My Taste Is All In My Mouth

A couple of years ago I confessed my utter failure as an interior designer in Fail! and Fail! Part Deux (Or Is That ‘Duh’?).  It was embarrassing, but at least after I departed that career long ago (to everyone’s relief, including my own) I figured I was pretty safe from future colour-related embarrassment.  After all, there are lots of other people who can’t create attractive colour schemes, and they get through life just fine.

And I have gotten along fine, other than a minor issue twenty years ago with house paint that turned out to be a revolting pale candy-pink instead of off-white.  (But I was the only one who had to live with that particular mistake; so no harm, no foul.)

But this week my self-esteem got slapped down again:  At the dollar store, where I was buying balloons for Hubby’s aunt and uncle’s upcoming 60th wedding anniversary.

The clerk paused halfway through ringing up the sale.  “Are you sure you want these purple balloons?” he asked.  “Were you looking for black instead?”

I whipped out my reading glasses (which I obviously should have been wearing in the first place).  Sure enough, the balloons that looked black in the package were clearly labelled ‘purple’.

“Yes,” I said with relief.  “Thank you!  I’m really glad you caught that.”

He smiled.  “I figured you must have gotten them mixed up.  Purple didn’t go with the other colours you’d picked out.”

I stood gaping wordlessly.  The other two colours were pearlescent gold and dark red.  He was right:  The third colour was supposed to have been black; but I would have thought deep purple, dark red, and gold would be fine together.  It certainly wouldn’t have occurred to me to question somebody about them.

Maybe he knew something I didn’t.  Maybe the balloons are actually vivid purple and screaming red when they’re inflated. But I still wouldn’t have flagged that as a mistake; I would have just assumed someone was decorating for a Red Hat event.

(And now I’m giggling, because if you follow that link to the Red Hat Society site, there’s a heading in ornate script that reads “How It Farted”…  Okay, fine; it actually says “How It Started”, but I can’t help seeing ‘farted’.  Clearly I’m childish as well as colour-impaired.)

Anyway, it’s a sobering thought that even a middle-aged male dollar-store employee has better taste than I do. I’m comforting myself with the fantasy that he’s actually a talented designer moonlighting as a store clerk for amusement, between his lucrative contracts with upscale clients.

At least the party decorations will look okay, because I didn’t choose the colour scheme — I was only the minion dispatched to buy balloons.  So with any luck I’ll make it through another decade or so without any further hue-miliation.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go and eat some of the yummy cinnamon pinwheels I made the other day.  At least I know there’s nothing wrong with my taste there!

Cinnamon Pinwheels
This recipe is tasty but not too sweet… like a cross between a biscuit and a cookie.  (So you can eat lots!)

1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup milk

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix to form a soft dough. Sprinkle worksurface with flour, sprinkle dough lightly with flour, and roll out into a rectangle about 12″ x 20″ and ¼” thick1.

1¼ cups brown sugar
½ cup flour
1 egg
Enough milk to make it spreadable (start with about 2 teaspoons and add more as needed)

For the filling, mix the flour and sugar thoroughly, then mix in the egg. The mixture will be damp and crumbly. Add enough milk to make it barely spreadable. (Too thin and it’ll all run out before you can get the pinwheels on the pan.)

Spread the filling over the dough rectangle, being careful to push the filling out to the ends; but leave about ½” of the dough bare along the long edges at the top and bottom. Sprinkle liberally (or to taste) with cinnamon.  You can also sprinkle on nuts or raisins if you like.

Cut the dough rectangle into quarters2. Beginning from one of the long edges in the middle (yes, the gooey part), roll the first quarter like a jellyroll, out to the naked edge of the dough3. Slice the roll into rounds about ½” thick4 and place them on a parchment-covered baking sheet with lots of space to expand5.

Bake at 350°F approximately 15-18 minutes, or until lightly browned. (You may have to adjust the baking time considerably, depending on how big and thick you’ve cut your pinwheels.)


1 Despite the layer of flour underneath, the dough usually sticks to the counter when you roll it out. Don’t panic. You’ll have a ridge of loose flour along the edges of the dough rectangle after you’ve rolled it out, so just take a thin metal egg flipper… (Spatula? Whatever those things are called.) …and slide it through the flour and under the dough. It’ll push the flour underneath and free the dough at the same time.

2 This will give you a roll about 1½” in diameter, which yields a baked pinwheel about 2″ to 2½” in diameter. If you want bigger pinwheels, you could make larger rolls.

3 Only do one roll at a time, and only slice as many rounds as you need to fill your pan. If you roll and slice the whole thing, the filling will ooze out before you can get it all baked.

4 You could cut the rounds thicker if you want a more ‘biscuit-y’ size and texture, but I prefer them more cookie-like.

5 Don’t worry when the roll squishes flat and your pinwheel looks like some weird alien/amoeba thing. Just lay it out on the parchment and push it approximately into shape. When it bakes it’ll go back to being roundish.

Fail! Part Deux… Or Is That ‘Duh’?

Last week I began the sordid confession of my failure as an interior designer.  Here’s the rest of it:

The very first project we were assigned in university was ‘design cards’:  Once a week we were given a short paragraph describing a design concept.  We were to choose or create artwork that illustrated the concept, mount the artwork on the card, and copy the paragraph in our best drafting hand.  The only guidance we were given was, “It should look like a piece of jewellery”.


Apparently I’m not good at designing jewellery.  Most of mine looked more like “a piece of shit”.

The card that launched me to the front of the class for public ridicule was titled “Texture”.  I’d had a brilliant (or so I thought) idea:  ‘Way back in grade school we had rolled coloured tissue paper into small balls and glued the balls to a backing to create a textured design.

So that’s what I did, in a tasteful blue-green that was the current colour fad at the time.

The professor was Not Amused.  (In fact, I seem to recall him asking, “Is this a joke?”)

I still don’t understand.  I thought it illustrated texture perfectly.

My near-failures mounted, mercifully blurring together in my memory.  The only other one that stands out was a study of structure, in which I attempted to create an archway by gluing sugar cubes together.  ‘Nuff said about that.

It soon became obvious that I should be either ejected from the faculty or euthanized to prevent further suffering to both me and the interior design profession; but Fate (vindictive bitch that she is) had other ideas.

Halfway through second year my mother died of cancer, and the professors were far too sympathetic.  They cut me some slack and didn’t fail my crap projects outright; and in the ultimate irony, my stellar marks in all the non-design courses dragged my grade-point average high enough to land me on the Dean’s Honour Roll.

Then came fourth year.  By that time I knew I sucked, but I didn’t know what to do about it and I didn’t realize quitting was an option.  I struggled with my thesis all year and finally handed in a steaming heap that reeked so badly even the most merciful professor couldn’t find enough redeeming qualities to pass it.

I failed.  I’d never failed anything academic in my life.

With characteristic bullheadedness, I slogged away at it until they finally granted my degree; probably because the professors were sick of the sight of me.  It certainly wasn’t for the merit of my work.

And so I was unleashed on the unsuspecting design community.

I won’t go into all the humiliating details.  Let’s just say that by the time one of my employers announced in a staff meeting that “Diane can’t design her way out of a paper bag” (her words verbatim), it was almost a relief to have it confirmed aloud.

I switched to drafting and project management, which I enjoyed and was good at; and from there I transitioned into an IT career I loved.

The funny (or sad) thing about all this is that I could probably have done all right in almost any other career.  I’m actually good at quite a few things, but design is just not one of them.

And after that convoluted career path, I’ve ended up writing novels for a living, which is the best career yet.

I love happy endings!


Well, it’s taken nearly 35 years; but I think I’m finally ready to laugh about my interior design days.

The handwriting was on the wall right from the start: I wanted to take engineering, but my mom suggested interior design instead, “So that when you get married you can make a nice home for your husband and family”.

So this country-bumpkin kid moved to the Big City (Winnipeg, Manitoba – a veritable mecca of highbrow sophistication) and attempted to obtain a degree in interior design.

It didn’t go well.

Let’s just say I was at a bit of a disadvantage, since I’d never even heard of Architectural Digest (or any design magazine) and I’d never been inside any professionally designed home or office.  Far from it:

Our house on the farm started out as a 16’ x 20’ shed that my dad bought for $450 in 1957.  He and Mom gradually enlarged it into a comfortable and modern home, but they didn’t have a lot of budget for extras (like indoor plumbing, which we got around 1970).  The “interior design features” consisted of sparkles in the sprayed-on ceiling texture and a long strip of finished plywood that concealed the fluorescent lighting tubes in the living room.  (That lighting valance was the pinnacle of discerning taste.  We always referred to it in capital letters:  “The Valance”.)


Imagine, if you will, our first interior design assignment at the University of Manitoba:  “Design your dream bathroom”.

For me, a “dream bathroom” was any bathroom with a flush toilet.  A “fantasy bathroom” would be one in which the shower pressure stayed constant instead of diminishing to a trickle before blasting out with enough force to peel the skin off your body when the pressure pump kicked in.

So I picked out some nice brown tile that looked as though it wouldn’t cost too much, and drew up a bathroom with… *gasp*  an infrared heat lamp in the ceiling!  It was the most decadent thing I could imagine.  And my bathroom had a separate shower stall in addition to a standard 30” x 60” bathtub.  What luxury!  The brown tile seemed like a practical choice, so I used it on the floor, ceiling, and all the walls.  My coloured drawing elevations looked like giant chocolate bars (or some other brown substance).

