Archive for March, 2012

March 30, 2012

Au Revoir MTL

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We’ve got everything packed and ready to go, just a very few odds and ends left to chuck in a box. We learned after the last move to have aces things out of boxes as possible. The last move took way longer than we expected because we weren’t fully finished packing. We anticipate a bit of chaos tomorrow, but not nearly as chaotic as last time.

Tonight is our last night in Montreal. Part of me is sad, but the majority of me feels ready to go. The sadness part is that this adventure turned out to be a lot different than I expected. I turned out to react a lot differently than I thought I would. My anxiety was a lot higher, and my interests here were a lot different than I expected as well. In the end, even though I am a little sad things didn’t work out quite as expected, I learned a ton about myself at a very important time in my life. Some big lessons, some small lessons:

1) The Hubby and I don’t get sick of each other. We’ve spent 6 months with each other, with very scant contact with other friends and family, both working from home in a tiny 1-bedroom apartment. Close quarters, sometimes not being away from each other for 24 hours, with and at a certain point with some very significant financial stresses. We never once got angry at each other, and never felt like we needed the other out of our hair. It’s kind of unreal, but I feel really lucky.
2) Despite the above, I don’t do well without my family and friends. My anxiety has skyrocketed here, to the point where I’m suffering some health problems from it (stomach issues, sleep issues, etc). We have a very deep network of amazing people out west. Some of it I inherited at birth, some of it I gained through marriage, but a large part of that network the Hubby and I built through careful selection of awesome people, nurturing friendships, and joining of groups. We came here to see if we could create a new group like that. We did meet some cool people, no doubt, but our Tribe as we like to call them are really exceptional. We don’t just love having friends, we really love our specific friends. We don’t just love having family, we love OUR family.

3) I have growwed up. How the heck did that happen?! Part of coming here was to try and delay becoming an adult. Marriage felt adult enough, and I didn’t think I was quite ready to start saving for a house and kids. Montreal was supposed to be a distraction into that collegiate lifestyle: going to shows, hanging at bars, late nights, and restaurant food. But once we got here, I was far less inspired by it than I expected. I get tired of bars pretty quick. I am less interested in concerts and late nights on a regular basis. I would rather cook food for people than eat out all the time, partially because it’s fun and partially of the serious lack of gluten free dining in Montreal. I’m not as content going out drinking as I once was. Staying in and drinking with board games or instruments, video games or a hockey game is more enticing to me now. Also, things like walks in the park and hiking, visiting the Biodome, and Montreal’s family friendly festivals appealed to me way more than the club scene. I guess it’s time for that transition as I near the end of my 20s, but I didn’t expect it at all!

4) I don’t like being poor. This seems silly to say, because no one likes being poor. And it’s not that I can’t budget – being poor has actually taught me much better budgeting than I had before. The kind of complete paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle everyone experiences as a student, the not being able to afford much outside of the basic necessities, poor because you aren’t working enough. I don’t like it, and a new scene is not motivation enough for me to stick with it. In other words, money and a certain amount of frivolity and luxury is actually a value of mine. I hate admitting it, but I can’t just pretend I’m not that way.

5) A positive lesson: I like the cold! Everyone told me I’d hate the weather once I got bogged down in it. Once it wasn’t new. After the first few snows I’d hate it. It never happened. I know it was an easy winter, but the temperature was low enough that I got enough of a taste for cold. I found out I like it. I like -15. I don’t even mind -20. After -25, things get tough, but that’s because humans are not meant to be alive at those temperatures. When it drops that cold, the thing is, everything is dry. The air becomes crisp. The sun and cold air to me are uplifting. My mood skyrockets. It is the one thing I am not looking forward to about Vancouver. I’ve seen what it’s like when it doesn’t rain for 9 months, and I like it.

6) I belong on the West Coast This lesson is harder to explain than the others. In “San Diego Seranade”, Tom Waits has two separate lines that really hit home: I never knew the east coast until I moved to the west…I never knew my hometown till I stayed away too long. Something about being away has made me appreciate what home really is. I don’t really fit in over here. I feel like I’ve lost my centre. The west coast has a ton of thing I like. I like green things, mountains, salt water, fusion food, mid-century housing, cargo pants, and knee-high boots. I am polite and cheerful but a little aloof. I am very socially and politically liberal, I crave the beach, I pick up after my dog, and I like my city clean. I belong on the West Coast and in Vancouver in particular.

Tomorrow it’s packing everything into the trailer and a short drive to Ottawa. Then on to home!
-W-

March 18, 2012

St. Paddy’s

St Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. It could not be more perfectly designed for my personality: Irish music, plaid things, and whiskey are all held in high regard. Also the casual, unintentional racism, but you know.

