Real-Talk Thursdays: I want the toll fees back

I am not naturally a morning person. I like to wake up at a reasonable hour and slowly start my day, not be jolted from depths of deep slumber at an ungodly hour only to rush out the door in under 25 minutes. It is not my happy place. I sometimes envy morning people but, truthfully, most often I think there is something seriously wrong with them.

What does this have to do with toll fees? Well, recently one of our major suburban-to-urban commuter bridges removed a long-standing toll fee. Hurrah for money back in our pockets! Right? After a couple weeks of experiencing the post-toll-fee world, I’m not so sure my answer is yes. When the tolls were first removed, I complained that the traffic would be so much worse, but in my heart I didn’t really believe it. Would people really avoid the most direct route to work just to save $6 a day? As it turns out, yes, yes they would. And they have been, daily, flocking to my highway and my bridge and ruining my peaceful morning commute.

I left at 5:10 am the other morning (!!!!!). I mean, good God, that is early. Normally, at that time I would fly downtown, probably arriving in around 35 minutes.  It took me 46 minutes.  That is 11 minutes longer. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is 31% longer. I also tend to judge the quality of my early, early (EARLY) morning commutes by the number of times I have to come to a full stop on the highway due to traffic volume.  If I stop zero times it is a fantastic day, 1 time is okay, 2 times is getting to be a bit much and anything more than that is a travesty. The other morning I came to 2 full stops. That’s normal for 6 am traffic, but not 5:10 am traffic. For the love of everything good in this world, there should be some reward for getting one’s ass out of bed and on the road that early and that reward should be smooth sailing!

Yes, I realize it is banal and utterly first-world problem territory to be complaining about traffic. First and foremost, I don’t care, because an unpleasant side effect of my early mornings is a sharp spike in my grumpiness. Secondly, I am actually not complaining about the traffic, but rather the removal of the toll fee that evidently kept traffic at bay for years.  I will gladly pay the government $137 per month for the great joy of a smooth morning commute. It is a small price to pay for my peace of mind, general attitude, and the extra 20 minutes of sleep I would get on the daily.

The very least the government could have done was postpone the toll removal until October 1st, at which point I would be completely oblivious to the effects thanks to my cushy, new, temporary city digs. It’s true what they say: timing is everything.

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Trail Tuesdays: I watched an outdoor survival movie and I’m never hiking again

Recently I wrote about watching too many murder mysteries. Well, in an effort to diversify my viewing habits, I unwittingly surfaced an even scarier breed of entertainment: outdoor survival movies.  It shouldn’t be surprising for me. After all, watching 127 Hours and Into the Wild weren’t just cautionary tales for me, they were horror stories pure and simple. As it turns out, as much as I am afraid of murderers and rapists like the vast majority of the population, my biggest fear is actually dying alone in nature. It may seem irrational, but given how much time I used to spend in the great outdoors, it is actually far more statistically probable than my being murdered.

This weekend, we watched a little-known Canadian movie called Backcountry. Years ago I watched a really bad made-for-tv horror movie about an insane predatory bear in the woods, so bad in fact that even a thorough Google search didn’t surface its name, and I expected Backcountry to be similarly kitschy, unrealistic and full of over-the-top bad special effects.  Well, Backcountry was kitschy for sure, but it was also more terrifying than I expected. Long story short, a couple gets hopelessly lost in the Northern Ontario wilderness and then gets attacked by a really unusually pissed off black bear. I’ll spare you the spoilers but suffice it to say that there were many, many a scene that I actually couldn’t watch because it was too graphically awful and horrifying. And when someone wasn’t in the midst of a vicious bear attack, I was experiencing deeply unsettling discomfort at the thought of being so very lost in such a vast wilderness.

Perhaps the fear of being lost in nature comes naturally to me, care of many of my own near-getting-lost experiences, one of which actually occurred in Ontario’s wilderness. That was the near-getting-lost event that sticks with me the most because in the depths of Ontario’s forests there are no directional markers. Out West, I would be more likely to identify mountain ranges that would give me a sense of direction and, because the West is so mountainous, it always feels at least a relatively safe bet to just walk downhill. In Ontario, however, there are no peaks and valleys and I can personally attest to the fact that every “viewpoint” from escarpments in the forest looks identical, to the point that even within a two hour hike I convinced myself that my brother and I were walking in an endless circle, destined to die from hypothermia on an unseasonably cold day in October.

