Unexciting, Non-Adventure

I saw the ad weeks ago and was excited ever since. I’ve been dying to do some exciting outdoor stuff in Vancouver and knew (I KNEW!) The Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show would be the show to help me do it. Woo!

Grabbing an equally excited friend, we excitedly went to the venue, excitedly bought our tickets and excitedly burst through the doors of the convention centre.

And that’s when all the excitement ended.

For a show with the words  “Outdoor Adventure” and “Travel” in it, you would assume  interesting and, well, exciting, right? Well you shouldn’t.  To put it in perspective, the most exciting thing about the show was the free bag of Old Dutch potato chips we got on our way out.

So what was I expecting, anyway?

New ideas! Fun (and preferably local) activities to do on the weekend. Affordable would be nice but outside the box would be better. I already mountain bike, snowboard, hike, camp, ice skate, roller blade, box, kick box and run (well light jog). Gimme something else to do.

Enter the boredom

Soooo many booths. And they all look the same. Oooo! maybe it’s like a maze and if you can find your way around you win a prize? No? Just confusing and maze-like by accident. Oh. Call me lazy (because I can be) but I didn’t want to have to use a map to navigate my way to the one booth I came to see anyway or to have to figure out where I was in the large room without the incentive of a prize for my efforts.

The lows

Free stuff

Free stuff? Yes, usually a highlight anywhere, the Motts Garden Cocktail booth was giving away huge cups filled with tomato juice – I mean garden cocktail. Now I love tomato juice (although I’m used to it including vodka and a celery stick…) but even I couldn’t stomach two and a half cups of the stuff in one sitting. Sure enough, one booth over, there were piles of half filled cups all over an empty table.

Adventure slide shows

As per the website:

See breathtaking slide presentations, and hear from seasoned adventure travelers as they share incredible stories of the thrill of adventure travel!

Yes, that’s what a true adventurer wants to do. Hear about other people’s fun times and thrilling lives. Complete with a slide show of static pics?? Whoa. That doesn’t sound boring at all!

Even the cafeteria/food services area was un-adventurous. Nowhere was there Eagle meat burgers, Dodo bird flavoured potato sticks or even Unicorn taquitos.  The most adventurous item on the menu – hot dogs.

Whose booth is this anyway?

If any of the following booths cause your breath to quicken, your heart to skip or your pulse to race…then you lead a very boring and sad life:

  • We introduce to you…The Safeway Pharmacy booth
  • The Province Newspaper booth– I like the province newspaper and read it all the time, but I also like Entertainment Weekly, O Magazine and the daily 24 hours newspaper. My point – none of them belong at the outdoor adventure/travel show.
  • Canada Border Services Agency boothreminding you of what you can and cannot travel with (still have that ‘no weapons’ rule? Party poopers!)
  • Canadian Diabetes Association booth????
  • Canadian Food and Inspection Agency booth – ????
  • Green Party of Canada booth????

The highs

Campink – Pink camping gear! We all know we can get camping gear anywhere  (ever heard of M.E.C or Walmart?) so you really need to give me some kind of incentive to buy it at the show and lug it all home.

Answer: Make it pretty and colour it pink.  A unique twist on an original product.

I don’t even need to go camping to use this stuff either. I will happily find a use for a bright pink flantern.

You'll go perfectly with my neon green living room set!

Surfsister – surfing lessons on the beach. They provide the wetsuits and gear so all I have to do is show up. Sweet. That’s how l like all my activities – pre set, exciting, and requiring little more than for me to show up (kinda like a good first date). Now while I’d prefer if they were in Vancouver (they’re in Tofino, BC – a 4 hour trek away), they tell me the reason for the Tofino location is because they need an ‘ocean’ and ‘waves’ in order for us to surf.

Bah humbug. Call me when we can start surfing ‘inland’ or in a ‘wave pool’ (which is a really good idea so somebody invent that!)

On the other hand

iparaglide – It’s the newest thing I want to try – paragliding!  I went to the show specifically to see what price I could get and where they were located (the office address is located downtown which sort of didn’t make sense…).  Turns out that beginners paraglide off a big hill/slope located 2 cities to the south of Vancouver and then after we get better we get to paraglide off a mountain located 4 cities to the east of Vancouver. That (out-of-the-way locations) and it’s pricey are two of the reasons I decided to put my wallet away. Starting in the hundreds, I also have to add in the cost of renting a car to get to the various public transit-unfriendly mountains.

Boo.

So although I love adventure and I crave excitement and I live for something fun to do, it seems I still have no problem doing anything fun and adventurous…

As long as it’s within my city limits.

And for free. 😉

Happy 365!

What a short, interesting trip it’s been

A year already. It’s a continuous theme in my blog posts: time flies. Now is the time to seize the day, carpe noctem, et cetera and on & on and so on and so forth.

