Sunday, January 30, 2011

Come Hunger with Me

I'm on the train to Ottawa right now and I'm feeling unprepared in comparison with the girl beside me. I packed Crystal Light, she has Perrier. I have one solitary clementine, she has those snack packs with the crackers and the processed cheese. (Yum!) I have homemade cookies (make that past tense--I ate them before the train even left the station), she has delicious smelling chocolate wafers. She also pulled out chips at one point, which wouldn't have been notable except for the fact that she also had dip. Amazing. Every time I glance over, she's unveiling another snack. She also has a never-ending stream of Modern Family playing on her laptop. I envy her chuckling. I too, wish I was chuckling and eating processed cheese.

Needless to say, I'm hungry, bored and thinking about food. So I might as well write about it, right?

Participating in a reality television show rarely entices me (mainly due to the fact that I don't own any property, I don't want a room renovation that involves painting a wall red, I'm not getting married, I've successfully lost the last 10 lbs without Billy's help and I prefer to dance my pants off in the comfort of my own home), but there's just something about Come Dine With Me Canada that inspires me to apply.

I've spent a lot of time trying to determine what exactly I would serve if I was selected to appear on Come Dine with Me. Here's my winter menu, with a focus on comfort foods:

I'd greet guests at the door with champagne and cassis, garnished with fresh blackberries. It's a light drink that even non-champagne lovers love. (Myself included in that statement.)

I believe in cheese. And cheese plates. My cheese plates typically include a sharp cheese (like an asiago), blue cheese, herbed goat cheese, smoked applewood cheddar, cranberry wensleydale and of course, a baked brie with roasted garlic cloves, candied pecans and sliced pear.

Relatively simple and wouldn't get me any points in terms of food preparation, but would get major points in terms of entertaining. Everyone loves cheese.

Vegetarian tortiere in sage pastry with side greens.

I recently made my first vegetarian tortiere by amalgamating three different recipes. I declared it delicious and wrote down the combination in my recipe book before it could be forgotten. I would probably serve this as personal sized pies because people love that nonsense.

Mini-cheesecakes FTW!

Anyone who has attended a social function at my home knows I love to make and serve mini-cheesecakes and mini-pies. Although my white chocolate amaretto cheesecake with raspberries is a crowd-pleaser, I think I'd stick to the winter comfort theme by offering a white chocolate cheesecake with cranberries.

Unfortunately, I can't apply anytime soon. I have a tiny open-concept kitchen/home, no dining room table (or dining room) and an oven without a door handle. (It finally fell off.) It's certainly no state of affairs in which to host four strangers.

Writing this didn't make me any less hungry. In fact, the snack cart guy just came around and I bought Pringles. Two more hours to go. . .

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Layoff List

Every morning starts the same.

Jay takes the dog out in the morning, while I luxuriate in bed, sinking deeper into the warmth of the covers. He showers, while I dream of fluffy bunnies, '90s dance parties and teenage make-outs. When it's time for him to go to work, he comes to say goodbye and the jealousy sets in. I'm going to have an awesome day of doing absolutely nothing when he has to go to work. "Are you going to get up?" he prompts bitterly.

At least that's how Jay probably sees it.

But here's how it actually goes: Jay wakes up and takes the dog outside. I'm awake, too, but would rather not be. I have nothing to do. Nothing. I have no work contracts to complete and no coupons to clip. I had plans, but for the second day in a row, I have to cancel them because the dog is sick (again). All I have to look forward to is going to the vet (again) and then taking Brock outside at regular two-hour intervals so he can laser shit (yes, that's the technical term for it) putrid-yellow fluid all over the alley. In between, I have the luxury of cleaning caked-on vomit off his hind legs. I'm going to have a terrible day of doing absolutely nothing when Jay gets to go to work.

"Are you going to get up?" he asks me. I hide deeper under the covers, wishing the fairy godmother of solid dog bowel movements and career guidance would come to visit me.

