Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Things That I Have Read at Ungodly Hours While up with the Bairn

We have a very, very small child now.  This is going to be a cumulative, ongoing list of things that I have read to try to keep myself entertained while the kid does not sleep.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Spring, as you may have noticed, is a favourite of mine.  It's not so great in on the US east coast, where we get about four weeks of reasonable weather starting in April, then it becomes so hot one cannot breathe without sweating.  Pollen is abundant here, too - I read something (possibly nonsense; I don't have enough biological knowledge to discern that) about the type of trees that the city uses to avoid shedding too much blossom; apparently these have more pollen than the other kinds.  Either way, I understand why people here are not so keen.

But, as someone brought up in a city where March (at the latest) brings magnolias, crocuses, snowdrops, bluebells, and the glorious scent of hyacinths, it's so exciting to see what has survived the winter, and be pleasantly surprised by the small victories.  Our oak leaf hydrangea is back with a vengeance; miraculously, the wisteria seems to have gone from all brown to green shoots appearing and multiplying each day.  Even one of our hostas, which seemed a lost hope, have suddenly grown inches in the past few days.  Similarly, out of nowhere we have ferns coming back to life, shoots pushing up, with their tight spirals unfurling into those beautiful, ancient leaf formations.  These are just small beginnings, but after our plants struggling last year, our first growing season in this house, they are exciting to watch, and encouraging for more growth this summer.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Now that spring finally seems to be coming to Brooklyn, I'm in a much sprightlier mood.  This may  be connected also to my having the week off work (although correlation does not equal causation, clearly).   The hydrangea is clearly back with a vengeance - buds everywhere! - the wisteria has buds, much to my relief, and one of my hostas is going to make it back, which is a surprise.  We have new geraniums in our boxes, the daffodils are springing up, and it feels like the soil under our feet is finally getting warm.  I'm not ruling out some snow before April departs - it's happened before and can definitely happen again - but, for now, I'm going to do some grading outside and enjoy the growth before the mosquitos arrive.

In accordance with my spring-induced enthusiasm, I am doing the Apartment Therapy Spring Cleaning Challenge - 20 minutes a day, one small task.  Number 2 (yesterday) was to clean the fridge.  I did not really do a... thorough job, it's fair to say, but the fridge looks so much better thanks to just a quick clean out and wipe down.  Hallelujah.  So it's definitely worth it.  Today: the shower head, something that I have genuinely never considered cleaning before.  

Some Resolutions: April Update

  1. Eating Something Green.
    1. I have enjoyed eating something green every day.  One day was really pushing it - a lettuce wrapped burger was my only source of green, three small pieces of romaine, maybe, covering a big chunk of meat - but generally I've been okay about it.  I've also been trying to eat more of the darker kale (thanks to this delightful breakfast that I've been making a lot) and food along those lines.  
    2. I just read Eat, Sleep, Move, and it's fair to say that I was not greatly enamoured of the tone of the book.  The whole "small changes" lead up to a lot of different changes each day - 30 days to implement them doesn't seem much like small, incremental change.  But it did bring home that I need to eat more varied green things, too, and particularly a wider range of vegetables.  My green intake is mostly spinach and cucumber.  I should chop up a shedload of broccoli at the start of the week and take it with me; I need more collards and chard, too.  Time to get on this.  So that's how my resolution will adapt this month.
  2. Reading toward Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge.
    1. Got a good chunk read this month: Blacklands by Belinder Bauer was my debut novel; The Wangs vs. the World was my book with a central immigration narrative; Human Acts was the book set over 5,000 miles away (it's in South Korea), and Homegoing was my book for all point-of-view characters being persons of colour.  So I did well here, clearly! I really enjoyed my March books - all pretty great in different ways, all books by women, too.   I've taken a mini break since then, so it's time to get back on it after I clear some of my books from the borrowed from the library shelves downstairs... It's a constant battle.
  3. Cutting down on screen time.
    1. I wanted to keep my screen time below 2 hours per day.  I've generally stuck to that, although there were a couple of days where that did not work. Those were usually:
      1. Work days when I was working out of the office and needed to check email / communicate with colleagues.  I suppose I don't really count those because I would be doing that on a computer anyway, but then that tells you that I usually spend a lot of time on the computer - i.e. in front of a screen.
      2. Days travelling, when we needed to look things up / use google maps.  
    2. Stats breakdown: 
      1. I've apparently reduced my daily use by about 5 minutes per day.  As of March, it was 1h59m per day, already down, and now it's 1h55m per day.  That has saved me a massive THREE HOURS IN TOTAL.  IN TWO MONTHS.  TOTALLY WORTH IT!
        1. (No, seriously - I think a LOT more about using my phone now, even if I'm not reducing the time as much as I'd like).
      2. It's still 59 pickups per day - but I just had to do that twice because I'm on low battery mode and the screen locked, so I'm going with that being at least part of the reason... 
  4. Walking.
    1. My average in March was over 11.5k steps - 12,233!  Which is why I've upped my goal to 11.5k.  I've even won a weekly challenge at work! (Although it was a low standard that week, but still!). 
    2. My new goal is to keep my average up at the weekends - I do the bulk of my walking during the week, then slack off.
  5. Planning.  I've been a bit better about this, and got on with some work.  This week is spring break, and so I set myself some goals for the whole week, but didn't want to get into a daily task list so that I felt harassed or out of sorts.  
    1. I'm really coming to the conclusion that the planner I got, while useful, is not right for me.  I need to see what I'm doing for the week, and the weekly section does not do that.  You list all the things you need to do, but there is not a way to easily assign that to a day for each week.  That is what I am going to look for in a planner next time.  I'm going to keep using this one up, but that's going to be the change, I think - this is just too hard to use.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Some Resolutions: March Update

