Amy (old posts, page 37)

A Weekend Away

Ten years ago (well, ten years and ten days) Blake and I got married. Since we're still married we decided to celebrate by taking a grown-up holiday, a weekend away. Last Friday night we left the girls with Baba and Zaida and checked into the Novotel downtown. Our room was on the third floor, room 314, and it was a little disappointing, to be honest. A paltry selection of free toiletries, a teeny bathtub, and the best view of a gravel roof and building mechanics I, for one, have ever seen.

And also engineers. Undergrad engineers. The Novotel happened to be hosting the Organization of Professional Engineers Student Conference (or something) that very weekend. And most of them seemed to be on the third floor. We settled into our room just as the engineers were massing to go to dinner. Noisily. I called the front desk to ask whether there was perhaps a room on a different floor, a floor with fewer engineers.

They moved us up to the top floor, and in so doing, upgraded us to a deluxe room which satisfied many more of my hotel room desires: flat screen TV, schmancy bathroom, superfluous toiletries. The bathtub was still lame; I've realized that if you want a hotel with an awesome bathtub you need to go to a hotel which advertises their awesome bathtubs. And the view... well, it turns out the Novotel in Toronto doesn't have any good views. After settling in again, we went out for dinner and beer at C'Est What.

The next morning we availed ourselves of the breakfast buffet, another of my hotel must-haves. This one was exquisite: fresh, flaky pastries, assorted cereal, French toast, bacon, sausages (such good sausages!), ham, cheese, at least five kinds of bread, yogurt, fruit, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, chocolate milk, fruits. I was in breakfast heaven.

After eating about three breakfasts worth of breakfast, we waddled over to the St Lawrence Market to shop, window shop and sample things. I got some earrings, some strange grains, and gifts: genmaicha for Tanya and Douglas, and mince tarts for Andy.

Our next mission was to find a Shopper's Drug Mart, which you usually can't walk a block without stumbling over but were uncharacteristically thin on the ground over by the market there. So we carried on to the south end of Sherbourne and Toronto's newest waterfront delight, Sugar Beach. It was a gloomy day and we had the waterfront to ourselves as we walked back towards Yonge Street. We eventually wandered back to the hotel for an afternoon of lying around reading newspapers and books. Later we walked up to Dundas and over to Spadina for delicious Chinese food at E-Pan. (As it turns out the girls were having dinner just a block south of us.) We walked back to the St Lawrence Market area for uninspiring ice cream at Lettieri, then back to the hotel.

Sunday morning I woke up early and went down to the restaurant for a cappuccino while Blake slept in. Once he came downstairs we crossed the street to sit in the sun and wait for Scotland Yard to open for breakfast. An hour later we breakfasted in the company of some very vociferous football (soccer) fans. Then back to the hotel to check out, and we took the TTC home.

It was a lovely weekend but kind of ephemeral. I wish we had done something spectacular like go to a concert, but after paying for the hotel we didn't have the budget for any grand gestures. Still, it was lovely to spend time together without any pressing demands on our time.

An Uncertain Thing

I made a book! Okay, I didn't write it, and I didn't really edit it, but I sure turned it from a giant RTF into three beautifully formatted, stylishly covered volumes:

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Abundance Is Our Nemesis

Here in North America we have a lot of stuff. Mainly we have a lot of energy (not the "let's play go to the park and play Ultimate!" kind, but the "turn up the heat, Martha, I don't want to put on a shirt" kind), and we have a lot of food. And when people have access to a lot of something which is required for survival, like food, or which makes life easier, like energy, we consume as much of it as possible. It's our nature. We evolved in an environment where calories were scarce and precious and anyone who didn't leap on food (more calories in), or seize the opportunity to do less work (fewer calories out) was a fool. A dead, extinct fool.

There's an article in the 11 November 2010 New Scientist which says that 40% of the US population will be obese by 2050. Oh, that's terrible, those disgusting Americans. But Americans are just like everyone else, except they are constantly surrounded by huge quantities of cheap, high-calorie food. And so they eat it and they get fat, just as we all evolved to do.

At the same time energy is cheap and abundant; there are labour-saving devices for almost every task imaginable, from changing the channel on your TV to raising your blinds to feeding the cat, to say nothing of that ultimate calorie-intake-optimizing innovation: processed food. And we avail ourselves of every one — there are precious few people who will say no to a labour-saving device on principle, and most of them are so cheaply run we add them to our lives without qualms. No-one ever rejected an automatic can opener on the grounds that it would cost too much to run.

The only way to control this process is legislation — by making overconsumption so much more expensive than austerity that austerity begins to look good. We need enforced privation.

Show me a politician who will run on that platform and I will show you a politician with a very short career indeed.

So to conclude, we're screwed. The only way off this rollercoaster of plenty is to run out. Run out of oil, run out of soil. And then lots of people will die (hopefully none of my descendants) and maybe enough of us will survive (and the planet will be habitable, because of course there's enough fossil fuel left to ruin the place completely if we burn it fast enough) to start the whole merry-go-round again.

