Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas is coming and my brain is too full. Maybe I can give some away...

I've just finished a pile of marking - mostly writing assignments. I have a facebook friend, Rory, who often complains about his marking. He is marking university level stuff, and while it doesn't seem to meet his standards, I say it's time to stop complaining. Try marking writing from Essential Level high school students! Is it even "writing"? Is it actually meant as communication? Who knows? I certainly don't. And then there is the problem of penmanship: It's no longer taught. My grade 11's were complaining today because they want me to print on the board because they can't read cursive.They also can't write cursive and their printing is darn iffy. I dream of having a job where assignments are typed! (Except I love the job I have!)

Report cards a couple weeks back. "Miss! I can't believe you passed me!" and just as likely, "Miss! I can't believe you failed me!" The kids fascinate me with their feelings that they have zero agency in the matter. I didn't pass or fail anyone. I simply wrote down the grade they earned. But they genuine seem to believe that I'm the one who decides who passes and who fails. They seem to have a mental block around the idea they decide for themselves. I need to work on this with them.

I have PTA tonight. We call it something else, but that's what it is. I find it really fun. Our parents are fantastic. Since our kids are all special needs kids, their parents are concerned about how to best make them successful. They particpate, they add value, and they are nice people. They don't complain that Susie won't get into medical school if she only gets an 89 in English! I'm looking forward to the meeting.

Parent/Teacher Night
Speaking of parents.... Parent/teacher night was an absolute blast. I got to rat out all the kids that are driving me crazy and praise the ones that are working hard. I got most of the parents' email addresses, so now I can send them the homework. Lots more of the homework is now, magically, getting done. The kids both hate it and seem to like it that I know their parents.

Unit Tests
Three weeks ago, I wrote the date of the unit test on the board in the "permanent" area. I pointed it out every single day for two weeks plus. Then, on Friday last week, we did a practice test and I  reminded them that the test would be today. Monday we spent a whole period taking up the practice test in detail. And I reminded them the test would be today. Yesterday, we spent a whole period doing test prep, since from the practice test, they knew what they should study. And of course they were reminded that the test would be today.

I walked into the classroom today to be greeted by a scene of utter panic and mayhem. "Are you sure the test is today?" "What do you mean there is a test today?" "There can't be a test today!" "Oh my GOD!!!! There's a test today!" "There's Miss! Miss, Miss! is the test today?"

Bang head against desk.

I have a tree. A nice tree. I've had it since Saturday and it remains greenly naked. But in my mind, it is covered in lights and decorations. Maybe this weekend.

Christmas Baking
I haven't done any. And I'm starting to (slowly and reluctantly) come to the conclusion that I may not be doing any. Here's the problem: since going back to work, I've fallen in love with the idea of resting on the weekends. I know it's radical. But the lure of the crackling fireplace, a glass of wine, my beloved's company and perhaps a good book is simply too extreme to ignore. But it won't feel like Christmas if I don't fit in at least a minor frenzy, so maybe I'll get in the spirit a bit more once my Christmas holidays start. At the end of next week. Thank you OSSTF!

Christmas Shopping
Thanks to the miracle of the internet, this is actually going a bit better than my tree and baking. I don't have to leave the comfort of my fireplace, wine and man to shop. I just pull out the iPad and away I don't go.  I have just four gifts left. Two to order and two I have to physically go looking for.

Christmas Eve Dinner
We are having it at Laura's since my house is too far away. I think it should be good as usual. This year we are having fish for the main, which is a bit of a departure, but every year the meal gets lighter. Well, except for last year, but that was because of an unfortunate calculation error with the amount of beef short rib I cooked. At least it was fabulous, if a little "in excess" of what was needed.

The Shortbread Adventure
A couple weeks ago I was driving down Carlaw and saw a little tent sign at the entrance to an alley for what appeared to be a shortbread store. On Saturday, I mentioned it yet again to Jeff, who suggested we stop. We pulled into the alley, which was indeed alley-ish and not very promising as a source of shortbread. I got out fo the car and look around, and through a rather grimy basement window, I saw what appears to be someone in a baking hat. I spotted a fire door, so I went into the building, down a flight of concrete stairs, and I did indeed find a bakeshop. A marvellous bakeshop where they make the most wonderful shortbread! The retail space consists of a basket with shortbread in it, but the smells are terrific and the shortbread is to die for. One thing I love is savoury shortbread. I bought some of the Stilton and Rosemary flavour and it was great. I plan to use it as a base for my Savoury Shortbread with Carmelized Onion and Creme Fraiche hors d'oeuvres on Christmas Eve. This is one reason I think I may not bake. Solutions are being provided! Hello Coach House Short Bread Company!

I'm not really done, but I have to go. I will try to post more often!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Saga Continues

Hard to believe its already the end of October. I meant to write something every week, but the time has really gotten away from me.

I’ve been thinking about my new career a lot – as one might expect. Mostly, as I’ve already posted, I’m finding it really fun. But I’ve been at it long enough to be able to recognize some downsides as well.
I’ve developed one huge peeve. We have a union (OSSTF) meeting every Tuesday morning prior to the weekly staff meeting. I was frankly shocked at the amount of whining that goes on over unbelievably small things. I never really believed the reputation teachers have for being big crybabies, but these meetings are truly absurd. Can you imagine a software developer saying that “you only gave Bob 8 database objects – I got 9. It isn’t fair! WAAAAA!” or “Jim took 32 minutes for lunch. I only took 29. The company owes me 3 minutes! WAAAAA!” Truly this is the level of the complaining, and a surprisingly large number of people get in on it. I find it extremely unprofessional. And irritating!

So I haven’t been going to union meetings. I find each one I go to leaves me with less respect for my colleagues than before.

Although I just said that I find myself in a state of declining respect for (some) colleagues, I also crave their company. One thing I didn’t expect, given how much time every day I spend with students, is that teaching is a lonely job. Often I don’t see other adults all day. I like the kids, but my relationship with them is not collaborative in any way, even when it is. Does that make any sense? When I’m working with the kids, I get satisfaction from helping them learn, but isn’t the same as that teamy rush you get by working 18 hours a day for weeks to meet a deadline.

Professionally, I am used to very, very intense teamwork. Even working at home, I was in constant communication and collaboration with other people all day every day, and in the office it was always a mob scene. Every single thing was done with a team, or with a team of teams. It’s not like this at all at school. I see a couple colleagues regularly. But I simply chat a little with them, then go back to my own work. I never create things or make decisions with other people. It’s quite a different model. I remember the sheer bliss of having a door to close at the office. I would be exhausted from the effort of having to deal with people, people, people all day long. Now, I find I miss the contact, the connection, and especially the feeling of shared accomplishment.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I’m not sure what week it is…

I was going to start this post with a title, “Week 2 in Teacher Land”, but then, I thought, maybe it’s week 3…or possibly week 4? The sad truth is I don’t have a calendar handy and I have no idea what the date is!

What do I want to say about being a teacher? Well. First, it’s the funnest job in the world. I am SO GLAD I made this career change. I feel like I’m making an important contribution to the world, rather than just laboring to make money for someone else making stuff that no-one really needs, wants or cares about.

That sound so cynical, and isn’t really fair. I spent many years making software when it was fun, and people did want what we were building. But the last project I did before I decided I was done was figure out how we could add an advertisement to all text messages using the space leftover after the message. Nobody wants ads on their text messages – except advertisers. What a waste of my life to make something so very unwanted.

Back to my new job…. It’s taken me a couple weeks (however many!) to figure out how not to have to spend every night doing prep until after 11 pm. The trick is to have a plan so you know what you’re teaching this week and this month. As I said in a previous entry, I didn’t even know what I was teaching when I arrived for my first day, and it’s taken some time to figure out what I’m doing. But I think I’m mostly there. My goal is to have my next whole units ready to go before I start teaching them. Then all I’ll have to do is worry about marking.

The kids are by far the best part of the job. Most are great. They are hilariously funny – although I don’t think they mean to be! They are also moody and sometimes difficult. I’ve only had one “incident” so far, and I’m pleased with how I handled it, and how I felt afterwards. Even though I was a little shaken up, I didn’t have any lasting bad feelings about the student or the incident. I think all the corporate nonsense I endured during my previous life has left me with a pretty thick skin.

I’ve taken on a couple responsibilities in addition to my teaching. As the English Teacher (I’m the only one teaching English full time. All other English classes are being taught by teachers who teach one English in addition to whatever else they teach), I was asked to take on the after-school literacy program. That’s an hour one night per week, so it isn’t too onerous. As well, the principal thinks I’m a good candidate for administration (becoming a principal) given my previous experience and has made some mentoring available. I have no idea whatsoever what direction my education career is going to go. Right now, I’m focused on doing a good job in the classroom and I’m finding that plenty interesting and challenging enough. But I don’t want to turn down now an opportunity I may want later, so I accepted her offer and joined the leadership program. For this year, all I am doing is helping out with the Parent Council, which is only 5 meetings this year and attending the monthly leadership program meetings. As time goes on, I’ll decide whether I want to build a resume filled with school, community and board level activities that might lead to an administration job. I’m not too keen at the moment, but I know myself, and I do get bored of the same job day in day out so I want to keep my options open.

I just checked the calendar and it’s the end of week three. It feels like three days have passed rather than three weeks!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

It’s back to school time!

I hardly know where to start. Everything is a blur. My current joke is that if a month from now someone asks me to tell them about my first week at school, I won’t be able to remember anything. I don’t have any big insights, so I’ll just stick to the facts.

I was lucky enough to get on the TDSB “eligible to hire” list back in May. I say “lucky” because I had no idea whatsoever what the criteria were when I applied, and after seeing who was accepted and who wasn’t, I still have no idea.  After spending a lot of thought wondering about it, I finally just decided to be thankful and let it go.

I went to a couple interviews in June. I think there was one job I might have gotten – but my reference didn’t call them back. My fault really, for not making sure I had the best phone number. I struggled a little with the interview process. First off, I cannot for the life of me understand how you could hire someone to literally mold the next generation of our society on the basis of a 20-30 minute, four-question interview. I struggled a little with learning how to do this kind of interview. I think I may have intimidated some of the principals!

There was another flurry of hiring and interviews the week before the school started.  I went to an interview on the Wednesday, got the offer late Thursday, and went to the board office to be “documented” on Friday. I called the school right after documentation and was told to show up Tuesday morning at 8:15 for a briefing. I didn’t even know what classes I would be teaching. Despite that, I wasn't nervous. I think I was so grateful that I actually had a job that it blotted out all other emotions.

I prepped some ice breakers, and hoped that first day administration would occupy the rest of each period! At the briefing I received my class lists and discovered I was teaching three English classes – Grade 10 and 11 Essential and a multi-grade Special Ed English class. I also received a policy book that doesn’t tell you anything relevant to your first day (like where to find the keys to your classroom) and a pile of agendas for the kids.

The first day was a short schedule. I only had the kids for 40 minutes for each class. My homeroom is grade 10. They are super nice kids – a little young for their ages and collectively reading at about grade 3-6 level. A couple have some attitude, but it’s the “I don’t care about this” attitude, rather than anything hostile. Although one did go to the bathroom on Friday and not return, so I have to deal with that on Monday. I kinda feel sorry for the kid. He and his tiny little girlfriend usually snuggle their way through class, but they either had a fight or broke up right before and clearly he needed to get away. Still, can’t let it pass.

My grade 11s are a much tougher class. There is a group of five boys who really should never be scheduled into the same class. I’ve come to an understanding with three of them, and they are behaving much better; two to go! Starting Monday I have an Education Assistant in the class, and I do think that will help. Another thing that helped was I asked them about their interests, compiled a list of 10 possible units we could do, and let them vote on which three. Letting them have some “say” in what they would be doing has opened them up to me a little.

Am I allowed to say which kids are my favourites? My Spec Ed class is a pure delight. There aer nine of them of various ages, all intellectually disabled. They are willing to try anything, they behave well and they are eager to learn and to gain my approval. I have a fantastic EA  in this class who is clear that it’s my class, but who is also ready to assist and lend his expertise (he has been an EA for 8 years). I like him and expect to have a good relationship with him.

So last week I did a bunch of diagnostic stuff – tried to figure out about how well they were writing and reading ( it isn’t pretty), and I now know what theme units I’m going to be teaching:
  • Grade 10s voted for “The Big Sell” (Advertising), “New World” (Immigrant experience in Canada), and “End of the World” (from prophecy to global warming to SciFi).
  • Grade 11s voted for “The Big Sell”, “The Contest” (sports, athletes and media) and “War” (International Conflict and Propaganda).

Fortunately, the “The Big Sell” is a unit I developed on one of my practica. It needs some tweaking, but is generally ready for use. I’m going to teach it first to both classes, which will give me some breathing space to come up with four more units. The upside is that next term, and next year, I’ll have some units in place!

My classroom is a mess. The same teacher taught in it for over 30 years, and I think every piece of paper he ever had is still in there! He retired unexpectedly the day before my interview, and never came in to clean his stuff out. I do a little every day at lunch.

My school seems a little underfunded to me, but I went to high school in the suburbs, so I may not have entirely realistic expectations. The staff has been very welcoming, and I am very impressed with the principal. She is smart, and ready to be a mentor. As well, a member of my “Tribe” from TES class at OISE has also joined the staff at my school. It really was nice to see a familiar face on my first day, and then later from time to time in the halls.

Now that it’s Saturday, and I’m through the first week and have a moment to reflect, I’m feeling good about this semester. I feel really energized and excited about this new career and am SO glad I decided to jump off the cliff and start fresh. It feels amazing to go to work thinking about having something real to offer. And even better, it’s reciprocal. I think the kids have a lot to teach me, as well.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

OK, I started off writing a book review....

