Flowers in California

Flowers in California

Friday, June 29, 2012

On Papering Books

In looking through old decorating magazines the other day, I came across one with a lot of do-it-yourself projects.  I don't really do these projects - lists of supplies and the need for specific tools intimidate me - but I find some of them inspiring.  New ideas are nice.

One of the projects suggested was to "paper a book."  The idea was to cover a book with wallpaper.  Immediately a question arose in my mind:


The answer provided in this magazine is that doing so adds "a decorative finish."  I suppose it does.  I'm not sure, though, that I see the decorative benefit of wrapping books in wallpaper.  And are we supposed to wrap only one book or all books?  I can think of better usages of time than a lengthy session of book-wrapping.  Reading the books seems like a good one. 

I see a problem, too, when it's time to sell some older books at the second-hand store.  For some reason, I already have trouble selling many of my books.  I've never figured out why but I don't want to give the bookstore people more reasons to turn my books away -  "Oh, we can't take that one, it's had wallpaper on it.  And ugly wallpaper at that."  That might sting a little.  I don't know how I'd figure out which ones to sell anyways if they all had decorative covers. And if I wrote the names on them in black magic marker, they might not look so decorative.  Perhaps I should study calligraphy to make the project complete.

Some of these projects, done by the right people, probably turn out really well and are worthwhile.  To me, this one seems of questionable value and another one shown on this same page may be worse.  It is suggested that you glue rubber ducks all around a bathroom mirror.  I can't imagine when that would be good to have in a bathroom - when children are small they might try to climb up and pull down one of the ducks.  When they're bigger, they wouldn't want a rubber-duck themed mirror. 

In deciding whether to take on any of these DIY projects, it seems useful to me to consider whether the effort is really worth it.  For me, it's usually not.  Most likely I don't have enough old wallpaper, decorative or not, to cover a lot of books and our rubber duck supply is running low.  I do have a lot of old magazines though.  I wonder if there's something brilliant I can do with them.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pondering the School Awards Ceremony

Last week I attended the second semester and year-end awards ceremony at my son's middle school.  I found it an emotional experience and cried through the grade 7 slide show.  My son is not in grade 7 but it was a good chance to cry as the gym was dark at that time.  I appreciate the inclusion of slide shows at these events.  Sometimes I even enjoy the slides.

As a proud mother, I have to declare my excitement that my son won some awards.  I'm not sure,  however, that I agree with the concept of the awards ceremony.  It is wonderful for the students who win awards to be honoured and I applaud the teachers and administration for awarding prizes in a wide variety of categories.  Still, there are students who sit through the whole ceremony (with awards, slide shows and speeches from administration it took an hour and a half) and receive nothing.  I wonder how those students feel and I wonder what effect such a ceremony has on their future academic efforts.  That there are a variety of awards given out might make things worse for them.  And for any students who sat until the end hoping that they would get some form of recognition, the end of the ceremony may be a time of sadness and disappointment.

Recognizing the concern, school administrators point out that the students who didn't receive awards can set goals for the next time.  Yes, they can and maybe these ceremonies and those words help some students to push themselves and excel. I doubt that is the case for everyone though.  After no recognition at a few of these ceremonies, it must be challenging to find the inner resolve and self confidence to get motivated for the future.  At a certain point, students may start to feel that they will never be among the award recipients; those students are different from them.  I hope that at this point they do not either give up on doing their own best work, decide to get attention in more troubling ways or start bullying students who receive awards.

My thoughts on this subject are based in a lot of uncertainty.  I don't remember attending academic award ceremonies when in school.  I attended an athletic awards ceremony once, as a guest, and even there my lack of acclaim left me feeling diminished.  I didn't feel motivated to set athletic goals.  I did have strengths in other areas.  Maybe if there had been recognition offered in those areas, I would have felt better.

Every student, every person has unique strengths.  I realize that schools cannot present awards based on each strength for each student.  I think it is up to schools, though, to help students learn about the areas in which they are especially strong.  I wish that my high school had helped me more in this area.  Knowing their unique gifts, students could feel good about themselves and know the directions in life they might want to go.  They could then sit at awards ceremonies confident in who they are regardless if there's an award that recognizes their specific talents.

