Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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How Did I Do On My 2018 Goals?

I set 18 goals for myself for 2018 – let’s see how I did!

Achieved:

  1. deadlifted my own body weight – record is now 75 kg (165 lbs) well above my body weight.
  2. set up and implemented a performance planning and review system for my team at work – done!
  3. painted my condo 
  4. did a chin-up or pull-up without the help of a resistance bandI did it! And then I did two in a row! By the end of December, my record was 4 in a row, which I managed one time. Chin ups are a tricky thing – some days I can barely get one done and other days I’ll get a few. But I’m very proud that my hard work all year paid off that chin ups are now a thing I can do.
  5. wrote in my journal at least one time per week, on average – accomplished! Some of them are brief, but the main thing here is that I feel like I’ve established a habit of journal writing again.
  6. made 18 new foods and/or beverages that I’ve never made before – done! 
  7. buy a freezer
  8. learned 12 new things – I learned about the following 12 things:
    1. home repair (specifically, fixing a cabinet hinge and a toilet seat)
    2. how to surf
    3. how to snorkel
    4. how to sew zippers
    5. how to use a hammerdrill
    6. Excel tricks
    7. mobile mesh networks
    8. drywall
    9. how to register a trademark
    10. Aeropress coffee making
    11. Tableau software
    12. scotch
  9. read 18 books I read 20! Also, my friend Linda used my goal to inspire herself to read 18 books this year and she did it too!

 

Did Not Achieve:

  1. Sew 5 items – I sewed 2 zipper pouches, so this goal was only 2/5 completed
  2. finish Konmaring my condo – not even close
  3. meditating once a week – also not even close
  4. submitted 3 papers for publication – submitted one, but had to withdraw it as by the time the reviews came back, I didn’t have any time to work on suggested revisions. I’m getting some research assistant help this year, so hopefully can get a few papers out.
  5. applying for a Nexus card – just didn’t get around to it. This one is going on the 2019 list!
  6. donating blood twice – didn’t even do it once
  7. published 118 blog postings – I only did 70, or 59% of my goal
  8. publish at least six are long form blog postings – I managed three
  9. bringing my lunch to work at least 75% of the time – didn’t even manage to track this!

So there you have it – I completed 50% of my 2018 goals, which is up from last year’s pathetic showing of 29%. Perhaps my tactic of writing my goals as if they were already achieved work? I think I’ll try it again for my 2019 goals!

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All the rest of the new foods that I made this year

I’m back dating this posting to yesterday because I had it mostly written but didn’t quite get around to finishing it before I had to leave for a New Year’s Eve party last night.

When I last wrote about the new foods I made this year as part of my goal to make 18 food items or beverages that I have never made before, I’d only made 5 foods. Of course, that was back in February, and I’ve made a lot of things since then. Thirteen things, so be specific.

  1. a saison beer
  2. olive tapenade
  3. beer battered fish tacos
  4. salmon cakes
  5. balsamic vinaigrette
  6. peach-bourbon jam – made this from peaches I got in the Okanagan. And it was a huge hit with those who I shared it with1
  7. mint juleps – made these for my friend Kim and her boyfriend when they came over for dinner with mint from my balcony garden
  8. pickling spice – made this so I could make spicy pickled carrots
  9. spicy pickled carrots
  10. cream of asparagus soup – made this with my sister’s Vitamix for my aunt who came over for lunch when I was at my sister’s place over Christmas
  11. Godfather – a delicious beverages that is made from whiskey & amaretto
  12. sugar pie – made this for Christmas dinner
  13. Irish soda bread – got this recipe from a friend of mine who tweeted their grandmother’s recipe. It is so simple to make and very delicious!

So there you have it – the remaining 13 new things I made this year to complete my goal of making 18 new foods and/or beverages this year. 

And I’m already looking forward to making even more new things in 2019. The list of ideas so far include: sourdough bread, plus sauce, ginger beer, pickled asparagus, and, inspired from our trip to Scotland: Scottish tablet and Cullen skink.

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All the rest of the books I read this year

I’m back dating this posting to yesterday because I had it mostly written but didn’t quite get around to finishing it before I had to leave for a New Year’s Eve party last night.

When I last wrote about books I’d read this year, I needed to read four more books to achieve my goal of reading 18 books in 2018. I’m happy to report that I have exceeded this goal, as I read 6 more books! Here are (very) brief synopses of the books.

Brain Rules for Aging Well: 10 Principles for Staying Vital, Happy, and Sharp by John Medina

Earlier in the year, I read the book “Brain Rules“, from which I learned a whole bunch of cool stuff about the brain and how we can apply what we know about how the brain works to be more effective at teaching1. So I decided to read one of his subsequent books, where he talks about what we can do to keep our brains in tip-top shape so that when we get older, it will keep working well! 

