plans for getting Star Choice this month have been canceled. It was going to be my Christmas present to myself: having TV to watch again, including the NHL channel.

Oh hockey, how I've missed you. I miss the sound of Don Cherry's rants about whatever player did really well or really badly that week, I miss the theme song to Hockey Night in Canada and hearing our national anthem played. I miss the great saves and wrist shots, and cheering for my team. I miss watching SportsCenter the next day on TSN and reliving the highlights of the previous nights match-ups. I miss talking to my dad and friends about the latest player news and watching the kids we followed during the World Juniors make their starts in the NHL. I miss losing myself in the grace, speed, and intensity of the game.

So far this season, the Avalanche have done pretty well for themselves - sitting atop the Northwest division and showing a fairly strong record so far. I was lucky enough to be invited to a friend's place last week to catch Colorado vs. Vancouver - a match-up that is always entertaining. I like the Canucks and will generally cheer for them when they're not playing my Avs, so whenever the two teams get together it's a lot of fun to watch.

Sitting in front of the TV last Saturday night, I realized how much I missed the tradition of shouting at it during games. Since I was a somebody else's house, I made every effort to control myself, only letting out a few bellows of "SHOOT!" or "What the HELL! Terrible call!"

It's been a long year.

So I'm asking Santa Claus to bring me a little satellite dish from Star Choice so I can reunite with Ron & Don every Saturday and bore my fiance with the details of each game that I watch. I promise to be a very good girl and keep on cheering for my team even if they play really badly for the rest of the year.

(Oh, and Santa? If the way that you "bring me" the satellite dish is by helping me to find a great new job then I'd be totally okay with that.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

In which I hold my head up high and look on the bright side

Leaving behind the demoralizing and depressing feelings that being fired from a job for the first time has caused, I've decided to just get on with life. Starting Monday, I'm back looking and will keep reminding myself that THINGS WILL WORK OUT. I'll find a better job than the one I had, and will walk away from this whole thing as a stronger person.


Today is a cold, cloudy day, but I bundled up and continued my Saturday tradition of sitting outside with a huge cup of coffee and a book. Our deck is fantastic and offers some shelter from the wind, as well as a great view of the backyard. Even this late into November, some of the trees surrounding the yard still have most of their leaves, which is a lot less depressing than the bare branches we're starting to see everywhere.

The deck and yard when we moved in

The Deck and yard today

This has been by far the nicest autumn I can remember in years, weather-wise, and for the first time in years (or maybe ever) I am looking forward to the winter season. Maybe it's because last year I didn't see much snow, or get to celebrate the holidays with family, but the anticipation for December has started already. I've always loved Christmas, but the commercialism of it has turned me off more and more each year (most likely because I've been too broke to buy people Christmas gifts for the last two years). Christmas in London was pretty exciting - getting to celebrate Midnight Mass at St. Paul's Cathedral and enjoy the beauty of lights everywhere and watch the little kids stare up at the bright displays on Oxford street.

Where I was at this time last year

Now, I'm preparing for a Christmas with the friends and family who I missed so much during the year abroad.

So today is for remembering the good things. I'm grabbing another cup of coffee and going back outside to sit in the autumn sunshine that's starting to peek through the clouds, and listen to the little kids raking leaves a couple of yards over. Then it's dinner and a night out with some friends.

And today I noticed that for the very first time, my African violet is blooming. In a few days the Christmas cactus will have flowers too. If that's not a sign of good things to come, I don't know what is...

My blooming African violet

Tomorrow: All I Want for Christmas is Satellite TV (Advance warning: this post may contain gratuitous mentions of hockey)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Open Letter

To the company who fired me:

It's been two days and I'm still in shock. When you called me to fire me over the phone I didn't even see it coming. You didn't give me a chance to discuss it or even the courtesy of explaining why you were doing it.

You made accusations about my professional behaviour that I find incredibly offensive. Having worked for 10 years in the customer service field, with 3 of those years in a call center, I certainly have the knowledge of how to succeed in an office.

I was led to believe that my performance was great and that I was on the fast-track to promotions and other good stuff. My supervisor was generally friendly and always assured me that I was doing "just fine" or better.

Usually, if you give a problem some time, it will start to make sense.

This, I just don't understand. I really gave it my all, even when the company asked us to do things that I didn't necessarily agree with (like take orders for what is clearly an individual object and sign them up for a whole series "automatically"), but I smiled and did my job. I was encouraged and complimented and really felt like things were going well.

