1.23.2023

something new: labour book club

Through my union, I've started a labour book club. This is something I've wanted to do for years, and now it's gotten off the ground. I'm very pleased! 

Everything requires persistence, even quitting

I first thought of doing this pre-covid, and imagined that I might gather members of my union in my own area. Not members of my bargaining unit, who are all librarians -- and I'm the only member of the unit in my region -- but BCGEU members in any field.

I asked my bargaining unit chair how I might go about this, and she recommended suggesting to a committee that plans events for all the different locals representing workers in different industries. 

Then came covid, and suddenly we were all seeing other all the time on Zoom and Teams. I realized this made the labour book club idea much more attractive and much easier: offer it to everyone, and host it on Zoom.

The next time I asked about it, I learned that I would need to be on this committee. (I'll call it ccc.) And in order to be on ccc, I needed to be on my local executive. So I was elected Member At Large for the local, and became the local's representative on ccc.

Then, when I attended my first ccc meeting, I somehow let myself get elected chair! This was a big mistake. Not only was chairing ccc way more work than I wanted, but now I wouldn't have time for the book club -- the reason I did all this in the first place!

What followed was a lot of maneuvering and apologizing, some very supportive union people, some selfish and unsupportive union people, a few knots to untie, and several hoops to jump through. And now... ta-da! Someone else is chairing ccc and I am leading the book club. Yay!

But will anyone attend?

When I brought this idea to ccc, there was a very enthusiastic response. But still, you never know if an idea will actually work. A notice went out to all BCGEU members in our official area, which is all of Vancouver Island north of Victoria. I truly had no idea if anyone would sign up. I was hoping for five or six people.

To my astonishment, 21 people signed up, and 14 people attended the first meeting!

We've had our first meeting -- just informational, to meet and talk about how things will work. Members ranged from avid readers with a lot of book club experience, to one member who would like to start reading and thought this might be a path towards her new goal. A few librarians from my local joined, including two currently on maternity leave, but the majority were from other fields.

What we're reading

I have only two guidelines for this book club:

  • Fiction only, which most people find more more accessible
  • No pressure!
Our first title is The Cold Millions, by Jess Walter, which I wrote about here

Other potential titles include:
In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
For the Win, Cory Doctorow
In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje
The Last Ballad, Wiley Cash
Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
Gilded Mountain, Kate Manning
Work Song, Ivan Doig
Storming Heaven, Denise Giardina
Sea Glass, Anita Shreve
Damnation Spring, Ash Davidson

Know any other appropriate titles? Leave them in comments! 

Will people enjoy this? Will they continue to attend? We shall see!

1.14.2023

in which i buy eyeglasses online and am super excited about it: zenni optical

I recently bought new eyeglasses: price tag: $165.00. This is 80% less than my previous pair of glasses cost. I can see well and the frames are great. I'm going to buy a second pair -- and maybe a third. Buying glasses online: hallelujah!

At the end of this post, there's a step-by-step account of my experience ordering glasses from Zenni.

The ordeal of new glasses

Buying eyeglasses had become such an ordeal. 

I wear both progressives (distance, middle, and reading in one lens) and transitions (photochromic; automatically darken in the sun). I also like to have great-looking frames. To me, frames are the accessory I wear every day. They must be awesome. 

Taken together, this can easily cost close to $800 per pair.

We are fortunate that both our jobs include extended health benefits, so we do get some of that back. But it's still a major expense.

Now, living in a remote region, it's even worse: the nearest optometrist is 2.5 hours away. If we're ordering new glasses, that's two round trips -- an additional expense, plus time off from work. 

And there's a huge wait! This time around, I called in April to book an eye exam, and the first appointment I could get was at end of October! Welcome to the resource shortage.

I don't know how she does it

Some months ago, I saw a colleague and union sister wearing strikingly beautiful frames. The following day, I saw her again -- with different frames! How on earth can she afford to have multiple pairs of glasses??

The answer: Zenni Optical

I have known for some time that buying glasses online is A Thing, but I had only seen very simple, basic frames purchased online. I assumed that's what was available, and I never dug any deeper.

Once I saw my colleague with multiple pairs of beautiful frames -- and with an eye exam appointment coming up -- I decided to give it a try.

