My favourite month of the year is October because the weather cools, because pumpkin spice everything, because Halloween, because wine, wigs and pretending you are a supermodel in a George Michael music video just feels especially right on a Friday night:
Autumn is my favourite season of the year. It brings back wonderful memories of my childhood, especially of playing through the harvest fields with my dad and first dog. It also signals the arrival of one of my favourite flavours: pumpkin. I don't care how basic this makes me seem, I freakin' love pumpkin spice-flavoured things!!! As I've been trying to attempt one new recipe per week, I decided that this would be the one where I dive into it.
TwoPeasandtheirPod is one of my favourite websites for learning new recipes. Their resource index is vast and contains meals and treats that are sweet and savoury, healthy and indulgent, all using fresh ingredients that are easily* found in most grocery stores. One of the things they are most well-known for are the variety of cookie recipes offered, which is where I found the base for these pumpkin cinnamon cookies that I slightly modified for my tastes. They are absolute DELICIOUS and make one's home smell heavenly. I added raisins for flavour and texture, subtracted the cinnamon sugar topping, and substituted vanilla extract for an actual vanilla bean. This is the first time I got to bake with a vanilla bean, thanks to a lovely colleague who shared them with me.
For the original TwoPeasandtheirPod recipe, click here or check my slightly modified version below.
*Cinnamon chips are not easy to find in Canada (and Bulk Barn, where I purchased mine, has just discontinued them). However, I feel these could be eliminated from the recipe and flavour would not be sacrificed. In the future, I would probably add butterscotch chips instead.
• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use Daybreak Mills which is organic and locally made in my province of Saskatchewan).
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 2 tsps ground cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
• 1/2 tsp ground ginger
• 1/4 tsp ground cloves
• 3/4 cup unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 3/4 cup pure pumpkin
• 1 large egg
• 1 vanilla bean
• 1 cup cinnamon chips
• 1 cup thompson raisins
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.
3. In a large-sized bowl, whisk softened butter with brown and granulated sugars. Add the pumpkin, egg and vanilla bean seeds and then whisk more until it develops a creamy texture.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until well combined. Add cinnamon chips and raisins and fold until blended.
5. Scoop approximately 12 balls onto baking sheets. Lightly press with spatula or hand. Bake for 12 minutes. Repeat until all dough is used (should make approximately thirty cookies).
Culture Days is an annual celebration of Canadian culture that allows citizens to engage and interact with artists, cultural organizations and municipalities from coast-to-coast. This nation has such a rich history and tapestry of backgrounds; with its diversity and inclusive nature, I am proud to call Canada home.
This year I visited Batoche National Historic site in Saskatchewan to learn about metis history, the leadership and legend of Gabriel Dumont and Louis Riel, and enjoy the beautiful autumnal colours lining the South Saskatchewan River.
I would once again like to shine a spotlight on some talented/thoughtful/vulnerable/strong female artists, illustrators and cartoonists that I've discovered on Instagram. Every day as I scroll through my feed, their art provides a connection to something bigger; their work a link to the shared experiences that 21st century women often don't discuss for fear of apathy, judgement or embarrassment (including taboo topics such as anxiety, depression and dealing with fuckboys). Worth a follow. Worth a like.
I was recently given a ride in a colleague's car and, upon entrance, let out a gasp of delight. Her ceiling was covered in buttons that spanned decades of culture (both pop and otherwise). My favourites were those promoting the legendary (but now defunct) Canadian department store Eaton's and one of Pope John Paul II that appeared to be blessing me from above. It got me thinking of the things people collect. Items that can form a physical manifestation of time and provide curios insight into one's life and true personality.
In my last post I wrote about collecting books published in the 1980s that were basically the literary "gateway drug" for those yet to discover Tolkien. These books not only provide nostalgic comfort for me today but have shaped my development from someone who happened to demonstrate artistic talent in high school to a professional that has been awarded, exhibited and published internationally. I value the magic they have enhanced my life with and I hope whomever inherits them from me in the future is put under the same spell.
Although most might not understand it.
For that is another aspect of things people collect: one person's treasure could well be another person's trash. I have paid the equivalent of a few mortgage payments on acquiring the original series of those books (including hard-to-find editions that were well-worn, weathered and in worse condition than newspaper lining the bottom of a bird cage). To most it is a foolhardy venture. But what value does one place on memories? What price does one place on that link to a beloved past life?
My late father's last collection, on the other hand, didn't really cost anything. In addition to hockey memorabilia collected in his youth and international currency collected when we'd travel, my father also had a prized hoard of keychains that he found while working as a driver for Adesa Auctions during retirement. Some were provided by dealerships that offered them as tokens of appreciation but most were found in vehicles that had been seized. I recall visiting my parents and having my dad excitedly share his latest bounty with me, which he'd sort and file according to make, model and perceived "rarity". At the time, I secretly questioned his sanity. But now I appreciate it all. My father was an amazing athlete, world traveller and loved cars. His collections are a tangible thread to his existence.
As my colleague's buttons show me that she is the fun, unconventional person that I believed her to be throughout our office interaction.
As my books – where storylines involved discovering new worlds and slaying giants – remind me that my adventurous spirit was always part of my DNA.
And as my dad's keychains tell me that the little things in life gave him the most happiness.
So many holidays spent camping up in the Rockies. Western Canada feels like home to me. The mountains feel like an al fresco cathedral that offers salvation. Because I had visited so often in my youth, there was a time I stopped looking. I stopped appreciating their natural wonder. I was moody and pensive, instead turning inward to explore the world of the woman I would become. Books helped form that person. I recall the literature of the time; it wasn't of Austen or Yeats. Oh no. I still haven't delved into that, to be honest. The books of my youth were pure fantasy. Tolkien played a part, but so did some role-playing gamebook authors that heavily influenced the "choose your own adventure" of my life.
I would bring these books on the trips out west and read them at night, in my top bunk of the trailer under the stars, and imagine myself being the hero ... and occasionally the villain. Life is never black and white, after all. Those shades of grey run through us all. The words were engrossing but the illustrations really engaged my active imagination. Heavily detailed pen and ink, as realistic as could be for drawings of worlds that only exist in the id.
When I was a kid, I loved to draw. It started rudimentary, of course, but later evolved to mimicking what I saw in these exact books. My teachers didn't even scold me for sketching rather than paying attention in class; in fact, they actively encouraged me to pursue a career in the arts after seeing the creations I would share in the margins of my homework. I recall one particular illustration I made of a scene from Romeo and Juliet that a teacher from an adjacent French-immersien school requested to keep and frame for her office. I was so proud. They even counselled me to get into advertising, rather than fine arts, as it would bring money. But now that I have money, I want that name. I want that credibility. I want that impact of influencing a young girl – just like I once was – to picture herself as the hero of her life.
I reflect on this because of my recent excursion to the Rockies, where I didn't read under the stars but I did take time to stop, look and appreciate not only what was before me in all its natural wonder, but also what lay behind me. It is interesting to me how random connections in life can lead us to where we are today. That some "nerdy" gamebooks like this could have ignited a spark that would light my future.
I'm an adult now and while my originals of all these books have been long lost, eBay (and much of my paycheques) has reunited me with a lot of them. They bring me back to my youth. They bring me back to the mountains. To being that warrior in my mind. To becoming that warrior in real life that I always imagined I'd become.
I had a very different journal entry planned but unforeseen circumstances call for a change in subject matter and tone. I was going to write about my recent trip to the Rockies. It was somewhat of an impromptu excursion, planned just a week prior to the September long weekend, and only confirmed after searching high and low for an available, somewhat "affordable" hotel room in the tourist enclave of Banff. A place I had stayed many years previous had two options available: a family room with multiple bunk beds or the honeymoon suite. The cost was triple what I'd normally pay but we settled on the latter as it included an ensuite jacuzzi which was invaluable after long days spent hiking at high altitude. My partner and I are not married but we know to never deny the small luxuries in life.
I was going to write about the nostalgic joy wash over me as I first observed the mountain vista awaiting just outside of Calgary. I hold so many dear memories of spending time here with my beloved dad. Nearly every year growing up, we camped on Tunnel Mountain in our trailer (tiny by today's standards of mega motorhomes). The best part of these holidays was spending time in the great outdoors breathing in the fresh air lightly scented with pine and observing wildlife in their natural, unspoilt habitat. This has, from an early age, fed an immense appreciation and respect for nature. On this trip, we encountered a herd of big horn sheep cross the highway near us but in the past I've seen elk, moose, fox, coyote, black bear and my favourite sighting of all, a grizzly meandering along a railway in search for food. It is something I will never forget. The mountains always give me memories of a lifetime.
I was also going to write about how crowded Banff National Park was. Moreso than I've ever experienced before. This was problematic when our plans for the weekend were continuously disrupted. We were denied entry into several hiking trails as they were all at full capacity. Instead, we kept driving and driving (and driving) until finally reaching Columbia Icefield, the lot of which was also full but I decided to park my vehicle on the side of a gravel road and walk the distance rather than drudge on aimlessly. All of this traffic did make for some harried moments behind the wheel and I needed a break. Some people just can't appreciate the scenery (or speed limits).
If there were two things my partner learned about me during this trip they were:
1) I must literally pet ALL the dogs; and,
2) I swear a lot behind the wheel.
He expressed surprised at this sullied habit but I explained to him it wasn't road rage or anything like that. No. My potty-mouth is a result of frustration at the stupid, irresponsible risks people take while driving putting everyone on the road at potential harm. We would learn this lesson first-hand a mere two days later.
After having a light lunch and posing for selfies with the World's Largest Dinosaur, we left Drumheller and headed home on HWY 9, a single lane highway spanning the well-travelled distance from Calgary to Saskatoon. I had been swearing a lot on this leg of the journey. People were driving like absolute fools, their holiday weekend over and in a rush to return home. Just prior to reaching the provincial border, we stopped for a brief rest to stretch our legs and laugh about how I had just discovered a feature on my car that I have now owned for a year. As we prepared to depart the area, I approached the exit at the same time as someone pulling out of a fuel station across the street. We looked at each other for about three seconds until the driver waived me to go forward. I politely nodded back and continued en route.
These observations of seemingly prosaic interaction and time would have normally gone unrecorded. But after the oncoming events of the following five minutes, will forever be seared into my memory.
I drove along the highway, in front of me – about 300 yards – was a semi truck. In an instant, it felt less than a second, I observed its brake lights go on and then an explosion of red before me. A vehicle flew into the air, automotive parts sprayed in every direction. I immediately started to shake and pulled my own car over to the gravel shoulder. Thankfully there was no one behind me and I had allotted time to put my hazard lights on. My partner, at first, didn't comprehend why I was crying and wailing "oh my God!" over and over again. He wasn't looking forward, but had been daydreaming while staring at the countryside outside the passenger window. He just witnessed the aftermath of the semi drive into a farmer's field and tried reassuring me that it was alright. That perhaps the driver had a medical emergency forcing him off the road. In between moments of shock, I told him a car had hit the semi head-on. He handed me my phone and told me to phone 9-1-1. Once I was off the call, he calmly and courageously left to offer any assistance he could provide to those injured. I remained in my vehicle unable to process what I had seen. Admittedly, I still can't. Everything feels surreal.
A number of people stopped, also offering aid to those in the smashed car now sitting sideways in the ditch. A few even approached me, inquiring if I needed help. When he returned, my partner told me that there was a third vehicle overturned in the ditch that we had not previously seen. This may have been the car that the other one was trying to overtake. A family was safely able to get out of it. The semi driver was uninjured. The driver of the first vehicle would be killed in the crash.
I am having a very difficult time processing this. The amount of time this series of events took to occur is shocking in its brevity. One bad – very, very bad – decision has resulted in a senseless death and the lives of others forever impacted in the aftermath. I even still replay the short interaction I had with the individual while exiting the rest stop – if they hadn't have been there, if I didn't have that three second pause of waiting to see who would pull out first, I would have been much closer to the rear of the semi, possibly being involved directly in the collision. My life possibly changing in ways I had not previously envisioned while just traveling for a fun weekend getaway.
And for my partner, who was swift and selfless in terms of attempting to help, I have the utmost admiration, respect and love. I know his life will forever be changed as well by what he witnessed but I know he has the strength and heart to get through it.
I feel like every Canadian has albums full of photos showcasing the passage of time while on summer vacation in the Rockies: