Ali Kira's Musings...

thoughts on a life filled with adventure

Making lemonade
People often say that if life gives them lemons, they ought to make lemonade.

And well yesterday was a good example of that: You see, Monday night I started having back pain which interrupted my sleep horribly (it didn't help that someone snowblowed the sidewalk by my bedroom window at 4 in the morning). My back was in pain for two full days but it quieted down by the time I awoke yesterday (though it was still tender and I didn't want to overdo things).

With all my decluttering, I really didn't want to leave the house and jar my back on the ice either -- this I suspect is the reason my back started hurting on Monday night -- I must have jarred it or twisted it suddenly in my rush to get to majorly delayed buses on Monday night. So yesterday instead of going to a lecture I really wanted to attend or a few community league events that were of good interest, I did something good for me, and did some chores, decluttering, and basically took it easy enough. I even cooked a nice crock pot full of udon soup broth (so I'll have at least three more delicious meals (probably more) of delicious soup!) and the serendipity of my being home meant that a mistake that someone else made resulted in a wonderfully sociable evening chat with some friends for an hour or so later in the evening, purely because I was home.

There are some certain positives of my not being as busy these days... I've been able to catch up on household things. I've been able to sleep. I've been able to job hunt more. I mean sure, I loved the busy-ness of the Elections Canada job (really it was a great experience on the whole), but it's good to not be working 12 hour days these days. And sure the lack of income lately is a huge frustration, but I'm trying to make lemonade out of each incident where life gives me lemons these days. Looking on the bright side of life is easy -- there's so much to be thankful for (and no, it's not Thanksgiving here, that was in October, but American Thanksgiving is just as fine a day to give thanks as any other!).

So while I busy myself with chores, and think up ways to improve my life and the lives of others, I'm pretty happy that I've been able to take less fortunate moments (eg. back pain) and turn them into a form of productivity... and enjoy the serendipitous moments that life brings.

Decluttering and the Buy Nothing Day Free Market!
So every year around this time, I go through my home and attempt to declutter a bit. This is done partially with the intent of helping keep my pack-rat-ish tendencies under control, but also with the side benefit of helping other people. You see my Kiwanis club (and other Kiwanis clubs and the local CKI clubs in Edmonton as well) has been hosting the Buy Nothing Day Free Market for the past 7 years (and this year will be the 8th year of this event. It's a great event where people bring in things they no longer want/need (useful things, of course) and people pick up items that they do want or need. I'm always happy if I rid myself of more than what I bring home from the event (and more happy if I bring home maybe less than 10% of what I bring in).

And over the years I've picked up some rather awesome stuff. Greeting cards, books that I had been meaning to read, the occasional CD, sometimes a clothing item or two, and some kitchen ware have been some personal finds that I've been rather happy with! Quite honestly, I never know what I'll find one year to the next. And that's part of the joy of this free event that serves the community at large. No money exchanges hands but a lot of useful goods do.

I really love seeing the smile on people's faces when they find something that they really want or need. Once a woman outfitted her whole family with winter gear from the market, and they were new to Canada let along Edmonton. I've seen students really happy to be able to outfit their kitchens with items so they could spend their limited resources elsewhere. Others have found good gag gifts for holiday exchanges or sometimes great games or craft materials. And I've seen family and friends benefit from the opportunity to declutter or to pick up great items.

I benefited this year from a friend who will be bringing some of my items to the market in her car. This meant that when I started going through and weeding my bookshelves and other supplies in my house (I'm not done yet!) I was able to strategize how much I'll be able to carry to the event I've got some good hardcover, softcover, graphic novels, comic books, fiction, and reference books coming to the market this year. That plus a bunch of miscellaneous items and my house will be just that little bit less cluttered.

I realize I STILL need more bookshelf space for the books that I do have... but my shelves do look happier. Generally I only rid myself of books that I doubt I'll ever reread or recomend to someone else. Personal favourites don't leave my library though there are some rather great items going to the Free Market this year. And media of various forms will be leaving my home for the market as well. Pretty much the same weeding criteria was used (with the exception of format -- some items I've since acquired in more modern forms).

