Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sheet music goldmine

Hey, people! I'm not kidding. This is a legit goldmine. If you're looking for free classical piano music, look no further than the IMSLP / Petrucci Music Library, a public domain sheet music library. It's essentially a music-oriented Wikipedia community. (Wikis - one of the greatest Internet developments ever.)
I printed out my favourite Joplin rags and I'm pleased as punch. Now I need a piano in the apartment. One of those electronic pianos that comes with headphones would be perfect. Just thought I'd throw that out there, in case Santa reads my blog.
Anyways, there is seriously a lot of music here, and not just for piano - lots of other instrumental music is also available, including complete orchestral scores. I'm no orchestra expert, so I don't know if this would actually fulfill anyone's needs, but it seems pretty awesome to me.
On another note, I remember hearing a Mozart piano piece at a recital years ago, and I have no idea what it's called. The classical music naming system doesn't help at all here since everything is named the same. I'm pretty sure it was a "Fantasy" or "Fantasia", and I think it was in a major key, but mostly I remember there being a lot of arpeggios in the left hand, but possibly also in the right. It was definitely allegro-paced. Also, there's a good chance it's in the RCM syllabus - if so, it would have been grade 10 or ARCT level. However, I didn't find it in the Petrucci Library based on these descriptors, so it's possible that the name is not at all what I thought.
If you know what piece I'm talking about, please do me a favour and leave a comment. Please, please, please. Thanks.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Homestretch

It's hard to believe I'm going to be home in just over a month, by which time all midterms, labs, and final exams will have been announced, agonized over, studied for, and written. (And passed, of course.)
In the meantime, I'm getting homesick. Although I've been very lucky with residence and roommates, I miss my family and friends. And food. I definitely miss good food with good company. Being on a student budget, I don't get to go out much here (and for other reasons explained here).
But it's okay, because I'll be home soon.
As my brother says, "this means you're almost 1/8th done!" I'm not sure whether to feel this is a great accomplishment or if I've just barely started. The latter, I think. 
I can't wait until this semester is over! 
Honestly, though, it's been pretty good. I've never been completely overwhelmed (lots of time for that later, I'm sure), and I've been filling my brain with good new stuff, which on the large scale of things is always fun.
On that note, I better get on that chemistry lab report.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumnal treat

Baking is such a soothing activity. There's just something wonderful about eating something warm and tasty right out of the oven.
One cranky morning while getting stuck on homework, I decided to ignore schoolwork for a while and make something sweet and autumnal. Combining apple recipe ideas, I adapted this apple cake/tart recipe from the Traveler's Lunchbox. I believe this vaguely resembles a clafoutis, as it is unleavened batter sitting on top/around fruit, and the whole thing turns out quite thin, and slightly crispy on the edges.
As an aside, pots and pans that can also go into the oven are one of the best things ever. Who needs extra clutter with bakeware when you can just use a pot or pan? 
(I'd have taken a picture to post here, but with only 3 servings and 3 roommates, well, it's gone now.)
With the first bite, my grumpiness melted away and I felt as if I were tasting the essence of all the cozy parts of autumn. 
Makes 3 small, 2 medium, or 1 large serving of Apple Autumn Tastiness.
1 medium-sized apple
(I think it was a Gala but really, all I know is that it was red.)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup melted butter
(mine was salted - if I had unsalted butter I'd add a pinch of salt as well)
2 tbsp plain yogurt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract 
1 egg
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. 
  2. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apple and place in a layer to cover the bottom of the pan (mine was probably 8"), and sprinkle with cinnamon.
  3. Combine the sugar, butter, yogurt, vanilla, egg, and flour and pour on top of the sliced apples.
  4. Bake for 30 min or until slightly brown and crispy on the edges. 
As you can see, it is incredibly simple, and as you will discover, so incredibly tasty. People tend to like coating their apples with lemon juice/sugar/flour, but I don't care and am too lazy about that stuff. My stomach doesn't care if the apples are brown. Besides, they're hiding under a thin cake blanket so you can't see them.
I will totally be making this again. Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Surplus sales

I just found out about Government of Alberta surplus sales which are apparently on every weekday.
I'm going to have to check it out sometime - I think it'll be a great place to go when you need a desk or chair or something utilitarian without having to pay hundreds of dollars.