When I first got laid-off, my layoff list (which is like a bucket list, but with less focus on the eventuality of death and more emphasis on the eventuality of my EI running out) was sinfully long. I was going to make casseroles and muffins and do Jay's taxes. I was going to print all my photos from the last 10 years and put them into albums. I was going to walk the dog and Turbojam every single day. I was finally going to get the chance to focus on establishing a freelance writing career. It was going to be awesome!

It's nearly six months later and I still haven't accomplished much on the layoff list. That's not to say that I haven't accomplished anything--there are a ton of things that wouldn't have been possible if I had a full-time office job right now: getting a dog, winning the People's Choice Award in Miss Universe Canada, gaining field experience in Guyana and finally putting my journalism degree to some use. This layoff really was (and is) the perfect opportunity to work on both personal and career goals.

So why is it that I don't know what to do next? Everyone I talk to seems to have their own layoff list--you know, all the things you would do if you didn't have to work full-time. Everyone seems so certain of what they would do if they were in my position. They would travel or start their own business or play video games every day. (And then there's the classic layoff list aspiration amongst my journalism friends: "I would write a book," Carla told me last week. The thing is, I too always thought that if I got laid-off, I'd write a book.)

So here's what's going to happen. Since I can't figure out what to do next and everyone seems to know what they would do if they were me, tell me your layoff dreams. If you weren't working full-time, what would you do this week? This month? This year?

Because maybe, even if I'm not realizing my own dreams, I can realize other people's.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pleasure in Small Things


Okay, so maybe I shouldn't be so excited about receiving coupons for 55¢ off Tenderflake products. But then again, I'm the same girl who sustained a hand injury on Friday night while scouring the bar floor for money. (Another bar-goer, not expecting someone to stoop down to pick a singular penny off the filthy alcohol-soaked dance floor, stomped on my foot. What an inconsiderate bitch, right?) That, and I really like Tenderflake products.

1. Coupons: I've ordered coupons from the following sites:

Then, I bought an accordion folder at the Dollar Store to sort all my coupons into. (Yesterday was truly one for the history books, folks.)

In the last week, I've read through nearly every post on the Krazy Coupon Lady, as well as checked out the Canadian equivalent, MrsJanuary (who I found out about in Dakshana's coupon article in the Globe). In the coming weeks, I think it's in my best interests to also review a healthy dose of personal finance bloggers' sites, including Give Me Back My Five Bucks Back (who I first read about on Melanie's blog).

In addition to my stockpile limitations, I have one more consideration before I get started though. I'm concerned about the environmental impact of couponing. I generally speaking try to avoid buying products with excessive packaging or waste. So what happens when products I wouldn't typically buy are dirt cheap with coupons? Will I pass them by? Janelle had another take on this:

"I think the concept of thrift is wonderful! There's a lot of excessive and wasteful things in the world. . .I've always aspired to re-purpose, re-use and conserve like people were forced to in the Depression area, but I think coupons, point collecting and stockpiling is a great modern-day adaptation as well :)"

2. Sales: I'm holding out for Value Village's 50% off sale. In the meantime, I'm trying to resist the allure of Jonathan & Olivia's insane Topshop sale. (Everything is between 50 and 80% off.) I now regularly follow the forums and blog at SmartCanucks.

3. Contests: Every single day I review and enter contests through Wannawin and Contest Canada. I enter about 10 contests daily.

However, despite the fact that I really don't care if Big Brother is collecting information about my preferred sleeping position or hue of nailpolish, I hate doing the following things: signing up for newsletters, signing up for websites and, worst of all, "liking" things on Facebook (that's an immediate contest entry deal-breaker).

4. Rewards Points: I detailed my reward collection to date in this post. Ava also shared this story with me, which led me to the Frequent Flyer Master site. More reading is required.

5. Freebies: Nothing to date.

In conclusion, this is possibly the most boring New Year's Resolution that I've made in the last five years. Sorry team.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Another day, another fail.

I've spent all day waiting for the mail to come (perhaps one of the two paycheques I'm waiting for will finally find it's way to me), refreshing my email (I'm waiting for a sizeable e-transfer) and checking my bank account (my EI still has not been deposited). I have not completed any of the activities on today's to-do list. I have, however, spent a solid 20 minutes wondering if my lack of entrepreneurial spirit is more directly correlated with general laziness and winter malaise or a complete lack of self-confidence.

