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Customer Service in the Age of Trump Click Here To Comment!

I’m trying to order some parts for the BBQ that is on the upper deck for the renters, hoping to freshen it up with a new grill surface and heat diffusers for less than the cost of buying a new grill entirely.

When my online order wouldn’t complete, I wound up on the phone with a customer service agent.

Phone Call #1:
CSR: (Unintelligible) Grills
Me: Hi – I’m trying to finish an order on your website and I keep getting the message to call this number first.
CSR: OK – can you give me the SKU or order number?
(information given)
CSR: OK – we have to import that part into this country – erm, I mean, into this warehouse – so it will take about two weeks to get to you. Is that ok?
Me: Yes, I can live with that. Will the price go up?
CSR: No, it will just be delayed. Please give me a moment.
(keyboard keys clacking)
CSR: OK, if you refresh your screen now, the order should process properly now.
Me: Great – thank you.
CSR: No problem.

It wasn’t clear to me during this conversation whether I’d called the US or Canada. The person didn’t have any particular accent that I could place and the 877 number could be anywhere in North America.

I proceeded to the shopping cart, confirmed that the price hadn’t gone up, and hit “submit”.

In the “Thank you for your order!” confirmation message, the price had doubled and I nearly fell over. What was a $40 part with $7 shipping was now over $85.00. Huge increase in shipping that was not reflected earlier EVEN THOUGH the system had my address.

Phone Call #2:
CSR: (Unintelligible) Grills
Me: Hi – I was just on the phone with someone about an order I was trying to make. Was that you?
CSR: (pause) Yes.
Me: Well, I thought you said that the price of the part wasn’t going to increase …
CSR: (interrupting, defensively) It didn’t. The part itself is still $40.
Me: OK, but …
CSR: (interrupting, defensively) You are in Canada, right? We are in Florida. Shipping into Canada is expensive and YOU have to pay for that.
Me: OK. Can you cancel my order please?
CSR: What?
Me: Please cancel my order. I had no idea the increase in shipping would be so dramatic.
CSR: (snippy) Fine, I’ll cancel it.

This isn’t anywhere on the scale of detention centres for children or cutbacks in health care or education. But I have to wonder if it is on the spectrum of “Trump as a leader brings out the worst in people, not their best”.

Once a significant segment of a population has permission to be at their worst, anything can happen. And has.

The Drive Click Here To Comment!

There are multiple routes to get from The PostCard to my workplace, in the extreme east end of Toronto. On the best driving day, with no construction, traffic volume issues, weather, detours or gas/coffee stops, it is one hour, 50 minutes. This, of course, depends on the route taken and I’ve discovered many “new” routes and, each time, I insist that the route is “shorter”.

Technically, this may be true. The new routes get “shorter” but the time to destination keeps getting longer. The “new” routes zig zag past farm land, rolling hills, small towns, villages, hamlets, french fry trucks, abandoned farm equipment, antique shops … a myriad of distractions. I find the “new” routes so much more interesting, especially during dramatic seasonal changes when the landscape seems to shift before my eyes.  Right now, we are changing gears from a coolish summer to a gorgeous fall and the colours, the angle of the light, can be breathtaking.

Of course, I find these views, and the act of driving through them, nostalgic as all heck. When you are raised out in the country and you are also an active young person, involved in lots of extra curricular activities, you spend a lot of time driving places to do the things you are interested in. My Mom drove me everywhere. I remember early morning band practices, with the mist rising off the fields and creeks in the semi-dark. I remember navigating countless snowstorms to get to hockey tournaments. Driving in to the city every other Saturday to visit Grandma. Being dropped off or picked up at the school for newspaper, theatre projects, or some event or other. Driving great distances to get to do something, and then driving home, was part of my “culture”, growing up. As soon as I got my license, I was in charge of driving myself, for the most part. Long drives through the night from the community almost an hour north where I taught guitar one night a week.  Driving with my buddies into the city for a movie night from time to time – a huge treat.

