Finally Done

Yes, I’ve finally finished my French training and I succeeded in getting the required levels, but I gotta say, it almost did me in. In theory, getting paid to go to school sounds like a marvelous lark. In practice, it’s a bird of an entirely different complexion.

Sitting in a tiny, airless room for 8 ½ hours every day with four other people, and an instructor, having one subject and one subject only pounded into your tired old brain day after day after day without a break isn’t as much fun as it sounds. And it’s not like real school where you can zone out when you get bored. No, you have to pay attention every second or miss something really important. Also, with only five people, you have to do a lot of participating.

Add to this the constant stress of tests every few weeks and, in my case, being in a class where everyone else was way more advanced… takes a toll. I had three colds in 7 ½ months! Normally, I get a cold once every five years or so. I also developed some sort of killer stomach acid problem and now have to take some nasty pharmaceuticals for a while and I don’t get to eat or drink anything good anymore.

 It IS cool that I can now have a simple conversation in French, but man – I wish they’d just let me go to France for those 7 ½ months for immersion instead.

So now I go back to work for a while and then at the end of June, I’m moving back to Toronto. XUP Jr. will be finished high school and is going on to post-secondary studies in the fashion biz in Toronto. I’ve got myself a transfer to our Toronto office. And… most of our extended family is down in that neck of the woods — so aside from all the lovely people I’ve met here in Ottawa, there is no reason for me to stay here.

Meanwhile, I finally have my weekends back, so I can catch up on the blogosphere a bit. There have been so many blogworthy events I missed out on.

À bientôt!!


Student’s Log: Stardate….something, something 2010

Well, French is every bit as consuming as I expected it would be. And then some.

However, my mole network informs me that my continued absence from the realm has been “tweeted” and then I made it to the finals in the Canadian Weblogs Awards, so I thought I’d better make an effort to try and justify all this attention. I only hope I can remember enough English to string together some coherent sentences.

Seriously. When I’m not being bombarded by French for 8 ½ hours during the day, I’m doing French homework or watching French TV or thinking about French or thinking about running away to France.  

It all occupies an incredible amount of headspace. There really isn’t room for anything else. I go to the grocery store at the end of the week and don’t know what I’m doing there. I stand in the aisle confused, scratching my head reading French labels, desperately trying to remember if “tofu” is masculine or feminine. 

Through some clerical error (or black hole in the stratosphere) I’ve been placed in an accelerated program with people who all know how to talk French already – at least they know a lot more than I do. So, the whole course is operating at warp speed. It’s like being shot in the head for 8 ½ hours every day with a submachine gun[1]. Most of the shots are through-and-throughs, of course, but a few fragments get lodged against some impenetrable spot in my brain.  

There’s a lot of leakage, too. (Leakage of wiki proportions.) I try to stop it, but some days I just get too tired and just sit back wearily, watching it all pool at my feet. 

Then other days, I miraculously seem to be able to speak enough French to hold a simple conversation for a short period of time. Or for no particular reason, I’ll remember an entire conjugation. Unfortunately, it never happens at the same time. It’s a crazy process. 

However, my classmates are a fine bunch and my teachers are very good and patient and I reckon if hundreds and hundreds of public servants can get through this program and pass their exams, then why shouldn’t I be able to as well. Right? 

So, I’d really love to stay and chat, but imparfaits beckon. And you’ll be as shocked to learn, as I was (I’m sure) that imparfaits have nothing whatsoever to do with delicious whipping cream, mascarpone, berries or chocolate!! 

Parfaits Recipe:

Blend into a cream: 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, 3 tablespoons icing confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Scoop into a parfait glass between layers of berries or other fresh fruit. Finish with the cream and sprinkle with shaved dark chocolate. You could also toss in some granola and call it breakfast. Or make the whole thing with yoghurt instead and call it healthy. Or leave the fruit and granola out and just have the cream with layers of dark chocolate and call it Really Parfaits!


 ________________________________________________________________ [1]  I don’t know exactly what that is, but I imagine it’s something that fires a lot of bullets all at once, really fast, without stopping.

Back to School

Since Canada is officially a bilingual country, a great deal of effort and expense has been put into ensuring that as many federal government employees as possible are bilingual. There is a particular emphasis on bilingualism here in eastern Ontario, in New Brunswick and in Montreal, Quebec – not only for government employees, but for anyone who wants a job anywhere that they are likely to have to deal with other human beings.

