Archive | January 2011

How one person can change a community

I’ve been living in this apartment complex for nearly 10 years now. Residents have come and gone but the complex would remain essentially the same. People would keep to themselves – if you saw a neighbour coming or going you might wave, but aside from that it has been a very private place. We keep to ourselves and respect others privacy. Its impersonal, but its how I’ve always liked it.

All of that is changing. People have become visible. On Saturday, in our normally quiet courtyard, the lads downstairs set up a table tennis table and played games. Up on the top floor, a young couple spent most of the afternoon blowing bubbles over the courtyard and watching them float around. My neighbour Claudette and I meet each Saturday and go for an hours walk around the neighbourhood. When I run into Tim and Sarah, who live downstairs, we are always pleased to see eachother and have a good long chat.

Meredith (upstairs) and I have started helping eachother out with things, like collecting the mail or newspapers if the other is going away.

One neighbour, whom I have never spoken to before as he lives in a different part of the complex, saw me carrying in the bags of shopping from the supermarket and held the door open for me. A simple courtesy I know, but in the past we were all so scared of intruding on people’s private worlds that courtesys didn’t always occur. How can they when you are trying to avoid eye contact with your neighbour?

It started to change last year when Claudette and another neighbour organised a barbecue in the courtyard for the residents. Then she asked Michael and I over for dinner.

I was nervous about the changes. I didn’t know what obligations this might bring, or where the boundaries were. It was easy enough to smile and wave at a neighbour – but I was worried about engaging in conversation – I didn’t want to waste their time if they were busy, or intrude into their private world. But now things seem to be settling into a new pattern – its easy and comfortable again.

After ten years of living here, we’ve started to become a community – and its a happy one.

Isn’t it amazing how one or two people can make a difference. If Claudette hadn’t moved here and decided she wanted to get to know her neighbours we would be still be living our isolated lives in our separate apartments.  What we have now is so much better.

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Sunday Books: Night of The Living Trekkies

Today’s book is a bit of a departure from my usual offerings:

The name says it all really.

Night of the Living Trekkies is written by Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall.

The narrative takes place at a Star Trek convention. Nearby, a secret military experiment has gone wrong, triggering a zombie apocalypse. A group of trekkies are forced to band together to fight waves of zombies as they invade the convention.

This book was a lot of fun to read. It delivered everything you would expect from title and cover. The zombie-pocalypse follows the usual pattern – a secret experiment goes wrong, people start to act strangely and before too long, the zombies are breaking down the doors of the only safe shelter left in town. 

The trekkie characters were amusing. There were plenty of in-jokes for Star Trek fans, such as the guaranteed mortality of any minor character wearing a red shirt. 

Cliches about zombies, star trek and trekkers abound; however, while the plot was predictable, this didn’t detract from the book. In fact, the cliches are why people would read this book, and accounted for much of the humour. When a group of characters decide to split up in the middle of a zombie-pocalypse, you expect them to be killed off one by one – any other result would be disappointing.

To be honest, I would actually have preferred to see this book made into a fim, like Fan Boys rather than reading it. I found it amusing, but somehow this is the type of humour I prefer to watch rather than read. Still, it was a fun, light diversion from my usual fare.

If you follow Star Trek and enjoy zombie movies, you’ll probably enjoy the book. Those who don’t follow Star Trek, might find some of the jokes and references a little hard to understand. And of course, if you don’t like zombies then this book really isn’t for you at all.

Here is the book’s trailer:

Maybe I’m not mad, after all

A couple of my friends commented on my life timetable that I posted about earlier this week. I think, in a polite way, they were trying to tell me that I was quite mad and it was all very  anal retentive (a term which I hate, by the way).

Well, I’ve been following it for a week now, and I couldn’t be happier. The timetable isn’t so much about having to do certain things at certain times. Its more about working out where my time goes, and allowing time for the important things.

The way I look at it, we have a finite amount of time, just as we have a finite amount of money. We don’t buy everything we want all the time, because we are conscious that we need our money to stretch to cover all our living expenses as well as saving for important things.

I look at time the same way. I want to be mindful of how I spend my time to ensure I have saved time for the important things and the necessary things.

It’s been working well. 

