Thursday, December 17, 2009

Learning With My Eyes Closed

Some of you may remember reading my complaints about a certain professor I affectionately nicknamed Dr. Doom in September. If you don't, you doubtless remember me going on and on about how much I hate his class every Tuesday and Thursday except for the week I ran away to Utah. Or you may have been among the few who realized how many different excuses I came up with to not go. It's amazing how often my alarm clock can not work on certain mornings.

If you're none of the above, let me provide a quick recap. Dr. Doom (or more accurately, Dr. Dube) is my professor for a class called Communities and Societies. MRU has decided this is an important class for me to take as a degree student because high schools no longer do their job and don't prepare kids to learn at a university level, so my school has taken the task upon themselves with their new General Education program, where kids get to take high school english, social, and science again. Either that or learn about the 60s, which I know is vitally important to my overall education and helped me dodge the impending disaster of what would have happened if I did not know everything that happened at Woodstock.

In Dr. Doom's class, we read books about people who are supposedly trodden upon in society, and discuss them in class. Or at least, that's the theory. Dr. Doom does most of the talking himself.

My first class I wandered in completely naive, and left thoroughly depressed. I had just sat there for an hour and a half while my professor told the class precisely what he thought of the feminist movement. Many of his opinions led me to day dreams of storming out or simply standing up and throwing my shoe at him. As a girl whose dream in life is to be at stay-at-home mom and has no problem with the term mankind being used to refer to all people, I felt like I was under attack. How could I endure this twice a week for a whole semester? I left that class and desperately looked for a way out, but unless I wanted to drop the class and not replace it, I would be stuck with Dr. Doom until December.

Naturally it did not take me long to dislike Dr. Doom. I disagreed with just about everything he said, and everything he made me read. On my midterm, I was asked to write a letter to my daughter in the future, and tell her in this letter some of the values discussed in the feminist book we were reading. All I wanted to do was write in big block, capital letters, "I WOULD NEVER WANT ME DAUGHTER TO READ THIS BOOK!" Thankfully, I did not risk my GPA over this silly question, but it made me even more sulky.

After what felt like an eternity, we moved on from the feminist book, and started another winner, The Poisonwood Bible. This book actually sounded quite interesting, it's about a Baptist family that moves to the Congo so their father, a reverend, can preach to the locals. This was in the 60s, that decade I took a whole class on.

I started the book with high hopes, but they quickly died. From my own religious perspective, I found the book frustrating because I saw exactly what this chauvinistic, close-minded reverend was doing wrong to drive away the natives and let his family fall apart. I've always liked to read to be entertained, and I did not find The Poisonwood Bible entertaining. As a result, more internal frustration was channelled at Dr. Doom.

By the third and last book, I was ready to give up. This one was called True Notebooks, and was the memoir of a writer who taught a writing class at Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles. Brilliant, I thought. Another story about somebody inspiring under priveleged kids with football, ballroom dance, tiddly winks, etc. When would this class be over?

Right after the annoucement of the third book came, I recieved some more distressing news. Since last spring my family had been planning a trip to Thailand over Christmas, and the flight was booked right in the middle of exams for me and my sister. All semester long we had been praying that our exam schedules would allow us to go on our holiday, and Janine's lined up perfectly, with her last exam the day before we were to leave. My first was that same day, followed by one a week later, and Dr. Doom's
a few hours after my flight was supposed to leave. Needless to say, I was not very happy again.

I approached Dr. Doom with trepidation. His opinions and the fact that he was a huge guy who swore frequently in his lectures made me slightly afraid of him, and I was terrified he would start cussing me out as soon as made my request to take the exam early. What he did was just as startling; he smiled.

After hearing just the first part of my carefully worded request he grinned, said he'd love to help and would check with his head of department right away. Then he preceded to ask me politely about my trip.

I was completely flabbergasted. Was this really the villainous monster I had constructed in my mind? I was surprised I actually liked this man. He arranged to move my exam, and quite suddenly, Dr. Dube was a nicer man. Or maybe it wasn't so sudden, maybe I just stopped being such a snob. Either way, I opened True Notebooks with an open mind.

To say I loved it may be an exaggeration, but I most definitely enjoyed it. I didn't even have to force myself to read it. The author's purpose was not to show how these kids (several of which were being charged with murder) could change their lives by writing poetry, it was to show the social conflict between reaching out to young, violent offenders and dehumanizing them so one doesn't have to feel pity for the lives they'll spend in prison. The writer went in with certain ideas of the kids he teaches, and the book chronicles his journey as he realizes who they really are.

No, the book is not trying to teach us to pity murderers, the author himself loves the boys he teaches but is disappointed and heart broken when he learns more about the crimes that got them where they were. He seeks to humanize them, and show people who they really are. The mission of his class is not to change the kids lives, its to give them some good memories. According to the author, everyone deserves at least a few good memories, even violent, seventeen year old gang members getting life sentences. For once, I was reading a book for the purpose of exploring new ideas, and not just to be entertained. I was surprised how much I liked it.

I felt like this book in someway reflected my outlook at the beginning of the class. I let one moment, one fact really determine how I treated Dr. Dube's class, and didn't really learn to appreciate him, or his class until the end.

So thanks to Dr. Dube. You'll likely never see this page, but thank you for helping me stop learning with my eyes closed.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Experiments in Bulk Pie Making

Janine has an old mission companion in town, Cori, from California. Because she is here for American Thanksgiving, and our family missed the Canadian version, as well as the fact that we will be away for Christmas, we decided to do a full turkey dinner in honour of this American holiday. To make it more worth our while, we invited the missionaries both from our ward and our parents, as all four of them are also American.

Given that my parents had cheated me out of the pie extravaganza I was planning on October, I took full advantage of this chance. Last week, I artfully approached my father about how many pies I was allowed to make. The answer was, "As many as you want." Perfect. Now I had an excuse for my mother.

As I talked about my plans, people began making suggestions. Peter was adamant I make a lemon meringue, Cori asked for pecan, and I had a desire to try a lattice-top, as well of some kind of chilled pie I had never made before. On Thursday, when I made final decisions before hitting Superstore, I had six varieties on the menu; apple, pumpkin, pecan, cherry, lemon meringue, and strawberry chiffon.

Friday afternoon, I got to work. I figured my best plan would be to make a double recipe of crust and then make fillings as I rolled them out. I made that crust with great ease, chatting on the phone to Kylie. Then I began rolling out.

The thing about pie crust is it is not a simple recipe you can follow like cake, where there is a mathematical formula you can follow to make it turn out perfect. Pie crust is all about feeling, and guessing for yourself when it's just right. Pie crust, is an art form.

After the seventh failed pie crust I rolled out, I was about in tears. I'd already been in the kitchen for two hours and I didn't have a single pie completed. In my frustration, I called my mother and she suggested adding cold water, as we live in such an insufferably dry climate.

It worked like a charm. I was soon rolling out pie crust after pie crust and whipping out fillings like it was nothing. The lattice-top was simple. Then my family started coming home.

All right, don't get me wrong. I was happy to see them. But it seemed like everyone had a problem that I got entangled in, while simultaneously trying to make my pies. Mom was going to Theatre Calgary with some women from her Relief Society, Dad had to drive them in a blizzard, and people were late. Janine and Cori had driven to Lethbridge to visit another missionary, and for some reason, they could not dial his number, nor could he get a hold of them, for some unknown reason. Guess who was relaying messages back and forth? That mystery was solved when we learned that Elder Olsen had the wrong number, and it only took 40 minutes for us to solve that brain teaser.

After Mom and Dad were off, the Relief Society ladies had all been rescued from the sides of the roads, and Janine and Cori had found their way, I was exhausted. I'd been in the kitchen for five hours, and was just beginning the apple filling.

I began at 2 o'clock. It was almost nine when, after successfully making my Grandma's lemon pudding, I began my last pie, the strawberry chiffon. I had decided at the beginning that I would finish with the strawberry because it sounded the simplest. Then, I took a good look at the recipe.

Apparently after I had crushed the strawberries, whipped the cream, and put it all together, I still had to let it chill in the fridge for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. I cursed myself for not reading this earlier. I had envisioned setting out all my gorgeous pies on the table that evening to be admired and then going no where near the kitchen, not coming back every few minutes to stir some berries and cream.

Somehow, I persevered. I got the cleaning up done between stirring sessions, as well as took each pie out of the oven as it finished. Perhaps that whole staying in the kitchen thing was a good idea after all.

By 10 pm, it was all over. Six pies decorated the counter, and the strawberry was chilling. Again. The counters were cleared and wiped, the floor was no longer coated with flour, and I was flopped down on the couch with a book. Eight whole hours I had been in the kitchen. Seven pies were ready to go for Thanksgiving the next day. My back ached, my feet were tired, these pies had better the best dessert we'd ever eaten.

