Oatcakes, oatcakes, and more oatcakes!

oatcakes
Ate our oatcakes too quickly, before photos could be taken. These nice crisp-looking ones are courtesy of House and Garden UK.

Now that the memories of our Great East Coast Adventure of this summer are fading away, we really miss not having Scottish oatcakes readily available here in central Canada.

In the Maritimes, you can find oatcakes in many places, especially in Nova Scotia, and especially, especially on Cape Breton island, of course. I remember that years ago, VIA train served wonderful complimentary oatcakes on the leg between Montreal and Halifax (don’t know if they still have them). Now, even select Tim Hortons out there have oatcakes on offer alongside the doughnuts, which are overly-sweet by comparison.

Of course, now that we’re no longer there, we had to look for the perfect oatcake recipe to bake for ourselves at home. After a lot of sifting through on-line recipes and discarding ones that seemed like they had too much sugar or an oat-flour ratio that wasn’t quite right, we came up with the following five recipes to try. The sixth one is from the Clucking Hen Café and Bakery near St. Ann’s Bay along the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton. (It should be noted that our preferred oatcakes were from the High Wheeler Café in Baddeck, but unfortunately, they didn’t give away their recipe conveniently on a bookmark like the Clucking Hen.)

Take a look at the recipes below with our review notes, and bake up some simple deliciousness for yourself!

Note 1: We slightly modified the recipes by substituting butter whenever the original recipe called for lard, shortening, or bacon fat.
Note 2: We ground all our oatmeal until it was fine, but not quite as fine as flour.
Note 3: In all recipes, sift/mix dry ingredients first. Then pulse in the butter, then water.
Note 4: Unless otherwise stated, bake at 350° F for 15 minutes, turning over halfway through.

1)
http://www.food.com/recipe/cape-breton-oatcakes-334468
·         2 cups rolled oats
·         2 cups flour
·         2 tsp. baking powder
·         ½ tsp. salt
·         1 cup brown sugar
·         1 cup butter
·         ½ cup cold water

Review: We couldn’t taste the oat taste as much as in the other recipes, and with a cup of sugar, this one was the sweetest among all—a tad too sweet for our liking. The dough was also much softer than the others—almost too soft to work with.
2)
http://localfoods.about.com/od/Cookies/r/Nova-Scotia-Oatcakes.htm
·         2 cups rolled oats
·         1 cup flour
·         ¼ tsp. baking soda
·         1 ¼ tsp. salt
·         ¾ cup brown sugar
·         ¾ cup butter
·         ¼ cup boiling/very hot water

Review:
Not as sweet as #1, and it had a nice buttery and oat-y taste. The dough was easy to work with, and because we rolled ours out extra thin (thinner than the photo on the original site), the texture was the nicest and crispiest among all. Really good, and was the first to disappear.
WINNER!
3)
http://thetravelbite.com/travel_and_food_blog/nova-scotia-oatcakes/
·         2 cups rolled oats
·         1 cup flour
·         ¼ tsp. baking soda
·         ½ tsp. salt
·         ½ cup brown sugar
·         ½ cup butter
·         ¼ cup boiling water

Review: This was very buttery and oat-y, similar to #2 (note the oat-to-flour ratio). Because it had slightly less sugar than #2, it ultimately lost by a nose.
4)
http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/520634/scottish-oat-cakes
·         225 g rolled oats
·         60 g flour
·         ½ tsp. baking soda
·         1 tsp. salt
·         ½ tsp. brown sugar
·         60 g butter
·         60-80  mL hot water

Review: This was one of the two savoury oatcakes (note the small amount of sugar).  Because we prefer our oatcakes with a bit of sweetness to them, we didn’t go crazy for these ones. For some reason, these weren’t as good as #5.
https://caperfrasers.wordpress.com/2010/08/14/cape-breton-oat-cakes/

·         2 cups rolled oats
·         1 cup flour
·         2 tsp. baking soda
·         ¼ tsp. salt
·         2 tsp. white sugar
·         ⅓ cup butter

Review: The second of our savoury oatcakes, this one had one disadvantage in that the dough was just too crumbly to roll. We had to bake it in a silicon pan, and that worked out fine, as we dug out crumbled chunks to taste. Strangely addictive, these savoury ones were better than #4.

