Setting myself up

I've signed up for a health assessment available from the campus gym, the BirdCoop. For a mere $32 they'll take my measurements, give me cardio, strength, and flexibility tests, take my blood pressure and determine my body composition (% body fat, etc.). Someone tell me why I'm nervous about exposing myself to this assessment? They can only tell me ways to improve on areas of health and fitness and it's not like the assessment determines anything with serious implications like my ability to do my job. Still, knowing that it is looming - scheduled for Wednesday morning - makes me want to run an extra few km and bench press the cats and eat parsley by the bunch and get my hair cut in an attempt to shed a few ounces. Crazy, huh? I guess I expect that most people overestimate their level of fitness and I'm not above that myself, but it will still be hard to hear. The likely outcome is that my cardio will be deemed fairly good but my strength results will be abysmally low. I've never had my body composition done so whatever numbers they give me for that will not be comparable to anything, they will only be a starting point.

All this to say, don't expect me to report the findings in great detail here but I am curious to see how they do the various tests and how they assess my fitness and health measures. I'll let you know!

Update: I rescheduled. Not canceled, rescheduled. Why? Because a friend of a friend was graduating from stand-up comedy school and we went out to support her at her debut open mike night yesterday. You can't watch stand-up comedy sober, and apparently you can't get your health assessed within 24 hours of imbibing alcohol. So, it will be next week sometime. instead.


Applecare Shmapplecare

I got this spankin' new Macbook this time last year and did extensive research on apple.com and various mac forums on how to get the most out of warranties and protection, among other features. The best advice was to take full advantage of the one-year protection that comes with every new Apple computer, then just before the year of free coverage was up, buy the Applecare plan to extend the coverage over the next three years: four years of coverage in total.

Lats year I marked the date on my calendar this year to buy Applecare at the beginning of this month so I didn't miss the deadline. As you know, we were traveling like crazy in October, such that when I got home I had a bad case of empty pockets and a full work/school schedule to catch up on. Days passed, I put off calling Apple and found a way to pay the $300 for Applecare. Turns out that was unnecessary. I am six days late. Six (6!) days. They transferred me around to a couple different departments trying to score me an exception to the 1-year deadline, but in the end they just won't do it for me. Sucks! Misers!

Maybe the $300 sounds like a lot to you, but considering how disposable computers are made to be now, I figured that four years of top-of-the-line coverage would not only get me through my degree, but probably see me to my next computer. Now I'll have to pay the one-time fee when something breaks; I'm not sure what the one-time fee is, it probably is dependent on what breaks, but I am sure that a couple one-time fees over the next three years will add up to more than the $300 right now.

I'm pissed at myself. Now who's the asshat?

On another note, I'm finally going to pick up the car from the mechanic this afternoon. That's a whole other saga that I haven't really blogged about but is now going into its fourth month! Cross your fingers and toes that this time does the trick and we'll have a dependable car for the winter months and the year to come. At least now I have room on my credit card to pay the repair cost since Apple wouldn't take my money.

Sheesh. I need to go for a run.


Another meme

Office Lip Dub!

First there was Connected Ventures, a company with an office full of young folks with too much energy and a large stereo. After work one day, everyone was hanging out at the office, as you do when you totally love your workplace and your colleagues - sure. They cranked the stereo, put on "Flagpole Sitta" by Harvey Danger, and created the world's first Office Lip Dub.

Sorry, the Youtube embedding broke so here is a new link to the video. Trust me, I know a lot of people don't bother clicking on links but it is definitely worth watching!

This first one is still the best, by far, but lots of groups have responded with lip dubs of their own in a variety of work places. Part music video, part workplace promo, all fun, the office lib dub is now a meme popping up all over the internet. It even has its own website. Wikipedia has heard of lip dubbing but not the specialised form of the office lip dub.

Here's one that will appeal particularly to Rocco:

Again, no embedding but watch the video here. Do it! Doo eeet!

I want to make one! There's at least a few people in my building at UBC who would definitely be into it. We'll need a catchy but unusual song, a video camera (the department has one) and some willing volunteers. So fun! You can search for lots more lip dubbing on youtube.com or vimeo.com, but the original and the first responses are all at www.officelipdub.com.


The South, Part 2: Savannah, Georgia

After the wedding in Charleston, Rocco and I had planned an escape-à-deux from the wedding hordes. We took a Greyhound bus two hours southwest, following the Atlantic coast, to Savannah, Georgia. I'd booked a room in the Forsyth Park Inn, a gorgeous little B&B with two resident cats. We both felt weirdly grown up to be staying in a B&B with 5 other 50+ couples, and apparently we weren't the Inn's usual customers. The guy who greeted us was fairly shocked that we arrived by Greyhound and further upset that we grabbed a cab from a cab company "owned by blacks and they only employ blacks". Huh. Thanks for the tip, asshat. I worried that we were about to see the dark side of the south and be surrounded by racism and prejudice, but really that was the only remark about race we heard the whole time.

Savannah is very different from Charleston which I found surprising since they are so close geographically and share a similar economic, social and political history. It's obvious that Savannah was the seat of industry, receiving, processing, and selling cotton, while Charleston was the seat of luxury where the rich had their sprawling homes and went boating for pleasure.
The map above shows you the historic district of Savannah - the area is gridded and inlaid with little gorgeous public squares. Each square is in honour of an historic figure like civil war heroes, politicians, etc. It's very lovely to encounter a treed green space every couple of blocks and each square has a distinct feel and surrounding neighbourhood. The Forsyth Park Inn is just to the left of Forsyth Park, about halfway up, and it took us about 20, 25 minutes to walk to the waterfront from there.

Down at the water, the city splits into two levels: water-level streets where cotton was hauled off the boats and brought into the warehouse buildings that line the row, and city-level streets two or three flights up. The cotton was brought in from the boats by slaves, then processed as it moved up the buildings, finally being sold at auction at the city-level. Here's a view of the city-level street bridging across the water-level street.

The architecture in Savannah is mostly brick, very austere, and few yards or verandas in sight until you get towards Forsyth Park, unlike Charleston.

Mostly we walked and walked, checking it all out and trying to walk off the ginormous southern breakfast the Inn offered every morning. The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is a large and respected institution that is very hard to miss around town. SCAD has bought and refurbished many of the historic buildings in the downtown core so the name and student and faculty art are everywhere. We took advantage of one tourist trap - a ghost tour! It was the most bizarre and hilarious thing; we rode around in a 1981 hearse that they popped the top off to make room for eight swivel seats in the bed.

It was just so corny! The guide drove us all around town, stopping in front of random buildings and trying to freak us out with gory stories and fanciful phantasmagoria. No, I didn't see anything spooky, but it was still kind of cool. The guide is a maniac, some dude from New York City just trying to make a buck and trying to make us believe that he believes in his stories. He also spotted a car he used to own and we stalked it from the hearse for a few minutes. Rocco and I got trapped for much longer than the tour should have lasted and ended up in the hearse for 1.5 tours. The stories and buildings changed in the subsequent second half-tour. Take of that what you will.

Things we missed out on while in the South: grits - it just didn't happen and I don't mind; mint julep - didn't see a dram of bourbon even once. Things we really loved and had in excess: verandas! Sitting on verandas with cats and wine or cats and breakfast or cats and books.

After two nights in sunny Savannah, we boarded a plane for New York. Big Apple, here we come!



Continuing the theme of seasonal cooking, kale is abundant right now and the stores need to shift it. Do your part! Eat your greens!

Kale puttanesca

1 small onion, chopped
4 or 5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp capers, drained
4 or 5 cups kale, stems removed, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp black or Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 box whole wheat thin pasta like spaghetti or spaghettini
parmesan, shaved

Set pasta to boil with a little salt, drain when al dente.
Meanwhile fry the onion, garlic, tomatoes, chili flakes, s&p in olive oil over medium heat until onions are very translucent and tomatoes are gooey. Add balsamic, tomato paste, capers., and 1/2 cup water. Give it a stir, then add kale on top of other ingredients, cover and let the kale wilt for about 5 minutes. Add olives and stir to mix.
Dump drained pasta and some parmesan shavings into kale pot and toss to mix. Serve topped with more parmesan shavings.

Holy cats this stuff is good! I took a kale puttanesca recipe that called for anchovies and replaced the fish with a few other ingredients to sub-in for anchovy characteristics. Extra capers for the saltiness of anchovies, balsamic vinegar for a bit of tang, and because anchovies tend to break down and go mushy with any heat, I used a bit of tomato paste for the gush. It worked out really well. I might need to buy more kale this weekend and attempt a replication. Next time I'll leave out the chili flakes. The heat was nice but I think almost overpowered the other flavours. Instead, I'll sub in 1/4 tsp of nutmeg. Yeah, nutmeg.

