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.

Ten New Things 2013 – 2


6. Getting married – Aug 25, 2013

Arguably the best day of my life.  I seriously could not have imagined a better day for our wedding.  We had a great time and our friends and family had a great time.   The food and drink were delicious, the weather was wonderful and the setting perfect. Growing up, I never had a clue what I wanted my wedding to look like and I was sure I would be really indecisive about the whole thing up until the end.  But once we were engaged, I couldn’t have had a clearer sense of what I wanted. And everything we hoped to have to make the wedding unique was do-able, including bringing in craft beer, having a gift card toss instead of a bouquet toss and having the photographers I had been eyeing up for the past year (The Nickersons).  Now four months have past and things are going really well.  Dave and I seem like two peas in a pod.

7. Adult furniture and decorating our own place

I have never had a home of my own to decorate, I mean paint the walls, put up shelves, renovate bathrooms, etc.  And suddenly, Dave and I have that.  We waited until after we were married and living together to do make any changes to our place.  We picked out furniture (not from Ikea!) and have put up shelves and have future plans to redo the bathroom, change light fixtures, etc.  It really feels great to come home to a space that we have purposefully designed to our liking.  It may sound basic, but we even painted a wall, and I have never painted a wall.  Such a minor thing, but it made a noticeable difference.  It’s exciting to think of the things that we can do in the next couple years to continue to make this space our nest of relaxation and comfort and to make it a place for friend and family to come and stay.  I’m happy to show it off the work we have done and the thought and effort we put into it.  Here are a couple pictures from our living room area.

8. Buying our first Christmas tree

Growing up on a Christmas tree farm, I’ve never had to buy a tree, let alone go and pick one out.  Dad always used to cut our family tree in November and it appeared on the back porch for us to bring inside and set up.  This year, Dave and I went and picked our own.  It was fun to do, allowed us to practice teamwork (we survived!) and Dave ended up taking the lead with the decorating!  Who knew he would enjoy it so much.  It looks and smells great!  Plantation fir, you are serving us well.

9. Playing Rockband

Can you believe I have never played it?  Amazing, I know.  I mean, they don’t even make the game anymore.  I mustered up the courage at our work Christmas party and got on the drums.  (I always wanted to play the drums.) Didn’t do really great, but it was fun having people cheer me on and I seriously wanted to keep going so I could get better. Alas, I’ll probably never play again.

10. Making cinnamon buns with my sister

Bre and I have rarely cooked anything together.  Growing up mom did the cooking and we stayed out of the kitchen unless it was time to clean up after dinner.  And with Bre living in Germany it means even fewer chances that we would end up in the kitchen together, but this Christmas we did.  I had never made cinnamon buns before, but Bre had made them a few times from the Looney Spoons cookbook (of course).  So we made them.  There have been very, very few times that I have made bread, perhaps the first was in my bread making class back at the start of the year.  Yeast scares me a little. The buns turned out great and we worked well in the kitchen together without fighting once…and we can fight.  Maybe with getting older the fight has left us and the patience for each other is setting in.

It has been a wonderful year with some of the biggest changes of my life.  I can’t wait for the new things to come in 2014 including a trip to Australia that is sure to rack up several firsts, including cooking lamb and perhaps a trip to a 2-3 hatted restaurant while we are there.  It will be another gastronomic adventure with some beautiful sites and friends along the way.  I can’t wait for 2014 to start!

PS – A new camera is soon on it’s way.  Can you tell I need something better than my phone!?!

Ten New Things 2013 – 1

It has been a crazy year to say the least.  I did some major new things this year that will effect my life for a long time.  One was getting married of course.  I’d say this year was a year of life changes and commitments.  Here we go!

1. Taking professional cooking lessons – Jan – Mar

It would be hard to list all the new cooking techniques I learned and tried in this class, but a few include, pasta making, killing a crab to make crab cakes, deboning a pork chop, learning knife skills, making all kinds of French dishes I’ve never made (coq au vin, duck confit, ratatouille), shucking oysters, making pizza dough.  

