Saturday, May 30, 2009

Why I run

I wish I could say I run because I love it. That it makes me feel free and gives me a rush of exhilaration, but that's not true. Simply, I run because it's an easy way to exercise. You don't have to go to a gym to run, you just need a pair of shoes, and it gives you a chance to spend some time outside. I do feel better after a run, largely because I then believe myself justified to eat desert if I want to. Plus, I generally feel exhausted, especially after a Saturday morning run. I also run (at increasingly longer distances) because it's something that most of the rest of my family wouldn't do.

Today, Andrew and I are driving down to Calgary. We're going to visit Michelle while we're there, but on Sunday morning we're going to participate in the Calgary Half Marathon. That's 21.2 km of running, which will probably take us slightly less than 2 hours (we expect to run at approximately 10.75 km/hour). I'm hoping to finish in about the middle of the pack of the half marathon participants. According to the Calgary Marathon website they expect approximately 8,000 people to compete in the event tomorrow morning, although I don't know how many are running the same distance we are. This will be our second official road race. Last summer we ran in the Edmonton Canada Day Fun Race, which was a 15 km route. We completed the course, including 2 enormous hills, in 1 hour 29 minutes.

We hope that one day we might be able to run the Boston Marathon; however, you have to meet a qualifying time to participate. The current standard is 3 hours 40 minutes for woman and 3 hours 10 minutes for men of our age group. The winning time this year for the men's division was 2 hours 8 minutes. After this weekend our plans are to continue to run our training course (of approximately 20 km) throughout the summer and work on getting our speed up. On the flat track at Butterdome I can run over 11 km/hour, but only for about 20 minutes before I burn out. This is going to take some work, especially for me since I'm not really a natural runner (Andrew could run a much faster time if he ran on his own); however I've already seen a huge increase in my speed and endurance from when I started running 3 years ago.

I will report on our experience after we get home, and possible have a picture to put up.



Friday, May 22, 2009

Balcony garden 2009: Day 90

Just a quick note: we have peas!

We should probably pick them and eat them soon. Yum.



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A little outdoor relief

I spent most of the May long weekend indoors staring at a computer screen (I know, I rock). The weather was nice on Saturday, but rather gray and windy on Sunday, although supposedly still warm (I didn't go outside so I have no way to prove or disprove this theory). When I woke up on Monday I wanted to cry. Snow flakes were drifting lazily in the air. I got out of bed and sat down at the computer planning to put in the time I would be missing at work for the holiday. I put in about a half an hour and decided: "That's it! Its the long weekend and I haven't taken any time off." I slumped over to the couch and sat down beside Andrew, who was having breakfast.

The conversation went something like this:

Andrew: "The weather is hikeable."
Andrea: "I suppose. We'd have to bundle up."
Andrew: "You need to take the day off, your work doesn't expect you to put in time on a holiday."
Andrea: "Well, let's go now, in case the weather gets worse in the afternoon."
Andrew: "I need to finish my breakfast first."

By 10:00 a.m. we were underway. We'd bundled appropriately, packed our backpacks with rations, visited Safeway for a few extras and were driving toward the Yellowhead. We reached Elk Island around 10:45, purchased a group National Park Pass (good for 2-7 visitors from May 2009 to May 2010) and were parked by the trailhead just before 11:00. It turned out to be a great idea. The temperature was cool (we had sniffling noses the whole day) but the sun came out around noon and we were eventually able to peel off our top layers. And we had several up close encounters with bison.

The bison roam freely on Elk Island. As you drive through the park you frequently find them grazing by the road and inevitably someone has stopped their car to take pictures. But we came upon a herd of bison (including cute baby bison) during our hike. It was cool, but yet problematic. Every time they moved, they ran a little farther along the hiking trial. So we would walk for a bit, then we would have to slow down as we came within thirty metres of the bison, watching to see what they would do. A couple of bison would stare at us and after a minute or so they'd trot off farther along the trail and the process would repeat itself. Eventually they headed down a path that departed from the main hiking trail, but we continued to encounter the occasional lone bison as we walked.

We walked about 13.5 km in total. The first trail, the Hayburger Trail (this is where we saw the bison), was 10 km long. Then we took a shorter trail, Beaver Pond Trial, which was 3.5 km long to prolong our time in the outdoors. All in all, it was a great way to finish off an otherwise lack-luster long weekend.