Physics update

Good news. I passed the physics midterm... with a whopping 57%. This would normally be terrible, but in this case, the class average was 50%. So really, it's not so bad. 
In fact, I feel pretty jubilant about both passing PLUS beating the class average.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ginger oatmeal flax spice cookie bars

The "Cornerstore" on campus sells large, individually packaged cookies which are very tasty, and very expensive ($1.50 each). I can't remember the brand but I know they are locally-made. At first I scoffed at the price, but on closer inspection, the flavours intrigued me so much that I caved in. Cookies that I have eaten or want to eat:
  • Ginger flax cookie - chunks of crystallized ginger, molasses, flax, rye flakes. They also used canola oil, which I felt made it tasty kind of greasy. I enjoyed the chewy texture and the "healthiness" of it, but felt I could do better. More on that below.
  • Lemon poppyseed - like the muffin, but in cookie form. No complaints but not a favourite. More crumbly than chewy, tending more towards a shortbread.
  • Green tea cookie - green tea, dried cranberries, possibly some nuts, (I nibbled on this during a lecture so I wasn't paying attention), and a chunk of chocolate in the middle. This one was tasty and I'd consider buying another one.
  • Hot! chocolate - a spicy chocolate chip chocolate cookie! Ooo. I haven't seen this again since the one day I happened to notice it, so I'm waiting impatiently for them to come in again so I can try one.
To take a break from doing chemistry and physics homework yesterday, I did some research online and came up with my own recipe for a better version of the ginger flax cookie. Of course, I'm too lazy to dole out cookie dough on multiple cookie sheets, and plus, I only have one sheet, so I decided to make bars instead, using a combination of recipes I found online and hoping for the best. My roommate said I was brave to invent baking recipes, having screwed up too many recipes. What can I say - I bake on the edge. Well, not really. But in the end, they turned out very nicely indeed. (Unlike this photo taken by my phone camera, which is pretty bad.) 

Sweet, chewy, soft, and full of autumny flavours: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, apples.
And now, about the recipe. 
  • It is quite heavy on the crystallized ginger, but I feel that their natural chewiness makes them perfect for bars. There is quite a bit of sugar on them already, so I didn't need to add any extra - only a little honey, since I needed a little extra moistness. 
  • You'd think with all the oats and flax that they'll turn out like a granola bar, but there are enough other cookie-dough ingredients that make them turn out very oatmeal-cookie-ish in texture. 
  • Instead of gross tasting canola, I used a combination of applesauce and butter. Mostly applesauce, really, since these are all oatmeally and healthy. But a little bit of butter is always necessary for that je ne sais quoi in baked goods.
  • As a side note, it seems I can't seem to stop making bulleted lists anymore. But you gotta admit, they do make for easier reading...
Ginger oatmeal flax spice cookie bars
1.5 cups old fashioned (big flakes) rolled oats
3/4 cup flax meal
1.5 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Mix dry ingredients together. And preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Make a well and add wet ingredients.
3. Mix well with a spatula and/or hands.
4. Press tightly into an appropriately-sized greased pan (I think mine was 8" by 8"). 
5. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the edges start to brown a little.
6. I cut this into pieces while it was still warm, though they aren't hard, so it probably doesn't matter.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Life is good

(Cheese warning!) 
I had such a moment of appreciation when I was at the gym this morning between classes. I thought about how lucky I am to be able to go back to school again to fill my brain with new stuff (though it's a bit challenging), that residence life is much better than I expected. I've also been lucky to get great roommates! And the campus gym is an awesome facility, which is great, because I spend time in there almost daily. To be in great health and be financially, personally, and mentally ready to change career is pretty exciting. I do miss family and friends, and of course, eating out. And my old paycheque. 
Yesterday my roommate (not in engineering) asked me how I decided to just change into something totally different, and that she gets a little worried when she looks at all the courses she has to do and wonder if she can really do them. I feel a bit relieved that she said that, because I feel exactly the same. I admit, I'm not exactly brilliant at math and science - I mean, there is a reason I didn't choose to do sciences the first time around - but I'm confident in my capacity to learn new things. But it's all about baby steps, right? One thing at a time. Today my chemistry professor said that by the end of the year, we will have covered material including research resulting in 3 Nobel prizes. Pretty neat.
I think my dad said it best: "Nothing is hard once you know how to do it." It's just a matter of how much time you put in to get those connections firing in the brain with greater and greater ease.
On that note, I better work on some physics problems!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Challah = nonstop bread eating

