My outrageous commitment

Posted by Tara in Food & Health, Personal

Shortly before the turn of the new year, Sona put an excellent post on her blog about making outrageous commitments. You can read the post for the full explanation, but the high points are that an outrageous commitment:

  1. Isn’t bound to any time frame.
  2. Comes from deep within.
  3. Is surprising, even to those who know you best.
  4. Is a commitment you only make for yourself.

And while I applauded the idea and Sona’s own outrageous commitment to become a yoga instructor, I didn’t feel like it was something for me.

You can make an outrageous commitment when you least expect it

Those of you who are keeping up with this blog already know that I’ve been working with a fantastic nutritionist since last July. Working with Leanne has been instrumental in helping me change my relationship with food so that I can be passionate about creating delicious, yet healthful, meals.

What I didn’t anticipate was how much a single cookbook would also change my views of food. After receiving a Chapters giftcard for Christmas, I picked up Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook. Apart from providing 500 phenomenal, yet simple recipes made with whole food, it also opened my eyes to some of the problems associated with eating a largely meat-based diet (and if you’ve read Sona’s review of Food, Inc., you’ll know this is on the minds of a lot of people these days). I didn’t know that it costs two calories of energy to produce one calorie of plant-based food, versus forty calories of energy to produce one calorie of meat-based food. I also didn’t know that the majority of grain raised in the US goes toward feeding the meat that we consume at our dinner table every day, and that if we took some of that meat off the table we could help eradicate some of the world’s hunger issues just by giving that grain to people.

That said, I know that I need to eat some meat to feel healthy, so my outrageous commitment is this: I am going to consume meat in much smaller quantities, using it as a garnish as Mark Bittman suggests, and trying to only have it once a day. Also, not only am I reducing the amount of meat I’m cooking with, but I also want to ensure that the meat I’m eating is both raised and killed ethically. To that end, I’m going stop buying factory farmed meat and buy it from a local butcher.

I understand that this may not seem outrageous to some people, but for me it’s huge. I’ve always been a big-time meat-eater, and this represents a major shift in the way I will be purchasing, cooking and consuming food going forward. It won’t happen overnight and I don’t think it will be easy, but do I think it will be rewarding, since I know it will help me to improve my health and will be more sustainable for the environment.

And why am I putting it out here? I want to be accountable. So go ahead and ask me how I’m doing from time to time. I hope I surprise both of us.

On Kindles and Ebooks

Posted by Tara in Books

I’ve been using my brand spankin’ new Kindle for a little over a week now, so I figure it’s time to share my thoughts on it.

Why I didn’t (and then did) want an ebook reader

The whole concept of ebooks made me nervous. Since before I can remember, I’ve always loved books and I was an avid reader in my youth, so the idea that physical books could go away was scary, not to mention that it was also scary to see that Amazon can remove books from users’ Kindles (although I appreciated the irony that they were erasing copies of 1984 and Animal Farm). The technology also felt too new to be proven out and I didn’t want to get stuck with the latest incarnation of the Betamax or laser disc player.

Unfortunately, my body didn’t really care about any of the issues I had with ebook readers. Reading very long books like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell became both difficult and painful because it hurt my hands and wrists to hold the book open. Not only that, but sometimes even reading books with small type would become a chore because it would hurt my eyes to read for longer than half an hour or so. There had to be a better way or I was going to have to switch to audiobooks or give up reading for good.

Which ebook reader to get?

In November I finally came around to the idea of buying an ebook reader since I’d rather be able to read easily than wait for the technology to prove out. But with a host of options available, how’s a person to choose?

I approached one of my awesome cousins who has a Kobo to see what she thinks of it and she pointed me in the direction of this article. That narrowed it down to four choices:

1. iPad

The iPad is great for many reasons, and when it comes to ebook reading there are some great options. You can download the Kindle app to read ebooks that you can buy through Amazon.com or you can read EPUB files that you can borrow for free from the public library or buy from any number of sites that sells them. I immediately crossed the iPad off my list, however, for three reasons: it’s much more expensive than any other ebook reader, it’s backlit so it won’t help with preventing eyestrain on marathon reading sessions, and I wouldn’t want to get an iPad until at least the second generation (we all know there will be some pretty amazing bells and whistles on the next one since it’s only out in its first generation right now).

2. Sony Reader PRS-650

Redditors seemed to like this one better than the Kobo, but with its $250 pricetag, I didn’t look too much into this one (although it does look pretty and if someone were to give me one, I’d probably use it).

3. Kobo

This is the ebook reader that Chapters sells here in Canada. It also supports EPUB files and it comes in at a much more reasonably priced $149. Some people on reddit advised that it’s not the best ereader if usability matters to you, so between that and the fact that I haven’t been a library patron since I was in gradeschool, this didn’t make the cut for me. I will say, however, that it was a close second.

