Project disasters

Bathtub Misadventures

My boy turned blue in the tub tonight. That sounds horrifying, but it wasn’t quite what you think. Rather inexplicably, the bathtub appliques we have peacefully coexisted with for six years suddenly shit their ink like a shoal of frightened squid. When he got out of the tub, the boy appeared to be the product of an illicit union between myself and Papa Smurf.

After a week of all manner of What-The-Fuckness occuring; a visit to the ER after a reaction to Novocaine, some manner of child plague resembling mononucleosis, night terrors, dog mishaps, impromptu birthday parties, tickets selling out, and a million other irritations etc., I considered leaving him blue. Just for a moment, I thought, well, eff it. There’s a point, you know? Where it’s too much What-The-Fuckness and you don’t want to deal with it anymore.

And then my parental anxiety that the blue was somehow harmful took over. And the realization that if I didn’t scrub him down, there was no one else who was going to swoop in and do it. And that eventually the scrubbing will have to be done, whether it’s tonight or tomorrow. Because I am the mother. My job to make sure this little beast is safe and clean, no matter how much What-The-Fuckness has gone on. It never ends.

That’s how I found myself  a shower, a bath, and another shower later on my knees dabbing rest of blue ink off. The boy was intently watching the iPad while I used up a half a bottle of the good olive oil and a years’ supply of make up pads. We decided it was unlikely Papa Smurf was his dad, but thought maybe if this cleaning effort didn’t work out he could join the Blue Man Group. We agreed this would be funny when he was older.

And it made me calm, sitting on that bathroom floor. My other boy running in to show me his pyjamas and asking about words in books. The dog checking out all the amazing garbage we were producing for her later consumption. We got him back to his normal pale self. We figured it out. We laughed, knowing that all manner of What-The-Fuckness is ahead. It’s kind of what this parenting gig is all about.


Making Halloween Happen

Kind of.

My four-year olds are totally enthralled with costumes, and I have had occasion to dine with a unicorn, giraffe, lion, or Captain America. Batman helps me pick out tampons at the drug store (complete with drawn out and loud discussions about female anatomy), and a jellyfish has had a fit about buying pancake mix for some indeterminate point in the future instead of setting up shop in the homewares section like some insane Top Chef challenge and making them RIGHT NOW. This is just our every day life. When it comes to Halloween, I feel like we have to up the ante a little.

It turns out that one aspect of parenting I am not terrible at is costumes. I discovered this when the boys had a recital at daycare. The kids had to dress up as various animals, making costumes out of “inexpensive household items”. I made this instead:

They were supposed to sing a song about animals, but they mostly just stood staring out at the sea of iPhones recording them. The Unicorn yawned throughout.

They were supposed to sing a song but they mostly just stood staring out at the sea of iPhones recording them. The Unicorn yawned throughout.

To be fair, a lot of other parents went kind of over the top too, but I can safely say that I went the most over the top by a wide margin. A lot of glue was involved while I cracked the whip over Mr. Giraffe to custom paint the costume while I fiddled around getting the eyes right. I am still not satisfied with them. I am still finding bits of foam everywhere in our house.

Halloween prep started shortly after this. Angry Birds are the order of the day here, so Angry Birds it would be. The Engineer wanted to be Chewbacca Bird and the Unicorn wanted to be a Slingshot.

*scratches head*

Uhhh… ok, let’s roll with that.

Plans changed when we found amazing Yellow Angry Bird and King Pig masks at good ol’ Wallyworld. Mr. Giraffe was tired and I think vaguely optimistic that we’d just achieved a somewhat easy holiday.

It should come as no surprise at all to you that a month later I found myself finding Angry Birds templates for pumpkins, buying eavestrough joints, and hoarding boxes and cardboard to “just add a little something” to Halloween festivities.

I am a busy woman, so I left the eavestrough at my dad’s house with instructions to turn it into a slingshot for Yellow Bird. I think he thought I was insane, but he totally made that shit happen, and made me completely envious of the fact that he 1) owns tools, 2) knows how to use the tools, and 3) is retired. The final product was better than I would have ever been able to achieve and happened with very little input from me. It worked out so well I am going to see if I can outsource a lot of things now (See: aforementioned tampon and pancake mix purchasing).

In retrospect, I wish we’d stuck with his original vision and just gone with the slingshot. That thing is a work of art.

Two days before Halloween, Mr. Giraffe excitedly messaged me to ask: “Are we making Halloween costumes tonight?” I was confused by his enthusiasm and participation until I realized the subtext was “Are you going to be knee-deep in cardboard shavings, hot gluing your fingers together for the next two days?”

Indeed, I was.

King Pig needed a TNT box.  Parents out there can attest to the fact that diaper boxes are the most useful byproduct of child-rearing, and they proved their worth again here. As my dear friend Sara noted later, I was going balls out. I couldn’t half-ass this with markers. No, I was going to make a 3D textured TNT box that looks just like real life. Except, you know, the 2D cartoon version of real life. Or something. I think I have my dimensions confused. Anyway, it was going to be epic.

The first night I thought really hard about how I wanted to achieve the box. I even cut 3 strips of cardboard and a head hole. Feeling really good about my progress, I rewarded myself with as many rounds of Candy Crush as I could manage (5. DAMN YOU CANDY CRUSH, I WILL NOT SPEND MONEY ON YOU) and went to bed, confident that I would be able to complete my project before bedtime on the 30th.

I did, in fact, complete the costume before going to bed on the 30th. Or rather, four hours past my bedtime at 3 am on the 31st. At 6 pm on the 30th, my parents came to deliver the slingshot. At 7:30 pm, the groupthink and yelling about how to attach the slingshot to the Unicorn’s body was accomplished, as was the total and complete defraying of all of my nerves. At 7:35, Mr. Giraffe had delivered the kids to bed, and wisely disappeared, not to be seen by the rest of the night. At 9 pm, I had a bloodied hand and 3 Angry Bird themed pumpkins that had to have various parts of them hot glued back together.