Perhaps you’re a little confused, but in case you haven’t been paying attention (and in your defence, I haven’t been either):

HAPPY ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY!

Now THAT's an anniversary cake!

It’s been one year since I started this blog and today’s post is the first post of year two. Woo!  So technically I missed the anniversary date (September 27th) but just like in my relationships, I’m not one to pay particular attention to big dates (We’ve been together a year already? Are you sure?)  and this one-year mark is another milestone date that came by surprise.

I looked back at my first and still favourite post: the 3-way conundrum; which openly mocked the aftermath of the dissolution of a relationship. This took me more than 3 weeks to compose; it went through several different edits and rewrites and it had no accompanying photos (to protect the guilty). I had the simple goals at the time of keeping it simple, clever, clean and under 500 words (official word count: 512). Reading it again for the first time in over a year, I still like it for its brevity, hilarity, and clarity. It even had its corresponding facebook promotional post:

Going to lunch with an ex. I need to wear something that says ‘I’ve moved on”, “I’m happy with my life right now”, and “Your new girlfriend is probably a whore.” Hmmmm. I’m thinking something in a pattern perhaps? 😉

I’ll admit it’s slightly petty (and over a year later, I’m still totally okay with that), but it was also liberating at the time. It was writing therapy and I suggest you try it sometime (shake out those dusty skeletons).

Moving on, I moved on from there to write about anything, everything and all the fun little in-between activities that came along.

In the beginning

I had no real goal or direction. ‘Living’ is pretty general (just requires breathing – artificial or not) and could relate to many things. Whatever whim, activity or invitation came my way, I would quickly RSVP Y-E-S.  I may have only showed up to about half the events and arrived late to the rest of them (more fashionable that way, of course) but I have accomplished, experienced and been a part of the most random sampling of ‘living’ this side of the hereafter:

– There was my continuous, internal struggle for my love of food men manly food.

– Followed by my deep, outwardly struggle against the battle of the bulge (here’s a hint, I kicked its ASS!)

– A reason to settle for Mr. Right Now: Be my anti-valentine

– Reasons why you shouldn’t (or maybe I shouldn’t) drink and shop

Free booze + shopping =$60 cheap "gold" earrings

– How the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics took over my life. Then a second time. Then again.

-I’m telling the world: What really happens in Vegas

My second home

– Would you like to go salsa dancing with me? Great. Be ready @ 3AM to go.

– Spilling the beans on a great girl’s night out

– My limited number of good deeds (unfortunately just wanting to be good doesn’t count. Humph) Maybe giving up my car counts?

– How I joined the polar bear club (kind of like the mile high club but totally different)

– The time I became a degenerate gambler (bet you 5 to 1 and my right kidney that it won’t happen again!)

…etc, and on & on and so on and so forth. 52 weeks and 52 posts and its getting more fun by the week. I’m even considering changing to a more than once a week format but I think that kind of radical thinking should be saved for year three (crazy hippie thinking!).

Where we go from here

Year one was about trying different activities, living through new experiences, taking part in unusual events and being open minded to everything (especially this).

In year two, I still want to try new things (so much to try, taste and do!) but I’ll be going to the people this time. Confused? Perfect. That’s how I like my audience – highly expectant and in the dark.

Curious? Great! That’s even better.

Stay tuned. 😉

.

.

.

Ok fine, here are a couple hints:

  • Gastronomic Anomalies: with so much good food out there, why do people feel the need to make this stuff??
  • Happy Sexy You
  • How am I supposed to eat THAT?
  • The bartering system: the real oldest profession

Anniversary cake image

In Vegas

I’ve got your future right here

Decisions, decisions, decisions.  So many to make and no way to know which ones are right. Not in advance at least. Sure, you can seek out expert guidance from life coaches, financial planners, money advisors, business professionals and career counselors but that can take weeks, months, years even to determine the right course of action for you. However, there is one type of person out there who has the knowledge, the insight, the foresight and even the hindsight to answer all your queries, lead you in the right direction and put you on the right path. Want to know the answer to life’s most important questions? For a price, you can get all the answers you’ve ever wanted, and more. And one lazy Saturday afternoon, that’s just what I did.

With an overly excited friend in tow (calm down!), we ventured out into the dark, seedy and scary underworld of Fortune Telling.  Turns out, it’s not so seedy or scary. Forget dark, and insert mundane as that would be the best description for the  little shop that was badly decorated in beige carpet, broken white tiles and fake wood paneled walls. The visions I’d had of heavy purple drapes and gold speckled curtains and crystal balls everywhere were quickly pushed aside by the reality of the small, old fashioned TV in the corner playing a CNN broadcast (from the future??).