As a younger passenger, there might have been a book to read or a crossword puzzle but there were certainly no electronic pacifiers for these drives. There was looking out the window, noticing changes and commenting on them. Riding along was a time to think about things, to sort through whatever pre-teen or teen emotional angst was current. I remember sitting beside my mother, countless times, in my sullen mopey way, rolling  my eyes at some bit of wisdom or observation she may have had which was, from my perspective, clearly out of touch with reality and definitely NOT COOL. I remember feeling, as a driver, all grown up when I was able to safely get myself – and often my friends – from activity to activity. That certainly felt cool.

My brothers are both drivers of long distances as well. When my nieces and nephews were in school, 2.5 hours from the community where they were raised, it was nothing for my brother and sister-in-law to drop everything, drive down to them and take them out to dinner or something and drive back. My other brother will drive hours north to “his” jointly owned fishing lodge to do engine maintenance or to fix something. Two of my nieces decided to start a main street, touristy summer business in Grand Bend, a daily one hour one way drive for 12 hour shifts. We, in our family, drive a lot and don’t seem to mind it.

This week has been one of the harder ones to manage, schedule wise, but it has worked out okay. I wound up staying in NewMarket after my Tuesday night hockey game at a funny little motel I discovered at the north end. It is clean, feels safe and inexpensive (I think I’m getting a deal now), and has a free breakfast. So, I can get up very early, hit the road home for the last hour and 15 minutes and be in front of my computer screen by 9 a.m., ready to go. On Wednesday morning, I tried to avoid the mass exodus of people going south on the 404 and took Old Yonge St. north to Mount Albert Road. This took me on a narrow road though some picturesque valleys with the requisite mist softening the sunrise. It was really gorgeous.

I came home last night from a work/social event and arrived in pretty good time, about 10:20 p.m. Driving through the inky dark night, zig-zagging through the rural back roads of Ontario, having time to quietly process all that is current or pressing in my life, listening to an audio book or CBC … it doesn’t feel at all like a burden or waste of time. It feels normal and necessary. I’m glad to have some ability to negotiate the timing of the driving and I am often overcome with gratitude for the generous and welcoming friends who let me stay with them in Toronto on the nights when the drive isn’t negotiable.  But the drive itself? Sometimes … to me … it is one of the most magical parts of living out the city.

Failure … It’s A Good Thing 2 comments

There is a bizarre sort of deja vu that comes from teaching the same material to different groups three times a week. The first time it is fresh, although perhaps not “new”. If not enough time passes between the first class and the second class, serious deja vu sets in. For me this term, the second class happens hot on the heels of the first one, a mere one hour later. It is going to be hard to keep the energy up for this class. I repeatedly had the feeling of “Didn’t I just say this?” The weird thing was that they actually laughed in the right places, even though I had the feeling that I “just did this”. A bit disorienting. The third class happens 24 hours later, thank goodness, and I have had time to shake off the first two. Still, I could feel myself getting a bit punchy. I am grateful that my Friday late afternoon (and I do mean late afternoon) class was equally as giddy last week and that made for an unexpectedly fun and energized class.

I should just say, as an aside, that I’m glad that acting/theatre thing didn’t work out. I can’t imagine keeping 6-8 performances a week “fresh”!

New faculty training, lo these almost 10 years past, included a session on classroom management issues. One of the suggestions I kept from that session is the discussion of my expectations of student behaviour in the course and I have adopted this as part of the first class for every course I teach.  The “expectations” page is about one and a half pages long and I go through it, section by section, trying to keep it light but letting them know I’m serious … all at the same time. We discuss the reasons for some of these expectations, why they are important. One of the sections is labelled “No Personal Attacks”. At this point in the class, I usually draw two little stick figures on the board and show the happy stick figures sharing their ideas in a realm quite separate from their physical beings.  Keeping the discussion in the realm if ideas, and not in the realm of “the person” is an important, nay, critical, distinction to make.  People can disagree with each other’s ideas without, in fact, needing to disagree with each other’s value as human beings. However, people fear that sharing ideas will result in others making judgements based on those ideas – and this is not a groundless fear to have. We do tend to do this, and part of the shift I like to see communications students make is to develop the discipline NOT to rush to judgement quite so quickly. This shift takes time, of course. I like to introduce the concept as a basic rule of operation in my classroom environment and, later, as a concept supporting team work.

So, by the end of the week, I had drawn my little stick figures multiple times, and tried to find different ways of saying “play nice … be kind … critique ideas, not people … healthy disagreement is force for creative good … what are some phrases we can use in this situation? … ” and, on my way home on Friday, with all this echoing in my head, I had a revelation of my own.

I ended 2009 feeling exhausted and pretty low and, although the end of 09 had its challenges, I’ve had rough patches before and not felt so defeated. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what else was wrong. Then, I realized that I had a lot of “big plans” for 2009, some as New Year’s resolutions and some as just personal goals … and I didn’t make much progress on any of them. I was experiencing the nagging feeling of having failed myself, of having lost focus. And I was beating myself up pretty good about that.

It seems to me that I forgot a couple of things.

Thing #1 – Failure is good.

Years ago, I took one of those self-improvement courses and one day the instructor said this:

If you haven’t failed recently, you are not doing enough.

At the time, once I thought it through, it made a great deal of sense to me. Of course! Statistically, if we are doing lots of things, we are going to fail at some of them. We are going to screw up, say the wrong thing, start the wrong project, piss the wrong person off. People who don’t take enough risks don’t experience a lot of success. Sometimes, “failure” is the price of success. We also learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.

Thing #2 – Stick Figures Rock

I forgot to be one of my stick figures for a moment, and I let the sense of failure get too close to me, personally, and not remain in the realm of the external. My “failures”, if they were that, existed outside of me. They are not “me”.

Thing #3 – Expectation Management

Setting expectations, or personal goals, or New Year’s Resolutions – I generally think these are good things to do. Somehow, though, I let an unconscious adherence to these specific and particular outcomes obliterate the beauty and the busy-ness and the fun of 2009. In 2009, I learned so much and laughed so well with such amazing people in my life. I learned to be more “in the moment”. I needed some help and I got it. I felt loved. How can a person wander around feeling gloomy about THAT? (Seriously, girl, get a grip … ) Long-time readers may recall my image at the beginning of 2006 in which I wanted a “burger with everything on it, extra pickle, with the juices running down my arms as I devour it” kind of year. I’d say 2009, most of it, came pretty darn close.

I still want to achieve some of those things on my 2009 list and, oddly, I feel more ready and focused to get there now. Maybe I wasn’t ready a year ago.

So, a new week begins and there are more stick figures to be drawn. I wonder what they will tell me this week?

Alrighty … 2 comments

… now we're gettin' somewhere … 🙂 … Please come to the New Handbasket (Blogging v 3.0) and please remember to update your subscriptions at the new site.

I'll be more of a lurker/reader over here now … and will try to make my presence known with commentary and just general rabble-rousing … so much fun to meet so many cool people here @ Vox.

Stay well, all …

V

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TypePad’s Loss … WordPress’ Gain 5 comments

Well, after almost two weeks of pulling my hair out and getting nowhere that I wanted to be, I've pulled the plug on my TypePad account and am self-hosting WordPress. I'm thrilled … WordPress is slick, "problems" are easy to solve, it looks great and gives me (almost) total control. I just started things up yesterday afternoon and am already farther ahead than I was yesterday. Lots more work to do and no time to do it today, but here is my latest work in progress. I have a different look in mind eventually … but the current template will do for now.

(with apologies to karen and others in the six apart universe … )

Five Reasons TypePad Lost My Business:
Interface too hard to use. It feels like one of those things that is intuitive for the people who built it and can visualize the relationship between the structure of the GUI and the architecture … but it is NOT easy for folks who did not participate in its development.

Results poor. No matter how much the various "help" menus assured me I could do this or that with the design, it never quite worked out as it should. Or as I would wish it.

Promised functionality not delivered. Come on. I signed up for TypePad years and years ago, for free I think, under a completely different alias. For reasons beyond my understanding, when I upgraded my old account and started to add folders of content and different blogs, the original folder structure and naming conventions stuck and my new material NEVER appeared anywhere that could have a domain mapped to it. Come on. This isn't rocket science, it is Networking 101. Folder structures. Naming conventions. Pointing. Addressing. Get with the program people. This is what you are supposed to know how to do. Furthermore, widgets promising this or that functionality never worked, nor did they ever really "look" right when placed in the sidebars.

