Sunday, July 18

Cookies & Cycling

Pure pleasure: baking and bicycles. Back to basics: sweet and tantalizing on one end and refreshing liberation on the other. The ONLY thing not wonderful about these two things is that you can’t do them simultaneously. At least not easily.

I learned about the wonderfulness of baking from a long line of people who were darn good at it! Perfected family recipes, culinary courage to create and the secret ingredient in all baked goods: (no matter how cliché or gag-inducing) love. You never just bake something. You create it. Well, perhaps cookie dough that comes pre-formed in petroleum-based packaging isn’t exactly your loving creating… but you gotta start somewhere.

Then with some luck my inner baking-goddess found herself college roommates who helped hone the craft and libraries of websites devoted to making my cook-book cupboard a veritable antique shop! To my own surprise everything from pies to yeast breads have been conquered in my kitchen, but no matter what the baking epitome is still cookies.
And for good reason: there are usually fewer tedious or expensive ingredients in cookie recipe than other things like cinnamon buns or cheese cakes; cookies are baked in 8-10 minutes; you can eat the dough while you wait; and usually you only need one mixing bowl and spoon (less dishes afterwards – especially if you line your baking tray with some parchment paper, that’s an insider tip right there). If you are now torn between finishing reading and pre-heating the oven I understand.

Then came the bikes. I have to say this has been a much different love affair and I may very well be in the (second) honeymoon phase with bicycles. Obviously all approximately-seven-year-olds have their first-love bicycles, but all too often within about eight years (North Americanly speaking) this monumental relationship has been banished to the confines of “babyish” or the even more dreaded “uncool.” But the somewhat collective renewal of the bicycle vows have made my pedal-powered generator whirr with delight. My own love was temporarily crushed when a stranger ignored my padlock and ended my 5 year off and on romance with Gigi the 12 speed. I took a 14 month hiatus from all things cycling for reasons of grief and winter. Then all things were righted when I found Lola.

Oh semi-cruiser Lola with your periwinkle frame! I lock you up in my closet because I love you and that’s the truth.

Sitting here on my couch I can almost feel the gears shifting and the dinging of mandatory bell when passing pedestrians (which is, something of a regulation in my fair municipality) it is just so pleasant to feel wind in your hair (well, under the complementary blue helmet) and see the things you would have missed in a bus or car ,but (and this is the best part) getting there in a third of the time it would have taken to walk! Oh what fun it is to ride… my bicycle all day long. (Sing it with me now…)

Chocolate chips and spokes?? So here’s my attempt to bring these seemingly unrelated loves together and I hope it will soon be more than just a crazy plan. Since I splurged for the saddle bags not for reasons of practicality or grocery shopping, no, I can fill each 70 litre sack with home-baked cookies and ride off into the sunset. If you don’t hear from me in three weeks… assume I am fine and happy and eating a lot of cookies while pedaling to my heart’s content.

But before that... do the world a favour, three favours actually - first, bake some cookies. There will always be someone who you can share with or might smell their warm wafting scent out your window or door. Quite simply you are making the world a better place. Second, ride a bike somewhere. You are free to go from road to sidewalk and back again (with due caution of course) and how much more liberating can it get? You are free to wave and smile at anyone you pass too. Then heck! Then let’s make life a party and try doing these things at the same time: ta da! There you go: cookies and cycling! Sounds like heaven to me. And if nothing else… do the things you love. I guess I can’t expect everyone to dream of cookie picnics beside two-wheeled human-powered transportation.

However, don’t forget that the most important thing in all this is to realize how great it is while it’s happening. In the significantly paraphrased words of Kurt Vonnegut: too often people don’t see when something truly wonderful is happening. So next time you are in the middle of doing something lovely think to yourself, ‘my! If this isn’t nice then I don’t know what is!’

Wednesday, July 14


I want to find out who invented oxymorons. I think they are quite wonderful (this illustrious inventor and his/her invention). I must admit that oxymorons are the most wonderful of all when used ironically but, simultaneously aren't so asinine that they cause me a frustration induced migraine.

