suburban siberia

transitioning from Los Angeles back to Edmonton

winter shop talk

Spring is appearing to approaching this city earlier than expected and I thought I would make  few more comments on winter before it leaves us entirely this year. I wrote this post in January and then saved it wondering if it was something worth posting but after few discussions with friends about how warm it is getting but not warm enough to forget wearing undershirts or socks to protect against the chill I began to think it was worth sharing:

Just so we are on the same page once you ascend into a northern winter you can never really go back. Summer does a pretty good job of erasing cold winter memories in Edmonton with the amazing long days of sunlight but on the flip side the short days and cold nights begin to wear you down and make you feel like you dreamed about a glorious friend called summer. I realize every place you live in has its advantages and disadvantages but generally it can be tough to remind yourself of these amazing things when temperatures dip below -25 (-13 fahrenheit). In Canada I have lived in Halifax and Edmonton so my northern winters are regulated to those experiences. But I can assure you I am an encyclopedia of weather survival strategies as any other good Canadian – like what to do when ice crystals form on your eye lashes and they start to solidify together so much so that you can’t open your eyes when walking on treacherous icy sidewalks. That’s a fun one. So while this might be a needless reminder to most about the every day I think it’s worth thinking about regardless.

Winter technically doesn’t start until Winter Solstice for scientists and astrologers but my body says winter starts when it snows. Which is typically two months earlier near the end of October if you live in Edmonton. Generally if you participate in Halloween as a kid, you or your parents were trying to think of clever ways to incorporate a parka into the ensemble as it begins to snow around that time of the year.

People who do not live in cold weather climates always ask how we get around and deal with the extreme weather. I dealt with this question a lot in Los Angeles so I had time to think about it while the temperatures stayed on average around 20 to 25 degrees (68 – 77 degrees fahrenheit) year round. There are various answers to this question, but I think the most basic answer is time. We get around just fine, but it take a lot more time. It involves strategy, discussion and experimentation. For example: When deciding what to wear you have to think about where you are going that day. Will you be walking, busing or taking a car? Each of these answers will have different strategies for proper attire. Do you wear thicker socks or wool socks. V-neck with an undershirt or a turtle neck (super 90s but I wish the turtle neck would come back). Thin pants with snow pants on top or leggings or nylons underneath the pants? I’m not even begging to think about fashion at this point. Solely the idea of staying warm first, and maybe fashion second …. if there’s time.

Another example is transportation: If it’s the bus you have to ask yourself if you have enough clothing to keep you warm if the bus is late or doesn’t show up, and if your shoes are warm enough for the walk to and from the bus. My friend, Eleisha, said last year that she got frost bite on her eye balls walking to the bus because of the wind…….on her eyeballs!! If you are driving you have to predict the traffic because the roads could be icy and that will take even more time because people will drive more cautiously. You also have to make sure your car is prepared and will have to have items like a snow brush, emergency blanket, jumper cables or an extension cord to keep your car battery charged so it doesn’t freeze -most people only have a variety of these options but I can assure you each of these items are necessities for road ready winter survival. You also have to be ready to jump out of your car at any time to help push some one out of the ditch or mentally prepare yourself with the fact that your chances of being in a collision with the possibility of death due to slippery roads or low visibility is a daily situation. All of these things take time due to careful planning and some days it works out and on the days it doesn’t you take a hot shower when you get home and plan some more for the next time.

You also talk about aspects of winter every day. In my yoga class they talk about using ujjayi breathing to help keep you warm when you are outside. When discussing where to get lunch with a friend or co-worker you strategize the warmest route to take if you are walking. If you are planning on sledding/cross country skiing/running/winter biking on the weekend you discuss the best types of equipment to use, the best places to buy said equipment and the best type of snow or trails to visit. Usually though you are only outside for an hour or two and planning the event takes longer than the event itself . People will also have a million strategies on how to keep your house warm, hands warm, feet warm….so and and so on. For example people will brag about how cool they keep their house when they are not in it (some say as low as 10 degrees/50 degrees fahrenheit) and how minimally warm they keep it when they are occupying it (15 – 18 degrees / 59 – 65 degrees fahrenheit) as a way to save on energy costs. I do not do this (that is crazy) but your energy bill and your budget will love you for it. I can assure you it is a boring as it sounds and it is a thing.

