Thursday, December 31, 2009

Collards and Black Eyed Pea Soup In The Slow Cooker

I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to give an old recipe a BeingAVeganAthlete spin. I did and it was great! The slow cooker made the work easy and the soup that much heartier. Apparently, this is some sort of traditional recipe from the southern United States. Whatever... I've bastardized it enough to allow it to become a traditional recipe of southern Ontario.

  • 2 small or 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 sticks of celery, diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced (this is conservative - go 6-10 if you really love food)
  • 1 450g bag of dried black eyed peas
  • 6 cups of water
  • 6 TBSP of vegetable broth powder
  • 1 bunch of collard greens, chopped with the stems removed
  • 1 TSP each of thyme, cayenne pepper, paprika, black pepper, basil
  • 1 16 ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 small tin of tomato paste
  • 4 TBSP of extra virgin olive oil

Saute all the veggies (onion, red bell pepper, garlic, celery) in oil until onion is tender, opaque and yellow.

Pour the water into your slow cooker. Add the vegetable broth powder and stir in until dissolved. Put the slow cooker on high and add in black eyed peas, seasoning, tomatoes and tomato paste. Mix everything well and wait for the frying to be complete.

Add the fried mix to the slow cooker and mix in well. Put the collard greens on top and cover the slow cooker. When the greens have softened up, mix well into the soup.

The completion of the soup hinges on the black eyed peas becoming tender enough to be enjoyable to eat. Leave on high for 5-6 hours. You can probably get away with consuming some of the soup at this point but you're better off reducing the heat to low and letting cook overnight.

This soup is hearty enough for biggest meat-eating savage to believe that it's healthy. Healthy it is. This soup is packed with protein, most of your essential vitamins and is basically an anti-oxidant bomb.

Enjoy and Happy New Year to all! Remember to make sure your beer and wine are from a vegan-friendly source then drink to your heart's content.

My Associated Content version of the recipe can be viewed here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Smith's A Victim Of The Media Monster

Recently, we were media bombed with a story out of Australia where a potato chip company was supposedly about to introduce a new kangaroo and emu flavoured potato chip. This caused an uproar, not only among vegans and vegetarians, but with Australian patriots as well. You see, they felt that it was an insult because a) people would be eating their coat of arms and b) it would be teaching kids that it was fun to go out and kill these animals that so much represented Australia on the international scene. The company in question is Smith's.

As is the case with many stories in the media, this one was missing most of the facts and was meant as a great filler at a slow news time. The suggested flavour was one of four finalists in a contest open to the public to name the company's next potato chip. The company insists that all the flavouring would have been artificial and no kangaroos or emus would have died in the making of this potential new flavour. Being Canadian and vegan, I have no idea what that would have tasted like. My guess is that it would have been just another salt coated potato chip soaked in some sort of cooking oil.

It was very recently announced that Caesar's Salad was the winning flavour. This, of course, will taste like sour cream and onion or all-dressed or salt and vinegar or whatever - they all taste the same in the end. Whether this was a legitimate win - the contest was voted on through their website - or a great public relations fix, there will be no kangaroo and emu chips in Australia unless manufactured by someone other than Smith's.

My guess, after all the international bad press, is that Smith's fixed the vote in favour of any flavour but the kangaroo and emu. Smith's is obviously not affiliated with the Canadian government - the ones who pass legislation despite the unanimous opposition from the majority of the citizens (HST for example).

I was about to write about this when the issue first appeared. I'm glad I didn't. What lesson has been learned? When the media goes viral with a story, did deep to find out the real facts. Shock and awe sell news. Shock and awe are very rarely part of our real world lives.

In other news...

I'm working with a vegan soup recipe I found online at the internet home of the Denver Post. The recipe is meant to be relatively quick and suggests using a pressure cooker or a stovetop pot. I'm making this into a crockpot recipe. Other than the cooking style, however, I'm surprisingly not going to mess with the ingredients much - so unlike me.

