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Friday, September 30, 2016

Moments of confusion

We’ve all known moments of confusion. Times when we go to the kitchen or bedroom to get something, and don’t remember why we went there in the first place. Or looking for reading glasses while wearing them. But here at the house of Manero, confusion takes on a whole new meaning.

The other day I send Dieter to the store for groceries. Since there were quite a few items I urged him to write them down. Dieter whipped out his cell phone, called up the notes app, and declared himself ready. We needed steak, veggies, cat food, bathroom tissue, ice cream, dishwashing liquid, and bread.

When he came home I unpacked the bag. I found everything I asked for, except for dishwashing liquid. “How could you forget?” I asked. “You wrote everything down.”
Yeah well, the long and the short of it was … he hadn’t looked at his phone.

He offered to go back to the store, but no, the dishwashing liquid could wait a day. I would turn the bottle upside down and squeeze out whatever was still in there.

The next day Dieter went back to the store. This time, he didn’t need to write anything down as the only item needed was dishwashing liquid. 

He came home with a bag, packed with stuff.
“What did you all bring?” I asked.
“I found quite a few things on special,” he said. 

Out of the bag came a bag of grapes, a tray of strawberries, a tray of chicken breasts and a bag of cat nibbles. 

“And the dishwashing liquid?” I asked.

Oh shoot, that he’d forgotten.

Something else Dieter frequently forgets is to replace the plastic bag in the kitchen waste holder. When I see the bag is full, I remove it, knot it up and drape another plastic bag over the holder. When Dieter sees that the bag is full, he removes it and knots it up, but neglects to replace the old bag with a new one. Now you know what I’m going to say … the next time something needs to be thrown away, I go to the kitchen, open the waste holder and … yes, you guessed it, whatever was in my hand is now on the floor.

You might say … “Don’t you see that there isn’t a bag in the holder?” and the answer is … no, I’m so used to there being a bag there that I don’t pay attention.

But speaking of paying attention …

Last Sunday we were going to have chicken with potatoes, along with a salad of baby spinach and tomatoes. I peeled the potatoes and placed them in cold water.

Next, I washed the spinach and the tomatoes and drizzled them with olive oil and lemon juice.

About 45 minutes later Dieter asked if the chicken was almost ready. The plan was that while I took care of the finishing touches, he would set the table.

Chicken? … Chicken! I had clean forgotten about the chicken. Not only was it not almost ready, I hadn’t even placed it in the oven yet!

So you see, we’re both scatter brains. Put the two of us together and … well, you have a recipe for disaster. 

Perhaps our biggest blunder happened a few years ago in downtown Toronto.

We were walking along King Street when a man stopped us to ask for directions. “Excuse me,” he said, “can you tell me where Bay Street is?” And that’s when it happened … Dieter pointed to the left, while I pointed to the right. The man looked at us with a frown above narrowed eyes. He didn’t have to say anything, I knew what he was thinking … These two can’t be trusted.

I’m rather good at giving directions, but Dieter is terrible. I’ve heard him on occasion and honestly … some of the people he was trying to help might have ended up in Alaska.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The price is ... wrong

Quite a few of us are familiar with “The Price is Right”, a TV show where contestants guess the price of various items, ranging from a car to a bottle of shampoo.

Everyone who watches the show invariably guesses along with the contestants. Some are quite good at it while others don’t seem to have a clue about retail. I’m one of those people.

With little things, such as groceries I’m pretty good with guessing prices, but where it comes to bigger items such as lawn mowers, cars, and real estate, I’m way, way off.

My latest miscalculation involves a window. Not an ordinary window, but a fake one. Let me explain …

I recently found myself in the basement of a building. Even though I was several feet underground, I saw windows everywhere, displaying lifelike images of a sun-drenched forest, a babbling brook, and a beautiful coastline. Since I was in the heart of Toronto, all of those scenes were quite impossible. But it was a nice idea to make the basement less claustrophobic.
Not only did the windows display clear images, they were accompanied by birdsong. Throughout the basement, I heard what I thought were finches, chickadees, canaries, nightingales and a few birds I couldn’t identify.

I was so smitten with the idea that I asked for the name of the manufacturer of these windows, and once home I looked up the website. Since no prices were listed, I contacted the seller by email.

“This won’t come cheap,” Dieter warned me. Yeah well, maybe not, but a window like this would look great in my bedroom and kitchen. Not only would the window make for a great look but the birdsong would help me fall asleep. If such a window cost $200 or $300 it would be worth it.

When the seller emailed me back the next day my dreams were crushed and I was once again reminded just how bad I am with guessing the cost of items. The window did not cost a few hundred dollars but … (are you sitting down?) $13,000. Needless to say that my idea of this beautiful window went out the window.