BUT luckily Alberta is the sunniest province in the country so we have plenty of beautiful days. 325 days of sun to be exact which helps battle the 151 days of winter. During the day we have plenty of clear blue skies and I heard that you feel 10 degrees warmer in the sun so it’s a yin and a yang. Most people ignore the above strategies that I have listed. After a while people start to learn what they can live with for when they head outside. For example my brother and mother refuse to buy a winter coat. Not sure what their deal is but in the mean time I am just fine with my layered attire: undershirt (to protect against chills), t-shirt (presentable front), sweater (to ease the evening drafts when the sun goes down),  and scarf (acts like a blanket to wrap around during the day and draft protection from the wind on my neck when outside) with a winter jacket for when I head outside. I won’t even begin to explain my bottom half ensemble to save you the trouble and leave you to think about your own winter survival strategies.

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dream come true

There has been a lot going on in the city of Edmonton regarding winter fun. We have a gazillion festivals to help keep you active throughout the year and two weeks ago was the Winter City Shake Up conference where I learned cool/depressing facts like:

Edmonton has 151 days of winter = 40% of the year
The average temperature in Edmonton is -10 degrees Celsius (-14 Fahrenheit)
Edmonton has 325 days of sun = 90% of the year

I also I learned at the conference that a group of people recently installed a lock up rack for skis at the Century Park LRT Station which is beyond amazing because that meant I could ski to work! Century Park Station is the closest LRT stop from my house (a 10 – 15 min drive).  The group that created the lock up rack calls themselves Ski2LRT. Usually I don’t take the LRT from Century Park because the free parking lot fills up before 6:45 am. I have a hard enough time leaving the house before the sun rises (at 8 am) so I never considered the option. But the lock up rack at the LRT station provided a plausible solution as I despise walking long distances but love x-country skiing. I heard of people skiing to work in countries like Norway when I was younger so the idea has always been a distant dream.

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Since I live in the suburbs driving to work this time of year is excruciating. The All-Season tires that I purchased for my car in LA feel like a One-Season tire (aka Summer-Only) here in Edmonton. Up till now I have reasoned driving to work because of the amount of meetings I go to afterwards. But like any excuse I give myself, it can only last for so long before the convenience feels inconvenient to my mental health. It can take up to an hour to drive to work or back home with winter driving conditions which is the same amount of time it takes to ride the bus/LRT to work or to bike to work in the summer.

So if I drive close to the station (a 5 min drive through a ravine), X-Country Ski to the LRT (10-15 min), take the LRT to work (25 min), then walk to work (3 min) I get exercise, walk around the city (instead of being bundled up in my car/detached from my surroundings) and I save money from not parking down town and my work gives out bus passes for free. It sounds like a no brainer. So I decided that in February (typically the coldest month of the year in Edmonton) I would take public transportation as much as possible to get away from driving. Here is how it has gone thus far:

Week 1

  • Mon, Feb 2: Drove to work.
  • Tues, Feb 3: Drove to work.
  • Wed, Feb 4: Drove to Century Park Station (parked two blocks away where it was free) and checked out the x-country ski trails along the way to make sure it was a legit thing and then hopped onto the LRT to work.
  • Thurs, Feb 5: Drove to work because I had meetings/errands to run later in the evening. On this day heaps of snow fell from the sky and I was unable to drive up the steep ramp in the parking lot at my work. I was stuck in the lot because of my One-Season California tires – and I refuse to buy winter tires as there is only two months of drastic weather left. With Levi’s help later in the evening, three amazing homeless men from Dwayne’s Home (a shelter next door to my work), and some kitty litter that I happened to have in my car we were able to push the car up the parking ramp to the street. I saw this as a sign to commit to public transportation, a vow that I had yet to comply to.
  • Fri, Feb 6: Levi drove me to work. I kind of cheated.