Congratulations to every student at that ceremony and in every school.  Please keep trying to be your best.  That's all we can ask of anyone.  You all have so much talent to share.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Maybe Not Such an Ugly Little Strip Mall After All

I went with my husband to buy spices today.  I stayed outside in the truck because I have nothing to contribute to spice-buying decisions.  For most of the time waiting, I looked at and played on my phone.  Yes, I needed a toy to keep me occupied.

The spice store is situated in a strip mall that might win the prize for "Ugliest Strip Mall in the World" (Now that would be a competition!  I have seen some strong contenders.)  There is nothing physically appealing about the building and some of the stores seem almost to make an effort to be ugly.  I don't think there are empty stores though and things keep humming along, year after ugly year.

Despite my intense concentration on my phone, I noticed some things as I sat there today.  For one thing, and this was difficult to ignore, there was very loud music coming from somewhere.  It was difficult to pinpoint where until a door opened and I realized it was coming from a church that is in the mall.  Someone from the church came outside to talk on his phone and the music became even louder.  Soon a woman came outside with two small children.  Maybe the music had become too much for them or maybe they had become too much for the music.  (I take my hat off to these kids if they had been too disruptive in that environment.  It was very loud.)  Regardless, within this building which I consider ugly, an active, enthusiastic church was functioning.  It didn't sound like the parishioners were troubled by the appearance of their place of worship.  They had created beauty within it.

I also noticed a beautiful sunflower picture hanging in a store window.  A scrapbooking store has opened and I guess the owners are trying to make it look somewhat nice.  I know that some scrapbookers really love their craft and hope that they too can look past the appearance of the mall.  As rent cannot be high in that place, low prices might make it easier to do that.  I hope it does well.

I wondered, as I looked at the sunflower picture in the context of the whole setting, if it did make things nicer.  It is only one picture.  Amidst the ghastly signs in store windows and the aging stores themselves, it looked out of place.  Maybe, though, it's a small sign of things to come.  Maybe one day, there will be more beauty at that mall.  Maybe it doesn't matter as long as the rents stay low.

Despite the fact that it's nice to be and shop and do anything in nice surroundings, I wonder how much difference it makes.  I started reading a book yesterday called "The Architecture of Happiness."  I haven't gotten far yet but, as one would expect, it's about how the architecture of buildings can affect happiness.  I doubt it would advocate ugly strip malls for the promotion of well-being.  If the parishioners of the church, and the shoppers and vendors in the mall are pleased with how things are going, though, I don't think there is a problem with this little shopping centre.  It serves a variety of purposes and it seems to do fine.  It's got a fun bowling alley too.

While this little structure won't win any architectural awards for beauty, perhaps it should win some for its function and simplicity.  You can accomplish a number of things there, including buying spices.  And I did really well playing a game on my phone.  I suppose that's not really related to the mall but I was excited.


Monday, June 18, 2012

I Could Have Been Friendlier

The other day, I was sitting at my son's baseball game.  Another mother came along.  I looked at her and she looked at me.  While she didn't say anything either, I think she would have been receptive to me saying "hi."  I said nothing.  I knew instantly that I could have done better.

This year, I don't know any of the other baseball parents.  There have been other seasons when I've looked forward to sitting and chatting with people during games.  This year, I sit alone or with my husband if he's not helping out.  I don't mind that.  I enjoy good conversation but small talk tires me.  Sitting quietly and watching the games is fine.  I don't know this woman to whom I didn't say "hi" and, as it's late in the season, I probably won't get to know her.  Still, a simple greeting wouldn't have hurt.

I know the quote "When in doubt, do the friendliest thing."  (I can't find who came up with the quote to give them credit.)  I would like to live by it and it guides me sometimes.  Being somewhat shy, it's not always the easiest thing to take a chance and be friendly.  I think it's worthwhile, though.  We don't know what other people are feeling.  People can be going through lots of things and appearances can be very misleading.  A friendly greeting can help, if only a little bit.

If the rain holds off and I see that woman at the game this evening, maybe I will get a chance to say "hi.".  I don't make any promises.  I use the quote as a guideline and, if anyone tries to engage me in silly small talk, I can't guarantee I won't growl at them.  I still have some work to do on my friendliness, I suppose.