This week, in addition to working full days, I have managed to fit in some form of exercise every day,  meals were cooked, dishes were washed, housework and laundry was done. I also managed to completely empty my in-tray, paid all my bills, responded to various personal emails that were awaiting my attention, made  good headway on sorting out my tax forms and getting some medical expenses reimbursed from my health insurance company… I could go on, but you get the picture. I’ve also been reading books, kept this blog up to date,  been out to dinner, had drinks with colleagues and arranged a couple of social events for the coming weeks.

In short, I’ve managed to achieve everything I wanted to achieve – I’ve been enormously productive and efficient, and I’ve been able to maintain the balance in my life – I haven’t had to abandon or negelct something or someone I love just to get by.

The thing is, the timetable is flexible – but it shows how much time I actually NEED to maintain each area of my life. On Thursday, I ended up staying late at work and having a drink with a colleague. This cut into the time I had allocated for looking after some of my home paper work (that inbox I was telling you about) as well as writing the blog, and going to the pub quiz with some friends.

Because I knew that staying for a drink would cost me these activities, I simply switched them around on my timetable. I went into work half an hour later and caught up on the paperwork I mentioned. I didn’t feel the need to catch up on blogging, and  it didn’t really matter that I was late to the quiz. We are all late from time to time.

So, no – I don’t think I’m being ‘anal retentive’. If I let the timetable rule my life that would be different. If I refused to eat lunch until the designated time, or have a drink with a colleague because that was the time I’d set aside for paperwork, then it would be a problem. Instead, because I have a greater grasp on what I need to do, I can make informed choices. If something comes along that disrupts my schedule, I can decide if its worth the disruption. And if it is, I can make a plan to restore the schedule in some other way.

Oh – and I lost two kilos as well! Making time for exercise seems to be working.

Food Friday – Breadmaking Failure

I really enjoy making bread. There is something almost primal about mixing the dough by hand, kneading it, letting it rise, punching it down. Its a very physical process. As I do it, I’m continuing an age old tradition, and feel connected to that history.

I love the smell of baking bread, and there are few more satisfying pleasures than eating a piece of fresh baked bread with just a scrape of butter on it. I like to think it is also healthier. There are no preservatives or chemicals in my home made bread. Its less processed.

However, as I wrote on Wednesday, I’m trying to manage my time better so I can be more productive. With this in mind, I bought a breadmaker using some gift cards I’d been given for Christmas.

Excited by my new purchase, I bought a bread mix to make up some rye bread and set to work as soon as I arrived home.

It was a disaster.

At first I couldn’t work out what I had done wrong, but then I realised. In my eagerness to get started, I had grabbed the 500 mL measuring jug instead of the 250 mL – so put twice the amount of water into the bread as I should have.

I made a second loaf, with the correct quantity of water this time. It worked out much better, but was quite difficult to slice. I much prefer the flavour and textures of the breads I’ve made by hand.

I’ll keep trying with the bread maker though.

Have you had any kitchen disasters? Oh, and does anyone have any tips for making good bread in a breadmaker?

Thursday Music – M83

Today’s music recommendation is M83. This is a French electronic outfit, led by Anthony Gonzales. Their music is described as “dream pop” which seems quite apt.

Like All India Radio’s music, which I wrote about last Thursday,  M83 are great to unwind to. I listen to it at the end of the day, or when I’m working at home, and need something to help me focus.

They’ve been around since 2001, but I only came across them last year, when I friend passed on a CD to me.

I’m finding it hard to find words today. I want to describe how I feel about their music, or to tell you what it is like – but I just can’t seem to find the right way to do that. The best way might be for you to see and hear for yourself.

I hope you enjoy it.

Getting Organised 2 – Planning for Balance

The summer holidays have given me a chance to get my life balance back, and I’m fearful that when I return to work on Thursday, I’ll lose it all again. I wrote about this last Saturday. To avoid losing the balance I’ve come up with a plan.

I figure its all about routine. I have one at work – my class timetable. Every minute of the school day for my class is organised to enable us to cover all facets of a crowded curriculum over a year. Its efficient, no time is wasted, and we achieve an awful lot each day.

When I timetable for my class the first thing I do  is write down all the content areas and types of activities that need to be covered in a week. Some have mandatory amounts of time attached to them, others are more flexible. I then work out the best way to fit them into the school day – a little like doing a jigsaw puzzle.

