Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Five More Books Read

I totally thought I posted this several days ago, but when I just logged into my blog to write another blog posting, I first discovered my blog was completely down (thanks, Kalev, for fixing it for me super fast!) and then discovered that I had not, in fact, hit “publish”. So here it is – it’s very, very long and probably no one other than me actually cares about any of this!

And speaking of combining a bunch of stuff that I’d usually write as separate blog postings into one posting, I’ve read a bunch of books for far this year. And by “bunch” I mean seven, two of which I have already blogged about. Here’s my summary of the other five.

Be warned: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Also be warned: this is very long and may be of interest to no one but me (especially my nerdy notes from Brain Rules and my diatribe against The Unincorporated Man).

The Good People by Hannah Kent

I read this book for my book club and I really, really liked it. It’s set in Ireland in the 1820s and is centred on Nora, a woman who is caring for a young grandson (who has severe disabilities) after her daughter died and then right in the start of the book, her husband dies too. She believes that her real grandson has been taking away by fairies (she also believes that fairies were involved in her daughter’s death). So the book follows along as she struggles to deal with all this and I found that I had to get quite far into the book before I could tell if this was meant to be set in the real world (i.e., one in which people had a belief in the existence of fairies) or a world in which fairies actually existed. The characters clearly believed that fairies existed, affecting all sorts of things in their life – like whether the cows gave milk or miscarriages happened or people died or children were afflicted with mental and physical disabilities. It was so believable that I kept thinking – well, this is fiction. Maybe fairies really did steal her grandson! (Spoiler alert: they didn’t). This book was really well written and the story held my attention all the way through. I wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to end up. I’d definitely recommend this book if you are looking for some good fiction.

Brain Rules by John Medina

When I was in Washington last year, one of the keynote speakers at the conference I was at was John Medina. His presentation was captivating and partway through the talk, he explained why. His talk was about how to use what neuroscientists know about the brain to be better teachers – instead of fighting against how the brain works, why not work with it? And he’d been using the techniques that he was talking about to keep our attention and to help us remember the stuff he’d been talking about!

The talk really stuck with me – anyone who had the misfortune of seeing me in the week or so following that event got to hear in great detail all the stuff that I’d learn1. I spoke to the president of the American Evaluation Association (the association whose conference I was at) a bit later in the conference and commented to her on what a fabulous keynote speaker he was and she told me that she’d read John’s book and in addition to getting her to invite him as the keynote, it had made her rewrite all of her lectures for her classes and that I really should read his book. And so I did!

The book is called Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (though I’d say it mostly focuses on the school part of that).2. There were so many fascinating things that I learned from this book – like how memories aren’t really consolidated until about a decade after the event you are remembering, so for 10 years you are just remembering it, and re-remembering it, and remembering the memory of the last time you remembered it – no wonder two people can have different memories of the same event! Another interesting tidbit was that people can pay attention for about 10 minutes at a time before their interest wanes, so as a teacher you need to do something every 10 minutes to catch your students’ attention. Fortunately, he had some tips on ways to catch people’s attention (which I have previously blogged about after I saw his keynote talk in Washington).

I made a bunch of notes about other cool things I learned in this book:

  • Exercise increases blood flow not just to your muscles, but throughout your body – including to your brain. This is one of the reasons that exercise is good for brain function. Another: it also stimulates the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor 9BDNR), which basically acts like fertilizer for your brain!
  • “Our evolutionary ancestors were used to walking up to 12 miles per day. This means our brains were supported for most of our evolutionary history by Olympic-caliber bodies”. That’s 19 km – or almost a half marathon every day! So sitting for hours on end in a classroom or in a cubicle is definitely not in keeping with what our brains evolved for!
  • Brains of wild animals are 15-30% larger than those of their domestic counterparts (since the wild animals have to constantly be learning, their brains grow and adapt).
  • Brains of violinists are weird – the area of their brains that controls their left hand (which does all the complex movements) are super-sized with lots of complex associations, but the area that controls their right hand (which holds the bow), is tiny and much less complex.
  • Babies are born with about the same number of neuronal connections that adults have, but that number doubles to triples by the time they are 3 years old, and then the brain “prunes” a bunch of those connections so that by the time they are about 8 years old, they are back to the same number of connections as an adult has. And then at puberty the whole thing happens again and then it settles down again as they approach adulthood.
  • “Until five or six years ago3, the prevailing notion was that we were born with all the brain cells we were ever going to get and they steadily eroded in a depressing journey through adulthood to old age. We do lose synaptic connections with age […] but the adult brain also continues creating neurons within the regionally normally involved in learning.”
  • Different regions develop at different rates in different people – so there’s really no point comparing one kid to another to see if they are “ahead” or “behind” – everyone is just different. For example, “about 10 percent of students do not have brains sufficiently wired to read at the age at which we expect them to read.”
  • People perceive meaning before details – so when planning presentations, you have to catch their attention with something meaningful before springing a bunch of facts on them. We just can’t take in the random facts – we need a reason to care about them first.
  • People can’t actually mutlitask: “we are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously”. When we think we are multi-tasking, we are really just shifting our attention from one thing to another thing, over and over again.
  • Declarative memory is a memory that you can “declare” like “the sky is blue” and it involves four steps: encoding, storage, retrieval, and forgetting.
  • We forget about 90% of what we learn in a class within 30 days, most of that within the first few HOURS after class.
  • Our ability to recall something is better if we try to recall it under similar conditions to when we learned it (i.e., when we encoded it). For example, deep sea divers who heard 40 random words while floating in the water could remember them better when floating in the water compared to if they tried to remember them on dry land (and vice versa for those who heard the words on dry land). Similarly, if you learn something while high on marijuana or while sad, you’ll remember if better while high or sad, respectively.
  • Memories aren’t stored in a single place in your brain – bits of a given memory are scattered all over the place – and they are “stored in the same places that were initially recruited to perceive the learning event”. And the “more brain structures recruited […] at the moment of learning the easier it is to gain access to the information” later. Having an understanding of “meaning” can help us recruit more regions.
  • “Quality of encoding” = ways that one can later access a memory – and the more you have, the easier it is to access that information later. One of the most important is meaning – if you want to be able to remember something later, you should try to understand what it means (and if you are trying to teach, make sure students understand the meaning of the concept – one great way to do that is to use relevant real-world examples “constantly peppering the main learning points with meaningful experiences”4.)
  • When we remember something, we retrieve it from our long-term memory storage into our working memory and it acts as if it were a new memory and we have to reprocess them – every time we retrieve that memory. This is known as “reconsolidation”. And “present knowledge can bleed into past memories and become intertwined with them as if they were encountered together”. So you can’t really trust your memory to be accurate!
  • One thing that helps improve memory – repetition! In particular, “thinking or talking about an event immediately after it has occurred enhances memory for that event”. And then deliberately re-expose yourself to the information in an elaborate way in fixed, spaced intervals5.
  • There really is a scientific basis to the phenomenon of being an “night owl”:
    • Early chronotypes (or “larks”) are morning people. Most alert around noon, most productive in the few hours before lunch, wake early without an alarm clock, feel ready for bed around 9 pm. About 10% of people.
    • Late chronotypes (or “owls”). Most alert around 6 pm, most productive in the late evening, usually don’t want to go to bed before 3 am. About 20% people. Because of the way society is structured (e.g., 9-5 jobs, schools from 8-3), they accumulate sleep debt throughout their lives
    • Hummingbirds – the other 70% of people. A spectrum, with some being more larkish and others more owlish, and some in between.
    • “Healthy insomnia” = those people who only need 4-5 hours of sleep per day6
  • Our brains naturally want a mid-afternoon nap.
  • Sleep deprivation makes you old, stupid, and fat. More specifically, it:
    • makes you less able to use the food you consume
    • interferes with insulin production and the ability to extract energy from glucose (which the brain needs)
    • stress hormones levels rise
    • The body chemistry of a 30-year-old who is sleep deprived for 6 days (with about 4 hours sleep per night) will look like that of a 60-year-old (and it will take them a week to recover!)
    • “hurts attention, executive funciton, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning ability, general math knowledge, […] manual dexterity, […] and even gross motor movements”.
  • Proust effect – “smell can evoke memory”
  • “Vision is our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain’s resources”. But “what we see is only what our brain tells us we see and it’s not 100% accurate”
  • The “right side of the brain tend to remember the gist of an experience, and the left side of the brain tends to remember the details.”
  • “Our survival did not depend on exposing ourselves to organized, pre-planned packets of information. Our survival depended upon chaotic, reactive information-gathering experiences. That’s why on of our best attributes is the ability to learn through a series of increasingly self-corrected ideas”