The dish really went well with a celebratory bottle of vino, Marquis Philips 2004 Shiraz. Celebratory, you ask? Well, that will be revealed in time. It's Rocco's news, not mine, and we'll hold onto it for now until everything is finalised. Don't worry, it's all good. In any case, a strong red goes really nicely with the puttanesca! So do lap cats, and a cozy Friday night in.

Have a fantastic long weekend!

Door cat



The Sow-uth: Charleston, SC

Rocco and I caught the Quick Shuttle from Vancouver to Seattle on Thursday, October 11th, after work. His cousin collected us off the bus, we had a quick meal in the Ballard district where everyone and every bar/restaurant is funky and cool, then we crashed for a couple hours at his bachelor pad. He kindly drove us to the Seatac airport the next morning and we boarded a plane to Charleston, South Carolina by way of Cincinnati, Ohio. For some reason, although we crossed the width of the continent, it really didn't feel as long a trip as Vancouver to Toronto sometimes feels.

We were in Charleston to attend a friend's wedding. Colman, the groom, met Rocco in Ireland but has been living in New York for about 4 years. He met a gal there who is half American, half Brazilian, and who went to college in Charleston. An Irish-Brazilian wedding in the American South? Hell yah!

The wedding was bee-you-ti-full! They chose amazing venues for the ceremony and the reception, really showcasing the structures of the south.

The wedding party (Colman and his bride, Bell) in front of the church

As the wedding meandered around Charleston a bit, they arranged for these old-school trolleys to ferry guests from one venue to another. You can also just see Rocco looking dashing in his grey suit if you zoom in on the photo.

There are many other photos of the wedding night but most of them are drunken, blurry photos. Too bad we didn't get some shots of the reception venue because it was held in an old rice mill that has been renovated and sits right on the water. The bride and groom provided a 5 course dinner and open bar, a Brazilian band, and the building was strewn with buckets of plastic flip-flops for guests to put on when their stupid dress shoes started to hurt. brilliant! I still have my hot pink pair, and since I didn't pack very well for the heat of the south, they came in handy during the rest of the trip.

The day after the wedding, three of us rented bicycles and toured around the historic district of downtown Charleston. I'm now convinced, cycling is the best way to see a city! The fact that they call a specific area the historic district is a bit of a misnomer since the whole city (that we saw) was done up and maintained to the same degree and aesthetic.
Two goofs crashing their rental bikes, Matrix-style. John is a great guy and a good friend of Rocco's. The three of us spent most of our time together while in Charleston.

A very expensive-looking street facing the water.

So many houses look like this: a skinny street front with what appears to be a solid front door, but behind the door, from the side, you can see that the "front door" opens onto a veranda. This style apparently was so popular because street frontage is the most expensive cost of a lot so home owners built long and skinny. I love the double veranda!

Everywhere you look, white trim and open-air verandas.

As you can see, we had crazy sunny weather the whole time in Charleston, and later in Savannah as well. We failed to get to the beach but I feel like we got a good feel for Charleston. The people are super friendly and everything moves at a relaxed pace. I got in the habit of answering almost everything with the pervasive "mmm-hmmmmmmmmmmm" affirmative that every local gave us. For all its charms, we didn't see the upscale side of Charleston outside of the wedding festivities. I couldn't find an espresso to save my life and eventually broke down to buy a Starbuck's americano on our last morning.

The wedding over, most of the oversea guests decamped to New York, but Rocco and I headed to Savannah, Georgia which is about two hours away by bus. I'm really glad we did since we got to see two very different cities of the south, and we stalled the culture shock of moving from the slow pace of Charleston to the fast pace of New York City. But that's all a story for another day. Check back later!


Fall cooking, continued

Now that we're back (and yes, more about the trip will be posted - lots more) I feel like I've had two summer-to-autumn transitions. Vancouver started feeling like fall before we left, then we experienced super hot weather in Charleston and Savannah. Moving north through New York, up the Hudson Valley, and into Toronto where it was cool and rainy, it felt like that transition was happening all over again and in a condensed time frame. I thought I had the fall cooking bug before we left, well now it's on me ten-fold.