Customer service … too little, too late. I was assured yesteday, after many days of not hearing from anyone and me pleading for information, that they were "working on" the domain mapping problem and would have it fixed "within a week". A week?!? I'm at the second highest level of membership, this has been a stupid problem since day one, the entire crux of why I'm doing this blog switch involves me being able to map specific domains to specific locations … and you are going to take almost three weeks to let me know whether or not this is even possible?!? When your own bumpf assures users that it is "a breeeze"? What other delights await?

I'm paying for this? Given all the above, what exactly is it that I'm paying for? At the second highest level of membership?

I will say that TypePad made membership cancellation easy and they sent me a survey that allowed me to communicate all this effectively and, I hope, constructively. But, as of mid-afternoon yesterday, I'm a total WordPress convert. I'd been afraid of the self-hosting option as being possibly too complex for me, but it turns out that it is pretty damn easy. And I'm already paying for the privilege so this is actually "free" for me.

I feel like my blogging self is almost back on track now after being lost in the wilderness. Hurrah! 🙂

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Here I Am Again 3 comments

It was 1990, late summer/early fall. First L-T love and I were living in a gorgeous, quirky apartment over a tailor shop on Church St. in St. Catharines. I had a rather fun job with a steel distribution company that included bookkeeping on a new-fangled computer program called "Gem", making inside sales calls, and using a forklift to load and unload steel from the trucks as they arrived at the warehouse. I was the only "worker", other than the outside sales people – all men. There were four – count'em four – senior managers, only two of whom were actively involved in the day to day running of the joint. It was a cool little entrepreneurial venture launched by a bunch of senior execs from Toronto who were tired of living in the big city and wanted a taste of small town life. Basically, I got to do everything including, on occasion, accompany them on their negotiation trips with the larger steel suppliers.

Things were going ok, for the most part. Computers as integral parts of our lives were not yet present and, yet, this small exposure at work intrigued me. Through a family connection, I had an opportunity to buy a "real" computer for a vastly reduced – at the time – price. I remember it clearly: $2,500 got you a 386 Pentium and a 14" monitor, a dot matrix printer and Windows 3.0, running over MS DOS 5.1. Actually, it was a brief flirtation with something IBM called "PC DOS" round about then as they were feeling a wee bit pissy with Mr. Gates. Anyway, at the time, I didn't know anything about all that. Based on the stability of my job, I went and got a line of credit at the bank and invested in the computer as, at this price, at the time, it was a steal. We hauled the very large boxes home, took an entire day to set it up, and stared at it for a long time. Figured out how to turn it on and watched with frustration as Windows revealed its penchant for the blue screen of death.

Almost immediately after making this investment, I got laid off. The senior execs had a falling out amongst themselves, much legal wrangling, and the whole operation was being moved to a new location, far away.

Because the special opportunity to buy the computer was through an employee program, there was no returning it for a refund. I now had debt and a big plaster-coloured monster on my desk that I had no idea what to do with. Or what it could do.

It came with something called a 2600 baud modem and a phone cable. I plugged it in.

What followed was three months, the better part of a winter, of me getting up, kissing my partner good-bye after making coffee and having breakfast, and heading upstairs to sit in front of this … thing … for eight to ten hours a day, figuring it out. It wasn't like I was forcing myself to do it. I was drawn to it. I learned all about MS/PC DOS (same diff), learned how Windows "sat on top" of it, learned command lines, learned the limitations of Windows as an "operating system", learned how to use the modem (uh oh), and learned about Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs). Me and my coffee, pre-Internet, pouring over books, cranking up the long distance bills, and learning almost strictly and entirely by trial and error.

I learned a lot. I sat with my L-T partner's brother, someone who passed for a computer geek at the time, and would listen to his lively explanations of the internal workings of the computer and that really helped. I tried to ask intelligent questions but, not being formally trained, I felt really quite inadequate and in awe of anyone who actually Knew How These Things Worked.

By the end of the winter self-directed tutorial, I had started two businesses, one of which I sold 20 months later after starting it from nothing. (That business taught me the basics of databases.) The other lives on, after several morphs, as my consulting practice.

