Sunday Signage: Hiking for Lazies

Picture the scene: Marty and I were out hiking this winter. It had been a while since we got out on any nature trail, so as we ascended a steep(ish) hill, our lack of fitness caught up to us quickly. Imagine our relief to discover this sign just before the final ascent to the summit:

Alas. We should have known it wasn’t a real escalator… it was just a 60 degree incline trek to the summit. False advertising, Cowichan Valley Regional District! FALSE ADVERTISING!

Half A World Away

Believe it or not, today marks the 5-year anniversary of my escape from the Ivory Tower. (Well, I didn’t so much “escape” from university as I “successfully defended my Master’s thesis”, but the fight-or-flight hormones were pumping all the same that day!) I am so far removed from the person I was in grad school that it’s hard to remember even being there. Ever. Some of my friends like to tease me and say, ‘Hey! If you weren’t such a quitter, you could have finished your Ph.D. by now’, but I can’t imagine having spent the past five years still in school. Talk about torture! πŸ™‚

Hmmm... five more years in university or a World Cup soccer game viewing in Old Town Square, Prague? Decisions, decisions!

Going to university after I graduated from high school never seemed like an option for me, and by that, I mean I always just assumed that I would go to university. (In retrospect, I’m glad I felt this way, but my parents would have loved me all the same if I announced I was going to take up semi-professional karate after Grade 12. Their love for me is the very definition of ‘unconditional’.) But yes: There was no choice involved in me heading off to post-secondary school– it just was. It was almost as though I believed that getting an undergraduate degree was as mandatory as attending K-12. So I got a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies and then applied for a Master’s Degree in the same field, because WHAT’S ANOTHER $15,000 and 2 YEARS DURING THE PRIME OF MY LIFE when you’re already in that game? πŸ™‚

Me (via dramatic re-enactment in Prague): Gee, I might as well keep hanging out here...

Well. My lifelong love of school and my mad academic skillz were put to the extreme test about 2 days into my MA studies. Listening to one of my peers babble on and on excitedly about some “critical issue” or another in my COMS of Biotechnology class, I realized with a mixture of surprise and boredom: Maybe I don’t love Communication Studies as much as I thought I did, and Perhaps I’d rather die a slow and grueling death than be a university professor in the future. This was not a fun (or timely) discovery to make, seeing as I had just started the graduate program, so I resolved to “give it some more time” and, failing all else, to force myself to graduate. Unfortunately, time did nothing to soften up my bad attitude, so I ended up undertaking, writing, and defending a 100+ page thesis, hating everything the entire time. I was a smart girl, and I was not a quitter. I would earn those “M.A.” initials behind my name if it killed me!

And it nearly did.

My personal Coat of Arms during my Master's Program. (Actually, this is inside one of the chapels in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic.)

During the 17 months it took me to complete my coursework and write/defend a 105-page thesis on women’s experiences with various methods of contraception*, I transformed from a positive, life-loving young woman into a anxiety-ridden, majorly stressed-out basket case. I carried a gigantic burden of PAIN and SUFFERING with me the whole time, and every. little. thing brought me to ugly tears. I remember my dad phoning to wish me a happy birthday after my first year of grad studies and not knowing how to react when I responded to his cheeriness with high-decibel wails and frustrated sobs (probably about discursive theory or something equally rage-tastic).

I couldn’t help myself.

Me vs. Me

I developed a considerable case of first-time depression during my MA program, and I worried constantly about alienating my remaining friends and even worse: losing my still-new marriage to Marty. (Poor man had a rough go when his blushing bride morphed, almost overnight, into a screeching banshee!) I became hyper-vigilant and continually monitored my behaviours and thoughts, which only made me become more robotic and Not At All Fun To Be Around. I should have more fun. Why am I not having fun? I’m no fun to be around. Why would anybody want to be with somebody so un-fun? I will lose all the friendships I’ve ever had because I’m not fun. BEING NO FUN IS NO FUN AT ALL!!

I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about Grad School that caused me to become such a horrible shadow of my former self. Was it the workload? Was it the forced classroom dialogues over issues I could care less about? (Foucault again? Really?) Was it the extremely rocky relationship I developed with my former supervisor? The subsequent fallout I had with my former supervisor? The fallout that effectively burned a gigantic bridge between us and precluded me from ever using her as a reference again, forever and ever amen?

In any case, once I became so stressed out and apoplectic about everything, I had a very difficult time recovering. Marty would try to take me hiking on the weekends so I could have a few hours of *not* thinking about my thesis. Of course, the entire time, my panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains would be obstructed with thoughts like “I should be working on my thesis. All of my classmates are probably working on their projects right now. I feel guilty for not working on my thesis.” I’m not even exaggerating the extent of my awfulness. Somebody else from the Legitimate Science Department could have undertaken a quantitative study on “The Degree of Dana’s Horribleness During Her M.A. Program”, and the objective, hard data results would have come back: 98th Percentile of Terrible.