I’m not the only one bad at guessing prices. Where it comes to my son, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

He recently had his heart set on turtles, miniature aquarium turtles. He guessed these little critters to be $10 or $20 each.

Before rushing out to buy these aquarium turtles he went online to research their ideal habitat. He would need an aquarium filled with a little water, some dry land, rocks, moss, and a special light to keep the turtles warm. All of this was doable, the miniature turtles, however, were not.

Dieter has grossly underestimated their cost. When he visited a pet store, he found out that these turtles cost $240 each. So that idea went out the window too.

Needless to say, neither of us are likely to apply to be a contestant on “The Price is Right”.

Monday, September 26, 2016

I'm leaving

Fall has arrived. Yes, I know, officially fall arrived on September 21st but on that day, and the days that followed, Toronto enjoyed a bright sun in a blue sky and a temperature warm enough to be outside in shirt sleeves.

Today all that has changed. The sun is nowhere to be seen, the sky is a mass of grey clouds, and it’s cold. To make matters worse, it’s raining, and rain always makes a day seem even colder.

Ordinarily, I love a rainy day, the harder it rains the better I feel. I get really creative or I curl up on the sofa with a good book, with tea and chocolates within reach.

When I have to go out I don’t like a rainy day quite as much. I have to put on a jacket and instead of sunglasses take an umbrella along. Not that an umbrella guarantees me staying dry, I’ve had more than one umbrella ruined when the wind blew it inside out.

Some might say that fall is beautiful, and I agree. The Don Valley in Toronto displays a magnificent array of colors, but for how long. Soon those yellow, orange and red leaves fall off the trees and then they lay on the ground, rotting away. Except for chrysanthemums flowers are dying and nature loses all its color.

And from here on it’s only going to get worse. If meteorologists are to be believed, we’re having a tough winter ahead of us. We’ve had a wonderful long hot summer, so they are predicting an awful long and cold winter. Ugh, I can just imagine, temperatures way below zero, snow up to our ears, black ice … well, it is Canada.

If Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, to me this is the most miserable time of the year. Fall has only just started and I’ve already had enough of it.

In winter, with packs of snow, nature at least gets transformed into a magical landscape and there’s some fun to be had. Skiing, ice skating, throwing snowballs at each other, but what’s to be done in the fall … throwing wet leaves at each other?

Maybe I should do like the Canadian geese, head south and wait for winter to pass. I can’t fly, but I can walk.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A snoring conspiracy

All my life I’ve had a problem with snoring. Not me, but other people. It's not just that it bothers me, it drives me up the wall!

First it was my dad. The nights didn’t bother me as such, because my parents’ bedroom was quite a distance away from mine, but when we went camping I couldn't sleep in the tent. To get some sleep I was forced to sleep in the car. His snoring was so loud that even neighboring campers started to complain. 

When I got married I fiercely hoped my new husband wasn’t a snorer and fortunately, he wasn’t. He had another problem though … he was a heavy breather. He felt bad about it, but in those days there was nothing to be done about it.

Many years later I was selected to join the national bowling team of South Africa and our team of twelve, six men and six women, plus two coaches, went to Pretoria for the Interprovincials.

To keep the cost down, two women would share a room, two men would share a room and the coaches would share a room, making it seven rooms. I was teamed up with Anne.

I was quite looking forward to having a roommate and building team spirit, but things changed dramatically shortly after the lights were turned off.

Anne started snoring, but it wasn’t a normal snore, it was like a freight train was going through the room. I tried putting my fingers in my ears and putting the pillow over my head, but her snoring was so loud nothing helped. Eventually I gathered up my pillow and duvet and slept in the bath. Since we had a five-day stay in Pretoria, I insisted to be moved.

More recently my son Dieter turned out to be a snorer. For the longest time he never gave a peep at night, but suddenly he developed a snoring problem. 

Several times each night I had to get out of bed and go to Dieter's room to wake him up. And forget about people only snoring when the lie on their backs. Whether Dieter lay on his back, side or stomach, he snored in all positions. Sometimes he would be cooperative and rolls over, other times he grumpily reply "I'm not even sleeping." Yeah right.

I insisted that he go see a doctor, this couldn't go on. He didn't get sufficient rest and neither did I. "Wear ear plugs," someone suggested, but they had little or no effect. While they drawned out soft snoring, once Dieter got going I could still hear him.

"Try nasal strips," someone else suggested. Dieter bought nasal strips, three different brands, and other than being $30 our of pocket, these nasal strips did absolutely nothing.