Week 2

  • Mon, Feb 9:   Parked close to Century Park Station and then ski’d to the LRT! Locked up my skis and took the LRT to work.
  • Tues, Feb 10: Parked close to Century Park Station and then ski’d to the LRT again! Took the LRT to work again!
  • Wed, Feb 11:  Parked a little further away from the Station so I could get more ski time. Took the LRT to work! This is actually happening!
  • Thurs, Feb 12: I had an event with my niece in the evening so I drove to work. I can’t win every day.

The trails near the station are self-made so the second day was much easier. On the third day snow had blown over my trail so I had to make new ones again. It’s not completely easy because the trails are not yet maintained but this activity is something I can get behind because not only do I love skiing in any form I think it will help me through the winter blues. I’ve tried to be optimistic but ever since I came back from LA getting up in the morning when it is pitch black until 8 am has been tougher than I remember. I think it is also because I park in a garage that is attached to my townhouse and the condo association shovels the walks for us. While those things sound like perks it means I do not interact with the weather on a regular basis which I kind of miss. In fact I think it makes me more hesitant to go outside. Could this be seasonal depression? If so I’m glad for some activity (saunas, hot yoga and x-country skiing) to help relieve the lack of motivation I feel right now. I’m half way through February and it’s already looking brighter.

Next up, I’m patiently waiting for the arrival of my newly ordered wake up light!

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the boot

Not only is it impossible to tell the houses apart from one another when you visit my hood (other than the numbers highlighted on the garage doors), finding your way to the front door is impossible (it should be intuitive, but not in this case) and the parking locations are in strange locations. But once you navigate those three things you must then register your vehicle when visiting longer than 4 hours. If you do not register you are issued a ticket for $75. We never pay them because it cannot be enforced and I tell my friends to throw the tickets away. It is basically (for lack of a better word) bullshit.Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 6.56.40 PM

If you are a repeat offender or park in an access lane then someone in this neighbourhood has taken it upon themselves to be the regulator of enforcing the condo’s rules. Their solution is the parking boot which they call the ‘immobilizer’. It’s pretty hilarious and completely illegal. Plus it looks like you could break it off with a finger.

I have neighbours that are renovating a few doors west of me and they have been given the parking boot three times. The second time they got the boot was beside our unit where they had parked overnight without registering. I woke up from a mid day nap hearing the neighbour arguing with the ‘parking enforcer’. They declined to remove the boot and so the neighbour called the cops. The police said to release the boot because it is not in their jurisdiction to enforce. It’s not even legal for police to put a boot on vehicles in this city. The third time they got the boot a week later, the neighbour cut it off himself.

I’ve seen the boot enforced a few other times and luckily I was able to get a photo of one a few weeks ago. I’m not sure on the results of this show down, but as you can see the boot looks absurd and comical in relation to the size of the truck.

Because I don’t really have a lot of interactions with my neighbours, this is the best gossip I’ve got.  If you cancel your subscription of following my blog for lack of entertainment, I will not hold it against you.

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In the same place this week some one wrote something in the snow! I wish I knew what it meant! Happy New Years? Maybe it says “John I couldn’t figure out which house was yours or where to park so I left”.

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A few days later the snow-covered this message so some one re-wrote the message on a nearby snow mound.

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snow day

I have lived back in Canada for a year now. As it snows outside my bedroom window and I type from my cocoon like bed along side a kitten we recently acquired, life at this moment is perfect. I haven’t spoken about winter yet this season so below is an attempt to describe how I think about my days lately. It’s tough because this is known information for most who live in Edmonton or other northern cities but this way of life is not everyone’s because the further you live from the equator the less people there are inhabiting the earth. Therefor, it’s not common knowledge.

Lately I been waking up before my alarm and I have no idea what time it is. I try to guess but I am at a loss. Is it midnight? 3 am? Do I have time to go back to sleep? I check the clock. Hell no. It’s 7:00 am. As soon as time passes the 5 pm mark this time of the year the sky looks almost the same until about 8 am. Dark. That’s because sunsets and sunrises this time of the year pass quickly so there is very little change in the darkness. Winter Solstice was on December 21 in 2014 (the shortest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere) so while we are now on an upswing for daylight extension, it is a long road to Summer Solstice on June 21st. Today the sun rose at 8:41am and will set at 4:35 pm.

