Saturday, June 26, 2010

If I'm not back later, you're invited to the funeral

Ahah!  Today the sky is looking very clear, and I have the day off.
If all goes well, I'll be jumping out of a plane later today, at an altitude of 4000m.
I'll free-fall for about 60 seconds, and then the nice person I'm harnessed to will make sure our parachute deploys.
If all goes really well, I'll be landing safely with a massive smile on my face, nothing hurt, and my underwear will still be clean!

Always the optimist, I quickly sketched out how I envision things going.

Big reason why I should probably invest in a Wacom tablet:  My trackpad skills suck.

Once it's done, I'll probably post a little more about the experience.  And if I don't post in the next 24 hours... you're all invited to my funeral!

EDIT: I'm not dead, and it was awesome.  More later, but sleep first!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dancing around it.

You may have noticed that I've been skirting around the personal talk here lately.  I kind of am.

Let me tell you a few things about the "of lates" in my life.

-We were in Antwerp last weekend.  We saw more of the city and checked out an exhibition at the MOMU (fashion museum) on the significance/influence of the colour black in fashion throughout the ages.  The exhibition was pretty interesting and informative, and it was very cool to be so close to garments of excellent workmanship but I must say that the layout of the show was quite chaotic, and in the end it made viewing and taking in the show a little fatiguing, taking away from it, really.  In the name of preservation of the textiles the lighting was very low, and so I opted not to take photos.

-While in Antwerp, we spent a little time shopping.  Boyfriend discovered a trove of bright orange delights (he is a fan of the colour.)  I discovered that the buyer for the only Guess Jeans store in Belgium thinks that every girl in Belgium wants a bedazzled bum.  This one doesn't, and is now left wondering if she should order from Guess online, try the store in Lille, or just give up and wear skirts all the time.

- During this visit we discovered a lovely little restaurant named "Le Coup Vert" for dinner, and thought the breakfast offered by "Horta" gave an excellent start to the day, even despite our ice-queen server.  Also, I got my Starbucks fix, finally.

- Closer to home, I've been working on creating the perfect waffle.  I'm not there yet, but I'm getting closer.  It's still too buttery, and not dense enough, chewy enough, or sticky enough.

- I am being pressured asked to speak about my hopes and ideas for the future.  These are things I normally keep tucked just next to my heart, and rarely speak of.  The idea of an entire conversation centreing around these things terrifies me.  I feel that me vocalizing my dreams is akin to handing ammunition to others which they may use later to add a little extra sting for me, should I fail.  Petrified, intensely uncomfortable about this.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Belgian Politics for outsiders: Intro.

Belgium is rather like three people sporting a donkey costume made for two.  For those on the outside, there is the single form of a donkey.  For those on the inside, the reality is more like three people struggling, sweating, complaining about each other, and arguing over who should be the "ass of the ass" while the donkey outwardly appears to twitch, stumble drunkenly, verge on collapse, and generally go nowhere.

Here is my view from the inside.  You may think that Belgium is a country, and officially you'd be right, but actually you are fairly wrong.  Belgium, on the inside is Flanders (the northern half of the country where Dutch is spoken,) Wallonia (the southern half of the country where French is the dominant lanugage,) and Brussels (the small region sitting roughly in the centre.  Brussels is where all the moving and shaking happens, and is the 'political capital of Europe'.  Brussels doesn't really care for Wallonia or Flanders, and though it speaks mostly French, it is surrounded by Flemish territory.)  All this makes for some pretty interesting grudge-matches, and political instability.  It is just the tip of the iceberg.

I've been trying to learn more about it all; how it works here.  Wikipedia describes the political system in Belgium as "complex".  This is right, but I think that really this may be polite wiki-speak for "wickedly kafkaesque".  I know that when things here get really "complex", my words tend to be of little service in capturing or conveying my experience.  I figured that maybe I'd be better off expressing myself pictorially for these occasions, so you may be seeing more visuals around here in the future.  Of course being personal, they may not be entirely informed or accurate.  If I'm missing something crucial to my understanding, please feel free to let me in on it.  My knotted brain may thank you.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Toronto, meet Liège.

"Soldout plays at 23:15 tonight, will you be home in time?"

