Revolving Raptors

•June 2, 2011 • 1 Comment

Bryan Colangelo, you have your work cut out for you. This incoming coach will be the third coach of your five-year tenure, the eighth in the Raptors’ sixteen-year existence. You handpicked Jay Triano after firing Sam Mitchell seventeen games into a season. Seventeen. His record was 8-9, the Raps had gotten killed on a west coast road trip and you saw your opportunity to get your boy, Triano,  in there. So, despite being only one game below .500, Mitchell – a former coach of the year – was out, and Triano was in.

Not a happy camper.

Don’t get me wrong: I quite like Triano. I think he did the best he could with the tools given. I also think that he is an offensive-minded coach who led a team of offensive-minded players. The Raps were never going to be a defensive force with the team they had and that is as much to do with Triano as it is with the players that Colangelo himself brought in. Obviously, guys like Reggie Evans and Shawn Marion (and even Anthony Parker, when he was here) are the exceptions to this rule, but by and large, the Raptors have been an offense-first team for years. They were built that way. You don’t go out and get Bargnani, Calderon, Kapono, etc and then expect shot-blocking. As much as I love Calderon (and I do!), the man cannot move laterally. As for Bargnani, the man has never played defense in his life. He didn’t play it in the EuroLeague and there was no reason to think he’d play it here. Should he? Of course he should. He’s over 7’0″ and ought to be able to grab more rebounds and hey, even block a shot every once in a while. But he was not brought to Toronto for defense: he’s a knock-down shooter who can actually put the ball on the floor and go to the hoop. But Dirk, he ain’t. To expect things of players when you know fully well that that’s not their bag, well that’s unreasonable and unlikely.  Same goes for coaches.

Was Triano the best coach that the Raptors could have gotten back in 2009? No, I don’t think so. Did he see success with the 2008-2009 team only to see major players leave in the next two years? Absolutely. Did he have a difficult roster of players to work with, either for reasons of attitude (I’m lookin’ at you, Turkey and you, South Beach) or youth? Unquestionably. Would the last nearly-three seasons have turned out differently with another coach? Oh, it’s possible. But Triano worked hard with what he was given and I’m glad he’ll still be around with the Raps organization. Colangelo made it exceedingly clear that he is still a fan of Triano and has hired him on as a special consultant, perhaps as a gesture to say, “Hey…uh, sorry about that.” Additionally, he has said that if the right coach comes in, he would be more than happy to entertain the idea of Triano returning to the sidelines as an assistant.

So who is the right coach? Someone with experience. Someone who knows how and insists on coaching defense. Obviously, Rick Adelman is the first available name that comes up, but the likelihood of him wanting to start fresh is slim. Jeff Van Gundy? Please, he has a cushy job where he’s paid to argue with Mark Jackson for hours on end while Mike Breen sits like a bump on an angry log. Lawrence Frank..well, now we’re getting a little more interesting. Brian Shaw, who was criminally passed over for the Lakers job, is another option as is Dwayne Casey in Dallas. For now, it’s all up in the air. Colangelo will undoubtedly want to get a coach in place before the draft at the end of the month, but that won’t be an easy feat. He is saying all the right things, but then, he usually does. I expect the Raptors team to look very different when they take to the court in the fall: let’s hope that changes aren’t made for the sake of change itself. I think the Raps have proven that constant upheaval is not the key to success.

Can you see the smoke coming out of his ears?

Adventures in Belize: Day Five, Pt. II – Nocturnal Insanity

•April 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Really, this night deserves an entry all its own.

Our Canadian Dog.

A word ought to be said about the place they were renting and the neighbourhood it was in. They were staying on the second story of a two-story house. In the back yard, there were three of the angriest, loudest guard dogs you have ever heard. Lots of

Belize Dog.

people own dogs in Belize and few treat them as they’d be treated in North America. Dogs are meant to protect and to stay outside. They are pets only in the loosest sense of the word. When anyone climbed up the steps to the second floor, the three of them would launch into their frothy, unhinged barking fits, sending an unmistakable message: they are good at their jobs.

The house was on a small street that had a lot of families and, we’re fairly sure, a barber shop that doubled as a gambling house at night. Throughout the day – and the evening, for that matter – people were outside talking, drinking, strolling, yelling, what have you. There was one gentleman in particular who took a shine to my mother-in-law, bellowing out for, “his friend, the Canadian” as he tottered down the street, jug in hand.

So, back to the evening of Day 5 when we finally crashed. We’d heard a soccer game being played not too far off and every once in a while, you’d hear the ref’s whistle go off. Not terribly distracting, but at 11pm, we were surprised the game was still going. We were less surprised when we heard the dogs go off – essentially under our heads, as our room was directly above the back lawn – when people started trickling home from the game. No, we were not surprised, but we were startled. Roughly every half hour to an hour. All night. Once one dog started, the other dogs in the neighbourhood joined in on their canine chorus causing me to jump out of bed on an hourly basis and, consequently, waking up J.  This, literally, went on all night. It should be noted that there were also sporadic arguments among the neighbours, but it was the dogs that really got me.

Artist's Rendering of Belizean Birds

Until it was the birds. The screeching, evil birds at 5am.

Oh, let’s not forget the church bells rang at 15-minute intervals beginning at 5:45am.

Then the big fight among the next door neighbours that started around 6:30am and began,  “EY! What my woman doin’ at your house?!” and quickly morphed into Creole that I couldn’t even attempt to understand. I gathered the gist of the argument, though. And, not to be outdone, a few more angry barks from Cerebrus downstairs. Lying on my back, hands clenched, teeth gritted, I’m sure the entire district heard my impassioned cry, “Doesn’t anybody SLEEP in this *%&@ing country?!!!”

At that point, the only thing we could hear was the sound of our own, sleep-deprived, hysterical laughter.

As much as we really did appreciate the hospitality our family showed us, we got a hotel room the next night.

Adventures in Belize: Day Five – It’s Possible That All We Do Is Eat

•March 31, 2011 • Leave a Comment

We awoke in San Pedro to another gorgeous, warm, sunny day. We lazily wandered over to the breakfast nook beside the kitchen: a shaded, breezy enclave where we found hot coffee waiting for us. (With real – not powdered –  milk. Oh, the luxury!) A lady we had seen the day before came out with a big smile and a bowl of pineapple, papaya and orange segments for us to nosh on while our main breakfast dish was being prepared. We happily ate the beautiful fresh fruit while studiously avoiding the strange, watered down from-concentrate juice provided. Just a few minutes later, she reappeared with two huge plates of waffles with strawberry syrup and whipped cream. Oh yes, we had definitely booked the right place.

Javier.

After breakfast, J and I settled in to the comfy chairs in the courtyard, reading, not quite ready to go out and seek adventure yet. At one point we looked up to see a giant iguana, its head bobbing up and down, checking us out. In a theme we’d explore that day, we kinda wanted to bring it home, but decided to just take pictures instead. Seemed to be the best option, since getting an iguana across several borders seemed like a lot of work.

We got a surprise visit from J’s dad around 10am and we ended up heading back to a relative’s house where they were staying. And what did we find at this house but three of the cutest dogs we had seen in a lonnnng time. I was very happy to have a dog fix as I had been starting to miss our furry friend at home. The house was on a lovely man-made lake that afforded the owners a beautiful view.  I could have gotten used to living there, no question. We only stayed at the house briefly as the in-laws were in search of some lunch and knew of a small place in town that was supposed to have great, homemade fast food. We piled into a cab (a much bigger one than the famous “biggest little cab” in Belize City) and headed off. Upon our arrival, we discovered that the place was closed for the day…naaaaaaaturally. However, a very helpful man with one arm told us that his sister had a really good foodstand just around the corner from where we were.  He gestured – with his good arm – to the road behind us and over to the right. Figuring we had no other choice, we walked in that direction and sure enough, when we turned right, our helpful guide was there, pointing with his one hand to Francis Fast Food.

Scrumptious Panades. My fave.

