Category Archives: life

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The garden is becoming part of my daily life

I’m in the garden almost every day. Almost 40 hours in total since the beginning of April. It’s my new favourite transition activity before dinner. I plant, water, pick off bugs. I’m beginning to learn what leaves feel like when they haven’t gotten enough water and when they have. The oregano, mint, cilantro, basil, and lettuce are growing much better than they did in previous years. None of the snow peas have made it indoors yet, since I’ve been eating them off the vine. The tomatoes, zucchini, winter melons, and bitter melons haven’t hit their stride yet, but maybe during the hotter months.

I like filling the salad spinner with cut-and-come-again leaves. I should let some of the plants go to seed so that I can collect them for the next batch, but it’s too tempting to snip off the flowers in order to keep the current batch going. I planted a salad mix, so I have no idea what some of these are. I know bok choy, spinach, arugula. Peppery and red-veined? Probably beet greens. I’m relying on frequency here. If there’s a lot of a type of plant, it grows in a somewhat regular formation, and I don’t already conclusively know it’s a weed, it’s probably okay to eat. So far, so good.

I have salad every other day or so. Today I had three small bowls of salad all by myself (W- had the other bowl). I shook up a quick Asian-style dressing in a small mason jar and sprinkled sesame seeds on top. We don’t normally buy those boxes of salad mix, since I feel guilty about not finishing them before they have to go. If it’s still growing, I don’t mind, although I try to harvest leaves before the slugs and leaf-miners get to them.

The salad garden is doing so much better this year compared to last year. Frequent watering and frequent harvesting, that’s probably the ticket. I should make pesto this week. Maybe Wednesday. Basil likes being harvested often, too. =) I’ve been picking flowers off every day, but there are definitely enough leaves here to make a good-sized batch of pesto.

Nom nom nom nom nom…

Dealing with the doldrums

I’m not always a cheerful, energetic ray of sunshine. Sometimes I feel meh, too. Whether it’s due to the disruption of routines or momentum, frustration with uncertainty, or factors beyond my control, it happens. During these doldrums, it’s harder to work on creative tasks. It’s harder to move, even. There’s the temptation to spend the time browsing the Web or playing games instead–tempting activities that don’t require a lot of thinking and have a false sense of progress.

Instead of getting stuck–or pretending it doesn’t happen–I’d rather think about how I can hack my way around it. Sometimes it’s good to just relax into it, relying on the buffer from good relationships and good finances. After all, I don’t often give myself permission to take a long afternoon nap, or read fiction, or watch a movie. It can actually be quite satisfying to see things chugging along even if I don’t feel like I’m my usual self. We still keep the house running smoothly, the financial markets still do well. (I hope that if any “meh” periods coincide with market corrections, I’ll have the presence of mind to think, “Oh, stocks are on sale!”)

Sometimes little things I do can dislodge me enough from the Sargasso sea of suckitude. One of the things I find helpful is to think about the difference between how this feels and other ways I’ve felt before. Sure, I might feel meh at the moment, but there have also been moments when I’ve felt awesome, accomplished, productive, energetic, and even smug (in a good way =) ). Thinking about those different feelings helps me remember that meh-ness is temporary, and it also helps me figure out some things I can do that might move me closer to other feelings. For example, I feel awesome when I learn interesting technical things that help me save time or make tools. I feel accomplished when I finish a large batch of cooking or I cross off plenty of items on my TODO list. I feel energetic when I exercise and when I solve problems. I feel an extra burst of smugness when I bike, especially if it’s been raining.

It can be hard to get over that activation threshold, though. Many things that give me that positive buzz are creative in nature (programming, writing, etc.). Fortunately, there are a few activities that I can do even if my mind’s wandering. Walking is a great use of meh-brain time. I feel somewhat proud of myself because of the exercise. I went for a 1.5-hour walk the other day, and that felt much better than sitting at home playing video games. Tidying is another good use of meh-time, and paperwork is like that too. I can practise drawing, too – copying figures or slowly untangling my thoughts.

Writing this, I’m already starting to feel that usual sense of “Actually, things are pretty awesome.” =) I don’t expect myself to be 100% on, and it makes no sense to beat myself up for not being on all the time. But it’s nice to know that the occasional “meh”-ness in my life is temporary, and I can choose to either relax and enjoy it or play around with some ways to nudge myself out of it.

