Sunday, June 29, 2008

Thematic Photographic: Wood (again)

Taken August 21, 2007, in Burnaby, BC.

This is another entry for Carmi's weekly Thematic Photographic theme. This wooden horse is part of a beautifully restored carousel at the Burnaby Village Museum.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Thematic Photographic: Wood

I'm posting this photo for Carmi's Thematic Photographic theme of wood. This is the very roller coaster that I almost flew out of 27 years ago.

For another wood photo, see my other blog.

Taken September 2, 2007, in Vancouver.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Green Friday--Green Guide magazine

Green Friday was pre-empted last week. The school year ended for us just yesterday, and as anyone with children in elementary school knows, June—with its year-end performances, field trips, and parties, as well as the last-minute panic to get projects done—is as busy as December, only without so much shopping. Between that, work, and a bunch of nonsense I was going through, I barely had time to brush my teeth last week.

This week I want to tell you about National Geographic’s Green Guide. What I like about this magazine is that it’s aimed at consumers like me, with busy lives and a budget, who want to know what they can do in their everyday lives to have a smaller impact on the environment. It goes beyond the information we’ve all heard a million times but doesn’t expect its readers to grow every scrap of food they eat, use nothing but pedal power, or dress in only organic hemp clothing. In the two issues I’ve read so far, I’ve found information that is immediately usable.

Each issue contains buying guides that tell you what to look for and what to avoid when you’re shopping for everyday items. For example, the summer issue has a guide for shampoos, including a wallet-sized “smart shopper’s card” that lists ingredients linked to health concerns such as cancer and hormone disruption. Other features include comparisons of different versions of a product (for example, is it better, from a nutritional and environmental standpoint, to buy juice as frozen concentrate, in plastic bottles, or in cartons?).

I found this magazine at the grocery store, but I discovered today that you can also subscribe online at the Green Guide website. Even if you aren’t a paid subscriber, you can access the buying guides, smart shopper’s cards, blogs, tips, and a free newsletter on the site. If you're looking for a way to go beyond curbside recycling and using cloth bags, check out the site or the magazine.

Note: No bloggers were paid in the preparation of this review.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #18--Tall Ship

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thematic Photographic: Glass

I'm posting this photo as part of Carmi's "Thematic Photographic" project. The theme this week is glass. This picture was taken through the window of an old building on the beach in April.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An open letter to late-night callers

To the young woman who has decided to drunk-dial her ex-boyfriend and got me instead, I’m very sorry for your suffering. And if you call me back at, say, 11:00 in the morning, when I could really use a break from my work, I’ll be happy to listen to you weep and tell me what an ass he is.

To the socialites who call looking for Bob or Barbi or a taxi at 3:00 in the morning, I’m very happy for you that your social life is so full. I can tell you’re having a wonderful time at that party. The music sounds great—whoever is in charge of the stereo is doing a fabulous job. But Bob doesn’t live here, nor does Barbi, and there’s no way I’m getting out of my warm bed to come and pick you up so you can throw up in my car.

To those who are calling the Metro Vancouver area code from the other side of the world, please be especially careful with your dialing. I know it’s a lot of numbers and it’s easy to get one wrong, but consider what it’s like for me to fumble in the dark for the phone and to hear you asking over and over again for your intended party in a language I don’t speak. Here’s a handy tip: If the person who answers the phone clearly doesn’t understand you, you’ve probably got the wrong number. Shouting loudly will not help her find the person you want.

If you happen to be a client of mine and are sending me a fax from Europe or calling me from the East Coast, stop for just a minute and remember that I’m in the Pacific time zone. Where you are it may be a perfectly reasonable business hour, but where I am we are all snoring gently in our beds (except for those who are out partying and calling me for a ride). Keep this in mind: I edit much better and more efficiently when I don’t have to prop my eyes open with toothpicks because I’ve been woken up by your call in the wee hours. I’m also much less cranky when I’ve had a full night’s sleep and therefore less likely to write “Did you never learn grammar in school, you moron?” in big red letters on your manuscript.

