Tuesday, June 3, 2014

30 Before 30

A friend of mine recently turned thirty, and introduced me to the idea of making a list of things you'd like to accomplish before you turn a certain age.  Seeing as I tend to live by the idea that I can just do something laaaaaater (be it laundry, a vaccination, or diverging from my staple breakfast sandwich pick), I thought this would be a great way to do some things I've been putting off for..well, I guess my entire life preceding this post. Yikes.

Seeing this list makes me realize how little time I actually have to accomplish these things, and I'm excited to post about every item I manage to scratch off the list! Sidenote: it's been three months since I decided on the reading 20 books item, and I'm about halfway done my first book so...ultra-gulp.

Side Sidenote: Thank you so, so much for reading <3

Friday, May 23, 2014

A and B do the Big Apple!

Last week, B and I went on a long overdue weekend getaway to New York City. We went with a local Asian tour company because driving to NYC is kind of a bummer, and also I don’t have enough organs to trade for the cost of a flight from Ottawa. 

The view from my window at 5:15 AM !

 The trip there was exciting: at the US border, while searching through my things, the border agent came across my peppermint teabags, which-of course- had burst inexplicably at some point in time.  She rubbed the scattered substance between her fingers, smelled it, and asked me, with disgust: “Is this TEA?” -“Mint,” I answered, in Gwyneth Paltrow’s voice.  Passed that one, phew.
Later, our lovely Chinese tour guide tantalized us with the various sight-seeing  options offered on our itinerary.  Among the wax celebrities we were promised at Madame Tussaud’s museum, of particular interest were The Hunk, The Spaderman, and Justin Tamberlok.  We were also warned not to get too scared in The Hunting House (“super scary!”), and assured that at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, “there is stuff you’ve never believed before”.  I think there was also some mention about carnival tribes in Africa eating people, but that could’ve been lost in translation. If I hadn’t already been to The Big Apple half a dozen times, I’d probably be all over that, but instead, we planned our own little trip, each night  returning to our bus to be taken to our mega fantastic hotel in Parsipanny, New Jersey. (Where?)

One really awesome thing about New York is that things sort of just find you. One minute, you’re walking down the street, snapping peace sign selfies, and the next you’re in the middle of an international food festival! I mean, what? This one stretched for many, many, many blocks, offering food of both the fantastically greasy type and the particularly piquing ethnic flavor.  The first thing we walked into (literally) was a deep fried Oreo stand.  You know how they say when you know, you know? Well, I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. I wanted those Oreos. They were made fresh for us, by an elderly woman cozily named Mamma, or Momma, or Mama, while her daughter/partner yelled at people to place their orders with a saucy Italian manner.  We casually walked off to the side with our warm paper bag of magic, and proceeded to devour its contents like orphans.  My God. The cookie had melted, fusing with the middle cream into a soft, almost spread-like texture, wrapped snugly by a not-too-sweet fried shell.  Wow. Just wow.

We walked the Oreos off while observing stalls of trinkets, the likes of “Old Soulful Hits on CD”, fresh water pearl necklaces, and iPhone cases that declare one’s love for weed (see ‘peppermint tea’ above) (got one- obvs). We saw choirs aggressively singing about our saviour, an ambulance taking someone away, and were approached by a coy gentleman holding pet rats, one of which urinated in his face as he bragged about their showmanship. "That'll happen," he said, quietly.

Though we had made dinner plans in advance, a nearby mountain of turkey legs peaked our interest, and high off the freakish vibrancy of the area, we decided to settle on a romantic smoked beast for two.

Look at that thing!

 Our only mistake was walking off to the side, and then down a regular ol' street filled with regular ol' people, while still holding the leg, taking drags of meat and passing it back.  We found ourselves in a territory of restaurants that make you use utensils and napkins, and people who enjoy these aforementioned details.  We were pointed at, and many passers-by would very audibly ask each other if they, too, saw "THE LEG THEY'RE EATING".  The leg was soft, its amber juices dripping down our chins and forearms, taking with them the last remaining droplets of our dignity, sinking deep into the manhole by our feet. That'll happen.

