Internet Diet – Status Report

Keeping with the spirit of my internet diet, I spent last weekend fasting. Two days without an email, status update or cat video. Not even a single solitary tweet. We get the Saturday Globe and Mail delivered so I wasn’t forced to go entirely without my outside information hit, but I tried to put some real effort into spending a measurable chunk of time unplugged.

Overall the weekend’s accomplishments were more or less the same amount I manage normally. I brought the kid out to her grandparents, worked out, walked the dogs, watched movies, folded laundry and spent some quality time at the local brew pub. The difference was that none of it was broken up with the little facebook/newspaper/email checks. These internet hits have become such a regular habit of my everyday life that I barely noticed how much I was doing it until I stopped. The moment I did, however, I couldn’t help but notice how much more relaxed I felt.

I’ve never been a good multi-tasker. I don’t listen to music when I work or study for the exact reason that I have trouble concentrating, so I don’t know why I’m surprised that random internet notifications, checks and updates make me stressed. Taking away the temptation to interrupt the day with small distractions really allowed me to be more present in whatever I was doing and it felt really great. I did one thing at a time, got the exact same amount of stuff accomplished, and came out of the weekend feeling genuinely refreshed.

When I found myself standing in line or waiting for my date to return from the washroom I looked up and paid attention to my surroundings instead of checking my phone. What I saw was a whole lot of other people looking down at their own phones.

It would be stupid for me to even consider parting with my smartphone, I need it for work. Ironically, I did in fact, upgrade it this week. From a personal standpoint, I enjoy social media and generally find my friends are informative, interesting, and hilarious (frequently all three). Besides, how else would I learn about all the beautiful, fun and amazing things going on out in the world? I need to challenge myself to find a way to ensure I am using it as a tool to improve my life instead of letting it invade like crab grass.

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Rolling with the Cabbage

The internet diet continues. Two weeks down, about a month to go.

My cynical gen-X self finds hipsters with their huge beards, tight pants and chevron everything an easy target for mockery, but where food is involved the truth is that I’m right in there with them. Both Simon and I like to cook and we usually eat pretty well. Organic vegetables get delivered once a week. Meat comes from the butcher down the street. I regularly make stock from vegetable peelings and roast chicken remains while drinking from our stock of craft beer. The whole lorganic shebang.

Since I work from home, one of the benefits to my reduced slothing is more time to putter in the kitchen. I’ve always been intimidated by cabbage rolls. Love eating them, but I generally don’t like cooking dishes with lots of steps. An abundance of cabbage in the vegetable delivery this winter and a short-cut courtesy of the butcher finally convinced me to give them a try and wow were they yummy. I really didn’t like boiling the cabbage and handling the hot wet leaves, but thankfully the internet provided a much easier freezing method. It requires planning ahead, but is so very simple. And with that, I present today’s project:

Hipster Cabbage Rolls

Makes about 10 (3 roll) servings


  • 2 small/med (or 1 large) heads green cabbage
  • 6 cups tomato sauce (I make my own because tomato sauce is crazy easy)
  • 2 cups uncooked brown rice
  • 4 cups stock or water
  • 1kg package uncooked smoked beef brisket meatloaf (Butcher By Nature partners with a barbeque place to make a loaf with smoked brisket ends. The smokiness makes these cabbage rolls incredible, but I suspect that any yummy meatloaf should do the trick.)
My secret ingredient.

The secret ingredient


Place the cabbages in a plastic bag and stick them in the freezer. The night before you want to make cabbage rolls, take them out of the freezer and leave them on the counter overnight to defrost. This makes the cabbage leaves easy to peel off and roll-up without having to ever boil an entire head of cabbage.

Make tomato sauce:

  • 2 12oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2tsp each oregano, thyme, and basil.

Stick it all in a crockpot for the day or simmer in a pot for an hour or two.

Actual Preparation:

  1.  Cook the rice and stock/water in a rice cooker.
  2.  Mix the cooked rice with the meatloaf in a big bowl. This will be the filling.
  3.  Core the cabbage with a small knife.
  4.  Oil up 2 – 12cup baking trays (I use cooking spray). I like to make two 4-serving casseroles and freeze one, but the size of the container doesn’t really matter. Use a big dutch oven and stack the rolls up, or go with smaller trays and make a bunch; it’s all good.
  5.  Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce in the bottom of each casserole dish.
  6.  Begin rolling: For each roll, peel off a cabbage leaf or two and spoon 1/2 cup or so of filling onto the centre. Fold up the sides, roll up the leaf, and place it seam side down in the casserole dish.
  7.  Pour the remaining tomato sauce over top of the cabbage rolls.
  8.  Cover and bake at 350F for 2 hours.
Assembled cabbage rolls

Assembled cabbage rolls

Ready to bake.

Ready to bake


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I went trampolining last night. It was amazing!

I grew up doing gymnastics. Had a backyard trampoline and discovered it was an actual sport in university. I’m even a certified coach in both. All this is to say I have a reasonable amount of innate talent for this kind of stuff. Took up circus classes around 2002 and gave it all up cold turkey when my knees developed a persistent desire to buckle (accompanied by searing pain) during activities that involved jumping. I started running and rock climbing because they didn’t hurt my knees. Rock climbing got limited during the early parenting years, but I’ve stuck with the running.