This is also our last holiday in Montreal. It is our last real chance to see the city on a “big night out”. It’s one of our final weekends here. Our plan was to play the night by ear. There was a potential reddit meetup, but that seemed really disorganized. And there was talk of all the bars filling up really fast, so we had reservations about even getting in anywhere. Luckily, the night turned out pretty awesome.

I really feel we entirely hit on the key to good traveling insta-friend-making all in one night. You would think we would have figured this out by now, but when you move somewhere to live, you approach things differently. Tonight, we approached things as “what will make us enjoy the night the most”. Not “how to make a lasting connection/peer group”, which is a key difference.

After tonight, for traveling in pairs, I’ve discovered the key to meeting people:

1) Pick a busy hotspot and show up early. Get a table with more spaces than you have people for. For 2, find a table for 6-8. For one, find a table for around 4-5.
2) Have a few drinks. Not so many that you’re incompetant, but enough so you’re “squiffy”. For me, that’s around 3. Then maintain the buzz by alternating water/juice/soda and slowly-sipped drinks.
3) Ask questions. Basic questions, but really look for follow-up questions and opinions. Answer all questions with the typical straightforward answer, plus some leading information tacked on the end of it. In other words, lay as much on the table as possible. A good example is someone asks “What do you do for work?” you could answer, “I’m an engineer” OR you could answer “I’m an engineer, but I (insert opinion about your field/education/job experience)”.

Step 3 is really the hardest to intuit as an older traveler. You forget how you made your current friends at home, and you probably made them in an obvious-common-ground environment like high school or university dorms. On top of that, most of us are less guarded when we’re younger.

The key is being more obviously open. If you tack leading information onto answers, you give someone an easy follow-up. The hardest part of beginning conversation is going from not knowing a thing about the other person to feeling like you make a connection. You have to throw a little more on the table about your opinions and history if you expect to make it past awkward pleasantries. And throwing your own shit on the table will make it easier for your companions to do so as well, which makes for even better conversation. Let go of the formalities. This is naturally easier with a touch of alcohol (but not too much!).

The final key, of course, is to have a partner in crime you can bail to if the people you’ve wrangled turn out to be less than interesting. We had a hit-or-miss group tonight. The first group that joined our table were a bunch of coked-up frat/sorority types. I don’t like to judge people that harsh, but one guy was in a muscle tanktop and one girl kept playing with her hair and dipping it in her drink. From an outsider perspective, hilarious, but did not make for easy conversation.

The second group were redditors. Nice people, but pretty awkward. Plus after the first group, we were a bit doubious about letting out too much info. We got a bit more relaxed as more people and drinks showed. But it was short lived, and the redditors left to find another bar. We decided to stay, mainly because the Canucks game was finally on and we were a little more confident if the night just ended the two of us.

We switched tables with a really large group, and ended up with a medium table, only to be joined 10 minutes later by a group of 6 or so theatre kids. I say “kids” because it turned out we were almost a decade older than them. Theatre kids aren’t shy, and really hammered home the “laying it all on the table” thing. It was a fantastic end to the evening with “this is who I am” conversations, as well as superficial hockey and travel talk. It was a wonderful final holiday in Montreal.

Now I have to sleep. The Hubby has an alarm set so we can make it to the St Paddy’s parade in the morning. Every year he hauls me out of bed to go. It’s our ritual squabble. I hate the parade, I’m usually a tad hungover, and I always go because he loves it and I do like seeing him giddy like a 4-year-old. I’m never mad or make it unusually difficult. But I’ll be damned if I don’t put up a fight! At least Montreal is civilized, and their parade doesn’t start till noon!

~Brie~

March 13, 2012

Moving Hiatus – Hopefully the last!

I’ve slacked on the last couple of posts.  I know.  At this point, we’re starting to get the apartment torn up and coordinate some things for the move. Things are going to start getting busy, and thus the format I’ve been employing is going to go by the wayside again until we’re back in Vancouver (which will be mid-April). I’ll still post regularly, but things will be less structured and more travelogue again!

Things with the move are going well.  We have the trip mostly planned – we’ll be leaving here on March 31st and, weather permitting, will be in Vancouver around April 15th. I’ll detail more of the trip later on.  It is a bit more expensive this time, since we have to stay in hotels through Ontario, and you can only go so fast on around the Great Lakes.

We have a bunch of people coming by this week to look at the apartment. This is such a huge relief, since we are keen to off-load our lease! We’ve also started packing things up, and listing the sofa and the fridge on Craigslist.

