Saturday, 31 December 2011

Take THAT, 2011

As twenty-eleven winds down, I am pretty darned impressed with myself.

Sure, my credit cards are overdrawn and my credit has been spiralling into the crapper for about two years now. Sure, I've missed some opportunities for work because of self-doubt in my technical abilities and anxiety about striking out as a private contractor and a general lack of confidence. Sure, I'm still not vegan and I don't recycle or compost as much as I used to or as much as I should. Sure, I've owed my parents money for over a year that I haven't been able to pay back and that eats me up for not being able to meet my financial obligation to them. Sure, I haven't resumed volunteering on any rape crisis lines.

  • When I go back to work on Tuesday I'll be full-time with a considerable raise and benefits starting immediately
  • I've gotten 2 industry certifications this year that I self-studied for and whose passing grades were rather steep
  • I've seen my sister and nieces more than I have for a few years
  • I've been reading more and that's something that's been languishing on my resolution lists for the past few years
  • I've got 7 healthy pets that are lucky to have me and my partner as furmamas.
  • I understand poverty a hell of a lot better than I ever did, and I think I'm privileged enough that this experience and knowledge will only benefit me in the future
  • I've been more vocal in standing up for myself and asserting what I want and need and demand (see first bullet about the job - it's only because I negotiated these demands that I'm actually getting them)
  • I've gotten a lot better at my job than I was even when I started back at the beginning of June
  • I've been to several marches and rallies this year, and have just been activistical in other ways than in the past, such as with the Metrobus Strike and Slutwalk
  • Of all the regrets I have from this past year, none of them outshine my pride in my accomplishments
I am lucky to say that 2011 has been good to me and that I am looking forward to 2012 being even better. These past few years AD (after-divorce) have allowed me to fling myself off of high cliffs and have the luxury of experiencing the resounding splat when I hit bottom. But at least it was my bottom, on my terms. And all the progress I've made dragging my cumbersome sack of bones back up has been mine. I've been allowed to fail, and I have, and it sucked, but I'm so glad for it.

I am so full of pride in my accomplishments. I'm not going to negate that statement with some hollow uttering of humility. I'm not going to apologize for being proud of myself, as I would have once done. I am proud of myself.

Golly, it feels good to have gotten to this point.

Next post will be a book review on The Girls of Planet 5. Because, omfg, that's why.

Happy New Year's Eve!

Thursday, 29 December 2011


Yes, in case there were any doubt, I'm one of those obsessive sorts who mines Twitter throughout the day and who retweets issues that come to my attention (or pics of kittens, or clever articles - I'm not two-dimensional). Yesterday the issue du jour was the fact that a panda, Sweetie (my gawds, I even know its name) was listed as one of the year's top 12 newsworthy women. Women. Human women, in case that wasn't clear.

From what I've gathered, this is somewhat of a tradition for BBC to include animal nominees, so this year is not entirely exceptional. As it happens, however, the bulk of the BBC's list of noteworthy women that happen to be human leaves much to be desired, as well. As many others have pointed out, the lists just are not even:
Newsworthy male feats in 2011 include, apparently, being a politician (3), being a police officer, being a soldier (3), being an Oscar-winning screenwriter, being an athlete, being a revolutionary martyr, being a fascist mass-murderer who definitely shouldn't have any more sodding publicity, and being shot by the Metropolitan police. To be considered a newsworthy woman in 2011, meanwhile, you have to make an allegation of rape, be a pop star, go on a date with a pop star, get married to a royal, be the sister of someone who got married to a royal, be a royal and get married to someone who isn't a royal, or be a panda called Sweetie. 
My personal issue, specifically, is that this is just one more example of women's accomplishments being dismissed and erased. This #PandaGate isn't a huge deal in a vacuum. However, in a cultural environment where women are still underrepresented in politics, where our culturally-sanctioned role models have to be attractive in order to be valid, where even our access to health care is threaten because we're not trusted to make our own decisions with our bodies, this is just one more kick in the teeth.

Here's a blog that does well to list a lot of notable women from this past year that the BBC missed.

Now, here's the kind of Panda Gate I can really get behind.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

'Tis the season to return

Nerd though I may be, I am absolutely clueless when it comes to gaming systems. I decided when I was a teenager that they took up too much of my life and so I just wasn't interested in devoting my time and energy to them (then came the internet - D'oh!).

As it happens, my partner does not share those sentiments. She has a PS3 and for Christmas her mom got us an XBox 360 with Kinect. So it looks like my days of eschewing said games have come to an end.

Not before I messed up on getting her a game for the wrong system. Oops! So, today is the dreaded return day. The day to stand in line for eva eva, pray I get my money back and not a store credit, and then proceed to blow that money on things we also don't need.

As far as returns go, however, we're not doing too bad. Just two returns to one store and we'll be done with the cursed affair.

And then, shopping for socks and underwear. Awww, yeah. I'm such an adult. Maybe it's a good thing I'll be lured into playing video games so I don't while away the rest of my hours knitting and yelling at whipper-snappers to get off my lawn.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Did you get a computer for Christmas? Don't freak out about setting it up

If you're one of those lucky folk whose loved-ones have the disposable income to have been able to have bought you a computer for Christmas - congratulations!

As a former major electronics retail store employee, there are a few things the big-name stores probably tried to sell your gift-giver on: warranties and pre-setups. There are good and bad things about both of these, so I can't unequivocally endorse or denounce either.

Warranty (aka - you break it, we might fix it):

There are a few important considerations for warranties. For starters, how long is it? Are you conceivably going to still want this device at the end of the one-year manufacturers warranty? If it breaks in one year, are you going to want it fixed or will you want to upgrade?

Also, what does it cover? If it just covers manufacturing glitches, then it might not be worth your while. Any major bugs should be evident within the first year. However, batteries are a different matter. Your battery, with normal usage, will more than likely die before the first year. If you don't care to find out how to preserve your battery life, make sure the warranty covers replacement and that the cost of the warranty isn't above the cost of the battery if that's your only concern. Makes sense, right?

