Time Capsule

11 Nov

Things I will always remember about circus school:

1) Socks as a fashion statement. Knee socks, ankle socks, thigh-highs, knit socks, mismatched socks… invariably with holes, thanks to twenty hours a week on a tumbling floor which chews through them like a wider version of the sock-eating dryer monster, until you end up with some that are more hole than sock.

2) The camaraderie. I don’t know if this is unique to my class, or if it’s a common theme in circus schools, but the lack of competition is wonderfully refreshing. Perhaps because no two people in the class are focusing on the same equipment or have the same style, there is zero competition among us, even between those who will be auditioning for the same programs at the end of the year. Everyone cheers everyone else on, and achievement is based solely on personal improvement.

3) The lack of organization. In my experience, artists, athletes and veterinarians have been the least organized people I have ever known, generally speaking. Since circus people are a combination of the first two, nobody every knows what’s going on, when anything is due, or what it is exactly that is due. The school calendar and class schedule have been written and re-written, and in Douglas Adams’ words, time is an illusion. We are not the most formal or efficient bunch. And yet it all works somehow.

4) Inadvertently-created characters, such as the Creepiest Caterpillar and the Happiest Torpedo. Others, I’m sure, are in the making.

5) The music. Our background music for training ranges from ’80s pop to Chopin to Quebecois rock to current hip-hop made entirely of four-letter words. I could do without that last one. In fact, it occasionally gives me the urge to bash myself over the head with a juggling club.

6) Chocolate covered raisins and raw almonds. Brought to lunch by a classmate almost daily, and handed around the table with polite requests of “pass the crack, please”.

7) Lunchtime language lessons. With some regularity we exchange bits of linguistic knowledge, mainly in the form of French vocabulary, Spanish grammar, sign language commentary and literal translations of weird idioms from various world languages. I must add that I have neither male nor female camel in this.

 

 

Well, the First Days Are the Hardest Days

23 Sep

I’m precisely one week into circus school. It’s as much fun (and pain) as I had expected. I’m already bendier than before, and I have sore muscles in places I didn’t know I had muscles. The first three days or so, I was so exhausted after school that all I could do when I got home was to lie on my back and read- often followed by passing out with the book on my face at some obscenely early hour. Consequently, my appetite has tripled, and I’m turning into a hobbit- second breakfast and second supper have become routine parts of my fare, all I need to do now is to grow some hair on my feet.

My classmates are an interesting and fun bunch of people. There are 7 of us. Our ages range from 18 to 29 (yes, I’m the oldest as I had expected, though not by much), and our non-circus lives vary all the way from chemistry student to nude model. It’s a good thing we get along well so far, as it looks like we’ll be knowing each other better than we’d likely care for by the end of the year. (It’s impossible not to, when we spend 20 hours a week together.)

So far, we haven’t done anything too crazy, the first week being a time of easing into things. We have classes in dance, acrobatics, aerial circus, juggling, tumbling, conditioning, stretching, theater and choreography. Quite the difference from the week full of lab sciences I’ve been accustomed to in my college days.

In the meantime, my home life has been limited to survival: eat, read, sometimes cook, eat more, read more, then eat some more. This weekend was the first time I was able to take on any domestic ventures. I tried to make crabapple jelly, with crabapples picked at the park downtown. I ended up with crabapple syrup, which is still delicious, so I can’t complain. I have 3 jars of it canned on my shelf for the winter.

My plastic avoidance has been somewhat ignored in my attempts to just stay fed and rested. However, I’ve had time to ponder a couple of questions on the subject:

1) Music. How does one listen to music without plastic? No CD’s, no cassette tapes, definitely no mp3 player. Any alternatives to just singing? (I have a feeling the answer is “no”.)

2) Ziplock bags. How did people freeze food before those darn things came about? (Yes, people froze food before plastics were invented. Granted, it was likely in a snowbank rather than a freezer chest, but still.) I tried mason jars, but defrosting food in one of those is a pain in the rear. Besides, what are mason jar lids sealed with? Please tell me it’s not a plastic derivative!

