Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Keys

I’ve heard that the more keys you have on your keychain, the more complicated your life is.

I started out with one key. My house key. I’ve lived in this brick house all my life. I’ve never moved. Ever. We have pictures in our family photo albums of a sign that my Dad made, proclaiming “Welcome Home, Mommy and Miranda!” There is another sign from three years later, welcoming my brother.

My keychain

My keychain

I have vivid memories of my first late partying nights, where I’d creep home at 1, then 2 then 3 (and sometimes 4) in the morning. I knew the way my key would fit in the lock. I know how to maneuvre my house key to unlock the door silently, not waking my parents, sawing logs in their room, with the door open. Now that the babies are all grown up and out of the house, I hope that my parents never sell our house. It’s always been my home and I’m pretty sure it always will be. That is, until I make my own.

My home in Ottawa is cozy. From the outside, it’s a dismal-looking khaki-coloured duplex. I have three keys for this building.

Even though I’ve lived there for the last three years, I have to admit I haven’t really gotten my keys figured out. I’m pretty sure the key to the very front door opens the back door as well. Sometimes in the winter, our very front door freezes shut, and I try to escape the back way. One day, after I moved the otherwise sedentary recycling bins and garbage cans away from the back door, I went out, and down the stairs. The ground looked solid below. It appeared to be a thick layer of icy snow. I jumped off the bottom step, crunching through a not-so-thick layer of ice, and landed knee-deep in snow. Just the way to set a day off right.

We have lockable storage rooms downstairs, which is a huge boon for our nomadic student lifestyle. These storage rooms are adjacent to our shared laundry room with the people downstairs.

The people downstairs: One skinny girl, one large-ish girl and her equally large-ish boyfriend. They each have a car and park in front. They think we have been using their dryer. (We have done no such thing.)

One day, there was a hot pink plastic bag with a passive-agressive note attached on the top of our dryer. Inside the bag was a pair of lacy panties! All three of us concluded they did not belong to any of us.

Now we’re convinced that the large man is cheating on his large girlfriend. Oh and they have a dog with pigtails named Lola. She barks and scares the crap out of me every time I traipse up the stairs.


My apartment key has a green rubber monkey on it. I got it from when I worked at Mrs. Tiggy Winkle’s in the Glebe, at our staff Christmas party. This rubber mon- key (get it?!) opens the door to our apartment.



There is a pair of men’s shoes outside our door. They have been there since we moved in, and we don’t know whose they are. Not that anyone would want them, they are really ugly. Men: Note to you: these shoes should be avoided at all costs. Hideous.

I also have keys to my brother’s apartment in Montreal, where I spent a week in December. I should probably give them back.

He and his roommate have this cool art installation on their front entrance. They stick Jones Soda bottlecaps to the door (You know, the blue caps with a fortune underneath). Before you leave their place, you have to close your eyes, spin around, and point to a cap. It’s like their urban-chic version of a Magic 8 Ball.

For the last two weeks, I have had a couple other additions to my chain. I’ve been staying with a dear friend and his lovely roommate in the Byward Market area. They live on the 11th floor of their building, near the elevators. There is a woman who lives right next to the elevators, who has a bird. My friend Nick thinks she does not have a bird, but a recording of a bird that plays on repeat. He claims the bird’s songs are “too perfect”.

So this one evening, as I wait for the elevator on my way out, the bird woman steps out of the elevator. I step in, and it smells like fishsticks.

The elevator stops on the fifth floor, and a guy gets on. I wanted desperately to tell him that I was not the one who made the elevator smell like fishsticks.

We get off on the main floor and we both walk in the same direction. “Are you following me?” he says, joking. I explain that I’m not and we continue to make small talk but all I can think is “I DID NOT MAKE THE ELEVATOR SMELL LIKE FISH STICKS!” I tried my hardest not to blurt it out and sound like a total nutcase.