Clucking Hen Café and Bakery (400° F)

·         3 cups rolled oats
·         3 cups flour
·         1 tsp. baking soda
·         1 tsp. salt
·         1 cup white sugar
·         1 cup butter
·         ¾ cup cold water

Review: Finally, we didn’t make these, since we had some directly from the bakery and could make our review notes based on those. These weren’t as crispy and oat-y and yummy as the High Wheeler Café’s. They weren’t even as yummy as our winner, #2, but if we’re ever in the mood to re-live our Cabot Trail memories, we’ll grab this recipe.

 

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#884: The Research Assistant

We—the parents—had been thinking on and off for a while about booking a cruise for the family. We finally came to a decision a couple of weeks ago to go for it. When we told the kids about our decision and mentioned that we were considering such-and-such a cruise line, the Girl replied rather matter-of-factly, seated at her station in front of her laptop, “Oh, I know all about cruises. I’ve been researching on my own for a few months now.” Then last night, she sent me a link, stating that she wanted to try the chocolate lava cake on the menu, because apparently, “At least 80% of the reviews for our cruise ship featured how good the cake was.”

She researches independently? She reads reviews? For people like us who research every single little detail of every major trip that we take, this is a real little time-saver, in the form of a nine-year-old. I’m thinking that we could just sit back and relax for the next few weeks, give her our credit card, and she could probably book for us a great beachside hotel for our two pre-cruise nights, plus a couple of shore excursions as well. This is the way every vacation should begin.

Boxed In

Savings of 73%—now that's worth the trouble

Is it a point of pride or embarrassment that my whole life, I’ve never shopped on Boxing Day, and likely never will? The closest I ever came was on the day after Boxing Day (as I recall, stores weren’t allowed to open on Boxing Day in Halifax back then) when I was about 16. Sure, the crowds were dense enough for a medium-sized mall in a medium-sized city. But I’ve never done the ultimate—go out on the busiest shopping day of the year, in any of Canada’s largest cities.

So yesterday, while I was staying with a dear friend in Montreal, we ventured into the downtown core for some Boxing Week shopping. And it being two full days after Boxing Day, the madness had died down significantly. We could very calmly browse through Simons, Les Ailes de la Mode, and all along Ste. Catherine street, without fearing about being trampled on, or lifetime-shortening line-ups at the cash register. Here are a few things that these two Boxing Week shopping virgins discovered:

1- We both are the type of people who mostly enjoy shopping alone, mainly for two reasons: we don’t like the idea that we’re dragging a friend along unwillingly from shop to shop, and we like to shop quickly and without the idea that someone might be slowing us down.

2- That being said, the good thing about shopping with a friend is taking advantage of 3-for-1 sales. These are rare even during Boxing Week, but exciting to spot.

3- My friend made the most obvious observation of the year: Sales clerks during Boxing Week are not so friendly. Go figure.

4- Not all stores offer huge savings. A $200 item with only $40 knocked off is not worth standing in line for. Come on, Simons, you can do better than that.

5- Restaurant employees are friendlier than retail store clerks during Boxing Week.

Look, Ma: No crowds!

So, our shopping adventure turned out pretty well, considering our general lack of experience. We had fun, we weren’t crushed or mobbed, and we enjoyed the relative calm of the stores and the streets, which allowed for some chit-chatting during our adventure.

 

And would I do it again? As long as it’s not on the Dreaded Day itself—absolutely.

Detroit, I wish I’d known you in your prime

My dear, lovely, forlorn Detroit. I wish I had had an opportunity to meet you earlier in life, during your younger and, no doubt, more beautiful years. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that you’re disposable, and to be shunned now. You’re just . . . in need of an arm around your shoulder, a little bit of love, and perhaps some way to regain the beauty that I know must still be there, skin-deep.

I had been warned by a couple of friends, prior to our first meeting, that you might be a little . . . worse for the wear. One friend told me that the last time she was in Detroit, she was so depressed at seeing what must have been a great city once. And of course, I had seen on the news that since the 2008 recession, you’ve been hit very hard—perhaps harder than most. Tales of a woeful economy, high number of foreclosed homes ($16,000 houses for sale, with nary a buyer!), and sad, crumbling buildings, abounded. But I didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to think that there was exaggeration in those words and images.

So it makes me sad to say that the accounts of your demise were not too far off. Wait, wait, now before you think that I’m too down on you, let me clear up something: You still have a lot going for you. I shall enumerate:

1- Your buildings really are beautiful, and I can tell that you once took great pride in your shapes and structures and architectural diversity. I love the mixture of Art Deco with the more modern constructs like the shining glass skyscrapers on the waterfront and the tube-shaped buildings near the Joe Louis Arena.

 

2- Speaking of the Joe Louis Arena, what a thrill it was to stand there under all your Stanley Cup banners. It was pleasant to see such an enthusiastic crowd out on a Saturday night, noticeably proud of its sports team. Despite Detroit’s down-and-out status, your supporters are still pumped about their Red Wings and Lions (and Comerica Park is also gorgeous, by the way.)

3- It’s not just your hospitality industry, but everyday folks also seemed courteous and genuinely nice. From our hotel staff, to the IHOP server (we have kids; we went twice), to people giving us directions on the street: When they were dripping with “honey” or “dear”, or placing a hand on someone’s shoulder to guide, or responding to a “Thank you” with the typically American “Unh-huh”, they still managed to sound friendly in a very sincere way. (I have more often than not noticed this when travelling to the States: many people in the U.S. seem genuinely friendlier than here in Canada. Well, except in New York, which, although not outright rude, seemed to me just nonchalant.) I was also pretty surprised that I didn’t see a single panhandler in all of six days.

4- Your Detroit People Mover train is fast, simple, cheap (only 50 cents per passenger, under 5 is free) and well-planned, for such a small downtown. You know me—I’m a sucker for a good transit system in any city I visit. The small drawback though, is that it runs only clockwise, so if a visitor with young children wanted to backtrack four stations, they’d have to ride the whole 25-minute circuit again.

5- You still have excitement and nightlife on a Saturday night, and some pretty nice restaurants and pastry shops. Too bad downtown Detroit looks alive only on a three-block strip in Greektown.

6- You still have a lot of class: I was very impressed to see all the couples dressed to the nines, streaming out of the Detroit Opera House. The Westin looked wonderfully lit-up and buzzing with action on the weekend. And your library is beautiful on the outside (though you really should relinquish the links to the automotive industry. I mean, really—an Automotive Authors Book Fair?)

Now unfortunately, so many of your positives are offset by negatives. Many of your Art Deco buildings are a bit dilapidated and neglected now. Not only are they neglected, but what an amazing disappointment it was for us to walk down a main street (principal enough to have hosted a parade the weekend before), only to see display window after display window featuring “For Lease” signs and security bars. Your buildings are unused and unappreciated. What’s a tourist to do on a Saturday afternoon when the streets are empty and the only shop open for many blocks around was a CVS pharmacy (where even the security guard was saying into his cell phone to a friend, “It’s sooooo boring here right now”)?

A whole row of empty shows, all awaiting new life

Aside from the buildings, there seemed to me to be an unusually large number of vast, empty parking lots. I guess planning a motor city meant planning for a lot of parking spaces, but now that the place looks emptied out, it’s just a really sad vision. (I would have taken a photo of your empty parking lots, but they depressed me too much.)

Empty parking lots and a depressed car industry must naturally mean lack of maintenance and loss of love for your cars, right? I mean, I have never seen so many cars operating on the road in such disrepair. Our daughter had such fun pointing them out and squealing with delight, “There, I fixed it!”, while whipping out her camera. (We really are trying to teach her not to delight in misery, but when you see bumper after bumper being held up with bungee cords, or taillights duct-taped together, it is a bit entertaining.)