The interior design department had a sadistic tradition of displaying all the finished projects on the studio walls so we could learn from each other’s work.  In addition, particularly good and/or bad projects were held up by the professor for discussion at the front of the class.

My bathroom didn’t make the ‘particularly bad’ list (though I did make the shit list on a couple of other occasions, to be confessed in future posts).

But the ‘particularly good’ bathroom that was held up as an example?  Mind = blown!

It had acres of creamy tile accented with green and purple, and a giant sunken tub surrounded by pillars.  There was probably a toilet in there, too, but I don’t remember it.  I was too stunned by the grandeur of the tub.  I couldn’t conceive of such an extravagance of money and space.

I think I got a ‘C’ on that project, which I’m pretty sure was given out of pity.  But there was much worse to come…

…Stay tuned for Fail! Part Deux (or is that ‘Duh’?)

No Pressure…

The past week just flew by while we were on Vancouver Island!  Stress levels were high, but fortunately even the things that seemed catastrophic at the time turned out okay in the end.  Y’know; small details like our lawyer informing us that a few hundred thousand dollars of our cash had apparently vanished into thin air.

*takes some deep calming breaths*

It turned out our money was in a different trust account than they usually use and everything was actually fine and dandy, but I nearly had a brain aneurysm in the few hours that elapsed between receiving the email saying “Hey, we don’t have your money” and the phone call saying “It’s okay, we do have your money after all”.

Once the land purchase closed (hooray, we’re landowners!) we met with our project manager and subcontractors a couple of times for coordination, but our only real responsibility was to supply the layout for the house.

No problem, right?

You’d think that somebody who’d spent 12 years as a designer would be thrilled by the chance to design her own house.  But did I mention I totally sucked at that career?  Yes; yes I did.  (Mention it, I mean.  Well, and I sucked at it.)

But I tackled the job anyway.

For the past 18 years I’ve delighted in cursing the idiocy of the unknown person who designed our current house; but it’s a whole different story when I’m the idiot designing the house I’m planning to live in for the foreseeable future.  Suddenly design flaws aren’t nearly so entertaining.

I tossed and turned at night, my brain buzzing.  The crisis-point occurred around midnight the day before the plan was due, when I sprang out of bed with the sudden realization that I hadn’t included a guest room on the main floor!

Cue the trumpets of the apocalypse!

It’s amazing how the relative importance of things gets blown out of proportion when you’re sleep-deprived.  Hands shaking, I fired up my CAD program and pushed walls around until I finally achieved a guest room around 1:30 AM, then crept back to bed secure in the knowledge that I had averted disaster.  Probably.



The floor plans are with the builder now, but I have a squirmy sensation in my stomach every time I think about them.  I’ve undoubtedly forgotten some critical thing that will haunt my nights and make me slap myself in the forehead every day for the next 20 years or so.

But I’ve still got a few days before the final sign-off to figure out what I’ve done wrong and fix it.

No pressure…

Have you ever designed your own house?  How did it go?  (Or is it better for me not to know?)

* * *

New discussion over at the Virtual Backyard Book Club:  Colour-Blind?  What race/ethnicity do you ‘see’ in fictional characters?  Click here to have your say!

Colour Me Psychotic

Even though I’ve mostly recovered from my ill-fated career as an interior designer, I’m still fascinated with colour.  You’ve got to be impressed by the way something that simple can drive people to the brink of psychosis.

This isn’t just my usual hyperbole – studies show that while most people become agitated and anxious when enclosed in a bright red room, individuals with some forms of psychosis actually become calmer when surrounded by such an “angry” colour.  (I’m not going to speculate on the meaning behind the bright orange-red walls in the last interior design office where I worked.  They were probably trying to tell me something.)

But my favourite form of colour psychosis can be observed in paint stores.  I’ve seen couples nearly come to blows over whether their walls should be painted “Prairie Light” or “Paper Lantern” – two off-white swatches that look slightly different when held side by side, but will in fact be indistinguishable once the entire room is painted.

Maybe that’s why I never did well as an interior designer – I could clearly discern the differences between the colours; I just couldn’t discern any reason why it mattered.  If I painted their living room without telling them, that couple would never be able to tell which paint colour I’d used, and within a few months they wouldn’t remember either of the names anyway.

I don’t understand why paint manufacturers give their colours such ambiguous names.  What colour is “Wayside Inn” anyway?  Red?  Brown?  White?  And who’s going to remember it when it’s time to buy more paint?

They need more memorable names, like the one my dad used to describe an unpleasant murky brownish green:  “Shitbrindle”.  (My dad never used vulgar language.  Ever.  This is another example of colour psychosis.)