I have yet to go through most of the other rooms of my house to declutter but I like to think that this is a great opportunity and hope that I don't make too many rash decisions! :)

The Annual Holiday Wishlist Post
Won't be a traditional one this year, really. Seeing as family have started to post/send their wishlists my way again, I figured it was time to type a bit about mine. And mine is pretty simple. I still have my Amazon wishlist which I try to keep updated with items I find around the internet and Amazon that I might actually rather appreciate, though there's a certain focus on books on that list for somewhat obvious reasons.

But what do I actually wish for right now? The #1 item is a job. I want a fullfilling-ish one, preferably one that will pay my bills. Realistically I will be happier when I start getting more interviews again. I've blogged about this at least once this month -- it's a source of stress/worry, but I really do want/need a job. My savings/investments won't last me forever. But more importantly than that I want to move further along my career path toward awesome!

Secondly, having financial resources to worry less about my vacation expenditures come February would be nice. It'll be nice if I have the spare cash to not really worry about the cost of Disney, Universal, and Cirque. Certainly I'll have paid for the cruise by then (that'll happen in the next week or so) but I'll be spending money on hotels and food outside of the cruise itself and that's costly. I'm super excited for ziplines and the Kennedy Space Centre among other things... but the financial worry attached to this vacation is less than ideal. I know I need the vacation and I'm really looking forward to it, however so it's no big deal in the grand scheme of things. Getting a job would help with that (a financial windfall would too, but I'm not going to be fiscally irresponsible and spend on lotto tickets or anything).

My third wish is for other people I care about to have awesome holidays/fewer worries. I want to spoil the folks I care about with time/attention etc. I'm really enjoying this fall/winter as of yet (yes the snow today is pretty crazy when you compare this accumulation to what was there a couple of days ago) but I want to wish others happiness and good vacations (and have these good experiences too but really, that's less important in the grand scheme of things).

So to reiterate, my big wishes are really job related, whereas sure there's always little things on my wishlist but most of them are little rather than big as the one on the employment front. I wouldn't say no to a whole bunch of financial goodness, of course, but the priority is to become gainfully happily employed again and that's something I'm working on these days. So we'll see what the future holds but I'll remain hopeful. And yeah, if you're looking at physical goods to send my direction, my wishlist is probably a good starting point.

Cruise (and vacation planning) Excitement!
So today was the day that the JoCo Cruise announced (and eventually opened for booking) the shore excursions for the cruise for 2016. And I was over the moon excited -- even though that means today was a pretty expensive day (this week will be expensive with lots of bills to pay of various sorts anyhow).

Seeing as I got booked into the two (and only two) excursions I really wanted, I'm pretty pleased. I'm sure that if/when I get off the boat for other shore visits I'll have a perfectly fine time without excursions. Exploring the beach should be fine regardless. In any case, I'm excited and slowly planning this vacation of mine as the days pass.

This month is the month where my final bill is due for the general cruise itself. And I'll have no problems paying it (though I'd really much prefer a better US exchange rate), but money's tighter than I would otherwise prefer: I can afford this vacation primarily because I left my stable job in the spring, but of course doing so provided much uncertainty and that uncertainty stresses me a bit, even while I'm getting excited about a real true vacation sans conference or convention to attend (not that I dislike conferences or conventions, but this'll be a vacation for me!).

I've also narrowed down my options for the Orlando portion of my trip -- I think I've decided to spend a day at Universal Studios and a day at Epcot, as well as an evening at Cirque and a couple of days of simple downtime at hotels (though one of those days of downtime will be more busy seeing as I'm staying at the JoCoCruise hotel for a while...).