They may not have been, but I thought the were pretty close. I wish I'd taken a picture of them, but by the time the strawberry chiffon finished chilling, I was running around helping with dinner. My family was clever enough to keep any comments that may have been less then flattering to themselves. The elders particularly liked the strawberry chiffon, and I got to show off my handiwork to anyone who passed through our house for the next few days.

This is a very exciting day. Today I live up to the title Kylie bestowed on me in the eleventh grade. Today, I really am the Queen of the Pie Realm.

Now for next year's Thanksgiving . . .

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Last Standing Sunbeam

Today I had a long talk over the phone with one of my best friends, Chloe. Last week, when Janine and I were driving home from Utah, she called and told me that her boyfriend Matt had proposed, and she said yes.

I was not totally surprised, but very excited. Our conversation was brief, as Chloe's family was over, and since then we've been playing telephone tag to really catch up. Today we finally got in touch with more than each other's voicemail, and she related the whole story. Matt's proposal was sweet, and suited Chloe to a tee. She's now embarking on a journey of frenzied wedding preparations that I hope I can help with.

This past week has left me plenty of time to reminisce and reflect about what this means for our friendship. Chloe and I have not only been friends our whole lives, we are two parts of a trio, the first member of which got married in summer 2008. That's us at the top of the page; Chloe, me, and Kylie. The pictures a little old, we took it on the last day before we began embarking our separate lives in college. I remember we were a little teary eyed that day. We knew it was the end of our close friendship as we knew it. From then on we'd all be living more separate lives. Chloe's engagement signifies the next step in our increasingly spread out trio. We were still getting used to having one boy tag along, but two? I've become the minority as the single girl, and it's making me feel nostalgic.

So forgive me if this post seems long winded and pointless. I'm in a reminiscent frame of mind.

Chloe, Kylie and I met in the winter of 1988. Actually, the other two may have met before, but that's when I was born, so that was really when the trio started. Our families were all in the same ward or church congregation, so I'm guessing our introduction may have gone something like this:

Chloe's mom: Karyn, I see you've had a little girl.
My mom: Yes, isn't she cute? She has red hair.
Kylie's mom: Wow, my baby girl has red hair too. Though yours is a prettier red (sorry Kylie, I had to)
Chloe's mom: Just think, all our little girls were born in the same year. They'll be in the same primary class growing up.
My mom: How nice.

Of course that is less then accurate. All I know for sure is as far back as I remember, Kylie, Chloe, and I have been friends. And we were all born in the same ward. However, out of all the friends I've had through my life, people have come and gone, and some stay in touch and some don't. But the only friends that are not related me I've kept constant since I was born are these two.

We were in the same Sunbeam class, and occasionally refer to ourselves affectionately as the Sunbeams of 1990. I hope we have the year right on that, we were 3. We grew up together in 8th ward, and lots of other kids came and went in that time. Some of them we even liked better then each other, but there was always us three, and by the time we were twelve, we were the only three our age. Our poor primary teachers at that stage. I don't think we ever shut up.

I remember almost every Sunday we'd beg our parents to let us go to one of the other's house to play. On the times when they let us we'd always have wild adventures. We went through the Barbie phase, Beanie Baby phase, and several other 90s trends together. Our favourite games though were when we played house in the playhouse in my backyard. That or the trampoline.

By the time we were in jr. high the obvious differences in our personalities were obvious. That plus the fact we went to three separate schools led us to form our main groups of friends separately. But still, all three of us hung out together. Interestingly enough, we all went to the same high school, yet that was where our separation really began.

When we were about 16 or 17, the boundaries of our stake changed, and Chloe's family was switched out of our ward. A few months later my family moved to a new development and a new ward. The day we realized we were no longer going to be together the way we always had, we were very dramatic. We cried, hugged, and insitsed to our parents that we must get together that afternoon for one last hurray.

Oh to be 16 again.

We didn't do anything that momentous. Except watch Gidget Goes Hawaii, which always send us into peals of laughter and reminds us of the so called "good old days." And that was the beginning of the change.

High school was also when we started our annual ski trips. Our tradition began with the memory of a Young Women's ski trip we'd taken when we were younger. Chloe and I were both experienced skiers and went zooming down different mountains. Kylie on the other hand, took half a day to get down the bunny hill with my dad teaching her how to turn. Oddly enough after that experience, Kylie still loved the sport, and wanted to go again. My family invited her to come along once, and Chloe was invited to. She couldn't make it, but had a brilliant idea instead.

We were all grown-up to a mature age of 17. We could drive, or at least she could. Why didn't we go just the three of us? And so a tradition began. We try to take one day to go every year. It's harder now that we actually have expenses, but we have had some great times. I even remember one year where we drove to Kimberley and stayed over night. We built memories of all snow blading together (which is better by the way), the hockey team in Kimberley, Chloe throwing snowballs at the boys she thought were cute, and Kylie ramming her head into a tree. Good times.

The summer the pair of them left for university left us all feeling nostalgic. I was a grade behind them, so I was staying behind in high school while they ran off to the "real grown-up life." Kylie went to Lethbridge, and Chloe ran away to Virginia. The last time we got together, we went to the zoo, took the above picture, and cried. We are very dramatic sometimes.

That was the beginning of our separate lives. We'd always had lives outside the group, but this was really different. We were living in different cities, we only stayed in touch through facebook and when we'd get together during the holidays.

One night when I was in my first year of university, Kylie gave me THE CALL. If you haven't guessed what that is, refer to the beginning of the blog. I didn't even know she was dating anyone so I was considerably more surprised then when Chloe called.

The day after THE CALL, Chloe phoned me at school. She was then in Ontario going to dental hygiene school and we spent an hour on the phone crying and wondering what was going on. My cell phone bill that month was not fun.

I admit we were a little skeptical of Brendan, this boy who'd swooped in and was stealing the heart of our beloved Kylie, but thankfully we found him to be quite respectable and pulled our act together enough to host Kylie's bridal shower.

And suddenly we had this new person in our midst. His name was Brendan and he was attached to Kylie's arm. He was funny and just the right amount of quirky to suit our Kylie. We liked him in spite of our own selfish desires to keep her to ourselves.

And now we have come full circle and here we are again. Only this time, it is Kylie and I speculating to the side. Also this time, the news is less shocking and mournful, as 50% of the spectators are married, and want everyone else to join them in that life. When I make THE CALL, no one will cry, they'll be relieved I'm finally catching up.

I spoke to Kylie last week about Chloe's marriage, and this Matt character we will soon have to welcome into our expanding trio (note: it is still a trio. Husbands only serve as add-ons. They are not fully functioning members of Sunbeams 1990). We both like him, but we couldn't help talking about "the old days" when we were all single and confused. Then Kylie posed the question I knew she'd ask.

"Elena, are you interested in anyone right now? Anyone I should know about?"

Typical. One person takes the plunge and we all need to dive into matrimony. Still, I appreciate her question. Since Kylie's engagement when we thought she was single, we've gotten better at communicating these facts. The answer was no, for those curious relatives reading this page, but I assured my friend, when there was news, she would be among the first to know.

So here's to my fellow Sunbeams; Kylie, Chloe, and tag-alongs Brendan and Matt. A new chapter in our friendship is beginning when marriage is the norm and I get to play the role of the crazy single friend. It's been a fun ride so far, hasn't it?

PS - House of Laughs. What's your problem?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Preferred Date

Preference was this past Friday. FYI - Preference is the Mormon YSA dance where the girls ask the guys. It is a long standing tradition in the Redd family that the Redd girls DO NOT miss the Preference dance for a pathetic excuse such as they have no one to go with. It's always been accepted that you ask someone. At least you do, if you are not me last year. Clearly I am the black sheep of the family.

But this year the campaign started earlier (and the dance was not on Halloween), so I went. Janine, Jessica and I made plans to make the evening a triple date. This meant one minor (possibly major) stumbling block; we all had to find dates.

Jessica moved the quickest, she got her date first. Neen was second. The Sunday night she announced her date I was still debating who I should ask. Knowing I had to move fast, I made the necessary arrangements.

Now here is something you should know about dating in the land of young Mormons, at least when it comes to formal dances. The simple phone call, or even face to face asking is rarely acceptable. Invites must be creative, as must the answers. Some people go way over the top, planning long and involved scavenger hunts or just getting way too intense about the invite alone. This can prove awkward if your invitee has already been asked, which is why Jessica just asked her date, Ben the traditional way of actually speaking to him.

I pondered that, but I still kind of like the creative way, as silly as it can be sometimes. One thing that I find about asking creatively is that fear of rejection can be reduced as you do not have to talk to your proposed date face to face. But don't worry Mom, that's not the only reason I did what I did.

