April 15th, 2013

Ikea Report: Lessons and Purchases

So if you’re friends with me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I spent last week counting down to a trip to Ikea. Due to logistical (it’s far away and awkward on transit, plus I hate driving) and practical (we don’t actually need that much stuff) reasons, I haven’t been in two years, but it’s come to a point that there were a lot of gaps in the household, and I was very excited to go fill them. Due to my incessant posting, a few people asked me to report on how it went. I have no way of knowing if they were being sarcastic or not, but here we go.

Lessons Learned

1. You can’t get stressed about everything.
I can’t recall how much I’ve complained about it here, but my job has been very stressful since oh, the end of November. Boo. It’s taken a toll on me, but the upside is I no longer have the energy to get stressed about things outside of work that would normally bother me . When the major north-south artery in the city was closed for maintenance, we planned to take the obvious alternative, and when the entrance to *that* was closed, we took Yonge Street, which is about as dumb as trying to drive 15km through parking lots. The waste of time, and the waste of my husband’s patience (we split down gender essentialist lines regarding Ikea [only–well, also musicals] and I was very worried he would lose interest in the whole venture before we’d purchased anything) would normally have agitated me greatly. But at least no one was snapping at me, or asking me to check every line break in the chapter for the 3rd time. So I just rode it out, rather peacefully (for me).

2. Without context, the difference between bad parenting and a bad day is very hard to see. Why not just assume the best of people?
Ikea is filled with children and the children, not being major stakeholders in couch-purchasing, are beserk. It was also a rainy Saturday and I thought perhaps a few families were there as a last resort. Other than a few free-range children in the cafeteria who threatened to send my tray into my chest, most of the kids there were content to bother each other or their folks, not strangers, and some were really cute. And really, if you’re easily irritated by cranky children misbehaving, you don’t really belong at Ikea.

3. Some Ikea stuff is not all that.
When I was younger, I was quite enamoured at how Ikea stuff all matched, and how I could afford it all. I thought people who were snobby about particle board and flimsiness or some aesthetic criteria I didn’t care about were, well, snobs. I still basically think that–Ikea is good enough for “all normal purposes” as they say, and if my Billy bookcase isn’t particularly nice, it isn’t particularly ugly, either. But for the first time, I did see some ugly things at Ikea this trip, though. I’m not sure whether their stuff is getting less nice, or this is just something that happens to women in their mid-thirties.

4. If something comes with sauce, and you ask for it without sauce, it won’t be good.
I learn this lesson over and over, and always forget. I got the cafeteria salmon without hollandaise because, in case you don’t know. hollandaise is basically stealthy mayonnaise, a substance I loathe (other things that are secretly mayonnaise include: aioli, tartar sauce, ranch dressing, Russian dressing, the pink stuff in spicy maki rolls, and certain brands of Caesar dressing. Mayonnaise is horribly insidious, and can sneak in anywhere.) Anyway, the salmon was super-dry, but the Daim cake made up for it, though it’s been renamed something super-literal like “almond buttercream biscuit cake.” I thought perhaps I would learn to make it, I love it so much, but no dice–if you go to the link above, you’ll see Daim cake is actually made out of Daims. Which is not a thing, as far as I know. So…no.

Items Purchased

Kay, enough boring lessons–here’s what we bought.

1) A purple lampshade for the Not lamp I purchased at a Montreal Ikea in the late 1990s, whose shade smashed when I knocked it over last week. The new shade is preventing the living room from being an uninhabitable blinding horrible place, but it looks weird on the base and is going to get replaced as soon as I gather strength. Small fail. $9.

2) A geometric patterned brown doormat. Looks perfect in front of the door, goes well with the hardwood, kitten adores it and rolls on her back on it, kicking her tiny feet (this was part of the plan). Big win. $40.

3) Fuzzy blue mat that goes in the middle of my office for no discernible reason except that I liked it and it was cheap. Cats not too interested, but looks reasonably nice in my office. Small win. $10.