That in and of itself has been a big personal accomplishment for me since I have very little natural talent for it. I’m a bit of a show off and it takes serious effort for me stick with things where everyone else seems to be better at than me. This has been one of my biggest growing up lessons. Completely middle of the pack grades in engineering school did an excellent job of teaching me that hard work is well worthwhile even when you aren’t at the head of the class.

I headed to the trampoline place with a lot of fear. Were my knees up to it or would I find myself limping away with an ice pack? Just how ridiculous will I look bouncing my middle-aged self around in a room full of teens and 20somethings? Am I too old for this? Am I crazy?

Apart from the first and actually valid concern, the answer to all of the other questions is “Who cares?!’ — Where’s the interrobang key when I need it?– Who cares if everyone else in the room is younger, fitter, more whateverthehell than me? Trampolining is something I deeply enjoy and as long as me knees don’t take issue I’m going to keep doing it. I’m hopeful that running has helped strengthen the surrounding knee muscles to reduce the probability of buckling – all I can do for that is keep my fingers crossed.

I was flying. Can’t wait to do it again.

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Along with most of North America I’m very much looking forward to spring. In October, I made a commitment to combat the winter blues by eating well and exercising. I followed through (mostly), but the misery of this winter certainly tested the strength of my willpower. Entering the final stretch, I’d say the plan worked. Just like everyone, I have my down days, but managed to avoid falling into any deep dark holes this winter season which has been really nice. Admittedly, two weeks in Costa Rica smack in the middle of the January-February deep freeze didn’t hurt either and those strength training workouts made my time on the surfboard even more fun.

Looking at the weather report for this week, it seems the worst may be over. Last week’s snow dump proves that nothing is certain, but I’m getting my hopes up any way. As well, the head cold dragging me down for the last week is finally abating and I’m feeling primed to get out in the world. Even did some socializing! After dropping kiddo with her Dad and Grandparents for the weekend, Simon and I dragged our cold infected selves out with a few friends. From the sticky floors of Lee’s Palace for the Lemon Bucket Orkestra party on Friday to dressed up dinner with a multitude of cocktails at the Toronto Temperance Society on Saturday. Late nights, good company and many drinks later, I have no words to describe how very thankful I was for the ability to take naps this weekend. Going out two nights in a row is an extremely rare occurrence these days, but it seems to have started a snowball effect. I now have plans to go trampolining with a friend tomorrow and am signed up for a weekly circus class that starts next month. Spring fever perhaps?

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Internet Diet – Week 1 Progress

I meant to check in yesterday, but winter decided to hit us with one (final?) monster snowstorm and I spent much of the day driving 60km/h under the speed-limit instead. 1 week and 1 day on the internet diet and I’m not sure how I feel about my progress. The first few days were great. Lots of walking, writing, and catching up on home/office tasks that I tend to neglect. I cleaned the office, filed, shredded, worked out and cooked a few fabulous meals. But then I caught a cold, the weather turned back to crap, and the shiny of my new project started to fade. I’ve managed not to fall off the wagon, but I’m definitely exploiting loopholes in my own made-up rules and not very happy about it.

Thankfully, the benefit to this kind of project is that I’ve still got 3 weeks to go. Work is picking up, my cold is abating and the weather looks like it should improve for at least the weekend. Next step is to put together a book list that I can fall back on when I want something non-productive to do instead of clicking Facebook for the zillionth time.

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Happy International Women’s Day!

Today is a good day to celebrate the forward progress that has been made toward equality between women and men. Working in a male dominated profession where I’m often the only woman in the room it isn’t difficult for me to see that there is still room for improvement.

I’ll be spending the day with my daughter and a few of the other awesome women and girls I know. Men and boys will be there too, because we are all in this together!

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Shoebox Solar Oven

Last year I signed up to volunteer as an Engineer In Residence. The program matches professional engineers with public schools in Ontario. Once a month I spend a morning working with a class. Usually, we discuss engineering, cover a topic specific to what they are currently learning in science class and then finish with a building project based on what we discussed. So far I’ve done 4 presentations. Some topics have gone more smoothly than others, but I’m learning as I go and overall it has been a great experience. I get the chance to talk about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with the added benefit of promoting women in engineering by just being myself.

I’m back in the classroom after March break and will be working with two Grade 7 classes as part of their Heat in the Environment topic. One lesson I’ve learned is to always, always, ALWAYS test out the building project before setting the kids loose. I spent a morning putting together a solar oven for the building project we’ll be doing and thought I’d share it here.

Full disclosure: My end result was more like an environmentally friendly Easy-Bake (™) oven than a proper cooker. However, my aim was to demonstrate the science principles rather than make something capable of cooking lunch (although S’mores would probably work). I wanted something that will mostly work even if the kids are sloppy putting it together.

Project: Shoebox Solar Oven


Build a simple box cooker using simple materials in less than 1hour

Inspiration Websites:

These sites give directions that are a little more in depth, but should result in a cooker/oven that actually cooks!