Anyway, we also had this crazy friggin thing. An East Indian treat, it's a pistachio ice cream cone dipped into a mixture of rosewater and sweet cold rice noodles, sprinkled with basil seeds, sweet cream, and shaved almonds and pistachios.  Extremely sweet, with quite an unusual taste. I couldn't have more than a few bites, but I loved each and every one.

When we finally ate the festival, we took a nice brisk walk to a nearby Trader Joe's where I found some cookie butter. Okay, you know what, this will NOT only be a post about food so I'm just going to say it was amazing, and blah blah you should get it, and that's it.  Thanks.

After that, we walked around Times Square and, what are the odds, ran into a guy who was part of the tour group we came in with.  Clearly high off the relief from escaping the hunting house, he was extremely happy to see us,  likely on his way to see The Spaderman.
Back at our hotel, Night One involved a fabulous bottle of ten dollar Apothic wine (I LOVE AMERICA) and the last two episodes of Suits which may I just say ended with as much of a bang as a tiny firecracker full of whispers. Thanks a lot.

It's a prank call party!

 Day Two was exceptionally wonderful because we made a pact to walk everywhere..and stuck with it! We walked from the UN building all the way to the loveliest coffee shop I've seen in New York:

The UN building, so stoic

Bowery Coffee, so cute!

The barista was a true connoisseur of coffee, knew exactly what sort of coffee was intended for each cup and glass size he had, knew exactly how to heat the milk to achieve that thick foamy consistency, and was generally a wonderfully helpful person.  He said I picked good donuts, too. I picked coconut and peanut butter jelly. I did good. They were brought in from Donut Plant, so really, when you put the best coffee with the best donuts together, I mean, how can it not be a win?  Let me just say the coffee was so, so, so incredible that I got a cappuccino, and then a latte.  And by the end of the latte I had conceptualized the non-variant baseline of acceptable human interaction versus the levels of digression and their respective consequence limits.  I sketched a parabola in the air, explaining the assumptions we make in our daily interactions, offering a host of alternative scenarios and the probability of their having an impact on the nature of the social interaction itself. I got a cappuccino...and then a latte.

On my second coffee...

After my caffeine seizure wore off, we started our walk towards the plant district because my guy is a flower lover, as I'm sure I've mentioned before.  We walked a few blocks, then turned somewhere, then walked again, then turned, and then it happened again: something found us. Not just something - Dominique Ansel's bakery. Last summer, we waited and waited and waited for a cronut, and while we had a brush with fame, and were even on TV, they sold out before it was our turn to get in! This time, there were only a few people in the line-up, so we finally had our chance!  The cronuts were amazing - blueberry glaze, soft cream filling, light, flaky pastry...I mean, they were no deep fried Oreos, but still. We enjoyed them with mangoes and the remains of our red wine, the following morning.

The flower district was wild, as always.  From palm trees to bushes to flowers, to cacti..what a paradise for people who like soil and watering stuff every day!  The best part about that little side-trip was when my ever-so-sweet guy bought me a pink peony.  We bought a baby and he slowly opened throughout the day, like this:

"NICE" said our tour guide, when he saw it that night.

Among our other stops were John's Pizzeria for New York's most authentic pie, a secret overpass, a few shops, an unmentioned place where I bought a cozy yellow sweater for six bucks (!!!)...

...and the streets in between, forming a city that unveils a new color, like a kaleidoscope, with every visit. I always wonder if the other people that we came with have had similar experiences. Has anything made them laugh, between the museums and parks? Did they gasp, or shudder? Did they race for their lives, across the streets, deaf from the taxi horns, and half-hoping to see a tiny bumper collision? Maybe they caught a glimpse of a celebrity-perhaps even Justin Tamberlok-and watched them disappear into the crowd with just as fleeting a moment.  Or maybe they just smiled, looking up at the infinite sky-scrapers, knowing there are certain things you don't need to translate.