4) Striped turquoise napkins. Because everyone needs napkins, right? Haven’t used them yet. $4.

5) Malm nightstand. In a somewhat sad metaphor, both my husband and I entered our marriage with only one nightstand each. His is from Ikea, a Hemnes in chestnut, a few years old. Mine was from my parents’ basement, so I figured I’d discard it and match up with him. Only Ikea has discontinued that chestnut colour in the Hemnes line, or maybe everywhere. It comes in grey, blue, red, and white–no actual natural-looking woods anymore. This was the point in the expedition when I had been there for a while and was getting tired and it seemed to matter a LOT that I couldn’t buy that matching nightstand. I wandered around in circles for a while, hunting, as if perhaps the chestnut nightstand was hiding. I was super-sad. Then I came to my senses, and got on with my life. I wound up with a birch Malm, which matches my bureau. Haven’t put it together yet, so who knows how this story ends. $69.

6) Laundry hamper on wheels, like all the cool university students in our building have. Again, not yet assembled, but I’m really hopeful about this one. $35.

When we got home, we collapsed on the couch and popped in a *30 Rock* DVD–surprise, it was the Ikea episode where Liz and Chris get into a fight there. We congratulated each other on our non-fightingness, and whiled away the evening in the gentle glow of our modest purchases.

February 12th, 2012

Buying Books–One Way to Support Authors

Occasionally folks say to me that they want to buy my book(s) to support me and ask what’s the best way to do that. It’s an interesting question–I never thought about it before I had a book of my own in the world. Of course, buying a book by *any* method is a lovely thing to do, but certainly not the only way to support an author. After the standard, “Of course you don’t *have* to buy my book, and if you are so kind as to want to, I’m not choosy as to method” disclaimer, here’s what I’ve come up with–I’ll be curious to know if other authors and book people have more/different thoughts.

Buy books directly from the author: Works for me! I mean, if I’m around, and I happen to have books on me, and you have cash–unlike a store, I can’t process plastic. Authors get books at a discount, so yes, we do make a little extra money on books we sell our own personal selves. But unless it’s a stated book-selling opportunity–like a reading–or you are actually in my house, this probably doesn’t actually work all that well as an exclusive book-buying policy–lots of won’t have books to sell unless you warn us in advance. But if you do–happy to help!

Buy books directly from the publisher: This is another good-but-occasionally-tricky idea. Not all publishers are set up for direct sales to individuals–check the website before you drop that cheque in the mail. But many are, and direct sales are great for them–the publisher gets to keep a larger percentage than from bookstore sales. There is no direct financial benefit to author from this sort of sale–we get the same royalty as normal–but most of us feel that’s what’s good for our publishers is good for us. And lots of eager customers clamouring to buy books from the publisher are a reminder of what a valuable little author they have in their hands. Some publishers will handle booksales at literary events in their general geographical area, but obviously this is limited by, well, geography.

Buy books from online retailers: Hey, you want to buy a book, I want you to do that–any way you feel comfortable with. But when I have options, online bookstores ones aren’t my favourites. Bookseller websites don’t handsell to other customers based on what they saw you buy; their algorithms just suggest further books that *you* might like. You can write reviews on these sites too, which is always a good way to support something you like. Each sale on certain sites makes your “ranking” on that site go up, but I think those rankings are only for author-ego purposes; I have never heard anyone say they bought a book because it was #10450 sales ranking on a given site. The financial aspects: publishers and in some cases writers (depends on the contract) take a smaller perecentage home from sales through the largest internet retailers than through other sales venues. Not that I want to dissaude anyone…just FYI.

Borrow it from the library: Another cocktail-party comment I get semi-occasionally is, “You must hate libraries–all those people reading your book for free.” Which is a crazy thing to say to someone who loves books and wants as many people to read them as possible, which is a description of many authors, and probably all of us who are playing the low-returns sweepstakes of literary writing. Libraries pay for the copies they buy, they talk up and promote books to readers, they host events, and they also support us through the Public Lending Right of Canada payments. Trust me, there aren’t many authors who don’t want you to use the library.