Flash forward – wow – eighteen years. In some respects, I'm still sitting here, pointing and clicking and wondering what will happen next. But, this week especially, it feels like I'm back at square one.

See, I'm branching out my creative and business online activities. I'm in the process of moving this blog, The HandBasket, to TypePad. I have plans for an additional five, count'em five, blogs that will also be on TypePad. Here on Vox, we are all producing content and driving traffic to vox.com from which they benefit enormously in terms of ad revenues. One could be resentful of this, but it isn't until one has tried to set up a blog, including domain mapping and advertising, from scratch, in the still quite buggy TypePad interface that one appreciates the slickness and cozy-cushy comfort of Vox.

Of course, Vox and TypePad are part of the same company, so many elements feel somewhat familiar. But the experience of "blogging" is quite different in the TypePad world. First – and this is what I'm working on now – the creation of a visually-attractive look/feel for the blog is trickier for those of us who are not particularly design-oriented. I'm thanking my lucky stars that I have retained some sense and basic "hunt/peck" skill about HTML and CSS. Still, I'm never sure what is possible or desirable, design-wise. It is – as it was eighteen years ago – all trial and error. I keep trying stuff and thinking, oh, I like that or euw that sucks. This will take a while.

Then there are crazy bugs, like trying to put one's blog on FeedBurner and being told that the feed is not verifiable. Then going through the verification process to slice out, line by line, the orphan/stray code that has been inserted but will not pass the feed test. Ref. my gratitude at having a passing familiarity with HTML.

Then there are "widgets". I've inserted about a dozen of them into the new HandBasket, only to find that they don't actually work without significant tweaking, some of which require a fair amount of fiddly concentration and not a small amount of frustration.

There is the interaction, selection and placement of ads which, in TypePad , will be entirely under my control. According to the stats monitor I've been keeping, The HandBasket (at Vox) has drawn an oddly consistent and ever-growing flow of traffic however I have NO expectation that it will be a money-maker for me. I'm using this blog as my sandbox at TypePad to figure out how it all works and what works best in terms of layout and types of ads. As with my experience eighteen years ago, it is a matter of trial and error. I feel that once I get this process in place and under my belt with The HandBasket, even with no expected revenues, the creation of several "real" revenue-generating blogs will be much easier.

There seems to be a myriad of tools out there promising great things in terms of keeping track of stats, providing search functionality, feeds, hits, bounces, referrers, etc. etc. Again, trial and error … good solid learning that also takes the most time.

Then, there is the domain-mapping issue. TypePad makes this seem fairly straight-forward but, in reality, something has screwed up in their folder structure that has made it impossible for me to map my totally cool new domain names to anything in my TypePad account. They have acknowledged this and are working on the problem, apparently. I think it is only a matter of aligning the folders properly.  (Cut to visual of me drumming my fingers on the table.)

Oh, and for reasons not yet known to me, I can't upload files through the upload button on the toolbar. Control panel, yes. Upload button, no. (More finger drumming.)

See, here at Vox, this is all pre-fab. When it is time to write, one logs in, clicks create, and away you go. Wanna change your design? Click on "design" and click on a template. Boom, done. Wanna upload something? No problem. I'm trying to create a similarly cosy environment for myself as a creative sort of person at TypePad. I want to log in, understand the shortest, clearest route to expressing myself, and have it done. Afterall, there is a huge relationship between form and content. If I don't find the process or the results pleasing, I won't keep at it. This learning curve has given me a new appreciation for the effort that has gone into creating Vox and I feel less resentful for the lack of ad revenue sharing.

It sure reminds me of that intense learning time, oh so long ago, when I had to force myself to channel my creativity through a technological interface I did not completely understand. Let's hope my results yield something pleasing to both me and you, dear readers.

Watch my work-in-progress at the not-yet-launched new HandBasket. Stay tuned for the new domain name which I'll announce at the point in time when I'm ready to fully switch from Vox. Which is not yet. The search thingy doesn't work, the ads aren't quite right, and I'm not happy with the lay-out yet. But I'll get there … 🙂

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If The World Could Vote … 2 comments

This reminds me of that song …

I'd like to teach the world to vote
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms and keep it company
I'd like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills "Ah, peace throughout the land"

But in lieu of teaching the world to vote, here is a web site that is collecting, in a highly non-scientific manner, votes from around the world. A world opinion on the US election. Kinda neat … worth visiting.