Some fun facts that I learned from this book:

  • Things that you can do to add years to your life and keep your brain healthy well into your senior years: reading, learning, teaching, speaking many languages, exercising, dancing, being social, being grateful, mindfulness2. These are all things that I love to do ((Well, learning languages is something I’ve always wanted to do, so now I have even more incentive to do it!)!
  • Teaching helps you keep “your brain sharp over a fund of knowledge”. I find this to be so true! It’s one of the things I really love about teaching!
  • Learning to play music improves executive function – including working memory!
  • Reading actually associated with longevity. “Seniors who read at least 3.5 hours per day were 17% less likely to die by a certain age than controls.” “The readings has to be of books, long form”. Reading newspapers articles, for example, has a smaller effect. (I wonder if reading tweets or Facebook posts would do any good at all?)
  • “For every year of education experienced, cognitive decline is delayed by 0.21 years.” (So basically, I’ve staved off cognitive decline for a zillion years).
  • “People who’ve spent a lifetime in mentally and physically demanding environments are much more efficient at using whatever brains they carry into their elder years. They’re also more neuroanatomically “nimble”, more flexibly able to create alternative neural circuitry when they originals become injured.”
  • “Productive engagement” refers to the idea of “experiencing a novel idea and actively, even aggressively, engaging it.” The best way to do this: “find people with whom you do not agree and regular argue with them”. It’s important to “experience environments where you find your assumptions challenged, your perspectives stretched, your prejudices confronted, your curiosity inspired.” I think it’s important to note that this means you need to argue in good faith and be open to different points of view and new ideas. So often people argue from their firmly entrenched opinions and don’t actually engage with the ideas of the other side. That’s not going to help your brain at all!
  •  Another thing that is good for your brain: writing down 3 good things that happened to you today, including
    1. what good thing happened
    2. why it happened
  • Despite the stereotype of old people getting more and more grumpy: “Happiness increases in older populations as long as they stay healthy”. 
  • Another stereotype about old people is that their memory gets bad. But it actually depends on the type of memory.
    • “Semantic memory, a memory for facts, doesn’t erode with age”
    • “your vocabulary actually increases with the passing years”
    • “procedural memory (nonconscious retrieval […]) remains steady as the years go by, although some studies also demonstrate a slight improvement”
    • working memory and executive function does get worse with age 🙁
    • episodic memory also gets worse with age (and it peaks around 20, so I guess I’m already well into decline on that one). In particular, remember the source of something is harder to remember (rather than the facts)
    • processing speed declines with age. “On average, you lose about ten milliseconds of speed for every decade you live past age twenty”
    • it becomes harder to ignore distractions as you get older
    • “tip of tongue” (you feel like you know something but can’t quite articulate it) and “room amnesia” (getting to a room and thinking “what did I come in here for?”) are both real things
  • Wisdom can be thought of has “having a richer model of he world that enables deployment of established behavioural repertoires” – and that increases with age
  • Your brain will compensate for decline – when one part stops working well, it recruits neurons from other parts of the brain to do the needed function. I just think that is really cool! 
  • There’s no such thing as multitasking, as you can’t actually do two things at the same time – you are actually just switching back and forth between the two things. Scientists use a better term “divided attention” and it gets harder for us to do as we age.
  • “If you want to diminish cognitive decline in old age, you must start accruing sleep habits in middle age.” This is definitely my Achilles heel – I sleep very solidly, but I don’t get nearly enough sleep.
  • Sleep allows the brain both to consolidate memories and to remove the waste products that build up during the biochemical processes that happen during the day (and your brain consumes a lot of energy, so there’s a fair bit of work to be done to remove those waste products!)
  • You should get 6-8 hours of sleep per night – getting more or less than that increases the risk for mortality! But, of course, that’s on average – individuals do vary in how much sleep they require.
  • Seligman’s “well-being theory” consists of “five contributing behaviors” that are basically “a to-do list for people of any age interested in authentic happiness” and make up the acronym PERMA:
    • Positive emotion – regularly do things that make you feel true pleasure
    • Engagement – in activities that are meaningful to you – things you can really lose yourself in (e.g, a good book, movie, sports, etc.)
    • Meaning – do things that give your life purpose
    • Accomplishment – set goals at things that require you to “achieve mastery in something over which you currently have no mastery at all”. Train for a marathon or learn a new language, for example.
  • People who feel younger than they are do better on cognitive tests. Apparently doing so by 12 years is the best (e.g., if you are 42 and you feel 30, you will rock those cognitive tests).
  • Apparently lab rats can detect if a researcher is male or female and they get more stressed out if they are male. This is not really something that going to influence my behaviour re: healthy brain aging, but it just blew me away when I read it!
  • Scientists have done experiments where they hook up the circulatory systems of old and young mice (so that the old mice are exposed to young blood) and they find that virtually ever organ, including the brain, sees positive changes! They are now embarking on experiments in humans where they inject plasma from young people into patients with Alzheimer’s – results are not yet available (or at least weren’t at the time this book was written). I’m curious what the results will be!

