Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy Anniversary, CBS!

I donated blood today. As some of my long-time readers know, donating blood is the first pillar of the Church of Catherine ["If you are able to give blood (physically and emotionally), you must do so as often as you can, to the best of your ability."]

If you're thinking about donating, but are nervous for whatever reason, I'm going to describe the process for you in hopes of demystifying it.

Some history: It's been ten years that the Canadian Blood Services opened its doors to the donating public. It was created after the Red Cross tainted blood disaster of the 1990s.

When you go to donate blood, they first prick your finger to do a simple test to see if your hemoglobin count is high enough. (That means you've got enough iron floating around in your red blood cells.) If your hemoglobin is low, you could get faint after donating, so it's for your own good to check.

If your hemoglobin is low, it doesn't necessarily mean you're not healthy, but a nurse will talk to you about your diet and give you some tips to boost your iron intake. You also have to wait another 56 days to donate.

A donation can be made every 56 days because that's how long it takes for the body to regenerate all the goodness you donate. A donation is about 500 ml, or 2 cups of blood. The average-sized person has about 5 litres of blood, so it's a drop in the chum bucket.

If your hemoglobin is good, you'll be given a questionnaire to fill out in confidence. It'll ask you about any drugs you're on, your travel history, if you've had a cold or come in contact with anyone else's blood, and some family-related questions. There's even a question concerning your history of working with monkeys.

Once you're done with that, you go into a private room with a nurse, who will take your temperature, your blood pressure (squeezy squeezy!), and check that you don't have lesions on your arms. He or she will review your answers from the questionnaire, and then ask you some more questions that have to be done in person. It's all very medical and confidential, and it's important to be honest. They'll be questions about sexual history, and any history of drug use.

After that's done, the nurse will give you two stickers with bar codes on them. After he or she leaves you alone, you choose between the one that stands for "Yes, use my blood," or "No, do not use my blood." This is for those who feel socially pressured to donate or didn't feel comfortable telling the nurse the truth, but know that something about their health or history would exclude them from donating, according to the rules.

The blood is scanned anyway, for tons of viruses and diseases. If something turns up, a health official contacts you and the blood is destroyed.

If all is good to this point, you get to go donate! The first time is pretty nerve-wracking. but tell the nurse it's your first time and they'll tell you what's going to happen. Or I can!

(I keep writing nurse, but they're usually phlebologists, or blood and vein specialists.)

You sit in a reclining chair and tell the nurse which arm you'd like to donate out of. Usually, this is your non-dominant hand's arm, but I've found that my dominant hand's arm has better flow. This is something that you can learn as you go.

The nurse will locate the vein, then clean your arm with alcohol, and then with iodine. When that dries, he or she will tap you!

Yes, this hurts a bit. Sometimes it hurts more than others. I just try to think that it hurts a hell of a lot less than having third-degree burns, or having chemo, or the fear involved with major surgery. That thought usually humbles me enough to stop whining.

I never watch the whole proceeding. I think it might make my stomach turn, so I don't. Some people like to watch every move the nurse makes. The needle is pretty big - 17 or 18 gauge, which is a little bigger than when you have blood drawn for tests, but that's just because they're drawing more blood and want to get it over quicker. Now, I say this needle is pretty big, but it's not a cartoonishly-large Jerry Lewis-style needle. It's normal, honest.

Once the nurse finds your vein, the blood should begin to flow. First, there's a little sac that they use for the testing, and then when that's full, they open the flow into the big bag, which rests on the floor (holla gravity!) in a handy gadget that rocks the bag back and forth. It looks like a little blood bag cradle. The blood bag has an agent in it that prevents the blood from clotting.

The nurse will probably give you a ball to squeeze. Squeezing with your fingers into the heel of your thumb helps move the muscles that allow the blood to move faster. You shouldn't reposition your arm, so sometimes it gets achy. Squeezing the ball helps it to not get too achy.

It usually takes between 5-10 minutes for a donation.

Afterwards, the nurse will have you put pressure on the site, and then put on a bandage. Then, you'll go get your juice and cookies! The volunteers vary in enthusiasm. Some are chatty and helpful, and some are surly enough to make you think the time is court-ordered. I once had two Mormon missionaries as my volunteers! Basically, they're there to make sure you get a little sugar and fluid in you before you go, and you don't feel faint.

Envirogeek's heads-up: they usually give out something to drink in styrofoam cups, so if you think of it ahead of time, pack a mug or some other re-usable cup.

If you can give, and need a donating buddy, I'll go with you. I'll donate with you! I'll just sit next to you and distract you, if you're still freaked out.

