About fifteen years ago, I read the book Dakota by the poet Kathleen Norris and through her description, developed a love for places that are no place.

The image of a democracy of barrenness rings true when one turns on the TV and finds bland programs designed for the widest possible audiences, or when one drives a busy freeway, or walks through an airport parking garage (or a shopping mall), places that are no place, where you can’t tell by looking if you are in Tulsa or Tacoma, Minneapolis or Memphis. 

—Kathleen Norris, “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography”

Anytime I can identify places that are no place, part of me gets excited—I found one, Kathleen!—and part of me is comforted by their mundane colorlessness. I commit the scene to memory: sterile hospital waiting rooms with their stacks of dingy, infected, outdated magazines. Laundromats that smell of chemicals designed to describe the feeling of cleanliness. Serpentine halls of airport terminals, never-ending, with swirly, stain-hiding carpets and overachieving stains that still show through.

There are also places intended to be temporary, at least for you, and I find them to be unsettling reminders of our own impermanence: hotel rooms with thin sheets and that one weird velvety blanket. The table/chair/bed contraption in the doctors office, covered by thin white paper just for you, just for your visit. College dormitories, noisy and largely there for your convenience, not comfort.

That is where I now find myself, a temporary place that is no place, and I’m trying to figure out whether or not this tiny little dorm room in Fairbanks, Alaska is home.

But what is home?

Is it the place where you live, or the place where you are from? When does a place start to become home, and when does it cease to be? Is home a place for you, your things, your present or your past?

Usually you can just tell what home feels like. It’s a warm fire and a cozy sweater, blanket on your lap and book in your hand. It’s the sound of your best friend’s laughter filling your dining room. It’s the safe, familiar place where you are unapologetically, uninhibitedly you.

I’ve yet to find that here, though I am trying. I like to take a book and my new wool blanket into the common room on Sunday mornings, cautiously enjoying the quiet and calm before the storm like a pilot that flies into a hurricane’s eye to gather data. That room is also where I sit at the large table to do my homework, where I sit on the couch and watch Habs games on my iPad, where my new friendships are born during study breaks and all-nighters alike. Being stuck alone in my austere room with the few items I brought feels like I’m a dog being crate trained, no matter how many tapestries I hang on the walls (currently: 6).

Most of my possessions are at my dad’s house in California, haphazardly packed into cardboard boxes I didn’t even bother to label. I don’t live there and I never have; if it didn’t have my dad’s cars in the garage and my dog running in the yard, it would be just another place that is no place, a suburban ranch-style house that could be any cul-de-sac in any town, anywhere on the West Coast.

Most of my recent memories are of San Francisco, which was home for so long that it’s hard not to think of anything before that as my personal ancient history. San Jose is, Lawrence is, Campbell is. They are all places of my past that I will carry with me wherever I go, neatly organized, labeled and boxed up, ready to unpack in my new home—wherever that is.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done this, since I made a home in a new place, and it’s also something I’ve never really done on my own. I’m going to be here for at least two more years (more if I stay and pursue a PhD and yes I will make people call me Doctor), but the temporary and transitional nature of my current surroundings makes me a little bit afraid to unload those boxes, unpack them, and make this place my home.

Don’t Get Black Flagged

In auto racing, flags rule everything. A green flag signals to drivers to go. A black and white checkered flag ends the race. And a vehicle that breaks a rule or that presents a physical threat to itself or other drivers is shown the black flag. This signals that the driver is to get off the track and take their car to the garage or pit.

A number of things can cause a black flag: something has come off the car, like a spoiler or a tire; the car is incapable of maintaining the track minimum speed, resulting in the car becoming a hazard on the track. If it’s just a physical problem and not a huge rule violation, the driver is usually allowed back on track once the offending issue has been corrected. If your car isn’t running correctly, or you’re not running it safely, you can get black flagged.

Drinking and driving can get you black flagged.

This Old Car

I have this old car. It’s a one-of-a-kind 1985 model that has aged remarkably well, but it doesn’t run like it used to. It needs a little body work, and a ton of help under the hood. It could definitely be something really powerful when I put some time and effort into it.

The damn thing it idles way too fast. It’s especially bad in the mornings. Even sitting in neutral, it idles at almost twice as many RPMs as it should and the whole body shakes. Not only does the shaking look bad, but I worry that it puts stress on other parts and that it could rattle something else loose. Or break a seal and spill something gnarly.

It has trouble shifting too, especially on cold mornings. You have to fight to get it out of neutral and into first gear, and you have to push it into second. Good luck getting it to go any higher. It’s slow to accelerate in any gear, and it stalls out if it drives too fast for too long. How long is too long? It varies each time. So does the gear in which it stalls. It’s incredibly unpredictable, so you’re better off just leaving it in the garage all day.

Can I get mine iced, please? No whip.

Fuel consumption is irregular, too. I think there is problem with the fuel pump. Sometimes it feels like it can go forever on a single tank, and sometimes it needs lots of little refills. It also runs out of fuel all the time, sputtering and lurching to an embarrassing, ungraceful stop.

It could use a little chemical help too, maybe a fuel additive of some sort to clean out the gunk in the engine and help it run cleaner. I’d like to stay away from these kind of things, but they can help. You just have to be really careful with them.

This car should be taken to a mechanic, or it’s gonna be shown the black flag. As much as I’d like to think I can do all this work on my own—I am certainly stubborn enough—I need to acknowledge that this is a large, long-term project. I can’t do all that work on my own, no matter how much I convince myself I can. It’s important to me that I feel like I am in control of things like this.

Maintenance Required

You know what really complicates maintaining this car?
I am the car.

C'est moi! I like to think I’m THIS super hot car.

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Ukrainian Day in Golden Gate Park

What’s the easiest way to get me to go outside? Sports. Second easiest way? Slavic festivals.

Did you know California is home to a substantial Ukrainian-American population? It’s true! Los Angeles alone has at least 34,000 residents that identify as Ukrainian, and there are at least as many spread throughout the Bay Area.

The first Ukrainian to come to the Bay Area was Agapius Honcharenko, who arrived in America in 1865. He called his homestead Ukraina Ranch, and its official address was Hayward, Ukraina, California. Agapius hated gophers, according to the pamphlet about him that I picked up at today’s Ukrainian Day in Golden Gate Park.

Hopefully no gophers snuck into today’s event. There was dancing and singing, beautiful traditional costumes, but unfortunately no food. Ukrainian food is some of the best on the planet. Though I saw no mention of food on the festival website (click the kozak!), I held out hope that food would make an appearance. It did not.

Mad Men's Paul Kinsey has the best, most useful pickup line: Mad Men’s Paul Kinsey has the best, most useful pickup line: “Do you like Ukrainian food?”. Так, Paul. Так.

Today’s event follows the 24th anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence, which falls on 24 August. This is the second year in a row that the celebrations have taken place while Ukraine is fighting illegal Russian occupation in its Crimea region. And just this week, two Ukrainians were sentenced to 10 and 20 years jail time for the act of “terrorism”. After their sentence was read, the men sang the Ukrainian anthem. In the Russian courtroom. Because Ukrainians are badass.

How badass? One of the folk songs performed today described Ukrainians defending their land from invaders (a common theme throughout their history, Ukraine’s so great everyone wants a piece). Included in its introduction was the phrase “You can have our land, but only for your graves”.

Gangster. Folk gangster.

And Cossack men wear a super rad punk rock haircut:

Sviatoslav I, athiest son of Saint Olga, rocking a chupryna haircut.

Check out the photos below to see more from today’s event in Golden Gate Park. Please be a conscientious citizen and learn and share information about the situation in Ukraine; Vice News is a good place to start. And find a Ukrainian person—they’re everywhere—to show you how to cook delicious food.

yarik Yaroslav from Kyiv with his Ukrainian flag and trizub t-shirt. The trizub, or trident, is a symbol of Ukraine.


vinoki Two girls wearing floral headdresses called vinok.
vinokandvyshyvanka LIttle dancers wearing their best vyshyvanka embroidered shirts and headdresses called a vinok.

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NASCAR at Sonoma Raceway


It’s taken me years to say this openly, but here it goes: I love NASCAR.

When I tell people I’m a lifelong NASCAR fan, I usually get a funny look from them in response. The stereotype is that stock car racing is for rednecks, folks from small towns with small minds who like getting drunk in the sun and yelling “Woo!” at cars that turn left.

But that isn’t the case. Twice a year the cars turn right, when they go on road courses at Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

And lots of different kinds of people like NASCAR. I’ve met people from around the world at tracks, and in general race fans are friendly, intelligent, generous people. There are some lame fans, but that’s typical of any sports fanbase.

And people like NASCAR for a variety of reasons. Some fans get into the sport cos they love competition, which NASCAR has plenty of–between drivers, teammates, man and machine. And some people were just born into families that have a lot of car-related hobbies. That’s what happened to me.


