Archive | Procrastination Compilation

Take a Hike – In Canada’s National Parks

Posted on 12 January 2017 by Vanessa DeMelo (meds2017)

Hello everyone! I hope that the holiday season had been restful and delicious for everyone. Today I’m going to write about something fun, outdoorsy, and provide information that may be more applicable for warmer weather. However, it’s fun and temperatures that I for one am looking forward to.

For now, we celebrate a brand new year. As a member of the class of 2017, one thing I had not anticipated is how much I identify with the date every time I see it written. After three and a half years of calling myself a 2017, it’s extra exciting that “The” year is finally here! First and second years, prepare yourselves for an onslaught of humans in MSB whom you have never seen before, as we walk around the VERC and lounge with an eerie poise of familiarity. I am really looking forward to being back and all the socialness that it entails, so feel free to say hello (we’re not that scary).

Now for my topic au jour – Canada’s National Parks! What are these national parks, specifically? Webster’s Dictionary (just kidding, the Canadian government website) describes them as “a country-wide system of representative natural areas of Canadian significance”, or in other language, bits of land that together represent the various natural regions of Canada. These regions include boreal forests, temperate rainforests, prairie grasslands, and more words that I bet you didn’t think that you would hear post-Grade 9 Geography. These parks are protected for public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment, and are maintained for future generations to likewise enjoy.

The park system’s origins date back to November 1885 (the year that the first appendectomy was thought to be performed), when the Canadian government designated 26 km2 of Alberta’s Sulfur Mountain to be preserved for the benefit of all Canadians. This area today is part of Banff National Park and is the Cave and Basin Hot Springs.

Pictured: A postcard by Harmon Byron showing the Government Pool at Cave and Basin, Banff National Park (produced before 1942).

The pool shown in the postcard closed in 1992 and the location has since received a multimillion dollar renovation. Interestingly, these hot springs were regarded as having healing properties and were used for thousands of years by the First Nations peoples. In 1883, they were “re-discovered” by three railway employees who were working on the construction of the first transcontinental railway through the Rocky Mountains. I highly doubt that spelunking was part of that original job description.


Pictured: Interior pool post-renovation

Following the government’s designation in 1885, it was found that the area surrounding the original reservation was even more admirable and this led to The Rocky Mountains Park Act being passed in the House of Commons in June 1887 to establish what is now the Banff National Park, the first national park in Canada.

The history of the following development of the park system is (in my opinion) very interesting, detailed, and less fitting for a short, nothing-to-do-with-medicine blog. I found a lot of information on The Canadian Encyclopedia website and would direct you there if you are looking for more procrastination-worthy fodder!

Now, I’ve chosen (with difficulty) three National Parks to give as examples of places that you can and should visit. Many of Canada’s National Parks are also UNESCO world heritage site, which are locations listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as something of special cultural or physical significance. If the UN thinks they’re important, you should too!

  1. Bruce Peninsula National Park, located between Lion’s Head and Tobermory, Ontario: phenomenal camping and hiking, and only three hours away. Easily weekend-able!


(Disclaimer: I did not take this picture)

  1. Cape Breton Highlands National Park on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia: it contains one-third of the world famous Cabot Trail. I was lucky enough to take a short trip here during my emergency medicine elective this fall in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Even though it was a wet day and the weather changed between drizzle, rain and snow every 500 m, the vistas were incredible and I will definitely be visiting again.


(Disclaimer: I did take this picture)

On a less rainy day, courtesy of the internet:


  1. Elk Island National Park, 35 km west of Edmonton, Alberta: this park hosts the densest population of ungulates (hoofed mammals) in Canada, and it is high on my list to visit this summer with my handy national park pass (what is this? Keep reading, my friends).


I will hike, canoe and make friends with bison (interestingly, both the singular and plural form of the word. How many bison will I make friends with? It’s a mystery).

