A Different Kind of Volunteering

I heard a Ted Talk by Rupal Patel early last year about the need for people who can’t speak to have more than one robotic male or female option for their voice when they speak using a computer. A good example is the robotic voice sound used by Stephen Hawking, familiar and generic.  It isn’t age specific or regional.  Now imagine if you could donate your voice and it would be matched with the sounds made by someone who can’t form words.  This is essentially what Rupal Patel’s organization, Vocal ID, does.  I was so inspired by this that I set about donating my voice for the past year. 

This really seemed like the perfect way for me to volunteer but not have to commit to a specific day or time, as I already feel committed enough to things, but wanted to do something outside of work or church.  It would also be awesome to go at my own pace, even thought it took a year to complete.  

Above is an example of what the set up looks like on the Vocal ID site.  I would hit the record button, read the line, stop the recording and submit the sentence.  It took about 10-15 seconds per line and there were about 3500 sentences to say, or repeat when the recording was too loud or noisy.

My goal screen.  I first felt really daunting to see 3000 sentences still to do.
My goal screen.  I first felt really daunting to see 3000 sentences still to do.

Here are examples of some of the ridiculous sentences I had to say:

Once you are real you can’t be ugly.

An ugly black imp appeared.

He came in gorgeous array.

He made them cross-bars of a scaffold.

He hoisted the coffin to the top of the scaffold.

He thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

He’s a capital fellow.

He was merely a delayed meal.

He tied a burning pine-knot to his right hand.

I'm done!
I’m done!

Vocal ID even takes into consideration where you are from, your age, and your accent, to really give a better chance of fitting in in every way.  Once I finished I could already see that there were potential matches for my voice, which was really inspiring.  

If you are interested yourself, all it takes is a computer with a mic (usually already built into your device) and a quiet room.  You can do the recording faster than I did if you have more time.  It certainly doesn’t take everyone a year to complete, but it allows you to move at your own pace, which was perfect for me.

Check out Vocal ID for more information and get recording!

 

 

Ten New Things 2015 – 2

Ten New Things cont’d.

6. Discovered the Sunshine Coast – Our church small group goes on a retreat each year and this time we rented a massive house on the Sunshine Coast that slept 16 people.  I had been to the Sunshine Coast once years ago, but only to the town you arrive in at the ferry drop off, so it didn’t really feel like I had experienced the Coast.  We had fun watching jellyfish off the dock, Dave went out on a late night canoe run to stare at the stars and the phosphorescents in the water.  We did a hike up a small mountain and had a spectacular view of the area we were staying in and relaxed in an outdoor hot tub.  It was a fun weekend with friends and we’ll be back in the future.

7. Surprising my family at Thanksgiving – Given the opportunity to take a work trip home at Thanksgiving, I knew that I had to go the extra few hours to see my family for the long weekend. The look on moms face was worth it, she was so surprised and so were all the kids.  Amazingly, it still ended up being really busy as I quickly made the rounds to see my big family, but it was really fun to just ‘pop in’ for a little bit.

8. Going to Brooklyn – I was super excited about getting to go to Brooklyn. I had been to Manhattan before and did all the major tourist things, but never strayed across the river. We learned a lot about this borough through a food tour and saw all kinds of awesome street art. It really reminded me of Vancouver, just more of an East Coast feel. I know we’ll get back again soon for some good coffee, food and hopefully next time a brewery or two.

So much great street art in Brooklyn.
So much great street art in Brooklyn.
Mmm enjoying a coffee at Devocion in Brooklyn.
Mmm enjoying a coffee at Devocion in Brooklyn.

9. Eating at a Michelin starred restaurant – This was such an awesome experience.  Dave and I don’t like to buy things; we would far rather spend our money on an experience that we can share and remember with happiness later.  Eating at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan was one of them. A sister site also exists just outside of New York City and is one of the 50 best in the world, so we knew this was going to be amazing.  It was1If you have a chance to watch Chef’s Table on Netflix, there is an episode all about Barber and how he sources his food and focuses on flavour. Best restaurant meal we have ever had. We followed that up a couple days later by eating at The Spotted Pig, which has also received a Michelin star for its amazing pub food.  It was a food lovers paradise for us in NYC.

