"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bus Plans

Well, June has come. Or, rather, by Monday June will have come. June was my deadline for moving to Manitoba in a 'traditional' way; ie. packing up my stuff, finding a place there, taking on a steady job, etc.

I haven't heard back about the job I interviewed for and I now realise that I don't want the position at this time! As time crept on, I began to wonder what more amazing plans the gods have in store for me, and they finally became clear this week.

After much prodding, I managed to speak with someone in human resources at work about taking a leave of absence. The terms are amazing--my current position is guaranteed for a year, I'm guaranteed a position at my current level for the next four years after that, I can keep paying into my pension and health benefits, and I can take on any number of short term assignments with other employers and without losing my sabbatical privileges.

This helped me formulate an amazing plan for the next year, or, rather, cemented the loose plan I've been working on. I'm having difficulty committing to it without having in hand the rejection letter from the job in Winnipeg, but I'm still taking baby steps.

What's this plan, you wonder?

Well, it sure doesn't involved freezing my tookus off in Winnipeg next winter.

I'm going back with my original plan of buying a bus conversion motorhome by the fall. I'll then take two or three weeks and drive to British Columbia with it. BC has the mildest climate in Canada, with some areas having very easy winters. Lots of RV parks are open year round. I'm thinking of making Kelowna my very final destination, after spending perhaps a couple of weeks each in Victoria and Vancouver, but that'll depend on part two of the plan.

Part two hinges on making successful contact with a placement agency willing to help me find short term assignments (up to 3 weeks, ideally) so that I can have money coming in throughout my sabbatical.

I'd like to stay in BC for four months, October to the end of February, and stay in a few different places if I can get sufficient work. Then, I'd like to spend March and April in Alberta and Saskatchewan doing the same thing. I might stay in Alberta longer since there are so many jobs there, even for unskilled labour. Then, I'd do something I've wanted to do since I was three apples high--spend several months touring the Territories.

Come fall of '09, I'd have the option of going to Winnipeg to settle down with a real job, a house, etc. and be a grown up, or, if the whole traveling and working thing is working out for me, I could keep traveling for another four years.

The idea of taking a year off is so appealing.... Ideally, I'd like to find a balance between assignments and/or part-time jobs and working on developing my web business. Taking a year to breathe, to see new things, to do new things, to get out of this rut I keep spinning myself into.... Oh, yes, what an amazing year it could end up being.

I've already got a bus in mind. It's a lot older than what I thought I'd end up considering, same age as me, in fact. It's a 1979, but a Blue Bird Wanderlodge, which is considered to be the cream of the crop. Even a Bird that old is worth getting. The one I'm eyeing seems to be in good shape, even though the only slightly updated 1970's decor is making me flashback to my mobile house (yellow sink, tub, and toilet; 'wood' laminate', plastic door handles, etc.). I've gotten some advice from other Wanderlodge owners and the consensus is that it's priced way too high, but if I can get the price down to NADA levels, then I would be making a solid investment in a good, sound bus with an excellent reputation, lots of available parts, lots of support from other owners, etc. For a first time owner who is short on time and doesn't want to import from the US, I probably could not do better than this bus.

It's a 35'er; shorter than what I'd been looking at (40'), but when I consider that I'd be hauling my car, too, it's a more reasonable length. Even though I'd want to update the interior (PAINT), replace the dinette and couches with furniture I would actually use, add solar panels and more heaters, etc. I could end up with a really good bus under 20K, provided the current owner is willing to see that his price is not realistic.

What sold me on the Wanderlodges is the cockpit; filled with tons of dials and gauges enabling the owner to monitor all systems as they work, rather than waiting for a light to tell them there's a problem that is probably beyond an easy fix. I also like that the Wanderlodges were built in the Blue Bird factory on an assembly line, so their systems are all the same. If I got a bus that was converted privately, chances are no one could help me muddle through any problems I'd have. The 1970's decor would be a small trade off.

I'm tempted to recontact the owner and tell him that I'm interested, but that NADA values are X and seeing his response.

Before I do, that, though, I really should investigate the following things:

-how much it'll cost me to import this bus into Quebec and plate it;
-how much the insurance would be (for the bus, liability, contents, etc. since this would be my full-time home at some point);
-if there are any 'seasonal' spots left at any of the local campgrounds or if a storage facility would let me take the bus out on weekends to go to campgrounds (the latter would probably be cheaper)

And that's not counting getting the towing accessories, any mechanical fixes that need to be done immediately, etc.