The Sundays of my childhood were spent watching the weekly NASCAR and NHRA races with my dad on stolen cable. My dad liked to come up with plans for our own race team. Dad would be my crew chief, obviously. He would also help the sponsors make my commercials, since he came up with awesome ideas like “Just as you cross the finish line the camera cuts to inside the car, and you lift your visor and say ‘Maybe it’s Maybelline!’ with a wink to the camera. Then it cuts to you doing a burnout! You can get free mascara or whatever!”. Free mascara! My dad was a genius.

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I didn’t think to learn “Hey can I pet your dog?” in French prior to leaving, but that did not stop me from finding a big fluffy dog to pet whilst talking with his two handlers. I can’t recall the name of anyone I met on this trip except for that dog. He was called Barkley, and like a good bilingual Montreal dog, he seemed to understand my English just fine.

One of the best parts of Montreal is the old town, or Vieux-Port. We ate poutine and watched an episode of 24CH in a charmless fast food restaurant between rounds of cold (outside) and old (inside). We walked the cobblestone streets, felt bad for a horse who clearly hated his job as a mode of transportation for tourists, and paid a woman to pour hot syrup on ice so we could roll it up on a stick and try to eat it before it warmed and dripped all over us. Ryan took a walk along the St Lawrence River while I grabbed some crappy rental skates and I did something I waited over twenty years to do: ice skate in the snow.

I’m not from a place where it snows in winter, but a place where outdoor rinks are a novelty you gawk at between lunch and more shopping at Union Square. It doesn’t snow at the Winter Lodge. But snow and cold feel so right to me. It’s my thing. And here I was in Montreal, on the first day of winter, so happy to lace up rental skates, pull my toque over my ears and join the other skaters under the snow. I wished I had headphones so I could listen to something better than the Christmas music the rink was playing, but I would’ve missed the moment when a group of college students from Spain squealed and loudly sang along when “Feliz Navidad” came over the speakers. Or the two old women who whispering and sharing smiles in Russian or Ukrainian, the white leather boots of their figure skates completely unmarred. Both babushkas moved as if they were born on the ice, and had I not seen them carefully lacing their skates in the lodge, I would have assumed they were born with those on too.

After a while I moved to the side of the rink and sat on the ledge. A huge Bernese mountain dog bounded over to request some attention, but ran away before I caught her name. I closed my eyes and put together a little snow globe in my head to take home: me, the dog, the rink and the river, and a whirlpool of skaters. Then I took a selfie because tears-of-joy-in-the-snow is a good look for me, and it’s not every day you fulfill [relatively easy] lifelong dreams.

Montreal at Night

Have you figured out that snowy places are my happy place?  I especially love cold places at night, so I totally didn’t mind walking–even if it was literally the coldest place either of us had been in years. That’s what scarves are for. Our hotel was a kilometer from the Bell Center, a short walk we took several times over four days. Sometimes it was so cold that I could hear my camera having a hard time–the shutter would open but take forever to close, and nothing was exposed correctly. I was perplexed at first before remembering that I’ve never taken a digital camera to such a cold place–it was out of operating temperature! To keep it warm, I tucker my camera inside my jacket between a few layers of clothes and only pulled it out when I really wanted to shoot something. It still resulted in a lot of under- and over-exposed shots, but that just means I’ll have to come back again. With hand warmers.

Around Montreal

Montreal bagels are hands down the best in the world. I feel cheated by every bagel I had until these babies came into my life. Before leaving the hotel I took a look at a map and found the cartoon bagel floating above some neighbourhood not far past the park. Mile End? Plateau? We took a bus to the bagel part of town and walked straight to Fairmount. It was a few degrees over freezing outside, and dry and hot like a sauna inside. You could see your breath. We ordered the hottest, freshest bagels (which happened to be sesame), shoved them in our coat pockets and hauled it to St. Viateur to do a grab one of their sesame bagels, also fresh. For the record, I don’t even like sesame bagels, but the concierge at the hotel (who looked so much like Pascal Dupuis I had a strong urge to punch him in the face) said to get whatever is hot because it will be the best…but Fairmount was his fave.

Dude was right. Both the Fairmount and St. Viateur bagels were the most delicious bagels I’ve ever had. And although I was determined to like St. Viateur more (they had black cherry soda, which pairs well with everything), the Fairmount bagel was slightly better. Both were absolutely perfect–warm, a touch of honey, a chewey outside and a soft middle, but the Fairmount one was just better. The next week we had some New York bagels for comparison and I still maintain Montreal’s are better. I pine for them regularly.