Now, even if most of your people were friendly, the one place where we noticed a few tired-sounding and unenthusiastic citizens were the workers at the mall. For a big mall with a Macy’s as anchor, it was pretty empty on the weekend—except for the ladies’ shoe department and Target—so no wonder the employees looked downcast. (Maybe I’m not being fair; being raised on SNL doesn’t mean that I should expect the Target lady to be there to entertain me.) But I did have to wonder what came first—the taciturn employees, or the vending machines dispensing iPods and ProActiv?

Finally, though I certainly never felt unsafe, it was mildly amusing (but a bit fear-inducing, nevertheless) to see a sign outside your IHOP having to remind patrons not to bring their pistols. It made me remember the talk floating in Halifax years ago when I was there, when the cable company switched from a Bangor, Maine feed to a Detroit feed, and some law-enforcers expressed the fear that this was the reason for rising crime rates. I know that you have a bit of a bad reputation that wasn’t confirmed while I was there, but signs like this one surely can’t be helping.

Now I know that I must have been sounding terribly critical, and I didn’t mean to be, honest. At your age, you just need a bit of understanding and a perhaps a make-over, that’s all. I’m confident that you’ll rediscover some of your splendour of bygone days, soon. And when you do, I promise that I’ll be back. But for now (and I don’t want to sound insulting in saying this), the best view I had all weekend was over the river, through the fog, at Windsor.

#895: Packing it up

Probably the only thing I used to dread about going on trips was doing all the packing for three people—myself plus the kids. Last year for a week-long Caribbean vacation, I think I must have logged close to two hours to make sure that we had everything and didn’t forget a thing. So when kids get to the age when they’ve got it figured out and can pack for themselves, it’s a real time-saver.

A couple of seasoned pros, last year on a trip to Vancouver

Last weekend, I was still helping them figure out how to get the most into their backpacks for a three-day trip. But this weekend, they both seemed to have it all figured out, and did very well without any help. In fact, I was almost absent for the entire process. Almost. In doing the final check and giving my stamp of approval, I noticed that the Boy did regress into a four-year-old’s world of logic, which brought on a moment of head-scratching for me: True, he did successfully pack three outfits, all well-coordinated for colour and season-appropriateness, folded together and packed away neatly, along with toiletries and spending money. But inexplicably, he also decided that a weekend in Detroit required six wooden tops (the old-fashioned spinning toy) and a foam light sabre.

When they get packing right, it makes every family trip smooth sailing. But even when they’re slightly off, it makes for some pretty funny entertainment.

101 Things I learned after a month in British Columbia

It’s a rare and beautiful thing to be able to get away for a 30-day trip. And as much as I love my husband, it is nice to be separate sometimes, which we don’t often get a chance to be. So while he was home, holding down the fort and consoling himself with tv dinners, I was able to travel with the kids to visit my parents in BC.

In my 30 days “over there”, I learned, observed, reflected upon, and inferred a lot of things about BC life in general, and about people, work, and travel. Below is a list of my most important discoveries and musings. Not everyone will agree with me on everything, but I hope that it will provoke some thought, especially with BC—and specifically, Vancouver and the Olympics—in the spotlight right now. Here, then, are 101 Things I Learned After a Month in British Columbia.

