Some Stones Unturned

Knitting, Biking and Some Sober Second Thoughts

Archive for the category “life”

Some Valentine’s Day Poetry

I’m a day late actually posting these and they’re no “Roses are Red”, but I thought I would try my hand at some double dactyls since they’re sort of fun.

Not to be one of those “It’s so commercial” people, but…

Higgledy piggledy
That great saint Valentine
Married some folks in the
City of Rome

Now we pay tribute with
Chocolates priced so high
I’ve lost my home

And with the help of some info from Wikipedia,

Higgledy piggledy
Reverend Valentine
Bound pair of lovers for
Life with a ring

Or it just might have been
Tales from Geoff Chaucer that
Claimed love’s the thing


So it snowed here



It snowed quite a bit actually.  And people freaked out.  And then other people freaked out about the people freaking out. Which I don’t really understand because as much as getting snow is a part of living in Canada, so is complaining about getting snow, at least in Southern Ontario for as long as I’ve lived there.

I myself am not much of a winter person. I’m fine down to about -12 and I’ll tolerate about -18 if there’s not much wind. I think snow is pretty and I like cross-country skiing but I don’t get much of a chance to do it. But for the most part, I just grit my teeth and try to outlast the winter, which hasn’t been hard the last couple years of non-winters, but is looking like it may be more challenging this year.

And as I was contemplating this, it struck me how the year is structured for people like me, with roughly one communal event or idea per month that we’ve agreed to to try and convince ourselves it’s not so bad and it’ll be over soon.

October I still consider fall.

November is typically when you get the first snowfall, so it’s still new and magical seeming and you’re not yet tired of putting on two layers every time you need to go pick up some milk or something.

December is Christmas or whatever your solstice-timed holiday of choice is, celebrating, as Doctor Who so beautifully put it, being halfway out of the dark. The sun is barely out, but at least the days will be getting longer, right?

January has New Year’s when you are meant to approach the world with fresh optimism, start some new routines and make some changes in your life to spiff things up.

February has Groundhog Day.  I know this seems like a stretch, but the very fact that news crews get up at 6 am and wander out to a hole in the ground where a guy in a ridiculous costume claims to tell you what a groundhog is thinking pretty much tells you how desperate we are for something, anything, to tell us how much longer we have to endure winter. I had a roommate from the Netherlands for a while and he saw Groundhog Day being covered on TV and trying to explain it to him was next to impossible:

“Why does him seeing his shadow mean anything?”

No no, it’s just a silly tradition.  It doesn’t mean anything.  There will be more winter regardless.

“Oh, well how do you know if he saw his shadow?  Do you ask him?”

It depends if he runs back into his hole.

“Won’t he run back in because of all the people around?”

Never mind.  This is too hard to explain.

I’m not saying this is a good “getting through it moment” for February.  I blame the February blahs on the questionableness of this moment. I mean, first off, the little guys can’t seem to agree and just taking a simple majority doesn’t seem to give reliable predictions. But even if it did, then if he does see his shadow you still have six more weeks!  But still then you know there’s an endpoint somewhere down the line, which is comforting when winter seems to be dragging out forever.

March is the time for the expression “In like a lion, out like a lamb.”  Or vice versa.  So either the weather is terrible but you remind yourself that it’s about to get better. Or it’s nice but you remind yourself not get too excited because there are still some cold spells to come so you should take advantage while you can.

And then April is spring, hopefully, at least if you live in certain parts of the country.

So currently still a month and a half to go. But we can do it folks. We’re, like 78% of the way out of the dark I think, if I did my math right.

Adventures with Sherlock Holmes and the Toronto Tea Festival

At the start of this year, I found out that the Toronto Public Library is renovating the usual location of its quite extensive Arthur Conan Doyle collection and has put a number of the pieces on exhibit at the Toronto Reference Library. I was a pretty big Holmes fan as a kid and even made the trek out to Reichenbach when I was in Switzerland.

Holmes and I chilling in Meiringen

Holmes and I ponder how to show this picture but maintain some anonymity

I have started critiques of several of the recent adaptations and homages for this blog only for them to turn into an absurdly long, disorganized mess. So Adventures with Sherlock Holmes seemed like a great opportunity to explore more Holmesian goodness. In particular, this past Saturday the library was scheduled to show Murder by Decree and tour the exhibit afterward.