  • shoe box (any cardboard box with a hinged or removable lid should work)
  • aluminum foil (enough to line the inside of the box)
  • plastic wrap
  • tape (I used a combination of masking and duct tape. Plastic tape would probably work, but I worried that it might melt if the cooker is a big success)
  • scissors or exacto (capable of cutting the cardboard)
  • string
  • thermometer (to measure your success)



1.  Line the inside of the box with aluminum foil (shiny side up) and tape in place. Line the box

2.  Draw and cut a 3 sided flap in the lid (approx 1in from the sides of the lid). This flap will become the reflector to direct incoming sunlight into the oven box. The 4th side will act as a hinge.

Reflector Flap

3.  Cover the interior side of the reflector flap with aluminum foil and tape in place.Refector Flap 2

4.  Lift the reflector flap, cover the opening with plastic wrap and tape in place. This will allow sunlight into the oven, while keeping the hot air inside. Try to tape the plastic wrap on all sides to get as tight a seal as possible.

Plastic Wrap

5.  Tape a piece of string to the reflector flap to allow you to adjust the flap position.

Your oven is done!

  • Open the lid.
  • Place your food (I used a glass of water) and temperature probe inside.
  • Close the lid.
  • Place your shoebox oven in the sun.
  • Adjust the reflector flap to direct sunlight into the oven box and get cooking!Solar Oven at Work


Using just the sunlight coming in on a nomal March day in Toronto, it took 5 min for the air inside my oven to go from 20ºC to 30ºC. Success!


During the 2hours the sunlight was actually shining through that window the water temperature went up to 38ºC. Not hot enough for actual cooking, but warm enough for a bath or the average load of laundry.

For the wrap up, we can discuss ideas for potential improvements.

  • Larger box.
  • Sealing the air in better (I only sealed my plastic wrap on 3 sides).
  • Wrapping the outside of the box with an insulating material to hold the heat in.
  • Adding reflector pieces or making it bigger to direct more sunlight into the oven.
  • I’m open to suggestions! Leave a comment :)
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Internet Diet

Considering that engineers are generally pro-technology, I was late to the internet. That all changed in 1996 when I took my first job. I had moved to the US far from friends and family, but for the first time I had an email that I was using and easy access to the web. Surfing the Toronto Star newspaper online during lunch helped ease the homesickness. Soon after that my AOL installation disk arrived in the mail and I was able to dial-up from home after work. The 486 PC that got me through engineering school wasn’t exactly lightening fast, but online photos were still minimal (did digital cameras exist?) so most websites would load eventually. At 26 years old, single and with plenty of free time I was able to build a ‘social life’ through the world of usenet groups, forums and (photoless!) online dating.

18 years later and it is now difficult to find a place without internet access. Laptop, smartphone, tablet, tv all available anytime anyplace. I have a family that ensures I rarely feel lonely and even when I work from home socializing via Facebook makes for a great modern watercooler during breaks. Unfortunately though, I’ve also found that my early love of forums hasn’t abated. Left to my own devices, I can lose myself in a well of blogs, food porn and youtube cat videos for hours if I’m not careful. The downside is that when I spend my free time this way, I’m not doing the things that I truly love like reading, writing or taking a walk. It’s the mental equivalent of eating Doritos instead of making a proper dinner. I enjoy myself at the time and is fine in moderation, but it doesn’t feed me.

Today I’m setting out to break this habit. I spent my shrove Tuesday gorging on cat videos and snark forums and am starting my 40 day internet diet now. I’m not trying to do anything extreme, just cutting out the passive surfing. Facebook, writing/blogging and information gathering (work, newspaper, recipes I am actually making, etc) are permitted. Work has been slow which exacerbates the problem. It’s 10:30am and I’m already making a concerted effort to not give in to the mindless clicking. Should be interesting to see how I make out. Good time to leash up the dog and head to the bank.

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Towel Maintenance

My birthday was last month. If the last few years are any indication, I think I’m going to enjoy 42.

I started journalling about 10 years ago. Then, it was a great outlet to talk to myself and figure out what I wanted and where I wanted to be going. Now days, I feel really settled which has resulted in much less writing. Things are still turbulent as all get out. Kid, relationship, house, 3 dogs, travel, work… lots going on and plenty to do, but the overall feeling is of riding the flow without worrying about what is coming up next or where it is going. I’m confident in my paddling skills and looking forward to seeing where the river is going to take me.

But I regret not writing through it. I like having my journals and this blog as a way to keep track of things that have happened. In just the last month I’ve surfed in Costa Rica, gotten married and watched my daughter gleefully throw herself at the ocean waves. Definitely all well worth remembering!

One of the newest things I’ve been doing this year is volunteering as an Engineer in Residence with a local public school. Now that Portia is getting older and I have a bit more free time, I’ve been wanting to do some volunteer work. Once a month I spend a morning in the classroom talking about engineering and science. The next one is this Monday and I’ll be presenting to 3 kindergarten classes and teaching them about potential and kinetic energy by flinging marshmallows at a target with plastic spoon catapults. It is a great way to promote women in engineering and I get to have fun too.

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