We called him Ol' Nozzy for short

Going into this with an open mind we try to open the front door…only to find it locked. Hmmmm. I definitely didn’t see that coming but I guess I’m not the psychic. Calling the number on the door, we learn our Shamans were going to be 5 minutes late. (I’ll let you insert your own jokes here about how she should have known we’d be there on time) 15 minutes later they show up. My friend’s oracle was a pretty girl but otherwise ordinary looking whereas my Seer was the coolest one ever. Short spikey hair, a  raspy voice, a Romanian accent and scars of unknown origin on her face, neck and chest which just added to the mystery and to her mystic aura. Furthermore, Fortune Telling has been in her family for generations and she’s been reading people for over 25 years. Even her daughter runs a fortune telling business in another city. Fortune telling runs in their veins and is a huge part of their lives – Ya, ya, ya. Enough about you, Nostradamus. Let’s get to me already.

Leading me behind a shroud of curtains, I’m told to sit down in a back room and am immediately handed a crystal. She tells me to hold it and think of a question that I want answered. I immediately think about caramilk and the mystery of the smooth flowing caramel and snap at myself to focus. I try to pinpoint my thoughts on career and writing, career and writing, career and writing, caramilk (dammit!), career and writing.  After a few more moments, she removes the crystal from my clenched fist and my experience begins:

Crystal Reading: done to evaluate the life cycles, and how you are directly affected by what is happening to you now, what has happened in the past and what is to come in the future. (http://www.spiritedboutique.com/?p=208)

Crystal Reading/Psychic Facial Determination:

  • I’m a good person (hmmm. Define ‘good’…)
  • I try to do nice things (Ha! Wrong again)
  • I’m lonely and hurting on the inside (Whoa! Hey!)
  • I have very few close relationships and hold people back (Well now she’s just being hurtful. Wah!)

Palm reading (aka Chiromancy) consists of the practice of evaluating a person’s character or future life by “reading” the palm of that person’s hand. Various “lines” (“heart line”, “life line”, etc.) purportedly suggest interpretations by their relative sizes, qualities, and intersections. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmistry

Palm Reading:

  • She saw I had a long life line
  • A few obstacles in my past and a few to come in the future
  • I’m an independent female
  • She saw marriage in my future and 2 kids (Dammit. Oh well. At least this should make my mother happy)

Think you can read me better? Try it for yourself!

Tarot Cards: the deck represents all phenomenal experience, the wheel of life. Tarot reading revolves around the belief that the cards can be used to gain insight into the current and possible future situations of the subject. http://healing.about.com/cs/uc_directory/a/uc_readtarot.htm

Tarot Reading

Love life:

  • I had a bad breakup in the past (bad for him maybe but not for me. Hee hee hee)
  • …And there is still some connection or negativity there  (Aw man. I don’t have room for a stalker right now)
  • My love life is cursed (Sheesh. I think you have to actually HAVE a love life in order for it to be cursed…ohhhhh)
  • I had a devil card in my mix, which requires one-on-one meditation with the psychic at a future date (and at an additional cost of course). She will light candles on my behalf and try to determine what is causing troubles in my love life and then we should meet again to put me on the right path to clarity (hmmmm…)
  • I will find love in the next 3 to 6 months (with the devil maybe? Check if he’s free to date since he’s leaving his card for me everywhere)
  • I’ll find true love in the next 3 to 6 months but not in Vancouver (in Paris then? Packing a bag!)

Life:

  • A change in my life in the next 3 to 6 months
  • She foresaw a big move in the next few months that will be good for me (Okay finally a good one. My friends & I were discussing a move to Australia in the fall)
  • I find it hard to save money (No. It’s just hard not to spend it. Totally different)
  • Or at least hard to save as much money as I would like to (true of most people)

Career:

  • You don’t like to be told what to do or how to act (insert your own skeptical ‘duh’ face here)
  • You want to be your own boss (Damn right!)
  • I see creativity around you and in your future (Woo hoo!)
  • There will be change in profession and this change will be good for me
  • I will always have money in my life (Yes, but how much. I need dollar amounts here lady!)

Conclusion: inconclusive. To believe some of it, I have to believe all of it. Open mind or not, these generalized statements and lucky guesses aren’t enough to make me a supporter. For fun (and $40), it was definitely nice to be assured of some things that I wanted to know about. However, always needing a second source (makes it more legit), I went to my dear friend the Internet for some additional guidance.

Caution: When it comes to psychic phenomena, the Internet is the Worst. Friend. Ever.

With a million+ websites out there offering you guidance and readings for prices as low as $0.99/minute, a simple 30 minute reading can easily get out of hand and repeated visits can get out of budget.

One site even uses the trick where they ask you to focus on one card and one card only and then the site refreshes and they change ALL the cards (unbeknownst to some users) to demonstrate to the poor believer that their  ‘online psychic connection’ has been established. Humph! http://www.onlinepsychic.com/main/m_testread_c1.shtml

Still, I needed some more answers and as luck would have it, I came across a legitimate looking site offering free crystal ball readings. Just pop in your yes/no question and the all-knowing crystal ball will tell all. After learning that I was more than likely a princess in a previous life; the favourable possibility exists for me to marry a millionaire; and the chances are probable that I will travel to the moon; I had to ask the Great Crystal Ball one last question:

Aha! Close you indeed.