You have no idea what I'm capable of. You will never get to see the things I could have accomplished or enjoy the hard work I always strive to do. You fired me (and two others the next day) without so much as a consideration to my past track records (4 promotions in 3 years at the call center) or the first impression that got me the job in the first place.

You're a big company, but I really thought you were different. You're rich as hell, making 65% profit and have lawyers as good as "OJ Simpson's if necessary". I wouldn't waste my time trying to sue you for Wrongful Dismissal, but I honestly believe that if the law were fair, I'd win. Instead I have to just try and get over this , get on with my life, and be happy that I'm no longer part of a company with questionable morals.

"Finally, I'd just like to add that being fired over the phone without
being given a chance to explain and discuss this is something that I
never expected from such a well-reputed company. I am deeply
disappointed that things have ended this way. Please bear in mind
that I have not written this email to try and save my job, since that
decision has already been made without any attempt at communicating
problems to me. I only write this because my professional reputation
is very important to me. I feel that I have been misled regarding
both my job expectations and more importantly my performance, and I
truly hope that the current employees at your company have a far more
positive experience than I have. The worst part of this dismissal is
that since I was given the impression that I was doing a good job, I
still don't understand why I was fired." *

Thanks for wasting my time, stressing me out, insulting me, and not giving me a chance.

I can only hope that someday somebody else will treat you as well as you treated me.

Melinda Peterson

* part of my real letter

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Just when i thought things were going well...

I can't write about what is going on right now - apologies for the mystery, but certain factors mean this can't be discussed yet in a public forum.

But you can sure as hell bet on me sharing what's happening as soon as I'm able.

I have never been so angry or shocked in my life, and am now trying to piece together certain things to make sense of something that from all angles is utter nonsense.

When I was in high school, I used to joke around about running away to the Bahamas. Right now that fantasy has never been more appealing...

I'll be back tomorrow with something better, I promise.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Something Happened

... that I'm not ready to write about yet.

I apologize, but today's post just won't happen. I'll try to be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Just because it's Tuesday

We've had the most beautiful autumn this year in Southern Ontario. Unlike most years, the leaves stayed on the trees for several weeks after changing colours, so we've been treated to some pretty spectacular views in and around London. Even the crazy winds that blew Hallowe'en night didn't strip the trees bare (like the winds tend to do this time of year).

This morning it finally happened though. I looked out the window to see driving rain and blowing wind, and trees that are now just barely clinging to the last few leaves of the season. A cold, rainy autumn day with grey skies that carry the promise of the coming winter.

On a day like this, you'd almost expect something unpleasant to happen.

Luckily for me, today has been a pretty good day so far: a long coffee break with my best friend, a shockingly easy drive through the city, and a truly enjoyable lunch workshop with one of my school groups.

Now, I'm sitting inside my cozy apartment, listening to the rain pound against the windows.

And eating lobster.

Just because I can.

(mostly because it was $7.99 for a giant lobster at A&P and I have dinner early in the afternoons since I start work at 5pm.)

(but lobster any time of day is great)

Nothing beats spending a rainy afternoon watching old TV episodes and eating one of your favourite foods in the world.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Even triple chocolate raspberry cheesecake didn't make this fun

When I was in high school, I worked for a place called The Parker House in downtown Sudbury. A fancy little B&B combined with restaurant, it seemed like a great place for summer work - great atmosphere, amazing food, and the chance for some waitressing experience.

Parker House did a brisk lunch business, which often had people lining up out the doors and onto the sidewalk outside. The clientèle that queued up at lunchtime usually consisted of lawyers, paralegals, and other important looking people who were always saying things like "I need this order filled in the next five minutes", "how fast will this be?", and "I really hope I don't wait as long as I did yesterday".

Regular people would respond to a smile and a "we're going as quickly as we can, please have a seat and we'll call your number soon", but these business-suit-wearing-multiple-cell-phone-carrying people only want to hear "it'll be ready in 2 minutes!"

(Their orders were NEVER ready in two minutes)

The problem with the lunch crowd was that they all showed up at the same time and expected us to have all of their food ready at once. Since it's not possible to make up 50 specialty coffees, 20 smoothies, 100 fancy grilled sandwiches, and package up dozens of deserts, people were always cranky and always "late from lunch". But everyday it was the same thing. We had this one lawyer who used to show up at 12:08 every day and expect his grilled sandwich and double mocha latte to be ready immediately. Even if there were 25 people ahead of him in line. I remember asking my boss one day if we could just prepare his sandwich ahead of time so he'd only have to wait for the coffee, but she said the one day they had done this for him, he got angry and ordered something else.