"I should be able to get away from the company that is eating every waking minute of my life by then, yes.  Make sure you're ready."

"I'm dressed now, it's 3pm.  All I have to do is not get undressed and I'll be ready."

....22:30pm, (Liège is home, devouring a bowl of chili, Toronto is taking an espresso.)

"Wait this thing happening in a field?"


"Shit.  This means I can't wear these heels, which means I can't wear these jeans."

"It's a festival, where did you think it would be?"

"I don't know... somewhere with pavement?  Or in a hall or something?  I didn't think Flemalle was the middle of nowhere!"

"Just find a pair of pants then and lets go!" (opening front door)

"Jeezus!  It's cold outside!  I can't wear just this!"

"Just bring a jacket.  Hurry!"

(regarding selection of shoes and coats uncomfortably,) "You know what? ... Just go.  Have a good time."


"I have nothing to wear for this kind of thing!  It's in a field!!"

"All festivals are in fields!!  Chop chop, go!"

"Fields take planning!  Not all festivals are in fields!  The nighttime part of Les Ardentes last year was in a hall - *That* festival was in the city!"

"You just have to find a f-ing pair of pants and some f-ing shoes and then..."

"No, seriously, just go.  Really, go."

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Do you know Arno?  He is a made-in-Belgium rockstar.  He sings songs in English, French, and Flemish, and sometimes uses all three languages in one song.  He has charted reasonably well in France, Switzerland and Belgium, among others.  He loves a good drink, and knows not to take the serious people too seriously, especially the ones who get all up tight about, well... pretty much anything.  One of his tracks came up on my ipod while I was heading home from work the other day, thinking I might finally write that post about the elections.  I couldn't help but wonder what he must think of all the scrabbling about land, language, and rights-to-feel-superior that go on in this tiny nation, along with the recent elections.  Something tells me he thinks it's about as silly as any outsider looking in on the situation does.

I will talk about the elections in the next post, but I must say I feel he's a great introduction.  He kind of 'sets the mood' with this song, (the one that came up on my ipod.) It has been around since waaaaay back in the 1980's.  While we aren't all trilingual, and most of us reading here aren't Belgian, you should still take a moment to get to know Arno.  If you don't speak a lick of any other language, and want something completely for the anglophone set, why not give this quirky little number a go.  The pelvic thrusts just add to the charm of the song.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Crocodile, the other "other white meat."

It was very exciting for him when he saw the crocodile filets in the grocery store.

I'm all for everyone having a chance to educate their palates, so I agreed after issuing my sole caution, to make a croc-dinner, using a simple dish that would allow him to understand the meat.

What was not very exciting?  Realizing that true to his girlfriend's word, crocodile tastes very similar to chicken, with the texture more reminiscent of lean pork, at a cost higher than both.  And that it shrinks in the pan like fish can, he was still hungry.

I have no advice for The Crocodile Board, if there is one.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Queen Vic

The following are all quotes attributed to Queen Victoria:

Beware of artists - they mix with all classes of society and are therefore most dangerous...

I would venture to warn against too great intimacy with artists as it is very seductive and a little dangerous.

A marriage is no amusement but a solemn act, and generally a sad one.

Being married gives one one's position like nothing else can.

An ugly baby is a very nasty object - and the prettiest is frightful.

Being pregnant is an occupational hazard of being a wife.

I don't dislike babies, though I think very young ones rather disgusting.

Everybody grows but me.

For a man to strike any women is most brutal, and I, as well as everyone else, think this far worse than any attempt to shoot, which, wicked as it is, is at least more comprehensible and more courageous.
Great events make me quiet and calm; it is only trifles that irritate my nerves.
I feel sure that no girl would go to the altar if she knew all.

I think people really marry far too much; it is such a lottery after all, and for a poor woman a very doubtful happiness.

The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.
The Queen is most anxious to enlist everyone in checking this mad, wicked folly of 'Women's Rights'. It is a subject which makes the Queen so furious that she cannot contain herself.

When I think of a merry, happy, free young girl - and look at the ailing, aching state a young wife generally is doomed to - which you can't deny is the penalty of marriage.

We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist.

After reading these, I couldn't help but like her a little more.  She was so... prickly and forthright!  Original punk?