Sex and gender differences in neuroscience and behaviour “has a long and mostly troubled history,” but Medina seems to do a  good job of providing a summary of the area. He talks about how research typically looks at group averages and people often misinterpret the findings to be true of individuals7. And he talks about how seeing differences in group averages often result in people assuming the differences are genetic (nature) as opposed to a result of how society treats people (nurture) – we would actually need to understand the mechanism of something before figuring out nature vs. nurture (or, more likely, to what extend something is nature vs. nurture vs. an interaction of nature & nurture) for a given feature. And since “boys and girls are treated differently socially the moment they are born8, and they are often reared in societies filled with centuries of entrenched prejudice”, it’s very difficult to tease the two apart. Some of the interesting things from this section of the book:

  • Differences in sizes of brain regions and distribution of neurotransmitter distributions have been seen between the sexes, but no one really knows if it means anything substantial functionally.
  • “Mental retardation is more common in males than in females in the general population” – many are caused by mutations in genes on the X chromosome and males only have one copy of the X chromosome, so if they have the mutation, they will express it, whereas females have two X chromosomes, so if a female has the mutation on one X chromosome, but they have the unmutated version on the other X chromosome, they may not see it expressed.
  • Rates of various mental illnesses differ by gender – e.g., males have higher rates of antisocial behaviour and drug and alcohol abuse, whereas females have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and anorexia nervosa.
  • Under acute stress, males tend to fire up the amygdala on the right side of the brain (the one that remembers the gist of things), where females tend to fire up the amygdala on the left side (the one that remembers the details of things)9.
  • Females tend to have better verbal capacity compared to males – with females tending to use both hemispheres of the brain while males tend to use one.

Lecture design:

  • 10 minute segments – each of which covers only one core concept, starting with doing something that catches the audience’s attention, then an explanation of the concept in 1 minute, and then the remainder of the 10 minutes is where you can provide a detailed description.
  • since classes are 50 minutes long, you can cover 5 core concepts
  • start with the lecture plan at the start, and repeat often “where we are” in the lecture plan throughout the lecture (if the audience doesn’t know where a concept fits in with the rest of the presentation, they will have to try to figure it out while trying to listen to you – and we know that people can’t actually multitask!)

5 rules for making a presentation:

  1. use multimedia – people learn better from words + pictures than from words alone
  2. temporal contiguity principle – people learn better when words + pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively
  3. spatial contiguity principle – people learn better when words + pictures are presented near each other than when they are presented far apart
  4. coherence principle – people learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included
  5. modality principle – people learn better from animation + narration than from animation + onscreen text

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I’ve read A Brief History of Time (The Updated & Expanded Tenth Anniversary Edition) by Stephen Hawking several times – I felt like every time I read it, I get a little more out of it10. I felt like Astrophysics for People in A Hurray was a bit of an easier read than a Brief History of Time, and, of course, it is more up-to-date – there’s a lot that’s been learned in astrophysics in the 19 years between the publications of those two books. So I enjoyed Astrophysics and learned some cool things about dark matter and dark energy and the like, though I can’t say I loved it as much as I love A Brief History. I did, however, enjoy this quote, at the start of the book: “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you” – NDT.

The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose

This book was a pretty quick read and I honestly just had to go look at the summary of it to jog my memory on what it was about11! The basic idea of the book is society is built for the “average”, when, in fact, the “average” describes very few (if any) actual people. For example, apparently the US air force measured many aspects of a large number of pilots – arm length, leg length, head size, etc. and built their planes to fit the “average” sized pilot. But then it turned out that there weren’t any pilots who fit that description – a person might have longer legs than average and shorter arms – so then the cockpits they built didn’t’ work for anyone. So then they came up with the idea of making adjustable seats, controls, etc. in cockpits. It’s one of those concepts where you go “yeah, that should be obvious”, but it’s kind of not that obvious, because we do tend to create things for the “average” person, who doesn’t really exist. I remember being at a nutrition conference back in the day where the new “Nutrition Facts” label was being discussed. The Nutrition Facts label tells you how much of various nutrients are in a food and gives you this information as a percentage of the “Daily Value”, where the “Daily Value” is meant to be the amount an “average” person would need of that nutrient (as people of different ages/sizes/sexes need different amounts). It’s meant as a way for the consumer to know if the food contains a little or a lot of a nutrient, but the “Daily Value” ends up being an amount that describes no actual individual. Some other things that I learned in this book:

  • the body mass index (BMI), which is a measure that takes a person’s height & weight and creates a score that is often used to assess if they are overweight, underweight, or the “right” weight (even though it’s not accurate for many people) was originally called the Quetelet Index12.
  • “school bells were introduced into schools to emulate factory bells, in order to mentally prepare children for their future careers”

Anyway, this book had some interesting ideas, but it really should have just been a short essay rather than a full book.

The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin.

I started this book because I thought the premise sounded interesting. A man who was frozen in our time is woken up 300 years later, where technology has progressed to not only be able to cure him of the cancer that was the reason he had himself frozen, but also so that all diseases can be cured and aging can be reversed and everyone can make themselves to look exactly how they want. The thing with this society though, is that everyone is personally incorporated – when you are born, you are incorporated, with the government getting 5% of your shares, your parents getting 20%, and you get to keep the rest. Until you have to start selling them off to pay for your education or other such stuff. When you lose majority, you lose control of your life – your shareholders get to decide what you do – like they can require you to take a job you don’t want to because you’ll make more money and they want their dividends! Then you spend the rest of your life trying to make majority so you can actually decide what to do with your life. So that was the premise that I thought was kind of interesting and I really only kept reading it because I wanted to see what this world that the authors built was like. But OH MY GOD THE WRITING WAS SO TERRIBLE! For example:

  • there’s an adage in writing referred to as “show, don’t tell” – it means that good writing generally involves revealing the story through action and senses rather than exposition. This book is like 75% exposition – either the narrator goes on for pages telling the reader something, or a character does.
  • the book is written in third person, but the attitude of the narrator seems to shift depending on which of the main characters is featured in a scene. When the protagonist is in the scene, the narrator seems to suggest that personal incorporation is a bad thing (which is, of course, what Justin thinks), but when his nemesis Hektor is being followed, the narrator shifts to suggesting that personal incorporation is what makes society great! For the longest time, I couldn’t tell if the book was meant to be representing this society as a dystopia or a utopia, because the narrator kept changing its views!
  • the authors constantly use obscure words that are really jarring, as they just don’t seem to fit with the flow of the writing. And to make it worse, in several instances they use words incorrectly. I jotted down a few that drove me crazy when I was reading the book:
    • “The justices talked quietly among themselves and seemed to come to a quorum”. What they actually mean is that the justices came to an “agreement” or a “consensus.” “Quorum” means “the number (such as a majority) of officers or members of a body that when duly assembled is legally competent to transact business”13. So if the justices came to a “quorum” if would mean that they had enough justice present to make decisions – not that they’d made a decision (which is what happened in this scene, as they then say “overruled”. If they didn’t already have a quorum, they wouldn’t have even started the trial!).
    • “He turned to see the erstwhile assistant, cup and saucer in hand.” “Erstwhile” means “former, previous”14. This was not a “former” assistant, as he was the same assistant who had just offered him the coffee and had not been fired in the intervening minutes15. – I’m not even sure what the authors were trying to say here, but “erstwhile” is definitely incorrect.
    • The most egregious one, in my opinion, since the whole book is based on this idea of personal incorporation is that they constantly use the phrase “selling short” incorrectly. “Selling short” is when someone essentially thinks that a stock is going to drop in price, so they essentially borrow it from someone who has it today and sell it at today’s (high) price, wait for it to drop, and then buy it back at the new (low) price to give back to the person who they borrowed it from. They pay interest to the person they borrowed it from, but if it works out the way they intended, they make so much money on selling it at the high price so that even after they pay to buy it back at the lower price and pay the interest, there’s enough money left over to make a profit. In this book, however, they constantly say that someone “sold them short” when they mean “you owned stock in me, my stock price dropped, and you sold it!” Which is not only *not* “selling short”, it’s also just a bad idea (buy low, sell high, right?)