I'm hoping that my strategy of booking a solo vacation into a cruise filled with fellow geeks/awesome people means that if/when I want social time I'll get it and make some good friends too. And there seems to be enough introverted people going on this cruise that if I want to escape and have some downtime that'll be perfectly A-OK too. It'll be hard to decide just how much of what to do with my time... especially since I rather do love playing board games, literature, music and whatnot. It'll be a cruise FILLED with things to do and hopefully the chance to meet a few folks that I've been a fan of for a while and/or whom I've yet to discover/meet. Currently I've not met any of the other attendees and so that'll be interesting (if perhaps a bit daunting) when it comes to experiences... though Jon has assured me that at least a few of the cruise goers are rather good people to interact with in person so there's that.

Hopefully I'll get all my anxieties/worries re: cruise vacation out of my system long before actually leaving in February... but in the interim, I suppose I'll get alternatively excited/worried. And right now I'm concerned that I'll have such a good time that I'll want to budget to go again in other subsequent years, but not be able to afford it. Of course, as far as worries go, that's not utterly impossible to deal with.

Some folks really like playing games casually. Others really like playing competitively in one off games. I think, based on my experiences as of late, I rather enjoy playing board and card games in tournament format. This is a reason I seek out and make the trek down to Table Top Cafe when they put on a tournament of some sort. Sure, there are games I prefer over others, of course, but I really enjoy the challenge of playing the same game multiple times or over the course of a number of hours against multiple other people. Even if I don't perform particularly well, I find it enjoyable. And that's the thing: for me it's less about winning even in tournament play than it is about enjoying myself.

Today I took part in a 7 Wonders tournament at Table Top Cafe, and found it to be remarkably enjoyable. Sure, I didn't win or place, but that's not what it's all about. I won my last game which felt good after placing a close third a couple times. I really enjoy 7 Wonders because it's a board game where there are numerous good strategies, you don't know if you're winning or losing until the very end, and because you're realistically mostly only impacting the strategies of your neighbours directly (this depends on the size of the game too, but yes). 7 Wonders is certainly among my very favourite tournament games to play.

There's simply something about playing tournament board games/card games that I rather like. I wish I knew all of the dynamics involved because it has got to be something more than just the fact that it's established -- I seek out tournaments long before playing a freestyle game or a hosted game at an event and that kind of strikes me as a bit odd. I enjoy tournament style poker over casino style poker too. I know it limits my options quite a bit when it comes to what games to play, realistically: certain board and card games are not conducive to tournament play (and I do rather like cooperative board and card games generally.

Similarly I shy away from TCGs and LCGs (trading card games or living card games) partly because of the inherent costs of participating in tournaments but also because it just seems cumbersome to collect so many cards (yes I still collect expansions to regular games that also cost me time and money and space so I'm not sure how accurate that is).

Sometimes I wonder if my desire to play board/card tournaments stems in part from my great familiarity with sports tournaments (at which my brothers often excelled whereas I was never the most skilled at sporting activities, though I was determined to do a good job insofar as I was able). I mean I'm familiar with the format -- I spent countless hours at hockey arenas growing up and competed in swim meets culminating in regional and provincial meets as a kid. There certainly are similarities.

But maybe it's just that I enjoy the challenge. Or that the playing field is set up such that I might get some sort of reward for my having played. Maybe that is why I have a prize bin for folks who win games played at my place (I rather should host again sometime soon as it's been a rather long time since my last board game event). It doesn't even need to be a tangible reward usually either -- the joy of having played is often enough -- then again I did rather appreciate getting an alternative art card for 7 Wonders only this afternoon...

Genealogy... one of the world's most popular hobbies
Since early in the summer, I've been poring over the genealogy records I have access to from my father and slowly (and I mean it when I say slowly) entering them into wikitree. I've been ever so pleased with this free wiki-based website, especially since it does a good job of preserving the privacy of living family members and of others, but it being a free website (unlike many of the other paid websites that one might use for genealogy research) and it being wiki-based means that I can collaborate with others interested in genealogy whose research connects with the data I am entering. Plus it gives me the option of things like linking to a publicly shareable family tree like mine which still preserves a certain amount of privacy.

