Saturday, November 19, 2016

#15 - Adopt an Animal from a Shelter

Rats! I got two of them today. Meet Nasdaq (the albino) and Dow Jones (the hooded). Here is my friend Lindsay holding them. She'd never held rats before, and despite being a real animal lover, had her reservations at first. 

I have to admit, I don't blame her because, hell... they're rats. I think most people probably have an innate aversion at least to some degree because we probably carry in our genes the warning that, "hey, that thing harbours the plague!" and even if today they don't carry horrific deadly diseases, anything that calls an industrial garbage bin its natural habitat is unlikely to be thought well of by the human race... but these are fancy rats, which means they've been selectively bred for over a century and are many, many, many generations removed from wild rats (or, as I like to think of them, "thug rats,") and are thus much more sophisticated, high brow, and cultured. 

My two guys are brothers (no need to guess about a rat's gender - the females are significantly smaller and lack the absolutely massive scrotums the boys' have at the base of their tails. Unfortunate, but true.) I decided on male rats because they're known to be more docile/affectionate and less "busy" than the females, who tend to want to spend more time running around and playing with each other as opposed to curling up on their human's lap. I also decided to get two instead of just one (despite the very real awareness that this makes me, by definition, a "crazy rat lady," because rats are incredibly social animals that normally live in packs, or colonies, and since I spend a lot of time out of the house most days, I think it would be cruel to leave one of them alone for long stretches of time. However, they still require human attention/affection, much like dogs and cats do, which means when I'm home in the evenings I'll be taking them out of their cage to play with them and let them snuggle into my hoodie while I'm studying. I'm also looking forward to the possibility of training them to come on command (rats learn their names and can learn many of the same tricks that dogs can). 

I've always wanted to adopt an animal from a shelter (or "rescue" as some like to say to make themselves feel extra heroic) because there are so many animals of all kinds (cats, dogs, bunnies, hamsters, cockateels, and the list goes on) that are in need of homes because people gets pets and then treat them like any other "thing" you can buy at Walmart and then toss when they get tired of them or find they actually require some work and attention. The Vancouver Animal Shelter has quite a few animals for adoption right now, and, of course, so do other shelters, rescue organizations, and the SPCA. 
On the wall at the Vancouver Animal Shelter

But do you know how easy it is to get a couple of pet rats compared to say, a dog? 

I decided, like, yesterday that I thought it would be cool to have a pet rat. All you have do is walk into the shelter, find the rodent room, pick out the cutest ones (but let's be honest, rats are all clones of each other, so any two will do), sign a couple of papers, hand over $5 for each of them, and leave. You can be the proud owner of a couple of fancy rats less than an hour after coming up with the idea. Want a dog? Expect paperwork comparable to that of adopting a child. And fees that are also a lot higher than for a pocket-sized furry friend. A purebred dog from a breeder will cost about the same as a used Toyota. My rats, with tax, cost me less than a six pack of beer. 

Why don't more people get rats as pets? They're as intelligent, trainable, and affectionate as dogs, but are totally quiet, litter trainable, and don't require exercising. And unlike hamsters, gerbils, and even guinea pigs, rats are least likely of all rodents to bite. They actually enjoy being handled, which means they're great first pets for kids. I know hamsters are infinitely cuter (my mother says my rats' tails give her "the willies"), but as the shelter worker said when she was showing me an absolutely adorable little dwarf hamster this afternoon, these little bastards can and will draw blood. He's actually bitten everyone who's tried to touch him. Who wants that? Hamsters are like rattle snakes packaged in bite-sized bundles of adorable, while rats are like labrador retriever puppies packaged in hateful bodies with eyes that say, "come closer and let me suck out your soul." At least the albino ones are. Poor little guys. They just want to be loved, but damn, Nasdaq's freaky eyes are going to take some getting used to. 