The tiny place only had three chairs and two stools: just enough for the five of us to stop in, but what a find. Truly authentic Belizean food for dirt cheap. Panades, garnaches, salbutes…all staples of the Belizean diet done quickly, efficiently and, most importantly, perfectly. Orders of 10 of each dish were cranked out in minutes by the fabulous Francis while her husband entertained us. The regulars showed up at noon on the dot and looked quite perplexed at the people taking up the usual seats. (Sorry, folks, but it was just too good.) Once all the food was devoured, we dropped off the family at the water taxi and we headed back toward the B&B to take a dip at the neighbouring yacht club’s pool.

Feeling refreshed, we popped out for a bite of our own lunch, We’d have gone back to Francis’, but they closed at 1pm and it was going on 2pm by the time we were ready. So we stopped into Wild Mango’s which boasted a gorgeous beach-side patio and possibly the best meal we had on the entire trip. Gazing out at the sea, we patiently waited for our two dishes to arrive. And when they did, we were very, very pleased:

 

Baja Fish Wrap. You want this.

Jerk Chicken Sandwich. You also want this.

Uncomplicated fresh food that filled our bellies and made us smile. If you’re in San Pedro, you can’t miss this spot. It’s worth the wait if there’s a line up! They’re open til 3pm and we had no trouble getting a table at 2. Start with a Belikin and I’m pretty confident in stating that any meal you choose will satisfy you.

Sadly, we *did* have to leave San Pedro that day and the last water taxi was scheduled to leave at 5:30. We bought our tickets, packed up our stuff and were very happy to discover that we had time for one last beach beer. We found a place that looked like a nightclub in Miami with huge banquette seats and plush pillows. We watched some kids play an impromptu game of volleyball, stared blankly at the sea and took in the scenery before us.  Unsurprisingly, when we boarded the taxi back to Belize City, I was an unhappy camper, even tearing up a little as we left the Cayes behind. Not that I wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the trip, but I fell in love with the Cayes in those few short days and was truly saddened to leave them behind. But as the sun set and the millions of stars came out, I decided right then and there that I had to come back – that I would come back – to enjoy them all over again.

Sunset over the sea.

Woefield Poultry Collective, Part Deux

•March 16, 2011 • 1 Comment

So, not only did I get to review a neat book that I quite enjoyed, I was fortunate enough to be able to do a short Q&A with the author, Susan Juby. I should likely have expected the answers to be as funny as they are!

What made you decide to switch from young adult fiction to adult?

There was no grand plan, really. I just wanted to write a story about some people trying to rehabilitate a derelict farm and that called for older characters. I did squeeze in one eleven-year-old!

Do you plan to try out any other genres?

I’m currently embroiled in an attempt to write a YA sci-fi story. Heaven help us.

How much of the main character, Prudence, reflects yourself? Clearly, there is at least one parallel!

Prudence, like me, longs to live a sustainable life. And, like me, she’s got few skills to make that happen. Lucky for her, I didn’t bestow her with my modest work ethic and energy levels. Where I’m fond of giving up nice and early, she doesn’t know the meaning of can’t. (Which reminds me of that Mitch Hedburg joke about contractions: “I saw a lady on T.V. She was born without arms. Literally, she was born with her hands attached to her shoulders… and that was sad, but then they said, “Lola does not know the meaning of the word ‘can’t.'” And that to me was kinda worse in a way. Not only does she not have arms, but she doesn’t understand simple contractions. It’s very simple, Lola, you just take two words, you put them together, then you take out the middle letter, you put a comma in there and you raise it up!”)

As someone who cares very much about where her food comes from, I can identify with Prudence’s desire to do the right thing; however, I can also identify with the other characters who see her naiveté as being fairly absurd. Which do you more strongly feels represents your point of view?

I am very sincere in my desire to be responsible in my approach to sustainable food and environment. The fact that I’m often unsuccessful in my efforts is the source of some of the comic tension in the novel. At the moment I have to satisfy myself with admiring other people’s results. For instance, our next door neighbors make their own cheese, grow their own mushrooms and have a marvelous garden. Sometimes when I look at my garden, located only a few feet away, I wonder if I’m living in some sort of parallel universe of incompetence. It’s funny.

What authors influence you the most?

J.D. Salinger, Nick Hornby, Stella Gibbons, were three who influenced this book.