Today I made Irish stew, using seitan which is a gluten product that can absorb flavours and kind of mimics the texture of beef - well, kind of. The house smells so good! When was the last time I had Irish stew? Probably over seven years ago before the whole vegetarian thing kicked in. The result today looks and smells terrific. It turns out we forgot that a friend from Toronto is coming to town and we had casual plans to meet him out somewhere for dinner. The stew will definitely keep until tomorrow, and will probably even improve with sitting, but now neither of us wants to go out for a night on the town! Sometimes comfort food is just the thing.


1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups seitan -- chunked
1.5 cups carrots -- chopped
1.5 cups portobello mushroom, chopped
1 cup onion -- chopped
1.5 cups potatoes -- peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tsp rosemary -- whole
1 tsp garlic -- minced
1 tsp basil
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups water
4 tsp tamari soy sauce
1 Tbsp Worchestershire sauce (vegan)
1/4 cup celery -- chopped
4 Tbsp water -- cold
3 Tbsp cornstarch

1. Saute seitan in oil over medium heat in a large pot until seitan crisps up a bit.
2. Put veggies (except celery), and herbs and spices into the pot. Sautee in a little water or veggie broth at medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring to prevent burning.
3. Add tomato paste, water, Worchestershire and tamari and bring to a simmer. Cook about 10 more minutes or until veggies are soft. [I used pretty big chunks of veggies so cooked it quite a bit longer in this stage]
4. Add celery (add at end to help retain color and texture).
5. Mix the 4 T cold water with the cornstarch. Turn off heat under stew. Vigorously stir in cornstarch solution. Turn heat back on under stew and stir until thickened.

Number of Servings: 4 - 6


In the beginning...there was Victoria.

Wow. Long time no post. But LOTS has been going on. I'll start posting it, bit by bit, as I find time. Still playing catch up with work and school now that we're back. We were away almost all of October! The cats still recognise us, so that's good.

Ok, first of all, The Duchess came to town! She stayed in Vancouver a couple days with us then went over to Victoria to meet up with Dora, Marko Polo, and others. Rocco, Steve and I followed the next day. It was round 3, you see. Third year in a row for me to run the Royal Victoria Half Marathon. And this year I was going to kick its ass. This year, many people were going to do a lot of kicking.

The weekend was pretty rainy and the race morning forecast was not good: Heavy rains promised for the entire day. But, it seems my friend N's luck of never racing in bad weather rubbed off on me, or it was the confluence of great people all in one town for the weekend creating good energy. Whatever the vector, race morning dawned quite dry and even a little sunny. Two of our party ran the 8km and I ran the half, all in a surprising window of nice weather! Not that you can tell from the darkness of our pre-race photo:

But, a few minutes later as the races began, the sky was lightening, offering enough light for Dora and Rocco to perform the necessary crotch check just before the starting gun went off.

The gun went off and the race began! Look how excited these two are!

And for good reason. Dora ran a 47 minute 8km, a personal best, and Rocco ran the course in 51 minutes 15 seconds (he'd like me to point out that his time is palindromic) on an injured hamstring. Rocco had been training for this race for two months and injured his hamstring two weeks before it. Being his FIRST EVER race, and receiving a good race number, he was convinced to run it anyway. Both Dora and Rocco are very happy with their results, as they damn well should be! Yay!

I also had a great race in the window of good weather. I was aiming to run it under 2 hours, with a secret - unspoken - goal of coming in between 1:50 and 1:55. Good training, good weather, great support, and my fast laces helped me run the course in 1:48. I'm so, so satisfied and pleased! It was also great for the spectators that the rain held off as they hustled between different viewpoints along both the 8km and the half-marathon courses all morning.

After a bit of R&R, and a post-race massage generously donated by The Duchess (oh baby!), we went for turkey dinner at a good friend's house with everyone, I think 16 or 17 people, in town for race weekend/Thanksgiving. Good food, good times, good wine. Later on, Rocco, The Duchess and I went on to a fantastic concert by a Winnipeg band, The Weakerthans in downtown Victoria. Holy crap, by the end of the night I was more ready for bed than I have ever been. I wish I had some pictures of more of the gang because there really were lots of fun folks in town including two cute little noodles (at the time) still under the age of 1. I guess the cameras were worn out from covering the races.

A little more socialising and museum-visiting the next day and finally we caught the ferry back to Vancouver. The Duchess kept us company for a couple more days before heading back up north. One day later, we headed south, but that's another, longer story. To be continued...