Just when we started considering a sleep apnea machine, someone suggested placing a humidifier in his room. The very next day such a machine was bought and … there was peace and quiet, Dieter didn’t snore anymore.

Now there is another problem … Charlotte, one of my cats snores. You might not think this to be a problem, but it is. At night Charlotte sleeps with Dieter, but over the weekend when I take a nap, she comes and sleeps with me.

My goodness and can that cat snore, you wouldn’t think it possible that such a small nose and produce so many decibels. When I touch her to wake her up she starts to purr, only to switch again to snoring ten seconds later.

First my dad, then my friend, next my son and now my cat … is this a snoring conspiracy?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Is it really that simple

Voltaire once said, “I have chosen to be happy because it’s good for my health.” I wonder for how long he managed to keep up that resolution. Were things different in his lifetime? If Voltaire had lived today rather than in the 1700s would he perhaps also occasionally have lost his cool?

I think it’s strange, to begin with, choosing to be happy. Is there anyone who chooses to be unhappy? I imagine that most people get out of bed in the morning resolving to look, feel and do their best.

But no sooner does the day get started and life starts throwing stones at this resolve. There’s no hot water in the shower, a button is missing from a favorite shirt, the milk has gone sour … your good mood is being undermined and you haven’t even left the house.

On the road, there are more experiences to brush you up the wrong way: the highway is a parking lot, cars don’t indicate to turn left or right, or indicate for an ‘eventual turn’, or a car slides into your parking spot.

As the day progresses you get served more aggravation, from superiors, colleagues, and machinery. How are you doing with that “I have chosen to be happy because it’s good for my health” resolution?

I don’t have a car, so I don’t have to deal with highways and parking spaces, as a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) user, I take the train, bus or streetcar. Not that that is without aggravation.

For instance …

Yesterday I was waiting in the Lawrence East station when I saw a youngster come out of the parole office across the street, walk up to the station and swan through the revolving barrier without paying.

This is the second time I’ve seen this happening. The first time an ex-inmate walked up to the ticket office and said that he’d come to see his parole officer but didn’t have any money for the train for the return journey. The TTC staff member asked him how he’d got to the parole office in the first place. “The same way,” he said. “They just let me through.” The staff member waved that he could proceed, without paying.

While that guy at least had the decency to ask if he could go through, the youngster I saw yesterday afternoon had no such manners. Without the slightest hesitation, he just walked in, indicating that this wasn’t the first time he was allowed on the train without paying.

Now that ticks me off. On average two million people take the TTC each day. The majority uses this form of transportation to get to and from work, but there are others who use the train for different reasons. Some are on their way to an interview, others have to go see a doctor, dentist or other medical professional. Others still have appointments at a hospital for life-saving treatment. All of these people, whether they are young or old, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, have to pay. But ex-inmates do not?!

If I was the kind of person to make resolutions, my “I have chosen to be happy because it’s good for my health” decision would go right out the window. I do not choose to be unhappy, nobody does, but life with all its complications and injustices just makes my blood boil.

What was that Mr. Voltaire …

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Should we think before we speak

Most of us are familiar with the phrase “A donkey never kicks the same stone twice”. While this might be true, there are plenty of other stones for the donkey to kick. The road of life is basically full of stones. The big ones are easy to see and avoid, but it’s the little ones that trip us up. So do we kick the same stone twice?

I know I have. Time and time again I resolve to think before I speak, but that’s not always possible. In every day conversation, people don’t usually think about what they’re going to say. Someone says something and we respond spontaneously. It’s only later on that we come to the conclusion … I shouldn’t have said that.

By then the damage is done and even apologizing doesn’t help. The words are spoken, someone has heard them and might never forget them. If we had a moment to think, we probably would have said something totally different, but we didn’t, the words flew out of our mouth and … another stone was kicked.

When this happens to me I often think … if only conversation was like to written word. I could go back, erase what was said or rephrase it.

Not that having time to think is always the solution. There have been times that I had plenty of time to think, and I still made the mistake of saying things I wish I could erase.
Take last night for instance. I had a meeting with the Board of Directors of our condo building, a representative of management and a resident, all in all it was seven against one.

I knew right from the start that I didn’t stand a chance. I should have stood up and made a graceful exit, but I didn’t. I had come to the meeting and I was going to state my case. Without any proof it was very difficult to make any of my claims stick, and like I said … it was seven against one.

So I sat there, shaking with rage, my heart hammering in my chest. While inside I was seething, I held it together though, I appeared reasonably calm.

Of course, this reasonably calm exterior only lasted so long. There came a time when I was pushed beyond my limits and like a pan of milk that had been simmering for a while, I suddenly boiled over and let fly.