Packing is the daunting part. I am seriously missing all our giant Crate and Barrel boxes that we moved in here with. My kitchen is going to take lots of boxes.  Luckily, the grocery store down the street gives away free boxes. Also luckily the way we’ve stored a lot of things is in bins, so a lot of those things can just get taped up and will be good to go. Our clothes have already been pared down to what we need for the next month.

Just have to decide the last few things we’ll do to say good bye to Montreal!

-W-

March 9, 2012

GF Ginger-Molasses Cookies

I grew up cooking with a well-used binder copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. I loved baking more than cooking when I was younger, and my specialty was cookies. I got them down to a fine art. I would take one of Betty’s recipes, mimmick her fat-sugar-starch combos, and then riff on the flavour combinations. I never wrote down my riffs because they were different each time. But the part that was down to the science was the cook time. It is one of the most essential components of a good cookie. You want the outside solid and a bit browned at the edges, but the inside should melt in your mouth.

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I experimented briefly with Spritz cookies for Christmas this year. Now that I’ve mastered pizza dough, I am keen to move on to my former specialty. I had originally intended to make my ginger-molasses cookies around the same time, but I spent too much time in the kitchen as it was, and got a little burnt out. In an effort to use as much of our current food stores as possible before we move, I decided it is time to try another experiment!

I’m not sure the origins of my specific recipe – it’s written down in my red leatherbound recipe book I’ve been collecting things in since college. It very well could be old Betty Crocker, Epicurious, some old family recipe, or from the back of a carton of molasses for all I know. Either way, it will need some reworking to be really great. I want to tweak the spice ratio to be a little more ginger and a little less clove. Also, in the spirit of using up my stores, I swapped the regular sugar for brown sugar. Even though I shorted a little on molasses to accomodate the extra caramel-y flavour of brown sugar, it was still a little overpowering. I would cut it down more next time.

As far as how they worked out as gluten free, I think next time I’m going to experiment with sweet rice flour, as I’ve read it has a better starchy component that is good for baking. Also coconut flour is supposed to be good. Either way, while they were successful, they had a little more spread and a little less fluff than I’d like. More experimenting to come!

Either way, the Hubby is happy. Molasses cookies are his favourite, and he whole-heartedly approved of the gluten-free ones.

-W-

March 7, 2012

Dream Trip: Yoga Retreat

Welcome to WISHFUL WEDNESDAY: where we feature cool products, awesome home decor, and fantasy vacation planning. Today, we look at some awesome yoga retreats!

Last year, when the Hubby and I were in the middle of wedding planning stress, we took a “no-wedding-talk” weekend and went to Tod Mountain Ranch outside of Kamloops. We stayed 2 nights, and had a full day of horseback riding plus absolutely delicious organic meals cooked for us, with my gluten-free needs incorporated!  It was the best kind of restorative vacation – away from civilization, forced light exercise, good food you don’t have to think about, and a small number of pleasant company.  It really changed my mind on things like all-inclusive retreats.  Whenever I go to a yoga class, they always have posters for various retreats to exotic and nearby locations.  I definitely want to take a yoga vacation at some point in my life.

Saltspring Centre for Yoga

I wouldn’t necessarily have to go big.  Salt Spring Island, like the rest of the Gulf Islands, is a big hippie paradise, and thus they have several retreats.  The Salt Spring Cente of Yoga seems to have a good program, with reasonable rates and several levels of practice. Thrice-daily yoga, plus nearby shops and hiking sounds like it would be a lovely way to spend a weekend.

Kripalu Centre in Western Massachusetts

If you want to get a little further from home, there is the Kripalu Centre in Western Massachusetts has really good word of mouth.  Their website and Wikipedia entry make them sound a little cultish, and their retreats are self-designed, which for me would be a bit of a detriment (if I know me, I would say I was going to roll out of bed for a morning class and end up sleeping the day away). But I have taken classes by Kripalu-trained instructors, and I find the specific type of yoga really invigorating and relaxing.

Maya Tulum

Of course, my ideal would be to do something more exotic. Get away to a more interesting destination.  Nothing says relaxing vacation like the beach. Mexico is a common location, and many of the flyers you see at classes are booked at places like Maya Tulum, where outside teachers bring students in.  The benefit of something like this, other than staying in an adorable hut on the beach, is you also have the full range of spa activities.  That much yoga could necessitate a massage or two!

Responsible Travel

Of course, my ideal vacation would combine the Tod Mountain Ranch experience and he yoga retreat experience.  The cost for this appears astronomical, but Responsible Travel advertises for a horseback riding and yoga retreat in Greece.  Exotic location, check. Forced exercise of multiple types, check. Delicious local organic food, check.  I’m sold!

