Friday, May 29, 2009

June Bugs Bunny Cash

I'm nearing the end of my vacation/escape/academic sojourn. Currently, I'm shacked up in Nowhere, Pennsylvania a.k.a Sate College, where *gasp* Penn State is located. Apparently they have a big football stadium and a big campus to put it in. No wonder, there's no other sign of civilization in this part of the state to outbid the college on real estate. I'm not exaggerating either. Find Pennsylvania on a map (hint: it's close to Washington, DC and below the Great Lakes). Now find Pittsburgh (to the West) and then locate Philadelphia (to the East). OK, now if you look carefully for State College you'll find it's approximately smack dab in between the two metropolises of this particular state. Now you might think I'm complaining, but I'm not. I'm simply in awe of the sprawling open green spaces that surround this small college town. It's about as picture perfect a rural setting as one could find.

As for why I'm here in the hinterland of America, well that's quite easy - I'm attending a conference. It's an academic conference hosted by two associations whose main focus is agriculture and food. The name of the conference is Informing the Possibilities for the Future of Food. The three day event is jam packed with 'sessions', where academics (both faculty members and graduate students) make presentations with regard to research they've conducted or are currently working on. It's actually been really interesting. Each session is 1.5 hours and within that session, four academics present their research findings...which translates to about 15 - 20 minutes per presentation. A bunch of sessions run concurrently, but they are organized around themes so I've been able to attend sessions related specifically to local food. It's amazing the diversity of subjects and academic backgrounds that are represented here though - there are English scholars who study food in literature, lots of rural studies people looking at tonnes of different aspects of agriculture, farming, etc. and just as many sociologists researching just as many different things.

As interesting as the sessions have been, truth be told I've enjoyed the field trips and meeting people even more. Yesterday, I joined a 'Local Foods and Winery' tour. We ate lunch at a cafe that sourced its food locally, visited a 10-acre CSA that had an on-site farm shop with deliciousness for sale, and ended at a local winery where we sampled some extremely sweet wines. I am not going to lie - I came back to the hotel with preserves, chocolates and wine.

Tonight I enjoyed dinner at an Amish farm. There are plenty of Amish farms in this area of Pennsylvania and I've learned a lot about their way of life in a very short time. The dinner was spectacular - somehow they managed to fit 45 of us into their farmhouse and serve us up a most delectable dinner including the most delicious mashed potatoes ever (sorry Mom), roast beef that melted in your mouth, supersoft bread with homemade apricot preserves, all sorts of other savoury delights and then scrumptious rhubarb pie, chocolate cake and some sort of fruity compote that I managed to find a second stomach for. Again, I left with food (bread and apricot preserve).

Oh, but I digress. Enough talk of food. I've had so much wonderful food and wine in the last three weeks, but I can't wait to get back to Kingston so I can make a simple meal of spinach salad and an omelette. I am going cold turkey when I return to Kingston - with only 4.5 months until my half marathon I can't be messing around with alcohol or sweets any more. It shall be a dry and sugarless summer for me, and I'm completely OK with that. I will just switch from a sugar addiction to a sneaker addiction. I already have visions of buying Asics from Hashim's corner store in Charlottetown.

I have much more to write about, but I'm close to passing out and still have to figure out what sessions I am going to tomorrow.

It's been almost three weeks since I left Kingston and I reckon this conference is a great way to wrap up what's been a spectacular trip!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Beautiful British Columbia

I am in Victoria, British Columbia. This is my sixth day on the West Coast and so far, everything has been spectacular. A mini-rundown of my travels thusfar, including a bit of a prelude (i.e. my last days in Kingston before I hopped a train to catch a plane out here):
May 8 - 11 - PRELUDE TO A TRIP

So my last weekend before traveling was a crazy, hectic one that lead partially to frustration and partially to fun. On the frustration side was my clumsiness, which lead to me dropping my 1.5 year old Sony camera while the lens was open. Then the lens wouldn't retract. Then I had to shell out a good chunk of $$ to buy a new Canon digital camera. What a time for one to break her camera eh? Just before a trip. Anyways, the other main frustration of the weekend was that I was supposed to housesit/dogsit for my awesome friend Ana. I was meant to stay at the house and take care of Kopka while Ana was off at a kayaking festival (i.e. where there was no cell phone signal). Well, the plan was aborted before it even began because the key to the house did not work and the place was locked up tight so no breaking in through a window. So Kopka was inside and I was outside. She was fine in the end, but I have to admit to feeling like a failure at my first Kopka-sitting gig.

Fun for the weekend included a visit from Doug & Rachel, who were passing through on their way back to PEI from Toronto. I tried to show them the best of Kingston - including the Farmer's Market and the elevator guy at the S&R department store. I also went out dancing with a bunch of Ying's peeps to a place aptly named Stages. A place I'll not likely return to. And the rest of the weekend was spent packing, prepping to leave and catching a late night showing of XMEN Origins. Yuuummmmm to Hugh Jackman.

On Monday I woke up early after a sleepless night (3 hours of sleep were had due to adrenaline coursing through my body). I had to get up earlyish in order to catch a train to Ottawa, where I was staying with Adam and his friend Kelly for the night, before catching my flight on Tuesday. Well,frustrations continued when I discovered that the train was three freaking hours late. Those three hours could have been enjoyed in bed. But I was at the train station and had spent $15 on a cab to get there, so I didn't leave. I waited. And eventually I got my train to Ottawa and had a great evening with Adam, Kelly and another friend of theirs.


Tuesday, I got a lift to the airport with Kelly and Adam. Conveniently Adam was catching a flight to PEI the same day I was catching a flight to Vancouver. The only snag was that Adam's flight was about four hours before mine so I had a lot of time to kill at the airport. I spent a good chunk of it working out - I did lots of leg work in a quiet space that looked out on the tarmac. I'm pretty sure there were a few people staring, but whatever. Airports should have gyms.

The flight to Vancouver was uneventful and I was greeted at the luggage carousel by the friendly face of my fabulous friend, Andrew. We bussed it back to his apartment and spent the remainder of the night watching the Biggest Loser finale. Good stuff. Inspiring. Waaayyy too many prodcut placement ads on that show though. Seriously. WE get it -if you use Ziploc you'll lose weight. The correlation is clear.

Wednesday, Andrew & I went to Granville Island and wandered around the food market and craft shops, then he had to work at the wine store so I wandered a bit more. In the evening we had a delicious homemade dinner of west coast salmon and veggie kabobs. There may also have been some wine consumed.

Thursday we walked down along the waterfront, near Stanley Park and eventually made our way to Canada Place, where a cruise ship was in port. Andrew wanted to watch it leave, so we waited and waited some more, and then it finally left. Woohoo. Apparently there are cruises going super cheap to Alaska - 7 nts for $500. All inclusive. I am tempted.....but not really that tempted.

Friday was probably the most interesting day I've yet had because I decided that my trip to Victoria would be more fun if it were taken by sea plane rather than ferry! The sea plane just made more sense - waaaay faster in terms of taking passengers from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria (the flight itself was 35 mins). The ferry on the other hand is an hour and a half, and while I'd be ok with that, there are also super long bus rides on either side of the ferry - a five hour trip all in all. The seaplane fare was $140 BUT because I am a student I went for the student standby special at $70!! The trip was awesome - it was a gorgeous, sunny day and seeing the islands and mountains from above was def worth the $. The best part - none of the freaking crazy security that they have at normal airports.

Arriving in Victoria I spent the rest of my Friday afternoon sitting on the grass outside the majestic Empress Hotel, reading a trashy fiction novel (Angels & Demons) until my friend, Chris, was able to get off work and collect me. We walked back to the Callendar residence and Chris showed me his vegetable garden and WEndy's flower garden. I was envious. His garden was already very green and I haven't even planted anything in my garden plot in Kingston! After a light dinner Chris & I went to the track to watch a 5k race that some of his friends were in. It was amazing and inspiring. Some of the runners were doing 5 k in under 17 minutes!!! Wow.

Saturday, after a big fry up with Wendy & Chris, I wandered to downtown Victoria and did some sightseeing/shopping. I decided not to go whale watching and quickly spent the whale money on more workout gear. If anything, I'll be a well dressed runner when I get back to Kingston in June! Saturday evening we went over the Natasha's house for a BBQ and delicious fondue. I was soo happy to see Tash, one of my favorite PEI peeps! She loves it out here and I totally understand why.

Sunday, I met up with Tash in the afternoon and we had an awesome time biking the trails of Victoria - I think we tallied up about 33km. It was a perfect bking day - sunny and warm, but not scorching. The best part was that Tash let me ride her AMAZINGLY WESEOM FANTASTIC hybrid bike. What a smooth, fast ride it was. I am in love with Tash's bike. In the evening, I went out with Chris and a couple of his high school friends to a pub in Langford. Originally we were supposed to go to Music Bingo but it was cancelled for some reason. So instead we spent about four hours talking about everything under the sun. Then we went to see Star Trek!! Great flick!

Today i am meeting up with Andrew, who also made the trip to Vancouver Island and we are going on a winery tour! Then he invited me over to his Uncle's place for homemade curry. Am I lucky to have such amazing friends or what? Seriously. Chris, Wendy, Andrew & Tash have been the highlights of my trip so far - they are the sights I've been wanting to see and they have not disappinted!


So far I've been having an amazing trip. The weather has been spectacular for the majority of it, I've had some great quality time with good friends, and I've managed to fit in some exercise every day so far! I've also had some time to read for leisure and think about things I've not had time or the inclination to think about in the past few months.

A few of the bigger revelations that I've stumbled upon and decisions that I've made so far are:

1. I am moving to BC after I am finished school. Probably to Victoria. Everything about this place speaks to me - it's green and lush, with most homes boasting beautiful flower and vegetable gardens, being active is a way of life here - biking and running seem especially popular, the people are friendly and a bit more laid back than in bigger cities, there's plenty of sunshine and escapes to smaller islands are only a hop, skip & jump away, and, of course, some of my favorite people are already living here! I don't know how to explain it, but it feels like home here. Just like Edinburgh did. And just like PEI always doe (but without the downsides of PEI - like being isolated in a small town that's full of old people and has horrible weather for a good chunk of the year)

2. I miss having a network of old friends nearby. In Kingston I have been sooo fortunate to have made friends with some of the most interesting, generous and fun people one could meet and am entirely grateful for that...but...there's no replacing my Jen Mac or Too Far Tash or The Shack or Adam A. . And they are on the coasts, east or west, while I am smack in between in Ontario.

3. I am in need of change. Things need changing. I am going to make some major changes upon my return to Kingston - things that will better my physical and mental well-being. I am constantly being reminded of how intricately linked every facet of one's existence is. There is no separating the physical from the mental or the emotional. I need to keep reminding myself of that.

4. At the end of the day, the truth is that I find myself lonely more often than I care to admit. Lonely doesn't necessarily equate to unhappy, but too much of it can certainly affect one's overall mental and emotional well-being. I think that the frustrations I have been having with regards to my physical well-being over the last few months are directly linked to this loneliness I've been experiencing, but unwilling to acknowledge until recently. It happens every time I leave PEI though. Every time I move to a new place I meet wonderful people and have great experiences, but these are ofen overshadowed by the distress I experience regarding the weight I consistently put on when I live outside of PEI. Well, I realise now that the weight gain is simply a physical manifestation of underlying emotions that I am either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge or simply don't know how to handle. And the root of these emotions is a sense of being alone - there is nothing that can compare to the security and familiarity one feels in a place where family and old friends are a stone's throw away. That is something I can atest to now, having lived as far away from PEI as one possibly could. Phone calls, messenger and emails are no substitute for being able to spend an afternoon out on the deck with your family or a night out at a favorite old watering hole with some of your best friends.

And that's all I can say for now. I am going somewhere on this trip,but I'm not sure where yet..

Thursday, May 07, 2009

With a Pint of Cider Under My Belt....

There was spring lamb, chocolate cupcakes, a party hat to end all party hats, an entertaining karaoke version of Sweet Caroline and over the top ice cube throwing. A grand night all in all was had at the Tir Na Nog. And here I find myself in front of Mr. Mac. It's 12.05 am and I haven't done my half hour of writing for today - much time was devoteed instead to cursing the ethics process at Queen's, which requires one such as myself to complete 20 pages of paperwork. I heart bureaucracy!

So some random notes and rants to come. Bear in mind I've had ice cubes thrown at my cleavage tonight and have a pint of cider running throough my veins (not biologically true I suspect, but it sounds good).