Clearly she'd be wearing Vivienne West if alive today.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dans le cochon, tout est bon

"Quel con lui, un gros cochon.  Il a une tête d'échangiste, lui."
        - L, watching the Belgian election coverage last night, and reminding me of this:

This past week I read an article discussing how the US Pork industry was looking to update it's image.  Specifically, it discussed how the US National Pork Board was looking at moving away from the slogan they've been using since 1987: "The Other White Meat."

While the article contained arguments for and against the Pork Board moving away from this highly recognized phrase, I for one would like to applaud the bravery of the Pork Board in making this move.  The people of Pork believe that though the old tagline managed to convince Americans that pork was not a fatty meat, and thereby increase the average person's consumption of pork to 50 pounds per year, that they can do better.  Chicken consumption has gone up from 55 pounds per person per year in 1988 to more than 83 pounds per person per year, after all, so why can't pork?

Having worked at various points of my life in the fields of advertising design and advertising research, this decision to rock the "other white meat" boat interests me.  One one hand, "The other white meat" brand association is solid.  On the other hand, this doesn't mean that it's good.

image from

"The other white meat" is not a stunning phrase at all is it?  It never was.  It was rather frank, and evidently it did the trick convincing Americans that pork was healthier than they thought, but it doesn't get you excited, or even thinking really positive things about pork, does it?  It has been satirized at length (just do an image search on google for "the other white meat"), and isn't a brand association that elevates the product in the mind of the consumer.  It's a little like "Pork, the less expensive, pig-tasting chicken alternative" isn't it?  And there is that whole creepy reference to "the other".  Does that make anyone else feel a little strange?  Of course "the other" is meant to imply foul, without directly mentioning it.  In the end this comparison doesn't help the Pork Board if they are looking to elevate pork consumption levels to rival those of chicken.  To do this, The Pork Board has to figure out a way to make their product shine all on it's own.  Here is where I believe the Pork board could take a lesson from the French...

image from

"Tout est bon dans le cochon!"  Almost every French-speaker knows this phrase, and will proclaim it jovially.  It means "everything in the pig is good."  Isn't this an encouraging and enthusiastic little ditty?  And it rhymes!  This is a great pig-seller, Pork Board.  Are you paying attention?  I recommend you stop worrying so much about how exactly you want people to see pork, and just tell people that it's generally "good."  If you can make a catchy English phrase that doesn't imply anything other than the innocuous "goodness" of pork, great.  If it rhymes, even better.  The more people say it, the more they'll beleive it, and before you know it you'll be at your 83 pounds per person.

You see, Pork Board, it doesn't even matter to the French whether pork is healthy, or white meat or any of that, the point here is that it's good.  They have even figured out ways to prepare pig-parts we wouldn't think of touching, some are considered delicacies.  With some really clever marketing, you might even be able to turn North Americans into knuckle-sucking, ear and tail nibblers.  You just need to start somewhere Pork Board, and completely free of charge I'm going to offer you a little insight.  I recommend bacon.  True, bacon is not white meat.  It is not the healthiest.  But guess what?  People love it anyways!

Look, there are cultural outpourings of love for bacon just waiting to be tapped, guided.  How much extra are most North Americans willing to pay just to have a little bacon on their burgers?  How many people openly admit that they like bacon, and will not give it up, even though they know it is not healthy?  How many people declare themselves fans of bacon on Facebook and other social media?  Bacon love is everywhere you look, and everyone but you, Pork Board, is cashing in on it!  There are bacon-shaped zipper-pulls on backpacks, bacon-watches, bacon tattoos, bacon scented car-air-fresheners, bacon panties, bacon jewellery, bacon flavoured condoms, bacon stuffed toys, multiple websites where fans of bacon congregate, bacon ice cream, and let us not forget, chocolate covered bacon.

image from

People are willing to try anything that has anything to do with bacon.  The point I'm trying to make here is that *this* is your ideal entry point into fostering a general cultural embrace of the pig, without needing to compare it to anything else.  Bacon has been embraced by North Americans in it's own right.  Even if they might feel a little guilty about it, we can see with the air fresheners, social media declarations, zipper-pulls and chocolate coatings, that people just want to feel good about their pig-products.  You can harness this love, give it a little institutional backing, foster it.  With a little bit of thought you can turn the rabid bacon lovers to your work, and they will go preaching their love for pig products, converting the masses using your slogan on their banners.  It could be the dawn of your pork loving utopic society.

image from

Go on, Pork Board.  It's not that hard.  And hey, pork rhymes with fork... there has to be something to that.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Just call me Sparklebutt

This photo clearly illustrates why I need to pay more attention when shopping:

My old bottle is on the left.  You know, the fake tanner that has successfully made me look like I am warm-blooded, and not malnourished or one of the undead.  The bottle on the right is what I bought the other day.