Question mark source

Nostradamus image source

Budgetary Restraining Order

$4600 (AKA why a budget?)

I opened my credit card bill in March and nearly dropped it in horror. After double checking to see if it was actually mine I reread the amount due. I owed the credit card company $4,600. All accumulated within a 6-week time frame. Admittedly, some purchases were for investment items that were going to pay off in time but in the here and now – yikes! Not only that, for the past few months I’ve been forever throwing out food in the fridge that gets purchased and never used. I can’t imagine all the $$$ that gets wasted via my refrigerator. While local restaurants were cashing in on my laziness, my wallet and savings were taking the hit.

Enough was enough. It was time to take some drastic measures.

Background story (AKA what’s the dilly?):

I’m a big fan of the show Till Debt Do Us Part. This show teaches couples to reduce spending, increase savings, stick to a budget, find other income sources and to get themselves out of debt.  Most couples on the show are spending up to 3 times more than their monthly earnings, are in consumer debt in excess of $50k, and have no clue about their finances. In each episode, the host, financial wizard Gail Vaz-Oxlade, cautions them: if you continue spending like this you will be $500K, $1 million+ in debt in 2 years, 5 years, etc.

While I’m not in a couple nor do I have any consumer debt- the spending less, increasing savings and sticking to a budget part sounded appealing to me (oooo a budget! How fun!). As I always mock the contestants who can’t stick to one, I felt it was time to put my money where my wallet is (or not put the money there in this instance I guess).

In any case, I have big dreams (move to France, Australia or Mexico), big plans (a website, an online business, retire at 40) so saving money now and proper money management are very important and none of those dreams will come cheaply.

Which brings us to the budget.

Calculation

Average monthly income (from all sources)

Minus fixed expenses (various savings, housing, utilities, cable and internet, transportation, gym memberships and the always important hair appointments).

Less the cost of the new things I want (maid service, a website designer & server).

(- 60%) Then slash the rest by 60% (As per Till Debt do Us Part)

What’s left: $599/month or $149.75/week to spend on the groceries, dinners out, lunches, brunches, concerts, shows, plays, shopping trips, bars, clubs, coffees, toiletries, clothing, snowboarding, rock climbing, shoes, gifts, snacks, books, taxi rides, magazines, newspapers, lotto tickets, art shows, weekend trips away, and all the other fun extras that you never put a thought to. Life if you will.

As a socially active shopper who can easily spend $149.75 in one good shopping trip or a great night out, this wasn’t going to be easy. However, that was kind of the point.

The Challenge: Get to the end of the month before getting to the end of the money

The Reward: On the show, the winners get up to $5,000 to be used to pay down their debt.  Since I have no debt, my reward is much more rewarding. If I complete all the challenges successfully, then I get to Viva Las Vegas. Up to 5 days and 4 nights to spend in the city of sin dependent on my angelic April spending.

Although I hate them, in this case they’re definitely in order. With the challenge set, there had to be some RULES:

  1. Spend  $149.75/week to a max of $599/month
  2. Beg or barter for any expenses over and above the budget
  3. Have fun every weekend (at least one night out) and plan fun, no budget/low budget activities for 2 other nights per week (doesn’t count and would be unrealistic if I became a hermit for 30 days)
  4. Host at least 1 dinner party for 6+ people…keeping the budget in mind
  5. Find money. It’s in the home somewhere. Any money found can be used.
  6. Get creative.  The best things in life ARE free. Find them. (Caveat: Once found, if you don’t like them, just ask for a refund…)

Week 1: The $10 dinner party (AKA Why spend more?)

Last time I hosted a party for 9, the cost was about $125 as I had it catered by the local grocery store’s pre-made department and included an overpriced house cocktail for sharing (composed of pricey champagne, cointreau and vodka), along with several bottles of mix (brand name pop, Tropicana juices, etc)

This time around – 8 people, BYOB (bring your own booze) and I hope, a better and healthier selection of food. All for $10 or less.

The plan – I had to base my menu on whatever I had in the fridge/cupboards/pantry and freezer.

You’re invited to dine Chez Nellé

It would take place on Day 4 of 30. Everyone was invited to my house for dinner.  Afterwards we would split a cab and go to a concert at a club nearby.

APPETIZERS

  • Microwave popcorn (ghetto, perhaps but it’s what I had in the cupboard and who doesn’t like buttery popcorn with extra butter?)
  • Homemade trail mix with dried cranberries, almonds, chopped dried apricot slices, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
  • A sliced rustic looking chicken & spinach pizza I found in the freezer. I then added parmesan cheese, sliced tomatoes and sea salt & pepper (to give it a homemade look, hee hee)
  • My personal invention: mini cranberry and roasted turkey wraps. How they tasted in my mind, 10/10. In reality I’d rate them a 6.5/10.