I decided to keep it relatively simple, and play to my strengths, so naturally I made a pie. Trying to keep things slightly mysterious, I did not make it immediately obvious who I was. The question mark helped with this theme, and the pie was made in a glass pan with my name taped face up to the bottom so my date could not uncover my name until he'd eaten my sugary dessert. Or until he cheated and pulled off the tape. I never asked him which one he did.

The night I "asked" him my mom and I drove out to his house. He lives near Cochrane, so it was a bit of a drive. More so because we got lost. My plan was to ring the doorbell and then run away before he opened the door. This plan became difficult when I saw his house; he lives in the middle of no where, he'd see me running all the way back to Calgary.

Mom came up with the clever plan of parking in at the neighbours house and running across his lawn. It sort of worked, and luckily we didn't have to explain to the neighbours why we were trespassing.

I went home confident. I had already learned through the ward grapevine (also known as our executive secretary) that he had not been asked as of a few days ago, and the fact that I was enticing him with free dessert solidified my opinion that he would say yes.

I just realized I've yet to mention who "he" is. His name is McKay. I met him on a ward temple trip this summer. He served his mission in Argentina and just got back a little less than a year ago. He said yes, and did so in perhaps the best way I have ever seen.

The next night my phone rang. When I answered a mysterious voice that sounded surprisingly like McKay (or so my caller ID told me) suggested I go outside, as there was something on my doorstep. I went out to find a large box wrapped in red paper. A silver car was just driving away.

I took the box into the kitchen, where I discovered the bear pictured below, courtesy of Build-A-Bear. In his hand is a recording that says:

"Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
That pie was great,
And yes, I'll go with you."

What a great present/response. As my friend Kylie said when I told her, the Preference bear is a great keepsake, when the rest of my life is in shambles, he will always say yes to me.

Okay, now fast forward to this Friday, the day of. Janine, Jessica and I had chosen to do our date at our house because it was a) cheaper and b) allowed our parents to meet our dates as they casually passed through. The plan was simple; come here, make pizzas, play games, decorate cupcakes. Easy and uncomplicated.

Or not.

We met up on Thursday to do the precooking and plan. We were now being joined by another girl, Kristine, and her date. Janine was running around doing homework, so Jessica and I took the reigns on grocery shopping and baking before we all sat to coordinate. It was here that we discovered something very interesting. The next day, while Janine would be at school and working on a project she was rather stressed about, and Jessica would be at work teaching her four separate preschool classes, I had the day off. So when we discussed who would clean the house, prepare the pizza crust and toppings, get the games ready and make a few colours of icing, guess who was assigned? ME!

By the next afternoon I was thinking longingly of my first Preference, where Colleen and I had taken our dates out to dinner and then to the dance. I was also vowing never ever to host Preference at home ever again. My day had been spent making icing, slicing pepperoni at the same time as figure out my parents meat slicer without losing my thumb in the experimentation, bake pizza crusts that refused to rise, and somehow look cute by 6 pm. Disaster. 

Lucky for me, I have a mom and dad who stepped in and pretty much managed the chaos, as well as a sister who had arrived in town for the weekend and was far enough removed from the single life to consider helping out a novelty. I also got my hair done by a girl in my parents ward, who made it look super cute.

Date time rolled around, and things got under way. Janine had to pick up her date at the airport, so they missed half of it. Kristine and hers were late, but Jessica, Ben, McKay and I ate on schedule. Once everyone arrived we played a few games, the favourite of which was a story game where we sit in a circle with pieces of paper. One person writes the name of a guy in the group at the top of the page, turns it over, and passes it to the next person. That person writes the name of a girl, and passes. You continue passing and turning over the paper adding in this order; a setting, what he said, what she said, and an ending. Then we unrolled them all and read them aloud. Here are some of my favourites.

Cody and Kristine were standing knee deep in a mud hole, when Cody turned to Kristine and said, "I bet I can skip this rock 10 times." Kristine said "Ouch!" and they skipped merrily on their way.

Ben and Kristine were under a park bench, when Ben turned to Kristine and said, "I think I would rather stab myself in the eye with a fork." And Kristine said, "I'm a 10 cow wife." And they were eaten by a flock of moose.

Robin and Jessica were in the Alps when Robin turned to Jessica and said, "You're on fire!" But Jessica just said, "That's okay, I keep spare change in my sock." So they adopted a cactus and rejoiced.

Cody and Elena were standing outside the Salt Lake Temple when Cody turned to Elena and said, "I just want you to know, though your eyes are two different sizes, I love you anyways." She looked at him and said, "Shh! We have to be quiet, or they'll catch us." So they wandered the desert, looking for any sign of civilization."

We played this game way longer then we planned before dessert, where we decorated cupcakes for our dates. McKay made a beautiful flower on mine and sprinkled butterfly sprinkles on it to complete the effect, but just before we took the picture at the top showing off our cupcake artistry, I tilted my plate toward the camera and nearly lost my cupcake on the floor. I managed to save my mothers carpet, but not the cupcake. Thankfully McKay recorded it's glory with his camera phone, and it still tasted delicious.

In the end, we were only at the dance for about an hour, but I thought that was perfect, as about the time I was getting bored, and my feet were tired, the dance ended. We had way too much fun at home beforehand to consider getting there earlier anyway.

By the way, I may consider doing Preference at home again. Just next time, I'd be less of a spazz. Hopefully.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Breed Em' Young University

Last Tuesday I ran into my good friend Trever on the way home from school. As we visited and caught up, I mentioned that that afternoon, my sister Janine and I were driving down to Cardston, on our way to Provo to visit friends and cousins at BYU. Trever's reaction to this news was typical, yet still amusing.

"Breed Em' Young University, eh? That sounds like fun, I look forward to receiving your wedding invite next week."

Contrary to these jibes (which I had been receiving for a week), I was not planning a four day trip to Utah to go on a hubby hunt. If I were I would arrange to stay longer. Neen and I had the idea to visit Utah this summer, when she was planning a reunion with her MTC friends. I was wanting to visit my cousins who had just started their first year there, so she suggested I come along the same weekend and we could drive down together.

We drove down as far as Grandma's house on Tuesday night, where we visited with our Cardston relatives. Early Wednesday morning we hit the road and twelve hours later reached the Utah valley. We were amused to see billboards for companies such as, and pass a truck with the company name "Redd Construction Co." written on it. Who knew it was going to be so easy to find our long lost relatives?

Janine and I spent the bulk of the week apart, her staying with an old mission companion, and me couch surfing from cousin to cousin. Out of the four nights I was in Utah, I slept in three different places. The first two I travelled from dorm hall to dorm hall to spend a night each with Rachel and Sydney, and the last two I went to stay with my Redd cousin, Monica, who lives off campus with a proper living room and couch.

Changing locations so often made for a crazy week, and by Sunday I was longing to go to sleep in my own bed in my own room where I didn't have to wait for others to get sleepy so I could use the couch, but it was well worth it to visit so many people I love and see their lives at By-Zoo. Here are just a few highlights of the trip.

Sydney, Rachel and I went to do baptisms at the Provo temple on Saturday. It was really busy and we spent over an hour waiting, but we all had a great spiritual experience and enjoyed the opportunity to give service. While waiting we all kept busy with the many church magazines and scriptures sitting in the pews, at least until they both got tired and took a brief nap on either of my shoulders.

Meeting Monica's boyfriend, Dave, who, get this, is from Magrath. She goes all the way to Provo for school, and we all worry that she will meet an American and never come home, and then she starts dating a boy from a town next door to her own home town.

On a break in classes, Rachel, Syd and I went to the art museum on campus, and had a great time admiring art both modern and religious. The highlight of the excursion was when we were critiquing a painting of Jesus bearing the cross and Sydney said, "I never thought that Jesus would have a hot body."

Because Calgary is lacking in good Mexican food, eating some in Utah became a requirement for the trip. Rachel, Sydney, Rico and I went to Cafe Rio, which is scrum-diddly-umptious. When in Utah, you MUST go to Cafe Rio.

On Saturday evening, Rach, Syd and I made a pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting. While I was quite distraught with the droopy look of our cake, it was still yummy, and I would definitely try it again when I can make it look pretty.

On Friday, Monica and I made a midnight ice cream run to the BYU creamery, which I found to be quite delicious. There that is enough about food.

I had the chance to meet a few of the mission buddies Janine has talked about for so long. It is kind of surreal to meet someone when you already know a lot about them, and have seen so many pictures of them. It is also peculiar to learn they have first names and are not actually called Elder Soandso all the time. The first such experience was when Janine introduced Syd and I to a group of them. As we approached I connected all their faces to the pictures I'd seen and was confident in who was who. Neen makes the introductions and says, "This is Ben, Tom, and Brad," and suddenly I have no idea who's who.