4. Amazon Kindle

I ultimately opted for the 6″ wifi Amazon Kindle. After doing lots of reading on reddit and elsewhere, I saw that it’s the most usable, the fastest, and the most fun to use out of the dedicted ebook readers. The big strike against it was the lack of EPUB support (motivated by Amazon’s clear interest in users buying from them, not borrowing from libraries or buying from other sellers), but because I don’t go to the library and buy around 85% of my books from Amazon anyway, it was a no-brainer for me. Despite the occasional cock-up like the Orwell issue or the recent Macmillan fiasco, I’m loyal to the Amazon brand because I’ve always had excellent customer service from them.

That said, I’ve been recommending Kobos to other people if I think it fits their needs better than the Kindle.

The verdict

I love my Kindle. It’s very easy to use and reading on it feels surprisingly natural. I’m finding myself reading for a few hours at a time, which is something I haven’t done for ages. It’s also great for reading a few minutes at a time, and because it’s small and light, it’s very easy to take anywhere with me.

The other thing I’ve seen in the time since I’ve had it is that ebook reading doesn’t need to be an all or nothing thing. Having a reader doesn’t mean I’m done with physical books. There are some books I’ll be buying twice because I’ll want a copy to loan out, and if I find a beautiful rare book that I both want and can afford, I’ll be buying that too. The Kindle just happens to be my reading device of choice at the moment, and I’m excited to see what the next step in technology will bring.

Do you have any thoughts on ebook readers? Let me know in the comments because I’m dying to discuss.

It Finally Feels Like Christmas

Posted by Tara in Personal

It’s been a weird holiday season for Neil and I, and until yesterday the only Christmassy thing we had done so far was go to my workplace’s Christmas party.

Okay, okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. In August we paid for flights to visit my family in Ontario, and then last month I ordered most of the gifts for our families off of Amazon.ca or Amazon.com. We also picked up our own gifts early (we have a system: rather than each of us try to guess what the other wants, we set a dollar amount and then just get ourselves whatever we want).

But we didn’t listen to Christmas music and, because we weren’t going to be in town for Christmas and because I was afraid our two little dogs would knock it over, we didn’t put up our tree. My parents’ home is always decorated enough for two houses anyway, so being with them for the days leading up to Christmas would help us get in the holiday mood.

You can’t plan for everything

It was a good plan, but it all got derailed this week when Neil got sick. Our flights were set to leave at 7:00 am on Monday, but  Neil got really sick on Sunday. As if the vomiting and headache weren’t bad enough, he ended up with a fever that was so bad I started to get afraid. He was in no shape to travel and I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him. It was hard at the time because I didn’t know what would be the right thing to do. If it was a 24-hour bug he would probably be okay to fly–do I cancel or not? The customer service agent I spoke with from Air Canada advised deciding in the morning, but I spoke with Neil’s mum who wisely said that if I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to travel, I should just go ahead and cancel and get a good night’s sleep.

She was right. I got my sleep and in the morning Neil’s fever was gone, but he was still in no condition to travel. I was relieved that I had made the right decision and that I had my family and godson’s gifts delivered to my parents’ house so everyone would still have their gifts for Christmas morning. So I took a few hours, mourned the loss of my trip and time with my family, and moved on. Neil and I would still have 12 days off in a row together, and there’s no reason why we couldn’t enjoy them.

Neil remained sick for another 4 days or so, which meant two things: I made a big batch of purple soup (I really should have peeled the purple off the carrots before throwing them in the pot with the rest of the ingredients!) and we watched a whole lot of Netflix. I left the house once to go to Planet Organic, but other than that we didn’t go anywhere until yesterday when we came to Neil’s parents’ place.

A Calgary Christmas

When it became clear that we wouldn’t be heading to Ontario, I said I wanted to stay over with Neil’s parents. We’ve spent the last two Christmases with them and I love waking up at their house and heading down to the main floor in my pyjamas for present opening and bacon rolls. If I couldn’t be with my parents at Christmas, this was the only other place I wanted to be.

The house is beautiful with both trees up, but it still didn’t feel quite like Christmas. We had a lovely dinner together and settled down to watch Whitechapel. It was excellent (review forthcoming), but after watching all three hours of the first season, I don’t think Diana or I were ready to go to bed–I know I was a little afraid of dreaming about serial killers. So the two of us then tucked in on the couches with some duvets, got a whole bunch of chocolate at the ready and set down to watch White Christmas.

The Christmas movie I needed

And that’s what did it. Watching White Christmas finally made it feel like the holidays. It’s long been my favourite Christmas movie, and growing up it was probably one of my top 10 movies. My paternal grandmother got me interested in musicals (I think I was the only six year old in the 80s who demanded to watch Betty Grable movies), and this was one of them, so watching it last night gave me a connection to home that I needed.