The reason I am staying with my friend in the building with the fishstick-scented elevator is due to my recent internship at the CBC. Due to the bus strike, I’ve been living out of a bag and sleeping on a couch for the last two weeks. My friend’s place is right downtown and made it easier to get to work.

My swipe card

My swipe card

The CBC building in Ottawa is on lockdown for some reason and everyone has a swipe card to get in. There are little sensors at every door, and on the elevator. There are even these robotic glass sliding doors in the main lobby that blink green arrows and beep as you swipe through.

My duties during my internship included fetching things and bringing things to other parts of the building. It took a while to figure the place out, because all the hallways are virtually the same. Same colours, same carpet, same red lights bulging out of the walls outside the studios.

Every day I would pass by this one studio; Studio 46. It had one camera, a chair and a desk, and a generic backdrop.  I assume Studio 46 is a neglected place – I never saw anyone in it. But each time I walked by, there would always be a drink on the desk. It became my game to peer in as I passed to see which cup was there. One day, a coffee cup from Bridgehead; another day, one from Presse Café. My last two days there, there was a half-full clear plastic cup of water sitting on the desk. It was there for at least two days. It’s probably still there.

So that’s a little tour through my keychain, and my life…ever changing, ever growing.

What’s on your keychain?


The Wait

Don’t you hate the wait? You know what I’m talking about, even if you don’t think you do.

It’s that feeling between putting yourself out there -for whatever reason- and the acceptance, the confirmation that your actions are well-received.

Tick tock goes the clock.

Tick tock goes the clock.

Let’s start with an example. You meet someone. You’re at a party, they’re a friend of a friend. Said friend introduces you. When you shake hands, time slows to a halt. Then time stops. There’s a whirring, a shudder in the air between your bodies when your eyes lock. You’re lost in their –  oh, let’s say dark, liquid brown – eyes.

Not to mention the obvious physical chemistry from this first moment on, you’re also fascinated by their intellect, their music taste, their interest in exotic cuisine. You’re excited. This chance comes but once every so often, that you meet someone you’re genuinely interested in. Usually the people you meet are drones barking about football or bimbos whose hair is white and skin is orange. Not this one. This person is a beacon.

You don’t want to let your beacon slip away, so you decide to do something. There’s a tangible connection here, so you make a decision. “I’m going to make a move. I’m going to take action.”

You give them your number. Now girls, I know this is a big step. You’re a feisty, saucy lady putting yourself on the line like that, and I applaud you.

You ask for their number. Guys, I know this is tough this day in age with so many creepers lurking in every corner. Girls have honed their creep-dar, and for you, this is the point of no return. Good luck.

Now, there are also some of you out there who are true Millenials. Stop it. You don’t reach for your cell phone at this point in the conversation. All you do is ask for their last name. Or, even worse, you give them your last name. Except for extenuating circumstances, Facebook is by no means an acceptable form of dating communication. But that’s another story.


What Facebook has become.

For the purposes of this example, let’s say all goes well. They accept your number. They give you their own. Or they give you their last name and confirm they are reachable on Crackbook.

Now comes the wait.

You wait by the phone. You wait to call. You sit on your computer, madly refreshing to see if they’ve confirmed you as a friend.

This is not healthy.

Girls, putting your phone ringer on high+vibrate, carrying it with you everywhere around your apartment/residence/condo/house is wrong. Bringing this potentially blaring package with you into the bathroom while you shower so that you don’t miss a call is wrong. Jumping and swearing every time it rings (but it’s clearly not the call you want) is wrong.

Guys, that also applies to you. These days, it’s possible that you’re the one waiting for a phonecall. The points discussed above are also important for you. But you should also keep in mind that in many cases, the wait doesn’t have to exist with your help. You can call a girl as soon as you want, if you like her. Pay no heed to the “three day rule.” Be sweet and charming during that initial phonecall and you won’t seem creepy. Trust me, you won’t seem desperate or needy. You will seem like a man that knows what he wants and knows how to get it.