It's really fascinating to go through all of this data and find out where it intersects with what others have put on the site and find out random factoids like how many degrees of separation one has with some famous people or something. And wikitree allows for some of these more fascinating pieces of information. Another website with regards to genealogy that I stumbled across (via social media) today was I liked it because I could do things like find out how common a surname is (mine is shared by approximately 658 people worldwide according to their statistics. Forebears reminds me just how many genealogical websites are password protected and just how difficult it is to access specific information even if they can allow you to view stuff in aggregate, like the hypothetical popularity of your surname in a country. What can I say, I like infographics and information visualization in general. I may blame my humanities computing degree on that one in part... ;)

As a librarian, I'm pretty sure that I could pursue my mild interest in genealogy throughout my life (continuing to slowly increase my knowledge of what came before etc.), but I'm starting with the records that my dad has and am moving forward throughout those records. The last time I put concerted effort into my genealogical history was while I was in grade school (and looking at the family tree I drew as a kid is really fascinating). Genealogy is one of the world's most popular hobbies (a fact I learned in library school), and well, libraries spend a lot of time supporting this hobby. Most public libraries will have resources somewhere for helping a person get started on learning more about family history and whatnot. For me I just find it really interesting digging through the data to see what I'll find out. I don't know if I'll be able to add much to what my dad and extended family have already done, but I'm working at figuring it all out. I'm sure that if you're related to me and ask for permissions to have access to certain profile data on wikitree, we'll each be able to help the other get just that little bit further in our searches.

Sure, I may have a rather lot of hobbies that I pursue (and some to a more effective level than others too, but I figured I'd write a little about one of them that I've become just that little bit more enthusiastic about these days). Some months I do little about this one, others I'm really active. It all depends on timing and what else I'm working on. I wonder at how genealogy research will continue to change over time!

The hot beverages of winter
So it's not actually winter yet -- I mean sure, it's starting to get cold and all, but it's not really wintery yet and the start of winter isn't officially until December anyway. But I've gotten into the habit of drinking more wintery beverages as of late and for me that feels good.

I mean tea is a year-round beverage, certainly, but the summer often calls for it to be cold rather than warm, and hot chocolate is more popular in the winter months. I hate coffee (I don't think I've ever managed to drink a full cup of coffee in my whole life and doubt that I ever will be able to choke one down, ugh). I like other hot beverages like cider (usually the non-alcoholic varieties but this varies), mulled wine, the occasional blueberry tea and such, but hot chocolate and hot tea in general seem very much like cold weather beverages.

When I was a kid, I mostly drank powdered hot chocolates and green teas. As an adult while I do have some hot chocolate powders, and really enjoy splurging on a hot chocolate at a Tim Hortons or a more high end coffee or tea shop, I'm a lot more selective. Some hot chocolates upset my stomach and I don't quite know why -- I wish I did. It's an irregular enough occurrence that I haven't yet figured out what it is I ought to be avoiding. Still, I like my hot chocolate and always have some Jiva hot chocolate cubes in my home (plus some other varieties too sometimes like now!). As for tea... well....

I like most kinds of tea. It took a long time before I discovered a tea variety that I truly found repugnant (and unfortunately the name of it escapes my memory but it started with the letter Z and was tried based on the fact that it had been featured in a superman comic that the person with whom I was having tea at the time had read. So I'd say that I like most types of tea. That said, there are some varieties I prefer. For example, peppermint is a pretty much essential tea for me -- I drink it rather frequently and rather enjoy it. My favourite black tea blend is actually the one featured on Charlieissocoollike and is available for purchase at: DFTBA Store. I don't drink it super often mostly because I have to order it to get more, but it's super delicious.

When it comes to other types of tea, I love chai and roiboos, japanese green tea, and many herbal infusions. I'm a fan of trying new varieties too. But I know better than to consumer too much caffeine in one day (I get jittery when I have too much strong tea in a short period of time (I usually brew my tea pretty weakly). I mean heck, I like hot water with lemon or hot water with lime a whole lot as an option as well.