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

  • I have mixed feelings about Sam Harris. I like some of his work where he talks about stuff like rationalism and mindfulness, but I find myself increasingly getting annoyed by his views on a whole host of other things he talks about on his podcast, as I find him to come across quite arrogant and talking about things he doesn’t seem to know a lot about as if he were an expert. But I knew this particular book was about things like mindfulness, which I am interested in, so I decided to read it.

Here are some quotations that I liked from this book (along with some of my thoughts):

  • On the importance of context:
    • “The burn of lifting weights, for instance, would be excruciating if it were a symptom of terminal illness”. I’ve heard Harris use this example before and I like it – I find it helpful to think about this when I’m experiencing things. It’s probably especially meaningful to me as someone who really enjoys the burn you get from working hard at the gym.
    • “We always face tensions and trade-offs. In some moments we crave excitement and in others rest. We might love the taste of wine and chocolate, but rarely for breakfast.”
  • “Being mindful is not a matter of thinking more clearly about experience; it is the act of experiencing more clearly, including the arising of thoughts themselves.”
  • “It is your mind, rather than the circumstances themselves, that determine the quality of your life.” We can’t control our circumstances, but we can decide how we want to react to them.
  • “We continually seek to prop up and defend an egoic self that doesn’t exist.” It’s much easier not to overreact or be defensive if you don’t take yourself to serious. If there’s no “self”, there’s no need to defend it!
  • “Most of us let our negative emotions persist longer than is necessary. Becoming suddenly angry we tend to stay angry – and this requires that we actively produce the feeling of anger.” Recognizing this can help us to not stay angry for as long as we might otherwise. We’ve all experienced times where we are really angry or sad and then something happens – maybe a phone call that causes us to pay attention to something else, and the anger or sadness disappears. We can do something similar by being mindful to the feelings of anger or sadness.
  • “Thinking is indispensable to us. It is essential for belief formation, planning, explicit learning, moral reasoning, and many other capacities that make us human. Thinking is the basis of every social relationship and cultural institution we have.” “But our habitual identification with thought – that is our failure to recognize thoughts as thoughts, as appearances in consciousness – is a primary source of human suffering.” 
  • “Meditation requires total acceptance of what is given in the present moment. If you are injured and in pain, the path to mental peace can be traversed by a single step: simply accept the pain as it arise, what doing whatever you need to do to help your body heal. If you are anxious before giving a speech, become willing to feel the anxiety fully, so that it becomes a meaningless pattern of energy in your mind and body.” 
  • “However, there is a different between accepting unpleasant sensations and emotions as a strategy -while covertly hoping they will go away – and truly accepting them as transitory appearances in consciousness.”

Belinda Blinked; 1 A modern story of sex, erotica and passion. How the sexiest sales girl in business earns her huge bonus by being the best at removing her high heels by Rocky Flintstone

So, I need to explain why this insane book is on my list of books I’ve “read” this year. I didn’t actually read the book, but rather I listened to the first season of a podcast called My Dad Wrote A Porno in which a man named Jamie reads an erotic novel (the aforementioned “Belinda Blinked”) that was written and self-published by his dad, to his friends James and Alice. They are all in the entertainment business and are absolutely hilarious as they completely skewer the book for its terrible writing, nonsensical “plot”, very poor understanding of anatomy, and so forth. But since they read the whole book, that means that I heard the whole book, much as I would had a read it as an audiobook (just with a whole lot of  added commentary), so it totally counts as a book I read this year!

The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future by Andrew Yang

This is a book that I first heard about when the author, Andrew Yang, was on the aforementioned Sam Harris’ podcast, in an episode that didn’t actually drive me crazy (which is rare these days). I found what Yang was talking about quite interesting, so I decided to read his book. It’s basically a book about how so much jobs are being automated and if society doesn’t do something to separate labour from income, we are going to be totally screwed. The book is American, so it talks most about the US situation, but a lot of it is applicable to Canada too (other than the health care stuff).  There’s lots of facts and figures about the type of work that can be easily replaced by robots and algorithms (did you know that “truck driver” is the most common occupation in 29 states? and that “automation has eliminated 4 million manufacturing jobs in the US since 2000”? And that there are 95 million working-age Americans who don’t work?). If there’s anything routine about work , it came probably be easily automated – and that isn’t just blue collar jobs, a lot of what lawyers, doctors, and accountants due is quite routine. Ultimately, the book is building a case for why there should be a universal basic income (including talking about places where they’ve already been doing some form of UBI).

In the book, he talks about how a lot of jobs these days are quite precarious – temp or contractor jobs with no benefits. This is especially problematic in a place like the US, where your healthcare is tied to your job. The book also notes that tying healthcare to employment actually discourages companies from hiring (since healthcare is a signficant added cost when you hire people, whereas robots don’t need healthcare). Also, tying healthcare to jobs results in “job lock”, i.e., people staying in a job just because they need the health insurance and it makes the labour market less flexible, as people can’t go where better jobs are in case it doesn’t work out and they end up with no health insurance.

