Reflections on la Belle Provence

July 19, 2010

Well, ok, actually just Montreal.  But la belle provence sounds so much prettier.  DH and I went to Montreal a few weeks ago for an extra long weekend.  We rented a beautiful condo from VRBO that was nicer than our house and walked until our feet bled.  Or rather my feet.  Yes they actually bled.  When will I learn that any holiday with DH means death marches and pretty shoes just won’t cut it?  Comfortable really does trump cute when I’m walking 20km or more a day.

 So I’ve always put off going to Montreal.  I don’t speak French well and I’ve always been intimidated by the fact that the women are said to be beautiful and well-dressed.  I have some good days for sure but my well-dressed days are behind me.  I work at a not-for-profit, I wear yoga pants some days.

But on this trip I had a lot of illusions shattered.  The women are pretty much the same as women everywhere…some are beautiful, most are attractive and some are “breath taking” a la Seinfeld.  And as for being well dressed….I saw a lot of cute sundresses but nothing that knocked my socks off.  I could have been in Toronto to be honest for all the fashion forwardness I saw.  Sure people looked nice but they looked like people in any large city anywhere in the developed world.  There were NO goth/emo types though and that was quite refreshing.  When it’s 40C+ the last thing I want to see is some idiot parading around in black and purple tights and a leather trench coat.

I did notice that Montreal has a lot of white people walking around though.  And we were all over the city not just in the touristy areas.  Yes, I realize that there is a large Hatian, African and Vietnamese population but they weren’t that noticable when we were there.  Or maybe I’m just used to seeing more ethnicities in my province.  It was kind of weird to see so much homogenaity (is that a word?  if so did I spell it right?).

And English is spoken just about everywhere.  We were in some predominantly franco areas and DH (who is pretty fluent in French) began speaking and immediately people switched over to English.  Not sure if this is because his accent is so bad (a possibility) or people just want to practice their English.  Maybe a bit of both.

The one thing I really enjoyed though was the food.  Hands down we ate well.  The markets are wonderful and have so much cool stuff.  We stayed by the Jean Talon market and I could have walked around for hours sniffing and squeezing and tasting.  We ate our fill of boar, deer, bison and lamb sausage every time we were there.  And the ice cream is to die for.  I have no idea what the store name is but the ice cream is divine.  Creme brulee flavour is the best (and I sampled them all) and I have yet to recreate it in my ice cream maker at home.  But I’ve had fun trying! 

We went to Schwartz’s, a Montreal tradition, despite the fact that I will not eat smoked meat.  I got the side eye from the waiter when I said no to the sandwich but I can heartily recommend the cole slaw and pickel.  And no trip to Montreal would be complete without a dozen (or more) Montreal-style bagels.  We went to Fairmont and then went to see/hear the tam tams at Par Du Mont-Royal.  This was not my favourite part of the trip (do these guys know any other songs?) plus it was getting humid and a giant dog kept trying to get at our lox and bagels. 

But the best food on the trip was at Le Milsa, a Churrascaria which is kind of like a steak house.  Except they bring all the steak (and nine other kinds of meat) you can eat to you on skewers.  Now I have eaten my fair share of Argentian and Albertan beef.  And this place was head and shoulders above.  The meat just melted in your mouth and had the perfect meat/sale/fat ration.  It was 100% delicious.  If you are a hungry meatavore and are in Montreal this is a can’t miss kind of place.  Plus the scantily clad Carnavale dancer didn’t hurt in DH’s opinion either.

So in a nutshell, the women are not intimidating, no one dresses like they stepped out of Vogue, English speakers are everywhere and food is delicious.  As an added bonus there are a ton of yarn stores, just don’t try to go to them during July and August when the proprietors seem to go on vacation.  I can see Montreal will be a regular long weekend destination for us from now on.