The Other 'DD' (Distracted Driving)

Through the years, I’ve unfortunately read just way too many articles about fatal accidents resulting from at least one of the drivers texting at the wheel.  When I think about the many ways “don’t text and drive” has been enforced just in our city, it becomes exceedingly obvious that this type of distraction is a serious issue.  It’s hard to believe that just a few seconds/words can have such horrific consequences, and yet, I continue to see people’s faces tilted down to their phones, even while driving on the turbo inferno speedway-through-time that is the highway. Seriously y'all.

While it’s important to keep the issue of texting and driving in mind, I recently took part in Billings Bridge’s “Distracted Driving” campaign and was reminded of just how many more distractions there can be!  Snacking, doing your make up, checking out cute joggers….bad bad bad, even if the latter is merely to confirm appropriate athletic form.

In addition to not texting while driving (and you know what,  why don’t you not text while being a passenger, also, because it’s kinda rude to the driver, sort of) (just suggesting) I have also pledged to not sip coffee.  Oh, and for my guy’s birthday last year, I gifted him with this bad boy: (hamburger not included)

Partly to make him feel like a fast food king, and mostly because it makes me cringe when he reaches to scoop fries from under his legs, I made the decision in a split second and have never looked back. Ps. do you love how in the photo, it's a diet coke? Like that would even happen. Okay.

Let’s take the pledge together, and well…arrive alive. (Jeez sorry for the after-school special)
Check out the campaign below:

Oh and here I am, taking the pledge to not check people out while driving. Okay then.

A great job, Billings!

Recipe: Moonshine Cookies

It all started when El Dude and I were having a particularly bad day: we were getting the cookie shakes, but the cookies in the local bakery looked hella stale, and neither Mac's Milk nor the Hasty Market had any bake-able Pillsbury solutions. I know what you're thinking..a true baker wouldn't even consider Pillsbury...but even Martha Stewart goes to McDonald's so whatevs. 
No luck on the pre-made cookie front, so we zombied our way home where I decided to go the vegan way (since the real issue was that we didn't have butter or eggs). I looked in my pantry, then looked at the recipes I had, then looked in my pantry, then realized I don't have the ingredients for a lot of the cookies out there, so...I made up my own recipe, and it turned out super awesomely!  I call them Moonshine Cookies, because they're the type of thing you make haphazardly, with whatever's lying around, with complete disregard for the ultimate danger..to your waistline. (hur hur)

The recipe:

1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup agave syrup
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 tbsp coconut oil (melted)
2 tbsp almond milk
2 tsp vanilla

Optional Mandatory: shaved coconut, chocolate chunks

The directions couldn't be easier:

1) Preheat oven to 350F
2) Combine and mix all of the dry ingredients in cluster I
3) Combine and mix all of the wet ingredients in cluster II
4) Add the wet to the dry, mix, then add shaved coconut and chocolate chunks if you cray like dat
5) Form balls or cookies, or whatever you want, put it all on a cookie sheet, and bake for 12-14 minutes.

And then you have something very rich and delicious and perfect to enjoy with your favorite tea!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Dodging the Ball

I've always hated dodgeball, and my hatred for the sport is split 50/50 between two very serious reasons. The first is the pain one feels when being whipped in the ass by a tight, hard, rubber [IS SHE GONNA TAKE IT THERE? NO SHE ISN’T] ball.  This pain is only justified by a mere half-endorphin of “yes! I hit someone else!” and brings to the surface the fact that the only real win in dodgeball is when you’ve successfully destroyed a human body. Agility, speed, vigilance…yeah right. It’s all about knocking someone da fuk out. And I’m sorry, but I do not want to base my victory on hurting others. 

