Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! I can't believe it's the end of 2011 already. I say this every December 31st, but where did the year go?!

It's been a good year I must say. The year had its highs (my new job) and low (we lost the Beau's grandmother), overall 2011 was good. And some may say that it's a bad year if nothing good happens, but I say it's a good year if nothing terribly bad happens. And today the Beau, the kitty and I find ourselves in good health and high spirits, comfy in our wonderful home and knowing we're surrounded by family and friends we love and who love us back.

It's okay to maintain the status quo, when the status quo is as good as this. I hope tonight finds you all in high spirits and that tomorrow ushers in a happy and wonderful new year!

Here's to 2012!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas to all!

Today is Friday. It was Wednesday two days ago and I didn't weigh in. Oops.

But it's been a busy week this week, even with work being quiet; putting the finishing touches on Christmas takes as much - or more - time as putting on the starting touches. But I think we're ready. Even if we're not, we're heading out of town this afternoon and won't be back home until after Christmas, likely December 28. And since that's only three days from my year-end goal round-up, I figure there's no harm in not weighing in again until then.

After all, it's the holidays! Time to relax, enjoy family and friends, eat delicious food, drink delicious drinks and just not worry about silly things like the number on the scale.

To everyone who reads this, I wish you a very happy and safe Christmas and I'll see you before the New Year!

Happy Christmas to me!

I do love the Christmas season and I love giving and making presents for others, but I also like to treat myself.  And I've been so good this year paying down my debts that, when I got my overtime pay cheque, I thought I'd do something special for me.

I ended up shelling out a bit more than I normally would on something for myself - $1,118.06 to be exact - but this is a one-time thing and I figured it was well worth it.

And even though it was all done online I still got a bit of a rush when I processed the payment. It's always a little sad seeing that much money disappear from my bank account but I'm confident it was the right thing to do and the right time to spend that much money.

Regardless, the money has been spent and there's a strict no refunds or returns policy so what's done is done.

I paid off another student loan today. That's 3 of 4 gone. And no more loans with CIBC.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How much exercise is that cookie worth?

I came across this interesting blog post on Chatelaine and looked at the article on Marie Claire that it referenced and the idea intrigues me: put exercise labels on junk food, as well as calorie labels. The idea is that telling people how much exercise they'll have to do to burn off the junk food they're about to consume will encourage them to make healthier choices and not eat that doughnut.

The Marie Claire article cited a study that showed sales in pop dropped after people knew how much exercise was required to burn it off. I find this fascinating and knowing how much exercise that cookie will cost me is much more helpful than knowing how many calories are in it. I think that people (me included) vastly overestimate the amount of calories they burn when exercising. I know that the calories burned counter on cardio machines is often wrong (in an overestimating sense) but seeing 453 calories burned after 45 minutes of exercise feels...paltry. And knowing it's likely less feels even worse.

Of course, arguments will be made against this idea because people can burn more or less calories depending on their fitness level. But I think that people who are fit already avoid junk food or at least indulge infrequently enough to not need to worry about burning off the bad food. With obesity rates rising in children and the sedentary lifestyle becoming the rule, I think it's a good idea, especially with food and beverages that people think are healthier. Would a parent be less likely to give a child a huge glass of Sunny D if it would take an hour of exercise to burn it off?

And that's what I'd like to see: how much exercise it would take to cancel out the "healthy" foods we're led to believe are better for us because the TV says they are high in calcium or made with whole grains or are fat-free. I know a Big Mac is bad; tell me how bad that fat-free popcorn is or the sugar-free yogurt.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book Review: The Sisters Brothers

I love the cover of this book. More books need awesome covers like this. I also happened to love the text of the book as well. Isn't it great when things work out like that?

