Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hello again.


I have not had a good connection with words lately.  The disciple has slipped, and the habit suffered from long hours and the challenges of self care.  So what has been happening that has kept me from writing.

Lets see, from June to the first week of October I was working 40 hours a week, spending at least 10 hours out of the house to get to and from work.  The nature of the work mattered as well.  For the majority of those hours on I was working on the floor of the warehouse, pulling orders.  This is as dull as it sounds, making rounds with a cart and a checklist harvesting the correct amounts of items.  It is a simple job but it is not fault tolerant, miss reading a 6 digit code could quickly lead to an upset client.  I still curse the R383-004, not once was able to say that code without first saying R838, there were  a lot more item numbers starting with 8 than 3.  That work existed at an annoying middle ground, neither a stimulating endeavour on its own nor so mindless that it freed up the processing cycles that make writing after hours possible.  And so the summer flew by in a state of stimulus.

It was a good summer, one of the few times where I found my brain and body had the resources to spare for regular weekend adventures.  Compared to my years fighting Mapinfo and losing, this work was a joy.  I did not come home with my jaw clenched, thirsty for a beer to loosen it like WD40 on a old nut.  Was I tried when I came home often but it was earned, and the trip home cleared much.

The trip home became its own ritual and reward.  The job site was on a bike trail that lead directly to the Lions Gate Bridge.  Cycling the bridge was not attempted till late July, it was scary at first.  The lane is wide enough, the railings are high enough but it is a long climb, and a long time was spent doubting if I had the energy to pull it off. In the end it became easy, the 15km trip from work to home took no longer than the other options.  Cycling, while fun and a great way to decompress after a workday does not afford the processing time needed for writing.  Perhaps in the right context it could but I spend too much time playing in traffic to live anywhere but the now.

Fast forwarding from July to October, the job that defined normal for 3 months, with its cast of characters, some of whom earned the dubious distinction of donating character traits to my fiction, ended.  This was not a surprise, the company's timeline was largely followed and the demand for extra labour ended at the expected time.  As a Temp worker a gig that long is something thats best savoured and defended, as me four months puts it at fourth or fifth place on the list of long lived jobs.
October started with a fun and mad family visit, and drifted into an uncomfortable and bitter spell of being deeply under employed.  Attempts at writing were briefly made during that time, they were short lived and bore no fruit. It is a bit of a shame I would have liked to have harnessed that mood.

Or perhaps not.  It was an impotent form of anger. Anger at the world and at my body for not being just so.  A temper tantrum at reality.  Frustration at my perennial difficulty of landing a stable job was chewing at me as the calls from the agency did not come.  Useless anger at my body for deciding I should spend a month feeling like I had a bag of rocks suspended in a water balloon where my gut should be.

Things are looking better now.  After a little gentle pressure I got my agent to find me a longer term gig. I have three months of work lined up if all goes well.  The pay is slightly better than North Vancouver job, perhaps I will start braking the trend of each job paying less than the last.  As a near first in my adult life I have a family physician, I don't exactly know what was driving those symptoms but we know enough not to panic.  For the sake of sanity I did not google said symptoms.

As it happened the initial visit to that Dr brought me to another good thing.  As I was leaving the office I took a moment to step on the scale that was parked on the floor, I had not weighed myself since May.  92kg, or just over 200lbs, a long term low, it has been at least 10 years since I have been near there, and inline with pre birthday goals I had.  In the late spring when it dawned on me I would be 35 in not too long, I knew I did not want to face it being fat and lazy.  The notion of recreating the body I had at 24 after a season doing soil sampling was pondered and rejected, as I could neither spend that much time in the gym or afford to eat that much.  The outcome of my current lifestyle is a pretty good substitute, and I am enjoying the feeling of being energetic and powerful.  Form the look of things this contract will only add to that trend, there is a lot of steel in the products I am handling.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The +3 Socks of Adventuring