Most people living in these areas either grow up with two languages, go through school in French or English immersion programs, or learn the language later on in life at their own expense.

For federal government employees there are various opportunities to learn the second language at the employer’s expense and time. There several types of part-time courses you can take as part of your regular, annual learning plans or there is full-time French language training.

Unless you’re a senior manager/executive, it’s very difficult to get full-time French language training, for obvious reasons. Usually one of the only ways a regular employee can get French language training is to win a competition for a bilingual non-imperative position. Bilingual “non-imperative” means the position will be bilingual in two years, so basically, the person who won the position has two years to become bilingual or they lose that position.

However, I guess there is a large enough pool of federal employees who are already bilingual because about 10 years ago the public service more or less cancelled the “non-imperative” option for new positions, except in rare circumstances. This means that anyone not bilingual will have a very difficult time getting a government job and those who already have a government job will find it impossible to advance in their career if they’re not bilingual.

Once in a blue moon, however, the stars align and a department runs a competition looking for bilingual candidates and doesn’t find enough who are suitable. Then, after a lot of business case writing and justifying and pleading, they are allowed to run a “non-imperative” competition. I was lucky enough to win one of these non-imperative positions last year.

After a bunch of bizarre assessment tests, they determined that it would take me 30 weeks (7 months) to become bilingual to an acceptable government level. Now, eleven months later, they’ve given me a date to start my French language training. So, this fall, I go back to school.

Every day. Five days a week. Eight hours a day.  For seven months. To learn nothing but French. No vacations allowed.

I’m excited for the opportunity. I’m excited for the change. I’m really excited to become competent in French.

From others who’ve done the full-time language training, I understand it will be grueling; that you have to eat, sleep, breath and poop nothing but French if you want to pass the exams; that you have to take your exhausted brain home at the end of the day and do a few hours of homework every night and read French magazines, newspapers and books and watch nothing but French TV. I’ve never yet heard anyone say they had a great time.

I think it’s the grammar. I’ve done some French courses part-time and of course did French back in elementary and secondary school, so I have some idea of what to expect. French grammar is insane. Masculine, feminine, regular, indicative, subjonctif, imperative, conditionnel, imparfait, passé compose, future anterieur, infinitive, participle, words that have 12 letters, of which only the first 2 are pronounced, a lot of shrugging and pursing of lips… I may have to start smoking fat, smelly cigarettes, etc., etc.

Ah me. Can my ossified old brain handle all this? I don’t know. I hope so. I did offer to go to France for 6 months instead, promising to come back fully bilingual, but they wouldn’t go for it. Merde!

I definitely will have to immerse myself completely into this thing, though. And I’m pretty sure that’s going to mean I won’t have the time or the brain space to blog with any regularity – unless it’s to conjugate some French verbs and that would be kind of boring, I think. So, I probably won’t be around the blogosphere much. I probably won’t be doing much of anything, ever again, until next summer…… except maybe drinking… I might feel the need to do more of that…but only French wine or Cognac or Calvados or other French stuff.

We’ll see.

New Fall TV Line-up

Is the fall TV line-up the most eagerly anticipated event in your household every year? Ya….us too….

Remember when it actually was a bit of an event though? When the September Preview Edition  TV Guide would appear in your mailbox, twice or three times as fat as the usual TV Guides? And there would be pages and pages of write-ups and reviews of the exciting, creative new programs you could look forward to? And the new fall season would actually start right after Labour Day?

 Those were the days.

Now shows just start willy-nilly and almost none of them are exciting or creative. Fortunately, I’ve managed to pick out a few of the gems from among the various piles of programming turds. These are my recommendations:

The Omar Show:  Coming straight off his success with his “Omar” magazine (each month featuring Omar himself dressed in yet another dazzling white robe), The Omar Show is a daytime chat show like no other. Omar will grow his beard longer and longer as the days go by, taking the audience along on his beard-growing journey every step of the way. Then he will cut it short and start all over again. In between, he will share his philosophies, world views and stories about his abusive childhood in the ghettos of Kukuistan, which will be later refuted by the tabloids. Omar is mesmerizing. Everyone who watches Omar will immediately want to do his bidding. Omar is a force to be reckoned with. An explosive addition to the fall line-up.