I know you’re probably thinking I should just turn the phones off at night so that you don’t have to worry your drunken or thoughtless little heads over waking me. But we have elderly relatives and sick relatives and my husband is part of an emergency response team, so that’s not an option. When I hear the phone ring at night, my first thought is that someone has died or there’s been an apartment-building fire and 50 people need help finding food and clothes and a place to stay. And with all that phone-induced adrenalin rushing through my body, it’s really hard for me to make sense of your weeping or drunken slurring or foreign-to-me language or requests for a rush job.

Please, late-night callers, please, think before you dial.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #17--Waiting for summer

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Improg word: Fair

Improgging is improvisational blogging. A word is posted on the Improg blog twice a week. Take that word and blog about it in anyway you’d like: happy, sad, thoughtful, funny, short, long, with pictures, with words—anything goes! To read other people's interpretation of the current word, go here.

Monday’s posted word was fair. I was thinking about posting about things that are fair and things that aren’t—I could go on forever about this, I bet. But then I started thinking all the fairs I’ve gone to. I grew up going to the county fair and for a dozen years lived in an area that holds a big agricultural fair every summer.

But the best years, fair-wise, were the years we lived in California when our kids were younger. Some people call the area we lived in Wine Country, but to us it was Fair Country. We usually went to five or six fairs every year, starting with the Apple Blossom Fair in April and ending with the Sonoma County Harvest Fair in October. We went to the fair (two, actually) in our first month living there and we went to the fair in our last month living there.

Now I live close to the grounds for the Pacific National Exhibition, known as the PNE. It has a midway and rides (they’re actually there all year), and there are some farm animals, but it’s much bigger and more commercial than the fairs I love. There’s no home ec building where I can see everyone’s strawberry jams or check how many ribbons a friend won for her crafts like I could at other fairs. The vendors are commercial ones. I can’t buy a wall-hanging for my daughter’s room from a member of the quilt guild or a hemp bracelet from a guy with dreadlocks. There are no displays of kids’ science projects or Lego creations. The PNE is fun, but it’s not a community fair.

My stepsister and I liked to go to our county fair during the day when it was quiet, because the guys running the rides would let us stay on as long as we wanted. I still feel bad about the time we were on the Octopus and, thinking we were the only ones, we had the guy keep it going around and around and around, until finally the short kid we hadn’t noticed before threw up.

We were also crazy about roller coasters. Take a lesson from me: Don’t wear a strapless top on a roller coaster, or if you do, don’t put your hands over your head as you go down the big hill. Hello, Santa Cruz!

My kids are not big fans of fair rides and for this I’m kind of grateful. For one thing, as I’ve gotten older, even one round of Ring around the Rosy makes me so dizzy that I have to sit with my head between my knees. I don’t think I could take the Tilt-a-Whirl anymore. For another, we rarely have to stand in line for an hour and a half and pay $5 each to enjoy a 45-second ride.

And once you’ve become a mom, the rides that used to seem so thrilling are downright scary. I was never truly frightened on a roller coaster—not even the time when, with my hands in the air instead of holding onto the bar like a smart person would do, I flew right out of my seat and the guy sitting with me had to haul me back down by the waistband of my jeans—until I took my three-year-old son on the kiddy roller coaster at the Sonoma County Fair. No safety bar seems safe enough when it’s your kid. When were those bolts last tightened? Is that seat belt frayed? As we rode around the Dragon Coaster, a good five or six feet in the air, I had a death grip on his little shoulder.

Soon my son’s class is going on a field trip to the PNE grounds. Having inherited the family pukey gene, he won’t go on the dizzying rides, but he is planning on trying out the very roller coaster that I almost flew out of almost 27 years ago. He’s smaller and skinnier than I was then and if the safety bar is the same, it won’t come anywhere close to his body. But he’s also more sensible than I was (and he’s heard my story), so he’ll probably be holding on. I won’t know for sure, though, because I won’t be able to watch.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Green Friday--Think before you print

In my day job (which, unfortunately, sometimes spills over into an evening, night, and weekend job), I’m an editor. My work involves words, words, and more words. It also used to involve paper, paper, and more paper, but over the years I’ve cut way back on how much printing I do.

