Dec 31, 2009

My Tribute To Me In 2009

I'm pretty new to this whole blog thing. It seems like everyone is doing these year-in-review posts, and so far all I've seen has been very self absorbed drivel. Like the ten most important events of 2009 happened in anyone person's life. I'd be happy if something I did made it in the top million. That would mean I was in the hundredth percentile of the human race, which is like toping the ultimate Deans List. How cool would that be?

Still, I do like lists. And, apparently, writing about myself. So maybe this could work. Hey, if Dooce and Wil Wheaton can do it, so can I!

But then, all the interesting things I've done have already been explored through blog format. No sense beating a dead blog.

So instead, in no particular order, I give to you:

The Top 10 Things I Didn't Do (much of) In 2009.

1) Work. I quit my job at the end of May, so half of this year has been spent in blissful funemployment.

2) Get so drunk at office parties and spend the next day worrying if there's anyone I should avoid looking directly in the eye. Partially due to not working for half the year. But still, this is a big step for me.

3) Move far away. I tend to do this, especially after quitting a job spontaneously. Halifax, Whitehorse, Dusseldorf, all places I've picked up and gone to with the hopes that a new job will change my life. Okay, sure this time I quit my job and went to Ecuador, but that was just temporary. Although, if I had moved, I think I would have gone to either Ireland or Montreal. Or Newfoundland.

4) Get one rejection letter from a magazine, newspaper or literary journal. First time in years! Maybe this has something to do with me not submitting anything...bah, whatever.

5) Make any money off of my writing. Except for the $4.30 I've made from having AdSense on my blog. But Google will only pay me once I hit $100, so I've a ways to go before I see that fat cheque in my mailbox.

6) Find myself stranded far from home due to one of my crappy vehicles breaking down. Say, in Chilliwack. On the first day of my vacation. No, my van had the decency to break down in town, thank you. So much more convenient that way.

7) Buy a Mac product. This was really really hard. I didn't even know that I wanted a Macbook Pro or iTouch until I innocently wandered into an Apple store in Portland. But they were so shiny and fun, and everyone who worked there was so pretty and happy. Plus, NO TAX!. But, I resisted, and my bank account (not being replenished regularly due to the no working thing) is the better for it.

8) Attempt online dating. Every year I go through a phase where I think I can meet interesting people online. Then come a rash of embarrassing dates that reconfirm my faith in the beauty of drinking wine and watching reality tv ALONE. But not this year. Oh no.

9) Acquire a pet rabbit. Another very difficult exercise in self denial. Dad had so many of them, and they were so cute! I could have easily slipped one in my pocket and been halfway home before he noticed it was missing. My restraint proved fruitful, as I've learned that adult bunnies aren't nearly as cuddly and fun as the babies, and not turning Thumper into a pet means he's in my freezer, waiting to be stewed.

10) Watch Avatar. And I'm going to try to carrying this one forward into 2010. But I will admit to having seen, and loved, LOVED, 2012. Despite of John Cusack, who should have voluntarily ended his acting career in the 90s, right after filming Being John Malkovich. Have you seen trailers for his new movie? A time traveling hot tub that strands him in the 80s. Are you @#%&ing kidding me?

There you have it, a list of my non-achievements for 2009. Happy New Year everyone!

Dec 30, 2009

Requiem For A Friend

Today I experienced a loss. This is very personal and hard to talk about. So I thought some free form poetry would help me to work through the grief, and introduce you all to a dear friend who you sadly will never get to meet.

I first was introduced

to my

sourdough starter

By Bill.

Given in a tupperware

from his kitchen to mine

it traveled.


You. Have. Been.





We all thought your glass jar would keep you.


We all were


Two years I fed you twice a month.

T o d a y ,

I cleaned your mess. Picked glass from your flesh. Fingers heavy

with sticky


Down the sink you went.




Dec 29, 2009

Counting Cookies

For me, Christmas is not Christmas without shortbread cookies. And not just any shortbread cookies. My Dad's shortbread cookies. Every family has their wacky traditions, and ours involved quintuple batches of sugary dough. It would take all day to bake tray after delicious tray of specially shaped shortbread, each with half a candied cherry pressed into the centre. Yes, in my world a shortbread cookie must, MUST have a small piece of syrupy fruit embedded into it. Or it just isn't Christmas. Our kitchen counters would be overflowing with stacks of cookies, more than I could ever count.

Which was important to me. Counting food. Many family meals included extra people - grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, friends, strays. If the menu was something I especially cherished, like hamburgers or cookies, I would count the people, then the food, over and over, to make sure there was enough for me to get my fair share. I don't know how or why I did this. I was certainly never deprived of food as a child (or as an adult. Hi thighs!). Hamburgers were scary because the men in the family would always say they'd eat one, and then eat two or three, which meant I might not be able to get a half as my second serving. Very traumatic.

But with shortbread cookies I never had to worry. There were more, much more, than even I could eat. I would get lots. All that mattered.

Last year I wanted to make these cookies, so I called up my dad and asked for Nanna's recipe. We had a book of family recipes, handwritten and covered with flour and grease from years of use, and this was the book that housed the sacred recipe. I remember it was called "Grandma's Shortbread" in this book. Odd, as we called dad's mom Nanna. But it had to be hers. All the recipes in that part of the book were from Dad's side of the family. So I was heartbroken when my dad denied all knowledge of a cookie recipe coming from his mother.

Me: The cookies you always made. When we were kids. And I'd get to add the gross cherry to the middle. Remember?
Dad: Sweetie, I got that recipe off the cornstarch box.


I leapt to my baking cupboard to confirm. Sure enough, the Bensons Cornstarch box proudly displayed "Grandma's Shortbread Cookies" on the side.

Another childhood illusion, destroyed.

After much weeping and a few shots of whiskey, I pulled myself together and made the cookies anyway. And brought them to work, where this conversation took place.

Colleague: Why are your cookies shaped like clubs?
Me: This is one of the shapes of cookie cutters we had when I was a kid. I was so excited when I found it, but I can't find the others.
Colleague: What were the others?
Me: Let's see...we had a club...a heart....diamond...and a spade.
Colleague: Oh, like a deck of cards.
Me: What?
Colleague: ...Like the suits in a deck of cards.
Me: ....yes....YES!
Colleague: You had noticed that, right?
Me: They were just shapes. I'd never put that together.
Colleague: You're an idiot.
Me: I have to call my sister.

Once Colleague had pointed it out it was so obvious. I assumed everyone in the whole world had gotten it but me. Because, like Colleague had tactfully said, I was an idiot. But when I get to the end of my story, my sister was all Oh my god! They ARE like a deck of cards! I'd never put that together!

Then we tell my mom, thinking she'll laugh at both of us for being so clueless. She thinks about it for a second before the glow of enlightenment shines through her eyes. Oh my god! They ARE like a deck of cards! I'd never put that together!

So if I'm an idiot, at least I come by it honestly.

Dec 22, 2009

My Sister's Pussy

Last weekend I once again found myself caring for someone else's animal while they went off to do fun things that didn't include me or their pet.

Melissa acquired Griffin when she was in university. She called me up one day (pre email popularity when the fastest way to get hold of someone was to call them. On the phone. Back in the days when we all rode dinosaurs to school and slept hanging from our tails in tree branches. Remember?) and was all Hey sis, I got a cat! How cool is that? Oh and can I borrow rent money? And I'm all You got a cat when you can't afford rent? And she's all Send the money now or I'll sic my velociraptor on your stegosaurus.

Griffin is the most passive aggressive creature I have ever met, and that's including a whole slew of theatre actors I worked with for two years. If Griffin was a man we would have had an intervention years ago to force Melissa to LEAVE HIM NOW. But he's a cat, and so we openly mock him while secretly hoping he will chose our laps to sleep on next.

He has a neurological disorder that makes him think he's hungry. All the time. This hasn't been diagnosed, or even hinted at by the vet. But it's the only thing I can think of that would make him cry for food five minutes after he's eaten. And by "cry" I mean wail pitifully like a starving baby. And it's constant. I know I sound like a post-natal mother off her meds when I say that the crying just. never. stops. Why won't it stop?

When he's not eating he's guarding the fridge. If I open the fridge he is immediately trying to climb inside. If you won't let me eat the food, at least let me be near it. Always near it. My love. My precious. 

If I'm not in the act of feeding Grif, he will do everything in his power to prevent me from doing anything else. Oh, you wanted to do some work? Perhaps surf the interweb? Am I in your way? Hmm? AM I? 