Now for the final, exciting news that you hopefully already know: To celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial (your twenty-five cent word of the day, meaning 150th anniversary) in 2017, admission will be free to all of Canada’s National Parks, Historic Sites and Marine Conservation Areas. I feel this is all the more reason to pick somewhere where you haven’t been before, or even somewhere where you have been and would love to revisit, and make a trip of it. I’ve conveniently included a link below so that you can order your free season’s park pass!



Happy exploring!!

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Coffee is Delicious: How to Properly Order an Espresso

Posted on 05 June 2016 by Vanessa DeMelo (Meds 2017)

In the first and most important issue of business, a very happy summer to all! Though the 2017s are still slugging about clerkship, even the surgery clerks can’t help but see the sun at some point over the day. I on the other hand am about to start psychiatry and family medicine and am quite the happy duck. My bicycle is brushed off, its tires pumped up and it is ready to be back in action as the primary mode of transportation!

Back to the topic au jour. The subject of this post was solidified by an experience I just witnessed while in line at the Masonville Starbucks. Observe below:

Gentleman is next in line, steps up and places order

An espresso, please. Long


Yes, long

Barista’s puzzled look deepens

Never mind, just an espresso

I was quite excited that I actually knew what he meant by that. The primary source of my education in this topic comes from a waiter in a café in Sliema, Malta, where he took pity on my uneducated North American self and revealed all of his coffee secrets. Let me take this opportunity to put in a plug for travelling to Malta – it is a magnificent, magical place and I had a phenomenal time there while doing a global health elective in plastic surgery (guess who gets a lot of skin cancer: older British people who retire in Malta). This is the view across the bay of Valetta, Malta’s capital city, from Sliema and the area of that very café.


As an extremely quick bit of catch-up knowledge, espresso is coffee that is brewed with beans that are ground more finely and a smaller amount of water, which results in a more concentrated drink. It’s the base for lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites, and all other variety of coffee-based drinks that make the world a better place. Espresso bars provided a source of socialization in urban Italy, where coffee prices were controlled if it was consumed while standing at the bar.

How to order espresso:

Size: the size of the espresso refers to how much ground coffee is used to make the espresso, and can be single, double, or triple (solo, doppio, or triplo). Changing the size requires changing the basket size, and the standard shot size today is a double.

Length: the length of the espresso refers to the volume of water used with the same amount of ground coffee while brewing the espresso shot. These can be ristretto (reduced or short), normale (normal or standard), or lungo (long). To add further details, the varied shots are not necessarily the same shot made with more or less water, as this can result in the coffee being over- or under-extracted. The grind can be adjusted to reflect the extraction time required to reach the target volume — ristretto uses a finer grind, so the extraction would be finished more quickly, while lungo will take longer and can use a coarser grind.

So now to interpret the previous extraction with our new knowledge, the gentleman from before was asking for an espresso with more liquid volume in a “long” or lungo. If we were being fancy pants, we might also say that this implies a coarser blend as it takes a longer time to extract than a standard shot and we wouldn’t want his coffee to be over-extracted. Given that Starbsy doesn’t seem to be a place that takes this much into account, I wonder if they would simply have added some hot water to his espresso to make it longer had his request been properly interpreted. However, somewhere a European or pretentious hipster probably just wished me a swift death with that suggestion, so we will pretend I never pondered that thought.

As a final note for espresso consumption, Mr. Malta Coffee Man also emphasized to me that espresso must always be consumed with a glass of water. Now the pitchers of water on the counters of cafés make sense as part of the culture versus provided to hydrate tired bicyclists. I’ll give a shout out to my favourite coffee place in London, Locomotive Espresso at the corner of Colborne and Pall Mall Street. This place would own all of my line of credit funds if I happened to live closer.



I don’t hold it against the Starbucks barista for not knowing what our gentleman meant while working at our McDonald’s version of a café. Don’t get me wrong about Starbucks either – she holds a wonderful place in my heart for providing me with (1) caffeine and (2) a place to study where it is very unlikely that I will nap. This foray into international coffee consumption has once again brought about quite the travel itch, and all of you wonderful souls will now know how to order an espresso while off on your majestic adventures this summer! Happy traveling and great coffee to all!