He also talks about how “companies are not paid to perform certain tasks, not employ lots of people.” If they can get those tasks done through automation and that’s more efficient than hiring people, they will do that.

A few other interesting things in the book:

  • When you are struggling financially, you lose mental bandwidth. So being financially insecure results in less fluid intelligence. Having a large part of your population financially insecure will mean society can do a lot less intelligence-wise.
  • When we feel we are in a situation of scarcity, people become more tribal and divisive. Decision making gets worse. They don’t do things that relate to “sustained optimism” – like starting a business, getting married, or moving to a new place for a new job. This is a lot of what’s happening in the US right now.
  • Different parts of the country are seeing different levels of abundance vs. scarcity. (Makes me think of the William Gibson quotation: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”)
  • Studies show that working class boys consider schoolwork to be “feminine”.
  • College-education women don’t like to marry non-college education men.
  • “Peter Frase, author of Four Futures, poins out that work encompasses three things:
    • the means by which the economy produces goods and services
    • the means by which people earn income 
    • an activity that lends meaning or purpose to many people’s lives.”
  •  We need to separate these things, as automation will be able to produce many of the goods and services without workers, and yet people still need income and purpose.
  • Universal basic income “almost became law in the United States in 1970 and 1971, passing the House of Representatives twice before stalling in the Senate”.
  • Two arguments against UBI that are “completely oppositional”: “First, work is vital and the core of human existence. Second, no one will want to work if they don’t have to.”
  • People also argue that UBI will increase drug and alcohol use, but the research shows that it does not. Also, “it’s not like a lack of money is presently keeping people from using opioids and alcohol.”
  • “Andy Stern jokes that most of the upper-middle-class children he knows have something called “parental basic income”: their lives are partially subsidized by their parents. Cell phone bills, rent guarantees, family trips and vacation, and so on all come out of the Bank of Mom and Dad.”
  • The market does not reward  what is really important: “There is limited or no market reward at present for keeping families together, upgrading infrastructure, lifelong education, preventive care, or improving democracy.”
  • People thought that MOOCs (massive online open courses) were going to replace universities because people could learn everyone online for free. But they didn’t. Just providing content is not enough for people to learn. A lot of learning occurs between the people – teachers and students. “No one would consider putting a child in an empty classroom with a textbook “eduction””.
  • “We know what works – better teachers, better cultures, teamwork, and individualized attention. We’re just not very good at delivering these things. We fall in love with scale and solutions that promise more for less.”

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Lord of the Flies is a book that many people read in high school, but somehow it never ended up on my reading list. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time, as it’s one of those classic books where there are so many pop culture references to it, that I felt like I was missing out for not having read it. It’s on my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days, so reading it helped me complete my goal for reading 18 books this year *and* got an item checked off on my 101 list.

I have to say that I basically knew the plot of this book based on the Simpson episode that was based on the book (which I now want to go and re-watch to see which jokes I have missed on previous viewings of that episode).  

 Data Management for Researchers by Kristin Briney

I read this book as part of the preparation for a course I’m going to be teaching on data management. And I have to say that not only was it a great book for that purpose, but it also gave me some ideas of things that I can be doing better in my own work!

I’m not going to go over all the things that I learned from this book, as that would probably bore 99.9% of people. If you want to hear about it, you should enrol in my course! 😉

  1. Incidentally, I’m trying to apply what I learned from that book – and from having seen John Medina speak – to the new course I’ve developing at the moment. []
  2. But in particular, the type of mindfulness that’s been studied and shown to be helpful, as tonnes of people have written books about “mindfulness” since it started to become popular, and not everyone has it right. []

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Stuff I Learned This year: Tableau edition

One of the things on my list of 101 things to do in 1001 days is “Learn a new software program” and this year, I did just that. The program in question is Tableau, which is a fantastic software for data visualization. 

This was something that I did for work, as my team and I had to create a dashboard to present data that needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis. We were able to get Tableau licences and a place to store our dashboard on a Tableau server that the organization has, so we had to teach ourselves how to use it quite quickly. It wasn’t very intuitive at first, but once we got the hang of it, we were able to create some very cool dashboards.

As these dashboards are part of my work, I can’t actually share them here – they are limited to within the organization. But they are awfully beautiful and they are interactive too, so you can hover over things on the graphs to get more information or filter them (e.g., to see the data for different hospitals, or different units within the hospitals).

I won’t say that I’m a Tableau expert by any stretch of the imagination – several of the people on my team who work on our dashboard regularly are much more skilled at it than I am. But I learned the basics and I think that counts as a new thing I learned this year!

Image credits: Tableau logo was posted in the Wikimedia Commons with a Creative Commons license

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Stuff I Learned This Year Aeropress Coffee Making Edition

While I was getting my place painted, Scott and I stayed at his place. But Scott didn’t have a coffee maker – he only had an Aeropress. And thus I had to learn how to use it!

