How Lucky Can Anybody Be?

The Genesis

At a dark, corner table in the Waldorf Hotel two friends (yours truly is one of them) launched a year-long competition: enter as many free contests as possible and see who wins the most. The winner had to treat the loser to a free dinner at the Waldorf.

I was the one who ended up buying dinner.

Yes, after emerging victorious at the end of 2011, I decided to continue entering contests on my own. So far, I have won more than $3000 in cash and prizes.

Follow my winning streak and I’ll share all the amazing experiences I have along the way.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden turns 35

At 578 Carrall Street, you’ll find a way out of Vancouver’s 21st-century urban jungle. Walk through the doorway and escape into a classical Chinese garden—a place of leak windows, Taihu rocks, blooming peonies, and jade-coloured water.

For the last 35 years, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden has been a portal to a vibrant past and bright future. This weekend, I contemplated both as I celebrated this important occasion with them.

Getting to Know the Garden

The Garden opened in April 1986, just prior to Expo. It was the first full-scale classical Chinese garden constructed outside of China. What a massive undertaking! Materials from China, such as Ginkgo wood and river bed pebbles, were imported. Craftsmen from Suzhou, China came to Vancouver and worked on it for more than a year, using only traditional building methods, all to create this unique place in our city. When the Garden opened, it meant a lot to everyone involved and the community as a whole.

However, I was still in elementary school and didn’t actually find my way to the Garden until I turned 20.

I remember seeing pictures of the Garden’s Moon gates on TV. At the time, I was studying photography and I knew the gates would perfectly frame the natural surroundings in my photos. So, that’s when I made my first trip through the doorway and experienced my first tour. Little did I know I’d fall in love with the Garden that day and many years later, I’d be leading tours of my own.

Connecting with contemporary Chinese culture

Over the years, I’ve spent lots of time at the Garden. I love just sitting and looking at the blossoms on the trees and listening to the birds like I did this weekend, but I also enjoy attending cultural events. These have included smaller events like Chinese tea ceremonies, contemporary art exhibits, and musical performances, as well as larger, pre-pandemic events like the Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

I’ve met people in the Chinatown community and learned more about the area’s historic buildings. Chinatown was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2010, and more recently, Vancouver has applied to have it designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Note: The Garden is currently open Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. (last entry time at 3 p.m.). You can book tickets here.

Discovering doTerra and Essential Oils

Recently, I won a jasmine touch roller and rollerball clutch from doTerra. For some of you, that sentence makes very little sense. However, when you enter the world of essential oils you learn a new vocabulary, as well as a new way to improve your life.

Starting with a Love of Scent

I started buying essential oils years ago for the same reason many other people do; they want their home to smell nice. Yet, as I’ve experimented with different oil combinations, I’ve realized that scent is much more powerful than I initially thought.

It really does affect how I feel. Citrus essential oils (e.g. lemon, grapefruit, orange, etc.) tend to put me in a happier mood, as well as increase my level of alertness. Other scents, like lavender, help me to feel calmer and more relaxed. These feelings aren’t unique to me, as these oils are known to have these effects when inhaled.

Relieving Back Pain and Migraines

Now, before I begin discussing how I’ve derived health benefits from essential oils, I need to establish that I do not ingest them. Some people do and find that they feel a lot better as a result. Others argue that this is an unwise practice. I can’t comment either way, so I’m simply going to focus on what I’ve experienced aromatically and topically.

doTerra makes a product called Deep Blue rub. It provides a warming sensation when massaged into the skin. I’ve found it gives me tremendous relief when I’m dealing with my chronic back pain. And yes, I’ve tried remedies my doctor and physiotherapist have recommended. However, they were either ineffective or caused skin irritation. Deep Blue, on the other hand, really works and doesn’t have the usual medicinal smell of conventional creams.

I have migraines several times a month. Sometimes, they go away after a few hours, and other times they can last more than a day. To temporarily deal with the pain, I often apply peppermint and lemongrass oil to my temples and back of the neck. They don’t make a migraine disappear, but they can help me get through a bad hour or so until I’m able to take my medication. And sometimes, getting through that hour is really important.

Learning to Just breathe

My final chronic health problem is sinus- and indoor allergy-related. For this, Breathe, another doTerra product has been very helpful. The product is available in various formulations, including a vapor stick, roll-on, and essential oil blend. The vapor stick is similar to Vicks VapoRub. I find both products equally effective when I’m very congested or have a cold. However, I reach for Breathe because it simply doesn’t smell so medicinal. Diffusing the essential oil blend definitely helped me to sleep better and breathe easier, and I ultimately prefer it to the roll-on.