Buy books in bookstores, big or small: Books purchased from bookstores give authors a standard royalty, and sometimes publishers too, though some of the bigger stores charge extra fees for placement. However, bookstores sales can generate more bookstores sales in a way other sales can’t. If a book sells out in a given store quickly, they might make a larger order next time. With a larger pile of books, they might make it into a display or at least be more eye-catching on the shelf. The biggest thing, though, anyone in the book business will tell you, is handsales–booksellers talking about books with customers, make a real connection, and putting a book they think the customer will love into said customer’s hands.

Handselling happens more in small independent bookstores–where staff are likely to be true book people, or even just to be truly listening to what customers have to say. But I worked in a “big chain” store for a while, and I was always listening for customer opinions, if only because I couldn’t read every book myself. If a couple people bought the same book and said enthusiastic things about it, I definitely repeated that to other customers–and the guy who put in the orders.

I think reading a book–buying it, renting it, borrowing it–is always an act of support for an author, and I really don’t want to tell you how. But for those who insist they want to do something extra, walking into a store, asking for the book by name (even if you are pretty sure you know where to find it), and maybe even remarking to the salesperson how much you are looking forward to it–well, I think that’d be pretty amazing support.

I wonder what others think?

August 17th, 2011

Addenda

Addendum to Myths of the Full-Time Writer
Myth #5: If I’m free during the day, I’ll run all my errands during the quietest times in stores, banks, post offices, etc., and save tonnes of time. Nope. As it turns out, the stores and banks aren’t empty at 10am–they aren’t packed, but they are populated with another breed of people–people who are self-aware enough to know they are inefficient, annoying shoppers, and are trying to stay out of the way of the busy 9-to-5ers. These folks include people in wheelchairs and scooters (very hard to navigate in the narrow aisles of urban grocery stores, inevitably snagged on half-a-dozen things before they hit the dairy case); parents with small children (who are hard to navigate, period, and inevitably want to push their own strollers directly into the bread shelves and then stand in front of it, wailing); people who do not speak English but have a complicated transaction they need to request at the bank; shut-ins hoping for an in-depth conversation about current events with the bank teller; and people for whom simple tasks like remembering one’s PIN or selecting a yam are deeply unsettling and hard.

These people try to do us a favour by shopping at 10am, and I found that if I showed up at the grocery store also at 10am, I had to forbid myself from impatiently rolling my eyes at the lone parent completely outnumbered and overwhelmed by her children, who let them throw bananas on the floor because who could stop them. I didn’t cough aggressively at people who had *no idea* their credit cards had chips in them, and I never once glared (I don’t think) at someone who was simply standing in the middle of a crowded thoroughfare, blinking at the sky.

The daytime is for shoppers for whom efficiency is not the first priority, if indeed it’s even on the list of priorities. It’s wrong to bother those people when they try to avoid the crowded times, just like it would be wrong for them to show up at the post office at 5:30 and ask the pros and cons of bubble wrap vs. a padded envelope. You can run errands during the day if you want (I did, just to get out of the house), but it won’t save you much time.

Addendum to The Cohabitational Reading Challenge We both agree that *A Prayer for Owen Meany* falls off a bit in the second half, though I think, for a while at least, I was more dysphoric than Mark about the whole thing. I really love the high-school lit class discussions of *Tess of the D’Urbervilles* and *The Great Gatsby,* because I love a good close reading. But if you don’t, then those passages aren’t very well integrated and are too long–not good novel writing, even if good literary criticism. They exist mainly to unsubtly instruct the reader on how to read Irving’s own novel. Nick Carraway anyone? Ugh. I think Irving is a fine writer and deserving of respect, but no, not deserving of comparison with Fitzgerald. Yucky that he would suggest it, in my opinion.

In vaguely related news, I’ve ripped the cover partways off my copy, ensuring that Mark’s copy will be the one we keep. If you need a paperback of *Owen Meany* and don’t mind a ripped cover, I can get you one in about a week–for keepers!