At least I worked up the motivation to take the dog for a walk.

I'm not sure either one of us was particularly pleased about it, though.

Today, I will bake muffins. Again. And tomorrow, well, tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow, I'll write a best-selling novel and it will be awesome.

Bored at work, you gainfully employed jerks? If you missed out on last week's friendship anniversary edition of trivia, here are some questions to help you pass the next five minutes:

1) In a way, parasites have an extra special friendship with their sponsors. What parasitic plant, when hung from the ceiling, can cause human friendships to blossom into romance?

2) What is the world’s most expensive seasoning or spice? (Hint: It comes from the stigmas of a flower.)

3) How many days did it take for fictional character Phileas Fogg to travel around the world?

4) In the 90s television gameshow Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego what is the name of the musical group that performed the theme song and at the end of each episode?

5) If you are a teetotaller, what do you not consume?

6) Who is the founder of Wikipedia?

1) Mistletoe

2) Saffron

3) 80

4) Rockapella

5) Alcohol

6) Jimmy Wales

Monday, January 24, 2011


Friday night. It's Courtney's birthday. We're at Stone's Place and I'm trying to settle an argument with Blair that "Can I put my hand in your pocket?" is a better pickup line than "Can I touch your penis?" (I argue that the latter is much too direct and potentially off-putting. He claims that 10 out of 10 guys would say yes. I disagree.) We determine that a survey of 10 guys is the only way to settle the argument. I'm game. I ask three guys (all say yes) and have seven more to go when I spot two non-douchebag types standing by the bar. Perfect. They're bound to be sensible and say no.

They don't say yes and they don't say no. But the two non-douchebags do think I'm funny. As a result, I like them. I like all people who think I'm funny. Better yet, they're also funny, good conversationalists and definitely not douchebags (a rarity for Stone's Place these days). I bring Chloé over and introduce her. Instant friendship results.

Fuelled by alcohol, we decide that we're going to be real-life friends and they promise to add us to Facebook. (Not that Facebook friendship is equivalent with real-life friendship, by any means.) It's a sincere promise, but one we all know probably won't be fulfilled. The night ends, one of the guys walks part of the way home with me and I mention that I live with my boyfriend. The next morning, I check Facebook. There are no new friendship requests.

I realize immediately that it isn't worth pursuing. No one wants to be friends with some girl they met at the bar who has a boyfriend. But then, as Jay and I are walking home from brunch in the blistering cold, I see a figure in a red plaid jacket waving enthusiastically at me. I introduce him to Jay. "I'm just going to meet my friend," he tells me and points across the street, where his friend from the night before is waiting.

It's fate. Clearly, we are meant to be friends.

I add them to Facebook.

They accept my friend request.

But now, I have a new set of problems. How do I turn a Facebook friendship into a real-life friendship? And more importantly, how exactly do I develop a platonic relationship with two guys that I picked up at the bar?

I really don't have much to base this on. The last time Chloé and I met and hung out with two single guys was in 2005. The Idaho Cowboys (as they came to be known) wore flannel shirts and huge belt buckles and claimed to be bull-riders in town for a rodeo. (Except it was February in Toronto. We humoured them.) We invited them back to my residence room to drink room-temperature berry coolers, play Scrabble and watch CPAC. You know, the kind of activities that all twenty-something Canadian students like to do on their spring breaks. (Or so we told them. They obligingly humoured us.) They invited us back to their hotel to use the "hot tub," then filled up the bathtub with lukewarm water and jumped in with swim trunks on. We took them to Dance Cave and two-stepped to Franz Ferdinand. We thought they were funny and they thought we were fun. (Mainly because we are.)

Reading Week 2005. One of the cowboys took this photo.

But the context was different then--we were both single. Even if we had no intention of hooking up with either guy, it still legitimized our hanging out with them.

