22 December, 2008

my hiatus - an update

I'm still on hiatus, I guess, but I'm trying to take some me-time over the holidays this year, so there will likely be a couple of posts on here to catch things up.

It has been an exceedingly busy semester, busy and lethargic in fairly balanced spurts, really. I've slept like Rip Van Winkle, and I've worked until the star wheel has spun all my familiar constellations out of view. My thesis is nearly complete, and my supervisors are gunning for a finish soon. ... which suggests that I ought to start searching for a new reality, and a new future for myself, whether or not this M.Sc. materialises or not.

BUT, above all else, I am alive and breathing, and I've had my fair share of fun amidst the stress, writing, medication and brain adventures. These stories may well come out in the next week or two, too, we shall see.

Leaving the prairies behind, a short trip to the mountains, at the beginning of September brought me some much-needed fresh alpine air, and good family time. It was unfortunately also marred by incredible thesis work and pouring rain. BUT you take the good with the bad and make the best of it. I worked quite well since I didn't have the distraction of a messy bedroom, or unlimited internet access, and then spent most of my time with the family playing games and walking around the (rather chilly) mountain resort community.


It was full of montane views and stunningly proximal snow, as well as pine beetle-killed trees all around. Gorgeous and sad, nature and yet not all at the same time.

I wish I'd seen the alpine plants, but everything was in senescence. What was left was just a little willowherb and some prolific thistle. All else were in seed, like the black-seeded rushes.


I wish the trip had lasted longer, but even the momentary escape into the (not so) wilds was great for refreshing and forgetting about living in the city, even if only for a moment or two, and even if I brought my laptop along.

13 August, 2008

no. 19: recharge?

So... I went to the folk fest this past weekend. I love the folk fest. It may be a physically exhausting weekend (um, four days), but it is well worth it for the amount of sonic joy that I get out of the whole experience. And the joy comes in many forms, from seeing old favourites, to discovering something new, to being so surprised by someone you never thought you'd enjoy... All of that happened this past weekend.

efmf stage at dusk1
Main Stage Saturday night

For instance, at a FOLK music festival, I would a) never have invited Chris Isaak to play and b) never have expected to be so wowed by his performace. But there you have it. The man in a pink sequined suit has a knack for blowing expectations out of the water. He was fantastic, and his pink suit left me speechless... forget the human mirror-ball suit he changed into for the encore. I've never seen someone sparkle so much.

Chris Isaak
The Pink Suit!

efmf stage at dusk2
The whole Chris Isaak spectacle.

His voice, and stage presence, not to mention between-song banter and ability to relate to the crowd. I've never seen someone do so much crowd ego-stroking and sound so honest. Granted, I know a lot of musicians take one look at the hillside from their bottom-of-slope position and say that it looks like they're staring at the night sky (once it's dark, people light candles that twinkle like little stars). I love it too... but it's still great to hear out of such an iconic person as Chris Isaak, the man who once opened for Roy Orbison...

And then Saturday's closing performance was such a fantastic dance and joy event that I will be forever thankful that Michael Franti keeps returning to our humble fest. ... even if I couldn't help but feel empty when he sang "Is Love Enough?" ... because right now, I don't feel like I can "love some more" and that was a rather sad revelation to make amidst the joyous dancers. But I think, with a bit more recharge and renewal (which the folk fest definitely helped), and a lot more sleep and better medication, I might actually make it back up there to a place where my heart wells up and overflows again... Or at least I can so hope.

Aside from the musical joy and unexpected introspection, there was a lot going on at the folk fest this year that really made me take pause. It was... special. Not necessarily special-wonderful, though I'm sure I could argue that, but really, just special.

For instance, how many shooting stars have you seen fall to Earth? Friday (I think) night, we witnessed one as we sat on the hillside listening to the main stage. It came out of nowhere, streaked incredibly brightly through the sky, flashed a bit and then seemed to burn out. My friend and I looked at eachother in awe and confusion as someone near us exclaimed "a shooting star!" ... we rationalized that we should have heard it, and for it to be so bright and so close, it must have been a flare. ... but no, it was a chunk of a meteor, burning brightly as it hit the atmosphere, leaving the largest streak of white light behind it that I've ever seen. (A friend I ran into on Sunday who works for Environment Canada looked it up, just to be sure) And when it burned out, I swear you could see the last little piece of it turn from white hot light to blue to orange... how could you possibly see something like that in a falling meteor? Apparently it was a lot farther away than perceived, but, well, the eyes can't interpret things they don't often see. It was phenomenal.

So, Friday: shooting star. Saturday: lightning storm that I swear was going to remove me from this Earth once and for all.

Now, I don't know about the average person, because if life has taught me anything, it's that normal odds don't apply to me, I get strange occurrences, and rare events. And right now I'm operating on the "third time's a charm" mentality when it comes to lightning. That's right, I've had two close calls. One, when I was 5 or so, I was playing in the back yard with a friend when a bolt hit the ground right next to us. We jumped into eachother's arms we were so terrified. White light and a noise that rent the air... It looked like a solid white waterfall cascading straight into the ground... at unimaginable speed and force. The second occurrence happened when I was about 8 or 10, we were weathering out (ha, sorry for the pun) a tornado warning at my uncle and aunt's place in eastern Saskatchewan. I was bored of being indoors, but the rain had started, so I was watching it through the window, with my forehead up against the glass when a bolt again shot to the ground very close by outside, the force of which pushed my body away from the window and brought my forehead banging back onto the glass (which thankfully did not break!). Now I'm waiting for the third. Two close calls... what will number three be like?

The lightning storm that hit our city Saturday night built up fast. Sure, you could see the storm front in the distance and knew that something awful and nasty was headed your way, still there's not much you can do at the folk fest except ready the rain gear and tuck your belongings under a tarp. As my friend and I were huddled under another tarp, laughing at the pouring fat drops of water that kept running down our arms and legs, the lightning kept creeping closer. It wasn't just a few flashes of cloud-bound sheet lightning either. These were full-blown forks striking the ground, and they were getting closer every minute. ... and there's nothing quite like sitting on a treeless ski hill sheltered by a sheet of plastic to remind you of how vulnerable you are to the whims of Mother Nature. And then we suddenly went from *flash one-one-thousand-two-one-thousand ... seven-one-thousand eight-one-thousand boom* to *flash one two BOOM!* And I thought for sure someone had been hit on the hill, it was that close. I was checking phone messages after the evening had finished (I buried my cell phone in my back pack to make sure it didn't get wet), to find that my cousin had called during that crazy blast of electrical storm, and had actually recorded the strike during his message to me. Thankfully no one was hit, including me, and the storm blew over in another ten or so minutes, leaving us with nearly clear skies for the Michael Franti dance-fest that ensued.