April 8th, 2011

Rose-coloured reviews the North York Ikea on a Sunday Afternoon

Here at last, my post-move post:

So we moved on Thursday and Friday, and contrary to popular belief (mine) it was not a nightmare. Mainly due to awesome friends on day one, and awesome professional movers on the second, the move went off efficiently, quickly, and painlessly.

However, moves do drive home the horrors of capitalism, and the new apartment is completely engulfed with boxes of stuff, stuff of dubious necessity. Nevertheless, as every post-move euphoric does, we went out in search of more. More specifically, everyone goes to Ikea right after they move, and so did we.

I had wanted the cheap-o breakfast at the Ikea restaurant, but we were held hostage at home by the Bell guy until early afternoon (how sadly typical is that?) By the time we parked in the enormous upper deck of the North York Ikea parking lot, crossed the lot, took the elevator to the other lot, clammered along the sidewalk past the loading zone, and on into the store, we were ravenous and headed directly to the restaurant.

So, apparently, did everyone else in the universe. The place was huge, so not every table was taken, but it was a siege of people, a good 50% of them seeming to be little children going bananas. This was generally the theme of the afternoon–large familes, good-naturedly shepherding their absolutely ballistic offspring through a maze of ottomans and loveseats. I swear, I did not see very many people seriously considering the furniture; it appeared to simply be an excursion, like Disneyworld. I can’t say that I understand.

Except about the food: Ikea food is good, cheap, and plentiful, which I suppose makes it perfect for little ones. However, the long lines are less ideal. The fellow in front of us had adorable twin girls, about 3, who passed their ten minutes in line swinging from the cutlery dispenser, bapping each other on the head, shrieking for their mother (who was apparently elsewhere in the restaurant; wise woman), and yanking chocolate milks off the display. My favourite part was when the dad told one girl she was not allowed to have the milk, she simply let it fall to the floor.

The above sounds like I was super-irritated but I wasn’t; the dad was very sweetly doing his best to keep a handle on them (and he picked up the milk), and they weren’t really bad for 3-year-olds in a giangantic line. I was quite content to watch the show, and then scurry off to my own, quieter, table.

My dining companion and I had identical salmon dinners with a side crepe, and dalm cake for dessert, so I can only describe the one meal, but it was pretty amazing for cafeteria food. The salmon was a trifle firm and pink, and the stuffing, which could not be identified, was the same texture and flavour as the actual fish, but it was all very tasty. I had expected the sauce, bright yellow with bits of herbs in it, to be mustardy, but the dominant flavour was butter. Good, but very rich–I guess those Nordic peoples need to be well-insulated from the cold.

The vegetables were very fresh and crunchy, and nice bright colours, always a good sign. There were also these small white pucks of, I think, finely chopped cauliflower and brocolli, cemented together with vaguely cheesy mashed potatoes–again, tasty, not healthy.

We could not locate tea bags and the fountain pop was too syrupy even for me (shock!) but the dalm cake was amazing. I think it’s actually a torte, being gluten-free and built of layers of nut-crumbs, marzipan, and chocolate. Astounding.

Also, there was some furniture. Lots and lots of it, actually, and we dutifully followed the trail through the whole store, albeit rather quickly. I hadn’t been to Ikea in perhaps 3 years, and it seemed to me there was a lot more customizable stuff now–modular offices and bits of kitchens and other things that you would need to have professionally installed. This seemed a bit high-end for the Ikea I know and love.

The regular stuff was as shiny and bright and tempting as ever. I always want their very simple couches and loveseats covered in brightly coloured canvas. They are so charming and cheap, though I have no need of any such thing. They looked as lovely as ever this time, and I contemplated jamming one into the bathroom or something. Right at the end of the trip, Mark suggested we get a bench for the patio with stripy cushions, so that helped mitigate my desire for plush furniture…somewhat.