Anyway, another item off the bucket list. This one rather suddenly, and without too much forethought, but sometimes life is like that. One day you're just living your rodent-free life, and the next you're sleeping with a couple of rats not three feet from your bed. (I'm going to be single forever, aren't I?)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

#58 - Nude Beach

Typical summer day at Wreck Beach, Vancouver, BC (Photo: WBPS)
Yesterday I unexpectedly got to cross off another item from my bucket list. This one... be nude at a nude beach. I spent several hours in the sun, swimming, suntanning, and walking around in my birthday suit among hundreds of strangers, many of whom were also not wearing a lick of clothing. It was surreal. And pretty awesome. 
The rules of Wreck (photo:
Adriana and I had planned to go up to the Sunshine Coast to visit friends but forgot to make ferry reservations, so we couldn't get on and realized we both have to work Monday, so our plans fell through. Well, no matter – fish 'n chips and a skinny dip in the sea made for a lovely summer afternoon. When A suggested Wreck Beach (being shocked to learn I had never been!), I was like, let's do it! I had always imagined crossing off this bucket list item in Europe, where I imagine all the beaches are nude beaches and all the people look like Christiano Ronaldo, and yet I thought, why wait to go abroad to get naked in public? I can do that right here in my hometown! And besides, Wreck Beach is the No. 1 nude beach in Canada (according to a 2015 article in Metro News). Coming in second place is Hanlan's Point Beach on Toronto Island, followed by Oka Park near Montreal, Crystal Crescent Beach in Nova Scotia, and Beechgrove in Scarborough, Ontario. I was introduced me to the nuanced rules and regulations of this super popular spot and am pretty jazzed about the proximity of a world-class nude beach not far from where I live.

So what's it like to be naked in public?

You know those nightmares people talk about, where they realize they're in the middle of Times Square, and they're not wearing pants? And they freak out? Well, a nude beach is nothing like that. It's the strangest thing, but when half the people around you are also wearing nothing but sunglasses, it becomes normalized, and quite freeing. If you enjoy skinny dipping, then hanging out at a nude beach is taking it to a whole other level. The feeling of taking off my shorts and t-shirt, then underwear and bra, without trying to be modest and actually with the intention of lying fully exposed for anyone to see, was surprisingly okay. Or, maybe I'm just a nudist at heart, and never realized it until now... I was even quite comfortable walking all the way over to the pit toilets, buck naked, by myself, past hundreds of strangers, many of whom were clothed. It's obviously a very body-positive place, and not everyone (though there were definitely some) looks like they've just come from the gym. Maybe it's because I'm in my 30s, or maybe it's because I was just another nude woman on the beach, but I honestly think I was self-conscious only about how incredibly pale I am. (In fact, fishbelly white, is how I might describe my lack of colour.)

And, because we all know it's "photos or it didn't happen," here is a shot of my bare butt on the sand. (We had to take it fast and couldn't include any of the crowd because photography is frowned upon... for obvious reasons.)

If you turn right, there are mostly clothed folks, but if you turn left (as we did), you'll find the majority (or maybe more like 2/3) of people are without coverage. We walked past the vendors selling food, sarongs (for those more inclined towards modesty, I guess), and various other items (including various illegal substances, but the unspoken rules of Wreck Beach include the cops turning a blind eye as long as no one gets stupid). We set up our towels, stripped, and went for a swim. Walking the 20 feet or so to the water, I realized I was not being gawked at, and I was also not compelled to gawk. Other than the first reaction I had of thinking to myself, "Oh, wow, those guys are totally naked," when seeing a very tanned couple of dudes walking towards me with their stuff all out there, I very quickly got used to the number of breasts, penises, and pubic hair (or lack thereof) that was visible... and yet not inappropriate. Context is everything. Once A and I came back in from a wonderfully refreshing swim (avoiding getting hit by an errant frisbee tossed by another group of nude dudes), we made our way back to our towels to suntan, and we didn't even have to worry about tan lines. Bonus!