Alas, we clearly survived, but that experience has stuck with me.  What made Backcountry even more terrifying was the added element of bear attack. I can think of nothing worse than being near death from a bear attack and also having no idea if you are heading towards safety or further into danger. To say watching this film was a bad way to spend a Saturday night is an understatement. Not only was I left emotionally scarred, albeit temporarily, but it also made me solemnly vow that:

  • I will never hike in Ontario again. Ever. Apparently, bears be crazy out there.
  • I will never go deep into any nature by myself again.*
  • I am done with outdoor survival films as a genre. My naturally anxious self does not need reminders of human vulnerability to the elements…and sadistic wildlife.
*I reserve the right to revoke this second statement at such time that the shock value from watching this film wears off, which is not quite yet, but hopefully soon.

Monday Musings: getting my mom an iPhone was a terrible idea

My mom turned 70 this year, and 70 warrants a really good birthday gift. And so it came to be that we bought her very first iPhone.  I know, you’re probably thinking an iPhone sounds like a horribly impersonal gift, but hear me out: my mom has wanted a smart phone for years and she and my father had been suffering with a crappy flip phone for the longest time. She wanted to take pictures and send texts and look things up without hauling out a heavy-ass laptop and drive in Calgary without relying on outdated paper maps. So while it sounds like a terrible gift, I can tell you she was thrilled by it.

At first, so was I. I talk to my mom quite a bit over the phone, but it was nice having daily text conversations. But then, then she started sending me pictures.  And now, now I’m not so sure that getting her an iPhone was a good idea at all.

First, there was this:

My mom had baked mini chocolate cakes and wanted to show me. Being a lover of all things chocolate, I was jealous. I mean, they weren’t frosted which is a major faux pas in my mind, but they still looked pretty moist and delicious. Furthermore, at the time that I received this photo, I had zero cake options in my own home so I would have gladly accepted even unfrosted cake.

Then, there was this:

Okay, I know that doesn’t look appetizing. But these are amazing wok-fried chicken wings made with soy sauce and ginger and five spice and all sorts of other ingredients I can’t remember because I haven’t had them in years even though they are a total childhood favourite of mine. It was one thing to send me a picture of chocolate cake, which I am fully capable of making myself, and which I have been known to bake and eat entirely on my own (though not all at once, thankfully).  It is another thing to send me a photo of a nostalgic, childhood favourite that I have never once prepared for myself.  Strike two, mom.

But yesterday, yesterday my mom crossed a line with this:

What you are looking at there is a freshly baked peach pie. My mother, in case you aren’t aware, makes the best peach pie you have ever eaten. Her pastry is perfectly fluted, designed to lovingly cradle ice cream. It has been years since I’ve eaten this pie. Years. I look at this picture and start to salivate, and I swear to you I can almost taste it. Almost, because the actual pie is roughly 900 km away. This is the toughest photo pill to swallow, too, because I am actually incapable of making a pie. Pastry is my achilles heel. I have tried many a time and each and every time it has ended up with one of the many possible pastry fatal flaws.

With this last picture, not only am I beyond distraught that I am not jamming fresh peach pie into my face right now, but I’m also realizing what a terrible, terrible thing I’ve done giving my mother an iPhone. It’s true what they say: technology is not always a good thing.

Quest for Gelato Perfection: All Summer and No Perfection

Well, that was an unexpectedly long departure from blogging. I was away for an extended long weekend and planned poorly for this week’s posts. Never fear, though, I am back with my final installment of this Summer’s quest for gelato perfection. And I left the granddaddy of local gelaterias for last. I wish I could say that I planned it that way but this, too, was opportunity gelato.  I also wish I could say I went and saved the best for last (cue sappy Vanessa Williams to accompany), but sadly that was also not the case.

After a summer of trying desperately to find the best gelato, what I’ve come to believe is that nothing will ever taste as good as what I ate in Italy. It’s possible that the gelato there is leaps and bounds better, but it’s equally possible that its deliciousness was heightened by the fact that I was, you know, in Italy, surrounded by vast countrysides of vineyards and historic castles and whatnot. Yeah, that could be it. Still, here we go with this latest experience.

Where: Bella Gelateria (Marinaside location)

What: I ordered the Amarena Cherry and Wickedly Burnt Caramel. My better half ordered the classic salted caramel.

Salted Caramel
Cherry and Wickedly Burnt Caramel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What stood out: First, I have to get this off my chest. I have mentioned several times how I despise gelato shops in which gelato is hidden from view in charmless stainless steel bins. I don’t know why it irks me so, but it does. Only once have I been blown away by the contents of those bins. This was not that time.

Second, and a bit of a sidenote, some advice for those less wise than me: gelato does not make a great pre-concert choice. We stopped for gelato en route to the Guns n’ Roses concert and, though it seems obvious now, I didn’t question whether a giant bowl of gelato would make an ideal pre-show snack. It does not.