Yesterday I made a loaf of challah for the first time from my trusted recipe source, And it turned out very tasty. Just a little sweet, moist, and tender. I've never actually eaten challah before, so I'm no expert on what it should be like, but it is damn tasty.
I halved the recipe, substituted 1/4 of the flour for whole wheat flour and threw in a few spoonfuls of vital wheat gluten. I feel too guilty making bread with 100% white, though I admit, that fraction of whole wheat flour by no means renders it "healthy." Also, instead of using 2 eggs and 1 yolk, I substituted about a teaspoon of butter for the extra yolk. It's a pretty insignificant amount, but butter makes everything better, right?
Anyways, I didn't braid it, having very little counter space here, but I did do the egg wash. Usually I consider that kind of thing frivolous and ignore it, but I have no regrets about this as it came out of the oven so pretty.
I've been basically stuffing my face with this bread at every opportunity: Some for breakfast, some while studying, some around lunchtime, some more while studying, a slice before the gym, a slice after the gym, and a slice while studying some more. Geez. I really ate a lot of bread today. I'm cutting myself off for the rest of the evening.
I'd offer a picture, but now there is less than a quarter of the original loaf left. My roommate sheepishly admitted to cutting off a slice this morning. I usually strongly encourage sharing, since more carbs for other people means less for me, and plus, it means other people like your baking, but this time I felt slightly begrudging about sharing.
Conclusion: studying with a kitchen nearby is bad news. Especially when there's a fresh loaf of bread sitting in there. But! Challah is good stuff.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More pictures of UNBC

It's really a beautiful campus. I have never seen so much green and so many trees on a university campus before. I love it - so far - my attitude may change in a few months when winter comes along.

Morning fog in the parking lot

Slightly less foggy with more cars

Part of that green sign says that snowboarding is not allowed. Just one indication that I'm not going to enjoy winter in Prince George.

Foggy path from the gym to the rest of campus.

Same spot, about an hour later. Oooooo.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Studying... Snacking... Sleeping

It's only been 2 weeks, and despite my best efforts to stay active, the result of sitting on my butt most of every day is making itself known to me: my jeans are definitely tighter. I fear that working out almost daily is not enough to combat the munchies + sitting in lectures 4 hours/day.
One problem, which I think should be the topic of someone's grad thesis, is the directly proportional relationship between studying and snacking. The more I study, the more I get the munchies. And it's not a matter of being hungry at all - I just desperately crave tastiness in my mouth. (This is a very slippery slope.) For example, last night I inhaled a bagel - didn't bother toasting it or anything. And between lectures, I feel a strong need to eat something. So I usually do - but I think I'm going to put an end to this starting tomorrow. 
Also, studying takes a lot out of me. I'm getting 8 hours of sleep a night, and I feel I could use even more. I figure my brain is requiring extra cataloguing and info-absorption time, and so far, I've been happy to oblige.

Friday, September 11, 2009

UNBC campus

The beautiful campus (see pictures below) is on a gigantic hill on the edge of Prince George. I'm not kidding about the giganticness of this hill. Google Maps tells me it should take about 40 minutes to walk to the bottom, and then at least another 10 minutes to get to the nearest strip mall or other useful place. That makes it essentially NOT walking distance to anywhere. 
Luckily, it is fairly well serviced by 4 main bus routes - however, the buses stop running around 9pm, so no nightlife for us students, unless you're willing to pay for a taxi.
Pretty buildings on campus around dusk
The edge of campus, looking off the hill towards the mountains.