Any accounting of events is incomplete, so it was with my Nanaimo trip. A small detail limited the trip, shoes.  As things usually do it made sense at the time.  In mid July, my footwear options included nearly dead black leather boots, steel toed shoes, and sandals with shredded soles.  Something more seasonal in order, it was shopping time, and GST rebate time.  On a hot evening after work I went shopping.
Shoe shopping is an a distant second place after pants shopping for least favorite form of consumerism. Compared to pants there are more known shoe brands that fit, but this does not always translate into easy shopping. It took nearly three shops for me to find the right thing. In reality just two shops, I never set foot in the second shop I approached, their bike rack was so badly designed I could not lock up without risking damage, they did not get my business.

-1 Sandals of friction
So the footwear I ended up with was a snug slipper like bundle of synthetic material. It fit good, and after 10 hours on my feet I knew they would be more relaxed after a rest.  That my feet were soft and pink at time of perchance was largely ignored. They had been stewing in my work shoes.  The default assumption is that my feet are hard and calloused, that several months of stewing in hot shoes could negate that assumption never occurred to me.

On the Ocean, looking for Tenagra
Fast forward, a few days, I have confidently boarded a bus and a ferry while proudly wearing my Darmok and Jalad T-shirt and new shoes.

Shoes which logged at the best 8 km.  Shoes, which after three repacks of the luggage were decided to be the only foot coverings for the trip. Travel from my house to the ferry took a scant 8oom of walking.  The hike at the Nanaimo end was close to 6 km, in sweltering sun.  It was 3km into that hike that I concluded that my feet being soft and pink, was not just an artifact of being fresh off work. The snug fit of the sneaker like sandals and my copious perspiration made quick work of my pinky toes.

So I wince my way into downtown* Nanaimo, my toes bandaged up.  *Downtown Nanaimo, a place where my first thought was, where is the rest of it.  I knew better than to take untested shoes for big adventures, but on this occasion I failed at wisdom. It lead to buyers remorse, a state that took a little time to recover from. For my first evening in that town bandages were the best I could do, they kept my bits from getting mangled.  Socks would have been a good thing to pack.

It was just past nine, the next morning, I was on my way to wonder around Newcastle island. A large but poor quality breakfast, with half cooked hash browns gave me the option to take as long as I liked.  Walking the waterfront it became clear,that neither shortages of food or water would ruin the hike, a foot skin shortage would.  There was but one choice, double back to the economic centre of the city, the Dollarish* store.

*Dollarish stores are like Dollar stores but the prices are only near a Dollar or two or three, rather than at a dollar.

It turns out Dollarish stores, do sell socks.  A few rows of pegboard held the garments.  On the left the mens socks, thick, long, and in some cases argyle.  Now some people can pull of knee socks with sandals, those people might be German.  I can not even keep up knee socks, these were out of the question.  That left the lady's socks, which come in lengths other than long. There is nothing worse than a long socks falling down the leg because it has failed to cling to my calves.  Thus I selected a pair of lady's turn cuff socks, in an inoffensive grey, stopping short of the ankle.  

Once out of the shop I peeled off the foot abraders and slipped on the woven polyester membrane for instant relief. I could walk freely again, and I did, logging an estimated 9 km on my round about stroll on Newcastle island, and another 6 km that day alone.  My feet were still tender, and the damage had been done, but the erosion had been halted.

It said not to hike here, which is
why I only walked
Not much use has been made of the +3 Socks of Adventuring since I that trip. After things healed up a bit, my feet gained enough toughness to not need the aide.  One exception was made this week, they were packed for my hike up the BCMC trail on Grouse mountain. On this occasion the sandals did as instructed, say on and provide abrasion protection. The socks used their powers on the way down, saving the tops of toes from the pressure that comes with a steep descent.  The socks may add a few hit points but they don't add any stamina, as my legs are stiff from the doing of things.