After months and months of withering away into a toxic, shriveled-up crisp of a person, the day finally came for me to defend my thesis. I was the first in my cohort to bring my thesis up for defense, and boy oh boy, was I a wreck! (Aside: I was not the first in my cohort to use academic-sounding words like “cohort”. Not a chance! I just threw that in there to sound smart.) Anyway. I had developed a severe stutter the night before my defense, and as I tried to rehearse my opening speech beforehand, I had poor Marty’s ears panicking (and probably bleeding). C-c-c-critical f-f-f-em-in-in-ist dis-dis-dis-course. I kept telling myself: Three hours and then it’s over. Three hours and then I can have my life back. Three hours of PAIN and SUFFERING and then everything can go back to normal… if I pass. (For the record: failing my thesis would have been soul-crushing. It’s rare for students to fail a defense, unless they plow ahead with the exam against their supervisor’s better judgment. Me? I had tickets booked to Europe for June, so I needed everything done and behind me before I left. PASS OR DIE!!!)

For the record: a nice, long trip to Europe cures any/all school-related blues.

I had allowed my exam to be “open”, meaning that anybody could come and watch. Yes, anybody! (The alternative was keeping it “closed” but risking tougher questions from the panel, who wouldn’t have an audience to hold them accountable for their meanness.) I ended up with an audience of about 5 people– Marty included– plus my panel, which consisted of my supervisor, the Department Head of Qualitative Psychology, and the Department Head of Women’s Studies. Tough. As. Nails.

I managed to get through my opening speech without stuttering, which was a miracle in itself. Then all I remember is saying “discourse” and “discursive” about 8 billion times over the course of a few hours. It was a blur of discursiveness. Marty watched on politely the entire time, trying not to let his eyes glaze over with the residue of Academese. What a champ! The tough questions came to a close. My panel conferred in private. It was announced that I had passed. Just a few revisions needed to be completed on my thesis, but then my program would be over and I could officially have my life back.

WHEEEE!!! Let's go and BE GYPSIES for a few months!

It took me a long time to fully recover from grad school. The program had pulverized my soul and heart with dramatic, overzealous kicks and stomps, so the transition from She-Beast back to Ordinary Woman did not happen overnight. I still have a difficult time staying out of my head, so to speak. It’s natural for me to analyze and over-analyze everything, and as much as I detest debating for the sake of debating, occasionally I find myself making a gigantic deal over nothing, just because I can. (I’m always so ashamed to catch myself doing this!)

If you can believe it, I seriously considered pursuing a Ph.D. in Sociology soon after I finished my Master’s Degree. (Yeah, a Doctorate in Delusional, maybe…) It wasn’t because I wanted to do it, but because I felt I should. My supervisor, channeling a Greek chorus, told me that I belonged in the university and that I could never escape my destiny, and for a while I believed her. But then my paltry iota of Street Smarts finally (FINALLY!) kicked in. I didn’t want to be in school for another 5+ years, and then possibly for the rest of my life!!! I wanted to travel, to work at a ‘real job’, and to just plain old live for a little while. Screw the Ph.D.! I would dig a hole out of my so-called destiny and chart a new path!

My starring role in "The Shawshank Redemption". Just like Tim Robbins, but with a darker tan. And only one leg in this shot (??)

Looking back, I feel okay that I pursued my Master’s Degree. It still doesn’t feel like the *best* thing I could have done with those two years of my life– and I definitely wasn’t rendered any more intelligent or competent by real world standards because of it– but then again, what would have been the best thing to do during that time? Take up semi-professional karate? πŸ˜‰ I take comfort now in believing that I am taken care of by the Universe, even if I don’t understand the bigger picture at any given point (or at all– let’s be honest here).Β  Part of me also secretly believes that an opportunity will present itself one day and will demand a Master’s Degree (in COMS, no less) as a pre-requisite. Then, won’t somebody be glad she went through hell and back to earn those silly initials behind her name…

Anyway. This was a really, really long way of saying Happy Five Years Of Being Out of Grad School to me! I’m happy to be sharing the more cheerful version of myself with all of you, but I’m certainly not above signing this particular post off with the initials that rendered me decidedly less cheerful than I am now:

Dana, B.A., M.A πŸ™‚

Inadvertently looking smug. I am the Master of Smugness.

*Don’t ask me how this topic relates, in any way, to Communication Studies. My logic: People spoke to me about their experiences, and Speaking = Communicating, therefore I win COMS thesis writing!

Goodness Gracious– Great Balls of Energy!

Back when I posted about my OCD food prep extravaganza, a lot of readers wanted to know more about those energy, um, balls. Some people asked how kid-friendly the recipes were, others wanted to know about the process of making them, and then there were the readers who just demanded the recipes, already!! It’s high time to revisit those delicious balls, no?

First of all, the recipes I made for our trip to Calgary– Chocolate Blueberry, Banana Walnut, Apple Cinnamon, and Mango Coconut– all came from a book called The Thrive Diet by Brendan Brazier. Brazier is a professional Ironman triathlete who specializes in vegan and raw-foods nutrition, and his book provides recipes that are specifically targeted to athletes who are on (or moving toward) a plant-based diet.

Well. I am an almost-vegan, and I am a highly trained athlete to boot (Zumba class once a week counts, right?), so I am clearly the target audience for this book. Can I get a witness?

Anyway. These recipes have already been published in a bonafide, purchasable book and are not online– free for the whole world to see, so I’m not going to reproduce them here. (That would be stealing, and stealing is bad!) Luckily, Brendan himself has shared something very similar to my favourite recipe online, so I can at least provide the link to the recipe (and instructional video) here. (Full text appears below, with my helpful– and/or irreverent/distracting– hints listed beside each ingredient.)

Chocolate Blueberry Energy Bars

  • 1 cup fresh or soaked dried dates (I soak dried dates.)
  • 1/4 cup almonds (I am all about almonds, in any shape or form.)
  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup roasted carob powder (or cacao to make 100% raw) (I’ve been using cacao lately because it is delicious and chock-full of antioxidants, but carob– or even regular cocoa powder– work just fine. I know this from experience.)
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed (I practically live on ground flaxseed, So nutty and yummy!)
  • 1/4 cup hemp protein (It’s possible to eliminate this ingredient if you don’t happen to have hemp protein stocked in your hippie pantry. I use a vanilla chai-flavoured hemp protein in this recipe, but I think it would taste just as yummy without it. If you eliminate this ingredient, I would suggest upping the quantity of another dry ingredient– or ingredients– so that your bars don’t end up sticky and runny like cake batter.)
  • 1/4 cup unhulled sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries

In a food processor, process all ingredients except frozen blueberries. Remove mixture from processor and put on a clean surface. Lay frozen blueberries on surface and knead mixture into blueberries. Flatten mixture on the clean surface with your hands. Place plastic wrap over top; with a rolling pin, roll mixture to desired bar thickness. Cut mixture into bars. Alternatively, form mixture into a brick; cut as though slicing bread. As the bars dry, they become easier to handle. For added convenience, make extra batches and store in freezer for future snacks.

For more information, visit


These aren't the Chocolate Blueberry Bars-- they're actually Cacao Truffles! Can you tell I have a thing for coconut?

The recipe in the book is very similar, but it also includes some cooked buckwheat to boot. Cacao, blueberries, and buckwheat: what more could a granola girl hope for? πŸ™‚

When I make these bars (or, in my case– balls), they definitely do not look as neat and bar-like as they end up looking in the video. Mine end up being rather wet and refuse to take any bar-like form whatsoever. Hence, the balls. It’s way easier, in my humble opinion, to just roll the batter into balls and call it a day. Rolling pins? Plastic wrap? No thank you. Plus, balls trump bars in many other ways: they look cuter, they more closely resemble bear scat (um, in a good way? A delicious way?), and they are decidedly harder to talk about with a straight face. (Because I am twelve. She said balls!!! And coco-NUTS!! Hahaha!!!)

I make a huge batch of these (and other energy-bar recipes) and then freeze them. I wrap them individually (much to Marty’s frustration on the road– they can be a wee difficult to unwrap when you are otherwise occupied riding a bicycle.) Take out of the freezer as needed– they never freeze solid and they taste really great cold.

As far as the kid-friendliness of these bars goes, a lot would depend on your particular children. Kids like my niece would most likely refuse to eat them based on looks alone, but once you get over the sorta-sketchy visual appeal of them, they taste really good. Especially the chocolate blueberry ones– like brownie batter almost. So good. For other children, these balls would be a no-brainer. They’re small, portable, easy to whip up (if you have a food processor or good blender), and you know exactly what’s in them: no preservatives, dyes, artificial sugars, or radioactive ingredients. I think they’d make great snacks for teenagers, too– they really do provide great energy and are fantastic to have on hand during any sort of exercise. Call me nuts, but healthy snacks like these really make me happy! (This is perhaps Reason #897 why I do not have children of my own: Come on, kids! They only *look* like animal dung!)

Ahem. Thank goodness I’m only an aunt and not a real mom…

There’s A Hole In My Bucket List, Dear Liza

I’ve been hit with a serious case of gratitude lately.

I love my life, I love my husband, I love my job, I love my city, I love my body, I love the food we eat, I love the clothes we wear, I love the springtime sunshine, I love the delicate fragrance of cherry blossoms in the air– there’s really not a whole lot I don’t love and feel thankful for these days!