With all the buzz and much-deserved accolades given to The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, I feel like it would be redundant to rehash the plot but I also feel some kind of summary is necessary so I'll do my best to keep it short: Charlie and Eli Sisters are muscle-for-hire en route to do a job in California during the Gold Rush. While traveling across the country, Eli begins to question why they do what they do and what kind of life he'd like to have instead. The journey to and from the west coast ends up changing both brothers irrevocably.

There are so many great things about this book, but the one I found most interesting was the narrator: Eli Sisters. Being told first-person by one half of the brothers was unexpected, in all honesty, but it worked. Eli is the one who is questioning what they do and what else they could do and doesn't have the same lust for killing that older brother Charlie has. He's more of a moral compass as well, but always fiercely loyal to Charlie. Eli also shuns many western cliches: he's not fond of the drink; he has feelings that go beyond physical for the whores; he loves his horse enough that he turns down a better steed to keep his wonky, one-eyed wonder; he worries about his weight; and he's thrilled at the idea of brushing his teeth. (Seriously, how often does personal hygiene crop up in westerns?)

But the book isn't played as some kind of odd couple romp; the comic elements are decidedly dark and though Charlie and Eli are different, they are brothers and they stick together. Also, we never get into Charlie's head; there's no alternating narrators, just Eli, and I like that. We're taken on this journey with the two title characters and we learn about them both, but only through the eyes and mind of Eli. And while both men suffer, it's Charlie who suffers the most - but again, we only know how much based on Eli's perceptions.

Using the Gold Rush as the background is also wonderful, as it allows a variety of secondary gold-obsessed characters to come and go to comedic and melodramatic effect. It also puts the reader in familiar territory as we all know of the Gold Rush and the dreams and greed it inspired. And of the myriad characters, including the brothers, it's hard to pinpoint who's "good" and who's "bad". Of course, some are worse than other and some are better than others, but it's not like other westerns where you know who to root for; the good guys don't rid up in white hats at the last second to save the maiden tied on the train tracks. Maybe I'm generalizing a bit as I don't know if all westerns clearly identify the good and the bad, but I appreciate a book more when there is that ambiguity and gray area between good and bad.

I think Eli as narrator is my favourite element of this book. The more I think about it, the more it feels daring and unconventional. (It could be I feel that way because I don't read enough, but whatever.) This book was a mainstay on literary awards' shortlists (and award recipient) for good reason: it's a smart, interesting book with intriguing characters, set during a time in history we're all familiar with. I don't know enough about westerns in literature to know if this refreshes or invokes other cliches about the genre, but it's more than just white hat vs black hat in a shoot out at high noon in some corral.

Book Review: Clouded Vision

It's high time I caught up on my Canadian Book Challenge reviews. I have been reading (thank you, hour-long commute!) but I just haven't made the time to write my reviews. I've got four books to review (and another two to read) and I've got the time now, so those reviews will be coming fast and furious.

The first in my backlog is Clouded Vision, a novella by Linwood Barclay. I used to read Barclay regularly when he was a columnist with the Toronto Star and when he left to pursue a writing career, well, I didn't follow. This is the first of his fiction offerings I've read. He has done quite well for himself, achieving international success with his crime books and I believe he's carved out his own niche for suburban crime thrillers.

So I felt kind of bad when I didn't like Clouded Vision.

I do like the novella as a format: longer than a short story, shorter than a novel but still enough to provide a good read. One of my favourite novellas is Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, which was later adapted into one of my favourite movies, The Shawshank Redemption. Just because a novella is shorter doesn't mean it can't produce a good story.

Clouded Vision does have an interesting story: a young woman, Keisha, pretends to by psychic to help people, all the while charging $1,000 for her "skills". She goes to the house of a man whose wife is missing to give him "clues" and make a quick buck. Of course, things go terribly, horribly, awfully wrong.

There are some interesting twists, I'll give it that. The story sticks to the night when Keisha is pulling her scam, with a few flashbacks for context. The only characters in the story are necessary ones and the plot moves along quickly (though being a novella, there's no time to dilly-dally).