In terms of the gelato itself, I can say that the texture was lovely. It was velvety. It commenced melting the second it hit the warm air outside, as one would expect from gelato. It was served properly with a spade and not in scoops.

When it comes to the flavours, I was tremendously disappointed. They were fine. But here’s the thing: this gelateria is widely acclaimed as the best gelato in the city of Vancouver and supposedly the best outside of Italy. The location near my office regularly has a long line (upwards of 45 minutes!) wrapping around the block. If I had waited 45 minutes for this gelato, I’d have been pissed. I do not want to wait 45 minutes for gelato that is “fine”.

The Salted Caramel was nice enough, and was clearly the winner of the three flavours, but I’ve come to believe that salted caramel is one of those flavours that is hard to mess up.

The Amarena Cherry was a grave disappointment. Perhaps this is the one area where Italy legitimately has a leg up because I’m certain their cherries actually taste like cherries, whereas anything cherry-flavoured here seems far too subtle and/or overly sweet. I have decided that, aside from Dolce Gelato in White Rock, I am through ordering cherry flavoured gelato here. It is dead to me.

Now let me unleash my bitterness about the over promising and under delivering Wickedly Burnt Caramel. This flavour is living a lie. It is decidedly not burnt, and presents its consumer with nothing even remotely wicked. My boyfriend described it best when he said it was “caramel lite”, as in it had the most subtle hint of caramel flavour possible for such a boldly named gelato. It was the biggest disappointment of the evening.

My final conclusion on Bella Gelateria is twofold: 1. This place is overhyped to the extreme and 2. Location may matter for this gelateria. We may have chosen a dud, but then again, part of multi-location eateries is meant to be their consistency. Make it good everywhere or don’t make it at all, I say.

I’m sad to end this summer’s quest with such a lacklustre finale. However, I still have hope for finding brilliant gelato next year, or at least visiting my Kelowna discovery many, many times when we make our move to Vernon. Until then, may you find your own gelato perfection and, if and when you do, please loop me in!

 

Mid-Week Tangent: hybrids changed my golf game

An alternative title for this post could be ‘what it feels like to play a 9-hole round of golf without rage’, which is exactly what happened this past weekend. For the first time, I didn’t want to throw in the towel by the 6th hole. I didn’t even throw one temper tantrum. Okay, I sort of got riled up when I missed a putt for my first true birdie attempt, but I like to think that’s always going to happen. I mean, seriously, I was robbed! That putt should’ve gone in! But I digress.

What’s important here is that I’ve found my clubs for life, or at least for my learning-to-golf life, and I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made. Actually, yes I can tell you what a difference it’s made, and I’m about to. Coupled with slowing my swing, about which I’ve already gushed of the benefits, these hybrid clubs have lead to such remarkable improvements as…

…Only losing one ball in an entire round! Even the ball I lost last weekend was a solid shot (for me). It cleared the water…but rolled off the bank back into the water. In contrast, most of my previous rounds involved repeated (think 4-5) balls lobbed into the water or hit into think brush never to be seen again. Ultimately, this led to my giving up, taking multi-stroke penalties and resuming play on the other side of the hazard, all in a distinctly worse state of mind.

…Only taking two mulligans! My partner is uber generous with the mulligans, something which has been completely necessary in past rounds where I missed or badly hit virtually every tee shot. This time around I hit some solid tee shots. Now, if they’d just stop lining fairways with trees I’d be set.

…FINALLY hitting the ball straight with some relative consistency. With any other club I have a strong tendency to hit far left. Every. Single. Time. With my hybrids, I am finally hitting straight, at least with a solid lie. If I’m on uneven ground it’s a totally different story and, in those moments, I really wish I could wrap my head around the fundamentals of physics. Something went horribly awry in ninth grade science. Sigh.

…Having so much fun that I lost track of what hole we were on. Usually by the 7th or 8th hole, I’m all like “sweet jesus, can we be done yet?” Imagine my surprise this weekend when I asked my partner what hole we were on and was actually sad when he said it was our ninth and final hole.

…Wanting to practice and play more!  I am now the one asking if we can golf or go to the driving range, and I owe it all to my hybrids.  I love them so much that I imagine it’s like what Ralphie felt like in A Christmas Story when he finally got his longed-for Red Ryder BB Gun and went to bed on Christmas night with it lovingly cradled in his arms. Let’s be clear, I don’t sleep with my hybrid clubs yet…but if I keep knocking four strokes (!!!) off my prior best score like I did last weekend, I just might!