___________________
On Travel and Transportation:

  1. No matter how carefully you pack, you’ll always forget something.
  2. If one of those things that you forgot is a laptop, it costs $45 to ship from Toronto to Vancouver, in a reasonable three business days.
  3. When you’re without your own computer, you realise just how much you rely on a machine to remember passwords and bookmarks.
  4. When you forget your cosmetics bag, you realise that you can survive on only four pieces of make-up: a mineral foundation, a lipstick, one eyeshadow that can double as eyeliner, and mascara.
  5. You can spot a bunch of Torontonians visiting Vancouver in the autumn: we’re the ones who brought along mittens, thinking that we’d need them.
  6. On that note, don’t pack a heavy coat for Vancouver in October. You’ll never use it.
  7. Carseats now count as check-in luggage. Hmm, never used to before (two years ago).
  8. When packing two kids for a month away from home, make sure that at least one of the suitcases (the regulation carry-on size) contains nothing but games, books, and entertainment items.
  9. Great things to pack to occupy an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old for a month away from home: a deck of cards; Uno; magnetic chess/checkers; one simple boardgame for the under-5 set, like Busytown; about three thick, unstarted novels; one MathSmart book; a good hidden-pictures book; a Nintendo DS with about five games; markers; crayons; and at least one blank notebook or chalkboard mat, for doodling.
  10. In-flight movies, music, and the novelty of a meal on a tray can only keep kids distracted for about three hours, before all that gets boring.
  11. For the rest of the flight, kids can amuse themselves with a simple drawing tablet or chalkboard mat. Who would have thought that old-school methods still work?
  12. On the plane, you can get away with watching only about three episodes of “30 Rock”, before the kids start demanding your undivided attention.
  13. WestJet employees out of the Vancouver airport don’t seem as friendly as remembered from WestJet experiences elsewhere.
  14. Employees—WestJet or otherwise—should refrain from discussing weekend adventures with their co-worker, when there is a client patiently waiting in front of them, ready to check in her baggage.
  15. WestJet’s in-flight entertainment is disappointing compared to Air Canada’s: the choices are fewer, and who wants to pull out their credit card to pay for more in-flight services?
  16. Compared to Toronto and Montreal, Vancouver’s morning rush-hour is actually not that bad, in terms of time spent behind the wheel.
  17. However, some Vancouver rush-hour drivers drive like they never left the slalom course behind on the weekend.
  18. As manageable as downtown Vancouver seems, it is possible to get lost for an hour, and literally drive in circles.
  19. Trying to get from Cordova St. to Richmond apparently does not involve going through Stanley Park and crossing over into North Vancouver.
  20. The Lion’s Gate Bridge is jinxed with accidents (so says a friend).
  21. Nobody should be looking down at paperwork while driving. I don’t care if you are only driving at 20 km/h. You’ll rear-end somebody in her rental car, dammit!
  22. When rear-ended at 20 km/h, there is no damage at all, certainly nothing that is noticeable and needs to be mentioned to the car rental agency.
  23. When rear-ended on the Lion’s Gate Bridge, do not stop in the middle of said bridge to take a look and settle the matter; you’ll only annoy the other drivers. Best to drive to the end and hope that your bumper is not dragging along.
  24. There’s nothing more liberating and adult-like than going through the process of renting a car by yourself, for the first time in your life.
  25. For $21/day, you really can’t beat a good economy car like the Nissan Versa hatchback or the Hyundai Accent hatchback. They get great gas mileage, and they’re not so cheaply made that they ding easily in a minor accident, like getting rear-ended on the Lion’s Gate Bridge
  26. Given the choice, opt for the Versa over the Accent. It’s roomier, and feels better built (less of that “cheap hollow plastic sound”).
  27. You can get from Richmond to downtown Vancouver, do a day of sightseeing, and come back, all on $4 of gas in a Nissan Versa.