It's hard, like with so many potentially annoying things (such as the blatant misuse of the apostrophe) to ascertain where one can draw a line between uncontrollable giggles of amusement and forceful vigilante vengeance. It's a subtle distinction. It is also a subtle understanding. An understanding of language that doesn’t always find itself in common practice. I’m definitely not saying that people don’t understand oxymorons or would be better off if they did understand them. I think the real underlying bit of wonderful here is that interest and even snippets of joy that comes from understanding a language really well. Now this is sounds linguistically elitist, I’m sure, but be assured that in no way am I discouraging people from learning only a bit of another language or trying to assert that English is better than other languages – again, totally untrue. I won’t go into a long spiel about the benefit of multi-lingualism but I will say that no matter how many languages – the ability for expression is not only empowering but it also, in my opinion, encourages more diverse and plentiful ideas and innovations.

How many times has some ingenious use of language inspired you? Sadly if you are only reading billboards this may not happen as often as you would like (or clearly, as I might like). So revel in the chances you get. It is a giant pinprick of light flooding an endless ocean – these linguistic lightning strikes in a curious mind.

Wednesday, July 7

Urban Hiking

Okay it’s official! No one knows the difference between walking and hiking. I attended a workshop yesterday from two long-experienced hikers from a local mounteering club and it became clear that there was no distinctive, solid delineation between hiking and walking.

Don’t even bother looking on the Internet or in a Dictionary (you know, the big book that doesn’t have phone numbers it in). If you find something that looks authoritative, you’re wrong. If you have a gut feeling you know the difference… you don’t. Don’t worry, I can already tell. At BEST you are going to give your subjective personal interpretation and likely try and pull in something scientific like physical exertion rates or the gradients of the trail or path. You might think that walking is less strenuous but I have learned otherwise. Consider, this sage-like wisdom: you are only as fast as the slowest hiker. Of course, this is based on a essential arguments that you a) want to have a slowest hiker in your group and b) you want to wait for them and keep them in your group. I think the only answer to this is that, yes, OF COURSE you want a ‘slowest hiker’ in your party! It’s the only way the famished wild cat or black bear will spare you on account of YOU not being the slowest hiker of the bunch. But I digress.

Back to your feeble attempts to figure out the difference between hiking and walking. At best, all of your authoritative references are really only attempts. Yes, even for those of you with a great the up-the-side-of-a-mountain anecdote or trails with the word “hiking” in it examples. I am about to blow that all out of the water with two words: urban hiking. This is most certainly a taste of wonderful. Definitely. The premises here is that you can have all the joy and escapism of hiking with none of the costs or hassle. We all live somewhere and have to go somewhere else: so try Urban Hiking to get there. No it’s not the same as that low-culture, un-glamourous walking! I would never suggest that. This is Urban Hiking. You can discover and experience and marvel… at things you THOUGHT you saw everyday but have never really observed.
 unofficial Urban Hiking mecca: NYC

It bends your mind just a little bit and pushes you on into realms of wonderful when you move at a human pace and do so with the goal of noticing. It seems to me that if I negate everything I said up until this sentence about the non-existent definitions of walking and hiking that there is significant difference in the essence of the two activities. It is precisely our frame of mind while we are participating or anticipating them. Both walking and hiking let you move at this wonderful human-pace but only hiking instantly initiates (to the point of demanding) a heightened sense of observation and opportunities for marvelling.

Consider the last time you went on a “hike” and didn’t notice anything about the bends in the trail, how the tree roots intersected the path and whether or not there was a patch of mud or a creek blocking the path? Now try to remember the way the sidewalk looks or if there are benches or flowers between your home, say, and the grocery store. I’m not saying you can’t but there is most definitely a lack of detail or excitement, is there not? And if it’s not your walk from the market then maybe it’s some other trail. Think of all the stupid boring walks that could become treks on an average weekday! Don’t feel that you have to live in a metropolis to try Urban Hiking. You could also do Rural Hiking, Suburban Hiking or even Foreign Hiking like I alluded to earlier (for example the photo of Hikers below was taken while I was on Foreign Hike in Budapest, Hungary).