But that lightning storm made me wary once again, and I wonder when/how that third strike will occur, and what will happen... if anything. I already watch clouds, and I'm already cautious, throwing metal rods out of my hands under the worst conditions (and believe me, I've been in bad situations with lighting before, including carrying a pack full of lightning-rod-like metal "pigtails" during field surveys), but you can't be constantly vigilant, and sometimes things just happen, despite any effort to the contrary. I just wonder if it ever will for me, or if my odds are too high for that, ha!

clouds and bird

It makes me watch the clouds a lot more than I used to, that's for sure. Particularly after a close call such as Saturday.

At any rate, I have come to count on Folk Fest as being my recharge, my source of renewal (in at least some small way). And it was this time too, but it also reminded me of all the things I need to do to make things work better for myself outside of taking time to sit and passively enjoy music (and perhaps fall asleep on grassy hills). Things I need to start doing, like thinking about what's right for me, regardless of everyone else, and how I need to reconnect with so many of my old friends - friends I invariably see at folk fest and then never again until the following year, if we're lucky enough to cross paths at the massive festival. Things I definitely need to work on if I really want to find lasting renwal.

31 July, 2008

no. 18: my brain, and a hiatus

So, I may or may not have alluded to this in the past while, but I've, um, been going through some adventures lately. Lately... whatever, it started in November, with a somewhat alarmed assistant optometrist at my yearly check-up. Followed by a follow-up visit in January, a pass-the-baton relay visit to an opthamologist (with really lovely eyes, thankfully, considering how long he stared into mine...), a CT scan, a further pass-the-baton relay step to visit a neurologist, a lumbar puncture, and finally diagnosis. I have a neurological disorder called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH for short, because no one wants to have to say all of that all the time... I say it because I'm a nerd).

According to the scant information I can find, it is a "disease of the overweight" ... seeing as it tends to afflict overweight people (primarily women of reproductive age) more often than people of 'normal' weight. BUT it doesn't necessarily go away with weight loss. Um, oh, right, odds... so, rates of incidence are on the rise, but really, when you have a less than 20 in 100 000 chance of getting something, odds are you usually don't. Unless you're me... Who developed the hairy fruit and veg allergies? Who got an inguinal hernia... as a woman? ... me... unlikely, rare afflictions... yay! what else can I get? Even Multiple Sclerosis is more common than this.

It often goes away all on its own, sometimes with weight loss, sometimes just because. Sometimes it sticks around for many many many years. Sometimes it goes into remission and comes back and goes away and comes back... like Canadian Snowbirds visiting Florida for the winter.

I've found an informative, if British, website: www.iih.org.uk, which is also affiliated with a support group that I am joining. So far just lurking has been enlightening. Perhaps not encouraging, but reassuring at the very least. And it's nice to know that my current dosage of medication (1000mg) is nothing near the upper limit some people are taking... and I'm reassured by the performance of the drugs at this level.

For those of you hoping for the briefest of synopses, IIH is an elevation of the fluid pressure in your brain. The symptoms, from what I understand, are not unlike altitude sickness, and the meds are, appropriately, for altitude sickness. That would explain why I didn't have very many problems while vacationing at sea level in Mexico this past February. I've known there was something off for well over a year, perhaps a year and a half or two years, actually. But it is difficult to explain to your doctor that being unbearably exhausted all the time, having nasty headaches and a whooshing noise in your ears is anything more than depression when all of the above are driving you crazy. (ok, my doctor was driving me crazy too, but that's beside the point)

I am attempting to lose weight (outside of this whole neurological disorder thing) and have lost 20 lbs since moving out of my parents' house a year ago (go me!). It'd be nice to see another 10 to 15 drop off, and then my doctor can shut her yap about being overweight or on the border at all, and maybe focus on other things like why exercise is important in addition to portion control (holy crap do I want to hit her sometimes, but I'm not violent...). The loss of 20 pounds, however, haven't resulted in any reversal of neurological fortunes for me. In fact, I think things have gotten worse.

Ok, I can't say that for sure. Maybe I'm noticing it because the drugs are working and I just haven't gotten the right dosage yet. The lumbar puncture/spinal tap made me realise just how non-normal I had been for the past who knows how long. Suddenly my head wasn't pushing out all the time... suddenly I didn't have a constant whooshing noise in my ears... they took my cerebrospinal fluid pressure down from 270mm to 150mm. Talk about a difference. What I wouldn't give to be normal like that again. And the drugs are helping. For the most part, I feel ten times better than before. But there are days where they obviously don't work, and I'm in such excruciating pain I can't focus. And then there are days where I think the drugs are working but I'm so exhausted all I want to do is sleep (like this afternoon, oddly enough), or I can't make my eyes focus on anything, or I can't focus on anything, or I'm at a loss for words, or I can't walk in a straight line. And I can't explain it other than to say "I have a neurological disorder" and hope people accept it.

Sure, it's not a brain tumor, it's not Multiple Sclerosis, but it's definitely not normal life either. I feel so dumb. I feel like all this working on a masters' has been for nought, because I'm going to get out of here with (or maybe without) a degree and not remember anything of what I did. ... or not be able to communicate it. I went to field school this spring and finally realised how much I LOVE teaching, but I'm worried that this... problem... is going to take away my ability to think on my toes. As I said to some people, it's like the smart person in me is being smothered by pillows, and I'm left floundering by myself. I guess I could knit. ... and not talk, but I'm not a good enough knitter for that to be my work-life. Not talking, however, is about right, right now, actually. ... which seems strange given what a chatterbox I normally am.

I just don't know. What I do know is that no one really gets it, because there's nothing to see. I still look just like I always did, I still sound the same, I just... fall asleep at my desk all the time, and I clutch my head in pain. Oh, that's the other thing, headache medicine doesn't really do anything. I've been advised (on my IIH-controlling meds) to avoid salycilates, which leaves me with Tylenol, I guess... and nope. So I just muddle through, and cry a lot. ... but I sure as hell don't get a lot done, and my supervisors, well-meaning though they are, don't know the half of what I'm going through. I guess I need to have another 'talk' with them.

shit, this is not a pity blog post. Don't pity me. This was supposed to be a "this is what's going on right now" post, but, well, I guess that is what's going on right now. Don't pity me. Or if you do, don't tell me about it. I really just want to walk away from everything right now and start over. Hell, I'd even wait tables or work as a cashier. ... just something that's not this. I've been having a reoccurring thought about the possibility of parallel universes and what my parallel universe selves would be like. If they'd have this problem too, or if they'd have different problems instead. ... and what I'd opt to live if I had that sort of choice. Minimum wage worker, no education, no savings, no future, entirely clean bill of health... or masters student, industry connections, promising future, debilitating headaches...

I'm really quite worried about what's going to happen next. ... because I KNOW I wouldn't have been able to get through the past 6 to 8 months if I'd been working a regular desk job, forget field work. Then again, the three weeks at field school were the greatest three weeks of 2008. I was full of energy, happy, and well-rested (despite only getting 5 hours of sleep a night most of the time). But I can't legitimately look into that kind of work knowing how exhausted I am all the time right now. I feel like I'm walking into the future blindfolded, and I don't know if the road ahead disappears into a gravel path, a stream or a straight drop-off.

