Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fabulous February !

I've always been a "motif" kind of person. After my retirement and seeing an episode of "What Not to Wear", I eliminated much of the themed clothing from my wardrobe. Gone are the apple, pumpkin, and bunny shirts, the seasonal socks and most of the Christmas and Halloween earrings. My clothing is now more befitting an elderly retired person. Fortunately, I still have my tickle trunk full of costumes and my plastic bins containing specialized decor.   
My house often shows evidence of my former self. I love to decorate and celebrate. That's what life is all about isn't it? We celebrate. Sometimes, we celebrate our good fortune in waking up and living life another day. We celebrate our health and our history. Many of our most memorable celebrations take place with family and friends. What a joy it is to spend important and not so important occasions with special people.
February is one of the best, busiest months for celebrating. Not only is it the shortest month of the year, but it has holidays, events and festivities galore. February arrives as we are nearing the end of the long, cold, winter season. If you don't believe me, just ask the groundhog who thankfully predicted an early spring this year.

Not far behind Groundhog Day comes Chinese New Year, resplendent with dragons, loud drums and fireworks, parades and the colour favourite. Welcome to the "Year of the Rabbit."

Valentine's Day is a day of love. We see hearts, flowers and goodies everywhere and we like to share these with special people. It's a time to show extra kindness and give some added attention, particularly to those we care about most.

Many towns and cities have a "Winter Festival" in February. Some even include a polar bear dip for those brave souls who insist on plunging into the freezing water. Ice sculptures, skaters, horse drawn carriage rides and musical events abound.                              
And now, we have added a relatively new celebration to the February repertoire, "Family Day". Since this coincides with the American "Presidents' Day", we were fortunate to have family members visiting from New York this year. We had a lovely time, as we walked, talked, made plans, saw sites, played games and of course, ate. This was the true definition of not just a family day, but family weekend.  What a lovely culmination to a wonderful winter month.  
John and Karen on the beach

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Quest for Coffee

It's once again time for that annual national event called "Rrrrrroll up the Rim" at Tim Horton's. This marks the 25th anniversary of this particular contest and reminds me of a time when I too became a member of the Tim Horton's fan club.

I started drinking coffee at some point during my 50th year of life. Before that, I had no idea what would possess anyone to consume such a foul smelling and tasting brown mud. When I turned 50, as if by some evil spell, it became just a tad more difficult to wake up in the morning.  Moving as quickly as in the past became a challenge. In fact, I had no interest in rushing. My car pretty much started going the speed limit. If I annoyed the young nintendo game playing drivers behind me, so be it. I got there when I got there.

Someone at work suggested a boost of caffeine to help me face the day. I did not own a coffee pot, so I bought some instant coffee. For awhile, I gagged down one cup each morning and it seemed to do the trick. Occasionally a bottle of "Jolt" took its place. One day, a friend aked if we could meet at Tim Horton's after work. I had seen lineups at this donut shop and was always curious as to how every street corner in town could sustain such a facility. I agreed to go and selected an adulterated form of coffee beverage called "french vanilla capuccino". Since I've long been a vanilla addict, I quite enjoyed it.  From that point on, I was hooked. I too picked up the occasional coffee treat from Tim's.

There are those who claim there's an additive in Tim's coffee that has turned an entire nation into sheep. A ridiculous suggestion. I started to join the "drive through" generation..."baaaaaa".  I eventually substitued a lower calorie large, double milk, double sweetener, a lower calorie option for my french vanilla. I too began to pick up my Timmie's on my way to work, several mornings a week.

The following spring, I discovered that Tim's customers sometimes had the additional incentive of winning valuable, money, barbeques and the ever popular free coffee or donut. It was that time of year again. One year, when it got near mid April the cups started to run out.  Since I had not yet won a major prize, and since I'm a stubborn only child who at that time still had an overwhelming need to win, I became more determined than ever. I dedicated my days to locating any Tim's within a reasonable distance of home or work, seeking these magical containers. The most congested traffic areas naturally ran out of the cups quickly. As I was about to give up in disgust, I remembered a little known Tim's in the town where I worked. It took me an extra 20 minutes to get to my destination on that day, but it was worth it. As I drove through, I ordered my usual large, double milk, double sweetener. Oh no! I got the old brown cup. Then I spied it through the window! The most magnificent sight I had seen in days...roll up the rim cups in size extra large. My spirit soared. My head started spinning. After regaining my composure, I realized that there was only one option. I would not be dissuaded. I parked my vehicle.

I got out of the car, went inside and gleefully ordered "extra large, milk, double go". With my familiar. size large, brown, drive through cup in one cup holder and my brilliant red and yellow extra large in the other, I triumphantly drove to work. I also consumed more than my usual amount of caffeine that day. 