I also picked out a dresser, after *mucho* agony, because I had failed to measure depth of the space it is supposed to go in. There is not, in truth, a wide variety of dresser depths at Ikea, so eventually I just chose the thinnest one (Malm, 6 drawer), only to discover on the back of the tag that it is supposed to be *bolted to the wall* to prevent it falling over on me. Who does that? I would guess that many people buying Ikea furniture lack the energy, organization, drill, and landlord permission to do such a thing; was this warning a ruse to forstall insurance issues?

I asked a salesperson and she said of course I had to bolt it to the wall (with an “I am talking to a dumb person” face on); otherwise, if I opened multiple drawers at once, it would fall on me. I said, “What if I just open one drawer at time?” and she said that might be all right, but if I had babies, it would need to be bolted in. Babies open drawers now? How terrifying.

The best bit, as always, was the Marketplace down on the first floor. It was actually strangely hard to find the door–it was ill-marked–but then we found it and there it was in all its glory! Thousands of small inexpensive items that I might someday need! I might have gone into a buying frenzy if I weren’t so very tired; as it was we found hangers, a laundry hamper, a drainboard, and possibly something else that I forget, all of which needed to be lugged around for the rest of our stay in the store.

The marketplace was very crowded; this is where most of the actual shopping goes on, it seems. Here I actually did see people looking at merchandise, although the primary activities still seemed to be milling and yelling. It was pretty chaotic–I didn’t realize kitchenware was over until long after we were into plants, and I probably would’ve bought more stuff if I had found a cart earlier in the process. It was always kind of fun to be wandering around and see someone carrying the same thing I was–merchandise twins.

The self-serve warehouse was a nightmare. My bureau came in two separate boxes of parts. Box 2 was on top of the stack, but all the Box 1s were buried deep. Everything was extremely heavy, and at least 5 boxes had to be hauled into the aisle by my esteemed companion, while I hovered around, fretting (nothing like household goods to bring on the gender roles!) There was a brief consideration of reassembling the stack, but if the Ikea folks wanted things left tidy, they should have ordered them better.

I would’ve liked to go to the As-Is department (I’ve found some good stuff there) but the cart was so heavy we could barely pilot it, and the crowd at the checkout lines was sort of blocking the way. While waiting in line I went to the pop machine and returned, went to the bathroom and returned, and then Mark went off to the hysterical blur of the food market and bought some Ikea cookies for a dear friend with a gift for assembling furniture (and some for us–I’d never had them before and it turns out they are fantastic!!) When Mark was returning with the cookies, I finally reached the very bored and unhappy cashier, who grimly rang us out and we were free to go.

The trek back was shorter–the exit is closer to the upper parking deck than the entrance, and after a lot of Jenga-ing the boxes into the car, we were on our way.

As this is a review of the *experience* of the Ikea store, I won’t dwell on the furniture, and anyway, most of it is still disassembled. The laundry hamper is doing just fine, but I guess standards for a laundry hamper are low–probably a cardboard box would’ve sufficed, really. The drainboard was a dismal bust, as it does not fit in the sink and is constantly flipping sideways. But it did only cost $3. The cookies are almost gone. But the memory of the happy chaos at Ikea will live forever.

December 21st, 2010

Rose-coloured reviews the Eaton’s Centre

If they found themselves alone without plans in the late afternoon on the Saturday before Christmas, perhaps most people would not have wandered–lonely as a cloud–to the Toronto Eaton’s Centre. I have heard much about the crush and crassness of malls in general and Eaton’s Centre in particular.

The thing about me: I love malls far more than people who actual attempt to buy things in them on a regular basis. Starting with my rural, driver’s-license-less youth, I have rarely had the holy trio of the time, access, and money to shop in malls as often as I would like. Even when I was broke, I was still content to “recreationally shop”–ie., wander around and look at stuff, try things on, maybe eat in the food court. At that point, I called Eaton’s Centre “The Museum of Nice Stuff.”

Currently, what I lack is time–shopping is completely non-recreational, limited mainly to groceries. When I really need something mallish, like a gift or a specific item of clothing, it usual turns into a frantic 30-minute slalom through 3 stores, after which I have to get somewhere else immediately–ie., no fun.