Or my step-mom’s name for that particularly nasty shade of green that was popular in the 70s:  “Goat-Vomit Green”.  Or my neighbour’s comment when he first laid eyes on the nice bronzy yellow I’d chosen for our entry walls:  “Baby Shit”.  (Da Blog Fodder more tastefully names it “Calf Scour”, which is essentially the same thing but you have to be a farmer to get the joke.)

There’s even an (unintentional) app for generating memorable paint names.  Here are my favourite autocorrect colour translations from DamnYouAutocorrect:

Fuchsia = Fuckweasel

Persian Red = Period Red

European Sunrise = Effervescent Shitstain

Smoky Ridge = Smoker’s Teeth

Periwinkle = Period Tinkle or Pussywrinkled

Any time I’m out with my friends, somebody is sure to point at a fuchsia blouse and whisper “fuckweasel”.  And seriously, who wouldn’t want their walls painted with “Effervescent Shitstain”?

I think the paint manufacturers are missing out on a huge untapped market here.  They should print up their swatches with the colour formula on the back, and skip the naming entirely.  Then they could maintain a database where they record the colour names their customers provide.

‘Cause let’s face it, you’ll probably forget “St. George Island”, but “Atomic Vomit Green” will stay in your brain forever.

Here’s my attempt at naming a few colours. C’mon and play – any other suggestions?

Hooker’s Lips

Hooker’s Lips

Month-Old Bread

Month-Old Bread

Baby’s Bum

Baby’s Bum

Don’t Let Dad Barbeque

Don’t Let Dad Barbeque

Radioactive Algae

Radioactive Algae

Shouldn't Have Eaten That Burrito

Bad Burrito

Hangin’ in the Men’s WC

Let me tell you about my experiences lurking in men’s washrooms.  Carrying a measuring tape.

First, I have to say that men’s washrooms are (sorry, guys) disgusting.  There’s piss everywhere.  And those urinal pucks with the pubic hairs stuck in them?  Eeeuuw.

You may argue that, as a female, I should stay out of men’s washrooms, and that if I don’t like what I see in there, it’s my own damn fault.  This would be entirely true, if not for the fact that it was part of my job to be in there.  Yeah, with a measuring tape.

This was back in the dark days when I was still attempting to be an interior designer.  I’d gotten a friggin’ bachelor’s degree in it.  Thesis and all.  Trouble was, I sucked at it.  Hard.  The only reason I scraped through with the degree was because I kicked ass in all the academic subjects (the ones that dealt with real, objective facts). 

I couldn’t design my way out of a paper bag.

This wasn’t as much of an impediment as you might think.  I worked for a design firm that specialized in commercial spaces – offices, hotels, restaurants, and so forth.  A very large part of that type of work involves long, tedious hours measuring the sites and doing technical drawings.  I was excellent at that part.  And all the other designers hated it.  It was the perfect symbiotic relationship.

Which leads to me lurking in men’s washrooms carrying a measuring tape.  Because when you’re doing renovations, the whole damn place needs to be measured.

I had a system.

First, I’d hover outside the door for several minutes.  If a guy actually arrived to use the washroom, I’d ask him to scout it out for me.  I really had no desire to catch anybody with their pants down.

But usually, I was on my own.  After a decent interval, I’d knock on the door and call out.  If there was no response, I’d stick a sign on the door, “Temporarily closed – come back in 15 minutes.”

That usually worked.  But every now and then, some preoccupied guy would blow right past the sign and barrel into the washroom.  He’d usually get about half unzipped before he realized I was there.  Then there’d be this frozen deer-in-the-headlights moment, while his gaze darted between my female presence and the partially extended measuring tape in my hand.

We’d lock eyes for a second, both of us with tools half-unfurled.

Then there was usually some embarrassed mumbling, a half-assed explanation, and a hasty retreat on his part.  Sometimes they just fled without a word.  Frankly, that was more entertaining for me.  But I have a nasty streak.

While I’m on the subject, there were a couple of other things that I invariably found entertaining about washrooms.  The first was the colour scheme (excluding piss-yellow, which isn’t entertaining at all).  I was truly amazed by how many places stuck with the tried and true pink-for-girls, blue-for-boys colour scheme.  Really?  For adults?  In a business setting?

But for me, the best part was the condom dispensers.  In those fine establishments that provided this helpful service, it was always the same.  In the men’s, the condoms were always labelled “extra large” or some other turgid (or perhaps I should say tumid) adjective.

In the women’s they were always labelled “slim fit”.

I’m not even gonna go there. 

I’m just sayin’.

Anybody else got bathroom stories?  Ever walked into the wrong one by mistake?  Or on purpose?  Inquiring minds want to know.