Now I feel I have to restore some balance to my life.  Hiking up Grouse Mountain on a Sunday is such a terribly Vancouver thing to do, it almost feels unclean. Perhaps I should get some light beer and red meat.  Alternately could just give up and get the fixed gear bike to go with my totally not hipster tattoo, and the yoga mat to go with my healthyish lifestyle. While I make up my mind I will make some dinner, it might involve a cheese named Ashley.


Friday, August 1, 2014

These Gifts Three


 It was recently my 35th Birthday.  The first birthday in I in ages where I was not depressed.  For too long early July would roll around and I would list all things I had not done with that year or did not have yet. This year I broke the trend.  34 was a tough year, it through too many downs and too few ups. The cat crisis extended from her morning flight on July 30 2014, to into February when at last we were fully rid of the fleas. The adorable sweater manages the one long turn issue.  Unemployment and the slumps that went with that ran in parallel with the cat issues. So I was down but I started fighting to get up again.

Change was slow.  It took a long time to learn, I did not want to return to the corporate life I had been trying to live.  It was a dead end, I could not care for it, it made me miserable. Signing on to be a  Temp worker pawn saved my ass. After months of spinning my wheels applying for jobs I did not want, and would not get and work was a needed.  An alternative to flinging resumes into the internets like monkey's fecies was greatly welcome.  It has been grunt work, low paying grunt work. Work that gets me out in the world, work that lets me be good at something.  Most importantly it is work that can free me from my employment past.  Translating geology work into terms useful for civilian life has proven more difficult than I would have expected.  Right now it looks like I will have steady work into September. Full time, normal hours and more less sane working conditions and coworkers.

So I pondered this birthday, my small apartment and my cat and thought, we made it.  The Lady Baroness von Softpaws of Gallifrey, made it just barely.  The temp work slowly brought in enough hours to cover the needs.  We made it.  I still have my apartment, my cat and my health. The apartment will go soon enough, even though I can hold it, it takes too much of my pay to leave me piece of mind and room to play.  So in the spirit of of moving forward I gave myself three gifts.

The first a little trip, hastily planned, with imperfect execution, and bad timing.  A little journey was taken to Nanaimo to visit some friends. Who unfortunately were working the majority that weekend.
It was also the middle of a heat wave, so activity was limited. It was not a failure, fun was had, exploring happened when heat the hostel basement room I rented.  Newcastle island was the highlight. It would be wrong to dismiss the short but fun visit with Natasha and Christi, who I almost never see, it was good to laugh about the OUC days.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The new mid term plan.


I am starting to pull a new plan out of the wreckage of the last one.  The short version.  Cut the cost of living through a roommate, or shared accommodation. Continue the temp work.  Use the lowered cost of living to buy some writing days here and there. With a co-dweller cat care is improved. The kitty will have the chance for extra room and engagement. Also important with a roommate(s) cat care can be outsourced.  With the cat secure, money more available I can commence research on part two.

Part two.  Can I be happier in a different town. A few years back I was on the island, it was lovely.  I don't know if I want to live there, but I want to check out a handful of places and take their pulse.  I tire of living in places that don't feel enough like home and want to remedy that.  And gods damn it I am going to finish that first novel's first draft and then I am going to rewrite it with all the cool things I have thought about.

Vinets from the floor. Part one


Tomorrow is a novel writing day, so I have to burn off my blog posts now to free the brain cycles.

Part one Confessions of a mathtard.

I have never been good at arithmetic.  For reasons unclear to me I have staggered into adulthood needed a pen and paper for number crunching that many can fire off from the top of their heads.  Where this stems from is an open question, perhaps I could pin it on a unfound learning disability.  Or perhaps the time in grades 4 and 5 where I was in a special education group was when the rest of the class was learning those maths.  I also assume this time I spent out of the regular classroom is where the proper use of whom was explored, along with the correct uses of affect vs effect.  Lacking a time machine I can't say what it is I was not learning.