And beyond the bad writing, there are so many inconsistencies (big and small), and things that didn’t appear to have any point at all. Some examples:

  • At one point, the narrator says that the Chairman of the big evil corporation became the Chairman at the “tender age of sixty-two”  and that he has been the Chairman for thirty-one years, and then says, “which Justin calculated would make him approximately ninety-three years of age”. So, first of all, 62+31=93 is really not that difficult of a calculation that warrants saying he “calculated” it. Secondly, why “approximately”? If he was 62 years of age 31 years ago, then he is 93 today.
  • In a court scene, Justin’s lawyer says “I think we can all agree that we’re a society that prides itself on the rights of the individual verses the rights of the government or society to force someone into an action contrary to their character or wishes.” But there are many, many instances where people are forced to take jobs that they don’t want to take because they don’t have majority. So how could *anyone*, let alone *everyone* agree to that statement?
  • The “romance” in the book is that Justin falls in love with Neela, his “reanimationist”, which is basically a psychologist who helps people reintegrat into society when they are woken up from being frozen. They make a point early in the book of talking about how this is totally forbidden in this society, explaining that because people are vulnerable when they wake up, it’s viewed as an abuse of power to become involved with them if you are their reamimationist. Society has a such a strong taboo against it, it’s described as being not like just a doctor and patient having a relationship, but like a pedophile molesting a child. And it doesn’t matter how long ago one was their reanimationist, or if they switch to another reanimationist – you can *never* had a relationship with them. So of course they get into a relationship – and for awhile their friends just seem to brush it off (which I can’t imagine someone doing if a pedophile were dating a child!). Then later, out of nowhere, they offhandedly mention that Neela has had her medical license taken away because of their relationship (which seems like it should have been a big deal that it should have been mentioned before!). Then when trying to strike a deal with Justin, Hektor says of the big evil corporation he works for, “we’ll not only put an end to the vicious rumour of your affair, we’ll come right out and support it. Get her reaccredited, even. I already have renowned experts lined up who’d be more than happy to state unequivocally that the client-patient relationship does not count in your circumstance.” First of all, “client-patient relationship” doesn’t make any sense – the “client” and the “patient” are the same person! It’s not like Justin is having a relationship with himself! They actually mean “client-reanimationist” or “patient-reanimationist” relationship (seriously, did this book even *have* an editor?)  Also, how exactly is *supporting* this supposedly verboten relationship going to put an *end* to the rumours – wouldn’t that just be confirming the rumours? And would a company and its experts saying “hey, we support this pedophile-level of perversion and abuse because it doesn’t really count… just ‘cuz we say so” (as she was most definitely the reanimationist who woke  him up) make everyone in society, who supposedly finds it utterly repugnant, just say “OK, it’s fine now. And she can have her medical license back!”

Hektor (the main bad guy), along with many other characters extol the virtues of personal incorporation as making society great, because competition fixes all problems (so things like police and courts and firefighter are all done better now that they are run by corporations) and that people are more free because if they work hard they can get majority. Except that there are many examples of characters who come from rich families who keep majority (presumably because their family just pays for their education) and others who are “penny stocks” that have no hope of ever making enough to buy back their shares. And no one seems to notice this! There’s also a scene where you learn that the digital assistants that everyone has (which are basically like a tablet that everyone carries around and uses to Google things, but has a “personality” that develops the longer you have the device) are actually sentient and then… nothing happens with them. They just have a vote to not interfere with the goings on in the human world because they don’t want humans to find out that they have become sentient. So there was really no point whatsoever of having that in the book16! And then, there was the biggest reveal of all – at the end of the book, we find out the the Chairman of the big evil corporation which has been taking Justin to court to try to force him to incorporate and regularly has people killed to get its way, actually hates incorporation because his mom died while doing a job she didn’t want to do but had to because she didn’t have majority – and he spent his entire life climbing the corporate ladder, getting right to the top, and running the aforementioned evil corporation for ages in the hopes that someday something would happen that would allow him to take down the whole system! Seems pretty far fetched that someone would do all sorts of terrible things, including murder, to support a system that you hate on the off chance that something would happen to allow you to take it all down. I mean, what are the odds that a person who was frozen 300 years ago would not only be discovered, but would also be a super charismatic leader who also refuses to incorporate and would spark a galaxy wide revolution?

Anyway, the TL:DR is terrible writing and lots of stuff that doesn’t make any sense; don’t bother reading.


In conclusion, I’m a bit behind on books for the year – my goal is to read 18 for 2018 and we are already halfway through the year and I’ve only read 44% of my goal. But I’m on holidays right now, so hopefully I can power through a few in the next few weeks.

  1. Including the students in the course that I was teaching at the time, as my very next lecture that I had scheduled for that class was on how to give good presentations! []
  2. He also has a books on Brain Rules for Baby and Brain Rules for Aging Well, though I haven’t read those ones yet. []
  3. This book was published in 2008, so he’s referring to about 2002. I remember learning this in my undergrad in the mid-1990s (though that scientists had discovered that some birds could grow new neurons when they learned new songs, though this was thought of as an anology), so I guess it was well after I finished undergrad that this stuff was discovered. []
  4. I was sooo happy when I read that, as I *love* telling stories to illustrate what I’m teaching. I’ve always felt that it brings the material to life for students – and have be told by several students that they have found this the best part of my classes), so it was super cool to see that this is actually supported by research! []
  5. This is making me think that I should have written up these notes much sooner after I finished reading this book (which was 3 months ago!). I made short annotations in my e-reader as I was reading but had to go back through them all and re-read the sections to make these more coherent notes. Oh well, better late than never! []
  6. I so wish I was one of those people. Think of all the things I could get done! I think I’m a owlish-hummingbird. If I had my druthers, I’d probably get up at 10 am and go to sleep at 1 am. []
  7. Which actually connects with what I was reading about in The End of Average. []
  8. Really, they are treated differently even before they are born – “gender reveal parties” anyone? []
  9. I’m terrible at remembering details of things – and I also think that in many ways I am more male-like than female-like. When I was in my undergraduate, I took first year psychology and we used to be able to get out of doing assignments by participating in psychology studies. One of the studies that I participated in was looking at something to do with males and females (not surprisingly, I can’t remember the details!) but not only testing whatever it was that was usually found to be different between males and females but also whether someone who was male or female identified themselves as behaving male-like or female-like. And if I recall correctly (again, not so good with the details, but remembering the gist of things), I scored more like a male on what they were testing, but I also identified as more male-like in my behaviours. So I guess that fits both with the “group averages aren’t good at describing individuals and that maybe my psychology being more male-like than one would expect of a female (based on said group averages) shows up in this gist-remembering thing… though he did only talk about it being under acute stress and not in general. Anyway, this is getting pretty long for a footnote! []
  10. Come to think of it, I haven’t read it in awhile. I should read it again. []
  11. I also realized that I’d made a few annotations when I read this as an ebook. []
  12. There are a lot of shortcomings of the BMI being used the way it is, which I already knew about. I just didn’t know it was named after this Quetelet guy that is talked about a lot in this book. []
  13. Source: Merriam Webster dictionary []
  14. Source: Merriam Webster dictionary []
  15. In actuality, you find out later in the scene that he is the Chairman in disguise, but that still doesn’t make him a “former” assistant. []
  16. Possibly they are setting up for something in a sequel, but then why not just leave it to the sequel as there is no point whatsoever of having those scenes in this book. As one reviewer on Goodreads wrote,they literally vote to not affect the plot of the book! []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Surfing, Snorkeling, and Sewing Zippers Edition

Since I have quite a backlog of things I want to blog about1, I decided to combine a bunch of things into one blog posting. You may recall that one of my 2018 goals is to learn 12 new things, but thus far I’ve only written about one of them. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been learning new things – I’ve been learning lots and lots of things! Here is a quick summary of 3 of them.

