Making, not buying

This past weekend, the mother of a friend asked me what my mother had taught me to do in the kitchen. I told her about the years spent helping to make pasta and bread and sausages. Then she admonished me, saying that I should only learn to make the things that I can't buy.

"All those years that my sister and I made tortellini into the middle of night, it wasn't because we wanted to, it was because we couldn't buy them anywhere. Now that you can buy pasta, why would you make it?"

I didn't reply properly at the moment because my mouth was busy deconstructing some fruit, but here is my full response now.

It's a health thing. Although there are many grocery stores, brands and eateries that I trust, there are three times more stores, brands and eateries that I don't. When you make something yourself, you can choose quality ingredients that you can feel good about. You know what's going into your food... which is not something you can say most of the time.

It's a social thing. There is great pleasure in creating food and eating it together. I don't make everything that I eat, but sometimes it's a nice excuse for bringing people together. Even if she did make tortellini all night long - she was doing it with her sister.

It's working with your hands. Understandably, this woman works with her hands every day and it must be a pleasure to just buy the stuff and give the digits a break. But for the rest of us that make our living staring at computer screens and tapping at keyboards, it's a pleasure to switch skill sets and make something with our hands instead. When my work day is drawing to an end and I'm exhausted between the ears, I long to clear my head by plunging my hands into soft dough.

And lastly, the food just tastes better.

Be careful. For the kids.

Sign spotted on country roads near Riviere Rouge this weekend. Classic. Can you imagine how the creative meeting must have proceeded for this gem?

"Ok, so we need to make this sign more impactful. It's not enough to say, 'watch out for our kids'. We need something to make drivers think twice about speeding."

"You're right. Let's add a visual. How about the silhouettes of children crossing the street?'

"Nah! Too boring. Been done before. This sign needs to scare drivers with the reality of the consequences."

"What would you suggest?"

"I'm seeing one child. A child who has just been hit by a car. His cherubic face turned towards the road, his eyes closed, his fate uncertain, no mother to soothe him..."

"But how do we know he's been hit by a car? Do we see the car? Taillights dimming in the distance? Skid marks?"

"No, no, too heavy-handed that. We need more drama. I don't know... maybe tear his shirts in a few places?"

"Oooh, yeah, yeah! And maybe he's only wearing one shoe! The other lost when he was hit!"

"Good idea. But the lonely shoe on the highway image has been overused. It's trite. Oooh! Oooh! I'm a genius! Let's also pull the sock off a little! The driver will definitely notice the missing shoe then. It will add another layer of pathos."

"You are a genius, boss! Should we also add some blood around the head?"

"Too crass there, junior. Crosses the boundary of bad taste. Get the artist on it immediately."

"Yes, sir!" 


More Christmas status lines

  • Courtnall is holding this report hostage until someone brings him more cookies.
  • Courtnall is decking halls and being jolly.
  • Courtnall is donning his gay apparel. Gay like merry, get it?
  • Courtnall wishes he could bathe in egg nog.
  • Courtnall is neither calm, merry, nor bright.
  • Courtnall is giving POKES this holiday season.


Shipbuilders' Magazine

A friend and I went to see the Titanic Artifact Exhibit today at the Centre Eaton. It's a fascinating experience for the modern mind. Staring into the eyes of Titanic victims. Looking at artifacts plucked from the deepest and darkest depths of the ocean. Marvelling at the opulence of another time. Discovering that there were automatic flush toilets in 1914 (because many immigrants had never used a toilet before and wouldn't know when to flush). Finding the squash courts on the ship blueprints.

It all seemed so long ago - and yet so familiar. Especially the similarities between the tragedy of the Titanic and our current economic mess.

Allow me to explain.
  1. Icebergs. The White Star Line was so eager to launch the Titanic - considered to be the summum of the shipbuilding art - that they cut corners in order to more quickly start generating profits. Binoculars for the watchmen were misplaced, not enough lifeboats on board, warnings were ignored, etc. The Titanic was primed for disaster from the beginning. Fast forward to 2008. Banks and corporations were in such a rush to generate more profits - especially with that cash-cow war in Iraq - they continued to amass more debt and eventually fell into the liquidity trap. They ignored the warnings and OOOH! is that an iceberg!? Once again, some refuse to learn from history, and we are all doomed to repeat it.
  2. Shipbuilders' Magazine. As the White Star Line was building the Titanic in 1911, Shipbuilders' Magazine labelled this mammoth of the sea as "practically unsinkable". Isn't it interesting to think that there was a magazine about shipbuilding in the early 20th century? Shipbuilding was a huge industry in that era and the magazine is a testament to how important it was. Was. The shipbuilding industry has shrunk since then, having been replaced by aeronautics, etc. So isn't this fact of history also a testament to the human ability to adapt? As we read about the bailouts for the Big Three, can we not find some comfort in the fact that even if car manufacturing is eclipsed - like shipbuilding was - that we will continue to find new opportunities to explore? As long as human ingenuity persists, we will develop new skills, new industries, new ways of making life more comfortable.
Before you go, watch this cool animation of how the Titanic sunk. James Cameron narrates. And don't worry - Leonardo DiCaprio is never mentioned. Thankfully. 