Is it a repair warranty, or an outright replacement guarantee? I know of one particular store that offers a warranty that covers replacement even if you're an irresponsible schmuck and pour a keg on it before tossing it down a flight of stairs and allowing your dog to chew on it. If you look like that kind of schmuck (or your sibling, roommate, partner, etc is), consider that warranty.

If they got the computer recently enough and you decide you do/do not want the warranty and it has/ hasn't been purchased, you usually have 14 - 30 days from the date of purchase to have it added/ taken off the bill. So, it might not be too late to change your mind.

Presetups (aka - do I really want to spend an hour on Christmas morning installing Win7?):

Computers and laptops nowadays come with Windows 7 preloaded in lieu of installation disks. It's not configured, though, so when you bring it home and turn it on for the first time you have to go through the steps of setting your time zone, giving it a computer name, connecting it to your home network, etc.

This isn't an insurmountable task, by any means. If you're literate and have the patience, you can quite easily do this yourself. If you consider a computer to be a scary, mysterious box of worry and woe, then maybe you should have someone else do this for you. If you have family members or friends who are comfortable setting this up for you and have the time, bonus. Otherwise, save yourself the stress and pay someone to do it.

Also, remember when I said Windows 7 doesn't come with installation disks? That means that if your computer encounters a catastrophic failure, you don't have the disks to go back to . If it's not too bad of a failure, you can reinstall Windows from the recovery partition from whence Win7 installed itself when you first turned it on. Otherwise, you might be outta luck.

What can you do about that? When stores preset up your machine, they include a set of recovery disks with your OS (operating system). Or, some systems have an option in Windows to burn the disks yourself. Here's how you do it with an HP.

Long story short, enjoy your new computers, you lucky SOBs. I'm gonna peck away at my Acer Netbook with a missing Windows key for another year or two until I have some disposable income of my own.

No hard feelings, though.


Friday, 23 December 2011

How to be an ally (and less of a jerk)

One of the biggest obstacles I've observed in people being able to act as effective allies in various causes is ego. Not necessarily ego in the sense of "I am all-powerful and all-knowing and all must bow before my awesomeocity" (although that certainly comes up), but ego in the sense of "I'm not wrong, I'm a great person. Why can't you pat me on the back for being so nice?"

To be an effective ally, one does not have to be perfect. One does not have to be subservient or cower in the face of dissent and prostrate themselves before the group they seek to support. But, you do have put your ego aside long enough to consider if you're being a jerk when someone calls you out.

Take, for example, Tom Matlack's recent flop. The original article, in and of itself, was somewhat myopic and offensive. But, allies are human and, as such, are fallible. What dragged this into ludicrous territory, imo, was the follow-up twitter battle and his complete inability to stop being defensive long enough to reflect on why people were reacting badly. The situation was so ludicrous that Hugo Schwyzer wound up resigning from The Good Men Project because of it.

Yes, ok Tom, you've done good things for women. Yes, ok Tom, you're a nice guy. I get it. You're also human. You wrote an article that pissed people off. You also made a move that is not in line with being an ally (playing WATM to the exclusion of women's issues, not accepting responsibility for the offensiveness of your comments, gaslighting feminist reactions, dismissing critcism that was made with the goal of helping you become a better ally). Step back for a minute, stop defending yourself, and think critically about all that's gone down. Shhh, shhh. Don't talk. Just think for a few minutes. Seriously, shush. Oh, ffs, I give up.

There are all sorts of ways to address hiccups. This article discusses two recent and notable examples in sports. A short and eloquent quote explains:
In sport, as in life, we understand that all penalties have the same purpose — to acknowledge that wrong was done and to modify future behaviour.
The Good Men Project article and resulting backlash was an excellent opportunity for Tom to have acknowledged that wrong was done and to modify his future behaviour in the interest of being a better ally. Way to fudge that up.

Allow me to expand on this idea of putting ego aside and give an example conversation and how it can go well and how it can go down the tubes.
Pat: "Did you read that article? Ugh, what a r****d."
Chris: "Yeah, it was pretty ridiculous, but I'd appreciate you not using ableist language."
Now, taking from Tom's example, let's put Pat's ego as a higher priority than being a self-aware ally.
Scenario 1:
Pat: "It's ok, I didn't mean it like that."
Chris: "I know how you meant it, but it's still an ableist term."
Pat: "Chill out. I've got family members who are mentally disabled and I volunteer at a community centre with people with disabilities."
Chris: "Yes, that's all very good and nice. I'd still appreciate you not using ableist language."
Pat: "What's your problem? Why the hell are you attacking me?"
Chris: "I'm not attacking you. I'm just pointing out the harmful language you're using."
Pat: "Pfft. Whatever. Way to freak out."
Chris: "O___o"
And let's see that played out when the big ol' ego doesn't get in the way of self-reflection.
Scenario 2:
Pat: "Sorry, that was ableist."
Chris: "No worries. Wanna get a coffee?"
Pat: "Yuppers."
Doesn't the second scenario make a lot more sense? Group hug.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Holiday wind-down

Less than a full workday left until the holidays kick in, and I've got my paperwork signed to be permanent come January 3rd! Yippee!!!

2011 has been ludicrously busy and turbulent and all-over-the-map, but is wrapping up quite nicely.

I'll do the whole year-in-review, 2012 resolution thing another day. For now, gotta digest my lunch from Montana's with my coworkers and pretend I'm busy for the next two hours.

With my employment agreement I should have demanded access to a cot or hammock. I suppose I'll have to resolve to work on my negotiation skills in 2012.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Seriously, RINJ?

I've worked on and followed a great number of campaigns that seek to address social justice issues. I've seen some flourish and take on a life of their own, and some flop and peter out.

I've never seen one attempt to slash and burn any and all bridges to those who should be allies in the cause. Don't get me wrong. I've seen plenty of interpersonal conflicts and in-fighting. Organizers are only human, after all, and not everyone is made to get along with everyone else.

I've never, however, seen these conflicts taken out from behind closed doors, so to speak, to be played out for an audience, regardless of its effects on the greater good of the campaign.

Until recently. Today I woke up to these bizarre screen shots sent to me by a lovely friend and ally.