Surfing

I have mentioned this previously, in my very long posting about my trip to Hawaii, but I wanted to officially count it in my list of things that I learned this year! The most important things that I learned about surfing were that it’s really important to paddle like hell once you see the wave you want to go for to get up enough speed that when you jump up, your board is going fast enough, that you jump up at just the right time (too late or too soon and you are going to go for a swim!), and that jumping up to standing actually isn’t that hard.

Snorkeling

Same goes for snorkeling, Prior to my trip to Hawaii, I’d never snorkeled before. Turns out, snorkeling is pretty easy (made even easier by the fact that we bought snorkels that have a value that prevents you from breathing in water when you dive down so that your snorkel is below the surface), but it’s still something that I learned.

Sewing Zippers

Last year I took a couple of sewing classes, making a tote bag and some fabric buckets. This year, my friends and I decided to kick it up a notch and sew zipper pouches – which meant we had to learn how to sew a zipper!

Zipper pouches - sewing class

Zipper pouches - sewing class

I made them with the leftover fabric from my tote bag, which is cool because (a) they match my tote bags, and (b) I managed to not lose the leftover fabric from my tote bag, which I made nearly a year before!

  1. Mostly because my blog is my outsourced memory – if it’s not on the blog, I’ll never remember that it happened! []

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Gymiversary

Another thing I’m behind on blogging about is my gymiversary! March 3 was my one year anniversary of having joined Strong Side. I’ve blogged a few times about my gym experience and it’s mostly for lack of time to blog that you haven’t been subjected to me talking about how much I love my gym.1 I remember thinking when I signed up “am I really going to be able to do this gym thing on the regular for six whole months??” (I signed up for the 6 month commitment to start because it gets you a better monthly rate than if you just sign up for a three month commitment). And now here is it more than a year later and not only have I regularly gone to the gym three times a week for an entire year, but I actually really love it.

As I’ve mentioned before, part of what I love about it, in addition to the more obvious I-am-getting-stronger reason, is that it’s an easy way for me to be mindful. It really helps me disconnect from my work and all the other things that one has to deal with in life as I focus intently on my form and my breathing. In fact, Friday evenings are one of my favourite times to work out – I find it really helps me to separate from my busy workweek and get ready for my weekend! I love to hit the weights on Friday after work and just work out all the stress of the politics, emails, and deadlines.

Another part of what I like is the social nature of the gym. I’ve gotten to know a fair number of people there – and there are people that I knew before I started going that I’ve discovered go there too (or have joined since I joined) – and everyone is really down-to-earth and supportive of each other. You’ll regularly hear people catching up and joking around and cheering each other on when someone is doing something really tough. It’s a nice feeling to walk in and see friendly faces and people who know your name.

The other day I was there and a person I didn’t recognize came up to me and said, “I don’t want to sound creepy, but I just wanted to tell you that you look really strong! I saw you lifting and I thought “I want to look like that!” Honestly, it was so out-of-the-blue and such a lovely compliment! We chatted for a bit – she’s relatively new to the gym and I told her that I’d been coming there for a year and that it really does work! If you’d told me when I started that I’d be able to lift what I can now, I’d have said you were crazy. But it’s amazing what you can do with consistent work and a program tailored by people who know what they are doing!

When I started going to the gym, I was just getting past my year of injuries and I’d put on some weight from not having been able to run (which was how I’d been keeping somewhat in shape for the past decade) and I wasn’t feeling too great about that. But now, despite the fact that I weigh more than I’ve ever weighed in my life, I’m actually a lot happier with how I look and feel, because the weight gain has been muscle. I’m slowly coming to grips with the fact that I have to get rid of some of the clothes that I haven’t been able to fit into for quite some time but had been hanging on to because I was sure I’d someday get back down to my pre-MBA weight, because even I manage to bring down my body fat % a bit, my quads won’t let me get into those pants and my shoulders and back mean those shirts won’t comfortably fit – and I don’t have any intention of losing these muscles, so I’m OK with that.

As you may recall, one of my goals for this year was to deadlift my own body weight, and I actually managed to do that on January 30. I decided on wanted to capture it on video and since in my current program I’m doing deadlifts where I do 6 reps, then up the weight and do 5 reps, and so on until I’m down to just 1 rep. So I got this on video the other day where I deadlifted 68.5 kg (or 151 lbs), which is more than my body weight for 2 reps2

Deadlifting 68.5 kg. That’s more than my own body weight!

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For good measure, I’ve also managed to back squat more than my weight. Here’s me back squatting 70kg (or 154 lbs).

Squatting 70 kg – more than my own body weight!

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My other goal for this year is to do a full pull up or chin up without the assistance of any resistance bands (basically, you hang a resistance band off the bar you are hanging from and step into it and the band takes off some of your weight so you do the pull up or chin up motion, but without having to lift your entire body weight). When I first started going to the gym, I needed three different bands to do pull ups, but I’m slowly but surely working my way towards fewer bands. Like with the deadlifts, my current program has me doing 6 pull ups with a couple of bands, then 5 with fewer/smaller bands, and so on until I reach 1 rep. I tried to do my last rep with the second smallest resistance band, but couldn’t quite manage it, so had to do it with a slightly bigger band, but I was still pretty happy to be able to do that. Definitely made progress, but still have a ways to go. Hopefully by the end of the year I’ll have done one on my own!

  1. If you’ve had the misfortune of seeing me in person in the past 12 months, you’ve likely been subjected to me waxing poetic about this at length. My apologies. []
  2. I decided not to video my 1 rep, because I wanted to see how heavy I could go and I knew there was a good chance I’d fail. I tried to do 70 kg, but I couldn’t, so I was glad I didn’t try to video that one. I backed it off to 69 kg and did that for 1 rep. Maybe I’ll be able to do 70 kg this week! []

By

Hawaii

You know that thing where you go on vacation and then you come back and not only did all the work that you didn’t do while you were away not get done, but it seems to have made some new friends while you were gone so you now have about eleventy billion emails to deal with and decisions to make and meetings to present at and assignments to grade? That is officially my excuse for why this blog posting about my trip to Hawaii is coming 25 days after we arrived back how!

Anyhoo, I’ve managed to mostly catch up so now I’m just back to my baseline level of crazy busy, plus it is a 4 day weekend, so I have found some time to sit down and tell you all about our trip to Hawaii.  Spoiler alert: it’s amazing and I didn’t want to come home.

Sunday

We arrived in the afternoon on Sunday, after an uneventful flight from YVR to Seattle and another uneventful flight from Seattle to Honolulu. We’d booked our trip through Costco1, as it was the best deal we found, and the package came with transportation to and from the airport. The person greeting us also had leis for all, so here’s a selfie of us at the airport”

Scott and I upon our arrival in Hawaii

In what would become a theme for the trip, after a day of flying, my hair looks like crap.

The rest of Sunday was basically just getting checked into the hotel (the Aston Waikiki Beach hotel) and then wandering around to get the lay of the land. Since we got in around 2pm, which meant we didn’t have much time to see stuff before the sunset because omg, the sun sets early. I knew that Hawaii was near the equator, but I hadn’t really thought about the implications of that in terms of sunrise and sunset – it’s pretty much sun from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm every day, all year long. I’m used to living quite far north of the equator and so my brain thinks summer weather = suns sets at 9 pm, so it was kind of trippy for it to be 27°C and have the sun set at dinner time! Fortunately, it stays warm even after the sunset, so it’s still nice to wander around even after the sun goes down. If you’ve never been to Honolulu, it’s basically just all beach and open air malls, with an ABC store every 12 feet.