Like chalk and cheese

July 15, 2010

DH and I go to the outlaws’ house twice  a month for dinner.  He goes more often, by himself, but twice a month is more than enough for me.  I’d go, well, never if I could but I understand that sometimes you are the bird and sometimes  you are the statue (I’m the statue in this particular example) and you can’t always get what you want. 

Mostly it’s better than I think it will be.  I mean the food is almost always awful…overdone, dry, too oily, not enough salt, too much oregano….I could go on.  But most visits are fine.  We stay far too long in my opinion, but rarely is there drama these days, and bad food aside, it does make them happy to see us.  But I still dread those every-other Monday dinners.

Last night we went to DH’s (ex)aunt’s house for dinner.  We’ve invited her and her second husband for dinner to our house a few times and she felt the need to reciprocate.  She’s a very nice lady and I enjoy her company.   Her husband is a bit old school but whatever, it was dinner, how bad could it be?  Especially as I endure the outlaws’ house twice a month. 

Now, I’ve heard all about how his aunt is an excellent cook and I’ve not believed it, seeing as how it was DH telling me and no word of a lie, he’ll eat just about anything and not complain.  I do know that she makes far and away the best shortbread and meringue cookies in the world so while I was looking forward to seeing the aunt, I was a bit wary about dinner.  You never can tell with DH’s family….they’re talked up a lot and I’m often sadly disappointed with the cooking results.

I can say that over 12 hours later I am still full from dinner.  And it was DELICIOUS.  In fact, I’m thinking about asking DH to go once a month to see his aunt so she can feed us.  Not only is she a good cook (a REALLY good cook), she’s a hands-off relative.  There’s no “you’re not eating the rice?” meant-to-induce-guilt-comments (although hers was stellar and I don’t care for rice) or “eat more you’ve only had two porkchops” (for the record I had one….and a piece of chicken) or “why aren’t you eating this, I cooked all day” crap like we get at the outlaws.  There was salt on the table and real dessert…two kinds of cake AND coconut pie…not picked over fruit like at the outlaws.  DH doesn’t eat dessert unless it has chocolate on it and there was no recriminations.  You don’t want to eat at the aunt’s house, you don’t have to.  You have no idea how refreshing this is.

If I could only figure out how to get the aunt to cook for our twice-a-month dinners at the outlaws I’d be happy.  Fat but happy.

It’s just, well, you know.

July 8, 2010

I’ve often used this site to whine about my weight.  It’s my blog and I’ll whine if I want to. 

Now, I know full well that no one made me eat those bags of Doritos and cheesies and all that other salty, greasy crap that is so bad for you but tastes so good.  Also, I know that I am the only one holding me back from dropping that weight.  Which will have to happen sooner rather than later as I suspect my mammoth ballooning swollen ankles will disappear once I drop some poundage.   Neither of these points are in dispute.  I am the architect of my weight gain and will be the architect of any weight loss.

But none of it will happen by Saturday.  Which is when my entire family will be celebrating my grandmother’s 98th birthday (yay Baba!!) at my sister’s house.  Where a new pool has just been installed.  And it’s quite literally hotter than the surface of the sun right now (and will be for the forseeable future I think) so I desperately want to get into the pool.  And my sister is on a big exercise kick and has dropped a ton of weight and looks great.  Awesome. 

Despite the fact that I will be surrounded by my family (none of whom are particularly thin) I am already feeling anxious.  And crabby (which makes me want to eat salt and grease which further compounds the problem).  And wish that women still wore those old style full length bathing suits that covered EVERYTHING.  Ah well, maybe I’ll make DH drive and just get so loaded that I don’t care what I look like.  And start hauling my ass to my local pool.  Swollen ankles aside, it can’t hurt to get my sorry self back into shape.  Even if it’s only to look good while swimming at my sister’s house.  Bring on the wine….it’s gonna be a very long day on Saturday.  I need to start early.