I went to Rachel's ward on Sunday, a congregation made up entirely of freshman. It was interesting to see how a group of 18 year olds can all step up and fill leadership roles so suddenly like that.

All in all, it was just wonderful to see my cousins, to spend time with them, and learn that BY-Zoo is not as crazy as everyone makes it out to me.

Not quite.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Holiday Speeding

I've always found it amusing that our market-driven world feels the need to always bounce from one holiday to another. No sooner is Halloween over then the Christmas decorations start popping up. Even on the 31, when I was driving home from a friends late at night, I could see the display of inflatable decorations inside the front door of Home Depot had changed from pumpkins and ghosts to Christmas trees and Santa riding a Harley. Clearly they wanted to be ready for the rush of people who would come charging through the doors the morning of November 1 demanding a full supply of inflatable lawn ornaments. I'm expecting the graveyards on my street to morph into winter wonderlands by the end of the day.

However, the decorations and the change in marketing tactics is old news, I've grown used to it over the past twenty years. What really got me was this morning, when I was walking down the hallway at school, and I passed the charitable table; a booth down the main hallway of Mount Royal that often campaigns for various charities or causes they want students to care about. Lately they've been fighting the good fight against H1N1 by squirting hand sanitizer at any student who falls into their clutches.

Over the past five semesters though, the charitable table does things like raise money for various causes by asking people for change and rewarding them by giving them a sugary treat like ice cream. Guess what their incentive was today? you guessed it, Candy Canes.

I find it slightly disheartening that on November 2 the desire to quickly jump ships from holiday to holiday has even spread to non-profits.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

In Love With the Eighties

Last night our ward had a talent show. The activities committee began campaigning heavily for acts several weeks ago, and were immediately satisfied with Janine when she signed up to play some of her missionary songs on the guitar. I felt satisfied too. Janine was performing, she could represent our family. I was off the hook.

Or not.

Here's the thing. The chair of the activities committee is my good friend Jessica, and one thing that comes with being friends with the activities committee chair is not only are you expected to attend activities as a member of the ward, you are expected to attend as a supportive friend. It is also because of this friendship, that last Sunday, after church, Jessica came up to me and asked me what I was doing for the talent show.

E: I'm not doing anything. I don't really have any performable talents.
J: Well, then you can display something. What are you going to display?
E: I'm not sure I really have any displayable talents either.
J: Well, what are your talents?
E: Writing.
J: I'm sure you have a talent we can put in the show.
E: Yes, my talent will be showing up and cheering for everyone else.

She lets it drop, but not really. Later that week, Jessica is making calls to confirm all the acts. I happen to pick up the phone when she calls for Janine, and seeing as Neen is out, I confirm for her.

Jessica sounds relieved. Apparently the majority of her acts have backed out and she's getting desperate. So desperate in fact she asks me again. I start describing my lack of performable talents again, when Jessica comes up with another desperate plan.

"We could do something together. Yeah, I would do something if I was doing it with you. But what could we do. . . tell you what, let's both think of ideas and I'll call you tomorrow night to figure it out, kay? Thanks Elena, bye!"

I hang up the phone and realize something. I just volunteered to be in a talent show, for which I have no talents. Why am I doing this again?

Jessica and I quickly ascertain that the only way to pull off our last minute act is to make ourselves ridiculous. If people are busy marveling at how silly we look, they will not have time to notice how untalented we are. So we agree on the easiest form of ridiculous act; an 80s dance.

Has anyone seen the movie Music and Lyrics? Yeah, I hadn't either, but Jessica had. When I arrived at her house at 4 pm yesterday (three hours before we would be performing said act), she pulled out the movie and showed me the opening credits, where Hugh Grant is pretending to be an 80s popstar and singing a wonderful song called Pop! Goes my Heart. Many of our dance moves were inspired by this scene.

Within an hour we'd choreographed our entire dance, put our hair in side ponytails, and headed to the church to practice our act on the stage. Here's another thing about being friends with the activities committee chair; you have a key to the church so you can go in early and practice your act.

By go time, we were telling everyone who asked that our talent was not an ability to dance, but an ability to imitate the 80s. With these low expectations, we went into our performance.

I think it was actually quite a success. Everyone was so busy laughing at us that they didn't think to critique our dance moves. And if I can get them to laugh, I will consider myself a success.

I went into this act totally unhappy to be doing it. I did not, under any circumstances, want to get up on that stage and make an idiot of myself. I learned however, that making an idiot of yourself is actually incredibly fun.

And besides, I have a great talent for impersonating the 80s.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Homework: Starring Frosty and Thunder

Last week I had my first interview for my broadcasting class. The fact that broadcasting is not a class I take seriously combined with my total lack of confidence with the extremely complex j-cams lead me to take the path of least resistance on this assignment. I chose to do my interview on over-the-phone customer service, in which my friend Leah just happens to work for Scotiabank.

When I approached Leah about assisting me with this project, I was very near groveling. I promised that no one would see it but my professor, we could do it whenever and wherever it was convenient for her, etc, etc. Lucky for me, Leah has never seen me with a video camera and so she shrugged it off and said it sounded like fun. Then, seeing as our mutual friend Colleen was having a gathering on Thursday night, it was proposed we do my homework at her house beforehand. 

Thursday night rolled around, and I rented my monster camera from the library. In this modern digital age we broadcasters use highly advanced cameras that can do a number of fancy things like let you adjust everything to get the picture perfect or let you monumentally mess it up if you assume you can just hit record. They also come in these giant bags that, if standing on their end would come up to my mid-thigh and weigh the same as a ton of bricks. These nice bags also have a single shoulder strap and much to our chagrin, can not be pulled down the hallways like a roll-aboard. They also come with a lovely tripod that is quite hefty as well.

What with my back and neck problems, I never carry these cameras. My classmates, and at times, my sister, are kind enough to assist me by acting as sherpas. My old-womanhood also means that all my camera angles must be shot with the tripod and never by carrying the camera on my shoulder.

I prepared for my interview with all this mind, and as I ran over my professors cheat sheet that said helpful things like, "Select the appropriate filter," and "tighten the clawball," my feelings toward this interview turned from nervous to total dread. 

I arrived at Colleen's  fifteen minutes before Leah was supposed to arrive, my sister Janine operating as my cameraman for the night. She would have preferred the role of gaffer, as holding "the long stick with the mike on it" sounded much more fun, but that is one thing I do not have to haul on broadcasting projects, so she settled for pressing the record button and wearing headphones to monitor the audio.

Colleen ushered us into her house, where she was busy laying out bowls of munchies and getting ready to make virgin drinks. I set up in the kitchen, as it had the best light. Janine set down the monster camera bag and offered to help Colleen, as they both were still assuming I knew what I was doing. Colleen also has two new kittens, named Frosty and Thunder. They are adorable, but very curious and prone to mischief. Every time I pick Colleen up she has to shuffle out the door so Frosty and Thunder don't make a break for it out the front door.

I began the first task of my project; setting up the tripod. Last time I did this it was in my class with four of my classmates hovering around, and it took all five of our brains to figure out how to adjust it correctly. Now my only help was Frosty, who decided to make my task interesting my camping out under the legs and making me sweat bullets should it suddenly collapse. Thunder soon joined in the fun by attempting to use the still-being-adjusted camera leg as a jungle gym.

Next I pulled out the camera and set it up on the tripod. Frosty and Thunder instantly discovered what a wonderful place to play my camera bag was. I hope the media desk doesn't mind one of their camera bags being filled with cat hair.

It was here that my apprehensions about my incompetencies as a videographer peaked. With my camera now secure on it's tripod and my fears of having to replace a dropped camera - as my professor had subtly hinted at when he casually mentioned their price in class - gone for the moment, I turned to the next difficult task on my to do list; turning on said camera.

I'd been over it a dozen times in class when we would put our five brains together. Now that I was alone, I forgot where the button was, but I was confident it would be simple. This button would be clearly labelled "Power" or "On/Off." I found said button and flicked it on.

Nothing happened.

I flicked it again, just to see if it was playing a trick on me. This camera has no sense of humour, it's just mean.

I checked the battery, it was fully charged. I flicked the button again, but to no avail. Now I was panicking. I had to hand in my interview the next day and my camera would not turn on. Not to mention Frosty has grown tired of hanging in the camera bag and had decided to try out the tripod jungle gym. If it tipped I would have to replace both my school's camera and my friend's cat, and I was positive I could afford neither.

Janine and Colleen were enjoying a pleasant conversation until I said in what I hope was a semi-controlled voice;

"Guys, I can't do this! I can't turn it on and I have no idea what I'm doing."