I'm already working on finding someone who could do a cursory mechanical inspection for me before I drive 20 hours round trip to view the bus in person.

Financing? One call to the bank and a couple of signatures later and that's already been taken care of. It was my first step to committing to this plan. :-)

I'll let the owner sweat a few more days as I continue to research this bus.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Measuring and Weighing

Geeze, if I had known that 'going on a diet' was going to be this easy, fun, delicious, and effective I would have done it months ago.

No, I'm not being sarcastic!

One thing that I learned is crucial is to measure and weigh just about everything I eat to make sure I'm getting the proper portion size. That was fine for cups and measuring spoons, but I didn't have a kitchen scale. I dillied and dallied and finally bought a very effective and cheap one (under 6$) at Walmart (where, incidentally, I've been spending way too much time lately).

Until I got the scale, I 'guesstimated' the portion sizes (1 oz) for things like cheese and pecans based on standards. I sure was in for a shock when I actually weighed an oz of each. What I thought was about an oz of cheese turned out to be a little under half an oz, and pecans were around the .75 oz mark! Underestimating is definitely better than over estimating, but it taught me that 'proper portion size' can be a very reasonable amount. Grate an ounce of cheddar and you'll see what I mean.

Last night's dinner (not counting the salad entrée nor the fruit I had for dessert) came in at a grand total of 440 calories. Want to know what I had? A huge plate of pasta topped with rosée sauce. The pasta was 85g of multigrain spaghetti, and the sauce was 1 cup of stewed tomatoes puréed with one small sautéd onion, herbs, and two tablespoons of cottage cheese. I then sprinkled one tablespoon of parmesan cheese over the top. Those healthy carbs fueled my run a couple of hours later. :-)

Using Fitday, I've been tracking the nutritional aspect of my diet and find it interesting that, in the course of a week, my diet averages out to the 'appropriate' proportions of good carbs and fats, as well as protein.

I haven't cooked, nor been this creative in the kitchen, in years. It feels great.

Monday, May 26, 2008


3.5 hours and 25$ later, I essentially have a brand new laptop. A very slow, but still perfect for surfing, laptop.

25$. Or I could have gone on eBay and picked up a newer MacBook for 500$ or so.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Colourful Epiphany

For years now, I've oggled these boxes in the makeup department of various stores:

I don't know if it was my DVD project or what, but I suddenly had an epiphany as to what I could use this box for:

I don't like how most of the top cover is not utilized, so I plan to add more elastics.

I want to get more of these boxes (they have different styles) to compartmentalize and corral several other areas of my life.

Now that I know that I'm aiming for a fairly nomadic, don't want to be weighed down by furniture, type of lifestyle for quite a while, it makes sense to make all activities in my life portable. These compartmentalized cases are definitely more organized than just shoving everything into a shoebox!

Funny How Things Work Out

My last trip convinced me that I can no longer rely on my clamshell (older Mac laptop) for surfing purposes. It runs OS9 and therefore can only support ancient browsers that cannot visit all sites and displays wonkily most of the sites it does bring up.

I flirted with the idea of upgrading to a much more recent MacBook, but I couldn't figure out how I could justify spending that kind of money when all I wanted was to be able to surf while traveling. The clamshell is otherwise better suited for this purpose--it is very robust and was cheap enough that I wouldn't be heartbroken if it is stolen. No, what I needed was to upgrade my OS so I could run a more recent browser.

After much googling, I came to the conclusion that while a Clamshell is too slow to run OSX for a lot of applications, it's fine for surfing. The catch was how to get OSX on my clamshell. I didn't have the knowhow or the tools.

Today, I went to a Mac user group set up for my city and asked if anyone could upgrade my OS for me. At the same time, I replied to a poster who was looking for someone with a working clamshell to run some tests on his own iBook. Turns out that he knows how to install OSX on a clamshell (did it on his own, so that's a good enough reference for me), so in exchange for being able to run his charging/battery tests with my battery, he'll install OSX on my clamshell at no charge!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Favourite eBay Tool

I adore the new(ish) eBay tool 'make offer.' Not every seller uses it, obviously, but when it's offered, I always make use of it and have had great success with it.

The first time I used 'make offer' was when I wanted to buy three items from one seller who didn't offer combined shipping. I made her offers that essentially gave me free shipping. She accepted!

This week, I bought two skirts off of eBay. The first was 10$ with 5$ shipping. It didn't have a 'make an offer' option, but that was fine since I felt that the price and shipping were fair. The second, though, was 10$ with 10$ shipping. I felt that the shipping cost was excessive, so I offered 6$ for the skirt. The seller accepted.

I think that this tool offers a win/win for buyers and sellers. How often have you looked at an eBay auction, felt that the 'buy it now' price was a bit too high, and thought 'I would have bought it for a couple of dollars less'? Or been a seller whose item didn't sell and for which you would have gladly accepted a few dollars less?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Since a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

This is what I would have brought with me to Winnipeg (contents of boxes removed for dramatic effect... and does not include all the packaging I recycled):

What's going with me, including the binders in which I put the inserts:

Use What You Have, Redux

I came up with a much better idea for storing the DVD inserts: mylar sleeves in a binder. I will get some cheap matching binders at a dollar store, but I have hundreds of mylar sleeves doing nothing. Using these, I can see both the front and back of a sleeve so I don't have to pull it out to view it (ie. less damage) and it'll be easier to keep the collection alphabetized (ie. one insert per sleeve regardless of whether or not it has something on the reverse side).

I've put away and catalogued all my DVDs except my collection of Stargate and have about a quarter of the box left, so there's room to 'grow' in that box. I'll get a second box devoted to Stargate so I have them all in one place.

I can't believe how much space this convenient system is going to save me, much less how practical it is! Random surfing sure has paid off.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

DVD Storage, Redux

After writing my last post, I began to think think obsess about my DVD storage. I knew almost from the start that my current system wouldn't work that well for me, but I thought I'd adapt. Truth? It hasn't worked at all. It just feels like so much work to open a door, find the right box, pull the box off the shelf, locate the correct DVD, put the box away, and then repeat to put the DVD away. I've ended up not watching many of my DVDs this year and the ones I have seen I haven't always bothered to put away. Hence why I thought the binder method might work better for me. I own the deluxe set of M*A*S*H, all the episodes in one package that opens like a book, and I love having to pull only one thing off a shelf to access the DVDs.

That said, I spent part of the afternoon researching DVD storage in binders and I came to the conclusion that it's not a good long term solution because of potential warping of the disks. On a forum, someone posted an image of another idea and I went BINGO! I'd finally found what would work for me. A quick trip to Walmart later and I was home with this:

This is a hard-sided case that's about the same size as an Ikea box that holds 20 or so DVDS... but which holds 200 disks.

These cases are available in larger denominations, like 500, that were appealing, but I decided that several smaller cases would be easier to move and store. I'll need another couple of the cases, but decided to start small.

Throwing out all the packaging gives me a bit of the willies, so I'm considering saving the DVD covers in a binder. It'll still be less to move than my current setup. Of course, I have to get over my lack of desire to recycle the 'sleeves' of box sets. Geeze, it's just paper.

Several hours later...

I figured the best way to get over my willies was to dive in, and I did. I put seven Ikea boxes worth of DVDs into the case... and I still have room for about 100 titles! I've put away all my movies and the complete series of 'MacGyver.' It'll be so much easier now to pull out my favourite episodes.

I've decided that I do want to keep the DVD covers for reference purposes and figure that sticky photo album pages are the way to go. I still think it'll amount to a lot less 'stuff' to move... but I am a bit disturbed by how much I've spent in the last year on organizing systems for DVDs. This had better be it!

In order to find my only loosely alphabetized disks, I've entered information on each one into a DVD organizing application with a reference as to which case and sleeve I can find a particular movie or episode.

Filing, Redux

Perhaps it's the historian in me, but I've always had a hard time getting rid of paper. For years, I moved dozens of boxes of paper, some organized, some not, from one home to another. Eventually, I got the 'important' stuff into a two drawer filing cabinet, then, when I got room for one, I acquired an additional four drawer cabinet. Finally, for the first time in over five years, I went through my dozens of boxes and organized them.

Time passed and I began my purging journey and I started to go through all that paper that had once seemed so vitally important. Dozens of boxes became six and then three; two stored in a filing cabinet, one consisting of 'archives.'.

Today, I took the final plunge. Could I get my files down to one box? Could I give up my filing cabinet?

At Wal-mart on Friday, they happened to have the RubberMaid file totes on sale for a good discount. I picked one up.

This morning, I migrated my files from the filing cabinet to the box. Needless to say, I had way too many for the space. I was down to the crunch; what was I keeping just because I had room for it? The first obvious answer was tax records. Did I really want to die like my dad, having dragged forty years worth of tax records (no joke) through dozens of moves? Erm, no. So, I counted back seven years (not counting 2008) and shredded my 2000 and past records. I also shredded all my pay slips for the current years. Then, I went through my instruction manual/warranty folders and got rid of the paperwork for things I don't have any more and/or for which warranties have expired. I filled my shredder bucket twice today.