Over all it expanded my food horizons greatly, and with these classes and the copious amounts of Masterchef Australia I have been watching and food books I have been reading my cooking has improved immensely.  Just ask Dave, he’ll vouch for me.  I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that, I can make anything I set my mind too. 

2. Publishing my first knitting pattern

In January, I designed and published my first pattern called Adera.  It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed most of it.  I put a second pattern out shortly after in February called Keefer.  I sold both on Ravelry, which adds over 200 new patterns a day (kind of crazy and easy for your pattern to get lost).  To date I sold 20 of the paid pattern (Adera) and have had over 400 downloads of my free pattern (Keefer).  What can I say people like free stuff.  Will I continue to make patterns?  I don’t know.  You really need a collection to make any impact in sales, so people can get to know your designs and style, but I don’t know how much I really loved it.  I do have some more ideas in my mind, so we’ll see what happens in 2014.

Adera – left, Keefer – right

3. Getting engaged – Feb 19

I knew at Christmas last year that this was going to happen, but I didn’t know it would be before March.  Dave loves a good surprise and surprise he did.  It was a well thought out proposal and it involved some of my favourite people (the Men of Marpole).  This, of course set off a whole long list of new things to do, including wedding dress shopping, designing invites, and working together to get the day planned how we wanted it, and it was awesome. More on this later.

4. Learned to ski – Jan/Feb

I had skiied a couple times in Ontario, but nothing like what I did out here.  My friend Trudy and I signed up for Never Ever Days and we ended up spending three days on the slopes getting the basics of skiing down at Whistler of all places.  How blessed we are to live so close to one of the best ski destinations on the planet.  There were falls, tears, cheers and aches, but I can’t wait to practice what I learned this year.  Dave and I bought new equipment (he had been borrowing and I had been renting) with some of our wedding money, and now we can share this activity with each other and several of our friends.  It’s going to be a great winter!

5. Bought a home – May

I knew with a wedding date looming that it was time to get a bigger place.  My basement apartment had served me well for 4 years, but it was really time to move on and move up (from a basement).  I really didn’t want to have to live in my little apartment once Dave and I were married.  It would get crowded fast.  So we started looking in April with a deadline of the end of June.  After that it would just be too much to take on with the wedding planning.  Thankfully, it didn’t take very long at all to find the perfect place just 7 blocks from where I was before and still on Main St., the location we both love.  Funny enough, we are only a short walk from where I was, yet I have an all new coffee shop, bakery, deli, grocery store, etc. to go to.  

2012 – Ten New Things

As you may have seen on my other blog, I do ten new things a year.  Here are my Ten New Things of 2012.

1. Travel to Spain (April) – Dave and I visited Europe for 16 days in spring.  Our first stop was Spain, we went to Barcelona, Girona and Figueres.  Barcelona was a great city to walk around and see some beautiful architecture and a relaxed way of life.  Girona (in the picture to the left) was one of our favourite stops on the trip.  It has the oldest Jewish quarter in Europe and it was a postcard perfect place filled with stairs leading everywhere and cobblestone streets.

2. Run an international marathon (Paris – April)

 – The reason we went to Europe was to run the Paris Marathon.  The route was wonderful.  We saw so much of the city that we had not seen before.  However, Dave was really sick during the race (and for the week after) and it made for a slow painful run.  We are proud to have finished the race in 5hrs, but both of us are determined to crush our next one.

3. Travel to Luxembourg (April) – Luxembourg was a great city to stop at on our way back to Germany to stay at my sister’s place.  The town centre was lovely and it is all built up on a high protective wall that dips into a deep valley that has a walking trail and parks.  We visited an amazing chocolate house while we were there and it was heaven.

4. Travel to the Okanagan, BC (May) – I don’t know why it took so long to get to the Okanagan.  It is one of the most beautiful areas in BC, and there are a lot.  We went up and visited about 15 wineries in the three days we were gone and camped with friends.  This is definitely on our list of places to return to soon.  Geesh, that list just keeps getting longer!