In general, developing male relationships has been a challenge since I moved to Toronto. Whereas the majority of my friends in Edmonton were male, I have few guy friends here. (The last time I genuinely tried to make a male friend it was Jay--and look how that turned out.) It's hard to make friends of the opposite sex and it's harder still to make friends of the opposite sex by using a lewd pickup line at the bar as a conversation starter. (Jay put this into further context for me when he overheard me telling Chloé that I ran into our new friends. "Matt and I are going to go out to the bar next weekend, hit on two girls and then become their friends. Is that okay with you?")

So I'm putting it out there: how do you turn Facebook friendships into real-life friendship? And how do you make platonic friends of the opposite sex? Because somehow, I don't think I can get away with inviting them over to watch CPAC and play Scrabble.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Stockpile Envy

My favourite part of Extreme Couponing was when Joanie talked about her stockpile. As she described her organizational methods and how she rotates goods according to expiry date, I was brought to a nearly euphoric state. "She's a woman after my own heart," I told Jay in complete reverence.

I want a stockpile! I too, want to rotate my goods according to expiry date! I want to never run out of toothpaste again! Having a stockpile would fit so neatly into my "clean as you go" life philosophy. Dishes should be cleaned immediately after eating, words should never be left unsaid and goods should be bought before you even need them.

However, this presents the first of two key considerations in realizing Year of the Deal. (More on the second consideration later in the week.) I live in a 700 square foot (if that) condo with no storage. No, literally. No storage. Don't believe me? I have proof. Let's take a quick tour:

When we first viewed our place with the real estate agent, we were disappointed to learn that there wasn't a parking space or a storage unit. So when we first saw the upstairs, it looked promising. There was a very small clothes closet and what appeared to be two additional closets.

Er, not so much. Behind door #1: washer and dryer.

And behind door #2: a furnace and some fire hazards.

And what about door #3, the only other closet, downstairs?

A hot water tank and more fire hazards.

So what do you do when you don't have a single closet in your house? The first step is to purge everything that isn't a necessity. In the year and a half since we moved in, we've conducted at least four major purges and we're still not done. Jay and I essentially only own what we need to live. We also utilize every bit of space possible. As seen in the first picture, we have a blanket box stuffed to capacity at the foot of our bed. Under the bed are bins for linens. Our furnace closet houses tools and suitcases, while the water heater closet holds dog food, grocery bags and brooms.

So where would the stockpile go?

The kitchen seems to be the only option. Lots of space, right?

Again, not so much. (I took this picture right before I went grocery shopping and before I cleaned out the dishwasher, so this is when the cupboards were at their barest.)

So what am I going to do when prices drop low enough to buy a year's supply of Kraft Dinner?

I'm never going to have a stockpile like Joanie. However, I do have one thing working to my advantage. Unlike Joanie, I don't have kids. (Or at least none that I know about.) So a year's supply of cereal for me would for six boxes, not 25. My own coupon philosophy will have to be a bit more realistic. I will only buy truly what I need and I'll focus on expensive items that take up less space, like toothbrushes and razors.

In other news, yesterday I went out for my last final grocery shop before I start actually using coupons. Including my AutoShare car rental ($20 for two hours) and a trip to the pet store to pick up Brockton's expensive organic dog food, I spent about $220. (On average, I would guess that we spend more than $300 a month on groceries. In other words, way too much.)

However, I still managed to fulfill part of my resolution:

-By shopping at Metro, I collected Airmiles on my purchase and paid with Amex to collect Aeroplan points as well.
-At the gas station, I collected double Aeroplan points by filling up at Esso and paying with Amex. (For those not familiar with AutoShare, aka the greatest thing to happen to young condo-dwellers ever, the cost of my gas will be subtracted from the cost of the rental. The rental, with tax, was $22 and I put $22 worth of gas in, so basically I collected double Aeroplan points on the rental. From this point onwards, I'll try to put gas in the car even if it's not my turn to ensure maximum point collection.)
-And the pet store? They don't accept Amex, but they do award Airmiles.