Check out the bar graphs on the results page. Some surprising stuff there. Of the countries that I have a particular interest in …

Canada is 88.4% in favour of Obama, out of 73,183 votes thus far. I'm disappointed this percentage isn't higher but, hey, we just re-elected Stephen Harper with a bigger minority government so he could make cabinet ministers out of one in four of his MPs. To govern 33 million people, apparently Mr. Harper needs a cabinet of 38 ministers, larger than that deployed by the UK (22), the US (15), and most other Western nations. He needs a lot of help, obviously.

Denmark is 95.2% in favour of Obama, out of 9,836 votes. My experience of Denmark is skewed as a tad more right wing than this.

Iran is 80.6% in favour of Obama, out of 3,270 votes. Fascinating. Too bad they don't skew this way for their own elections.

Lebanon is 87.9% in favour of Obama, with 406 votes. Maybe the electricity isn't on long enough for them to build up voting momentum.

Liberia has offered 100% of its five votes to Obama. See note above re. electricity. Burkina Faso and Burundi have each managed seven votes, 71.4% and 85.7% in favour of Obama, respectively.

Mauritius (pop. 1.25 million people) weighs in with a whopping 2,118 votes @ 92.2% in favour of Obama. Seriously?!? 2,118 votes? 1,712 more than Lebanon? No wonder the Internet connection is sketchy – everyone is using up the bandwidth voting at this site.

Sri Lanka (pop. 21.1 million people) can only manage 269 votes and tilts towards Obama as well, by about 92.2%. My dear Sri Lankans seem almost lazy by comparison to the Mauritians.

Uganda, with its 179 votes, is also in favour of Obama, by 92.2%. Call me crazy, but I don't find this especially comforting, somehow.

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When The Gods Seek To Punish … Click Here To Comment!

Me: Wow – it is 7:35 p.m. and here I am, home from an early hockey game. After … how many nights in a row out/entertaining? … I can relax for an evening. Put my feet up. Watch a hockey game. Putter around. Maybe answer some of the … let's see … 48 e-mails waiting for me … write something interesting … set up the new blogs … great!

Big smile on my face. 🙂

EXACTLY two minutes later, the gods of such things responded with the second false fire alarm in as many days. It is now 8:31 p.m. and the piercingly loud alarm, the kind that makes you want to rip the speaker out of the wall, is STILL sounding. The fire department has been and left. And still the alarm goes. On and on …

Yes, I have a "nice evening at home". No, it is not quiet. NOT amused. 🙁

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Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Give Blood This Weekend 5 comments

10. It is probably the only time in your adult life that you'll get to eat Dad's Oatmeal Cookies.

9. The Dad's Oatmeal Cookies come with kinda yummy fake peach juice, in unlimited quantities.

8. When you donate for the first time you get a cool red and white enamel pin.

7. When you donate for the third time, you get an even BETTER cool red and white enamel pin!

6. *Some of the nurses are cute. (*Note qualifier.)

5. With all the fake blood you will see this weekend, it is grounding to spend time around the real stuff.

4. You will learn whether or not your iron levels are up where they should be (esp. women).

3. You can test your poise and composure as the very professional intake nurse asks you some very personal questions. In a very non-sexy, non-flirty way. (Don't flirt with this nurse.)

2. If you, or someone you care about, wind up in an unfortunate way (goddess forbid) and in need of blood products in the near future, you'll be grateful to every single person who donated in advance to help.

And, finally, the most important reason …

1. Canadian Blood Services is running critically low on blood products of almost every description and they need your blood. Now.

Here is a link to a clinic locator.
http://www.bloodservices.ca/centreapps/clinics/InetClinics.nsf/CVSE?OpenForm

Go. It only takes a hour. It only hurts a little. Remember … there are cookies after! 🙂

Pass it on.

