Posts Tagged ‘life stuff’

In the swim

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Hello, friends. I’ve recently discovered something that I think I love: swimming.

Until a few months ago, I would never have gone swimming for pleasure. It was something I did only when strictly necessary, like during my children’s swimming lessons. I told myself that I disliked chlorine, that I didn’t want to get swimmer’s ear, that public swimming pools festered with germs, that I preferred hiking and yoga. But the truth is that I was a poor swimmer. Why would I voluntarily do something I was bad at?

As a child, I was afraid of the water. My mother taught me one stroke (breaststroke) well enough to ensure that I wouldn’t drown, then let it go. And for decades, I stayed out of the pool. But a few months ago, I decided to take some lessons. I had some goals: to learn front crawl, to clean up my breaststroke, and to learn the eggbeater kick in order to tread water without using my arms. I decided it was time to acknowledge being a bad swimmer and – the “no duh” moment – improve at it.

It’s still a work in progress. My breaststroke is a lot more efficient. My front crawl, while far from good, exists in a slow way. And the eggbeater kick continues to elude me. But it’s my attitude that’s been revolutionized. I LOVE my swimming lessons. I love analyzing the strokes and working on small details. I love incremental improvement. I love that while in the pool, an hour can feel like 20 minutes. I love the warm glow of mild muscle fatigue. And I love how well I sleep the night of a good swim.

Swimming is one of my favourite things right now, and I’m so very glad that I decided to challenge myself. And this is the whole point, right? To keep learning. To resist complacency. And to become one of those little old ladies who can swim 50 serene lengths without getting her perm wet.

Okay, maybe not the perm.

What about you, friends? What are you learning at the moment?

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Monkey business

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Hello, friends. I was never a huge fan of Hallowe’en – until I had small children to dress in funny costumes, of course. And this year I’ve really lucked out: both children (ages 5 and 2) are going to be monkeys. Or, as the two-year-old insists, “cheeky monkeys!”

Surprisingly, it didn’t take any cajoling on my part. They had free choice, and then I zipped them out to Value Village before they could change their minds. I spent a couple of evenings making monkey ears, a pair of needle-felted bananas, and curly tails. And here we are.

Happy Hallowe’en, everyone! What are you going to be?

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Thursday, September 19th, 2013

I’ve been a very sloppy blogger recently, and for that I sincerely apologize. I didn’t mean to fall into an every-other-week pattern, and I realize it’s Thursday today. I have a specific plan to improve (I’ve blocked out a blogging session each Monday evening) and I hope my weekly post will become a joyful habit, rather than something I cringe to realize that I’ve missed once again.

But I’m here now to talk to you about fermentation! The jars below contain tomato seeds from some of the varieties we grew this summer. This is the first year we’ve tried saving tomato seeds, but our friends Crista and Mike assure us that it’s straightforward. Basically, we choose the ripest, most beautiful specimen possible, scoop out the goo (technical term) and seeds, and put them in a jar. We top it up with a little water – about half as much water as there was goo, by volume – cover it and let it sit. When a thin layer of greyish-white mould grows on top of the water, we drain off the liquid and rinse, rinse, rinse. Then we dry the tomato seeds on a plate on that same sunny window-sill.

Looks like a mad science experiment, don’t you think?

But it’s not just tomato seeds we’ve been fermenting around here. Firstly, I’ve begun work on the New Book and it’s scaring the pants off me, in a good way. (No, I haven’t begun writing horror. I can’t even read horror. I tried reading Andrew Pyper’s The Killing Circle this summer and had to stop, I was so terrified. And then I had nightmares.) But the New Book is completely different from what I’ve written before: new setting, new time period, first-person instead of third-person, two narrators instead of one… I’m not sure I can do it, and it’s freaking me out, but I adore the challenge.

Another thing that’s fermenting is a visit to Calgary in November, about which I’m so excited. On November 28th, I’ll be reading at two branches of the Calgary Public Library! I’ll post times and locations as soon as I know the details.

And finally, my lovely UK editor just sent me a draft cover for Walker Books’ edition of Rivals in the City. I’m not allowed to share it yet, because it’s still being discussed and refined. But I can tell you that it’s gorgeous…

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We will always have cake

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Hello, friends. There have been a lot of birthdays in our family over the past 2 months. As a consequence, there has also been a lot of cake.

I grew up eating birthday cakes made from boxed cake mixes. Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines were our household familiars, and my mother jokingly called those cakes her “scratch” cakes. Sadly, I don’t feel much confidence in packaged foods, these days, and I’ve grown sensitive to their inevitable “boxed” flavour. But oh, I adore that light, fluffy, super-moist texture. So I was thrilled to find this recipe for a Chocolate Bundt Cake that gives you the boxed-mix texture with pure, intense chocolate flavour.