Pressure cookers!? So American - always in such a hurry!

Here's the link to the original article at the Denver Post. Stayed tuned to find out how my conversion went.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Book Review: 50-50 by Dean Karnazes

Once again, I'm pushing a great book written by a non-vegan. The last time it was Martin Strel, this time it's Dean Karnazes. Dean Karnazes is the ultimate ultra-runner and an incredible source of inspiration for those of us who wonder just how far the human body can be pushed.

In 2006, Dean embarked on a tour of all the 50 states of the USA, competing in a marathon in each of those 50 days, thus the title. The amazing journey was embarked on to raise awareness to Dean's charity, Karno's Kids. The motto of Karno's Kids is 'No child left inside'. The purpose is to get kids outside and exercising to combat child obesity, diabetes and all the other problems that come with a sedentary lifestyle. So, in a big way, Dean shares similar health related goals with us vegans.

The book could have been boring. A day by day account of someone running exactly the same distance everyday for 50 days doesn't provide much variety. Dean makes this book a great tool for runners or anyone wanting to be extraordinary. Each chapter provides a little insight into the actually event but provides a whole lot more information and inspiration on how to push yourself and live life the way it was truly meant to be lived.

Some of Dean's other unreal accomplishments include running a 200 mile relay solo against teams of 12; travelling 350 miles in one run; has run countless ultra-marathons throughout the world.

Check out this interview with Dean after completing the 2008 Badwater Ultra.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Meet Ricardo!

I've wanted to do this for a long time. Finally, while cleaning out the crisper in the fridge, I came across a neglected avocado. The time was now. I've wanted to try and grow an Avocado tree from seed. It's a useless pursuit as it takes an Avocado tree a good decade to produce fruit. But, if everything we did was practical, we'd live a pretty boring life.

I've named my avocado pit, Ricardo. Why? I can picture Ricardo Montalban saying the word 'avocado' in a way no one else can with that little smirk on his lips and his little friend Tattoo at his side. I'm a little concerned about Ricardo. The fridge is acting up a bit and the outside rind of the avocado was slightly frozen. The flesh was still soft so I'm hoping Ricardo will develop like a normal young avocado. Word is, if there's no action after two weeks, toss out your young and start over again.

In saying that, I've also read that it can take up to six weeks for a sprout and roots to appear. Time is on my side, I'm not banking on the success of my avocado farm - especially in wintery Ontario, Canada.

I've taken the classic method and stuck Ricardo with three toothpicks and then hung him from the top of a small mason jar with his bottom submerged. Avocado pits are directional and the pointy end needs to be up while the bigger, flatter end needs to be in the water.

I need to change the water every week so that it remains oxygenated. I've read that this can wait until a bi-weekly frequency but, I figure, only the best for my Ricardo. Besides, in winter time, the house is so dry that the water will probably evaporate fast enough to need re-filling more than once per week.

Once Ricardo sprouts, he will need to be transplanted to a pot filled with rich soil around the time his roots reach 5-6 inches in length. However, that is a step I'll worry about when the time comes. For now, I just want to get Ricardo out of the incubation stage. Look for updates on Ricardo's progress.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

PETA Is Too Darn Extreme!

I know I've mentioned PETA in previous posts. I've been reading some comments about PETA throughout the web and there's something about the organization I think needs to be addressed. Yes, PETA is extreme in their campaigns. Yes, PETA is over-the-top. It's a necessary evil if you want to get your point across.

You can't get the world's attention by having bake sales, selling quilts, putting on puppet shows and compromising every action so not to offend anyone. You must push the limits of acceptability to get through 6 billion thick skulls that are walking this earth, mostly in a daze.