I guess some people just enjoy being pissed off...

So there I was, new to the food services industry, waiting tables, bussing tables, cleaning floors and bathrooms, making food and brewing interesting kinds of coffees while Nat King Cole sang on the stereo. It was hard work, but I did enjoy the bustle of it, the smells of the food, and the fabulous food I got to eat on my lunch breaks (that I had to pay for).

Aside from paying for my lunches and having to share my tips with the other waitstaff (one of whom was totally useless and pretty much leeched our money - including a $5 tip from my PARENTS), the problem that finally led me to quitting was my boss' incredibly messy desk.

Some of the staff claimed that she used to keep a bottle of rum in her desk, which she'd mix with cokes and drink downstairs while we ran around working. I never saw this, but I don't ever remember seeing her without a drink in her hand.

One morning after I'd been there for almost two month, I got into work, grabbed my apron and the broom (people opening had to sweep everything up from the night before), put on the coffee, and glanced at the schedule hanging beside the door.

"What the HELL?!"

My name was scratched out, as well as all of my shifts.

Dropping the broom, I hurried down the steep stairs to the kitchen area and my boss' desk to find out what was going on. Having not been told of any problems with my work, I was very confused about seeing my name with a black line over it.

"Oh good morning, Melinda", said my boss quietly.

"Ya, um, good morning. I'm just wondering why my name is scratched out on the schedule. Is there some kind of problem?"

"Why don't you tell me?" she said, adding "I'd really love to know where that envelope that had $800 on it disappeared to. And since you closed last night, I figure you'd be a good person to ask."

Never in my life have I been so completely shocked. I'm the kind of person who spent an extra 40 minutes at that same job because my till didn't add up to what I thought (was missing around $3.20). I've never stolen anything in my life, and certainly wouldn't consider taking an envelope with $800 from somebody's desk. And that's assuming I even KNEW about it, which I hadn't until that morning.

My boss and her husband then proceeded to grill me about the missing money for about 30 minutes, after which they said I was "off the schedule" until it turned up.

I marched out of there with tears in my eyes, furious and humiliated.

They hadn't fired me. Yet. I figured they'd wait a week and if the money didn't turn up, I'd be out on my ear. At that point, I didn't care anymore and just wanted my name cleared.

Sure enough, the money did turn up. My boss' messy desk was the culprit. Loaded with papers and empty cups, the missing envelope had been knocked into the garbage can, which the cleaning staff (who were also questioned apparently) had then loaded into the huge bin outside. It was found the next day by the same cleaning lady who'd probably dumped it there, and brought back in to sit on the messy desk.

My name was cleared, and my job will mine, but at that point there was no way I was going to stay employed with them. So I quit.

Other than collecting my last paycheck, I haven't been back into the place since.

(which is too bad, because the food was incredible)

The chef at the time was one of the nicer employees, and followed me outside to say goodbye as I carried my little paycheck and dumped my apron on the pile of uniforms.

"So apparently money went missing again. They accused the cleaning staff, fired one of them, and then asked ME if I 'd heard anything about it!"

I wasn't surprised.

With my last-ever piece of chocolate cheesecake in a bag on the seat beside me, I drove away from that place with a huge smile, thinking of all of the poor people who go dumpster-diving in downtown Sudbury. One of them was eventually going to hit the jackpot.

All because of a messy desk.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Big Whoooosh

So there I was, sweating in my lab coat as classes of children streamed into the gym, 10 minutes ahead of schedule, and all staring expectantly at me as they did. I managed to get everything onto the table, plugged in the leaf blower and fog machine, and grabbed my magic colouring book.

Luckily, I've got several years of experience of winging it in front of large groups of people, having spent time in a student council during high school, and participated in a few high school theatre productions (which is great fodder for future blog posts, now that I'm thinking of it).

This time though, I was on a job and not feeling mentally prepared.

But the show must go on...