I understand wanting to out people who are rape apologists and who create pro-rape content. I am not one of those people. So, what the hell is this? My only contact with RINJ was posting one time a month ago about the merits of opening conversations with people who make rape jokes to better understand why they do this and to figure out to get them to understand the harm in this behaviour. They suddenly deleted and banned me for this infraction without so much as a "We disagree on tactics, kindly don't discuss this here."

Before I was just baffled. Now I'm just pissed. This goes beyond people not knowing what they're doing. This is malicious. Still bizarre, and I still have no idea what their game is. But damned if I'm going to silently shrug it off.

"Rape Is No Joke" is a malicious smattering of childish organizers that are more interested in slandering and alienating those who are working to end rape culture than in actually doing any good.

Edit to add: Apparently I'm still not the only one running into these issues:

Sunday, 18 December 2011

I love being so easily amused

My partner and I just dropped $20 at the Toronto Public Library's book sale and made off with over 100 books. I. Am. In. My. Glory. Most of them are short, cheesy scifi novels.

I'll let you in on a little secret : I love terrible movies and books. Can't get enough of them. My favourite TV show is Mystery Science Theatre 3000, my favourite actor is Bruce Campbell, and until recently I've been entertaining myself with a truckload of Harlequin romance novels from the 70s and 80s that I got at a donation table in Bancroft over Thanksgiving. I hadn't even thought of scifi novels. What a treasure trove!

Part of what draws me to these is that they're short and snappy and I can read them in the bath. Part of my enjoyment of them is nostalgia since I grew up watching AMC and TCM while taping movies off the dish for my grandma. Part of the lure is that they're delightfully offensive in a non-popular-media way. It's like, when a current Hollywood blockbuster is sexist and racist and relies on lazy, offensive stereotypes, I have no patience. When it's a movie or novel from a few decades ago that dives headlong, and blissfully ignorantly into those territories, it's almost charming and nostalgic.

I see it along the same vein as enjoying reading blogs like Manboobz. I'm so far removed from the original posters that I can find humour in their socially backwards stories.

The next one I'm excited about reading is "The Girls from Planet 5". The name and cover alone had me hooked:

The description on the back, which I only read last night, reads like an MRA training manual:

So excited. Gotta go have a bath and tuck in. :)

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Mealtime: Szechuan tofu, garlic shrimp, noodles and rice.

This was my roommate's post. It's a good meal in that it's tasty and easily thrown together with whatever's on hand. So, it's also lazy. Yay!

As you shall soon come to expect from this blog, we don’t exactly measure things out when we cook. It’s more of a “toss somethin in an hope it works” methodology. …or, at least that’s how I do it. This may be a tricky recipe to recreate, as there is a lot of specialty ingredients involved, as well as some prepackaged stuff. So, its kind of like cheating, but we added enough extra stuff to it to make it something special.
What you shall require:

Should you try to recreate this meal, you’ll require a couple things. Sesame Sees Oil, Noodles (FARKAY chinese noodles if you can find em) Basmati Rice, frozen brocoli, a green and orange bell pepper, three red Thai chili peppers, and because its us, a nearly poisonous amount of garlic.

To start off, we discovered that it is probably a better idea to start de-frosting the frozen shrimp before you start cooking. So, you may want to learn from the multiple errors I was responsible for in the course of this meal.

Phase 1:

Preppin the veggies! We started off by dicing a half a clove of garlic and chopping up some green onions and set them aside for later. I cut the peppers pretty basic, into strips, then cut them into halves. I was overjoyed to see that inside the small orange pepper I dissected, was growing tiny smaller green peppers! It was a very exciting discovery for me. After my giddy mini-pepper induce joy subsided, I chopped up three Thai chili’s, and cut up three carrots.

Phase 2:

The Noodles.

We made both noodles and rice not knowing if there would be enough noodles to go around, as we were serving 5 people. As it turns out, there was well more then enough noodles, so I shall leave it up to you to decide which would make a better addition.

While you’re waiting on the shrimp to thaw out, get yourself a nice big pot, and fill it with about 5-6 cups of water. Now, this part may be tricky, as I just kinda eyed out the measurements as I tossed stuff into the water. First off I added what may roughly be considered 2-3 tbsp’s of SesAme Seed oil, a couple shakes of chili flakes, and then I shook in some garlic flakes and onion powder.

While waiting for the water to boil, next we started on the basmati rice: 2 cups rice to 4 cups water in a pot with a dash of salt, cover and heat on high until they start to boil, then turn down to 2 to simmer.

Phase 3:

When the water started to boil, I put the entire pack of Farkay Noodles in. (Probably the first fail of my cooking endeavor, as we cooked WELL more noodles than we ever would have needed)

While those where cooking, Nat oiled the pan, adding the frozen brocoli until it started to warm up, and proceeded to mix in the pre chopped up veggies once they started to green up, In went the Szechuan tofu! I wont lie, it felt like I was cheating, as it was prepackaged, an all that we had to do was pour it in, and mix it up with the veggies, but it was still awesome. While we let that simmer, we moved on to the shrimp!

Phase 4:

After the much awaited thawing of the shrimp, it was finally time to put it the frying pan! To double the FABulousness of our kitchen, we added a virtually toxic amount of garlic, and the Thai Chili’s! Now, we absolutely love spicy food, and usually the spicier the better. However you may want to not quite use as many chili’s or spicy stuffs as we did. The Szechuan Tofu itself was a lot spicier than I had intended it to be… so adding a ton of chilis to it probably wasnt all that smart.

After this however, basically just let the shrimp cook up for about 5ish minutes, and then Ta-da! You plate it, and enjoy the EPIC awesome that was this meal.

So, emulate, improve upon, and enjoy! (And send me pics. I loooove food pics)

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Making your life easier - back that shit up

In my opinion, as the average computer user, there is nothing more terrifying than the moment when a computer bluescreens or fails to boot. There's that moment of terror thinking, "Omfg. Are my files all gone? How on earth will I go on? Will I get fired?"

Stop giving yourself (and your tech support, whether it be at work or a family member) a heart attack. Back your shit up.

I've learned this lesson the hard way a few times, so I can speak with some authority when I say "Back that shit up!!!!!!!1!!1!!!!!!ELEVENTY!!!!"