Do you see the difference?

Upon realizing that I was shimmering, I looked a little closer and realized that there are two varieties of this Dove product: "normal" (on the left,) and "gogo dancer," (on the right.)  There are f-ing sparkles in my lotion.  I am... outwardly festive, and inwardly mortified.

I really think they should make this varietal difference a little clearer to shoppers, given that there are probably two very different sorts of fake-tan consumer.  The bottle on the right should be packaged wearing a tiny pair of hotpants and bra, or have a sparkly collar.  It could appear to have massive white powdery looking line printed on it, underlining those crucial words "soft shimmer."  The plastic of the bottle should, at the very least be visibly different.  I think an all-over electric pink, a wrapping of gold lamé, or a mirrored disco-ball look would work well to convey the difference and help steer shoppers toward making the correct selection.

How to make peace with this mistake?  Of course, my inital instinct (particularly with the improving, but still visibly-bad leperhand,) is to find the darkest corner possible, and to live there for the next month having boyfriend place the occasional sandwich into the shadows.  I am trying to see the 'bright side' of this though, figure out if there's a way to embrace my mistake.  Presently my brain is dazzled by the glare coming from my skin.  I draw a glimmering blank.  I am open to suggestions.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Time well wa.. um, spent?

Yet another day I've spent my time inside, sheltering the world from the horror that I have decided (rather inaccurately, though affectionately) to call leperhand.  Ok, honestly I'm sheltering myself from possible looks of disgust.  While it's true that many people don't look at hands... many do too, and I just can't be bothered to deal with the anxiety around it if I don't have to.  I tried being brave at one point, and applying makeup to leperhand with reasonable success, but then I realized that we had everything needed to eat at least for tonight, and decided to wash the make-up off since it'd probably only anger leperhand anyhow, and horror of horrors... I must work tomorrow.

I did take a picture of my hand, since it's not completely repulsive anymore, but then I decided that it was still completely repulsive, and that I would not show it to anyone.  I was amazed that boyfriend felt fine holding my hand at the movies the other night.  So you could say I'm oversensitive about it, and I'd agree.

What have I done while sheltering myself, in order not to lose my sanity, housebound with leperhand?

I have spent an unhealthy amount of time ogling various skin disorders on the mayo clinic website.  I have morbid fascinations like that sometimes.  I discovered that lyme disease leaves very characteristic and beautiful (can I say that?) telltale signs on the skin.

During the only venture outside of the house (other than to step out of the front door,  directly chicken-out and go back inside earlier in the day,) I submitted my papers to Euromut.  So there you go, if you figured 'sometime this week' as the most likely, you were right.  It really did take me that long.

I have spent far too much time tuned into a lame fashion channel.

I have had to admit to myself that despite my general aversion to makeup, and (as a result, I suppose,) my general lack of skill with it, facegoop is too funny not to add to my list of blogs followed, so I've fixed that.  No matter whether you love makeup or hate it, I doubt you'll regret checking them out (they are funny *and* have space lizards.)  And who knows?  Along the way I may actually find a way to like (and use) eyeliner.

I decided to attend a costume party as the victim of a horrible skin disease.

I decided to have far too many beer.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gawking on the information highway.

This morning something odd happened to me.  I was in the process of waking up over my morning-digital-breakfast (coffee, news, emails, tv, and so on,) and I noticed an old friend back home was online.  We began to chat.  I was flipping channels but as the chat got going, I set the television remote down to type.