Roasted turkey, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, cream cheese, dried cranberries and toasted walnuts

Cost: $3.26 for roast turkey from the deli. Everything else was sitting in the fridge (cream cheese, whole wheat tortilla shells, spinach leaves, etc.)

MAINS

  • Veggie fried rice
  • Baked sole with garlic butter
  • Fresh baked coconut bread (supplied by a party goer)
  • Garden salad with spring mix, feta cheese, pumpkin seeds, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers

mmmm. you know you want some of this

Cost: $2.58 for 2 packets of fried rice seasoning (my favourite). I had a huge bag of rice in the pantry, sole fish in the freezer purchased months ago and an unopened package of feta cheese from a few weeks back. Veggies are always on hand in my house. It was nice to use them for a change versus just throwing them out every few weeks and buying replacements to eventually throw it. It was a vicious cycle.

DRINKS:

A bottle of cola and diet cola as well as a selection of soda I keep in the fridge (I refer to soda simply as ‘mix’)

For ice, instead of spending $3 for a bag, I started filling and freezing ice cube trays on Thursday night so I had a full bag of ‘homemade’ ice for Saturday’s festivities.
Cost: $3.20 for the 2 bottles of soda

DESSERT

  • I think I mentioned this before but BYOB. 😉

The results: Empty plates and full and happy bellies! (It also helped that they all arrived hungry, heh heh heh)

Total cost: $9.04, woo!

My #1 tip for success: Using what I had on hand. My other option was to make a pasta dish as I had frozen meat in the freezer, a couple jars of tomato sauce in the pantry and a years’ worth of whole wheat pasta in the cupboards. This wasn’t about luckily having tons of food in the house, this is about using whatever you have in the house. Look in your own kitchens, with minimal purchases, can you host a cheap night in with friends?

Week 1 one went by in a blur. My fridge was still full from previous shopping expeditions and with no new shopping on the horizon, sticking to the budget was fun and eating the food in my house was easy. Week 2 however, was where it started to hit me. Friends would go out for dinner somewhere out of my budget and I would have to say no. Other friends wanted to do some cross border shopping but I had to say no. Go out on the town twice in a weekend? With $149.75/week for everything, there was no way to make it happen without being forced to eat mac ‘n cheese for a week (one box=3 meals). No, No, NO!  It was something I had to get used to saying. As was tradition, on Friday some coworkers went out to lunch and invited me to go along but as I had already packed a lunch for that day there was no reason for me to spend more $$$. N-O. I felt like having sushi for dinner but couldn’t justify the expenditure seeing as I had enough food in my house to make a healthy meal before it went to waste. Gimme an N and an O. NO!

On day 16, frustration hit its breaking point. Friends were showing me their newly acquired purchases (so cute!) and I was annoyed that I didn’t go with them. I need new stuff too. What was the point of the budget anyway? I could see the money in my bank account. It’s just sitting there, why not use it? I’m all about doing what I want and a budget is all about the very opposite of that. Shopping brings me pleasure. I’m bored and I want to spend some of the hard earned money that I earned and dammit, no one’s going to stop me. Not even myself.

With that thought in mind, I picked up my keys, dusted off my credit card and went out the door to the nearest shopping mall.

Happiness, thy name is mall.

**Did I let the budget get the best of me? Find out how I fared thru weeks 3 and 4 in the sequel – Budgetary Restraining Order Part II: The budget kicks back.

Why should polar bears have all the fun?

Hypothermia: In cold weather, your body may lose heat faster than you can produce it. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. It can make you sleepy, confused and clumsy. Because it happens gradually and affects your thinking, you may not realize you need help. That makes it especially dangerous. You can get it from being cold and wet, or under cold water for too long.

Hypothermia can lead to death if not treated promptly. (source)

Date:            January 1, 2010

Time:          2:30pm to 2:31pm

Weather: 5 degrees with heavy rain

Over 1500 adventure-bound Vancouverites took to the icy waters of English Bay beach off the pacific ocean on New Years day 2010 for the 90th annual Polar Bear Swim. Spirits were high as everyone gathered on the cold, wet sand decked out in lavish costumes, homemade getups, and other outfits that can only be described delicately as ‘obvious cries for help’.  From clowns to Vikings to Viking clowns, the scene was an eclectic showcase of Vancouver’s free spirited individuals. Several news teams and thousands of onlookers were also out in full force; cameras aloft and working away like red carpet photographers.

You can certainly take pictures of it, write about it, talk about it, watch it on TV in a news clip and maybe even view it live on the beach but nothing beats actually doing it. First hearing about this crazy event from a friend, I decided to go out and finally see what all the fuss was about.