After bageling, we walked around enjoying the warm sun and little shops around the Plateau area. I decided that if we moved, we should move here: it is close to bagels, falafel, and a magical place where French wine is cheaper than California wine called SAQ. We then stumbled upon a library that used to be a church–a total, complete Shannon Trap. I’ve now been to a library on 4 separate vacations in 3 countries so if you thought I was cool, you can definitely stop now.

There were so many things that we forgot or didn’t get around to doing, mostly because we had very little time and it was very cold. We didn’t make it to the top of the mountain in the park, where you can see the river and the city below. When we had the chance, we were cold and cranky. We only ate at one smoked meat sandwich shop instead of two, and I only had 6 poutine in 4 days. The anthropology museum, which I now realise would have been largely empty and well-heated, was left unseen and I gave up on walking across town to photograph a street sign with my name on it–sorry, Shannon Street. There was so much we wanted to see that we had a great trip and still only did half of what we intended.

Next time, I’m bringing hand warmers or coming earlier in the year. I’ll also consider renting a car so I can drive around, and I’ll practise my French more before leaving.

Hockey History: The Oakland Skates & My Hockey Card Holy Grail

Last week I learned about Roller Hockey International, a league that existed for a few years in the 1990s (thanks to Marek, who mentioned it on the MvsW podcast). You can tell it was the 90s because all the RHI team logos look like they were made by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in Corel Draw. Any of these logos alone qualify as a jersey foul, and some of the names, too: Radz, Rage, and Voodoo, looking at you.

Source: sportslogos.net, best site ever Source: sportslogos.net, best site ever

Some of these logos are confusing, like why is the cobra wearing a skate if he doesn’t have a foot? Is that a goal stick? Is the cobra a goalie? Wait, Arizona has cobras?! But I digress.

Do you see the Oakland Skates up there? When I first heard the name I pictured a green sweater with a white skate logo like the painted white skates the Oakland Seals wore, but I was wrong. It’s like the fish. They’re probably named for several types of skates that live in the San Francisco Bay with all the other frightening sea creatures. Or maybe the Oakland Skates are a band? Look at their first logo. We saw them open at Gilman that one time, right?

“Thank you guys for coming out tonight, we are Oakland Skates, this is the first track off our new record Roller Hockey”. (image source: sportslogos.net)

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Playoff Nails

In 2009, I started getting acrylic manicures during NHL playoffs so I wouldn’t bite my nails. My logic was that if I paid $30 for them, I wouldn’t bite them. It totally worked! Six years later, I do them myself because they’re finally naturally long and strong enough. Seriously, it broke my nailbiting habit. Playoff hockey is so intense it can break deep psychological fixations or dependencies.

Now I do my nails myself. Last year I tried a different colour on each hand–one for the Sharks and one for the Canadiens–but the whole time I felt very off because my hands didn’t match. I will probably never try that again, so I’m grateful the Sharks didn’t make it. This year I wanted to go big and do the hardest thing within reach, which was to basically make tiny sweaters on my nails. Maybe next year I’ll add numbers.


Products used:
American Classics Gelish (base and top)
Essie “Blanc” (white)
Essie “Lacquered Up” (red)
Sinful Colors “Endless Blue” (blue)
Seche Vite Quick Dry Top Coat
Vinyl stickers as guides for lines

At a salon, a manicure is anywhere from $15 to $30 dollars. Nail art is usually about $5 per nail. I used regular pilish, but Gelish makes my manicures last several days without issue (and I highly suggest you grab some at Sally Beauty). This would probably cost me $70 if I went to a salon and had someone do this for me.

Wait… $70?! I should be a nail tech.

I Love Eurovision (and you should too!)

It’s almost spring and that means Europe is preparing for the best non-sporting tournament in the world: the Eurovision Song Contest! While not a fan of any of the American song or music competitions, to say I look forward to Eurovision every year is a massive understatement. I’m straight up obsessed with it.


This is the contest that launched the career of ABBA and helped bring Celine Dion to the attention of non-Francophones the world over when she performed for Switzerland, which in 1988 was part of Quebec (jk). I have no idea how I got into Eurovision. Was it a European friend? Is it because I listen to a lot of Russian pop music? Regardless, it is a cult that I am really passionate about and I want you to be too. So I’ve selected some highlights and some fails from this year’s contest and I invite you to learn more and get really, really into some silly pop music with me. Even if you hate the songs, it makes a good drinking game.

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