Since it works so well at school, I thought I’d try making a timetable for the rest of my life. Maybe this way, I’ll find time for some of the important things that I always neglect.

To start, I made a table with a column for each day of the week and a row for every half hour period in a 24 hour day. It might sound a little over the top, but this level of detail works for me.

Next I blocked in 8 hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people who do well on less.

Folowing that, I blocked in my work hours from the time I arrive in the morning (around 7:30am) until the time I leave. I’ve been in the habit of leaving at 7:30pm, but this year I’m going to really try hard to leave at 5:30. 12 hour days are excessive – in fact, the 10 hour day I’m planning to work also seems excessive – so I figure, if I can’t get the work done in that time period it is just going to have to wait.

After blocking in work, I added the time I need to travel to and from work, and the time I need to get ready in the morning.

By this time, my week days were already really full, but there was more to add. Daily activities like reading mail, paying bills, cooking, eating and cleaning up after dinner all had to be included.  I also needed to include time for daily exercise and working on projects like this blog. Additionally I needed time down time – reading, watching tv… whatever helps me unwind. And then there were the various activities I pursue outside my home, like meeting my friends each Thursday for the pub quiz, or rehearsing with my band.

Weekends followed a similar process – I needed to include time for housework, grocery shopping, an additional 4 hours of school work.

After writing it all into  the timetable I’ve realised it won’t be possible to do everything I want to do in the time I have – unless I just don’t sleep, so I’ve had to make some cutbacks. I’ve had to budget my time.

I’m going to try cutting back on sleep – 7 hours instead of 8 hours. This will give me time to keep up yoga and morning walks. I really am not at my best on less than 8 hours sleep – but that said, I often spend half the night awake, tossing and turning. If I sleep well, then 7 hours might be enough.

I’m also going to cut back on tv – I can only really afford 1 hour a night. I don’t really care about that , as I barely watch it anyway, but my partner and I do sometimes like to watch multiple episodes of tv seasons on dvd after dinner.

Dinner is going to have to change too. I like to cook and will spend a long time in the kitchen. To get things done, I’m going to have to choose recipes that take no more than half an hour to prepare. I’ll need to leave the longer recipes for weekends. 

As for blogging – I’m limiting the time I spend on that as well.  As well as writing posts,  I’ll be using that time for reading other blogs, responding to comments, updating my photoblog etc. There’s a lot to keep up with – so you may not hear from me so often.

Speaking of which, I’ve just realised I’ve gone overtime on this post – by one whole minute!

I’m not sure how successful my timetable will be, but I do have a sense of control now. I’m not nearly as apprehensive about returning to work – I think if I stick to my plan, I’ll be able to maintain my balance.  In which case, all the early mornings and time restrictions I’m imposing on my self will be worth it.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Hidden Meanings and Personal Baggage

Have you ever tried to do the right thing by another person only to find out later that somehow it all backfired and that person was offended by your actions? Its an awful feeling to have your good intentions misunderstood and to wind up offending the very people you were trying to support.

Last Monday I wrote about the cultural differences in manners that can lead to this sort of misunderstanding. What one culture views as polite another may view as rude.

But culture isn’t the only  factor that can lead to misunderstanding. Perhaps a more significant factor is the internal dialogue that runs through each of our heads. We are full of assumptions, expectations, hopes, insecurities and baggage. We look at the world through a filter shaped by our experiences and beliefs, and in my experience, it is this more than anything that leads to strife.

You could never give my grandmother a compliment. If you told her you liked her dress she would be offended – because it implied that all the dresses she hadn’t been complimented on were not nice. She used to say,  “never make a personal comment” and tried to teach us that compliments were rude.

The other day one of my neighbours was upset after a conversation with a couple sitting on the steps to our building. She thought they looked  lost and wanted to know if they needed any help. They answered her very defensively – which offended her. We speculated later that it may have been because they thought she was being one of those very territorial, busy-body residents -there’s one in every building. Perhaps they believed when she said,”Are you looking for someone, do you need any help?”  she really meant “What is your business here, why are you on our property?”

I guess what I’m trying to say is:  before we get all offended or angry because we think others have been rude to us, it might be a good idea to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Rather than looking for hidden meanings, perhaps we should try to take things on face value more. The hidden meanings that we react to may well be a product of our own insecurities rather than anything intended by the other party.