 The second reason goes a bit deeper, and reaches into the realm of cross-cultural pre-pubescent rejection.  Lol ya hurd this gon be weird.  You know how you remember certain things from your childhood, and you don’t know why you remember those particular things, but you deduce that they must’ve had a serious impact on you? The situation I dealt with in grade five obviously has.  We were playing dodgeball, and my immigrant-induced drive of self preservation was still in full force, so I somehow ended up being the last person standing on my team, going against two people on the opposite team.  I knocked one of the people out, leaving just one: a boy named Javier.  Having recently moved to Canada from Nicaragua, Javier was also on the alert for common social dangers the likes of misunderstanding the symbol for the girls' bathroom leading to an unwelcomed entrance, consequently labelling him a pervert. Javier had dark skin, and pale green eyes. I remember them very well, because at five minutes to the end of gym class, he had backed me into a corner and stood just a few feet away, piercing me with the impetus in their glare. In the left was an eye booger
I remember that moment very well because it was the first time in my life that I felt my femininity threatened by the power of his masculinity. It was a right of passage, in a way.  I remembered what my mom had told me about talking to men. “Women can get by on the smoothness of their words,” she had said.  As he gripped the ball, I slowly curled my face into a smile. “Javier,” I whispered breathlessly à la Marilyn Monroe, “Don’t do it.”  He paused for a micro-second, then whipped the ball at my stomach and walked off, victoriously.  Thus began my journey as a woman.

That said, I was recently invited to play on a dodgeball team, and in keeping with my enthusiasm about team games, I accepted. As I signed up, I briefly thought of Javier. I had flashbacks of the eye booger. I could still smell the combination of fresh gym equipment and sweat.  The night of the first game, I put on a t-shirt with french fries all over it.  In hindsight, what the f was I thinking.

Let me just say: if you think elementary school dodgeball is scary, try it with FULL GROWN MEN. Men who do this for fun every day. Men who wear knee pads just for the purpose of sliding up close enough to land the perfect shot in your kidneys.  The first class was last week, and I’m still shaking.   First of all, everyone on my team is really, really good. They’re excellent throwers, they can duck, they can even do that Michael Jackson thing where you dodge a ball by lifting your pelvis off the ground.  I’m really good at cheering, I think. I’m usually pretty good at repeating what just happened while clapping. “You did that! Woo!”  “It didn’t get you! Awesome!”  "You are still inside the game!"

Although, I’ll have to come up with new material soon, or people will think I’m just being patronizing.

One thing I’m absolutely horrific at is throwing.  I tried throwing in softball a couple of years ago, and people said I was good, so I guess those people weren’t my real friends.  Here, I was  a disaster.  I’m not used to foam balls, and lets just say I’m not used to throwing in order to hurt someone.  I’m more of like a basketball leisurely thrower than a whipper.  They kept yelling “Throw low!” and while I attempted to relay the message to my brain, it, in turn whispered to my arm to create a paper mache swan out of its joints, and well let’s just let it be, dear it said. Seriously. Awful. While others whipped the ball at my legs before I even had a chance to use them, the path of my throw was that of a very precise concave downwards parabola, the formula for which is expressed by a very simple 
y = -x2 + 1, resulting in a very slow trajectory, laden with predictability and shame.  I have drawn a diagram to represent this, where x and y should equal distance and height, but really they represent my opponent’s boredom and my personal embarrassment.

 I throw slow and steady, launching my ball into a very friendly, obtuse, positive climb, followed a monotonous and reflective pause which gives everyone on the opposing team time to eat a sandwich and re-group, followed by a lingering descent calling for a bystander to merely extend their arms to cradle what’s left of my ambitions in a careless afterthought.  What a fail.