How to get the most out of Wreck Beach

A lot people come to Vancouver for a "nakation" (naked vacation) every summer – according to what I've learned from Google – and I can see why. Wreck is a huge, gorgeous beach with so many people who have collectively decided that being friendly and having a clothing-optional good time is where it's at. Even the cops are chill. Here are my suggestions for getting the most out of your first time at this beach:
  1. Get naked. And not just, like, topless, or whatever. I mean fully nude. Don't overthink it, and remember, nobody is going to stare because, hey, you're just another body on the beach. Some people even suggest not stripping down to your birthday suit goes against the spirit of the place, and I kind of agree. While it's obviously not required that everyone goes bare, I think if you're going to show up you might as well show off. Go fully monty and fit in. Otherwise, why not just go to English Bay? 
  2. Don't stare, and don't take photos. I think the fact that everyone is very respectful of each other is what makes this place great. 
  3. Bring supplies. There are pit toilets at the bottom of the long stairway, so no need to worry about tp or where to pee, and there are vendors selling food and drinks (of all sorts) until just before sunset, but you'll want to make sure to bring cash if you're not going to bring your own food. Definitely bring water and sunscreen. You don't want to get dehydrated, or burn delicate parts. Also, bring a friend or two, unless you're willing to be a solo weirdo or brave enough to approach a group of strangers and invite yourself to their no-pants party.
  4. Be prepared for the stairs. The way down is easy, but the 430-odd stairs (I counted) back up the hill to the road is a bitch. Make sure you're mentally and physically prepared to end your day with a bit of a workout.
  5. Stay for the drum circle. When we were leaving, just after the sun had set, we walked past a throng of people writhing to a steady drum beat, one guy gyrating atop a log, his dark skin glistening in the dusk light. It was sort of like that scene from the Matrix III, where everyone's in that underground rave cave, sweating in a veritable orgy of heathen ecstasy. I thought of staying, but realized this was my first time at Wreck, and there will be future drum circles to work my way into. No fomo, as the kids say. 
  6. Park at the Museum of Anthropology. If you can't get a free spot along the east side of S.W. Marine Drive, this is probably you're best bet. There were loads of space available when we arrived in the covered lot, and it cost $8 for the day. Machine only takes credit, though, so have that on hand (but also cash for a boozy Freezee when you get to the beach). The walk from the parking lot to the sand took about 10 minutes. 
The long hike down to the beach (photo:
I definitely enjoyed the atmosphere at Wreck and I will definitely be back again soon. The summer days in Vancouver are spectacular, and yesterday was no exception. This is a great place to enjoy it. 
Sunset, 8:40pm

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Why do math problems always involve pizza?

I feel for this woman. And yet... it's pretty damn funny, innit? 
This video should be played on the first day of every Grade 8 math class in schools,
just to show kids it's worth it to pay attention.

I've not been posting for a while because, well, I've been busy doing math (and a lot of other schoolwork). A few weeks ago I wrote the test for rate & ratio and got 95%, and on Thursday, I wrote the geometry test and got 90%. This is pretty amazing to me, considering I was the kid who froze at just the sight of numbers and failed both Math 11 and 12. Granted, the math I'm doing now covers Grades 8-10, but still, I'm doing a lot better at it then I ever did before. So what's the deal?

How does a math-phobic person go from not getting that a whole pizza is always a whole pizza no matter how many ways you slice it, to getting an A in geometry?

I have two hypotheses: 
  1. You need to have a purpose. I care to try now because I have a purpose behind understanding and getting a good grade in the subject. (If you want to do a psychology degree you have to take stats and research classes, both of which require a C- or better in Math 11), and... 
  2. You need to be an adult. I'm far less distracted outside a high school classroom, working at my own pace, on my own time, with the confidence that comes with being a grownup who figures, if a 13-year old can do this, why can't I? I've wanted to overcome what I feel must be dyscalculia since I failed math in Grade 12, and I don't want to go through the rest of my life thinking of myself as unable to deal with numbers. 

What's the secret to word problems?

Here's an example of a type of math problem that used to freak me out immediately: 
Dan works at a pizza shop. For every three cheese pizzas that Dan makes, he makes one mushroom pizza. If he made 12 mushrooms pizzas, how many cheese pizzas did he make?
The first step is to figure out what the question looks like without all those confusing words – what's the equation that we're being asked to solve? Well, in this case, it's these fractions:
What is x if 3/1 = x/12?  Well, x = (3x12)/1
So, if for every three cheese pizzas, Dan can make one mushroom pizza, then this should be expressed as a ratio of 3:1 (or a fraction of 3/1), and if the ratio we're looking to solve is x:12 (or x/12), then we need to cross multiply (the numerator of the first ratio and the denominator of the second ratio) to get a new numerator, and the denominator is the leftover denominator of the first fraction. Therefore, 3x12 (divided by 1) = 36. So the ratio we're looking for is 3:1 or 36:12, therefore...
Dan can make 36 cheese pizzas for every 12 mushroom pizzas that he makes. And somehow this makes sense to me now. Miracle of miracles. I can even convert fractions to percents, and percent to decimals. Here are a quick few rules of thumb:

  1. A percent (x%) expressed as a fraction is that number over 100 (x/100)
  2. A decimal (0.00) expressed as a percent (0%) requires the decimal move two to the right (so, 0.08 = 008. = 8%)
  3. A percent (x%) expressed as a decimal (0.00) requires the decimal move two to the left (so, 50% = 0.50)
  4. A fraction (x/1) expressed as a percent (x%) requires changing the fraction to a decimal, and then from a decimal to a percent, as above. 

And that's how you slice a pizza. Next up, algebra. Two units of that and I'll be ready for Math 11 in September. Hopefully it will be the last math course I ever take, but I have to say I'm actually kind of enjoying the work, and I'm determined to do well so I can cross this one off my list. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Lynn Peak

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far – about 30C in the sun – but that didn't stop Adriana and my other friend Carolyn from ascending to Lynn Peak on the North Shore. What a spectacular view! 
This is a pretty steep (720 m elevation gain) trail most of the way, and the round-trip (9.8 km) takes a solid four hours (including a short break for lunch at the top). Make sure to take enough water, especially on a hot day, because you'll be sweating enough to need to re-hydrate. We were almost entirely under the cover of the forest canopy, but it was still pretty muggy in the trees.
Another bit of advice – go early. This trail seems to be comparable to the Grouse Grind in terms of its draw for fitness buffs, and as such it gets very crowded by midday. We saw a lot of people coming up the start of the trail as we were coming down, but were fortunate to practically have the trail to ourselves for much of the way up. 
Also, dogs are allowed on the trail, but for most of it are supposed to be on leash, and there was a ranger who passed us who reminded us of this fact. 
All-in-all an excellent hike for both enjoyment of nature as well as an opportunity to stretch the legs and get a good workout. Highly recommended. 
It's two days post-hike and I'm feeling it (weirdly) in my ankles and calves – I forgot to mention, this is one of the most challenging trails in terms of footing because of all the loose rock along a lot of the path. Last piece of advice: wear good shoes or hiking boots!

Monday, May 23, 2016

St. Mark's Summit

Longest hike of the season so far – this time with a group of friends to St. Mark's Summit, at Cypress Mountain on the North Shore. This trail is a 4-hour (11 km) there-and-back that starts at the Cypress Bowl ski lodge parking lot. It's is fairly technical climb in parts, with a lot of exposed roots, steep sections (elevation gain is 460 metres), and some slippery snow in parts near the top that require patience and a humble attitude because you WILL fall on your face and/or butt at least once. But the view from the top makes it all worth it. (Or so I've heard... but even without a view, the mist is pretty magical.)

Also, the wildlife you get to interact with at the peak is pretty fantastic. We hand fed whisky jacks and tiny chipmunks, both of which were happy to land/crawl onto our hands and enjoy some free cashews and seeds. 

My recommendation is to go early in the day because it's a popular trail that seems to get busy by the afternoon. We passed a lot of people going up as we were heading down the mountain around 1 p.m.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lost Lake and Brothers Creek

Despite the drop in temperature and the clouds, Adriana and I had another successful venture on the North Shore on Sunday, this time up the Brothers Creek trail again, with an extended bit (1 km) up to Lost Lake. 