Monday

We decided to start the holiday off with a bang by taking a surfing lesson. As long time readers may recall, I have been surfing only two times in my life and had only managed to get to a standing position for about half a second on one of those two surfing days. And that was more than a decade ago. So I figured that an actual surfing lesson, which I didn’t do the last time, was in order. We found a Groupon for lessons through Moku Hawaii Surf Shop, which was close to our hotel, so we decided to take our lessons with them. And I’m happy to report that having a surfing lesson resulted in a much more success in the amount of standing on the surfboard! We had a fantastic instructor named Jennifer, who was the only female instructor we saw in Waikiki. She went over the safety basics and the basics of how to surf, and told us that the hardest part of surfing isn’t getting up on your feet – it’s all about timing – picking the right wave and then figuring out when to start paddling and when to jump up. We headed out to the beach and then Scott and I basically took turns getting some help from Jennifer – she helped us pick a good wave, helped us with timing when to start paddling, gave us a little push to get going, and yelled “up” to let us know when to pop up. Once we got the hang of that, she helped us with timing but without the push (which made me realize how much the push helped!). She also had a GoPro camera that was on my surfboard for the first half of the lesson and on Scott’s surfboard for the second half. She also remembered part way through my time with the Go-Pro to tell me to turn the camera off when I was just walking/paddling back out to the waves, which meant that there were a million photos of me walking/paddling back out from before she told me that, but no photos of Scott like that. We got footage of a few of our runs each, but of course none of my really good runs were captured on video!

Waiting for a good wave:

Beth surfing in Honolulu

Starting to paddle – you have to make sure you get up enough speed before the wave gets there so you can catch the wave:
Beth surfing in Honolulu

Then you have to pop up:

Beth surfing in Honolulu

First up on your knees:

Beth surfing in Honolulu

Then pop up to your feet:

Beth surfing in Honolulu

Then you are surfing like a pro:

Beth surfing in Honolulu

Until you fall off:
Beth surfing in Honolulu

We had an absolute blast! Jennifer said that most people don’t last the full two hours, but Scott and I did. I credit all the hard workouts we did leading up to our trip2.

The water was pretty shallow and the reef was very sharp and what with all the falling off and getting knocked about by the waves, I managed to rip up my foot pretty badly:

My foot got wrecked by the reef when we surfed

It looked worse in person than that photo, if you can believe that.

Also, this picture is awesome:

Beth surfing in Honolulu

After our lesson ended, we spent the rest of the day lounging on the beach. It was at some point on this day that I said “Let’s send for the cats! I want to stay here forever!” Sadly, the reality of not having jobs there or a place to live there or the necessary citizenship to do that quickly quashed my dream, so I had to just make do with 6 more days.

Here’s a video of me surfing (you really only need to watch the first couple of minutes – after that it’s just me sloooooowly walking back out to sea as I didn’t know I was supposed to turn off the camera!):

And here’s Scott – this video actually includes him surfing twice:

Tuesday

We had so much fun surfing that we decided to do it again the next day. Since we’d taken lessons from Moku, we were able to get a discount on renting boards the next day. We were just going to rent for a few hours, but they gave us the whole day, so we spent the day surfing, then lounging on the beach, then surfing, and repeat.

We also tested ou snorkelling gear3 in the hotel pool.

Wednesday

We rented a car for a couple of days because we knew we wanted to check out more of the island – and because I wanted to go swimming with sharks and you have to go to the North Shore to do that. So Wednesday we drove around the island, including stopping by the beach at the Turtle Bay resort to do some snorkelling. The water was pretty murky, but we still managed to see some cool looking fish. Sadly, there were no turtles!

We also managed to find Ted’s Bakery, which my friend Heather had recommended that we check out. They make some pretty fantastic pie:

Ted's Bakery - pies

Thursday

Thursday was the day I’d been waiting for since we’d decided to go to Hawaii – swimming with sharks! When my sister went to Hawaii ages ago, she did this and it sounded so cool that I wanted to do it too! We found a Groupon4 for a trip with North Shore Shark Adventures, but then I discovered that if you book directly with them online, you get the same price as the Groupon, so I just booked directly. The concept is simple – you get on a boat, go out to a place where there are sharks, and then jump in a cage that’s floating off the side of the boat and snorkel while you watch the sharks swim all around you. Apparently the sharks are attracted by the sound of the boat because they go out to an area where people fish for crabs and the sharks have become accustomed to the crab fishers dumping their used bait out of the crab traps there, so the sharks hear a boat and think “dinner time!”5. The sharks in the area are mostly Galapagos sharks, with some sandbar sharks. I totally thought that Great White sharks were common in Hawaii, but the crew told us they are not.

We were supposed to be on a 10 am trip, but we got a call from the company a day before saying that forecast was for really choppy water so they were going to cancel the 10 am trip, but we could go on the 7 am one instead. Despite this meaning we had to get up at like 5 am to make the drive from Waikiki to the North Shore, we decided to do it ‘cuz we really wanted to swim with the sharks!

Here I am on the boat:View from the shark boat

Here’s the cage:

Shark diving cage

And here are some of the freaking sharks, as seen from the deck of the boat:

Sharks!

There were 12 people on the boat who wanted to go in the cage, along with some crew members, and a few people who were just along for the ride. So one group of six went first while the rest of us watched and then the second group of six took a turn after. Here’s the other group after the ropes had been loosened to allow the cage to float a bit away from the boat:

Shark diving cage

While the other group was in the cage, one of the women popped her head up and asked the crew “What’s the little shiny silver shark?” One of the crew members said “Is it about this big [holding his hands about a foot apart] and kind of pointy?” When she replied “Yes”, he said “That’s a barracuda. You should watch out for that. It can get inside cage and it will bite”.

After the first group’s turn was up, we got to go into the cage. I was the first one in our group to get in the cage. It was such a cool experience! The sharks were so beautiful – so graceful swimming by, all around and beneath us. Some of the Galapagos sharks were quite big – the biggest one we saw was probably 10 ft long. I really, really wished I had a Go Pro camera of my own as  it would have been amazing to capture it! I wasn’t scared of the sharks at all – there was no way they could have gotten into our cage and they really seemed pretty docile. I mean, I wouldn’t have wanted to stick my hand in their mouth or anything, but being in the cage felt totally safe. The barracuda showed up while we were in there and honestly, I was more afraid of him, because he could totally have swam into the cage and taken a bite! And he just sat their next to the cage, staring at us with his cold dead eye. I found this photo of a barracuda on Wikipedia and this is just what he looked like:

Great Barracuda close-up, western Puerto Rico

Scary barracuda is scary!

As I mentioned, the water was pretty choppy and eventually it got the better of me and I totally puked from sea sickness right in the cage! So gross! But I did feel better after losing my breakfast, so at least there’s that. (I also found out that several other people also got sea sick while we were in the cage – they were just puking off the side of the boat!) As much as I hate puking, it was totally worth it to see those sharks!

Also, while I didn’t have a Go Pro to capture this, some other random people who did the same dive as us on a different day did and put it up on Youtube. So check out this video and imagine that Scott and I are in that cage, because this is exactly what it was like:

After we finished with the sharks, we decided to head back to Turtle Bay for more snorkelling and lounging on the beach. Still no turtles!

Later that day, we hit the Dole plantation. We decided to go on the aptly named “Pineapple Express” train that goes around the plantation and features a narration that tells you about how the Dole Food Company is the most successful and generous company on the planet, pineapples are the greatest food ever to have existed and probably can cure cancer, and James Drummond Dole could walk on water6.

Tickets fo the Pineapple Express

IMG_8372

We did get to see some cool stuff, like how pineapples actually grow on bushes on the ground – I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’d kind of assumed they grew in trees, like coconuts!

IMG_8396

I also didn’t know that pineapples aren’t native to Hawaii – they were brought there from South America in the 1500s.

IMG_8395

In addition to pineapple, the Dole plantation had a bunch of other stuff – sugar cane, lemons, limes, avocados, cocoa, coffee, coconuts, bananas, etc.

IMG_8382

After we finished our Pineapple Express trip, featuring the musical stylings of a band that was willing to record a song called “Pineapple Express”, we checked out the shop to get some delicious Dole whip, which is basically like ice cream except that it’s made of pineapple instead of cream. I have to admit, it was pretty delicious. We also stayed for a pineapple cutting demonstration, during which the demonstrator took about 20 minutes using a special pineapple cutting knife while repeating “So easy!” over and over and over again. I will admit that it looked pretty cool when she was done, but I don’t think I’ll be adjusting my pineapple cutting ways.

How to cut pineapple

Scott as a pineapple

Scott is a pineapple

After we were full of Dole whip and indoctrinated into the cult of Dole, we decided to try to find a waterfall that you can hike to at the Waimano Public Hunting Area. I was a wee bit concerned to start a hike that starts with a sign that says I might be hunted with a rifle, a shotgun, a handgun, a knife, a spear, and/or a bow and arrow (should I be mistaken for a pig or goat of either sex).

