Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas News 2017

Yup, checked the clock. It's still 2017.

I'm writing this year's update shotgun style; a free association of impressions and moments from the past year.

All dressed up for Donald and Tammy's wedding

Death to Perfectionism

A perfect storm of crisis and comfort has released me from the curse of perfectionism. The kind facilitators of this transformation are the good people from Brownlee's Best Toastmasters club. Doing my best is not the worst problem to have, but if it holds me back from taking good risks, it's time to move on. 

Toastmasters!

I'm two speeches away from reaching my Competent Communicator designation. Along the way the club has refined my leadership skills, even though I wasn't looking for it. Everyone has a great story in them. Listening to my fellow club members week after week has broadened my appreciation for how much story is in each one of us. 

Grande Prairie

Attended my niece's wedding smack in the middle of God's country. Hung out with my sister, stepmom and my dad. Played giant Jenga with my nephews. Chatted up a whole new batch of relatives. 

Donald and Tammy

Tied the knot! They pulled off a great wedding. I danced with the groom and nephew James captured it for Facebook. 

Time and Time with Dad

The end is now in sight, so any time I can sit and share deep thoughts is precious. Somehow dad has reconciled himself to frailness, while finding ways to make life work every day. Seeing dad at peace with the end in sight has helped me make peace with it, too. Dawn is facing her own loss, not always with the best grace, but who could? She needn't worry about losing my love, though. The core of who she is always shines through.

Half the Lawn

Atco buzzed through this summer ripping up the property and replacing ageing gas lines so we don't blow up. They mollified us for the inconvenience by re-sodding the half of the lawn. My daughter noted that I now have half a lawn dandelion free.

Endings and Beginnings

Crystal and Martin are officially engaged. Expect to see lots of silly smiles that Crystal will declare un-photogenic. Naomi is just growing up so fast. She is inches away from getting her driver's license. She's earned the confidence of the adults around her to such an extent that she ends up behind the driver's seat most days, for practice. Art has become her temporary Uber driver, back and forth from her job at the ski hill. Go Naomi!


Merry Christmas to all, and to all, peace

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Cooking 2.0

I bought a twenty pound bag of potatoes for $2. What a deal. The challenge now is how to get through the bag, feeding two, over the next twenty days. Hashtag #20lbs20days. I'm logging and instagramming and documenting the project all over the 'net to show off to my fellow toastmasters how Web 2.0 has changed cooking. So here we go. Let's see how fun and photogenic we can get with a bag of potatoes.

Here's my YouTube introduction to the project.

The first project was a potato pickle, using up spare sweet and sour syrup from my bread-and-butter project. It will be hard to get through the whole bag without spoiling some, so I thought it smart to preserve a few right off the bat. The potatoes came out crisp and chewy, just as we hope to get from a good pickle. 

This being 2.0 Cooking, the next step was to stage the pickles, take a pic, run it through a few filters, and post to instagram. Tag the pic with a few keywords. 


Posting on Instagram allows me to link also on Twitter and Facebook. No "likes" for the pickles, but one comment. 

While we're at it, let's post the recipe up on a sharing site. 


Now that I have a web based recipe, let's have a little more fun. How many calories a serving? Cruise over to My Fitness Pal and import the recipe. 

Saved and logged, I find out that a single serving of pickles is thirty calories, 5 carbs. Information. Power. But not popular...yet. 

So off I go, for two months I prepare, pic, and post potatoes in every way I can imagine. It took longer than twenty days, and I didn't make it to twenty recipes, but I got through the whole twenty pound bag, feeding the two of us at home and a few extras. (The potato roses came out especially nice and I made them a couple times for socials.) 


I was helped along with some great cutting tools. Pictured here are a regular shredder, knife, peeler, and in the upper left corner, my beloved ceramic Mandoline. Here the lowly potato shows of it's great versatility. The wide variety of meals and presentations practically guaranteed we didn't die of boredom. 

Savoury potato pancakes with a side of cottage cheese. Always hearty, always satisfying. 

Wedgie fries made in my Actifry. Just a tablespoon of oil and we have crispy wedges nearly as perfect as what we get in the restaurant. 


My Mandoline again. It makes quick work of the potatoes. 

Sliced thin, they make a killer scalloped potato. I added bacon bits for colour, and to make this a meal. 

Mashed potatoes of course. I added a little cream cheese as I had it on hand.  

This is a Saturday afternoon affair; home-made perogies. I've decorated these with my caramelised onions. I think I used this recipe. The attraction here is not in the fancy ingredients but in the time invested to make them. These garnered the greatest number of likes; 8. 

Potato soup. A meal like this is practically free, a concept that is quickly being lost on this generation. I took leftover roasted potatoes, peeled them, added a little chicken stock, and took the immersion blender to them. I added a little extra roast chicken and caramelised onion. This is the only way I'll eat soup; thick and savoury. I garnished with a little rosemary from my windowsill. All the food is left over from the roast dinner the night before. 

This made far more soup than I could use up. 

Julienned. I firmed up the potatoes by salting them, pouring on a little vinegar so they wouldn't brown, and patting them dry. Combined with the other vegetables, I end up with a generous stir fry. 

Here is the finished stir fry, with baked tofu. This meal provided leftovers for many lunches. 

My potato roses. I used my trusty Mandoline again, then treated the slices as rose petals. I stuffed these, delicately, in to mini muffin tins. The middle petals were a single slice folded in quarters. I poured a little egg and milk in to the cups, and baked. 


 
Crustless quiche, using up some of the extra vegetables from the stir fry. 
Twice-baked potatoes with extra-fine shredded cheese. The extra-fine shredding can reduce calories without sacrificing taste.

And, what twenty day potato challenge can go by without including potato salad? I take it as a personal challenge to make a potato salad as good as what we get in generous tubs in the store. It's not that much work, really, and it is so good. 

Every good project ends with a Lessons Learned session, so here we go:

  1. The potato pickles were prepared October 1st, and the twice-baked potatoes on December 5, when the bag was finally finished - 66 days. 
  2. Total number of unique recipes; thirteen. 
  3. If you see a black cat today, don't let it cross your path. If you saw a meteor this week, chalk it up so "science". 
  4. Twenty pounds of potatoes feeds two people for far longer than twenty days. We were eating lots of other things along the way, of course. 
  5. I should not have worried about the bag going bad before I finished. 
  6. Producing a quality YouTube video is Really Hard and a whole other skill-set I have barely mastered. The video is pretty but the sound is horrible. Practice will make perfect. 
  7. I'd give a whole afternoon just to video editing. I suspect this is the WORK component of You-Tubing and I have a whole new level of respect for home-grown videographers out there. 
  8. Staging, photographing, filtering, and posting really doesn't take that long. This is another example of practice perfection. I've been staging Pancake Sunday for over eighteen months already. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Confirmation Bias and Root Cause

If the same problem keeps happening, figure out why. Otherwise you are tossing a whole lot of wasted effort.

I'm saving this cartoon to keep this little principle in mind.


Taking the effort to fully understand a problem, digging in all the right places  (no matter how murky they may be) is the only way to get to root cause. Get to the root, cut off the problem. 

Digging to root cause can also deflect another cognitive fallacy, confirmation bias. I must take care that just because I've always lost my keys when there's a policeman present, that the police must by association be guilty. 

Our minds can play tricks like that, making associations where there aren't any. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mrs. Jones

I'm at the peak of a generation that has been dominating the landscape for the past twenty years. Why then do I feel like I'm barely seen or heard?


I've been complaining of my invisibility for a while now. But when I looked hard at it I have come to the uncomfortable realization that I am sitting in the middle of the dominating generation. I know so because of statistics, baby. Here's the StatsCan pyramid contrasting 1996 to today.




If the population pyramid were a slope-headed Inca, my generation sits on the tip of the nose. Being female, I also manage to edge out the men of my generation.




By Unknown / restoration and digitization. Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26546146


So why do I feel invisible, unheard? I had blamed the baby boomers most of my life. Technically I am a boomer, but the great majority (Zoomers now) were older than me. I've felt like the kid sister at the party, where plans and benefits were doled out long before I got there.


For instance, is it any coincidence that Old Age Security eligibility changes just as I am scheduled to get there?


I don't identify with the boomers, as they slide gracefully along the golden retirement path. And I'm older than their Gen X children, chinning themselves up to the bar. It's generation Jones that I identify with most strongly, shared with Obama (yay!) and Michael J. Fox (double yay!). Apparently my generation is watched closely by marketers and pollsters, as we tend to swing. An edge of bitterness could very well leave a representative voter/consumer with my nose, and a tad cynical. I imagine bitter and cynical voters keep their voting choices close to their chest.


If my generation makes up the lump of available voters and consumers, are our interests very well understood? I've seen the marketing change from "anti-cavity" in my youth to "whitening" in my maturity. There's plenty of anti-aging marketing out there. And promises of freedom on the road. The boomers sure have been good to the motorcycle and recreational vehicle markets.


Are middle-aged women represented in mass media? I don't think so. Meryl Streep is Zooming along, but even for her generation she's token rather than the norm. Oh, and Betty White, bless her.


There's a commercial making the rounds right now that grates me every time it plays. A young man (Gen X?) is handing over the house keys to.... it's got to be mom, right?


It's a Sonnet commercial. Mom looks tired, beaten. Shaggy son comes through with....insurance? A paid-off home? What in the heck has my generation been doing for the past twenty years? Do we really look that worn out? Bitter and cynical doesn't mean beaten.


It seems to me that the days of being a passive consumer are over. This woman wants to be heard. If marketers are seeking to understand, watch the crocheted pussy hat movement. Or something similar. We might have moved on already.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Christmas Greetings 2016

Out the window a light dusting of the sparkly stuff reminds me that we are closing in on another year. This annual newsletter is a fine excuse to observe the grains of time that have slipped by. I was introducing myself to a fine new bunch of staff the other day, and being of this era, I pulled out my phone and flipped through it to show them the last year in selfies.



