Saturday, December 9, 2017

Christmas News 2017

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

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

All dressed up for Donald and Tammy's wedding

Death to Perfectionism

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


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

Grande Prairie

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

Donald and Tammy

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

Time and Time with Dad

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

Half the Lawn

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

Endings and Beginnings

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

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, peace

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Cooking 2.0

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

Here's my YouTube introduction to the project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This made far more soup than I could use up. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Confirmation Bias and Root Cause

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mrs. Jones

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

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

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

By Unknown / restoration and digitization. Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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