5. Took a pastry cooking class (July) – I have always wanted to take a pastry course or any type of cooking class, so I finally signed up for one.  This one was all about strawberries.  We made a sponge cake, merengue, a tart and another dish which I have forgotten.  The one thing that I learned the most was that I need a stand mixer. : )

6. Attended a wedding on a boat (July) – Our friends Jin and Jenn got married in the summer and their reception was on a boat on the North Shore.  It was so much fun to be dancing outside with the lights of the city in the distance.  What a great venue.

7. Complete food vacation (Portland – September) – Dave and I love Portland and decided to do a specific eating tour of the city.  I’ve never been so intent on hitting up restaurants, cafes and brew pubs on any vacation before.  In total we went to 22 food establishments and tried 22 different beers.  Part of this included a food tour from Fork Town Tours of Mississippi Street which was awesome.  It was a great way to learn about a different part of the city and taste so many different foods.  I definitely recommend this company. 

8. Baked my first pie (October) – Can you believe I had never baked a pie before?  I had a silly fear of making pie crust, but once I gave it a try, it was so simple.  I did a raspberry pie up and it was delicioius.  The raspberries were from the farmer’s market that I had frozen and raspberry is my favourite flavour of pie, so it just made sense.  Add a little vanilla ice cream and, presto!, awesome pie.

9. Started a knitting blog (November) – This has been a large undertaking and included taking a pattern making course with Liz Abinante of Feministy at the Knit City Fibre event in October.  Since then I have launched the blog, had a logo created and started blogging.  And as you will see in my tenth new thing, I created my first pattern.

10. Designed my first knitting pattern (November) – I have actually created two new patterns, the first I finished in November and the second in December.  They were both cowls and definitely took a lot of work to figure out.  I decided to start simple, understanding that it would be a learning curve and I’m glad I did it that way.  More to come on that later.

Other new things: driving on the Autobahn in Germany, eating blood sausage, taking a cheese making class, filleting a fish (tip: just buy it done) and I have tried lots of new vegetables from the farmer’s market including different varieties of tomatoes, apples, and garlic.

2012 was a great year and I know with the things that are planned for 2013 life is going to continue to get even better!

Yummy for My Tummy

I’m a foodie, a gastonomist.  I can’t get enough of a new restaurant or trying new food, so along with knitting, I want to share some of this passion on the blog.  I find that many knitters also enjoy quality meals and new recipes or trips to the local farmer’s market.  I’m not an expert cook and I’m sure most of you aren’t either, so let’s share in some simple recipes and good advice.

I’m a pretty big proponent of quality, whole food.  Meaning, I stick to the outside aisles of the grocery store, I shop my local farmer’s market as often as I can.  I buy my groceries fresh several times a week and I try to find organic or local food when possible.  

I have learned that food tastes so much better when it is in season and it is so much more filling when it isn’t full of salt, sugar and words I can’t pronounce.

The past couple years, as part of my Ten New Things, i have opened myself up to trying and getting to like many new foods.  Things I would have picked off my plate a couple years ago are now some of the treats or regular items I enjoy in my diet and they have made eating fun again.  Some of my favourite new items include:

La Boqueria, the open market in Barcelona.
La Boqueria, the open market in Barcelona.
  • tomatoes
  • olives
  • dates
  • figs
  • Greek yogurt
  • quinoa
  • almond milk
  • tofu
  • lentils
  • artichokes
  • kale

Adding these items to my diet has helped me drop weight and add variety to my meals.  I love adding dates to my salads and my breakfast doesn’t feel right without Greek yogurt in it.  

Here are a couple recipes that I have added to my collection and I hope that you will add to yours:

Snobby Joes – Eating Bird Food’s Brittany Mullins

Rockin’ Moroccan Stew – The Looneyspoons Collection book

Kale-Gruyere Gratin – Oregon Live website