The kids were pretty well-behaved and seemed to enjoy the show, particularly anything that involved setting things on fire. The finale that I'd chosen for the show is called The Big Whoosh, a stunt that involves fire, flammable gas, water, and two giant water cooler bottles. Since we all know that water puts out fire, lighting a big match and dropping it into a cooler bottle with water on the bottom pretty much means nothing will happen. But if you use a clear, flammable material that looks like water, swish it around the bottle while talking to the kids for a minute or two, then light another match, something pretty cool happens.

I was getting nervous about this stunt, but knew that if it worked, the entire gym full of kids would be totally amazed.

"...so if I light this match and put it here, let's see what happens..."

It worked.

So well in fact that the entire bottle melted into a shape one-third it's previous size, accompanied by a loud noise and gust of blue flame.

A blue flame that came within inches of lighting my eyebrows on fire, which I'm sure would be a great look for a Mad Scientist, but not so much for a normal person. I ducked away just in time, catching the eye of a teacher who had noticed what almost happened (she seemed to be the only one, as the rest of the people on the gym were staring wide-eyed at the remains of the cooler bottle). I winked, gave her a smile, and held the bottles up for everybody to see.

(Definitely learned my lesson: Don't lean over a flammable substance after you've lit it on fire. Especially if you like your hair and eyebrows.)

(Actually, I can't lie. To be honest, that was the second time I almost lit myself on fire - the other time being when a piece of burning flash paper decided to get caught in an air draft and sit on the chest of my lab coat before disappearing. I pretended this was on purpose, since the mother and rest of the kids at that particular birthday party almost had a heart attack. I'm a lot more careful with it now...)

"And THAT boys and girls is what happens if you light a fire and don't know what chemicals might be present!"

I had survived my first school show.

Since then I've done a few more shows, some workshops, and several birthday parties. Each one has been fun in its own way, and I'm learning how to patter between tricks or stunts and am getting better at involving the kids as well.

Today, I did a birthday party for a little girl and 14 of her friends what involved making glow-in-the-dark slime, playing with flash paper, explaining the science behind diapers (trust me, it's fun), and lighting some indoor fireworks. The kids were spellbound, and one little boy whispered "this is amaaaazing!" halfway through the party. They stared up at me like I was doing the most incredible things they'd ever seen.

This job is taking me one step closer to my own classroom. How incredibly lucky am I to have found something that's not only useful and relevant to my career, but definitely one of the most fun jobs I've ever had.

Imagine you're prepping for your job. You've got to take a bunch of stuff home with you in order to be ready for the next day. How often do you get to take home boxes of electromagnets, cool flammable materials, dry ice, and this:

Yes, I had to bring home a cotton candy machine to practice using it before a couple of birthday parties two weeks ago.

How nice of my friends to come over and show their support of my new job, huh.

Getting help from Jeremy with a dry ice trick

Until tomorrow...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Spending all of your time balancing stuff means you don't get to sleep much

It's 11:30am on a Saturday, and I'm still in my robe and bleary-eyed from sleep.

Yesterday was one of the busiest days I've had in a string of busy days. It started with me doing some office work for my boss (who's away in Peru), and getting everybody's stuff ready for the weekend - organizing invoices and birthday party kits and making sure everything is ready for the other Mad Scientists. After a quick lunch, I headed out to do a workshop in a school that was all about motion and kinetic energy and basically involved playing with wind-up toys, catapults, making rocket cars, and other fun stuff about harnessing potential energy. Fun and interesting, and luckily, I got to work with a great group of students who participated and behaved beautifully.

After the workshop was over, the classroom teacher offered to help carry my gigantic - and very heavy - kit back to the car. We chatted for a bit, and I mentioned I was a teacher and doing this job to help get onto the elusive Supply List for our city's school board. She got a funny look in her eye and said that if that's what I'm wanting, then I should pay a visit to the principal one of the next times I'm there and they "might be able to help me".

While this might not sound like much, it's actually a huge deal for me. London's school board does it's hiring through the principals, who get to know supply teachers and other staff much better and thus have a clearer idea about who would fit in at their schools. The only problem with this is a person like myself who doesn't know anybody here, went to school in a different city, must now scramble to make contacts in order to get hired.

It's a big part of why I became a Mad Scientist (in addition to the amazingness that is this job): it will help me get to know people in several schools here so I can make contacts and hopefully find teaching jobs.

I've been working in this position for over a month now, but my very first school show will always stand out in my mind. A small school in north London full of cute little kids, with a good staff and friendly, helpful secretary - my boss thought it would be the perfect place for me to start. I drove up to the school 20 minutes before the show was set to begin, butterflies in my stomach, and experiments going through my head. Mumbling some of the patter I was about to entertain the children with, I carried one of the boxes of stuff though the corridor to the office.