On the other hand, I do have a few minor successes. I found, completely by chance, baking powder in a can. I’m currently testing out homemade deodorant (it currently lives in a paper cup), will let you know if it works. I have also found a few non-plastic cat toys that Lemon loves, they also happen to be free (or close enough): the chain by the bathtub that’s supposed to hold the shower curtain open (Lemon discovered this herself), paper rolls used for rolling coin, and acorns. Good stuff. Of course, the fancy cat toys she was given when she left the clinic are completely ignored. Figures.

Lastly, as promised, how to make coffee without a coffee machine- for the benefit of my generation who is largely unaware that this is possible:

Put a tablespoon or two of ground coffee in a saucepan. Add a cup of water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let it sit for a minute or so, to allow for the grounds to settle to the bottom. Pour slowly into your cup, and enjoy.

Total time from beginning to end: 5 minutes (ie. same as a coffee machine or French press)

Special equipment: None whatsoever.

Taste: Just as good, if not better.

Notes: You’ll end up with a small amount of coffee grounds in your cup. They settle at the bottom, just put the cup down when you get there. Simple, really.

A Plastic Nest

8 Sep

September 8th, 2013

My boxes arrived on Friday, which was like ten years’ worth of Christmases all come together, and brought along at least two weeks’ worth of backache. My apartment happens to be on the 3rd floor of a building that has twisty windy hallways with many misplaced staircases, and of course no elevator. I won’t tell you how long it took me to carry 14 boxes up those stairs, because it didn’t take that long. However, it did make me feel a bit like the Atom Ant, crawling up and down the stairs with boxes almost bigger than my hundred-pound self. Long story short, I made it, the boxes are currently blocking out most of my hallway and probably constituting a fire hazard, and I could really use a new spine.

The process of settling in is a slow and painful one when I don’t have a vehicle. Today I finally got a second-hand kitchen table with a chair, which the gentleman who was selling was kind enough to deliver. I gave up any hopes of being able to scavenge a second bookshelf until next month when more people move in and out of the building, so I resorted to building one from milk crates and cardboard. I covered the cardboard with wrapping paper, so it actually looks better than the wooden shelf I got from the neighbors. The greatest challenge of a car-less life is still the guinea pigs: I like getting their hay and bedding from a feed store (where they cost a fraction of a fraction of the price I’d pay at a pet store), and apart from the feed stores being in the boonies by definition, I can’t exactly walk onto the bus with a bale of hay. Until I get through my Carshare application, the oinkers are getting grass and fancy bedding from the pet store. Such is life.

Trying to avoid plastic is even more difficult than trying to bring a bale of hay into an urban apartment. Part of this is plastic objects, and part of it is the packaging. For example, short of trying to use a quill, I can’t avoid plastic pens. (Pencils are great for everyday use, but don’t work well for letters and documents.) Toothbrushes are plastic, as are mop handles, clothes hangers (even the outer lining of metal hangers), the quills of hairbrushes, and almost all pet accessories. (Leather collars are available, but harnesses and leashes are almost exclusively polyester. I did find one litterbox made of recycled paper, but it looked too flimsy to last over a couple of weeks, so I’m stuck with plastic on that as well.) We’re also wearing a lot of plastic- most knitting yarn is made of polyester or a polyester-natural blend, most socks are made of polyester, and I don’t think there’s such a thing as a biodegradable swimsuit. Even my watch is plastic, thanks to my nickel allergies. As for electronics- let’s not even get into it as I type on a plastic keyboard, shall we?

Still, packaging is what really makes me pull my hair out. Every non-plastic alternative I find (eg. kitchen knife with porcelain handle, wooden cat toy, metal shower curtain rings, bamboo cutting board, etc) comes wrapped in plastic. Argh. And no matter how much I shop in bulk, from independent stores and farmers’ markets, I still can’t get away from it. Cheese and meat still come wrapped in plastic (once I did buy grass-fed beef wrapped in butcher paper, but it seems to be a rare occurrence). No matter how hard I try to avoid it, no matter what I choose to buy or eat or wear, I seem to bring plastic home with me like a parasite hitching a ride. Is it possible to go without it? I’d love to find out. Maybe someday I’ll make a lifestyle experiment out of it, and go live somewhere in the woods without any plastic for a year. Just to see if it can be done.