McDonalds constantly bombards the television viewing screen with images of fit, young, happy, successful, leaders of society packing away Big Macs like they were a hunk of broccoli. I would call this extreme and possibly over-the-top. Why don't they be a little more realistic and show obese customers wolfing down their rain-forest killing, cancer causing, heart attack-on-buns. Then, show them waddling to the bathroom, using either a walker or cane for support, to have a sit down to make room for the sundae that's waiting for them back at the table.

The same applies for Coca-Cola and Pepsi. It's a tad bit extreme that they basically advertise their sugar and chemical filled drinks as sports drinks. There's nothing better to quench the thirst and revitalize the body during a heavy bout of exercise than a good glass of poison. And, hey, if you're unfortunate enough to be packing on a few pounds, try the diet version packed with aspartame. There's nothing like a chemical that increases your blood pressure and causes nervous disorder (oh, but you have no proof of that - says the big corporate lawyer).

I remember a few years ago, another organization that is simply trying to save the world, was getting abused throughout the media because they flew a jet to protest events and that was counteractive to their environmental beliefs. Unfortunately, taking a row boat across the Atlantic to attend a demonstration and arriving 3 months late does not usually have a great effect. Greenpeace is a great organization but they are pegged as extreme and over-the-top as well.

We, in Canada, have a government that is supposedly against smoking, drinking and gambling. Yet, taxes on cigarettes and alcohol pretty much pay for the operation of the country. Government run casinos are constantly advertised as the greatest, funnest experience on the face of the Earth. As well, the government run lotteries are pretty much brain-washed into all citizens through advertising that almost makes one feel guilty for not buying tickets on a daily basis. But, the government being as awesome as it is, is right there to tell you that all of these things are bad and you are bad for being addicted to them. Is there anything as sexy as a drunk, diaper-wearer smoking a cigarette and putting the month's welfare cheque into a slot machine that will never, ever make them rich? Extreme?

PETA tells it like it is. Unfortunately for PETA, the world has been brainwashed by governments, media and corporations (all one in the same) and that is very hard to break through. It takes something extreme and shocking, such as a human covered in blood packaged in a meat container like a lowly pork chop, to plant the tiniest seed in the brainwashed human brain about just how cruel eating meat really is.

Carry on PETA. As I've said before, at the very least your online videos can stop a wavering vegan from giving in to a burger or chicken wing. Just like an AA sponsor, doubting vegans can always turn to you for support in dark times. At best, perverted male vegans can check out your shots of Alicia Silverstone!

Merry Christmas!

Alicia Silverstone’s Sexy Veggie PSA
Order a FREE vegetarian starter kit at

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pasta with Chard and Chickpeas | Recipe from FatFree Vegan Kitchen

Pasta with Chard and Chickpeas Recipe from FatFree Vegan Kitchen

Just thought I'd share this recipe. FatFree Vegan Kitchen is simply one awesome on-line vegan cookbook for real people.

Cooking Cabbage for the Lazy Non-Eastern European

It's so big and it's so friggin' cheap. Every time I walk by the cabbage display at the local grocer's produce department, I think gloriously about how just one head of cabbage is going to sustain me for days.

About a month later, that head of cabbage is tossed into the compost and the idea of cooking cabbage is forgotten for the time being. Until... once again, the sale sign is up in front of the cabbage display and you think, "coleslaw and cabbage rolls are pretty darn tasty, aren't they?"

You see, it's all the cutting (cabbage is tough) and the soaking and the wrapping and the baking. It just seems to be such a process to make anything with cabbage. That is, until I found an easy way to cook the stuff while not really doing much and still coming out with something tasty.

Whole baked cabbage. That's right, cook the whole freaking head. No shredding, no wrapping. You simply cut the core out and cram it with some goodies and it's off to the oven it goes.

Here's how it's done. Realize that none of this 'recipe' is an exact science. Neither is making peanut butter and jelly. Think about it, do you measure out 1 TBSP of jelly, apply to one slice of 100% whole wheat bread then measure out 1 and a half TBSP of peanut butter and apply to another slice of 100% of whole wheat bread, being careful to swirl in a counter-clockwise motion with a butter knife...