It occurs to me that Halloween pumpkins are sort of like those Buddhist sand drawings, except that I don't achieve any sort of spiritual ascension and no one dresses up as a sexy hot dog to celebrate sand drawings.

It occurs to me that Halloween pumpkins are sort of like those Buddhist sand drawings, except that I don’t achieve any sort of spiritual ascension and no one dresses up as a sexy hot dog to celebrate sand drawings.

Pumpkins achieved, I turned my attention to the TNT box. At 11 pm, I ran out of hot glue, and narrowly avoided impaling myself with a box cutter, then remembered there was a bottle of wine in the freezer. At 11:01 the top of that bottle shattered while I was trying to reef the cork out with all my might. At 11:03, I strained the glass shards out of that wine and drank the hell out of it.

True story

True story

Without the benefit of hot glue, I had to hold the pieces together while watching nine episodes of Duck Dynasty. Those dudes are really wholesome. I think I would get along with Uncle Si. I had a long time to think about this. Finally, I had the genius idea to hold the glued pieces together with my hair band, and called it a night. It was 3 am.

At 3:04, I discovered that the Unicorn had an ear infection. At 7:30 am, I had a complete mental break where I believed that “just ten minutes” of sleep would carry me through the day, and I was at risk of murdering anyone who told me otherwise. At 7:42 am, the Engineer declared that he wasn’t going to wear the TNT box because it hurt, and I had an aneurism, while I simultaneously wondered if I could somehow squeeze my middle-aged carcass into it instead.

YES. YES. YES! My vision come to life! Brought down to earth moments later by kiddo shenanigans. I am not enough of a narcissist to force him to wear a costume just because I made it. Just to be clear.

YES. YES. YES! My vision come to life! Brought down to earth moments later by kiddo shenanigans. I am not enough of a narcissist to force him to wear a costume just because I made it. Just to be clear. He wore it later entirely of his own volition, and promises that his candy haul would be improved if he had a really good costume.

At 9 am, I was at the walk-in clinic with the Unicorn where he was crying so loud and so hard that they let him in ahead of a lady with a spurting head wound.

The Unicorn would have gotten into the doctor faster than this guy. (image from

At .. oh fuck, I don’t even know. Later in the day, we found ourselves wandering around the drug store. The Unicorn laid down in the aisle. He was curled around a discounted stuffed Angry Bird, and it appeared to be the only thing keeping him alive. We purchased that bird: who was I to say no? I lamented that Angry Birds came into our lives only during moments of weakness; like when we hand over the iPad because we’re tired. This had delivered me directly to this moment, scarred up by Angry Bird costumes, undone by my own weakness There were a lot of surprisingly complicated thoughts going through my head given the fact that I could not form complete sentences and had to have a nap in the van before I trusted myself to drive home.

At 6:30 pm, everyone was properly propped up on ibuprofen, and we were out trick or treating with the neighbors. I made hot chocolate and Baileys for the adults. When Mr. Giraffe inadvertently spilled my drink all over me, I made lemonade out of lemons.. or rather, skipped the hot chocolate, poured whisky out of the bottle, and drank an entire mug, and made excuses twice to run back to our house to refill it. The boys had a grand time, and I am pretty sure I was unfit to parent by that point, so thank the Great Pumpkin Mr. Giraffe was out too. Maeby dressed up as a bee.

This was not at Halloween; this was at a Meadery.

This was not at Halloween; this was at a Meadery.

The End.


A Review of the Coleman Family Tent

Canadian Tire has this commercial.

I did not know about this commercial thanks to the magic of PVR, but when I purchased this behemoth of a ten-person tent for a 5 day family camping trip, Coleman was unwittingly fulfilling all of my unexpressed desires. I wanted to be the envy of all the tenters out there, all one amongst the army of 30 foot trailers. I wanted a tent that would house me, my camping-averse husband, my four-year olds, and my wayward dog for 5 days in a temperate climate during a family trip without causing a domestic dispute.

Is that too much to fucking ask? Yes. Yes, it is.

Set Up


Setting this tent up set me up for a level of optimism I can only describe as “overly confident” at best, but “delusional” is a more realistic term.

Cons: The worst part about setting up this tent was that I had to set down my beer to do it because the poles have clicky things that require two hands. I really tried not to set down my beer, friends, but things just couldn’t be helped. My husband fiddled with this random piece of material that we think is some sort of fly or perhaps, OH MY GOD I JUST FIGURED OUT IT’S PROBABLY A WALL FOR INSIDE THE TENT THAT IS SO SMART BUT HAS VIRTUALLY NO USE TO US NOW BECAUSE I AM HOME WITH ACTUAL WALLS MADE OF DRYWALL AND I AM GOING TO KISS THEM.


There are two queen sized matresses in there and room to spare. Camping is going to be goddamn aces, you guys. Optimism level: OFF THE CHARTS.

But really, this delivers on the promise of the instant easy set up, if you subtract the hours worth of fiddling with mystery material.

Staying In the Tent

Pros: This tent is large. There is lots of room. It seems durable. There are lots of windows. It is a rectangle. I am a tallish woman and can stand up straight in it, if you don’t count me nailing myself in the head with a lantern at least six times during this trip because I evidently don’t have a short-term memory anymore.

Cons: You guys, being dry is all well and fine when you’re in a car wash for a few minutes, but what do you get when you’re in a downpour with two small people with only passing knowledge of potty training, a camping-averse husband who said (for real, I am not shitting you) “I didn’t change my clothes for three days because I kept thinking we were going to shower” and a dog who prefers feces and rain-soaked kibble to anything else?

The answer is condensation. You get condensation.

I can see the water is beading on the outside, so why is it dripping on my head. This is my thought process for two hours.

I can see the water is beading on the outside, so why is it dripping on my head? This is my thought process for two hours.