It’s a perfect recipe, as written. But I’ve also tinkered with it to make it gluten-free. I don’t know a great deal about gluten-free baking, but the Gluten-Free Girl does, and I’ve used her formula for a gluten-free flour mix. In this case, the gluten-free version requires no weird gums or stabilizers. There’s no hard gelled texture, no dry crumbliness. Just moist, delicate, cakey goodness. I am so enamoured and proud of this cake, which is just as well, since birthdayfest is only now starting to wind down.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Bundt Cake (adapted from Food52, using Gluten-Free Girl’s flour mix)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 225 grams gluten-free flour mix
  • 3/4 cups Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup sour milk or plain yogurt
  • 3/4 cup strong black coffee
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil or coconut oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a Bundt pan and dust the inside with cocoa powder. Set aside.
  2. Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. With a mixer, combine the milk, coffee, oil, eggs and vanilla at low speed. Then, with the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients. Once all the flour mixture is added, mix the batter for a full four minutes on medium speed. The batter will be very thin. It’s okay!
  4. Pour the batter into the Bundt pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack. You can also use this batter to make about 22 cupcakes, in which case bake them from 22-26 minutes.

I hope you enjoy it!

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What kind of Asian are you?

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

I love this.

In real life, I’ve tried a few low-key variations on this, but it never seems to get through. I think if we want to educate the people who ask these questions, we need to explain directly why it’s inappropriate to make assumptions based on appearance. In the meantime, however, I’m just going to watch this one more time and smirk.

How do you respond to questions based on first impressions of race, age, gender, or style?

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Furnishings for the Middle Class

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Hello, friends. This past weekend, we learned that Turk’s, our favourite antique-y store in Kingston, is closing. We’re really crestfallen because over the years, we’ve ended up buying most of our furniture there. Turk’s (est. 1902 by J. Turk) filled an important gap in Kingston: older wooden pieces in decent condition. They were never serious antiques (there are some scarily high-end antiques dealers in town), and thus they were often in our price range. Our decision-making process went like this:

1. We need X. Can we make one, thrift one, or do without? If no, proceed to Turk’s.

2. Is there anything cool at Turk’s? Yes, there is always something cool at Turk’s.

3. Do we really, really like it? If no, return to step 2. If yes, approach item with caution.

4. Does it smell musty? If yes, return to step 2. If no, find price tag.

5. Is it the same price (or less) as an X from Ikea? If yes, purchase. If no, return to step 2.

I’m so sad to see the end of this era. But as we were poking around in a mist of nostalgia (Turk’s has some vinyl and a few books, too), Nick found an amazing (and ridiculously appropriate, given the circs) book for me! It’s called Furnishings for the Middle Class: Heal’s Catalogues, 1853-1934. I am beyond excited to have a bound volume of so much mid- to late-Victorian aspiration, complete with prices and illustrations. I could read it all day.

What’s immediately intriguing about the catalogues is that they tend to begin with the least expensive items: “Plain Beds for Servants”, for example, or a White Beech Bedroom Chair. You have to keep reading before you get to things like the “‘Princess Maud’ Suite, painted white, with Louis XVIth enrichments, consisting of 3ft. Wardrobe with Plate Glass Door, 3 ft. Dressing Chest and Glass, 2 ft. 6 in. Washstand (Marble Top), Chamber Pedestal, 2 Chairs” for £10 10 0 (that’s ten pounds, ten shillings). And I’m now restraining myself from typing out even more furniture descriptions. Instead, here’s an advertisement from the end of the century.

I also found a photo of the interior of Turk’s as you walk in, here. Yes, those are the original pressed-tin ceilings. Farewell, Turk’s. And thank you for everything.


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On nosiness

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Hello, friends. I’m very sorry I forgot to blog last week! There was definitely something missing from my week and I couldn’t figure out what it was, but when I logged in to WordPress this morning, it hit me. I’m a dolt. A dolt without an excuse. But I’m here now, and I want to talk to you about being nosy.

My name is Y. S. Lee and I am a Nosy Parker. This pure, unadulterated nosiness was one of the many things my mother used to scold me for, as a kid (I wonder what she word she was substituting when she said “Parker”? Probably something quite different.) And I haven’t really changed.

I want to know everything. I want to know how much money supply teachers at my son’s school are paid, what an acquaintance’s surgery (discussed by 2 people as I passed by) was for, how many people are involved in digging up the main intersections downtown, why the man in front of me at the grocery store bought 60 chocolate bars (I counted: KitKats, Mars Bars, and Coffee Crisps. Twenty each), what that couple in the car parked outside my house is arguing about (it’s intense), how much it actually costs the City of Kingston to issue a parking ticket (which costs something like $16, so what do they actually make after all the admin?), and a couple of dozen other things. And that’s in the time it took me to drop off my kids at school/daycare, buy some vegetables, and come home.

It’s exhausting, being this nosy. Socially inhibiting, too: I live in fear of the day that my internal sensor/censor starts to fail on a regular basis and I begin asking entirely inappropriate questions of better-mannered strangers. I’m going to be That Crazy Lady, the one who makes everyone cringe when she walks into a room.