Anyway, that was my rant for the day. Now I’ll go back to my nesting behavior, preferably with a cup of coffee made in a saucepan- I’ll tell you about that next time.

Balcony Blues

4 Sep

September 4th, 2013

I have spent the better part of today sitting on the balcony. Victim to a combination of technology and the lack thereof, I had little choice in the matter. Having checked CanadaPost’s website this morning, I had found out that some of my boxes were due to arrive today. (Boxes, yay! Maybe I could finally have linens? More socks than the two pairs that came in my suitcase? My battery charger so that my toothbrush could vibrate again? Oh, the joys of First World problems!) Perfect. So I wanted to be home to receive them, because the alternative would be to find one of those annoying notification slips in my mailbox and to have to take a cab or rent a car to retrieve the boxes from the post office. Inconvenient, and potentially expensive. The second glitch, aside from my lack of car, is the simple fact that the door buzzer is not yet connected to my newly-established house phone. So no doorbell. That left me with one option: to watch for the mail truck the old fashioned way. I sat on the balcony from 11AM onward. Six hours, two meals, one handwritten letter, 194 pages of the House of Secrets, one failed cup of coffee (my organic milk decided to curdle upon hitting the cup) and numerous cups of tea later, Mr. Mailman finally pulled up into our parking lot. (These six hours also included my first heart attack in my new apartment, due to Lemon’s first -and hopefully last- fall off the balcony. She was on a leash, and I was sitting next to her, yet she still managed. I had to fetch her from the downstairs neighbor’s balcony, and thankfully she was terrified but unhurt. No more balcony for kitty.)

My patience was rewarded with three boxes, containing mainly my winter clothes (it’s 20 degrees C outside, so not exactly helpful), my veterinary textbooks (ditto), and a few choice treasures: my soft huggapillow (it’s essentially a miniature body pillow, which I’ve had since I was a kid), one of my glass teacups, my kitchen timer (essential for breaking me out of my gaming trance when I’m stuck playing Civilization, Heroes or some other ungodly ancient computer game), and bedsheets! Never in my life did I think I’d be so excited about sheets, but after spending a week first in a polyester sleeping bag and then a bare mattress with said sleeping bag on top (did I mention it’s 20 degrees out with 90% humidity?), I was pretty much done with sleeping on plastic. I love my cotton sheets. I will never take them for granted again.

Other things I have learned in the past few days are as follows:

- Even the tiniest public library branch has enough books to keep me busy on a rainy day.

- Just about anything can be eaten out of a mug.

- If you’ve ever wondered how dirty you can really get after a day in the city, take a bath at the end of the day, and take a close look at the bathtub after you’ve drained it.

- Groceries truly were absolutely, utterly, obscenely expensive in Victoria.

- Walking long distances with or without a backpack full of groceries, waiting for a bus in the rain, or spending a whole day on the balcony may seem like drudgery to some people, but really they’re not half bad. In fact, they are quite all right. Enjoyable, even.

East For the Winter

4 Sep

August 29th, 2013

Yesterday, I moved to Halifax. From Victoria. This is not even close to my first cross-continental move, but it was nevertheless a long and frustrating journey, as most plane trips tend to be. I settled into my corporate one-bedroom apartment, virtually identical to my corporate one-bedroom in Victoria. (By settled, I mean I signed the lease and managed to get my suitcases up three flights of stairs without blowing my back out.) I moved here to attend the Atlantic Circus School, which brought on may questions from friends and family, as well as the half-joking remarks of “You should blog about this!”, so I figured it was time to revive rainydaycircus.

I’m currently camping out in my bedroom, which is empty save my suitcases, my sleeping bag, and the bits of garbage so kindly scattered around by my kitten Lemon. I adopted Lemon a couple of weeks before moving- smart move, right? She was born with a malformed hind leg, and as all veterinary professionals and staff, I’m not allowed to have normal pets, and I’m a sucker for gimps. So I took her in. It made sense at the time, and still does, in a backwards sort of way.