Waimano Public Hunting Area

Also concerning were the angry looking clouds in the sky and, not fancying the idea of driving all the way back to Waikiki in soaking wet clothing, we decided to just snap this pic of us with the scenic background and head back to the car without getting to our destination. I guess this is why they say don’t go chasing waterfalls.

As usual on this trip, my hair is a mess. But I had to fight off sharks and a barracuda earlier that day, so I guess it is to be expected.

Friday

On Friday we jumped on the city bus and headed to hike Diamond Head, which is a 300,000 year old crater.

Diamond Head hike

It’s not a super tough hike, thought these stairs at the top were not my favourite:

Diamond Head hike

but they get you to pretty cool views;

Diamond Head hike

Diamond Head hike

I don’t know what that lighthouse is called, but I’m totally adding it to my upcoming blog posting “Dr. Beth’s Worldwide Lighthouse Tour”7

Diamond Head hike

Since we’d already paid for a day pass for the bus8, we decided to head to the other side of town after our hike and checked out what was going on over there. Highlights included, this turtle who was hanging out in a fake pond by a restaurant:

In a fake pond by a restaurant

these beautiful birds that live at the Hilton:

and possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten:

Possibly the best ice cream I've ever eaten

It was surprisingly difficult to find ice cream in Waikiki. You’d think there would be an ice cream shop on every street corner. But you’d be wrong. We had to go all the way to the other side of Waikiki to find it.

waikiki map

Another reason we had decided to go to that side of town was that every Friday night the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort has a fireworks show. So after strolling around to see the various sights and eat the various ice cream that was on the side of town, we strolled over to the beach to watch the fireworks.

Yet again, my hair is craptacular! Given how much time we’d spent in the ocean on this trip, I’d pretty much given up hope that I could do anything with my hair by this point.

We followed up the fireworks display with a meal at Morton’s steakhouse, which was super freaking delicious. We were also somewhat amazed that we could walk into a restaurant on a Friday night without a reservation9.

Saturday

On the advice of my uncle Harry and my friend Sarah, neither of whom have actually been10, we visited the USS Arizona Memorial. The USS Arizona is one of the ships that was sunk in the attack on Pearl Harbour and it still sits where it sank, with the 1,177 who died that day still on the ship. In addition, some of the survivors of the USS Arizona have decided to have the ship as the final resting place of their remains when they subsequently died, making it both a memorial to those who died in the attack and an active military cemetery. When you visit, you first watch a movie about the attack on Pearl Harbour, complete with footage of the attack and some explanation of how and why the attack happened. Then you go on a navy boat to the memorial, which is basically a platform that sits astride the remains of the ship.

USS Arizona

The white structure in the background is the memorial, as seen from our boat as we headed towards the memorial.

USS Arizona

Parts of the remains of the ship.

Oil still leaks from the USS Arizona

Oil still leaks from the ship, more than 75 years later.

USS Arizona

There were some divers going into the water near the ship. I’m not sure what they were doing.

Divers at the USS Arizona

Divers in the water near the oil leaks.

USS Arizona

Names of the men who died on the USS Arizona are written instead the memorial

It was very sobering to see so many names – 1,177 men died just on this ship, let alone all the others who died in various other parts of Pearl Harbor that day – and to think about how young they all were – just boys, really, and their ship was sinking, and then exploding, before they even knew what happened. Today, there are only five remaining survivors, ranging in age from 94-96 years old.

After the navy boat brought us back, we wandered around a bit to see the other things that were around, like this nuclear torpedo:

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor

And read the various signs with more information about the event:

Pearl Harbor

After that, we headed back to Waikiki to do more wandering around, eventually hitting Duke’s for dinner:

Drinks

Delicious drinks at Duke’s

and then stumbling upon a hula show that was going on at the beach:Hulu show on Waikiki Beach

Sunday

Sunday was our last full day on Oahu and we decided to spent it at Hanauma Bay, a beach on a bay that was formed by volcanic activity about 32,000 years ago, It became a very popular tourist destination because of its beautiful beach and amazing marine life, with about 400 different species of fish living there. They state has turned it into a nature preserve and when you first get there you have to watch a movie that basically just says “Don’t touch any of the living creatures, including the coral. Hey, did you know coral is alive? Well, you do now, so don’t touch it!” Then you are allowed to head down the hill to enjoy the beach.

Hanumba Bay was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, which is saying something because I loved pretty much everything about this trip. But the snorkelling here was amazing! The water was so clear and there were so many different kinds of beautiful fish! I was really regretting not having a GoPro while snorkeling here. You can see some of the types of fish that we saw on this Hanauma Bay Education Program Fish Identification Card – ones we saw included Bluespine Unicornfish, Bird Wrasse, Hawaiian Sergeant, female Spotted Boxfish, male Christmas Wrasse, Moorish Idol, many types of Parrotfish and tonnes of Reef Triggerfish and Convict Tang. There was also a giant purple fish that I think was a type of Parrotfish and it was so big that you could actual hear it eating when you were underwater with it!

I found this video on Youtube from someone who had a similar experience – it’s a different colour of fish, but you can see what I mean about hearing the fish eating:

Apparently there are sometimes reef sharks in the bay, but we didn’t see any. I would kind of loved to have seen one because sharks are awesome, but even knowing that there has never been a shark attack in the bay and reef sharks don’t feed on humans, I may have freaked out if I’d actually seen one because OMG SHARK!

We basically spent the whole day there, alternating between snorkelling and lounging on the beach. On one of our later times out snorkelling that day we finally saw the second thing (other than sharks) that I wanted to see in the wild: a turtle! We were just snorkelling around on the opposite side of the bay than we’d been before and Scott called me over to where he was and pointed down into the reef. And there was a beautiful green sea turtle, just swimming around and eating from the reef! Again, I was kicking myself for not having a GoPro! I did find this photo on Flickr of a turtle that looks just like the one we saw:

Sea Turtle @ Hanauma Bay

I spent a bunch of time just swimming around following the turtle – he was just so cute11!

Here’s a video from someone who was smart enough to bring a GoPro with them while snorkelling there (this is pretty much exactly what my day was like, except for the soundtrack):

Also at the beach were a whole bunch of cats, who apparently live, feasting on garbage and having somewhat of an uneasy truce with a bunch of mongooses.

At one point, Scott was petting the kitties and a little kid who was probably three or four years old and had clearly paid attention in the “don’t touch the wildlife” video admonished him “Don’t touch them!!!!!” Of course, not touching the feral cats is probably more of a safety rule for you rather than the cats, but he didn’t end up getting bitten or scratched, so I suppose we’ll call that a win for all.

Monday

And just like that, the trip was over! We got one last morning in Honolulu, where I snapped what is probably the nicest photo I took on the whole trip, and from the restaurant in our hotel, of all places!

View from the restaurant in our hotel

On top of being a super amazing awesome fun time, my trip also allowed me to knock two items off my 101 list: #1 – Cage dive with sharks and #91 – Go to Hawaii. And as soon as I hit publish on this posting, it will put me 1/6th of the way towards achieving my 2018 goal of having “published at least six [blog postings] that are long form  (minimum of 3000 words).”

In conclusion: A++, would Hawaii again.

Image and Video Credits: The barracuda photo is from Wikipedia and the Green Sea Turtle photo posted by FHKE on Flickr with a Creative Commons license. All the other photos are mine or Scott’s. The two surfing videos are mine and Scott’s and for sources of the other videos, follow the links to YouTube.