It's hard for me to pinpoint what exactly I didn't like about this book. The only reason I've kept thinking about it is because I have to review it. And I didn't feel any desire to pick up another book by Barclay; in fact I felt the opposite. I don't want to read more of his books, which makes me sad because I love me a good crime thriller and I love supporting Canadian authors. But this story just felt...flat.

I have no doubt that many people will read this and enjoy it and pick up other books by Barclay and enjoy them. I just won't be one of them.

Book Review: Natural Order

Natural Order is my favourite book of 2011. Hands down. Go read it. Now.

Do you guys remember the book Fruit?  It's about a boy who's nipples start talking to him one day and it was the runner up in the 2009 edition of Canada Reads.  Fruit is written by Brian Francis and, though I've never read it, I may have to after reading Francis' Natural Order.

First, a note about the author: Brian Francis is a male (which may be obvious from the name, but pseudonyms and such can throw you for a loop), he's gay and I believe he lives in Toronto.  Why is this important?  Because he has made the narrator of Natural Order a small-town woman in her 80s named Joyce Sparks - and he does a fantastic job telling the story in her voice.

The story centres on Joyce and various stages of her life: as a teenager, as a wife and mother, as a widow living on her own and as an octogenarian in a nursing home nearing the end of her life. As Joyce narrated through her life, my emotions towards her changed. At times I liked her, hated her, sympathized with her, questioned her, and wanted to scream, "Just talk to him!". She's a frustrating character and comes across as both protagonist and antagonist simply by being herself.

As a teenager, Joyce fell in love with Freddy Pender, despite rumours that he was "fruity". When Freddy left his small-town life for an acting career, Joyce married Charlie Sparks and had a son named John, though she never stopped thinking of Freddy and would even buy the tabloids for a glimpse of him in his new life. Joyce eventually learns that Freddy has committed suicide by jumping from a cruise ship and is told by Freddy's mother that a mother always knows when something isn't right with her son.

These allusions to Freddy's homosexuality weigh on Joyce as she sees her beloved son drawn to dolls and kitchen sets rather than trucks and sports. Desperate to protect her son, Joyce begins making choices and keeping secrets from her husband, family and friends, trying to ensure John doesn't end up like Freddy. But her choices and secrets do have a devastating effect on her and her loved ones.

Homophobia is always simmering beneath the surface in this book and many would be appalled that people could think and feel this way towards homosexuals. However, I'm from a small town where homophobia also simmers and sometimes boils over and reading about Joyce in her small town and the attitudes people had towards gays hit close to home. At times it felt like Joyce was talking about people I knew and still know, people who still think this way.

Brian Francis is a wonderful writer and he takes the reader between the various times in Joyce's life easily, even when it's one paragraph to the next. Francis has Joyce hinting at what happened next in the past before taking the reader back to the present and Joyce's current struggles with her choices. These were lovely little cliffhangers that kept me reading far later into the night than I should have.

Despite her flaws, though, Joyce makes her decisions out of love and Francis never makes us think she's a hateful person. Confused, scared, proud, even devious, but never hateful. She does what she thinks is right, even if the reader knows it's so wrong and who wouldn't do what they think is right for someone they love?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Up-Down Challenge Weigh-in #36

Yes it's Monday. Yes I'm finally posting about my weigh-in last Wednesday. But I have good reason for being late: I doubted the accuracy of my scale and had to figure out how to test it. The solution presented itself over the weekend, as I started my Christmas baking and a key part of baking is flour. So while shopping for ingredients I picked up an 11 lb bag of flour - which turned out to be the perfect thing to test my scale, as I know exactly how much it weighs.


I had convinced myself my scale was off and felt rather smug when putting the bag of flour on said scale. And the reading? 

11 pounds.  Which is how much the bag of flour weighs. Which means my scale works just fine. Which means my weight is what it say it is. Which is rather shitty.