Calmly and rationally they approached the monster camera, not being experienced enough yet to fear its many shiny buttons and switches. Janine leaned down, surveyed the camera and found the button labelled "Power." She flicked it, and the camera came to life. Apparently I'd been using the power button for the hot shoe, a light you can attach to the top should you be shooting in a dark room.

Right. So I am the one who's been in the class for a month and half and she was the one who had never seen the camera before and yet she was the one who knew how to turn it on. My career is looking up.

Needless to say, I was still white balancing when Leah arrived. To make sure she had absolute confidence in me, Colleen related the story of the power button, and Leah sat down for her interview with the journalism student. I then discovered that I'd set the tripod too high. A word to the wise, when you are setting up a tripod for an interview, do not use your 6-foot tall sister as a stand in for your significantly shorter interviewee. I was getting fed up,  so I made Leah sit on a phone book.

Then came the mikes. Leah got to wear the lapel mike on her shirt while I used the handheld to record my questions. Nothing went amiss technically with this portion of the project, but as soon as I pulled out the mike chords and starting connecting them to the camera, Frosty and Thunder went wild with excitement. Apparently expensive mike chords make great chew toys. I began to ponder again what would be cheaper to replace; the kitten or the camera. I think it would be easier to win the forgiveness of my school, but I scooped up Thunder and kept him in my arms until I was set up. Leah wisely chose to do the same with Frosty, and thankfully also was wise enough to keep him away from her mike.

At last the interview began. Everything was set up in working order, and I'd even had the foresight to remove the bottles of daiquiri mix from the background. I sat and asked questions like the professional I have been trained to be, and Leah gave long, insightful answers.

Thunder was jealous of all the attention he was being deprived of. Seeing the chord to Leah's mike lying innocently on the ground, he decided it would make a great game and decided to bat it around.

This time I could not simply scoop him up, I was supposed to be staying out of the frame. Colleen, who had already picked up Frosty before he could make mischief, didn't dare enter the frame to rescue Thunder. The best I could do was subtly lean to the side and try to gently tug the chord away from him. Unfortunately he just thought this was another game, and became even more animated. Leah had to try very hard not to laugh.

In the end, it was not so terrible. Frosty and Thunder had a grand time jumping up after the chords as I wound them up, and were even nice enough to get out of the bag so I could put the camera back. I handed in my tape completely raw, or unedited as my professor wanted. Though if he watches it and wonders why Leah keeps looking down and giggling, he should know that that is a reference to one of my projects starring characters; a kitten named Thunder.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Belated Thanks-giving

I know the official holiday was a week ago, but all this week I've been thinking of Janine's Thanksgiving post. I've given it so much thought, I'm going to copy it with my own grateful list.

I am grateful for my new commute to school of parking at the institute and busing to Mount Royal. While it may take longer, it gives me free parking and allows me to have some down time for reading everyday.

I am grateful for classmates, and their willingness to help me carry that ridiculously heavy camera around, even though they all hate carrying it themselves.

I am thankful for my brightly coloured pens.

I am thankful for Petey, who keeps me informed in the world of professional hockey and assesses my ankle when I thought I rolled it in the 17th Ave chapel parking lot last night.

I am thankful for writers like Rick Riordan, who give me hope for the future of children's literature.

I am thankful for my art history class.

I am thankful for the thesaurus and big words.

I am thankful for my Uggs, which keep my feet warm on cold days.

I am thankful for my Bishop - Bis. Wolff, and for Sister Wolff.

I am thankful I was raised to not watch much tv, so I don't depend on it even when we have cable.

I am thankful for Neenie, and how she calls everyone "lovey."

I am thankful for BBC, which makes so many good movies of the books I love.

I am thankful for the quilt Grannie helped me make, and her teaching me to quilt.

I am thankful for my family and everything that makes us unique/crazy; vitamin C, our fascination with mountains, words/phrases we invent such as boobishay and in the chips, Thai food, potatoes, and the seven ibbi and their crazy games.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Forget the Turkey, Let's Get to the Pie!

I was 14 when I realized one of my missions in life. It was the eighth grade, and for some reason I cannot explain, I began developing out of my awkward shy stage and accumulating social skills with one rather unusual conversation starter. I would go up to members of my class, my church group, or really anyone and say;

"So, what's your favourite kind of pie?"

The overwhelming majority was apple, which I thought left a lot to be desired in terms of originality.

It wasn't until grade 11, that my next notable encounter occurred. In an attempt to to get the students of Bowness High School more prepared for the greater world and capable of human speech in front of a crowd, the social department decided to host a speech contest for all the Social 20 classes that semester. My teacher, Mr. Campbell explained it as follows:
  • A speech could be given about any topic, so long as it was a persuasive speech.
  • We would all perform said speeches for the class before three finalists would be chosen to go to the school-wide match.
  • The winner would be given a pie.
A PIE?! I looked up from the French Revolution project I had been working on while listening to Mr. Campbell's announcements. The winner would get a pie? Now I was motivated. Thankfully, before I could spread the good news of this misunderstanding, Mr. Campbell corrected me. "No, Elena, you will not get a pie. You will get a plaque."

Dearie me, how boring. A pie would have been much better motivation. But the idea stuck with me, so much so that when I was writing my speech and brainstorming all the topics I could speak on to make myself sound intelligent, I felt it was instead my duty to speak on why pie was the greatest dessert, and would have made a much better motivator for this contest.

I gave my speech, and was sent to the school finals. My friend Kellee was so moved by my speech she brought a pie to celebrate my birthday a few days later. She put candles in it and everything.

That speech set my role in stone. I was known for the duration of my high school life as "The Pie Girl," and after I had professed my love for the dessert in public like that, my family immediately concluded that I must want to make pies for them forever. Guess what I do every Thanksgiving now?

This year, when my parents announced that they were running away for Thanksgiving and leaving their children turkeyless and alone, I was distraught. I'd been having visions of cherries with a lattice top for weeks, I was going to make my own lemon curd, how could they do this to me?!

Janine and I originally made plans for our own thanksgiving, where she would find a smaller bird to stuff and I would blow the wad on pies. But without a working dishwasher, this plan was quickly discarded in the face of an invite to another family's Sunday dinner.

I still needed to make my pies, so on Saturday evening, Adi came over and we made pies. My Thanksgiving is considered adequate.

We didn't have a pie extravaganza, we made two; a lemon meringue, and the apple pictured above. Most of all it was a rewarding experience because Adi has never made pie before. We had a riot and our pies weren't even that bad.

Still, I feel the need for a blowout. Thank goodness we are celebrating American Thanksgiving, so I can try my planned lattice top.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nenzie Wins Major Geek Points

If you lived in my computer, this is the image you would see quite frequently. Or at least, this image minus the bug eyes and me looking more studious, but I thought that would make a lame picture.

Although I consider myself to be an avid book lover, I do not often blog about the books I read. My sister Katey does a good enough job at being the regular book critic blogger that I do not feel the need unless it is something truly exemplary. This time however, I am blogging about my absolute favourite book of all time.

Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking:

"Her favourite book? How strange. One would think that her favourite book would be an actual story. What a geek my sister/ friend/ sister-in-law/ granddaughter/ cousin/ girl I have never met is."

Or, you could be suffering from the prejudice I myself was plagued with for many years:

"The thesaurus is for people who have a limited vocabulary. She must not be a very good writer if she has to use a thesaurus."

Both these thoughts are wrong, except maybe the part about me being a geek, because yes, my favourite book is the thesaurus, and I'll tell you why.

This summer, when I was beginning work on my second novel I had a task I have never faced before; I had to write a riddle. I was slightly terrified by this prospect. In grade school, I would beg off all forms of poetry by writing twenty extra pages of creative writing, I was that bad at it. Plus my cousin and fellow writer Mikyla had been written a riddle for her book, and I'd seen her agonize over it for hours. I was not looking forward to it.

One day, while I was avoiding writing by reading about writing and getting motivated whilst procrastinating, I read a tip from one of my favourite authors, Gail Carson Levine. She suggested that when trying to write riddles and jokes, to use the thesaurus and look for obscure words that worked as puns.

Not knowing what else to do for this blasted riddle, I began using the online thesaurus. I was sure it wouldn't work. After all, how do you find an obscure word for troll?

Troll noun Definition:elf. Synonyms: demon, dwarf, giant, gnome, hobgoblin, kobold, leprechaun, monster, mythical creature, ogre. See also fiend.

I saw fiend, I saw monster too, and thus began a rather peculiar hobby. In my riddle making efforts I would decide what the main ideas of a stanza and write down theme words. For example, one paragraph was about a rainforest, witches, moddiness, and hair. So I looked all these words up. I looked up other words I liked, and I'd write out all the synonyms for each. I have pages and pages in my notebook full of synonyms I liked. As a result, I wound up with a riddle I was very proud of and yet another quirky thing to do in my spare time.