  1. I’m reasonably sure that I’m slowly drifting towards an entirely Costco-based life. First it was just for food… then clothing… and now travel! []
  2. I told my trainer for January & February to give me a training program that would help me with surfing and/or looking good on the beach. So she gave me some crazy tough workouts and I think it really helped! []
  3. Which we bought at Costco (of course) before we left Vancouver. []
  4. Are you sensing my cheapness? []
  5. Apparently some companies will chum the water to attack sharks, but it’s controversial as it can affect shark behaviour and even lead to sharks equating humans with food, which is not a good thing. []
  6. Honestly, the whole time I kept thinking that the narration should have been done by Troy McClure. []
  7. Note to self: write that blog posting that you’ve been meaning to write since forever called “Dr. Beth’s Worldwide Lighthouse Tour”. []
  8. As a day pass is the same price as going somewhere on the bus and then returning, we decided just to get the pass to get to the hike and back, and then use it to travel around town some more. Because frugality. []
  9. Not something you can really do in Vancouver. []
  10. Though Sarah did plan a visit for her parents when they were in Hawaii and thus was able to give me detailed instructions of how to get there, get tickets, etc. []
  11. I’d also stalked some fish throughout the day – I’d find an interesting looking fish and then just follow it around to see where it would go. It got me wondering what the fish and turtle think about all these snorkelers – do they just think we are some weird looking fish? []

By

Five New Foods, Two Books, and One Hell of a Deadlift

After last year’s pathetic display of accomplishing so few of my goals, I’ve decided to come out of the 2018 gate strong. In fact, I’ve already made 5 new foods/beverages that I’ve never made before (of my goal to make 18 new things year), finished 2 books (of my goal of 18), and deadlifted my body weight!

The foods are:

  • chicken florentine – I had a bunch of spinach I needed to use up, so I picked this recipe.
  • grog – this was the house drink at my birthday party. It was pretty tasty!
  • slow cooker lasagna – made this for my birthday party. I’ve made lasagna a million times before, but never in a slow cooker.
  • kale salad from a recipe from Savio Volpe – Scott took me to Savio Volpe for my birthday and since the reservation said it was my birthday, there was a birthday card waiting on the table and in that card was a recipe for their kale salad. Which is delicious. And which I’ve made several times since then!
  • herbed goat cheese-stuffed chicken thighs – I had a bunch of goat cheese, leftover from my birthday party, that I needed to use up (do you see the trend?), so I google “goat cheese recipes” and found one for stuffing chicken breast with goat cheese that you’ve mixed with herbs. But I did it with chicken thighs. Pretty good stuff.
Making slow cooker lasagna

Making lasagna in the slow cooker

Kale salad

Kale salad

The two books I’ve finished so far in 2018 were:

  • The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker – I started reading this massive tome last year and it took me about eleventy billion years to get through it, but I finally did. The gist of the book is that violence has decreased over human history and Pinker puts forward his theory as to why. Often people think that we are living in particularly dangerous times – probably at least in part because we hear about violent events on the news on the time, but that’s actually a skewed perception, as the news covers the most sensational events (If it bleeds, it leads). Overall we are at much less at risk of being a victim of violence than in any other time in human history1 There’s a tonne of data illustrating the decline in violence and we can see it also in what is considered acceptable – e.g., it used to be legal and considered acceptable by society for people to keep slaves, for a man to rape his wife, for parents to beat their children, to people to brutalize animals, for example2. Pinker presents a pretty extensive theory as to why violence has declined and I’m not even going to try to get into describing it all. You’ll just have to read the 800+ pages to find out for yourself!
  • Ready Player One: A Novel by Ernest Cline – {SPOILER ALERT – Don’t read this if you don’t want the book to be spoiled for you!} After reading such a long, dense book, I decided I needed to have a quick and easy read as a bit of a palate cleanser for my brain, and Ready Player One fit the bill. Plus, there’s a movie version of it coming out this year and so I figured I should read it in case I decided to see the movie. I know a lot of people *love* this book, but I thought it was just OK. I mean, I enjoyed reading it but I got the exact same feeling from reading it as I did when I read the DaVinci Code – I was compelled enough by wanting to see how the various puzzles would be solved to keep reading, but the writing is so flat3 that it was kind of a painful, if easy, read. He does a tonne of name dropping of 80s games (game dropping?), movies, and music. Having grown up in the 80s, most of these were familiar to me (especially the movies and music), but the excitement of “hey, I remember that” gets pretty old pretty quick and then it just becomes annoying. And most egregiously, the Deus ex machina of Og showing up to give them a completely impenetrable fortress from which to complete the end of the game was just too much.

And then the one that I’m most excited about: I deadlifted more than my body weight! One of the challenges to doing this was that my body weight has increased due to the muscle mass I’ve put on from all the weight training4. I’d thought I’d lifted my body weight one time last year but then when I got home and weighed myself to confirm, I found that I’d been just shy of my weight.

In this month’s training program, one of my exercises was to do bar bell deadlifts where you start with a weight you can lift for 12 reps, then you up the weight and do 9 reps, then you up the weight again and do 6 reps. Then you start over at 12 reps, but with the weight you used for 9 reps the first time through, then you do 9 reps with the weight you did for 6 reps the first time through, then you do 6 reps at a higher weight. As you can see from my record sheet, on Jan 30, 2018, I did 6 reps of 67.5 kg!

Untitled

Since I’m of the generation of Canadians that still thinks of our body weight in pounds instead of kg, I had to do the conversion to confirm that this was, in fact, more than my body weight:Untitled

And I do, in fact, weight less than 148 lbs, so hooray for me – goal achieved!

  1. Of course, this is not to say that there is no violence or that the violence that does happen is not horrific. []
  2. Again, this is not to say that these things don’t still happen or that they aren’t legal in some societies still today. But they are legal or accepted in far fewer societies today than in the past. []
  3. Full disclosure: I saw the description of the writing in this book as “flat” in a GoodReads review and it totally fit with the feeling I had about the writing that I couldn’t find the right word for, so I totally stole the word! []
  4. Also, it’s kind of cool that after several years of setting, and failing to achieve, a goal of losing the 15 lbs I put on during my MBA (I’d get part way there from half marathon training, but never quite lost it all), I’m now actually happier with my body size despite weighing the most I’ve ever weighed, because it’s all been muscle mass gain. Don’t get me wrong, I still have some fat mass I’d like to lose, but I’ve got some kickass muscles that I’ve never had before! []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Home Repair Edition

Hey remember that time more than four months ago when my kitchen cabinet door fell off?I *finally* got around to fixing it. I was really gung-ho to fix it when it broke, going so far as to buy replacement hinges at Home Depot right away. But then I got busy and somehow four months went by before I got around to trying to actually attach the new hinges to the cabinet and, as it turns out, the hinges I got were not the right ones. I’d bought ones that looked like the old ones, but when Scott and I attached them, the door wouldn’t close – it was off by like half an inch. My friend Heather’s husband Dwayne came over to help out and discovered what the problem was – the hinges I had gotten from Home Depot were made by Blum, but the hinges in all my cabinets are Ferrari. And apparently there is no standardization among different manufacturers, so you can’t just use a Blum hinge to replace a Ferrari one. After running around town, I managed to find someone who could sell me the right hinges, which Scott and I used to fix the cabinet yesterday and now I am the proud owner of a kitchen in which all the cabinets have doors on them!

And while we were in a fix it kind of mood, we also tightened the toilet seat, which was starting to become a bit loose. For this, we went to YouTube and found a video that showed us how very easy peasy this is to do:

So now not only can I successfully hide the contents of my kitchen cabinet with a fully functioning door, but I also will not slide off my toilet due to a loose seat. Hooray!

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Goals for 2018

Since I performed abysmally on my goals for the past two years, I’ve decided to shake up how I’m writing my goals this year. As I was googling to get some inspiration for goals for this year, I saw some articles with tips on how to write better goals. One of those tips was something that I know very well from my work-life – making SMART goals!

  • Specific – it should be clear exactly what you are trying to achieve (e.g., rather than say “eat healthier”, you need to specify in way, like “eat more vegetables” or “consume less sugar”)
  • Measurable – it should have an indication of how you will measure if you achieved it (e.g., eat a minimum of 5 servings of vegetables at least 4 days a week)
  • Achievable – it should be something that is within your control1 and realistic enough to achieve2 – though you don’t want to make it too easy to achieve – it should be somewhat of a challenge so you have to work to achieve it.
  • Relevant – it should be something that matters to you, otherwise you won’t be motivated to work towards it.
  • Time-bound – it should have a date associated with it so that it’s not just an open-ended “well, I haven’t achieved it yet, but maybe someday it will happen!).

All of my yearly goals are, by definition, time-bound since they are to be completed within the year and I’m usually good at making them measurable and specific, but I’ve done a double check on this year’s goals to make sure they met all the elements of SMART.