Warm beverages are comforting on a cold or cool day. I like them in the summers too, but they don't have quite the same cachet.

Effective Meetings
So I attend a lot of meetings. Sometimes they're for whatever job I have at the time, but more often than not, they're related to my volunteer passions. Sometimes they're stressful, frustrating, and feel unproductive. At other times they feel convivial, fun, productive and enjoyable. The question is always how does this dichotomy work and how can I get more of these if not daily, weekly experiences to fall into the second of these categories? Here below I will type a bit about the things that can and can't be altered with regards to meetings... maybe I'll come up with ideas to solve the eternal problem of how to make meetings better but we'll see about that.

Location: Now there are numerous things one can talk about location, for example it helps if a meeting location is easily accessible: If I have to take multiple buses and trudge through deep snow just to get to a meeting, I'm going to be a lot less happy by the time I get to said meeting. But I think that location can also really impact a meeting in that if it's well lit, quiet and comfortable, it's going to make for a much more pleasant meeting than if it's loud, too hot or cold, or poorly lit. Sure there are exceptions to these rules, but physical comfort is important!

Rules: I think this really depends on the group one is meeting with. But having commonly agreed upon rules or behaviours that are acceptable and followed really makes a meeting more effective. For some groups this means having a chair, rules of order, and whatnot but for others more casual meeting format is fine. Most important is to not have individual attendees feel like they can't participate as they're being talked over or that their points wouldn't be heard, but also not have the meeting dominated by people talking off topic (some off topicness is pretty much expected in many meeting groups, of course). I find it really off-putting if my report is interrupted or if I don't get to present something I've put a ton of effort into preparing for a meeting or event, and I imagine other people would too.

People handle conflict differently. Having expectations of how to deal with disagreements (eg. are we voting on something, or does the chair have the final say or does the person whose portfolio matches this thing have the final say or does it all come down to whomever holds the purse strings etc.) is important. Some groups seek out consensus, others avoid conflict at all costs, and others enjoy a lively debate as long as people don't become attacky or otherwise start pulling in unnecessary things.

Food? Some of the most enjoyable meetings have been over food/drinks. But this isn't always necessary: indeed shorter meetings don't need such snacks oftentimes. And alcohol is sometimes desirable but for others it just doesn't work. Figuring out what works for your group helps (especially depending on who is paying for it). It's probably best that the food not be overly messy (or have a break during the meeting for the eating portion of it).

Finally: purpose. What is the need for the meeting? What are we trying to accomplish here? Having meetings just for the sake of having meetings is less than useful (of course sometimes there are mandates to do so at a certain frequency), so figuring out how to most beneficially use one's time is important. Having an unpleasant but productive meeting is a whole lot better than having a short pleasant one that didn't get anything done if your group's objectives are to get something done. Setting priorities and knowing what NEEDS to be done and what can be postponed if the meeting starts taking too long is pretty useful.

Some of the best meetings I've attended have been productive, have involved working together successfully and have accomplished things. Some of the worst left me with incredible stress, headaches, and the lack of any motivation to do anything about the things we've discussed. Meetings can be a whole waste of time (especially when one factors in travel time if held at a place one is not normally located near) but they can also be super productive/useful. It really depends on the people, the structure, the goals, and sometimes the location.

The changing state of Oliver
I live in the Oliver neighbourhood in Edmonton. And I've lived there for a rather long time -- over 15 years now. I love this area and am a member (though not a particularly active one) of the community league. So it strikes me as really interesting how the neighbourhood where I live is changing these days.

I received a missed delivery notice from UPS yesterday which points to exactly how dramatic changes are happening. You see, for the longest time packages were held for me at the UPS store on Jasper Avenue, but so when that moved this fall, I expected that packages would be held for me there when I wasn't home to receive them. Unfortunately that's not the case -- they're held at another location (with better hours) further away (closer to downtown which is fine, though not terribly convenient).

Yesterday I walked into Shoppers Drugmart on 114th street and realized how soon it would be that that store would be closing. Literally half of the shelves were bare as they prepared to close this store location and move to their fancy new digs on 117th street in the former Champion Family Foods location.