Like me, some of you may have falsely believed you can simply waltz onto the beach, slip into a swimsuit and then jump in the water and be done with the whole ‘polar bear thing’. To you I say: “You fools!” There’s so much more to it than that. Fortunately, my trusty guide and invitee took me under her wing and showed me the way of the Polar Bear.

Step 1: The Ensemble

What a sweetie, he asked me if I wanted to blow on his horn for the photo, shucks!

Basic swimsuits are fine (for amateurs, scoff, scoff) but purists know the whole point of the chilly dunk is letting go and giving yourself up to the experience.  Something you can only do in a getup. The more ridiculous or outrageously hilarious you look, the better for our amusement. For some reason, self-realization is actually enhanced when you’re wearing Viking horns and a diaper.

Ensemble Tips:

–         The brighter the better

–         Accessories are a must

–         The crazier the better

–         Yes, your birthday suit IS considered an ensemble

–         Whatever you choose, have fun with it

my roomie's stuffed polar bear donning my apparal. Working it!My trusty guide helped put an ensemble together that made me feel like a free spirit (the self-realization part is that I also realized I looked like a fool). It involved a tiara (for the princess in me), Mardi Gras style necklaces (a must for all free spirits), red, glittery pom poms (to cheer on other free spirits), sparkly makeup (got washed off in the pouring rain) and a whistle (not part of the costume, simply used to scare off anyone who gets too close to your ‘free spirit’). And voila, step one complete.

Step 2: Getting There

You’re better off walking or taking a taxicab but your best bet is always public transit. Reminiscent of the parking situation during the fireworks shows during the summer, there’s nowhere to park and traffic moves at a standstill at best.  Also, get there early. Gigantic crowds have a tendency to move slowly when you’re in a rush. The event was slated to start at 2pm. Arriving promptly at 2:20pm, we only had time to toss off our jackets and shoes, strip down and get right into the melee on the beach (another tip – arrive ready to jump in). This meant our socializing was limited to after the plunge only and not before. Surprisingly, it’s easy to meet new people when you’re wearing a wet t-shirt and bathing suit bottoms.

Step 3: Taking the Plunge

Again, the naïve amongst you might believe you can simply walk up to the ocean, dangle your feet in the water and be done with it.

Tsk tsk tsk.

This is where the experience of your guide is key.  Mine had me step back several feet from the water and told me to run like heck and jump in. For first timers, it’s one way to ensure they get all the way in. No second-guessing when you’re up to your waist in 7-degree water and change your mind. Toe dipping is also not an option. Full immersion up to your neck or nothing!

You’ll be surprised, when you first walk out of the icy depths, at how warm you feel.  It washes over you almost immediately and you’re tempted to jump back in the water and splash around a little longer. Instinctively, you want to towel off and get changed into the dry clothing you packed (another tip!) but you’ll have no proper motor function right away. The cold water makes buttoning and tying and knotting almost impossible as your system tries to regain its lost body temperature by pulling heat from your hands, legs, fingers and toes. Still wearing a soaked swimsuit and a dripping wet ensemble, I happily traipsed around the beach laughing and smiling and taking pictures with others fresh from their dips.

Step 4: Make it a Memory

There’s no point to doing anything (legal at least) if there’s a: no record of it and/or b: no witnesses to see you do it. Take photos, take names and take note- while everyone you know is probably recovering from their New Years’ eve shenanigans by laying on a couch somewhere and nursing their outdated 2009 hangovers, you’re out here taking a huge, frozen bite out of 2010, yeah!! (also, beware of brain freeze)

Me and only 1500+ others received this 'exclusive' collectible

Also, if any of you are curious about what it’s like to immerse yourselves in water suitable only for polar bears then I suggest you do the following:

  • Fill your bathtub to the brim with water from the cold-water tap;
  • Add 3 cups of ice cubes, 2 cups of sand from the beach and one cup of water from the hot water tap;
  • Stir briskly until the ice cubes have just melted, take a step back and jump in.

Welcome to the newly minted Polar Bear Bathtub club! Just make sure you take a picture and get a witness to see you do it. Otherwise…

It doesn’t count.

sources: Viking – scaq.blogspot.comcrowd shot

The $5,000 Burger – Gluttonous indulgence at its best…

…or at its worst?

Bargain Alert - get the burger on its own for a mere $75 US!