It was actually pretty simple, but hey, it’s a new thing I learned this year, so it totally counts!

Here’s all the stuff you use:

Aeropress

First, you need to put the little filter in this circle thingy (which you’ve put on top of a cup) and wet the filter with hot water:

Aeropress

Then you put the coffee grounds into the tube thingy, which you’ve put on top of the circle thingy:

 AeropressAeropress

Then you fill it with boiling water and stir.

Let it sit for a few minutes, and then press the plunger down to make the coffee come out:

Aeropress

If it’s too strong, you can put some more water in it (sort of like an Americano).

And viola, you have coffee!

Personally, I prefer to just use my drop coffeemaker, but this thing is useful when you don’t have a coffeemaker with you!

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Trademark Edition

Another thing I learned this year is how to register a trademark in Canada.

Did you know that for just $2501? All you need to do is to fill in a simple form (with your name and address, what you want to trademark, what goods and/or services will be associated with your trademark and how you intend to use it), send them $250 ,and then wait.

After you file your application, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), will review your application to make sure that what you want to trademark can be registered (e.g., make sure it’s not in conflict with an existing trademark). If your application is approved, it gets published in the “Trade-marks Journal” for two months, during which others can oppose it). If it doesn’t get opposed (or if the opposition isn’t successful), your application will be “allowed”. Then you pay another $200 to register the trademark.

Once registered, you have 3 years to use the trademark – and it’s a case of if you don’t use it, you lose it! After 15 years (and every 15 years thereafter), you have to pay a renewal fee of $3502.

So it’s actually a pretty simple process – assuming that no one opposes your trademark. If they do, you have to provide evidence and written arguments and it could even end up going to court – which I’m sure would end up being pretty costly!)

Anyway, it’s all summarized here on the Government of Canada’s website, if you are interested: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/wr04355.html?Open&wt_src=cipo-tm-main 

  1. $300 if you want to file on a paper form instead of online – but why would you, really? []
  2. $400 if you file on paper – but again, why would you? []

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Drywall Edition

I’ve had my condo for more than four years now and decided it was high time to give the place a little makeover. When I bought my place, I only had a few days to move in due to multiple trips that were happening around the same time. I figured that the paint in the place at the time was OK – I didn’t love the dark brown wall in my bedroom and the beige walls throughout the place were not the colour I would have picked, but it didn’t look terrible and I’d also spent all the money I had buying the place, so didn’t really have the money floating around for unnecessary things like painting. But I grew bored of it, and there were some imperfections in the previous paint job (like brush strokes in a corner of the bathroom from where the painter didn’t do a good job of paint coverage). So I consulted with my good friend Lianna, who is a graphic designer, and she recommended a friend of hers who is a painter, and now my place looks so bright and clean! So while I can’t add “learned to paint a condo” to my list of things I learned this year, I did learn some interesting things through the process.

When I had my condo painted, my painters told me that the paper on some of my drywall had come loose in some places. I have never really given much thought to drywall before, but she said that it happens when you hang things on the wall and then remove them – it pulls at the paper on the drywall and over the years if you do this enough times, eventually you’ll need to replace the drywall. I had no idea!

According to Wikipedia:

Drywall (also known as plasterboard, wallboard, gypsum panel, sheet rock, or gypsum board) is a panel made of calcium sulfate dihydrate (gypsum), with or without additives, typically extruded between thick sheets of facer and backer paper, utilized in the construction of interior walls and ceilings.[1] The plaster is mixed with fiber (typically paper and/or fibreglass or asbestos), plasticizer, foaming agent, and various additives that can decrease mildew, increase fire resistance, and lower water absorption.

Anyway, no posting about home improvements would be complete without photos, so here’s the before colour: Hallway - before painting And here’s a couple of examples of the poor paint job done by whoever painted this place before I bought it: Bathroom corners Bathroom corners See how you can see the brush strokes where they didn’t fully cover the wall in the corner? Ugh!

And here’s the new colour – it’s called “Silver Satin”1: Freshly painted walk through closet

I decided to go with a fairly neutral colour as I get bored of things easily, so I didn’t want to pick a colour and then not like it anymore in a year. This way, I can add colour to the place by hanging paintings on my wall or have pillows on my couch and when I get bored of the colour, I can swap them out with different accessories. 

In addition to the paint, I also replaced the closest door in my spare room because it was ridiculously broken. It was one of those sliding mirror doors that you often see in condos and the tracks were so bent that you couldn’t slide the doors – and some of the wheels had fallen off the doors (probably from trying to slide the door through the bent tracks), and then a piece of the frame fell off too. 

Here’s the old mirrored door, with missing frame and opened because I couldn’t get it to slide closed anymore – plus, mess instead the closet: Closet in the spare room

Instead of replacing it with a mirrored door though, I decided to get something a little nicer. I was a tad bit worried that not having the mirror there might make the room feel smaller, but I actually think that it makes the room feel better (probably because the room is rather messy, so a mirror just made it look like a bigger mess!):New cupboard doors

And in addition to the new door, we also got a closet organizer installed, so that all the stuff in that closet2 is neatly organized. 