And Facebookers. Message your newfound friend as soon as you like, then get outside and play. Go run around the block, blow off some steam. Refresh has a truer meaning than hitting a browser button. Get away from the screen and take in some fresh air.

We all hate the wait. The wait is excruciating. The wait is unnecessary. It doesn’t have to exist. Stop waiting, start acting.

Geocaching: A Global Game of Hide and Seek

“Got it!”
A voice echoes in Larose Forest, just east of Ottawa. Two dogs bound towards the group gathered near an old sign propped against a tree. The running dogs hardly make a sound; the pine needles sink into a thick cushion beneath their feet. Walking sticks in hand, ten men dressed in rain gear whip out small notepads to log their find. Wedged behind the sign is a small plastic box, layered in camouflage-print duct tape – though it may as well be a huge wooden chest with brass hinges and lock, hidden here in the middle of the forest. The Saturday Morning Caching Club has found its first cache of the day.

The Saturday Morning Caching Club don their rain gear before their day-long hunt. Photo courtesy Lib Mendonça

The Saturday Morning Caching Club don their rain gear before their day-long hunt. Photo courtesy Lib Mendonça

Geocaching is a real-life worldwide treasure hunt. Enthusiasts of the sport hide waterproof containers full of trinkets (caches) and post the hiding-spot coordinates on the Internet. Users log on to to locate caches within their area. GPS units serve as a treasure map. “Cachers” enter coordinates in their GPS devices and hike until they find the cache. Caches are not buried, but hidden in plain sight. They pop up in forests and parks, and also in urban areas.

The cardinal rule of finding a cache is; if you take something, leave something in return. Though caches can range in size, they often hold small dollar-store items like toy cars, miniature flashlights, gloves, or even rain ponchos to protect fellow geocachers from the elements. There is also a logbook to sign, which lets others know who’s already discovered the treasure. Cachers log their finds online – they each have a detailed list of statistics on the geocaching website.

The sport first emerged in 2000, when satellite systems became available for public use. Since then, the hobby has grown from just 75 caches to over 660,000 caches around the world. So what’s the appeal? The activity gets people outdoors. It fosters a sense of camaraderie and respect for the environment while providing an exciting, safe treasure hunt.

Alane Martinuzzi, a fifth grade teacher in Ottawa, finds the hobby a great incentive to get her three kids away from their video games.  She and her family regularly hunt on weekends. Geocaching poses real-life challenges like steep climbs, muddy terrain, mosquitoes and poison ivy. That’s not to mention the challenge of actually finding the treasure.

“You’re trying to think, ‘Where would I hide it if I was here?'” she says. “You’re trying to get in the head of whoever hid it, and see if you can find it.”

Picture this: a tiny bit of tightly wrapped green paper, no bigger than the tip of your pinky finger. This small cache, hung from the branches of an evergreen tree, was one of the more difficult finds for Martinuzzi and her caching clan.

Caches range in difficulty. They are rated on a scale from one to five stars (easy to hard). Rated on two levels, their “difficulty” level refers to the mental challenge required to find the cache, and “terrain” level refers to the challenges of the physical environment.  Cache owners must consider these aspects when hiding a container.

This box and logbook is a typical find for any geocacher.

This box and logbook is a typical find for any geocacher.

“It’s a user game,” says Lib Mendonça, a former Governor General’s footguard, and avid cacher. “If the users don’t hide anything, there’s nothing to find.”

Mendonça has been geocaching since 2003. Since then, he’s found well over 4,000 caches, and has hidden about 40 active caches.
People who hide caches are also responsible for maintaining them. Caches can get damaged by water and the elements, or they can get “muggled”, a term coined from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. “Muggles”, or people unaware of the sport, sometimes disturb caches unintentionally, removing the cache from its hiding spot or taking its contents. If a cache is misplaced or damaged, users will notify the cache owner through the website. Then the owner must repair or replace the cache.

Finding a cache requires a GPS unit. These devices use the satellites in the Global Positioning System to determine locations that help the user navigate the earth. They serve as a digital compass, or a digital map. Units range in price, from about $100 to $700.