I'm not quite done yet as I still have some files to create, but I'm calling this project a success.

The box is full, you say? Nope, there's still a full quarter of a box left!

The next project that I am contemplating is moving my DVDs to a binder system. I'm not sure I'll want to invest in that at this time. Right now, they're well organized in the Ikea boxes, so the binder project will probably wait until I have a better idea of how much/little space I'll have in my RV.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Being Mindful

I have successfully completed my second week on my weight-loss plan. I feeling so amazing.

A big part of the reason for doing this was spiritual. I felt that I was out of touch with what I was eating, that I was not thankful for all the food available to me, and that I was forgetting to treat my body as a vessel for the gods.

Two weeks in, I feel that I'm in touch with the gods again in this aspect of my life. I give thanks before every meal and savour every mouthful. Because I am consciously counting every calorie, I am very careful in selecting what I ingest. Quality becomes very important.

I haven't really cut anything out of my diet, at least nothing that I miss at this point (like butter on potatoes--turns out cottage cheese and herbs are more satisfying!). I analyze my cravings and see if I can satisfy them in a more healthful way.

But I don't deny my cravings entirely. For the past three weeks, I have been wanting pizza. Tonight, I decided it was time to indulge. I got a single slice from my favourite place instead of two (or a whole pie!) and had a huge salad instead of a beer with it. It was sooooo satisfying.

Earlier this week, I needed chocolate and I bought a high quality one that I ate over the course of a few days. Every mouthful was nirvana, the chocolate so delicious and creamy with no doubt that it was made from good cocoa. Who needs a waxy Mars bar after that? I think that's one of our society's problem; that we go for cheap things instead of high quality ones and it takes more to satisfy us.

I'm cooking so much more now than I have in years and I'm eating more fresh fruits and veggies. My grocery budget has skyrocketed, but my restaurant budget has plummeted and I am finding that everything I make tastes sooooooooooooo good. Fruit is sweet, vegetables are bursting with flavour, plain brown rice is tastes pleasantly nutty, and the best snack is a handful of fresh pecans. I make simple meals and have been experimenting with herbs and citrus juices for flavour instead of fat.

It feels like spring has sprung in my soul and my body is reaping the benefits.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Who Lives, Who Dies

Last week, I read Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzalez, a fantastic and fascinating study of the psychological, emotional, and physiological reasons that some people survive a dire situation while others die.

He did a case study of the World Trade Center and discussed how some people had started to head down the stairs but were pushed back by 'officials' who told them there was no danger and to stay put. Those who stayed put died and those who pushed past the official lived.

Today, I was given pretty good evidence that I would be a survivor in a similar situation.

Upon discovering the electrical panel on our elevator to be engulfed in flames four witnesses reacted in four different ways:

1) decided to run to her phone across the floor to call for help;
2) decided to run for the emergency phone around the corner;
3) decided to run for the fire extinguisher;
4) decided to follow person number 2 to the red phone in order to pull the fire alarm

Person number 2 gave person number 4 heck for pulling the fire alarm since the fire was extinguished and said there was no way he was hiking down eleven flights without advice from the fire marshals. This person was also one of the 'safety' officers for the floor. He instructed people to stay put until he got word from the fire marshal.

Person number 4 ignored him and headed downstairs. By the time the call came to evacuate the tower, she was four floors above ground level while he was still on the eleventh floor... where the fire had broken out again and smoke had filled the up-until-then smoke-free staircase. There were thirteen floors above him.

I live 10 minutes from work on foot and could hear the police and fire sirens for a full forty-five minutes after I'd pulled the alarm and left the building.

I won't be surprised if work is canceled tomorrow.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bird on a Mission

I'm currently more overfat than I am comfortable being, so I've made it my goal for the next few months to lose what needs to be lost.

To kick start the program, I went on a very restrictive, low-calorie diet for four days, then moved on to a much more sustainable, long-term approach.

My normal diet isn't really that bad; the problem is portion control/moderation and over-indulgence. I've set a range of calories to aim for and am using two wonderful tools to keep me in line with that goal: Fit Day and Calorie Count.

Fit Day is a fantastic FREE online journal and tool box for getting fit. You can track your diet, exercise, weight goals, etc. I use it as a meal planning tool to project my calorie intake for the day so that I can know ahead of time if I can indulge in x, y, or z. I use Calorie Count to get nutritional data for foods that Fit Day doesn't have in its data base, like a lot of fast food and prepared foods.