Liatris ligulstylis2

... and on that happy note, obviously I've gone on a hiatus. I shall continue this hiatus for the forseeable future, as whatever time I do have, I am trying to devote to thesis work, not other stuff. And some days, the only words that come out are "I hurt" and those, well, I hate typing those. This was supposed to be a blog about crafty fun and tree hugging, but I guess, it's really just about me, and well, right now, I am about this neurological disorder (among other things). Hopefully soon I can return to prattling on about those other things. Until then, I may only post pictures at random intervals, just so there's something here to look at.

14 June, 2008

a photo mosaic because I don't actually want to write right now

I am... three-ish months behind updating this place. whoops. Apparently I got busy. I will... eventually get around to it, honest. In the meantime, I got bored and did a meme.

... and the link to the page where it was made:
Image hosted @ bighugelabs.com

Taken from the Flickr group thegame:

"I am not sure who started this meme but here is a pool to add yours to. Spread the word. And I would most definitely like to know who started the ball rolling. Their mosiac should be the icon for the group. Tag your creation with "thegame".

Created with fd's Flickr Toys. bighugelabs.com/flickr/mosaic.php

The concept:

a. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
b. Using only the first page, pick an image.
c. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd's mosaic maker).

The Questions:

1. What is your first name? - alison
2. What is your favorite food? - nectarine
3. What high school did you go to? - Scona
4. What is your favorite color? - green
5. Who is your celebrity crush? - Johnny Depp
6. Favorite drink? - Ginger Beer
7. Dream vacation? - Backcountry camping
8. Favorite dessert? - zucchinni chocolate cake
9. What you want to be when you grow up? - teacher
10. What do you love most in life? - friendship
11. One Word to describe you. - diverse
12. Your flickr name - alison fell

ok, except the thing kinda bombed... I'll post the mosaic later... whee.
this is the mosaic maker link.

01 April, 2008

no. 17: in need of a push

I am slowly coming to the end of my rope. I have next to zero motivation to write my thesis (sad, I know, but my favourite part is coming up with the things to research, not explaining what I found), and all I have left is a bit of statistics and a whole lot of writing. Actually, I'm un-motivated in a NUMBER of categories. I'm in this weird limbo-land of confusing hints and non-hints from people in whom I think I might be romantically interested. And above all else, I have a confirmed diagnosis.

So, after, um, two months of elevated concern, results. A CT scan of my brain revealed nothing... which is great news, actually. Not having a tumor is always a good thing. And, quite frankly, had the scan revealed calcifications behind my optic nerve-eye connection, none of that would have explained away the whooshing sounds in my ears or the near-constant headaches. So, a neurologist was called in for additional explorations. And she requested a lumbar puncture. I know, I know, yikes, spinal taps are scary. But, truth be told, the actual tap procedure, aside from some momentary foot numbness when a nerve brushed the needle, was not bad. It was mildly awkward to have so many people staring at my back (the radiologist had a resident and an intern with him), but the procedure itself was ok. It was the aftermath of it that had me reeling. I had to lay on my side for something like 15 minutes. I got bored, but I also tensed up all my core muscles... to the point that it took a good three hours for them to un-tense and become sore. I thought I was going to fold in two it hurt so much. So, needless to say the next week was spent sleeping off incredible lower back pain. It was so bad I could hardly stay seated for more than 20 minutes the first three days. I am over that now, woo hoo!

The results of the test - which I could more-or-less have told (and did) people right after the test were this, officially learned from the neurologist mid-last-week: I have "mildly elevated" intracranial pressure. I was sitting at a surprising 270mm of water. Normal is anything under 200mm, but apparently pressures can be as high as 600mm (I kind-of think a person would be incapacitated by that point, or blind). The radiologist had the assignment of collecting 5ml of fluid for testing (just in case I had meningitis or something), and then let an additional 5-ish drain off to lower my pressure, lucky me! Had my back not been miserable, I felt golden. There was no wooshing in my ears of the blood and pressure, my head didn't hurt one bit, and I somehow felt lighter. That has since changed as my body rebuilds that pressure (for whatever reason, that's the beauty of having an "idiopathic" condition, no one knows why it happens). And I have been assigned a medication commonly given to those suffering altitude sickness. Thus far it makes me dizzy (not exactly a good idea if you're a mountaineer, one would think), my toes and fingers tingle numbly from time to time, and I get a bitter aftertaste in my mouth with some foods, but otherwise it seems to be doing the trick. I don't hear the wooshy noise in my ears as much, and the headaches are lessening. It's a gradually building scale of medication, and I had to chop a bunch of pills in half for this and the next week, since I'm to take 1/2 a pill for breakfast this week, and 1/2 a pill for breakfast and another 1/2 for supper next week, and then I graduate to a full pill... leaving me with a leftover 1/2, hmm... anyway, whatever, it seems to be working and that's what really matters, even if I AM dizzy and cookies don't taste all that exciting any more (sad sad sad).

I seem to like writing in reverse of my original lists. So bear with me, now about the 'romantic interests.' More like pipe dreams, really, but whatever. At least there's pseudo-hope on the horizon. I have not spoken to the person who makes me feel like Brer Rabbit since the initial e-mail disaster. And I feel better for it. He's tried sending me stuff, but I really... let's just say "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." On the other hand, the one I'd like to snog, well... I feel like I'm shouting into the abyss, not even an echo comes back... or a wisp of wind. It's like he doesn't even get my messages or e-mails, or maybe I'm the one who should be getting the message. ... which is fine. In the meantime, I've run into old friends. More precisely one old friend via the social networking disaster/boon that is facebook, and another acquaintance whom I think was more of a friend-of-a-friend at a recent concert - I feel bad, he remembered my name (*sigh* that's a good sign, right?) and I couldn't remember his, or where we knew eachother from (what a heel). The first one gave me his number out of the blue, and happens to study in the same field I'm in (though I'm at a more advanced level... whatever), and the second is working on the revolution from the inside, and we've become facebook friends. I dunno... I may move at the pace of a snail, but there are still encouraging signs making their way towards me. I think. I think.

Unmotivation in a number of categories, let's see: finding a job post graduation, finishing off my mittens and other various knitting projects (that nightie is still at the beginning stages, because who has time to knit lace when there are blogs to read and movies to see and sunshine and just about every other procrastination tool out there?), finding an apartment or whatever to rent when my lease runs out here in June, filing my taxes one doesn't get refunds if one doesn't submit, figuring out what the hell it is I'm doing with my life. The list goes on, I won't bore you.

And the thesis. Let me say this now so it's out of the way: I hate statistics. I understand why they are useful, and why one is expected to use them in scientific explorations, but that doesn't make me like them. I am thoroughly flabbergasted by the extent to which one has to manipulate data in order for statistical procedures to "work" and the juggling and manipulation one has to go through in order to make sense of everything that comes out of the analyses. As for writing, I don't know when it happened, but I seem to have become one of those people who gets hung up on the niggling, unfinished details instead of creating the matrix in which to stuff those details once they are done. So I am wasting hours trying to mess around with my data such that it works, creating graphs and making diagrams instead of writing something, anything, whatever. I really need to get going on this stuff too. It would be delightful to have my methods and results (ha!) done by the end of the month, even just partially, and then to have time to read papers and write introductions and discussions while chauffeuring students through the forest... Oh, wouldn't that be nice? But nooooo, I can't get myself going. Tonight, right now, magic... I am writing a blog instead of working on my thesis. Really, I just need to spew some (as one of my fellow thesis-writers says) "word vomit" on the page and get the ideas flowing. At least then I'd have something. ANYTHING would be good right now.

It's like cabin fever times ten, only this ain't no cabin, it's a paper, and I HAVE to finish it. My future more-or-less depends on it.

22 March, 2008

no. 16: look what we've allowed to happen

it saddens me that I come from a place that has allowed this to happen:

where the extraction of oil comes at a cost of one barrel of oil for every two removed. where human life is marginalised to the point that young rig workers are being housed in sub-standard prison-like conditions, drug use and prostitution run rampant, and the people who used to live happy lives in these cities and towns prior to the boom now fear for their lives while driving the highways, and can’t go out at night without worrying about being molested. where our political leader electioneered a promise to look into down-stream health concerns (of massively elevated incidences of cancer) only if we voted for him. where the strip mining can be seen from the moon. where the world’s largest sulfur pile is not even visible in these photos. where propane cannons explode at regular intervals to prevent birds from landing in the oil-slicked sludge. and where the revenue from these ’investments’ is being taken out of our country by the big companies, and what revenue we, the people living here, are supposed to be getting has been mis-managed, not collected, and hardly at all invested.

I am ashamed.

From TreeHugger:

Environmental Defence just released a new report on the Alberta Oil Sands, calling it the most destructive project on Earth. DeSmogblog gleaned some facts from it:

-Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year.
-At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing.
-Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes.
-The toxic tailing ponds are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. -The ponds span 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space.
-Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.

More pictures here, courtesy of the Globe and Mail, and Edward Burtynsky.

24 February, 2008

no. 15: holy chocolate batman! I've been ganached!

So... one of the chain bakeries that has an outlet near my parents' house (Cobs) makes chocolate hot crossed buns. Hot crossed buns being my favourite lenten treat. Only, in recent years, I've found there's something about hot crossed buns that doesn't agree with my stomach, and in the interest of maintaining digestive peace, I've had to abstain. (Don't think that counts as giving up something for Lent though... since they're only available during Lent...) So, instead of indulging in that particular yeasty, chocolate and candied fruit treat, I've discovered the deliciousness of their chocolate scones. Well, really, triple chocolate scones... cocoa dough, chocolate chips and ganache drizzle. And they're entirely too tasty for words. Were it not for the cost of these indulgences, I'd probably consume them for breakfast, lunch and supper. Alas, on my student budget, I cannot justify the much-needed endorphin boost of this purchased chocolate breakky... so I started searching them out on the internet, looking for a home-made alternative. I can, however, justify the purchase of flour, cocoa, chocolate chips and the occasional small carton of heavy cream... because they're all good for so much more than chocolate scones. Enter this recipe from Orangette, and you have the makings of a divine Sunday breakfast. One that kept me sated until 1pm, actually, and I ate one scone with a bit of honey dew melon...

the 7 un-eaten scones still sitting in the baking tray... waiting for the ganache to set.

The recipe indicates that it makes 6 large scones. Little did I realise they would be THIS large. My poor tummy cannot handle such a generous size at breakfast every day (though, being sated until actual lunch time instead of hearing the digestive growls at 10am would be a good thing!). I cut it into 8, and I guess I'll save the monstrously huge ones for weekends or days when I opt to work from home, and then don't have to worry about waddling the 20 minutes to the office... Next time, I'll cut it into a good 10 or 12 more friendly-sized delights. And they ARE delightful: chocolate upon chocolate upon chocolate, and then (not so artfully) drenched in ganache - of which I still have a decent amount now stuffed in my freezer.

Surprisingly, though, this is not my only ganache adventure of late. I've been staring at the scone recipe in my moleskine weekly planner (best sale purchase ever, tiny enough to fit in my purse, big enough to hold all I need, and exceedingly affordable) for about two weeks now, and the ganache recipe kept calling out to me: "all I am is cream and chocolate..." "you know you wanna..." so once I'd bought the ONLY available size of cream carton at my grocery store (1 L), I knew I had to justify the purchase of that much extra dairy... and decided to toy with the chocolate I have lying around... and started to experiment with microwave ganache.

It is thus that I discovered the easiest and tastiest mid-week dessert ever:
Throw some chocolate chips in a bowl, sprinkle a scant dusting of cinnamon and clove powder over them, and then pour to immerse (without fully covering) with heavy cream. Throw the whole shebang in the microwave for, um, 45 seconds on high, and while that's bubbling away (make sure it doesn't boil over, what a mess!), wash and slice an apple into finger-friendly pieces. Take the bowl out of the microwave, stir until fully blended and enjoy your tasty treat! Best easy dessert ever, and it is truly up to your discretion just how much chocolate sauce you make this way.. and what fruit you dip in it... melon is also tasty, as I'm sure would be berries of any kind. The clove-cinnamon combo just adds an extra little something, my favourite cake of all time has the clove-cinnamon-chocolate mix, and so whenever I have that combo, I think of happy memories, family suppers and birthday cake.

mmm... yes... chocolate... the perfect start and end to any day.

Related to all my chocolate consumption, winter, at this point, is really pulling my spirits down. And I'm trying just about anything to avoid the nasty late-winter slump (perhaps to the detriment of my wasitline, but we'll see). As the sun continues to rise earlier and shine for longer, I AM picking up some cheer, but it is slow-coming, even after a brief sojourn to the beach. On a whim, the other week, wandering our leanly-stocked farmers' market (lots of crafts and dried goods, little in the freshness department, as one would expect), I found some not-exactly-inspiring cilantro, but I KNEW I had to have it. If there is a herb that can evoke memories of warmth, humidity and sunshine, it is cilantro. I'm not even sure why. I used to hate the stuff. Thankfully, I've changed my opinion. Cilantro and cumin, both of them pull me into their pungent embrace and I am suddenly thinking of rich greens, and beaming sunlight... maybe it's genetic... my Mediterranean ancestry calling out to me through my taste buds... maybe it's just the subtle imprinting of guacamole and hummus memories... who knows... but if ever there's a way to shake the winter blahs, it's through this stuff...

And, after throwing it in my chili leftovers, and a pot of tomato pasta sauce (yum, what a refreshing combo!), the flagging last bits were screaming out for attention; as was a can of chick peas at the store last night. Somehow chickpeas as an impulse buy rather perfectly describes my personality. haha! And it is thus that my rag-tag hummus was born.

hummus plate
yes, that's my lunch.

I didn't realise until I'd gotten home that a) I only had a lime, and no lemon, and that b) my roommate didn't have tahini, like I'd thought she did. So... improvisation! Come to think of it, I have never actually followed a recipe for hummus... maybe a combination of two recipes together at once, but never one all by itself, and never any of them to-the-word. The can of chickpeas was rinsed and thrown in a bowl with two chopped cloves of garlic, about a half-teaspoon of every relevant-seeming herb on hand: cumin, paprika, chili powder and coriander, a tiny pinch of salt, a very healthy spoonful of cashew butter (who needs tahini anyway?), and all the still-green cilantro, roughly chopped. Over it was drizzled the juice of half a lime, and some unquantified amount of olive oil. Then I pulsed it all with my roomie's stick blender. Stick blenders, it would seem, are not good friends with chickpeas. There's something too thick about their consistency (and I was NOT adding THAT much oil to the mix, as much as I love olive oil). But, after much fretting and pulsing, it was mostly mixed (I'm still finding the occasional chunk of garlic or a completely missed chickpea, but that's what food adventures are about!). And upon letting it sit, VERY aromatic. As a result, I am in love! This is one of the best hummus(es?) I've ever made, even if it's going to keep me from talking to people for fear of bowling them over with garlic breath. Served drizzled with a little extra olive oil, and lightly dusted in chili powder, or just as is, it makes a great topping for pita bread, and the little bit of pita-hummus-ham sandwich I made for lunch today.

If it weren't for the three gorgeous eggplants I bought yesterday waiting patiently on my counter for me to pay attention to them, I might just throw in the towel and stop cooking for a while... nothing is going to be as rewarding, fortuitous or fun as these adventures... though I AM craving ratatouille, so I guess it'll be okay.

I was going to blog my latest knitting projects, too, but I think I'll save that for some time later... food is enough for now.

19 February, 2008

no. 14: alright, I get it

The universe has made it very clear to me that, where some people get things handed to them in particular directions, and some in others, I have an interesting path to walk.

I've always worried that I've taken the easy route through this whole school-university-life business... But even the easy route teaches lessons. And what the easy route has taught me is that I need to not take things for granted. It has also taught me a lot about what appears to be easy is actually anything but when you get right into the thick of it. There's a lot to do in the middle of easy, and whether it's exciting or drudgery, it must all get done, even if you start off not knowing what you need to. So, the life-school easy route is one thing. All my school/job decisions have been easy ones, and if I've sold myself short or overstretched myself, I've always learned from it and gained experience from it, in order to make better decisions in the future. What hasn't been easy is the rest.

I'm 25, relatively active and healthy-eating, but definitely more sedentary (and a little to piggy at the (even the healthy parts of the) buffet) than I ought to be. I've paid for that in some respects, though recent doctor's visits suggest that I'm moving in the correct direction... except that it's not enough to be gradually reducing one's BMI to the below-25 set. There are other things that determine one's health. Things like recurrent long-lasting headaches, and alarming optometrist reactions to views of my retinas... And even though the opthamologist I met kept saying I was a healthy, "not morbidly obese" (not obese at all), young woman, those words aren't reassuring when something is wrong... only I don't know what that something is just yet. And the fears were brought forth with the words of my GP. Things like pseudotumor cerebri (excessive fluid on the brain) and Multiple Sclerosis are not ailments one often likes to think of in the midst of the twenties. And not that I know what I have, if I have anything, the string of tests and scans to which I will be subjected should hopefully point in some sort of direction... even if that involves an eventual lumbar puncture or other medical treatment. This, while not being easy, is difficult only in the sense that I need to learn to cope with it, since I cannot perform a CT scan on myself, nor any of the other tests etc. that I must undergo.

What is being VERY difficult right now, and difficult in a way that is entirely up to me, is my, uh, personal life. Now, I'll be the first one to admit, I don't have much of a personal life. Yes, I have a whole raft (or, well, a nice raft armada, really) of friends, but friends are one thing. I cherish them all dearly, and value their presence in my life like I value that of water and my favourite fresh fruits. But they are not exactly the people I want to take home and snog. Well... not most of them at any rate. And this is where the difficulty begins.

I have a friend I'd like to drum up the courage to say that to... the "I want to take you home and snog" part... and I am (drumming up the courage)... excruciatingly slowly. Snails move faster than me. But I also have a friend who I think would like to say that to me, and I REALLY don't feel that way about him. Not one iota. Perhaps once upon a time in our 5 year friendship I might have been directed towards those feelings, but now is not that time. And as I like to think, but haven't said, that ship is not even in harbour, forget setting sail. hell, I don't think the ship ever found harbour, it was blown off-course a fair bit too early.

So, I did what any well-meaning person whose forgotten the taste of stuffing their foot in their mouth does. I said something. Not to the one I want to snog, THAT would have been a good idea. No, I said something to the one I don't want to snog. Well, okay, it's a little more sticky than that... a good metaphor would be that of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby**, in which Brer Rabbit encounters this character whose impassivity bothers him to the point of altercation and eventual self-tarring. Not that either of us are guilty of impassivity in this case, but instead that the altercation has left me further embroiled in this stupid lump of tar and turpentine. Further than I ever thought possible. Because he's a friend I'd like to keep as a friend, I deal with fairness in information-giving. When one asks, I usually answer honestly, even if the questions are uncalled-for or off-base. So he asked me if I was having a CT scan... I said yes. Rather private personal health information, but he asked, so I answered. And leading from there, I became standoffish and defensive and really did the body language thing to say as much too (short of just getting in my car and driving away, which I should've done.). So I later e-mailed him and called him out on it. (hello Tar Baby) He apologised for it, and made note of some distance I'd created between us, and cited my recent medical adventures as the likely and understandable source of that distance.

Had I left it at that, the tar baby would have just been something I'd greeted and passed on the side of the road, much as Brer Rabbit should have. Alas, I did not. I've been gaining this sense lately that there's a lot more going on than what my friend has been admitting. And not, like, illegal behaviour or anything, but feelings left unsaid. In fact, they're palpable. It's as though there's an enormous elephant in the room and I've finally decided to say something about it. So I did... I responded and said I didn't want him to be led astray into thinking that I created this distance between us because I was undergoing some sort of bizarre medical adventure. I said it was because, in a very passive-aggressive way, I didn't want to fuel any more potential feelings in him. Because the last thing I want to do is lead someone on, when there's nothing to lead them towards. (and this would be where I started punching the tar baby) So, yes, I basically told him "hey, there's a huge elephant in the room with us" and he responded to me with "yes there is, you're partially to blame for it being there, and it's not going to leave any time soon." (good Lord, there's a lot of tar here) So, I'm stuck. I don't want to say anything more... not for a long while, because I really do want time and space from him, and I want him to not like me that way. But I don't think it's going to be that easy. I just don't know what the best course of action is from here. Do I continue fighting this stupid tar baby? Do I sit in the sun and let it bake off? What did the rabbit do?

hmm... Brer Rabbit had Brer Bear throw him in the briar patch and ran away... to come out scot-free again, combing the tar from his fur. I don't know if that's going to be possible in this situation. At the very least, I need to not punch/kick/hit the tar baby any more. But how do I get thrown into the Briar Patch? and who is my Brer Bear?

Anyway, that about says it all. This elephant has been stepping on me for a while, and I'm tired of being smacked in the face by its trunk. I needed to say something. I just don't know how to get rid of it. I don't even know if it's in my power to get rid of it. Though, I can see myself kicking it to death... It makes me feel awkward, embarassed and actually, hatred. I HATE that this is happening. I valued his friendship, but the elephant is very much likely going to kill it, or maybe eat it for breakfast. Whether it's a painfully drawn-out msn conversation, or a lunch I didn't want to have (and made feeble excuses to try to discourage him), or a christmas present I didn't reciprocate (because I'd say I didn't want anything and I meant it), or all the hugs I don't want to freely give to him, but he asks so forcefully, and I'm too polite to say no. Is that politeness though? Is it polite to wait until the elephant is too big to fit through the door and leave? I think it's my politeness that's, in the end, allowed the elephant to feed and grow.

So, I'm leaving the room. Whether or not that's the appropriate solution to the problem, I'm trying to shut the door on him and his elephant. While, thus far, there is no Brer Bear to throw me in the briar patch, I'm trying my best to throw myself into it. ... at least I hope I am.

and maybe, somewhere in that briar patch, as I comb tar from my skin, I'll be able to drum up the nerve to talk to the guy I actually do want to snog... because I think there's a chance he feels the same way too.

** Alright, before you call me a racist for using the Song of the South in any such format, let me just make my point: as noted previously, I think, I was exposed to a lot of older children's reading growing up (e.g. Little Black Sambo), and though perhaps initially these were very racist stories, I never saw them as such. Growing up in a multicultural city, neighbourhood and school, I learned from the beginning that colour, heritage and race denote nothing of any particular differentiating importance such that one colour (etc.) should be better or worse than the other. ... it also helps that my mother's of mixed racial heritage. So don't take my use of the tar baby as some sort of resurgence of racist imagery. I am using it only because it figured prominently in my childhood - as did all the stories of Brer Rabbit, Bear and Fox, and the Briar Patch in which they battled - and it's poignant when one looks at things in terms of the sticky situations we (un)wittingly throw ourselves into.

06 February, 2008

no. 13: uh

I have NO idea what to do with myself when I'm done school (finally).

Do I (if I get it) take the one year tropical internship with NO pay?
Do I just bugger off for a while, burning my inheritance on a backpacking trip?
Do I search for some sort of job with or without health insurance and employment security, but a better paycheque than anything I've ever had?

how much should I let money dictate this?
how much should I let my heart dictate this?

Oh, I don't know any more. Here I am supposedly in the thick of things, thesis-wise, and instead of being fully immersed in thought surrounding my experimental design, and reading papers of studies similar, I am instead hemming and hawing about what I'm going to do when I'm done. Or, well, really, in the fall, whether or not I'm done, it would seem. Yeah, that's right, I'm thinking about September already, and it's not doing me any good!

This blog is turning more into a me blathering to the void than expounding on the joys of knitting and hugging trees. I guess the forefront of my thoughts belongs solely to my concerns for the future. I'm sure my warrior pose will be all out of whack these days (I guess I'll find out tomorrow)... pulling too far forward (into the future). So, sorry if you're reading this thinking "where's the knitting??" my heart's just not into typing about knitting, even if I have made a pair of mitts and am in the midst of a pattern-free pair of hand-warmers.

Anyway, my regularly scheduled ponderances: what am I doing with my future? I went to Mexico for a week with my parents. And the leaving left me wanting more. Maybe because each time I travel I meet people who are far more interested in me than the people around me here at home. Maybe because I was immersed in warmth, a near 50 degree temperature difference from my current surroundings. Maybe the sunshine (and tequila) made me drunk and a little too wistful. But, actually, I spent a lot of time thinking... what else does one do on a beach vacation with the folks? There's only so much hanging out with the parents a person can take, and thusly I wandered the sandy beach a lot. And in my wanderings, in addition to seeing tons of birds and a few whales from the shore, I did a bit of soul searching. Admittedly, often enough I let my mind wander into fantasy, but I did get down to a little business... like what do I want to do when I'm finally finished my thesis?

just watching the waves often won out over all thinking...

And thus far, my decisions aren't so much decisions as they are me casting my line into the vast ocean hoping something might take the bait on my hook. Though I'm also afraid I'll catch a) the wrong fish, or b) a really huge fish I'm not prepared to battle out. While, on the one hand, I don't really just want a sardine, I'm also not sure I'm ready for a whale... I guess I'm hoping for a nice, medium-sized tuna, or maybe a salmon. Yeah, salmon. That's about where I'm sitting right now. I don't feel like battling a tuna. But the meaty value of a salmon would make me happy. Plus they're just such lovely fish. And let's face it, where a sardine would maybe give you a snack, and tuna would keep you fed for the rest of your life, salmon is probably just the right amount of fish. Good for a long-haul, but not huge enough to make you so fed up you'll never want to eat fish again. I guess that's what I'm hoping for: a medium effort, medium-pay, medium commitment kind of next step.

heer fishy fishy!

So... what are the salmons I could possibly catch in my life? Do I have any? And that's where it all falls apart. I've come across a few nice looking jobs lately, for Parks Canada, and for Greenpeace, but neither of those really says "this is what you're looking for." So, thankfully (I guess), it's a good thing they're hiring for NOW and I really shouldn't start looking for anything earlier than September. What's scaring me is that I impulsively (alright, not fully impulsively, it's been incubating for a good 4.5 years already) applied for a September internship with an international field studies program. Yeah, that's right, an internship. Probably something I could've done coming out of undergrad, maybe not something I should aim for coming out of grad school. Not to mention the nonexistent pay. But at the same time, it's situated in the tropics and near-tropics, and room and board are covered. So, experience, fun, adventure, food and shelter, plus year-round warmth... for one year... is it worth it? Will I get it? Will I want it if I get it? At least I'm applying. Other than that, I'm not applying for jobs. I think I'll let it go a few more months. I'm not worried in the least. Perhaps it's the thought that there will be something for me when I'm ready for it (do I get things handed to me THAT easily??), or perhaps it's the thought that I really shouldn't push beyond what I'm supposed to be doing right now.

Things are just getting... difficult for me. It's so busy, and so disconcerting at times. And I get so discouraged, not because I'm not making progress, but because this is no longer what I want to do. I don't really love research. I love learning, but not the statistical testing and publication that come hand in hand with research. So, the life of an academic is probably not mine. And that's fine. What did come as a bit of a surprise was that, in my committee meeting this week, after an impromptu presentation of my research design and methods, my committee all informed me that I ought to be a teacher. I guess I'm good at something, even if it's not *doing* but instead *teaching.* Still... that's a daunting enough idea in its own right. How does one decide to become responsible for the knowledge accumulation of other people? And how does one not become buried under the weight of that responsibility?

Forget the fact that I'm not even sure it'd be a good idea for me to teach... anything. I don't know anymore where my aptitude lies. Or, for that matter where my heart lies. Maybe I really do just need to bugger off somewhere and burn my inheritance so-to-speak... let my heart talk to me frankly, and come to some sort of agreement, that might in the end produce a little bit of job security and health insurance. Or maybe not.

or maybe I just need to find somewhere with a big, beautiful sunset every night...

19 January, 2008

no. 12: the need to flee

I don't know if other people get this, or if it is, truly the curse of a commitment-phobe, but every now and again, I have this overpowering urge to leave, to just get out, to up and go. I suppose it hits mostly when my responsibilities get the best of me, or when I'm overwhelmed with a certain sense of ennui, almost as if I've run into the doldrums and want out, at any cost. I feel as though I have panthers caged inside of me, pacing, urging me to let them out, urging me to get myself out. And if I don't do it soon, those panthers are going to pace themselves right out of existence. Or, more matter-of-factly, they are going to pace themselves into butter.

Okay, I'm mixing metaphors, and imagery in my head... So, as a child I was exposed to the kinds of stories children of the 40s and early 50s were exposed to. Credit my grandparents for that, and no, I thankfully didn't develop any of the nasty prejudices present in a lot of the children's literature of those days. But, I've been wrestling with an image in my head for the last while, trying to piece out what exactly it is and where it came from... thus the glory of the internet: one does searches. So, the 1939 Merrie Melodies cartoon A Day At The Zoo provides me with my image of pacing panthers... amazing how accurate the cage:animal ratio is in that clip to how I'm feeling these days, and the story of Little Black Sambo (please mind the horrid computerized piano music, there's a 'pause' button at the bottom of the page) provides the pacing animals turning into butter... hence the combination.

And it is thusly that I feel: as though, if I don't get out soon, there will be nothing left of me to get out. But the question remains, where is it that I should go, and what is it I am trying to get out of/away from?

I am getting better (I think) at trying to deal with some of this. I actually do get out - weather permitting, one would be foolish to set afoot now in the -24C windchill and seemingly perpetual darkness - and try to vent my... urges. But it is difficult. Winter weather makes it that much more challenging to sort through the caged panther mentality because we really are caged panthers, all of us. There is nowhere to go but our homes, or places of work or commerce. Everywhere you can go has some sort of implication associated with it, whether that of work, or domesticity or purchase obligation. The summer allows one to languish, and flee at all hours, comfortably, to a place of no particular predisposition, since the entire outdoor world is suddenly available. No such luck in winter. I went for a walk the other night, for reasons of at least getting the panthers some air and not just sitting and growling, turning closer and closer to butter. But, alas, winter is so much more confining, even if the atmospheric temperature is obliging enough to allow one to wander at 11pm with a down vest, light toque, a few sweaters and some knit mittens. There is nowhere to go. The sidewalks can be treacherous, even under the best conditions, forget near-melting temperatures, and thusly the roads are off-limit since cars need all the room available for their own purposes. And so, I tried a trail, figuring it was a little more out of the way, and cars couldn't careen off and hit me. But that too became treacherous, under-maintained, sloped and too isolated to assuage thoughts of angry mothers, even if the silence did me some good. So I walked, and so I got followed by a not-so-happy dog who barked and barked. But that didn't bother me so much. He stood his ground so long as I stood mine and kept my face towards him. Though the panthers weren't too pleased, and wished further to leave and avoid struggle. Cages often make one feel vulnerable despite having strength on your side.

the moon

So, the walk did me some good, staring down a dog, staring down the river valley, feeling as though the moon was watching me through her cloaked, cloudy hiding place, and getting enveloped in swiftly falling snow. I love the sense of silence and stillness imparted upon me when I stargaze (or, on more cloudy nights, moongaze). Winter nights are perfect for such ventures, too, since the sky, ever black, is home to the bastions of cold nights: Sirius and Orion, my winter touchstones. And seeking Mars in their realms this last while has been nearly meditative for me, if only it wasn't so otherworldly cold right now, I'd be out there scanning for their mythic presence as a form of reassurance. Perhaps reassurance partly because they are still there and I am still able to see them as the traverse the skies above us, and partly because Orion seems to be making a second home on my arm, in various slowly developing moles, my skin is producing the famed hunter in melanic effigy; he really just needs a right leg and bow, as well as the sure-to-be-following dog-star, Sirius. What can I say, but it makes me feel connected, somehow, though I'll never truly understand why a constellation is being replicated on my upper arm. Perhaps nature isn't as random and chaotic as we all assume (or maybe chaos isn't as random as we assume).

But my attempts to convene with our stellar deities hasn't removed my urge to flee. It's such a base instinct in me right now, it takes much (aside from the c-c-c-cold weather) effort to curtail any fleeing actions. Perhaps I should let it work in me as it would for a while and see where it leads. Maybe, just maybe, this need to flee isn't about physically removing myself from this place, but changing this place into somewhere I want to be. Though, fat chance of that happening. Maybe I should concentrate my efforts on making it easier to leave when the weather and circumstances make such an endeavour more enticing. Yes, maybe I should do that: prepare myself to pack up and leave. And no, not actually pack, just make it a lot easier to do so. Clutter is as much a cage as anything else out there. We shall see, perhaps there's hope yet for these panthers.

17 January, 2008

no. 11: meanderings

I'm not truly sure how my mind works these days. I got a blog because I was tired of the blog formats at other places such as MySpace, and actually liked the idea of the internet anonymity. Granted, as always I am bound to be found by someone who knows me eventually... But regardless, not my point tonight. My point tonight is that I got a blog, and suddenly I don't feel like 'talking.' Or, perhaps it's not that I don't feel like talking, I just never get anywhere coherent these days. My mind wanders like someone lost in a vast, meandering Zoo... like the time I went to the Zoo in Berlin (first day in Germany) because I KNEW I wouldn't have to talk to anyone at the zoo. ha! see what I mean, I'm not trying to talk about the zoo, but there I go talking about the zoo... Vast meandering zoos are great because you can walk a path and stop at just about any point, only to find yourself with five options for new paths to take. That is approximately what my mind is like these days.