Happy Friday!

Famous Butternut Squash Soup

Here's a recipe I typed in for a friend yesterday. It's not really a recipe, just something I throw together. Those are always the hardest to write down.

Ingredients

1 butternut squash (or any other squash, probably, except spaghetti)
some butter
some oil, probably not olive
1 onion (or more) - chopped
cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg maybe?
black pepper
chicken broth
cream
sour cream
crusty bread and more butter

Instructions
  1. Peel the squash. Yes, really, just with a regular vegetable peeler. Then cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut it into 1 inch blocks (about) and set aside. Chop the onions.

  2. Warm the butter and oil over medium heat and add the onions and some salt. Saute until the onions are soft and translucent. You could brown them a little bit if you like.

  3. Stir some cumin and black pepper and maybe cinnamon or nutmeg (not both) into the onion and cook it a little bit until the kitchen smells really good.

  4. Add the cut-up squash and enough chicken broth to cover everything plus maybe an inch. Bring it to a boil and simmer for twenty minutes or so until the squash is soft.

  5. Take it off the heat and blend everything with your hand blender. If it's too thick add some more broth. Add a splash of cream — maybe half a cup — and stir it in. Put it back on the heat for a while to warm it up again if you like, but don't let it boil.

  6. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and lots of crusty bread with butter. And maybe a nice light ale.

Enjoy!

Meals My Family Loves, Volume I: Chicken and Salsa

Usually the dinners I cook are greeted with something between indifference and disgust by my children, but occasionally I put something on the table which is greeted with delight and devoured with gusto. Yesterday was one of those days; this is what I served:

  • crockpot chicken and salsa (throw boneless skinless chicken thighs in the crockpot with a jar of salsa, cook until done)
  • brown rice (I use Dainty Time-Wise (tm) brown rice which only takes 15 minutes to cook)
  • avocado mashed with lime juice and salt and pepper
  • Ace Bakery ciabatta (aka "the world's best bread" according to Delphine) and butter
  • cherry tomatoes from this summer's backyard harvest

Everyone had seconds. Some of us might have had thirds.

Time Is On My Side – No It Ain't

I know I've beaten this horse before, but it ain't dead yet. I know because it's always trotting around my head.

Here's the thing. About a year ago I decided to add a bunch of stuff to my plate and see what happened. I managed to keep my shit together until this September, when I added work to the teetering pile and it started to collapse.

So I made a list. It's what I do. I made a list of the stuff I do, sorted by funness and importance:

Stuff I Do Funness Importance  
friends 9 9 Seeing friends is not only fun but essential to good physical and mental health, so this is the top of my list.
family time 8 9 Obviously hanging out with the kids is the most important thing I do, and it's almost as much fun as hanging out with friends, so this is an easy second.
sleep 7 9 I love and need sleep. If I don't get enough sleep not only do I become short-tempered and unpleasant, I also get stupid and sick. Seven hours a night, minimum.
exercise 4 9 As you can see, exercise gets the lowest fun rating so far at a disappointing 4, but it's pretty important. Since I spend so much time sleeping I'd like to recoup that investment by living for a long time, and to do that I need to stay fit. (As fit as possible under the circumstances.) This is one of the things I'd like to do more.
cook 8 8 I cook and bake a lot. I enjoy it and the value that cooking (and baking) brings to the family is worth the time I spend doing it.
work 7 8 Work is not only fun but satisfying and profitable, but it's one of the things I'm having trouble levering in. I am very easily distracted both online and off. I'm getting better at ignoring the outside world and buckling down. It's a process.
laundry 6 8 I spend a lot of time doing laundry. Especially folding. I've started listening to the CBC while I fold, which is at least sometimes educational or thought-provoking.
kid management 6 8 This is stuff like planning activities, sorting out clothes and toys, picking people up, and so on. It takes as long as it takes and I don't mind doing it.
housework 3 8 Hate housework. Hate dirty house. Can't afford housekeeper.
reading 9 7 Reading is one of the things I'm starting to panic about. I have hardly read anything since the read-a-thon and I feel like I'm getting behind. I have a list of interesting non-fiction books I want to read and I feel underinformed because I haven't read them yet. I must know things!
choir 9 7  
blake time 9 7  
local politics 8 7 This is a new one for me, and not actually anything I technically spend much time on, apart from reading the news, but it's an area of interest I'd like to explore further.
school choir and volunteering in the classroom 8 6 I do a lot of volunteering for the school, but choir is most fun, followed closely by working in the classroom.
blog/writing 8 6 Now that Uncle Hershey has passed (may he rest in peace) there are exactly two people in the world who want me to blog more, but I really should write more if I ever want to not suck at it.
farting around 7 6 This seems like an odd thing to include in a post about being awesome and getting things done and organizing myself, but I'm a delicate person and I need my down time. It's not that I need to fart around, per se, but I need some wiggle room in my day: I want to read news online and watch the birds out the back window and hang out with other moms on the schoolyard without feeling guilty and harried.
eco-chair 6 5 Being chair of the Parent Council Eco-Committee is my least favourite school volunteer job. I spend a lot of time dealing with TDSB bureaucracy, and most of the rest of the time trying to convince disinterested parents to think about things they'd rather not think about. It's disheartening and unsatisfying. This is the one thing on this list I'm planning to walk away from as soon as I can.