Somewhere in the middle of the game, I stopped letting my negativity cloud my focus.  I decided to be fearless, and leapt towards a ball that had been discarded amidst the rubble of the fallen.  I decided this would be my chance at making my mark, this would be for the time Javier rejected my Lolita-esque attempts, this would be me, picking up the ball and whipping it at someone’s legs, like I should.  Instead, it was me, bending down to pick up the ball with the agility of a newborn elephant, and upon rising, getting slammed in the face by the opponents' sphere of evil. It hit me so fast, I didn’t even realize what was happening, except I was holding a blue ball, and what hit me was a yellow ball, so I mainly just saw green. Who even gets hit in the face? Apparently that has never happened to anyone on the team, so of course, it’s written in the official rules of dodgeball that on my first attempt, it would happen to me.  It hit me in the nose, and for a few seconds, I couldn’t breathe. Then I was all:

The absolute worst of that is when people flock to you, asking if you’re okay.  If you were okay before, having people worry about you just makes you feel like this is something to be worried about, so you tell them you’re okay and then proceed to bawl your eyes out.  But no, not I.  I gathered myself and in a very cool way, reclined at the wall.  “I’m gonna take a breather, dudes” I said.  Or something equally cool and nonchalant.  And then, when no one was looking, I casually walked out of the gym, walked into the girls bathroom (it was a public school…I know- way to relive all of those fears again), dabbed a tissue on my throbbing nose, and cried three tears. I counted them, because I wanted to make sure I was accountable for each and every one.  You know what, though, it did really, really hurt.  You know what hurt worse though? The fact that on that particular night, for that particular game, I had chosen to wear that damn t-shirt with french fries on it, so I literally could not have looked any more lame.  Hey guyze I like frize! Asshole. Fries do not belong in serious athletic environments.

Anyway, I then told myself to stop being a pansy, and walked back onto the court.  The rest of the game proceeded with mediocrity (at best) on my part, interspersed with my inner monologue of “I am never doing this again!”  but luckily ended on the note of my decision to keep going.  I told myself I would push myself this year, and here I am, pushing myself – out of my comfort zone, and possibly out of what it means to be a woman. I don't need you, Javier.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Half-Marathon #3: Goals and Their Consequences

I have a confession to make: I wasn't actually super thrilled with my time from my second half-marathon. I mean, I know in theory, I should've been proud, but I had a far higher goal in mind, and it drove me kinda crazy that I missed it by a few minutes. I was happy, but not Happy.  So, still high off the product of so many months of training, I decided to sign up for another marathon, held a month after the second one. My secret goal was to finish in 1:50 or under, and though it was still a pretty lofty goal, I just knew that if I pushed myself hard enough, I would achieve it.

My plan for this race was to follow a pacer.  I was planning to follow the 1:53 run/walk pacer, and had even met her the day before, but on the day of the race, I couldn't find her sign.  Instead, I found a 1:48 continuous runner.  Continuous. One of my most feared words in the running world.  I've never continuously run before. I couldn't even imagine what it would be like to run a full two hours without stopping.  I always take walking breaks, so I obviously hadn't trained for this at all. It was my only option, though, so I thought I would give it a try.

I forgot to mention that the race was the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon, so a really exciting part of it was running in a new city.  I've never really seen downtown Toronto before, so I figured this would also be a great way to explore it (while, you know, being really exhausted and sweaty).  The morning of the race was extremely cold. I've never run in October before, and here I was, back in adrenaline mode again, just a few weeks after my last "okay this is it for the year" moment. My body was definitely confused by this point.