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Sushi Etiquette, or Swimmy Noms

Posted on 17 April 2016 by Vanessa DeMelo

Hello once again! It is time to come back from a decently clerkship-sized writing hiatus and bring you my latest, thoroughly and refreshingly unsourced topic, how to eat sushi as would the Japanese version of Emily Post. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that some of these guidelines I in fact break without questioning (and have no fear, I’ll tell you why), but it’s comforting to know that should I ever find myself in Japan and dining with their royals, I will at least know what I should be doing. One of my dear friends from undergrad has been living in Nagoya for two years now, and her stories of corner store sushi that will knock your socks off make me feel as if this is a place I will be making a sincere effort to visit sooner or later. That, and the cherry blossoms.

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How could you not want to be sitting under trees made of pink clouds?

Source: Alyssa Craik, the expat herself


I’ve chosen to deliver the select pieces of advice in distinct temporal segments, so that you too might imagine you are eating a delicious sushi dinner, instead of the Campbell’s, broccoli-chicken-rice trio, or single lime popsicle you are currently consuming for dinner.


Step 1: The Preparation

It turns out that you’re not supposed to rub your chopsticks together to rid them of the tiny potential hemorrhage-causing splinters as if you were trying to start a campfire – it’s considered an insult to the host as you’re insinuating the chopsticks are of poor quality. You are supposed to gently graze the wooden chopsticks together instead should you notice any splinters, which I imagine sneakily and confusingly trying to do under the table as if playing a tiny xylophone. In the past, I have often opted to go full Girl Scout on the chopsticks as buccal bamboo shanks are not exactly up my alley. In truth, I’d much rather the restaurant just have reusable plastic chopsticks. Supposedly jade or gold chopsticks are a thing, and I’d accept those too.

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Step 2: The Obtaining

You should use the blunt ends of your chopsticks to take sashimi, maki, or sushi from the common plate. Supposedly, using the tapered business end of the chopsticks is somewhat akin to thoroughly dunking the half-eaten end of a baby carrot back into the ranch dressing and offering the bowl to the next minor acquaintance. A point can be made that you’re likely not on this sushiventure with relative strangers, but should end up at dinner with some combination of your boss or roommate’s grandma, you can minimize the presence of PO foreign salivary amylase exchange and consumption.

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People really seem to care about this societal faux pas.


Step 3: The Flavouring

You are apparently supposed to dab bits of wasabi onto the sashimi, as opposed to mixing it into the soy sauce as if you were making a purple soup. Prepared sushi is intended to be made with the proper amount of wasabi already, necessitating no additional green fire required. As for this soup-making, I love doing this. Given that I once ate an entire ball of wasabi in one gulp on a dare (at an NYC all you can eat sushi restaurant containing mostly fraternities– I thereby classify this action as a Would Not Recommend), I considered myself a hardened and loyal soldier to the pungent sinus cleanse. I’ve even developed a certain art to ensure proper emulsification of the paste and soy sauce. So the fact that it’s a dining no-no makes me somewhat sad, and I think this might be the rule I opt to break under the table, sacrificing smoothly sanded chopsticks for the preferable oh-so-good burn.

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Just look at this leaf, so ready to be stirred right in.


Step 4: The Dipping

While on the topic of soy sauce, I’ve learned that you’re supposed to dip the fish-side of the sushi into the soy sauce, not the rice-side. This is done with the intention of gently flavouring the bites as opposed to eating soy-rice pudding. This one makes sense to me, but I am still figuring it out – how do you make the pieces stay together if the smaller piece is inverted? It seems as if one is advised to dip an ice cream cone in chocolate sauce with the dairy portion left to the fate of cruel, cruel torque. My breech in etiquette isn’t for a lack of trying to do otherwise, as there have been many an attempt that have resulted in the necessary rescue of the former sea dwelling creatures from a new version of salty depths.

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Step 5: The Consumption

It turns out that sushi can in fact be eaten with chopsticks, nuances of which can be found outlined above, or with either of the five-digit high fivers of which you are in possession. Maybe the second option would solve my issue with gravity trumping my efforts to protein-dunk in soy sauce as opposed to rice-dunk. You are also meant to eat the sushi in one bite (NOM!), but should this not be possible, you should eat in two bites in one go-about, and not return a half-eaten piece of sushi to your plate.