  1. Still eating something green every day!  This is good!  

    1. Further to this resolution, my doctor is concerned about my weight and family propensity for diabetes--a word which will, by the way, forever make me think of this bit of 30 Rock.
    2. Anyway, the point is that I am now down to one soda or chai latte a week (the sugar in those bad boys!) and one chocolatey thing.  Joy!  It's actually not as bad as I thought it would be, but still.  
  2. Reading Book Riot's Read Harder books.  So many of these resolutions are intertwined.  Due to #3, I am reading more.  I'm on my fourth book of the Book Riot Challenge (a book about sports), so I'm a little behind but not by too much.  I read Difficult Women by Roxane Gay for my collection of stories by a woman.  It was pretty good, given that I really dislike the short story format; I feel that either things are so unsaid it's impossible to really get them, or they are full of PORTENT and MEANING because it's short and you don't have space for full character development.  But there were some gems in there, and she really is a lovely writer.  It's just the format I don't like.  Hoping to knock out three in March to get ahead of the curve.
  3. Cut down on screentime.  
    1. So this has been interesting.  I definitely use my phone less than I was, due to the lack of games and Facebook, and consequently I'm reading more on the subway.  I'm massively behind in podcasts; that's okay, however, because my insane workmates are doing all these walking challenges, so I'm responding to competition by walking more (which is good!) and so getting some podcast time in.
    2. Stats, according to Moment:
      1. 1hr59m per day (which is good - a while ago I was trying to limit myself to 1 hr per day on games alone!).
      2. I spend 12% of my waking life on my phone - eek!
      3. I pick it up every 16 minutes, around 58 times per day.
      4. I usually finish using it at 11.04pm, which is too late - not least because I should be going to bed earlier!
      5. How I compare to other users, however: 
        1. They spend 3 hrs 42 on their phones, and pick up 52 times a day
    3. I'm going to keep tracking this for the next month, and try to keep it below 2 hours per day.  I'm not that fussed by that level, because I want to keep listening to music and podcasts.  Having said that, my main app seems to be Safari, so perhaps I need to cut that down and decide what I really need to look up!
  4. Walking.
    1. My average steps per day has increased - I'm now well over 11,000, and between February 10 and today it has been 12,312.  There were a few days where I did not hit 11,000, but overall it's been pretty good.  Workmates doing weekly challenges has really, really helped.  I never win, but it's a good encouragement to not completely humiliate myself.
  5. Planner.  I was being GREAT for a while, then I got super busy and there really wasn't much to write down!  So I didn't.  But it's a new month with lots of moving parts, so I'm going to try harder.  It might - just might - aid me overcome procrastination.  I'm really struggling to balance the demands of my two jobs right now.  So some order will help, surely.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Some Resolutions: February Update

  1. I have, indeed, eaten something green every day.  Some days have been better than others - yesterday, for example, I just had some cucumber sticks at the pub - but I wouldn't have had those without the challenge!
  2. I have read two books that fit the Read Harder challenge - The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu (a book about books), and The Obelisk Gate (a fantasy novel).  So I'm on track!  I'm currently reading a book that makes me FURIOUS (Give Us the Ballot) and sadly does not fall under one of the categories, so the next couple of books I read will hopefully fit so that I can stay on pace.
  3. Cut down on screen time. This has gone terribly, frankly.  In January, I tried Moment, but at that time, my phone didn't tell me how much time I've spent on each app, so Moment, the one app that is supposed to help, didn't work.  Apple's suggestion for getting the battery usage data to work was to reset your phone entirely which seemed... extreme.  On the other hand, I needed to do something and not make excuses.  So...

    I reset my phone.  Ulp.  I'm going to restore it at some point, because I need my photos, but I reset it to monitor my phone usage.  The phone usage figures may be warped, however: I did not re-download any of the three games that I previously spent a lot of time playing. I have already noticed that I reach for the phone whenever a lull occurs, and I don't quite know what to do when I realize that I cannot play a game on it.  What has happened is that I am genuinely using my phone less, although I've probably upped using some other apps because I have that ingrained habit of reaching for my phone.  