And if you could sit down and interview any author, alive or dead, who would it be?

Richard Price, author of Clockers and Lush Life. I love his writing and his interviews are the most fascinating I’ve ever heard.

Adventures in Belize: Day Four – Afterburn

•March 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Awaking and moving gingerly, J and I packed up our stuff and prepared to head off to San Pedro, an island roughly 10 minutes from Caye Caulker. We had enough time to grab breakfast (now that we had a firm grasp on how long things take to happen on the Caye) after buying our ticket for the water taxi. We decided to stop in at a place right on the beach so we could stare happily at the sea while we ate. As plans go, this is one I would like to repeat daily. Jay ordered huevos rancheros; I ordered fruit with yogurt and granola.  The fruit was, as expected, fresh and delicious. The “granola” was much more like benito flakes than actual granola but I suppose that’s what I get for ordering something so Western. J asked for hot sauce, as usual, and what came out was this teeny little plastic container filled with bright orange sauce. Having learned his lesson from the previous night, he tried a little first and found it even hotter than that one. When the waiter came back to see if everything was alright, J remarked, “Oh yeah, but damn is that ever hot,” pointing to the sauce. “OH yeah…no carrots, no nothin’ in THERE! Puuuuuuuuuuure habanero, my friend.”

 

Habanero Death Sauce

Once the smoke stopped coming out of J’s ears, we sauntered over to the pier to catch the taxi. Hanging out on the pier, looking nearly as burnt as I was, were the two Canadians we met on our snorkel trip the day before. (Like I keep saying, this place is small!) Amazingly, the water taxi arrived on time and all four of us were off on the short jaunt to San Pedro under beautiful, clear skies.

The Hammock District.

Hopping into a cab, it was clear that San Pedro was significantly busier than Caye Caulker. Firstly, there are cabs.  Secondly, there are street signs. Pfft. MODERNITY. I was actually blown away at how crowded and busy it seemed; but, really, that was simply a comparative observation.  San Pedro is still small, just a lot more bustling. The tourists seemed to stand out more, but perhaps that was because one finds more families and fewer backpackers. Regardless, our cabbie was quite helpful  (and we’d see him the next day at the water taxi. Go figure.), mentioning that yes, Jambel Jerk Pit would be a great place to hit, “if you want SPICY food. Really spicy food.” He dropped us off at our B&B, Changes In Latitude, and we were happy to see a small, shaded courtyard with lounge chairs, hammocks and little games to play. The co-owner, an American ex-pat, greeted us warmly and offered us a beer. Yes, please! It’s been…hours! Then she caught site of my back which was a lovely shade of “burnt to hell.” (Coming soon to Crayola!) “Ohmigoodnes! Can I ask…is that incredibly painful?” Stifling the urge to go full-on snark, I responded, “Yeeeah. It hurts quite a bit.” “Well, we grow aloe here on the property. I can chop some up for you. It’ll help a lot!” I wanted to throw myself down on the ground and kiss her feet, but my back hurt too much.

Lunch was definitely in order once we got settled and we asked the guy who worked the property where he would recommend. His face lit up: “George’s. It’s great Belize food.” We got standard Belize directions (“that way, a little ways, past the thing, but before the stuff”) and off we went. Our new friend had not led us astray: the food was home-cooked happiness. George was running the place by himself that day, taking orders, cooking, tallying bills all with a big, easy smile on his face. J got the red snapper plate with rice and beans and the best plantain he said he’d ever had; I had the bbq-smoked pork sandwich that absolutely hit the spot. Sweet, smoky goodness. Regulars looked on and grinned as we “oohed” and “mmmmed” our way through lunch.

Since I was still pretty achy, we had a very low-key afternoon, hanging out in the courtyard, reading and enjoying ourselves. When dinner time rolled around, we took up a friend on her suggestion to go to Elvi”s Kitchen for dinner: a staple restaurant that’s been around forever, boasting some of the best meals in town. The sand floor doesn’t hurt.

More, please.