The Ultimate Sale (Unless You Want A Blue Hoodie)

I was at a store today where a huge sale was going on.  It's not just huge, it's ultimate.  That's what they call it anyways.  I guess it's a pretty big deal.

I looked through the store and there was a lot of merchandise.  Some of it I didn't recognize as being items that the store would carry.  While I like this chain, I have noticed before that they seem to bring in items when they have sales.  I don't like that.  Still, there were some items I'd liked previously and they were on sale.  They didn't have all sizes though so I couldn't get the top I wanted.

I did find a blue hoodie that I liked.  Now, unless I want to break some record for blue hoodie/sweater/jacket ownership, I probably don't need another one.  But I would wear it and it looked nice.  I could use a fresh blue hoodie.  Couldn't we all?  Sadly, and I suppose I should have expected it, this item was not part of the sale.  Tables of mystery tank tops and weird, flouncy blouses that looked like they're in the store due to a shipping mistake were part of the sale.  Good solid hoodies were just not ultimate enough to be included, somehow.

Sometimes I think that my tastes are unpopular enough that I will do well in a sale or clearance environment.  Unless I have had my eye on something previously though, this rarely works out.  Maybe my taste is better than I think or maybe sales aren't always all they seem to be.  I can see the potential for making bad purchasing decisions when you're in a store surrounded by sale signs and items with substantial markdowns.  A lot of things can suddenly seem like a good buy.

I suppose that even in favourite stores, we as buyers still have to beware.  Stores want to sell us items and it's up to us to be selective about the ones we buy.  Maybe some day I will find that blue hoodie on sale and buy it.  It would get along well with the one I'm wearing now.


The Water Keeps Flowing

I watched Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk across Niagara Falls.  I found it incredibly inspiring although I'm not exactly sure yet what it inspired me to do.  I have no ambitions to do tightrope walking and now that he's done that, anything along those lines that I would do would seem anti-climactic.  So that's why I won't be trying anything like that.  Sure.

While watching the telecast, I also looked at the falls and the rock walls surrounding the gorge.  I was somewhat concerned that the shapes of the falls may be changing.  There are the two main falls, of course and I think of the American Falls as a straight line.  They are not straight now.  Whether that has changed in my lifetime or whether they never were as linear as I thought, I'd have to investigate.  But on Friday night, as I watched, I wanted efforts to be made to halt the changing landscape at Niagara Falls.  I wanted everything to stay as it is or perhaps even be somewhat remediated so it could look like it did a few years ago.  At some point, though I realized that's a ridiculous desire.

Niagara Falls would not look as it does were it not for the powerful water wearing away at the rock for periods of time that, even if scientists tried to explain, are difficult to comprehend.  Alongside the drive from Queenston into Niagara Falls, Canada, the river is a long way down and the gorge is wide. I would rather not look (also a reason I don't plan to walk tightropes).  Somehow, the water has carved out so much rock and left what we see today.  The power of the water has provided electricity for many years and another power plant is being built.   The humidity from the falls may help the beautiful flowers nearby grow so well.  If it were not for the water and its power, Niagara Falls would not be.  Water has given it to us.

The water keeps flowing down the Niagara River and over the falls.  It will keep doing so.  (I remember a time in my childhood when it was artificially stopped.  I don't know why and I don't know for how long that would be sustainable.  Certainly, the tourist industry wouldn't like it for too long.)  It will keep changing the landscape because, with its power, it can.

I suppose we have those moments where we forget our place in time and think that we can keep everything as it is right now, as if we will somehow be around forever to enjoy them.  Things don't work that way.  I have a few snapshots in my mind of what Niagara Falls looks like.  So do many other people but even if we could put them all together, we would have only a very, very small piece of the history of Niagara Falls.  We can enjoy the falls but we can't ask them or anything else, really, to stay the same.  Accepting this, we can let go of energy we use to hold back change and harness it so that in the relatively brief time we have here, we can make a difference, we can contribute to life in our ways.  We won't carve out natural falls (and many of us won't go on tightropes) but what we can do has beauty too.  And it is powerful.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

On Knowing How and Arch Support

I don't know if it's just me but sometimes I buy things, simple, seemingly straightforward things, and I find myself utterly confused about how to use them.  And I feel like there is not just some instruction sheet for the particular item I'm missing but some fundamental know-how that everyone but me has.  I feel left out.