  • Purchase a head of cabbage. It is up to you the colour, size, etc.
  • Cut off the stem and dig out the core.
  • Dice up enough onion and garlic to fill the void you've created from removing the core.
  • Cram that mixture in tight and pour a teaspoon or so of black pepper over the mix.
  • Pour extra virgin olive oil over the mix, letting it soak in. Do this a couple of times, allowing it to settle.
  • Wrap the cabbage in tin foil, making sure the garlic and onion crammed hole is always facing up.
  • Bake the package in the oven at 350 for 3 hours.

Slice up the final product and eat as a side. It tastes great on its own and will piss off all your co-workers when you heat it up in the microwave at lunch as it will emit quite an odor that only you will appreciate. One cabbage should be good for 3-4 meals, if not more.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Humans Were Meant To Eat Meat

I love it whenever I read the title of this blog post or when someone tells me it. 'Humans were meant to eat meat'. People say it with such incredible confidence, yet they normally have absolutely no evidence that suggests that it is true. No sane human being can run down and kill its prey without the aid of some kind of crafted tool. These crafted tools were not available for thousands of years when the human race was still young. Therefore, humans could not have started out eating meat, unless they were like vultures and raccoons that ate only those animals that died of natural causes or were leftovers from some other animal's kill.

'But we possess canine teeth for a reason!' I love this argument as well. People with much more scientific knowledge than myself have already debunked this theory. My response to this is a little less scientific but quite a bit more thought provoking. Humans originally developed body hair to protect the body from cold, heat, UV rays, etc. We now have clothing for this purpose.

I say to you all, we have body hair for a reason. We should all run naked as nature intended us to. You crazed meat eater with your canine teeth, don't mind my dangling penis as we wait at the bus stop. I am human and I must adhere to my natural instincts. So what if we have a lot less hair than our primitive ancestors. We have to start living as nature intended.

A little far-fetched? Not really. When you listen to the arguments against veganism and how ludicrous they sound, I think we have a right to be just as ludicrous right back. Is saying this being a militant little vegan? No more than the folks driving around with the 'Support Canadian Beef' bumper stickers on the back of their vehicles. Besides, I'm really against clothing! It's restrictive, hurts the environment and is big waste of money.

So, the next time you're at a party and you're confronted by meat-eaters with the age-old theory of our need to eat meat, start strippin'.

(Yes, I know that no special weapon was needed to attack and kill shellfish in the caveman days. If that was all they lived on, man they must have had some kind of libido.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Beet Salad Recipe

My contribution to the family Christmas dinner this year is a lovely vegan beet salad. Why? Because I have a good portion of a 20lb bag of beets that need to be used up and because I'm the evil vegan that has been told to bring something that I can eat.

This is a very easy recipe, but it can be a little time intensive. But, you can make it up in advance and just combine the different elements just before the dinner.


  • 10 fresh beets
  • 1/3 to 1/2 red onion
  • 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 TBSP of red wine vinegar
  • 4 TBSP of lemon juice
  • 1 TSP salt
  • 1 TSP black pepper
  • 1 Cup of cooked rice


  • Separate greens from beet root.
  • Scrub beets but do not peel.
  • Put the beets in a pot of water and bring to a boil.
  • Let simmer for 45 minutes.
  • Remove skin from cooked beets while still hot.
  • Dice the cooked beets in whatever manner you want. I prefer a juliened style.
  • Add salt, pepper and diced red onion to the beets.
  • Cook a cup of white rice and allow to cool.
  • Add a cup of cooked rice to the beets and mix in.
  • Create the dressing from olive oil, lemon juice and red wine vinegar and mix into the beet mixture.

If you're travelling to a party, leave the dressing in a separate container until it's time for dinner.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chana Dal, What The Hell Are You?