Extreme Jeannie: This is a modern re-make of the 1960s hit comedy I Dream of Jeannie. There’ll be no scantily dressed harem girl obeying orders from her “master” in Extreme Jeannie however, because that would be sexist and not politically correct. Extreme Jeannie kicks ass in her own Bottle Factory, keeping her employee entourage of bumbling, idiotic, overweight, middle-aged men in line with her superior female intelligence and clever wit. Uma Thermos stars as Jeannie, burdened with a cast of guys who used to be the bumbling, idiotic, overweight, middle-aged guys on other sitcoms where they were married to sexy young things who kicked their ass.

The Orifice: Starring Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Whoopi Goldberg, Naomi Campbell, Kanye West, Rosie O’Donnell, John Mayer, Jesse James, Michaele Salahi and Sarah Palin with cameo appearances by a whole host of other celebrity orifices. This is a new, experimental format for TV —  filmed documentary-style and entirely without sound. The artistry lies in the back and forth panning from one soundless, gaping orifice to another. The cast’s contracts stipulate that as long as the show is on the air they are not allowed to speak publicly. This one is not to be missed. Really…or it will go off the air.

The Pervert: Combining the drug-addled charm and medical setting of House with the criminality of Dexter and the high-tech science of Bones and CSI, The Pervert is a seemingly quiet, unassuming loner who nevertheless says good morning to his coworkers every day. He works as a hospital orderly by day and volunteers at a crime lab in his spare time. Unbeknownst to everyone The Pervert never sleeps. He stays awake by consuming masses of amphetamines so he can spend his nights peering into the windows of women, sneaking into their bedrooms and stealing their soiled unmentionables, lurking in parks to watch young lovers, looking up women’s dresses with his shoe-cam and surreptitiously fondling hospital patients and nurses as he sweeps by them. He then uses his crime lab connections to plant his subjects’ DNA all over evidence so random people will get arrested for random crimes. The Pervert is a darkly disturbing drama that is sure to blow all the pretenders that went before it, right out of the water. A must-see.

Abstinence in the City: Coming to the new Holy Roller channel this fall, Abstinence in the City follows the dreary lives of a bunch of white people who never have sex, never talk about sex and never go out looking for dates. They don’t dress very well and never touch alcohol or cigarettes. Sometimes they get together for bible readings and tea or tend to each other when someone comes down with flu. We wouldn’t bother recommending this show except that the unintended double entendres and the crazy stuff they say about Obama, homosexuals, poor people and non-Caucasians will leave you rolling on the floor with laughter and despair.

So You Think You Can Drive a Bus: Season Three of this OC Transpo mega-hit kicks off in Barrhaven, where bus-driver wannabes from all walks of life try out for the country’s number one job. The auditions are grueling; forcing contestants onto old, leaky, overheated buses and making them drive around the city for an entire day (3 ½ hours), occasionally picking up some of those annoying people who hang around bus shelters. Contestants have the option of being 5-10 minutes ahead of schedule or 5-10 minutes behind schedule. Those who are punctual will be eliminated. Larry O’Brien is the season opener’s guest judge. Last year’s winner, Ellen DeRalstoness, also scheduled to be a judge this season, has decided to “pursue other opportunities”.

Hysteria Lane: Cashing in on the recent popularity of Twilight, Harry Potter, Ghost Whisperer and Desperate Housewives, this zany romp sees the “Smiths” moving onto a seemingly lovely normal middle-class suburban cul-de-sac. But the “Smiths” are no normal family. He’s a bumbling, idiotic but handsome and sparkling vampire and she’s an incredibly hot, sex-crazed, but wise, wizard. This madcap family gets crazier because they have sexy, twin teenaged daughters – one is a wizpire and one is completely mortal!! AND they have a baby boy, who maybe be a wizpire or may be mortal. No one knows — yet!!! The Smiths also have a big, lovable dog that sees ghosts. And there are a lot of ghosts, because it turns out the Hysteria Lane suburb was built on an old sit-com burial ground. This one promises to be the season’s runaway hit. How could it fail?