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Phew 2 comments

I forgot about the mid-term thing that happens to instructors each semester. In addition to keeping up with class prep and general administrative stuff related to teaching, there is usually a boatload of papers, assignments and mid-term tests that all seem to arrive at the same time. You can try to plan it out differently, but it always seems to happen that there is a time crunch in the middle of term. You can't ask more of students earlier, in terms of major assignments, as they are just getting their feet under them. You really have to get some work in, assessed, graded and returned to them so they know where to improve before the end of term. As of last night, I'm done with the bulk of it. I'm behind on a few things but that will get all caught up by the end of the day today.

I've had several weeks of practically no unstructured time at all. Even my social engagements have been blocked in as has prep time to cook for friends, which I'm always thrilled to do. I love that so much. So, I don't mean to say that "no unstructured time" = "no fun". It has had to be calculated, planned-for fun. And there has been plenty of it, I'm happy to say.

But if I don't get some time to putter around my house, write, stare out the window, sip my coffee, listen to CBC, blog, write some more … I'm going to bust a vessel in some critical place, I swear.

Here is my new favourite lamb curry recipe. I have no idea if it is "low fat" but it doesn't use any coconut milk or other dangerously thigh-busting ingredients. The "rich" taste comes from cooking down apples, raisins, onions and lemons. (I always use more onions than called for, and I always buy the "sweet" onions, even for cooking.) Here is my new "standard" channa masala, which appears to be vegan. I love the vagueness of some of the measurements here – It really does mimic how I cook. I made this Baked Seitan from a recipe right here off Method's Vox blog about vegan cooking, and it totally rocked, although I don't recommend it in a curry. As happens in the blogosphere, I have no idea who this person is, but she takes photographs of vegan food that make this omnivore think twice. And her recipes rock. 

I think I'm going to spend a chunk of this winter learning how to make better curries, although the folks who have sampled the lamb seemed pretty pleased with my efforts. I think I can do better, especially if I can find more "low-fat" recipes.

Because I forgot about the mid-term thing, I booked a bunch of social stuff into these last few weeks. I wouldn't change any of it … might spread it out a little more next time. 🙂 This past weekend was a big "foodie" weekend, as was the weekend previously …

Thursday night, late after class: Shopping for cooking projects. I was the woman staggering out of Bulk Barn at 10:00 p.m. carrying items I only vaguely understood how to use. Like "nutritional yeast". What the hell is that?

Friday: Cooking curries, baked seitan, vegan meat loaf … almost all day.

Friday night: Ethiopian Food with Jan. I really want to book their coffee ceremony sometime. The place smells so invitingly of frankencense and other spices. A really cosy, yummy spot.

Saturday morning: Breakfast with Cate, which is alway a treat. We restricted ourselves to poached eggs and eschewed, rather than chewed, breakfast meats. So well behaved, we were.

(Insert frantic grading and house-cleaning here)

Saturday evening: The long-promised home cooked vegetarian meal for the Woman With Beautiful Arms (WWBA). This followed me being put through my paces at the gym as I too wish to acquire beautiful arms. I hope chick peas have sufficient requisite protein for muscle repair.

Sunday morning: After another frantic cleaning / grading session, I joined a group of dim sum lovers at the Bright Pearl on Spadina for a total dim sum blow-out.

(Insert further grading, final food prep and frantic ironing here.)

Sunday evening: The long promised curry dinner for R and M-A. Freddie was a most excellent hostess and made her guests feel right at home.

Monday morning: Get up at 5:45 a.m. to do some power skating.

Just had to throw that last one in … 🙂

Somehow, after all that food, I managed to weigh in yesterday at my lowest all-time weight since starting to focus on weight loss, and I lost 1.25 inches off my waist in a week, which is a bit shocking.

There isn't a single item I would change or trade in the above itinerary – loved it all. Having so many terrific, amazing and beautiful people in my life is such a blessing and makes me very happy. What I excluded here was discussion of the time commitment to my dog, who has been with me for most of October, and the management of a new client that I took on earlier this month. I think I need a breather. 🙂

(Note to Readers: The Handbasket, i.e. this blog, will shortly be moved to a new home, after two years of cozy comfort here at Vox. The link to the new home will be made available when the switch is all set up, likely within the next few weeks. I hope you will join me there!)

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