GPS companies like Garmin International have caught on to the geocaching phenomenon. The company has catered to the needs of the caching community, and makes devices that have specific geocaching features. Their Oregon model, for example, allows for paperless caching. Instead of the user printing out cache details from the Internet, the information can be loaded straight into the device. Ted Gartner, a Garmin spokesperson, says the sport’s popularity is one of the reasons the company’s sales have increased. People of all ages are involved in the hobby – from retirees to families with young children.

“Kids like it because it’s kind of a high-tech video-game type of sport,” says Gartner. “Yet you’re still outside, you’re in the great outdoors, you’re getting exercise.”

Geocaching is a great form of exercise for Mendonça. He says Canada’s capital region is a great place for caching. Mendonça says back during the hobby’s inception, there were already people geocaching in Ottawa.

“There was a fairly early adoption, and that means we have a geocaching culture here that some places don’t,” he says.

The city boasts an official caching society, Canada’s Capital Cachers, as well as a few other groups, and many individuals involved in the sport. The hobby attracts men and women, young and old. Even Government-funded not-for-profits have caught onto the trend. NECO Community Futures Development Corporation started an initiative called Ontario GPS Treasure Hunting. The project has placed several geocaches in the Ottawa area, hoping to attract tourism. The project also focuses on GPS training and geocaching events. These factors contribute to Ottawa’s status as a geocaching hub.

Geo-mobsters and reporter Miranda Morningstar pose with a find in Larose Forest.

Geo-mobsters and reporter Miranda Morningstar pose with a find in Larose Forest.

“Ottawa is something of a wonder,” says Mendonça of the city’s vast array of parkland. There are many caches in Ottawa’s urban areas, yet the parklands are teeming with them.

“I don’t know if we appreciate it as much as we should,” Mendonça says. ” The Greenbelt gives us all these spaces, all these trails, all these forests that are just absolutely full of caches.”

Ottawa’s community hinges on early enthusiasts, who set the types of caches found here. Though there are many traditional caches in the area, puzzle caches are very popular. These involve more than just locating the cache; they require the seeker to solve a task or some clues. Clues in the first find lead to other caches, and eventually to the last box. For example, one tricky cache in Ottawa involves solving a Rubik’s cube to access a set of coordinates. These lead to the final stash.

Every Saturday morning, the club – or Geo Mob, as they’ve been dubbed – heads out for a hike. They go hunting in a group to collaborate on puzzle caches and to enjoy the outdoors together. Mob members include current and former military personnel, web developers, and students. Though there is a core group of the usual suspects, some days the group’s size reaches 40 cachers. The Mob, formed by Mendonça and fellow cacher Robert Duncan, celebrated its fifth anniversary in December, with no end in sight. Even today’s torrential rain doesn’t stop them. As the group trudges down a muddy ATV trail, dodging chocolate-milk coloured puddles, a couple mobsters speak in tongues. They talk about trolls, gems, and puzzles, using a mish-mash of made-up words. They’re chatting in geocaching terms.

Geocaching has become a cultural phenomenon because people have a hunger for low-risk adventure, says artist and photographer Margot Anne Kelley. For her book, Local Treasures: Geocaching across America, she travelled throughout the United States taking photos and gathering stories about geocaching. Kelley says caching is important because there’s a goal involved, which separates the sport from an ordinary hike.
“People like having a destination,” Kelley says.

Lib Mendonça and other members of the Caching Club dig into their well-earned bounty.

Lib Mendonça and other members of the Caching Club dig into their well-earned bounty.

The geocaching website allows cachers to connect with other cachers around the globe. Groundspeak, a Seattle-based company, was established to maintain the geocaching website. The site provides the infrastructure to log coordinates and to maintain a database of caches.
Cachers can log finds like “travel bugs” and “geocoins”, which are little trinkets with a specific numerical code. A cacher finds a bug at one cache, logs it online, and places it in another. This cycle continues, and the items gradually hitchhike worldwide.

“People live vicariously through these little minions they put out there in the world,” says Mendonça. He set a bug free here in Ontario, and has been tracking its progress online. Notable stops include Australia, Japan, Switzerland, and South Africa.

Since there are now caches all over the world, many cachers can travel and search abroad. Cachers taking a trip can also plan to meet up with the geocaching community where they’ll be visiting. Mendonça has searched in Toronto, Montreal, and Cape Cod.  He and his family lived in Essex for a short time, and he was able to search all over the UK. Mendonça likes to combine travel and geocaching.

“It can take you to these hidden little gems that you wouldn’t have heard of otherwise,” he says. “Places that aren’t in the tour books or even on the map.”

Since many hunts take place in parks, forests, and other natural environments, the geocaching community is dedicated to keeping the environment healthy. Cachers take part in an initiative called Cache In Trash Out (CITO), events that help clean up the trails where caching takes place. CITO has evolved over time to incorporate international clean-up days as well as everyday environmental awareness.

“Geocachers are outdoor enthusiasts,” says Shauna Maggs, marketing director for Groundspeak. “They really care about the trails.”

As the GeoMob treks through the forest, they keep their eyes peeled for garbage. They find a bucket, its worn camouflage paint giving way to its true white colour. The bucket once contained trinkets, but the cache has been replaced, and the bucket abandoned. It’s CITO material. One mobster brings the bucket along to place it in its rightful spot – the trashcan.

Raindrops roll off their hoods and hat brims. The Mob has been hiking for six hours. After a quick stop for coffee, soup and sandwiches at Tim Hortons, they’re off to find a few more caches in Casselman, a town east of Limoges. Their GPS units lead them to a spot near a small dam and waterfall. Mobsters clamber over slippery, ash-grey rocks in search of the treasure. Someone spots the clear tupperware container, and they sign the logbook.

With this find, the hunt is winding down. Some mobsters load into their cars to head back to the city, yet others forge on, eager to tackle a puzzle cache. This will be their twelfth cache of the day. They’re determined, despite the weather.

For the Saturday Morning Caching Club, the sport is all about community. Every week, they gather to enjoy a hike and the challenge of geocaching. The community is always expanding, because the hobby is something anyone can do. All it takes is an Internet connection, a GPS unit, and the will to get outside. Geocachers put down their video games and get up off the couch. They’re involved in a global game of hide and seek.

For more information, see the  Official Geocaching Website.

Old Man Winter

“When I was your age, I walked five kilometres to school in the freezing cold…”

Well, I’m not a feeble, whistle-through-my-teeth grandparent, but recently I’ve been doing just that.

The OC Transpo, Ottawa’s transit system, has been on strike since Dec. 10, for 38 days and counting. I was lucky to have narrowly missed the start of the strike, as I escaped Ottawa on Dec. 4 to get a head start on my winter break and visit my brother in Montreal.

How cold weather makes me feel sometimes.

How cold weather makes me feel sometimes.

Since I returned to this beautiful, cold city in early January, I’ve been walking everywhere.

The first day of class, it wasn’t so bad. My roommate and I set off, Tim Hortons in hand, hopeful that the extra walking would seriously improve our respective silhouettes. I knew it would when I arrived in class, panting and sweaty.

But what was I thinking? Walking in pairs is fine – misery loves company – but when it came time to fly it solo later that week, I was devastated. It didn’t help that I’d contracted a bad case of the sniffles.

The -30°C weather didn’t help much either. As soon as I stepped outside, the hairs on the insides of my nostrils froze together – a novel feeling while walking to the bus stop, a painful annoyance when endured for an hour. I tried to bundle up accordingly.

My winter expedition look.

My winter expedition look.

