Thursday, January 31

Cookies, Balkan Music, Mysteries, Films

A few days ago I made these chocolate chip cookies from Smitten Kitchen. They were delicious, for chocolate chip cookies. A bit sugary and refined for my taste. Still, a triumph in that they were the first cookies I've ever made, baked on my new bakeware bought with the advice of Cook's Illustrated.

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We're listening to a new cd that Gordan found, from Beirut. It's American musicians that are strongly influenced by Balkan music. Very enjoyable.

Once of their best songs is Elephant Gun, but I don't love the video. Here's a song that's not quite as magnificent, from their first album "Gulag Orkestar", but has a lovely video:



I've also been listening to the 20s radio network again during the day. A lot of the music is dance music, so it's humorous and lively.

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I'm back to reading mysteries. Today I read The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart. I prefer mysteries from the detective's standpoint, so that I'm less invested in the characters, as they each in turn become suspects and potential new victims. I also prefer Simenon's Maigret books with their many deviations into food, drink, neighborhoods and mannerisms. This book was delightful, though, in its own periodity; it sounds as if it is placed not long after the Civil War, which is unusual. It is also satisfyingly detailed and complex.

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We also recently watched The Party, a film in which Peter Sellers plays a clumsy Indian actor visiting LA, who accidentally ends up in a producer's party. It takes some time for some of the jokes to be fully built up, but the end result is hilarious. Also, Sellers does quite a good job at playing an Indian, although his makeup doesn't stand up to closeups. This is really worth watching, especially if you could use a laugh.

And of course Almost Famous is a great movie, but since everyone besides us had already seen it, it probably isn't necessary to recommend it.

After Exercise

Well, I went to the gym, and the program I'm set on is mostly strength training--in other words, weight lifting! It wasn't what I expected, but it was satisfying and fun. Afterwards I found an interesting website on women weight lifting.

For the past two days I've had very sore shoulders and underarms, though the rest of me is fine. I will probably decrease the exercises which involve those muscles, and increase the others slightly. I'd also like to do a little cardio, or in other words active exercise. Yet I want to keep it modest, so that it doesn't get in the way of my desired weight gain. Disgruntled as I am over my shoulders, I am really loving this new practice. It is so satisfying to become physically strong, and it fosters the sense of growing strong in other ways as well.

Monday, January 28

Exercise!

A few days ago I joined the smallish gym that is exactly a block away from my home. Tomorrow in the early afternoon I have an session with the personal trainer there. (His name is Romeo.)

The trainer isn't free, as they are at big gyms. However I've heard that the free trainers are only paid on commission and you can imagine this comes with downsides. Plus, it's cheaper than therapy! I actually meant to sign up for just one session... and I ended up with three. Have I mentioned that it's cheaper than therapy? Seriously though--my priority is to do this right, and I am an utter novice at this point.

For the past few nights, I've actually gone to sleep fantasizing about exercising. You see, a couple of years ago I worked on a farm for a year, among other involvements at the time. While it didn't seem like I was getting so much exercise at the time, in retrospect I was strong and very active. And I felt so good. I'm really looking forward to feeling that way again. And even though I'm not what you'd consider athletic, I'm looking forward to being able to go on long uphill walks, carry heavy stuff, and go skiing without breaking a sweat (so to speak).

I was planning on posting after the session, but I realized that I might be too pooped. I'll tell you how it goes!

Saturday, January 26

A Saturday

This morning Gordan, Dragana, Anselmo and I went to the farmer's market on the other side of the neighborhood. I bought apple cider, dried apricots, a few small potatoes, apples, little crunchy pears, six eggs, hazelnuts, hummus, and smoked cheddar. We also ate delicious crepes from the crepe stand, standing in what we Vancouverites consider the wintery wind.



Now Gordan and I are home, and he is writing. A dense flurry of little snowflakes falls and falls across the wide grey cityscape outside. Sigur Ros is playing, from Agaetis byrjun. I am nursing a cup of rich dark hot chocolate, and soon I will make some whole wheat Irish soda bread and salad. While heating up the squash & black bean & sweet potato soup that I made last night. I'll chop all the parsley we have and stir it in, then I'll shred the cheddar and sprinkle it on top of each bowl of creamy squash soup.


For the soup, I started by quick-soaking black beans (and kidney beans). I preheated the oven to 350, and took the squash we had--a kobocha I believe--and cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, then laid both halves face down in a baking dish. Then I added a quarter inch of water and baked them like this for forty minutes. And then I was browning onions, whole garlic cloves, and leeks in the bottom of a pot with grapeseed oil.

Then we went to a play, "Black Rider". When we got back, I drained and rinsed the beans, and then they tumbled into the pot. Gordan peeled and cut sweet potatoes into rough cubes, and those were added to the pot. Water was added, along with salt, bay leaves, and some mixed herbs. All of this boiled for an hour and a half. (Come to think of it, I shouldn't have added the salt until later.) Then I peeled the now-cool squash and added it to the soup, and squished it all with a handy potato masher, and refrigerated the result for the night.

That brings us up to the present moment...

The essential oil blend that I am diffusing as I cook: nutmeg, bergamot, jasmine.

Saturday, January 19

Some Things I Love

A late night snack of olives (picholine, lucque, nicoise) with crackers and cheddar cheese.


Beeswax candles and their residual scent of flowers.

Opening the porch door before I go to bed, sticking my head out and deeply inhaling the cold night air. That's the best aromatherapy.

Friday, January 18

Priorities and the Sense of Accomplishment

We all have times when some aspect of our lives gets us down. At this time of year, it's common to be a little more prone to depression. Winter brings great beauty at times, but at other times the season seems a bit grim.

One thing that I think is an important cure for depression is the feeling of accomplishment. You know that point where you're starting to feel better, but then you look around and think about everything that needs to be done, and you go right back to feeling depressed again? That's where accomplishment is needed! So, what to do?

The first answer is, do whatever makes you feel good. If you are not sure what that might be, try the following guidelines:

Do something which is a high priority. After watching Dr. Pausch's last lecture, I browsed some related links, and ended up watching a lecture on productivity that he gave years ago. He refers to an idea that is from "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People": If you have both high priority and low priority tasks that are due tomorrow, and both high priority and low priority tasks that are due next week, what do you do? Do the high priority tasks that are due tomorrow, and then do the high priority tasks that are due next week. That's right--just don't do the low priority tasks. It was a relief to me to think that even efficient people don't do absolutely everything.

I have my to do list on vitalist. As soon as I sign in, it shows me my ten highest-priority tasks. Occasionally I go through it and correct the priorities I've assigned, if my priorities have changed. So I know what I really want to get done. This way I don't have to figure it out anew every time--I just go to my to do list and check the top priorities.

Among roughly equal priorities, do something that will take the least amount of time and/or effort. This one is very useful. If you have two high priorities, and one takes 15 minutes while the other takes 2 hours, do the short one. That way you've got one full task done, instead of zero or half a task. You'll have the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a full task. And you'll have made it easier to do the long task, because you'll be feeling better and your to do list is shorter. If energy is more precious to you than time, then use that as a determining factor instead.

Choose a one-time-only task. Sometimes cleaning up or cooking a delicious meal is perfect for clearing away the blues. If it feels good, then it's perfect! At other times, there's that sense that as soon as you're done cleaning the place will get dirty again; as soon as you're done eating it'll be time to cook another meal. If that's the case, keep coasting on the cleaning and cooking for awhile longer. Choose a finite task. You do it once, and it's done. Viola, you've moved forward--you'll never need to do that again!

Those are the primary guidelines I'm following right now. Here are a couple of postscript guidelines:

Describe your tasks in an "actionable" way. I have the tendency to write my to dos like this: "deal with car" or "deal with papers". That leaves unnecessary work; I glance at the paper pile and think "What do I need to do again?" Even if I technically know, overwhelm quickly creeps in and the little job of figuring out my next step becomes more work than it needs to be. Instead, it's better to be more specific: "call car repair re: sound, number: 333-4444" or "sort through paper pile on desk". If a task involves several steps and it's not getting done easily, I might break it down into individual steps and add those all as separate tasks; or I might just do that with the first few steps, to get movement going.

Set a timer for 15 minutes. Some tasks bring up a strong impulse towards avoidance. Personally, I trust these feelings; if I feel like avoiding something I do avoid it, usually, and focus on something that feels better. However sometimes there are tasks that I know if I just get started, I'll immediately feel fine and keep working. Flylady has a saying: "You can do anything for fifteen minutes!" so when a task seems arduous I'll sometimes set the timer for 15 minutes (or less!) and get started. When the timer goes off I can either stop and put it away, or keep working.

Thanks to all the above guidelines, I'm in the process of setting up my health coverage. It's fairly easy, it's a high priority, and when it's done I won't need to do it again later. Another thing I've done is to schedule a haircut, which is also a high priority because I love good haircuts, it's very easy, and I know I'll feel more put together and accomplished when it's done--which will help me to be more productive with the rest of my tasks. The final guideline is always: Don't forget to have fun--fun is a high priority too!

Wednesday, January 16

Home Again



Happy New Year! We're back. Well, we've been back in Vancouver for some time; now I'm back here, as well. We had a lovely holiday with my family in New York. And now the days keep flowing on. Since coming back, we've decided to have a child sooner rather than later--or, as we call it, to "reproduce". I'll be starting a four month detox with my Naturopathic Doctor in February. And Gordan and I are working to get an even better routine in the home--not only to be prepared, but also because we'll both enjoy it. I'm also pleased to announce that I'm finally a permanent resident of Canada.

I've been enjoying reading about the primaries. I am so happy to see the historically great choices of candidates we have this year. However I've had to unsubscribe from my favorite political blogs, because I can't stand the suspense. Just tell me when it's over!

Aha, an update on the monkey prank! I prepared a printout for the internet, which announces to the innocent recipient that they're going to receive a new monkey--and follows with increasingly disturbing guidelines for the monkey's care. Dragana signed it and then sent it off from Trinidad. Unfortunately it didn't arrive until after I left, and no one suspected that I would have sent it! Finally I asked my brother about it. He reports that it was highly successful. While he and my mother now think it's a great joke, they couldn't figure out who it was from, and meanwhile my father has continued to worry that a shipment of monkey might arrive any day. Oh, how I wish I'd been there. My brother can now reassure my parents that no monkeys are coming.

I have lots of ideas for posts. Let's see if they become a reality!