A touch of controversy: CBS denies the ability to donate to those who have had sex with a gay man, ostensibly, but not in so many words, banning gays from donating. Since there are so many scans run on the blood, including those of HIV and AIDS, I would think that would cover any concerns. While I don't totally understand the outright ban, I think it would be rash to withhold my donation while I do fit into the range of donors CBS looks for. It would be punishing recipients instead of CBS.

Blood donation etiquette tip: never pressure someone to donate or make them feel bad if they don't. The reasons they don't donate could be very personal or painful. You might notice the careful wording of my the first pillar of the Church of Catherine. Don't ask someone why they don't donate. It's kinda like asking someone why they don't have any children: way too personal and maybe none of your business.

Do you know what your blood type is? I have B positive blood, like only about 9% of Canadians. It means other Bs and also ABs can take my donation. Check here on the CBS website to see what the stats on your type are.

Canadian Blood Services needs 85,000 new donors each year to keep up with demand. Your hour of time and 2 cups of blood can save a life. It can save several lives, actually, since preemie babies only need blood by the spoonful to keep healthy.

Think seriously about this.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Two Hours Traffic.

Isn't it funny that in today's Canadian Indie scene, a four-piece rock-pop band seems positively spartan? Where's the thirteenth member? Where's the banjo/euphonium/theremin/cello?

That's one of the refreshing things about Charlottetown's Two Hours Traffic. The density of quality is bound up in four dudes with four instruments (five instruments, if you count a little synth thing, which I guess I do). That's a lot of quality per head.

The funny thing about the night at Lee's Palace, a dingy but dripping-with-cred venue in The Annex, was the insanely high chance of running into someone from Prince Edward Island. It guess it's like when Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers plays in Alberta: all the Newfoundlanders come out of the word-work. Well, this night was like a UPEI alumni reunion. I literally bumped into a guy that was on the UPEI Student Union with me.

I've been to the Palace before, to see Rock Plaza Central and Snow Patrol, but this time I got to see the backstage area. Whoo.

I was lucky enough to get in free because my classmate Mel from last summer had me put on "the list." Then, when I called to ask if she was already in, she said they were backstage with the band and then told me to walk right back in. I was expecting to be tackled at the knees, but it was surprisingly easy to get backstage at Lee's Palace. I just walked in as if I was meant to be there. It was not a gilded room, either, but more a nether-chamber with narsty chouches, stacking chairs, and decades of off-colour grafitti. The band was sitting and chilling.

I chatted with Mel, who I hadn't seen in a long time, and heard about her new job as a designer for a great green building company. I met her man, Trevor, for the first time. They have a B&B and often host indie bands for jam weekends et al. (That's how they know THT.) The drummer asked me where I was from after Mel introduced me as a P.E.Islander, and, like a dick, I didn't ask him what his hometown was. I think I felt out of place and I was afraid I was encroaching on their prep time for the show.

I mostly recognised their music from the R3-30, the CBC Radio podcast that I love. They were great live, and the bass player, especially, was musically impressing me. The speakers were way too loud for my liking, so I couldn't hear everything as well as I'd liked to have done. I knew "Backseat Sweetheart," "Stuck For the Summer," "Jezebel," Heroes of the Sidewalk," and "Better Sorry Than Safe." To bolster my THT knowledge, I bought their latest critically-acclaimed album, Little Jabs.

Tonight, this home-grown band is on the shortlist to win the three-year-old Polaris Prize. The Polaris Prize is awarded to Canadian Indie bands based not on record sales or radio hits, but instead juried by people who have no monetary connection to the music industry. (I see Doug Gallant, Charlottetown music savant, was on the jury. Cool.)

The prize is $20,000, which could help keep any Indie band touring, since the "Progressive" Conservatives cancelled the fund that helps bands like Two Hours Traffic pick up the tabs for travelling, like $41.50 to use the Confederation Bridge.

Also, you'll notice there's a new linque du jour. Alison Fleming worked at the high school with me last year. Her paintings are vivid and urban. She's especially drawn to streetscapes and lonely storefronts. If you're thinking of investing in some unique and fetching art, consider getting in touch with her.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Now You Can All Dine Like Damn Hell Ass Kings.

I want to share with you all one of my favourite meals.

It is called... wait for it...

Rice, Bean & Corn

Oh, Rice, Bean & Corn, I love you.

This is the tastiest, easiest, and cheapest meal you will ever prepare.

Here you go:

Prepare 1 cup of instant rice
mix in one can of rinced black beans,
one can of drained corn niblets,
and one package of taco seasoning (regular or salt reduced is fine)

Um. That's it.

You can get no-name rice. You can get no-name black beans. You SHOULD get good corn and taco mix, i.e. Green Giant and Old El Paso.


<$1.49 for the mix
c.$.70 for the beans
c.$1.50 for the corn
<$.50 for the rice.

