How (not) to leave a tip for your office cleaning staff!

May 24, 2010

I used to laugh at those stories about girls in the 1970s needing pliers to do up their jeans – not anymore! Turns out there’s a reason why fashion’s perennial pariah, pleats, were welcomed back as the prodigal pants of the 80s. The hippies thought they’d put an end to war too, but then along came 9/11 and the skinny jean trend, and we’re right back in the dark ages.

There I was, wedged into a cramped stall in our office washroom, enmeshed in an epic struggle with two stonewashed denim sausage casings – the kind of jeans you have to peel rather than pull. They’d been almost bearable when I’d ratcheted them on in the morning, but by our 4:27pm duel, my thighs had set stiff like a couple of cement filled foundation tubes. Ever been so claustrophobic you started fantasizing about jerry-rigging some primitive form of culotte out of old recycling bags and packing tape?

I’d just flushed (sorry TMI), and was jumping up and down, heaving on the waistband, when an odd thing happened. One quarter, one dime, and two pennies, popped free of my front pocket and dropped into the – still flushing – toilet. I watched the water swirl, then settle, leaving my small collection of coins adrift in the bottom of the bowl. I ask you this… What, pray tell, is the etiquette in this sort of situation?

I made an executive decision; I left a tip. I thought of sticking a post-it on the seat to explain, but what would I really say? That I my pants were too tight? That I think another woman’s dignity can be bought for a measly 37 cents? The office cleaning woman and I wear the clothes of different cultures, and now my jeans have driven another wedge between us. It’s no wonder the hippies were wrong about war – just think of all those stems and seeds they left for the rest of the world to clean up.


Liven up your fall letters with this quick and easy stationary project

November 3, 2009
Never underestimate the power of a pencil crayon

Graphic design secret: Remember to use odd numbers of each leaf

There’s still time to send off a couple of handwritten letters before the Christmas rush.  Not that you don’t have enough on your plate already, especially with that green and red Godzilla of holidays looming dark on the horizon (*), but the effect of a few heartfelt words and some pencil crayons can be just as magical for the sender as for the recipient. Of course, it’s also handy that leaves are a whole lot easier to draw (not to mention show up a lot better) than snowflakes.

Click here for time saving tips for writing and sending your own handwritten letters.

(*)Note: Do I sound a little jaded? You try staying festive (or even fully conscious!) after stocking hundreds of toxic, rubbery plastic ornaments at a Michaels Arts & Craft Store – one fateful October! And don’t even get me started on the Cinnamon scented pinecones that will haunt me till, till… oh the humanity!


How to use Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” to strengthen your own writing

September 24, 2009
The story after the excercise

The story after the exercise

A blazer from Reitmans can never be compared to the timeless beauty of a Dior couture suit. The former is common and disposable, the latter, immortal. But what makes the difference? Honesty.

The skilled and practiced hands of the atelier’s master seamstresses are not enough. They are helpless without true, precise measurements of a client’s body. To create a lasting piece of art one needs technique, yes, but also an open honesty about the human beneath the garment, portrait, or story. Only then can certain aspects be exaggerated and/or minimized according to the will of the artist.

Franz Kafka was a self admitted hypochondriac with Daddy issues, but he was also a genius at writing the human condition. The surrealism of his stories, just like any Jean Paul Gautier gown, is successful because it is structured on honest human underpinnings. In “The Metamorphosis” (man wakes up as bug… trouble ensues) Kafka brings a family of individuals to life through the careful layering of specific physical, psychological, and behavioral details.

It is these details that give his writing strength and universality. For any writer, the question of what to put in versus what to leave out is always daunting. Why not learn from the best? Take a pen and highlighter to your favourite story and note how the characters are built. What do we find out, and when? What flowers are in the window box? How long has it been since J—– washed her hair? This exercise will make you more aware of using detail in your own writing.

But always remember, even if your characters hold the measuring tape loose around their bustlines and pull it tight around their waists and hips, it’s up to you to sneak their true measurements into your text. Of course, the only way to do that is to start being honest about your own.

CLICK HERE to read summer 2013 posts at the new site address


How to capture a personality in a portrait

July 3, 2009

The two portraits below are of the same subject. The first uses setting, composition, and lighting to convey the subject’s personality. She is a quirky artistic type with hippie, as opposed to hipster, sensibilities and a great, snarky sense of humor. Photography is an excellent medium for portraiture because the subject can be directly involved in communicating how she/he sees herself/himself to the world. However, as in personality testing, this can also be a limitation. Honesty can easily become clouded by preconception.