If you pay attention to the landscape around 8 am things start to dramatically change because of the sunrise. Generally during the day the sky is grey and the snow is mostly white so the shades of grey around this time of year are truly beautiful. I think if you lived in the desert you would have the same appreciation for a monochromatic environment. But once you add a mix of sunrise or sunset, you can get some beautiful soft pinks, yellow and purples in there. Sunrises are a delight any time of the year, but the addition of bright colours in a climate that has a lack thereof during the winter is always a benefit.

Usually it’s pretty sunny during the day (Alberta is lucky that way) but today it’s a snowy overcast day. Only a few hours left until it reaches darkness again and the stillness of the night. The location of the sun this time of year is at a lower angle so the shadows are longer and move quicker because of the short daylight hours. Other than temperature, sounds and lighting vastly differ between a winter and summer night. The snow is a great insulator so sounds around you become muffled or crisp. The snow also acts as a bounce and reflects brightness into the atmosphere. So even though it is dark in the night-time, there is a purple haze/glow that you can see as your eyes transition from the snowy landscape to the heavens above.

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7 am

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8 am

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noon


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game changer

New Year and new days.

Hopefully my break from blogging is over but frankly posting during a time of vulnerability always seems like a bad idea so I’m not sure if I’m really back. But I am blogging none the less because we are at the apex of winter and I’m beginning to see the error of my intentions as the blog is called Suburban Siberia. In short all is fine but I am a container full of dramatic feelings depending on the day, which I am not so sure they are based on reality. If you really think about it though, winter can be a depressing time and so my feelings are intrinsically tied to the season whether I want to admit it publicly or not. But also I have to remind myself this blog is more of a digital diary so I guess it’s my blog (party) and I can blog (cry) when I want to.

Mike Tyson says it best “Everyone’s got a game plan until they get punched in the face”.

Shane Mosely, Antonio Margarito

oatmeal magrath

Last Thursday night, my work had a panel event in conjunction with Green Energy Futures called Chasing Net Zero. Chasing Net Zero is a webisode/blog initiative between Manasc Isaac (under Sustainable Building Consortium) and Green Energy Futures. This series works through several Net Zero Ready buildings in Edmonton (mostly houses) or buildings that fall within the path on the way to Net Zero such as infill housing or Solar Decathlon.

A Net Zero home is a building that produces as much energy as it consumes within a year.

I along with a few other co workers have worked on putting this series together since March and this panel event was the conclusion of the project which featured several of the people in the 4 webisodes. You can take a look at the panel event and episodes here if you are further interested.

Usually I try not to write too much about what I do at work – as a way to keep from feeling like I am working all the time. BUT one of the panelists we invited was Dave Turnbull, a product development manager at Landmark Homes. We featured them in the fourth episode because they are a home builder that provides Net Zero ready homes to the average consumer.  They are also unique because they construct as much as their buildings as possible within a factory and then ship out large assemblies to the site where they are then put together. Because this blog is about suburbia (where I live) I found out that they built all of Magrath Heights, which is the neighbouring area next to me.

Dave said that there are three things that people consider when buying a home: Location, Design and Cost. I thought it would have been a different list: Location, Cost, Design but he told me it was untrue. He also said that the typical process for new developments are as follows:

1. Land Developer: They work with an architectural agent to produce the vision of the area.
2. Architectural Agent (not a real architect): The agents create drawings of the street scape and front elevations, envisioning what the area is to look like for the consumer.
3. Home Builder (in this case Landmark Homes): Takes the front elevations from the Architectural Agent (not a real architect) and then builds the rest of the home around it. They have no control on the front façade, but they have control over the interior and how it is constructed. Sometimes there are restrictions on that too, depending on the architectural guidelines of the particular area which is under the control of the Home Owners Association. For example if you want photovoltaic panels on your roof sometimes neighbourhoods will disallow the aesthetic. The builder also sells the buildings to the home owner.