During the first half or so of my ridiculous number of years at university, I simply could not write directly on the computer (I mean compose. I’m not talking about graffiti here). When I tried, I would sit there, my mind as blank as the screen.

It didn’t help that there’s something weird about my eyes or my brain that makes me able to detect CRT monitors refreshing, so that to me it sometimes looks like the screen is scrolling 60 times a second. Given my tendency to motion sickness, this is not a good thing. I often had to go lie down (or worse) during work sessions. A writer and editor who gets pukey looking at a computer screen? About the only thing worse would be a car salesman who gets sick on test drives.

Anyway, when I wrote my master’s thesis, I actually wrote it. By hand. With a pen. On paper. And then I typed the whole damn thing into the computer, printed it up for editing, wrote some more, typed some more, printed it again—rinse and repeat several times. Over the years, though, I’ve developed the ability to think and look at a computer screen at the same time, which is good news for the forests of the world. And now that I have a flat-screen monitor, I rarely throw up while I work.

These days I work on-screen as much as possible. And recently I’ve been questioning every print job before I send it. Do I really need to print a book’s table of contents so I can compare it to the headings used in the text (what an exciting job I have—can you stand it?) or can I copy the TOC (fancy technical abbreviation) into a separate file and view both documents side by side? Do I really need to print a set of style guidelines or can I keep them open in the background and refer to them when I need to? Do I really need to print a whole email or can I jot down the important information on a piece of scrap paper? Do I really need to print a knitting pattern that I may never get around to making, or can I save it on my hard drive?

Of course, words read differently on the screen than on paper, so there are times that I have to print a job to get an accurate reading of it. Once in a while I have a client who prefers to work on paper. Sometimes I have to measure margins with a ruler (see "exciting job" above). And I still tend to print things I’m scared of losing, because my backing-up habits aren’t as good as they could be (shame on me).

Now that I stop and think instead of automatically hitting the print button, a package of paper lasts me an incredibly long time and I have less paper cluttering my office (not to imply that my office isn't cluttered—it's just not cluttered with printouts).

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #16--A needed reminder

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's, see

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Green Friday--Dead batteries come back to haunt us

Batteries contain toxic metals that can leach into landfills and into the environment. In fact, according to the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, 70% of the heavy metals in landfills is due to household batteries. Wow!

In our house we use rechargeable batteries as much as possible. Every time a single-use battery wears out in something, I ask myself (usually out loud, since I’m so desperate for adult conversation) whether it could be replaced with a rechargeable. The answer (also spoken out loud, of course) has, so far, always been yes. I find that it’s actually easier and cheaper to use rechargeables because we buy so many fewer batteries, and (bonus!) there’s less packaging to throw away.

When your rechargeables finally wear out, you can recycle them. If you’re in North America (and two of my four regular readers are), you can check the Call2Recycle site to find a drop-off site. I was surprised to find out that there are 48 drop-offs within five miles of my house (or, since I’m in Canada, 8 kilometres); several of them are in stores I shop at, and many of them also take old cell phones. 48! Who knew?

In some places there aren’t programs in place to recycle single-use batteries, but some stores, companies, and recyclers do take them. Currently a lot of these batteries are taken to hazardous waste landfills, but now that California has banned batteries from landfills and requires battery recycling, better options might become more widely available elsewhere. My husband’s company collects them, so once in a while I send him to work with a plastic baggy full of dead batteries (if that’s not nerdy, I don’t know what is).

One thing that hadn’t occurred to me until I read a handout produced by the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation was the number of batteries that people unknowingly throw away in phones, toys, and all sorts of gadgets. Now before we toss anything that might remotely have a battery in it, we open it up and check first.

I find that many things that are better for the environment actually save money and take little time and effort. Dealing with batteries is one of these things. We drop them off at places we go to anyway. We buy fewer batteries. Once in a while we have to charge the rechargeables or open something up before we throw it away. Not a lot of work to keep heavy metals out the waste stream.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #15--The Cove

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's see

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Improg word: Display

I’ve given myself a limited amount of time to write this entry, so don’t expect much. I’ve made a lot of progress on my neverending work projects in the last few days and have gotten into a groove, and I want to get back to work (yes, you read that right: want to get back to work). While there’s still a long way to go with one in particular, I now believe that, sooner or later, the damn things will be done and I can move on. This is a big improvement on my recent nightmare of sitting in front of this laptop when I’m 83 years old, still working on the same projects.