10. Running the New York City Marathon – My hardest marathon bar-none.  For years I have seen a picture hanging in my aunt’s house of her and her sister crossing the finish line of the marathon in 1993. So it has been on my bucket list for a long time:  Run NYC, one of the Big 5 marathons.  I finally got the opportunity to run it with one of my closest friends from Australia, Megan.  I thought it would be my best run ever and my training had been my best.  I was faster, my body felt good, I was ready to roll.  Reality was, we both found it super challenging; the hills, the bridges, the long, long sections of street and the endless crowds.  I finished in 4:11:41 and I wish I could go back and do it all over again, because I know I could do better. But I’m proud of what I did despite how it turned out because I pushed until the end and never even considered giving up. For now though, I don’t want to think about another marathon for a long time.

Heavy into the merchandise at the Expo.  
Heavy into the merchandise at the Expo.  
Brooklyn at km 16.  Brooklyn is the first half of the race and THEN you hit four bridges! Talk about a brain buster!
Brooklyn at km 16.  Brooklyn is the first half of the race and THEN you hit four bridges! Talk about a brain buster!

What will 2016 bring?  Hopefully a new province to visit and maybe some new BC experiences. We’re calling it our Year of Canada!

I hope you did some new things in 2015 as well.  It keeps you young and bring lots of fun to life. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Ten New Things 2015 – 1

Looking back on 2015 I can think of so many things that are new to me.  We had some wonderful trips, I grew in my role at work and my cooking has continued to improve as I start moving into Asian cooking more and more. Here are the highlights!

1. Travelled to China – This was my first time in Asia and it was such a rich, exciting adventure for Dave and I.  We did so many new things while there.  We ate all kinds of new foods (frozen yogurt with beans, YUM!), explored the Forbidden City, survived the driving, bought steam buns from holes in the wall and sped through the countryside on a bullet train.  The country is vast and the people so kind.  I’ll remember Dave constantly getting his photo taken, line dancing with the locals, bean smoothies, the painful Chinese massage and the corn that came topped with sugar and sprinkles.  I suspect we’ll end up back there soon.

Before the pain of the Chinese massage.
Before the pain of the Chinese massage.
Enjoying street food with Megan and Shannon.
Enjoying street food with Megan and Shannon.

2. Worked with disabled and abandoned kids – This was such a highlight of the year.  In Sanmenxia, China, I was placed in the baby room and every day I would spend time with these wonderful kids who struggled with various disability, showing them love and attention, which they desperately desired.  Since coming back, Dave and I have continued to support the baby room at the orphanage we were at.  I hope to one day get back to see how these children have developed, and even better, not see them because they have been adopted into a loving home.

The centre where the kids lived in Sanmenxia.
The centre where the kids lived in Sanmenxia.

3. Touring the Terra Cotta Warriors and The Great Wall of China – Seeing these sites always seemed like a far off reality.  I didn’t anticipate that I would even see them in my lifetime since China wasn’t really on my list of places to visit. But we did, and we loved it, and we saw these great wonders. I really enjoyed The Great Wall and would have loved to spend more time there. It really was beautiful seeing the ruinous area that stretched as far as you could see from the clean, safe, tourist section. It was like there was an adventure waiting right over the next hill. 

Into the forbidden zone!
Into the forbidden zone!

4. Joined our strata council – When we bought our condo a couple years ago I knew I wanted to join the strata council to be apart of decision making and the care for our buildings (there are 3 large condo buildings and 4 townhouse complexes – 165 units total).  So this April when we had our annual general meeting, I signed up for the standard two year term.  My goodness, I had no idea how much work and communication would be involved.  Within just the first 2-3 days I had about 50 emails back and forth about issues.  You’ll never know what is going on in the background until you get on council!  It has been trying at times, but a good learning experience so far.  

5. Grew into a manager at work – The first year as a manager is pretty challenging.  Every difficult conversation you have with am employee seems painstaking for the first while, but then you get used to it (thank goodness) and you are able to sleep at night knowing what conversations will take place the next day.  I pray a lot for wisdom in my job and the ability to be fair and consistent with my employees, to coach them through failures and praise them in success.  At the start of the year, I didn’t enjoy being a manager, and while I still have lots to learn, it has become easier and I gain more confidence in my abilities each day.

New York City Marathon 2015

I’ve never been excited about a trip than I was about going to New York City.  We had only been back from China two weeks, when I found out one of my bestie’s, Megan in Australia, had a surprise birthday present from her husband to run the New York City Marathon.  This race had been on my bucket list for about 5 years, so I knew I had to go and run it with her.  

Ben, her husband, was completely on board and we decided to keep it a secret for 6 months and surprise Megan in NYC.  In the meantime, I was supposed to be training for a race that happened on the same day in Delta, BC.  Megan completely fell for it.  We had a great time emailing, texting, and Skyping about our training whoas.  This was Megan’s first marathon (my fourth) and she had lots of questions.  It was great to help provide tips (ALWAYS use your BodyGlide!) and talk about our body aches.

It was so hard to keep it a secret and tough to try to figure out how the run would go.  Megan is faster than I am, yet I had dreams about crossing the finish line together, but I had to let that go, knowing I couldn’t hold her pace with the risk of forfeiting finishing because of burnout.  It would be what it would be.

The morning we were to meeting up with them, we had planned to meet at the Magnolia Bakery in Rockefeller Centre.  The bakery is one of Megan’s favourite places, so Ben knew it wouldn’t be hard to get her there.  Dave and I waited across the street and ran over when we saw them. Megan completely froze, it was like stumbling across your parents in the middle of the Amazon jungle, it just didn’t make sense.  By the time it sunk in, she was in tears and we had a big ‘ol hug.  It seemed to take her days to get over the fact that we were there with them.

The expo was a madhouse of spandex and people, but very well organized.  There are 50,000 runners and they all needed to get their bib, T-shirt, race kit, etc.  It felt like the first real moment of, “we’re really doing this!”

Race morning on Nov 1 was an early one.  I was up at 5am and out the door at 5:25 to head down to the buses that took us to the Staten Island starting line.  Megan and I picked the worst meeting point because of the way the buses were loading and we missed each other.  We didn’t meet up until 2 hours later in the start area.

Here we are sitting in the hay at our corral area.  We had a couple hours wait, go to the bathroom, eat, go to the bathroom, stretch, and go to the bathroom.  Nerves!

There was a giant screen showing the start of the race, which was happening right behind us on the bridge.  This is the woman’s start.

There were about 5 helicopters flying around recording the start area.  The bridge was our starting point and we could watch the first two waves of runners crossing from our area.

We got pace bands at the Expo and Megan put them on us…upside-down!   Oops! 

Finally our wave was called and we are about to start.  There were three sections, ours went under the bridge, and no, we didn’t get peed on.  :)

Photo credit: Sakepuppets
Photo credit: Sakepuppets

The crowds were immense, almost too much by the last quarter.  You eventually get tired of the same signs and high-fiving kids. I did see some original signs though.  There was one of John Snow upset that said “There will be no hitting the Wall!” Another was of Christopher Walken saying “There’s only one Walken, everyone else should be running.” But it was awesome when we passed this church and they had their choir singing out front.  One of the best crowd sections.  Harlem was also awesome with their hip-hop music.

I started running in the middle to take a break from them.  It really messes with your running plan if you do 10:1s (10min run, 1min walk).  It is so hard to walk beside people yelling at you to keep moving. My phone battery was quickly dying for some reason and I didn’t start my 10:1s until an hour in and then was trying to preserve my battery so I wasn’t using my timing app. Everything was thrown off. 