The woods in this area are spectacularly lush and surprisingly under-populated. We passed maybe only four or five other hiking parties during the entire there-and-back hike (12 km total), and saw no one at the lake where we stopped for lunch. Again, a great place to work up a sweat and enjoy the beautiful terrain replete with new spring growth and raging waterfalls along the side of the path. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fractions got nothin' on me

Took the fractions quiz at the learning centre on Tuesday night and aced it!
Fractions turn out to be really quite simple when you know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. I now know what is a proper fraction (eg. 1/4, when the numerator – the number on top – is smaller than the denominator – the number on the bottom), an improper fraction (eg. 4/1, when the numerator is bigger than the denominator, which means the fraction represents a number bigger than 1), and a mixed number (eg. 9/4 = 2 1/4, when the improper fraction is converted to a whole number plus the leftover fraction), and how to combine each of these and take them apart. After a week of self-paced practice at 1 hour per day, I mastered this section of the course and took the quiz without a problem. 

Here's how to add and subtract fractions:

And here's how to multiply and divide fractions:
If you want to test yourself, here's a fun little exercise to see if you remember Grade 8 math:

Yesterday I took the day off from math practice (well-deserved, I'd say!) and started today with the "ratio and rate" section of the course. They gave me a booklet to take home to work through... and I got stuck on page one. Here's an example of a word problem I'm supposed to figure out:
The Miranda family purchased a 250-pound side of beef and had it packaged. They paid $365 for the side of beef. During the packaging, 75 pounds were discarded as waste. How many pounds of beef were packaged, and what was the cost per pound to the nearest penny for the packaged beef?
Okay, now I'm like, WTF? This is what I'm now calling a "purple pancake" type of math problem, which refers to the illogic of this meme: 
As soon as I see a word problem this is where my brain starts to hurt. But I know I need to just calm down and learn to methodically work out what the equation is that's being asked here. So, in this case, the first step is to subtract 75 from 250 (the amount of beef discarded), giving me 175. Next step is to divide 365 by 175 (written as 365/175) which is the cost ($365) divided by the total weight (175 lbs), which is 2.085 (I used my calculator for this, of course). In dollars this looks like $2.09, so the answer is $2.09 per pound for the beef

Okay, I think I've basically got a handle on this. The top number gets divided by the bottom number in a ratio. A ratio is how many parts of one thing to how many parts of another thing, and a rate is when those two things are different (as in time and distance). So far, so good. My aim is to master this and take the quiz next week. Fingers crossed, it'll work out as well as it did for fractions...

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lynn Loop

Yesterday Adriana and I set off early to Lynn Headwaters Regional Park, to hike the gorgeous Lynn Loop (we went as far as the Third Debris Chute, which is a 12 km circular route, but it's possible to turn off early and do half that, or, if you have all day, to keep going all the way over to the peak of Grouse Mountain!). 
The trail follows a gentle incline through the forest before turning back and following the shore of the stunningly beautiful Lynn Creek. Both Adriana and I kept exclaiming, "Look at the light on those ferns!" and "Wow, this is so pretty," and basically couldn't quite get over how lovely it was to be in the woods on a sunny Sunday morning, with the birds singing, and the leaves an almost supernatural green. 

There really is no better place to be in the world than the North Shore mountains on days like these, especially when you can stretch your legs and work up a bit of a sweat on the inclines. Feeling pretty good about our hiking progress – and looking forward to exploring more trails and peaks as the weather continues to work in our favour!

Next step is to start doing short, steep hikes, like the BCMC, and then longer treks, like the Diez Vistas, to test our endurance. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Admiralty Point

Yesterday afternoon I took a break from adding and multiplying fractions to go for a solo hike, and checked out the Admiralty Point trail. This trail starts from the same parking lot at the Belcarra Park picnic site that begins the Jug Island hike, but goes in the opposite direction. Like the Jug Island trail, this one is an out-and-back of about 6km round-trip, but this one takes you along the seashore the whole way, and it's breathtakingly beautiful on a sunny spring day. It's an easy 1.5 hour walk in the park, but a great little hike to get the legs moving and be away from the city and feel like you're out in the wilderness for a while. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How to rid yourself of math anxiety