I have to say, I love this door a lot. Every time I open it and it slides so smoothly3, it makes me smile!

I still have a bit of work to do – for example, when we removed the track from the old closest door from the floor, we learned that when the place was built, they had installed the flooring around that track, so there’s now a gap in the flooring where that track was (the new door is only attached at the top, so it doesn’t have a floor track). So I need to get some stain to at least colour that spot to match the rest of the floor.

I also want to build a closet organizer in the front hall closet, which is currently a jumbly mess of coats, shoes, bags, and various other crap.

And I also kind of want to paint inside the closets because I didn’t bother to get them painted when I painted the condo, thinking “who even sees inside the closets?” but I have leftover paint and am now like “OMG, I hate the inside of these closets!). 

But those can be projects for 2019.

  1. And was just one of the 150+ shades of white that was in the big book of paint swatches that Lianna brought over to my place. []
  2. Which is mostly cat things (like the cat carriers and the timer cat feeding dish) and kitchen overflow (like the juicer, slow cooker, and various baking and canning items). []
  3. Unlike that godforsaken previous door, which was the bane of my existence. []

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30 days to go for my 2018 goals

There are a mere 30 days left in 2018, so I figured I’d check in on how I’m doing on my 2018 goals. When last we checked in, I had achieved 3 of my 2018 goals. I have now achieved two more of my goals:

And I’m nearly done:

  • read 18 books (I’m on book #18 for the year)
  • make 18 new foods and/or beverages that I’ve never made before (I’ve made 14/18 new things this year, but I haven’t yet done my Christmas baking)
  • learn 12 new things – I’ve only blogged about 7, but I have 4 other things that I’ve learned about but haven’t yet blogged. Which means I only have to learn about one more thing (or remember one other thing that I learned but haven’t yet put on my list) – that’s totally do-able

There’s a few others that are within the realm of possibility:

  • write in my journal at least one time per week, on average – I’ve been writing in it lately, though I’d need to check exactly how many times to see how many more I’d need to do to reach 52
  • sew 5 items – I’ve only done 2, but 3 more isn’t that much if I just make the time to do it!
  • apply for a Nexus card – also something that I can do if I dedicate the time to it
  • publish 118 blog postings – so far I’ve done a meagre 47, which means I’d need to do 2-3 postings a day from now until the end of the year to hit this. So not impossible, but would require a lot of time (and would probably annoy the hell out of everyone who follows me on Twitter).
  • publish at least six long form blog postings(minimum of 3000 words) – I’ve done 2 and I expect when I finally do my big recap of my Scotland trip, that will be more than 3000 words, but I’m not sure what else I’d want to write that’s that long. So possible, but I guess we’ll see whether I get it done or not.

So that makes 8/18 that are highly likely to be completed, and I could possibly be as high as 13/18 if I do all of the possible ones. Wish me luck!

 

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I Did A Chin Up!

The other day, my gym posted on Facebook that one of the trainers, Cindy Lou, had achieved her goal of doing an unassisted chin up. As you may recall, doing an unassisted chin up or pull up1 is also one of my goals and I’ve been working a lot on building up the muscles one needs to do an unassisted chin up2. So the next time I was at the gym, I told Cindy Lou that she was my hero as I was working towards that goal too. And she said, “Give it a try. You’ve been working hard, you might be able to do it now. The trick is not to think. Don’t hang. Just grab on and pull up right away.”

And so I decided to give it a try after the first set of my workout (so that my muscles would have a chance to be activated). I went over to one of the cages, climbed up on a box to reach the bar… and then I thought about it for too long and could barely lift myself two inches. Cindy Lou and I started chatting about it – basically me saying, “I was thinking too much!” and then right in the middle of chatting, I just reached up, grabbed on to the bar, and pulled myself up! The last little bit was a struggle, but I did it! I did a full on chin up, all with my own strength! No assistance3 whatsoever! I have to say, I was pretty chuffed! And there may have been a few high fives in celebration.

The trainer who writes my program, Dee, sent me a congratulatory email when she heard about it the next day. Because that’s the kind of trainers we have at my gym – they are genuinely excited and so proud of you when they’ve seen you work hard and finally achieve that goal you’ve been striving for for so long! She suggested that I now add in a chin up every day that I go to the gym. And when I get used to that, add one before every super set4. And then make it two. And it grows from there!

The next day when I went into the gym, I got lots of high fives from the trainers – like I said, the trainers at my gym are genuinely excited for us when we make progress. And I did another chin up and it felt so much easier than the day before. My first one was a bit shaky, especially at the top, but this one was smooth and I felt so strong! Now I feel like it’s not just that “I did an unassisted chin up”, but “I’m a person who does unassisted chin ups!”