Saturday night quotes

Some of the following content may be objectionable. If you are unsure whether or not this blog post is for you, please seek parental approval before proceeding.

And without further ado, here are the funniest things I have recently heard uttered on a Saturday night:
  • "Femme saoule au Vol de Nuit." -heard in a taxi, dispatcher speaking to driver
  • "When he said something about 'releasing a new Terminator', I thought he was referring to the fart he was about to let rip," -Powell, about Sugar Daddy, while looking at movie poster
  • "You cannot have a spontaneous rimjob." -C.E., while nibbling sushi
  • "Um, about the coriander shrimp dumplings, could you tell me what's in those, please?" -Powell (obviously, although some of you are probably surprised that she didn't make the previous comment too)
Laissez les bon temps rouler!


Christmas Facebook status lines

Why do most of these sound grumpy, rude, or dirty??
  • Komisarek is hoping for a Festivus miracle this year!
  • Komisarek is embarassed by [most hated Christmas character/item] and wants to know if the Jews will take him.
  • Komisarek is bringing you gold, frankincense and some whup-ass!
  • Komisarek is going to stuff your stocking good.
  • Komisarek kicked an elf today.
  • Komisarek just ate his own weight in Christmas cookies.
  • Komisarek is going to slide down your chimney tonight. Wink. Wink.
  • Komisarek just ate Rudolph for lunch. With sauerkraut.
  • Komisarek wants [name of sexy person] is his stocking this Christmas.
  • Komisarek says "Happy Birthday Baby Jesus!"


How to get in trouble with your mom

[Right before my nice Italian mother and I started a painting project]

MA: You should make the sign of the cross before we begin.
AD: Umm, why?
MA: To ask God to bless what we're about to do. Don't you believe in God?
AD: Not in the same way you do.
MA: Then who do you think made you?
AD: You. And. Dad.
MA: Give me the roller, please.

Don't kids say the craziest things? [giggle]


Bah humbug!

It sometimes surprises people that I am mostly immune to the holiday spirit. I like kids and think puppies are cute, so it's natural to assume that the combined adorableness of Christmas makes my heart go jiggedy-jig-jig.

But it doesn't. 

I don't remember believing in Santa Claus as a child. I boycott stores that start playing holiday tunes as of November 1. I cringe every time I see Rita MacNeil's Christmas special or Anne Murray's Christmas album being advertised on tv. It seems like I spend the entire month of December flinching...

What I absolutely cannot stomach is the forced enthusiasm of Christmas. It seems as if every Old Navy commercial, Pharmaprix display and Sears flyer is forcing the holiday spirit down your throat.

And filling you with a blind panic. What will I get Dad? Did I spend enough on Aunt Patricia? How will I get through Christmas dinner without choking Cousin Paul? Am I being jolly enough?

Basically, if you're not wearing a matching striped scarf and tuque and being tossed happily into a snowbank by a boyfriend with perfect teeth and a puffy jacket, you're a no-fun Debbie Downer. If you're not presenting your white-sweatered mother with a perfectly wrapped jewellery-sized silver box, then you're doing something wrong with your life.

(or so they want you to think so that you'll buy the matching winter gear and jewellery, right?)

I do believe that someone named Jesus lived, that he was a very wise man and that we should listen to some of the stuff he said. I believe that the story of Santa Claus teaches children to imagine worlds beyond this one. I believe that it's important to tell your loved ones how much they matter to you. I believe in buying important people meaningful gifts that remind them of the year we shared.

But I see none of that in the pushing, petty hordes flooding the stores, or in the flashing images that fill the gaps between interviews on the Hour, or in the tinny voices of talking Santa Claus dolls.