Why do frames cost so much?

This experience makes me wonder why buying glasses from a retail store costs so much. 

Either way, the frames are made in China. 

Either way, the glasses are not made onsite; prescriptions are sent elsewhere for lens grinding and assembly. 

Obviously there are costs involved with retaining a retail store. But can that account for such a dramatic price difference -- or is most of it markup?

Zenni has an page on this question: The Hidden Costs You Pay for Glasses.

I have wondered a bit about the ethics of this transaction. When the price difference is so great, retail stores are bound to lose a lot of business. But I'm not going to pay $800 for a pair of glasses that I can buy for $165 from the comfort of my own computer. The price difference  is too great, and the convenience is amazing.

Frames as accessories

One of the reasons I'm so excited about Zenni is suddenly I can afford more than one pair of glasses. When frames cost $800, I have to find one pair that will work in all situations -- as my Zenni-using friend said, the little black dress of frames. Now I can wear different frames with different clothes. I love accessories, and suddenly I have new options.

Another friend of mine needs to purchase glasses for four children. The expense is mind-boggling. I'm hoping Zenni will help her too.

My experience using Zenni, a step-by-step account

Here are details of my experience buying glasses online through Zenni.

Get your prescription elsewhere

First, you'll need your prescription. 

Check the prescription to see if it includes the pupillary distance (PD). That's the thing the optometrist measures when you buy glasses. 

If your prescription doesn't include the PD, Zenni has detailed instructions on how to measure it. It doesn't sound that difficult, and of course you can take multiple measurements to ensure accuracy. I was a bit wary of this, but the PD was included on our prescriptions.

Create a Zenni account

This is easy and painless.

Browse frames

Whether or not you have your prescription yet, you can scroll through a huge number of frames, and favourite the ones you like. You can sort by shape, colour, face shape,  frame shape, prescription type, price, and several other parameters. 

I definitely recommend scanning through all the links and seeing what applies best. I found frames Ioved under a "new arrivals" link. There are also amazing budget options.

I looked at dozens of frames and favourited the ones I was considering. I always try on lots of frames in the store, and I was glad to do this without using anyone else's time.

Create a Try On

You can virtually try on the frames one of two ways: uploading a photo or creating a "Try On". 

I was unable to get an uploaded photo to work. No matter what I did, the photo I uploaded was too small and needed to be rotated -- but I found no way to fix it. Because of this, I used the Try On. I learned that even if the photo had uploaded correctly, using a Try On is preferred -- because you can see both frontal and side (partial profile) views.

I did not find creating a Try On to be simple or easy, although that wasn't Zenni's fault. It took a few tries, each one getting a bit better, until I felt I had a halfway decent video to work with.

Once I created the Try On, it was very easy to virtually try on any pair of frames. 

You can also see what the frames look like on various models with various skin tones, hair colours, and face shapes. This was surprisingly helpful.

Input your prescription

Next, check the numbers on your prescription and type them in the corresponding boxes online. Check and re-check. 

If categories don't matchup -- for example, does "plano" mean no change? -- a quick google search will clarify. (Answer: it does.)

You can save multiple prescriptions through your Zenni account, sign up for reminders for eye exams, and so on.

Order

Once you've input your prescription and chosen frames, it's time to order your lenses.

There are many options available at different prices -- which kind of photochromic lenses, which kind of anti-glare coating, and so on. This is similar to my experience in any retail outlet.

I always find this part confusing. What is truly helpful, and what is a useless expense? The internet can help with that, but in the end, it's only an educated guess.

I liked doing this part without a salesperson, as I am susceptible to over-buying. I found reading online more conducive to good decision-making.

Order fulfillment

I placed my first order on December 24 and received the notice the glasses had shipped on January 5. That's very fast, especially considering the time of year. 

The glasses arrived in small padded mailer that fit in our post office box, with a hard-plastic Zenni case (pictured above), along with a cleaning cloth and a small PD ruler. 

The finished product

My glasses are great. The prescription is obviously correct, the fit is excellent, and they are exactly what I ordered. Five stars!