At the moment I first (consciously) glanced at the tv, there were a series of photos of women, and a brief description beside each.  39, teacher, "I'm waiting to find someone who is honest and gentle to spend time with." 20, studying nursing, "I hate to be alone, love to go clubbing and talk with friends over a glass of wine."  I had hit on some bizarre televised-date-network?

It seems that if you like what you see and the accompanying description, you text in to get contact info, or more photos, or something.  It wasn't this that interested me though.  What struck me is that all of these women were perfectly good looking, employed in decent jobs, and somehow had arrived at the idea that this would be a good idea for them, to seek love on tv with the assistance of text messages.  Belgium is a small place too!  People in one little town know people who know people in another.  And people love their gossip.  "Did you know that so and so found out that their child's former play-friend is now on the dole with 3 children from different fathers?"  "Did you know that so and so got so tired of being alone that they put their picture on the TV looking for dates?"

It was bizarre, enough so that I commented on it to the person back home I was chatting with.  What some women put for their brief description was to be expected "I like nice meals, walking in the woods, and a guy who can spoil me sometimes"  or "I've been alone for awhile, and am looking for someone kind to pass my evenings with" (yawn), while others were positively entertaining.  One girl decides to really sell herself in the third person (though all others have written in first person) "Grace and beauty make her a beautiful woman".  My favourite: a 28 year old teacher: "I would have liked to become a lawyer but life hasn't always been gentle with me." ... you're looking for a date?

It was a little like passing a car accident; you gawk fascinated and feel a sort of wonder and sympathy at the same time.  And then, just like the accident you pass on the highway it was past, and some ab-gadget was being pushed.  Finally something comes up, letting me know I'm actually on a home-shopping channel.  I think 'shopping for women on the home shopping channel?'  even stranger because how many people, let alone men, are watching the home-shopping channel?  (ok, I was this morning, but it was quite by accident.)

The ab-gadget: also gawk-worthy.  It is, essentially a swing, however instead of swinging forward and back, you are in a rather undignified "on all fours" position, holding onto handles at chest-level, and swinging your posterior about, side to side, along a sort of circular track.  I wonder "can this thing possibly work?  It seems as though most of the effort is not your own once gravity brings you back down and swinging around to the other side." The shopping channel shows infrared-syle videos of hot muscles that must be working hard, since they are bright red in the 'desired shaping areas'.  My next thought was "Where the hell would one keep one of these things?"  The shopping channel attempts to show me I could fold it and place it, for example, under my couch.  Next thought: "And it probably makes some horrible squeaking noise as it's being used."  Aha!  I imagine some poor soul, sneaking this device out from under their couch, making sure nobody is around, and climbing onto the device, into their undignified, butt-swinging, machine squeaking frenzy of bodywork and desperation.  Oh, it's an interesting vision, and I am oddly entertained.

Next up as I'm finishing my second cup of coffee and last bits of morning-digital-business is Zumba.  A fitness routine on DVD designed by a choreographer.  The dvds come with hand-weight/maracas that you can use as you go through learning a series of latin-dance and hip-hop inspired sequences.  I am actually drawn to this in a strange way, considering that dance is something I consider interesting but foreign.

I don't believe I've ever seen my parents dance, unless you count my father finally moved by liquid courage, drunkenly and joyfully dancing with tie-around-head at weddings.  As a child I never really thought I was the most graceful girl, and being more of a tomboy took zero natural interest in tap, jazz, or ballet lessons.  I have never really taken the time in life to learn any style of dance, other than liquid, which I picked up during the period of my life where clandestine warehouses filled with trance, hardcore, and drum & bass served as the counterpoints to my series of promotions, office attire, and management style.  I'm actually good at liquid-dancing, but I also realize that there is limited place for this style of dance outside of the places it 'comes from'.  Not something that fits in a lot of places.  Not even while drunk at a wedding.  Especially not.

While there has been talk in this house about learning to tango or salsa, there are no concrete plans.  Zumba assures me that it can teach me, step by step, to shake my hips in fine latin style, all while granting me enough privacy to discover whether I am ok, or very bad minus the pain of watching strangers.  There is no equipment but me, (and I suppose the maracas if I'm feeling festive.)  I realize that latin dance is supposed to be great for the abs and butt, and I also realize that I have accidentally eaten all the hazelnuts and almonds from the dish that was in front of me.  I mentally calculate a zillion calories and guiltily check the price of Zumba.