Healthcare in Prince George

It has come to my attention that for non-PG students, healthcare here stinks.
There are 2 options:
  • Campus clinic. The doctor is in 2 half-days per week.
  • The only walk-in-clinic in PG. I was told to avoid going here by a PG resident because you might end up waiting 6 hours or longer, and there's a good chance you may get hypothermia while doing so.
Okay, there's a third option - if you are dying, you can go to the ER at the hospital. This is usually not the case for most of us.
And that's it. Period.
I called a slew of doctor's offices to see if I could book an appointment outside of those options. Half of them were closed down (weird), and the other half are not accepting new patients. So then, I called the hospital to get a list of doctors accepting new patients, and guess what? The list is empty.
If you're a family medicine doctor, can you move to Prince George, please?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Environmental engineering 1st year fall courses

My 1st year engineering courses at UNBC this semester:
  • Introductory Physics I: Mechanics
  • General Chemistry 
  • General Chemistry Lab (apparently this is a separate course -  it's possible to take Chemistry sans lab)
  • Calculus
  • Introduction to Engineering Seminar
  • Geomorphology
I'm amazed at the resources available to students to help us be successful here. For example, you can get free tutoring at the Teaching and Learning Centre. They also try to get more senior students to sit in on first year math and science classes so they can set up separate help sessions later. Wow. Having not done math and science since, oh, high school, this makes me feel a lot better about things.
The one class I feel anxious about now is geomorphology. I thought this was going to be my fun, easy, non-number-crunching class. As it turns out, there are 9 labs, all of which must be handed in twice: once for a quality/completion check, and the second time after they post the answers and you mark up your own lab yourself. I see this is a good idea because I almost never look at assignments once I get them back, so I don't learn from my mistakes... but... I have 5 other classes to do here! Geez! I thought this one would require the least amount of work.
Sometimes, when a wave of cynicsm comes over me, I think they do this on purpose because a class about geology/geography would be just too enjoyable (and maybe easy) otherwise.
But anyways. Now that a wave of optimism has hit, I've decided to embrace this class and do my best to get the most out of it. Right? Right.

Monday, September 7, 2009


I learned a new word today.

Shawty: term of endearment originating from Atlanta, formerly meaning "Shorty", but now referring to any male or female friend or associate: "Wassup Shawty!" Also can be used as a 3rd person pronoun: "That shawty over there is hot."

UNBC Day 3

The boxes have been packed, moved, and unpacked, the room mates have been introduced, and the tearful goodbyes have been given. Now what?
Blog for a while, I guess. Not much else to do other than eat.
Here are some (terrible phone) pictures of what our place in residence looks like:
Little hall into my room

 View outside my window backing onto the forest. This is very nice and very quiet.
Living room. No TV yet.

Kitchen. Microwave coming soon!

2 sinks

 The shower and toilet have their own entrances. This is a great idea.
Before I have more time to ponder/wallow in my temporary loneliness, I'm going to go to the gym.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

5 more days to UNBC

I am moving myself and all my swag to residence in 5 days to start a new career for the next few years: life as an engineering student.

It's funny how this seemed like such a wonderful remote idea 6 months ago when I decided to apply. It's still a good idea now, of course - just scarier now that it's being realized. You can't go too wrong with more education. There are much worse things to do other than not work.

The thought of leaving all friends and family to go somewhere where I know nobody? 
Then: "No big deal - it's only temporary." 
Now: "Oh dear." 
But hey, with the Internets, you're never alone, right? We've always got msn messenger.

Also, if I think of this in terms of being a new adventure, I feel a lot better. UNBC, here I come!

And don't worry, everyone! I won't turn into one of those engineers. I promise.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The solution to dense bread

I made 2 loaves in the last few days, one being a Bread Without a Timetable and another the Dill bread, both from Smitten Kitchen. Both turned out pretty good, but somehow really dense.