  28. If you try really hard, you can indeed fit three humans, two bags of groceries, and six pieces of luggage all into an Accent.
  29. You can drive a—gasp—minivan and your world as you know it won’t end. And surprisingly, you won’t have a sudden urge to wear elastic-waist pants and become a soccer mom.
  30. Always spring for the $10/day rental of a GPS in the rental car. Yes, it seems proportionately steep, considering that the car itself is only twice that. But it’s worth it. And always book one far ahead, because they get reserved rather quickly.
  31. There is such a thing as overdependence on a machine. Take away the GPS, and you can feel, quite literally, lost.
  32. When you’re in trouble, a $5 map from a small gas station out in the middle of nowhere can save your life.
  33. Map: $5. Having an 8-year-old passenger who knows how to read one and navigate as you drive: priceless.
  34. Even if you’re across the street from the car-rental agency (and can actually see it!), it can still take 45 minutes to navigate one-way streets and confusing street signs to get there.
  35. Driving down the TransCanada Highway on Vancouver Island, with water on your left and soaring trees on your right, great music blaring on the radio, two happy kids babbling in the back seat, and knowing that you’re on your way to visit a high school friend whom you haven’t seen in about 15 years: life doesn’t get any better than that.
  36. Apparently, there is not yet a cell-phone ban in B.C.. Or if there is one, quite a lot of people are ignoring it.
  37. Some people can have really nice cars, but it doesn’t mean that they know how to drive them. (Yes, I know that this rule can apply pretty much anywhere, but I found it to be truer in the Richmond-Vancouver area than other major metropolitan areas that I’ve visited/lived in.)
  38. Metro Vancouver’s TransLink transit system is perhaps the most organised and efficient that you can find in Canada. (And this statement comes from someone who, until about a year ago, was a life-long user of public transit only.)
  39. TransLink’s web site has one of the best and most accurate trip-planning features you’ll find on any Canadian transit site.
  40. Vancouver’s transit system operates on a pay-by-zone system. Given the geographical size of the metropolitan Vancouver Area, this makes it slightly more expensive than Toronto’s much larger transit zone.
  41. The SkyTrain, especially the new Canada Line, is so wonderfully clean, spacious, and well-run. It’ll be interesting to see how long that lasts, once the Olympics crowd has left town.
  42. From a SkyTrain station, you can check in electronically for your airline. How cool is that, for time savings?
  43. What a great feeling, to know that you can easily take yourself and your bulky baggage on public transit to get to the airport, and the other passengers don’t mind.
  44. For the paltry amount of $45, a senior citizen on assisted income can get a public transit pass for an entire year. Very cool. (See point #70.)
  45. There’s not as much courtesy, or friendly interaction among passengers, on metropolitan Vancouver buses compared to the experience in Toronto and Halifax. Vancouver may tie with Montreal, in that regard.
  46. People don’t give up their seats on buses or the SkyTrain as much as you would like/expect them to. Again, a tie with Montreal.
  47. Asian seniors can be feisty on the bus, when they’re not offered a seat by some kid with his ears buried in an iPod.
  48. Bus drivers (in Richmond, at least) brake too abruptly to make the ride comfortable.
  49. There appears to be more friendly and engaging bus drivers in metro Toronto than in metro Vancouver.
  50. You may very well find more roundabouts on Vancouver Island than in all of Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia combined.
  51. The SkyTrain security personnel look cool and smart in their uniforms, but don’t seem willing to exercise their power. Sample exchange, upon exiting the SkyTrain:
    Security: “Excuse me, may I see your ticket or pass?”
    Teenaged boy: “Oh, um. I don’t have one. I was just about to get one on my way out.”
    Security: “Okay, but better do it now.” Then turns around and walks away.
    ___________________