Through my riddle writing, I discovered that the thesaurus is not just for people who can't think of another word for nice (likable, superior, admirable. See also excellent). Anyone can learn new big words. It's fun, even for people think they're too smart for it.
 In fact, it may even be more fun.

I discovered the old thesaurus pictured above on our family bookshelf, and I've boobishayed it (that is actually a Redd family word for borrowing and then just keeping as your own. In a family with five girls and five closets, we needed a term for this). It rests on my desk and is used often. Just last night I was writing a cover letter for this advanced writing class I am applying for next semester, and guess what I used to make myself sound smart? That's right, the thesaurus.

So next time you can't quite find the word to describe what you mean, don't be too cool for the thesaurus, pull yours out or go to the online one. You will find the experience most remunerative (rewarding).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

College Professors

A new school year has started and with it, I have become acquainted with new classes and new professors. Two weeks in I have taught my professors to call me by the correct name, and have more or less figured out what is going on in all my classes. Or at least, almost all.

Long-time followers of this blog will be aware of my opinion on my school's general education requirements, but if you are unaware, I've explained Mount Royal's degree requirements in a previous post. This semester for my jr. high-esque class, I'm taking Communities and Societies, which is about, well....that's the thing, I have no idea what it is about.

My previous Gened class was a pop culture class, based entirely on the 60s, where we watched 60s movies and talked about the Beatles with Grant, our prof who in real life was a theatre teacher. He made us do a lot of oral work and speeches, but ran his class fairly slack and was a very likeable prof. He had about 7 journalism kids in his class and so when he ran into our departments end-of-exam- breakfast at the farmer's market last April, he stopped to visit with his student's and bought us a thing of fudge as a congratulations present.

The thing about the Gened classes is that whoever teaches them pretty much has creative license to do whatever they like with them. They can be like Grant and spend two hours on a Woodstock documentary, they can make their class into a course on Imperialism like someone else I know, or they can be like my new Gened professor, Allison Dube.

I had no idea what to expect from my Gened class this semester. All I needed was the little check mark in my degree saying I had fulfilled the requirement. Allison Dube sent an e-mail before the class started, giving a list of three books we would read in her class and explaining the discussions we would have on them. Read book, discuss. I can do that.

Then I went to Allison's class, and nothing was as it seemed. For starters, Allison is guy. A scary looking one who kind of reminds me of my chiropractor. Second, Allison the guy has his PhD in, well something that makes him qualified to teach Intro to Social Studies for college students, and unlike so many of the professors at MRU, he requests that we call him Dr. Dube.

I will never be able to speak to this professor by his name, I will burst out laughing. He sounds like a Marvel comic supervillain.

Then Dr. Dube began his class, which I soon learned, would be the painful structure of all his lectures.

We arrive, we copy down two boards worth of obscure notes on dominants and subordinates, and then, Dr. Dube launches into his lecture, which isn't so much of a lecture as it is his personal soapbox. Here is another fun fact about Dr. Dube; this man, who reminds me of Dr. Gainor, is a fervent feminist.

All his lectures, I'm sorry, tangents, comprise of him reading a few lines from the feminist book he makes us read and then going off about his own experience with how the roles of women have changed. His opinions are littered with comments like, "Women can now express their individuality because they can have careers," and "Women are no longer encouraged to think of others all the time, they're allowed to think of themselves."

Has Dr. Dube never heard of the new domesticity movement? Yeah women have careers but a surprising number are still finding fulfillment and individuality at home. And since when is it a bad thing to think of others? I'm fuming almost every time I leave that class. What am I supposed to be learning anyway? Is my final exam just going to full of Dr. Dube opinions?

I miss Grant, and his lectures that involved listening the the Beatles greatest hits and watching Dr. Strangelove. I think I way under appreciated 60s class when I had it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Mark of a True Friend

Janine and I had another one of our little get togethers this Saturday. This time we simply thought we'd have a few friends over after the adult session of General Conference to hang out and keep it really casual. As is typical with gatherings of the Redd girls, our turnout was abysmally low. Two friends came; Jessica and Robin.

We still had a blast despite the total lack of a crowd and the fact that we were all dead tired to begin with. We played Uno, visited, and at midnight, we realized that it was Robin's birthday, so we all decided last minute to go Denny's so he could get a free meal. It was good to hang out and relax with two good friends, and as usual, the fears I get before having friends over were for nothing.

It was on the way home from Denny's that I realized something. Out of the three get togethers Neen and I have hosted since she came home from her mission, we have had one friend who has come to every one of our parties; Robin.

When we hosted our Non-Bonfire in celebration of Midsummer's Eve, he came despite the fact he'd had a wedding to shoot that night. He saved our Thai Dinner from appearing to look like a sneaky double date, and he came to our friends-over-after-stake-conference shindig. If coming to parties was the only sign of friendship, Robin would be our only true friend.

I don't say this to point fingers at my other friends, Jessica only missed Thai Night for a family function, and in fact many of our friends we have just not been able to co-ordinate our plans with their schedules yet, but here's a shout out to Robin: thanks for making all Redd girl gatherings less of a sad story. 

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Let's Play a Game

I found this game on facebook, I let my friends there take a crack at it, and now I'm spreading it to the blogosphere. But if you played this game on my facebook page, know that the answers have changed.

I'm going to pick 15 movies I like, and name a quote from each. You are going to try and guess said movies without cheating and looking them up. Post you guesses in the comments section.

1. "Hmm, that's great, except you forgot, 'And since we're out of potpourri, perhaps you wouldn't mind bringing some.' Hello, this is the army!"

2. "I feel something, a slight tingling in my fingers. I think it's affecting me."

3. "I'm not saying she was very silly, but one of us was silly, and it wasn't me."

4. "I'm not a dwarf, I'm a girl, and actually, I'm tallest in my class."

5. "Everybody has a secret they don't want you to find."

6. "Can you forgive me? Can you love me? Will you marry me?"

7. "They say when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that's true. What they don't tell you is when it starts again, it moves extra fast to catch up."

8. "Keep your head or you will lose it!"

9. "No more rhyming now I mean it!"
"Anybody want a peanut?"

10. "Do you remember how you said Mozart was a musical pod?"
"Yeah, well I have one of those, and he's living under my bed."

10. "I don't know, it's just's like you escaped from a Hallmark card or something."

11. "Now I must give you one smirk, and then we can be rational again."

12. "I only gamble with my life, never my money."

13. "You'll never shut down the real Napster."

14. "I love talking about nothing, it's the only thing I know anything about."

15. "I would prefer it if I did not like oranges, consuming them is such a commodious task."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Planning social events is awkward. It seems that no matter how much you try not to make a big deal of it, it always winds up being a big deal.

This past Sunday, Janine and I made plans to have a Thai dinner with some friends after church. We wanted to keep it laid back, so we figured we'd just invite people whenever we saw someone we wanted to invite the week leading up to Sunday. We've also learned that if you want say 20 people to come to a party, you invite about 30 to 40.

On Friday there was a dance, and we both figured it was a chance to invite people for Sunday. We went around in no real order, inviting each person we ran into. We got a few enthusiastic yes's, a couple sorry-can't-make-it's, and a swarm of might-come-maybe's that are just so typical of our age group. Years ago, Janine had had a party similar to this where she invited 30 people and 37 showed up, so we were feeling pretty good about our waffling friends.

On Sunday we went to church with the intent to invite more of our friends we hadn't seen Friday. Before that could happen, we got some cancellations. A few more people regretfully declined, and a bunch of might-come-maybe's were added to the pile. By sacrament meeting, I was doing a mental tally. The total number of people who were still definitely coming had reached a whopping two, and I suddenly doubted my more evasive friends would be showing. Not only that, but our two confirmed guests were a couple of guys, who, though good friends and great people, I did not want them to think we'd conned them into a double date at our house with our brother, parents and grandparents present.

So after the closing prayer, Neen and I invite more people. We get one more yes. Three people, yipee! Three guys for that matter, who I am pretty sure share two things in common; they are all Mormon, and they all know us. That, as far as I could see, is where the similarities stop.

We went home, revised our menu for a smaller crowd, and consoled ourselves that at least it's one up from the baby shower we threw (literally, as two people came to that), and laughed at the irony of how that morning we were concerned that we haven't invited enough boys, and now all we have is a trio of them. By the time our guests start arriving, I am seriously wondering why I ever bother planning anything anymore.

They've been there maybe half an hour when I remember why - because it's fun! Yeah, there's five of us, but after Neen and I apologetically explain we're the only people coming and swear we did in fact, invite girls, and this wasn't a conspiracy for us to get all the biys to ourselves, they shrug it off and say how hard it is to ever plan anything, and declare their excitement that they get to eat all the curry. Typical boys.