I was at Costco the other day, witnessing Christmas shopping but not really partaking. I took a stroll through the food section and stumbled upon something new to me. Chana Dal. It looked just like a bag of split peas but had an exotic Indian name and came in a 4lb bag that was only $2.99. I was intrigued.
Even more intriguing were the nutritional values printed on the underside of the bag. For a 100g serving, this stuff packed a whopping 370 calories. These would obviously be good calories as the only ingredient was the Chana Dal with no additives whatsoever. Also included in the meagre 100g serving was 23 grams of protein, 30% of your daily intake of iron and 40% of your daily intake of dietary fibre. Word on the street is that it has the lowest glycemic index reading of any measured food at somewhere between 5 and 10, depending on the source.
It seems all you have to do to survive is have 100g of this stuff at every meal along with a garden salad and you'd be all set. Man, that would save on the grocery bill.
It turns out that Chana Dal is very closely related to the regular old Chick Pea or Garbanzo. Indeed, it is quite similar but on the smaller side. I've checked several grocery stores since purchasing my bag but have yet to see any on the shelves.
The next question is: how do you cook the stuff? Quite easy. Simply soak 1 cup of the dried Chana Dal in water for about 3 hours. Rinse and then transfer to a pot of water and bring to a boil. Once a boil is reached, simmer covered for 30 minutes and your Chana Dal is ready to go.
At this point, rinse again and add whatever spices you'd like and mix in. Of course, Curry Powder, Cumin, Garlic and Turmeric are natural choices if you want to stay with the Indian theme.
A great resource on Chana Gal can be found online at David Mendosa's site. David takes a special interest in Chana Gal because of its low glycemic numbers and its benefit to diabetics.

Other notes:

I'm planning a trip to Cleveland at the end of January and went to the folks at Vegan In Cleveland for some advise on where to eat. Needless to say, they were very helpful. Their site is full of information on Vegan eateries in the Cleveland area, so if you are planning to visit the city for any reason, check them out.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Are The Real Benefits Of A Vegan Diet?

I have a little bit of chest cold that I'm fighting through. It's nothing serious but it's annoying. In my down state with the bit of a cold and the depressing winter weather that just couldn't hold off any longer, I began to wonder if things are better after 13 months of vegan living.

They are. There are four things that I know for certain have changed in my health over the past year and I'm pretty sure that they are at least in part due to my vegan diet. My increased physical fitness certainly helps as well.

Here are the noticeable improvements:
  • On the occasions when I do get 'sick', the length and intensity of the illness is greatly reduced.
  • Seasonal allergies, such as 'hay fever' have been pretty much eradicated.
  • Acid reflux has disappeared.
  • The constant dull headache has completely disappeared.

Over 13 months, I've had two colds and they have been just a slight inconvenience. I really don't get sick as much as just noticeably tired. The symptoms such as cough, congestion, fever, don't really show up with any intensity at all.

I'm sure that our lack of summer in Ontario has something to do with it but, for the first time in decades, I showed no sign of 'hay fever'. 'Hay fever' is a seasonal allergy that hits a number of people starting in August and ending as late as November. Symptoms include constant sneezing, watery eyes, headaches and congestion. Over the counter medication to combat the symptoms is expensive and it was nice this year to not have to worry about 'hay fever' at all.

I used to suffer from acid reflux but no longer do. I assume that losing 40+ pounds has helped but this is directly due to my lifestyle change. I am sure it is scientifically proven somewhere that a meat based diet is a large culprit for acid reflux.

One of the main reasons I needed a change over a year ago was the constant dull headache that just would never go away. I assume that it was due to blood pressure and all the grease and fat that came with eating meat. They stopped the day I changed and only on the very rare occasion when I celebrate with a few too many beers, do I ever experience any kind of head pain strong enough to resort to Advil or one of its equivalents.