Random Notes:

I am going to be a runner. Right now I am a gym rat, but that's not the same thing. The reason I know I am going to become a runner in the near future is because I've decided to. One of my goals for 2009 was to run a half marathon and I've finally decided to take that goal seriously. So I registered for the PEI half marathon, which takes place October 18th. Conveniently this works well with visiting the Island apporox. one month after Sister & Rowan welcome ye first Courtney/Thunder munchkin :) And as a warm up for the half marathon I've registered for an 8km 'Beat Beethoven' race here in Kingston which takes place June 7th. Apparently an orchestra plays a 50 minute Beethoven piece and the goal is to run the race before the music stops. So...YAY. I'm pumped. Last year it was the 320 km Tip to Tip cycling trip...this year it' lot of kilometres by foot. Note to self - check the exact kilometreage.

I am having my first PEI visitors to Kingston tomorrow!! So excited to welcome Doug and Rachel to the limestone city. I have many plans to impress them so that they will return tothe Island and convince everyone else that they MUST visit Kingston (and me!). First stop on Saturday will be the Farmer's Market! Friday night...hmmm....maybe a party or two. We'll show the Ontarians how it's done..

I'm dogsitting/housesitting this weekend. I will be the proud, albeit temporary, guardian of Kopka (a.k.a. Ana's aweomse Husky sled dog). I swear she's a mancatcher! And it'll be nice to stay at Ana and Ben's place, because, well, I need an escape from my place at the moment.

Vancouver bound on Tuesday! Seriously. Vancouver? Tuesday? How did that happen? Oh yeah...that booking I made back in the depths of frigid February. Ah, to be on the West Coast. I can't wait to see all my peeps - ANdrew, Natasha, Chris & Wendy, Eddy,Scooter, Brie & Aurelien. When I list off the people I know (and love!) in BC, I wonder why I'm not already living there. Still, I have great people here in Kingston. I've determined there are great people's just a matter of finding them and then Velvcroing. Trust me...that last part of that last sentence makes sense to me right now. Maybe it was more than one pint of cider.

Anyways...almost two weeks in Vancouver then I hop across the border to Pennsylvania, where I'll hopefully have a place to stay at Emily's in Pittsburgh and then eventually I'll find my way to State College (where Penn State is located) for a conference on the Future of Food. Good stuff, can't complain about an academic conference where there's the opportunity to have dinner at an Amish farm and a local foods picnic complete with fiddling music. I may be imaging the fiddling music part, but it sounds fun yes?

Very Obtuse Rants:

I have nothing. I had rants I was conjuring up earlier in the week, but they've left me. Odd.
Very odd. Completely unacceptable really, I like to think a rant at 12.24 am is the sign of good things to come.

oooooh. I just remembered one of my rants. Sooooo.....Sony sucks. But it's not just Sony, it's approximately 98.412% of the companies out that that produce 'things'. Well, let me tell you, they may manufacture them things,. but they surely don't build them to last. And I am 100% aware that this may be the most brilliant business model ever conceived: let's build stuff that people want, or think they must have, but let's build it so it only lasts a year or two. When it breaks, they'll have to buy the newest model. We'll stay in business and they'll be happy because they have the 'latest' model. Tech products are an obvious one here ...for example a digital camera that can't handle a mere 4 ft drop to a carpeted floor or a DV player that goes wonky after a year, but there are other, simpler products, that are also built to NOT last. Like, for example, an iTouch carrying case that only lasts four months, or boots that are worn after six months, or a blender that starts to moan after a year. I tell you who should be moaning - YOU and ME. We are getting screwed over royally by this 'disposable' business model. I'm not old enough to say 'I remember when I bought things that lasted 20 years...but I do remember that the blender and electric beaters that my Mom had in her kitchen were there from my first memories and remain usable and actually better at performing their tasks of blending and beating than their new fangled versiosn with all the bells and whistles and crappy 90 day guarantees.

A 90 day guarantee?? Seriously.

And speaking of shoddyness...what about the Confederation Bridge to PEI. The thing cost $1 billion dollars to build..the company could only guarantee it's life for 100 years. Um....the pyramids of Egypt and the Roman Coleseum...need I say more.

We are getting jipped and we don't seem to care. In fact, it seems that many of us are embracing the idea of getting more and more, of replacing yesterday's gizmos with today's and being totally cool with a gadget that has a lifespan of a year. Really? That's good enough?

I, personally, don't think so. But what do I know...I just came home from the pub.