Although Jeff and I do watch TV and movies, we never watch “idle” tv – that is, we never sit ourselves done in front of the tube and check to see if anything is on. We have our shows, typically 2 or 3 at any given time – typically we PVR them or watch them “on demand”. We watch them and then turn off the tv.

Instead of idle tv, we read books together out loud in the evenings. This may well be my favourite activity. Over the last couple years, we’ve read Paradise Lost, Shadow of the Wind, 2666 (that was a months’ long waste of time!), the Steig Larsson trilogy, Ann Marie MacDonald’s  Where the Crow Flies (I think our favourite so far) and Fall on your Knees, Kavalier and Clay, Bonjour Tristesse, The Sparrow (which I love and Jeff doesn’t get), one of Lawrence Hill’s books, a vampire book whose name is escaping me, and various others whose names aren’t coming to me this instant.

Last week, we finished up The Cookbook Collector – A Novel, by Allegra Goodman. I’m not sure how many pages this book is, because we read it on the Kindle App for the iPad, but we wailed through it in about two weeks, which is pretty darn quick. Jeff indulged me – I couldn’t put it down.

Reviewers say that is it is a bit of a Sense and Sensibility riff, which it may well be. The characters are extremely engaging. I think my favourite is George – a Microsoft millionaire who falls in love with the “sensibility” sister, Jess, and fantasizes about the meals he’s going to cook for her. It practically breaks his heart when he finds out she is a vegan, but he comes around eventually and finally seduces her with a gorgeous ripe peach. I get George.

I also relate to Emily – the “sense” sister. She is calm and level headed no matter what happens, until, events unfolding, she is pushed out of her self-protective shell and forced to confront her emotions and learn to live with them.

But the thing about this book that really drew me in was the milieu. It takes place among software people, starting during the early 90’s tech bubble and ending shortly after 9-11. I had to explain all the inside jokes and tech company rituals to Jeffry, but I enjoyed doing it. Reading the book was like re-playing my previous life.

I worked at Castek. At that time, Castek was in a shooting star growth phase. The feelings the folks in the book have – feeling invincible, optimistic, like the whole world was there to be seized BY US… I had forgotten that feeling – the incredible excitement of going to work every day, the optimism about what your shares would be worth, the insanity of the growth curve and trying to take in new employees fast enough to meet the customer demand, everybody working 15, 18 hours a day, the all nighters. The talented, generous people. It was fun. I think with everything that came after, I’d forgotten the sheer fun of it. If nothing else, I got the memory of the fun back from reading this book.

The Cookbook Collector is also the first novel I’ve read that talks about 9-11 in a personal and non-ideological way. In the book, Emily’s fiancée Jonathan is on the flight from Boston to LA, and he is killed.
I had the exact same reaction to finding out about the twin towers as Emily did. I was managing the claims project - sitting in my nook concentrating on a spreadsheet. Amanda (who had been my Project Assistant and then promoted to Business Analyst, because she was too smart to waste doing my admin) stuck her head in and said, “a plane has flown into the world trade centre”. I looked up, slightly annoyed at the interruption and said “What a horrible accident” and went back to my spreadsheet. Same words as Emily. I have to imagine that was a pretty common reaction – at least at first.

Everything else that day is a blur. Some might ask that since we aren’t Americans how could we possibly be hit hard by the attack? Well, all I have to say about that is that Toronto is a LOT closer to New York than LA is. There were rumours that the CN Tower was going to be attacked next, that the attack was a prelude to an invasion of the US, that it was hoax, a conspiracy, an accident. The tall office buildings in the financial core were evacuated and men and women in dark suits were milling all over the streets. Many of our colleagues were in the states and we didn’t know where they were. Our COO lived in New Jersey and was beside himself. All of our clients were in the US. Many of us knew people who worked in the World Trade Centre, or who lived in New York City. We watched everything unfold on CNN on our computer screens. No-one did any work that day. The people on my team were mostly young, and they were scared. So was I. Mostly, I remember thinking that I just had to be calm and make sure my team was ok. I really wanted to talk to my mom, so I called her.

The novel continues into the aftermath of both the “bubble” bursting and 9-11. I remember that, too! After 9-11 the tech market really tanked. Although the “bubble” had burst prior, it hadn’t effected us too much, because we weren’t public yet. But after 9-11, insurance companies had no money for or interest in big software. Things went downhill rapidly. Although it wasn’t “over night”, it seemed like it. We laid people off. Work got hard. It wasn’t any harder in the literal sense – it just wasn’t fun anymore, so everything seemed to take more effort. We weren’t young, brilliant winners after all; we knew now that we weren’t going to rule the world, so things that we just sucked up before became annoyances, people started to move on. Everything we touched seemed tainted by the miasma of disappointment. Eventually, the company shrunk down to something like 20 people (from over 300).

