Saturday, March 23, 2013

Earth Hour

It's Earth Hour here at the Treehouse.

The lights are out, the candles are lit, and everything's turned off except my computer.  But that's running on battery power, so I'm going to count that as Earth Hour-compliant.

I thought that in honour of the day I would share a few pictures from some power-free hours I spent wandering the shores of Lake Erie with a couple of pals.

My friends are GIANTS!

Camping at Rock Point Provincial Park is one of my favourite things to do in the summer.  I usually manage to get there at least two or three times a year.

Ancient lake bed.

When the afternoon wanes, we generally take a slow stroll along the shore toward the sunset.

Kelly Long-Legs.

The light is just incredible, changing constantly but ever so subtly, so that just when you think you know the shore you look around and realize it's completely different again.

Blue Steel.
I like to study the fossils and poke around in the muddy, weedy tidepools that are everywhere.  Or dip my toes in the cool water.  Or just look up at the sky and be quiet for awhile.

So still.

Observing Earth Hour reminds me to treasure hours like these.  Just a couple of pals and a sunset shore and a hundred thousand fossils. 

Or nights like tonight.  Just me, my candlelit Treehouse loft, a pile of soft pillows, the night sky outside the glass doors, and a few minutes alone with my thoughts.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

16 purely physical travel memories

The breathlessness of that first early spring dive into the steely blue-grey depths of Lake Erie.

Letting two Thai teens "teach" me Thai dance by essentially snapping my fingers off.

Flying backward down the aisle of the bus during a sudden stop on our way down from Lake Louise.

Learning the strength of an elephant's trunk as he tugs a banana out of my hand. 

Floating on a champagne cloud after an evening at the Moulin Rouge.

The slippery skin of a "bandit" (stingray) who sprung up unexpectedly under my feet in Florida.

Filling my lungs with cold misty mountain air after my triumphant ascent of a 4000m+ pass.

Shaking with anticipation in a darkened Broadway theatre waiting for my beloved Sir Patrick Stewart to take the stage as MacBeth.

Cuddling Funky the baby monkey.

Smoking a lotus seed cigarette with a clairvoyant monk in an overstuffed armchair.

Squeezing the spine of a piranha between my fingers.

Losing my grip on up-versus-down as I tumble in the barrel of a too-big wave in Mexico.

Feeling a baby alpaca wriggle with pleasure in my arms as his toes are tickled.

Floating out of myself somewhere around hour two of chanting with the monks at Wat Don Chan.

The stinging cold and stunning clarity of the water from the Athabasca Glacier.

Kissing by the light of the Southern Cross in the middle of the Andes.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thai Cooking Class: Making A Spectacle of Myself

Many of my memories of Thailand are recorded in sensations: the way the flavour of my first-ever mango seemed to explode on my tongue; the thousand folds in an elephant's leathery skin beneath my fingers; the scent of hookah smoke as I watched it curl lazily up into an endless spread of stars over my little straw beach mat.

But these are the pleasant sensations.  I can think of at least one sensation I experienced in Thailand that was --- somewhat less pleasant.

My new pal Rose, whom I'd met while volunteering, suggested that we spend a day taking a Thai cooking course.  Seeing this as a means of inexpensively supporting my newly-accelerated Thai noodle addiction once I got back home, I agreed.

New friends - pleasant sensation!
We met our small class at the beautiful old teak wood building that housed the cooking school.  After a short orientation we were off to the local market to learn how to select ingredients.

That market was a blur of pleasant sensations: fresh fruits and vegetables piled in bright towers; the mingled scent of a hundred spices perfuming the air; fresh fish whizzing from vendor to vendor, slapping wetly as they connected with their targets.

We learned the fine art of choosing the best ingredients, sniffing and squeezing and bartering, and then toted our selections back to the school.

The teacher's daughter Bam-Bam made some excellent recommendations.

The first course (papaya salad) was prepared without incident.  The teacher complimented me on my dicing technique, and I moved into the next course -- green curry -- puffed up with gastronomic pride.  Forgetting, of course, that pride always comes before a fall.

 I was excited about the curry course because I was going to get to use a mortar and pestle for the first time.  The set we were using was massive and made of heavy stone, so the group took turns pounding the chili peppers. 

My first turn went by without incident.  I happily pounded away with the heavy pestle, the spicy chilies tickling my nose, then passed the mortar on when my arm got tired.  When my second turn came I took hold of the pestle, laughing, overconfident, and slammed it back down into the mortar.