Had the glasses needed a fit adjustment, it would have been problematic. Most people could pop in to a nearby optometrist for an adjustment. (As far as I can tell, this is the last free, courtesy service on earth.) I would not be able to do that. This is a drawback for us, but not worth hundreds of dollars and two five-hour drives!

Other Zenni services I haven't used

Zenni has information on how to adjust and repair your glasses, and they sell a frame-repair kit. 

There's information on how to replace lenses in frames you already own. 

You can also book a frame-fit consultation with a person.

While researching this post, I discovered Zenni's celebrity endorsement pages. One features none other than Big Papi! While I won't be buying any frames worn by David Ortiz, I had a nice chuckle over this and was happy, thinking about our man Ortiz. I also enjoyed seeing the one and only Iris Apfel modeling her look

Good luck and enjoy!

1.08.2023

update: strength training without a trainer

I recently blogged about my experience working with a personal trainer. I really enjoyed it, and I was considering how to continue strength training on my own. I'm not new to the concept, but this time, I'm determined to avoid injury and to make it a non-negotiable habit.

Trainer-created workouts

Initially, I'm using the workouts that the trainer created. I have 12 workouts altogether, and I'm  cycling through them with a goal of doing one per week, replacing one day of cardio. If I forget how to do something, or need to check on form, a quick search turns up plenty of examples. 

This is not helpful for readers who may want to start strength training at home -- except to say that I'm very glad I finally worked with a trainer (covid silver lining: virtual options). I highly recommend doing this for a little while if you can afford it. I thought of it as an investment in my health, as I did when I bought my treadmill, similar to joining a gym.

The winning app: Nike Training Club

When I want more or a different challenge, I'm going to use Nike Training Club. I chose it because:

** It's simple and direct, not larded up with unnecessary features.

** It's focused on exercise only. That's all I wanted, and that's what NTC is.

** Workouts are clearly divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced. 

** There are programs grouped according to goals -- many of them, for a wide variety of goals -- or you can find a bunch of exercises that work for you and save them to create your own programs.

** You can also choose "whiteboard workouts" that combine exercises for a full workout on the level you choose.

** If you choose a whiteboard workout, each exercise includes a short optional video that demonstrates proper form. 

** Most workouts require no or minimal equipment.

** Nike Training Club also happens to be free. I was willing to pay a reasonable amount for a workout subscription if necessary, but my first choice is free -- a nice bonus.

Other fitness apps

There are zillions of fitness apps. I used these articles to narrow them down: Forbes Health's Best Fitness Apps (recently updated) and Healthline's A Trainer's Picks of the 12 Best Fitness and Exercise Apps. Most of the other lists I saw are copies of these. 

For me, most of these were easily eliminated, as they focus on needs that aren't relevant to me. 

Many of the apps aim to be all-in-one health hubs -- diet tracking, exercise, lifestyle changes, coaching. I can see the appeal, but I can also see that easily overwhelming a beginner. In any case, I have those pieces under control, and I don't want to subscribe to something knowing that I'll ignore three-quarters of what it offers. 

There are also many fitness apps for body builders, and for specific needs such as pregnancy. Many are designed for use with a wearable device (Fitbit, Apple, etc.) which I don't want and will never do.

All in all, Nike Training Club was an easy choice.

How often is enough

Many people believe that strength training must be done a minimum of three times per week in order to see results, but that's either a myth, or at best, not relevant to my goals.

My goals are the typical ones for older people -- google "why strength training is important for older adults" -- and are all about health and well-being. My long-term motivation is improving my chances of a healthy, independent old age. My shorter-term motivation is improving the ease of everyday movements and tasks. Strength training also feels good and, unlike cardio fitness, you can feel the benefits almost immediately.

Everything I've read about this kind of exercise says once or twice weekly is a solid goal. I found this article very helpful: A Low-Pressure Guide to Make Strength Training a Habit.

1.05.2023

a reading plan for 2023

This year's reading plan is more open-ended -- designed to give me focus but not overwhelm. I've created what most people seem to call a reading challenge, but that term doesn't work for me. So here's the plan.

