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?