So, since I was without plans last Saturday, wander to the mall is exactly what I did. It was nice because I am pretty much done shopping for gifts and didn’t really need anything at all–pure recreational shop, except some gum and pop supplies to consume as I strolled. I was actually really excited for the bustling crowds, and they did not disappoint on the bustle front, though it really was not as crowded as I expected. I was worried for our economy. But then I heard on the radio this morning that 100 000 people will pass through that mall…ok, I forget if it was in a day of Christmas shopping or a season of it, but whatever, they sounded pleased with the number, so I figure it’s a lot.

I definitely didn’t feel wringer-washed and paranoid, they way I sometimes do in really crazy crowds. It was just a nice semi-crowded mall. In fact, I don’t even know if things would’ve felt as crowded as they did if the Eaton’s Centre hadn’t been *under construction* during the busiest retail season of the year. What’s up with that? They had tried to disguise all the big half-built kiosks and random other plywood boxes by covering them in gift wrap and festive signs identifying what store they were in front of, but it still seemed a bit sloppy and awkward to me.

But who cares? I got a free dark chocolate Ferrero Roche at the Ferrero Roche tree, which was very pretty and odd. And then, and THEN, there was the Swarkovski Crystal tree, which was there last year and which I love very much. It’s so sparkly and so tall and lit from below somehow I’m not sure how. And maybe they do this all the time and I just never knew, but it seem totally magically that as I was walking towards the tree, they turned on the snow. As I walked closer, I kept trying to figure out how they were doing it, but I didn’t really care because it looks so incredible to have a) snow indoors and b) snow coming down over those lights facing up, to create a wild shadow effect. Finally, a lady with a hijab standing beside me (there as a bit of a press up close) put out her hand to grab a “snowflake” and showed it to me–a tiny clump of soap bubbles. We were both charmed.

That was pretty much the highlight. I went into a few stores, but of course didn’t get tempted to try anything on. The jewellery, high-priced cookeware, and Apple products were my favourites (oh, MacBook Air–now I see!) Eventually, I got lonely in the crowd–the cliche is true! And the other cliche, about social mall shopping being the domain of silly teenage girls, wildly untrue. Everyone was shopping in couples and groups–not just teenagers, everyone. The few people I saw on their own were on cell phones (one middle aged, jovial-looking gentleman was listing a series of chores, one of which was, “And you’ll mix the martinis.”)

It was very festive–I don’t know if it was the spirit of giving that inspired all of those people into the mall, but it was nice to see them all together enjoying themselves. And people were enjoying themselves, despite the ugly construction and crass commercialism and the fact that there is a whole kiosk for “skins,” whatever that means. It was a smiley crowd at the mall, and I was happy to see it. But I really should have manufactured an errand or a goal of some kind; I didn’t really fit in as the sole Eaton’s Centre flanneur, and after less than an hour, me and my Fresca were on our way home.

August 18th, 2010

Awesomeness

I thought I pulled a muscle in my neck, but it seems to be more or less all right now.

I thought there were no more TCBYs (This Country’s Best Yoghurt) outlets in Toronto outside of movie theatre snack counters (and the above website says same) but then I found one, on Yonge just North of Isabella, on the west side. It was very exciting (and as tasty as I remember. All the yoghurt tastes like coconut, which as far as I am concerned is a bonus!)

The TCBY (yes, this is a completely separate bullet point) is inside a coffeeshop (though clearly marked from the outside). While there, I saw a man order a large chocolate-vanilla swirl from the frozen-yoghurt side, and a carrot muffin from the coffee shop side. Passing him later, I saw that he had smashed up the muffin and PUT IT IN THE BOWL. It was like ad-hoc ice-cream and cake. Genius.

Amy’s helpful guide to Retail Etiquette for Dummies (even if you are not a dummy, this is still entertaining, in a squirmy, “People sure can be jerks” way).

This awesome video that Zach Wells posted of a toddler reciting a poem from memory, and doing a darn good job of it, too!