The other idea that I saw was to phrase the goals as if they were already achieved – a technique that I’m familiar with from writing vision statements and learning objectives. So I’m going to give that a try!

By December 31, 2018:

Health-related goals

  1. I have deadlifted more than my own body weight. I’m close to having done this, but never quite got to my own body weight (I thought I had, but then went home and weighed myself and discovered that I’d put on my weight than I’d realized due to building up all this muscle from strength training!)
  2. I have done a chin-up or pull-up without the help of any resistance bands. I’ve had some training programs where I’ve been doing chin ups or pulls up, but I’m not yet able to lift my own body weight, so I stand in resistance bands that are hung from the bar, which takes a bit of my weight. I started with three different resistance bands and now I’m down to one or two. I think within 12 months I can get to doing them all on my own3
  3. I meditate at least once per week.
  4. I have written in my journal at least one time per week, on average. – I think I set my journal writing goal too high in 2017 and then got discouraged when I got so far behind that it felt like I’d never catch up! One a year seems more realistic.
  5. I have brought my lunch to work at least 75% of the time.

Personal growth-related goals:

  1. I learned 12 new things and wrote a blog posting about each of them.
  2. I read 18 books – and written a review of each. I failed miserably at my book reading goal in 2016, but I’m hoping that my work team gets moved to the new location we are supposed to be moving to – which is transit accessible – soon in the new year, so that I’ll be taking the Skytrain and bus more, which will provide me with more time for reading! Also, my book club is getting a reboot4, so that will help motivate me too!

Crafty goals:

  1. I’ve sewn 5 items. I really enjoyed the sewing classes I did last year and want to do more sewing. I’d like to take the zippered pouch class and perhaps make a few more tote bags.
  2. I’ve made 18 new foods and/or beverages that I’ve never made before – and blogged about each of them. I have ideas for some things I want to try making and I’m sure I’ll be inspired with other ideas throughout the year.

Professional goals:

  1. I’ve submitted 3 papers for publication. I have one that is almost ready to be submitted and ideas for two others and I’m really need to dedicate the time to sit down and write them!
  2. I’ve set up and implemented a performance planning and review system for my team at work. Now that I have a team (that is more than just me and one other person), I think it’s high time I set this up.

Getting organized goals:

  1. I’ve applied for a Nexus card.
  2. I’ve finished Konmaring my condo
  3. I’ve painted my condo.
  4. I’ve bought a freezer. I currently only have the small freezer on the top of my fridge and I feel so limited by it. I want to be able to make big batches of things (like lasagna or chili) and then freezer them to have for lunches. So my plan is to clean up my office enough to

Miscellaneous other goals:

  1. I’ve donated blood twice.
  2. I’ve published 118 blog postings. That’s just a little more than one every 3 days, on average, or about 10 per month.
  3. Of those blog postings, I’ve published at least six that are long form (minimum of 3000 words). I feel like I should write some more thoughtful pieces, so I’m going to give it a try.
  1. Of course, sometimes things happen that make something that was achievable no longer so – such as if you set a goal to run a marathon but then got injury. But it shouldn’t be something that is clearly outside of your control or you can’t work towards achieving it. []
  2. I mean, as much as I’d like to make $1 billion this year, it’s pretty damn unlikely to happen, so then you are just setting yourself up for failure! []
  3. Some people at the gym do chin ups or pull ups while wearing a heavy chain – or a chain with weights attached! – that’s going to be a longer-term goal for me. []
  4. Thanks to Cath for rebooting us! []

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Books I Read in 2017

As I mentioned recently, I’ve done absolutely abysmally on my goal of reading 17 books in 2017. I did managed to finish off two of the books I was reading when I wrote that last posting1, so I upped my total number of books read in 2017 to four instead of two, but it’s still pretty sad.

2017 reading challenge

For the record, the four books were:

my 2017 books

And here are some stats that Good Reads gave me on those books:

books stats 2017

I have high hopes that 2018 will be a better year for me for reading because (a) four books is a pretty low bar to set, (b) my book club is getting rebooted, so that will give me several book reading opportunities/motivation, and (c) I’m hoping that my office will get moved to a more transit-friendly location soon in the new year, so that I’ll have more Skytrain book reading time in 2018 than I did this year.

Anyone have any good book suggestions for me?

  1. I did read a chunk more of Better Angels of Our Nature over the holidays, mostly on during my flights too and from Toronto, but I didn’t manage to finish it off. But I’m sure I’ll finish it soon in the new year, so at least that will get me off to a good start on my 2018 book reading goal! []

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New Foods I Made in 2017

So I guess now is that time of year where I do all my year-end wrap up postings! Decided to start with one of my 2017 goals that I actually accomplished: Make 17 new foods and/or drinks that I’ve never made before.

In fact, not only did I achieve this one, but I surpassed it by 8!

  1. chicken parmesan casserole
  2. pork tenderloin in bourbon – this was bourbon-licious
  3. cedar planked salmon – thanks to cedar planks that I got from Costco
  4. cedar planked chicken – because I got the cedar planks from Costco, there were eleventy billion of them
  5. oat fudge bars
  6. BBQ pizza
  7. zucchini chocolate chip muffins – these were a big hit when I brought them into the office
  8. maraschino cherries – I made these from cherries I picked up in the Okanagan and a cherry liqueur that I also got in the Okanagan1
  9. amaretto cherries – I decided to try making these in the same way that I made the maraschino cherries (i.e., soak berries in booze). When I tried then after about a week in the booze, the maraschino cherries were delicious, but the amaretto ones didn’t seem like they’d absorbed any of the amaretto yet, so I’ve now left them for
  10. tarragon vinegar – with fresh tarragon from High Garden
  11. BBQ Chicken with Sweet Chili–Peach Glaze – I had some fresh peaches and made a pretty delicious glaze to go with BBQ chicken
  12. cauliflower tots
  13. broccoli tots
  14. Garlicky Butter Chive Parmesan Pork Chops – not gonna lie, I did not leave these
  15. pita bread – my friend Steph made these when I was at her place and they were so good that I asked for the recipe. And she was like, “these are so easy, I don’t even use a recipe.” So I tried making some (with a recipe I found) and they were, in fact, really easy!
  16. raspberry jam
  17. figs pickled in balsamic vinegar – with figs from Tig & Pat’s annual fig party
  18. fig infused balsamic vinegar – this may or may not have been the left over balsamic vinegar from when I pickled the figs
  19. pickled spicy beans – sooo good
  20. pickles – nor these
  21. pickled beets – haven’t actually tried these yet
  22. sautéed beet tops – since I had the beet tops from the beets that I pickled, I tried sautéing them, because I read that was a thing to do. Didn’t love them, but they weren’t terrible, so would probably make them again should I be in possession of beet tops
  23. jalapeño jelly – nor these
  24. bitters – from the “make your own bitters” kit my sister gave me last Christmas
  25. vanilla sugar – from vanilla beans that had previously been making vanilla extract
My first ever batches of spicy pickled beans, pickled beets, and pickles!

Spicy pickled beans, pickled beets, pickles

Making jalapeno jelly

Making jalapeño jelly

Cedar planked salmon

Cedar planked salmon

Cedar Planked Chicken

Cedar Planked Chicken

Oat Fudge Bars

Oat Fudge Bars

BBQ Pizza

BBQ Pizza

Zucchini chocolate chip muffins

Zucchini chocolate chip muffins

BBQ Chicken with Sweet Chili–Peach Glaze

BBQ Chicken with Sweet Chili–Peach Glaze and grilled peach and veggies

Broccoli and cauliflower tots

Broccoli and cauliflower tots

Sauteeing beet tops

Sauteed beet tops

  1. So they aren’t technically maraschino cherries, which should be made with maraschino liqueur, but I figure they are close enough. []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Make-Up Expiry Edition

So after more than a quarter of a century of wearing makeup, I recently learned that this symbol exists:

Makeup expiry symbol

It’s not on all makeup, but when it’s there, it’s a symbol of how long the make-up is good for once you open it.

This mascara is good for 6 months after I opened it.

Mascara
And this moisturizer is good for 12 months after I opened it.

Moisturizer

Now I just need to actually know when I opened all my make-up and I’m good to go!