Gosh, it looks like all I've been doing is going on runs. Crystal joined me this year on a few MEC runs; a great deal by the way if you don't need the T-shirt. I also did the spring Shamrock run just because, and the Run for the Cure with Tammy, Donald's fiancee. Tammy and I have a standing date on Wednesday nights, usually fitness related. That girl has lost a total of a hundred pounds, and is a superstar at the Weight Wise clinic.

This summer was a different trial of endurance, as we faced the spectre of unemployment. Art got a work promotion and his supplemental salary got us through more than one rough patch. Since the fall I have been working for West Canadian Digital, and a very fine employer they are turning out to be. The work is challenging and, my staff, every one of them, are dedicated and hard working people.



Nothing gets under my skin faster than boredom, so with spare time on my hands I have been Pok√©mon playing (level 22), sewing, painting, writing, and jumping in to new opportunities. I did a talk on the power of Process workflow at Nerd Nite Edmonton (sort of like Ted talks with beer), and now I'm a fan. Like them on Facebook. Cruise through event photos of past events. Join me at The Needle Vinyl Tavern one fine night. The next event is January 11; hint, hint I'll be there. Get a ticket before it sells out.

And I have joined Brownlee's Best Toastmaster's club, as part of a personal long-term goal that I choose to keep to myself for now. Check back with me in 2019.

Naomi is sixteen, maturing before my eyes, scaring herself with the reality that the future is truly hers now, and finally settling down taking each day as it comes. It helps that she has some stellar teachers this year. Crystal is of course taking life seriously. She also is my biggest fan, capturing some of the best shots I have of Nerd Nite. We do the MEC runs together, but not at the same pace. She has her best gait and I have mine. So we high-five at some point in the race on her return leg, and she is there to greet me at the finish line. A fine analogy of our relationship, I think.

Donald is calm, happy, and in love. His plans for a fall wedding to Tammy in 2017 are shaping up. I am so proud of them both.

Dad has entered the final phase of life with more grace than I would have credited him. The truth is that COPD will take him, and that he faces increasing frailty to the end. He loves visits, and inquires often on the welfare of all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He tells stories, he shares family history, and provides always crystal clear insight in to life. I look forward to our visits not out of any sense of duty, but treating each visit as icing on the cake.

Icing. A dusting of snow. Sparkles. Joy.

All in all, a very fine year.

Art and I pass on our very best wishes to you all this coming year.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Managing the Mundane

Have you ever had to slog through a repetitive task that seemed to never end, struggling to keep mind and body engaged, wondering if any of it was worthwhile? Seen on a gravestone never, "Here lies a good worker."

A good part of my career is composed of managing simple, mundane, ordinary, invisible, routine tasks. I can bore an executive silly in seconds, simply by talking about my day. They know the work is important, but spare the details, please. 

There are hordes of workers like these that keep a complex, industrialized society running smoothly. They keep the lights on, the doors locked, the wastebaskets empty, and the notices flowing. Unfortunately, the few times these workers do become visible is when something goes wrong. 

Is there a way to find meaning and purpose in mundane tasks? Why, yes there is. Since 1975 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has been studying a state of being where the entire body and mind is engaged in a task, and published a work called "Flow" to describe this state of mind. In this work, he describes an assembly line worker who repeats the same activity many times in a day. (Pick up sprocket A and insert it in to Widget B at point C). How can such a worker find significance and meaning in his work? One way is to become increasingly skilled in his task, setting up personal challenges and steadily improving his technique.

I have used this flow technique to bring a spark of joy to any task. I have experienced flow when painting, sorting, and data crunching. I've been honing my carrot peeling technique for a decade now. Flow does indeed allow time to fly by. My best paintings were completed quickly, seamlessly, and seemingly effortlessly while in a state of flow.



More recently as part of my personal transformation, I have introduced exercise as a new discipline. But discipline, "knuckling down", gritting it through, and boot-camp style isn't the way to inspire me to jump out of bed in the morning. Deep down, I have to believe there's some fun in what I choose to do. To my great relief, I found out I don't have to do burpees to be fit. I can fling myself around like a fool in Zumba if I want.



It also helps if I set medium and long term goals to train for, like the Tough Mudder that my niece invited me to in August 2015, and the Grande Cache Death Race I'm planning for now.

These days when I see an extra set of stairs I have to run up, I see an opportunity to get stronger. If I need to carry an extra five pounds of equipment, it's building my upper body strength. Every week those five pounds get lighter. I'll walk the five blocks, thank you very much. It's helping me get to where I want to be.

Energized, strong, able. 
.
Having fun.

Keeping the gears of an invisible service running smoothly.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Tikkun Olam

Word of the day Tikkun Olam. Repair the world through kind acts. Consider if there are too many people who are disinvited from the table of prosperity, they will react. As in reactionary.

Prosperity however, grows from stability.



If the disenfranchised have rejected the political establishment, perhaps it is time for direct giving, generosity. That is, by those with the most to lose from instability, chaos, anger.

I'm not using the word charity on purpose. See what Thoreau has to say about that.

The kind of giving that heals is where I come alongside my sister and put my arm around her shoulder, asking quietly, how can I help?

Charities I am considering this year include,

Kiva
Lucky Iron Fish
Homeless Connect
https://www.givedirectly.org/