If there were rules about Urban Hiking I think there would be only two and it would be essential to follow both: 1) Observe your moments of awe and 2) No treadmills allowed. And a suggestion (but not a rule) on the pragmatic end of things (in light having both a chiropractor and massage therapist): consider your footwear options before and a light stretching routine after your Urban Hiking adventure.

Beyond that, it’s all fair game. Urban Hiking wouldn’t even need to be outdoors but I highly recommend it. Hike in your office from the board to staff meeting. Try or places in your neighbourhood, school or (dare I say it) shopping mall but do it with the same open and expectant mind that you would if you had just discovered a beautiful forest clearing in which to pitch your tent or have flown yourself to one of the Wonders of the World at great expense as if that currency was buying you wonder.

Sunday, July 4

Writing Safari

I am starting this blog with a recent wonder-seeker invention of mine. I hope it will give insight into the purpose of recording and reflecting on my exploration of wonderful. At first I was calling it a Writing Road Trip, which is accurate but I didn't think it was broad enough. The notion of a Safari is going to be the over arching term that I'll break up into specific categories including the Writing Road Trip and others I haven't figured out yet.

Here was how the plan was born: I realized that often times I make this same highway drive at maximum speed (which is, OF COURSE, the posted speed limit... or something like that...) and thereby make the trip at maximum efficiency and perhaps minimum wonder. Recently, I found myself thinking about the concept of 'exploration' (for interesting reasons I will not get into here, but delved into something that began to sound like post-colonial discourse) and how there is no longer "uncharted territory." It seems that if everything is already discovered that there is no longer a sense of wonder to it all. I just couldn't believe it. Even though the ground has all been 'found' there must be someway to pluck out a healthy dose of wonder, through observation and allotment of time, from what is already growing there. Frankly, it was just that: wonder-in-bloom!

In this unexpected adventure I got some really great ideas. The biggest was the possibility of a simple act of opening my mind to this previously-mundane trip being an exploration of wonderful. Opting to take some side roads and make notes about the unique local signs, streets, parks and buildings opened up the potential in everything and it was hard to see anything that was not some how wonderful. I stopped four times as the maps and signs directed me along the secondary highway. In each community I tried to get a feeling for some part of its essence so made sure to pick a one-of-a-kind place that didn't have a corporate headquarters or nation-wide advertising. I let go of expectations and deadlines and all things to do with efficiency and felt a wonderful sense of freedom. Two of my stops were indoors and food related and the other two were outside. For anyone considering recreating this experience I didn't limit my writing to the things at the location but rather from my whole experience in the community. Through walking, eating, watching and talking I managed to write over 10 pages, drive over 140km and open up a whole new world.

The more I thought about this Writing Road Trip the more ideas for Safaris came to me. You wouldn't have drive, write or even leave your neighbourhood. I suppose you could even try it in your house or apartment, but I like the idea of moving around a bit more than that. I think it would also work perfectly well to do this on a bus or train trip inverting the use of road-time and the stop-time. You could write about one thing from location 1 to location 2 and then change to the second project for location 2 to location 3 etc. I am also convinced that you wouldn't even need to write on a Writing Safari. I know, it ruins the name, but it's really the sense of observation and then the capturing of the story of wonder somehow. You could just tell it, photograph it, videotape it, sketch it or invent a melody.

So now in the aftermath of this Writing Road Trip I am finding myself excited to start observing all the other wonders that are close to home. And I am even more excited to tell the next person who asks me "how long does it take to drive from there?" that my two hour drive turned into a seven hour vacation with a journal full of wonder as my prize for being excited instead of efficient.