I figure it's 2 things:
1. My house is not warm. The dough takes more than twice as long to double in size. With the dill bread, it was more like 6 hours compared to the 1.5 to 2 suggested in the recipe. After 2 hours on the counter, it looked almost exactly the same! So I turned on the oven to "warm" for a couple minutes, stuck the bowl of dough in and shut it off, then left it for the rest of the afternoon. It looked great after that.
I did the same for the second rise, except I forgot to turn off the oven that time for about 6 minutes. As it turns out, "warm" is actually pretty hot. After a mad dash to the oven to yank it out, there was a thin crust just starting to form. Oops. Luckily it still turned out okay. :D

2. I don't have bread flour, so I use regular all purpose flour. I think this is the big factor. I am going to try these again with some Vital Wheat Gluten next time and I think they will be much more soft, chewy, and bready-awesome.

Monday, August 10, 2009


With the current interest rates progressively sucking - most "High Interest" Savings Accounts - and yes, those are sarcastic quotes - are now at 1% or less. Just a year ago or so, some of them were up to 4%!

Anyways, I was looking for somewhere better to park a chunk of money, so I asked around, and a friend told me about corporate bonds and how you can buy them at a discount (ie. pay 90 cents for 100 cent value), AND get a decent interest rate too - maybe 4% (what I later discovered is called the coupon rate). Not amazing, but for security, better than 1.2%.

To me these fee like GICs, since they're both locked in until the maturity date, but corporate bonds are slightly less guaranteed. By this I means it depends on the rating - and there are several different scales. According to S&P, for instance, AAA is outstanding, which means very secure and stable, like banks. (Read: You will get your money back with the rate promised.) Then it goes down to AA, A, then BBB, etc. Once you get down to the C and D ratings, you are risking not getting your money back. Of course, these "speculative quality" bonds tend to have better coupon rates.

Correction Aug 15/09: Turns out these aren't locked in. So not like GICs at all.

So I did some research, and I did not find great deals. A lot of bonds were selling for over par, and the 4% and up coupon rates had maturity dates that waaaaay into the future. Like 2015 or later. Combined with the fact that the minimum purchase is $5000 per transaction, I don't think it's worth it. I assume (or hope) there will be better opportunities in the next 4 years.

What I don't understand at all is why people would even bother investing in bonds that are over par with a tiny coupon rate. If your yield is going to be less than 1%, why not just put it in a savings account or make a GIC ladder? There must be a reason, right? Or are those people chumps?

In the meantime, I've learned a little bit about bonds, so it's not a total loss, even though I haven't found a solution yet. :)

Addition Aug 15/09: I think my solution, after talking to people, is trust funds. But apparently those are going to disappear in 2011 in Canada because the government wants that taxable income. Jerks.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chinese dictionary with drawing capabilities!

For anyone who knows Chinese or is learning it, check out nciku.

This is by far the best Chinese/English dictionary I've seen online, because instead of having to look up words by stroke number (the traditional method) or pinyin (not useful if you don't know how it's pronounced), you can just draw it in a little box, and then pick the one you want from a list that populates as you draw. Neat, huh?

I noticed there are lots of neat tools for learning Chinese, like a conversation of the day section, a stroke-order section, faqs, etc.

Right now I am making up characters to see what comes up. :)

Vos in Guatemala

While on a recent trip to Guatemala, I stumbled on an interesting dialectal Spanish variation: the pronoun vos.

As in many other languages, it is one of the multiple forms of 2nd person (you), but in this case, it's a step in familiarity above tú. For those unfamiliar (no pun intended) with Spanish, here's a quick overview of the standard:
  • . Familiar 2nd person singular, used between family and friends.
  • Usted. Formal 2nd person singular, used to politely address strangers, acquaintances. Also used in power/age difference situations.
  • Vosotros. Familiar 2nd person plural, the plural counterpart to tú. Generally not used in Latin America.
  • Ustedes. Formal 2nd person plural. In the absense of vosotros, it is used for both formal and familiar situations.
I asked the locals to describe how vos is used in Guatemala, and here are my exciting findings:
  • It is more familiar than tú - for very close friends and family. In Guatemala, it does not replace tú. It does in other dialects, such as in Argentina.
  • The verb is conjugated differently from any other pronoun. The stress is generally on the last syllable, and when irregular, it usually follows the infinitive form.