I went to a local blog to see if I could find more details for the event, particularly whether tickets were needed, and I found out that Saturday was also the Toronto Tea Festival. How could I not have known? I was torn between two of my great loves. But as fate would have it, the Tea Festival was also happening at the Toronto Reference Library. So I hurriedly packed a bag and headed out earlier than planned in the hopes of getting as much tea festivizing in as possible before the movie.

And, well, I might have gotten a little distracted by the tea. It was fairly busy, but not bad by Toronto Festival standards (You could still move, for example). Although I often had to wait a while to get to the tables, I certainly managed to make it around the exhibit hall in a reasonable time, stopping for a few samples:

tea sample cups

I don’t live right downtown, but I get around enough that I was surprised there were so many great vendors I wasn’t aware of. Really this is my own fault for sticking with David’s Tea because they are in my ‘hood (with the occasional House of Tea side trip), but I guess they are sort of the “big chain” now, which seems so strange because I remember when they opened and I think they only had a few other locations in Toronto and Montreal and now they’re all over. Anyway, here are a few highlights from the festival. Read more…

Hello 30. You’re looking just swell.

Today I’m celebrating being on this planet for three decades. I’m pretty excited about it. Last year, when I turned 29, I panicked a little about it being the last year I could really lay any sort of reasonable claim to youth. My grandparents’ generation is almost gone in my family and both my parents retired and it seemed like it was maybe time to stop watching Kim Possible and wearing jeans to work every day and take on a little bit more responsibility. But when the panic subsided, it actually turned into a pretty good year. I tried a few things I never had before and learned a lot from all of them.

Knitting and blogging

I can’t declare these a total success since I took time off from both these things over the summer.  Still, there’s been a lot of progress. Even though I learned to knit when I was younger, it’s only over the last couple of years that I’ve started bigger projects.  After making socks for my entire immediate family last Christmas, I ended up taking on a sweater, a couple of shawls including my first lace project and lots of socks. Each project seemed to involve new techniques.

Similarly, it has been fun to get my thoughts on some books and movies out, even if they’re a little strange or incoherent at times.

Weight loss

Weight loss

June: 189 pounds
Dec: 165 pounds

I haven’t blogged about this, partly because I just reached my goal weight and everyone knows that maintaining weight is as hard or harder than losing it, so it probably makes sense to do a more thoughtful and reflective post in a year if this success is still holding. I also was leery of blogging about this because I do have a number of friends who talk about dieting a lot and I’ve always found it incredibly boring.

I didn’t initially intend to lose weight, even though I’ve been about 15 pounds overweight for quite some time. I’ve been that heavy even back when I used to swim competitively at a pretty elite level and I’m still around the weight I was in high school, so I never worried much about it. I was happy with how I looked and I worked out regularly and felt pretty healthy.

But I’ve always had a bit of a sweet tooth and also had problems with blood sugar crashing and it seemed that both of these things were becoming more and more problematic, making it hard to work late or irregular hours. So I decided to try keeping track of my sugar intake. This being 2012, it turns out there’s an app for that. And it also turns out that I was taking in more than my RDI of sugar just at breakfast some days with a giant bowl of Raisin Bran.

I may write a separate post at some point about various stages I went through and revelations I came to (as I say, if the results hold up). But for now I’m happy to report that I went from 189 pounds to, as of a couple of days ago, 165, which for 5′ 8.5″, puts me in the “healthy” category of BMI. I know lots of people will tell you BMI is nonsense, a vague correlate with body fat, average for the population, lots of outliers if you’re muscular which I like to think I am. But it feels good to be able to say I’m in the healthy range now regardless of that and I’m even happier with how I look and feel.


This one kind of snuck up on me. I wanted to be a writer as a kid, lots of ideas, etc. And one bit of advice I’d seen online about turning 30 was “Hey, time to write that novel you’re always thinking about.” How did they know that? I guess because it’s not that uncommon for people to wander around with what they think is a great novel idea. But very few people take the time to flesh it out and develop an actual plot.

As it happens, I was reading many of these posts about turning 30 near the end of October and November is National Novel Writing Month. And I figured “Why not?” I took one of the ideas I’ve had floating around forever and started to outline. I’ve always thought I was a big planner, but actually I think that’s my problem: if given infinite time, I would just rewrite bits of outline forever because I would never be prepared enough.