An expensive grocery trip, but I already have enough Aeroplan points to fly home to Alberta this summer. Let's see if I can make it to Malta for free.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2011: Year of the Deal

The spring that I turned 16, Tayla, Carmin and I enthusiastically planned to go "shopping after school on Friday." Like many other things we did in Cold Lake, it was a weak attempt at replicating the activities we saw our fictional peers doing on Dawson's Creek and Freaks and Geeks. The things teenagers were supposed to be doing.

Tayla's 16th Birthday. (Left to Right: Me, Tayla, Carmin, Alex)

The only problem was, Joey and Dawson had an actual mall to go to. In Cold Lake, the Tri-City Mall boasted the only three clothing stores in town--Ricki's/Bootlegger, Suzy Shier and Zellers. (Yes, Zellers. And we were darn lucky to have a Zellers. Prior to my 10th birthday, my clothing was procured almost exclusively on shopping trips to the city or from the bowling alley, which is where we'd pick up our Sears catalogue orders.) The Tri-City Mall offered no cool food court to hang out in and flirt with boys. You couldn't even really just walk around, since you could see clear from one end of the mall to the other. Basically, it was (and is) an indoor strip mall.

No matter how hard we tried, Mallrats-worthy hijinks were not going to ensue. So despite our enthusiastic planning, the activity was complete after the purchase of new underwear and 30 minutes.

Even on my infrequent visits to the city, my best shopping rarely took place in malls. My memories of visiting malls include the following: vomiting the whole way home after a day at West Ed, crying in the middle of Kingsway at the age of 17, and purchasing my grad dress in under 20 minutes. Instead, I'd insist on visiting Whyte Ave so I could scour Mars & Venus for new chokers and pick up my trademark Manic Panic Hot Hot Pink hair-colour. Even my chain clothing store of choice, Le Chateau, was on the strip. Malls just left me with a feeling of frustration, which I haven't been able to shake to this day.

Kenny's graduation. Dress: 1970s vintage (used to be my mom's). Necklace: vintage (I think it may have been my great grandmother's). Speaking of which, this dress has been missing for the last 10 years. If anyone knows where it is, I'd love it back.

I didn't grow up in malls. Maybe this is why I don't view shopping with the same revere as Jay or Courtney or Brie. It's a task at hand. Get in, get your stuff, get out.

My grad dress was the second one I tried on during a shopping trip to Edmonton. My mom and I drove the 1.5 hours to Lloydminster to find my necklace.

But while I don't like malls or shopping, I do love a good deal. After watching TLC's Extreme Couponing while contemplating my complete lack of income, it suddenly become clear to me what I have to do. I need to rediscover the joy (?) of shopping and save money in the process. I call it 2011: Year of the Deal.

Here's how I'm going to do it in five steps:

1. Coupons: I'm going to learn how to use them. Then I'm going to use them. And then I'm going to laugh all the way to the bank.

2. Sales: I'm going to become one of those people who buys Christmas junk in January and saves it until the following December. And I'm going to rediscover my love of Value Village.

3. Entering contests: Why not? Someone has to win, right? (I'm channeling Gordon Korman's book Go Jump in the Pool for this one.)

4. Reward Points: I'm already a near-obsessive rewards point collector. (I'm really not too concerned about marketing companies collecting my information.) But this year, I'm going to take it to a new level. I'm going to make purchases of $50 or more on my rewards charge card and pay them off as soon as I get home for maximum point collection. I'll also regularly visit the Aeroplan and Airmiles websites to make sure I'm taking advantage of any special offers.

5. Free Stuff: The fact that Jay stuffs his suitcase with mini shampoos after visiting a hotel is the bane of my existence. Even worse is when he asks me to put rolls in my purse. ("We're not poor!" I protest.) So with this in mind, I'm going to try and get free stuff this year. But only free stuff that I'm going to legitimately use.

I feel good about this one. It's no Year of the Rash or Deltiological Studies, but it has a good ring to it. After all, everyone loves a deal.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I hate this place.

This week, for the first time since August, I was terrific at being unemployed--mainly because for the first time, I was actually unemployed. I had no contracts to complete, no part-time job obligations, no volunteer commitments. I was a free agent. Free as a bird, if you will.

It was awful.