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Health Canada's Food Fortification Policies

This morning CBC Radio One reported on proposed changes to Health Canada's Food Fortification Policies. It worried me. Worried me a lot. So much, in fact that I wrote a letter of concern to my MP, the Minister of Health and Deputy Minister of Health.

If you wish to read the proposed changes, the document is located here: Addition of Vitamins and Minerals to Foods, 2005


To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Andrea Milne. I am a research assistant at the University of Alberta. I have a Bachelors of Science in Nursing degree. I am currently enrolled in the Master of Library and Information Studies program at the University of Alberta, where I have a particular interest in food and diet related information seeking behaviours of undergraduate university students. I am writing because I am concerned about Health Canada’s proposed changes to their food fortification policies.

I find the idea that producers of pre-packaged convenience foods may be permitted to fortify their products with vitamins and minerals alarming. I am concerned that many Canadians do not know how to critically evaluate food labels and other health claims on food packaging. This lack of knowledge leads to poor food and diet choices by Canadians and contributes to the growing problem of obesity and other weight-related diseases. Allowing fortification of convenience foods will only confuse consumers. It may lead to increased selection of unhealthy food because they are said to be fortified with vitamins and minerals while still containing high levels of sodium, sugar, fat and calories. This is especially concerning as Canadians may select these convenience foods over healthier choices that contain vitamins and minerals naturally along with having low levels of sodium, sugar, etc.

I am writing this letter to encourage Health Canada to not bow to food manufacturers’ requests for a more lenient food fortification policy. Canada should not follow the lead of the United States in this matter. I feel Health Canada could serve Canadians better by providing greater levels of education on how to use Canada’s Food Guide, to select healthy food and to read food labels. I believe that a greater awareness of food choices and how it affects health could improve the well being of Canadians and decrease the burden of weight-related diseases on Canada’s health system. Something I doubt fortified convenience food could do.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Andrea Milne, BScN

Monday, May 11, 2009

A showy weekend

Andrew and I attend two shows this weekend.

1) ESO Friday Night Masters Concert

The turn out for this concert was excellent. Usually the Winspear is only half to three quarter full for the Friday shows, but this weekend it was nearly full. This may be due to the second half of the concert, which was devoted to Gustaf Holst's The Planets, which is fairly well known. Most people are probably familiar with the Mars and Jupiter movements, even if they don't know who wrote them, etc.

One of the things I loved about this performance was the humongous orchestra. It included: 1 tuba, 1 tenor tuba, 3 trombones, 3 trumpets, 5 french horns (yes 5), 2 bassoons, I think there was a bass clarinet, a bunch of flutes, 5 percussionists, 2 harps, an organ and another console (I'm not sure what instrument) and the regular ESO compliment of string instruments. Huge, big sound, especially during Mars. And when the organ joined in--oh man. It could knock someone's socks off, literally. Or at the very least give someone heart palpitations. And I love the romantic bit in Jupiter, where the music swells. I feel like I should be running through a grassy field toward my long desired love.

The first half was less exciting, but it's hard to be compared to The Planets. The first piece was a Canadian composition, unfortunately I've forgotten the composer's name, but it was titled The Wings Beneath the Earth. It was based on a Chilean poem, I believe. It was all right. The music was nothing too unusual and reminded me a little of generic movie soundtrack-type music. Andrew thought it lacked a distinct theme. The other first half piece was Haydn's Mercury Symphony (Symphony 43). Again, very nice, lots of crisp playing from the strings.

One last note. This is just a pet peeve of mine, but, if you're going to go to the orchestra take off your ball cap and leave your blue jeans and sneakers at home. The musicians are in black tie, the least you can do is put on a pair of slacks.

2) Stars on Ice

If you couldn't guess from the previous post Andrew and I attended the Stars on Ice performance at Rexall Place in Edmonton on Saturday night. I may have mentioned, I love figure skating. So, it might not surprise you, dear reader, that we had ice level seats. I love it there. You can see the skaters' facial expressions, hear them talking to one another and sometimes you get to interact with them. You can also see how fast they're skating. The whole show is a great deal of fun, sort of a rock n' roll show on ice. Or maybe it's better described as a musical on ice, I'm not sure.