What I've learned from this exercise is that I probably prioritise activities a little differently than most high-achieving busy people (not to overgeneralize – of course there are HABP who make time for all of these things): I place a high value on reading, sleeping, cooking, and hanging out with friends, all of which tend to elbow out useful things like having meetings and writing proposals and whatever other useful things useful people do. So there's a good chance that I'll never be terribly useful, but at least now I know what I'm working with, what I'm willing to give up and what I insist on keeping, and with that knowledge I can try and spend the limited time I have on things which are really important.

My Time Management Clues For Today

Just because I can (i.e., am technically competent to) do something doesn't mean I can (i.e., have time to) do it.

Just because something should be done doesn't mean it should be me who does it.

Just because something would be fun doesn't mean I have time for it.

8:25 a.m.

After my last post, I headed upstairs and curled up in bed with a booklight and Holes by Louis Sachar. I think I read until about 2:30 am, then slept until 5:30 when I woke up with a stomach-ache. Whether from the junk I ate yesterday or the coffee or just lack of sleep, I don't know, but since I was up anyway I read some more. I finished the book at around 7:30. So altogether I think I read for nineteen or twenty hours out of twenty-four, which is frankly more than I expected to.

So I read:

  • the end of Moses in Egypt by Lynne Reid Banks
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Raincloud by Richard S. Todd
  • Holes by Louis Sachar

I raised $210 for Books For Africa. (I really recommend FirstGiving – the page was super-easy to set up and they have been really helpful and supportive, even posting about my fundraising on Twitter.

And now I am all distracted because there are girlies climbing on me demanding a hot breakfast. I will come back to bed after breakfast.

1:21 a.m.

It's late. Not quite late enough to be early, but later than I usually stay up when there isn't karaoke involved.

I finished Raincloud by Richard S. Todd (and a pot of coffee) and the book was good (the coffee was good too). There were a few things I would have changed – characters knowing stuff they shouldn't have known, weird word choices, and so on, but generally it was good. The problems would have been caught by a good editor, and after some investigation I see why they weren't: I took a closer look at the "publisher" after I finished the book and it's iUniverse, which is a self-publisher. For a self-published book this is actually really good, and I'm not sure why the author didn't shop it around to a proper publisher.

Now I'm in that half-tired twilight you get when you're up late under the influence of coffee. I'm going to head to bed with another book and my itty bitty book light, and read until I fall asleep. The alarm goes off at 7, so I'll try and wake up then and read a little bit more before it all ends at 8 am.

Mid-Event Survey

Hey, check it out, I'm being a team player and doing one of the activities on the Read-a-thon website. (Mostly I'm having too much fun reading to want to do anything else!)

It's a survey:

1. What are you reading right now? I'm in the middle of Raincloud by Richard S. Todd.

2. How many books have you read so far? One whole book, and two half-books. Well, two whole books if you count Oh, The Places You'll Go which I read out loud to my five-year-old.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I'm looking forward to Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan, mainly because it's a YA so I hope it will go down nice and smooth. I hope it's not too harrowing. I was going to read Heat by George Monbiot but I fear I have squandered my most wide-awake hours on easier books. I don't think I have the brain power to get through it.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? All I had to do was plan ahead for lunch (which we usually improvise on Saturdays) and get my husband to order in dinner. He's been great at keeping everything running smoothly in my (functional) absence.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Not particularly, apart from that I live with a seven-year-old and a five-year-old. Seven was away at a friend's most of the day, and Five has been very agreeable. I did take a break this afternoon to set up a science-y activity for her to do, but then she was quietly engaged for about an hour.

I did have short conversations with a couple of people this morning.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How not at all tired I am of reading. I'm tired, but not of reading, just of, you know, being awake.

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? For me, or in general? For me, I might put together a pile of less-challenging or more exciting books. I didn't plan ahead enough to collect a set of books I was really excited to read. As it is I'm cleaning up a few books from my TBR pile which have been hanging around for a while, so that's valuable, but it would be easier (especially tonight as I get tireder) to have books I was really thrilled about reading.

In general, I'm pretty happy with how it's being run. It's a nice low-key event.

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? Oh hey, I already answered that because I didn't look at all the questions on the test before starting. :)

9. Are you getting tired yet? A little bit. I'm actually less tired than I usually am at this time of day, probably because I usually do more strenuous things than sit around reading all day. I expect I will run into trouble in an hour or so. I might even have coffee. (I never have coffee!)

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Nope, unless having an awesome supportive family counts as a tip!

Actually I've really liked the fact that I'm raising money for charity at the same time (here's my page – it was very easy to set up). I love reading but I would feel so guilty slacking off on all my usual responsibilities if I hadn't found a way to help benefit others with the read-a-thon.