We both ordered the Belizean coconut curry shrimp and though it took a while to arrive – quelle surprise! – Elvi’s lived up to its reputation. Creamy, rich, spicy…all the things you’d want. I’d go back in a heartbeat and would recommend the place to anyone who’s planning to go to San Pedro. We rolled ourselves outta there around 9:30 and, as we were walking back to the B&B, the owners of a coffee shop across the street began to yell over to us that they were giving away free shots. This is my kinda coffee shop. We actually weren’t going to stop, but a group of American skydivers were there and told us that we couldn’t miss out on this but that we should avoid the clear shot at the end. So into the store we went and sure enough, the first three shots were thoroughly delicious. In fact, I would like some immediately, please. Now, I heeded the skydivers’ advice and forewent the clear shot which turned out to be a good plan: it was basically alcoholic cane sugar. The look on J’s face was priceless. I wish I’d taken a picture.

Bolstered by the free, random alcohol (is there a better kind, I wonder) we wandered in search of a drink on the beach. We were directed to Ramon’s, the least Mayan “Mayan” resort on the planet. No matter: big comfy chairs faced the beach and the Belikin was for sale. We stayed long past the bar’s close, no staff coming to kick us out. The day began as it ended: enjoying some quality time with my husband, beachside, metres from the sea. Paradise, part two.

Happily ensconced.

Who Wouldn’t Want to Join a Poultry Collective?

•March 11, 2011 • 2 Comments

I tend to gravitate toward serious books, with the exception of Christopher Moore & Gregory Maguire; however, when presented with the title The Woefield Poultry Collective, I couldn’t resist giving it a whirl. Written from four different perspectives, author Susan Juby presents a sweet, funny tale of good intentions that generally go awry. As trite as it may be to label a book “heartwarming” I really don’t know that there’s another word that fits so aptly.

We being our story with Prudence, a young woman living in NYC who cares passionately about food and the relationship she has with it. She does her best to be eco-friendly, to recycle, to buy groceries from the organic market. Circumstances arise in which she is given the opportunity to take over a recently-passed relative’s farm in British Columbia and she jumps at the chance, filled with romantic notions of growing beautiful produce to sell at the farmer’s market.  Once there, reality comes crashing in but with some help, sheer determination and some creative solutions, Prudence soldiers on toward success.

Juby does an excellent job of keeping Prudence relatable as a character such as this could easily slip into the realm of total obnoxiousness. Her relentless perkiness is offset by other characters: an alcoholic blog writer, the crotchety old farmhand and a young girl with a passion for chickens. Each character is well developed and, importantly, realistic. Oh, and funny. Really, really funny. I’m fairly certain that you could easily meet any of these people in real life; you may even know them already. As the story progressed, I felt like I was in the story with all these slightly nutty, thoroughly charming characters and when I came to the end, I was sad that I wouldn’t be reading about further adventures.

If you’re looking for a light, easy read that will make you smile, definitely check out The Woefield Poulty Collective.  Why wouldn’t you want to read a book that includes the line, “If the whole world was full of stern little kids in chicken hats who carry clipboards and people buying parts for their model helicopters, there might be a reason to live?”

Want to read a little more? Check it out here!

Adventures in Belize: Day Three – Famous Last Words.

•March 8, 2011 • 1 Comment

We awoke to intense winds (actually, we initially woke up to the school children playing next door. Loudly. At 7:30am.) Tuesday morning – unusual considering we were off the beach. I had a chat with one of the owners of the guest house, Jaguar (no, really), and we both thought our snorkel trip might off. Weighing our options, J and I headed out for a quick breakfast at Cafe Y Amor, a place that had come highly recommended. We were to be at the tour company for 10:15; it was 9:15 when we arrived for breakfast. After some debate, J thought it best to go and check in with the tour company as there was no reason to rush if we weren’t going out. He told me to hold off on ordering and he took off down the street. Thirty seconds later, already hot, J came back and said, “This is Belize. We better order breakfast. It’ll take forever to show up.”

I ordered our grilled-cheese-and-pineapple sandwiches with two coffees moments later. I sat at our street-side table, eying other people’s breakfasts/burns/questionable fashion choices until, fifteen minutes later, J returned. “The trip’s still on!” he exclaimed, out of breath and clearly overheating. “Well, good thing I ordered,” I responded, “because our food still isn’t here.” When breakfast DID arrive, it was unquestionably worth the wait. I don’t know why grilled cheese with pineapple is so freaking good, but trust me. It is.