So...the weigh-in:

Last week: 196.4 lb
This week: 196.4 lb

Okay, no change is better than gaining.  I'll go with that.  Still, I'd like to get that last 6.4 lb off before January 1. (Actually, I'd like to get 6.5 lb off so the scale reads less than 190 lb. Yup, I'm so splitting hairs on this.)

So there you have it. My scale works, my weight isn't dropping (but also not climbing) and I baked all weekend.  Though I did learn something while baking: if you ever want to know how bad a dessert is, just make it from scratch. I'm looking at you, pecan pie with 1 cup of corn syrup.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In the Christmas spirit

Like the new red look?  I wanted something a little more Christmasy for my blog and I think this works.  I do love this time of year!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Up-Down Challenge Weigh-in #35 and Goals Update

Hi guys!  Remember me?  That tardy blogger?  Yeah.  I started this post Thursday at work and I'm finally posting it Friday.  Yeesh.

I haven't been ignoring my blogging duties on purpose, it's just that life got in the way - but it's been good.  I haven't talked much about my happy health of late and that's still important to me and an important part of overall health.  The reason I haven't been talking about it is because I'm in such a good place, happy-wise.  Despite some previous setbacks and a rough day here and there, I've been super happy.  It likely has to do with the Christmas season because I LOVE this time of year but I'm also at a good place in my life.  To be cliche, things are falling (and have fallen) into place.  And it's grand.

But that doesn't mean I don't still have goals or that I'm not getting on the scale.  Since I skipped blogging about my weigh-in last week (but I did weigh in), let's start there:

Two weeks ago: forgot to weigh in
Last week: 196.6 lb
This week 196.4 lb (-0.2 lb)

I've decided I need a new scale.  It's digital and when I turn it on it automatically shows 4 lb, even though no one and nothing is on it.  I reset it after this of course, but I'm always wondering if it's phantomly adding 4 lb.  So I'm going to buy a new one.  Take THAT, scale!

(And for the record, not thrilled with this number but I feel good and think I look pretty good, so I'm not going to stress too much).

So how goes everything else?  Let's see:

Goal:Run - I'm slowly getting back into running regularly but I'm stalling out at about 3 km.  I also need to get a refill on my Ventalin inhaler so I can continue to breathe.  Once I do this I should be able to get my distance back up there.  Lately I've been running out of breath before I run out of energy.

Goal:Food - Work has been so busy of late that I've completely fallen off doing this.  I need to get back into it because I know I do well for most of the day but fall apart in the evenings (usually evenings spent at work when all there is to snack on is Tim Horton's and vending machines and chocolates. Note to self: bring more snacks to work.)

Goal:Weight - So I'm pretty much not going to hit 170 lb by the end of the year.  Right now, I just want to be below 190 lb.  I think if I can keep up the workouts (and running) and really pay attention to what I eat I can actually lose this weight during the Christmas season.  Yeah!

Goal:Pants - I meant to take a picture on Thursday night of how my jeans are fitting but I ran out of time.  After December 13 my life gets much calmer, so I'll check it out then.

Goal:Dress - See above.

Goal:Debt - I currently owe $6,725.44 ($5416.01 + $1,309.43).  I racked up huge amounts of overtime but unfortunately it wasn't logged in time to be added to my next paycheque (which I get tomorrow).  So it's two more weeks before my 30+ hours (!) of overtime are added, but when it does come it will be a nice amount to add to my loans.  I'm close!  The other upside is that I'm done all my Christmas shopping so any extra cash that comes my way will be able to go on loans.  Even if my scale number isn't going down, this number is and I'm so proud of that!

So that's where I stand with 22 days left in this year.  What will I be able to cross off this list in the next three weeks?  I'll let you know!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Late to the party

Hey kids, it's me.  Late again.  And I'm going to be even later with my goals update because not only am I still at work (at 9pm on a Friday) but I'm also out of town for the weekend.  I'll be back Sunday night at which time I'll let you know how well (or not) I'm doing.

Until then, have a great weekend!