    What does that mean for me?  I think I'll keep monitoring my usage for the next couple of weeks to get a good sense of what I'm using, when, and why.  Then I'm going to restore my phone, but remove those games so that I do not play them.
  4. Walking!
    1. I have been, more or less, doing 10,000 steps a day.  My January average was just under 10,000 - 9.500.  I think this may change, however, because almost everyone at work now has a Fitbit, and we're doing weekly challenges.  Our competitive natures seem to be kicking in... I have deliberately chosen a route home that allowed me to get in that extra walking time...
    2. I have not been setting my phone to do the walk every hour, so I'm adding this for February!
  5. It's a little hard to use my planner, but I have been better about it.  It's quite difficult because I don't like the weekly bit - it doesn't give you days of the week, just things to plan / focus on.  I suppose that I need to start adding what days of the week I should do the tasks, but it's not great.  That's the one thing I'd change about the planner.  If you're reading, Panda, that's what I'd do...

Saturday, January 07, 2017

2017: Year of the Dumpling (Part 1)

Since moving to New York City, I have learned many things about myself through exposure to things new, exciting, and mundane.  One of the most important pieces of knowledge I have gleaned is that soup dumplings are one of humankind's greatest inventions.  That is not hyperbole.  They are truly glorious.  Luckily, through careful selection of friends and physical activity, each week we play football in Chinatown and frequently end up at a soup dumpling place.

I am not narrow-minded, however; my love for dumplings extends beyond the soup variety.  Which is why I was super excited to see New York's list of the 50 best dumplings in NYC.  What could be a better challenge for 2017 than to eat as many of them as I could?*  Having enlisted the support of the aforementioned friends, on Thursday we embarked on two of the top 50. These are found at Hao Noodle & Tea House, an absolutely gorgeously designed restaurant on Sixth Avenue.

The dumplings recommended were not, in fact, the stars of the show. I enjoyed the claypot dumplings, which used egg as the wrapper, but I was in the minority.  The bacon siu mai were enjoyable but not particularly exceptional.  Nonetheless, the soup dumplings were lovely; the noodles we ordered were very spicy and tasty; and there was a gorgeous lotus root dish with sweet osmanthus that was, probably, the standout for me - the lotus root tasted like chestnut, and was delicious.  We also had shrimp in fried dough - how can you beat that?

Claypot Dumplings

Bacon Siu Mai

* Although I would like to eat as many as possible, we're concentrating on the Asian dumplings rather than the European ones.  

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Some Resolutions

Hello there, 2017!

2016 is done. Dead. Over. So... what next?
  1. I am going to eat something green every day - that definitely fell by the wayside toward the end of last year - strangely enough, after the 2016 Elections here in the US.  
  2. Do the Read Harder Challenge from Book Riot.  I did the 2016 one, and that was an excellent choice: it provided the motivation I needed to read books that I perceived to be worthy but not always as immediately appealing as something trashier and lighter. The challenge taught me also that these perceptions were not really accurate - so much of what I read was wonderful and easily digested, in part because I chose good books by authors who knew what they were doing.  I might post up the choices I made for 2016, because I was pretty pleased with myself, but that's for another time.
  3. Cut down on screen time.  I am not quite sure how I'm going to do it, but some research (sadly, on a screen) will be needed!  But, basically, I spend too much time with my phone and it irritates me as well as people in my life.  I would like this to help with productivity, too.  This is where I'm starting: each year, NPR looks at different ways to disconnect, a little, and I will be looking into some of 2015's recommendations.  It is a little scary, but exciting, too.  I think smaller steps are needed, as I don't really know how to even start!  So I see the plan as this:
    1. January: Working out (and being honest about) just how much time I spend doing what - on phone, on tv, and on computer.  
      1. After two weeks, work out what is "essential" time, what is "fun" time, and what is "I'm doing this because I can't stop / I'm addicted / being lazy" time.  
      2. Then make a plan to cut down on a small part at a time.  I think the Bored... and Brilliant? series at NPR will really help there.
    2. February: Make my first cut!
    3. March: Check in on how I'm doing; make a second cut, or alter the plan depending on the success thus far.
    4. And then we'll see, I suppose, how it is going.
  4. Walking!  There are two parts here:
    1. Hit my 10,000 steps each day.  I'm going to work on making sure that if I do not have enough steps, going for a ten minute walk before bed, that sort of thing. What should help is...
    2. Every hour I'm at work, having a five minute wander. I'm going to set my alarm to do this.  Obviously there is some leeway when I'm in meetings or teaching, but this is the aim.  At least while I'm teaching I stalk around the classroom, so I get some steps that way.
  5. USE MY PLANNER.  I often end up feel harassed and all over the place. I have a new class to teach this year, as well as all the other work and personal obligations I have to address.  So actually using the planner will, I hope, help me feel a little more on top of thing.  That would be nice.  It's not going to be easy, and this planner is a little intense, so we'll see how I do.
I know I can do #2; #1 I've done before and is a small but useful thing to do; #4 I'm pretty sure of, too.  The main concern is #3, but I think having smaller chunks to break it down will help.  We'll see about #5 - I am not good about consistent planning and use of the planner, but I know it will help.  A concerted effort to use it should help me determine whether it's good for me.