    On B.C. Life, Play, and Surroundings:
     
  52. Almost anywhere you look, you can see mountains. What great surroundings in which to spend your life.
  53. The Vancouver skyline has dramatically improved from three years ago, when it was all very depressing in its pre-Olympics construction phase.
  54. The ferry ride from the mainland to Vancouver Island: indescribable in the sense of calm and quiet happiness that it can induce.
  55. The ferry ride from the Island back to the mainland can evoke in you a great sense of sadness in leaving something wonderful behind.
  56. Move to the Vancouver metropolitan area? Not at this point. But Vancouver Island? In a heartbeat.
  57. What is it about trees? You can stand under a massive West Coast specimen, close your eyes, breathe it all in, and all the troubles of the world simply . . . vanish.
  58. When walking in the woods on Vancouver Island, look out for giant slugs underfoot!
  59. This must surely be a boring job: Sitting in a booth, telling tourists on the Capilano Suspension Bridge: “Please do not shake or jump on the bridge.” Every ten minutes.
  60. Richmond and Vancouver are home to two of the most amazing playgrounds ever—Garden City and some playground in east Vancouver which we don’t believe has a name, but is the first one we’ve come across that has a mini-zipline! (And this assessment comes from a couple of playground experts who have travelled across Canada in search of them.)
  61. You can take young kids anywhere in the world, show them the greatest museums, galleries, landmarks, natural wonders . . . but when you ask them what was the best part of the trip, it almost always comes down to “The playground!”
  62. Richmond is full of wild rabbits on public property. Apparently, they come from too many people having bought them as pets, tiring of them quickly, and letting them out on the loose. Once free, they began breeding like . . .
  63. The city of Richmond is considering allowing citizens to keep any wild rabbits that they catch, as pets. And passing a by-law to ban the sale of rabbits in pet stores.
  64. The newer homes in Richmond are massive! And eerily, all pretty similar to each other.
  65. Kids like large, impressive-looking homes. You don’t have to tell them, but they instinctively know the concept of “rich” when they see it.
  66. Even in really nice neighbourhoods, petty theft occurs (and right from the front lawn in broad daylight!).
  67. People can possess the most expensive, impressive-looking electronic equipment, but that doesn’t mean that they know how to use it.
  68. On the first day of Sunday School, an 8-year-old learns the Ten Commandments. A 4-year-old learns that if you repeat what the lady says, you get candy.
  69. In 20 years, the church service has become thoroughly modernized: big screen projections and PowerPoint-like presentations. Jesus has never been hipper than now. ___________________
    On B.C. People: 
  70. The B.C. government loves its seniors (see #44). And seniors love B.C.
  71. It is estimated by the BC government that by the year 2031, 24% of the population will be over 65.
  72. It takes an 8-year-old less than a week to realise that a lot of people out here (especially in Richmond) carry the same types of handbags over and over again: “These women all have the same two logos!”
  73. “Hong Couver”—best city nickname I’ve heard in a long time.
  74. “Keeping up with the Joneses” (or in this case, the Wongs) is alive and well.
  75. There are many people who value living in an impressive, well-off neighbourhood above living where they’re more comfortable, and happier.
  76. People on Vancouver Island are more likely than mainlanders to want out of the rat race.
  77. Many Vancouverites love talking (complaining? bragging?) about the high price of their real estate, especially to strangers from outside the province.
  78. Asian people do not dine at the IHOP in Richmond.
  79. Asian people (especially in Richmond) push their way around a lot, in crowds. And I say this respectfully, as an Asian person.
  80. There are indeed quite a lot of Japanese tourists in BC. And they do indeed say “Ka-waiiii!” when they take pictures of cute kids.
  81. Coming from a truly multicultural place, you realise that there is less diversity of cultures out here than in Toronto or Montreal.
    ___________________
    On Work:
     
  82. No matter how well you plan for a tradeshow, plan on something going wrong.
  83. That two-day buffer that you put in, to offset any unforeseen circumstances, delays, and screw-ups? Make it ten.
  84. When people have bad news for you, they’ll always avoid telling you by phone, and opt instead for hiding it in an e-mail. At 6 in the morning. When they know that you’re probably already on the road, stuck in downtown rush hour.
  85. When someone says “I’ll do my best”, and they don’t, but never even call you back to tell you about it—that’s when they’ve lost your business for good.
  86. Always, always, always put everything in writing not just once, but three times. Then repeat. With three different people. In at least two different departments.
  87. Nothing makes a bad business experience more bearable than when you have the chance to tell 100 of your colleagues about it.
  88. You make a lot of friends quickly when they pity you.
  89. Standing at the Vancouver Convention Centre at 8 in the morning, looking out at the water and the skyline, can (almost) make all of your worries disappear.
  90. Vancouverites do not spend as impulsively as Torontonians.
  91. It would appear that many Toronto customers have a greater appreciation for unique artisan-made goods; many Vancouverites have an appreciation for well-known brands (see point #s 72 and 73).
    ___________________

    On Friendship and Family:
     

  92. The same friends can be so much more appreciated in your adulthood than in your teens.
  93. A friend’s laughter is something that you never forget—a sound that can take you back all those years.
  94. It’s always so great to meet up with someone else—especially a friend from high school—who’s looking for the same things in life as you: happiness, comfort, and gettting out of the rat race.
  95. No matter how hard you try, you can never convince your parents, 100%, that you’re an adult now.
  96. Pride is indeed a sin.
  97. Blood is not thicker than water.
  98. You shouldn’t have to be with people who make you miserable. Life’s too short for that.
  99. When working under the effects of anger, you can do a month’s worth of packing and cleaning in fewer than three hours.
  100. Don’t feel anxious about going to visit family. At the same time . . .
  101. Never feel guilty about leaving.
  1. There’s nothing more liberating and adult-like than going through the process of renting a car by yourself, for the first time in your life.