The cast was mostly Canadian, this year, just two skaters who were not. I was pleased to discover that Stephane Lambiel was a special guest, which wasn't advertised on the Stars on Ice website. He's my new figure skater crush. Not only is he incredibly cute, but he's a talented skater. His spins were amazingly fast with great positions and he has intricate footwork with deep edges. A number of ladies in the audience seemed appreciated his skating as well.

I've already covered my love for Kurt Browning, but I'll said it again briefly: he's awesome. I loved his skating as a kid and I still do now. Ack! Who else to talk about? I could go through each skater individually and describe their numbers, but that wouldn't be terrible interesting and I don't think I have the patience to go through them all. Let's just say everyone was pretty great. In particular I enjoyed numbers by Joannie Rochette, Jeffrey Buttle, and Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon (some of my favourite skaters). I probably spent most of the show grinning stupidly and bouncing to the music selections. We've already put in our request for ice level seats again next year. Thank heavens Andrew is willing to indulge me in this silly passion of mine.

I think I will end this post here. I could spend paragraphs discussing both events, but my purpose for blogging is not to write in-depth reviews, just to record the occasional events in my life.



Sunday, May 10, 2009

An open letter: Re Kurt Browning

Dear Mr. Browning,

Thank you for pausing during the final number of Stars on Ice to allow me to take these pictures. You made my evening. Both of your numbers were fantastic. Especially the second program to Spirit of Adventure. I love your innovative skating moves and willingness to create programs outside the box. Also, nice abs. Don't worry about the tiny flub on the landing of your double axel, I'm sure no one minded.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the Stars on Ice tour. I'm sure you're looking forward to returning to home.

Much love and adoration,

Andrea Milne


If you ever get tired of being married to a principle ballerina with the National Ballet, let me know. I can make myself available.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Manuscript update

I thought since my Twitter posts have been flashing up on the side of my blog for the last month I should bring folks up to speed with what's actually happening with my new manuscript.

I would like to say it's done, but it's not. I have, however, managed to complete 51,049 words over a total of 27 days (29 days, actually. I didn't write on 2 of them). I expect another 4,000 to 9,000 words should wrap up the story. Since this is a children's/young adult story (probably suitable for 10-14 year old girls) I think this length should be sufficient, although it may still be a little on the short side. The story has some loose similarities to Lois Lowry's The Giver, mostly just in the style of the highly structured, rule-bound world.

The story, simply titled Nora at the moment, is a piece of speculative fiction. It's set some undetermined time in the future where most of the Earth has turned to desert. Humans live together in compounds of around 1000 people (some more, some less). They grow as much of their food in greenhouses as they can. There's also a degenerative disease that kills about 65-70% of the population before they reach the age of 50. Because most people die young, there is a keen distinction kept between children (those younger than 18) and adults (those older than eighteen).

My main character is a 16-year old girl named Nora. She's deaf. When I first mentioned the idea of making her deaf to Andrew, he thought it would be difficult to write, but I haven't found it so. Mostly I've had to be mindful not to describe sounds, which hasn't been difficult. When I start to edit I want to increase her awareness of other senses like smell and colours. Currently there's been a large focus on facial expressions, which she uses to determine what kind of mood people are in. I've given her the ability to read lips. In reality I don't think a lip reader would be quite as proficient as she is, but I've tried to point out she often can't understand what people are saying because she can't see their faces. She also explains to another character that she pieces together what she can catch and fills in the blanks on her own.

My other main character is Tomas, a 17-year old boy. Yes, there's a bit of a romance in the story. I can't help myself. It doesn't start out well as Nora smacks Tomas in the face with a door. It comes back to haunt her later on. Tomas is a considerate young man who has a tendency to help others. He's also very attractive (blond hair, crystal-blue eyes), although not overly tall (around 5'8").

The third important character in my story is Ms. Amatrist, the greenhouse attendant. She's a special friend to Nora (I didn't mention earlier, but her mother died when she was 10 years old and she's never known her father), who always encourages the heroine to pursue her interests and work hard. Ms. Amatrist is the wise teacher sort.

The main crisis of the story arises when a fast talking stranger (i.e. a con man) arrives at Nora's compound and tries to convince everyone that he has created a cure for the disease. He swindles the compound out of it's money and Nora, Tomas and Ms. Amatrist wind up chasing after him to get the money back. That's the part where I'm at now. The end of the chase. After that will follow the obligatory handing down of justice and a touching death scene. I hope the action is balanced well throughout. It's been exciting to write. Now I'm going to have to go back to touch up and improve.