Megan in the pink hat being chased by the Wizard of Oz characters.
Megan in the pink hat being chased by the Wizard of Oz characters.

Dave got this shot of Megan running (in the pink hat).  It shows you how crowded the running was.  After about 3 miles Megan was going too fast for me and I let her go.  By the half way point my feet were hamburger and things were tough.  How could we still be in Brooklyn!  We had 5 bridges to cross, only one that was flat.  It was a zombie race by the fourth bridge.  You could tell that a lot of people (like me) hadn’t paced well enough and had not anticipated the hardships of the bridges.  I knew I wasn’t going to quit, but I knew it would be a struggle for the last hour and a half.  

I also got run over by a Kenyan (that’s what I’m saying) in Harlem at a water station.  I got ran into from behind, slipped in all the Gatorade, water and banana peels (haha) and went down hard on my elbow and knee.  Half covered in pavement and liquid, it was a bit of limp-fest for the next hour, but I pressed on.  

By the time we got into Central Park I was aching for it to be over and was somehow convincing myself that I wasn’t going to walk over the finish line.  I had to run.  On the last turn at Columbus Circle, I pushed to run the rest, down the cheering section, with all the flags of different nations and over the finish line.  My time was 4:11:41, my worst time, but also probably my proudest finish for the hardest marathon I’ve done.  I finished in the top 35% of runners, so it’s hard to complain. Megan finished seconds under 4hrs, her new PR to beat.

After stopping in the medical tent (which was like a disaster zone of cots and wheelchairs) to get my elbow and knee checked and bandaged, I joined the zombie apocalypse through the park, for what seemed like forever, to pick up our poncho.  The ponchos were amazing!  I’m keeping mine to stay warm on the coach at home!  

It took almost an hour to get to Ben, Dave and Charlotte after the race in the Family Reunion Zone.  Megan who finished 11mins ahead of me still wasn’t there.  Somehow I had passed her after the finish line.  When we finally saw each other it was a teary reunion of “That was so hard!”

Upon leaving the park and heading back to the hotel, I received so many congratulations from people on the street.  Even on the subway a young kid recorded me and him on his phone and posted it to a NYC Marathon stream somewhere on the Internets.  He was so impressed that I had ran.

After going out for a nice dinner with the Auld’s at Ed’s Lobster Bar, Dave and I stopped for a cocktail at The Central Grill a couple blocks from our hotel.  We sadly watched the Met’s go down over free fries and a couple drinks and a fun conversation with the bartender and guy beside us.  Just as we were about to leave, the bartender came over with two glasses of champaign.  He told us a woman who was at the bar and had just left bought them for us for finishing.  It was probably the best moment I’ve had in New York thus far.  New Yorkers really love their marathon and love that the world comes to run it.  I haven’t felt hospitality like that before there.

Will I be back to New York, you betcha!  Will I run another marathon?  I’m currently saying I’m retired, but you never know, I kinda want to go back and attack this one again.  Clearly, this is crazy talk!

Ten New Things 2014 – 2

Ten new things of 2014 continued…

6. First year anniversary

At a wedding near Vernon, BC
At a wedding near Vernon, BC
Enjoying the Whitsunday Islands in Australia
Enjoying the Whitsunday Islands in Australia

Our first year was great.  Not perfect, but full of love.  We continue to learn more about each other a little at a time, and also how to be patient and work at problems.  Marriage is a constant process of moulding something to be a little more perfect.  But I feel really blessed by God to have found Dave and I remind him all the time (he does too).  We look forward to decades of more companionship.

7. Hosting our first Thanksgiving

Since arriving in Vancouver, I have always wanted to host a Thanksgiving dinner for our friends.  So now that Dave and I have a slightly bigger place, we wanted to have friends over to share a Thanksgiving meal with.  I made a great turkey and everyone brought sides or desserts.  We had 16 people over and it was lots of fun.