The Trek – A Checklist:

  • Tank top, t-shirt, sweater
  • Leggings under pants
  • Double pair of socks (one cotton, one wool)
  • Sorel boots
  • Long down coat
  • Scarf wrapped securely around face
  • Rabbit-lined hunter’s hat, attached around face, under chin
  • Hot Paws mittens
  • Sunglasses (to prevent snow-blindness)

I looked ridiculous. But no matter, who cares about fashion on what feels like a life or death survival expedition? Not me.

My brother and I in the Arctic. Oh no wait, that's just Ottawa.

My brother and I in the Arctic. Oh no wait, that's just Ottawa.

This was all fine and good until the scarf-over-face bit backfired and my breathing fogged up my anti-snow-blindness goggles, rendering me, well, blind. The humidity from my breath caused my sunglasses to fog up and freeze solid. My breath also made my hair freeze together. Good thing I blow dried my hair.

As I coughed, horked and sputtered my lonely way up Bank St., I felt helpless. I’m a reasonably fit 20-something woman, with drive and determination, and I’m ready to collapse right into a snowbank. I couldn’t help but think about the elderly during this time and how they must be coping during the strike.

A brief side note: You may ask, “Why not take a cab?” Well my dears, due to the strike, there are extra cars on the road, traffic is terrible at best, and taxis are expensive. They are also hard to come by. I was flagging consistently, and in what I’d guesstimate to be a 1-km jaunt, not one cab came to my rescue.

The poor old people! They usually line the buses with their trundle-buggies, walkers and canes. They are the pulse, the lifeblood of the transit system. They sit up front in the reserved seating and talk to the bus driver about the weather. They travel three stops, not because they’re lazy, but because they actually can’t walk the three blocks comfortably.

Winter is a dangerous time for the elderly. Shoveling-induced heart attacks, slips on icy pavement, severe cold due to poor circulation – it’s a jungle out there.

The next time I see an old person out there in the snow, I’ll help them with their groceries or help them cross the slippery road. Anything to lend a hand.

The transit strike is no picnic, but at least I have a young, able body. As bad as it is, I still can walk the five km in the freezing cold.

Breakfast Foods

I am not a breakfast person.

So many people are mesmerized by the thought of eggs, pancakes, and all-day breakfast specials. They love breakfast so much, they could eat it any time, all the time.

Brunch. Photo courtesy of Avery.

Brunch. Photo courtesy of Avery.

When given the option, at say, brunch, I’m the first one to grab the non-breakfast items. “Breakfast” sausages, a muffin, crudités, or things that could fit in at any meal (at least in my mind), like fruit or cheese.

Don’t get me wrong. There are certain things I like. I love french toast, when someone makes it for me. I love croissants, danishes, and pretty much anything combining fruit and pastry.

Pancakes are just wrong. Save the explosive, hot blueberry pancake, they’re easy to screw up. It’s impossible to get the perfect balance of syrup. Too much, and they’re lifeless, drowning blobs with no fluff or bounce to be had. Too little and they’re dry, pasty and boring. I can only really handle them served with real maple syrup (I’m from Canada, eh?).

I guess the reason why I’m writing this is that I’ve started to like breakfast.

An organic chocolate-chip pancake. Photo courtesy of Avery.

An organic chocolate-chip pancake. Photo courtesy of Avery.

Not TRUE breakfast foods, I guess. But the act of breakfast. Just getting up, enjoying a meal, and reading the news.

Let me share some meals I’ve had lately:


  • Dark rye bread and butter
  • A bowl of cranberry-raspberry yogurt
  • Two clementines
  • Earl Grey tea with milk


  • A toasted blueberry bagel and cream cheese
  • A pink grapefruit, halved and cut into sections
  • Earl Grey tea with milk

Today’s breakfast wasn’t as interesting, but nonetheless delicious: A bowl of Oatmeal Crisp with raisins and milk.

Recently, I’ve taken to breakfast. Not pancakes or eggs, but food that I genuinely enjoy, eaten at breakfast.

So what does that make me? A non-breakfast food, breakfast-time lover?

I am what I am, I suppose. A food lover. At any time of day.

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