Three times I've had devastating data losses:
  1. The infamous "Crash of '97" when I was poking around in DOS and was curious as to what "deltree" was all about. (hint: don't do it at c:\, or at all, for that matter)
  2. The infamous "Breakin of '00". Nope, the neighbour's didn't take the electronics to get them cleaned. We got cleaned out while my parents were vacationing in Mexico and I was at work.
  3. The infamous "Breakin of '10". Apparently I didn't learn my lesson a decade earlier. Turns out basement apartments in Toronto are not invisible to thieves.
After the first data loss, I kind of learned my lesson. I started backing up on floppy disks and making redundant copies on my hard drive. But, making extra file copies on the same computer and saving on disks that are right beside the computer you're using is kind of like putting 5 twoonies in one piggy bank because you're afraid a $10 bill might get stolen. Your backups aren't going to help if you lose your data because of a house fire.

The most important data that I have, in my opinion, are my writing files. I've got stories I've written over the past couple decades that I treasure more than budget spreadsheets or tax forms. So, anything that I don't want to have to live without, I backup on an external hard drive and email to myself. I also have burnt CD and DVD copies.

Now, here's the thing about backups - they can fail, too. CDs and DVDs can get too scratched to be read, floppy disks are obsolete and difficult to find a drive to read them nowadays, USB flash drives can snap off or get lost, and external hard drives can get knocked off a coffee table and have the USB port smashed in. Hypothetically.

If your data is really, super dee duper, really mega important, make a few different backups. Because there will come a time when your computer won't turn on, when your dog will find your collection of DVDs, or when you knock over the external HD for the millionth and final time.

As for more work-related stuff, don't fight with your IT department. If they say to backup your files to the N: drive, don't save them all on your desktop. Many less heart-attacks will be had all around if you let the nice, smart IT people tell you what to do to protect your files.They'll make sure your data is backed up and stored safely out of reach of power spikes, spilled Cokes, or family pets.

And back to passwords.

My next password is gonna be poopslingingmonkeysdontvote. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Oh, booze, my costly mistress

It's the weekend. Time for budget blow-outs and booze.

Booze is, by far, my most expensive vice. When we go out, it's the booze cost that puts our dinner over our intended budget. At home, I don't drink a whole heck of a lot, but I like to make sure that I have enough in the house for a drink or two to unwind after work, and I don't tend to work booze into the budget. I'll just run to the store when they pantry's dry rather than spend an interminable week without.

To try to cut back my booze costs, I try to buy 24's of the cheap beer (as opposed to stuff I really like, such as Young's Double Chocolate Stout, or Mill St Organic), I buy 1.5L bottles of cheap sparkling wine and cut it with club soda, or I try to cut back and not drink at all and spend my evenings pouting and pining, instead.

In renewed effort to cut booze costs, I decided to try some of the near-beer (or non-alcoholic beer) you can get at the grocery store. At $5.99+/12, it's a pretty good way to cut costs, as opposed to $14.99/12 on the cheapest beer I can find.

My first try was Molson at $6.99/12. I had it at a party inbetween alcoholic drinks since I was out of my league in terms of tolerance and didn't want to be praying for death in the morning. It was a sad, pale shadow of what beer should be. I spiked it with tequila to try to improve it, with absolutely zero success. I didn't like it, is what I'm trying to say.

My second try is Red Brew, from PC, at $5.99/12. I like it a lot. I've had it a few nights after work so far, and I don't feel the need to spike it or use it as a chaser. It works quite well on its own, and so I'm happily adding it to my regular shopping list. Turns out, I'm not the only person who's also tried it and likes it.

I might try another type of near-beer just to satisfy my curiosity, but for the moment the Red Brew is sufficing quite nicely. Perhaps when the budget is more robust and I can afford to buy something disappointing, I'll venture into a new brand.

You might be wondering why I don't just drink pop, instead. I frankly don't like pop that much. I'm not often compelled to drink it, it's not satisfying to sip while reading in a hot bath, and it's often much sweeter than what I have a hankering for. And I don't really have any other vices. I don't smoke, I don't do recreational drugs, I buy junk food only sparingly, and I chill at home a lot. Without booze (or fake booze) my life is even more boring. I may be a crazy cat lady, but a girl's gotta have some sort of vice.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Recipe time - meatball marinara subs

The only thing better than making food you normally only get in restaurants is making it vegetarian and a million times better than any restaurant could even hope to conjure up. Thusly, the “meat”ball sub.
Your Ingredients:
- olive oil
-3 medium-sized sweet potatoes
- garlic salt
- chili powder
- one medium cooking onion, sliced from pole to pole
- 2 cups sliced button mushrooms
- chili flakes
- a bag of frozen vegetarian “meat”balls
- sub buns
- fresh garlic
- butter
- can or jar of pasta sauce
- cheese slices – I used jalapeno-flavoured soy-based slices
Step One:
Sweet potato fries.
Sweet Potato Fries
I cut up a few sweet potatoes into long strips, greased a pan with olive oil and topped them with a sprinkling of garlic salt and chili powder. I then tossed them into the oven pre-heated at 425, checked them after about 20 minutes and flipped them. I find sweet potato fries are better the longer you cook them, but this might be a matter of personal taste.
Step Two:
Carmelize the onions.
This is one part of my cooking I’m working on improving – my onions. From what I’ve read, your best bet is to heat a pan with oil on medium heat (around 4). I always use olive oil for my cooking, unless we’ve run out, in which case I’ll use whatever I have available.
Make sure the oil is hot, but not smoking, before you add the onions. To figure out when the heat is right, I toss a drop of water into the oil and if it spits, it’s ready.
So, I add the onions and then occasionally stir them and keep an eye on them as I move on to other things. You’ll know they’re done when they get limp and take on a beautiful golden colour. For goodness sakes, don’t let them blacken. This is not the same thing.
Step Three:
Browning the mushrooms.
Now, I have become embarrassingly obsessed with Julie and Julia. But, it has its benefits. For example, now when I cook mushrooms I know not to crowd them or they won’t brown. Who knew?!
I sliced up more mushrooms than it would look like I’d need, since they shrink quite a bit upon cooking. I tossed them into a heated pan with some oil and chili peppers.
I cook most things on about a 4 on the dial, but it really depends on your stovetop and that’s something you’ll have to experiment with, methinks.
Step Four:
The “meat” balls.
These are just packaged meatballs from the grocery store. Fortunately, with vegetarianism becoming less taboo and more mainstream, these are pretty readily accessible. I’m living way out on the east coast of Canada, and they’re available in all the grocery store chains I’ve checked out here.
I just tossed these into a heated pan with oil (yes, I see a pattern developing as well), and let them brown.
I’ve tried cooking these a few different ways, and I found I like this way the best because of the texture. In fact, I’ll even cook them up and have my partner go out and get me a Big Mac sans meat and use these as the patties. I’ve also put them on pizza, and they rocked my world. For these reasons, you might want to cook up more than you’ll use immediately so they’re quickly ready for another meal.
Don’t those look amazing? You can almost smell them, can’t you?
Step Five:
Since these are all coming along so well, it’s time to get the garlic bread ready.  We chose some sub buns from the bakery at the grocery store, sliced them, and slathered them in garlic butter. You can buy garlic butter, or just take some butter, heat it in microwave for 20 seconds and stir in some fresh, minced garlic.  We add about 3 cloves of garlic, but you might want less if you’re a garlic wimp. Then, just spread the butter on the bread, put them on a pan, and toss them in the oven for a few minutes at 425. Once the edges start to golden a bit, put the oven on broil and keep a CLOSE eye on them for about 3 minutes, or until they look done.
Step Six:
Just after you put the garlic bread in the oven, toss some pasta sauce or pizza sauce, or whatever tomato sauce you have on hand in with the meatballs to heat the sauce up. It won’t take long, which is why you do this when nearing the very end.
Step Seven:
Compile, eat, and send me thank-you letters.
By the time the garlic bread is ready, everything should be done. I cut some fake cheese slices into triangles and put them on one side, topped them with the onions and mushrooms, and on the other side I put the meatballs and sauce. And VOILA! I’m brilliant.
You’re welcome.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Living in Toronto - TTC *grumble*

Came across this the other day and I wept.

It's from: "Porn for Torontonians": An Ideal TTC Map, and by golly did they hit the nail on the head with that one.

I've had the opportunity to live in various cities across Canada, and so I can speak with some authority when I complain about the TTC.

Let's take St. John's, Newfoundland for example. They've got a pretty horrendous public transit system. The buses on many routes only come once an hour, they take a circuitous route and so if you want to go back the way you came you have to hop on at the same stop and take the rest of the route (however long) home, their buses are in no way accessible to anyone with mobility issues, they have orphaned bus stop signs that trick would-be transit users into wasting their time in front of them, no buses go to the airport, and coverage outside the city centre is sparse when it exists at all. BUT, they've got electronic bus pass cards that are reloadable either for an entire month or for a number of trips, they've got WiFi on a lot of their buses, and their drivers tend to stop if they see you a block from a stop and trying to flag them down as opposed to speeding up and driving through a puddle to drown you out of spite.

Now, I don't remember as much about Ottawa or Vancouver's public transit systems, but I do know that they're more automated, have more dedicated lines (Ottawa Transitway, Vancouver Skytrain), they're cheaper than Toronto and I like them more better.

What never ceases to baffle me, is how all these cities can have one or more things done right and not have the foresight or peripheral vision to learn from what other cities are doing in order to improve the weak points in their services. Do theses people not talk to each other? Should I arrange an introduction? Should I perhaps send flowers to them all from secret admirers and arrange for them all the meet at dinner in an elaborate, romantic made-for-tv scheme?

Anybody wanna pitch for the flowers?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

So much for my plans

After yesterday's Slutwalk post, I'd intended to post tonight focusing on data security and why lax data makes me mental.

But my brain's all over the place and exhausted and I keep getting distracted by arguments on Facebook.

Protect your personal data!
"Slavery is good! It makes cheap products available, like chocolate and coffee! And this wine is made from the ground innards of kittens and puppy dog tears, but dag nabbit I don't get a hangover! Win/win!"
Dang it.

So, I've gotten dragged into some bizarre debates that really just boil down to people being too interested in protecting their own egos to be willing to acknowledge that systemic oppression exists.

Having privilege does not make you a bad person. Acknowledging your privilege does not make your scars any less deep. Deconstructing privilege may be uncomfortable and even painful, but it's worth it.

I mean, denying sexism or racism exist? Seriously? Equating someone people called a jerk as being exactly the same as being slut-shamed or called a racial slur? FFS.

Step away from the ego. The world does not revolve around you. Well, let me rephrase. The world is set up to cater to your assholishness and to allow you to wallow in oppressive ignorance as you step on the marginalized groups you are too proud to acknowledge even exist.

I'm not. I have no obligation to humour you or gently pad your slow, arduous, circuitous path to a compassionate endpoint you may never have any interest in reaching. I may try to be as nice and diplomatic and eloquent as possible, but that's a choice I make and something that can be quickly rectified.

You want to tell rape jokes? I want to tell you you're an asshole and I'm calling your mom.


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Slut Wha?!!!

I am a proud supporter of the Slutwalk movement. I will not apologize for it or justify what I wore on the march or distance myself from the participants in skimpy clothing.

I support the Slutwalks because they have the audacity to state unequivocably that they will not participate in our cultural game of “othering” women and making them targets because someone decided to label them with a broad slur against their sexuality. They’re calling out this phenomenon and naming it and making us talk about it. Hiding from the term does us no good because, at present, the slut-slur needs neither our permission, our participation, or any basis in facts or reality to do us harm.

Slutwalk has been quite a journey for me. Originally, just I felt such relief that this issue was being talked about and confronted so unapologetically (albeit quite diplomatically). And when the numbers of "attending" on the Toronto page kept rising, and it started catching on in other cities it was just beyond elating.

The first detractions I recall were all surrounding people not thinking "sluts" were worthy of support or emulation. There was a lot of "Duh, sluts r bad", and the more annoying concern trolls, "But skirts do cause rape because a woman walking naked down an alley will always get attacked over a woman in overalls. I'm just slut-shaming women with my ridiculous analogies for their safety, donchaknow?"