Another interesting point Dave said was that every home they build all look essentially the same. While I realize this is not a revelation (and probably a cost savings for a company like Landmark so they can repeat and refine their factory process) I could tell even he was aware of the lack of individuality these neighbourhoods had to offer the consumer.

A few weeks ago I toured Magrath (the area Landmark built) on my bike and I was upset and appalled. Upset because I found out they have an amazing area for biking and walking which gives points in favour to the area. Appalled because of the terrible detailing taking place in the neighbourhood. People spend so much money on these monster ugly houses (sorry if you live there and I insulted you) and then are not able to control the tiniest detail about them because they have bought into the oatmeal aesthetic.

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Below are a few examples of the flashing (thin pieces of impervious material installed to prevent the passage of water into a structure from a joint or as part of a weather resistant barrier). In my mind there’s no reason for the flashing to be unpainted for these facades (as terrible as they already are). In these photographs they mostly look like an accent but in person they are highly reflective when unpainted setting it apart from the façade. If they were trying to keep continuity I’m not sure this trade was in the loop about it. Apart from the aesthetics the flashing installation is also terrible. Below are a few photos with some detail.

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Here is the sigh part. They have an extensive natural path over looking Whitemud Creek. It pains me to write about it, because it is beautiful and I can see the appeal of living so close to a protected sanctuary that sneaks into the River Valley.

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the chalet

I have found the Cadillac of suburban homes nestled area of Summer Side.

This neighbourhood is described as “a newer neighbourhood built around a beautiful resort style lake. Combining city living with a day at the beach it is assured that there is no other neighbourhood like Summerside in all of Edmonton.

Beautiful is bit of a stretch as a descriptor for the community, but I will write a bit more about Summer Side in another post. For now I’d like to focus solely on this interpretation in a suburban locked community. I’ve found the mullet townhouse in Terwillegar that juxtaposes two dissimilar materials but this home combines an abundance of chalet like peaks in combination with capital investment to make this beauty feel like you are on a permanent vacation with its joyful yellow colour and it’s possible gross over exaggeration of interior spaces.

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When I saw this home I immediately thought of the Inntel Hotel and Conference Centre designed by WAM in Amsterdam.

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I think this formation is pretty rad as a hotel and conference centre. Large programatic spaces like these can be difficult to show refined detail and often result in one large movement. This happens with the Inntel Hotel as a stacking typology, except due to the type of shapes they specify (traditional houses in Amsterdam) they have several configurations within itself allowing for stylized cohesive differentiation.

Specifically this is a façade treatment. The plan inside the conference centre could be ordinary which is what I believe the suburban house regulates to as well. I suppose each of those peaks in the house could signify a separate room, but I think it is doubtful.  There are several versions of this house throughout the City of Edmonton, but I feel this one shows itself like a prize pony. Bland Opulence at it’s best. To summarize so you are not confused. Hotel and conference centre: good. Yellow suburban chalet: pretty bad.

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The photos of the Summer Side house do not seem to show off its garish largeness the way I hoped because of the other monster houses beside it, but it’s bit like meeting someone with too much make up on their face. It’s impossible not to stare and you wonder how they can’t possibly know what they have done to themselves. But like this house, when photographed it probably looks fine, if not a better version of itself…or sometimes not.

reunion

August has been hectic and rewarding for several reasons. One of them was because of a lead up to a reunion exhibition for my 2004 Alumni class from the Fine Art Program at MacEwan University. Originally Kyleanne, one of our classmates suggested a get together and then Amy, another classmate, suggested an exhibition. Several of us formed a committee and then worked our way through the list of classmates to see who would be on board. I would say it came together fairly easily even though half of the class lives outside of Edmonton. Of course it was a bit of work to bring it all together but we had several parties involved (MacEwan’s Alumni Association, Leslie Sharpe, Chair of the Fine Art Program and the Students Union at MacEwan) to helped make the process come together nicely which culminated in a lovely opening this past Friday. There were 27 graduates that year and 19 of us participated in the exhibition.