Puttin’ on the Ritz

(Originally posted 9/1/2008, 4:26 p.m.)

I’m not one to show off and want only the most luxurious things in life. We live quite a simple, no-frills kind of life, actually. Yet, I do like nice, comfortable things, especially when it comes to temporary accomodations. I’ve slept in $400/night hotel rooms, and $49/night motel rooms. Although I don’t always prefer the former (and haven’t actually had those opportunities often), I’m also not always on the lookout for the latter. We don’t travel often, so when we do, I don’t mind spending somewhere in the middle; I don’t need the Ritz, but don’t give me Acme Motel, either.

On a short road trip this week, when our little family of four had to sleep in three different cities in three nights, I discovered—no, reaffirmed—a basic difference between Beloved Husband and me: He is more, er, how shall we put it, budget-conscious than I am. And I won’t say that he’s less refined, but let’s just say that little things bother him less than they do me. Little things like sticky carpets that make your feet feel grimy, or paint and grout chipped away in the bathroom. These are the sort of things that you get in cheap motel rooms.
(Okay, I have to admit though, that BH’s budget-conscious ways can yield funny anecdotes, such as the time he stayed at a cheap motel room in a small Quebec town, and when he went downstairs to ask for some shampoo for his room, was told to hold out his hand while the owner squirted it out. “C’est assez, ça?”. Thank goodness I was not there for that one.)

In Niagara Falls, ON on the first night of our trip, I would have happily settled for a middle-of-the-road establishment. Maybe not the Sheraton with a view of the Falls, like the first time we visited this tourist town in the off-season (goodness knows what the price would be now, smack in the middle of the tourist season), but a basic Travelodge or Quality Inn, somewhere in the $100/night range, conveniently on the main street. BH, however, is the type who will walk 15 minutes away in order to bring that price down, towing behind two young kids with tired legs. So we ended up in a decent motel room at the top of the street, for $69/night. It wasn’t dirty or shabby. It was well-kept by the older couple who ran it. It was also the type of place where previous lodgers must have been of the sticky-fingers variety, because we were handed our room key along with the tv remote control, such a precious commodity it was. It was sufficient. I didn’t shower here, mainly because I was too tired that first night.

The second night, in Windsor, our luck got worse. In checking hotel prices for BH, on foot, we went steadily from $129, to $99, to $85, to $64 for the night. Guess which one BH chose? Yup, this was the one with the sticky carpet. Now, I’m the type of person who goes barefoot indoors all the time, so I noticed this right away. Perhaps I’m more sensitive than my family members to carpet-stickiness—who knows? In any case, that, combined with the sagging mattress and chipping paint and grout, made this stay rather uncomfortable for me. Kids don’t mind this type of thing; they’re just happy to have the vacation experience. Budget-conscious husbands, of course, don’t mind. I did. I’m no princess on a pea, but needless to say, I had a terrible sleep. I didn’t shower here either, mainly because, well, I just couldn’t.

By the time we reached Ottawa, I was determined that I would not be in another Sticky Carpet Motel again. Ottawa, on the Labour Day weekend—this last hurrah of the summer for the live-for-the-long-weekend partying set—turned out to be absolutely packed. (Note to self and to others considering travelling to Ottawa: When going on the Labour Day weekend, as with the Canada Day weekend, book far, far in advance.) Told that “every hotel room in the city is booked” by either the partyers or the anxious parents helping their offspring get settled into university, we were satisfied to get whatever we could. So the Holiday Inn at $155/night, although considered a king’s ransom compared to the first two motel rooms, was just heavenly. I was happy that it wasn’t another cheapie motel for the third night in a row. BH was happy that there was an alternative to the $300/night Westin. And here, I had a lovely, luxuriating bath.

Such were our hotel/motel adventures on the Labour Day weekend. And by the end of this mini-adventure, I’m not going to say that I will pooh-pooh all motels. Some, like the one in Niagara Falls, can be quite decent, and if you’re only looking for a bed for one night, they’ll suffice. And the one positive thing about motels is that we’re more often than not supporting a small family business. But my only caveat with such places is to always ask to see the room first . . . and to keep your shoes on the whole time.