I’m happy to report that monotasking has been hugely success for all two and a half days that I’ve been doing it. I can’t believe how much I’ve gotten done. The trick now is to not forget that I’m on this monotasking kick because then I’ll start working on three projects at the same time, with 23 files and 16 browsers open at once, while answering my email, checking on blogs, and eating lunch (if I remember to eat lunch, which I don’t always do).

Anyway, I’m wasting precious time here. My improg word this week is display. Unfortunately, I have no funny stories to relate about knocking over grocery-store displays, although it would a typical thing for me to do and I often bump into them with my cart, especially when I get one whose wobbly wheels turn in one direction only. It did occur to me, though, that this word is often used in reference to gardens, so I thought—because I have absolutely nothing interesting to say about the word itself—I would post some pictures of my weed patch garden.

I think I’ve mentioned (but because of the timer ticking away on my desk, I don’t have time to find where) that I garden more by accident and procrastination than by design. Despite that, and despite the fact that Mother Nature is having a senior moment and has forgotten to give us spring weather (Is it right that my furnace is going on in June? I don’t think so), my garden is putting on a decent display, or at least the parts that have managed to rise about the weeds are.

Here is an example of gardening by procrastination. When we moved into this house several years ago, a bunch of dead-looking vines covered the arbor (I’m very excited to have a house with an arbor. I've always wanted one). I made a mental note to cut those stick-like things back, but, as usual, I remembered only when I was somewhere I couldn’t do it, like in the shower or in the interminable grocery-store line-up, or when I didn’t have time, like when I’d pulled into the driveway with exactly 18 minutes to get my kids fed before we had to pull out again. So I never got around to it. Then, when spring came, this happened:

It turned out that those apparently dead vines were a clematis. Actually, they were two clematises (clemati?): this one, which blooms in the spring, and a darker one, which blooms in the summer. Some clemati are supposed to be pruned and some aren’t and I don’t know which kind mine are, or—if they differ in this respect—which of the tangled vines belong to the pruning persuasion and which don’t. So I just leave the whole thing alone and I’m rewarded with this gorgeous display (notice that I worked the word in again) every year. What was another in a long line of put-off tasks turned out to be my favorite part of the whole yard. Here’s another picture:

Now an example of gardening by accident. I was at the garden club’s perennial sale a few weeks ago and bought several kinds of plants that I knew nothing about (and I ask you this: Why do I have a whole library of gardening books and know so little about plants?). They met all the criteria I’m trying to use this year: They were cuttings or divisions from already existing plants, they were in reused plastic pots instead of new ones, and they were being sold to benefit a nonprofit group. So I bought them and planted them and then kind of forgot about them. Two days ago I glanced out of my bedroom window and saw a flash of red near where my done-for-the-year red tulips were. What was it? Did a tulip spring miraculously back to life? No, one of my unknown plants had produced this amazing flower (just ignore the humungous dandelion leaf next to it, please—and all those other weeds that surround it):

The lupine and bleeding heart plants I bought a few years ago to see how they would take to my garden keep coming back—the lupine in all sorts of unexpected places—despite my complete neglect (gotta love perennials):

My time for blogging is up. I have no time to figure out a pithy way to wrap this all up, so I’ll do what I always tell students not to do, which is to just stop writing when they’ve run out thing of things to say. The end.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Enough, already!--Month four

Alright, how the heck did it get to be June?

It’s now the beginning of month four of my “Enough, already!” project. In the first month I declared “Enough, already!” to procrastination. I’ve learned that I procrastinate when (a) I am overwhelmed with things to do, (b) I lack confidence in my abilities, or (c) I am tired. Or (d) there’s a cat on my lap and I just can’t get up to load the washing machine.

The theme of month two was garbage (I mean real garbage, not that the theme was worthless). It’s been pretty easy to follow through on that one and we continue to find ways to cut back.