Feeling lighter already

June 30, 2010

Back at the end of May I promised to start getting rid of stuff.  1000 things to be precise.  Last night I got a good start when I took my summer things out of the bins they’ve been sitting in for about a month.  I now have 68 less pieces of clothing, shoes and travel gear.  I could have probably gotten rid of another 68 things but I love them.  And while they don’t fit right at this moment, I am hopeful that by next summer they will.  Honestly, there is not much less that is demoralizing than emptying four 70L tote bins of clothes, 85% of which are too small.  On the upside though, I have more room in my drawers and closet for the stuff I did unpack.  But the weight issue is another rant post for another time.  Right now I just want to bask in the joy of feeling good about divesting things.

And on the stash knitdown front, the college I work for has a Early Childhood Education program.  In fact the daycare is right outside my office.  Well, my office building to be precise.  I emailed them last week and they are thrilled to be getting my odds and ends of yarn and fabric and what-the-hell-was-I-thinking-when-I-bought-this-yarn purchases.  I’m thrilled that someone will be able to use it and it won’t sit in a landfill for the next million years (yes, some of it is acrylic and that stuff probably never biodegrades).

So baby steps.  68 things gone from my life and 932 (or more) left.

The roads not travelled

June 29, 2010

So it’s a well known fact that I do a lot of driving to get to work.  Too much driving some days.  I’m trying to find the shortest (distance-wise) route to my office and so far am not having much luck.  I lease my car, which made sense when I drove 100 kms a week.  Now I drive that in a day.  So I’ll be buying my next car outright.  And it will probably be a diesel.  Or a standard.  Or maybe even a standard diesel.  I am very concerned with good gas mileage so I’ll have to look into all the options.  And I don’t want to hear that diesel is bad for the environment.  I know it’s not great but I also know it’s better than it used to be.  And let’s face it, it’s also not so environmentally friendly to fill my gas tankup twice a week either.

But enough ranting.  The best part of my drive is that it is mostly through farmland and small towns.  And I see a lot of animals and have watched the fields go from empty dirt to bursting with corn and potatoes and who know what manner of deliciousness.  I also see a lot of roads going who knows where.  And I’m nothing if not nosey curious.  I’d love to see where they lead to.    But I’m on a deadline.  I have to be at work on time and after work the last thing I want to do is meander home. 

One day though, I’m going to take a day off work and, mileage be damned, spend the day slowly driving down the county roads and concessions I see every day but don’t get to drive down.  Who knows what will be waiting for me?  A farm stand?  A herd of deer?  A beautiful garden or an old farm house?  It’s a mystery and it’s one I can’t wait to solve.

The madness continues

June 22, 2010

So along with making bread from scratch every few days, I’ve also decided to make my own yogurt.  It’s been something I’ve been meaning to do for a few years now and about a month ago I finally got off my butt and did it.

I eat a lot of yogurt.  A LOT of yogurt.  I eat it to get my calcium allotment and I eat it for my digestive health.  I also eat it because I love it.  I like it plain, with fruit, with crazy flavours, on granola, in smoothies.  It’s my go-to morning breakfast food.  And I spend a ton of money on it.

So I was reading the Cheap Healthy Good blog and came across a post (or a link…I can’t remember now) about making your own yogurt in a crock pot.  In any event, I printed off the instructions, bought some organic whole milk (holy CRAP is that stuff expensive!!!)  and had at’er.  The end product was ok as the DH would say.  It was yogurt but definitely on the thin, runny side.  It was also a little on the yeasty tasting side which was odd.  I added some fruit jam and managed to choke it down.  And went back to the drawing board.

I stumbled across this recipe and have stuck with it ever since.  It is a little, well ok a lot, more labour intensive than the crock pot method.  But some of that is partially my fault as I stand there and stir the milk to cool it down.  If I walked away and let it alone I’m sure I’d get more accomplished.  But, it’s worth it.  The yogurt is thick and tangy and tastes just like Liberty yogurt, which to me, is the gold standard. 