-W-

March 6, 2012

Link Love: March 6, 2012

Welcome to NEWSY TUESDAY: Links to interesting news stories, other awesome blogs, artists and musicians, and updates on our life.

The Hubby and I are planning a quick overnight trip to Toronto in a week or so.  We’re kind of planning it last minute.  We have an opportunity to go do the Edgewalk, which both excites and frightens me.  Plus if I see Toronto, I will have seen the major Canadian metropolises. In fact, after this trip, I will only need to travel to Newfoundland/Labrador, PEI, Yukon, and the Territories to have seen all the Provinces. Unfortunately, those are the trickiest ones to get to. That’s a good deal of Canada!

Tonight we’re going to trivia at Hurley’s downtown.  It will be our last chance for trivia in Montreal, so even though I’m coming down with my usual spring throat-lung thing, we’re making a point of going out. I can’t believe we’ll be on our way back in a few weeks – I’m probably equal parts excited, nervous, and wistful about saying goodbye to this place.

-W-

March 5, 2012

Montreal Monday: Saturday Night Revelry

Welcome to MONTREAL MONDAY! Every Monday I detail something new about la belle ville! Updates on things going on in the city, or new neighbourhoods I explore. This week: Some of my favorite places around the city, some new places, and a glimpse at a classic Saturday in Montreal!

Our friends R & J, plus their friend S, made a last minute trip to Montreal so we could have a final night on the town together before the Hubby and I move back West. R recently moved to Ottawa, but has a weird and kind of awe-inspiring work schedule so we hadn’t seen him on any of our trips (we had seen J a few times, and met S once). We had a pretty packed night, hitting up lots of spots all around downtown – a few favourites, and a few we’ve been meaning to get to. It felt like a very classic Saturday in Montreal. My camera was only able to grab a few shots – a few of the places were just too dark 😦

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Stop 1: Fancy dinner in Vieux Montreal at Creperie Chez Suzette

You may recall this is where we took the Moms when they showed up, and where we ate with Jm when he came the first time. It is my favourite place in Vieux Montreal – reasonably priced, great service, quaint atmosphere. Plus delicious escargot and lobster bisque. We split a bottle of wine between us 5, and had almost as many orders of the cheese-covered slimy gastropods!

Stop 2: Habs game at La Station des Sports

The Habs were playing Toronto – a must see game for sure. This bar is big, so we were likely to get a table, and has 4 L pitchers for $21. I paid way more for my gluten-free drinks, sadly. It’s a good atmosphere though, and more TVs that you would think possible. The Habs lost, which this year has definitely happened more than not.

Stop 3: Frites Alors! And late night poutine snack

Okay, I know I said the last poutine was a splurge, but getting poutine in Vancouver will be so tough. Also, I love this restaurants name. It is just such a good exclamation! And a night in this town isn’t complete without a greasy, cheesy, salty poutine!

Stop 4: Lolita Karaoke and annoying college kids

We decided to finish off the night with some karaoke. Lolita clearly caters to the college crowd. We walked in and there was a huge birthday party finishing up – no one over the age of 22. Then another huge group walked in shortly after, around the same age, and exceedingly obnoxious. Some girl was scream-singing Nirvana with a Jersey accent. I shudder to remember it. Montreal has several large colleges and universities, so you’re bound to run into crazy undergrads late at night. Some are fine, some are infuriating. As far as Lolita goes, the song book wasn’t bad, though, and it was a nice contrast to our first trip out to the reddit meetup karaoke party.

It was a good night on the town, and nice to have old friends in our temporary home. We were out until well past Metro-closing.

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March 1, 2012

Cornbread and Butternut Squash Soup

20120229-214245.jpgOn a whim, I bought a whole butternut squash. It’s not the typical impulse buy, I know, but that’s what happens when you start experimental cooking. You see something, it speaks to you, and you drag it home to play with.
First question I has was how to get it into an edible form. Answer: to the Internets! Honestly, how did people cook before they could look up How to Prepare Butternut Squash on You Tube? Also, butternut squash is a little more…suggestive than I expected!

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I decided to make half into soup, and roast half to make with some pasta tomorrow night. I also roasted the seeds, because with a little salt they make a delicious salad topping or snack.
For my fancy baking item of the night, I decided to tryCeliac Teen Cornbread Recipe. I’ve been eating a lot of Stagg chili lately (it’s gluten free and available at the depanneur), and so corn bread was a natural to come up. Plus easy quick bread!

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The soup was nothing to write home about. It’s something I would experiment with. A little Parmesan cheese, ginger, and garlic next time to add some substance to the sweet squash flavour.
-W-