If he's not crying or doing everything in his power to get in my way, then something is wrong. He's either trying to find the perfect place to vomit (because if there isn't a 85% chance I'll step in it, then it's just not worth the effort), or he's hiding a plastic bag.

Yes, I said hiding a plastic bag. He'll do this, if you leave one un-attended. He'll drag it under the bed or behind the dresser. Then, late at night, he'll go to it and start licking. You probably never thought of it before, but cat tongue on plastic is like fingernails on chalkboard. So, you're not going to feed my every hour throughout the night? Fine, then I'll just lurk in your closet and suck the nutrition from this Safeway bag. Hope it doesn't bother you. 

And just when I think I can't take it anymore, the crying and the puking and licking, Grif goes and does something so ridiculously cute that my heart breaks a little. Like he'll sit on my lap and rub his little cheek against mine, or reach his little paws up to the coffee table and rest his head on the table, just watching me. And I forget all the horribly annoying crap he's capable of and I'll pick him up and hold him and cuddle him and love him and squeeze him forever and ever.

Dec 7, 2009

Rabbit Haiku

Cute. Soft. Small. Warm. Friend.

Oh Bunny, Cuddled and loved!

Tonight you were stew.

Dec 5, 2009

A Sleepover At My New Friend's

Several summers ago I worked at a country bar in Whitehorse, YT, that featured a Chinese buffet for lunch during the week. How weird is it to serve Chinese food in a country bar? In Whitehorse?

But Chinese food is not what I want to talk about.

Whitehorse. Summer. And I'm back on track!

There was a Walmart, of course. And this Walmart had a massive parking lot, and in this massive parking lot were always many a campers and RVs. They were parked at the back, and always grouped together. Some would even have their awnings set up, maybe a few chairs out, and once I swear I saw a man barbequing while his kids ran around in circles.

That's just rude, I exclaimed as I walked by.
No, it's okay, my friend said. Walmart encourages it.

Apparently this is true. You can park your sleeper vehicle at Walmart without getting hassled. At the time I thought this was gross. Especially considering the size of some of the beasts considered to be an RV. Those absolutely massive trailers that have compartments that can automatically puff out of their sides to give even more space to stash your diamonds and briefcases full of cash. These things cost millions of dollars. Millions. Of. Dollars. What idiots would spend that kind of money on a glorified tent trailer, drive it all the way to Whitehorse, only to park it at Walmart?

Stupid Americans. That's who. And judging by the parking lot, there were a lot of them.

Flash forward to last week. I was driving home from Valencia, CA. This is approximately 2000km. As previously discussed I'm not much for stopping once I get started. So I was pretty sure I would end up doing this drive in two days.

After a week of warm, sunny, shorts-and-flip-flop weather, I leave Valencia and twenty minutes later find myself in a snow storm. It lasts half an hour as I drive through some mountains, and then I'm faced with nine hours of driving through wind. No, actually it was more like WIND. Lots and lots of WIND.

The unexpected snow reminded me of something I'd heard on my drive down. Northern California has a nice little mountain range to drive through, peaking at Siskiyou Summit (4310 ft). This guy had warned me the summit is prone to freak storms and shared a story that involved him getting stuck up there for 14 hours and having to dig his way through snow with a cookie sheet or something equally ridiculous.

I'm thinking of this the whole nine hour drive through WIND, getting more and more nervous as I get closer. If the little foothills of southern California can have such a storm, what about the scary summit in the North? I finally reach the beginning of this northern range at around 6:30pm. I decide to calm myself by asking a gas station attendant about the road conditions ahead.

Oh, you'll probably need chains to pass. Yep, definitely chains.


My options at this point are to stop for the night and worry until the next morning, or to try to get a little closer and see for myself what's going on up there. It's dark, but the sky is totally clear and the wind is gone. Maybe, just maybe I can squeak through this death trap before the really bad weather comes.

Long story short - I keep driving and driving, climbing higher and higher, getting more and more worried, and...nothing happens. The pass is fine, there is no snow anywhere, and I curse myself for nearly inducing a panic attack over nothing.

At this point it's around 10pm. I've been driving for 13 hours. It's time for a break. But do I really want to spend money on a hotel room I'll use for a few hours before I hit the road again early in the AM?

What to do?

The solution presented itself as a shiny blue sign beckoning from the distance.


I drive by and see, in the back, tucked in the corner, several campers of different shapes and sizes. I flash back to my summer in Whitehorse. But I feel none of my former contempt. It's brilliant. I could pull in among them, curl up in the back of my van and get some sleep. Cheap, and relatively safe. If only I didn't have to go to the bathroom so badly.

But wait! People are coming in and out of the front doors! Is it possibly open? Yes, 24/7. So at close to midnight I pee, wash my face, and buy a sandwich. At 7am the next morning I abuse the bathroom again, breakfast at the Golden Arches within the mighty W's walls, and am on the road (sort of) rested and with a nice supply of munchies for the drive ahead.

I will now say what I don't often admit. Words so rarely uttered by me that those who claim to have heard them are usually dismissed as drunks or dreamers.

Walmart, I was wrong. I was wrong, and I'm sorry.

But buying groceries from you is still icky.

Dec 1, 2009

American Thanksgiving Postscript

I had big plans about writing this post last Thursday. Actually on American Thanksgiving. Or at the very least, the day after. And here it is, not only five days after the holiday that inspired this post, but also a brand new month. Ah well, we all know what happens to best laid plans. So it's no wonder this mediocre plan fell by the wayside.

But I digress. Thanksgiving. In America. This is today's topic.

Here I go.

I've had the pleasure of celebrating American Thanksgiving in America twice in my life. The first time was in 1998. I was 18 years old, driving aimlessly around in my '83 Honda Civic station wagon. When I arrived in Massachusetts a very kindly, at the time unknown, relative took me in. She fed me, gave me a bed, and took me along to a massive Thanksgiving dinner. 

Thanksgiving? I said. But that was last month! 
That's when Canadian's celebrate it? was the reply. How quaint. But real thanksgiving is in November.

Twelve years later (and five days ago) I found myself in a similar situation. Down in California, staying with a family friend, and hey, what do you know! It's Thanksgiving! Once again my too-kind keeper was obligated to drag me to their holiday tradition. Oops!

These events, separated by over a decade and 3,000 miles, were surprisingly similar. Okay, so at one the conversation involved a law about what way dog houses legally had to face because if they didn't the multiple winter storms would fill the house with snow and kill the dog, and at the other it was 26 degrees Celsius and people were wearing shorts and flip flops. But other than the extreme weather differences, similar. Both involved dozens of people I didn't know. Both served a feast I couldn't fathom cooking. Multiple animal carcasses, trays of baked yams, mountains of stuffing and mashed potatoes. Cases of wine. More dessert than I could shake a drum stick at. Both had very kindly hosts that didn't bat an eye at a homeless Canadian crashing their family dinner.

Both served green bean casserole.

Have you ever had this? It is the weirdest concoction ever. You take green beans, mix with a can of cream-of-something, add a can of deep fried onions, smother with cheese, and bake. I didn't even know you could buy cans of deep fried onions. 

How was this dish invented? I bet the Vice President of recipes at Kraft went to it's chefs and said Get me a new recipe to put on the back of our creamy chicken soup by morning, or you're all fired! They were up all night, alternating shots of espresso and shots of whiskey. They passed out, and when the VP woke them the next morning the meeting went something like this.

VP: Well, what do you have for me?
Chef 1: Um...
Chef 2: We made a..
Chef 1: (Starts choking on a little espresso/whiskey backwash)
VP: Did he say casserole?
Chef 2: No.
VP: Damn! I love casseroles.
Chef 2: Yes! It's a casserole.
VP: Great! What's in it?
Chef 1: Um...
VP: Soup, of course.
Chef 2: Of course. And...
Chef 1: Beans!
Chef 2: Soup and beans! Yes, and...
VP: Cheese? I love cheese. There better be cheese, or your fired!
Chef 1 & 2: Cheese!
Chef 1: And, um...
VP: Yes?
Chef 1: Onions?
VP: Onions?
Chef 1: Yes?
VP: Those deep fried ones that come in a can?
Chef 1: Sure. Why not.
VP: It's brilliant! I'm sending it to our label makers right away!

And thus an American tradition was born. 

And then there is Black Friday. How great is this? A name like that you'd expect it to be commemorating some horrible historic event. The day the plague was unleashed in a biological warfare attack. Or something to do with the stock market crashing. 

