23 November, 2010

Nesting November

Let's see... thus far I've baked bread and muffins, made borsch and chili, and have hidden in doors because the wind chill has been a lovely -36. What on earth kind of winter is this going to be?

Oh, I've also bought local, because November is Buy Local Month. It's hard not to when you're surrounded by craft fairs. The Make It touring festival came through Calgary, and is hitting Edmonton this weekend. The Royal Bison sale is in Edmonton this weekend too. Plus the Handmade Mafia booked a bigger space last weekend. If I have a chance, I also want to get out to the Alberta College of Art and Design annual sale. What more could a person want than some amazing local art? ... or a new dress or calendar, or bibs for all her friends' babies? There's much insanity going on here craft-wise. It's great fun.

23 October, 2010

I once knew a man...

"Five years later, I still think of you as one of my biggest regrets. I wish I'd had the courage to have made more than just memories of casual friendship with you."

Ah, regrets. They're such funny things. ... and they can grow to haunt us if we're not careful.

13 October, 2010

Do I live here yet?

I haven't decided if I'm a Calgary person or not. It seems like I ought to be, since I'm living here and all... but I just can't quite bring myself to admit that I do indeed live here. People say "Welcome to ____" and I want to fill in my home town, not this place. I feel like I am a stranger in a strange land, and I only come from the other major city here... It is not as though I crossed an ocean to move to this place.

But the differences are still night and day. The mountains are so close here, and as a result, community is a lot harder to find. (that is not an excuse, I realise, community exists, it just hides better, and that is no reason not to try to find it) While people in Edmonton stick around and do things in the city, people in Calgary run to the mountains. And then you have the politics. There's a reason they call my home city "REDmonton". You wouldn't know it for looking, but Edmonton is far more liberal than Calgary, which, when you step back, is a scary discovery. If Edmonton is the "red" commie-liberal-socialist city, Calgary is so far right wing as to be abortion-protesting, fiscal-policy-slashing, separationists. That's right, separationists. There's a reason the Wild Rose Party was formed in and around Calgary, it's a hotbed of anti-Canada, anti-federal thought, governed by foreign (mostly American)-owned head offices and run with money, that mostly comes from and goes to America. So OF COURSE they want out of Canada, OF COURSE they're anti-tax, anti-social system. ... and then you add to that the fact that the provincial capital is in Edmonton, and they're anti-government as well, because, well, they dislike Edmonton.

Moving here is like showing up at the opposing team's stadium, dressed head-to-toe in your team's colours.

I don't tell people I'm from Edmonton, but it invariably gets out, because I'm clearly far more left-wing than the majority of the people I work with (how I got the job, I don't know). I'm an environmentalist... still a minor role here, where money talks, and you listen to the money (so if environmentalism means more money, they'll do it, but only then). I'm a social-service-supporter. ... and I'm a big fan of THE MORTAL ENEMY of all Calgarians: the Edmonton sports teams. Yes, there is a pretty entertaining inter-city rivalry going on. In Edmonton, it's fun and games, we cheer for the good guys, the green and gold and the copper and blue, and the red and silver and red and gold (ironic, yes? ... the anti-red city has all-red sports teams, even the Calgary Cannons were red, as are their replacements) get nary a clap from us. ... BUT here, it's so much more than sports team versus sports team. If the rivalry stayed on the football field and the hockey rink, I'd be okay. I wouldn't talk football, and I wouldn't pull out my vintage Oilers jersey, but it doesn't stop there.

... and it doesn't stop with the true-born-and-bred Calgarians, either. The rivalry is adopted by all the new-to-the-fold out-of-towners striving to belong in this corporate city. The people so vehemently critical about Edmonton haven't actually been Calgarians, they've been Torontonians, or Vancouverites; people who moved here for work. ... and perhaps they're just missing their own metropolitan paradises where cultures can intermingle and the red of everyone's necks doesn't have to be hidden with shirt collars. I don't understand it. People who have no past history of the inter-city provincial rivalry continually scoff at the "City of Champions" monicker adopted by Edmonton because of the tornado that came through in 1987. It's cited in blogs rather frequently and was actually announced by our then-mayor Laurence Decore in 1987 (more here and in Wikipedia... so it MUST be true! ) ha! ... but do Calgarians believe me? Absolutely not, most particularly not the non-Calgary-born Calgarians who have no idea about the tornado.

Anyway, apparently I do live here, and I kind-of hate it. I'm hoping the hate disappears as I find people who actually don't mind being friends with an Edmontonian. ... Surprisingly, more of my friends FROM Edmonton and from university are moving TO Calgary. The thesis of the observations I've heard is that the greatest thing about Calgary is how close it is to the mountains. ouch. If I've traded a city of community and volunteers for a city of weekend warriors who'd rather ski than build connections, I think I want out. But we'll see. There are options coming up in this work I do, and I've got a refreshed resume and new outlook to match. Fun times.

Clearly, in my lamenting of my relocation, I have neglected to lament just how much work I've been doing, and how that has cut into my experience of this city. I too have fallen prey to the "but the mountains are so close!" logic, and I've spent a good number of my weekends visiting with people outside of my new city's boundaries. My weekdays, well, let's just say they're more "workdays" than "weekdays" and the idea of going out to explore, on my own, in a new city after 9pm on a Tuesday just doesn't appeal to me. We shall see. In the meantime, I'm trying my best to turn my apartment into an oasis. Progress is slow, but promising.

The living room, looking out to a north-facing balcony and dumpster view. Yes, that is a "vintage" late 70's/early 80's couch and chair. The laz-y-boy is from 1974 (I have the brochure/warranty). The only 'new' thing in the space is the set of nesting tables, and they don't look new at all.

My "workspace" when I work from home, and my bookshelf, overflowing with things to read, when I have time. The print on the walls is from an Edmonton artist, and it's a print of Calgary, go figure.

The couch. The art on the wall is: 2 prints of said close-by mountains, a sketch I did in highschool of the tree behind my workstation when it was much shorter, and a metal cut-out forest done by Little Monkey Metalworks.

My dining area, with red chairs I'm dying to repaint, vintage linen tablecloth and a painting I bought in Paris.

The rest of my space is not photogenic enough just yet. ;)

16 September, 2010

Jovanotti Love

Alright, so I suffer from a slight adoration *cough* of the musician whose lovely song I posted last time. He's just so scruffy-sweet and perfect. And the fact that he's a politically-minded pacifist, vegetarian, charmingly bearded and super tall ... not to mention that his music is constantly evolving... well, what more could a person ask for?

One of his more recent ones is this: Come Musica

There's just something so endearingly lovely about a sweet love song and choreographed excavators, don't you think?

And this one: oh so lovely, by an Italian director, and I think part of a movie. Baciami Ancora. Kiss me again. ... this one is less than a year old.

... and this one, just for fun... from 1997. He's so cute and effervescent. But you have to watch it on You Tube: Bella.

Ha, apparently I've written about him before... probably more than once... I am developing a Jovanotti tag category. whee!

... I just wish I could find his cds over here!

15 September, 2010


I don't hardly ever post here. This one will be short. I moved cities. I changed jobs. And change has happened again. August was the month things got shaken upside down. September, things are starting to settle anew, and I am left with questions. My questions are, of course, things like "Do I want to do this?" and "What am I doing here?"

So... as a result of the turmoil and my thoughts, I'm coming to some, shall we say, interesting conclusions about my career direction. Namely that the path I am currently on is likely not the one I want to stick with. It will do for the meantime. I am finding it interesting. BUT it is not making me happy. I don't feel like I am contributing in any sort of meaningful way, or using my abilities in a way that works for me. I don't know what's going to work for me, though. So part of my current strategy is to stick with this for a while and see how it goes. As my father said back in April, when I was packing to move: if it all falls apart in a year, at least I'll have had the experience. And I agree. There's too much interesting stuff going on to not want to see what happens. BUT there's also a fair bit of detachment. I haven't had time to get involved in this community. I haven't had the energy or availability to build my friendships in this city either. There is a large void, it is frustrating.

My job has gone from small cog in small clock to one of two cogs in a tiny clock. ... which is fine, except that I don't necessarily want to build an empire. My goal has never been to build someone's personal wealth and influence. (which is definitely something I'll have to look at when it comes to my own personal financial plans!) I want to build community. I don't have time to build community, and my job isn't fulfilling that desire. ... which leaves me with hardly anything at all to go on in the meantime, since I am currently without connections.

Anyway, all this thinking led me to my favourite Italian song. ... as often happens. (and one would expect no less when one understands that the lyrics include phrases like "vertigo is not a fear of falling, but a wanting to fly") I think I'm getting ready to take that leap. ... or at least I am more ready that I have been in a long time.

Anyway, my favourite Italian song: Mi Fido Di Te by Lorenzo "Jovanotti" Cherubini (with lyrics and Google translation following)

Sadly, embedding has been disabled... you will have to visit YouTube, but I promise, it is a beautiful song.

"Case di pane, riunioni di rane
vecchie che ballano nelle chadillac
muscoli d'oro, corone d'alloro
canzoni d'amore per bimbi col frack
musica seria, luce che varia
pioggia che cade, vita che scorre
cani randagi, cammelli e re magi

forse fa male eppure mi va
di stare collegato
di vivere di un fiato
di stendermi sopra al burrone
di guardare giù
la vertigine non è
paura di cadere
ma voglia di volare

mi fido di te
mi fido di te
mi fido di te
mi fido di te
io mi fido di te
ehi mi fido di te
cosa sei disposto a perdere

Lampi di luce, al collo una croce
la dea dell'amore si muove nei jeans
culi e catene, assassini per bene
la radio si accende su un pezzo funky
teste fasciate, ferite curate
l'affitto del sole si paga in anticipo prego
arcobaleno, più per meno meno

mi fido di te
mi fido di te
mi fido di te
cosa sei disposto a perdere
mi fido di te
mi fido di te
io mi fido di te
cosa sei disposto a perdere

rabbia stupore la parte l'attore
dottore che sintomi ha la felicità
evoluzione il cielo in prigione
questa non è un'esercitazione
forza e coraggio
la sete il miraggio
la luna nell'altra metà
lupi in agguato il peggio è passato

mi fido di te
mi fido di te
mi fido di te
cosa sei disposto a perdere
eh mi fido di te
mi fido di te
mi fido di te
mi fido di te
cosa sei disposto a perdere

"Bread houses, meetings of frogs
old people dancing in chadillac
muscles gold wreaths
Love songs for children with tails
serious music, light varies
rain falls, life goes on
stray dogs, camels and wise men

maybe it hurts and yet I must
to stay connected
to live in one breath
to lie above the ravine
looking down
dizziness is not
fear of falling
but want to fly

I trust you
I trust you
I trust you
I trust you
I trust you
hey I trust you
What are you willing to lose

Flashes of light, a cross around his neck
the goddess of love moves in jeans
asses and chains, murder for good
the radio turns on a piece funky
bandaged head wounds treated
the rent is paid in advance of the sun please
rainbow, more for less less

I trust you
I trust you
I trust you
What are you willing to lose
I trust you
I trust you
I trust you
What are you willing to lose

anger surprise part actor
doctor who has symptoms happiness
evolution of the sky in prison
this is not an exercise
strength and courage
thirst the mirage
the moon in the other half
wolves lurking the worst is over

I trust you
I trust you
I trust you
What are you willing to lose
eh I trust you
I trust you
I trust you
I trust you
What are you willing to lose"

11 August, 2010

Whirlwind summer

I am... spending this summer in the strangest of ways: hiding in my apartment, begging for cool air during the week days, and running like a mad, wanderer towards the sun in the hopes that it'll slake my thirst during the weekends. I don't know what this is. Perhaps I am feeling the crazed cabin fever of working in the city full time. Perhaps I am falling victim to the apparent truism of living in cowtown: the best part of city living is just how close it is to everywhere else. ... except I'm not really taking full advantage of that. I have gotten out to the mountains less than a handfull of times this summer. And I'm only recently starting to discover the outlying (but fantastic) communities and areas. I desperately want to travel the Cowboy Trail.

What have I done this summer? Attended the Calgary Stampede rodeo, Hiked to the Plain of Six Glaciers, visited the Millarville Farmers' Market, attended two folk festivals, and spent a weekend throwing horse shoes and enjoying a family reunion.

... all the while, I'm starting to be called a *gasp!* Calgarian. ... and have ended up vehemently denying that fact. It will take a vast many years for me to adopt that label. ... just as it is taking me forever and a day to remember that "home" is now here instead of there; though really, home has always been there.

My apartment is slowly becoming somewhere I actually like... but I need to address the last few remaining boxes, and actually lay claim to my storage space in the basement. Getting rid of all the suit cases and some of my rubbermaids of field gear and camping supplies would be a good thing.

... field gear. Oh, how I long to be out in the bush. It is funny. I feel like that oft-used phrase "you can take the man out of the x, but you can never take the x out of the man"; except, well, obviously I'm a woman. ... and the x for me appears to be field work. More and more, I am finding myself wrapped in thoughts, particularly at the doldrum hours of the afternoon (2-4pm). Thoughts of what I'd be doing if I was out in the wilderness somewhere. A large portion of the time, I feel glad that I have found something positive like this job to keep me going, and to remove me from the death risk of surprise anaphylaxis in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes, however, I don't care. I'd take on all the wasps and hornets (and bears and cougars) in the world, just to spend another week outside. ... though I do remember just how exhausting the fear was. Bears and cougars are one thing. I carried a shovel, and bangers, and a knife and often bear spray. Wasps and hornets are a complete other. Being helplessly unable to do anything, not even breathe, and also hundreds of kilometers from a hospital (or tens of kilometers from a reliable road), well, that's something else entirely, and I couldn't put my coworkers through that risk any more. There were too many close calls, and I don't want to be the epinephrine-fuelled burden I would be were things to go wrong.

But damned if I don't miss it. I'm going to have to find some way to get involved in winter or late spring outdoor work, as a volunteer, or as a casual weekend adventurer, just to slake my thirst. I miss it so much. In truth, I miss it enough that I am second-guessing my decision. It's not as though I'm an amputee, it's just an allergy, and it's just fear on the off-chance that I'll stumble upon a wasp/hornet nest and get stung somewhere important like my face or throat. No, forget it, it's too stupid, but can you see how one would get wrapped up in this sort of thinking? Being OUTSIDE! ALL DAY! Oh, how I long for it. The urban, concrete jungle is just too depressing.

Anyway, those are my ramblings and musings. Here are some photos of the other ramblings I've done:

EFMF main stage view from the hill
The Edmonton Folk Music Festival main stage during the day. It is hosted on a ski hill in the heart of the city.

Family quilt
The massive, multigenerational quilt from my family reunion. It was assembled for our millennium reunion in 2000. Were we to do it today, there'd be more rows of squares to add.

Bull Rider (Rodeo day 8, Pool B final)
Bull riding at the Calgary Stampede

Mt. Victoria and the Victoria glacier.
The Plain of Six Glaciers hike near Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta.

forget me not
Forget-me-nots on the trail to the Plain of Six Glaciers

02 July, 2010

So... I moved... and disappeared from this space entirely

I moved. I left my home city and have re-settled (sort-of) 300-ish kilometres to the south. It has been a hectic couple of months. I moved at the end of April. I am now into my third month of living here... My apartment still has boxes that need to be unpacked! And I have a monumental list of to-do's that aren't being done.

I've also been monumentally lazy in the house-cleaning department. I don't know how or why I haven't had the initiative to get unpacked. I look at the boxes, and the mess that comes with not having things put away and just get frustrated, but damned if I don't want to sit down and watch a movie instead. What a lazy ass...

Then again, I spend all day at work, often late, trying to wrap my head around my new responsibilities. It's been a lot to take in lately. So often I end up sitting in my chair at the end of the day wishing I didn't have to walk home, didn't have to cook supper, didn't have to do anything. ... which explains why I've been SO lazy on the homefront, but I still dislike my laziness. Hopefully soon.

Hopefully soon I can stop travelling all the time and actually spend time HERE, in the city and in my apartment, figuring out where I want to hang my pictures, adn where I want all my stuff to go, and what I still need to buy and how to arrange a good cleaning schedule and all that fun stuff. What a life! ha.

I don't mean to say life isn't good. ... though it wouldn't hurt if I had someone as lovely as Lloyd Dobler in it. ha. John Cusack sure did good in his early career.

Who could say no to his earnest devotion? ... and the fact that it's not creepy either!

Anyway... I digress. I get home and watch movies occasionally. ... particularly smarmy love movies like Say Anything. Life is pretty good.

The job is pretty good. The people I work with are rather great. The people I work for have been treating me well. I have been learning a ton, working really hard, and feeling overwhelmed in a good way (there IS a difference). ... and getting whisked off to other climes from time to time to meet a bunch of talking heads and get in some serious work. I saw Davis California at night because the meetings took all the daylight hours. I saw what one can see of San Francisco from the Bay Bridge... I saw cornfields in Ames Iowa, but did not manage to see the record-breaking 15 foot tall garden gnome. And I have yet to walk or bike to the river in my new, adoptive city.

These things will come, in time, I'm sure.

Anyway... some photos, and a Peter Gabriel song to leave you with... because Lloyd Dobler has stolen my heart (and he didn't give me a pen).

Moving day:
My life in a cube van

Iowa's corn:
The experimental mineral soil plot

Super tall corn!

And my favourite farm field photo:
Research plots in evening light

And my favourite Peter Gabriel song... if only Lloyd Dobler was here!

27 March, 2010

The week of cake and changes

So... it's the 27th today. And thus ends (and starts) a week of monumental change in my life... and the end of a month that never really had a lion in it (despite warnings), unless it was more of a sheepish lion, like this guy:

But anyway, life has been an adventure this week... an adventure that has taken me for a ride such that I have not finished all my work (or focused on it) the way I want/need to. Which means this weekend is going to be CRAZY! But anyway, the reason for the craziness (in part) is that I have a paper due on the 31st (i.e. Wednesday) that I need to edit. And I NEED to work on it ASAP since it's about 130 pages long (aaaaa!). I have most of the edits already noted, it's just a matter of going in and fixing things on the document file on my temperamental computer. Oh, do I love computers!

This, however is only part of the craziness. Other parts have ranged from birthday celebrations prompting me to make two different cakes:

A Buttery Chocolate Chip Pound Cake
Buttery Chocolate Chip Pound Cake

and a Flourless Chocolate Cake
Flourless Chocolate Cake

Both from the Fine Cooking Chocolate magazine supplement. They were both fantastic. I would gladly make both again. Though I might opt to make flourless chocolate cupcakes instead of the cake. I only had an 8-inch round cake pan instead of the called-for 9-inch round, and thus had extra dough that didn't fit into the pan. So... I made cup cakes (5) out of the leftover, and they baked up much more evenly and nicely than the cake, I have to say. They also didn't form huge structural fissures that made the presentation less desirable. Don't get me wrong, the cake was to-die-for in all its chocolate-fudge-like dense glory, but the cupcakes were so much more pleasing somehow, both aesthetically and flavour-wise. Anyway, two cakes in a week is a lot. Add to that even more with a goodbye potluck for a friend, and an as-yet-to-be-celebrated birthday today, and I am NOT sticking to any semblance of a diet this week (unless there's one that says "eat cake, all the time"! But whatever. I'm sure the stress of the coming month will make up for it all, somehow.

That's right, stress. I have just experienced the weirdest confluence of events ever. Not only am I finishing up two contracts for two branches of government at the end of this month BUT I am starting a new job (yay!) less than a week later... in a different city. Why I signed on for this, I don't particularly know other than the offer is decent, the job sounds exciting, I am at the right point in my life to up and move and shake up everything, and, well, no body else seemed at all interested in hiring me. Stupid ego, always getting in the way, I looked at the offer of employment and thought "they want me to work for them, yay!" instead of being more rational. ... rationality hasn't fully sunk in yet. I'm still in the daydreaming stage of "gee, wouldn't it be nice to live somewhere else for a while" instead of figuring out the hard realities of rent and moving and new landlords and learning a brand new transportation system and directions and blah blah blah blah blah. My life is going to be turned upside down. BUT it's only a 350-ish kilometre move. I will be so tantalizingly close to home that I can come visit on weekends if I'm ambitious, and I won't miss out on any of the major holidays even if I don't get much vacation time.

Argh, I'm not supposed to be thinking about this right now! I need to focus on my impending contract deadline instead, and producing material for that, not dreaming about the apartments I'll be touring immediately after Easter, or the new boss and coworkers I'll be meeting. Thankfully I have a good contingent of friends in my soon-to-be new home, so I won't necessarily be lonely. I'll get to rekindle my best friendship from elementary school, and I'll get to spend time with a friend as she experiences new motherhood. (of course, this is supposing that I'll be able to visit etc. but I'm guessing that they'll welcome me since I was invited to both their weddings! haha!) Aaaa, my life is changing in ways I still don't even know! New job, new city, new circle of friends, new landscape, new everything. ... thankfully with the anchor of my past and my family not that far away, though. I don't think I could do this if I had to move to Ontario instead of simply Calgary. There are perks to being only 100km away from the mountains, in a city of equivalent size to Edmonton, and of equivalent draw to a large number of my friends. I have promised to keep a couch available for interlopers, whether for hockey games or stampede or skiing adventures. This looks to be the start of a very interesting new adventure for me.

23 March, 2010

spring is here, somewhere

So, it is spring time. At least that's what the calendar suggests. Albertans know better than to count on it, though. Gardeners and farmers, in particular, know better than to assume that the equinox means spring has sprung and the grass will surely soon be growing. I suppose, if you give "soon" a more objective understanding, you could say that, indeed, "soon" the grass would be green and growing again. ... if by soon, you mean sooner than back in January. ha! We still have a month and a half more-or-less. Luckily farmers have developed planting regimes to embrace the winter here, and winter wheat, a fall/winter-planted grain has the benefit of growing immediately after the soil thaws instead of waiting for the soil to be first plough-able. Most gardeners don't get to be so lucky. We wait until the thaw is upon us, the soil is workable once again, and only THEN do we start to turn the earth and throw down seeds for the summer of plenty. It really is a feast and famine cycle up here. ... as far as nature's bounty is concerned. Though you can cheat a little if you use cold frames and start planting indoors in February or March.

Anyway, not the point of this. It is officially spring. And, as is wont to happen up here at 53 degrees, Latitude, it snowed. There's nothing quite like knowing Nature has a sense of humour. First weekend of spring? Of course you need snow! Fresh, moist, dense snow, not unlike walking on cookie dough, just in time for Monday morning. The flakes started falling fast and thick around 1am, and by morning commute, a good inch and a half had hit the ground in my neighbourhood, more in other areas. Everything was amok in, well, muck, and slush, underlain with surprisingly slick ice. With the sun rising earlier (hooray daylight savings time and equinox!!), it made for an absolutely breathtaking morning commute. ... even if it was snow-saturated!

Today the thaw has started anew, and the fields are re-browning, and the roads are accumulating mud. These, of course, are sure signs that spring truly is on its way. But I won't count on spring until the grass starts to turn green and the aspen have let forth their sap (which I am starting to smell on the wind in small quantities). The birds are returning, I hope this snow wasn't too much of a shock. The Canada geese are slowly re-conglomerating, and the nuthatches have started up their mating calls from my neighbour's tree.

In order of my day, yesterday:

The shrubs at a local park. Snow-covered branches getting lit up by the rising sun.
fresh snow!

Snow-coated trees at the bus terminal.
unidirectional wind

Strong winds coated signs to the point of illegibility in some cases.
pedestrians may get snowed on

My walk home gave me views of neat rows of chaff in the fields.
fields and snow

Snow encrusted wind breaks.
snow in the wind break

Charmingly pastoral scenes.
snow in the chaff
corduroy fields and the public cycling path

A loading-up of grain.
taking a load of grain away

and a barn being divested of its possessions.
Barn and contents

and having things pulled out of the roof?

17 March, 2010

Amazing what a few days does

The March lamb is certainly looking upon us with favour lately. The last few photos I posted on Monday were from March 8th. By today, the 17th, the landscape looks completely different. While spring remains one of my favourite times of the year, it quite often falls into the depressingly drab category, colour-wise. Once the brilliant white snow starts to melt (or often, in our case, the muddy grey snow, coated in winter's roadside sanding efforts), all we're left with is frozen earth, chilly mud puddles, a multitude of ice and sad, dry, dead brown grass.

Or, well, dead, brown everything. It often takes a month-ish of freeze-thaw, teasing snowfalls, sleet and rain to freshen the air and wash away the snow mould. Only THEN does the world take on a fresher hue, and that mostly comes from refreshed air and the opening-up of rivers, lakes and ponds, as their masses of ice finally start to melt and yield landing spots to the geese who've started to arrive (according to my excited friends who've been lucky enough to see them). The first signs of green often come from planted crocuses and daffodils in peoples' front lawns, or the much more feral greening of the poplar and aspen bark as the trees begin to thaw, swell and photosynthesize in their trunks and stems before it's safe to push forth with new leaves. The scent of aspen and poplar sap, freely running, is, for me, a sure sign that spring is finally on its way. Birds can be confused, daffodils and crocuses aren't from here and don't understand the ways of our landscape and unrelenting weather, but the poplars and aspen actually know what's going on. The buds are starting to swell in the trees, and the first signs of trunk swelling are showing through in the more urban, sunny clumpings of aspen. They're whispering, but soon... soon spring may be upon us. ... or it'll snow and we'll be reminded that we can only safely sit outside at the end of April because, of course, this is Canada, and the 53rd parallel is not a tropical paradise. But one can dream!

Anyway, photos!
Building off of the last two from Monday's post, here is that same windbreak today:
Windbreak and field ten days later

Here's another of the empty field:
farm field with apartment building in the distance

The barn now has an enormous meltwater puddle:
The barn

(instead of how it looked last week)
U of A farm, barn

and even the trees are starting to get in on springtime...
Poplar branch in the blue
you can't see it, but those buds are swelling! (plus I couldn't resist posting a photo of that sky and the drifting, wispy clouds)

15 March, 2010

The last week of winter!

February was mild, and March has come in like the sweetest, fuzziest lamb I have ever met... if I'd ever met a lamb worth remembering. ha!

In recognition of the end of Winter (according to the astronomical phenomenon of the Vernal Equinox), I'm going to try to post photos this week, representing the changes we've experienced here, the lengthening of days, the melting of snow, and the delight of the beautiful, blue sky.

Today, is a look back at what's already been this winter. Photos from delightfully sunny and warm days in February and March. Days when I went skating with friends, or walking home from work in my shirt sleeves.

I'm not holding my breath, but maybe there'll even be a photo of a migratory bird returning from its winter vacation home some time over the week. There were ravens at the farm I walk through on my way home from work. Ravens and crows in addition to the rats-with-wings pigeons that live there eating grain all year round. The weather's changing if the ravens and crows are flying through the city! ... although, granted, the best harbinger of spring is still the influx of waterfowl that represents the predicted thaw of winter ice on rivers and lakes and ponds.

I am thirsting for the day of pelican and crane migration, nothing is sweeter than seeing those flocks circle and glide on thermal updrafts so high above the ground that you have to hold your breath in order to hear them. Their bold white and black wing patterns (pelicans) are the only thing distinguishing them from puffs of cloud in the sky, and the trilling calls (cranes) announce their enigmatic presence somewhere aloft. Another month and they should start coming back. I can't wait!

An empty skating pond in January:
A secluded view of the Hawrelak Pond

That same skating pond on Valentines' Day:
Valentine's Day skating at Hawrelak Park

An open field and windbreak, full of footprints from long walks with the dog:
U of A farm, windbreak

The beginnings of serious snow melt in March:
U of A farm, test crop fields

Our garden is thawing out, the snow mould is starting to wash away. I cannot wait for spring!

14 March, 2010

My obsession with trains gets fed...

As I've said in the past, I have a thing for trains. Our family's cabin (my grandparents' intended retirement home - prior to my grandpa dying of cancer in his 60's) was on a moderate-sized, shallow prairie lake on the CN Rail mainline. Trains passed by the lake like clockwork. Trains passed a crossing right next to the tracks, and had to sound their horns every time they passed our piddly little lake. The gap in the trees as the trains rumbled past on the tracks allowed for the plaintive call of the horn to echo across our anonymous lake. It added a sort of structure to my idyllic childhood days spent poking under fallen logs, jumping over the creek and chasing wood frogs. It also added spice to our nights when I was particularly young as my cousin, in his fledgling years of learning to speak and walk prior to being able to chase around like us "older" kids (two and a half years makes a difference!), feared the train, miserably. He was a second beacon, often going off in fearful screams during the wee hours of the night to the distant, barely audible train horn while we were all cozily nestled in the cabin, fast asleep.

The media has been doing a good job of feeding my love of trains. Okay, scratch that. THE MEDIA doesn't really give a shit about trains. CBC Radio loves trains. My Sunday radio programmes love trains. Michael Enright (a nerdy-elite sounding, slightly short and paunchy Colonel Sanders look-alike) has a Sunday radio show, aptly called The Sunday Edition, and today's episode is conveniently taken from his cross-Canada (Halifax, NS to Prince Rupert, BC) ride on the various VIA Rail passenger trains that dissect our nation. You can probably find the episode or highlights thereof on the CBC podcast page, ooo, or here on his blog from the train trip. Even while he talks about things only peripherally related to the rail (Nova Scotia's resistance to Canadian Confederation for one), the background noises are clearly those of a rumbling train. Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe (available for podcast here) has also broadcast episode(s) from the train. His is a radio variety show, with musicians who perform, including the lovely-voiced Reid Jamieson, who played this fantastic and slightly haunting song: Rail. The Vinyl Cafe, too, had the rumbling, and squeaking sound of the train in the background, throughout. So, radio delves into discussions about the train. I love how one seemingly obsolete medium is talking about another seemingly obsolete medium.

Obviously I'm not the only one who's drawn into the lure of train lore. There are yet others like Olivier Barrot and Alain Bouldouyre, Frenchmen apparently lured by the mystique of Canadian winter and the Gilles Vigneault line "Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver!" (My country is not a country, it's winter!) Most tourists I know of (save a brave Brazillian who learned English in Grande Prairie and some Aussies seeking to experience a "White Christmas") don't aim to travel to Canada during winter. Those two Frenchmen set out for a train ride in December and came out of it with this book: TransCanadian Sketchbook. It is a book steeped in idyllic watercolours of the streamlined stainless steel 1960's VIA Rail passenger cars and the Canadian landscape. They rode from Toronto to Vancouver on THE CANADIAN, the great dotted line connecting the Great Lakes with the Canadian Shield, the Prairies with the Rockies and, ultimately everything to the Pacific Ocean.

I finally made good on my love of Canadian trains. I've ridden the EuRail trains, slept on the EuroStar hyper-expensive but luxurious over-nighters (between Zurich and Berlin, there was lots of shunting trains around random rail stations), but had only a very vague memory of riding the VIA passenger train from Edmonton to Jasper as a four-year-old (I ran up and down the aisles and chased another little, rambunctious kid). That taste was not enough, how many four-year-old (but still remembered) experiences are? So, I bought myself a ticket on a momentously fortunate instance of post-employee strike nation-wide ticket sales. How could I say "no" to a 60% discount on a train ticket? In the end, it was cheaper than flying from Edmonton to Vancouver, AND I got to see the mountains from a very different angle than driving down the highway. I perched in the dome car for hours on end, knitting, staring out the windows, watching the snow, and the fog envelop mountain vistas. I fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the train car. I met some incredibly strange people, some fantastic people, and was even (really poorly) set-up with an RCMP officer. Oh, it made me laugh! And I took photos. The goal wasn't to get to Vancouver, it was to experience the train ride, and I certainly feel like I did. Hopefully these photos can attest to that.

Leaving the Edmonton area in November sunrise
Nov2009 AB field

Approaching the Eastern Slopes via Hinton
Nov2009 Rockies from train

The retro-luxury of the 1960's designed dome car seating
Nov2009 Dome Car seat

Wind storm in the distance (Roche Miette is on the right)
Nov2009 Rockies and windstorm

Paused in Jasper for an hour, with fresh snow!
Nov2009 Train at Jasper

Hugging a mountain slope, leaving Jasper (Jasper tramway perched in the clouds on the right)
Nov2009 Train leaving Jasper

Vancouver's Station: Pacific Central
Dec2009 Vancouver train station

And... coming home, with a brief stop in Jasper for more photos
Dec2009 Train in Jasper

One of the beauties of a trip like this is that it changes your perspective, about people, about Canada, and about what you see as you travel down the rail line. It also reinforces some very strongly-held beliefs about our nation, much like the fantastic Arrogant Worms song, Rocks and Trees:

My country's bigger than most,
And if asked I boast.
Cause i'm really proud,
So I shout it loud.
Though our numbers are few,
We will welcome you.
Although we don't have history,
Gold medal winning teams,
Heroes or prisoners, world famous volcanoes,
Still what we've got's glorious.

Cause we've got rocks and trees, and trees and rocks,
and rocks and trees, and trees and rocks,
and rocks and trees, and trees and rocks,
and rocks and trees, and trees and rocks,
and water.

Just watch it, it's so much better live!

07 March, 2010

Baking as therapy

It is amazing how, in times of stress, I revert to baking. My grandma died: I baked pie to cope; I baked a lot of pies that summer. My thesis deadline drew nearer and nearer: cookies, muffins and chocolate scones (particularly when the statistics got to me). No paycheque in two and a half months: cookies, muffins and rice casserole all came out of the kitchen this weekend. Yep, that’s right, no paycheque for 2 ½ months! I am BROKE! I am thinking of seeking some financial assistance from the Bank of Mom and Dad right now, actually. ... and trying to work, but taking a much-needed sustenance break.

I love that I’m figuring out how to only spend about $30-$50 on food per week, but I do not love that I have no option BUT to spend less than $50 per week. I also do not love not having rent money in my account, or finding out just how harsh credit card fees are, and not being able to pay them. I’ve already played the blame game (it’s probably 60% them, and 40% me), so now I’m trying to meet the deadlines and get the cash so I can go on with my life. ... my life that has taken a serious nose-dive of late.