Footnotes:

  1. Chin ups are where you grip the bar with your palms facing you (or you can do a neutral grip with your palms facing together, which requires a chin up bar that has grips facing this way), and a pull up is done with your palms facing away from you. The pull up is harder than the chin up. For the record, the one I did was a neutral grip chin up. []
  2. Chin ups are especially challenging for women, who tend to have less upper body strength compared to men. They have also been increasingly challenging for me as I’ve put on a fair amount of muscle since I started lifting, which means that I have to lift more weight! []
  3. In my training towards getting to this point, I have been doing, among other things, chin ups and pull ups where you tie a resistance band to the bar and you stand in it while you do your chin up or pull up – it takes away a bit of your weight so that you can practice the movement but without having to lift your entire body weight. When I started training, I used several bands and as my training progressed, I used fewer bands, and lighter bands, so that I was lifting more and more of my weight. []
  4. The way our programs are designed, we often have two or three exercises groups together. So say you are doing 3 sets each of exercises A1 and A2 – you’d do A1, A2, A1, A2, A1, A2 – and all that together is called a “super set”). Then you move on to your B exercises, then C, and sometimes also D. []

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Summer Reading

Since I last reviewed the books I’d read this year here on ye ole blog, I’ve been on quite a roll with reading and have read SEVEN books in those TWO months! What follows are my brief reviews of these books – expect spoilers!

Vancouver Is Ashes: The Great Fire of 1886 by Lisa Anne Smith

My friend Linda gave me this book two birthdays ago. I finally got around to reading it and I can’t believe I left it sitting on the shelf for so long because it was soooo good! As the name suggests, it is about the great fire of 1886 when the brand new City of Vancouver burned down. The city was so new that it had only had a grand total of one city council meeting (the city clerk made a big effort to save the minutes of that meeting from the flames!). They didn’t have a fire engine, and thus fire fighting techniques included filling buckets with water to dump on the flames and hitting flames with wet blankets. People jumped on boats, and when there were no more boats, they grabbed onto anything that could float, and went out into the water between Vancouver and Moodyville (part of what is today known as North Vancouver) to escape the flames. The descriptions in the book are really rich – you can picture what the city would have looked like and can almost feel the panic that the citizens felt as the fire got worse and worse. There are some funny stories – like a guy who tried to use a discarded briefcase he found to shield himself from the flames, only to learn that the briefcase was full of bullets (which someone had tried to take with them on their way to escape but ended up discarding along the way) when the bullets started exploding as the heat of the flames approached! The book also talks about how the city worked to recover after the fire – the picture on the front of the book is of a city council meeting, which was held outside a tent that had a hand written “City Hall” sign on it.

If you are at all interested in the history of Vancouver, I’d definitely recommend you check out this book.

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

This is a short book of writings by Christopher Hitchens – best known for his writing and speaking on atheism – about his experience of “living dyingly”, which he wrote after being diagnosed with terminal cancer (So, you know, a nice light summer read). He pointed out that technically everyone is living dyingly, but healthy people are doing it in slow motion compared to him at that point in his life. He also mentions a few times the “materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body”, which struck me as I’d recently had a discussion with a colleague who has taught a course on the “anthropology of the body” and had his students write essays on whether they believed they “had” a body or “were” a body. I’d not heard that phrase before, but it sort of captured my attention, so when I read Hitchens’ talking about it, that captured my attention too. At one point he said that despite believing that “I don’t have a body, I am a body”, he “consciously and regularly acted as if this was not true, or as if any exception would be made in my case.” (Hitchens was known for his heavy drinking and smoking). The other striking thing in this book was that when you get toward the end, there’s a section of “unfinished fragmentary jottings” (as his wife described them in the afterward); some of them were things you’d read fleshed out in an earlier section of the book, but some that were just ideas of his that he didn’t get a chance to flesh out before he died. It really gave you a sense of the finality – and that death waits for no one. I guess all of us will leave many things unfinished when we go.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris.

I read this book after Cath told me she was reading Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, also by Dan Harris. Cath knows that I’m interested in mindfulness and also that I’m a skeptic, and she said that she was finding MfFS really good. So I decided to first read Harris’ earlier book, 10% Happier, which chronicles his experience of being stressed out after being a war correspondent, to the point of having a panic attack while he was reporting on live television, and then his search for some way to deal with this anxiety, but without losing his drive to succeed. I enjoyed this book – it was interesting to read about his journey and it also got me motivated to make more of an effort to do some mindfulness practice.

Now I want to read Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book. I do most of my reading on transit on my way to and from work, but this book won’t really be appropriate for that, as it’s filled with mindfulness activities that you need to do as you read through the book. So it looks like I’ll need to carve out some time to actually do reading – and mindfulness practice – at home.