Nobody was there.

The janitor was very helpful and guided me to the gym, helped set up the table, and gave me hand with carrying the rest of my stuff. I looked at the clock and saw with relief that I still had almost 15 minutes before the kids would be coming in. Deciding to set up and then go find the secretary so she could make the announcement, I grabbed some things and put them on the table.

"Oh hello - you ARE here! Good! We're going to start bringing them in now."

I looked up at the annoyed looking lady. Apparently she had expected me to be there for 2:15, not 2:30. This was a mistake on their part, as the paper I held in my hands did in fact say 2:30pm Show.

Taking a deep breath, I said, "Okay, I'll be ready for them in a just a moment".

Steeling myself (and knowing full well that I wasn't ready at all), I forced a smile onto my face as footsteps and the sounds of children echoed in the hall.

"Look! It's a Mad Scientist!"

"Hi everybody!" I called out cheerfully.

I waited for them to take their seats...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Life's a Great Balancing Act

One of my favourite books in the world is Dr. Seuss' "Oh the Places You Will Go!"

There are a lot of reasons for this, some of which are: it's fun, it's written in Dr. Suess prose, which is always entertaining, and it has great messages about life, including:

On and on you will hike
and I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

Oh how I love this book!

It's so hard to only copy sections of the text because it's all so good, but the Balancing Act thing really speaks to me right now.

Currently, I'm working two jobs.

By night, I am an ordinary person: an employee with the Bradford Group, who answers phones and responds to correspondence from people all over North America. Basic call center / customer service type job.

But by day?

I'm a Mad Scientist.

Seriously. That's my official job title.

My day job is the coolest job EVER. I get to play with all sorts of interesting things like dry ice, set stuff on fire and see what happens, melt water cooler bottles, and do magic tricks. I perform at birthday parties and in school shows and workshops, and next week get to start working with kids at three different schools once a week at lunchtime.

The job description is similar to teaching and involves a lot of class and time management, as well as instructional and organizational skills. We follow a curriculum and give kids "assignments" to do that they then get to take home with them. For example, one of the take-home activities is to create periscopes (during our optical illusions session).

It's so much fun! I'm totally exhausted after working, but have a great time every single time. The kids act like we're rock stars and get very excited when they see our white lab coats (yep, we have lab coats - it's mandatory uniform) and plus my teacher-self thinks it's amazing to watch kids have so much fun learning.

The only problem with this is that I'm now running like a maniac between two jobs (and still not making enough to pay all of my bills). I'm tired all the time and have no social life aside from the two days a week when I'm not working past everybody's bedtime.

It'll pay off though.

Just like today, after my workshop, when the classroom teacher mentioned something very intriguing...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Here we go again!

Although there is room on the official website, I think I'm going to do my writing here in my blog...

I'm also going to TRY and commit to adding a picture a day into my photoblog, since it's been sadly neglected (even worse than this one) and needs some attention.

So prepare yourselves for 30 days of utterly pointless (but hopefully entertaining) blog posts by yours truly. In addition, we can explore pressing questions like this:

What does it mean when people write in a news article that "calls to ____ were not immediately returned"?

This statement drives me crazy and is always appearing in news items on msnbc.com. That kind of wording doesn't make sense. Did ____ call back or not? Why can't they just say "they wouldn't provide a statement", or "they didn't want to talk to us"? And if they DID call back, then just write "they wouldn't tell us anything". Since when did somebody not immediately returning a phone call become news?

From msnbc.com today:
LOS ANGELES - Hollywood writers and producers broke off contract talks Wednesday night without a new deal, allowing the Writers Guild of America’s current pact to expire at midnight.

It wasn’t immediately known whether the writers will walk off the job. A call to a union spokesman was not immediately returned.

And now I'm dying to know - did they have a conversation? Did they call back? Did the union spokesman refuse to give information or did they let loose with some juicy details that msnbc is going to wait until tomorrow to release?

Imagine a conversation like that in everyday life:

"Hey Mel, how's it going?"

"Oh good! How are you?"

"Not bad. Say, have you heard from Ledawit lately? How's she doing?"

"Well, calls to Ledawit were not immediately returned".

See what I mean? How do you respond to that?!

Until tomorrow...