It’s hard to predict the way things will go sometimes, which can mean it’s hard to know what will make Christmas feel like Christmas. But sitting back and watching that movie made me feel like a little kid again and reminded me that Christmas is about family, whether near or far, alive or dead. And that means that even if I’m missing Ontario this Christmas, I’m grateful for my Calgary Christmas too.

Get thee to a nutritionist

Posted by Tara in Food & Health

This post is a departure from what’s usually on this blog, but it’s about a big part of my recent life, so I think it’s important to share.

This summer Neil and I spent a couple of wonderful weeks in the UK. He ate a lot of haggis, I ate a lot of fish and chips, and we both ate a lot of sticky toffee pudding. By the time we got home we were both tired and I wanted to change the way I ate. Even before we went away I got very lazy with my cooking and was making a lot of convenience meals like ichiban, and telling myself that I deserved to regularly have Kit-Kat bars. I knew that while it’s possible to live that way, it’s not possible feel good while doing it.

Lucky for me, one of my coworkers is also a holistic nutritionist, and a fantastic one at that! I approached her about changing the way I ate and she showed me that baby steps are the way to go. Now instead of ichiban I’m having soba noodles and instead of Kit-Kats bars I’m having Coconut Bliss ice cream or raw chocolate nibs with coconut butter and organic granola. And don’t even get me started on how I ditched butter for coconut oil!

Leanne has helped me tackle some of the unhealthy attitudes I’ve had towards eating in addition to helped me see how happy healthful cooking can make me. I’m even looking at new recipes all the time and am seeing ways that I can fine tune them to make them healthier. I’m so happy with how Leanne’s been able to help me that I asked her to write a little something to introduce herself to you guys:

Hi, my name is Leanne. I’m a Holistic Nutritionist, yogi, athlete, and avid recipe creator. I offer one-on-one nutrition support to individuals in Calgary and Airdrie for weight loss, healthy eating, diabetes, children, busy moms, athletes, and much much more.

Having struggled with health issues at a young age, my journey to wellness has been an ever-evolving process. Numerous trips to the hospital and unexplainable symptoms lead me to begin researching ways to improve my health. This eventually led me to alternative approaches to wellness.

After experiencing the benefits of a holistic way of living I embarked on my career as a Holistic Nutritionist so that I could educate others on the importance of balanced living. I am extremely passionate about our connection to food and strive to create awareness within my clients to lead them towards permanently strengthening their immunity and overall well being.

If you’ve been thinking about changing the way you eat or want to eat more healthfully and consciously, contact Leanne today. You won’t be sorry.

P.S. While you’re over at Leanne’s site, check out the chocolate hemp pudding recipe I made.

Guest post at sonakhosla.com

Posted by Tara in Calgary

In case my 13 subscribers*  are interested, I wrote a guest post for my awesome boss’s blog about how Crowfoot Village Honda turned around our precarious relationship.

If you haven’t read any of Sona’s post, I highly recommend you check them out at www.sonakhosla.com. Sona’s all about living intentionally and looking for enlightenment and meaning. You can learn a lot from her.

And if you’re thinking of buying a Honda, you should get it from Crowfoot Village Honda. They’ll do right by you.

*That’s right–I got an additional subscriber since I started blogging again! Hello new subscriber! I’m sure you’re attractive and funny and smell really nice.

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I could not hate Scholarships Canada anymore than I do now

Posted by Tara in Personal

Around 10 years ago, back when I was actually in university, I signed up for a service called Scholarships Canada. I thought it was great because it let me find the scholarships I was eligible for (hey, what student doesn’t want free money?).

Fast forward to this year. Despite not being in university since 2003, I’ve begun receiving emails from them. I thought that was weird, but whatever. I signed into my account, adjusted my settings so that I wouldn’t receive any further email and promptly forgot about them.

Well, forgot about them until a month later when I received yet another email telling me about my scholarship deadlines. This time I went into my account to confirm that I indeed had updated my settings, sent them an email asking them to cancel my account since I’m not a student and again, promptly forgot about them.

I think you know where this is going. After receiving another email in May, I sent them a very angry email making an empty threat to email all universities affiliated with them if they didn’t stop sending me email. I was kidding myself there–I’m not going to do that. I’m lazy. I have better things to do. But I’d hoped it would be effective.

Today I got another email. And while I’m not prepared to email every university to talk about what a bad service Scholarships Canada is, I am prepared to use my blog to tell anyone who does a Google search for them. But I’m still lazy, so rather than write up a rant right now, I’m going to use the perfectly adequate rant I emailed to them in May. Enjoy.