I have curated a few shows before but this time was different because while the artwork was important it seemed we were curating an emotion or expectations for where we should be today. This is tricky because nostalgia is inherently cliché, which was something we originally covered as part of our assignments with Darci Mallon, a thoughtful and wise instructor we had at MacEwan. As a committee we tried to capitalize on the individuality of our successes within our families and our professions with a background in fine arts. We themed the show ‘Self Portrait’, allowing the exhibitors to express in diverse mediums where they are today.  We also created a lovely catalog with funding from the Alumni Association giving us an opportunity to connect in print as well as for those who were able to come to the reunion event.

The exhibition is open from Sept 12 – Oct 3rd. I will upload photos from the show once I get them from the Alumni office. But for now if interested you can preview the catalog, poster and map that illustrates where we have all lived since graduation (red) and where we continued on to study (blue) there after. I also included a few installation photos and one photo from Teresa’s Facebook page (another classmate) that she uploaded from the opening.

10 Again poster 

10 Again Catalog

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warm weather lament

This Edmonton summer has been exceptional. No really! While I grew up in Edmonton, LA has ruined me for warmth as I became acutely aware of slight changes in temperature between 80 degrees and 70 degrees fahrenheit (27 – 21 degrees Celsius) and detested anything below it because I would have to wear socks. But this summer was perfect. Tons of bike rides, lovely sunsets, outdoor pools, berry picking, river rafting, full of warmth through all of July and the mosquitos only came out in the last two weeks which while it’s always a hassle, better late than forever. When I visited the Hollywood Bowl in the summer in Los Angeles I described it as: amazing atmospheric music out in the open air under a starry sky surrounded by the dramatic hollywood hills…..without mosquitos. That last part gets every Edmontonian to gasp with envy. Those pesky bugs can really be a bother. I actually forgot they existed until I moved back.

Not only is Alberta beautiful in the summer with lush and expansive landscapes it also has wonderful late sunsets and early sunrises. I think it’s Latitude’s way of saying “sorry for the 8 months of winter” kind of deal where the days seem longer and you are tricked into a 1 – 2 month spout of warmth. For example on summer solstice (June 21) the sun doesn’t set until close to midnight and then rises as 4 am. But it has now moved to a 9 pm sunset with a 6 am sunrise. Soon in December it will be a 4 pm sunset and a 9 am sunrise……. See! The summer mourning begins!

BUT we are not there yet. It’s a swing into the fall phase with a few weeks left of warmth so hopefully I can get on the bike as often as possible. Below are a few photos I took this summer. Of course it’s aways better in person.

 

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driveway ornamentation

 

The only neighbour I spoke to in our townhouse village moved out last month. They were the only people who had parties late into the night in our cul-de-sac. I’m sure it irritated our neighbours but it made me like them even more. They were renting just like us and yesterday I saw the owners painting and refinishing the interior but I only stared. I fear I have become a suburbanite. I stared at them as I stood in my garage 20′ away in their garage watching them work…..no one said hello. Although we did glance at each other quickly from the side without acknowledging each other. At first I tried to muster the courage to say hello. But then I just let it be. I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing.

In other suburban news I am still the only person with plants on my deck in the “alley”. I thought perhaps more people would try to cheer up the drive through corridor balcony but alas everyone has accepted its dreaded look except for my attempts at showing some form of decoration. I have seen some bbqs and a chair on some of the balconies. You can sort of preview other balconies in the photos below.

I also made three types of jam last night. One with Certo pectin, another batch without Certo that included a hard boil for 12 min from the Blue Chair Jam book and the last recipe was a freezer jam with Jello. My favourite jam is made by my Grandma (Strawberry Rhubarb) and it uses jello so I thought I would give it a whirl with raspberries. Hopefully they taste delicious.

I’m my mind these types of posts are most certainly ordinary (boring) but I wonder if the fact that I am writing about it and calling it out as ordinary does it at all become interesting to anyone but myself?

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