Lots: I’m not sure about this one because the pilot was a bit confusing. It’s about a motley crew of real estate agents who meet in a new, suburban mega-development to stage the homes and get them ready for showing. But all the houses look the same. All the streets (as yes, unsigned) look the same and they can’t find their cars, so they can’t get out. To make matters worse, the subdivision was built on a former forest so the place is fraught with danger from moose, skunks, foxes, black bears, coyotes and the occasional emu from a neighbouring farm. The real estate agents soon lose their highly-polished appearance and glib patter as they struggle to survive, discover frightening information about each other and hallucinate a little bit. I don’t know how this is all going to play out or how they’re ever going to end this one, but I predict it will have viewers glued to their TV sets each and every week, even if they go on an 8-month haitus somewhere along the line.

So, what are you looking forward to watching this season?

The Prisoners’ Dilemma

A post by The Daily G  the other day on cooperation and competition reminded me of The Prisoners’ Dilemma.

If you aren’t familiar with this, it’s a game theory developed in 1950 by a couple of math guys working at RAND  It gives players the option of cooperation or defection.  It’s a puzzle that, 60 years later, continues to be studied by philosophers, biologists, sociologists and politics (And bloggers, of course).

Prisoners’ Dilemma models have been applied to almost every form of human and animal interaction. Well-known examples from politics include arms races, income policies, trade bargaining, pollution reduction and exploitation of natural resources.

I don’t want to get into the complexities of game theory as a whole – mainly because I don’t understand it, and probably math geeks, game theory geeks, philosophers and all sorts of other people will be rolling over in their graves and laboratories at the mess I will make in talking about this. However,  I think the Prisoners’ Dilemma is interesting to think about on its own and perhaps as a model for examples of cooperative behaviour on individual levels.

The Prisoners’ Dilemma, as formalized by Albert W. Tucker goes like this:

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

 What would you do?

  • If you confess and your accomplice remains silent, you go free and your accomplice goes to prison for ten years.
  • If your accomplice confesses and you remain silent, you go to prison for ten years and your accomplice goes free.
  • If you both confess you will both serve five years.
  • If you both remain silent, you both go to prison for six months.

Your first reaction is probably to say that you should both just keep your mouths shut (cooperate) and serve only six months in jail — the best possible solution for everyone.

 But then you have to hope that your accomplice is thinking the same thing or you’ll end up spending 10 years in jail. Neither of you can rationally depend on the other to keep his mouth shut, so both of you have no choice but to defect/confess and go to jail for five years — even though cooperating would have been in your best interests.

You have made a decision that goes against your own best interests because it’s impossible for you to reach a rational cooperative solution.

It’s apparently almost impossible to get rational, selfish beings to cooperate for their common good.

This conclusion has astonished and dismayed social scientists because it seems to mean there is a fundamental flaw in the social fabric. People will not cooperate, even if it’s in their best interests to do so, because individual incentive trumps the collective incentive. This would sort of mean that we are hopeless as a species, wouldn’t it?

A lot has been written to refute what has been cited as the only possible solution to the Prisoners’ Dilemma. But I don’t know. Cooperation requires a great deal of knowledge of, and trust for the other person/group. And trust isn’t rational.

Anyway, I thought this would be something interesting to puzzle over and discuss during the weekend.

I wonder if we can come up with Prisoners’ Dilemma situations in our every day life that either prove or disprove the rational impossibility of cooperation?

The Skin You’re In

The French have an expression I love – bien dans sa peau.  The literal translation is “well in one’s skin”. It means to feel content, comfortable and at ease with yourself.

I love this expression because it conjures such a wonderful image of a strong, healthy, positive, happy person – a person without artifice, without self-consciousness, without acrimony.

The French seem to have a knack for it. So do some other Europeans. I haven’t seen it too much in North America. I suppose it has a lot to do different societal expectations. What is considered attractive in Europe is not the same thing as what is considered attractive here.

We seem to insist that everyone have straight, blond (unethnic) hair; an unlined, artfully made-up face; and be slim and gym-toned. In other parts of the world, different things are important.

Perhaps this makes it easier for them to be feel good about how they look, and because of how they feel, it makes it easier for them to look good. Because what is more attractive than someone who seems happy, healthy and confident?

Nothing, that’s what.

How about you? Do you feel comfortable in your skin?