After we've all eaten a lot of Thai food and visited a while, we head to a Fireside, and I realize that again I have worried too much. Then I start to think. Even though there was only two people at the baby shower we threw, it was still a blast. And our dinner party with three assorted friends went better then I ever would have expected, because people are usually just glad to be invited, get to know more people and to do something with friends, even if it's never the grand gatherings I envision.

So our dinner parties, showers, and non-bonfires will continue, never according to plan and always throwing me for a loop, but regardless, it's always fun.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

It's production week at work. This means that everyday the stack of files on my desk keeps on getting bigger and bigger as the deadlines get closer and closer. I stay late, I take work home, and I'm prone to crankiness after a day of fact checking and editing listings. You know, your typical production days.

This morning I arrived at work ready for another day, the last production day before the magazine is submitted. I came to my desk this morning, and sat down to complete the remaining fact checking on my desk.

It took me half an hour. By 9 o'clock I was looking around for something to do. Great, this day is going to be fabulous.

Shortly after, I was occupied with another last minute task; checking the spelling of all the stores mentioned in the mall feature. Considering they talked about 10 malls, that's a lot of stores. I made it fun by opening a different tab for each store and collecting the tab symbols I thought looked best (I still have the 9 winners up on my computer). Sadly, that took me a little less then an hour. I was still kept busy until 11, at which point I walked into my editor's office and handed in the last thing I'd been working on.

She asked me what else I was working on, when I explained the vacant spot on my desk where waiting files usually sit, she thought a moment, and for a few seconds was really stuck as to what she could give her intern to do for the next five and a half hours. At last, she told me to return to a project I'd been working on in July, but had abandoned when production got closer.

It wasn't long after that my two editors retreated into the office to do the "read through," that's magazine lingo for shutting ourselves in a room with an iPod to read every page and ad in the magazine because after all the fact checking, editing, proofreading and spell checking, we need to make sure there are no mistakes. The really sad part is, they often find some.

This is my second production, so I went to work on my not-as-rushed project not expecting to be there for long. Sure enough, 20 minutes later, my phone rings.

"Elena?" my editor's voice echoes in the phone and down the hall. "I need you to call Masters Gallery and ask them about this exhibit in their ad, it's not in the listings."

I throw myself into this new task with enthusiasm, sort of. I have always enjoyed the art gallery side of my work and though I complain about it, I sometimes enjoy being caught up in the whirl of events that is production.

Ten minutes later, I give the info to Laura, and return to my desk. It's another half hour before my phone rings again. This time it's to make sure that the honey cashews at a certain Chinese restaurant are in fact, honey-roasted.

And that is how my day has gone since. I've realized that my purpose here is actually kind of silly. I finished the menial task they give me hours ago, and I just sit here, waiting for my phone to ring for another spontaneous fact check, or my favourite; to count the stores at one mall (via the internet).

It is very difficult to throw one's heart into these little tasks when one can't help but think that were it not for them, one would have nothing to do and could possibly be at home. But instead, I must wait. Perhaps I should slip out to get some silly putty....

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Fast Forward Button

If I could achieve only two things in my life, they would be these; first, I want to be a mom. I would give up every ambition, dream and goal in my life if I could achieve that one thing. Second, I want to be a writer. I would give all other ideas of my life except motherhood if I could get my books published.

I'm sure you all know exactly how well I am doing at these goals; a single girl who is still too afraid to complete her publication submissions because a) it's scary, and b) I'm just not convinced my book is ready. And try as I might, I sometimes feel like I'm going no where.

Today I came home from another day of work where I fact-checked and spent the day harassing our advertisers for their business hours. I felt proud of myself for accomplishing as much as I did in one day, but there is something so unsatisfying about spending eight hours filling in numbers compared to writing a really excellent chapter of a novel or character description.

Janine and I had an unremarkable dinner of leftover chili (although it was very yummy), and, as two single girls on a weekend evening are sometimes prone to do, we went to a movie. The film we chose was Julie and Julia, which is the story of Julia Child and a woman named Julie Powell, who, in an attempt to make her life more interesting, decides to cook all the recipes in Julia Child's cookbook and blog about it. The movie shows both these women, as they deal with the struggles and challenges that invariably plague all of us as we strive to achieve something.

As someone trying to get over some major writer's block, I identified strongly with this movie. Although at first, I sat there and glowered with jealousy. It is pretty obvious how this story is going to end. We all know what happened to Julia Child, and if Julie Powell's life has been made into a movie, I'm pretty sure she has met with success. These women were both writers and I envied them. What were they doing right that I was doing wrong? Why can't I get off my butt and spend my evening writing instead of watching other people succeed? Why was I so perpetually stuck? Why was my novel still not what I wanted it to be?

Later on in the movie, I got my answer: I wasn't doing anything wrong. I was still just in the montage of writing and getting frustrated and feeling like I was going in circles. I hadn't even reached my climax yet. All these realizations made me start thinking of my other, higher goal; to get married and have children. I like to draw comparisons between the two.

I'm only at the beginning of my life story. And no matter how much I wish I could just fast forward to the scene where my novel becomes a smashing success or I'm holding my first baby, life has no remote control. I always want the end result, but I shudder at the time in between. I sometimes hate dating. I hate the constant nagging pressure I have to work on my writing because I want to be sending out queries by the time school starts. I'm terrified of stockpiling rejection letters and trying to make my book just right. I'm scared out my wits of going out and trying to be sociable so that one day I can meet someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. And honestly, I'm even more scared of being pregnant.

In some ways I want to be able to skip to the end of my life, look back and go "Check, check, check, I did it," but filling in those check marks is as interesting as my day of work. It was satisfying, but the content was dry and brushed over.

The great part of Julie and Julia wasn't the final scene where Julia Child receives the first copy of her cookbook in the mail, or when Julie Powell presented her final recipe of duck, it was the stuff in between. It was when Julie was too scared to cook a lobster, or burst into tears over a chicken she dropped on the floor. It was when Julia Child's Cordon Bleu teacher told her she couldn't cook and she charismatically stuck out her tongue. The great moments in my life won't be when I'm looking back and checking off my goal list, it'll be when I'm here, working my way through the trenches.

I started this post not knowing what I would say, just knowing that the movie I saw today touched me in some way I didn't understand. It's taken writing it all out here in the blogoshere for me to realize the purpose of my writing and my wandering thoughts;

I want my life to be about achieving something, an endless list of somethings that I could never attempt to name all at once, but when I'm old and grey, I want my life story to be more then a checklist. I want it to be about the journey along the way and the stories in between.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Veggie Tales Vol 4: I Did It!

Well I don't have much to say in this belated post other than, I did it!

I, Elena Redd, who used to always say I could never be a vegetarian because I like meat too much (or my oh so witty high school explanation - I am a vegetarian on February 30), have lived without a single morsel of meat for exactly four weeks. I feel so empowered right now, like I could do anything.

My last week of going veggie was uneventful, though plagued with temptations. Thursday night my brother and I drove to Cardston for our cousins wedding-pizza party. Upon our arrival, the orders were pepperoni and meat lovers, so I ate my cousin Monica's crusts. On Saturday we went to a wedding of a family friends where not only the salmon was delectable but the chicken was to die for. But to my delight, the mushroom salad was also fantastic.

Sunday night I took my last stand at a family picnic for my newest nephew's baby blessing. My sister made pulled pork. I binged on plain buns and couscous salad, but I had to keep repeating to myself;

"Do no not cheap out! You've lasted 3 weeks and 6 days, you can last another 12 hours."

Somehow I talked myself into it.

Though on a happier note, Friday proved to be a fruitful day for being a vegetarian. That afternoon, I got together with an old friend from high school, Brittni. After catching up, we decided to make some dinner at my house, and I warned her, I was still a vegetarian. I've gotten used to telling people this, and usually the response is, "Oh, why?" and once I explain, "Oh, okay," and that ends the conversation. With Brittni it was an exclamation of "What a coincidence" followed my the announcement that was also a sort-of-sometimes vegetarian. So we had a fun time creating a vegetarian pasta sauce with a plethora of veggies and an accompanying salad with feta cheese.

Yesterday was a weird day, I woke up and after rummaging through the kitchen for a few minutes, I remembered I could eat meat again. I didn't eat any right away, not until lunch, when Janine and I - left home alone for a week - went to Boston Pizza for lunch.

I was scanning the menu, habitually looking for the meat-free options when Janine and I both remembered again I could meat for the first time. Janine got very excited and started insisting I eat something very meaty, like a hamburger or beef dip.