So, yes, the changes are there. You get used to a new found health, it becomes the norm and it's hard to remember what you used to feel like. When people ask you if you feel different since becoming Vegan, say 'yes'. Even if you think you can't, take some time to remember or simply listen to those around you complain about how they feel and realize that you don't feel that way anymore.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Meatless Chicken Breast - Vegan Sellout?

Winter has begun to hammer Orangeville, Ontario, Canada in full force. The temperature has dropped down into the double digits below zero, the wind is howling relentlessly out of the northwest and the snow is flying. This is the time of year when your body gets chilled right down to the bone and nothing seems to warm you up.
Saying that, I felt I needed something hardy for dinner tonight. I stopped by my local grocer to get dog good for the two pooches on the way home from work and decided to pick up something a little special for myself. I came across a new product in the frozen food aisle. It was new to my grocery store, anyway.
The World's Best Meatless Chicken Breast by President's Choice. I've been know to have soy burgers and vegetable paddies but had never seen soy-based fake chicken breasts before. Despite the relatively high price of $12.99 for 8 pieces, I bought myself a box and headed home to feed the dogs and myself.
On the way home, I pondered whether eating fake meat was a sellout to my beliefs. Did this mean that I still craved the taste of meat? If so, what fragile paper net was stopping me from actually failing and starting to eat real meat again? It was better on the conscience to eat soy burgers because that was what they were called. Soy burgers, not meatless beef burgers.
Meatless chicken still leaves the image that you are actually eating chicken. Believe me, these were the world's best meatless chicken breasts in that they really tasted like chicken. I had to check the box a couple times during my meal to make sure I'd read the label properly.
I'm still on the fence about whether mock meat is just fuel for temptation. It's probably a discussion that could go on and on. It reminds of the discussion about whether all those in the world of Star Trek are Vegan because all their food is a synthetic replication. I would assume that these fictional characters truly believe they are eating meat and do not give a damn about the equality of all animals. However, maybe they are conscientious about the lives of all living creatures since it would be part of the prime directive not to interfere with alien life. Maybe Gene Roddenberry should have addressed that issue instead of always trying to get into Uhura's pants.
Anyway. The meatless chicken burgers were very good and seem to very good for you. The calorie count sits at 150 per breast which is considerably lower than a soy burger. Sodium, of course, is high but so are many essential vitamins and minerals. 110% of the RDA of Vitamin B12 is available in each breast.
For fun, I'm going to make these for my savage, animal-eating family and see if they notice the difference. It just might be the first step in pushing them away from the dark side.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hearts of Palm - Caviar for Vegans

The title might be a slight exaggeration, but when I came across Hearts of Palm a few years ago, it was love at first bite. The thing that makes Hearts of Palm a delicacy is the fact that it is harvested from the sprout of a new palm tree. Harvesting this sprout means the end of the palm tree. Fortunately, a variety (peach palm) has been cultivated that grows multiple sprouts and therefore doesn't die in the harvesting.
The edible portion is the inner core of the sprout. The result is a long white tube of flesh. The texture kind of reminds me of sea scallops (something I loved before my Vegan days). The taste is simple and refreshing and makes a great addition to salads or can be eaten on its own as a snack.
Hearts of Palm is available quite readily in grocery stores throughout North America. I would have to assume that the same can be said for Europe as France is the biggest importer of the product. It can be a bit pricey, a can in Canada goes for $4-$5 - and it's not a large can. This is understandable considering the harvesting process. Ecuador is now the largest exporter.
Recently, while in Panama, most meals at the resort buffet included ample amount of Hearts of Palm. People thought I was a freak as I filled up whole plates with the product. They became intrigued when I told them I was eating $20-$30 of the product, if I was back in Canada.
This is no filler vegetable, either. Hearts of Palm is packed full of goodness. It's a decent source of protein and calcium and a great source of fiber, vitamin C, iron, folate, magnesium, zinc and copper. One cup of Hearts of Palm will give you your RDA of manganese.
The best way to try Hearts of Palm for the first time is to add it to a mixed salad. Take the strips of flesh from the can and cut them into 1 cm chunks (1/4 inch). Simply mix them into the salad and enjoy. Be sure to go tropical and add artichoke and avocado as well.