Similarly this year, there have been quite a few stores that have closed or moved with vacant storefronts making their appearance in the area -- which I guess is unsurprising as the economic climate is changing. Sure there are new businesses in Oliver too, but I'm living in the part where I'm noticing more of them moving away from me, I guess.

When you add that to the fact that there are actual vacant lots from the tearing down of the old Canadian Western Bank building, the former Leamington Mansions site (which burned down in October) and so on, it looks like Oliver will look like a rather different place in a few years time (I assume that new buildings will spring up on the empty lots at some point in the next 5ish years). I would be surprised if the building currently containing Shoppers Drugmart and a medical clinic stays standing too -- it just seems more logical to me that they would eventually build something bigger/better/more dense there too.

When I first moved into the Oliver neighbourhood the area was filled with shorter buildings in general when compared to the area now. The area is becoming more dense, more vibrant, but is still filled with lots of residential and lots of useful services. Turnover is a fact of life in a neighbourhood so close to downtown. And really, downtown itself is becoming a whole lot more vibrant too with many many many more folks living there. I am glad that walking the streets in these areas no longer means the streets are empty in the evenings -- with festivals, bars, restaurants, and fun places (such as escape rooms, board game cafes, comic book stores, theatres, etc.) encouraging folks to spend time in Oliver and Downtown (especially as it gets colder outside -- brr!).

I love Edmonton -- I really truly do. Sure, I want it to improve in various ways over time (and not just in Oliver and the downtown core either -- there are many ways that the city could improve in all areas). A vibrant dynamic community to me needs good transit/transportation corridors/walkability/beautification (and it looks like in the next few years this section of Jasper Avenue will get some loving attention that it needs with regards to these aspects), it needs people living there (and for it to not ONLY be a destination for people to work or play in), and it needs amenities. I've always liked Oliver for this aspect, and am really glad I chose to live here.

The problem with grocery shopping...
... is that it realistically doesn't get all that exciting the more that you do it. I know that since leaving Save-On-Foods, I've chosen to grocery shop a lot more sporadically and at a lot of different places (eg. Shoppers Drugmart, Farmers markets etc.) though Save-On remains my favourite place to buy staple foods etc. I've been told by at least one of my former co-workers that she misses seeing me in the store more regularly. And that's fine. But I guess I'm just not as motivated to spend money on groceries these days. I have SOME food in the house and buy more when there's something I want to make or something I need for a recipe or something, but I guess I regard shopping for groceries as more of a chore than anything else.

Making a list helps. Knowing what I need helps. Having coupons, deal apps etc. helps. But it still doesn't make the necessary chore all that exciting. I mean I know that grocery shopping is a huge part of adulting (or being an adult) but sometimes it feels rather ineffective. As an adult living alone it's rather easy to buy too much of something and have it spoil, but it's also easy to get into a cooking rut. Sometimes I feel my most adventurous when I actually haven't gone grocery shopping for a while and all that is in my house is odds and ends. This means I often make more varied recipes (yesterday I made soup from soup stock, frozen veggies and some noodles). But it also means I get cranky more frequently because it takes a while to cook after I've already gotten hungry -- the less food I have in the house the more indecisive I get about what to make with what I have. And that's no fun.

So grocery shopping is pretty crucial insofar as how tasks go. But it's a balancing act between buying staples that one always uses/needs and buying new and different items that one might find useful for a particular recipe or use-case or something. And I hate wasting money on food that spoils or doesn't get eaten, but I also crave variety. Maybe it's partly that I get stuck in a rut when it comes to what to buy for groceries -- I go in phases where I want to cook all the time and phases where all I want to eat is one item or another. Similarly I sometimes like eating the same thing for multiple meals and at other times I get bored of a particular food way way too fast.

Maybe I'm just trying to convince myself to buy groceries? Regardless, it's a chore that varies in difficulty depending on what makes of it, I suppose.


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