But no, to Americans, this is a good day. A great day. The day after Thanksgiving. The ultimate day of sales. The kick off to a month of holiday shopping. On Black Friday stores open at 4am. People fight over bargains. This year a Walmart had to kick everyone out to avoid a riot. And this may be an urban myth, but I heard someone actually died last year trying to be one of the early birds to get a super extra awesome sale on something or other. Died shopping. That's hardcore!

No one admits to shopping on Black Friday. But everyone does it. You can see the guilt and extasy in their eyes when you bring it up. No, I'll be um...with my kids....

The day after Thanksgiving is also the busiest day for American plumbers. Who knew?

Nov 26, 2009

Sculpture Haiku

Unhappy stone man

Did you eat food too sour?

Or smell something bad?

Sculpture by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, on display at The Getty Center in LA.
Photo by: Me

Nov 25, 2009

A Long Way Down

I love road trips. I really, surely, do. I like doing them with other people, but my friends aren't as willing as I am to drop everything, quit their jobs, sell their stuff, and hit the road for an indefinite period of time in an unknown direction. They're all Oh, I have to pay rent, and I would, but I have kids to feed. Whatever.

So, more often than not I find myself alone on these pavementy adventures. And this is fun too. Mostly because I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, without worrying about pleasing my travel companion. You drove all this way to knit in a hostel common room? Yes, yes I did. What of it? (Picture © Stuart Gray 2009)

Traveling by car is also great because you can be totally undiscriminating in what you bring. When backpacking you consider every single item because that'll be extra weight on your back and shoulders. Cost/Benefit analysis has a whole new meaning when trying to determine how many pairs of underwear you really need for a 30 day trip.

But with a car, anything goes. Just throw it in there. For example, here are some of the things I've brought on this trip. And keep in mind that at the time of packing I was only planning on spending a week in Portland in a friend's condo.

  • Camping equipment, including tent, 2 chairs, gas stove, sleeping bag, cooler
  • Duvet cover and two favorite pillows
  • Set of sheets for a queen size bed
  • 5 Jackets
  • 3 Mr. Noodles
  • Knitting bag and more wool than I could possible knit in a season.
  • 8 Books, including 1 from the library (now very much overdue)
  • Sewing machine
  • Iron
  • Bag of mason jars
  • Several tarps
  • Rope
  • Bouquet of flowers and two corsages (acquired in Portland, compliments of Bev)
Of all of this I've used the duvet, read two of the books, and made use of the knitting and sewing machine (but only because I would have felt really silly if I'd brought it all this way and didn't use it at least once). I've enjoyed the aesthetic value of the flowers for a few days, and am now enjoying the smell of their rot. Which reminds me, I really need to chuck those at some point.

I don't know why I bothered with the camping stuff. Weather aside, it get's dark at 5pm. How fun is it to set up camp and then sit in the dark for hours. By yourself? Answer - no fun at all.

One good thing about traveling with someone else is that I stop a whole lot more. When solo I tend to just keep driving. And driving. And driving. I took the scenic coastal route from Ashland to Valencia. Around 1500km, and I did that in two days. nine hours on day one, twelve hours on day two. And this included some truly amazing coastal scenery and driving through Napa Valley. Who doesn't stop in Napa Valley?

Me. I don't. I take pictures from through the windshield.

I also show up at my friend's house a few days early at 11:30pm hoping that they're still awake and will in some small way be happy to see me (hi Ted!).

Hmm, maybe when my friends are saying I would, but I have kids to feed, what they really mean is I would totally abandon my family to drive around aimlessly. Just not with you. Because unlike you, I need to pee occasionally. Freak.

Nov 22, 2009

The Manipulative Powers of IGoogle (Why I'm in Southern California)

As mentioned previously, I originally came to the States to visit a friend in Portland. I'd been in Vancouver helping my sister move, and figured a day's drive to Oregon would be fun. I could hang out in a cool city for a week, then head home.

That was my plan. Honest.

I blame Google for what really happened.

See, I have IGoogle set to my homepage, with a handy little weather widget front and centre. Every day I'd look at it and see days and days of rain for Victoria. Nothing surprising there. Pretty much every winter I've ever had on the west coast has been months of rain with periods of more rain and a chance of rain.

Then my mom emails me and is all Look at the weather Ted's (family friend) is having in California. I should have deleted that email and never spoken of it again. But instead I stupidly added Valencia to my IGoogle weather widget. Suddenly, whenever I look at the weather for home, I also see this:

It was getting time to leave my friend. But suddenly I felt like I had two directions I could possibly take. North to rain. South to sun.

It seemed impulsive and maybe a little immature to just take off to California without any real reason other than to avoid rain for a few days. But then, I was already in Oregon. Already 5 hours away from home. It would be a waste to just turn around now. I've always wanted to drive around California. I'd have to come back all this way next time. Might as well keep going now and get it over with.

Decisions, decisions.

In my typical avoid-making-any-commitments-right-now kind of way I thought I'd just go a little further and see how I feel. So a week ago I bid farewell to Portland and took the scenic route to Ashland, in the very south of Oregon. There I found a cute Whistler-esque (but way cooler and with all local shops - none of that chain shopping crap Whistler has become) town in its off season. I had a lovely old hostel practically all to myself and enough bookshops and coffee houses to keep me occupied for days. So for days I stayed, over-caffeinating my system and putting off any decision-making until tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

Meanwhile, IGoogle steadily and quietly tormented and tempted me every time I logged on.

Fine! IGoogle, I am no match for your guile. You are the worthier opponent. I bend to your will.

Which explains why I'm almost 2000km from home, lying in the sun drinking beer and eating salad bar take out and playing with my computer. While you're doing...what? Getting ready for work tomorrow? Oh, poor muffin!

Nov 16, 2009

Hostel Weirdos

I'm staying at a hostel in Ashland (officially known as The Ashland Hostel). The town has a pretty famous Shakespeare festival that runs for a good chunk of the year, and apparently the hostel is just swinging when the plays are on. They stopped not too long ago, and now the place is dead. There's just me and Michael staying in this huge old house that can sleep up to 40. With no one else to get in the way I was able to quickly learn how weird Michael is.

It's not because he leaves every 4 seconds to stand across the street and smoke while staring in the front window of the hostel. Or that he ignores me most of the time and then suddenly comes right up to me and calls me Missy. No, it's mostly the odd things he says, totally out of the blue.

I saw Elvis in New York in 1976. Mister heart throb, fancy pants himself!

I met John Lennon! But, really, who hasn't?

While observing (but not helping) a hostel employee try to open a stuck door. - I studied precision mechanics in the military. Ok?! My last wage was $26 an hour!...This has got me beat.

And then when the employee tried to open the door using a credit card - Hold on! I'm a master at that one. If I wanted to be a thief, I could be a billionaire! (It didn't work)

Laughing at these reminded me of a funny conversation I took part in while staying at a hostel in Ecuador. I had written it down, so this is pretty much word for word. Anyone else find this amusing in an awkward sort of way?

These two brothers were sitting at a table behind me playing rummy. At one point they started talking about how much it might cost to fly to the Galapagos. Having just returned from there, I piped up:

Me: Not to eavesdrop, but it's $400 to fly from here.
Guy 1: One way, or round trip?
Me: Round trip. (Pause...I'm looking at some old photos on my computer...)
Guy 1: To move the eavesdropping to you, when were you in Vegas?
Me: Last Christmas. (Pause) And that's not really eavesdropping. It's more just looking over my shoulder.
Guy 1: It's kind of live eavesdropping.
Me: A silent kind. (Pause) It's totally worth going, if you can afford it.
Guy 1: Yeah, I was in Vegas last weekend.
Me: I meant the Galapagos.
Guy 1: Oh.
Me: But Vegas is fun too.
Guy 1: I think I'll skip it this time. If I'm going to the Galapagos I'd like to have a woman and some money.
Me: You can go with friends. That's what I did.
Guy 1: Yeah, but if I'm going to spend all that money, I want to get naked.
Me: Ah.
Guy 1: A lot.
Me: I see.
Guy 1: And if I did that with my brother, it would just be weird.
Me: ...It probably would be...
Guy 1: People would ask me 'How were the Galapagos?' And I'd say 'I don't want to talk about it!'
Me: ....
Guy 2: Stop. Just stop now.

Nov 11, 2009

What Happens In Portland, Stays in Portland

Yesterday in my ramblings on CHICKEN FRIED STEAK I made a small, subtle, hardly noticeable reference to this thing I did that was slightly out of character.