The second portrait is a drawing of the same subject dancing. It was executed quickly, solely from memory. Both she and I were startled by the resulting resemblance. “Creepy,” she called it. And yes, the attitude and posture was eerily spot on. It’s a big risk to allow yourself to be seen through someone else’s eyes, and the results may surprise you, creepy or not. I invite you to try this exercise with someone you know. In our age of careful personal branding, there is an urgent need for the honesty of a pen, some colouring pencils, and a personal connection only art can prove.

Sometimes a picture can say a thousand words...

Sometimes a picture can say a thousand words…

...and sometimes a drawing can say a million more

…and sometimes a drawing can say so many more


How to golf in the snow…

June 9, 2009
Blizzards in June? That's Calgary for you!

Blizzards in June? That's Calgary for you!

There are swing issues, and then there are swing issues! Snow in June is definitely one of the latter. A frost delay this late in the year is one thing, and don’t even get me started on the time hubby and I got snowed in at Myrtle Beach (no joke!), but a powdery blanket of mother-nature’s-winter-gift-to-golf-widows can make a whole city cranky. So how do you golf in the snow? Thankfully, this time of year, the answer is easy…  Just wait for it to melt!


How to air-dry your clothes faster with this simple hanger trick

June 4, 2009
All it takes are two metal hangers and a twist of tape!

All it takes are two metal hangers and a twist of tape!

It was an emergency laundry situation. I had just gotten to work and realized I’d packed a less-than-spotless shirt for an evening event (50s party – long story). Washing it in the bathroom sink was no problem, but I needed a way to dry it in record time. Let’s cut to the physics…

More air circulation = Faster water evaporation

To create an air pocket between opposing layers of fabric, I bent two hangers (see photo) so that the horizontal hook of one hanger latched into the straight neck of the other. The resulting design was stabilized by the two lower V-shaped bends, which were secured with a twist of scotch tape into a bracing X shape. The new form successfully let air circulate freely throughout the garment, which was perfectly dry by my afternoon break. For some inexplicable reason, none of my co-workers seemed overly impressed. Sometimes, dear readers, there are things worth getting called “weird” for. And for this minstrel designer, being clean and dry is at the top of that list!

Side view

Side view

Top view

Top view


Current Blog Serial: Designing a Driving Range Club Carrier (Part One)

May 19, 2009
"Hmmm, wish I could use the range on my walk to work..."

"Hmmm, wish I could use the range on my walk to work..."

When faced with a problem, be it an inconvenience or a roadblock, we have two choices. We can either search available solutions and choose one to adopt, or we can move beyond the explored by designing a custom resolution in the form of a new system/device.

One of SavingCymbria’s main goals is to empower its readers by demystifying the design process. Let’s make creative problem solving accessible to everyone! Our economy has entered a state of flux, and it’s time to get creative about our futures. The days of going out to Walmart and buying cart-fulls of quick-fix gadgets are ending, and I couldn’t be happier! You are about to enter a whole new freedom – the freedom to design your own reality. Welcome home!

"If only there was an easy way to carry my clubs around the city...

"If only there was an easy/safe way to carry my clubs along the bike-path and into downtown..."

The first step in any design process is to clearly define the problem:

  • Lacking a convenient method for transporting 1-4 golf clubs (and minimal accessories) while walking long distances through both rural and urban environments.

Step two is to define the criteria of a successful solution:

  • A lightweight, hands-free, golf club carrier, of primarily waterproof fabric construction, that would hold 1-4 golf clubs, one glove, three balls, and keys/wallet/tokens/tees. The clubs would be suspended in an orientation that would maximize comfort and spacial control (for navigating bike-path/sidewalk crowds). The device would have attractive technical styling, and would be novel enough to attract the curiosity of interested buyers.
Note: Squatting mid-round for some ideation sketching is the quickest way to dull your tees, not to mention freak out the rest of your foursome!

Note: Squatting mid-round for some ideation sketching is the quickest way to dull your tees, not to mention freak out the rest of your foursome!

Stay tuned for Part Two to find out how my hair elastic gets involved…