And that’s where Nanowrimo came in handy. Once November starts, you have to get 1667 words a day down (on average). I tried to stay ahead of the game, writing 2000 a day whenever possible. And it was really a revelation how much you can write this way, in relatively short chunks, and it isn’t that much time out of your day. I can’t say every word was a gem, but they really emphasize that it doesn’t have to be. The value of it seems to be in convincing you that first drafts don’t have to be great, but they do have to be written. Also, I learned the difference between having an idea and having a plot. BIG difference.

I even broke out of my introvert shell and went to an event. It was a walk around Mount Pleasant cemetery to hunt for character names (which is a great idea. I will always love the name Dalrymple and never would have come up with it on my own). And I got to meet fellow participants, which was interesting since most of them seemed to be returning Wrimos who could expertly summarize their plots and discuss their current problems and character dilemmas. At the midpoint of the walk, one girl took out a bag of leftover Hallowe’en candy and offered it around. It’s weird the things you do in a big city that would seem weird other places. I remember thinking afterward that I had just literally taken candy from a complete stranger, whom I had met as a result of recent discussion online, in a cemetery. It was like the trifecta of childhood warnings ignored.

Anyway, I technically “won” Nanowrimo since I wrote 50,000 words, but I still had about 10,000 words to get to the end I think. I said I would keep writing past the end of November to finish, but actually didn’t (sigh). I still may come back to it, although I’m not sure why. I don’t think what I wrote is really amazing or captivating, or even that it’s as strong or coherent an idea as I thought it was. But I think that was the most valuable lesson for me. A lot of the time I take things to seriously, as though if I’m not going to be the next Dostoevsky, there’s no point in writing anything. But the development of an idea and those moments when writing a scene and it really takes off, writing is incredibly fun. And when you start to stress about what it all means and whether it’s important enough and whether you’ll make people feel about reading the way all those really great books you’ve read have, you can’t have fun. You just have to write the things that inspire you and put yourself out there and maybe it works for other people and maybe it doesn’t.

Summing Up

That’s sort of the common thread in these experiences: I tried new things and that mostly paid off. Taking risks isn’t really my strong point; I don’t like setting myself up for possible failure. This is really holding me back for my biggest challenge in the coming year: a career path. The biggest thing that happened to me this year was I defended my PhD, which was a huge relief and my supervisor was kind enough to let me stay on with him afterward, leaving me in a comfortable enough spot to do a lot of these things. But the intention was that I would start looking for post-docs elsewhere and every time I think about it, I start to get stressed. What if I choose a project and find I’m not capable enough to finish it? What if I don’t get along with the people in the lab? What if I move somewhere and find it’s not bike-friendly and actually have to buy a car? All of these things keep me locked in indecision about where to apply or what I want to do.

But I need to remember that really it’s an opportunity. A short-term one since most post-docs are only a year or two. If it turns out I don’t like it, I can always find something else, but if you don’t take a chance, there’s no opportunity for anything new and great to happen to you. Why, just today a friend reminded me that if I find a post-doc in the States, there are way more opportunities for free shipping on yarn. How can that go wrong?

So, time to open myself up and be vulnerable to failing I guess. After 30 years, it’s about time I realized that that seems to be the only way you learn anything.

ETA: For some reason this didn’t actually post on my birthday even though it was scheduled to.

Tidings of Joy!

I feel fantastic. At the risk of seeming like a terrible jerk to those of you who aren’t quite there yet, I’ve finished my Christmas shopping. I got a couple of things at the end of November, but most of it I got last weekend. I had a list, made a plan about where to go and went out for about five hours last Saturday determined to get it all, no matter how busy it was or how long I had to stand in line. And actually, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I didn’t make the rookie mistake of going to any Toronto malls. And I set out as early as I dared based on opening hours to try to get the downtown stuff in the morning. My plan was a walking route that took me down to Bloor and back, which is about 7.5 miles, so it was like my (very low-intensity) exercise and Christmas shopping all in one.  Multi-tasking!

The longest wait was actually in line for lunch at Tim Horton’s where, amongst many other problems in the comedy of errors I seemed to have entered, a bagel caught fire in the toaster. I don’t mean the bagel was a little burnt. I mean there were flames inside the thing for a good minute and the whole cash area filled with smoke. So they turned down the speed, but not enough and burned the next bagel they put in. Twice.

Fortunately I don’t have too many people to buy for. I’ve gradually convinced old high school friends we probably don’t know each other well enough to do gifts (at least not meaningful gifts that aren’t junky or conspicuous-consumption-type things) and work people are fortunately not that into Secret Santa, so it’s just immediate family and while they’re getting tougher to buy for, they also seem happy with anything I’ve come up with. But I did find the perfect birthday card (that is to say an incredibly inappropriate and curse-filled card) for a good undergrad friend, so I picked that up intending to send it by regular mail. Remember like in ancient times when you put stamps on stuff and had to leave your house and physically drop it in a box? Ugh. Two extra minutes worth of effort there. But anyway, I messaged her for her address (remember when you didn’t have Facebook and had to keep addresses and phone numbers all carefully up-to-date in a little book?), but felt compelled to warn her that it wasn’t anything big and not to get too excited. And then I started thinking that maybe there was something small I could make that would fit in an envelope.

Read more…

Face, Meet Pavement

I’m fine.  My Mom told me once when I phoned her to pick me up early after a fire at the gym that you should always open these sorts of stories with that so: I’m fine.

Bike crash injuries

My bike and some streetcar tracks had a disagreement about whether my face needed more colour.

I was trying to get a headstart a sort of on time-ish start on Christmas shopping and took a bit of a tumble off my bike.  I was moving to change lanes to go around a large parked truck and my wheel got caught in the streetcar tracks and I went into a skid and ended up on the pavement.

I credit a generally clumsy nature and several years of gymnastics training when I was younger for my being a good faller.  Seriously, the art of getting your hands underneath you and twisting to avoid major organ and bone damage is underappreciated by many, but is a valuable skill.  However, I don’t have quite as much practice with falling while a 40 pound bike limits your ability to move.  I am taking that as the explanation of how I must have contorted myself to end up with a scraped pinky, swollen thumb and small bruise on my knee on my left side, but two cuts on my face on the right side.  That and about four layers of winter padding protecting my rib cage.  Although how I ended up scraping my pinky through thick mittens will remain forever a mystery.

I’m sure that most folks would tell you that if you fall off your bike on a major city street and all you lose is a couple chunks of skin and some patellar capillary integrity, you should count yourself pretty lucky.  And I do.  You know, thank goodness there were no cars coming behind me.  Thank goodness I wasn’t going that fast.  It could certainly have been worse.  So I do feel very lucky.  But there is another feeling that people don’t seem to talk about quite as much.  Not directly.  Not as loudly.  The other thing you feel is this: incredibly stupid.

I’ve listened to friends and family who have been in car accidents tell their stories over and over.  A friend took a turn onto a gravel road too fast and the car spun out, causing her to warn everyone she saw for the next while about slowing down on gravel.  My Mom went into a ditch after hitting a patch of black ice and she swore over and over she “should have known” it was there even though it is the nature of black ice to be invisible.  A friend got rear-ended in a lineup of stopped cars on a bridge by someone who just plain wasn’t paying attention and caused a domino effect of three or four cars being jolted into the car in front of them.  They all got charged with following too close and the nature of this law and the inattentive driver were subjects for many discussions that followed.  I never really understood the tendency to relive these terrible moments repeatedly.  Until now.

I wish there was someone or something I could blame.  I’ve tried pretty hard to find one, replaying everything that I remember.  It’s not just a cliché that “it happened so fast”.  Everything before the accident, the warning signs you saw or should have seen, the ways you could have been more prepared, those are all burned into your brain, but the moment from when my tire went into the track until I ended up on the ground is pretty unclear.

I wonder if this is why tensions run so high on the road sometimes, especially after accidents and near-misses.  Of course people react to the danger and potential damage, too, but if you’ve been in an “accident” like this that was avoidable, but you’re confused about what exactly happened and you felt stupid, you want someone or something to blame.  I know the dangers!  I’m a good cyclist!  I’ve been riding over three years here accident-free!  It can’t possibly have been my fault.  And so if there had been a moving car around, or an illegal parking job or a poorly maintained road, I am certain I would be hurling many insults at all of them.

I tried being angry at the truck for being so wide (the width of an entire lane?  Really?).  And I tried being angry at the streetcar track with its need to be all tire-sized (what is with vehicles that move large numbers of people efficiently requiring wheels?).  But in the end there’s only my own stupid, idiotic self to blame.  I know those streetcar tracks are a death trap.  I know they have to be crossed at an angle.  Add to this the fact that I probably shouldn’t have been out in the first place since I’m sick (good news: I bought the Christmas presents before crashing and they survived intact.  The art of falling well, I tell ya) and I seem even stupider.  I saw the truck in plenty of time and checked the lane was clear.  And yet I still ended up on the pavement.  I just somehow didn’t get the wheel turned quite enough.  Or something I guess.  I’m still not sure.  It happened so fast.

I jumped up after the crash.  A fellow cyclist happened to be travelling the other way and asked me if I was okay.  I assured her I was, but in the way you sort of do when you’re in shock and embarrassed and just want to hustle off the road.  Not sure if she was experienced in such things, but she crossed the road and asked again if I was okay.  I peeled off my left mitt since it felt like my fingers might be broken, but there were just the cuts and I told her again it was fine, muttered about the “stupid streetcar tracks” and made some excuse about not being used to riding downtown.  She told me about crossing at an angle and I said I knew that but I guess I just hadn’t managed it.  She asked again if I was okay (why so awesome #bikeTO?) and said I had dirt on my face, although it turned out there were cuts underneath that.  Assuring me that it was totally normal to be shaken up from the scare, she eventually rode off.

I got on my bike and realized the chain had fallen off.  I fixed that and then realized I’d lost my mirror.  So I went back and grabbed that off the road, remounted and discovered the cockpit was completely crooked.

handlebars misaligned

When the handlebars are lined up, the wheel is off about 15 degrees and vice versa.

I must have yanked really hard on the handlebars when I got stuck in the tracks and twisted it, but whatever strength I’d called on when trying desperately to get out of the skid along the tracks was no longer with me and I couldn’t straighten it up without tools.  I actually tried to ride it in a “get back on that horse” attempt at courage, but holding the handlebars crooked to go straight goes against everything in your brain and I gave up after a block, figuring there was no need to compound stupidity with more stupidity by doing something unnecessarily dangerous.  I did the walk of shame onto the subway, and was reminded of how long it’s going to take to get places now as we waited for quite some time at Bloor.  In fact, we waited long enough that my face began to thaw and the cuts there started  to sting.  But eventually I made it home and for that I’m grateful.

Cyclists in Toronto are very aware that if they get in an accident on the road, it’s their fault.  The mayor, back in the days he was still a councillor, made that very clear to them.  And yet even in cases like this when it’s true, it’s completely unhelpful.  One could say the same about many car accidents I’m sure, but I’m not aware of any politicans who do as a general statement.  We are all responsible for our own safety and need to be aware of the risks any time we choose to get on the road, of course.  We should ride and drive responsibly for our own sake.  But we should also do it for everyone else out there.  Because if you spend any number of hours on the road, at some point, you will mess up.  You will do something stupid, something you should know better about, even if only momentarily.  And that moment of stupid could be trouble.  Or maybe, like me, you get lucky.

Please ride and drive safely as things turn colder and slipperier.  Your extra attention could compensate for someone else’s momentary lapse.  Help make the world luckier.

In autumn, a young woman’s fancy turns to thoughts of deliciousness

Oh, hey there fall vegetables…Yeah, it’s been a while. Listen, I just wanted to say that…I’m really sorry and I love you. I mean, it’s always been you. You know that, right? That dalliance with summer produce was nothing but a fling. I know what it looked like, but you have to believe me. The plump tomatoes. The juicy strawberries. The sweet sweet peaches just off the tree. They tempted me and I was weak; I admit it. But I swear they meant nothing to me. Not like you do.

From the moment I saw that zucchini sitting in the produce aisle, I realized what a fool I’d been. No crunchy salad could give me what a fall vegetable stirfry offers, what I need. I knew then what a terrible mistake I had made.

And then there were those stuffed sweet potatoes, their pale orange skin calling to me, tempting me.

Read more…

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