Watch out, dear readers: I’m pretty sure this condition is highly contagious. You’d better be careful, lest you suddenly break into song whilst reading this post at your cubicle. (It’s like a computer virus– you can catch it from the Internet, especially if you’re reading infected posts like this one!) Spontaneous dance routines are also a noted side effect of 3rd-Degree Thankfulness, just so you know. I wouldn’t want you to become alarmed by your involuntary toe-tapping or anything. Don’t worry: The uncontrollable urges to get your groove on can all be explained by Extreme Happiness and an Abundance of Gratitude. Dr. Dana to the rescue! (You’re welcome.)

Strangely, all this thankfulness has got me thinking about pastures lately– you know, those patches of greener-seeming grass on the other side. Hint, hint. It struck me that I am smack-dab in the middle of where I’ve always wanted to be: I have a fabulous partner and neither of us are tethered to a desk in some random, soul-sucking Office Job. We’re both healthy (aside from Marty’s stubborn case of bronchitis and my pesky affliction with gratitude). I get to work out and run errands (or blog!) at times when other people are at work. I can cook all day in my galley kitchen if I so choose. I make excellent food that renders my body fit and happy (sketchy experiments with almond milk aside). We live in the most gorgeous, oceanside city and are blessed to call the amazing country of Canada ‘home‘. In sum, we have the greatest existences and we have already been granted nearly everything we’ve ever asked for!

I can't take credit for actually making these sprout wraps-- a farm on Salt Spring is responsible-- but I CAN take credit for slicing it up like sushi and arranging it so artfully on a plate!


That’s when I came to the unnerving realization that my Bucket (List) is full of holes.

I’ve become so comfortable in this cushy lifestyle of mine that I’ve neglected to keep my canister of dreams and lofty ambitions topped up. My Bucket List has leaked considerably! My plans to travel the world have slipped out of my rusty bucket and have formed a puddle just out of reach. I’ll tend to that puddle when I have more time and money. My dreams of writing a book (or two, or three, or four) have been washed away by my familiar, busy routines. Who needs to write a book when everything is great already? My goals to master entire new languages have all but evaporated out of my bucket, leaving a more modest sediment sloshing around near the bottom: I will learn a handful of new Czech words. If I feel like it or get around to it. Jsem lΓ­nΓ½. (<– I am lazy.)

Inadvertently stumbling upon a pilgrimage route in the Czech Republic.

How did this happen? When did I resign myself to a Bucket List filled with sludgy, mediocre dreams? Everything is so wonderful in my life right now that I will never need to Dream Big or Have Grand Ambitions ever again. Goodbye, Bucket List– I won’t be needing you anymore!

I don’t think so.

It’s time to amp up my dreams again and fill up Ye Olde Bucket List once more! After all, how horrible would it be to somehow end up back in an Office Job in the future, without having traveled for long stretches of time when I had the chance? And what’s the point of only setting knee-high type goals– the easily, embarrassingly attainable ones– when you can set that proverbial bar way higher? Come on, everyone– let’s fix that hole!

Number One on my new and improved Bucket List is to travel. There is so much to see in this wonderful world of ours, from far-off places like India, New Zealand, and Malaysia to the distant corners of my own country: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and let’s not forget Quebec. I would love to do a Lighthouse trip and travel around North America in search of beacons, and despite my considerable fear of bears, I would love to visit Alaska again. (This time, we will make it to Mount Denali.)

All this travel will require at least a working knowledge of some other world languages. It embarrasses me that I can only speak my native English, and having to pronounce the few French words I do know out loud is like bludgeoning all ear drums in the vicinity with a dull razor blade. I’m way better at Spanish– No comprende— or even Czech– Nemluvim Česky. My new Bucket List will have a much more international flavour. It will be like the U.N. of Bucket Lists.

Then there’s the issue of Those Books. I love to write. I love to have people reading what I write. I love books. I love bookstores. And I would love love love to write and publish a book (for the bookstore!) Then I’d love to write and publish another book. And possibly even another book after that. So my revised Bucket List will be like the U.N. Library of Bucket Lists. πŸ˜‰

There are a ton of other things that I can put into my U.N. Library Bucket List. Some of them seem a little far-fetched (like becoming a nutritionist, almost-vegan chef, or having my own, low-budget cooking show); some of them will require some serious work on my part (six pack abs, baby!); and some of them are a wee bit personal to be broadcasting over the World Wide Web. It’s an important realization, though: knowing that it’s possible to be both grateful/comfortable in your current life -AND- hopeful and ambitious for your future. ‘Feeling thankful’ does not preclude ‘Still dreaming’, right? The Bucket List will always have a place!

Oh, travel! How I miss thee!

Is your Bucket List well-maintained, or have you let it develop leaks and holes?

What are you thankful for?

What would you still like to accomplish?