Certainly the time spent learning eye tracking must have taken some time away from regular studies, but at least I can read and don't have to bob my head like a pigeon to track an object, any more.  Thanks Father.   So somewhere along the way the rote learning and repeat grilling did not happen enough times to secure the knowledge and methods.  This is not to say I can not math, but that it fails me at the wrong times.

The scenario is repeated in many contexts.  A conversation goes quantitative. My attention wanders, the numbers are not registering with my brain as I await the conclusion.  Out of the blue the person who has been doing the computations asks me whats this number by this operator and the other number.  By the time I have secured the value of the first number and the identity of the operator I am receiving a look.  The look of why haven't I mathed yet. The moment that look hits me you will not get any math out of me.  I will be anxious about making mistakes, knowing full well that I often do.  My abacus goes limp under pressure.

For me math is a discrete thing. my brain does not like storing small things.  If caught of guard on a tired a day you will be lucky to get me to store the number without flipping the digits, to compute against a quality I can scarcely recall is near instant failure.  Math is also discrete in that if I have not been anticipating the doing of it, it will not engage.

On the subject of failing to retain small information packets.  Anyone who has ever spelled a word at me knows if I fail to start transcribing it before the second letter is announced I will not make it to the end without error.  If I am lucky the word will be learned as a series of keystrokes and I will not have to think about that.

Now back to the maths.  Enter the warehouse floor.  Much of my time is spent picking orders.  It is a task that suits me well, it is labour that rents my body and only a small part of my mind.  Sometimes I have time to think about what  The Object in my science fiction novel is.  Or how its existence drives the politics of the two main human political bodies.  Other times I have to zoom in on the finer details of the work, I am now much more comfortable remembering a 6 digit product number.  There is a zen to this.  Thanks to the isolation, stuff being shipped in dozens, and merchandise not always being in stock, I am mathing more.  Will this save me from being flummoxed by a request for a surprise computation, no.  But may be yes, I may just be learning.  I do know the narrow focus and the demands for retaining information make this job sit better in my mind than most work I have done.  It feels like I am rebuilding my attention span.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lets bake Bread, the Leavening


For those of you baking along at home you should be here by now.
Peel off the cling film and with lightly floured knuckles punch the excess gases out of it.

Now we turn on the oven to 450F not C.  If your oven goes to 450c  you might want to take up metal work.

As the oven warms, prepare the loaf.  For this batch I am going to make two rustic loaves.  To make sure they come out even I weigh the dough on a scale.  It does not have be exact but being within a few tens of grams ensures consistency.  This dough came in at near 1100 grams, which will produce two medium sized loaves at 550 gram.  I have baked the whole round as one piece, but the I find it tricky to get the inside cooked without getting a dwarf bread like outer shell.

After you weigh out the dough, it is time to shape the bread.  I like to fold it in on itself a few times. Form the dough into a cylinder about 20 cm long. Run your thumb along the surface creating a deep groove, fold the bread in on itself.  Fold the ends in the same way repeat a few times.  This helps to remove any remaining excess gas.  If the dough is not to dry the suture will seal seamlessly.
One of two loaves, No I do not
bake them on this.

I like to roll it across a lightly floured counter a few times, it helps obliterate the seams.  If the ends start to get thicker then the middle, work inward from the ends rolling it under your hands.  For this I pinched the ends to give them a bit of a point. Honestly at this point you can experiment with the shape of the loaf.  But bear in mind that it affects baking time.

A lot of a peel
Once you have your bread shaped, cover it up and place it back in a warm spot while you wait for the oven to heat through.  I have yet to make this bread in a bread pan but I suspect it would have good results once you got the baking times sorted. I will be baking this on a pizza stone in the oven, something of a peasant loaf.  If you lack a baking stone, shame on you, place some cornmeal on a baking sheet and place the loaves on this to rise. I will be loading the oven with the aid of a wooden peel so the bread rise on a separate plates because the dough would stick to the peel which is the last thing you want.