When I was a kid in school, I had no trouble with reading and writing, but arithmetic really got me down. Like, way down. My GPA probably would have been much higher if it hadn't been for my miserable marks in math class every year. I struggled from the beginning, as many girls (and boys) do, with picturing numbers in my mind and knowing what to do with them on paper. I never did learn my multiplication table in full, and today if you startle me with, "Quick, what's eight times seven?!" I will freeze like a deer in the headlights, my palms going clammy and my breathing becoming shallow while my heart races. 
I have math anxiety, and probably what is now officially known as dyscalculia. It's like the numbers equivalent of dyslexia. Granted, this is not an official diagnosis, but I'd bet a good wager if the term had been in use when I was in elementary or secondary school, I'd have perfectly fit the criteria for this actual cognitive disability. I did not math good. But after I graduated from high school, numbers didn't seem to matter super much, and I've gotten by, scoring an honours degree in English literature and working for a few years as a newspaper reporter, among other random jobs, like milking cows, serving coffee, and hanging out as an extra on movie sets, none of which required any numerical abilities.

But... I've decided I am going to become a psychologist. 
And to get a psych degree, even an undergraduate degree in psychology, one needs to be proficient in math in order to take the required statistics and research classes (not to mention actually making use of statistics and formulas in doing research, especially at the graduate level). I have every intention of going to graduate school, and my main area of interest is health psychology (behavioural medicine) and neuroscience. Having never been strong in math or sciences in high school, though, I've come to realize that I need to brush up, and fast. Also, feeling anxious about math (say, when trying to determine the tip at a restaurant while everyone is getting impatient) and generally feeling disabled when it comes to this area of learning, I've always wanted to brush up my skills and get an A in math. The question is, can I do it?

Are some people just bad at math?

Maybe you're one of those people who just "gets" math. If that's the case, you can stop reading now because the rest of this will be irrelevant, and also because I hate your guts. If you're a sorry sap like me, though, who has always shuddered at the thought of doing word problems and couldn't have been happier to barely pass Math 11 and never look back, then we're in this together, and I welcome you along for the ride. I don't believe kids who were bad at math in school are destined to struggle with numbers for the rest of their lives. I believe our brains just needed more time to develop in certain ways, and at some point as adults, when we're more confident, when we can work at our own pace, and, most importantly, when we have a strong intrinsically motivated reason for doing so, we can start fresh and become good with numbers. I really believe anyone can, with enough time and effort. 

I'm going to re-wire my brain to become like a super computer, using the knowledge I've gained in Psych 101 on how to learn and retain information, and by taking a free math upgrading course through my local school district. And as a supplement, I'm going to use the phenomenal (and free!) Khan Academy, which is a website that offers thousands of tutorials and practice quizzes for preschool right through pre-calculus math. Isn't the Internet wonderful?

How to learn math from the beginning, regardless of your age

I figure the first step in laying a foundation for math is to learn the times table, 1 through 12. This is sort of like learning the alphabet when learning to read and write. (Of course, this is assuming adding and subtracting 1 through 10 is already learned by rote. If not, I recommend starting with learning this first.) To learn the times table, it's actually helpful to learn to count in multiples so that you really grasp the concept of multiplication (eg. 7, 14, 28, 36, 42, etc.) Multiplication is essentially just lightning-fast addition (and, of course, division is just lightning-fast subtraction). For example, if 5 X 5 = 25, this just means five fives, or 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5. It seems obvious to anyone who knows how to multiply, even from the word "multiply," that this is what's happening, yet as a small child learning the times table by rote, I actually didn't get this concept. All I knew was how to parrot back an answer that I'd learned to memorize. Of course, this didn't do me much good as I progressed to more difficult math. 

So now that I'm starting again from scratch, I'm learning my times table again, but I'm playing around with it, learning it by rote, but also by counting in multiples, and learning little tricks, so that the idea is fully lodged in my brain. 

Most importantly, I'm going at my own pace, and not letting myself get anxious or feel bad for getting any answers wrong. I don't chastise myself for being stupid or slow, and I consciously acknowledge that I'm learning something new, much the way someone would learn a new language as an adult. There WILL be mistakes made. That's how learning happens. It's important to let yourself learn at a pace and in a setting that allows you to be relaxed and even have a bit of fun, without feeling self-conscious or anxious. 

Begin with the times table, and then progress to fractions. More on this later. 

In the meantime, here's a neat little trick for learning the nine times table up to 10. And here's a video that explains how to quickly learn all the numbers up to 10: