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.