For about 4 bucks, you can have 4-6 servings of deliciousness.

It is so delicious, in fact, that my housemate B once ate an entire batch of it after he came home drunk. How he didn't have an assplosion, I will never know.

You can wrap it in a tortilla with some cheddar. You can add some salsa or salsa con queso for kick. You can add a pack of browned ground round (soy meat) to stretch it. You can put more rice in to stretch it, too. I've never tried real meat in it, but it would probably be pretty tasty (RBC con carne). It would probably be great with some cilantro, too, but I've not yet tried that.

Chez nous, our favourite thing to do is to wrap it in a tortilla and brown it on the panini press. (If you have an old George Foreman, it'll do the trick, too.)

Monday, September 22, 2008


I say bravo for Canadian Tire for choosing to feature the noble ukulele in its most recent series of ads. Nice.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Job Hunt; The House Hunt.

My housemates and I were heartbroken this week after we saw the perfect house at the perfect price in the perfect neighbourhood, only to find out that a single family were chosen over us by the owners.

We are now, no joke, burning candles hoping something falls through with that family and they ask us to take the place. I don't know who/what those flames are exhorting, but it's worth a try.

My housemates and I are a little cheesed off at the poor financial planning of this usurping family. They shouldn't be signing up to rent a house! They should buy a house, pay the mortgage, and at least have some collateral. It's the family thing to do!

Renting is for sad singles, with the folly of disposable income.

Die Zweistens Jagd: Arbeit!

The job hunt is not great. I guess it is, but it's just slow-developing.

I know that this is a transitional time in my life, and I'm going to look back at it as very brief, but since I'm stuck in the middle of it right now, it's hard not to panic.

Should I apply for that job stocking shelves? Should I apply for that retail job?

Probably, but I'm not gonna.

I'm going to talk to Mel about her temp place and see what might come of that. Maybe they'll be happy to see someone with my weird and wonderful background.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What Developed At The Film Festival.

I like the Toronto International Film Festival. There's a buzz around town. Some of it are the delirious looky-loos who hunt opportunities to scream at famous people, but I like the communitas of being in a crowd; the feeling of being part of something bigger than one's self.

Also, I love seeing films, and this all springs from the fact that I love to be told a good story.

I even don't mind paying almost twice what I'd pay for a movie in a regular cinema. Of course, for the gala screening, when the director, screenwriter, actors, producers, etc., are there, it costs even more. Sometimes there are Q&As with the creative team.

This year, I saw three films. I saw Ghost Town, Fifty Dead Men Walking, and The Brothers Bloom. I'll discuss them in the order I saw them.

The showing for Ghost Town was a gala, and it was showing at the Elgin, which is the theatre where I saw Avenue Q about two weeks previous. It's cool to see a movie in a proper theatre.

The seating is not assigned at TIFF, so people line up for hours to get first pick of seats. I think this is slightly silly since they guarantee seats until a certain time (at which point they release the seats for rush ticketing), and there are so many good seats saved for industry mucky-mucks, it doesn't make much of a difference.

I went with my housemates to this first showing. It was a little late opening, because the "talent" were late arriving. That was the director and co-writer, the editor, Kristin Wiig, Greg Kinnear, and Ricky Gervais. The director gave a little speech to kick it all off, and then the movie started... with a Beatles song.

(This is a little side subject: it's weird for me to hear original Beatles music in ads and films again. Have the rights been relaxed? Didn't Michael Jackson own a lot of the rights?)

Ghost Town was delightful. It was a good, clean romantic comedy. Gervais impressed me. I know the trailer makes it look like he's just reprising his character from Extras, but he's not. His character is almost agoraphobic. He's anti-social to say the least, but is burdened with helping out a dead dude.

I just thought it was all over a solid, non-saccharine, atypical rom-com. (No zom.) It's out soon and I'd recommend seeing it. The main character was a hero for reasons we don't usually see in a rom-com.

Then, Marianne and I went to the gala of Fifty Dead Men Walking. I can't find a trailer for this one.

This was kinda controversial movie because it is based on a book co-written by an exiled IRA member from the '80s, Martin McGartland, and he wasn't giving his blessing because he said the screen adaption took too many liberties with the truth.

I thought the movie was very good at capturing the fear and panic in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. The streets turned into war zones, and guerrilla tactics were used by neighbours and members of the IRA. Also, the country was occupied by the British Army, ostensibly to keep the peace.

The story was good, but I'm afraid I missed a lot of the dialogue for two reasons. One, although I consider myself to have a great ear for accents, I find it difficult to parse the brogue of Northern Ireland. Also, the dialogue was often overpowered by the score.

Perhaps, since this movie is not meant to be released for another month or so (and that's in the UK), they'll be able to re-edit the audio or do some post cleanup.

Overall, though, I liked Fifty Dead Men. It was moving and brutal. I spent a wakeful night thinking about what it would be like to live in a warzone in the western world. I think I'll wait to give a full-out go see this! to hear if they do any more editing. Keep your ears to the ground.

Oh, and on the gah-lah side of things, Jim Sturgess was there, and he's as flipping adorable in real life as he was in Across the Universe and 21. Good news: he shaved off that wretched mustache. To top that, though, Ben Kingsley was there. I was transfixed, thinking about Ghandi and how much I loved that film. The director was there, too, and I think she's Canadian. She's been going through a lot of BS just to get this film to the screen, with all the legal problems with the author.

Finally, I saw a noon showing of The Brothers Bloom on the Thursday the 11th. I think I saved the best for last.

This film, directed by the same guy who did one of the best films you never saw, Brick, is close of the heels of Wes Anderson for stylized fare. The wardrobe design was especially great. The set dressing was nowhere as OCD as Anderson's, but the characterisation was spot-on.

The story is a pair of brothers who were grifters from boyhood. Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) enjoys preparing overly intricate heists, and Bloom is his younger-brother accomplice (Adrien Brody). Bloom has tired of the lies and yearns to make a "real" story of his life. Stephen lures him back for "one more job" on a wealthy heiress, Penelope (Rachel Weisz). As a mark, she's a little tricky and over-enthusiastic.

Sometimes, the convolutions of Stephen's heist narrative got confused with what was happening in the "un-scripted" storyline and I got a little muddled, but I think when (note: not if) I see it again, it'll be cleared up.

After watching The Brothers Bloom I think I'm going to add Adrien Brody to my Husband List. Yes, this is despite him showing up to the TIFF looking like the Unabomber.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Lull In The Lull.

Monday mornings are the worst time to be job hunting on-line. Everyone's just started their work week and they haven't gotten around to posting ads yet. It's best to look at the end of the day, but I like looking first thing; it makes me feel more productive.

Maybe I should start having an offset weekend, where I don't bother looking on Sundays and Mondays, so then all of the previous days' postings will be up.

Ah, who are we kidding. I feel like I'm already on some sort of extended weekend.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Earth's Bounty, or, Lazy Fare.

Summer is the time for we Canadians to stuff our faces with all the fresh produce that isn't available to us for the other 9 months of the year. That's a lot of eating of a lot of fresh yum to cram into a quarter of the year, but we manage, we martyrs. (Click on any pics in the post to get an enlargement.)

I was so thrilled on the East Coast to eat fresh fish, berries and mushrooms.

Here in Toronto, I put in a little garden in the spring. It cost me less than $20, with the soil, seeds and plants. I put cherry tomatoes, basil, green beans, and sweet peas in a tiny patch of soil (probably 2' by 5'). I staked the tomatoes, dutifully to my green bent, with twigs I found next door.

Then I went to Europe for a month. When I got back, I found a feral thatch of green with tiny, hard, marble-sized tomatoes and bean-looking weeds mixed in with my bean-looking beans. (Just the vines at that point; no blossoms or pods.)

Then I went to the East Coast for that month. I got an email from L which I will quote:

holy eff...i'm shatting myself. i just picked almost 2 dozen ripe tomatoes off the plants!!!! and there are probably the same amount more that are almost there but just a little too orange to pick yet and then like tons more that are green and will ripen soon. come home soon so we can eat
tomatoes all afternoon till we pee orange!!!!!

Isn't she a doll? The answer is yes.

Now that we're taking about a dozen cherry tomatoes off the plants every day, we are enjoying quotidian tomato and mozzarella salads (thanks to Anna and Nico in Toulouse for that idea).

My big goal for my "settling down" plan is to have a pad where I can put in a good garden, just like my grandmother had.

Grammy Sweet had a huge field out back of the Sweet farmhouse where the apple orchard stood. She grew squash, pumpkins and zucchini, peas and beans, gladiolas and lettuce, and radishes, parsnips and carrots. Her carrots were the best I've ever tasted. Those little roots were sucking up all the goodness of the Annapolis Valley's earth, and then she put those carrots on her woodstove and cooked them till they were little more than carrot-shaped puree. (That's still the way my father prefers his vegetables.) BUT: if you could be in the garden when she pulled the carrots, you would wipe them on your jeans and eat them al fresco.

I want to learn how to pickle and do preserves and blanch veggies for the winter. I want to have a root cellar. I want colourful mason jars on shelves.

My little urban garden this summer makes me think that this goal might be doable, but I know I can't leave it for two months to run wild. It'll take some tending. I also have to learn about tomato pruning and so on.

I also have to bring L with me. She's not afraid to dive Despatie-style into the thatch, where I'm afraid of creepy-crawlies.