In the garden

The garden is doing pretty well. We have salad every other day or so, and I’m constantly thinking of recipes to use the herbs before they totally take over the garden. =)

  • Various leafy greens, with tomatoes and peas in the background

    Various leafy greens, with tomatoes and peas in the background

  • The strawberries are tiny

    The strawberries are tiny

  • Garlic, other herbs

    Garlic, oregano, mint

  • The cilantro towers over the other herbs

    The cilantro towers over the other herbs in this planter

  • Thai basil is pretty dense

    Thai basil is pretty dense

  • The sweet basil is quite happy, too

    The sweet basil is quite happy, too

Dealing with uncertainty

2014-06-09 Dealing with uncertainty

2014-06-09 Dealing with uncertainty

Some projects are mostly under my control. I might not know exactly how to get to my goals, but if I make steady progress, I’ll eventually figure things out and get there. Programming is like that. I have a good idea of what’s possible. If I break the challenge down into small, manageable tasks, I’ll solve it eventually. Juggling two or more projects makes it easier for me to switch to something that I can act on whenever I get stuck or whenever I need to wait for something else.

Other projects are less certain, but I can use other people’s experiences to improve my estimates. Research helps me figure out the odds, and that lets me take calculated risks or make decisions. If things don’t go my way, I can remind myself that success wasn’t certain in the first place. You can do everything right, but you’re still subject to forces beyond your control. No point in stressing out over things you can’t influence as much as you’d like, anyway. All you can do is prepare for flexibility and safety nets so that you can take advantage of opportunities and mitigate risks. =)

For some projects, I don’t even know the odds. Am I doing better or worse than expected? No clue! For example, in terms of gardening, is my garden doing well despite the shade and the sandy soil, or are there other things I can do to improve it? Someone with more experience might be able to figure things out. I’m still working on figuring out how to ask better questions. It helps to pay attention and do the best I can, celebrating the journey along the way. (The grass is growing! The bitter melon are starting to flower! I’m getting into the habit of rubbing off the leafminer eggs on the sorrel!) It also helps to remember that many of the projects in this category are long-term ones, so even if I make mistakes this year (apparently, you’re not supposed to prune early tomato flowers), I can learn from those mistakes and make next year even better.

I like being mostly in control, or at least knowing what to expect. I’m gradually getting better at dealing with uncertainty, though. =)


What am I learning about and what can I write about more?

I’ve been feeling a little distracted, a little stretched these past weeks. I tell people that if they have a hard time blogging, they can look at what they’re learning and write about that, since they’re probably learning at least one new thing every day. Time to take my own advice. =)

Clojure: I’ve been slowly working through the exercises at, solving two or three a day (56 done now!). I’m slowly getting the hang of loop, for, partition-by, and all these functions that I’m not used to playing with in Emacs Lisp. My solutions are nowhere near elegant, but they get me to the point of being able to read other people’s solutions. That’s how I’ve been learning about interesting functions. I’m also reading through the Clojure core documentation. Hard to remember everything, but I’m getting better at thinking “Hmm, I remember coming across something that might be useful.”

I’m learning this out of curiosity at the moment, since I haven’t thought of any personal projects that are better suited to Clojure than, say, Rails or Emacs Lisp. Maybe I’ll finally get around to coding that script to check the library for the locations of newly-released DVDs, or building something to help me analyze my Quantified Self data. In order to get to that point, I’ll need to learn core Clojure functions, popular frameworks and libraries, and workflow/debugging tools. It seems a little daunting, but it’s a good kind of daunting. I’m chipping away at it steadily. This also helps me empathize with programming newbies, which is great because I’m working on that course to help people learn Emacs Lisp. =)

Gardening: The sorrel I bought from the farmer’s market turned out to have leaf miners. I’ve been removing the rows of eggs under the leaves by hand, and I cut off a few of the affected leaves and trashed them (far, far away from the garden). It’s a pity about the bugs, but at least I’m learning how to identify and control pests.

The blueberries we planted in 2010 have more flowers than I’d ever seen on them before, and some of those flowers are beginning to set fruit. I cut some twigs off the backyard trees to replace the bamboo hoops that were acting as tomato stakes, and I moved the hoops to the front so that I could drape the net over them. I’m beginning to get the hang of this – no more buying stakes for me!

Some of the bok choy plants are starting to bolt, and the Thai basil is flowering. I pinched the tips, hoping that will extend their growth a little further. I’ve been erring on the side of watering almost every day, since our soil is sandy. The soil often feels dry to a few inches’ depth, even if I’d watered just the day before. We’ve been mixing lots of compost into it and laying even more on top as mulch, but it still has a long way to go.

Emacs: This week I’ll polish the fourth segment in the beginner e-mail course for learning Emacs Lisp. It’s wonderful to have reached this point! I’m glad I started this experiment. Writing tutorials is much easier with other people’s feedback, and e-mail seems to be a less intimidating way for people to interact. I’ll probably roll it out as a blog series as well, so that people can find it while searching my blog. After I finish that, maybe I’ll take a short break before doing the intermediate course. That way, I have some time to experiment with the nifty things I’ve been coming across.

So yeah, I’m learning about stuff. Ah! Maybe it’s because I haven’t been writing in the process of doing so. For Clojure, I can write about my solutions to problems and wha I’m learning by looking at people’s solutions. For gardening, I can post pictures. For Emacs, well, I’m used to writing about that already! =) I think the bottleneck there is that I’ve been working on stuff that’s posted on Github and at , but I haven’t been posting those notes (or meta-notes about the process) on my personal blog. Since my personal blog is likely to outlive both of those other resources, I should copy things over anyway. Also, I can give myself permission to spend time exploring Emacs instead of answering mail or working on the course, since it’s fun to write about cool features I’m experimenting with.

If I think of writer’s block as learner’s block, it’s easy to chip away at it. Onward!

Hmm, maybe I’m not slacking off after all

Even though I’ve got the steady accumulation of DONE tasks showing my slow-but-constant progress, I still sometimes feel like I’m leaving something on the table when it comes to how I use my time. I feel like I’m living with a more relaxed pace, especially compared with the world of work around me or my fuzzed-by-time recollections of pre-experiment and early-experiment days.

Top line = All tasks excluding cancelled ones, bottom line = DONE

Top line = All tasks excluding cancelled ones, bottom line = DONE

I was thinking about how my time use has shifted over the past few years. I compared my percentages in different categories for 2012, 2013, and for 2014 to date. But the numbers say I’m actually spending more time on work and personal projects, and I do seem to manage to check off lots of things on my TODO list. =) So maybe I’m doing okay with this after all, even though sometimes I think I’m slacking off.

Top-level categories:

  • Sleep: Pretty consistent (34.5-36.6%) – this works out to 8.3-8.8 hours a day.
  • Business: Down, then up lately – 24%, 21%, 26%; but I expect this to be a little lower this year, since I’m taking three months off. =) I’ll probably focus on even more writing, drawing, and Emacs geekery then. (And maybe a crash course in a useful skill…)
    Avg hours per week 2012 2013 2014 to date
    Earn 20 15 17
    Build 12 13 18
    Connect 8 7 9
    Total 40 35 44
  • Discretionary: Up, then down – 18%, 22%, 16%
  • Personal care: Pretty consistent (13-14%)
  • Chores/unpaid work: Pretty consistent (7-8%)

As before, the business/discretionary trade-off is really the main thing that moves. The rest of my life stays pretty much the same. The second level of categories is worth looking at too:

  • Writing is pretty consistent at 3%, or roughly 5 hours a week. Still, I think I’d like to write more. What should get reduced? Ah, video games have been soaking up a little time – although they’re exercise too. Hmm, I could intensify that exercise so that I get more out of it. Oh! I’ve been spending more time gardening lately; that could be another reason. I like both of those alternative activities too, and I think they’ll taper off after a while. That’s okay, there’ll be time enough to write more. Besides, some of my writing is filed under Emacs-related time instead. =)
  • Trending up:
    • Drawing (2.0-4.1%): This is good.
    • Planning (0.2-1.5%): Hmm, this is interesting. Am I running into diminishing returns here? Maybe less time planning, more time experimenting.
    • Emacs (0.4-2.8%), and I’m looking forward to spending even more time on this.
    • Relaxing (0.6-2.0%)
  • Trending down:
    • Tidying up, cleaning the kitchen (2.3-1.6%) – about 3 hours a week? I should do more around the house (or maybe I am, and I’m not tracking it properly)
    • Working on Quantified Awesome (1.4-0.8%) – steady-state since I’m happy with the code so far?
    • Reading fiction (1.2-0.4%) – subsumed into other activities
    • Socializing (8.0-1.4%) – big drop here; winter, becoming more selective?
    • Networking (4.7-1.7%) – big drop here too; not networking as actively
    • Biking (2.4-0.7%) – but then it’s still early in the biking season, and I work fewer days too

I’ll continue to focus on gardening for a bit until the garden is more established. I want to exercise and bike more as well. And there’s all sorts of Emacs coolness to learn about and share! =) Writing will have to be content with these little snippets–thinking out loud, sharing what I learn, and other things like that–until I can spend more time focusing on developing ideas. Mostly, the increase in time on other activities seems to be coming from the time I used to spend socializing. I actually like this new balance. The stuff I make and share online seems to lead to more ongoing conversations than those hi-hellos at tech events, and I’m still happy to spend a few hours getting to know people or going somewhere.

I got the time numbers from and a bit of spreadsheet number-crunching, and the task numbers from Emacs + Org Mode + R. =) Yay data!