The upside, is that I got laid off while my stock was still worth something. I used the money plus my package to put a down payment on my first house. Another upside, I never had a time in my life where I learned more, or where I cared more about the people I worked with.

I haven’t thought about those times for years. I’m glad I read this book. I think because I was part of the life described in the book, I found it all very compelling. Jeff liked the book as well, but he was much more interested in the relationships. Would Emily really marry that jerk, Jonathon? Would awkward but wealthy and almost middle-aged George figure out how to woo and win the quixotic and delightful young Jess? Would Jess fall out of a tree? Would the evangelical rabbis convert everybody? Who was Emily and Jess’s mother? Would Karen sell the cookbook collection to George? 

And most important, what is everybody having for dinner?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sexy Summer Love - my new favourite recipe

So the vegetable garden is burgeoning and I have a problem - what are two people supposed to do with 8 really big eggplants? So I did a little research on the internet and found... heaven- but sexy heaven! Heaven in a roasting pan.

The dish is called Imam Bayildi, which is usually called in English "The Parson Fainted" - even though we all know that an "Imam" isn't the same thing as a "parson". Before I ate this dish, I was charmed by the three speculative reasons given for WHY the Imam fainted - was it because the dish was so delicious? was it because he found out how much olive oil was in it? was it because it looks like female genitalia?

I don't know where the female genitalia comparison comes from. There is really no resemblance, although my experience is that when things really, really taste good, people often think about sex.

There is a lot of olive oil (3/4 cup!), but that's not something you would know unless you made the dish yourself.

Its the deliciousness. Believe me when I tell you, the taste of the dish is utterly swoonish. It tastes like every good memory of summer you  ever had, flavoured with tarragon and a little lemon and waiting to be devoured. I suppose it would taste good with store bought vegetables, but there is something truly magic about eating food that you've grown yourself, every single ingredient at the peek of ripeness.

Here is the recipe, which (being me) I have modified slightly from that of Helen Sand - who I don't know, but wish I did - because she is a good cook:

  • 1-2 medium-size eggplants, sliced lengthwise in three
  • 5-6 roma tomatoes, whole (or 20 cherry tomatoes, or an equivalent some other tomatoes - whatever you have in your garden)
  • 2 medium-size onions, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 peppers (red, yellow) sliced lengthwise in 1/2-inch strips
  • About 10 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • several generous dashes of fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup olive oil for baking
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • Garnishes: Chopped Fresh basil, thyme, and/or tarragon; pine nuts or saltless shelled sesame seeds
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Pour 1/4 cup of olive oil in a frying pan, and fry (see steps 3,4,5) the vegetables one at a time, but removing each from the oil and then reusing the oil. Add up to another 1/4 cup oil as you go along if you need to. The eggplant soaks up a lot of oil.
  3. Fry the eggplant until golden on medium high. When golden, remove to a flat roasting pan or baking dish. It doesn't have to be cooked through - just browned on the outside.
  4. Fry the onion until translucent on medium. 
  5. Remove the stems from the tomatoes and fry them whole in the pan until the skin bursts (on high heat).
  6.  In a baking dish arrange the eggplant with the onion a on top and the tomatoes interspaced. Poke the tomatoes to make sure the juices will escape into the pan.  Sprinkle the garlic all over the dish. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper, and the water. 
  7. Add the ¼ cup of oil in dashes across the assembled dish.
  8.  Cover and bake for about 40-50 minutes, or until the eggplant is very soft when poked with a fork.
  9. Let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle your tarragon, basil and thyme, and nuts on  top of it and add another couple dashes of lemon.
I didn't expect to fall in love, so I didn't take a picture. I'll post one next time I make it. Jeff said I could make it every day if I wanted to, so I don't expect it to be very long!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Body Image and Inspirational Female Athletes

Since I'm putting some focus on exercise and nutrition these days (a.k.a. "back training") (well, not actually back training this very minute, since I am so sore I can barely move!), I wanted to share these amazing and inspiring pictures of female athletes.

One of the difficulties with being a woman is that how we look is important. As someone who is overweight, I am well aware that people often see me as "that fat chick", and they discount me or underestimate me. I am also well aware that folks who value substance over looks generally find me to be interesting, intelligent, capable and kind. In some ways, being overweight screens out potential friendships with superficial jerks. What can I say? Everything has an upside!

Women are bombarded by media images of the "perfect woman" - usually she is 16-20 years old, 6 feet tall, weighs about 110 pounds. She's likely Caucasian, has the hair of the moment, and a wide mouth. It takes 2-3 hours to make her up for a photo shoot, and every single imperfection is photoshopped out afterwards. Since this woman doesn't actually exist, and since obsessively trying to be like her anyway breaks female spirits everywhere, I'd love to see women adopt a different kind of role model.