There are still many of those, especially when Slutwalk comes to a new city (I occasionally will "adopt" a new Facebook page to patrol and defend. It's become a hobby.)

I also find it frustrating when some people say they would support the movement, but can't because of some misogynistic, sexually-shaming reason.
"I'd support the SlutWalks if the participants weren't such sluts."
Right. That's like saying,
"I'd support OWS if there weren't all those icky unemployed and homeless people."
Or, let's just stop beating around the bush already,
"I'd support a movement or protest against oppression if the overwhelming majority of visible supporters were part of a privileged group that is blissfully ignorant of or immune to the issues being raised and thusly didn't make me feel uncomfortable or have to question any of my deep-rooted and harmful prejudices."
Now, that's not to say that this movement is one-size fits all and anyone who doesn't support it is stwoopid in their stwoopid faise. That's certainly not the case. I can understand someone having such negative experiences with the slut-slur that they are not able to march under the banner, even in solidarity with other survivors against victim-blaming. I understand not being at the point in one's journey where this type of movement speaks to them.

Much more out of the blue (to my mind) were the accusations of racism. My initial reaction was "Huh?" But, having already done some anti-oppression work, I knew better than to knee-jerk into protective momma bear mode ("NUH-UNH! U just don't understand!!!")

I wanted to know more. How could I miss this? Why isn't this inclusive? What part of this movement isn't reflective of the common experiences of women?

It's not so much the experience isn't common (even if the words themselves change across geographic and cultural lines). It's moreover the additional baggage of oppression overlapping that makes it all the more pressing to march against slut-shaming, while marching under the banner of slut is much more fraught and threatening. While I've experienced slut-shaming and homophobia, my relative privilege has given me a voice and several steps forward in the battle that many of my sisters' haven't.

Reclamation, while on the same continuum and working towards the same goal of disarming words as barring them from verbiage, perhaps seems too ambitious a goal at this time. It's clear that, while white women have a long way to go to be able to keep that word from being hurled at them as weapons, further marginalized groups such as LGBT, women of colour, disabled persons, sex workers, etc and combinations thereof, are starting so much further back that they can't even see the starting line from which white women are able to approach this word at present.

With that in mind, rather than keeping on sprinting forward and risking leaving them in the dust, we must listen to their concerns and slow our ambitions so we can all move forward. Which I believe will strengthen all of us.

I support Slutwalk and will march with them again this year to bring an end to slut-shaming and victim-blaming. Our allies are not ready for reclamation, so this is not my priority, but continuing to bust down rape myths is and will continue to be.

Here are a few articles that I've found illuminating and that I think do a great job of explaining Slutwalks, rape culture, rape myths, and a bunch of other bullshit Slutwalk aims to address.

*Trigger warning for frank, and sometimes graphic discussions of rape*

Slutwalk Explained!

You can call us that name, but we will not shut up

Why men should join Slutwalk

We're Telling

Who hear you when you speak about rape

Oh, one more thing

A woman walks into a rape, uh, bar

If you've made it all the way through those links, make yourself a tea or crack a beer, etc, and enjoy a kitty on the bird cage.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Getting your foot in the IT door

While I lament about my financial situation and bitch about silly things about work that irk me, I am really lucky to have the job that I do. I'm going to be taken on permanently at my job next month (knock on wood) and while I'm making ok money right now for someone with less debt and more moderate spending, I'll be getting a raise that will make life a lot easier.

It took me some work to get to this point. I graduated from a condensed technology program in Dec. 2008 and am just now getting a solid footing in the industry. A lot of it was my fault for not getting settled earlier - I separated from my ex-husband around when I started school and when the summer between semesters rolled around I found myself working a stable co-op for the government that could have become permanent (it did for my other classmates who co-oped there). So I quit. It was my first summer of "freedom" and I was reading Jack Kerouac and so I really wasn't ready to settle down into a job already when the divorce was partly because I felt stifled (emotionally, geographically, mentally) in the relationship.

Instead of finishing co-op, I took a Greyhound trip across Canada, met some amazing people on my trip, spent a week in Vancouver and then a week in Halifax and returned to finish my semester with all the life and excitement and vigor that I had felt deprived of for a very long time. (short point - my ex-husband's a great guy, we're just fundamentally incapatible. Just wanna make that clear)

So I finished school without a job. I then headed off to Vancouver for a month, couldn't make rent and had to come back due to Telus screwing up my phone number and thusly me not getting any calls for job offers. Back in Ontario, I settled in Toronto and wound up working as a secretary. What?

Yeah, here's a little life lesson - you're smart. Go for the jobs you want, not just the ones you're comfortable with. Even if you're not 100% confident you can do them right away, better to oversell yourself instead of underselling yourself. I've made that mistake way too many times, and it has cost me dearly, not least of all financially.

Instead of getting right into IT, I worked as a secretary for a full year. I hated it. But, since I was the only tech-saavy person there, I wound up having the opportunity to do most of the fixing and troubleshooting. I wasn't paid for it, but that's, again, to do with me short-selling myself. What I offered in tech services far outweighed the value of the work I was doing as a secretary.

After a year of that, my partner and I were both fed up with our jobs, so we decided to bugger off to St. John's, Newfoundland. I didn't have a for-sure job waiting for me, but I did have a potential contract with Tundra Technical Solutions. It was while we were in St. John's that I really got into the swing of things. In fact, I only worked IT gigs the entire time I was there (save 1 banquet waittressing gig my cousin set me with up - can you spell "sexual harassment by a bunch of drunken, old Kinsmen?" Blarg.)

The first thing I did off the plane (other than clean the cat pee off me - flying with pets is harrowing), is get my CompTIA A+ certification. I cannot speak highly enough of it, not necessarily because of the skills you need to possess to get it, but because it's widely recognized in the industry and a good way to get your foot in the door.