** Five current (within 3 years) nonfiction

** Five older nonfiction from The List

** Ten fiction, including five (total) from this list of authors I have not read: Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Naguib Mahfouz, Margaret Laurence, Helen Oyeyemi, Donna Tartt

** Advance one ongoing goal, choose from: one Dickens (four to finish), one Orwell (three to finish), finish King Trilogy (two-thirds of final book remaining)

** Continue weekly NYC history installments

I will also be leading a labour book club with my union. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time, and it's taken quite a bit of maneuvering to make it happen. If anyone actually signs up, I’ll be reading for this as well. 

1.02.2023

we movie to canada: best of "what i'm watching" 2022

Here are the best movies and series I watched in 2022. They're not in order -- it's not a countdown -- just a list of all the really good stuff.

Five stars: the best of the best

BoJack Horseman re-watch
My favourite show of all time. I'm trying not to call it "the greatest show of all time," but I believe it is.

Reservation Dogs S1-2, full series so far.
Hilarious, heartbreaking, and meaningful, Rez Dogs is the first show on mainstream TV to be completely Indigenous-created, and using all Indigenous actors. The writing and acting are incredible, and the way Indigenous realities are worked into the stories is perfect. I hope everyone will watch this!

The Expanse S6
The final season of this stellar show did not disappoint. Although I am not a science fiction fan by any means, I'm glad I don't reject a show based on genre. This series is as good as it gets: gripping, moving, surprising, with complex characters and deep political and social resonance. I'll probably watch it again.

We Need to Talk About Cosby, 4-part documentary series
This deeply disturbing documentary series is a must-see. I'm grateful to Kamau Bell for making the film, to every woman who agreed to speak with him, and to all who didn't, just for surviving.  

The Power of the Dog (2021)
This is Jane Campion's version of a western: a quietly intense psychological thriller set in an isolated Montana homestead. Utterly riveting and not at all predictable. I had to watch the ending twice. 

Slow Horses S1-S2, full series so far
This is a top-notch spy thriller, full of paranoia and corruption, with great writing and great characters -- but everything pales beside Gary Oldman's incredible performance. We re-watched S1 right before S2 dropped on AppleTV+, and are eagerly awaiting S3.

The Capture S2
This thriller takes you on a wild, twisty, breathless ride into the outlandish but utterly plausible world of government surveillence and corporate media manipulation. The Capture may be the greatest show you've never heard of.

Unforgotten S4
The final season of this cold-case forensic show left us a little heartbroken and wanting more. Unforgotten is especially notable for the emotional resonance of each case. In most detective shows, the corpse is just a premise -- a prop. Unforgotten shows you the web of loss that radiates from every violent death. Nicola Walker is brilliant.

The Handmaid's Tale S5
This show continues to be one of the very best, with everything clicking -- writing, acting, character development, and of course, politics. Elisabeth Moss is surely one of the great actors of this or any generation. 

Shining Girls S1, full series
This genre-blending thriller/mystery/sci-fi series is mind-blowing, and features yet another insanely good performance by Elisabeth Moss. I'm planning on re-watching: now that I know the outcome, I can concentrate on clues and how it all fits together. 

In the Heat of the Night (1967)
The death of the great Sidney Poitier led me to re-watch several of his movies (with more to come). In this one, Poitier's understated performance and Rod Steiger's subtle character development create something truly brilliant. One of the best American films of any era.

The Janes
This documentary about the underground (and illegal) abortion network in 1970s Chicago was beautifully done. Importantly, the story is told by the women themselves. I'm grateful to Tia Lessen and Emma Pildes for capturing and preserving our history.

To Sir With Love (1967)
More from Sir Sidney. I wondered if this would hold up. It does, and then some.

Four stars: worth every minute, highly recommended

Bad Sisters S1, full series
Comedy, drama, mystery, revenge, and sisterhood -- plus Irish accents! What more do you need? Don't miss this. It's both intense and fun.

Yellowstone S4
The fourth season of Yellowstone was the best yet, packed with everything that makes this show great. 

Black Butterflies S1, full series
This French thriller is super suspenseful, twisty, and exciting. Stories are revealed in multiple timelines that force you to rethink what you thought you knew -- again and again. It lost the 5-star rating only because I found the ending unsatisfying, but it was still amazing. Not for the violence-averse.