I really don’t know what to do with myself. I’m applying for jobs in earnest, and yet I hear nothing (there will be a cold call or two this week). And this contract: e-mail just doesn’t work, and I can’t get them on the phone because we’re in different time zones and I work nights. This is awesome. Oh, and it gets better. I have a second job (hence the working nights schtick) working days in a lab. That one hasn’t paid me yet, but it is going to, soon (not enough to live off of all by itself), and it is also going to end soon. Other than figuring out my taxes, April looks like a whole lot of nothing.

In fact, April looks so blank that I’m scared of it. It’s like it doesn’t exist, a black hole (like life after 30 when I hadn’t yet reached 21). April looms so large, that it is hard not to focus on it, and how there are only three weeks left in March, leading up to it. I am caught on a hamster wheel. I need to do all this work, by the end of March, and I know my body is angry at me for staying up late and stressing out etc. etc. etc. but I NEED to do it or I won’t be able to pay rent. Why is that not enough motivation though? Why is it that instead of getting all gung-ho and working on things, I bake, or shut down, or get really angry and fester? I know that part of it is that I have already gone through school twice to get to this point, and I am still being treated like an undergrad. And I NEED to treat this like I treated my undergrad work: it’ll be over soon, just get it done by the deadline and who cares what happens next. ... except that’s so unprofessional. And I know that a certain part of me is just too angry to care anymore; that I was jerked around and so now I feel like it doesn’t matter whether I do the work or not. But I NEED to get this done. There’s money riding on it. Money that would get me through April, May and June... or at least pay off my visa and get me into May! Arghh!

So I baked. I baked muffins: apple-pecan muffins (adapted from the Joy of Cooking) with cinnamon and sunflower seeds. They’re “healthy” too because they’re whole wheat and got an extra boost of ground flaxseed in them. I’m working backwards: the muffins were the most recent things to come out of the kitchen. I also made Mexican Rice, courtesy of the Best of Bridge Winners book (the best of the BoB in my opinion). I added more stuff to it though, and thought it was hilarious that some rice was already turning to mush while other pieces were still hard-centered, but such are the perils of tall-pot stovetop casserole cooking, I suppose. It has all evened out since then into a big rice-y tomato and pepper mess with a bit too much chipotle! I made it for a potluck, but still have enough left over for a whole week of lunches. And I also made peanut butter cookies (which chilled in the freezer while I was making the casserole). I made the enormous 5+ dozen cookie recipe that I just love to eat and share. A bunch went to the potluck, and a bunch will be going to my dad and brother, and then a bunch will probably make their way to work tomorrow.

I’ve been experimenting with my muffins and all the left-over, slowly over-ripening fruit and veg in the house. These muffins were made from three old Ambrosia apples (smelled to ensure no mould contamination), and though the Joy of Cooking suggests using 1 ½ cups of them, I had much closer to 2 cups. So, I boldly substituted away, using whole wheat flour instead of white, adding ¼ cup of flaxseed meal and a bunch of sunflower seeds in addition to the chopped pecans (or walnuts, I’m saving my amazing Okanagan walnuts for something more deserving) the recipe called for. They’re a little over-moist: too much apple, not enough flour, I guess. Next time I’ll add more than just ¼ cup of flax. That will probably work. I am not sure when or why I started experimenting with muffin baking, but I’ve come up with some really entertaining pseudo-healthy hybrids like those apple ones. My other standby favourite, which I might have to make soon, are zucchini chocolate muffins, taken from the Company’s Coming cookbook line. Actually, it’s a Company’s Coming- Best of Bridge hybrid, I took two recipes and combined them: I adapted a zucchini muffin recipe and my all time favourite cake to mix the two, and healthify it in the process. Whole wheat flour, flax meal, any kind of seed I have on hand (sunflower, pumpkin, more flax), a bit of cocoa, 1 cup of zucchini and a handful of chocolate chips to seal the deal. Fibre, fruit and fun all in one! (whoa, nerd, sorry)

I wish I could convince my doctor that these aren’t going to kill me. It’s not like I eat more than one at a sitting, and I sure as heck don’t use a pile of sugar, butter or oil in them. The apple ones call for just over ¼ of a cup, and the zucchini ones call for about the same, maybe a little more. I still think Michael Pollan has the best line of all when it comes to healthy eating: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. And I’m doing my best to stick to it. ... except for cheese... mmm cheese!

04 March, 2010

One last look at the Olympics, and then back to our regularly-scheduled Canadian navel-gazing

I love listening to the CBC. During my current daily routine of 6 hours' lab work, followed by evening attempts at paper writing, it's been the one cheerful, edifying constant. The Olympics were a blast to "watch" through eyes and ears of CBC radio journalists and their half-hourly news and sports standings updates. I kind-of miss that. But, thankfully, in true CBC fashion, the post-Olympic navel-gazing analysis has run most of the week, and we'll be back to the regularly-scheduled "What does it mean to be Canadian" navel-gazing next week, I'm sure.

The radio has provided me with an unending source of entertainment, information and opinions (not to mention a few new french words and some musicians to look up) while I grind soil samples, or sort data and clean lab glassware. It's also made me more aware of what's going on in the world, current event-wise than I would otherwise be, since I do not subscribe to a newspaper and I don't chase down internet news on a regular daily basis. The half-hourly news updates, and the news shows like The Current have kept me in the loop, and I've had more than my fair share of politics to digest this week, in addition to the Olympics run-down, thanks to the new Throne Speech and budget announcement. I still don't understand why we need to create a parliamentary focus group for the purpose of changing a line in our national anthem. Is it really worth that much effort, or do the MPs already miss spending their time pointlessly milling about?

Anyway, the title of this blog post suggests that I need to do more than navel-gaze.

A couple of articles reached my radar on Monday. Or, more specifically, a couple of negative American Olympic summary articles. Gilbert LeBreton from the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram (that's next to Dallas, TX) wrote a couple of scathing reviews of the Olympics as hosted by Vancouver. You can read them here: In these Olympics, Canadians only paid attention to Canada and Offending Canada wasn't intentional.

Suffice it to say, I got angry. You can't expect an entire nation of people to let you get away with comparing them to Hitler and the 1936 Nazis. So I didn't. I e-mailed Mr. LeBreton, who describes himself as a descendant of Acadian heritage, and, I don't know, therefore able to make fun of Canadians because he's part-possible-former-Canadian himself? I told him a whole bunch of things, but mostly that it was unreasonable (and unwise) to compare Canadians to Nazis given the WWII history we all experienced, that Canada was involved in the Allied WWII efforts for far longer (and at much greater sacrifice) than the Americans, and that comments like his were likely to open wide rifts in sentiments between Canadians and Americans simply because of the seriousness of those Nazi accusations. I also told him... well, why don't I just re-post some of the e-mail?

Dear Mr. LeBreton,

Maybe it's just me, but I didn't think the "Rah-Rah Canada" theme of the Vancouver Olympics fell into the category of outright jingoism. If I'm not mistaken, we gathered together as a nation to host the world and celebrate all that makes Canada great, not to cultivate a patriotic fervour leading to overt aggression and xenophobia or creating some sort of combative foreign policy. In fact, I'd contest that we were trying to do the exact opposite by welcoming the world and being boisterous (if loud and proud) hosts. Sure, we wanted to prove that Canada could actually hold its own on the world stage, but by no means was our poorly named "Own the Podium" programme designed to declare Canadian athletic supremacy, and I don't think that's what we did at these Games. Unlike Berlin in 1936 (ouch, seriously, insulting and callous, what were you thinking?), there was no "the Aryan race is the best" simulacrum or any goose-stepping. From the vantage point of a tv viewer outside of Vancouver, I saw a lot of airtime dedicated to people like Lindsay Vonn, Thomas Ulsrud, Sven Kramer, Apollo Ohno, the Norwegian domination of cross-country events, and the Korean and Chinese women's battle for glory in speed skating; and that was on the Canadian television networks.

Obviously I'm biased, I'm one of the masses against whom the article and its poor apology has been written; but you don't come in to someone's house, enjoy the hospitality, tell everyone you've had a great time and then take a dump on the lawn when you leave (and then try to make up for it by telling us you gave a busker your pocket change). I also think Canadians (just like every other nation) deserve to pay attention to their athletes, first and foremost, but you can't say we didn't notice the others out there. In just about every event I watched, there was discussion of the most talented competitors (as I've mentioned above), no matter what nation they were from, and the medal hauls from "star" athletes of all nations. I also highly doubt that American media coverage of the Games expended vast amounts of energy and airtime to discussing other nations' athletes over their own.