The thing is -- life goes on despite the year's biggest shopping purge. Relationships are still falling apart. Children are still crying over empty bellies. Friends are still dying. Mothers are still estranged. Life is a big enough challenge without every word that falls upon your ears - without every image that strikes your eye - making you feel that you have to be sick with happiness for the next 21 days.

I'm not going to end off by insisting you make this season meaningful and donate money to Dans la Rue or volunteer to feed the homeless. You already know how important those acts of generosity are.

This is my blog after all, so it's going to have to be about moi.

What I want to say is - thank you for reading my humble scribblings this past year. It's amazing to think that anyone is reading my crazy, yoga-induced ramblings about the end of the world. But you do. And I look forward to sharing more adventures with you in 2009.


Ms. Julie does the CBC

Are you home tomorrow in the afternoon? Need to kill some time in the aft?

Catch Ms. Julie on CBC's Living Montreal at 3pm.

Have to work? It's ok - I'll post a link on Tuesday so that you don't miss one wacky moment!


Why I should take tango lessons

My agency rented a tango studio for our Christmas party on Thursday night, and part of the package was a 30-minute tango lesson. As I'm actively hunting for a dance class to take in the winter, I knocked a chair over in my excitement to get to the front of the line.

Conclusion: Tango is definitely a front runner. Why? To be good at it, I will have to relinquish control. In tango, you see, a woman follows. It is the man who must lead.

(Those that know me are now shaking their heads and giggling because they can smell the smoke that was curling out of my ears on Thursday night...)

Actual exchanges with my partners (identified as Victims 1 through 4), translated from the French when necessary:

V1: You're supposed to let me lead.
AD: I am!
V1: No, you're not! You only move when I move.
AD: Well, I can hardly just be a dead weight. I have to anticipate when you move.
V1: Just follow me.
AD: [eyeroll] Fine.

[No moving. Palanca makes a few false starts.]

AD: Now you're just doing it on purpose!
V1: Don't move unless I move!
AD: Then MOVE!

- - - - -

AD: I'm going to try with Esteve now.
V2 to V3: Be careful, she's going to pull you around.

- - - - - 

AD: I'll have you know that I did not have these problems with Esteve. We were floating on air!
v4: Did you let him lead?
AD: You're getting lippy.
V4: Let me lead.
AD: Not if your knees keep getting in the way of my knees like that.
V4: We are going to get this.
AD: Oooh, then lead on, big man!

New sessions start in mid-January if anyone wants to join. me.


Post-office party status lines

In honour of the rather rambunctious company holiday party we had last night, I bring you Facebook status lines for the morning after:
  • Maxime is issuing a blanket apology for any unsolicited touching that may have occurred during last night's festivities.
  • Maxime is sorry that he "partied" all over your shoes.
  • Maxime apologises for the botched tablecloth trick last night.
  • Maxime would like to apologise, but his attorneys have advised against it.
  • Maxime would like to say, "It was nice working with you!"
  • Maxime is www.aa.org
And if you're still having trouble, read my Facebook status line writing tips.


The Boy Least Likely To

Look what I found... An English duo by the name of The Boy Least Likely To. Isn't this totally *me*?


Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

It took precisely 2.5 days to finish the 498 pages of Twilight, but it only took 0.75 days for me to decide whether I liked the experience or not.

Turns out, I didn’t enjoy the book all that much. And you know I’m going to tell you why…

1) I love the use of the vampire theme to explore the subtext of teenage lust. Although Stephenie Meyer set up all the necessary elements, I found the execution to be disappointing (see points 2-3 below). Of course, Joss Whedon did it much better years ago with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so Meyer didn’t have much of a chance.

2) The repetition started to wear on me – and fast. Let me summarise things for you: Edward is impossibly beautiful, his lips are very cold and his chest is very muscular, also he averts his eyes a lot, has issues with anger management and shouldn’t be indulging in his feelings of Bella. Furthermore, Bella is overly self-conscious, has feelings of never being good enough, is perpetually upset about Edward’s reticence, has a jumpy heart, and is mesmerized by his topaz eyes. This repetition is tiresome and I never feel as if the characters evolve.

3) I didn’t feel any particular chemistry between Edward and Bella. In fact, her self-esteem issues got so repetitive, I started to ask Edward aloud, “Yes, why do you want Bella?” I understand why the story is so popular with readers – which Plain Jane out there doesn’t want to believe that she’ll attract the eye of a beautiful hero? But Bella is no Elizabeth Bennet, you know what I mean?