I could never in a million years have managed it had I been trying, but I somehow hit the half-mashed chili at just the right angle to send a huge chunk of the fiery hot juice straight into my open left eye.

I can't remember exactly what thoughts were running through my head at the time, but I imagine they went something like "AAAAIIIIEEEEEEAIAIAIAIEEEE!" punctuated by some inventive cursing.  The mortar and pestle hit the ground with a mighty clunk.  My body flailed around wildly, unequipped to cope with that kind of pain.  A veritable waterfall of tears spouted from my eye in a vain attempt to flush the terrible stuff out. 

Fortunately for my ocular health (and my self-esteem), this was a common enough injury at the cooking school.  The teacher herded me over to the outdoor sink, turned on the tap and shoved my head under it.  As the tepid water slowly soothed my burning eyeball (but not my embarrassment), the rest of the group pounded up another pepper and finished the curry in record time.

Apparently you don't need to ingest chilies via the proper orifice for them to make you sweat.  Also, check out that bloodshot eye!  SEXY!

The rest of the courses were prepared without incident, thanks largely to the group's wise decision to keep me far away from any dangerous produce.  Once the burning had been reduced to a tolerable level I contrived to enjoy myself immensely.  I even managed to get in a few eye puns, each one cornea than the last (WAH-wah!).

I think it's safe to say that I learned a lot more in that cooking class than the average student.  I guess that makes me an excellent pupil?  Bahaha!  What, you don't like puns?  Don't lash out!  Wooo, eye'm on a roll!  Badoom-CHING!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

"A girl playing in the mud?!"

A little story from my childhood in honour of International Women's Day.

I would have posted it yesterday, but first I was busy helping my family and then getting all dressed up for a night out. Just like a woman. :)

One year my elementary school was renovating the long jump pits. The construction crews had dug them out leaving a massive mud pile in the middle of our playing field. I doubt that I need to explain what a temptation this was for a yard full of bored children. Naturally the administration instructed us not to touch the mud pile. And just as naturally, being told not to touch it made it next to impossible not to.

 The other girls managed to resist the lure of the mud pile, but about a dozen boys and I scaled the mighty mud mountain. We clambered happily over and around it, slipping and squelching until, inevitably, we were caught. They frogmarched us to the office and lined us up outside the principal's door. I was last in line, and I was petrified. Sure, I'd been chastised by the teacher for talking too much on occasion, but I'd never been in the kind of trouble that required the principal's intervention before.

One by one the boys went in, the door shut, the principal's voice droned for awhile, and then the boys came out. The line inched forward silently until it was my turn. I stepped inside the office, eyes cast down, and stopped on the worn spot in the carpet in front of the desk. I peeked timidly up at the principal from under my lashes and saw his eyes widen in surprise. "A girl?!", he exclaimed. "A girl playing in the mud?"

Not "A student with a perfect behavior record!", or "A child with straight A's!", but "A girl!", as though there was something shameful and shocking about a female who liked to play in the dirt.

I remember wondering as I carried out my punishment (copying two pages out of the dictionary by hand) if there was something wrong with me. Was it not OK for me to like dirt and bugs and the Ninja Turtles? Did I have to trade in my sneakers for jelly shoes in order to keep my 'girl card'? At the time the thought repulsed me. I was most decidedly a tomboy and I was determined to stay that way.

Now I'm a little smarter. I know being a girl can mean anything I want it to. I spent the first half of this International Women's Day using power tools to help hang a sign on my aunt's store. In a few minutes I'm going to put on makeup and heels and a fancy dress and spend the evening being ladylike. And tomorrow I'll probably go out and play in the almost-spring mud. All those girls are me, and that's pretty OK.

Horseshoe crab!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

When Kelly Met Needles: An Amazonian Love Story

A few people have asked me about this picture:

"Where are you?"  "What kind of fish is that?"  "And what the hell are you doing to it?"

I was in the Amazon jungle.  We set out before dawn, our group stumbling sleepily out of the lodge, down through the jungle, and piling into long wooden boats that cut almost silently through the dark water.

We were headed for an oxbow lake, which is a U-shaped body of water that's formed when a wide curve of a river is cut off and creates a lake (thanks Wikipedia!).  This was allegedly the favourite haunt of some river otters, and was also a good place to view many of the larger birds that lived in the area.

And then we were going to go piranha fishing.  Naturally.

The journey through the cool early morning was beautiful, the sun creeping dreamily up over the tops of the trees.  We drifted around the edges of the lake, but the otters didn't appear to be at home that day.  We did catch sight of a toucan in the distance, and some of the ubiquitous monkeys chittered away from the darkness below the canopy.