While I was in St. John's, I worked for several different IT staffing firms on various short-term contracts:
  • Tek Systems
  • CompuFirm
  • TES, The Employment Solution
  • Tundra Technical Solutions
  • Soroc (via Tundra)
I also worked for Staples as a Res Tech for a bit, as a stable gig inbetween my contracts. Not the best pay, and with the typical trappings of workign retail, but a good way to get one's feet wet and boost a resume in the beginning, and to stay up to date on the newer Windows-based consumer laptops/ desktops.
There are obviously pros and cons of doing contract work (yay - quick turn around time, get a variety of jobs, pay can be good), (nay - no health benefits, no sick days, no job security, no pension, no guarantee of hours, may have troubles getting paid *cough*CompuFirmdidn'tpaymefor2months*cough*). While it's not a one-size fits all solution, I do think it's a good way to start to get comfortable in the industry.

And always ask your fellow contractors what they're getting paid. I did this while in St. John's, and on one job where I was working as team lead, found out I was getting paid the least of the 3 technicians there. One tech, for whom this was his first gig ever, was getting paid $2/hr more than me, and the other, an experienced tech new to the firm, was getting $7/hr more than me. Needless to say, the next morning I called my recruiting manager and renegotiated my contract, which netted me an extra $4/hr.

Stop selling yourself short, for the love of all that is good and holy. And make sure you know what you're worth.


Sunday, 4 December 2011

Is Gail Vaz-Oxlade in the house?

AKA - Sunday, day of "holy crap I can't believe I was actually productive yesterday aw crap I still have so much to do today *pout*"

So, yesterday was ludicrously productive. I cleaned the apartment like a woman possessed, including doing 2 loads of laundry, 4 loads of dishes, and cleaning out the beer fridge, and made it to my work Christmas party on time at 6:30. Hurray, right?

Well, it would be if I could stick to a budget and stop making "exceptions" every week. The work Christmas party was at a hotel by the airport, which meant that we spent $15 getting there (between TTC tokens and 2 tickets for the airport shuttle), and when we got there drinks were quite pricey. After the first round I had to hit up the ATM since I hadn't expected to spend so much getting there. The ATM fee was $3.00. Yeah, let that sink in a little. So, what did I do? Decide, yaknowwhat, maybe tonight we don't need to drink that much? I wish. No, I made another "exception". I mean, it was my work Christmas party, right?

Every week there's been exceptions. My partner's brother's birthday. My partner's birthday. Thanksgiving. Visiting. When my sis comes up to visit me. My partner's friends have come to town. We make plans with friends we haven't seen in a while. We decide that tonight we don't wanna cook and we're pmsing so we really, really need to eat at Mexitaco (which always includes ordering a beer and tequila shot to start). And on and on and on. There's really no end to it. But there definitely is an end to the amount of money we have.

If Gail Vaz-Oxlade were my fairy godmother, she'd be cracking me across the back of my head with her wand and yelling "What were you thinking?!!" The saddest, most frustrating part is that I know better. Til Debt Do Us Part is my favourite show and has been for years. Two years ago my partner and I lived by the money jar (or envelope) system. I have spreadsheets and budgets up the ying yang. I just happen to let in too many exceptions.

It wouldn't be so bad if my partner and I still had two jobs each. We did during the summer and it both kept us too occupied to spend a lot of money, as well as the obvious monetary benefits. Plus, I was working for Starbucks, which meant every week I got a free pound of coffee and, since I closed, I would get to take home some of the food that otherwise would have been tossed at the end of the night. There was a period of about a month wherein we didn't go grocery shopping once because of this.

But then, we got caught up on bills, and my full-time job schedule had started interfering with my Starbucks schedule, and I was exhausted from the hours, so I quit. And my partner's boss for the street marketing campaign stopped calling with times and dates for her and her coworkers to go out to events and give out promotional materials. We got comfortable in our new, less hectic schedules but were (are) spending like we've got extra sources of income.

Now, we've got about $40 for groceries this week and I've decided to give up booze until Christmas to reign in my part of the spending. Too bad next weekend is my partner's birthday party at our house. Spend spend spend.


Saturday, 3 December 2011

Cream of potato, garlic, bacon soup… only not

I like to write, but often get sidetracked with life (read: Facebook). One of my failed projects is a cooking blog that was supposed to be a joint effort with my roommates. In theory, the three of us working together would ensure the blog would continue on forever and be regularly updated. Yeah... notsomuch. Do 4 posts, including the intro, count? No? Sigh. I know.

Well, in the interest of recycling amazing recipes that I think everyone in the world ever should be interested in, here's the first (of 3) reposts and updates of the doomed The FABulous Kitchen project.

In this house we have 1 person with vegan tendencies and one person who is lactose intolerant.  So, naturally, we decided to make cream of potato bacon soup.  Kind of. Originally we had wanted to make my famous “cream” of potato, garlic, dill soup, only to find we had no dill. Since we had some fakin’ bacon bits kickin’ around and yesterday I was commiserating over my unrequited love for cream of potato bacon soup (I’m the veganesque one), it seemed an appropriate substitute.
Now, we’re not really the sort that measures things exactly, and we REALLY like our garlic, so I hope you’re savvy enough to be able to determine for yourself what the appropriate portions would be.
  • 6 russet potatoes
  • 1 bulb of garlic (seriously, garlic is mentioned in the name of this recipe for a reason)
  • 1 large cooking onion
  • dried, sliced garlic
  • olive oil for cooking
  • 1/4 cup fakin' bacon bits
  • 2 chopped and seeded Thai chilis
  • 1 carton of unsweetened soy or almond milk
  • salt & pepper to taste