These pictures are of female Olympic Athletes. What I love about them is how gorgeous they all are - but none have the body of the media's "perfect woman". In fact, the pictures celebrate all the different kinds of healthy bodies there are for women to aspire to. Reality is that no matter how much I weigh or how much I work out, I'll never look like DeLisha Milton, Amy Aculf or Tara Lapiniski. But in peak condition, I can conceive of a body like Jennifer Parilla's  or Tobey Gifford's (Ok, my now not secret fantasy is out!)

And of course, these pictures are ideals, and are of women who are at their peak of fitness. Most of the women I know will never be that buff. Its unlikely that I will. But as role models - they eat highly nutritious food, they work out and they achieve great things. This takes tremendous discipline and commitment. To me, this is a much more valuable role model for grown women than a waif-like 18 year old whose only accomplishment is genetically perfect skin and a pretty smile.

So praise for gorgeous women athletes!  (these images are from the now defunct Sports Illustrated for Women via

My new favourite iPad app and why I joined Twitter

This morning I happened across a new iPad app which I downloaded and immediately fell in love with. Basically what it does is access your Facebook and Twitter accounts and finds all the articles, pictures, videos, etc that people share, and turns them into a news magazine, with pictures, pull quotes, multiple articles per page. It's a LOT like reading say, Time magazine, except the articles are all about things that I and my Facebook friends care about. It fills up otherwise empty spaces with a selection of folks' status updates, which are presented like "news in Brief" in the newspaper.

The presentation is SO appealing. I often don't read articles that folks post - usually I just scan through and see how people are doing. Today I read every article, looked at every video, opened every photo album. And it was all so interesting! What a total difference an interesting graphic presentation makes.

After about 15 minutes of "flipping" through my magazine, I decided that I needed more... so I did something I had previously sworn I would never do! I opened a Twitter account, and became a follower of as many  people (whom I know!) as I could find. So now all the articles that have been shared over twitter are part of my very personal news magazine.

As well, there are also a selection of real magazines you can include. I added Bon Appetite, TED Talks, Fast Company and a few others.

Main thing missing? I'd love it if Flipboard went to Live Journal and BlogSpot and could include the blogs I follow!

Thing that could be improved? The TED Talks app gives you the title of the talk, and a couple sentences about what it is about. Flipboard just shows the still of a person on a stage with a triangle for "play" - so no idea what the talks are about. Since they are usually about 20 minutes, I prefer not to invest the time unless it's a topic of some interest to me.

Two last things to say here:

1. Please do not expect me to start tweeting or whatever its called. At least not until I get used to the idea of even having this account. I know I'm not normally such a luddite about things, but for whatever reason, this whole twitter thing gets under my skin. But who knows, maybe once I've tried it, I'll be a convert!

2. Check out Flipboard at the App Store, or at It's free!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lean Eating

As of today, I am starting a new fitness and nutrition program. I'm pretty excited, as I have done this program before with amazing results. I injured myself about 8 months ago and haven't been exercising. But now I can, so now I'm going to!

For more information about the program Lean Eating for Women, check out Precision Nutrition. They also have a program for men, and I couldn't recommend the organization, the people or the program more highly!

Everything starts out easy nutrition-wise. All I have to worry about this week is taking my omega 3 oil and a multivitamin. This I can do! The workout on the other hand is going to be hard. It will get easier in the sense that once I start working out again, my system will adjust to it, but it's going to be a tough week. An then it is going to be a tough six months. If my previous experience is any indication, the work outs are hard core!

Anyway, I'm not planning to belabor the program on this blog, but my plan is to a weekly update taking stock of how I am doing.

But first, the garden....

I actually have relevant things to say today, but first, I have to provide an update on my vegetable garden.

Everything is growing! So far, I've harvested many huge cucumbers, a few cherry tomatoes (with about a million to come!), some thai chili peppers, peas, fava beans and one red pepper. And young lettuce.

So far, everything is growing well and I haven't had any huge failures - although I'm not too confident about the corn. I think the corn may not have gotten sufficiently pollinated - next year, I'll pollinate it by hand. But I have nine ears in progress, so maybe I'll get enough for a dinner at least, anyway.

The tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, herbs and cucumbers and eggplant have gone berserk. I think I'm going to end up with about 10 eggplants. That's a lot of eggplant! I think they are getting to the point where I could harvest one, but I'm going to wait and see how large they'll get. the one in the picture is about 6 inches in diameter.