Do I regret my outburst … on the one hand yes, because anger reveals weakness, but on the other hand … it felt so good, it felt so good to finally have my say and see the smug smile slide off seven faces.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena

I was quite surprised to see that Shari Lapena worked as a lawyer and an English teacher and wrote two award-winning literary novels.

‘The Couple Next Door’ her suspense debut is written in a strange childlike voice. I got the feeling that the story was written by a 16-year-old. 

The characters aren’t very sympathetic. Anne was once a beautiful, smart woman who used to work in an art gallery but who let her figure and her career go down the drain after she had a baby.

In a time when women juggle a successful career and motherhood, this is not exactly a woman role model. Does Lapena send the subtle message that a woman’s place is in the home, taking care of her child? Is she pointing an accusing finger at women who keep their identity? Has she never heard of a gym and home exercises?

Not only that, Anne suffers from postpartum depression and has a history of violence. Patches in time she later on has no recollection of.

Her husband Marco is equally unsympathetic. When Anne met Marco she was a society girl and he was a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Marrying into money opened doors and possibilities for him, but he’s basically a loser who doesn’t have a head for business. All he has going for him are his looks and his in-laws money. Is it any wonder that Anne’s parents dislike him?

When the couple leaves their three-month-old baby at home while they attend a dinner party next door, more than one woman will cringe at the irresponsibility of it. What parents in their right mind leave a baby alone at home? When the baby is kidnapped parents the world over might think … serves them right.

Of course, if the baby hadn’t been left alone, there wouldn’t be a story. The couple would come home after the dinner party, find the baby sleeping in her cot, and all would be well. As it is, the baby is gone, the parents are frantic and the police gets involved.

Anyone with half a brain has this story almost immediately figured out. The reader might not know the details but knows who the kidnapper is and why.

All in all, as with so many books that were introduced with a great hype, I found the story disappointing.
I gave the book a three-star rating because I didn’t exactly hate it, but I didn’t love it either. It was all a bit too simple and childlike written.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bald and Beautiful

I found myself among a group of cancer patients the other day, waiting for their radiation treatment. The environment was just perfect. Deep, comfy armchairs, discreetly lit giant fish tanks, juice and salty crackers on coffee tables, all in the most perfect temperature (not too hot, not too cold).

While there was a big screen TV mounted to the wall, nobody paid any attention to it. Most of the people were reading, doing a crossword puzzle, or talking to a companion.

A short distance away from me were two women, one wearing a baseball cap, presumably to hide her bald head. She had a rather teary conversation with the woman next to her. She wasn’t talking and then crying, she was doing both at the same time. Nobody listened openly, but I think everyone felt sorry for her. She projected such misery. Her conversation partner didn’t say much other than “I’m so sorry,” and “I wish I could help.”

More patients came and went, some men, some women, some looking normal, others wearing a scarf or a baseball cap after chemo treatment. One or two were in a wheelchair, others walked but looked so down they were obviously having a rough time.

The room was getting downright depressing when in came a woman, I guessed her to be in her late 30s early 40s, sporting sunglasses on her bald head.

She walked purposefully, with a bounce in her step, and a smile on her face that lit up the room. While I know it’s not polite to stare at someone, I found myself doing just that, fascinated by this woman. She positively radiated joy and a zest for life. I admired her. While most women hid their baldness under scarves, caps or wigs, she obviously had no problem with her hairless appearance. And it suited her. She was the embodiment of bald and beautiful.

With a variety of chairs to choose from, she positioned herself opposite the teary woman and started speaking to her. She said how much she admired her, how she faithfully read the blog the woman was writing and how much support it had given her. She didn’t speak in hushed tones, neither did she shout, but her clear voice carried all through the room.
I doubted very much that this woman needed support. She didn’t look like the kind who needed cheering up, but it worked. Within no time the woman dried her tears, put her tissue away and was visibly feeling better.

Not only that, those who had been talking quietly were listening, those who had been struggling with a crossword puzzle had their pens hovering over the paper, and those who had been reading had their book or Kindle in their lap.
I guess we were all thinking the same thing … what an amazing woman!

When the radiation technician came for her, she rose from her chair, wished her conversation partner all the best, bestowed a glowing smile on the technician and disappeared from the room.

I took away two things … being bald doesn’t have to be embarrassing and while sympathy is fine, expressing admiration is often more effective than feeling sorry for someone.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10 - Part II

Yesterday I sang the praises of ‘The Woman in Cabin 10.’ However, to be perfectly honest, after finishing the book I had a few questions. Part of the story made no sense to me, leaving me guessing whether the author had made a mistake. (For the sake of future readers I’d rather don’t go into too much detail).

