Monday, March 15, 2010

Re-Tinkling the Ivories

I played piano from the ages of 8 to 16. Unlike the kids you often see on TV and in movies, I actually wanted to learn it. If my memory is correct, I asked Mom if she would put me in piano lessons.

The things we don't appreciate in childhood. I enjoyed piano, but I never practiced as much as I needed to in order to excel at it. Piano lost out not to sports or TV, but to my #1 hobby - school! By age 16, I'd had it with piano. Super competitive, I was tired of being a merely average piano student.

In the intervening years, I have hardly touched a piano. But every now and then - like when I'm at a concert - I regret having given it up. When I got my first job after undergrad, I even dreamed of buying a second-hand piano and taking lessons again. But I never did, partly because I wasn't settled. How could I buy a piano for an apartment? Where would I be in 5 years? (DC, it turns out.)

Well, like I said in my last blog, I'm almost 30 and I'm still not settled! I still live in an apartment. I still don't know where I'll be living in 5 years. Just this past week, I sat down at a keyboard for the first time in years. I was with some classmates at our friend Everthon's apartment. He is quite musically talented and owns a keyboard (a nice one - not the '80s variety I'm sure you're picturing). At his urging, I sat down at it, but the only notes I've retained are the first bar of Fur Elise. Still - between hearing him and playing a few keys myself, it made me want to "re-tinkle" the ivories. Everthon tells me I can come by his place and practice every week if I want.

I'm going to take him up on that. As it turns out, a lot has changed in the 14 years since I gave up the piano! I've discovered there are "e-keyboards" you can practice on and online exercises to learn notes. I've been practicing the last few days - already my ability to read music is coming back. I can also download and print sheet music, so no more having to buy music books (apparently artists and publishers aren't safe from being ripped off in any capacity). I've already located a bunch of beginner pieces. I'm going to start fresh - I have to remember "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" before I can get back to Mozart.

My ambitions are modest. For now I'd like to be as good as I was when I was about 12. I'd like to be able to play simple arrangements of classical pieces. Who knows? If it goes well, I might just buy myself a second-hand piano without waiting until I'm..... GASP!...... settled.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Miss Catherine

There's an 88-year-old lady who lives in our building. Her name is Miss Catherine.

Miss Catherine - and I'm assuming that is Catherine with a "C" - is as familiar a presence as the reception staff. When we moved in last August, I noticed the same elderly lady always in the lobby. Sometimes she'd be sitting on one of the couches or chairs. Other times she'd just stand by the reception desk and talk to whoever was working. I'd often wondered why she spends so much time in the lobby talking to building staff.

I found out one day last fall when I was getting coffee in the club room. Donovon, my favorite reception person, was also there and he told me the building was hosting a party for Miss Catherine to help her celebrate her 88th birthday. He said she had no one to help her celebrate. She'd never married, never had children and didn't even have any family in the area. Her birthday party was lovely - it was a catered affair and there was even a Wii for entertainment. Miss Catherine might not have tried the Wii, but she seemed to enjoy all the attention. We sang "happy birthday" to her and there was a beautiful cake. Though I know her name now, I still haven't talked to Miss Catherine. Maybe I should. Whenever I pass her in the lobby, I smile and say "Hi Miss Catherine", and she smiles and says "hi" back. But I'd love to talk to her and hear her story. It was only yesterday in the club room that I heard enough of her conversation to realize she's from the south.

Why am I writing about Miss Catherine months after her birthday party? Lately, I find myself thinking about her more often. Maybe it's an "about to turn 30 thing". Next month I will hit that major milestone. And I find myself doing what many people do at a milestone age - comparing where I am in my life to where I thought I'd be. Thirty used to sound so old. I can remember my parents being in their early 30s. How did I become this age?

And I confess, as someone who has always said she doesn't want children, part of me fears ending up like Miss Catherine. In 50 years, will I be the lady in the apartment who wiles away the hours sitting in the lobby and talking to whoever is around? I left home and don't intend to return to NL (though clearly much can change in 50 years!). Will I be that woman who doesn't have any family to turn to? Nobody to depend on? It seems infinitely sad to me; I wonder if Miss Catherine is happy with her life. She doesn't seem unhappy - but a smile can hide a lot. All the more reason to get to know her.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Boredom Banishment

I haven't been bored since Grade 3.