As for Nodar Kumaritashvili, a number of international luge competitors are raising funds for the "dead luger's" family, and I saw a fair amount of respect for him through the mention at both opening and closing ceremonies' broadcasts as well as newscasts that included footage from his funeral in Georgia during the Games. For a large portion of the Olympic Games, in fact, Kumaritashvili was a footnote on many of the broadcasts I watched; the sombre starting point, and a touchstone for so much that did happen. I'd actually like to suggest that his death was a more poignant and commented-on incident (as a reminder of the honour we had to pay to those who've fallen) than the bombing victims' deaths and suffering during the Atlanta Olympics; or at least media coverage of the two events would have us draw that conclusion. Don't forget that the VanOC and IOC cannot fully comment on his death for reasons of liability. One would think, in a litigious nation like the USA, that people would be used to that sort of caution.


As a tourist, I know that I've attended events, and visited countries and seen things through a very specific set of lenses. Perhaps that was part of your problem with the Vancouver Games. I know footage of the Torino games included lots of green, white and red from their flag, and the Utah Games had vast constellations of red, white and blue stars. For a nation constantly referred to as "the United States' little brother", I can see how you were suprised that we took on such a solidly red and white hue during the past two weeks, and I can see how that could be jarring enough that you missed out on the other highlights of the Games. If you'd taken off those blinders, you'd have noticed a number of large Olympic flags in the crowd, even during the semifinal hockey games, and you'd have noticed that Canada was happy to have the whole world there with us.


I'm still sticking to my house guest analogy: if you're going to come on in and enjoy the food, the party, the company and all else, maybe you shouldn't complain that the hosts kept their family portraits on the walls. Like all the other Olympic Games you've attended, you are there by the grace and good wishes of the host nation. They all intend for you to have a good time and take full advantage of their hospitality. I'm sorry the 2010 version of Canadian hospitality rubbed you the wrong way, but can we really help it if we're proud of our home and the people we put forth in the competitions? Please don't forget that we're going to be neighbours for many years to come, no matter how many maple leaves got waved in your face or how many chants of "USA USA" were loudly echoing through the various sporting venues (did you attend any curling?). It would be good if we could still remain friends as nations. Your article and apology rebuttal are not helping maintain that relationship.

Congratulations to your athletes on a very well-deserved record-setting medal count.
A very disappointed Canadian."

And then he replied to me:

"Dear Alison:
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my column. It was a great email, and I promise you I'll take to heart everything you wrote.
I'd also like to personally apologize to you for using the 1936 Berlin
Olympics analogy in trying to make my point. It was a poor choice and I regret it.
There were many exciting and memorable moments in the Vancouver Olympics, and I hope these are the ones that will linger when the cheers of those three weeks finally fade.
Best wishes to you."

I was a little surprised to get an actual e-mail from him, to be honest. And, the cynic in me thinks that last paragraph (not best wishes, the one before it) suggests that nothing's changed about his view, and that he'll still look back on the Vancouver Olympics with a bitter taste in his mouth. ... though maybe now it's also because of the backlash from his articles (the comments on the website are phenomenal, albeit more angry and combative than helpful). {Aside: apparently he truly is apologetic, he was interviewed by a Calgary Herald writer on Tuesday}

I don't know exactly where I stand on this issue. I think his use of the Berlin 1936 comparison is incredibly baseless in the sense that no one should be compared to Nazis unless the comparison is also taking into account all the atrocities and the crazed xenophobia they instigated. BUT I can also kind-of see his point (if it hadn't also been true of the Sydney and Utah games). Vancouver was a sea of red and white. ... it was a polite, well-behaved sea, but a sea nonetheless, and the maple leaf became far more prevalent than any other symbol around. Though, from the stories posted elsewhere, there were a vast number of foreign visitors who also picked up wearing the maple leaf (or at least the mittens), and I highly doubt there was active boo-ing of people wearing other nationalities' insignia. It was a party; a primarily red and white party with lots of maple leaves, but there were smatterings of yellow and blue from the swedes, lots of red, white and blue stars from the USA, and a whole host of other colours dotting the wave of canadiana. Is it fair to accuse the Canadians of outnumbering the foreign guests on their home turf? I don't think so. It would be like accusing a family of outnumbering their guests at Christmas Dinner.

I think the big thing we can take away from this is that this particular writer expected us to maintain our separate-identity-less America-clone appearance while he was visiting, instead of embracing our own national identity with such an upwelling of pride. I'm glad we disappointed him.

You can read some great reviews of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics by American Journalists here: Canada is a Winter Games wonderland and Leaving behind a thank-you note from the NBC Brian Williams (not the CTV Brian Williams, I got confused, and laughed!).

03 March, 2010

The Total Perspective Vortex

When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, "You are here."

Oh Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... how I love thee.

And so, with that total perspective vortex in mind, I am pressing onward. My problems are likely minuscule in the grand scheme of things. Riding high on the euphoria of Olympic dreams and sporting achievements, I kind-of forgot about my second job. Ha. Scratch that, my first job, but the non-paying one. And it's not that I forgot, it's that I pushed it aside in a surge of unprofessional vindictiveness and anger. I'd had enough. I was tired of being treated like I was invisible. Who waits four weeks for edits on a 30 page report to be happy with "remove your opinions and use simple sentences" as their only tangible editorial advice?

SO, now I have the unfortunate job of rapidly finishing up the paper(s) while also working my second paying job. ... the job I took because this first one - the one that could feasibly help me move forward in my career (had anyone actually cared enough to work with me on it after they hired me, ugh) - failed to meet its own deadlines and pay me. I know the landscape of the working world has changed dramatically over the past twenty years, but one would hope that everyone would be aware of that... to the point that they'd understand that contractors need to be treated with timely respect if their cooperation is desired.

Forget the whole business of money and paycheques, I don't like being treated like a scrap of paper meant for the recycle bin. This contract has taught me that absentee employers are bad news, that I should not enter into agreements unless there is more framework and cooperation presented at the outset, and that I should be wary of inflexible parties when making agreements, despite voicing my own legitimate concerns. So, here I sit, in debt, with a computer I bought for the purpose of fulfilling this contract and building on my professional writing abilities, a stack of non-edits to complete (ugh), a looming deadline, stress out the ears, a 30-hour a week job to pay rent (paycheques are starting to come soon!) and a very compelling desire to scream at the top of my lungs.

This is not sustainable. I have to revert to undergraduate work levels, burning the midnight oil, rushing to "class" in the morning, running off of caffeine and sugar (which is going to wreak havoc on my poor brain, ugh) and hoping I can actually pull this off, flying by the seat of my pants. ... all for an end-of-month deadline so that I can get paid the money they owed me at the end of January.

... and then what? I sure as hell won't be pursuing any further work with those particular people. Fiscal year end is going to make both my jobs moot, and I have NOTHING coming up on the horizon. I'm applying to jobs like crazy, but that doesn't mean I'll get anything, and I'm starting to panic. Do I have to re-apply for a loan from the Bank of Mom and Dad? I HATE doing that. I love buying my food for a week and spending less than $30, but I hate that I am running out of the money to do even that. How is this a life? How is this what I ended up with after graduate school? It's not like I'm failing to market myself, I'm applying for jobs all over the place, but they seem to want engineers, not biologists, or they want biologists with 10 years of experience, not 5.

I had a dream a while ago that's stuck with me because it seemed so absurd but still poignant. In the dream, I was discussing my "situation" whatever it was (dream rememberances, if they happen at all for me, are always really vague, so I don't remember the circumstances that led to this discussion), and the person I was talking to told me that instead of digging a trench that was a mile long and a foot deep, I'd done the exact opposite, creating a mile-deep foot-wide hole. It was suggested that I stop digging, because even trying to dig up wasn't going to lead me anywhere useful. That was my dream! My own subconscious is recognising that my current approach to life is not working. It's not providing me with any solutions, but at least it's telling me to stop digging my very deep, narrow hole!

Anyway, here I stand, a tiny little dot, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot in my personal, mile-deep hole wondering what on earth I should do to get myself out of this mess. I feel like I have no time, no money, no future and no direction. I'm not sure if I'm hoping someone will throw me a rope, or if I'll eventually figure out how to make footholds and climb out of the hole myself. I just need to get moving, and stop digging. I don't think it's worth attempting to tunnel to the other side. Whatever's there is WAY too far away right now, and I'm digging blindly. If I had the benefit of the mole-machine technology, and a GPS, maybe it'd be worth an adventure down the hole, but I'd still like a map or some sort of idea what I'm tunneling in to.