This brings us to last month, when I was supposed to stop neglecting myself. If this project came with grades, I would get a big fat F. In red ink. With a big circle around it.

Early in the month I could see that this theme wasn’t working, so as I counted the days until May was over and I could stop feeling like an abject failure, I thought a lot about why it’s so hard for me to take care of myself. I have come to the conclusion that I just have too many damn commitments. Other people might be able to say, “Sorry, but I can’t do this thing that I’ve already said I would do,” and maybe I should do that for my own good, but I am who I am (not to mention that I’m self-employed), and that’s something I can’t do unless there is no other alternative.

For me, the answer to this dilemma is a two-parter: (a) finish the things I’m already committed to and (b) stop myself from getting so overcommitted in the future. I blathered on about this in a recent email to Hayley (yes, I may be an editor, but my emails to Hayley really do go on (and on) like this):

I can’t seem to dig out of this hole—or rather this unending warren of tunnels through which I run and run—of having too many urgent things to do and not getting them or the non-urgent things done. It reminds me of partway through a school term when you have big projects to work on and daily homework to do and exams to study for and quizzes every week and it’s all overwhelming. Plus your house is a mess, except for your closets because you’ve been cleaning them out to avoid your overwhelmedness.

So maybe instead of trying to do everything all at once—neverending (OMG, they are NEVERENDING) projects and real life and taking care of myself and blah, blah, blah—maybe I should pretend it’s the end of term, when just the big projects are left but they are HUGE because you didn’t work on them earlier and now you have three weeks to write a publishable-quality paper on Spanish syntax in a theory you don’t really understand, along with three other major papers (real-life example), and all you want to do is knit.

In school, at this point, I had to do whatever it took to get these things done or I would FAIL, because in many of my courses, 100% of the mark was determined by these papers I had left until the last few weeks (dumb, dumb, dumb, but I did get to watch a lot of hockey while avoiding them). That usually meant that only the very necessary non-paper-writing-related stuff got done. All of my other energy was devoted to getting these papers out of my life. Often I worked 14 to 17 hours a day for a couple of weeks straight, including weekends, taking showers whenever I thought I would fall asleep at the computer. And you know what? I pulled it off every time.

So I think I’m at the do-anything-to-get-done point. I obviously can’t do the 14- to 17-hour days and what counts as very necessary non-work-related stuff is much more than it used to be, but what if I stop trying for balance right now and go for the work-your-butt-off-even-if-you-think-it-will-kill-you approach for a few weeks until it’s all done? And then I would be free—free, I tell you!—of these projects. The neverending would be over!

And then I could go for balance, building a schedule from a clean start.
In order to accomplish this, I need focus, so June is “Enough multitasking, already!” month. As a student, and especially as a mother, I developed an amazing ability to multitask, doing things like grading student papers while nursing my son while eating dinner with the TV on. But I’ve noticed lately that multitasking isn’t working so well for me anymore. I have so many things on the go at once that it’s difficult to build up momentum or finish any given project. I feel like I’m constantly flitting here and there and seeing very little progress anywhere (I didn’t mean to make that rhyme).

I’ve been reading a bit about this and apparently studies are showing that multitasking is often inefficient, because so much time and focus is lost switching back and forth between tasks. The growing buzz is now monotasking—doing one thing at a time.

Now, I’m not going to sit down at the computer and work for a month straight. I have a family to take care of and my son is too young and too short to drive his sister and himself to their activities. Plus, having had a blood clot in my leg several years ago, I need to get up and walk around at regular intervals. But during my work time I will concentrate on one job at a time and keep my email closed. I will choose one relaxing or uplifting thing to do during my clot-preventing breaks each day. And I will put the big questions of balance and taking care of myself and fixing up my house aside for one month until I get out from under the shoulder-crushing weight of these commitments.

I have a hunch that if I can once again pull off an end-of-term success while (and this is very important) not taking on too many future commitments, I will be setting myself up for a more relaxed summer than I’ve had for years. Then I can actually enjoy the process of creating balance in my life instead of failing miserably and beating myself up about it.