This meandering thought process has led to the start and near completion of a lovely turquoise calorimetry for a darling friend of mine, the starting of what will be a very time consuming (but hopefully gorgeous) lace nightie from the free lingerie patterns in the Spring 2007 Interweave Knits, and most of one mitten. All of this, mind you, has been started since I've decided I ought to buckle down and do some serious work on my thesis. My thesis of "beautiful data" according to my supervisors. My thesis that WILL NOT write itself, no matter how much I try and convince it to...

And, all in the same breath - it is, after all, only the 17th of January - I am trying to convince myself that 2008 will be a good year full of productivity and change. Productivity, I hope, in the thesis writing department, although knitting productivity is also good, just not of primary importance; and change hopefully in the thesis department... primarily in the form of "I will finish my thesis and graduate this year." This year is going to be a mountain of change. Whether or not the roaring noise in my head and all the surrounding headaches amount to anything more than some nasty migraines, the rest of my life is going to change momentously this year. I moved last summer, and my lease will be up in another 5 1/2 months. I doubt I will be staying on here, in this cute, "very me" house (according to my friends). While I love living in this neighbourhood, I don't particularly love living with my roommate, and the house is leaving much to be desired, most particularly modern windows that actually insulate. I'm not sure I'm prepared for the step of finding more roommates to live with, or living with a friend, but I know I need change, and perhaps I'll be able to find a small walk-up or something amenable to my income that doesn't involve me being the only person to shovel the sidewalks or mow the lawn. But moving aside, other changes are inevitable. One cannot be a student forever - at least not in this day and age - and my MSc is rather palpably drawing to a close, if only I could get my butt in gear and write! And thus, with that, (6 months ought to seal the deal on both house and thesis, I hope!), I am... off to the races? I don't know. I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Like the Berlin Zoo, I have the rather distinct feeling that I shall just come to a stop on my path and find myself with five different paths to choose from as I decide to walk onwards.

So, I don't know. Perhaps I'll end up visiting the Hippos for a spell, if only because it's a warm place to stand, and the large, lumbering beasts are kind of interesting to watch. Or maybe I'll head off in search of strange breeds of livestock at the back of the Zoo compound only to find myself face to face with all the animals I am so accustomed to seeing - being from Canada, I suppose what's familiar to me might not be to a German zoo-goer - that nothing is new or exciting except the surprise of finding such a familiar face in such a different location. Or maybe I'll be drawn in by a gaggle of bird cages, their unique calls and flashy feathers enticing me, only to find, hidden just behind them, the most exciting of all, the vast and wondrous elephant exhibit, replete with dexterous trunks and glorious trumpeting calls. Or maybe I'll just set myself down on a bench overwhelmed with choices and fear that I'm not going to make the right one... wishing I'd picked up the visitor guide map at the entrance like everyone else, instead of trying to decipher signposts written in another language.

My mind, and my life, it would seem, are like a vast, meandering old zoo. And now, all I can think of are the beautiful carpets of brown leaves that laid across the paths at the Berlin zoo when I visited in November, 2005. A chilly time to visit an outdoor attraction, I know, but I was never one for convention, and it sure beats trying to hustle through the crowd of summer tourists in uncomfortably hot and sticky temperatures.

08 January, 2008

no. 10: a merry, gendered Christmas to you!

well... all my Christmas celebrations have now officially come to an end. Ukrainian Christmas occurred (according to the Orthodox usage of the Julian Calendar) on the 6 and 7 of January this year. Presenting us with the ever present concern of just how much overeating one person can conduct in the span of a few weeks. Apparently, quite a lot.

Though, how can one resist when it is the only time there are vast quantities of Kutya (a honey-sweetened wheat dish to start off the meal), holubtsi (cabbage rolls), Kolach (fresh-baked braided bread), Nachynka (a sort-of cornmeal souffle) are available? Never mind a delicious turkey, stuffing, some perfectly cooked carrots, and tray upon tray of homemade dainties. I had resisted on ('normal') Christmas Eve, knowing the spread to come on Christmas Day, my aunt's peanut butter and chocolate covered maraschino cherrie s, but I had to cave-in and indulge last night. Like all Christmas treats, these delights are ephemeral too. It was so fantastic, and yet amazingly, I was hungry today. I have a feeling my stomach has grown accustomed to large quantities of feasting-foods, and will not appreciate my return to the typical "poor starving student" meal plan I'd been using prior to the holidays.

I love the holidays. Not only is there a lot of food to be had, but there are great bonding moments with family and friends, and there's an expectation that people take life a little more slowly, more deliberately and more attentively. There also seems to be a rather gendered division of Christmas festivities in all the events I attended. Who cooked the bulk of the food? The women. Who set the tables to overflowing with food? The women. Who collected the dishes and doled out desserts and coffee? The women. Who loaded the dish washer, and washed the pots and pans? The women. Alright, I'm oversimplifying. My father does an amazing job of washing everything from crystal to roasting pans, and is a huge help to my mother and me on Christmas Day.

Perhaps it's just Ukrainian Christmas where the the gender differences become entirely too apparent. The men bartend. The women set out dishes of appetizers and ready everything for eating, from the first course through to the last dainty desserts. And at the end of the night, when the boys and men have retired upstairs to watch the hockey game and check internet news, the women stay behind in the kitchen carving up the turkey leftovers, packaging up remnant stuffing and potatoes, and washing the seemingly insurmountable mountain of dirty dishes - whether too large, crusty or delicate for the dishwasher. One of my more memorable years actually involved the patriarch (though, truly the matriarch really does rule in these families) taking his delightfully tiny and new granddaughter on a walk-about tour of all things family and Christmas, from the tree to the table, taking a stop at the kitchen where all the ladies were busily cleaning up from the delicious supper. That was not the memorable part. What stays in my mind was the comment he made about how one day she would grow up, and like a 'good girl' would join the other women in the kitchen. And while I'm sure he didn't mean it in any specifically chauvanistic way, how could I not see it like that? There I was, on my third towel, drying dishes, while the only thing he'd done (and no, neither him nor I come from the host household) was help to carve the turkey... which it would seem is a most auspicious (if relatively simple and straight-forward) task.

Now, in all honesty, I do understand part of it. The women know the recipes, as they have been passed down from generation to generation by matrilineal line. But we all know dishwashing is a non-gender-specific task, so why is it that the very same women (particularly my aunt and her sister) who spent the last two days, and the week prior, preparing these traditional dishes have to then turn around and spend another couple hours washing? I really don't honestly believe anyone delights in washing dishes after the first hour of kitchen duty has elapsed. Surely, at the end of a cookie-baking session, there's a bit of sense of full-circle completion as the last bowl is rinsed clear of doughy residue, but no one relishes scrubbing a roasting pan. And all of us know that the more desirable thing to do would be sit and talk with your family, and enjoy that cup of coffee that's now coldly sitting on the crumb-scattered table. So why is it that the menfolk seem to have that privilege moreso than the women?

All this aside, I, of course, love my family, and will no doubt continue this odd holiday tradition of dish washing for many more years. And probably yet again failing to correctly pronounce the traditional Christmas greeting : Khristos rodyvsya!