Yes, I realise, all this whinging is the product of someone who's had way too much opportunity thrown her way, and being puzzled by it all. I don't feel like I've squandered what I had, instead, I feel like what I had was part of an ephemeral spring, and only recently have I realised that it was going to (and is) dry(ing) up. As a result, I am trying to figure out how best to adapt to the drought and move onward, or where the next watering hole is, and how to get there. They are, most certainly the problems of a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, and every time I remind myself of that fact, I think of how I should be volunteering more and spending more of my time making my community better... and then the practical me-centered voice jumps up from the hole I've dug and says "wait until you have time and money to do something first!" This situation is not tenable.

28 February, 2010

"There is power in the collective experience"

"It feels good to let your heart show."

So says this analysis of the Canadian Olympic sporting experience. It's a good misty-eyed video of Canadian pride and nationalism, with a bit of navel-gazing, to boot. ... so, truly Canadian, I guess?

27 February, 2010

A golden Olympics for Canada?

On the eve of the last day of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, it seems to me that Canada has both met and failed at its own expectations. The Canadian Olympic Own the Podium (OTP) approach to achieving best-ever Olympic results did not live up to the initial demands of, what, 34 medals? Are you kidding? For a nation of a scant ~30 million (given the landmass), our current 25 is a phenomenal achievement. It is something we should be proud of, and never ashamed of. The Canadian public has been witness to some formidable performances, inspiring in their bravery (e.g. Joannie Rochette), their determination (e.g. the Kevin Martin curling rink's gold or bust approach), and their outright enthusiasm (e.g. Jon Montgomery's surprise Skeleton gold and fantastic post-win victory walk through Whistler). But we were also witness to anger (Pierre Leuders' frustration at the crashes and heavy snow on the bobsled track, though he was happy with a 5th place finish), more frustration (from Denny Morrison and some of his fellow speed skaters who were locked out of the medals until tonight), and the heart-wrenching sadness displayed by those who felt like they'd let their country down (e.g. Mellisa Hollingsworth's tearful apology to the entire nation); or worse, the let-down the Canadian Olympic Committee gave to our most phenomenal chance at breaking the disability barrier, and encouraging even more young people to take up sport (Brian McKeever, the legally blind cross-country skier will not be in the 50 km men's mass start Sunday morning).

Now, I don't know if our country should be apologist about this sort of stuff, or wave our maple leaf flag proudly. It's a mixed bag. It has been a mixed bag since Vancouver first decided to put in a bid for the games. There are still contentious land claim issues in the areas surrounding Vancouver, and it took a lot of appeasement to get the native communities on board with the Sea-to-Sky highway construction, and the various other development projects required for the games to run without a hitch in the Whistler area. There are a lot of housing issues in Vancouver, and a lot of denial about the marginalised populations found within the city. The red tent city that was put up for the games only roughly masked the issue, while the rest of us all pretend there weren't one-way bus tickets purchased for a number of people (or that the rest of Canada hasn't purchased one-way to Vancouver bus tickets for a number of people either). The green-washing campaign is a mild success (as it was, I'm sure, in Lillehammer (who builds Olympic venues next to bird sanctuaries, really?)), but there will likely be odd ramifications as a result of it. Sure the Skytrain was expanded, but a 2.5 hour drive from Vancouver to Whistler (not to mention traffic jams) is hardly eco-friendly.

The successes, though? An overall peaceful games; no violence has broken out (knock on wood, one day to go). Ample back-up and contingency plans made sure things followed through no matter what the problem (be it a broken ice resurfacing machine, or some glitchy hydraulics, or very unfortunate weather patterns). And, if luck has it, the Canadians in the crowd might actually come away with a better sense of themselves, despite the foreign press sniping from Great Britain and Russia, both of whom, surprisingly enough, are set to host upcoming games. Our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, apparently had to make a special request in Parliament that Canadians be more blatantly patriotic during these games, waving the flag a little more, donning some red and white and getting out there to cheer on our nation (so says Tom Brokaw at least).

As someone who was in pre-games Vancouver (November), it was clear that big things were afoot, but just how big, it was hard to tell. I would never have anticipated the spectacle and the splendour that's been on display, and it is heartening to think that such a great product could have been made in Canada. Hopefully we'll be able to take this and roll with it. The debt will also be rolling with us (to the tune of what, $2 billion?), so why not the guts and glory as well? The teamwork, whether from the construction crews, or the nation-wide RCMP force that was cobbled together for ceremonial and enforcement detail (gotta love the red serge) has been simply phenomenal. If nothing else, I hope there's some glue left over from the games, and that it might just make us all stick together better, and choose to work on our problems and issues in more collaborative ways than playing the divisive blame game. The evidence is there: our athletes got together in ways we would never have expected, coming out to cheer each other on, and reporting on each other's results while in the midst of their own games; if they can support each other, why can't our whole country join together and do the same? And why can't it be about more than just sport? We strive for excellence in sport, and we can hold on to our athletes (or shame them when they leave, like the now Australian ski Olympian), but our brain drain problem is still prevalent.

Canada has a long way to go. Let's hope these Olympics are a sign of better things to come in the future, be they proper solutions to housing and homelessness, or respectful resolution of land claim and Native Peoples' rights (and access to education and clean drinking water etc.), or to solving national issues of promoting and supporting our home-grown talents as athletes, as actors, as artists and as all workers. Perhaps, hopefully, we'll start to recognise that "made in Canada" can be world-class and that striving to own the podium should be expanded to something broader and more far-reaching (and maybe more inclusive). The overall standings suggest that Canada has one of the highest levels of top ten performances of any nation at the Olympics. THAT in and of itself is and should always be a source of pride for our athletes. THAT should be what we strive towards as a nation, whether in the arena of sports performance, or in, say, medical practice. We may be an enormous slice of land with a scattering of people, outnumbered by the U.S. state of California, but we should always remember that we can band together and work towards common goals, and that it isn't bad to root for the home team.

24 February, 2010

Rough Go

Wow, I'm having a rough time of things lately. I have two jobs... and I have no money. I know I've developed a bit of a spending habit lately, but it's not outlandish (e.g. a magazine here and there, some new cosmetics, and yarn). The real problem is that I'm not getting any money in. I have been completely left out in the cold by my one employer. I never would have suspected the government to be so completely bungling about such things as meeting deadlines. Yes, I realise I SHOULD know there would be bureaucratic delays, but a 4 week delay for a 1 week turn around is unacceptable and incredibly unprofessional. As a result of the delay (and my resultant lack of inspiration to continue, and very real need for money NOW), I have landed myself another short-term job that works on a wage-basis and will thus give me a salary every two weeks... after I've worked for them enough to get back into the system. And the original project languishes as a result. I NEED to get the job done. It would be so great to get paid for my work, but I don't even feel like it's possible any more, and I still have a month left to get things done.

Everything feels so incredibly hopeless. I might as well be jobless, despite my constant working. My roommates treat me like I am jobless, and well, why not? I don't have any money, my debt is growing higher and higher, and I will not be able to pay my rent on time this month. February, of all months... the shortest one of the year, the one with so much hope for gold for Canada, and so much sunshine and glorious warmth here... it's all but empty and hollow for me, personally. Yes, I mostly have my health (though I'm fearing a potential return of bronchitis - third time's a charm maybe?), my wits, and an ability to work, but these contracts both end at the end of March and I will be left with a whole lot of nothing. Hopefully I'll be able to pay off my debt and cut up my credit card or something... probably just lock it in a box somewhere. But that's all just short-term. What I really need is a JOB. A real, live, tangible job that runs 9-5, and lasts more than three months in duration. I feel like I'm wallowing in self-pity, but I don't know what else to do. I will find something to do (i.e. a job somewhere, anything) if I can't find real work, but that doesn't solve my problems, that just lets me feed, clothe and house myself. Sure that's important. Right now it's top priority, but I really, REALLY want to feel engaged in my work and my life. I'm tired of feeling like I would rather just tune the whole thing out.

Oh, how I would kill to have a good job. And yet every time I go looking, I feel grossly inadequate. And that scares me. Here I sit, with two degrees and a decent amount of experience under my belt and I can't manage to find a $45000/year job that I qualify for. ... or that I qualify enough that it feels like I have a chance to actually get in on applications... ugh.

This was supposed to be my "free" year. I started a word of the year worksheet via Christine Kane, and the word I came up with was "free". It seems apt. 2009 was a year of finishing things and starting anew, of holding on to what I'd built for so long, of not letting go when I should have, of getting stuck in ruts, and feeling trapped at times. It was a good year all in all, and it opened my eyes a lot, but there were certainly times where I wish I'd been able to cut loose from everything and float off. So perhaps 2010 as a "free" year is a reaction a bit too far over from 2009, but we shall see. That's what these sorts of things are supposed to be like, right? Free. Free from debt, from fear of failing, from undue expectation, from frustration, disappointment...

