Month: March 2008

Jiggly wisdom

Andrew and I brunched at Rushes this morning, and, as usually, all the fare was very tasty and bountiful. (I tried out the omelet station for the first time.)

Two new items I noticed since last time, presumably to appeal to the kids, were chocolate-covered marshmallows and… Jell-O cubes! Of course, given that I helped myself, perhaps they weren’t just for the kiddies. 🙂

I commented about the marshmallows to our server, who was pleasantly surprised and confirmed that those were new. I said I appreciated the Jell-O cubes, too, and without missing a beat, she nodded sagely while pouring coffee and commented, “It’s good to be six”.

Andrew’s assorted jokes about eating rendered hooves weren’t nearly as funny. 😛

Where y’at?

I was talking to Hugh MacLeod recently, and we got onto the subject of location. At one point he asked me what keeps me in Waterloo. My initial reaction was that it was rather an odd question. Why wouldn’t I stay in Waterloo?

Then I gave it some thought and realized… it’s not something I’ve ever thought much about. Coming back here after Sydney was kind of a no-brainer, and staying since has been even more so.

Come to think of it, it seems like a pretty big part of life to fall to default. But really… friends here, family here. I get along with this city (never have with Toronto). I wouldn’t want to live in most of the US, and I can’t afford to live in the places I think are cool. Much as I love Sydney, I don’t qualify for any of the visas that would let me stay there, and I don’t have any connections for arranging a job to sponsor me. Plus, the visceral connection to a place fades over time, and it’s been nearly eight years…

Plus, just like the body gets less flexible as you get older, so does your life, I think, for a lot of people. It has for me. At 23 the idea of pulling up stakes and heading to the ends of the earth was an easy decision. There was a lot of change going on here then, and most of it was around me, not through me. And the person I wanted to be with was there. (I would still go to the ends of the earth for someone who’s that important. It’s just that I’m a lot pickier than I was in my fanciful youth.) 🙂

At 32, though? I can’t even think of what all would have to be in place to make me to make the same decision. I certainly couldn’t make it with the same devil-may-care attitude. I’ve thought about it a bit, and really, where my mind sticks is the reverse of going elsewhere — it sticks on what I’d need to come home. E.g. if I went to Sydney again today, and it didn’t work out, how much would I need at my disposal to come home and take care of myself while I got back on my feet. It’s not a small amount of money. What can I say, you get used to being a grown up (and an independent woman).

Something Hugh said really struck me. As background, he’s recently decided to settle in a wee little town in west Texas, called Alpine. (As someone who’s lived in New York, London, etc.) His comment was: “It isn’t that West Texas is THAT great. What’s great is no longer having the feeling of needing to be elsewhere.”

Yeah, really, maybe that’s why I’m here in Waterloo. I don’t feel like there’s anywhere else I need to be. My best friends live within a driving radius of about three minutes. Everyone I’ve dated for the last near-decade has lived within 10 minutes of me. (I’ve earned the right to be uber-gun shy about long distance relationships. I know what pits of madness they become.) I’m not a highly ambitious career woman who needs to be somewhere bigger. And, hey, my milieu is online. Hugh has already demonstrated what you can do with a global microbrand.

For a long time, the idea of living in a city made no sense to me. I always found them stressful and dirty and loud and crowded. Now? You couldn’t pay me to move back to Grey County. But would I want to live in New York? No. Where you belong location-wise balances what you need with what you want. (Where you belong in life adds what needs and wants you to the equation.)

One reason it was so easy for me to leave York U was that Toronto was never somewhere I needed to be. Part of why leaving Sydney was so hard was that I still needed to be there, or thought I did. But since? Here’s good. I’ve had no trouble finding jobs here. Enough of my network is here. Broadband is available, as is pizza delivery. And now my niece is here. While I’m not as unhinged as my mother, the idea of missing how much and how often she changes, even for a little while, does not appeal.

When I moved, a little over a year ago, I moved all of about three blocks. I got to stay within the area I wanted to live. Will I remain in this neighbourhood forever? I doubt it. Will I remain in this city forever? No idea. But I’ve learned a little bit about change, and most of the time I can deal with the fact that things happen in their own time, or not.

Pushing life in directions it’s not supposed to go is a pretty surefire way to end up miserable. Of course, resisting when life pushes you pretty much guarantees the same as well. But when the balance is there? Unless you’re someone who thrives on major change, or craves frequent adventure, not needing to be elsewhere is just right.

Save me from myself

Today has not, perhaps, been my finest hour(s). Today has been a day that my mother and Andrew will use to mock me well into eternity.

Well, Andrew can try, but we’ll see how long that lasts when I’m holding a box with an iPhone… 🙂

Aaaanyway. So. The plan was to join Andrew for lunch, then run a few errands. After I arrived at Andrew’s office to pick him up, I remembered that I’d brought the items I needed to mail with me… but not the addresses to which to mail them. FAIL.

Then after lunch we moseyed over to Second Cup to procure lattes, and while waiting for mine I went to get my keys out of my coat pocket. Not there. So I checked my purse. Not there. No biggie. When we walked back past the restaurant, I popped in to see if they’d fallen out under the table. Nope. Ok, well, then they had to be in the vicinity of the car, since we hadn’t gone anywhere else, and I did drive there.

Then Andrew says, “Your car’s running.” And you know, it was. And because I am thoughtful towards the criminal element, I’d also left the doors unlocked. (Though cars these days make it pretty hard to lock them with the keys in the ignition.) FAIL x 2. Of course, as Steve pointed out, the fact that my less-than-a-year-old car was still parked at University Plaza speaks to the fact that Waterloo university students apparently have WAY too much money.

So I went home and continued my work day. Around 5:30 I packed up my backpack with errand-running supplies and headed out. Went to the library, the bank, and the post office. Mailed off half the contents of my apartment — had the addresses and everything!

Then about 2/3 of the way home I remembered that I’d forgotten to pick up the package that had arrived for me today. The notification was in my backpack, though. FAIL x 3.

When I asked Andrew to stop by my apartment on the way home to make sure I was still alive and had fed the cat… I wasn’t entirely kidding…

I should also point out that in the last 24 hours I have forgotten several people’s names (which makes it really hard to look up a phone number) and a good portion of my vocabulary. I had to call Andrew yesterday to ask what that window is called when you do a run command in Windows. And that was one of my smarter questions.

Sadly, I am neither pregnant nor have I suffered a recent blow to the head. *sigh*

Relationship housekeeping

Feel like this should be a video, but I’m not that cutting edge yet, so…

I’ve been reading/viewing a few things lately about (or “around”, if you wanna be corporate), basically, who we are, and who we’re going to become as online citizens. There’s been plenty of ink spilled about how, these days, it IS possible for everyone to know you’re a dog online. (And, in fact, it’s pretty much impossible to hide the fact forever.) Some great food for thought on the sexual side of things from Violet Blue.

Personally and professionally, there are the aspects of wanting to have and trying to manage different “faces” to different groups online: Online Impression Management. Which, really, is just an extension of what we’ve always done. You don’t act/talk with your boss (usually) like you do with your friends, or your mom, etc. Granted, that, too, is changing, at least for some folks, to some degree. (As a side note, the best working environments I’ve been a part of have been the most single-faceted ones, where people are the most “real” together.)

(more…)

“I see you”

The Community Ecosystem

Ok, so I pretty much said my piece on this in my comment on that blog post. No worries, I can always find more words. It’s my blog and I’ll repeat myself if I want to. 🙂

I’ve always wondered how the interactions on sites evolve — or don’t. I don’t get a lot of comments here, but I also don’t have that big a readership, and folks I know are as likely to email me to comment on something they read, or just mention it next time they see me.

Of course, Andrew occasionally likes to incessantly ask “Are you blogging this? Are you going to blog this?” because he thinks he’s funny. Or he wants to be famous. Or something…

The “bigger” sites have always fascinated me in terms of their functioning dynamics. Does an interactive community develop, or does it remain a big group of people silently reading and enjoying. Or reading and disagreeing. Or reading and wondering if that information or those opinions really reflect anything other than what’s going on in one person’s head?

For those who comment, what attitude or tone do they take? Do they treat the site’s owner like a colleague, with reverence, or with that weird and somewhat creepy possessive familiarity that internet fame can bring?

Until now, I’ve mostly thought that the culture of a site came down to the person publishing the site. Writer’s style, content, and “atmosphere”, though if you asked me to quantify that last one, I couldn’t. But Chris’ piece got me thinking a lot more about the writer’s actions than material.

What and how much does the writer intentionally do to reach out to, connect with, and give to the greater online community? Are the writer’s efforts global or targeted — by topic, demographic, industry, geography, etc.? (Or maybe just trying to get noticed by A-listers or dugg…)

The comments about Zulu greetings really struck me, because that’s exactly what we do online: see each other. Unless I somehow make an effort to communicate with someone whose site I’ve read/enjoyed, that person will never know (unless they do some serious stats digging, I guess, and even that won’t tell them what I think).

As an extension of that, communities grow through those with similar interests, connections, etc. connecting with each other as well as with a site’s creator — reading each other’s comments, following links posted, discussing via tools like Twitter, etc.

I also think that these mechanisms for connecting decrease the “barrier to entry”, as it were, making people more inclined to come out of their shells and not lurk. (Lurking for most of us is pretty normal behaviour, and abandoning it takes an outside-the-comfort-zone effort.) The cool thing is, the more you connect, the easier it becomes to do. And engagement leads to passion — a cornerstone of community — and passion, of course, leads to evangelism, which makes the community (and a site’s traffic) grow even more.

Expectations that others will come to you are a losing proposition. People grow tired of being the only one who seems to make all the effort, in online relationships or off. If you want to build a community (or a business, or just make new friends…) be part of one. Even if at the start it’s only you. Think community. Until people start engaging back with you in your environment, work outwards — read, comment on, and post thoughts on others’ work that engages you.

You won’t always end up as part of new or existing communities, but more than likely you’ll find you end up as a connected and contented part of the ones where you truly belong.

Happy Easter

As is not unusual for my family, Easter Sunday was… interesting. The highlight was the walk Dad and I went on after lunch, several kilometres and a couple of country blocks down to the bridge. Many passing vehicles were nodded/waved at (no idea who anyone was), signs of spring were commented on, and cars were muchly discussed.

Felt good to get out and take some pictures again.

Easter Sunday Walkabout

Unphotographable

This is a picture I did not take of my upstairs neighbour, who I walked past on the way to my car this morning, standing in the parking lot, wearing German army fatigues/jammies, a vintage helmet, and slippers, standing beside his big, old pickup truck, and aiming a digital video camera down the street.

Specialization

My Dad and some of my uncles can identify can cars on site, particularly cars from the 50s and 60s. Hell, my Dad once saw a single car door and knew the make, model, and approximate year. Always thought that was pretty impressive, though my own visual recognition for cars gotten pretty good over the years. Of course, Dad can also usually tell you not just the make and model, but the year, which I can’t.

This morning while I was on the way to the gym, there was a minivan in front of me, and there was a dog in it. I couldn’t see the dog, obviously it wasn’t a tall breed, but I could see the shadow of its tail wagging on the inside wall of the van. And I knew what breed it was from the shape of the tail and how it moved. And it made me grin.

I confirmed soon after, when I pulled up beside them at a light, that it was, indeed, a Basset Hound in the back seat. He looked very pleased to be out for a car ride.

And it reminded me of my Dad’s recall with cars. And it’s not like I’ve spent three decades meticulously studying dogs’ tails and how they wag, but I have spent three decades around and loving dogs. Like my Dad has spent six and a half decades around and loving cars. You notice stuff. Amazing what passion will lodge in your brain, even when you’re not consciously noticing or studying it.

Of course, I still couldn’t tell you the age of the Basset Hound. 🙂

Muffins!

So for a while I’ve had some ingredients I’ve been wanting to use up — leftover pumpkin from the Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake I made for the last UFC night, pistachios from Christmas baking, etc. And I bought some cardamom, because I love the smell, and wanted to do SOMETHING with it.

Initially I was thinking cookies, for some reason. Then my brain was like muffins would probably work better. Talks sense, that brain of mine does.

And so I started mulling it over to figure out what kind of recipe I could fairly safely adapt. Oatmeal applesauce muffins came to mind, and this recipe seemed pretty straightforward, so I decided to give it a go.

I’ll post the recipe as I made it, then explain what I’d do differently next time and why. That’ll give you an idea of what might suit your taste if you decide to give it a go. Oh, also, I doubled the recipe to make two dozen muffins, so that’s how I’m presenting it.

Oatmeal Pumpkin Pistachio Spice Muffins

Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Grease a muffin pan or line with paper cups.

Topping

1/2 C quick oats
2 tbsp packed brown sugar
2 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch ground cloves

Mix all ingredients together well in a bowl, then set aside.

Batter

3 C quick oats
2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamon
1 C packed brown sugar
1 C coarsely ground pistachios (optional)

Mix all dry ingredients together well in a second bowl, then set aside.

2 C canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 C milk (the recipe said fat-free, I used soy, I’m sure whatever you’ve got is fine)
6 tbsp vegetable oil
2 egg whites, lightly beaten

Mix wet ingredients together well in a third bowl.

Pour wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients (add them all at once) and stir until just blended. Fill muffin cups flush to the top of each cup. Sprinkle each with the topping mixture, and pat lightly into the batter.

Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until muffins are deep golden brown. Allow to partially cool in the muffin tin, then turn out and allow to finish cooling on a wire rack.

Melle Notes

I thought these looked awesome when they came out of the oven (see photo below – sorry it’s slightly off, my camera doesn’t fluorescent lighting). They smell great baking, too. Upon eating, they were a touch less moist and less sweet than I’d like. Not a big surprise, since the batter was more of a dough-esque consistency once mixed.

So, to that end, I’d add maybe 1/4 C more milk, and would leave the egg yolks in and beat the whole eggs. Of course, if you’re counting fat, stick to the milk and maybe a bit more pumpkin. You could also get away with using less oats. Might try 2 1/2 cups next time, 2 cups the time after that, see where the sweet spot is.

To address the sweetness, I’d add another third to a half-cup of brown sugar. That said, when I spread a little butter on the second muffin, I didn’t miss the sweetness at all.

If you’re inclined to add the nuts, you could use anything, really. Ground hazelnuts would be lovely. Walnuts, almonds… Note that if you use the pistachios, you WILL have green flecks in the muffins. Kids might have issues with this.

Oatmeal Pumpkin Pistachio Spice Muffins