Now if I could only figure out those bloody chip shots…

Monday Musings: finding a short-term, furnished rental is worse than dating

I recently read an article about the hyper competitive rental market in Toronto, where people are apparently writing the equivalent of dating profiles for landlords just to set themselves apart.  I remember reading it and thinking how ridiculous it was to compare seeking a rental to seeking a life mate, and thinking it even more bizarre that someone would essentially write a flashy bio to try to entice landlords to select her.

Well, now that I’m in the midst of the seemingly impossible task of finding a decent, affordable, furnished, and short-term rental in the similarly expensive city of Vancouver, I totally get it. On the outside, me and my partner are a successful, quiet, dependable couple with good credit, with no pets and no kids and no desire to throw disruptive parties in a suite. We sound like dream tenants, don’t we?  The problem: there are countless other couples just like us. On paper, there is nothing that sets us apart. Suddenly, I realize we have to woo potential landlords, something that feels odd and creepy to say the least. And yet, it seems our best option for beating out the rest.

Last night, as we viewed the first listing we’ve seen that actually looked livable and had a decent price tag, I realized we were essentially on a first date with prospective landlords. I mean, we were sitting on the owner’s patio at sunset babbling on about all our best qualities for goodness’ sake. There were the words that we were saying, and then there was the undertone of “pick us! we are the best! you will not regret choosing us!” It was subtle desperation at its finest.

Even responding to rental posts has its ties to the dating process.  It had never occurred to me before I read the article about Toronto’s market, but each of my painstakingly crafted intro messages was just as awful as drafting an online dating profile. You want to be brief but informative, giving true insight into what you’d be like as a tenant, but also wanting to make yourself appear like the absolutely perfect renter. You want to be different than the rest, but not so different as to be seen as strange. You want to be interested, but not so interested as to appear desperate. It’s a fine line to walk.

At the end of the day, no matter what we do the ultimate choice is in the hands of the renter. That’s what makes this the toughest. Much like dating, you have to be willing to put yourself out there and know that sometimes, even though you’re a great catch, the other person may not want you.

…but they should, because we’re FANTASTIC tenants. So if anyone reading this has or knows someone who has a short-term, furnished rental that won’t render us bankrupt, please let me know. We’re really, really awesome tenants.

Mid-Week Tangent: Perks of Having a Homemaker

For four months, I played the part of homemaker and it was a brief but wonderful time. I loved not working. It was grand. And then I went back to work and my world turned into a hectic, mad rush to fit everything in: workouts, work, making breakfast, lunches, helping with dinner, keeping the house tidy, running errands, finding time for friends. Ugh. It was too much. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed since the day I went back to work.

Then, just last week, something magical happened: my partner wrapped up his work until our move. Now, let me just start by saying that my partner has always been wonderful at dividing and conquering household stuff. The problem was that when we were both working, we were rushing around together to get everything done. Both of us felt stressed and overwhelmed. Now that he’s off work I’ve experienced the wonder of being on the receiving end of some seriously fantastic home-making.

Here are just a few of the benefits I’ve experienced:

–I haven’t made a lunch salad in days. I do not miss it. At all. Also, I firmly believe that a salad just tastes better when someone else makes it for you.

–Our dining area no longer looks like a bomb went off in it. Seriously, I used to just cringe staring at all the crap piled up on our table waiting to be organized or put away, but who had the time? And it wasn’t as important as other things. It is oddly soothing to come home to order and tidiness.

–Hallelujah! The bed is being made again! I don’t know why I find it comforting to come home to a bed that’s been made, but I do. Much like the dining area debacle, it’s pretty low on my priority list (think: almost dead bottom) but when it does happen I just feel 10,000 times better.

–I’ve gotten so many treats! My boyfriend knows the way to my heart, and that is through candy and various other sugar-laden things that I shouldn’t be eating but eat with gusto nonetheless. Just yesterday I received a text mid-afternoon that said “there’s three new treats for you to find.” Scavenger hunting for treats! Could there be a better thing to come home to after work? No. The answer is no.

Lest you think I’m totally superficial, in all honesty the nicest thing has been feeling less overwhelmed at the end of the day. Instead of walking in the door and feeling like there’s another 10 things to do immediately, I now feel like I have time to breathe and relax and I am so, so appreciative of that. Trust me when I say when I’m not an overwhelmed stress-ball, it’s also a much better scene for my boyfriend. This is a total win-win. We’ve also been able to spend more quality time together. Just yesterday, we went out, on a work night (!!!!). I mean, it was just a trip to Superstore but, who am I kidding, Superstore trips are like my favourite thing ever.

I think you can tell that I’m a big fan of this transition. Although temporary because, you know, we can’t live without the income forever, it’s still pretty nice to have so many of life’s things taken care of before I even walk through the door at night. Having a homemaker is pretty freaking fantastic.