The rest of my apartment is likewise empty, save two lawn chairs that I picked up at a thrift store today. They are my living room furniture. Hopefully a table of sorts will be added at some point. My supper was tomato scrambled eggs, cooked in the one and only pot brought along. I cut the tomato with paper scissors, as I don’t know where my Swiss army knife is hiding. Seeing as I no longer have a dishwasher, I reverted to my old ways and ate it straight out of the pot, feeling very un-grown-up and oddly homey.

My balcony (yes, I have a balcony!!) has a view of the circus school, and I can’t wait to fill it up with plants, winter or no winter. (Kale is frost-hardy, right?) Along with the circus school, I’m also looking at the industrial park it’s located in, which does give the apartment a dirty urban hole look (which it totally is, though it’s still too new to be dirty, give me a few weeks for that). I can’t help but feel like one of those Russian gymnasts that lived in dorms with a window looking directly into their gym. At least I won’t have to walk far to get to classes.

My earthy hippie views haven’t changed since I last wrote in this blog. I’m still pretty gung-ho about organic and local food, and old school living. I got rid of my car before I moved here, and I’m not intending to buy another one. Yesterday I rented a car (a beast of an SUV, which was somehow the cheapest option) and did all my heavy shopping- flour, oil, milk, etc. all the stuff that would be too much of a pain to carry in a backpack. Got a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap, a giant box of baking soda, and yet another giant box of washing soda, which I’m hoping will be all I need for cleaning. I even got a corn broom, which I was surprised to find at the dollar store of all places. I’m trying to avoid plastic as much as possible, which is an interesting road to walk. The darn stuff is everywhere. Even at the thrift stores, I’m trying to stay away from it. It’s more of an experience thing (ie. “how will my living space feel without plastic?) rather than a must-not-waste-fosil-fuels thing (thought that’s a worthwhile reason in and of itself), hence no second hand plastic. I once met a rather interesting lady from the Shi’shal First Nation, who spent hours telling me about her childhood in the bush and how she picked some of her few western habits. She told me how she wouldn’t let her daughter play with plastic toys when she was young, because her tribe believed that “plastic gets into your soul, it turns your spirit into plastic”. (I was later shocked beyond belief to find out that today most children are born with plastic in their DNA. I haven’t researched this myself, though, it was hearsay as one friend was told by his family doctor.) I’d love to test this out fully some day, and live in a place completely devoid of plastic, though this is not a possibility in my rental apartment so I’ll have to contend with reducing.

On my two-connection and zillion-hour flight, I alternated between reading “the People of Sparks” (yay for post-apocalyptic pioneer life) and crocheting a circular disaster, which is currently serving as my dishwashing cloth. Lemon slept most of the way, and spent the layovers on her leash, charming the passengers at the airports we passed through. She’s proved herself to be an excellent travel cat so far, a trait I fully intend to exploit. And we both caught a head cold. (Someone tell me, do cats catch cabin colds, or is this the quintessential kitten upper-resp-probably-herpes combo? Anyone with veterinary nerdity?) As I write, she’s lying between my elbows, rubbing her eye goop on my arm and fulfilling her function as the resident purrbag. I can handle that.

Tomorrow, I’m hoping to brave the public transit into downtown Halifax. My mission is to find a bike. And a shower curtain, preferably non-plastic. Rain or shine. Probably rain.

Going to the city on the island sea…

12 Mar

As the year progresses, I still haven’t managed to have a full conversion to my Mindful Eating rules. This has a single reason: I’ve decided to move. With the prospect of moving at the end of March came the pre-moving madness of trying to use up all the food in my freezer and pantry, in order to save myself the trouble of lugging it all across the strait to Victoria. Even this so-called inconvenience, though, has its place in the exercise of mindful eating. It trains me in the ancient and wonderful art of make-do, which is pretty much lost in the western world (with the exception of rural areas) where we are used to the I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now mentality. No sour cream for the tacos? Well, I could go to the store and get a tub which I likely won’t be able to finish… or I could make a hummus dip from the giant bag of dried chickpeas on my shelf and use that instead of the sour cream. (How is it that we’re always too lazy to homemake the hummus and never too lazy to go to the store to get the sour cream anyway?) Long story short, with the exception of the occasional bit of dairy and my morning coffee, I haven’t eaten anything organic in a couple of weeks. On the upside, once I move to Victoria, I’ll have to start the odyssey from scratch and get EVERYTHING organic, which will give me a much better idea about the financial feasibility of this project.

