Thursday, 31 October 2013

7-11: The Seattle Sixer

What’s a Sixer, you ask? Well, in my life, the term “Sixer” refers to a six-person trip involving, me, my boo, and our friends Brianna, Vern, Kevin and Jenna. Kevin, Sean and Brianna are all friends from high school, and I’ve just been lucky enough to inherit them (and their awesome partners) through marriage – thanks Sean!

Our trip to Seattle in June was the first of (what we hope will be) many Sixers. The trip was an amazing, food-and-beer-filled friendship extravaganza that spanned over an extra-long weekend. It was also a nearly year-belated 30th birthday trip for Sean and Brianna. The Sixer was also designed around some of the items on my 29 list, of course. 

7. Ride on a train

Ok, don’t laugh, but before June I had never actually been on a train other than a transit train. I needed to change that. So, instead of flying straight into Seattle for the Sixer, we flew to Vancouver, met up with Kevin and Jenna, and took the Amtrak down to Seattle. After that smooth (and ridiculously cheap) ride, I have no idea why anyone would bother driving between the two cities.

So much train-induced excitement!!!

Also, Kevin and Jenna were excellent train buddies! We sang some 90s pop, visited the snack car on many occasions, napped, and laughed. So great.

Train oatmeal: breakfast of champions!
8. See a professional sports game

While in Seattle, I double-checked off this 29 list item by going to a soccer game and an MLB game. While the MLB game was super fun (and I discovered the nectar of the gods that is Pyramid Breweries' apricot ale, which is special because I don’t like beer), I’m focusing on the soccer game.

The match was between the home-team Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps. This was by far the most fun pro-sports spectator experience of my life. The teams are rivals, the energy was palpable, we were festively tipsy (see item 9), we had great seats. I loved it.

But my favourite part of the whole game was probably seeing how excited Sean was during the game. Sean has played soccer his whole life (as is evidenced by his very awesome bum, if I do say so myself), and has always wanted to see a pro game. I’m not exaggerating when I say he was more excited than I was on Christmas morning ’89 when a Cabbage Patch Kid awaited me under the tree.

Somehow, the only picture I have of Sean at the game. Trust me, he was WAY more excited than he appears here!

9. Get day drunk

Ah, the daytime buzz. A perennial favourite. This happens so irregularly in my life that I thought it deserved a special spot on this list. During the Sixer, we managed to get day drunk via an epic 4-hour meander during which we wandered from our rented condo to Century Link Field, the venue for the soccer match.

This was an amazing crawl. We had no plan, and nothing but time. The first stop took us to – get this – a bar filled with all kinds of retro pinball machines. All kinds. There was a 1950s/60s surf pinball machine, a “get-in-a-bar-fight” pinball machine, and my favourite, a weird 1980s alien-attack pinball machine, "Revenge from Mars" with weird video graphics.

Another favourite was Von’s 1000 spirits. This was by far the classiest stop along the way. We had these life-changing asiago savoury beignets:

Oh, and the cocktails were great. If I recall correctly, this place was also a distillery. I had a house-vodka martini that came as a glass full of cotton candy, which was “melted” table-side (by pouring the vodka over top). And I can’t remember quite remember how it happened, but Jenna won the chance to spin some wheel for a free drink! The last stop on our daytime pubcrawl was also memorable. It was a really awful bar – the kind of place that had a clothesline covered in ostensibly donated bras, and played pop-country music. And it had a mechanical bull. A mechanical bull that Kevin rode. Yep - that happened.

Like a boss.

10. See the Pacific Ocean/11. Ride a Ferris Wheel

Of course, the Atlantic Ocean was on the 29-list, and so was the Pacific. I spent the whole weekend by the ocean, but the best view I got was from the Seattle Great Wheel on the last night of our trip. I have to admit, riding a Ferris Wheel was on my list, but I didn’t expect it to happen during the Sixer. I hadn’t realized that Seattle had a ferris wheel – it was definitely a new addition since the last time I had visited that fine city. Of course, that's part of the beauty of the Sixer - you never know what's going to happen! The six of us paid the unsurprisingly expensive fare and hopped on.

The sun sets over the pier
The lovely B demonstrates her excitement for the ferris wheel ride!
Waiting in line for our ride...

The view was worth the wait
I could post so many more pictures here that don't fall within "the list" - we made an epic brunch, ate so many great meals, shopped hard, went swimming, and Sean and I visited with our other friends Coleman and Andrea in Vancouver (which included a nighttime visit to the Vancouver Aquarium). I won't get into it all. However, this one shot can’t go unshared: our classy last-night-in-seattle convenience store “charcuterie” spread.

All class!
All in all, the Sixer was a great weekend spent with fantastic friends. The fact that I got to knock off a few items from the 29 list was really just a bonus.

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4-6: The East Coast - May 2013

Ok guys, in May we traveled to Halifax to see Sean's cousin Jennifer marry her main squeeze, Jim. It was absolutely fantastic. While I was on this epic journey, I knocked off a few items on the list! This post is brief because I've got a lot of catching up to do, but I'll happily fill in any details upon request!

The trip was so memorable for so many reasons. In addition to getting to spend a lot of really great time with Sean's family (who is really, really amazing and who I am so lucky to know), we saw a lot of sights I'd never before visited. 

4. See the Atlantic Ocean

This one is pretty simple (and goes with another forthcoming item on the list that corresponds to the other coast...). I saw (on multiple occasions). It was amazing! It makes me miss being so close to the water.

A beautifully wet, cold, windy day at Peggy's Cove

5. Visit my old law school

While we were on the east coast, I also made a point of visiting a few places that I knew well. We spent the majority of our trip in Halifax, but Sean and I decided to hit the road to Moncton for an over-nighter the day after the wedding. I spent three years in Moncton for law school, and I hadn't been back since I graduated in 2008.

Serious face, obviously
Even though the building was (unsurprisingly) locked up on the holiday Monday we visited, I managed to coax the one person I spotted through the windows to let me in. The classrooms, the law library – it made so many memories flood back.

Heading towards the library
The time I spent in the Maritimes was formative in many ways, connected me to my Acadian heritage, and allowed me to meet incredible friends who I love so much. But, for reasons that I really don't need to get into for the purposes of this post, it was also a bizarre (and in many ways, unhappy) time in my life too - a time that seems so disconnected from my current reality that it's hard to believe it happened. However, the good news is that going back only reinforced the positive, fond, awesome memories, and in fact served to diminish the negative ones.

6. Devour an oatcake (ok, several oatcakes) from McBuns Bakery

Oatcakes. They're all over the maritimes, but none are as good as the ones from McBuns in Moncton. NONE. And McBuns doesn’t just have plain oatcakes. No – they have chocolate dipped ones, chocolate dipped with peanut butter in the middle (oh hell yes), cinnamon raison. And, like a mother never has a favourite child, I don’t have a favourite flavour. I love all my oat babies equally.

Note the unlit "Open" sign!
I had been waiting for oatcakes for five years. Sean and I arrived in Moncton and went straight to McBuns – we didn’t even check into the hotel first. And it’s a good thing, because when we pulled into the parking lot, the “open” sign had just been turned off. And this was on a Sunday evening before a holiday Monday. Luckily, the door was still open, and I poked my head in and sheepishly asked if it was too late to pick up a few oatcakes. Madam Baker Lady gave me a thumbs up (literally), and I proceeded to buy every single oatcake on the shelf (if you think I'm exaggerating, you underestimate my love of oatcakes). The next stop was the corner store - an Irving gas station, naturally - for some milk. Then, we went back to our hotel room, and I dunked. Good lord did I dunk.

Heaven in snack form

My time-tested system of deconstructing, dunking, and devouring

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Friday, 24 May 2013


Pierogi, perogi, pierogy, pierogi, pyrohy, pirogi, pyrogie, pyrogy.  No matter how you spell it, those tasty little dumplings are heavenly.  I LOVE THEM.  Not as much as I love Sean, of course...but close.

My love of perogies is longstanding, notwithstanding that I have no genetic ties to Ukraine or Poland.  Well, that's not true...I had one great grandmother who was Polish, but she was the mother of my maternal grandfather, and no recipes have come down the family line.

But, of course, I live in Alberta, and pretty much everyone in this province except for me is Ukrainian.  And I (especially my taste buds) am thankful for that.  Actually, I never realized how delightfully pervasive (if the word "pervasive" can have a positive connotation) Ukrainian culture and food is in Alberta until my first grocery shopping trip when I moved to New Brunswick for law school.  I remember being utterly confused and upset that I couldn't find frozen perogies.  I ended up finally finding some at Atlantic Superstore.  They were sub-par, but I was desperate, so they got the job done while I was there.

When I moved back to Alberta, I was happy to come back to a wider variety of those little dumplings o' love, but the best perogies around don't come from any store.  They come from the kitchen of the house belonging to my mother's mother-in-law, Margaret (AKA my step-baba).

Now, my mama, sister-in-law, and I have been wanting to learn the family recipe for a long time, and this little list was a perfect excuse.  We were all so thrilled that Margaret agreed to spend the day with us to guide us through it all.

We settled on a basic potato/cheddar/onion filling (we didn't want to get ahead of ourselves, now), and so our day started with what I imagine every potato/cheddar/onion perogi-making day starts with: lots of potatoes.  In our case, russet potatoes.  Margaret has decades of trial and error under her belt, and she told us these were the best.

Russets: the best perogi taters!
We scrubbed & peeled...

... then chopped 'em up

And finally got them on the stove!
After the potatoes were cooked, we added an embarrassing amount of cheddar cheese and chopped onions pan fried in a generous amount of butter.

Margaret shows the onions some love

Hint for all you small-statured beauties: throw the bowl or pot in the sink to make it lower!
We set the filling aside to cool and got started on the dough.  Listen, filling is important, but in my view the key to an awesome perogi is the dough.  It needs to fry up nicely, be a little bit chewy, and it can't be too thick... and Margaret's is perfect.

The recipe is actually really basic: flour, water, egg, oil, and salt.  The trick, though, is getting the feel for the dough, and letting it sit for just the right amount of time.

The beginnings of the wondrous dough... 
The dough before its requisite 20 minute rest
Next was the assembly.  Margaret told us that perogi pinching is a personal thing, and everyone has their own style: a straight seam, little ridges, etc.  We were excited to see which way we pinched.  Not gonna lie, the first few tries were rough...we had some wonky-shaped l'il dudes, and were happy just to get the damn things to stay sealed.  But, after we got the hang of it, it was smooth sailing.

Gettin' in the groove

Andrea lovin' up the dough
Because we made so many perogies, we froze a whole bunch of them for later.  To make sure they didn't stick together, we stacked single layers on tea towels and put them in the deep freeze.  Once they were frozen (and no longer sticky), we transferred them to freezer bags.

Stacks of 'rogies!
Of course, I can't leave out the fact that we couldn't resist having some of the fruits of our labour for supper that night.  So, we walked to the grocery store, bought some sour cream, a Mundare sausage and some bacon, fried everything up, and devoured.

Gettin' ready for supper

I am so happy I learned this family recipe.  I can't wait to experiment with all kinds of fillings, and pass it on to my own kids one day.  

Also, the day itself was so great.  I love spending time with my family, and aside from the pictures here, the day was filled with all kinds of fun: my 9 year old nephew made $55 selling lemonade (seriously!), so he was in and out of the house making more batches, and my baby nephew was trrryyyying to crawl, but mostly sat happily in the kitchen playing with toys (when he wasn't sitting, he was passed around by all of us perogi-makers who needed our baby fixes!). 

This 29-list item was definitely a success!
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Ok, this is a slight misnomer.  Really, I helped in a surprise that was for someone I love a lot.  Her name is Shannon.  Here’s a blurry shot of the two of us a couple of years ago on a trip with her family for her dad's 75th:

(note to Shannon: we need some more pictures of just the two of us… it took some digging to find even this! We’re always so damn social and in photos with 8,000 other people!)

I have known Shannon for as long as I can remember… well actually, longer that I remember.  We’ve known each other since we were about a year and a half old.  Shannon is one of my best and closest friends in the whole world.  One of those really true friends where, even though there have been periods in our lives where we were less close, we always managed to find a way back to each other, and we pick up right where we left off.  We’ve had some incredible times together, we’ve had our fair share of fights (like the timeless “who knocked over the block tower” feud of ’87).  I would say that we’re probably closer now than we’ve ever been, and it’s awesome.

But anyways, the point of this isn’t to go over all the lovey friendship crap, it’s about the surprise, right?!  So let’s continue.

This is Erin:

Erin is also one of my very closest friends who I also love very much and who I’ve known for slightly less than Shanny (Erin and I met in kindergarten and solidified our friendship in Mme. Sutherland’s 3/4 split class in ’92).  Erin is Shannon’s best friend and is also key to this story.

But the most important person in the story is Derek:

Derek is Shannon’s boyfriend.  And Derek is amazing.  This blog entry is all about the fateful day (and all the planning that went into it!) that Derek went from being Shannon’s boyfriend to her fiancĂ©.

Several months ago, I got an excited phone call from Erin.  Derek wanted to propose to Shannon, but he wanted our help…. Because this was no ordinary proposal.  Derek wanted to plan a day-long scavenger hunt during which Erin and I would parade Shannon around making her solve clues and complete challenges.  The hunt would end at her parents’ house and culminate in a proposal (and then of course, a party)! 

Erin and I were probably talking faster and more excitedly than when we were 14 years old and gossiping about boys.  We were both so pumped to be involved.

What followed were weeks of secret meetings, emails, and phone calls.  Derek worked a lot of “overtime” which was actually spent at my condo, plotting with Sean and me about logistics.  He did an amazing job and planned out 10 stops, complete with a “challenge” for each stop and a clue for the next stop.

Here are some until now top secret pictures of Sean & Derek planning!

Erin (who lives three hours away) and I also spent a lot of time on the phone planning our part in the day: the diversion.  Our plan was to convince Shannon that the scavenger hunt was actually for her birthday, and to try to drop hints that the “surprise” at the end was a birthday party. 

The timing was slightly off; Shannon’s birthday was a month before the proposal, but Erin’s cover was perfect: she wasn’t able to come home for the weekend of Shannon’s & my birthday (Shannon and I are just two days apart), so she was planning something special for Shannon upon her next visit home.

The planning part was so fun, but it was also stressful! If Derek was over at our place and told us a funny story, I couldn’t bring it up the next time I saw or talked to Shannon.  When Shannon told me Erin was coming up for a visit, I had to make up some story about how I couldn’t hang out because my dad was in town (sorry Dad, for making you a pawn in the web of lies).

Finally the day came! Despite the fact that it was the middle of April, there was a snow storm and it was freezing.  Erin picked Shannon up promptly at 8:30, and handed Shannon the first clue.  This took her to her hair salon for a trim.  When they arrived at the salon, I was waiting, along with Derek’s lovely sister Alana.

At this point, we only added to the web of lies:  we told Shannon that in fact, Erin and I had planned a birthday scavenger hunt along with Derek.  Derek ended up getting called into work, and so he sent Alana as his proxy to capture the day in photos (which, I unfortunately don't have yet, so you're stuck with my crappy iPhone photos!).  We told her that since Derek had planned a lot of the clues, many of the clues were about them as a couple. 

In reality, Derek was one step ahead of us, setting up envelopes with clues and challenges all over the city with his helpers Sean & Leanne.  MUAHAHAHA…..

So there we were, at the salon.  Shannon’s first challenge was a series of trivia questions prepared by her sister, Tamara.  Like a champ, she got them all right (including correctly determining the combined age of all four of the children in her family, without a calculator, on the first try!).

After grabbing some delicious breakfast, we headed off to the next location: the mall to find Shannon an outfit for the “surprise” later.  The challenge here was simple in theory, but sometimes difficult for Shannon: let someone else pay for something!

After that, the clues started to become more and more about Shannon and Derek.  To quell suspicion, Erin and I had made some trivia questions of our own… a lot of them!!  Questions about elementary school, teachers, grade 5 camp, the cost of a BK chicken sandwich in the early 2000s, boys (of course).  It was awesome, and a perfect complement to the Shannon-inspired playlist I made (featuring the likes of Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony and Starship).

We stopped at Shannon & Derek’s favourite sushi restaurant and made Shannon drink a cup of sake (she hates it, but downed it like a champ).

Next we stopped at the place Shannon and Derek had their first date (and even sat at the same table they were at).  On their first date, Derek was so nervous that his hands were shaking and he was afraid to lift his beer for fear he’d spill it all over.  Shannon, in her charming (but slightly smart-assed) way asked Derek if he needed a straw.  So, at this stop, Shannon’s challenge was to drink her beer through a straw:

The next stop was a crowd favourite.  Shannon and Derek’s second date was to a hockey game.  We were able to get access to Rexall Place on a game day (thanks, Mom!!!), and on the seats where Shannon & Derek sat was Shannon’s Oilers jersey, along with her next clue.  By Shannon’s account, this was the only time during the day where she thought that she thought something was up.  But, after making Shannon list all 30 NHL teams, and touring around wherever we could go, we went on to the next clue.

A note about this clue: while it was really cool for us girls, it was even better for Derek, Leanne, and Sean.  When they dropped off the clue, the Oilers were practicing, so they got to go right up to the ice, look into the Oilers’ dressing room, and they even met Devan Dubnyk!

The next clue took us to a billiard club downtown (following an impromptu stop at the Old Spaghetti factory to eat cheesecake and watch Full House on my iPad.  Full House was our favourite show growing up).  There, waiting for us was the lovely Leanne, who had been placing clues with Sean & Derek earlier in the day.  

Shannon had to beat us at a game of pool. She did, eventually, but I’m pretty sure it’s because I sunk the 8 ball!  I’m sure she let us win, though – Shannon’s a pool shark!!

Another game Shannon loves is blackjack, and since we couldn’t take her to Vegas and back in a day, we had her go to a local casino, gave her $50, and made her stay until she lost it all or double it.  In true Shannon fashion, she doubled her cash in no time!  This stop was special, as we had Shannon’s parents and her sister, Tamara, waiting for her at the casino.  Much like Shannon’s skills at pool, you can likely give credit for Shannon’s gambling skillz to her dad, John.  He’s an incredible poker player.  And you can give credit for Shannon’s natural luck to her mom, Jeannie.  Growing up, it wasn’t unusual for Jeannie to win a trip or a car… you name it, she won it!

I don’t really have any pictures from inside the casino; we tried, but security shut that down preeeetty fast!

We celebrated Shannon’s blackjack win at the next stop, a huge wine store, where we had Shannon pick out the Malbec, a task easily (and deliciously) completed.

The next clue directed Shannon to go to the tastiest winery in town – Cheeky Monkey (i.e. her parents’ wine).  First, we stopped at her house to get dressed up for the unnamed forthcoming surprise.  We told her there were only “a couple of clues left”, but in reality we were off to the final clue!! 

On the way to John & Jeannie’s house, us girls in the back seat were practically vibrating!!  Erin, who was in the front seat with Shannon, was even chattier than usual, but somehow, Shannon did not catch on!

We pulled up to the house, and my heart was pounding.  We all tried to get into the house first, and have Shannon come in last.  It almost worked, and after I squeezed around Shannon, I scurried into the living room.

When Shannon came into the house, waiting for her was Derek, looking very handsome in his suit (if not a bit nervous!).  He handed Shannon her last challenge: a GIANT card covered with pictures of the two of them and this wonderful Dr. Seuss quote:

We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love.

The last challenge was hidden under a tab I the card, and it was simple: “say yes”.  (Damn… I’m tearing up just writing this!!).  When Shannon put the card down, Derek was waiting for her on one knee.  The question was asked and answered (she passed the challenge, of course!), and then through the closed doors to the family room, burst all of Shannon’s family and Derek’s family! 

Unfortunately, the only photo I have is a still frame from a video I took.  If I get my paws on Alana's photos, I'll edit this post and add some of the lovelier shots!

The rest of the day was spent laughing, going over the minutia of the scavenger hunt, and then celebrating at a local bar with a wider circle of friends (many of whom, while they had been invited to “a party for Shannon”, were also unaware that it was a proposal in disguise!).  Of course, some shenanigans (Shannon-igans?!) ensued.  It was fantastic.

The day actually ended early the next morning, with some well-deserved and incredibly delicious middle-of-the-night triple-batch of KD at Shannon and Derek’s house.

All in all, I couldn’t have imagined a better way to help surprise someone I love!  I know that this incredible couple will have a great engagement, a fantastic wedding, and above all else, an incredible marriage!

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