That being said, if Stephenie Meyer is getting teenagers to read more, I’m all for it. I don’t think I can stomach another volume, but I hope that her readers continue to enjoy the books for many years to come. As for me, I may go dig out a copy of Jane Eyre



You know those bangles I wear on my right wrist? With a little Indian flavour? That clink delicately as I approach?

Heidi wanted something similar and I hoped to add to my collection, so we took a stroll through Little India recently to find the shop where I originally purchased my bangles.

We happened upon the same shopkeeper who sold me the bangles last spring, a very educated man who explained to us the history of the bangles we sought as pretty baubles.

Apparently, he sells them mostly to Sikhs as part of a spiritual tradition that spans back to the late 17th century.

All baptised Sikhs carry five symbols known as kakaars, which are external symbols to identify and display commitment to their faith. The kakaars are:
  • Kesh (uncut hair)
  • Kanga (comb)
  • Kara (bracelet)
  • Kirpan (sword)
  • Kachehra (a special type of cotton underwear)
Thanks to a few high-profile legal battles over the kirpan in Quebec, most Montrealers are aware of what this short sword represents - but very few of us understand its context and the deep symbolism of the five kakaars.

For example, the kara - or bracelet - symbolizes restraint from evil deeds. It is worn on the right wrist and reminds the Sikh that he should think twice before doing anything evil with his hands.

And to think, my favourite thing is to shake my arm and exclaim, "Pretty!"

Now I'll have to throw in "and do no evil!" too.



Engaging in meaningful work

After a morning marked by frustration (unsuccessfully trying to access our security system with my Interac PIN, accidentally deleting a blog post, etc.), I sank down in my chair and listened to a tape of Malcolm Gladwell's presentation about developing human potential. It was delivered on Wednesday at the InfoPresse Innovations conference in Mtl.

He began by referring to Michael Lewis's theory of capitalization, that is, the rate at which a community takes advantage of its collective human potential, and then noted that only a small percentage of people in any given group ever fulfill their full human potential.

Gladwell attributes this blockage of capitalization to various factors, including poverty and cultural attitudes. One statement that I found to be particularly interesting was MG's assertion that "there weren't more dumb people in 1908 than there are right now", it's just that they were "stuck on farms" or other places where opportunities for developing their talents were limited.

Furthermore, according to MG, we all have inherent talents for math, music, etc. It's just a question of how hard we work and how much we are shaped by cultural attitudes towards learning.

I had two reactions to this:
  • We would like to think that we live in a country that encourages education. The truth is, we live in a country that imposes rules about what we'll learn and when. It's camouflaged with assertions of ensuring that our children are meeting certain goals every year, but reality, I think, is far less generous. Most schools push math and science, all the while cutting arts and music programs. How's that for limiting opportunities?
  • At first I objected, "we can't all go to university and be smarty-smartlets. Farms need to operate in order for everyone to eat and many farmers are passionate about what they do. Who are we to say that they're 'stuck' on their farms?" But then I chilled out a little.
MG is not supporting an elitist view of education in which all children must aspire to being the next Gladwell. The point is to offer children enough opportunities so that if they're suited to being farmers, they will become farmers, and if they're not suited to being farmers, they can discover whatever it is that will ignite their potential.

Who can argue with that? Isn't the belief that we're all inherently able far more human than believing "girls aren't good at math" and "men don't make good teachers"? Haven't we seen enough exceptions to these archaic stereotypes to finally invalidate such thinking?

I'd like to believe that I'm inherently good at math but that I was never disciplined enough to excel at it, because I found my niche in words and books.

I was lucky in that I discovered my potential early, but how many people out there are still searching, because they were never given the opportunity to explore their talents?

Too many, as MG reminds us.


So You Think You Can Dance - Canada

Before tonight's last performance show, I just want to say that I've loved every moment. But let's revisit one of my favourite moments before the party's over.

I miss you Arassay. I miss you Vincent. Maybe Nico can comfort me...

The dancing starts at :49 seconds. Try not to giggle when they bleep "bitch".


Most over-used lines on television

(which, unlike ‘DOH!’, have lost their charm through repetition)
  • “Take it back to the lab and see what you can get.”
  • “Detective, do you have children?”
  • “Hurry! Please! Fast! Fast! Hurry!”
  • “How have things been between you and your wife/husband lately?”
  • Family member: “You have to get the man that killed my wife/child/mother/dog.” Official (usually David Caruso): “We’ll get him. I can promise you that.”
  • Intern intubating patient, sweating profusely: “I can’t do it! I can’t visualize the cords!”
  • “The body was found by a jogger.”
Did I miss anything?