Step One:
Prep the potatoes.
We washed and cleaned about 6 baking (Russet) potatoes, then cubed them. I’ve used baby white and red potatoes before, and they’re really good, too. We leave the skins on because we enjoy the texture and colour it adds.
After we dice the potatoes, we put them in a bowl with water to get rid of the starch and so they don’t brown if we don’t chop them right before we put them in the pot. Which we probably won’t. Because wine is involved.
Step Two:
Roasting the garlic.
There is no such thing as “too much garlic” in my vernacular, so if I’m going to roast some, I roast at leastone bulb at a time. We cut the top off of a bulb of garlic, place it in a square of aluminum foil, and top it with olive oil. Then, we wrap it up like a little gift, so that the oil doesn’t escape, toss them on the rack of an oven pre-heated to 400 degrees fahrenheit, and leave them to become awesome for about half an hour (checking occasionally, because I’m bad with timing).
Step Three:
The onions.
If there’s anything I love more than garlic, it’s onions. So we diced one large cooking onion, added it to a pot that had already heated up to medium with some olive oil in the bottom and cooked them until translucent.
Step Four:
Add the potatoes and seasonings.
After rinsing and drying the potatoes (we don’t want to add a bunch more water), we toss them in with the onions in the same pot and stir them up with a dash more olive oil.
Then we added some dried, sliced garlic, as well as the entire bulb of roasted garlic. I find that the roasted garlic adds depth to the flavour, but doesn’t make it garlicy enough, which is why the dried, sliced garlic helps.
Then… the fakin’ bacon bits. About a quarter cup should be more than sufficient. The brand doesn’t really matter, in my opinion. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but I haven’t found a bad brand of soy bacon-esque bits to this point.
To add a bit of kick, we decided to add two chopped and de-seeded thai chilis.
A dash of salt is necessary. Maybe more. This is definitely to taste, but since it’s at the beginning of the process, you’ll need to check later on as well and perhaps adjust again.
Step Five:
It’s soup time.
Now, I like my soup thick, so I don’t mess around with stocks and such, I just put in enough soy milk to cover the potatoes. For the love of all that is good and holy, please make sure you 1) don’t accidentally use flavoured soy milk, like vanilla, or 2) use low-fat soymilk. Low-fat soymilk is the equivalent of diluting skim milk with sadness and despair. It’s not right on its own, and it’s especially inappropriate when trying to make a cream soup.
Last but not least, we add a dash of pepper on top, stir, and let the magic happen.
Step Six:
Adjusting the thickness and flavours.
Since this is a potato soup, you don’t need to add flour or anything as a thickener. After the potatoes have had some time to cook and become soft, use a masher to, well, mash some of them. You could always toss some of it in the blender, but we don’t have a blender, yet, and I find this to be a little too much work. Just mash the life out of about half of them and it’ll thicken on its own.
By the nature of potatoes, they tend to soak up a lot of flavour, and so this is a good time to taste and see if you need to make any adjustments. We found it needed some more sea salt, and a little something… else. We decided that that something else was dried chives. You may have other ideas, so go with it.
Step Seven:
Check. And eat.
If it seems thick enough and tasty enough, stop tormenting youself with the delicious smells and eat it. As with all soups, this tastes best on the second day, but I sincerely wish you luck on waiting that long. This soup rarely makes it to the second day.

You see that sexy piece of bread on the side of the bowl? I also made that, using this recipe:
My one critique - leave the bread to rise for at least 8 hours, otherwise it won't be nearly so luscious.

Friday, 2 December 2011

"Toronto Budget Cuts" kinda rhymes with WTF

I'm no politician or mathmetician or financial expert, but it strikes me as ill-advised that the city of Toronto is considering massive cuts to services that help marginalized community members. TTC fare hikes with service decreases (just when ridership is at an all-time high? Seriously? Just... seriously?), cutting breakfast programs for kids from low-income households, cutting shelters that house the homeless, cutting arts and recreation programs that get and keep kids engaged and out of trouble...

What do they think will happen in the absense of these services? With fewer shelter spots, people won't just decide not to be homeless. They'll be filling up jailcells instead or getting harassed by police with tickets for trying to sleep in the wrong spot. With cuts to daycare spots, do they imagine the kids in daycare will just go out and get jobs to stay busy? Do they think the parents will just decide they don't need two incomes and have one parent quit their apparently extraneous job to stay home with them? With TTC fare hikes and service decreases, do they imagine people who have their own vehicles will continue using TTC in record numbers despite their longer and more stressful commutes just because? With the sale of TCHC properties, do they imagine tenants will find a new place to live ahead of the thousands on wait-lists because they just weren't looking hard enough before?

So much of this just flies in the face of reason and really makes Toronto a less livable city. Now, to be sure, there are some areas of the budget proposal I agree with. I think reducing street-clearing is a bummer but a pittance compared to other issues. I think raising property taxes sucks, but beats reduction of services that those taxes pay for. I'm not sure how closing public wading pools contributes to quality of life in the city, so I'm open to information about that. I think eliminating some city jobs (not sure about the numbers, I hear many of the positions are already vacant) could be doable. Booting too many people from the public service all at once would not wind up saving money if they all wound up having to apply for public assistance if they're not able to find replacement careers. Well, maybe it would save the city money because of the pitiful public assistance rates, but the balance would come out of health care and policing costs that are associated with poverty.

Long story short, what is this? I don't even.


Christmas (or general holiday giftishness) on a paltry budget

This Christmas I'm broke. Again. As much as I would like to find magical funds or credit to splurge on family and friends, that's really just not the reality of my life right now. Fortunately, my loved ones are pretty used to me being broke or of just crafting them gifts based on my crafty obsession during jour (one year it was pillows, another teddy bars, another paintings). This year I don't have a stockpile of craft supplies or a million dollars to spend on shipping, so I've got a few ideas:
  • Holiday cards with my partner and our fur-babies. Yes, there will be ridiculous sweaters involved.
  • Baked goods - I'm a ludicrously good cook and have amassed a lot of cheap, amazing recipes
  • Rewards points redemptions - these will be reserved for my partner, but Starbucks gift cards, movie passes, and a money for a dinner out is nothing to sneeze at
  • Self-care surprise boxes - I made these about 7 years ago and was able to make them all for under $10/pop. Not sure if I can still do with that kind of budget, but I think it's worth looking into. Last time they all had - the box itself ($1), a shot glass (3/$1), a candle (3/$1), a box of wooden matches (12/$1), a mini bottle of booze ($2-$4), a chocolate bar (2/$1), a Christmas ornament that I made ($?), and either a satchel of bath salts or a stress-reliever toy ($1)
  • Potluck - everyone comes over and we eat, drink and be merry together. This is much more valuable than a an iPad, methinks.
Anyone else paring down for Christmas, or are you going to give everyone their presents after you hit up the Boxing Day sales?