I'll be looking for readers once I'm done... ...



Saturday, May 2, 2009

Squash and leek soup: Another guesstimated recipe

Last Sunday night a put together an Indonesia themed dinner (despite the fact that I don't know any one who is Indonesian, I have never been to Indonesia or eaten at an Indonesian restaurant). I used the recipes from the Extending the Table cookbook, which is (or at least was) available at Ten Thousand Villages. I made a variety of dishes including Sweet Vegetables (p.128). Sweet Vegetables included 3 cups of butternut squash, sweet red pepper and most importantly, coconut milk. The meal overall was tasty, with lots of vegetables prepared in several different ways. The one thing I found with the Sweet Vegetable recipe was that it was very runny and since I've never had this type of food, I don't know if that's normal.

By about Wednesday it was clear we were going to have a lot of the coconut juice left over and I decided I would save it and try and make something of it, rather than throw it away. I also still had half a butternut squash and most of a leek. It seemed obvious that these things should go together. And so, for lunch today Andrew and I had squash and leek soup. I'm going to write the recipe as if I hadn't made it from leftovers, so bear with me. I imagine it will taste pretty much the same, regardless. But it might affect the consistency of the soup.

Butternut squash (1 medium-sized)
Coconut milk (1, 400 mL can)*
Chicken or vegetable stock (1-2 cups)
Garlic (3-5 cloves)
Onion (1 medium-sized)
Ginger root (1 tablespoon, minced not powder)
Ground turmeric (1/2 teaspoon)
Salt (2 teaspoons)
Leek (1)

1) Peel and chop the squash into 1 inch cubes, place in a heavy sauce pan or stock pot.
2) Add the can of coconut milk to the sauce pan.
3) Add enough stock to cover the squash (and the other ingredients to be added).

This is the one spot where the recipe is kind of iffy. How much stock you add to the pot depends on the size of your pot and the squash. I don't think this will affect the taste, you might just have a runnier soup than I did.

4) Simmer the ingredients at a low temperature.
5) Chop the onion and garlic and add to the pot.
6) Slice the leek (the white and light green part) and add to the pot.
7) Add the spices. Stir.
8) Continue to simmer the soup until the squash is soft (about 1/2 hour). Using a potato masher (or a hand blender if you have one) mash the squash and other vegetables until the soup is mostly smooth (small lumps are okay).
9) Serve.

We added some chopped green onions as garnish and I made apple oatmeal muffins to go along side the soup. The muffins mostly came from the Company's Coming Muffins and More recipe for oatmeal muffins, but I omitted the raisins and molasses, and added shredded apple.

*Do use coconut milk and use the full-fat stuff. It has a very different taste than regular milk and gives this soup most of its flavour.



Friday, May 1, 2009

Learning the dials/Balcony garden 2009: Day 69

Today I took a course on digital SLR cameras. Andrew received a Nikon D40 last year as a graduation gift from his parents. We've enjoyed using it since then; however, we didn't understand the settings or any of the capabilities of the camera. We'd like to get a new lens, something with a better zoom, but I didn't want to get a new one until I knew how to use the one we've already got. This course helped, a lot.

There's a number of factors that go together to make a good picture. There's aperture (how wide the lens opens), shutter speed (does that need an explanation?), ISO rating (how sensitive the "film" is to light) and white balance (what kind of light you're shooting--so the picture doesn't look orange). I had heard of aperture, but I definitely didn't know how it worked. Nor am I going to relate the details here as one course doesn't make me an expert, but I hope it will improve my pictures.

The one problem I foresee now, is that this course will actually make me a slower picture taker. I'm now going to need more time to fiddle with the dials. Open the aperture wider and slow down the shutter speed when the picture is darker and visa verse for a brighter photo. Or I can start playing with things and blow the exposure way out of proportion. I suppose I could just leave my camera dial on the auto features like "portrait" or "action," but what's the point in having a SLR if that's all I'm going to do?

And on the note of improving my pictures...An update on the balcony garden (which is still sitting in our living room as it's not yet warm enough to leave them out over night).


(Hmmm...the top picture's a little blow out after all. It can be tricky to tell on the camera screen sometimes.)


They're teeny tiny. We hope they'll grow to actually produce fruit.

And Tomatoes:

I hope we can move the garden outside soon. It's supposed to be up to +16C tomorrow. And, I'll keep working on my photographs.