White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement–and How I Got Out by Christian Picciolini

I heard about this book when I heard the author, Christian Picciolini, being interviewed on a podcast. Picciolini is a former white supremacist who eventually left the movement and now works to try to help other people get out of extremist movements. The book wasn’t particularly well-written (I felt like it jumped from his present day perspective to his perspective at the time a bit erratically, making it a bit hard to follow in places), but it did provide an interesting perspective on how vulnerable young people can end up as extremists. In Picciolini’s case, he was the child of Italian immigrants to the US who spent a lot of time working and, he felt, did not pay attention to him. He didn’t have many friends and he felt picked on. And then the leader of a skinhead group recruited him to the white power movement and he learned that he could get respect by being violent when he fought a school bully and won. When the skinhead leader got sent to jail, Picciolini took over – he was only 14 years old at the time.  He talks about some of the horrible things he did as part of the movement. I kind of expected there would be a poignant moment where he saw the error of his ways, but it really just came down to him opening a record store to try to earn money to support his young family and he got to know some Jewish people and black people and gay people who all came into this store to buy stuff and learned that these were good people, not at all the stereotypes he had believed. He also talks about the fact that those stereotypes he believed in were really just things that he was told by other people in the white power movement, and even realizes that he, he constantly went on unemployment when the construction work he did in the summer time ended, fit the stereotype of “leaching off the system” more than any minority he’d ever met. In the end, this book supports a lot of what I’ve read about lately – people join hate movements when they feel lonely and disconnected, and someone comes along and invites them into a community – and gives them a scapegoat to blame all their perceived problems on.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm is a classic that I somehow never read until now. I think a lot of people read it in high school, but it just never ended up on any of the reading lists in any of my high school English classes. I did read Nineteen Eighty Four, another George Orwell classic, back in high school, but not Animal Farm. It was a pretty quick read – it’s a short book and styled like a fairy tale1 and it was written as a satire of the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist regime. It seems an apt time in history to be reading this book, as part of that satire is about the “cult of personality” of Stalin (as represented by a pig named Napoleon) and about totalitarianism, which really resonates with a certain president who shall remain nameless. One of the things that reminded me of the current state of affairs was how the pigs would change their stories on things and the other animals on the farm would just believe it, assuming their memory must be mistaken. For example, there was a pig named Snowball who was a hero in the “Battle of the Cowshed”, during which the animals fought off some people who tried to take the farm back from the animals (who had taken it over from the original human farmer who owned it), but later Napoleon runs Snowball off the farm so that he can have all the power and then changes the story, first to say that Snowball hid during the battle, and later to say that Snowball fought alongside the humans against the animals. Despite the fact that the animals were there and remembered Snowball being a hero who drove the humans away, they decide “I guess I must have misremembered that.” Similarly, there are a bunch of commandments painted on the side of the barn, but as the pigs decide to make their own lives more comfortable, they break those commandments and when the rest of the animals say “Hey, didn’t we have a commandment that say not to do that thing the pigs are doing?”, they would see that additional words had been added to the commandments (e.g., “No animal shall consume alcohol” was changed to “No animal shall consume alcohol to excess” and “No animal shall sleep in a bed” was changed to say “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.”) and say “Oh, I guess I forgot about that last part of the commandment”. It’s really reminiscent of how a certain president who shall remain nameless will completely contradict himself on what feels like a daily basis and, despite videotaped evidence of him having said the opposite thing, his followers will just shrug it off. The lives of the animals (other than pigs) weren’t better off in this new world – they didn’t get much to eat, they worked harder than ever, they didn’t get to retire when they got old, and the pigs would kill animals that displeased them in some way. So, all in all, this was a rather depressing book to read – especially given that the ending is just that the pigs are walking around on hind legs (which was against one of the original commandments) and hanging out with people while the rest of the animals suffer.

The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Cath gave me these two books to read and now I’m totally hooked on this series, which revolves around a woman named Thursday Next, who is a literary detective. It’s set in an alternative world version of Britain where all sorts of crazy things happen, and it’s sort of similar in style to the work of Douglas Adams (which almost seems blasphemous to say!). I don’t want to say too much and spoil these for anyone who wants to read these series, which you totally should if you like that style of British humour, but I will say that they involve time travel, the ability to actually enter books, an over-the-top villain, and some very punny character names. They also require you to have a working knowledge of some of the classic which, like Animal Farm as I mention above, I haven’t necessarily read. I’ve never read Jane Eyre, in fact, so I had to go read the Wikipedia entry on it to be able to understand some of the things that happened in The Eyre Affair. Similarly, I haven’t read Great Expectations and since the character of Miss Havisham features in Lost in a Good Book, I had to read the Wikipedia entry on her too! I’ve already got the rest of the books in the series, but I’m trying to savour them, so I decided to read another book in between finishing Lost in a Good Book and the next one in the series.

So, there you have it. I’ve now completed 78% of my goal of reading 18 books this year, and we are 71% of the way through the year. I’m also almost halfway through the next book that I’m reading (Brain Rules for Aging Well), plus I’ve read the better part of several textbooks for the course I’m teaching this semester, so I’m reasonably confident that I can achieve my reading goal this year!

  1. The original title had “A Fairy Story” as a subtitle, but that was dropped. []