Anyway, although most things aren't yet ready to harvest, I have been able to pretty much stop buying vegetables - I manage to glean a day's worth of delicious organic produce from my (apparently) "very now" urban container garden!

A couple more pictures below. The first cauliflower I've ever grown, and the basil that thinks it's the star of "Little Shop of Horrors". I'm not sure it's physically possible to eat more basil - I cut it down by a third, the next day, it's back

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Apparently, I write like James Joyce

I did a quiz on Facebook where you input some of your writing - I used my blog entry on the farmer's market. The software analyses my writing and spits out which writer I'm most like. I was very amused.

I write like
James Joyce
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

So does this mean I'm so literary nobody can understand me?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wychwood Farmers Market - my goodies

We went, in the rain, to the Wychwood Organic farmer market this morning to pick up our meat CSA box, and to check out the vegetables! This is not our usual market - it's across town - but since we were going anyway we decided to see what there was.

It's been a great year at the farmers market so far. I usually go to the Riverdale Farm Organic Market, and the stalls have been burgeoning. Wychwood was no different!  Here are my goodies.

The most amazing thing is that there are both Ontario cherries and strawberries. Apparently the cherries are over three weeks early! I've been stuffing myself with Ontario strawberries - small, sweet and intensely flavoured - since they started two weeks ago. The vendor at the market said this weekend was the end of them. A tragedy - but we enjoy them all the more because their season is so short.

I was also thrilled with the mushrooms this week - I got shitake, baby king oysters (which are so delicious sauted in a little butter that they make me cry with delight) and a double hand-full of wild morels.

Another vegetable I love, that also has a short season, is sea asparagus.  It grows on the sea shore on the west coast - which is admittedly a little far away for a
"locavore" vegetable. But its a worthy treat and usually only available for about two weeks per year. It is quite salty, since it actually grows on salt water shores, and I usually soak it for an hour or two before cooking it. Then when you boil it - lots and lots of water. Then you saute it in butter. I like to serve it with fish (or just in a big bowl, which I then refuse to share).

Just this year, I've been seeing more small dairies out at the market with their cheeses. Two weeks ago, I bought a pressed sheeps milk ricotta from a vendor at the Riverdale market. Today I bought this gloriously ripe ash covered goat cheese at Wychwood. Is there anything better than a stinky, oozing soft cheese? Yum.

Anyway, I am serving the cheese tomorrow as a pre-dinner snack. I am having a small dinner party, where all the guests are vegetarians who eat fish and some dairy. The rest of the menu is also based on today's shopping: I went to the St. Lawrence Market and got some gorgeous wild Atlantic Salmon. I'm serving that with a crab and scallop crust, and then the whole thing gets cedar planked on the barbeque. I'm serving the sea asparagus with it, as well as tiny, red, orange and gold carrots and some many-grain whole rice. I think I will also transform the biggest $2 romaine lettuce I've ever seen into a caesar salad. For dessert, I'm planning strawberry short cakes - but I'm making the cakes from this great white chocolate cake recipe I got from my friend Joan, and I'll use of my home made creme fraiche instead of insipid and boring whipped cream.

Life is good!

Meat, Vegetables and CSAs

I admit it, I'm a carnivore. However, I have become convinced of the benefits of organic grass finished beef, as well as pastured pork, lamb, and even chicken and turkey. First of all, meat animals that have had something like a normal life, and that eat grass TASTE fabulous rather than like a combination of fat and and cardboard. Second, grain in an animals diet changes the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats in a negative way. Grass fed animals (in other words, animals that are eating what they are evolved to eat) produce omega3:6 in, as you might expect, the precise ratio that makes them most beneficial for human consumption.

For this summer, rather than hitting the markets and farms as I have done in the past, I discovered a CSA that does organic pastured finished meats - beef, pork, lamb and chicken.

CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture". In general, a CSA farm sells shares of their crop to anyone who wants to buy one for a lump sum in the spring (Usually around $600-$800) and then every week until the end of growing season, you get a share of whatever has been harvested. Your money up front means that the farmer has some liquid cash to buy seed etc without having to go to the bank, and you also accept some of the risk - for example, if the lettuce gets attacked by some horrible bug, you don't get any lettuce. On the up side, you get loads (and I mean LOADS) of picked-today organic veg. Generally, CSAs have a number of central pick up points where you go to collect your goodies.

But I'd never come across a CSA that did meat before - until now. The Stoddart Family Farm offers 10 pounds of mixed organic meats per month for 6 months for $495. That's about $8.95 per pound. You'll never find organic grass fed meat at Whole Foods for that price! All the meats - lamb, beef, chicken and pork, are produced organically on their pasture. I also picked up an "egg share" - thats 4 dozen duck and chicken eggs per month. These are barnyard eggs from birds that spend their days on the grass. If you want to learn more about the Stoddart Family Farm, their website is

Today I picked up my first box. There are 3 chicken quarters, two cuts of berkshire pork, and  beef burgers. The challenge for Jeff and I will be to stay within 10 pounds of meat per month, but we decided to try it for the duration of the summer CSA, which goes until November. We also eat lots of fish, and I'm planning a couple vegetarian nights per week as well. We'll see how things go.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Can video games save the world?

In my recent class called "The Adolescent Brain", I learned about the 10,000 hour rule, which essentially states that if you spend 10,000 hours mindfully practicing/learning something, you'll be an expert on it. Ten thousand hours is also about the number of hours one spends in public school between grade 5 and high school graduation. And 10,000 hours is about the average number of hours that gamers play their on-line games before age 21.

So a 10,000 hour gamer is getting a complete alternate education, AND becoming an expert at something. But what? Saving the world, of course.

This talk by Jane McGonigal at a TED conference goes into some depth on this topic, and also talks about how to begin harnessing all the "save the world" expertise to go after real world problems. This is an interesting and thought provoking talk...

So after listening to the talk I went an had a look at the three games McGonigal was talking about: "World without Oil", "Superstruct" and "Evoke". They all looked amazing, but I am most struck by "World without Oil" because it has lesson plans!

I was thinking it would be amazing to use the "World without Oil" in a Media class. There are 10 lessons, so you could do one per week, and have a couple weeks after to examine how the experience as a participant in content creation, citizen journalism and crowd sourcing feels from the inside and informs how we interact with what we read and see in the media. Just as writing poems helps students read poems more intelligently, creating a media response might help their overall media literacy. There is tons of opportunity to write, make video, post photos, etc, since the students are required to keep a blog. I hope I get a chance to teach this. It would be suitable for some English classes (especially Media, obviously, and most of the workplace level classes). Also, I think you could make it work for some for the business classes as well. Entrepreneurship, General business, international business. SO interesting!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Vegetable Garden

There's nothing like planting a new garden to lead me to want to start all sorts of new things. I've been thinking about a new blog for a while. I feel like I've outgrown my Live Journal account, although it certainly fulfilled its purpose.

I have this idea that I should focus on a single passion and write only about that, but anyone who has known me for more than five minutes will know that will never work for me. Still, I do have a number of topics that I do intend to post about: urban gardening, education, career changing, cooking, dining and restaurants, working out, news, organic farming, quilt making. Maybe a little bit about technology - at least a posting about why I love my new iPad, anyway.

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My house in Toronto is a narrow three-story Victorian in an established area downtown. It has quite a large deck off the third floor (about 11x17') that has great sun exposure and, as far as I can tell, no bugs. So, I decided to experiment with what I might be able to grow in containers. I decided to start small - 14 containers (plus three additional tomato plants) and about 25 bags of dirt.

Since I have no idea what will grow up there,  I decided to plant a little bit of everything. I thought this year I could see what did well and next year, I could be more focussed.

So I have fava beans (my favourite!), two types of eggplant, peas, various herbs, five kinds of tomatoes, parsnips, onions,corn, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, beets, potatoes, three kinds of cucumber, and kohlrabi.

In the picture, three vats haven't sprouted yet. I decided I could fit a few more vats and added the carrots, beets and potatoes earlier this week. It's late planting for them, but if things go so late they are endangered by frost, I can just pull them inside and put them under the skylight.

I'm also experimenting with the tomatoes. I read an article about terrace gardening that suggested tomatoes could be planted "over the edge" - so that they grow down on the outside of the terrace. In the article, the writer said she grew her tomatoes from the  the top of her roof, and they just ran down the slope. My rooftop would be reasonably assessable by ladder from the third floor deck, but I don't think I'm quite that obsessed yet! It's too high and too sloped for me to ever feel safe up there! However,  I am looking out the back window and the roof of the garage actually looks kind of promising. It gets good sun and it is gently sloped. And it isn't too high. Maybe next year! Seriously. But I think I'll wait to break this plan to Jeff until after the deck garden is a huge success!

I ran out of containers, so I just planted the tomatoes directly in the bags of dirt. Then I taped the holes up so the plants wouldn't fall out.  It isn't very elegant, but the plants seem to thriving anyway. There is a small corner shelf where I set the bags. If all goes well, I'll put a shelf in along the whole length of the deck next year. There would likely be room for 15-20 tomato plants. More than enough to can a bunch of tomatoes and tomato sauce, which is my goal.

So far, though, the tomato plants in the vats on the deck are the big winners. The Roma tomato is leading - it already has 14 tiny green tomatoes starting on it. No other tomato plant has more than 3 or four.