So far, in terms of cost, my greatest challenge is still dairy, which makes it the most-appreciated set of items on my grocery list. Milk, cheese and butter are no longer “commodities”, they are treats. Apart from the tablespoon of milk in my morning coffee, I allow myself the very occasional cup of hot milk with instant coffee or hot chocolate, which I savor like I never have. I nearly never use it for baking any more, and when I do, I tend to dilute it with water. Cheese is a treasure, which I realize is a lesson I had learned as a kid growing up in Turkey where cheese is easily available but never cheap. I had only forgotten it since I moved to the country of two-pound blocks of cheddar. Gone are those days once again, and the little bricks of organic mozzarella I buy for “obscene” prices (I tell myself that this is the real price of real cheese, which is true) are sliced thin and enjoyed with a new appreciation. Likewise for butter- once again a lesson I’ve learned before, on the coast of Newfoundland where it’s still considered a luxury by the old fashioned Newfies, even though the island accessible enough by commercial freighters these days to make the price of butter comparable to the rest of the country.

I looked into getting soy cheese to cut down the costs, but the only brands in the stores here are non-organic, meaning they are likely made from genetically-modified soy. (Not to mention that ALL of them contain casein- milk protein, which I wonder if the local vegans are aware of.) I’ll have to check out the stores in Victoria as well once I get there.

With the impending move ahead of me, also are gone the days of the organic veggie delivery service, which I miss sorely. For a few blissful months, every other Tuesday was like Christmas, coming home to a surprise box full of who knew what. Twice I ended up with a cauliflower head, by far my least favorite vegetable as a kid, mainly due to its white color. Two casseroles later it’s still not my favorite, but quite decent really. I know for a fact that similar services exist in Victoria, but I hear they are more expensive than the grocery stores, using the convenience of delivery as a selling point. Shame.

So far, I’ve found the Sunshine Coast pretty limiting (despite the size of the local health-conscious, environmentally-conscious hippie population) in terms of organic products in general. Sure, in the summer, local organic produce is easy to find (though not cheap, which is fine, the local small farmers have to make a living too). But outside of the three-month harvest season, it’s pretty restrictive. I might have better luck in Victoria, since it’s actually a city. Here are a list of items which I can’t get organic for the life of me. Once I move, I’ll have to go through the list to see if any of them are available in Victoria.

-          powdered milk (I still need it for homemade granola bars)

-          ANY kind of nuts (believe it or not)

-          Potato chips (ok, you’re right, I don’t need chips, and nobody should be eating this stuff anyway. And honestly, until last week, I hadn’t even thought about chips for literally years. Then PMS hit, and the hormone-laden monster inside of me wanted a sacrifice of crisped potatoes. After going through every grocery store in the area, I gave in and bought a pack of “all-natural” kettle chips, which is most certainly not organic. It was an act of self-preservation, which I hope not to have to repeat.)

-          Dried beans, peas, chickpeas (with the exception of overpriced red lentils at the health store, which are imported from Turkey of all places. Canned organic beans/peas/chickpeas are available, but are grossly overpriced and come with canning preservatives.)

-          Bread (I kid you not. Good thing I make my own.)

-          Any other pastry (bagels, English muffins, croissants, cookies, etc.)

-          Sandwich meats (no surprise there).

-          Oil (organic sunflower, soy or canola oil is not available. Organic olive oil is available at ridiculous prices, and is currently being treated on the same preciousness scale as butter.)

-          Soy cheese (as mentioned before)

-          Instant coffee (I like to use this as a milk flavouring, mainly as a treat. A leftover habit from my Turkish teen-hood, when the only choices for caffeine were Nescafe or thick and bitter Turkish coffee. I do know that organic fair trade instant coffee exists, as I used to get it in Ontario, and I’d be willing to pay for a small overpriced jar since it’ll probably last me for a year or more.)

