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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Goodbye to Maeve Binchy

Some people sneeze and make the news, others leave this world and nobody knows about it.

Maeve Binchy, my all-time favorite author, passed away on July 30, 2012, but it wasn’t until today (her birthday) that I learned of this sad passing.

Sad that I will never get to read anything from her hand again. Sad that her last novel, A Week in Winter, was indeed her last.

Whenever I visited a bookstore, the B section was always the first I visited, to see if Maeve Binchy has something new out. If she had, the search for a book was over. If she didn’t … well, then I moved on to one of my other favorite authors. People such as Erica James, Penny Vincenzi, Lesley Pearce, Marian Keyes, Sheila O’Flannagan or Joy Fielding.

With my newly purchased Maeve Binchy book I would seek out a quiet place. A bench in a park in summer, a comfortable chair in a coffee shop in winter. Sheer heaven that was.

I would read and read and read, oblivious to everything that went on around me. If someone were to ask me something, I would either not hear them, ignore them, or reluctantly leave the Irish countryside.

Binchy had a way of sucking you into the story, showing lush green country sides, quiet village living, or sharing the excitement of Dublin city life.

Her characters were never rich and powerful, they were ordinary people, living ordinary lives.

I’m quite sure that Binchy will be missed around the world and her fans will hanker for stories that due to the authors’ passing will never be written.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How useful are interview tips

Some time ago I Google'd “How to handle a successful job interview” and received 537,000,000 results.  Next I Google'd “Tips for a successful job interview” and the system came up with 42,000,000 results.

They all said more or less the same thing: research the company, dress the part, arrive on time, not too much makeup, a minimum on jewelry, no perfume.

Armed with all this knowledge I made my way over to an insurance company where I had an interview at 3:00.

The journey downtown would take me approximately an hour, but to be on the safe side I decided to leave an hour and a half ahead of time.

I had researched the company back to front, I was wearing a white shirt, a black business suit and black shoes.  I wasn’t wearing too much makeup, other than a Tiffany bracelet I was wearing no jewelry and no scent.

The trouble started on the subway.  The train came to an unexpected stop and the driver announced that there was a passenger alarm on the train ahead of us.

Great, this had to happen today of all days.  How long would this take?  Five minutes, ten minutes, half an hour … you never know with these things.

To cut a long story short … I arrived on site at 3:15.  A car splashed water up my pants and while I tried to jump away I broke the heel off my shoe.  Can you picture it … I was 15 minutes late, in a disheveled state and limping.

The worst was yet to come though.  Ten minutes into the interview the woman (who needed an assistant) asked me if I smoked or had cats.  I confirmed both.  The woman excused herself with a severe allergy attack.

For a while I waited in the interview room.  After five minutes I stepped outside and paced the floor.  Should I leave?  After ten minutes had passed, I didn’t think the interviewer was coming back.

Outside I phoned my agency and told the consultant everything that had happened.  I concluded with “There’s no way I’m getting this job”.

“That’s funny,” the consultant said, “because I just got a call that you got the job and they’re expecting you on Monday.”

Conclusion … don’t pay too much attention to all those successful interview tips.  If the company wants you, they’ll take you just the way you are.  If they don’t … you can stand on your head and whistle the national anthem through your ears and they’ll still say no. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The rest of the story: Zoe needs a new companion

Our guest blogger today is Diane Quinn from Las Vegas.  Diane recently lost her beloved cat Zorro, and successfully introduced a new kitty.  I asked her about this experience and she was kind enough to put "pen to paper".

You last met me when our beloved cat, Zorro, died unexpectedly of a heart condition.  (See EveryCloud Can Have a Silver Lining blog post.)  I introduced you to the Poppy Foundation and explained the outstanding work they do for unhealthy and unadoptable cats.  What I later learned is that our vet, who houses the Poppy Foundation in her hospital, also takes in feline patients when their human owners can no longer keep them.

In the weeks that followed Zorro’s death, we watched as our female Ragdoll, Zoe, went through a disturbing grieving process. Her personality changed, she pulled fur patches off the back of her neck, and she hid a lot under the bed, something she had never done before. She stopped sleeping with us as well. Our normally perky diva was depressed.  Fortunately, after about two months, she seemed almost like her old self again.

I came to realize that Zoe had never been an “only” cat before, and I wondered if she would be happy without a feline companion.  Then I began to think about what would happen when we traveled.  Even though we have two caring friends who stop in and cat sit, I had deep concerns about how she would manage basically by herself for a week at a time.

After a lengthy discussion with my husband who was resistant to getting another cat, he agreed to let me call the Poppy Foundation to see if they had a mature male at least five years old that needed a home. Zoe was about to turn nine, and we didn’t want a large age gap. Turns out they had three candidates.  As we were driving to the foundation, my husband said, “You know, I’d like to have a black cat with green eyes.”  At that point, color was the least of my worries as I focused on age, a personality fit and solid house training. 

When we walked into the Poppy Foundation there sitting on a chair all by himself was a black cat with green eyes. The volunteers told us that his name was BamBam, that he was their official greeter, and that he was one of our candidates. After we met the other two worthy felines, we had to make a decision. We both agreed that charming BamBam was the best suited for our home and as Zoe’s companion. 

We came back four days later to get him after he had a physical, dental work, updated shots and was groomed.  The Poppy Foundation never allows an adoption without knowing the adopter’s background and making sure the cat is in perfect health. 

This event was almost two months ago. The first thing my husband insisted on was giving our new black kitty a “manly” name more suited for his age—Rocky! It took just a matter of days to introduce him to our home. It was obvious that he was happy to find a real home again where he didn’t have to compete for attention.  Zoe was put out at first and exerted her diva personality in mostly non-aggressive ways.  Lucky for us, Rocky’s super friendly and loving personality won her over more quickly than we could ever have expected.

Zoe and Rocky are the best of buddies. They play together, watch birds and lizards side-by-side at the screen doors, and lick and love each other frequently.  Sure, they might have a territorial disagreement on occasion, but after a little boxing match, one usually gives in without any aggression.  More important is that we can go away now without guilt knowing that they have each other for loving companionship.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Is it a good idea to do it yourself?

My family are big believers in DIY.  Our motto is … “If you want something done right, do it yourself”.

It started with my grandmother who used to wallpaper and paint.  She was so good at it, she quickly became in demand among family and friends.

My mother made most of our clothes.  Nobody could ever tell the difference between her creations and store bought items. 

When our house was built, my father dug and prepared the foundation.  Dad had done such a good job, the builder said that this wasn’t just a foundation for a house, it was a foundation fit for a fortress.

When my ex and I bought our first house, it was only natural that I tried my hand at wallpapering.  Of all, grandma claimed there was nothing to it.

That wasn’t quite right.  I struggled so much with the first strips of paper and the glue that I nearly pasted myself to the wall.  When I’d finally hung the strip, I noticed it was upside down.

Over time it indeed become easier and along the way I also learned how to paint, do flooring, install a back splash and do minor repairs around the house.

My son took an interest in DIY projects from a very early age.  If I remember correctly, he was only 6 when he handled his first paint roller. 

He gradually took on more and more tasks until eventually he wanted to try his hand installing hardwood flooring.  It would be his DIY exam.  Unfortunately he failed miserably.

Perhaps it wasn’t his fault.  Perhaps it was the poor quality of the boards and the lack of decent measuring and cutting equipment.

He had watched a couple of videos on YouTube and installing hardwood didn’t seem all that difficult.  It was a matter of laying down the boards, clicking them into place and voila, that was it.

Sadly for Dieter it didn’t go so effortlessly.  The boards didn’t click and there were gaps.  Dieter, ever the perfectionist, got very agitated, had a couple of one-way conversations with the good Lord and great Carpenter in the sky and eventually threw in the towel.

To cut a long story short, we called on our neighbor, a contractor who has done flooring (and other projects) for a good number of years.

The first thing he asked was “Where did you buy the flooring?”  When we said “Home Depot” he grunted his disapproval.  In his opinion, what we had bought was nothing less than crap and the number one reason why Dieter’s work was less than perfect.

He took us to a specialty store, guided us to the wood section and then left us to pick a color.  The first thing I noticed was the thickness of the boards.  The Home Depot boards were barely 8 mm thick, while these boards were 16 mm.  In addition, the color was better and the shine was better.  Yes, the new boards were a bit more expensive than the Home Depot boards, but this was really quality flooring.

Which brings me to another thing my family is really good at … speaking in phrases.  One of my parents favorite sayings was … “Goeie koop is dure koop”, meaning, buy it cheap and it will turn out expensive.  

Next Monday the new boards will be delivered and the works can start all over again.  Until then, our place looks like a bomb hit it, and due to lack of a proper bed I’m sleeping on the floor. 

Pictures of the project to follow …

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why are we such liars?

While nobody likes to encounter a rude person or be on the receiving end of painful criticism, one thing is for sure … this bluntness is an honest expression of feelings.

With flattery and compliments on the other hand it becomes increasingly difficult to believe anything people say.  Do they mean what they say, are they just being nice, or do they want something?

Take my neighbor for instance.  The woman recently had a baby and proudly showed the infant to anyone who cared to look.  Without fail, everyone admired the baby stating how cute he was, what an adorable nose he had and remarking how big he was.

Once the mother was out of earshot the baby compliments turned to criticism. 
“That was the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen.”
“That baby is so fat, it’s gross.”
“Was that a nose or a beak?”

The previously admired name (Jace) was also racked over the coals.  While the name was praised as original while the mother was present, once she had turned her back her audience shook their heads in disgust.
“What kind of a stupid name is Jace?”
“Is that short of Jason or something?”
“I feel sorry for that kid when he goes to school.  A name like Jace is an invitation for bullying.”

The same lot often befalls authors.  While the writer is present, readers praise their work, but if he or she were a fly on the wall they might hear something quite different. 

From personal experience, I recently “read” a book from a woman who proudly presented me with a copy of her work.  I intended to read the book start to finish, but I didn’t.  Chapter 1 had so many flashbacks I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. 
Chapter 2 introduced characters that I can only describe as complete nuts. 
By chapter 3, I was rubbing my forehead, frowning and sighing … this wasn’t just bad writing, this was atrocious.

Naturally I can’t mention the author or the name of the book.  Suffice to say it had something to do with vampires and it is the writer’s intention to turn her work into a series.

Which left me wondering, what is it with people and vampires?  Do they want to jump on the bandwagon of success seeing that the “Twilight Saga” and “Vampire Diaries” are so well received?

And why a series?  Do they honestly think their work is that good that people won’t get enough of their story telling?  What’s wrong with writing a story, seeing how the book does, and then write a sequel?

Equally bothering is the fact that many writers give their book a title similar to a bestseller.  Recently I saw a book called “Prejudice and Pride” and “Murder she writes”.  I mean please, this borders on plagiarism.

As for my work, I made it a point not to ask for feedback.  If someone hated the story, it’s unlikely that a reader will say so.  And if someone is honest enough to criticize, I probably won’t like it.  So really, what’s the point?

Perhaps the saying “If you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all” is not such a bad idea.