I hated it.

I've discovered that I'm really terrible at doing nothing. In fact, there's very little inactivity in my day. I never sit down to watch TV, or to nap or even to read a book. (Although I'll admit that I do refresh Facebook a shameful amount.) I get up at 9:30 or earlier every morning, I feed the dog, I complete pre-determined activities and then I fill the space in between with cooking or scouring Craigslist for inspiration. Occasionally, I go to a job interview for something I'm not particularly interested in. (This week's interviews included a modelling agency on Monday and a marketing agency on Wednesday. I wore jeans to both interviews if that's any indication of my commitment level.)

I'm struggling to keep busy. Errands and chores that would have previously been crammed into lunch breaks or otherwise relaxing weekends are suddenly the allocated activities for the day. Today, I will buy laundry detergent. Today, I will organize my kitchen cupboard dried goods into Tupperware containers for easy recognition and access. Today, I will read the news (and not just the celebrity stuff). Today, I will take the dog on a longer walk than the day before.

I'm beginning to feel a bit like Hugh Grant's character in About a Boy--dividing my day into pre-allocated time blocks with one activity assigned to each block. There's only one minor difference--he was a heir. I am not.

It was a stressful week. But next week, I have faith, will be better.

Today's "break" came courtesy of a registered delivery package from the Finnish Embassy in Nepal.

Thanks Helka!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2010: Year in Review

With January midway through, I'm a little late to being doing a 2010: Year in Review blog post. But 2010 was very much a year that needs to be reviewed. It wasn't, by any means, an easy year. Among other things, I was laid-off, experienced bedbugs, my grandma passed away and I struggled with equilibrium problems for a very frustrating six weeks.

But in a way, it was the year that I needed to remember what I'm capable of. In a snapshot, here were the good times:


Ringing in the New Year with Court & Brie.


Sarah greets me during International Development Week in Kingston, which she organized. Lauren and I presented on youth edutainment methodologies in Tanzania & Kenya.


Jay and I finally sorted out some work-related conflicts. The free trip to Atlantis in the Bahamas didn't hurt. (Although I did discover that Jay is afraid of waterslides. I also discovered that wandering around a massive waterpark by myself with no contacts in is no fun.)

At Ashley's cottage in Muskoka.

Hands-down, this is my favourite place in Ontario. I know everyone loves cottaging, but Ashley's cottage has been a saving grace for me twice now.


Celebrating my 26th Birthday at Medieval Times.

Further celebrating my birthday by sinking my fingers into this knight's greasy mane.

In Montréal for May long weekend to visit Chloé.

With Tristan, Victoria and Gabe in tow, it was a classic road trip.


The second road trip of the summer was an epic one: Halifax and the Cabot Trail in only five days. "Before I met you," Jay told me, "I never understand that one could go on a trip just to drive."

Jay also isn't a fan of road trips or sitting in vehicles for long periods of time. But after this summer, I think he's coming around. (Thanks in part to This American Life and mini-golf road stops.)

First wedding of the season: Becca & Peter tied the knot in Halifax. Becca broke a thousand hearts in Vanuatu by getting married, I'm sure of it.


Epic Road Trip #3: Alberta. After two years of dating (and a year of living together), Jay finally came home with me to meet my parents.

Again, mini-golf helped. Even if it was rural Alberta style.

We weren't just home to meet my family--my best friend Naomi also got married.

"We have to do this again next year," we decided at our wedding table. "Yeah, but who is going to get married?" All eyes turned to me, Kate and Monique. Luckily, Kate will be the one tying the knot this summer.

Road trip to Jasper, where BC forest fires completely tarnished the view of the mountains.


Meeting Brockton for the first time.


My second trip to Guyana.

Halloween Guyana-style.


Brock comes home to live with us.

And I experience my first (and probably last) photoshoot.


Highlight of the year (apart from Guyana): winning the People's Choice Award.

But the glamour was over quickly with my last visit home of 2010.

I felt blessed in 2010, but it wasn't a year of luck. It was a year of calculated risks, planning and challenges.

As for 2011, I'm not even sure where to start.