Now that your oven is hot it is time for the blacker magic.
Steam.  To get both the maximum rise and a softer crust I load a pyrex pie plate with hot water on the the shelf below the bread.
Cut deep the stuff wants to expand

The baking instructions are as follows.
Place steam source in oven.
Load bread.  Bake for 15 min at 450.
Remove, with great caution the steamer.
Turn oven down to 400 bake for 25 or so minutes.  If you have doubt take the temperature of the bread.  The successful loaves were moist and cooked at internal temp of 200F. Seriously probing bread is worth it.

In retrospect this batch could have handled a little more flour, it was very soft at time of deployment.  For style I dusted the loaf before slashing it.  You want to cut it deeply, it is a very moist bread with lots of gas, it want to balloon.

Depending on the quirks of your oven, it would likely be a good idea to rotated the bread part way through the bake.  I know my oven runs hotter in the back, and sides of the breads that face each other brown less than the outward sides.
And after 15 min under steam at 450, and 23 min at 400 you have bread.  The internal temp reads 200, I don't know how well calibrated that probe. You can't hear it in the picture but the bread was crackling.

See that was easy.  Now I have to go for a walk, my house is hot now.

Lets Make Bread: Day two the rebreading

Greetings friends and hobbitess.

Sponge, after a good ferment.
Today we are going to finish baking bread.  For those of you baking along at home you may notice that I skipped over yesterday, I had too much going on and had no interest in firing up the oven late in the evening.  So I let the dough rest in the fridge.

If you have completed part one you should have a wet foamy mess that lives up to the name sponge.  We are now going to tricky part, turning this thing into a dough.

 To get there we will need, a large mixing bowl, rubber spatula or wooden spoon, 2ish cups of flour, a teaspoon of salt, elbow grease, and black magic.

To start, in a large mixing bowl mix together 1 and 1/2 cups flour with about a teaspoon salt. Pour the sponge into this.  As you mix the sponge with the flour be sure to cut up the bigger clumps so the flour mixes with all of the sponge not just lining the outside.  I forget what the pink thing is called but it is basically a knife made out of silicon rubber and is perfect for this job.

Add a little flour as you go, you are trying to work for a runny batter to a shaggy dough.  Near the point where the dough has absorbed about 2 cups stirring in the bowl will become impractical and kneading will be needed.
Slightly kneaded

Kneading, the black magic part.
Sprinkle a generous handful of flour on your work surface,  extract the dough from the bowl, scrape as much of the dough out of the bowl as you can.

The basic motion of kneading is a push, turn, fold.  With the heel of your hand push the dough away from you stretching it. Turn it a 90 degrees, fold the dough back in on itself and repeat, for the next 8 to 10 minutes.   Because this dough starts of very wet, don't be scared to add more flour.  You want the final dough to be smooth and elastic. and slightly tacky to the touch.  Like mostly dry varnish.

Read to rise. 
 It is hard to explain exactly when to stop kneading.  The best advice I have is stop a little time after you start feeling the dough resist your efforts.  As you work it the dough will be come springy and it will push back more as you try to stretch it you really want this.  How long it will take you to reach that point.

At this point you want to be careful about not adding extra flour or over working it too much.  You want the final dough to be moist enough to heal when you shape it into the final loaf shapes.  Otherwise it will split wide open and that just don't look great.

Now that you have a smooth, ball of dough, its time to proof it.  I keep a large ceramic salad bowl in the cupboard above the fridge for this.  The thick clay retains the warmth giving the yeast a stable home.  

Just line the dough with a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil, cover the with cling film and put it in a warm spot.  For me that is the spot above the fridge. Avoid places with drafts. Now go watch a movie or read a book.  It should take about hour to rise.

If you really want to make use of this time, run down to your local kitchen shop and get a peel and a pizza stone, you'll thank me later.

Come back for part three.