This is what I figured out as I clung desperately to the side of the brand new air mattress that required complicated re-pumping every day after having seven children (five not my own) abuse it to the point of disrepair. I had four-year old feet in my face, I was half out of my sleeping bag, and I was getting dripped on. So I had some time to think. And I thought “FUCK YOU, Coleman. Fuck you for making a completely sealed off “family” tent.” No one wants to be sealed off with their family. That is why suite hotels and boarding schools were invented. It’s all well and fine that you can make a neato commercial, but the practicality of having a completely sealed off tent is nil. So basically, I was having angry thoughts.


All that air took hours to escape because I did not have the cognitive ability at the end of the trip to open a door or window to let it out.

And then, just as I was getting some sleep, the voice of my dad appeared from the heavens. He’s not dead, so it was especially weird that he was offering us respite in form of a the hotel room key that he and my mom were checking out of, so we could take a hot shower. So weird that I grumbled “but there’s pay showers here”, and he retreated as quickly as he came, but left wine. I thought it was a dream until my husband lost his shit over the fact that there was no hot showers to be had and I tripped over the wine bottle on my way out of the tent. I am drinking that wine right now you guys, and nothing ever tasted so good.

Take home message: Coleman denied me a hot shower by making me think too hard. It does not matter how big the goddamn tent is, friends, if there is no ventilation and five mammalian bodies, you have a problem.

Take Down

Pros: Take down of the Coleman Family Tent is relatively easy because of the magic of presto buttons and neat shit like that. I completely fooled our spectators (my cousin and the assorted kids) that everything was fine because we got it all sort of down minus all the massive air/ventilation problem seen above. And they left for the beach, with us promising to follow shortly as soon as we got our tent in the bag.

Cons: And that is when the proverbial wheels came off the proverbial fucking piece of shit tent.

Friends, I said and did things this morning that I don’t care to repeat. A lovely, lovely couple staying in the campsite next to us who were quietly having breakfast, and who live-in-the-same-city-as-us-so-I-will-probably-run-into-them-at-the-Farmer’s-Market-tomorrow-because-they-seem-like-the-type and their two-year old daughter, did not need to hear the things that they heard this morning. There was a domestic scene of epic proportions, rivaled only by our camping neighbors trying to park a 35 foot trailer in pitch black the night before. I feel ashamed, dear readers. Ashamed at what that tent made me do.

All of this shit had to go back into our van. I would have just set it back up and lived there on a permanent basis if they let you stay more than 16 days. I could have been a charming campground resident who helped you back your trailer in. I had plans. A lot of plans.

All of this shit had to go back into our van. I would have just set it back up and lived there on a permanent basis if they let you stay more than 16 days. I could have been a charming campground resident who helped you back your trailer in and made hilariously burned pancakes every morning. I had plans. A lot of plans. I had a lot of time to make those plans.

I have many reasons for yelling, but that tent became the lightning rod for all of my frustrations this morning. I was furious at Coleman for disabusing me of the notion that a family camping trip could be the joyous family fun times that I was envisioning. Mostly though, I was furious at them for saving the shitstorm right for the end of the trip, when we had lost all organizational capacity. All I wanted was a hot breakfast, Coleman. What I got was a maelstrom of throwing shit around, patronizing, and accusations. Where is that in your goddamn commercial, Coleman?

But on the bright side, at least we didn’t leave the camping tradition of having a major domestic incident aside. It’s right up there with roasting marshmallows and beer fueled hikes.

Let’s review:
Pros: I was lulled into a false sense of security that everything was going to be ok.

Cons: I do not enjoy 1) being disabused of notions and 2) having all the shit saved for the end of things. I like the shit up front so I can deal with it.

This tent is recommended for the camping-averse and those with short attention spans. This tent is highly recommended if you have lost your sense of smell, prefer moist environments, and you can afford to just abandon it at the end of your trip.

This tent is not recommended for actual families, those in shaky marriages, or people with dogs of any kind, especially ones who have earned the moniker “Smelly” by a horde of children becoming collectively more odorous by the moment.

Turkey Hot Pockets: Post-Christmas Letdown Recipes Edition

Look, I am a little cranky post-Christmas to be honest with you. Too much booze, not enough sleep, and all that cooking and cleaning kind of take the shine off of it, you know?

I have 17 out of 18 lbs of turkey leftover. This may be due to my annual salmonella freak out that turned everyone off of eating the beautiful, tasty and terribly large turkey that I prepared for four adults and two children.

Christmas 2012 007

Look at that beautiful goddamn thing. My dad (who is carving it) ate the drumstick and that’s about it.

After the turkey casseroles were made and the turkey soup I still had about 8-10 lbs to go, and I remembered the most amazing idea ever. A few months ago, Brother Jon had the thought of the genius thanksgiving hot pocket. He is a visionary. I would buy a thousand of those and serve them up fresh from the toaster oven for every special occasion from now until forever. I promised to prototype it with my Canadian Thanksgiving leftovers and then promptly forgot about it in a fit of not wanting to do anymore cooking ever, as is my semi-annual holiday tradition.

But today; today in the haze of grumpiness I prototyped. I made this calzone dough, although any recipe that you can find on the internet would do, I guess. I don’t bake, which should be strongly factored in to all of my advice. Seriously? Every holiday I have ever had in history has been somehow brought down to disaster by baking.

So I made the dough. As in, I dumped all of the ingredients into my KitchenAid and sat down to have a coffee for 10 minutes because my hands are tired and there’s a machine that does the kneading sort of for you. Then I dumped the contents into a bowl, covered with olive oil and turned the bread proof function on in my oven because that is a real thing that new ovens have.

Christmas 2012 050

Ingredients made into a ball of something that will turn into something else. ALCHEMY.

Then I waited for yeast to do its thing (seriously, bread is a miracle, isn’t it?) and then I cut it in 4, and let the yeast do it’s thing again. Then I stretched it out and filled it, and basically if you understand how a calzone works you can figure this part out.

Christmas 2012 057

This could have easily been a flat bread had I not put in the effort to fold it in half. *pats self on back

The filling I used was turkey, roasted brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole with apples and pecans, cranberries and then a big dollop of gravy on top because gravy. I know not all these things are on people’s holiday menus and you hate brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes are terrible or whatever, but look, I DON’T KNOW YOUR LIFE. Put whatever you want in it, ok? This isn’t Epicurious. (sorry, I have the Christmas letdowns. I am going to go get some more Bailey’s).

So then I sealed it up. I didn’t do the egg wash thing like the recipe said because that seemed like effort. But I did put some olive oil on it because olive oil is my favourite and thanks to Madame Weebles and Nudo, I now have a lot of it. Or at least I did, until I left the olive oil close to a 3-year-old. Now I have a whole turkey casserole that is going to be poached in olive oil when I put it in the oven. I’ll let you know how that tastes.

Then baked it at about 400 for about 20 minutes until they were brown and gravy was leaking from them. I told you I wasn’t very good at this.

Christmas 2012 058

Turkey dinner hot pockets, fresh from the oven and taken from the most flattering and least leaky angle.

Christmas 2012 060

The Maillard reaction improves the look and taste of everything in life.

Even the 3 year olds took exactly one bite of it before declaring it yucky, so I’d say that was a success.

Christmas 2012 066

Taste test.

The true test will be if anyone actually eats the leftover one tomorrow because no one in this house has eaten a leftover since the early aughts.


Mashed potatoes aren’t my favourite in there. It was a kind of bland layer. Maybe if you mixed the gravy directly into the mashed potato it would be better.

More gravy. Because. Maybe some bacon. Definitely more cranberries if you’re into that sort of thing.

Christmas 2012 063

No gravy oozing. Disappointing.

Do not leave a full bottle of olive oil anywhere near a 3-year-old. Terrible outcome.

Perhaps drink less coping booze for big holidays to avoid post-Christmas rut.  You know what, ima just forget I said that altogether. CHEERS.

Bees! Part 2: Winter is Coming

One of my favourite things about keeping bees is that they demand community. You could probably do the majority of beekeeping alone, but it is so much more fun fretting over the bees with a dedicated bee co-parent as I had in Sarah. I also credit her husband Dave who was game enough to put up the Lucy and Ethel of beekeeping. You two are the bees knees. There, I said it!


Sarah and Dave purchased a new house and rented out their old place. The bees were a bit of a hard sell with the new tenants, given that the house was rented out in the “aggressive period” in September where bees are capping off their honey and guarding their resources from wasps. (It’s pretty impressive to watch a gang of tiny honeybees take down a wasp, by the by. The OCD among us will be happy to note that organization trumps all physical threats.) But the tenants agreed to allow the bees until they were done collecting pollen, as the bees would have swarmed back to their old location. Then we would have had Swarm: The Second Coming, claimed ignorance, and just moved on to a new hobby.

As pollen season wrapped up, we had to support the bees in their winter preparations. The bees were busy killing off all the useless male drones and shoving them out the door so they didn’t steal resources all winter (good system, am I right, ladies?). Our job was to make sure the colony was healthy and insulate it up for winter. This also meant that we’d get HONEY! LIQUID GOLD FOR REALZ HONEY!

We later smashed this beautiful capped off honey apart and ate the fruits of their labour. Gotta pay the rent, bees.

Frankly, we were not really excited to steal honey from pissy bees after the Swarm: Everyone Gets Stung incident. But steal we did, and no one was injured. Sarah’s kitchen was very, very sticky though. We should have done it at my house where another layer of sticky would just be background noise against the layer of peanut butter finely smeared over everything. (Note, do not bring your kid with peanut allergies over here).

Straining out all the wax and bee parts. No one likes it when I say that.

As I found out, beekeeping involves an inexplicable amount of duct tape (we might be doing it wrong). This is when you should employ the bees’ community spirit and have someone help you so you don’t have wads of duct tape stuck to your clothing when you go to your fancy hair dresser, which is what happened when I slaved over custom insulation panels for the bee hive one day. I will never operate duct tape alone again.

So much duct tape. But even more was stuck to my jacket at the hair dresser, causing my hair dresser to make A Face.

We were blessed with an early winter, and now the bees are only coming out to take a little tiny bee dump and then going back inside for another week. I AM SO JEALOUS.

That is only half the fucking snow we have right now.

Moving Day

With the hunkered down for winter, we decided to move them to Sarah’s new house. Moving a hive that weighs something comparable to a small adult a block and a half was not going to be accomplished by us two broads, so we started cashing in on people’s general interest in beekeeping. It did not escape my notice that more people volunteered to move bees on a cold Monday night for no reward than attend my birthday party. I think that really speaks to how deeply unpopular I am the charismatic nature of bees.

We chose our bee moving crew well, and that sucker was safely packed up into the back of Dave’s Subaru without dumping thousands of bees to their frozen death as we had feared. The bees safely made the 1.5 block journey to their new home where they should be content for the rest of winter.

One of the standard features of an Impreza is that it perfectly fits a 2-level Langstroth bee hive in the hatch.

Then we raised a glass of mead to our efforts, reflected on the community nature of bees, contemplated next season, watched the swarm video about a dozen times and then decided on our next project: A reality show where we all wear GoPros all the time because they make everything look so goddamned awesome.


Camping Tetris

I took the boys camping over the weekend. A great time was had by all, except that it was minus a gazillion in the mountains at night (I swear to god snow turned up on the peak next to us while we were there. Total bullshit. It’s STILL AUGUST, MOTHER NATURE) so no one got any sleep at all because we were too busy staving off hypothermia and convincing ourselves that camping is a good idea. Usually by 6 am we had come to terms with camping and drifted off to sleep, just in time for the kids to adopt tigger-on-ephedrine levels of energy and start bouncing around the tent so hard I am sure from the outside it appeared like we had set loose two small bears in there. It felt like that when I was woken up with a kamikaze ninja jump onto my head.

Anyway, this level of sleep deprivation always takes its toll. On the way out to the campsite I was patting my back for my superior packing skills. Everything was organized neatly into the back of the van, rolled up in their respective bags. Never mind that I had to text my husband eleven times to bring stuff out that I forgot; eleven is about average for a trip to the mall. For a weekend of camping, eleven is great news. When I got out there my neighbor had already set up her campsite, sans husband, with two small children in tow, and in the spirit of looking like I was up to the same level of amazingness I attempted the same. And it happened! The tent got up, the van got unpacked, the beds got set up and the husbands arrived to a very charming scene. With beer. Everything was perfect.

The ensuing lack of sleep caused us to flunk the post-camping cognition test. Despite the fact that we trashed a few chairs, ate most of our food, and drank all the beer, we could hardly fit everything back into two vehicles, much less one.

This is exactly as full as the van was on the way there. Packing up we took up the same amount of space.

Plus this.

And this.

Pre-camping, I put this pillow in the bag in under 30 seconds flat. Post camping I wandered around the campsite for nearly 20 minutes trying to just get one corner shoved in with this result:

A drunk lab rat could do better.

Putting the tent back in the bag proved to be too much for my damaged psyche and if it hadn’t been for my husband I would have just abandoned it. I might have cried a little. I might have also stomped my foot like a five-year old.

I have never loved this man more. Not even on our wedding day.

So in the spirit of this, I’d like to share an open letter to Coleman, purveyors of camping products everywhere.

Dear Coleman;

You make a fine camping product, it’s true. Your brand has been a part of many cherished family memories. But your storage bags are not condoms, ok? It does not matter if there is a little extra room in there because no one is going to get pregnant if it falls off. Let’s be honest, most of the people buying the fluffiest sleeping bag around are driving a huge SUV and parking it eleven feet from their tent. There’s no need to kid ourselves about conserving space and packing light. Think of the Sunday morning hung over and sleep deprived among us when you’re designing your products. We’re just pretending to be outdoorsy; make it easier for us to feel superior and you’ll have a lifelong customer in me.


The Rollergiraffe

P.S. Also, if you can figure out an un-tippable camping chair I would be forever grateful. I am just saying that balance is not my best attribute after six Pilsners. I am funnier, just not more upright.

Down with domesticity!

I have complained about this before, but I am not super domestic. In my head I am this:

Makeup! Apron! Brushed hair! Spatula! Sass!

In reality I won this trophy last year:

Friday Night Pints Commitment Award of Excellence Winner, 2010

Every so often I get ambitious though and I am going to turn it all around. In my daydreams I plan parties and make magnificent cakes and everyone will be dressed in clean, ironed clothes every day.

This time I focused on the cakes. On a whim I signed up for a cake decorating course, convinced I was probably going to be asked to be the instructor. I was going to spend my nights practicing and making shit from scratch. It turned out to be  a mompetition over who could make the best pink icing. I hate pink, so I lost. I was the one squirreled away in the corner focusing on my piping technique, ladies. Anyone can achieve neon orange icing. Anyone.

I ended up making this.

Happy Campers! (

Cute right? Except I totally didn’t make it. I made this instead:

Avant garde camping cake. Rustic, even.

Yes, those are crumbs in the crappy, uneven icing. And the trees I made were heavily depredated by a unicorn.

Distinct branch breakage

Surveillance shot of unicorn fleeing the scene

I had to quit halfway through finishing the cake and skipped the class because we are going camping and I needed to pack and we have house guests and I was really tired and SO MANY EXCUSES. I really could go on forever, but the truth is that I didn’t want to hear the instructor congratulate all the other novice decorators for their gorgeous flowery cupcake designs and charming colour schemes while I was busy trying to make realistic rocks out of grey buttercream. It was so hot in there, you guys, I wanted to stab everything with my piping bag.

Anyway, I had a revelation as my boys devoured the cake. Maybe I am just trying to justify my laziness, but I really don’t think they care if I am a domestic genius. And I can raise them not to care. And their future wives will thank me for lowering their expectations. And I can train them to do domestic stuff for me, which their future wives will also thank me for. I just figured out how to be the best mother in law ever. Best mom went out the window some time ago.

I had a similar thought when my husband turned down boxes of nostalgia that his parents were throwing away. It never occurred to me that I could do the same. When my mother cleaned out her basement and dropped off every single piece of paper that I ever wrote on until the age of 18, I put it all in my basement in case I ever needed to remember how angsty I was when I was 13 (Hint: pretty angsty). It takes up space in my life. And every three years I have an argument with my husband about it. I don’t have to do this to my kids! I don’t have to scrapbook. I don’t have to finish those baby books. I probably will fill them out with the wrong information and crusty advice for them so they’ll have something to remember me by after they shove me in the cheapest nursing home. But I don’t have to; they won’t be upset if I don’t! I’ll show them my boxes full of depressive mournful teenage meanderings and they will thank me for not forcing the same on them. Then we’ll have a bonfire with all those heaps of paper and toast my parenting skills. Bring your marshmallows.

So fuck it. I was totally right to stay home and have dinner with my boys tonight instead of cake class. Beets are better for you than cake and sanctimonious crafters anyway.

You know, maybe I do need a hobby.

A Rollergiraffe at Work

I was a biologist in a former life and did a reasonable amount of field work. It was always nice to get out of the office and paid to do random things, but lots of it was boring. Some of it was mildly dangerous, none of it had any lasting consequence or significance.

As with everything, my career has been your average disaster and there was a reason that I eagerly anticipated my walking papers when I came back from maternity leave. It wasn’t just because I got laid off by voice mail either. It was mostly because I was a career underling and often found myself doing the jobs that no one else wanted for themselves. And often partnered with people that were used to being alone, who relished the opportunity to share every detail of their lives with me. Do you know much about the Center for Positive Living? I do, because I heard all about it on a five hour drive alone in a truck with one of its main proponents. He joined because he had a rage problem, so that’s a bit of a Morton’s Fork when you are trapped in a truck; I chose the Center for Positive Living speech rather than risk him having a relapse.

Here are the top five experiences that I both look at with fond memory and surprise that I am still alive sometimes.

5. A problem with shovels

I was doing a few weeks worth of work in Sydney, Nova Scotia digging contaminated soil out of people’s backyards. We were woefully unprepared for the rocky soil and managed to break our equipment on the first day. There are nine Tim Hortons in Sydney (a town of 30,000) but no hardware store open on Sundays, so we had to go to the flea market and negotiate for a shovel. We got this gem for a quarter.


Then I had to dig dirt out of a hundred yards with it.

Also on that trip I had to scrape toxic sludge out of a lady’s basement and share a one bedroom cabin with a dude that insisted I be thankful for wearing tighty-blueys because that’s a lot more than he normally wore.

This is not a reasonable substitute for pyjamas.

4. Drunken cowboys

This happened doing some field work in Manyberries. The Manyberries hotel is a bit of a landmark, in that it is the only building with a second floor in a fifty mile radius. There is a restaurant with two items on the menu and Mabel will serve you steak or chili, but you are not going to get it with a smile. City folk will try and order fancy beers here, like a Heineken. That shit is not happening; you are getting a Coors, a Black Label or a Pilsner and you are not going to complain about it.

I spent a lot of time in Manyberries because it is right in the middle of the last little bit of native prairie in Canada and is home to quite a few endangered species. One of which is the sage grouse, which is a weird looking bird quite unadapted to change.

Those are not boobs.

They have very predictable mating grounds and there is a large contingent of volunteers who converge for an annual count which is more or less the highlight of the Manyberries social calendar.  The routine was that you’d scope out your route to the mating grounds (lek, for you sciency types) the night before, meet back at the hotel for your steak or chili and then get up at 3:30 am to get out to the cold prairie so you could sneak up on the birds in the complete dark before dawn and then count them. I have no rational explanation why any human would volunteer to do this.

The Rollergiraffe guide takes 3 stars away to give to other hotels, putting it at -7 stars.

The first year I went on the count there also happened to be a town hall meeting in Manyberries about how to spruce the place up. All the ranchers came from far and wide to decide that they would clean up the garbage heap and put some planters out and then they headed to the bar. The bar was rockin’ that night, and everyone was too drunk to drive home (as in, they couldn’t find their keys because no amount of alcohol would deter them) so they rented out whatever remaining rooms were at the hotel. At 2:30 am I discovered that there was no lock on my hotel room door when a bunch of cowboys had a brawl that busted my door open. At 3:30 am I got up and drove for two hours to count five sage grouse. And then I went for a four hour hike to see some grown men pretend they weren’t afraid of rattlesnakes and listen to a professor talk. And then I wanted to die, but I had to do it all again the next night.

3. Tethered to a dude in a river

I worked for a large corporation that was very fond of health and safety plans. The people who made the health and safety plans had never been outside before, so there was always some weird element of surprise whenever we had to go into the field. Would we have to go shopping for wet suits to go stand in a field and look at an oil well? Take a bear safety course to stand by a river in the middle of the city? Wear a hardhat to go get coffee? No, I had to go to Canadian Tire and buy the thickest and longest goddamned rope I could find so that my co-worker could go out and stand knee deep in the river with me tethered to his waist. Because it makes total sense that if he should get sucked in by the current, a female half his weight should be sacrificed in his memory.

Identity withheld. It wasn’t his fault H&S were idiots, we just suffered for it and had to take pictures to prove we were being “safe”.

Meanwhile, my cubicle neighbor often bypassed the health and safety requirements and I am pretty sure he had hazardous materials delivered to our office more than once. And possibly a large animal. When I left he gave me some complimentary paraffin wax, in case I needed it.

2. Water Sampling

This was the first adventure I had with my beekeeping partner in crime and frankly I am surprised she still talks to me at all. It was summer and we were between projects, so when someone came looking for volunteers to take some water samples we were all “hells yeah!” We were given a relatively loose timeline, but managed to pick the hottest fucking day in the history of summer, which also happened to be a Friday. We were promised that we only had to “scoop a bit of water out” from the middle of the wetland, but there was “hardly any water in it” and it was “easy to find.” These were fucking lies.

This is not me. I was not feeling this jaunty.

Of course the health and safety plan required waders and a rope and I already had those. We packed up the car, took off early for the day and promised ourselves we’d be drinking beer by 3 pm. It was on the edge of the city, but as we approached we learned that the GPS we had was broken because it was landing us somewhere in the arctic, and that the map was hard to read at best. It might have actually just been a map of Disneyland directing us to Splash Mountain for it’s effectiveness.

We found something that looked like a wetland, so I got into my neoprene waders. Neoprene. Because the last ten stupid projects I did were in a glacial river. Neoprene is not designed for a stagnant puddle in the middle of July, but I was not going to drive back to Canadian Tire for any reason right now. I had beer on my mind.

I waded out into the middle of the wetland sinking into knee deep mud, water up to my waist the entire way, scooped out my water and started heading back to the shore. Then I saw the shimmer of the water on the horizon, and realized that we were in the middle of about fifteen goddamned wetlands, none of which were marked on the map. It suddenly occurred to me that there was a reason the lab gave me three dozen sample bottles: I had to get water from all of them, hiking in my neoprene, directed by arctic GPS coordinates. By the end of the day I had lost about 12 lbs of water weight and let’s just say that the samples may not have been as reliable as they should have been and leave it at that.

1. Stuck in a rut

By far my worst day of paid employment was the last year I did sage grouse counts. Fieldwork is notoriously sexist because big strong man lift anything and hike far while weak little girl can’t drive or get dirty. It’s total horseshit. So this particular year I decided to partner with this female researcher I liked and respected, and we were going to do just fine without dudes. My partner was a 75 lb girl who proved to be very tough and not at all whiny and very resourceful, all of which are reasons that I am even alive to tell you about this right now.

As a joke, my supervisor assigned us to the lek that was on probably the scariest ranch in all of existence. Deliverance is a kind description. The brothers who own it (who are actually real gentlemen despite what I am about to say) live far from civilization and both parties prefer it that way. They keep their cows in the front yard, intermingled with burnt out cars, various farm debris, and the talking garbage heap from Fraggle Rock. And there’s a lot of dogs who are usually happy to chew on an entire cow’s leg, complete with hoof and fur.

Imagine if there was more cows and parts of cows all over this.

We drove to the ranch compound (not sure if you can call a maze of trailers joined together by plywood a house) to see if the landowners were home. They shockingly weren’t, but we had permission to be there so we drove out to scope out our lek. It was a fairly dry spring, so you can imagine my surprise when I landed in a huge motherfucking mud puddle the exact size of my non-4 wheel drive truck. We were in the middle of nowhere. No cell phone service, nothing. We couldn’t see the house, but we could see the border crossing station. It was closed for the night and I was not about to risk walking into Montana by accident again because I didn’t need Homeland Security involved.

It was like this, except with a truck in the mud and I was way less happy.

I was not prepared to get a truck out of the mud. I had a tarp, a rope and we both had our knives, but that was it. There was no trees to hitch to, no rocks, no nothing that we could wedge under the truck to give it traction. We were fucked. I tried rocking it back and forth, we sucked the tarp into the wheel well and dug ourselves further. The sun started to go down and we contemplated walking back to the Deliverance house, but they weren’t home and we were kind of afraid they might claim us for marriage if they were. So we started digging hard dirt up by hand to pack under the truck. Then we searched farther afield and found a cow skeleton, which we dismantled, used the hip bones as a shovel and wedged the ribs in various ways under the wheel and gave it one more go. SUCCESS! Saved by a dead cow.

We got back to our hotel covered head to toe in mud, late, hours of truck cleaning ahead of us, having to explain to a landowner why we dug a  truck-sized hole in his land and reassure him we weren’t making weird sacrifices out of his cow friends, but proud of our resourcefulness and grateful that we didn’t have to surrender ourselves at the American border. And what were the first words that came out of all the guys’ mouths?

“Only a woman would drive into a puddle.”

I hate work.

Photo Credit:Sage grouse –


(Madame Weebles, stop your reading right here because this post is all about bees, honey, and disgusting holes.)

I am going through a phase. I think it might be a lifelong one, but it’s one where I am very interested in urban agriculture and slow food. I would love to garden but we have very little space in our yard and I am very lazy. I would love to have chickens but they’re illegal here and I can’t even handle our silly dog most of the time much less frequent visits from the bylaw officer. Anyway, at some point I envision myself selling little jars of delicious things to people at a market.

So when I was meandering around the community organization booths at our local folk festival a couple of years ago and was reassured by a cute young man with dreadlocks that beekeeping was “very easy” because “bees have been doing this for millions of years”, I became enamored of the idea very quickly. Then I became obsessed. My husband did not approve of me bringing tens of thousands of deadly killers into our yard under the premise that they might sting our young sons and dogs, but I think it’s really because he is afraid. Anyway, somewhere along the way my friend Sarah mentioned that she was also interested in beekeeping I jumped on it and we decided to set up ten thousand deadly killers in her yard instead.

Sarah took the introductory beekeeping course and we sent nervous e-mails off to buy bees. Apparently beekeeping had become quite a craze here and our fearless cooperative had a hard time keeping up. We found ourselves picking up random materials at weird times, assembling things that didn’t really make sense, and hoping against all odds that the bees would like their new home.

These are the frames that the bees make honeycomb. The most important thing about this photo is that I got to use a nail gun.

And so on Mother’s Day I found myself standing in a field with about fifty more trepidatious souls watching a lady confidently shaking bees off of frames and gently flicking them off her arm, and thinking “what the fuck am I doing here? This is the stupidest thing I have ever done.” I was handed a box full of bees for the back of my van (extra duct tape please!), and sent on my merry way over to Sarah’s house to put the bees in their new home.

The lady pointed out that the box was “well sealed by friction” and asked if I would like some extra duct tape. Yes, I would like some duct tape please before I lock myself in a van with those fuckers.

I’ll admit, I was expecting to be stung a thousand times over that day and to hate bees forever, but it turned out that there was nothing to be afraid of at all. We put the bees in their new box, shut the lid and watched them for a few hours without incident.

Beekeeper gothic

Look at all those mofos!

Happy bees exploring their new digs

The first two months were a roaring success. The bees stayed in their home and built up comb and we occasionally took the lid off, took some pictures, patted ourselves on the back at our incredible beekeeping skills and toasted the hive. We were clearly naturals at this. It was shaping up to be a glorious summer.

What goes better together than kids and bees?

Ominously, days before I left on vacation a beekeeper was on CBC radio talking about how novice beekeepers often make mistakes and only find out after there is a swarm. What? Mistakes? No way. I left on vacation during a heatwave; it was 35 celcius or so (95 F = em-effing hot when you don’t have air conditioning). Sarah updated me that the bees had started bearding, as in, they were climbing all over the opening of the hive, not that she had taken to wearing a beard of bees (I had to clarify). Sarah assured me she was freaking out enough for the both of us, but concluded that it was just because they were hot and needed to air their little bee selves out. I resumed drinking beer in relief and promptly forgot about it.

The next update was not quite as calm. When I arrived in PEI, I had texts, Facebook messages, phone messages that the bees had fled! They were swarming! It’s the motherfucking beepocalypse in the yard!

Indeed, the bees had fled

Predictably, the bee cooperative was busy dealing with dozens of other swarming incidents, so Sarah and her husband bravely set out to earn their beekeeping badges. They essentially needed to get the queen back in the box and the rest of the bees would follow. So they put a tarp down, shook the branch and hoped like hell the queen fell into the tarp and dumped the box back on top of the writhing mass of bees. Amazingly, it worked and no one really got hurt.

Then they got ambitious. They had to kill some of the queen eggs off so that there would be no new queen = bee war = factions = second swarm. Or something. I didn’t actually take the course. This was at about 11 pm, and the internet warned that bees are not real fussy about nighttime visitors. Let’s just say that this was confirmed. About three times over. In the face.

But Sarah was not deterred. She knew the bees needed more ventilation in the box if they were going to survive the heat wave. So she bravely dove in to MacGyver a new entrance for them. It…. didn’t end well. A bee got in her hat and she understandably panicked after witnessing her husband get stung IN THE FACE Y’ALL. The bees, already pretty pissed at being hot, shaken out of a tree, and thrown in a box multiple times, at night, chased Sarah down and tried to murder her. She got stung TEN TIMES. And half an hour later, SHE WENT OUT AND REASSEMBLED THE HIVE. She is my goddamn hero, people, because I would have burned that thing to the ground with an improvised hairspray torch while laughing maniacally and drinking mead made from their honey.

You are very lucky I was on vacation, my little friend

So thanks to the quick thinking and extraordinary measures of Sarah and her husband Dave, we’re still beekeepers but perhaps a bit more cautious now. And this has a lovely ending, because Sarah pointed out that it was a marriage building exercise. In her words:

“(A)s Dave and I were cooperating to funnel a pile of bees into the middle of a tarp, I thought “this is probably the only guy in the world for me.” Who can you handle thousands of angry bees with and still like in the morning? Very few people I reckon.”

Next up: winterizing the bees. I’ll keep you posted on whether there’s any survivors.

Do you tip your shaman?

As I mentioned, I went to a shaman a while ago, you know, as you do when you’re in the middle of an existential crisis. Plus it had been the subject of endless debate and derision among our Friday night drinking buddies what our power animals would be ever since my friend H. went and found out she was a sandhill crane. Speculation ranged from amoeba to bald eagle, depending on whether we liked each other or not that day.

I tend to approach life in a clinical, detached way, always an observer. My first degree was in social anthropology, and I can’t tell whether my outlook on life made me choose that or whether it chose me like one of those Hogwarts stick thingies. So when my friend J decided that she wanted a trip to the shaman for her birthday I immediately said “hells yeah, let’s call Manfred the shaman” and resolved that I would remain detached and observe. But in the meantime a bunch of shit happened and I decided that I wasn’t going to be all clinical and detached about anything. I was going to believe in the shaman. This was both exhilarating and terrifying; my spirit animal could be something totally kickass like a grizzly bear. But what if what if he told me I had no soul? Or a demon following me around? Or a terrible spirit animal like a vole? Basically I think it’s terrifying to have someone describe anything about your character; I mean, it’s hard for me to even read comments to my opinions on facebook. How was I going to face the animal spirits? They probably saw me litter, or how much road rage I get, or that I am secretly too lazy to read real newspapers. They know what an asshole I am in private. Like real life Santa.

Thankfully my friend J had the same concerns, so when I arrived at her house before the shaman we shared a jittery breakfast and hardly spoke to each other. We made nervous conversation about whether we were supposed to tip him, or whether we’d have to smoke anything. We just didn’t know what we were getting into.

When I got there I chickened out and changed tactics and decided to remain skeptical. However, it’s hard to maintain skepticism when shamanism sounds so practical. Seriously.. look it up, it makes a lot of sense if you remove all the power animal language. Also, it’s especially hard to maintain skepticism when a perfect stranger describes your best friend in the exact terms that you used during your last wine fueled “you’re the best, I love you” session. We have often described our friend J as the most “live and let live” type of person that ever existed. It’s basically the only way she could possibly cope with us and we’re eternally grateful that she does, so we praise her for it often. Turns out, J is a horse and apparently that is a distinctly horse trait. Among many other things which describe J perfectly that I won’t get into because I think J might stomp her foot at me and run away from me forever if I post too much, which is another horse trait. While the shaman was detailing J’s awesome personality traits, I started to nervously laugh, which descended into hysterical panic at what he would describe the me as.

That hysterical panic is indicative of river otter energy, and turns out I was right to be afraid. While I was initially pleased that I wasn’t a vole, this soon turned to dismay. I am paraphrasing, but the shaman said that the river otter is an animal different from all other animals. Our job is to provide levity to the universe. However, most animals don’t “get” us and our river otter energy is often compromised by fed up parents who don’t know how to handle us, and are frankly probably too tired to try. We’re insatiably curious and we don’t like rules. The shaman described his river otter granddaughter as someone who always finished assignments quickly and perfectly and then spent all of her spare energy goofing around and driving her sandhill crane sister into madness with her complete disrespect for authority. She quits things when they stop being fun anymore. He said this all with an undertone of annoyance and then quickly added that his own bison spirit could be enticed to play sometimes when he was in the mood, but I am pretty sure he just said it because I was on the verge of tears. The shaman called me annoying. I am pretty sure that is not copacetic. On the plus side, it now makes sense about the time my swimming instructor called me a “natural floater”. I am a river otter, asshole, not fat.

I refuse to believe I am the only one in the shaman’s 26 year practice to take photos, but apparently it’s true. Must be the weird river otter in me. This is him extracting energy from J. It took him like half an hour to clear all the anger out of me.

So anyway… I am a misunderstood river otter. Now what? I’ll tell you what; I have ordered every piece of river otter art I can find on Etsy, that’s what. What else are you going to do with the knowledge of your spirit animal?

Also: my friend I. gave me some assurance that at least I wasn’t a sea otter, because sea otters are notorious rapists. So there’s that.