Put another way, I’m going to turn into a four-year-old. My son entered his “why?” phase on the day he turned two, pretty much, and it’s never actually let up. Every day, he barrages us with hundreds of questions about people, animals, the natural world, social conventions, and anything else that skips through his brain. A friend of ours came over one day, I left the room for a few minutes, and when I came back, this friend’s eyes were bulging out of his head. And really, the only difference between my son and me is that I’ve learned to repress my instincts.

The main side effect of unbridled nosiness? I think it’s why I’m a writer. I’d love to hammer out this theory with you, please: if you’re a writer, are you impossibly nosy? And if you’re a fellow Nosy Parker and not a writer, how does your nosiness work itself out?

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The Year of the Snake!

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Hello friends, and Happy New Year! Are you celebrating the Year of the Snake?

Before Nick and I had children, I would often go back to Vancouver to see my extended family for Chinese New Year. That’s all in the past, I’m afraid: can you imagine dragging a couple of little kids 5000km each way, just for a short holiday? Oh, the jet lag…

Still, I’m sad that my young children won’t have early, fond memories of the holiday parties, the feasting, the family time. We do our own small celebration in Kingston and I imagine they’ll be nostalgic about those memories, but it’s not really the same.

Funnily enough, though, my son’s school is creating its own celebration. Today in his kindergarten class, one of the teachers is cooking dragon noodles; there will be red paper envelopes with lucky money (a chocolate coin) inside; and my son and I baked almond cookies to share with everyone, to symbolize a sweet year.

And this is one lovely place where my far-flung family and my current community meet: in my mother’s recipe for Almond Cookies, which she’s made every year since I can remember. Here it is.

Almond Cookies

9 oz flour
6 oz butter
4 oz icing sugar
2 egg yolks
2 oz ground almonds
Almond essence
Vanilla essence
That’s the entire recipe, as written! They were cryptic in the olden days.
- I use whole spelt flour and granulated sugar with no troubles
- I don’t measure the “essences”, but a 1/2 teaspoon of almond and 1 tsp of vanilla seems about right
- You need whole, blanched almonds for decoration, 1 per cookie.
- The recipe makes about 3 dozen small cookies.
- This is a crisp, subtle cookie. If you’re looking for a super-sweet, ooey-gooey, over-the-top cookie, you’ll be disappointed. If you love shortbread and almonds, though, they’re utterly addictive.
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter two or three baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg yolks, almond extract, and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and ground almonds. Add the flour to the butter mixture. The dough should be stiff.
  3. Roll spoonfuls of dough into 1-inch balls, press a whole blanched almond into the top of each cookie, and arrange on baking sheets. These don’t grow much, so they can be 2 inches apart. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until pale golden.
I hope you enjoy them! We certainly do.



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A little hiccup

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Hello friends, and apologies for the lack of blog post this week. We’ve undergone a small obstacle course of lesser ailments for the past week, which culminated in an impromptu urgent-care visit this morning (we thought the 4yo might get appendicitis for Christmas, but it’s just gastro – oh joy!). Today is my second-last day of childcare before the holidays start, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to dive into Scrivener now.

2 thoughts, before I pretend that the internet does not exist:

1. I love publicly funded healthcare. Love. It.

2. Blissful Holidays!

I’ll see you here next week, on Boxing Day, with my favourite books of 2012.

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Negotiating with tradition

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Hello friends! We celebrate Christmas in our house, and we’re still figuring out our traditions. I come from a family whose only tradition is to not have any traditions (even the Christmas tree was hit-and-miss throughout my childhood, and I doubt we’ve ever eaten the same Christmas dinner twice), and my spouse, Nick, is from a family with very strong, sentimental rituals. He and I have talked about what kinds of traditions we want to cultivate. The problem? Our lives are so hectic right now that it seems as though every year, we crash-land in the middle of December with no fruitcake, no lights, and the vaguest of plans to get a tree “soon”.

We have to get our act together.

So this morning I was thinking, what are the most important Christmas traditions for our family? Clearly, we’re going to have to be selective, this year. For me, it’s about a special family meal that we look forward to each year. There will be small menu changes, but it’s not going to be Chinese food one year, followed by Italian the next. For Nick, it’s about the tree and the excitement of Father Christmas for little kids. Following in his dad’s tradition, Nick will create tiny reindeer hoofprints for the kids to find on Christmas morning, as evidence of Santa’s visit. For our four-year-old, it’s all about the gingerbread house, aka an excuse to eat unlimited amounts of Smarties and buttercream icing. And our littlest one is just learning about Christmas, which means she’ll be very forgiving of any amount of last-minute holiday anarchy.

As the kids grow, become more independent, and develop interests of their own, our traditions will evolve. We’ll get to the Christmas baking, the crafty ornaments, the homemade Advent calendar, the big Christmas party – one day. In the meantime, we’ll focus on our dearest rituals and enjoy them to the fullest.

What are your favourite, most-loved holiday traditions?

P.S. There’s a nearby family farm that raises heritage-breed bronze turkeys. The birds roam outdoors, get lots of sunshine, eat organic food (and bugs), and generally have happy turkey lives. We’re all set – for 2013, that is. Yes, we’re waiting on a turkey that hasn’t even been born yet. We are going to be SO ready next year!

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