Let's back up a bit. Before Bev and I went into the cafe for our breakfast, we'd been walking around looking for flower shops. In the rain.

Wait, that doesn't quite capture what I want to say. Let me try again.

We'd been walking around, in the RAIN.



Seriously, does Portland ever know how to rain. I thought Vancouver in the winter was bad, but it ain't nothing compared to here. It's just all the time. And hard. And all the time. And what enhances the effect of wetness the rain has on everything are the leaves. There are these beautiful deciduous trees lining every street that are all yellow and red and pretty. The leaves are falling, as they tend to do. They're coating the sidewalks and the streets, making everything slick (Melissa, DO NOT come here. You will die). They are clogging the drains, turning every street corner into a little mucky pond.

Water falls on you from above. Water ambushes you from below. You're not safe. And you're certainly not dry.

To protect myself from this wetness I had my North Face jacket. I bought it six years ago in Shanghai for $26 from a street vendor.  I can't really blame the jacket for it's lack of water proof-ness, being so old and cheap, and probably not really from North Face. This jacket doesn't so much repel water as absorb it quickly and efficiently. Whatever my jacket is made of, they should put in tampons.

Once in the safe and dry cafe I took my jacket off and my blue t-shirt was soaked in the most embarrassing of patterns. Along with sopping shoulders and arms, there were two large wet circles right around my boobs. It looked like I had an uncontrollable lactating problem.

So, this is my context to explain my actions. We're sitting at the counter of this diner, eating the best and most fatty meal possible for breakfast. I'm soaking wet from the monsoon that continues outside, with my shirt that screams unclean breastfeeding mother and puddles actually inside my shoes. I think I would have been drier if I'd swam a few laps wearing a two wool sweaters and sponge pants. I turn to our waitress and say...

wait for it...

"Is there a mall around here?"

There is a sickening thud as Bev's jaw hits the floor. "Did you just ask for a mall?"

It was an honest question on her part. I hate shopping. Loath it. I hate stores, I hate change rooms, I hate mannequins. I hate shoppers. And I really, above all else, hate malls. My friends know this. They have long ago abandoned suggesting shopping as a social activity.

So to hear me ask a stranger for directions to one was probably equivalent to the shock of me suddenly speaking in tongues while convulsing and snakes slithered in and out of my shirt sleeves.

In my defense, I was more thinking of a safe, dry place to buy a new and obviously needed rain jacket. We'd be in and out. No problem.

I blame my fear of the weather as what kept me in that mall for so long. That and Bev with her unhelpful "Oh, this is cute." And "Why don't you try this?" and "I don't mind waiting. Take your time."

I was looking at these really swell waterproof shells in Eddie Bauer, and the sales lady suggested I try it on with a sweater to make sure one would fit underneath. So I grab the closest sweater and it's this really soft fleece...yeah, so I bought both.

And then the Gap was having this really good sale. I mean, 25% off of everything. How can you beat that? Plus the fact that Oregon has no tax. A concept that leaves Canadian heads spinning. 25% PLUS no tax is like 40%, which is damn close to half off, which is practically free. I had to buy EVERYTHING.

My feet stayed soaked all day, which got me thinking maybe a pair of boots were in order. I mentioned to Bev that we could check out one of those outlet malls that line American highways and she looked like she wanted to slap me. Hard. Across the face. Probably to dislodge the shopping demon that had hijacked my body. She stays her hand and instead asks, "Who are you and what have you done with Sarah?"

Hey, if god didn't want us to be in debt, he wouldn't have invented credit. Right?

I probably shouldn't mention that we went shopping the next day and I bought even more clothes.  And I liked it. That's right. I went shopping - twice - and enjoyed every minute of it.

WHO AM I????

Nov 10, 2009

A Homage to Fried Meat

There's this thing I have to do every time I'm in the States. If at all possible, I must go into a greasy diner and order chicken fried steak. CHICKEN. FRIED. STEAK. It's a dish of pure genius. My step-dad, Mike, introduced me to the wonder of CHICKEN FRIED STEAK over a decade ago, and I've never looked back.

Get this. It's beef. How wonderful! It's a beef steak, but they call it chicken. Americans are terrific. They take this piece of beef, and they pound the hell out of it. Then they batter it and fry it, and serve it with eggs and potatoes and toast and sausage gravy. That's another amazing American culinary accomplishment. A thick, white-grey gravy that you can pump onto any meal and immediately take five years off of your life.

A few years ago I was in Oregon with my friend Andrea (hi Andrea!). We were doing our version of camping - tenting it for one or two nights and then retreating to a motel to regroup and watch trashy television while eating Jack-In-The-Box and drinking cheapcheapcheap liquor. It's a tradition the foundation of our friendship is built on. (That and shoulder biting, but that's a story for another day.)

So we're driving around (or I should say I'm driving around and Andrea is pretending to navigate) Oregon and we end up in this tiny little town for lunch. Low and behold, on the menu is CHICKEN FRIED STEAK! I'm so excited, I talk this dish up to be not only a meal but a good friend that you eat and then carry around on your hips lovingly for the rest of your life. Somehow this pitch pursuades Andrea to try it.

I remember the attempt to order our CHICKEN FRIED STEAK like it was yesterday. First of all it took forever to get attention from the waitress, which was weird because we were the only ones in there. Front and centre and looking hungry. Pretty hard to miss, but she did her best. When she did talk to us, she was a little hostile.

Me: I'll have the CHICKEN FRIED STEAK.
Andrea: Me too.
Waitress: You want the half order.
Me: No, I'm pretty hungry.
Andrea: Me too.
Waitress: You want the half order. (Walks away)

The food comes - plates the size of frisbees built for giants with huge slabs of meat hanging off the side, two eggs, enough hashbrowns to fill a severed head and a stack of thick over-buttered toast.

Me: Um...I thought you were giving us the half order?
Waitress: This IS the half order.
Andrea: (Audible Whimper)

I think, to Americans, portion control is considered a form of censorship.

This time in Oregon, Bev and I end up in a great little cafe right downtown. It's one big counter surrounding the waitresses, making it super easy for them to refill coffee on a regular and timely bases. I loved it for that alone. Finding the CHICKEN FRIED STEAK on the menu only upped their street cred.

Once again I waxed poetic, and once again my companion turned aside common sense and ordered this artery-clogging meal of delight instead. We were served the regular sized meal - big by normal standards but still smaller than that back water town's "half" size by a long shot.

Perhaps it was because I was so happy I'd fulfilled my American meal tradition. Perhaps it was the massive clot of meat and grease my body was having to fight to break down, taking valuable resources away from my brain functions. Or perhaps it was the unusual amount of caffeine in my system thanks to the overly attentive serving staff and their handy coffee pots. But shortly after this meal was over I did something that those who know me, really know me, will likely not believe. But it's true. I swear it. I have a witness.

And I'll confess it all.


Nov 7, 2009

Couch Surfing in Portland

Finally, after months of talking about it, and one failed attempt at doing it, I'm finally getting to use my van for more than cruising around town in the fast lane during rush hour. My good friend Bev is in Portland taking a class, and she made the mistake of inviting me down to visit. (Note to friends - if you invite me to your place for any reason, be sure to set a time line or you might end up with an unintentional roommate. It's not like I have anywhere to be or any job to do...)

Road trip!

Before I left I wondered aloud what the chances were of getting stopped at the border because of my van. Pretty good, my sister thought.

She was right. I pull up to the customs officer and he immediately tells me that the computer randomly selected me for a full inspection.

The computer? Random? I call bullshit. That guy pegged me as a peace-loving, drug-totting, hippy jerk from the moment he saw my camperized van of awesomeness roll into view.

So I had to pull off to the side and leave my keys with a lonely looking guard, then go in to a smelly little building and answer a bunch of questions to Officer Joe. Joe, who had the exact same birthday as me, and wanted to know how I had felt about turning 30 this year. Thanks for pointing that out to the crowd, Joe. After going through an extensive list of dangerous goods, Joe asked if I had any other items that could be used as a weapon. I mentioned my knitting needles, and he got very concerned.

You have knitting needles?
...To knit with?
Where are they?
In the van.
I know! Where in the van?
Oh, in my knitting bag-
They're in a bag?
Okay, then.

I didn't understand why the threat of my knitting needles was diffused by being secured in a bag. I didn't ask. He disappeared for a while to search for contraband, and when he told me I was free to go I swear he sounded disappointed.