The famous cup
 I did never did roll up the rim of my final cup. I was worried that it would say "Try again" and I knew that I couldn't. Besides, as long as I didn't know, I hadn't lost.                                        
So now, it's "Rrrrrroll up the rim" season again. I haven't gone to Tim's much since my retirement. I think I'll have to do that one of these days, for old time's or maybe old Tim`s sake.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Computers for Dummies or Photoshop for Pros?

I am taking a photoshop course at the local college. The instructor is a lovely young woman and professional photographer. Prior to registering for the course, I spoke to her and asked how basic the information would be. She gave the appropriate response. People would be at various stages and could work at their own level. Even if some were more advanced, it wouldn't matter. I accepted this and registered.

Classes began. Last week, we were asked to bring our cameras. As everyone removed their hubble telescopes from their suitcases, I was trying to come up with an excuse to keep from unearthing the small Nikon from my purse. After looking around the room and noting that there were in fact a few people whose equipment was also dimensionally challenged, I produced my camera. As the instructor talked about settings, speed, f-stops, blurry foregrounds and backgrounds, I admired my automatic settings...the little face for closeups, the mountain for far away, the moon and stars for night shots, the dog for photographing...hmm...dogs? It was all I needed.
At yesterday's session, "retouching faces", I began working at my own level. After getting some help to turn on the computer, I entered my name and password. In fairness, the lights were off, my vision is old and it was too dark to see any kind of unmarked "on" button on a black computer. As I tried to access the Photoshop programme, the instructor began to talk about blowouts, RCB and opacity. I listened while searching for the correct programme. I looked for a handout which might contain this basic information and finding none, I continued to experiment. Why couldn't this be easy like my computer at home which has a Photoshop desktop icon? No such luck here and no info in my piles of notes. Nonetheless, I found the programme after my third try. Then I wondered whether I should go to to decipher the instructor's aforementioned terminology. I thought it better to listen and take profuse notes.

I scribbled as fast as I could for almost an hour, while attempting to watch an overhead screen to keep up. On this large screen, a photo of older woman's face was magically transformed with healing brushes, clone brushes, layers, eyedroppers, saturation, highlights, erasers and more. Her teeth were lassoed and whitened, skin evened, eyes brightened and wrinkles removed. Wrinkle removal? I was  listening even more intently. We then were shown how to use a marquis tool to move heads from one location to another and were shown how to shift the shape. "Select head, control C, over, then control B, select, copy, paste, lower opacity, erase, bring opacity up, final erasing, flatten layer, then save as....." I know this is accurate. I have no idea how to do it but I wrote it all down. I looked around the room and saw several other people with glazed over eyes.

Finally, it was  time to work on our own. I found a photo of myself and enlarged my face. Yikes! Scary at best, particularly when I couldn't get the magnifier to stop! I turned off the programme and started again. This time, I succeeded in stopping at 200%. After an extensive search of my face, I finally found a wrinkle I could attempt to remove. I tried to locate the "clone brush". There is no such thing, so I used the stamp...not bad if you don't mind white circles all over your photo. Next, I wanted to remove a stray hair which was blowing in the wind. Suddenly, I found myself depositing checkerboards everywhere  and what were those black globs where my hair should have been? I panicked, tried to erase but created more dark desposits. I looked around to see if anyone was watching and turned off the programme only to restart for a third time. At least I was locating Photoshop more quickly now. At this point, the instructor showed up to view my progress. She looked at my computer and curiously searched "history" to see what I'd done. Then she showed me how to create a "layer". I asked about the clone brush and was told, " Oh, it's a stamp. I forgot. You're doing well. Even if that's all you learn, it's o.k."

If what's all I learn? What have I learned today? I managed to find the computer "on" button, restart the programme several times and yes, there was that magnification of my face.

I noticed or perhaps imagined that the instructor avoided my seating area, spent a brief time with a few students who looked panic stricken, and then, finally settled herself in near the "smart kids". That was ok with me as I eventually started started frittering, fidgeting and fiddling. I studied the contents of my purse and consumed aTums I found near the bottom. I checked my phone, admired my new handbag organizer, clicked all my pens to make sure they would work and pulled out my notebook. While on the verge of tears, I jotted down a note "This is like trying to learn a foreign language. I have never felt so stupid and inept in my life....well, maybe I have."

I suddenly realized that I had in fact learned something today. It was something that I already knew, but had not thought about since my retirement as an educator. As a result of my current college experience, I remembered 'learning styles" and the importance of addressing these when teaching children or adults for that matter. I understood the frustration and sadness of those who have difficulty learning. I could see why they get distracted and fuss around. I sympathized with their reasons for giving up and not trying any further. I appreciated the all too frequent bathroom trips and  hurry to leave class at the end of the day. Children do not always have the tools, the knowledge, the means or the ability to deal with their own frustrations. Their learning deficiencies end up turning into a viscious cycle of failure when in fact, many of them are of higher than average intelligence. They are afraid to ask for help lest they appear "stupid".

As an adult, I don't have to sit back as my esteem crashes and burns. Next week, I will speak to the instructor.

 "Hi. May I speak to you for a moment please? As you have gathered, I don't understand much of what you're saying and doing. I'm afraid that I'm a lot like the rest of the human population who can only absorb between 3 and 10 minutes of technical information at a time. Would it be possible for you to slow down and not present all the new information at once. Or, could we possibly complete each step with you? For example, last week, it would have been helpful for me, if I had my computer on and the programme ready before you started to speak. Then perhaps, if I had my photo in front of me, I could have completed the editing steps along with you and tried to do what you were showing us. This would have helped me remember and understand the new information more readily......"

I'll try this grown up way of dealing with the problem before I am tempted to become a dropout.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

But, But, But...It Was Free !

I am retired, have not as yet begun my volunteering job and have taken only one college class in photoshop thus far. Since I recently had some extra frittering time, I became interested in another new challenge. It has the potential of being as time consuming as a job. We'll see how long I last.

A few years ago, I read an article in a local paper about a couple who won 83 prizes in one month. The prizes were worth over two thousand dollars. Their winnings included items that did not interest me in the least, baseball caps, soccer tickets and free downloads. I did however, find the concept fascinating and somewhat compelling.  I couldn't see spending the time and effort to submit thousands of contest ballots a month as this couple had. I did see merit in the idea of getting things free or at least at a reduced cost and thought that this would be a valuable use of some of my time each day.

Besides clipping, collecting and ordering coupons in my eternal effort to save money, I have begun to enter contests and have registered for free samples on several websites. Each day, I check my email, facebook and assorted sites for the samples of the day. As yet, I haven't rejected much and have dutifully filled out the form for almost anything that became available. I have sent for over 30 samples and as of today, have received one, just one, only one.  
Yummy...two cookie packettes and a coupon for a free box.
Interestingly enough, when you register for many of the free samples, they give you a tracking number. Imagine that. As if you were actually so worried about the location of your sample of "scaly foot heel balm", that you'd track it's daily progress on your computer and excitedly watch as made its way across the country.

After a few weeks of waiting, one delicious sample, pictured above, arrived. Perhaps I should have jotted down those tracking numbers after all.

I have two basic rules when I order free samples. I don't order items such as "free books". I have read the fine print and discovered that you are automatically registered in a book club requiring written cancellation. Should you fail to do this you will receive the next copy of your monthly book for the low, low price of $5.99 plus a mere $397 shipping and handling. Secondly, I refuse to give out my accurate birthdate. I see no reason for a company to require this information in order to send me a sample of fake nails or a new truck bed liner. So in this age of identity theft, I lie. I think it's more than enough that they know some form of my name, my home address and my junk email address.

As for coupons, there are many potential gathering grounds for these. I have determined that the ones available in grocery and drugstores are my favourite. They usually have the farthest in advance expiry dates. Newspaper inserts and websites that mail you coupons are also good. I learned that internet coupons that you print off yourself are sometimes a problem and are not taken at all locations. They are accepted at one of my favourite drugstore chains and despite the fact that it wasn't even seniors' day, I was able to amass these items with one of their coupons.
All this from just one coupon
So, I have randomly entered contests, requested coupons and sent for samples. I did not jot down my orders, but am fairly confident that any day my mailbox will be laden with enough cosmetics, perfume samples, paper products and food items to keep us clean, well fed and supplied with stocking stuffers and miscellaneous gifts for the next ten years.

I am now awaiting my contest prize of a trip to the West Indies, an Oscar party in L.A. with Elton John or if worst comes to worst, tickets to see the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Many of the free sample products appear to have something in common. They are definitely geared toward a target group....the females and the moms of the population. There have been some samples I needn't have ordered...but hey, the price was right. It was all free. As my mother used to say while knitting scarves from reclaimed socks and creating braided floor mats from shredded pantyhose, "You never know when you might need it some day." At least, that's the excuse hubby uses for all the hotel soaps and shampoos we've amassed.

Postal delivery usually comes around the same time each day. Since the neighbourhood is full of retirees, there is an afternoon trek to the super mailbox a block away.  Everyone eagerly anticipates their mail. Hubby takes advantage of the opportunity to socialize and walk the dog at this time. I wonder how he'll react the day that he opens the mailbox to find it overflowing with such treasures as a stress ball, hair dye, soaps, perfume, vitamins, stevia, baby food, wrinkle cream, GBG chewables, Dentyne gum, not to mention the feminine hygiene and incontinence products. I hope lots of neighbours are there to share that precious moment.