It’s something to strive for, I think. And it shouldn’t matter what your shape or size is, or whether you look have the face of a model or a face that looks like a bag of hammers. If you feel strong and confident and healthy and happy you’ll feel good in your skin.

But can you still feel good about yourself if you believe others are looking at you and making judgments about you based on your wrinkles and bulges and other various and sundry flaws?

I think it gets easier as you get older to be more accepting of your body, regardless of what others might think of it. But there’s always something that causes a bit (or a lot) of discontent, isn’t there?

I usually feel pretty good about myself. I haven’t always. I was a shapeless stick until I was in my 20s. Then I developed some padding – not all of it where I wanted it, of course – but enough that people finally recognized me as female without a lot of intense scrutiny.

I don’t go in for a lot of fancy cosmetic products and like to keep my hair as natural as possible and that makes me feel good. But I have to say that I don’t feel so good if I don’t exercise regularly and eat right.  That padding I developed in my 20s seems to duplicate itself with each passing decade…. but still never where I actually want it, of course.

So, I have to be more careful about my diet every year and make sure I run regularly and make sure I get some strength and flexibility training in and just generally make sure I keep moving in between.

And when I get to where those habits become routine, I feel pretty good.  But then something interrupts that routine and I get lazy for a few weeks and then I don’t feel so good.

What do you suppose the secret is to feeling bien dans sa peau? How do those French do it? Coffee and cigarettes? Wearing black? Is it all a sham?  Do you know anyone who is truly comfortable in his/her skin? Can you ask them what their secret it, please?

My Prayer for Old Age

  1. May I keep my health and faculties to be able to enjoy a ripe old age.
  2. May I do my best to keep myself physically fit so I don’t have to spend most of my golden years in a doctor’s waiting room and/or in surgery.
  3. May I never become so enamored of my various medications and ailments that I  never do anything to help reduce my dependence on them and instead, spend most of my time listing them to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen.
  4. May I never get to the point where I believe I know everything and resist learning anything new.
  5. May I never assume everything new is bad and everything old is much, much better.
  6. May I always continue to keep up on current events, technology, trends, ideas and thoughts so I have something to discuss with others that doesn’t involve the olden days and so I know how to use my debit card before I’m standing at the check-out counter with 12 people behind me.
  7. May I continue to make it a point to spend time with younger, much younger and much, much younger people and listen to what they have to say.
  8. May I read something other than the tabloids and same five books I’ve enjoyed my whole life and may I watch a movie or TV show once in a while that isn’t like the movies or TV shows I usually watch.
  9. May I keep my mind open and accepting of things even if they initially shock me.
  10. May I continue to try new things even if they seem a bit weird at first.
  11. May I continue to challenge myself every day even if I feel more like just sitting on my sofa and watching TV.
  12. May I never, ever, EVER make “comfort” my only criteria for my choice of clothing.
  13. May I never get a “man haircut” just because it’s easier to deal with.
  14. May I never assume that just because I’m old I am automatically entitled to respect, deference, attention and discounts on everything. Instead, may I do whatever I can to earn that respect deference and attention from others, while taking full advantage of all discounts offered.
  15. May I allow my adult children and grandchildren to be adults and not constantly question, judge or render unsolicited opinions on all their choices and activities in life.
  16. May I allow my children to remember things that I, for some reason, don’t remember the same way.
  17. May I remember to have a sense of humour, even through my innate crankiness, while trying to make a distinction between being witty and just repeating the same tired, old quips that made people chuckle 30 years ago.
  18. May I not alienate friends and other people from my life because they don’t do things the way I think they should do them.
  19. May I ask for help from my family or friends if I need it and not assume they should automatically know when I’m in need and then criticize them for not being there for me.
  20. May I spend some time every month or so watching myself eat in the mirror to make sure I’m still able to do it without grossing everyone out.
  21. May I continue to make an effort to look groomed and clean and attractive and make the most of what nature and time has bestowed upon me.
  22. May I make it easy for my family to love me and want to spend time with me instead of them having to doing so out of guilt.
  23. May I move myself into a senior’s residence, or make some similar arrangement, long before my family starts to worry about me and check up on me daily.
  24. May I continue to laugh often and find enjoyment in life.
  25. May I open my windows every day to let the fresh air in and the old people smell out.