The foie gras and black truffle-topped Kobe [beef] burger is served on a brioche truffle bun and garnished with [famed] Chef Hubert Keller’s special sauce consisting of…more truffles. To accompany this decadent burger, guests will enjoy a bottle of Chateau Petrus 1995 poured in Ichendorf Brunello stemware, exclusively imported from Italy. After the meal, the team at [Las Vegas, Mandalay Bay hotel and casino restaurant] Fleur de Lys will ship the glasses to the guest’s home at no additional charge. www.mandalaybay.com

Traveling in ‘luxurious’ style via a discount airline to the city known, and proud of, its excessive excessiveness, I read about this delicious burger in the always fascinating in-flight magazines. As my ‘high-end’ plane had no music, movie screens, televisions and certainly no class (it was an add-on we opted out of), I had nothing else to do and plenty of time to do it. It’s here where they gave us the ‘luxury’ of time prior to take off while the double duty working staff (the baggage handlers also checked us in and for all we know may have flown the plane) made sure the correct amount of duct tape was used to secure the wings (2 packs per side apparently took care of that). Trying to distract myself from thoughts of imminent death by airplane, the article on the $5,000 burger quickly caught my eye.

Although this burger sounded scrumptious and would probably taste amazing (I wonder how much they charge for extra cheese?) it wasn’t the price tag that turned me off (after all, who CAN’T use an extra pair of Ichendorf Brunello stemware?) but its calorie content. Although not posted anywhere online, based on the ingredients alone, this burger and fry combo is sure to be at the top of any cardiologists’ DO NOT CONSUME list.

Out of reach foodstuffs is also the perfect theme for this week as I wind down the 6-month weight loss challenge I began with 8 other health minded gals.

The Goal: to slim down as much as possible within a 6-month period.

The Process: kick start a healthy eating regime with the support of the group, share tips and tricks along the way and couple all of it with mutual encouragement plus fun and active group events

The Reward: a slimmer, healthier you cash money!

The Process didn’t go as well as planned as organizing the schedules of 9 social females across different cites proved trickier than we thought. Group activities were minimal, team meetings were non-existent but luckily encouragement to keep at it has been there  the whole time.

Once a week an email update was sent out with individual and group percentage weight loss #’s to date and in the first few weeks we all dropped significant pounds. Though as time wore on, some definitely continued to slim down, while others maintained the early weight loss but got stuck on plateaus.  However, in the end what will be important is that everyone drops a few pounds or at least learns new ideas and skills on how to do it better on their next attempt.

Top 10 things I’ve learned (and relearned) from this 6-month experience:

  1. I can easily be motivated by $$$, woo!
  2. If you don’t eat healthy foods, you don’t lose weight – boo!
  3. Going to the gym/boxing/yoga/tennis/walks/hikes/snowboarding 6+ times a week means nothing if you’re going to indulge in the poutine après ski experience (add a strawberry milkshake to the above and what an experience it is!)
  4. You CAN make friends with salads (and they call you back the next day too. They are SO into you).
  5. Boyfriends/guy friends/hubbies/etc. can be the devil when it comes to slimming down. Something about having a salad for dinner vs. a deep dish pizza seems to have some of them perturbed.
  6. Desserts are not a mandatory part of the meal (but always welcome!)
  7. Frozen yogurt is not a healthy dessert option when you cover it in chocolate sauce, whipped cream and chopped nuts. Yes, even when it’s low fat frozen yogurt.
  8. Fruit truly can be a dessert…especially when you cover it in whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Mmmmmmm- oh wait….
  9. If you love your workout/exercise regime you WILL do it again.
  10. The only things truly low in fat are fruits and vegetables. For everything else, just get the full fat version, eat less of it and enjoy.

Bonus ‘get my learn on’: Whether you do or you don’t the time is going to pass anyway so you may as well do something about it.

December 13th is the long awaited day where we all get together for the final group weigh-in. Some of the girls I haven’t seen for several months too so I’m looking forward to seeing how much healthier they are now. We also took ‘before’ pictures in June and will take the ‘after’ shots to really appreciate the differences you can’t always see on the scale.

You know you want some of this...

If I win: A wad of cash (woo!) to use on a much needed shopping spree.  I also get to plan a fun event in January with delicious and healthful foodstuffs for all of us to share. Plus, after the weigh-in I plan to devour a plate of my favourite Chinese food. The dish of choice –beef with black bean sauce over rice noodles (my love, it has been too long!)

If I lose: Bitterness, disappointment, a much needed shopping spree (using my own cash, like a chump!) followed by a dish of beef with black bean sauce over rice noodle (my love, I certainly can’t blame you for being you!).

Mmmmm. Now that’s what I call win-win

At last check I was ahead by a few percentage points but updates haven’t been available for the past several weeks to motivate us to keep at it till the end. For me this means I can’t slack off this last week. There are several gals still in it to win it so these last 7 days could be the deciding factor. On my agenda this week– hot yoga, boxing classes, spin classes and boot camp style workouts. It will be 7 whole days of clean eating, getting plenty of rest, incorporating various exercises and most importantly – booze free living. And yes, this unfortunately includes sweet, delicious wine. Also out this week: rendez-vous’ with gentleman callers because you know how those go… Yee gads! This might be the longest 7 days of my life. 

It had better be worth it.

I would also like to take this time to apologize in advance to my friends and family and to please note that when I’m screaming at you this week over the phone for any and all past transgressions -“ You stole my favourite red crayon in 4th grade and I want it back!” it’s really just the lack of sugar talking.  To my dear coworkers, if I yell at any clients I’m training this week and you hear me spout phrases such as ‘incompetent’, ‘moron’ or ‘Is there a monkey on your staff I could speak to instead?’ please kindly suggest that I take a carrot stick break and gently pry the phone out of my hand.

Wish me luck!

Want to make the burger yourself? Good for you. See the recipe below. Extra points will be awarded for anyone living outside of Paris, France who can source ‘Fleur buns’ and ‘black truffles’ from your local grocer.

Hubert Keller’s – The Fleur Burger recipe
Makes 4 servings

32 oz coarsely ground Kobe beef
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup brown Chicken Stock
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. Madeira or port
4 Fleur Buns
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 oz. black Perigord truffle, very thinly sliced (about 5 slices per person)
8 to 10 oz duck foie gras
Fleur de sel
1 bunch watercress, washed and picked over.

Get the rest of the recipe here

Beef noodle source

but its calorie content

Hey, did I ever tell you about the time I caught that thing in Vegas?

I recently travelled to Las Vegas, Nevada, fully intending to leave the city exactly as I found it.  No evidence for CSI to find, no trails for the police or current boyfriends to follow and Vegas Babycertainly no digital devices to electronically capture my time there. Unfortunately, even with all my planning and plotting and dodging and disinfecting, it turns out I did bring something back. Something that couldn’t and wouldn’t stay in Vegas as it was supposed to.   Also, I think I’ll  need something a little stronger than Clorox or penicillin to get rid of this one.

The trip started innocently enough. The plan was to travel to Vegas with a good friend from Toronto, Ontario. We girls always have fun together and assumed this time would be no different.  Drinks flowed freely from the get go, thanks to our cute new friend we met on the plane. The odds were seemingly in our favour as he sat right next to us in his assigned seat, fully equipped with a duty free 26oz bottle of the Captain’s finest spiced rum. He ordered us a round of rum and colas then sneaked out his contraband to top us all off every few minutes. By the time we landed, the bottle was drained, our spirits were high and our hand-eye coordination was low. Hello, Vegas.

What happened next is how it first started to hit me: Later that day, stumbling along the Vegas strip, we were relentlessly accosted by people trying to sell us everything from helicopter trips to the grand canyon, discounted show and nightclub tickets, to girls named Brandi & Candi who could be at our hotel rooms within 20 minutes. While we did take in a few of the offers (I’ll let you guess which ones), what I really took in was how hard they were all working, regardless of their product. It was blisteringly hot outside and despite the heat, these people were out there all day hustling and bustling to make a dollar.

I’m not sure how I would have survived on my paltry $200 US budget if not for the generous support of club patrons, various high rollers in roped off VIP sections and most importantly the bartender at our hotel who informed us that if we put a mere $10 US into the gambling machines at the hotel bar, we could drink for free all day! Gawd bless that man.

Even Brandi & co. were working hard as we saw them leaving hotel rooms at random hours, counting the wads of cash in their hands, while leaving their self-respect in the soiled towels on the bathroom floors behind them. Though even as I write this, with my nose stuck up in the air, I’m thinking to myself that they probably just pocketed my entire Vegas budget for about 60 minutes (or less) of work. Hmmmm…

It struck me again later in the nightclubs, which seemed to consist of small dance floors for the poor surrounded by large roped off VIP sections for the rich. All reserved VIP sections requiring a minimum $250 US investment for the bottle service and personal security guard assigned to each. Perhaps I shouldn’t assume the occupants were all financially successful. They could have simply borrowed cash to pay for their extravagances or maybe they won it big in the casinos earlier that day but one thing was certain– you had to have money to pay in order to play it big time in Vegas.

So what did I bring back that I can’t shake? What did I catch in Vegas that I can’t get rid of and there exists only one possible cure? I have now developed a full fledged case of a deep-seated desire for the Vegas lifestyle. Not the seedy side of course (sorry Candi) but the one where you’re not held back by roped off sections. I want the financial security to be able to play hard because I worked hard to get there.  I don’t want to borrow it for the weekend or have it handed to me by strangers in the bar (although that’s fun too!).  I want to earn it for myself and empower my girlfriends to get it with me.  I want to let people buy me drinks because they want to buy them for me (like at home) and not because I’m too cheap and outraged to buy them myself at triple the price (like in Vegas).

So now I’m home again and I’m severely plagued by thoughts on working harder, I’m feverish over self-promotion and climbing corporate ladders, and I feel especially faint about branching out and getting ahead. I’m sick with desire and it has pushed all my previous non-Vegas priorities off to the side and into the haze at the back of my mind.  Vegas is now my cause and my cure and there’s only one thing that’s perfectly clear:

I’ll be back.