Finding the Fun in Essential Oils

The biggest surprise for me on my essential oils journey has been how much fun I’ve had experimenting with these products. I love discovering new oil combinations that I can diffuse or make into rollerballs. When you join doTerra, you get access to a very active, supportive online community of people. They share diffuser blend and rollerball recipes and online resources that convey important information. For example, which oils are safe to diffuse around pets, which ones shouldn’t be applied before going out in the sun, etc.

So, I’m excited to try my jasmine touch, and continue learning about essential oils. It’s awesome to discover something new that brings you joy, calm, pain relief, and a sense of fun. For me, that’s truly a unique combo.

East Van Panto Localizes The Wizard of Oz

“There’s no place like PoCo. There’s no place like PoCo.” Yes, in The Wizard of Oz, as presented by the East Van Panto, Dorothy lives in a tiny house in Port Coquitlam, not Kansas. She isn’t carried away by an act of God, but instead by a certain burst pipeline. And the wizard, well, you’ll have to come and see what local figure he turns out to be.

So, it’s not Judy Garland skipping along the yellow brick road, but I think that’s just fine.

A Re-imagining of a Classic

Dorothy lands at the intersection of Nanaimo and Hastings and in Vancouver, “the world’s greenest city”. She meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, but they don’t look the way you might expect. Scarecrow is the weed-packed Stoned Crow. The Tin Man is Tin Them, an Eastside Culture Crawl sculpture that didn’t sell, oh and is gender-nonbinary. And, the cowardly lion is still cowardly, but now he’s a B.C. Lion player afraid of the ball.

All these re-imagined characters come with a unique soundtrack too, spanning genres and decades. The songs are also universally well-sung, as the East Van Panto cast has some serious pipes. Christine Quintana (Dorothy) is particularly impressive.

The sets also bring various Vancouver neighbourhoods to life, and the giant Wizard face is truly the standout visual in the show.

The East Van Panto Experience

This was my very first panto, and the participatory nature of the experience was more enjoyable than I expected. It was fun to sing along, shout out, and participate in ways frowned upon at a conventional theater performance.

The only thing that gave me pause was that the East Van Panto allows kids five and up to attend these shows. I think the theory is that children won’t get the more controversial stuff, and will simply enjoy the performance on a level different from adults. I’m not sure I completely buy that theory, though. Some kids are perceptive enough to get at least some of the more obvious things. So, if you’re not prepared to have a conversation with your kids about the green stuff inside of Stoned Crow and the chicken factory smell that puts Dorothy to sleep , I’d give this one a miss.

However, adults, you will laugh and smile. You’ll enjoy the jabs at politicians and the price of real estate, because, hey it’s better to laugh than cry, isn’t it?

Note: I won two tickets to this show and a luncheon that preceded it from the SFU alumni association. This was a wonderful treat, and I sincerely thank my alma mater for it. Read about my last win from SFU here.

East Van Panto lunch

We Fell in Love With SFU

On January 1st of this year, we went home. We moved to UniverCity at Simon Fraser University (SFU). The university really is like a home to Ryan and I. Not only are we SFU grads, but we both worked for the university, and most importantly, met one another there.

This connection with the university and our recent move inspired me to submit our story to the “We Fell in Love at SFU” contest launched by the university’s alumni association. In fact, I didn’t actually know there was a contest connected with the call for submissions. I just wanted to share our experience.

My SFU Story

Well, it turns out there was and we won an amazing prize package, which I will describe in detail later. However, the focus of this post is on our love for SFU itself.

I attended SFU from 1994 to 1997. Every time I stepped on campus, I took a deep breath. Anyone who has spent time on top of a mountain knows what I’m talking about. It’s so refreshing, and the view never disappoints. Also, the smallness of the campus always appealed to me. It never took very long to get anywhere and there were always opportunities to meet people outside of your own faculty.

Two Amazing Instructors

My major was English and my minor was political science. I had some great instructors. A couple in particular have always stuck with me. Dr. Sheila Roberts taught Medieval Literature classes. She began her lectures by playing music that had a connection to the works we were studying. In one of her tutorials, she brought in a medieval feast she’d made, and I remember being so impressed that she’d baked authentic medieval bread! Sheila always knew how to create a classroom atmosphere that was conducive to learning and stimulating to the imagination.

Dr. Jerry Zaslove taught a course focused on the works of Franz Kafka and stories inspired by him. In my early 20s, Kafka made a huge impression on me. I don’t think any work of literature influenced me as much as The Trial. What Jerry did when teaching Kafka’s powerful novels and short stories was encourage us to engage in critical thinking, and discuss contentious ideas with one another in a respectful way. To this day, I still keep the “Team Kafka” button he had made for each of us.

I have other fond memories of my time at SFU too. Sitting by the pond, feeling the sun on my face as I studied for exams; going to the pub basement and getting a mammoth vegetarian sandwich for only $2; watching foreign films at Images Theatre with friends. Not surprisingly, the list of reminiscences is long, and sometimes I wish I could relive those years all over again.