The other day I bought Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Insoles.  I walk a lot and while I don't have terrible foot pain, I have some and I think it's time to be nicer to start being nicer to my feet. I didn't know which type of insole to buy and there wasn't one of those machines to tell me.  I decided to try the ones with arch support.

I took them out of the package the other day in eager anticipation.  Looking inside for instructions, I was disappointed to find that there were very few.  They only said to put the left insole in the left shoe, gel side down and, as one would expect, the right insole in the right shoe.  I would have figured out the left/right thing (way to go!) but I can't guarantee about the gel side down thing.  But they told me and that's fine.  I believe them.

The trouble started when I tried to figure out where in the shoe the insole goes.  They're not full length and I couldn't figure out if they went in the back or front.  The back seemed to line up reasonably well with my shoe.  Thinking that other people surely must have the same question, I looked it up on the computer.  I didn't get the impression that anyone else has ever had to ask.  I didn't see a lot of searches on this question and the Dr. Scholl's site didn't have diagrams or a FAQ for massaging gel insole placement.  Perhaps it really is just me.   

The information on the site would make it seem that my feet are a little different from everyone else's too.  Now, I know that I will never be a foot model (that dream is long dead) but I consider my feet to be at least a normal shape and the way my shoes fit suggests that I'm right about that.  Apparently though, these insoles are 3/4 length and don't need trimming.  The front of the foot and the arch are supposed to rest on them.  My foot and I would like to see how all of that really works.

Dr. Scholl may not have approved of the way in which I ended up putting the insoles in my shoes but I did my best.  At first, they felt ok when I was walking but that didn't last.  By the time I got to the grocery store, I was starting to get blisters and I had to take the insoles out.  I carried them home and haven't tried again.

I still don't know what the secret is to inserting Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Insoles.  Maybe the rest of the world does.  I know that they go inside shoes.  Beyond that, I'm missing the instructions that everyone else has.  For this, and perhaps for many other things too.  If someone could give me a copy of theirs, I'd be most appreciative.  I would love to read up on knowing how to do the simple things.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Paying Attention In Our Interesting World

It's good to have the ability to concentrate.  When we give someone our full attention, focus intently on a task we are performing or immerse ourselves in something we are reading, we give and take so much more from the experience than we do when we are not fully present in the moment.  I think it's worthwhile to try to concentrate well.

In concentrating well, though, we shut out distractions.  We have to.  There are so many.  In doing this, though, we miss things.  There's so much going on around us.  Some of it is amazing if we stop to think about it.

This year, it seems there are more birds than usual hanging out around our house.  A lot of them are robins and there are some magpies.  Judging by the way a magpie devoured a robin on the front lawn last week, I don't think that the two types get along well.  I suspect the threat of being eaten by someone would put a strain on a friendship but, thankfully, I don't know that from personal experience.  I do know that there is much activity that goes on in the bird world. From chirping to squawking, mysterious rustling in trees and the occasional chase, birds keep busy. To us, however, the sights and sounds of the birds are often a nuisance if they're noticed at all.  While they represent a fascinating piece of nature, we'd like birds to keep the noise down.

A sound that I hear right now, and which is so common to hear, is that of a plane.  Unless one sounds particularly low or loud, I don't think we notice planes much at all.  But each flight is so interesting.  Each one is made up of people who have their own reasons for travel - business, pleasure, family matters.  Some flights are smooth, some are kind of scary.  There may be pets very ready for the flight to be over and babies who think the whole thing was a bad idea (and they want everyone to know it).  As we go about our lives though, we barely notice a plane in the sky.  We don't consider all that is carried in each flight that goes by.

Living in a city, we often hear sirens.  We will never know why emergency services were called each time we hear their wail.  In some cases, they mean there is a serious crisis situation for people who live nearby.  We would care if we knew but we are not afforded the opportunity.  There can be so many reasons for emergency calls and again, to us, they become simply more noise to shut out.

We have to shut out these and other sights and sounds to concentrate.  But if we want to pay attention to them sometimes, they are there for us to notice and consider.  The world is so interesting, even right outside our doors.  And I think I'd better pay some attention to the birds around the house.  There really are a lot of them and I don't know what they're up to.  I don't want to end up like that poor robin.