8. Visiting new places

Some of the new places I have been other than Australia include: Indianapolis for work (those middle Americans sure know how to have fun), I flew through Phoenix (saw the Grand Canyon from the sky on the way), returned to Auckland, New Zealand and actually went into town and not just the airport this time.  Dave and I also had a wedding in Vernon area (Okanagan) and visited new wineries.  New Years Eve we are going to Hemlock in BC for some skiing and hanging out with friends.  It’s always great to visit an area of BC that you haven’t explored.   

9. Ordering a half pig

I don’t think I have ever had so much fun with meat.  I thought I would make the same kind of pork chops over and over,  but I’ve changed it up every time and they get better and better.  The bacon has been phenomenal.  I feel like I would pay for half a pig just to get this bacon.  It is smoked and brined to perfection.  The pulled pork I made a couple months ago turned out so great that I made it Christmas day for our family.  (My first time making the main course.) It was easy to make and the house smelled great. We still have the trotters and a pork leg to cook and I’m excited to see what we can do with them.  

10. Becoming a manager

I have been with Yellow Pages for 4.5 years and in my current department for the last four.  It took a while but the time was finally right.  I worked really hard to get there and I’m sure it is going to continue to be a lot of hard work, but I’m up for the challenge of helping our team be the best it can be.

Extras 

Dave and I did a beer advent calendar (I tried so many new beers!), our Bible Study group got so big that we had to split, and I helped lead that.  It was a challenging experience to go through, and I don’t want to do it again anytime soon.  I passed my first Google Certification test on AdWords.  I haven’t studied or written a test in quite a while, so that was tough on it’s own.  I also played on a baseball team that wasn’t forced on me in gym class.

It was a great year, and we have some adventures in store for next year which I’m sure you will hear about soon enough (it includes a trip to a country, nah, a continent, that I have never been to.)  See you in 2015!

Ten New Things 2014 – 1

This was a big year for Dave and I, but I am starting to think that every year feels like a big year.  

At Moet and Chandon in the Yarra Valley
At Moet and Chandon in the Yarra Valley

1. Going to Australia

 

With so many Aussies working in Vancouver, we have made many great friends.  Several have moved back to Oz, so it felt as good a time as any to go visiting.  We had a great balance of seeing people and time on our own.  I have fond memories of having an ice cream coffee in Brisbane with Megan, surfing with Ben, scary switchback driving and beautiful scenery with Christen, wine touring with Linton and an awesome morning seawalk wall to Bondi Beach and breakfast with Lex George.  So many memories I will cherish forever.  I would love to get back in the next ten years and see more.

2. Snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef

This is one of those things that you dream of doing and we knew it had to be on the list of things to do in Australia. You don’t fly that far and not do the one huge thing the country is known for.  It was one of the highlights of the trip.  I think the best moment was taking a small tour out from the larger group and being able to touch the spaghetti coral.  It felt amazing!

3. Adventurous new food

Strangely I have no pictures of crocodile or wallaby, but I do have the lamington.  :)
Strangely I have no pictures of crocodile or wallaby, but I do have the lamington.  :)

Australia presented lots of new eating opportunities including crocodile with it’s crispy skin, wallaby, lamingtons, and lamb brains.  Our friends Ben and Megan also treated us to a proper Aussie BBQ full of meat and as well as to an Aussie lamb roast with the mint jelly, of course!  I really loved all of it, even the lamb brains.

4. I quit sugar!

After the gluttonous affair in Australia, it was time to clean things up.  It has been seven months of being pretty sugar free and I feel so much better for it.  I eat mostly sugar free now, which means I will have sugar a couple days a week, but at low quantities.  I have good staples in my diet that I like to go to, including sugar free desserts, because I love me some desserts.  It has pushed me to try new things and read labels all the time.  I’m still shocked at how much sugar is in things.  For example, Dave was having eggnog and the second ingredient after water was sugar!  In Eggnog!  Not cream, not milk, but sugar as the second ingredient.  Crazy.  

Overall, I have clearer skin, I workout less, and have lost 5lbs.  I’m at my happy weight and don’t have to think about it a whole lot.  I eat lots of healthy fats and I feel good.  And when I do have a sugary dessert, I don’t punish myself for having it, because it truly is a treat.

5. Ordering a vegetable CSA

We have talked about doing this for a couple years and finally found a close one that we wanted to try.  All the veggies were grown around the area in people’s yards then harvested every Sunday.  We tried some new things (Jerusalem artichokes, frisee, dragon beans) and had plenty of familiar things (potatoes, carrots, rosemary).  We never knew what we were getting, so I found it a little hard to meal plan and some things we just didn’t get through fast enough before they went bad.  Value for money, I didn’t think this was the best, but that doesn’t mean I’m not willing to try again with a different company or system.  I think it is great to be buying produce from local groups and eat seasonally and we will continue to try.

6- 10 coming soon!

 

Okanagan Wedding

I can’t believe we are in the last part of September.  Where did the month go?  Dave and I had been looking forward to our friend’s, Michael and Fionna’s, wedding all summer long and now it is already two weeks past.  We had a great time with Dave’s old roommates, celebrating in Vernon, but on the way we stopped for a night in Kelowna to take in the beautiful views and some wineries.  I have to thank Dave for the great pictures.  He loves our camera, and always seems to be trailing behind being a little shutterbug, but I didn’t mind this time.  Above is the view from Quail’s Gate Winery in West Kelowna.  Below is a picture of grapes on the vine at Mission Hill Family Estate.  I have only been in the Okanagan in the spring so it was really amazing to see grapes on the vine.  There were so many and we found out you can make several bottles off of just one vine.

Pinot Noir at Mission Hill Family Estate
Pinot Noir at Mission Hill Family Estate
Tasting Bar at Mission Hill Family Estate
Tasting Bar at Mission Hill Family Estate

This was one of the tasting bars at Mission Hill.  It wasn’t occupied, so this was a great photo opportunity.  You can see from this picture just how many different kinds of wine they have.  

Tasting room at Quail's Gate
Tasting room at Quail’s Gate

After Mission Hill we went to Quail’s Gate just down the road.   Both wineries are top in their field and offer amazing restaurants with beautiful views.  A little out of our price range that weekend, but we still visited the tasting rooms and pretended to be pros at wine tasting.  We learn a little bit more each time we go.  

The next day we snuck in one more winery, Summerhill Pyramid, before the wedding and is was amazing.  All their wine is organic and you can tell the difference.  The flavours are so much more distinct.  I have never had a better Riesling.  We always travel with the number of bottles we want to buy in mind, but we always end up coming home with one or two more.  This was where the extra one came from.

Next was the wedding at the bride’s parent’s house.  As you can tell the location was stunningly beautiful and the day was gorgeous.

Beautiful setting for a wedding ceremony.
Beautiful setting for a wedding ceremony.

Below is a cheesy picture of me doing a Bond impression in our friend Tim’s MG, which he brought up for the couple to drive in between the ceremony and reception.  I didn’t get to drive it, but we convoyed up and back from Vancouver with Tim, so I did get to ride in it for part of the journey and it was fun.  First time in a classic car if you can believe it.  Chalk one up for another first!

Above are some photos from the reception.  One of their friends brought a bunch of wacky outfits, hats, masks, and wigs that ended up on the dance floor.  I got the hat at one point.  Lars, in the picture beside, got a moustache, which he wore all night.  The other picture is the original five roommates from the Men of Marpole house having, the now traditional, scotch toast.

It was a great weekend and a nice getaway.  September is almost at a close, but we have a couple more highlights to look forward to before Christmas.  We’re going to see the host of This American Life, Ira Glass, this weekend.  Thanksgiving is coming up and along with that Apple Fest at UBC.  Mmmm apples.  Looking forward to Fall.

Just one more awesome shot that Dave took.  These grapes were at Gray Monk Winery.
Just one more awesome shot that Dave took.  These grapes were at Gray Monk Winery.