Ryan’s SFU Story

SFU Sweatshirt
Ryan Wears His Winning SFU Sweatshirt

Ryan wanted to share some thoughts about his time at SFU too, so I present them here:

SFU was where I met some of my best friends and learned vital skills, and a lot of that happened in the Computing Science Student Society’s (CSSS’) common room. That narrow, cramped space, still in use today, had a video terminal you could check email on, a cheap pop machine, and some of the smartest people I have ever met. The conversations I had there were as educational as most of my courses. In an even odder turn of events, I was briefly the president of the society.

Our SFU Prize Package

SFU alumni prize box
SFU Prize Box

So, it’s time to talk about the fabulous prize package! The $150 box of delights included:

  • Two bags
  • Two sweatshirts
  • One USB
  • One sweatshirt blanket
  • Two glass tumblers
  • One very nice card from the alumni association

Thank you, alumni association, we are loving everything and are so happy to be back at SFU!

Okanagan Spring Brewmaster’s Dinner, Part One

Delectable Delights

I love food. I especially love free food. Perhaps now you can guess my motivation for entering Miss 604‘s contest to win two tickets to the Okanagan Spring Brewmaster’s Dinner at Mamie Taylor’s. I was delighted when I won this prize, however there was a problem. I don’t drink beer. Many times I’ve tried to cultivate a love for Canada’s national beverage, but I have failed. However, I have somewhat redeemed myself by marrying a devotee of the brew. Thus, this is the first of two blog posts on our Thursday evening experience. If you love food, be prepared to revel in my very detailed descriptions of the delectable four courses we enjoyed. If you’re here for the beer, wait for part two, when some on-the-spot reviews on the five beers Ryan tasted that evening will be presented.

Mamie Taylor’s

Dinner at Mamie Taylor's
Dinner at Mamie Taylor’s

This was our first time at Mamie Taylor’s. The atmosphere is warm and the long tables lent themselves well to conversing with our dining companions. I’m not a fan of taxidermy, but I did like the rather whimsical wallpaper of animal targets on the bathroom wall. Vegetarians, however, would be less amused I’m sure. Mind you, Norman Bates would feel right at home.

The First Course

Tuna smokie
The Tuna Smokie

Our first course was a tuna smokie, garnished with fennelkraut and dijonaise. I could never have imagined how flavourful and moist tuna could be. In fact, I never even knew such a thing as a tuna smokie existed. Our table mates also seemed equally amazed and delighted by this passed canapé. I have to give the bun its due as well. So many times I’ve enjoyed the meat of a burger only to have been let down by the bread. This bun was a worthy home for the delectable tuna vessel it housed. Overall, a very impressive start to the meal.

Rock Fish
Rock Fish

The appetizer (also pictured above) that followed was cornmeal fried rock fish with cajun spices, orange, fennel, parsley, and old bay aioli. I can’t remember if I’ve ever had rock fish before, but I found the taste light and somewhat similar to sole. What made the dish special was the crispy cornmeal and the refreshing slaw that accompanied it. I’m not sure I would seek out rock fish for its own sake though, it didn’t have the depth of flavour that I so enjoy in other white fish.

The Entree

Do I have your attention?! Look at the beautifully presented, scrumptious offerings above! The main course was slow roasted porchetta accompanied by roasted apples, polenta, and an olive and herb puree.


The crackling on the porchetta was like the most perfectly crisp bacon that melted in your mouth. Yes, it was rich. But no, I regret nothing! Diabetes, high blood pressure, muffin top, come what may, this was worth every calorie. The polenta was an incredible standout as well, especially given that I have been rather meh on polenta in the past. Again, oh so crispy, and excellently paired with the puree.

The Dessert

Brown Sugar Cake
Brown Sugar Cake

Finally, we arrived at dessert. I was well and truly sated before it arrived, but I was powerless to say ‘no’ once I saw this brown sugar cake. Alongside it was custard made with Okanagan Spring Porter. It had all the depth of flavour of a sticky toffee pudding, but the custard kicked it up a notch by bring beer notes to the party.

Now, having realized I have devoted well over 500 words to describing this meal to you, I strongly recommend that you put Mamie Taylor’s on your must-visit list. Chef Tobias Grignon knows how to put on a culinary show and I for one can’t wait to return for another delectable performance.

Contest note

This is my fourth win of the year, so I’m almost on track with my one-win-a-month goal. This prize, which I thank Miss 604 sincerely for winning, was worth approximately $100, making my total winnings to date approximately $203.

Movies about Prize Winners

To pique your interest a bit I thought I’d note a few movies for you to check out about prize winners. I love watching other people win prizes, unless that means I am losing the same prize.  In any case, check these out and keep following our progress to see which of us wins a prize first!

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005)

It Could Happen to You (1994)

Waking Ned Devine (1998)