Friday, December 4, 2009

2009-10 NHL Prediction Update

I'm a few games past my quarter season update. So, today, NHL Prediction update. Tomorrow, vegan-related info.

Currently, I have 10 teams in the divisional position that I predicted before the start of the season. One in particular, Detroit Redwings being in 4th place in the Central Division, is one bold prediction that surely only I made. Ottawa being in 3rd in the North East Division was also a prediction that I made that most probably would have not.

Here we go. I'll list the teams in their current positions and in brackets after the team name will be the predicted position.

North East Division
1. Boston Bruins (2)
2. Buffalo Sabres (4)
3. Ottawa Senators (3)
4. Montreal Canadiens (1)
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (5)

Notes: No worries about Toronto - they'll stay right where they are. Buffalo is due to slide and Montreal better get their shit together and start playing hockey.

Atlantic Division
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (2)
2. New Jersey Devils (3)
3. Philadelphia Flyers (1)
4. New York Rangers (5)
5. New York Islanders (4)

Notes: It looks like my worst division, but it's not like it's completely upside down. Just a little shuffle over the next 20 games and this division should be bang on at the half.

South East Division
1. Washington Capitals (1)
2. Atlanta Thrashers (5)
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (3)
4. Florida Panthers (4)
5. Carolina Hurricanes (2)

Atlanta can only hold on for so long with only one real player. Not sure what I was thinking with Carolina - they're simply terrible.

Central Division
1. Chicago Black Hawks (1)
2. Nashville Predators (5)
3. Columbus Blue Jackets (2)
4. Detroit Red Wings (4)
5. St. Louis Blues (3)

Nashville is overachieving at the moment. That will end.

Pacific Division
1. San Jose Sharks (2)
2. Los Angeles Kings (3)
3. Phoenix Coyotes (5)
4. Dallas Stars (4)
5. Anaheim Ducks (1)

Not sure what's up with Anaheim. Phoenix has no right being in third. They have no players and they don't even know where the team will be playing next season.

North West Division
1. Calgary Flames (1)
2. Colorado Avalanche (5)
3. Vancouver Canucks (2)
4. Minnesota Wild (4)
5. Edmonton Oilers (3)

Colorado will come back down to Earth. Vancouver is on the rise. Edmonton is doing everything they can to screw up.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Long Way To Panama

Two weeks ago, I completely physically exhausted myself Sunday night by working out, going for a long run and playing hockey then staying up until 2am when it was time to take the 45 minute drive from Orangeville to Pearson Airport in Toronto. My thinking was that when I got on the plane, I would have no problem sleeping and would be refreshed upon arrival and all ready to make the best of my vacation.

We arrived at 3am and were in the process of getting our boarding passes. That's when I learned that my passport would expire in just less than 90 days. That's when I learned that access to Panama is denied if a passport is within less than 90 days of expiry.

All the emotions took their turns as we waited for a representative from Air Transat to try and get through to the Panamanian embassy to plead for an exception to the rule. Shear panic, disbelief and anger were fairly predominant. Hope and faith were able to keep a presence throughout, as well.

At 6am, I was faced with my only option. My bride-to-be and the rest of our 28 guests would have to go on without me while I sorted things out. I reserved a flight with Continental Airlines that would leave at 2pm and via Newark, New Jersey, would arrive in Panama at around 9pm. That gave me a small window in which to work magic and make my wedding happen.

I left the airport and headed to the closest passport office which was just a short drive away in Mississauga. The office opened at 7:45am and I tried to be one of the first in the door. I was in front of an agent quite quickly but found out there was no such thing as getting an extension to my passport and that I would have to go through the process of renewal.

My next step was to fill out the forms and head to the earliest opening passport photo office available. The closest was just around the corner from the passport office but it didn't open until 10am. I immediately called CAA and asked where their closest office was, knowing that all of them offer passport photos. It turns out that it was just on the other side of downtown Mississauga and it opened at 9am.

As soon as the lock was turned over on the front door of the CAA office, I was inside pleading for the fastest possible photos. It took less than 10 minutes and I was back driving in the direction of the passport office.

The next road block reared its ugly head. I needed to have something in print that I was indeed to be on a flight at 2pm. I was able to get ahold of Continental but because I hadn't actually paid for my ticket, but had just reserved a seat, they couldn't fax anything over. I quickly put $525 on the line, knowing there would be a good chance of losing it if the passport process dragged on and didn't allow me to get to the airport in time.

Nevertheless, the fax came through and I was on to the next step: waiting in line with what seemed like hundreds of other customers. Whatever system they used, my number seemed to come up before many others before me. I stood at the counter at 10:30am, where I was met by a disgruntled and over-worked employee who had seen her fair share of emergency applicants already that morning. I put on my best puppy-dog face and pleaded for her mercy. She seemed to fall for it and went about the process. She soon informed me that my case had been approved and it was possible to have the passport ready by 11:30. She stressed that it wasn't a sure thing and to, under absolutely no circumstances, bother anyone at the pickup window until after 11:30.

I went into the adjacent mall and realizing that I hadn't eaten since the night before, grabbed a veggie sub at Subway. In line in front of me was the gentleman from the pickup window at the passport office. Out of all the cases that he'd already seen that morning, when he saw me, he took the time to assure me that all would be good and that I would see the passport by 11:30.

I went back up to the office, making sure not to go to the pickup window until 11:35, so as to not step on any one's toes. I was met by the same guy that was in Subway. He spotted me above the crowd and took it upon himself to let me know as soon as it was ready. Not 10 minutes later, my name was being yelled above the constant chatter of the crowd. He had the passport! I thanked him profusely then briskly walked out the door, only breaking into a sprint when I got to the parking lot.

I still had plenty of time and things were looking very good. Then... I ran into construction. The 4 lanes of Hurontario Street, the main artery that would take me to the freeway that would take me back to the airport, were cut down to one. I calmly used brute force and got through the mess in a relatively short period of time.

I soon found myself back at the Park N' Fly lot where I'd parked originally 9 hours before. Oddly, I ended up in almost the same parking spot. As I was leaving the parking lot, alone in a bus except for a family that looked they were on their way to a vacation as well, I realized I'd left my lifeline in the car. Luckily, the driver immediately did a U-turn and I soon had my cell phone in my pocket. Without it, no one in Panama would have a clue about my progress and I would have no idea what arrangements I would need to make upon arrival. Once I told the family my story, they were more than sympathetic. They also checked their passports for expiry dates.

In line at the Continental ticket counter, I was overwhelmed with joy. I'd accomplished the impossible and it felt awesome. There was suddenly nothing I couldn't do. Well, except, according to the ticket agent, make the connection in Newark. There would only be an hour and that was if there were no delays. Apparently, Continental isn't treated well in Toronto and their planes are often bumped down the line in favour of other airlines. I had no choice. I had to try.

The flight crew on the little propeller plane was incredibly friendly. The view was even better. New York City is one of my most favourite places in the world and the view of Manhattan couldn't have been better on our approach to Newark. Even better, we were half an hour ahead of schedule.

It was pretty anti-climatic after that. I easily made the connection and was on-board a 737 to Panama City. I received a text while in Newark that the resort was providing a personal shuttle from the airport free of charge and that the driver would be waiting for me at the gate with a sign with my name on it. I arrived without problems, found my driver and was at the resort with beers in hand by midnight. In the end, I was only a few hours behind the rest of the group.

The whole experience was exhilarating. I've never in my life felt the range of emotions and the pretty much constant rush of adrenaline. I now know that there is nothing that I can't do.