    "you have" tu tienes / vos tenés
    "you can" tu puedes / vos podés
    "you eat" tu comes / vos comés

  • According to one Guatemalan guy (in his mid to late 20s), the connotation is a bit more forceful. This explains the necessity for familiarity before using vos, or you're definitely going to offend people.
  • Some interesting gender usages:
    Between guys: vos. Apparently it would be weird between close buddies to use tú. "It would be too... flowery," said one guy.
    Between girls: vos.
    Between genders: tú. It is weird or inappropriate - I'm not sure which - to use vos to address someone of the other gender, even if you are close friends. However, this doesn't apply between siblings.
  • This is not a generational difference. People of all ages use vos.
Of course, a big disclaimer is that personal preference or type of relationship overrides general guidelines:
One guy said that with one particular friend he always uses usted. "I don't know why - it's just something about her."
Another girl told me she knows a family where one guy (about 25) uses vos with his brothers, but usted for his little sister. "Que feo!" (how horrible!) she remarked.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Ahhh, bread. Bread is the best. Today I made bagels. I was inspired by the bagel recipe from smitten kitchen. I made a small sponge (6 tsp water, 6 tsp flour, 1/2 tsp yeast) last night and let it sit at room temperature, and did everything else this morning. After kneading, I let the dough rise for over an hour (to compensate for being in the fridge overnight) and then proceeded to bagelize. I let the shaped dough rest for about 5 minutes, then boiled them for 2 minutes per side, baked for 6 minutes, rotated, then another 4 minutes or so.

Ingredient-wise, instead of barley malt, I used honey. I didn't have bread flour or high-gluten flour, so I used all-purpose. And I substituted one cup of it for whole wheat flour.

So... now that I look at the changes I made, I realize that it's not really the same recipe at all. Hmmm. I'm notorious for not following recipes.

However, the texture of these is just great. Mmmmm. After having both NY and Montreal-style bagels, I've decided I like something in between. Somewhat chewy on the outside - Montreal-style, but soft and moist inside - NY-style. It may be sacriligious to say this, being Canadian, but I find the truly authentic Montreal bagels overbaked for my taste. They always seem to veer towards being dry. (This includes the ones I ate in Montreal.)

My only issue with these is that they're faintly yeasty. I wonder if I put in just a little too much yeast... In total, I put in about half a package, which was somewhere between 1.5-2 tsp.

Next time, I want to experiment with adding some buckwheat flour. Does anyone have experience baking with this ingredient?

The Weepies

I'm always on the lookout for great music. Recently I found out about The Weepies. I was at the library and their latest CD was sitting there staring at me with a whale on the cover, so I checked it out. Yep, the whale sold me - ha!

I really had no idea what the music would be like, but as it turns out, their songs are sweet, mellow, and enjoyable. The way the two of them harmonize is just sublime. Great melodies and great lyrics, too.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Shirts for sale

My friend is selling some of his shirts so I helped him take pictures of them. We had a fun photo shoot. And at no point did I tell him to "work it," though I initially told him to give me his best Blue Steel. It wasn't pretty, so I stopped.

Skool is kool... or, and now, for something completely different!

I'm going back to school in the fall. I know this strikes a chord of dread in most people, but I actually quite like being a student. I discovered that I really like feeding my brain and knowing... things. Random things are okay too. I've developed a habit of Googling anything remotely interesting pretty much immediately. (Having an iPhone is awesome for this addiction.)

Anyways, the market being what it is, and being not too excited about work but having no good other job opportunities, I figured it was a good time to do this. It's a giant step in a completely different direction, but I think I'll be all right. I'm confident that my brain can handle it, though I'll admit, math and science don't come to me as easily as writing. But I've decided that learning things is just a matter of practice - you just have to make those connections in the brain and keep 'em firing.

Befriending the superbrains, profs, and tutors probably won't hurt, either. :)



I'm not sure what I'm going to talk about yet. But it may include some of the following:
  • thoughts on books
  • baking adventures
  • back to school adventures
  • dancing