All I can say about the drive from Vancouver to Portland is that whatever genius thought it was a good idea to have the I-5 go right through downtown Seattle should be shot. Out of a cannon. Into the sun!

Right, so, impressions of Portland. Initial ones revolved around my bed. Bev rented a condo, and it has this couch that must be an Ikea thing. It's uber trendy looking and not very comfortable. The back lowers down in three sections so you can turn it into a bed. Why you would do this in three sections I don't know. It's either a bed or a couch. Why would you want part of it to stay up as a couch back and part of it to be down like a bed? This makes no sense to me.

And what is stupid about this couch is that I dated this real idiot about a year ago, and he had one of these. In red. Most of our dates revolved around this couch. Playing video games or watching movies or reading comics. I didn't like it then and I don't like it now. But what I really don't like is me, for thinking about this douche bag every day when I transform the couch into a bed or back into a couch. Some stupid coincidence - he likes uncomfortable furniture, the owner of this condo likes uncomfortable furniture. And in both situations, I'm stuck using it, and stuck thinking about someone I have no desire to remember. How lame is that?

To those that may feel the need to tell me there are no coincidences - that everything is connected, that coincidences are god/fate/the cosmos/whatever smiling at us - I say this. If there really is some divine power, some master plan, is this really how it chooses to communicate with me? Is this the best it can do? Deliver me unto the same model of bed every 365 days? That's a serious misuse of power, if you ask me.

If I'm a mighty being that can guide people and objects towards a specific time and place, well, let me tell you that I'm using that power to do more than make a single girl feel annoyed towards a former dumb-ass date. Like maybe have said girl trip over a bundle of money in the street that was possibly dropped by said dumb-ass, but she'd never know that and would give half to charity (read: spend half on wine and give the empty bottles to a student doing a bottle drive for school sports) and spend half on soft cozy yarn or movies or parts for her really cool but old Westfalia.

That, or I'd use my power to bring the producers of Survivor to Garbage Island for their next season.

Nov 5, 2009

Autumn Haiku

Why do pretty months

Turn into rain and darkness?

Kiss my ass, winter.

Photo by: Me

Nov 4, 2009

What We Will Sacrifice For Cheap Eggs

You know how everyone has their thing that they're weird about when it comes to food? A close friend of mine revealed her true colours when she saw me using a french press wrong. (Her opinion. I maintain my position that you can't screw it up no matter how hard you try.) I used to work with this girl that would only eat chicken she prepared, and while I never witnessed it I heard it involved disposable gloves and a lot of bleach afterwards.

I know people that refuse to eat leftovers, are consistently outraged at the cost of fruit, believe red wine tastes better cold.

I have a few myself. Pancakes should be made from scratch. It's wrong to buy groceries at Walmart, especially meat and dairy. Wine must be drunk the day it's opened. (Day? I mean evening. The evening it's opened...)

But my big food thing is that breakfast should be cheap. It should be possible to walk into any respectable cafe and order two eggs, pork product, hash browns and toast for a few bucks. When I see this basic fare on the menu for six or seven, or sometimes even over ten dollars, I'm outraged. Silently and politely outraged.

I was thinking about this today while I was loitering in Bon's, being systematically ignored by all the staff. Bon's is a diner in Vancouver that I frequented regularly about eight years ago. It was a funky little place with cool movie posters and a jukebox, It was easily accessible by public transit. But the bestest selling feature was its $2.95 breakfast. Who cared if you had to wait forever to get a table. If their idea of busing was piling all of the dirty dishes on one big table in the center of the room. If you had to hunt down your own menus. And coffee. And waiter. If they lost your order. Got your eggs wrong. It was quirky and fun. My friends were there. And the price certainly fit into my student loans budget.

Bon's was the only place in Vancouver that sort of compared to Halifax, where I'd just moved from. Pardon me if I sound old and preachy, but in my day living in the big H, breakfast could be bought anywhere for no more than four dollars, AND it always included coffee. The places were clean, the service was great, the food hot and fast and delicious. This is how I remember it, and you will never convince me I'm wrong.

It was hard to let all of that go when I landed in Vancouver at the young and delicate age of 22. Bon's helped me get over my Halifax breakfast heartache. I've remembered it fondly over the years, wanting a morning reunion.

Angie and I have been talking about Bon's ever since she and Nathan decided to move to Vancouver. Today, we finally made it. We waited ten minutes for someone to clear one of the many dirty tables before we could sit down. After being ignored for another ten minutes Angie scrounged up some menus. Time ticked by, waiters walked back and forth in front of our table without ever looking down. All this time allowed me to really look around the place. To notice all of the grime on the walls, on the tables, on the napkin holders. The cakey, greasy dust on and around the coffee makers. The general ickyness of the decor and cleaning practices.

Finally our meager and annoying presence was acknowledged and an order was placed. The eggs were snotty, the potatoes bland, the toast over buttered. And no, on this coast the coffee is not included. Or refilled, apparently. We never did see our waiter again. Can't go wrong for $3, Angie said. Really?

This used to be fun. What's changed? Me? And if so, for the better or worse? At the age of 30 should I accept my desire for clean establishments with nice people that can get an egg order right as a sign of emotional maturity? Should I embrace my new self and allow her to grow and flourish and spend more money on breakfast?

Or am I changing into a different, and worse, person? Becoming jaded and critical? Is this my last chance to throw off the nets of pretense and  stuck-upery I'm caught in and resurrect my former, better, cheaper, self?

Do other people think about breakfast this much?

Nov 1, 2009

It's Not A Problem If Everyone Does It. Right?

I'm at this party a while ago. There are only a few of us left. It's very late and there is much wine in my system when it happens. That inevitable, incredibly awkward moment. A boy leans too close and whispers what his eyes have been saying all night. Do you want to play Rock Band?

I smile and lower my gaze demurely, shaking my head. But it's too late. The others have heard, and everyone thinks it's a fantastic idea. All of a sudden fake guitars are being whipped out and someone is attaching a bunch of wires to a drum set that looks like it was designed by Fisher Price. Come on, Sarah, play.

I grew up in a smallish town where typical teen rebellions like cigarettes and drinking and smoking oregano and going too far with guys in their dad's cars were fairly common occurrences. But I have never, ever, experienced the amount of peer pressure to participate in an activity I'm not comfortable with as I did that night. The night of the Rock Band. Come on, just play already. All the cool kids are doing it. What's your problem? Stop being such a drag and just do it already. I felt like I was in a parody of a poorly written after school special. But it was no joke. It was my life.

It's not that I don't like video games. I do like them. A little too much. I'm like the straight laced student that is dragged to the pub for one drink and ends up dancing on the bar with no top and lemon wedges stuck in her hair. I do just fine without it, but if I do indulge in a hit of an electronic game I'm immediately transformed into a full on addict. Just insert central line and feed the graphics, music and avatars directly into my heart.

I remember as a child in the late 80's going over to my aunt's house. I'd pace the living room, sending telepathic messages to my five year old cousin. Invite me to play with your Nintendo. Do it now! I couldn't ask, that would be rude. I was being torn between my mother's teachings of Always-Be-Polite-No-Matter-What, and my primal need to PLAY DUCK HUNT NOW!

And there was the PC version of Balder's Gate my boyfriend had when I was 20. I lost most of a winter to that game. Many evenings he would come home from work to find me in the late stages of rigor mortis, sitting right where he'd left me nine hours earlier - wrapped in a blanket with my hand cramped around the mouse, barely able to flutter my index finger to move my army of warriors from a battle against ogres to a battle against wild dogs to a battle against evil wizards to a - you get the picture. You don't even want to know what happened to my social life and my tendonitis when he brought home a PlayStation.

I couldn't close my eyes without seeing the games. I couldn't close my hand into a fist. My shoulders ached and I was probably close to permanent organ damage due to long term dehydration.

But I reformed. To the wild cries and gnashing of teeth (from both my boyfriend and myself), I deleted all of my games, ordered the PlayStation out of the house, and never looked back.

So when my sister sent me an invitation to play Farm Town on Facebook, I turned it down. I just don't play any type of electronic game anymore. Please, she said. I need you to join, so I can have an extra neighbour. No, I said. Come on, she said. You don't even have to play. 

Yeah, right. Angie, have you even met me?