I went online, searching if someone else had picked up on these ‘mistakes’, but couldn’t find anything.

Desperate for answers I looked up Ruth Ware on Facebook and sent her a message. I didn’t actually expect her to answer, very few authors do. At best you get an automated reply, thanking you for your feedback. But I was going to give it a shot anyway.

Much to my surprise, Ms. Ware did reply and not just a one-liner, but a thorough explanation of what I had perceived as a mistake.

Even with her explanation though, I still didn’t quite get it, so I asked for further clarification, and moments later that’s exactly what I got. Ms. Ware even went as far as apologizing that she hadn’t spelled out the details more clearly.

I’m quite sure Ms. Ware is not to blame. It was me, this is what happens when I read until all hours of the night. My eyes fly over the lines, eager to know what happens next, and in the process some details escape my attention.

Then again, my Kindle might be to blame. By clicking next page, it’s very easy to skip a page. While fully alert, one might pick up on that skip, but who – at 2:00 in the morning – is alert enough to notice such a detail.

So, not only did ‘The Woman in Cabin 10’ impress me, Ms. Ware impressed me even more. She doesn’t act as the grand dame of literature, but rather as an average woman who doesn’t consider herself too posh to respond to a reader’s question.

Next up, ‘In a Dark, Dark Wood’ also by Ruth Ware. I’m only 17 pages into the story, but I can already tell … my nightlight will stay on long after midnight. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10

Every avid reader has their favorite authors. For me that’s Erica James, Penny Vincenzi, Lesley Pearce, Joy Fielding, to name but a few. When I need something to read, I check out those names first because I know their stories won’t disappoint.

However, since my favorite authors seem to be in hibernation, as they had nothing new on the shelves, I had to look for something else.

For me this is always a gamble, as I’ve tried quite a few authors over the years whose book I tossed aside after a few pages, wondering how the heck this got published in the first place.

My latest gamble was ‘The Woman in Cabin 10’ by Ruth Ware.

I liked the look of the book (goes to show that some people do judge a book by its cover), while the synopsis seemed promising.

In this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists, spine-tingling turns, and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another taut and intense read in The Woman in Cabin 10—one that will leave even the most sure-footed reader restlessly uneasy long after the last page is turned.

‘The Woman in Cabin 10’ carried no less than 402 reviews on Amazon, but I’d rather didn’t read them. For one, many amateur reviewers give away part of the story without a spoiler alert warning, and two … I put little or no stock in other people’s opinion. After all, what’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.

I made the mistake of starting ‘The Woman in Cabin 10’ shortly after midnight. I was only going to read for ten minutes or so, but before I knew it, it was 2:00 a.m.

I resolved not to read that late again, but the next night it was 2:30 before I turned the light off.

Near the end of the book going to sleep was not an option, I had to know how the story ended.

So, if you’re planning on reading ‘The Woman in Cabin 10’, prepare to turn page after page, wondering what will happen next. Prepare to chew your lips and bite your nails.

I gave ‘The Woman in Cabin 10’ a five-star rating.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Adult Coloring Books by Cynthia Kloeter

Are you coloring yet? While some people consider coloring a kids’ activity, millions of others disagree and have taken to coloring like ducks to water.

Publishers of these books couldn’t be happier and state that these books are flying off the shelves. That they’ve never seen anything like it. While adult coloring has been around for years, in recent months it has exploded into something anyone and everyone wants to be a part of. One publisher stated that one of the books is in its 16th reprint.

Other artists prefer not to enlist the help of a traditional publisher and self-publish their work. And why not, they have creative freedom and don’t have to share the profits with an agent and a publisher.

One such artist is my friend Cynthia Kloeter and you can find all her coloring books on Amazon.

Whether you like flowers, eggs, gems or garden designs, Cynthia has you covered.

What many like about Cynthia’s work is the size of her works. Her drawings are big with bold lines, perfect for people who have less than 20/20 vision.
In Cynthia’s own words, about “The Power of Flowers” …

The perfect book to help you relax and heal your soul through the use of relaxing coloring. This book is suitable for all ages and skill levels. The ideal book for art therapy. This book contains 30 easy to color design. They also are perfect for those wishing to enrich their shading & blending skills. Perfect for markers as each design is printed single sided. There is also a Protection Page that can be torn out and used between the pages to prevent marker bleed. Color testing page added at the back of the book. All illustrations are hand drawn.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, 21 or 81, an accomplished colorist, a beginner, or looking for an original present (Christmas is coming up) … have a look at Cynthia’s work and you too might find peace and relaxation in coloring.

These are some of her finished creations …