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Not a chopstick in site.

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We also know who is definitely double-dipping.


Now, I have outlined five points (each of which I have broken on most if not all occasions) to illustrates that sushi eating customs in Canada seem to have landed somewhat by way of “Chinese” food in North America – modified, to say the least. However, sushi eaten with company or alone is great fun, an awesome chance to try food that you otherwise might not consume, and as there never seems to be enough ginger to go around in life, it has gained a near and dear place in my heart with its ready supply.

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Quoting learned doctor Chevy Priyadamkol, “mad susheries at the club”


Until next time,


The Procrastination Compilation

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Untranslatable Words

Posted on 19 October 2015 by Vanessa DeMelo

Welcome to my first post for the Procrastination Compilation, which is intended to entertain you, the reader, and me, the sleepy clerk, as we all learn about things that have little or nothing to do with medicine. My first post is about untranslatable words- ideas condensed into a single word that has no single equivalent in the English language. As someone who learned English as my first language, and whose French language skills are fairly rudimentary, I tend to be functionally monolinguistic. That is until recently, with the happening of medical school. Have you ever felt as if trying to amass hundreds of new medical words into your vocabulary can be a bit like the sieve-and-the-sand metaphor that we remember all too well from Fahrenheit 451? Learning the language of medicine really is a voracious undertaking, but with repeated exposure our skill to use our calor, dolor, rubor, and tumor descriptors will come naturally (I sincerely hope).

In the meantime, here are fun new devices to express yourself more effectively; even for situations that you didn’t even realize needed it. Have ten of my pickings:

  1. Pisanzapra (Malay) – the time it takes to eat a banana
  2. Komorebi (Japanese) – the sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees
  3. Hiraeth (Welsh) – a homesickness for somewhere you cannot return to, the nostalgia and the grief for the lost places of your past, places that never were
  4. Drachenfutter (German) – literally “dragon-fodder.” The gift a husband gives to his wife when he’s trying to make up for bad behaviour
  5. Karelu (Tulu) – the mark left on the skin by wearing something tight
  6. Jayus (Indonesian) – a joke so terrible and so unfunny that you can’t help but laugh
  7. Mamihlapinatapai (Yaghan) – a silent acknowledgement and understanding between two people, who are both wishing or thinking the same thing (and are both unwilling to initiate)
  8. Trepverter (Yiddish) – a witty riposte or comeback you think of only when it is too late to use. Literally, “staircase words”
  9. Resfeber (Swedish) – the restless beat of a traveller’s heart before the journey begins, a mixture of anxiety and anticipation
  10. Ubuntu (Nguni Bantu) – essentially meaning ‘I find my worth in you, and you find your worth in me.’ Can be very roughly translated as human kindness
  11. Poronkusema (Finnish) – the distance a reindeer can comfortable travel before taking a break
  12. Tretår (Swedish) – on its own, “tår” means a cup of coffee and “patår” is the refill of said coffee. A “tretår” is therefore a second refill, or a “threefill”
  13. Ya’aburnee (Arabic) – meaning “you bury me”, a beautifully morbid declaration of one’s hope that they will die before another person, as it would be too difficult living without them

So I lied, and you ended up with a baker’s dozen worth of words. I couldn’t resist and I am not sorry in the slightest!

Credit goes to the book Lost in Translation, An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders (Ten Speed Press 2014). This little gem was a spontaneous purchase during exam season which I found via Twitter, of all places. Each word is accompanied by a whimsically wonderful illustration, and if you’re looking for an impulsive buy, I recommend it!

I also want to give a quick shout out to the Magoosh Vocabulary Builder App, which is a remarkably nerdy yet fun resource to quiz yourself and build that mental lexicon.

Happy October, and might you enjoy every last bit of pumpkin spice and seasonal feuillemort (having the colour of a faded, drying leaf, French).

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