I didn't. I took the easy road and opted for one of my BP favourites - spicy perogie pizza. It has just a little bit of bacon on it, and it's scrumptious. That has been my only meat thus far. For some reason, I'm not craving it as much as I would have thought.

Overall, I have enjoyed my experiment with vegetarianism. While there were several times I had to slap my own wrist for craving meat I came out successful, and actually enjoyed it. I am not such a carnivore as I originally thought! My mom would often ask me during my sojourn as a vegetarian how I was doing, and the response was always;

"Fine. I like being a vegetarian."

In answer to your question, no, I will not be making this my permanent diet, if only for the sake of Grandpa Redd's chicken sandwiches. I am however, pondering ways to cut down the amount of meat I eat in a structured way. While I have always tried to "eat meat sparingly" I'm having trouble deciding how sparingly I should go in future.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Practicing My Mom Skills

Right now is a very busy time for my office. Production starts in two weeks, and before that happens, we have to get everything we need to do said production. This means for me a lot of writing of the short blurbs I will soon put in my portfolio, the delights of checking facts that have already been verified by the reporter who wrote the story, and my favourite of all; photo requests. Or, as I describe them to my friends and family as I describe my work day, nagging.

Last week my editor gave me a list of events that she was considering putting in our calendar called, "Hot Dates." She told me that they all needed photos, and to start accumulating them. On Monday we had an editorial meeting, yeah, remember those? We discussed Hot Dates, and the required photos. Laura told me to really get on it this week, and to tell people we needed them by Thursday. This is where the fun really begins.

Asking companies for photos, in many ways, is like being a mom nagging a child. First you've got the ones with selective hearing, or at least, selective e-mail reading/voice mail listening skills. No matter how many times you call/ e-mail/ harass them they refuse to respond, even though you are offering something that will eventually bring them happiness.

Then you have what I like to call the Yesees. As soon as you first contact them they're all, "Oh right away, thank you for the publicity, anything we can do to help, blah, blah, blah," and then they do nothing. The child version of the Yesees I am very familiar with, because I do this often;

"Honey can you clean the kitchen?"


"Great." (Three hours later) "Honey, why didn't you clean the kitchen?"

"You wanted me to clean the kitchen?" - I'm starting to sympathize with my mother here.

There is another version of the Yesees that are even more obnoxious, the Confused Yesees. These people give the same flattering reply, and when I give them my requirements (high resolution, no promo posters, TIFF of JPEG) they do the exact opposite (200 ppi, promo poster as a Ps file, goody) It's like the kid who doesn't hear their mother say, "Do not pour cold water in your grandmothers vase right out of the dishwasher." Guaranteed, when the dishwasher is unloaded, the vase will crack.

This last one is the type I was dealing with today: I had one person who responded with a Yesee response, and then starting asking a ridiculous number of questions. I thought I'd really got through to him, but then he said the files could not be sent from his computer, that his designer wasn't in the office today, that he wasn't sure if he had any images of what I was asking for (which I'd seen on his website), blah, blah, blah. The Excuse Child. It was so ridiculous, I felt like I was talking to a kindergartner.

So tomorrow I am going to go to work again and call the restaurants that are not calling me back. I'll try and think of some really good threats for them to get their attention. Maybe I'll take away their TV privileges, or just deny them free publicity. Then I will laugh about it with my coworkers because they are all so adorably naive.

Man, I cannot wait until I have teenagers.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Veggie Tales Vol 3: New Ingredients

For those of you faithful followers (Hi Grannie) I apologize for not posting this yesterday. But for one thing, I was busy, and for another, I could not, for the life of me, think of what to write.

I mean what had happened in the world of vegetarianism this week? Not a lot. I still haven’t eaten tofu, I’m not sure I even will. To be honest, I’m not that fond of it, and I have no plans for my character to eat it anyways.

I did not crack this week, I remained meat-free and am still quite enjoying my veggie ways. This weeks story however, does come from my culinary experiences.

On Saturday afternoon my friend Colleen came over, and we had the idea to make pizza with Janine. Of course it came up that I am not eating meat, so we decided to make two pizzas; one veggie one, and one with salami.

Janine, who reads more cookbooks then me, had a great idea for the veggie pizza, we should put black beans on it.

At first, I was sketchy. Beans on pizza? What was this? But seeing as she said she’d got the idea from a trusted cookbook (Skinny Feasts by Dee Hobsbawn Smith) I went with it. Along with my mushrooms (favourite pizza ingredient) olives and bell peppers, we sprinkled on some black beans.

It was delicious! Seriously, I normally don’t even like black beans, but on pizza they were so good. It was like like a little soft, tasty surprise every time I found one amid the cheese and tomato sauce. I would put them on any pizza.

So that is my vegetarian dining experience for the week. Janine copied some recipes from a magazine I want to try, so maybe next week I will not be pulling your leg when I say I’m going to blog about real vegetarian cooking.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Something Funny

I was riding the train to work this morning when I looked up, and laughed. Over my head, among the usual adds for community colleges and identity theft, was an ad that read "Agnostic Gospel Choir Concert."

Is it me or does that seem like a play on words? Aren't agnostics supposed to be undecided as to whether there is a god or not? What is the gospel of agnostics, and more importantly, what does their gospel choir sing about?

All day I've had this thought metriculating at the back of my mind while I imagine what sort of songs an agnostic gospel choir would sing.

Praise be to the all powerful thing we are not even sure is there!
We don't know what you are are but save us from sin that we don't know exists!
We don't know, know, know, oh we don't know!
Hallelujah! That is, if there are angels.

All right, clearly I should not be in an agnostic gospel choir, but seriously, what do they sing about? I'm challenging everyone who reads this blog to try writing an agnostic hymn. Winner gets to lead their own imaginary choir.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Veggie Tales Vol. 2: The Greatest Temptation

So I just finished week two of being vegetarian, and so far, it's going splendidly. I have not slipped up yet, and have actually began to enjoy my non-meat eating ways. I learned this week that Julio's Barrio has several delicious vegetarian options, many of which include portobello mushrooms. Yum! I also explored the non-existent vegetarian options at the Claresholm 7 Eleven, and discovered a delicious vegetarian cafe in Kensington called The Gratitidue Cafe. Try it out even if you're a meat-eater, it's amazing.

Needless to say, I did not get around to experimenting with tofu, but I am hoping to try a bit more veggie cooking of my own in week three. This week my challenge was surprising and harder then I imagined; resisting temptation.

So far I have not found it hard to resist much of the meat offered to me. At most family meals I have just avoided the meat dish, and substituted it with nuts, beans, or eggs. Or go without protein all together. Even on the night my family had steak, I held strong and just enjoyed the mushrooms instead.

Then, on Friday, Janine and I went down to Cardston on a ward temple trip. After going to the temple on Friday night, as usual, Neen and I headed over to our grandparents house, where we would be spending the night before going to Waterton the next day. I love visiting my grandparents. It's such a comforting place to visit because it always stays the same. Everything, including the menu.

Ever since I was a little girl, my grandpa has always made me his specialty; chicken sandwiches. This may sound simple to some of you, but that is simply because you have never eaten Grandpa Redd's Chicken. Our whole family loves the stuff, I can't get enough of it. Really the recipe is quite simple, you boil it with celery stalks, onions, and pepper, and I have tried to imitate it, but there is no way to truly master Grandpa's chicken artistry unless you are Grandpa. I am salivating just thinking about it.

My grandparents both know how I feel about this chicken, and so naturally, Grandpa had a batch ready when we arrived. He and Grandma welcomed us in, asked how we were, and before going to bed, they informed us there was plenty in the kitchen. I suddenly remembered I was a vegetarian, and for a minute, I thought I couldn't resist. I would just have a bit of Grandpa's Chicken. One meal of meat in a month wouldn't hurt, and no one would have to know except Janine. It was GRANDPA REDD CHICKEN for crying out loud. How could I say no? I had never said no to his chicken in my life, surely I wouldn't have to start now.

But then I thought of something; my goal to go an entire month without eating any meat. I thought of the steak I'd turned down, how carefully I'd been planning my lunches for the past two weeks, and the idea of looking back on July 2009 and being able to say proudly and truthfully, "I did not eat meat for an entire month." For some reason, I wanted that more than I wanted the chicken. I'd made a commitment to myself, and I was not going to break it, even for one of my favourite foods in the world.

So I didn't eat the chicken. I had a cheese sandwich instead. Janine got all the chicken she could possibly want and more. And while that chicken continued to tempt me all Saturday, sitting in the fridge looking delicious, I just didn't let myself do it.

Now this is going to make the next two weeks a hundred times easier. If I can say no to Grandpa Redd Chicken, I can do anything! Huzzah!

PS - the first thing I want to eat in two weeks, is Grandpa Redd Chicken.