How to Change Your Mind, 4-part documentary series
Michael Pollan's exploration of the potential for clinical use of psychedelics was truly eye-opening. The series was fascinating and sometimes deeply moving. Having seen this, I now want to read the book -- and I want to get in a clinical trial for PTSD. (Allan feels the same way.) This lost the 5-star rating only for its treatment of the CIA's LSD experiments: too short, and too neutral. Another sentence or two would have been more accurate and appropriate.

Summer of Soul
This documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is packed with astounding footage of so much great music. It's worth watching for Mahalia Jackson alone; her performance makes all the other superstars appear as mere humans.

Perry Mason S1, series so far
This stylist neo-noir prequel has all the makings of a classic. I've just learned it will be back for S2 next year, a great excuse to rewatch S1. If you like noir-ish mysteries and hardboiled detective stories, you'll enjoy this.

Never Have I Ever S3
This series was everything I love in a young-adult show: honest, funny, affirming, authentic, with just the right amount of angst. 

Sex Education S1-S3, full series so far
What a beautiful surprise this was! If some of it was a bit far-fetched, it more than compensated with laughs and tears. 

Atypical S2-4
This show grew both funnier and more meaningful as time went on. Along with the two series listed above, this was a trifecta year for young people's comedy/drama/coming-of-age. 

Nomadland
Dramatizing a nonfiction book is tricky, but the sparse, quiet production and Frances McDormand's brilliant (as usual) performance made it appropriately heartbreaking. I came to feel that using a fictional story to illustrate these issues was a smart move.

No Time to Die
Did you know I love James Bond movies? This just might be my all-time favourite. Lucky for me, I don't see spoilers.

The Laundromat
This 2019 social satire was a great surprise. What starts out as a simple family story turns into an exploration of the grievous harm done by legal corporate tax evasion. It's on this list because I want everyone to see it.

Leave No Trace
This somber story of a father and daughter living on their own in the woods gradually reveals its political heart. A sad and meaningful film.

The Blacklist S9
How can this show still be so good?? The death of a central character refreshed and renewed the series. James Spader continues to amaze me.

Louis Armstrong's Black and Blues
I know quite a bit about Louis Armstrong, but this documentary includes newly discovered footage and archival recordings of Satchmo talking to friends. Armstrong bios always try to explain away his Uncle Tom tendencies and his refusal to utter one single word of support for the civil rights movement, while he was the most famous Black man on the planet. This show is no different, and it inadvertently strengthens my disappointment in this.

Colin in Black and White S1, full series
Ava DuVernay and Colin Kaepernick's genre-blending (part documentary, part dramatization) film really hits the mark. Parts may seem obvious to more informed viewers, but I can hope a less enlightened audience found it eye-opening.

M*A*S*H S1-S11, full series
I started re-watching MASH years ago, then lost access. In 2022 I re-started and watched it end-to-end. Without a doubt, this is one of the best TV shows of all time. For almost the entire 11 seasons, it was funny, poignant, sometimes heartbreaking, and always unapologetically political. The show lost a lot when Gary Burghoff left, but MASH at its worst was still miles above most shows at their best. By the way, the often-repeated claim that Alan Alda demanded that his character be shown in the operating room in every episode is obviously untrue. Alda also wrote, co-wrote, or directed many episodes. Even with the solid esemble cast, Alda was MASH.

Honourable mentions: worth seeing

Kids in the Hall (2022)
The Dig (2021)
Ozark S4
Hacks S2
Derry Girls S3
Island of the Sea Wolves (Vancouver Island nature show)
The Worst Person in the World
Dead to Me
Wayne (Thank you to the wmtc reader who suggested this!)

Recap of previous years

- Canadian musicians and comedians (2006-07 and 2007-08)
- my beverage of choice (2008-09)
- famous people who died during the past year (2009-10)
- where I'd like to be (2010-11)
- vegetables (2011-12)
- big life events in a year full of Big Life Changes (2012-13)
- cheese (2013-14)
- types of travels (2014-15)
famous people who died plus famous people who died, part 2 (2015-16)
- the picket line (2016-17)
- movies (2017-18)
2018-19: 1-5 ☮s
2019-20: 1-5 💉s
2020-21: 1-5 😷s (without the tear!)
2021: best of 2021 april to december