This game. It's the stupidest game I've ever played. You get this square of land. And you click on little pieces of this land with the mouse. That's pretty much it. You click on the little pieces to plow them. Then you click to plant seeds. Then you wait for a few hours to a few days. Then you click to harvest them. Then you click to plow. And while you're waiting for your virtual crop to grow, you can go to strangers farms, and click on their little pieces of screen. You can then spend the fake money you made buying little cartoon decorations like hammocks and outhouses and bunny rabbits.

That's it. There's no story to get caught up in. No characters, no plot. No battles with ogres. The graphics suck. And I can't stop playing it. Must click repeatedly. Must make crop grow! I feel like the desperate addict that will stoop to disgusting levels to get her high. The drunk chugging mouth wash and vanilla extract. The coke head licking powder of the floor in a bathroom stall.

My name is Sarah Gignac, and I'm addicted to a Facebook application.

Oct 23, 2009

The Mystery Of The Disappearing Poo

I would like to dedicate this story to my sister, Melissa. Mel, this poo's for you.

A few evenings ago I decide to take Riley and Zera for a walk. It is pissing down rain and getting dark. I'm wearing my rain jacket partially zipped up, with the hood down. This jacket also has big pockets that sort of gape open (these details are relevant later).

As with most dogs, walks are the BEST. THING. EVER. for Riley and Zera, and they freak out for the first few blocks, pulling me along while I lean back on my heals, water-skiing style. So we leave the house and go lurching forward down the driveway. As soon as we hit the sidewalk Zera squats down and unloads herself. Then both dogs try to take off into the unknown universe of Beach Drive. I'm doing my best to keep them from sweeping me off my feet as I stick my hand in a plastic bag and bend down to pick up the poo.

Just as my hand curls around it (but before I can secure it in the bag), the dogs go nuts at something behind me. They whip me around and not five feet away is a woman with one of those small little yappy dogs that you want to use in football practice. She's just standing there, holding a grocery bag, watching me.

Here I am, one hand trying to reign in two berserker canines that look and sound like they want to eat the little runt, the other holding a steaming mound of dog poop. I think a normal person witnessing this would have removed herself from the equation. Keep walking, cross the street, something. This nut job decides it's a peachy time to strike up a conversation about puppies.

Oh you have a dalmatian I love dalmatians I had one once but he died and do you live down the road because I see one down there all the time but I think it's a different one do you know it my vet says dalmatians are hard to handle but I think they are so cute and I love the movie and did I mention I'm a whack job and you should probably get a restraining order or I'll come over and steal your dog and unravel all your knitting-

All through this ramble my dogs are still trying to introduce peewee to their teeth, I'm desperately trying to not have them take off my arm, and I'm still attempting to balance a mitt full of poo in my hand without squishing it, because that would add my vomit to the equation.

The lady fiiiiiinally moves on and I convince Riley and Zera to stop trying to draw and quarter me. This is when I notice that the poo is no longer in my hand. In all the commotion it must have flown into the air. My first thought is Please, not on me. Not in my hood, not down the front, not in the pocket. I gingerly investigate and am relieved to find no excrement on my person. Nor is it on the ground. My second thought is Please, let it be in her grocery bag. Pretty please?

Does that make me a bad person?

Oct 19, 2009

Puppy Love

 Many people seem to think I'm not a dog person. This will come out at the strangest of times. Like I'll be sitting in a conference room at work waiting for the meeting to begin, and randomly someone would turn to me and say You're not a dog person, are you? Or I'll be out walking with friends, and out of the blue, same thing. You don't really like dogs?

It took me a while to figure out where these statements were coming from. I think it was because in the meeting room a coworker will be talking about a new puppy and I don't immediately start shedding tears of joy and wonder at his little bundle of cuteness and love. Or out on that walk we'll pass a few dogs and I'm not jumping up and down, clapping my hands and scream-whispering DOGS! SO CUTE MY HEART HURTS!

Listen up. Just because I don't go all crazy and  squeal like a pig in a slaughterhouse, doesn't mean I don't like dogs. Or babies or cute guys, for that matter. It just means I'm not insane. Like everyone else on the planet, apparently.

So when my friends Kortni and Chris asked me to dog-sit for them, I was happy to do it. Happy. And it wasn't because they have a big livingroom table that's perfect for setting up a sewing machine. It wasn't because of their movie selection, or their ample liquor supply. It was because, wait for it....I LIKE DOGS (and Kortni and Chris).

And when Kortni was all Are you going to blog about the dogs because that would be really cool if you did but no pressure but my mom will be checking every day to see if you did and you can use pictures and whatever you want, I was all Sure! I would love to have your dogs on my blog. Because I like dogs. So there.

Now I'm going to introduce you to the dogs. And share information about them to prove that I know them.

This is Riley. He currently has his chin on my knee, and I can't tell if it's because he loves me, or if he wants my toast. Or both. He likes to gnaw on a rubber bone that makes the most awful sound, like nails on a chalkboard in hell. When I come home he leaps out into the garden and runs around in a figure eight for a few minutes, then won't come inside unless I stand over him with my hands on my hips. Then he runs into the house and chews that damn evil bone. Kortni said that I'd get used to the sound eventually. Day 12 and I'm still waiting.

Meet Zera. She likes to sleep with a green blanket and is allergic to chicken. When I come home she sneezes about twenty times. I think this is just how she expresses joy. She has boundary issues, and is often too close for comfort. She enjoys rubbing her nose against my butt while I'm standing, and nose-bunting me in the boob when I'm sitting. She is currently glaring at me from her bed because I'm patting Riley.

See, I've been caring for two dogs for almost two weeks, and not only are they both still alive, they are healthy and happy, and aren't peeing on my bed or shredding my shoes, which I think means they like me. And other than being perma-covered in dog hair and the constant ear-bleeding from that damn rubber bone, I like them too. I may even write more about them, including little anecdotes how they were particularly cute this one time, and what happened when we encountered that squirrel in the rain.

So there, world.

Oct 11, 2009

Always The Drunken Idiot, Never The Bride

My trip to Vancouver last weekend was pretty much a comedy of errors. Of course, my wonderful van incident got me off on the right foot. So I'm already running a day behind. Instead of getting there on Saturday to attend a party for the out-of-towners, I leave Sunday morning, using public transit and the BC Ferries to get me to a 3pm West Vancouver wedding on time. What could possibly go wrong?

I was planning to stay with a family friend, Lesley, in Point Grey. She had emailed me with instructions on where her key would be if she wasn't there. I arrive at the house, drop off my stuff, put the key in my bag, and go for a walk before it's time to get ready for the wedding. An hour later I return to discover I'd locked poor Lesley out of her own house. I'd assumed this key was meant for me to have. But no. It was her key. She had tried unsuccessfully to break into her own home, then went and borrowed a cellphone from a neighbor and was in the process of tracking down her children to rescue her when I stroll up, all smiles and stolen keys. Her groceries lying out in the sun, wilting. Heehee, oops.

I get all dolled up in my new black dress and lace-up boots, then hit the bus. I had planned this out in advanced. The wedding was near Broadway and Granville St. I'd googled the address several times. I had to do was get on the bus and ride it straight down Broadway. No problem.

I get off the bus and start looking around. But wait! The street addresses here are in the one thousands. My wedding invitation says I need to be in the three thousands.


It's 2:45pm. The wedding starts at 3pm. I no longer have any confidence in where I'm supposed to be. I briefly contemplate trying the bus again. Then I think, if I miss this wedding because I'm stuck on the wrong bus (and because I couldn't freaking use google right), I'll never forgive myself. So I hail a taxi, thrust the invitation into the driver's hand and say Take me here!

Here turns out to be back towards Lesley's, within walking distance of her place. I get there at 2:55pm, rush to find a seat, then sit waiting until 3:30 before the ceremony begins. When I questioned the bride about the late start she said that it had been intentional, as they figured people would be late. People like me, who can't use google.

It was a very fun wedding, and while I'd love to wax poetic about it, I didn't ask Andrea and Carlos if they'd mind, and I don't want to bug them on their honeymoon. So I'll leave the personal details out.

I will say that there was a LOT of wine, as you can see in this picture. They even had custom labels with a stick Andrea and Carlos holding a heart. There was so much wine that the bride forgot her bouquet on our table (also featured in this picture) and she had to send someone to find it for some picture taking.

I hooked up with some friend's of Andrea's that I'd met once years ago, and we all proceeded to over-indulge in the wine and alienate everyone else at the reception. We held a lot of things up to our boobs while others took pictures. Glasses, cupcakes, wine bottles. I'm not sure why, but I can assure you it was insanely funny at the time.