I don’t use organic milk anymore either.  It’s expensive at $8.99 for a 4L bag and I didn’t find that the initial batch of yogurt tasted all that great.  In fact, it tasted kind of crappy.  In Canada, dairy farmers  aren’t allowed to use growth hormones and use antibiotics under strict conditions so I figure that regular milk is probably fine. 

So yogurt and bread are now made at home by me.  I’m not sure if I’m saving money on the yogurt, although I’m sure I’m at least breaking even, given that I’m not spending $10 or so every two weeks, but it tastes awesome and that’s reason enough to do it.  And now that I have a recipe that works I’ll forgo the freeze-dried starter and just use a bit of yogurt from the last batch to “season” the new batch. 

DH rolls his eyes at all this but let me tell you, when the Rapture/G20 riots/2012/end of the world comes, at least we’ll have food to eat.

One less purchase

June 21, 2010

Two weeks ago I declared a moratorium on bread for the forseeable future.  Not the actual eating of bread but the buying of it.  I’m not buying it anymore.  

Instead, I’ve decided to start making my own.  It has to be cheaper than buying it at the store, although that isn’t really the point.  (This is more an exercise in good nutrition than saving money.)  A regular loaf of whole wheat bread is about $2.79.  If you’re lucky, there’s a 2 loaves for $4 sale on at the grocery store, which makes it $1.43 a loaf.  Which is a pretty good deal.  Except the price seems to have gone up lately to 2 loaves for $5, which works out to $2 a loaf, which really isn’t a tremendous savings.  And I have three or four (or 10) books on baking bread.  That I never use.  Also I’m tired of tossing half a loaf the last few slices of bread in the green bin because they are stale or dried out from being in the fridge for two weeks.  Which is probably a week or so longer than it should be in there. 

So I told the DH two weeks ago I was done.  No more bread buying.  He didn’t say much.  In fact I don’t even know if he’s even noticed that there’s been no store bought bread in the house of late.  Instead there is always a loaf of fresh bread on the cutting board and I have to say, it’s pretty delicious.  And I know exactly what goes in it – flour, water/milk, butter/oil, salt, yeast, baking soda and honey/sugar.  That’s it. 

Also I’ve noticed I rarely throw out bread now.  If there is a bit left, I cut it up into cubes and freeze it for croutons later.  Or breadcrumbs.

Overall making my own bread hasn’t adversely affected my life.  I have a bread maker that was languishing and figured it was time to show it some love.  Did you know you can bake regular, non-bread machine recipe bread in the bread maker?  I didn’t.  But I tried it and it turned out just fine.  I’ve now got it down to a science and quite literally three mintues of prep time and three hours of bake time makes the house smell awesome and provides enough bread for two adults to eat for two or three days.  If it lasts that long.  And I’m in the kitchen anyway so another three  minutes tossing ingredients into the machine is no big deal.

Pre-bread buying moratorium, I bought an enormous bag of flour at Costco and I’ve hardly made a dent in it after six loaves.  I’ve also got an enormous bag of whole wheat flour that isn’t even open.  At this rate I figure I can make bread for the rest of the year for pennies a loaf.  I haven’t figured out the actual costs and probably won’t (I am lazy) but it can’t cost all that much to make my own bread. 

Currently, I make one loaf at a time right now.  But I figure, once some freezer space opens up, I’ll make two or three different flavours over the course of a day and freeze them which will further simplify life.  And add more variety to our bread-eating options.

And it won’t be just bread machine bread either.  Once the weather cools down I hope to spend one weekend day a month baking bread.  And it’s not like you spend the whole day hovering over the bread anyway.  A stand mixer with a dough hook does the kneading and then it’s just a matter of letting it rise and baking it. 

My dad made bread a lot when I was a little girl and I can still remember how good that warm whole wheat bread tasted, right out of the oven, dripping with butter.  And speaking of butter, I just found out yesterday that DH has a cousin who has a contact for fresh goat and cow milk.  I think some homemade butter would taste pretty damn good on the homemade bread.