Freedom comes in so many different ways. I'm not really sure I know what's going to happen this year, but I really want to cut away from all the raw disappointment I'm feeling lately, all the suffocating anger and frustration and resentment. I want to take a fresh breath of air on every morning and think about how I am free to decide how the day goes, how it will help me reach towards my goals and how I don't have to do things just because other people (or me, myself) expect me to, but because I should want to do them. And hey, maybe I'll even manage to free myself of some old constraints, misgivings, hesitations and encumbrances. ... and hopefully some of the extra stuff I've been hauling around but never use.

18 February, 2010

Olympic Fever

Forget work... or well, forget serious work. I have found myself a temporary part-time job for 30 hours a week so that I can pay rent while working on my other "more serious" contract job that hasn't paid out yet. ... yay. The perks are thus: I get to work with real, live human beings who I enjoy talking to, I get to work outside of my house and my bedroom (yay!), I get to talk with a boss who actually likes and respects me instead of trading e-mails with one who couldn't care less about me, AND I get a paycheque. Oh, the real perk right now is that I'm working in the lab, which means the radio is on, and I get to hear about Canada's Olympic progress.

Seriously, who's concentrating on work all the time right now anyway? The Olympics are on during work hours EVERY DAY, and these are athletes that, in some cases, curl at the local curling rink (SERIOUSLY!!! GO TEAM MARTIN!!!), or that went to the same highschool (as is the case with my roommate), so who's working 110% right now besides all our athletes? My workplace went so far as to provide a link to the federal government OTV (Olympic TV) website where we can watch streaming video on our lunch and coffee breaks without sucking up excessive bandwidth. Mostly, because I don't have a television myself, I've been watching streaming feed from the internet (the Canadian primary broadcaster) where I can see all the curling events and other highlights from the day. It's a great way to nod off before bed, AND I get to learn more curling strategy. Yes, curling, I'm a convert. My Dad took me to a game during the Canadian Olympic qualifications, and I've been playing in a rookie league for the past year. It's so fun, and challenging. I like how it's both a mental and physical game and hasn't become the emotional drain softball was when I was a kid playing in the city championships...

Plus I get to watch the hometown heroes.
Roar of the Rings Team Martin
Team Martin plays at the curling rink attached to my university, and also the one I've been taking all my curling lessons at. I know I've seen them play, but I really wasn't paying attention. It's hard to really see what's going on (particularly at the beginning, when I didn't understand the game all that well) without having an overhead view like the TV provides. But they're from our rink, and they're in the Olympics, and they're chock-full of talent. The lead and second are spot on with their shots and sweeping, and the third is also a skip so there's twice the strategy working in the team's favour, though, really, Kevin Martin is such a whiz... it's like he's the chess computer, Deep Blue playing against everyone else. ... or maybe he's Garry Kasparov... either way, phenomenal.

No matter what, it's been so entertaining, and engaging to cheer on all the red and white and maple-leaf-clad athletes representing Canada in our neck o' the woods. ... despite the wonky weather and the malfunctioning doobie-looking Olympic torch, I think Vancouver is doing a bang-up job of the event. ... even if I'm getting a really bizarre view of the games this year: government-sanctioned tv feeds with minimal commentator presence during the day, schmaltzy radio shows, video recaps and internet updates are the only ways I've seen anything Olympic-ish as of yet. I'm thinking of stealing some couch space at my parents' place on the weekend, just to get a more conventional view of things!

Anyway, back to live, streaming Can vs Sui men's hockey!

22 January, 2010

A recap of 2009

I know, I know, we're three weeks in, but it's still January, so I can get away with this. I think this year might very well (or at least the first couple months, we'll see how long the trend lasts!) be a year of renewal, reflection and reworking. ... with hopefully a fair few more blog posts than 2009.

Anyway, a list, 'cause I like lists. A list to recap 2009:

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Resigned from a job because of allergies, got dumped and wasn’t sad about it, acted as a witness for insurance purposes.

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I didn’t make any resolutions last year. This year, I don’t really want to call them resolutions ‘cause those are made to be broken. I’m kind-of hoping to call them life goals since I want them (increased activity, healthier lifestyle) to last for much more than just one year, or 3 weeks or whatever it is...

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
I don’t think so. 2009 was not a year of baby-birthing for my friends. 2010 will be, though.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
That was 2006, and enough people passed away that I’m hoping no one else needs to go for quite some time.

5. What countries did you visit?
Just the USA, and only for a week.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
More money saved up. A stable form of employment that lasts more than a few months... hey, maybe even one that extends beyond one fiscal year? Please? Space for myself.

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
The 30th of January – the day I submitted my thesis to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, and therefore officially completed all obligations towards my MSc. (academic or otherwise). The 19th of September – my best friend’s wedding day.

8. What were your biggest achievements of the year?
Defending my thesis and standing up for myself versus my supervisors at their discourteous worst. Landing contracts (twice) to work on federal research papers for national publication.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Underestimating myself and failing to sell my talents as a result.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Bronchitis, twice. And enough resulting bacterial infections from the way antibiotics mess up the entire body that I was essentially under the weather for about half the year.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A green purse and wallet, a solo train ticket to Vancouver and back, and a pass for the Folk Festival.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
One of my good friends who is going through a divorce.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
My now ex, and another friend of mine who has since gotten married. Though they did not behave in appalling or depressing ways together, they both individually left me appalled and depressed.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Vacations and supporting me while unemployed.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Folkfest, which delivered, as always; seeing my cousin at Christmas, which turned into a dud ‘cause the USA wouldn’t let him leave; riding the train, which was wonderful, but maybe not worth all the hype.

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?
I can’t think of anything.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you
i. happier or sadder?: both
ii. thinner or fatter? Hmm... let’s see... I blame the sedentary office work and high-fat/sugar snacks and beverages I consumed. ... as well as my lack of willpower.
iii. richer or poorer? I am no better or worse off, financially, from where I was last January, oddly enough. (which is lame, I would have hoped that a year of working would leave me with a few pennies to my name instead of the sweet nothing I have)

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Meeting new people. Organising my life. Applying for jobs. Saving money. Spending time with friends. Knitting.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Feeling guilty. Dwelling on things. Prolonging relationships that weren’t going to make it. Eating crap food. Getting sick.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
With family and friends, eating way too much and laughing a lot.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?

22. What was your favorite TV program?
True Blood and Being Erica; I obsessed about the first, but found the second to be more rewarding to watch.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
I try my best not to hate, but I do despise a number of politicians in ways I didn’t before.

24. What was the best book you read?
American Gods by Neil Gaiman, I’m pretty sure I read it in 2009. If not that, then one of the myriad Paulo Coelho books I read (like By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept).

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
2009 was the year of minimal music purchase. Folk Fest finds: Jill Barber, Slaid Cleaves, Arrested Development (seriously), Ben Sures, Fred Eaglesmith and Chuck Brodsky (listen to Letters in the Dirt – amazing).

26. What did you want and get?
Some really cool travel memories, a train ride through the rockies, a pair of Fluevog shoes, and some lovely new friends.

27. What did you want and not get?
A place of my own and the job to pay for it.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Up was fantastic, though Moon was so stark it’ll never escape my memory and The Brothers Bloom had plot twists and whimsy beyond expectation.

29. What did you do on your birthday?
I got my hair cut by my cousin’s girlfriend who shares my birthday and gave her flowers and earrings. For supper, I went to DaDeO, a local Cajun restaurant with my roomies and a couple friends... it was pretty low-key since I was still dealing with bronchitis.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A job I liked that lasted more than three months and paid well. ... or a relationship built on mutual respect, trust and understanding. Ta-da!

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Uh... finding clothes that accommodated my changing physique (from weight loss to gain to loss to gain to hopefully loss again) and that are colourful and slightly more, I dunno, respectable and formal than your average logo t-shirt.

32. What kept you sane?
My friends and family, the outdoors.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Halloo... John Morris, the curler, only in December, though. Earlier in the year, I’d have to say Gerard Butler, who was replaced by Vampire Bill from True Blood (though Stephen Moyer isn’t really what I’m looking for, somehow his vampire persona just, well, worked for me).

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Bloody stupid governmental inaction (and denial despite all the funding and research they give to climate change reduction initiatives) on climate change, and the related (and inane) carbon capture and storage “project” that most companies have actually backed out of because it’s NOT FEASIBLE despite the Alberta government’s earnestness at giving away $2 billion to work on it instead of emissions reductions. Oh, and healthcare reforms akin to the dissolution of public healthcare in this province.

35. Who did you miss?
My cousin, who was completing a bachelor’s degree in the States. A couple of friends who moved away.

36. Who were the best new people you met in 2009?
My summer work crew friends.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009:
Honesty is the best policy; and the biggest part of honesty that EVERYONE needs to work on is being true to themselves.