In typical Belize style, our snorkel trip was also not so much “on schedule” as it was “eventually going to happen this morning.” There are worse ways to kill time than to spend it on the beach, under a palm tree, vast expanse of sky and sea before you. About an hour after we were supposed to head out, Rene (aka Cap’n Jack o’ Belize) called us on over to his boat where we were joined by two buddies from Vancouver, two girls from Wisconsin and the hairy European who seemed completely oblivious to the fact that there were other people on this excursion.

Off on the very choppy sea, Rene took us to the first of four dive sites. I lasted all of five minutes out there: I couldn’t get my mask to seal properly and the current was quite strong. Knowing we had another three sites to go (including the famous Hol Chan & Shark Ray Alley sites), I headed back to the boat and had a long chat with the Cap’n who had many, many fascinating stories to tell. Some of them, I’m sure, were even true. The second dive went much more smoothly and, by the time we reached Hol Chan, the water had calmed significantly.  We all jumped into the water and followed Rene out through the reserve where we saw all manner of fascinating sea life: barracudas, eels, one-eyed jacks (not the cutest fish by any means, but not as ugly as the barracuda) and, eventually, sea turtles!

I call him Joaquin.

Our final stop was Shark Ray Alley, home to many, many nurse sharks. J had been especially excited about the idea of swimming with the sharks and you could feel the anticipation on the boat. Rene tossed some food for the sharks into the water and within seconds the back of the boat was surrounded.  Of course, as soon as we started jumping into the water, the sharks all scattered. (Ferocious!) We were treated to many rays slowly undulating their way across the sea floor and every once in a while a solitary shark would come and see if there was any food left. Ten minutes later, another dive boat showed up and tossed food into the water…and they all. Came. Back. J found himself surrounded, and from what I could tell, pretty exhilarated!

Once we finished up at Shark Ray Alley, Rene took us around the far side of the Caye along the mangroves, feeding us pineapple and rum punch. It was at about this point that I realized my shoulders were a little more pink than I’d like to see them at 4:30pm. I inquired around the boat and everyone agreed that I really didn’t look burnt.  I’d been applying sunscreen religiously all day, knowing that a) I burn easily and b) I’d be out on the water all day so I decided not to worry about it.

J and I had a last-beer-of-the-afternoon at the Lizard with the two girls from Wisconsin upon our return. As we walked back to our respective homes, one of them gasped, ‘OHIMGOD. You are SO. BURNT. How did that happen??” Welcome to my world where I go from pasty white to cooked lobster in a startlingly short time. One look in the mirror confirmed it: my back, the backs of my arms, my hips…all burnt. Miraculously, the backs of my legs were spared; however, my wrists were beet red, too. Oh, this was gonna be fun. I had a very, very delicate – and cool – shower and we headed out for dinner fairly shortly afterward as we’d realized that we’d barely eaten but exerted a ton of energy.

I verrrrrry gingerly put on a cotton dress, grabbed a shawl and popped into a place called Marin’s: a typical, family-run place enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. We ordered and waited impatiently for our appetizers to arrive.  Belize isn’t a place where things get done in a hurry, so we weren’t supremely shocked when our apps seemed to be taking their sweet time to arrive at the table. “You don’t think it’s all going to arrive together, do you?” J asked. “No…I mean…the dishes were listed separately on the menu. Surely, the apps will come out in a minute.”

And they did.

With our mains.

That we both went face first into.

Tostada appetizers, crispy fried and stewed chicken, rice & beans and coleslaw were inhaled at record speed.  J made the (entertaining to me) mistake of pouring a fair bit of hot sauce onto his rice. It was fun watching his ears steam, but I figured I ought to keep my giggling suppressed as I was going to need him to Solarcaine my back into submission. Gotta think ahead, folks.

Though it was sad to spend our last night in Caye Caulker in our room,  I was clearly in no shape to go for an evening stroll. Bummer, but we resolved to come back as soon as possible and spend more time on this beautiful little paradise.

How do you rip yourself away from this?