And I say that in all seriousness. I'll never forget my 3rd Grade teacher, Mrs. Edgecombe, telling us that "if you're bored, you're stupid." Her point was that if you're bored, you don't have enough imagination to come up with something to do. I can't remember anything else from Grade 3, but I do remember that. It has never left me. I remember telling Mom about my teacher's comment - she thought it was a bit harsh to say to a bunch of 8 year olds! Nonetheless, I should thank Mrs. Edgecombe because I don't believe I've uttered the words "I'm bored" ever since.

I've been reminded of my no-boredom rule these past few days. I see some people on Facebook with status updates that mention how bored they are with all the snow days. Cabin fever I can understand. Boredom - not at all. I just don't understand how it's possible to be bored when there are so many things to do, even when one is stuck inside. There are books to read, TV shows to catch up on, movies to watch, recipes to try, friends to re-connect with.... the list goes on and on. Maybe I say that because quiet time has never bothered me. I can always find something to do around the house. Even if I didn't have school work to catch up on (or get ahead of) and cover letters to write, I'd be working on my Chinese or reading. And if I was "bored", I'd relish it! Our MBA program is so demanding - why complain about some unexpected downtime?

Speaking of Chinese, that reminds me of another time when others complained about boredom that never came for me. When I arrived in China, I was told that the teaching schedule would be so light that I'd be left with a lot of time to fill. Guess what? I got a second job, started learning Chinese, travelled, blogged and read more for pleasure than I had in years. I don't believe in being bored. In fact, I'd feel embarrassed writing this as my Facebook status: "Amy is so bored!!" Everything about that is wrong.

Besides, it looks like the so-called "boredom" will end tomorrow. We usually don't have class on Friday, but our cohort has a make-up class in Macroeconomics (a make-up for the Monday holiday, not the snow day - yet). The break was nice while it lasted.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Round 2: Snoverkill

It's official: This is the snowiest winter in DC's recorded history. Wow. 54.9 inches have fallen on DC so far this winter (about 140 cm). This in a city that I was told gets a couple of inches of snow each year.

Apparently, there hasn't been this much snow in Washington since, well, George Washington lived here (see last paragraph of this CBC article).

Last Friday/Saturday, we got about 2 feet. Yesterday Round 2 started and it's still coming down. This latest storm was quickly christened "Snoverkill" by the Washington Post. People are clearly enjoying coming up with names for each new storm.

Finally, though, I'm seeing a benefit to all this snow - Snow Days! I'm no stranger to Snow Days (unlike some in our MBA class), but I don't recall ever having 3 in a row before. Classes have been cancelled this entire week. I know eastern NL also had a blizzard last weekend - but I'm sure everyone was back to work and school on Monday. DC just can't cope with all this snow. I ventured out a few times between storms and it is crazy. Streets are still horrible. Trees have been knocked down (many people lost their power over the weekend - I'm hoping ours stays on during this latest round).

I feel like there may be a market here for teaching people how to cope with snow! I'll start with these tips:

1. It might be an idea to dig your car out while you still can.

Walking around yesterday, I was amazed at the number of cars still buried under the weekend snow. Maybe these people are not planning on using their cars until spring. Or maybe they don't own a shovel. Here we have Exhibit A:

This won't be fun after the snow/sleet expected during Snoverkill

2. You cannot drive over 2 feet of snow. I repeat: You cannot drive over 2 feet of snow.

I thought I was going to throttle someone on Sunday night. For about an hour, all I could hear was some dude (assumed it was a dude), killing his car trying to drive his way out of the snow. All you could hear was the squeal of tires going nowhere. Stop being lazy and get out and shovel! Based on a comment a classmate made on Facebook, I'm guessing he wasn't the only one attempting this. It's probably impossible with snow tires; definitely impossible without them.

Which brings me to my third suggestion....

3. Consider investing in snow tires.

Sure, they're expensive. Sure, DC might not see another winter like this for 20 years. But why take that chance? Weather is becoming bizarre the world over. I really don't know how people are driving at all in this with their "all seasonals". All this snow would be nasty for home. It's downright treacherous in a place where people aren't used to it and the plows can't keep up with it. Thankfully it seems most people have heeded the advice to stay home today.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snowpocalypse Aftermath

When I moved to Washington last July, I don't think it ever occurred to me that not only would DC experience a snow storm the same weekend as NL - but that the DC storm would be worse.

If I was a betting person, I wouldn't have taken that bet.

My first winter in DC is marked by the city's largest snowfall in 90 years. Yes, I said 90 YEARS. We got about 2 feet (60 cm) of snow. And guess what? They're forecasting more snow for Tuesday and Wednesday. This might actually stick around for a while, unlike the snowfall I missed in December. And Washington doesn't have the capability to remove it quickly like St. John's/Mount Pearl does. Looking out my window, the streets still - 24 hours later - look pretty hard to navigate.

I've been a bit of a snow grinch. Some people are positively giddy about it, perhaps because it is so rare here. About 1,000 people descended on Dupont Circle yesterday for one huge snowball fight (hopefully no cops pulled guns at yesterday's fight). Snapshots of "Snowmageddon" - as President Obama termed it - are going up on Facebook as fast as people can take them.

I don't know - maybe 29 years of this has made me a bit fed up. I thought I was moving to a place that got at most a few inches of snow every year! I'm also not at all prepared in terms of "winter wear". When I packed my suitcase last year, I never would have dreamed I should pack winter boots. Even the winter jacket I have here was reserved for "not too bad" winter days at home. At least I no longer have a car to shovel out. And for what I'm paying for my apartment, they'd better do a good job of keeping the entrance clear.

Take my complaints with a grain of salt! Obviously, what the mid-Atlantic is experiencing is nothing compared to what is happening in other parts of the world - notably Haiti. This is a novel experience - I was part of one of the worst snowstorms to hit DC in a century. And you know what? In August, when the mercury approaches 100 F and it's too hot to be outside, a snowstorm might not seem like such a bad thing.

Some pictures taken from my apartment:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Preparing for Snowpocalypse

At home, 2 feet of snow is called "winter"....

In DC, it's already being billed as "Snowpocalypse" - Part 2, I guess. I missed the huge snowstorm that brought the city to a halt right before Christmas. Well, apparently I haven't entirely missed my chance to see Washingtonians freak out about snow. The forecast is calling for snow starting tomorrow morning (Friday) and continuing into Saturday. There could be 2 feet of accumulation when it's all over. NL can deal with that; DC not so much. The city could be shut down for days if it's as bad as they're predicting.

So, I rather belatedly realized today that I should go to Trader Joe's and stock up on groceries. Big mistake to leave it so late. I realized it as I was walking toward TJ's and saw the huge line of cars trying to get into the underground parking. Wow - I've never seen anything like it in my life. The line-up for the cash literally wrapped around the store twice. Trader Joe's is busy on an average day - it's not uncommon for the line to go right to the back, though it moves quickly. Well, tonight it wrapped around twice and that included people snaking through the middle aisles. It was crazy. I might as well have shopped for my groceries from the line. As it was, I had to constantly say "excuse me" to get around people in the queue. It wasn't all that orderly either - by the time I got to the cash register, I'd had 3 different people in front of me.

It's funny how seeing all the people made me start to panic! Well, "panic" is probably too strong a word. Let's say I became quite concerned with having enough provisions for the next few days in case everything is shut down. Between that concern and the crowds, I was just throwing stuff in my basket without even looking at the price. I ended up spending about twice as much as I usually do. I pity anyone who left it until later tonight to do their shopping - Trader Joe's was running out of some things when I was there at 5 pm.

I'm kind of excited about being hunkered down for my first DC snowstorm! I admit that my roommate (from Michigan) and I are somewhat amused by the panic.... but we do understand that this really isn't "winter" as DC knows it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ramblings of a Grammar Snob

It's 2 am and I ruined what promised to be my one decent night's sleep this week by falling asleep earlier over a marketing case.

So what else does one do at 2 am if not look up grammar rules?

My MBA study/work team got a case analysis back today and the professor noted our incorrect use of capitalization after a colon. Now, as an English major, I take great pride in my knowledge of grammar. I'd always thought that independent clauses that follow a colon should be capitalized. Here's an example from our paper:

"To keep costs low, SWA [Southwest Airlines] focuses primarily on minimizing aircraft turnaround times: Every minute on the ground is a minute the company is not making money."

The prof noted that it should be "every".

Although our grade wasn't affected, I was still curious as to who was right, so I did some research (i.e., I googled it). I conclude that it's more of a style issue: O(o)ne could argue that we were right! The following is taken from here.

"There is some disagreement among writing reference manuals about when you should capitalize an independent clause following a colon. Most of the manuals advise that when you have more than one sentence in your explanation or when your sentence(s) is a formal quotation, a capital is a good idea. The NYPL Writer's Guide urges consistency within a document; the Chicago Manual of Style says you may begin an independent clause with a lowercase letter unless it's one of those two things (a quotation or more than one sentence). The APA Publication Manual is the most extreme: it advises us to always capitalize an independent clause following a colon. The advice given above is consistent with the Gregg Reference Manual."

(Emphasis added - and obviously the writer of that paragraph doesn't follow APA.)

Anyway, the ramblings of a grammar snob at 2 am!