There was some white lacy material lying around that we turned into a veil. We took turns wearing it and pretending to cry while clutching the wine to our chests, taking pictures of each other posing as lonely, desperate freaks. A few days earlier my Granny had said Maybe you'll meet someone special at the wedding. Dream on, Granny. Dream on.

At some point in the evening we end up at a casino downtown. I realize I've had enough, and in typical Sarah style I decide to walk home. This sort of drunken thinking has gotten me into some pretty long midnight walks in my past. But this was a good 8km, started at 2am. I get about a quarter of the way into it and I have to pee so bad my back teeth are swimming. Ahead I see a large condo complex with a big lawn and a nice cluster of trees. The perfect shelter for a midnight pee. I pull down my tights and underwear and squatted near a bush, leaning back on my right hand for support. This is all going great until it's time to get up. I don't know what went wrong, but all of a sudden I'm tumbling down a hill, legs tangled in my tights and ass saying hello to the moon.

No problem. When the spinning stops I get up, re-arrange my tights and dress, smooth down my hair, and decide I should probably take a taxi the rest of the way home. Back at Lesley's I take off my wedding clothes, put on my pjs, and pass out.

In the morning (okay, early afternoon) I go to the bathroom. When I stand up from the toilet the seat is covered with debris. Leaves, twigs, grass, dirt. Little souvenirs from my stellar acrobatics, hitchhiking on my ass across town.

I apologize if this an overshare.

Oh, and I found this picture on my camera. I vaguely remember passing these hydrants and thinking that they were the best thing ever.

One's red! One's blue! Like a smurf! Dude!

Oct 8, 2009

My Gas Problem

I have these lovely friends, Andrea and Carlos, who were getting married last weekend. In Vancouver.

Great, I thought. I can finally get some use out of my camper van. The weather was promising to be not rainy, practically a miracle for October on the mainland. I'll hit the wedding, then drive around for a few days. Maybe hit up the Okanagan for some fruits and veggie cases I can practice my preserving skills on. Sweet.

The plan was to leave Saturday and attend a meet and greet for the out-of-towners, so we would have people to talk to at the actual wedding on Sunday.

I packed like I always do for road trips. Everything goes. Hey, I don't have to carry it around on my back. So extra clothes, more books than I'd be able to read in a year, all my shoes, cooler, tent, portable stove, oversized bag of knitting supplies. It all comes. The van lives at Granny's, so I throw all this junk in my car, drive to her place, and transfer it into the van. Then, I'm on the road!


As I pull out of the parking space my mom starts waving her arms frantically, like she's stranded on an island trying to get the attention of a rescue plane. I see you, mom. I'm right here. I roll down the window and she runs up. "You're leaking! Gas!"

Sure enough, when the van is on it's projectile vomiting gas all over the parking lot. Goodbye, party. Hello, tow truck.

I transfer all of my crap back into my car, and manage to find a mechanic that's open on a Saturday (Transmission & Auto Care, a place that rebuilt my transmission a few months back). The guy is nice and comforting, telling me it's likely just a cracked hose or something, and he'll take a look right away and call me.

Mechanics never call. Have you noticed that? We'll call you when it's ready. Yeah, right you will. I'm used to guys not calling. My life is filled with guys who are constantly not calling. But mechanics are worse because they have my car. So I can't just say to myself I never liked that douche anyway, and watch another episode of Buffy. I have to call him. And then give him money. It's a situation that's not great for my ego.

So I wander around downtown for a few hours, don't receive the promised call, then wander back. Yes, he has an update. It was a cracked hose, it's a $5 part, it's on it's way, but they're closing soon. It'll be ready on Monday. I'm going to Vancouver until Tuesday, I say. No problem, pick it up Tuesday. Good.


So Sunday morning I bus->ferry->bus to Vancouver, enjoy a lovely wedding (more on that later), then on Tuesday I bus->ferry->bus back downtown. This other mechanic that did my transmission is all Sarah, what are you doing here? And I'm all Picking up my van. And he's all We have your van?

And then I find out that they sort of "forgot" to fix it. They hadn't noticed it parked on their lot. For three days.


But this nice mechanic gives me a ride home, and he calls twice early the next morning to tell me it's fixed and I can pick it up any time. So I do just that, and I stupidly don't really pay attention to the fact that they're charging me $94. For a $5 part and minimal labour? Back home I look at the bill, which says nothing about the part and labour, but does list a BCAA inspection I never asked for.

So now I need to call them. And be all Hey, what's up with this stupid bill? And be assertive and possibly have a confrontation, which are two things that make me feel woozy in my tummy. This may explain why I've been biting my nails for the last 12 hours.

Oct 3, 2009

Life Goals and Pulled Pork

My loyal readers may remember a post from a while ago, where I explored my innermost feelings on being asked what my "plan" for the "future" was. It was a heartfelt personal examination with a complicated conclusion (to summarize: shut up and leave me alone).

In this post I did mention three short term goals I was working on. To recap:

Currently, my plan looks something like this:

  1. Find key to my bike lock, or possibly purchase a new one
  2. Find someone to help fix car window (it keeps falling into the door)
  3. Find annatto seeds and attempt Robert Rodriguez's puerco pibil recipe
Future updates as events warrant.

46 days later, I feel it prudent to provide an update on my life's ambitions.

1. Find key to my bike lock, or possibly purchase a new one

Task: When I left my previous apartment I put my bike in my mom's shed, my saddle bag and my bike lock in storage, and the key to said lock...well, that was the question. It wasn't with my car keys, it wasn't with my spare keys, it wasn't with my bike or my bike lock.

What happened: I was about to give up and buy a new lock when some vague thought floated into my head. Some feeling like maybe I'd given some keys to my sister? Why, I didn't know. But sure enough, upon inquiry I discovered she had my spare storage key AND my bike key.

Project Status: Complete.

2. Find someone to help fix car window (it keeps falling into the door)

Task: This window has been busted since car ownership commenced three years ago. Normally it means that if I roll up the window the top left corner misses the window frame and keeps going, reaching for the stars. I've never tried, but I'm pretty sure when my window is in this crooked state I could grab it and pull it right out of the door. Usually this can be fixed by manhandling the window while rolling it up. But eventually some important piece of the window mechanics slips out and the window falls into the door and won't roll up no matter how rough I am with it. When this happens I need to take the door apart, find the important piece rolling around in the bottom of the door, stick it back where it belongs, and I'm good to go for another six months or so.

Getting the door off involves tools I don't own.

What happened: Before I got around to bribing someone with tools to help, my window broke further. By the sound it made I'm guessing that more parts fell off and landed in the bottom of the door. The extra breaking of my door somehow fixed the immediate problem of the window not rolling up. It will now fit into it's frame with 57% less manhandling then before. So, no need to take the door apart.

Project Status: Complete.

3. Find annatto seeds and attempt Robert Rodriguez's puerco pibil recipe

Task: I recently watched Once Upon A Time In Mexico. It features a pulled pork dish that Agent Sands feels can be too tasty for the universe's good, causing him to execute the chef. On the DVD, director Robert Rodriguez gives a demonstration on how to prepare this deadly dish.

What happened: Here is my experience attempting to make Robert Rodriguez's Puerco Pibil.


5 tbsp. Annatto seeds
2 tsp. Cumin seeds
8 Whole Allspice
1/2 tsp. Whole Cloves
1 tbsp Black Peppercorns
1/2 cup Orange Juice
1/2 cup White Vinegar
2 Habanero Peppers
2 tbsp. Salt
8 cloves Garlic
Juice of 5 Lemons
Splash of the finest tequila you can find
5 lbs. Pork Shoulder Roast
Banana leaves


1. Gather ingredients.
This proved to be problematic. My first issue was finding annatto seeds. I started my search at the main grocery stores, then the health stores, then the small speciality shops, then, in desperation, any convenience store that sold more than gum. No luck. Stalled before I got started, I was whining to my sister one day. She said that there's this little Mexican restaurant downtown called Orale that may sell some groceries as well. I went in search of this place, and low and behold, they sold packages of annatto seeds for $1.99. I praised them to the moon while I made my purchase, then stuck the seeds in my bag and promptly forgot all about them and this recipe.

2. Find ingredients.
Last week I was rooting through my underwear drawer looking for, well, underwear. And I came across the packet of annatto seeds and some allspice. Oh, right, I thought. I was supposed to make that. So I set a date for last Tuesday and invited over a select list of very important people (Granny, my sisters, and Andrea, my long lost twin that my mom keeps lying about. But that's another story).