What do I have to do to stop receiving emails from you, because obviously deleting all of my scholarship data and opting out of everything didn’t work (see the attached screenshot of my email subscriptions). Continuing to send me email is ABUSIVE; STOP SENDING ME EMAIL.

Better than that, I also want you to DELETE MY ACCOUNT. I sent an email requesting that you do so a few weeks ago, but you clearly didn’t since I’M STILL RECEIVING YOUR EMAILS DESPITE MY SUBSCRIPTION PREFERENCES.

I have been out of school since 2003. I don’t need your services. More than that, by beginning to send me emails again in the last few months, you’ve proven to me that no one should use your services because all you’ll do is hound them years after anyone has outgrown their need of them.

Please send me email confirmation when my account is deleted or I will send a lengthy email about your abusive email practices to the awards office of all colleges and universities within Canada that are affiliated with your site.

Seriously. Cancel my account already.

TV review: Gavin & Stacey

Posted by Tara in TV

I’d heard about Gavin & Stacey in passing a couple of years ago but didn’t really know what it was about. All I knew was that Rob Brydon was in it and I liked him whenever he was on QI, and that it’s a comedy series from the BBC.

Fast forward to the big UK trip Neil and I took in early July when I found the complete series, all three seasons plus the Christmas special, on sale at HMV for £20 (roughly 30 Canadian dollars at that time). I still didn’t know much about it so I wasn’ t sure if it was worth it, but we talked to Neil’s friend James and bought it after he described it as having some of the tightest writing he’s seen on television.

So what’s it about?

Gavin Shipman is a guy from Essex who’s been talking regularly on the phone at work with Stacey West, a nice girl from Barry, Wales (they have sort of a vendor/customer relationship). After six months of talking, they’re finally going to meet, and when they do, they fall in love. But as the creators James Corden and Ruth Jones say in the extras, their relationship is really just an excuse to get the incredible group of people that is Gavin and Stacey’s family and friends into the show.

Other characters include Gavin’s best friend Smithy (played by Corden), Stacey’s best friend Nessa (Jones), Gavin’s parents Mick and Pam, Stacey’s mum Gwen, and Stacey’s uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon). There’s a wonderful coming together of the families throughout the series, plus complicated relationships like Smithy and Nessa’s–they have a child together after a couple of one night stands despite actually being disgusted with each other and have to negotiate parenthood as Nessa gets into a relationship with Dave Coaches (who drives the coach bus).

Each season has a fairly simple plot with the real force being driven by the characters. In the first season, Gavin and Stacey meet, get engaged and at the end, get married. Nessa also reveals at the end of the season that she’s pregnant with Smithy’s child. The second season features two storylines: Nessa’s pregnancy, her relationship with Dave and the birth of baby Neil at the end of the season; and Gavin and Stacey’s negotiation of where they live (they start out at Mick and Pam’s, Stacey eventually moves back to Barry, and they’re back together at the end). The Christmas special features all of them together at Mick and Pam’s for the holidays, Gavin and Stacey’s announcement that they’re moving to Barry and Dave’s proposal to Nessa. And in the final season, Gavin and Stacey are trying to have a baby and Nessa and Dave are planning their wedding, with the wedding episode as the finale.

Rumour has it that there will be another Christmas special, and even though the story is really well wrapped up at this point, I’m still glad to hear it because I’d love another visit to that story.

The verdict

Gavin & Stacey is hands down one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. James was right–the writing is incredibly tight, and the performances are excellent with every phrase, look and action loaded with meaning. The show does so much more than follow the typical sitcom form and despite having only a half an hour to work with per episode, most episodes walk that fine line of being funny, sharp, poignant and occasionally heartbreaking. It does a great job of taking everyday situations, like a wedding, and making them recognizable, funny and lovely.

I’ve been spending the day deconstructing my response to this show because it’s been so strong and what it really comes down to is that I developed a very emotional response to the show in a way that I’ve never been able to with any other sitcom. I love 30 Rock and firmly believe it’s one of the best shows on television at the moment, but I’ve always felt an intellectual connection to it. And after watching all the extras for Gavin & Stacey, I think the reason I’ve had such an emotional response is that the creators and everyone involved have an emotional investment in it. They’re not just there for the paycheck, they truly love these characters and their stories.

So watch it. Not only that, but find it and buy it if you can. It’s a show that’s not only worth watching, but worth owning. You’ll thank me later.

Safe vs Risky faith (video)

Posted by Tara in Personal, Video

Donald Miller posted this video on his blog. It’s a few years old, but it’s Frances Chan doing a great job of showing how Christians often choose a safe life over all else. I almost didn’t post this and then I thought about what he said again, so here you go.

Francis Chan on Taking Risks

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