 

And this is the end of my completely scattered thoughts and ramblings for the day… To be continued, once I have any further self-discoveries and ponderings to share.

The First Days are the Hardest Days (or are they?)

28 Jan

My second week of organic eating is drawing to a close, and so far it hasn’t been half bad. I have been relying heavily on my freezer stash and pantry full of non-organic food though, so I’d say it’s still too easy to make a fair judgment. (Still, I must say, life has gotten significantly better since I discovered the organic equivalent of Nutella, so one span of PMS has been survived without any major casualties…)

So, primary analysis… what’s easy?

1) Organic produce is easy. The veggie delivery service has brought me my first box last Tuesday, it’s a small one-person box that costs $20, and for the time being I’m signed up to receive it every other week. $10 a week for organic fruit & veggies is not half bad.

2) Sprouts are easy. On a friend’s suggestion/reminder, I picked up a small bag of organic alfalfa seeds for sprouting, and they sproute quite well even in the Arctic temperatures of my house. For $3.50, I’ll have enough sprouts for the next month or two. Granted, I haven’t found any uses for them besides salads (which I’m not a fan of) and sandwiches, but it’s still something.

3) Coffee is easy. All the coffeeshops in my area sell organic, fair trade, shade grown coffee, so I don’t have to be the nitpicky annoying customer that asks for it every time. (So far I haven’t been picky about whether they carry organic milk or cream, that’s something I might save for later stages of this experiment.)

4) Yogurt is easy. Organic milk is cheaper in bigger jugs, and homemade yogurt is cheaper than organic yogurt, even when it’s at clearance prices (which happens frequently here- the supermarket overstocks, then sells yogurt at $1-2 a tub). Plus no plastic wasted. Made my first batch today (all it takes is a pot and a blanket, I don’t know why on earth anyone would buy a yogurt machine), and it turned out just fine.

5) Granola bars are easy. Here, organic granola bars are way overpriced, and never go on sale. I found a recipe on the internet that allows me to make granola bars the way I like, for super cheap, minus all the wasted packaging. It does have one catch though- it calls for sweetened evaporated milk, for which there’s no organic alternative. It can be made from powdered milk, which is what I’ve done (Maya, my housemate, has a giant bag of it that she keeps for baking, and lets me share), but as far as I know organic powdered milk doesn’t exist, either. I may have to keep cheating on this one until I find a better alternative.

And here’s what’s hard:

1) Cheese is hard. I’m still going through the conventional cheese I had in the fridge, working my way through as slowly as possible. Once I run out, I’m in trouble. Organic cheese costs its weight in gold.

2) Traveling is hard. I take the ferry to Vancouver about once a week, and there’s absolutely no organic food on the ferry, and precious little that’s vegetarian (fries, soggy salad and sketchy sushi that comes in piles of plastic). I do my damn best to take my own food along, but sometimes I forget. Sometimes I run out, and am still hungry. Either way, the goal of this exercise is to eat mindfully and not to abuse my body, so I refuse to starve myself, and eat some less-junky food anyway. Still, knowing I’m breaking my “organic oath” makes me think about what I’m eating. Where did french fry come from? How did it get here? Where was the wheat for this bread grown? There will come a time, I’m hoping, when I master the art of traveling with enough organic food to last me the trip, but for now I’m still in the training stage.

To finish, a simple recipe that has become my new staple over the past week:

The New & Improved Grilled Cheese Sandwich:

- 2 slices of bread (homemade in bread machine, from the 20lbs of non-organic flour that I’m still working my way through)

- thin layer of tomato paste (organic)

- half an avocado, sliced (organic, stockpiled in our freezing guestroom to ripen over time when the price went down to $1 apiece, which is considered cheap this time of year even for conventionally-grown avocados)

- generous wad of sprouts (organic, homegrown)

- thin slice of cheese (non-organic for now, rationed out carefully)

Pressed in the sandwich grill with a touch of butter on top. Mmm.

 

 

 

 

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