Also on the subject of small children, an acquaintance and her husband have gone overseas to adopt a baby, and yesterday they got her! I guess I shouldn’t share their personal blog URL, but I have to tell you, people experiencing that level of happiness is pretty mindblowing.

April 26th, 2010

Rose-coloured reviews 4lbs of strawberries for $5 at Metro

I consider a good price for a one-pound (454 gram) clamshell of California strawberries to be $2.99–higher in the dead of winter. So when I saw two 907 gram clamshells for $5 at Metro, I was awed (I believe you could also replace one of the boxes with a honeydew melon, but I don’t own knives sharp enough to cut honeydew rind, so I stayed away from that).

My grocery-shopping escort declined a box, claiming he could not eat 2 pounds of strawberries before they went off. I scoffed at this, but quailed at the prospect of 4 pounds, so I just got the one. As it turned out, they still charged me the sale price even though I didn’t buy the sale amount (this is one of Metro’s usual, and nicer, policies)–so my 907 grams cost $2.50. Score!

Unlike much sale-priced produce, my berries aren’t underripe. They are nice and dark and, for imported berries, fairly soft. That’s still not *very* soft–Cali berries always have a bizarro crunch factor that is completely absent in lovely delicate local berries. But the local berries won’t be ready for, minimum, another month, and one of the stranger aspects of globalization is the taste it creates for out-of-season fruits. I want berries *always*, not just the six weeks you can pick them in southern Ontario. So Cali berries it is.

These are, I think, the best of their kind I’ve seen. They are nice and sweet (most of them, anyway) and very few off berries (just one in the box so far, and even that was likely edible). I am very impressed. And what’s more, it was not my box–I looked at the others stacked up and the Yonge & College Metro (can’t vouch for any others) and they looked uniformly dark red and healthy. Yum.

Running into this sale was fortitous for a Sunday when I skipped lunch in favour of a poetry vending machine launch and wound up eating a giant burrito at 4pm, because a big fistful of berries plus cereal made a really great supper around 8 that evening. Life is good…but I can’t wait for Ontario berries.

RR

December 12th, 2009

A passion for narrative can make you a jerk

Well, me, anyway.

I saw an ad for Kraft Dinner Szechuan a few months back and, as appalling is that sounded, I wanted to try it so as to verify the appallingness for myself.

Then I forgot all about it–it’s not like I’m going to spend money on this stuff or anything–and then today I saw they were giving away free samples of KDS at Metro. Yes! The girl at the little sample-table was talking to someone else when I approached. I waited patiently, but when she turned to me she looked aghast.

“May I try some too, please?”

She tried to thrust the whole container at me, realized her error, forked a tiny bit into a bowl, could not free the fork from the noodles because her hands were shaking violently, and finally handed it over, eyes wide and wet.

“Thank you.”

“Oh, you’re very welcome,” she said, only a slight quaver.

I went off with my sample, but she called me back to offer, and explain, a coupon booklet. Except she couldn’t turn the pages easily, her hands were shaking so badly. When I thanked her, again she seemed incredibly touched.

I’ve been thinking about her ever since, wondering what tragedy or incident prompted all this, and how she would do for the rest of the day and after. Bad news? A near-miss car accident? An irate or violent sampler? Surely, it would have to be something big; the story wouldn’t be as good if she were simply wildly nervous about giving out samples at Metro.

Clearly, I’m an asshole, because I was sort of hoping for the worst-case scenarios in the name of a good story!! Why wasn’t I hoping from the beginning that she was just a very edgy kid, and she’d grow into her role and in time get a better one? I’m hoping that *now*, but I had to roll through all these other fun catastrophes first. I suck. And, come to think of it, why *wouldn’t* the coming-into-her-own of a Metro sample-distributor be a good story? A story is only as weak as its writer.

And the KDS is more abominable than you could ever imagine–you have to try this!!