We started running, and I was surprised by how leisurely the pace was.  I guess those walking breaks really add a lot of time, so making them up requires quite a significant increase in running speed. I was feeling pretty great for about the first hour, and felt comfortable enough to really take the sights in. So much so that I sort of forgot where I was, for while, and stepped into one of the streetcar grooves in the road. I felt my ankle roll, and then felt an immediate shot of pain. I kept running, and luckily, the pain went away after about ten minutes.  Yes, I persisted, but yes, I also cried. The real pain came at about the 1:15 mark.  We had turned to run back- the last stretch- and as I grabbed a drink from a nearby station, I realized that I needed to walk. I just wasn't prepared for this much running. The worst part about walking breaks is, as I mentioned during the above-linked second half-marathon post, seeing your target disappear from sight in mere seconds.  My pacer, from whom I had been just a few feet away for the majority of the run, was now a toned and motivated dot.  I knew I was tired when even this couldn't convince me to keep running. I walked for about two minutes, and then picked up the pace, and really gave it my all for the last 30 minutes, and finally, I saw the finish line.  What's funny is that by the time you see the word FINISH, it's not even a word anymore. It's not a finish line, it holds no meaning, people aren't really people, running isn't running. It's just a very loud silence, a bit of tunnel vision, a persistent RUN RUN RUN echoing in every step. I ran a few meters after crossing that line, because I was still in that weird zombiesque state, and then checked my race results.  I was alone in the crowd at Nathan Phillips Square.  I was surrounded by beautiful, exhausted, powerful champions: everyone. I was surrounded by trees, fences, brilliant aluminum make-shift blankets. A muffled voice congratulated us through the loudspeaker. The sun was shining on our heads. It was only me, and thousands of strangers.  And in that moment, my race results came up on my phone screen: 1:50:49.

I didn't want anyone to think I was a wuss, so I hid the tears that ran down my cheeks with my puffy hands.  Pride is the most elusive feeling to me, so, when somehow I manage to feel it, it takes absolutely everything out of me.  Looking back on that day, I really still can't believe I did it. Every song that pushed me when my legs didn't want to listen, every thought I forced myself to think to shut out the voices of pain...they were aligned just so, just perfectly, for me to finish in my goal time. What a miracle.

One of the best things about that day was that my guy's parents came to cheer me on.  I still can't believe they got up and drove an hour into the city just to stand in the cold and watch me run by. It's surely a day I will never forget.  Of course, my favorite cheerleader was also there, and endured my subsequent day-long stomach sickness afterwards, like always.  Of course, he was just as supportive through the two and a half months that followed, during which I could no longer run due to the injury I likely sustained when I rolled my ankle in that streetcar groove.  Physiotherapy and rest have resulted in my current utter state of un-shape.  I can barely run three kilometers now, but that's okay, because I'll get back up there again. It was all worth it.

When we reach a goal by a mere ten seconds, when we reach it against all odds, having gone beyond what we trained to endure...is it a fluke? Is it all just random luck? Could this ever happen again?  Should I even bother trying for this time again, or for an even faster time? There's only one way to answer these questions, isn't there?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Happy New Year!

2013, why you gotta be like that?

I had a feeling that when I spent New Year's Eve 2012-2013 on a couch with a horrendous flu, that it would somehow become a sign of what the new year would bring. Though it brought about some exciting accomplishments (running my half marathons, for example) and paved the way for some major changes, like moving out of my apartment and back in with my mom, overall it wasn't an easy year.

2014, however, is off to a great start: we celebrated New Year's Eve in Toronto watching the fireworks downtown, my foot finally feels well enough for me to start running again, I got a challenging promotion at work, and I'm working on an exciting long-term project: a list of 30 things to accomplish before I turn 30.  I haven't completed the list, because I want to make sure every idea is monumental in its own way so there's a lot of deliberation involved, but I'll definitely be posting it when its ready.

Speaking of challenges, remember how I did that raw diet in January 2012? This year, I'm trying the Atkins diet. I wanted to see what all the fad was about, since even Kim Kardashian is on it, and am currently on Day 5. So far, so good..sort of....but I'll write about that later.

I'm really looking forward to the exciting things 2014 will bring.  I know there are bound to be yucky surprises, but I'm sure those will be accompanied by delicious ones too - oh my god, Nutella donuts, or something -and maybe I might even throw some fashion into the mix. Y'all knew I'd add that one in somewhere...

Dear readers: thank you for reading even when I haven't posted in ages. Thank you Canada, US, UK, Denmark, Sweden, China, Spain, and Russia...I have no idea who you are, but you looked through my little words, and found something you liked. Thank you.  I hope you have a beautiful 2014, and I hope to hear from you, if you're reading this too.