Long-term meal planning has never worked for me, but so far the day-to-day projections are working out just fine. Nine days in, I'm right on track with my weight/fat loss, I feel amazing (my sleep requirements have shot right down!), my energy is through the roof, and I don't feel guilty about the insane amount of money I'm spending on groceries since 90% of the bill is for fresh fruits and veggies (romaine lettuce ain't cheap, folks, and a bird goes through a lot of it eating two salads a day)!

Best of all, I am a lot more conscious of what I eat and everything tastes soooooooooo good. This afternoon's snack of fresh pineapple was quite possibly the best thing I've ever eaten. That's a bonus result of this exercise--I've cut way back on sugar (only have a bit in my coffee, plus the odd piece of good quality chocolate); so fruit is really, really, really satisfying. I know a 'diet' is working when an apple qualifies as dessert.

I'll finish off this post with a bonus 'recipe' because lunch was so delicious.

Raven's Mini Grilled Tomato and Cheese Sandwiches

Cut eight thin slices from a baguette (loaf of 'French-style' bread, the long and thin kind).

Layer the following on four slices (base yourself on the baguette surface area to determine quantities):

-a thin slice of a small tomato;
-a sprinkle of salt;
-a small slice of tomato and basil Havarti;
-a basil leaf

Gently place in a non-stick pan and toast for about a minute on each side until the bread is golden and the cheese starts to melt.

Makes four. Serve with a great big salad.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

To Market, To Market

One of my favourite weekend activities when it's nice out is to walk the four kilometres or so to the Byward Market. I bring a canvas bag and load up on breads, fruits, veggies, and cheeses at specialized stores. Sometimes, I'll pop into the Natural Food Pantry for vegetarian and organic options and/or La Bottega for premium Italian imports of biscotti, cheese, and pasta. I like to wander the artisan kiosks, smell the flowers, occasionally adopt a couple of pots of herbs, and listen to the buskers. When I've had my fill, I bus home. It's a splendid way to spend a couple of hours.

Today, I also had a mission. For the past ten years, I have had to walk or bike to work or school. Every time it rains, I curse the weather because I'm going to ruin my shoes and get my feet wet. For some reason I can't fathom, this bird who is willing to spend the money that needs to be spent on proper winter boots has been too cheap to buy galoshes. This week, I snapped. I decided that while I was on my veggie expedition at in the Market this weekend, I would pick up these beauties:

Now, I just need to find a navy blue rain slicker to complement them. Yup, I don't have a raincoat, either. *rolls eyes*

When I move to Winnipeg, I won't have to give up my favourite nice weather weekend activity since that city has The Forks!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Makin' Squash

Last night I cooked the peppery acorn squash mostly according to the recipe I found. The results had potential, but needed further tweaking since peppery acorn squash is really bland.

Apple-Nut Acorn Squash


1 acorn squash
1 small apple
lemon juice to taste
1 tbsp (or so) of chopped pecans
cinnamon to taste (my addition)
1 tsp brown sugar


Preheat the oven to 400F.

Slice the squash in half lengthwise and put cut side down in an oven-proof dish. Add about a half inch of water. Bake for about 20 minutes until just tender.

Meanwhile, chop the apple into itty bitty pieces and toss with the lemon juice, pecans, and cinnamon.

Pour the water from the squash dish and turn the squash over. Rub the flesh with salt and then fill with the apple mixture. Sprinkle brown sugar over top.

Bake another 10-15 minutes until the sugar starts to caramelize and the apples are soft.

One portion is a whole squash. Serve with a salad.

Next time I make this, I will rub the flesh with salted butter and some nutmeg. Otherwise, this is really, really yummy! I'm a sucker for apples cooked up with brown sugar, cinnamon, and pecans!

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Perils of Bilingualism

At the grocery store this evening, I looked for an acorn squash for a recipe I'll be making later this week. I found three kinds of squash: butternut, spaghetti, and peppery. I came home squash-less and prepared to return to the store after doing some internet research... which made me go DOH!

This is what the pepper squash looks like:

Yup, that's an acorn squash en anglais. But, en français, it's a courge poivrée. As in peppery squash.

Silly me. I was looking for a courge with the word 'gland', or something related to the word gland, in the name.

I think I'll stop trying to expand my culinary horizons with English recipes... or at least ask the Office de la langue française to translate new ingredients. Or else, go shop in an English province (a hop, skip, and a jump across the river, conveniently enough).

One of the little 'annoyances' I will miss when I move to Manitoba....