A couple of other boats joined us, keeping their distance to maximize the chances of seeing some wildlife, but there wasn't much to see.

At least, not above the surface of the lake.

Our guides pulled out a few fishing rods and some bloody chunks of mystery meat and showed us how to thread the meat securely over the hooks.  We all took it in turns to drop the hook into the water and jig the gruesome bait around, hoping to arouse the interest of the piranhas.

It seemed that we had chosen a bad spot.  All around us, cheers and cries erupted from other groups tucked into the folds of the shoreline as they pulled piranha after piranha from the depths.  But on our boat, no luck.  Well, one of our guides DID manage to pull up some kind of large snapping turtle, which was cool but not the kind of excitement we were looking for.

For some reason, I was very focused on catching a piranha.  Despite the gorgeousness of the brightening sky and the exotic foliage and my general distaste for harassing wild animals, all of my attentions were concentrated on the muddy water below.

I tried first one end of the boat and then the other, holding my rod near to the sides and then as far out as the pole would reach.  Wrinkling my nose, I squeezed more blood out of the meat to scent the waters with.  I tried to think like a poor defenseless prey fish, doing my best to make the bait glide cautiously through the water, then jerked it around as though I were in distress.

I had just about given up on ever catching anything (and was thinking some very dark thoughts about the more successful fishermen all around us) when I felt a sharp tug on the line.  I'm not sure, but I think I may have squealed like a 12-year-old.  I tried to remember all the advice my grandfather had given me about reeling in a fish:  don't jerk too hard or you'll shake him loose, but don't hesitate too long or he'll work himself free of the hook and get away.  I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes and pulled.

I bet we made a pretty hilarious sight, with the piranha swinging wildly over the boat and everyone diving out of the way as though it were a great white.  One of the guides managed to catch him in his hands and held him up for everyone to see.  He was tiny, but SO AWESOME.  His scales were a shiny golden-green, his eyes wide and red.  The guide showed us how to hold him by pinching him vertically between your thumb and index finger.  In this position, he couldn't move much so we could get a good look at him.  He offered a thick leaf to the little guy and we watched as his teeth, like tiny shards of broken glass, shredded it effortlessly.  Needles, I thought.  That's his name.

I was feeling pretty bad for poor Needles, stuck up here out of the water, but I was ACHING to hold him just for a minute.  The guide passed him carefully over to me.  I was struck by how solid his body was.  The other fish I'd held were floppy and fluid, but Needles was like a slimy green rock.  With terrifying teeth.  I looked him in the eye for a minute, predator to predator, and thanked my lucky stars that I was so much bigger than him.

After everyone had had a chance to get a quick look, I insisted that it was time for Needles to get some oxygen.  As I tossed him back into the lake, I was worried that we'd kept him out too long, but my worries were in vain.  With a contemptuous flick of his tail, Needles shot off into the depths in search of less annoying company.  Or perhaps a snack.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Say sure!

Hey guys, what's up?  What do you mean, where have I been?

I've spent the last couple of days with my family in Niagara helping my auntie Lise get her new store ready for the grand opening in the first week of March.

Ain't it pretty?

I'm really glad I was able to come home and help her, and not just because I, y'know, love her and all.  I've had a really rough couple of weeks, and tearing down crappy walls and painting up shiny new ones is all soothing and symbolic and stuff.

While we were working today, my aunt told me about my childhood catchphrase.  Whenever I asked someone for something, I would immediately follow it with "Say sure!" in my chirpiest, winning-est voice.

"Hey Auntie Lise, want to go to McDonald's?  Say sure!"

"Hey mom, can we go to the zoo?  Say sure!"

"Hey dad, it's OK if I keep this raccoon I found, right?  Say sure!"

My mom said "sure" to short-shorts!

I love this, and I'm making it my new philosophy!

"Self," I'll say, "Wanna sign up for that tap class you've been eying?  Say sure!"

Or "Hey self!  Let's hit the road and go visit the world's biggest ball of yarn like you've always wanted to.  Say sure!"

Or even "Yo!  Self!  That guy is totally cute and definitely checking you out.  Aren't you gonna go chat him up?  Say sure!"

There'll obviously be one or two things I'll have to say "surely not!" to (especially once my male friends get wind of this), but for the most part, I think this is going to be awesome!  I'll keep you posted on the results.

Tomorrow Dad and I are going to visit some old Winger haunts -- like, seven-times-great-grandfather old -- and I'll be blogging about it.  There's at least one suspicious death in our family history, so it should be good reading!

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