A bit of a slap in the face

June 2, 2010

I guess it’s my own fault, but really, people could show a little more professionalism. 

A few days ago I saw a job posting.  Let me state for the record that I am happily employed  at my current job and the only real downside to it is the fact that I have to drive 90 minutes round trip.  And even that’s not so bad given that I have Hinterland Who’s Who experiences every day.  Mostly, my disatisfaction about this job comes from  feeling guilty about my increased carbon footprint but overall I have very little  to complain about work-wise.  I’m very lucky I know.

So I mentioned the job posting to DH.  And told him that while I probably should apply for it (I was eminently qualified) I wasn’t going to as there was no real benefit  – my commute wouldn’t be considerably shortened, the work was not something I was especially interested in, the pay would likely be on par with the current job (or less) AND most importantly, I had applied to that company many years ago and thought then that the person I’d be reporting to was a bit odd.  That person is still there and would be my boss.  I also knew, within minutes of beginning that interview way back when, that I didn’t want to work at the organization so I essentially dialed it in.  I also didn’t get a second interview, so no farm no foul right?  Clearly I was not what they were looking for and that was fine for all parties involved. 

So I had reservations when I saw this posting.  And I probably shouldn’t have mentioned it to DH who is all about applying for jobs just for practice.  After some discussion, which entailed me saying I wasn’t interested and him saying I could always say no if I got an offer, I decided against the whole thing.  I mean really, what’s the point of jumping through hoops if you don’t really care about the outcome?  DH said I should do it but it was my decision in the end.

But this morning I figured oh, why not?  What did I have to lose?  Maybe it was a different environment now even though none of the players had changed.  So I fired off a resume and figured that would be the end of it until the closing deadline passed.  I figured I’d likely get a call for an interview and I would deal with the whole thing if and when that happened.  I was not going to devote any more of my time to this.

Until I happened to go back to my “professional” email box for another matter and I saw an email from the person I sent my details to.  They had written back three words…Oddly, no interview.

That was it.  Not sorry, you don’t meet our qualifications.  Not sorry, we’ve selected someone else.  Not even a thank you for applying, we’ll call you if we want to see you.  Just those three cryptic words.  I even went back to the documents I sent to see if I had any glaring errors….nope, they were good.

I have to say those three words make my life easier.  I don’t have to worry about a future job interview for a job I don’t particularly want.  Nor do I have to deal with thinking about weighing the pros and cons of taking a new job two months after taking, well, a new job. 

But the unprofessionalism bothers me.  Would it have killed this person to be a little more polite?  After all, that’s what social lies were invented for.  And better yet, they could have not bothered to contact me at all.  Email silence is better than email rudeness.  And I think we’re all used to applying for jobs and having our resumes disappear into the ether never to be heard from again. 

But the manager will be someone else’s problem thankfully.  I’m staying where I am, with my awesome boss.  This is the last time I listen to the DH with respect to applying for library jobs.  I told him it wouldn’t end well but  I have to say that I didn’t think it would start off badly either.

1000 things

May 31, 2010

I joined the Simple Living group on Ravelry the other day because, well, I have a lot of stuff.  Not like Hoarders stuff but I do own a lot of things.  And lately it’s been weighing me down.  Especially my stash.  Which is sacrilege I know.  But it’s true.  The sheer amount of yarn in my house is making me feel stressed out and tired at the same time.  And while a lot of it is actually assigned for specific projects or people, I have come to the point where I just want to knit it down and fast. 

It took four years of dedicated yarn shopping but I’m at that point.  It has to go.  Like weight though, I didn’t gain it over night and it’s doubtful I’ll knit it all up overnight but I’m certainly working on buying less and knitting more.

So I’m looking for ways to simplify my life.  I’m also trying to stop buying crap I don’t need.  Especially after my very pricey purchase a few weeks ago which I was hoping to put off for at least a year…until my dryer decided otherwise and caught on fire.  Good times. 

Besides, as double mortgage holders now, money isn’t as free-flowing as it was.  Especially with me taking a pay cut.  I need to get my complicated and expensive life under control.  No one needs all the stuff I have.

But how does all of this whinging relate to 1000 things?  Isn’t the point of simplifying life cutting down on stuff?  Yes.  It is.  Which is exactly why I will be getting RID of 1000 things over the next year or so.  Which, to go full circle, brings me back to the Simple Living group on Ravelry.

Last week I was reading a thread in that group about how one woman was divesting herself of 1000 things she owned.  Which is a lot of stuff.  Someone else commented that the very fact that we (as a society) are able to get rid of 1000 things and not really feel much of a pinch is kind of frightening.  I completely agree.  And I’m going to try it. 

But first some rules.  The 1000 things can’t be regular stuff I’d be tossing out ie newspapers, garbage, empty containers etc.  Each of those 1000 things has to be something meaningful….an article of clothing, a book, cookware….something that someone can actually make use of.  And no, despite it stressing me out right now, I’m not getting rid of my stash either.  Well, not all of it.  Some of the yarn (which is truly awful) has to go yes, but I plan to get serious about knitting it up into its assigned projects.  And I’m going to be pretty diligent about buying new yarn.  Afterall, I have a closet full right now (and a hallway, and a spare room) and with my spinning wheel I’ll be able to make my own soon enough.  Yarn will definitely be part of the 1000 things but I’m not going to count it by the ball.  Instead I’ll count a finished project as one item towards the 1000…otherwise I’d hit that marker really, really quickly.

I”m going to add a page where I’ll track my progress.  If you’re interested you can check it out.  From time to time I’ll probably write about what’s gone out and why I let it go and where it went.  I”m pretty excited about this though.  1000 things out of my life.  And hopefully not replaced with 1000 new things.

My newest yarn-y obsession

May 21, 2010

Nine or so months ago DH and I went to Iceland as part of our summer vacation.  Fortunately we had the foresight to go prior to all this volcanic dust and ash mess so we were able to fly in and out with ease and didn’t have to inhale all kinds of nasty dust. 

I have to say, Iceland is one of my favourite places on the face of the planet.  The only things I didn’t like about the country were the baggage handling at the airport (yes, actually I do need my suitcase and its ENTIRE contents to be happy while traveling) and the prices of just about everything.  That aside, the people, the food, the countryside and the yarn are all awesome.  How can a knitter NOT love a country where you can buy wool in every fifth store?  And see everyone, young and old, wandering around in all those awesome Icelandic sweaters.  Plus, Icelandic wool is one of the few things excluded from the country’s VAT.  Clearly Icelanders are very enlightened people.

So it will come as no surprise that I came back with literally a suitcase full of Lopi .  To be more precise though,  it works out to  two sweater’s and two shawls worth of yarn.  And a pattern book.  Which I flip through regularly.  DH is getting the cover page sweater in shades of blue and I haven’t decided what one I’ll be knitting for me yet.

Now Lopi, and even Lett-Lopi, is not soft wool.  It’s pretty scratchy and hairy and probably pills like mad.  And those sweaters are big, bulky and probably not-so-flattering on my not-so-svelte figure.  I’m sure they are time consuming to knit too, especially for someone who avoids knitting with more than one colour like the plague.  But for some reason I cannot get them out of my head. 

I have since bought two more pattern books and I troll through the Lopi project pages on Ravelry all the time.  I go to the Istex web site on a weekly basis.  I fondle my Lopi.  I dream about Icelandic sweaters.  And I really need to get cracking on knitting them up.

I wonder though, do I love the sweaters so much because they are beautiful or do I love them because I loved Iceland so much?  In the end, it probably doesn’t matter.