No, I haven't bought it.  And yes, I have turned off the television.  I'm not sure what happened to me this morning.  Something touched my brain in a way that has left me feeling dazed and mildly violated.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't anything that came out of my computer, so I'm putting it onto the bizarre home shopping channel trying to reprogram me.  You've been warned.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I have never wanted to rock Michael Jackson fashion more...

For purely practical reasons of course.  (See photo.)

Under the band-aids are red, puffy, angry patches.  Something has royally pissed off my skin.  I'm pretty sure it's a chemical burn, and though my skin started getting grumpy a few days ago now it's just ... well... a mess of red, angry patches.  I'd rather have people think I'm a boxer, or a die-hard Michael Jackson fan than have them think that I have NECROTIZING FASCIITIS when I hand over my money to them at the grocery store or wherever.

I have been thinking all day that I should not have been so quick to dismiss this fashion trend:

What I wouldn't give for a pair of these babies right now.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Quick and Delish: Gnocchi à la lazy

I got home tonight and had no idea what to make.  I had zero desire to make my way to the grocery store, and so I played a game I've often played with myself.  I looked at what I had on hand in the cupboards, and threw something together.  This method often works well for me, just playing around intuitively, though lately I've been forcing myself to follow recipes in order to continue expanding my formal knowledge.  I decided to share this with you because it was RIDICULOUSLY easy and quick to make, hence the name I've given it: Gnocchi à la lazy.  A quick, hearty, and relatively healthy dinner that's also vegetarian friendly :)

For those who don't know, gnocchi is a pasta made using the starch in potato, rather than that of durum wheat.  This makes it a great choice for people with wheat-gluten intolerance, (though read the label as some manufacturers try to sneak a little wheat-flour in.)  Two things I love about gnocchi: it is deceptively filling, and it cooks incredibly quickly (about 2 minutes in boiling water.)

uncooked gnocchi... did you know that 'gnocchi' is actually the plural of 'gnocco'?

You'll need:

  • ~ 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ~ 1/2 small onion (or 1 shallot), chopped.
  • ~ 2 cloves garlic, crushed.
  • ~75 mL cream (of the milkfat percentage you like, though I recommend going for 10% or higher.)
  • 200g jar of crushed tomatos (I used the Delhaize brand "taste of inspirations".)
  • Somewhere between a pinch and a dash of cayenne pepper
  • ~ 1 tbsp black pepper
  • ~ 1 tbsp dried basil
  • ~ 3 handfuls frozen peas
  • ~ 400g uncooked Gnocchi

note: "~" is my shorthand for "about".  Feel free to adjust things to your taste, as that's the spirit of this dish!

Take a small saucepan and heat the olive oil (medium-high).  Swirl the oil about to cover the base of the pan, and toss in the chopped onion/shallot.  Allow the onion to soften a bit in the hot oil, it should take on a golden colour, but not brown.  When the onions are almost softened to your liking, add the crushed garlic in, stirring it into the onions & allowing it to heat for a minute or two.  Nothing should be browning here... if it is, turn your heat down.

Take the saucepan off the heat, and pour the cream in.  The cream should bubble a bit with the heat, so swirl the pot around to help keep the cream from scalding.  Add basil (I'd recommend between a tsp & tbsp, depending on how much you like basil)  Stir, and allow the pot to sit off-heat for a minute or two.  While you do, add in a pinch or two of cayenne pepper, and between a tsp & tbsp of black pepper, depending on how much you like.)  Stir again.

Open jar of crushed tomatos, add to the pot.  Stir.

Toss in the frozen peas, stir again and reheat the sauce on medium heat for about a minute or two.  Take sauce off heat.  Almost done!

In salted boiling water, cook gnocchi for about 2 minutes (they will start to float when they are done.)
Drain, (do not rinse) and mix the hot gnocchi into the sauce.  Serve.

A shaving or three of an aged pecorino or a very light dusting of parmesan would be a lovely garnish to top this (I'd recommend an aged black-olive pecorino if you can get it,) but since there was none on hand here and the goal was to NOT go to the grocery store, I can assure you that the dish still goes down well without this accent.

Bon app!