3. Buy the meat.
In the instructional video provided above, Mr. Rodriguez calls for 5 pounds of pork butt. I kept going to the grocery store, kept cruising the meat section for some pork product that referenced a bottom (pork butt, rump roast, anything), but nothing, absolutely nothing remotely relevant appeared. Finally I broke down and asked one of the fine butchers.

If you had a recipe that called for Pork Butt, I asked, what would you think it meant? 
Pork shoulder, the butcher replied.

Ah, yes. Of course. Silly me.

With my pork butt shoulder in hand, I was able to start on this recipe.

4. Take the annatto seeds, cumin, allspice, cloves, and pepper, and roast gently in a frying pan until they start to smell toasty and delicious. Grind in a coffee grinder. (Note: roasting is not in Mr. Rodriguez's instructions, but is a must for any use of whole spices. Trust me.) (Other note: don't use a grinder that you also use for coffee. Get one just for spices.)

5. Put spice mixture in a blender with the juice, vinegar, chopped habanero peppers, garlic and salt, and blend. Add lemon juice and tequila and blend again.

At this point I had a frothy concoction that looked like blood and grey matter and smelled sort of like the old red liquid pin worm medication me and my sisters had to take as children. Basically it did not look or smell like anything I wanted to put near my mouth.

6. Take the pork butt shoulder and cut it into 2 inch cubes. Note the amount of fat on the meat, but ignore it.

7. Add the butt shoulder and disgusting marinade in a ziplock bag and chuck it in the fridge.

8. Go to bed worrying that you are in the process of wasting $30 on meat for a meal that will make your family vomit on you.

9. Wake up during the night with face pain.
I get this every time I cook with hot peppers. If I was smart (and I'm not) I'd buy some latex gloves to wear while seeding and chopping these potent little guys. But no, I do it naked-handed every time. And their hot little juices seep into my skin and no matter how long and vigorously I wash my hands later, I still end up with minor burns around my lips and nose and eyes from rubbing and scratching. I never realized how often I touch my face during the day (and apparently as I sleep) until each touch ate away part of my skin.

10. About 4 hours before you want to eat this mess, preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

11. Line a pan with banana leaves.
Unless, of course, you can't find banana leaves in town. Even if you go to a million shops, and of the million find four that all say they are out, but will have some next week. And next week you go to all four shops and they all still don't have any. Then, and only then, can you line the pan with tinfoil.

12. Add the butt shoulder glop into the pan, and cover tightly with more tin foil.

13. Stick it in the oven and leave it alone for 4 hours.

14. Take it out, peel back the tinfoil.
What I found was a tasty looking meat, all tender and falling apart, just like a good pulled pork is supposed to be. This treasure was hiding underneath a swimming pool of red fat. It looked like strawberry jello before it's set. Who put jello on my pibil?!?!

Oh, right. Remember all that fat we ignored in step six? Maybe we should have trimmed that away.

15. Drain off spoon after tedious spoon of jello fat. Be sure to store this in an open container on the counter and forget all about it, forcing another member of your family to deal with it days later. They won't really be able to get mad at you because the effort you put into this meal will still be fresh in their mind, making them feel guilty for pointing out one tiny, gross thing you overlooked.

16. Serve with rice and a side dish of black beans that you decided to try in a crockpot with no recipe, even though you've never cooked black beans before and only used a crockpot once maybe a year ago.

17. Enjoy compliments from delighted guests while quietly trying to figure out at what point this raw and chunky mess of blended yuck transformed into a delicious meal. Although, hopefully not good enough to be shot in the chest!

18. Chuckle over sexual innuendo such as "How did you like your two-day pork?" and "Can you save some for Nathan? He always enjoys a good pulled pork.". Etc. Etc.

Project Status: Complete

Okay, temporary life list complete. Now what?

Sep 29, 2009

If All Else Fails, Add More Wine

Yesterday I was going to talk about wine, but I got a little distracted by that creepy people ranch in Cobble Hill.

On that same drive with my mom we went into Cowichan Bay to have lunch, and on the way out we passed Divino Winery. I'd seen it many times over the years driving up and down Vancouver Island. It's right off the highway with a big old sign, and every time I'd think that I should check it out, and every time I wouldn't. In hind sight this is weird. I love visiting local wineries. I love wine. This one was so easily accessible and yet I'd never pulled off the road to check it out. Strange.

I mention this to my mom as we drive by it and she makes an executive decision and pulls into the driveway. This leads us through the vineyard to an old wooden structure composed of a covered area packed with bins of apples and the smallest tasting room ever. As we get out of the car we're greeted very enthusiastically by a short, round, old Italian man who immediately starts teasing us with a thick Italian accent and in such a friendly manner I feel like I've known him and have been exasperated by him for years.

We smile and nod our way into the closet sized tasting room. Four other tasters are in the process of being entertained by the half cut middle-aged man behind the counter, and we are ignored. I take in the shelves of wine, the massive clock that is two hours behind schedule and the big magnets that say Tell the truth, and then leave immediately and Today isn't your day for service. Tomorrow isn't looking good either.

The other tasters finally leave, and suddenly we have a new best friend. Joe begins to fill our glasses with very generous samples and talk our ears off about wine. Everything we try is an "unpretentious, bullshitting wine". We have no control over what we taste. Joe even snatched the bottle away from my mom as she moved to turn it around so as to read the label. "Not until you've tried it," Joes says. "Yeah mom," I say, "this obviously isn't a wineocracy. Drink your wine and like it!"

Joe suddenly disappears and is replaced by Joe - um, really? Two guys working here and they're both named Joe? Fortunately old Italian Joe is lovingly referred to as The Old Man, so it`s not too hard to keep them straight. Mom asks a question about the vineyard and The Old Man starts trying to get us to work for him. "You should pick a grapes. People they a lovin' it. You a pretending each a stem is someabody you don't lika so much. Then, snip! You a cut them!" (Please excuse the poor written translation of an Italian accent. I was shocked and appalled to find no English-to-Italian-English translator online.)

As we leave I ask Joe if he's serious about needing pickers and he writes down my name and phone number on the back of a piece of cardboard, then shoves it in a drawer. This filing system does not fill me with confidence. I figure I`ll never hear from him. So I'm surprised when a few days later I get a call asking if I can pick on Friday. This meant cutting into my valuable sitting time, but I decide to make the sacrifice and try it out.

Friday at 9am I'm back at the winery. There are just two of us picking, me and Lois, a middle aged woman who works for the Ministry of Education by day and is a duck keeper and occasional grape picker by night. We're each armed with a pair of clippers and a large bucket. After been warned repeatedly about the various ways I can maim my hand with the clippers and how to avoid them, we're left at the beginning of row of vines and told to go nuts.

Here's how you harvest grapes. One person stands on either side of the vines. You put your hand under a bunch of grapes and snip the stem away from the vine. The grapes fall into your hand, and you drop them into your bucket. You try to remember not to actually touch the grapes as this will lead to you likely chopping off your thumb with the clippers.

That's it. You work your side of the vines, your partner works theirs, and you try not to cut each other when reaching for the bunches that are in the middle.

When I`d arranged this on the phone with Joe a few days before he`d asked if I had any experience picking grapes and seemed slightly concerned when the answer was no. I have no idea why; after about thirty seconds of working I considered myself an expert.

It's a beautiful, sunny day, and despite the very repetitive nature of the work, time speeds by in a thoroughly enjoyable fashion. Lois and I are a good picking team, both happy to chat about anything or just enjoy the sounds of the vineyard. Joe comes by regularly to empty our buckets and supply the occasional beer. By the end of the day my lower back is starting to make itself known due to the thousand or so squats I've done moving from upper to lower branches, and I'm getting the hint of a blister on my thumb from the clippers. But I'm happy to report no cut or missing fingers. Lois and I sit on the back of Joe`s tractor finishing our beers as he drives us back to the shed and I start thinking that farm living can be pretty damn sweet.

We hang around for another hour or so sampling wine and eating a selection of bread and cheese and buffalo jerky, and I learn the meaning of a "bullshitting" wine. It's a wine you can drink while your sitting around bullshitting with your friends. Not that I'd ever walk away from a social situation saying I'm sorry, I can't hang out with you. This wine is too pretentious for a conversation. But this wine does seem to lend itself to lounging outside and talking about nothing.

As I leave I get two big hugs from my new friends Lois and Joe, and an invitation to come pick again. Now comes the hard part. Do I accept payment in cash or in wine? Hmm...