RR

October 24th, 2009

Break

If you count the week as Saturday to Friday, I attended four literary events this week, and spent a similar number of evenings up after midnight. I also did some work, two readings, saw a bunch of awesome people and took some fair-to-middling pictures. And now am so very very tired.

And now, though of course have blogged *The New Quarterly*’s fall launch for you despite any exhaustion, I have a delightful break, because Alex James, who provided the musical accompaniment to the evening, is also a profession blogger, and has a wonderful (and flattering!) post about the event. Hooray! It really was a terribly fun night, with so many friendly writers and delicious food only one jack-knifed tractor-trailer (my publisher, Dan Wells spent only five or so hours on the highway to be there and bring us books!)

So that’s it–I can concentrate on small, easy, non-exhausting tasks for the rest of the weekend–Hallowe’en shopping at Zellers, getting the DVD player to work long enough to play the last two episodes of season one of Slings and Arrows (the first tv show in a long time that I’ve been willing to argue with the DVD player for), maybe a nap in there somewhere.

Weekends are nice, and I hope you enjoy yours! Seeya Monday!
RR

August 28th, 2009

Rose-coloured Reviews T&T Supermarket

I was tired and overstimulated from an afternoon gathering featuring no fewer than 7 children under 3, but when my friend Z asked if I would mind stopping at a Chinese supermarket in Markham, I felt my energy returning.

Markham contains Chinatown North for Toronto, and Chinatown North contains wonders of new (to me) restaurants, groceries, and other things that I know nothing about that are not contained in the older, bigger, wonderful but different Toronto Chinatown south. And carless me does not get to go to Markham very often–this would only be my third trip, which is why I don’t know much about what’s on offer there.

I had never, for example, heard of our destination, T&T Supermarket, even though it apparently has some TTC-able branches, and is wonderful. WONDERFUL.

It’s a grocery store–big parking lot, buggies, checkout lanes, etc. But it’s also a market–various stands of prepared foods, pushing crowds and entire families shopping together, and the free samples are distributed far and wide by cheerful hawkers who yell at you (well, me) to come over to try some soy milk/dumplings/fried scallops. I was excited about the prepared food section because it reminded of Japan, with all the cute complete cheap dinners in plastic boxes. I think it was a pan-Asian market even though it was in a Chinese area, too, because I recognized some salmon teryaki and those triangular nori-wrapped rice cakes I forget the name of. Yum, everything.

Too bad I didn’t really need any of that stuff and was full of cake, but even the stuff I wasn’t buying was fun to look at: Chinese baked goods, aka, manna; giant rice-cakes that *popped* out of a rice-cake making machine (tragically, the picture didn’t turn out); kimchee in tetra paks, and all kinds of vegetables I don’t know how to cook with:

This would be intrepid M, with duriands. The sign, if you can’t read it, says, “Handle duriands carefully to avoid injury.”

Since I didn’t need so many things and was feeling somewhat restrained for once (could be all the cake), I didn’t buy much. But the Chinese eggplants I bought were excellent in stirfry, the lettuce was…well, standard lettuce, that apples were huge and tasty (though I dropped one on the floor and it got all bruised…we can’t really blame the apple, can we?); the dried mushrooms I haven’t tried yet and the sweet potato candy that I ripped into in the parking lot was…odd. But I eventually found someone who did like them to give the rest of the package to (I have another, unopened package–coming soon to a household near you!)

Also, all the little samples I tried were awesome, except the soy milk (I don’t like soy milk, but it’s so healthy that I keep trying). And the prices were super cheap and if you were more ambitious and organized like my shopping companion Z, you could get the makings of some truly fantastic food. And no one gave me a hard time for bouncing off people in the aisles, or clogging the produce section taking pictures, or not knowing which line to stand in. It was a friendly happy place full of delicious.

I later heard this place has been bought by Metro a chain that had a little cred in Quebec, but quickly spent it all in Ontario and now just annoys me (crunchy bitter raspberries the other day!!) So that can’t be good. I’m going to try to find the local one before all the awesome falls apart.

And if we’re lost together
RR

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