The Christmas spirit has captured me this year so each day I’m going to play with StumbleUpon as a little digital advent calendar. Instead of a paper calendar I’m going to push the StumbleUpon button and see what I get. One a day, leading up to Christmas. I’ll post the reveal here for you to also enjoy.
As I said in my post last year, although the Bank of Canada denies there is any maple scent I think this would be a really interesting enhanced security feature because it would be incredibly hard to counterfeit.
This article isn’t particularly long but, in the days of 140 character tweets and status updates, it exceeds the character count of my usual single-item readings. I asked James to read it aloud to me this morning while I was eating my breakfast and several times I made him re-read lines that I thought were hilarious or wanted to solidify in my brain. This gem is James’ find and a nice little reading experience that he shared with me in the half-hour block of time this morning between our son’s nap and next feeding. It’s worth a read.
Tim Kreider introduces this as an essay about arrested adolescence but it’s really about looking around and wondering if you’re living the life you want to be leading and how we look at our friends’ lives and either feel jealousy or pity.
The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt.
As a new parent, I’m constantly looking at my childless peers and thinking, “8 weeks ago, that was my life too.” Or I’m looking at strangers in the street who are carting around little ones and thinking, “bloody hell, those liars told me things get better” or “that woman has it together, I want to be like her when my child grows up.”
Reading Kreider’s article “The Referendum” coincidentally coincides with me filling out my son’s baby book with family members’ birthdays, which leads me to think about how young some of them died. Mid-50s seems to have claimed a number of loved ones on both sides of our family and at 37 years old that doesn’t seem all that far away.
On a brighter, yet caustic note, here are some of my favourite lines (extracted especially for my friends who are parents and only have 140 more seconds of attention):
To my friends with children, the obscene wealth of free time at my command must seem unimaginably exotic, since their next thousand Saturdays are already booked.
A lot of my married friends take a vicarious interest in my personal life. It’s usually just nosy, prurient fun, but sometimes smacks of the sort of moralism that H.G. Wells called “jealousy with a halo.”
Like everyone, I’ve seen some marriages in which I would discreetly hang myself within 12 hours, but others have given me cause to envy their intimacy, loyalty, and irreplaceable decades of invested history. [Note to all my married friends: your marriage is one of the latter.]
I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life. [Note to friends with children: I am referring to other people’s children, not to yours.]
Left column: week 1, 2, 3. Main image is week 6-7. Right column: week 4, 5, 6
Finlay John Sherrett is 7 weeks old today. It is shocking how fast, and slow, time has gone. He’s gone from week 1 being 6 lbs 14 oz to losing weight to week 7 being over 9 lbs. Finlay is a string bean. Long and skinny. And thankfully for the last two days he has been rather happy. I think week 4 was the worst of my life and part of week 6 was vying for the top spot. But the little man is sleeping, eating and playing nicely. That makes me happy. Plus there was sunshine again today.
For those of you keeping score at home, Finlay is 24-hour cuteness. And no, this is not going to become a mommy blog so not to fear, there will be book reviews and regular programming interrupted with the occasional commercial break (in which I pitch the awesomeness of my son) or public service announcement (in which I share useful anecdotes). I believe Finn neatly falls under the “other amusements of Monique Sherrett” category on this blog and will make his appearances with permission from me and his dad.
Finlay at 4 hours old
Finlay at 4 days old (actually 3 days old, but there’s very little different between this photo and the 100s of similar ones I took the next day)
Observations upon being home now for 3 whole days:
New parenting is like scuba diving. There are a lot of non-verbal cues to learn. If you took the resort certificate, you only have about 6 hours of training before being expected to be successful on your first dive. Although in this case no dive master will be accompanying you, it’s more like in 6 hours you need to be seasoned diver ready to dive the blue holes where you need to be hypervigilant and work as a team to survive. You are responsible for yourself and your dive partners at all times.
Breast feeding is like becoming a pro athlete in 3 days. Think about having to perfect a golf swing or shot put throw in 3 days because that is really the amount of time you have to go from the colostrum stage to transition milk to breast milk. The baby holding technique and angles are highly important if you’re going to get anywhere. I’ll spare you the details of the ear, shoulder, hip alignment required since many of you may not be parents or ever wishing to be and perhaps I’ve already overshared. The point is that it is hard to learn and not a natural instinct for mom or baby. Thankfully Finn and I are above average. We could get scouted for the leche league.
Tip for visitors: Wash your hands when you arrive, not because I don’t believe in germs but because we are both still recovering from our hospital stay and you need to be gentle with our immune systems right now. And bring food. Quick, healthy snacks that can be consumed with one hand or food that can be heated easily. It is shocking how fast a day goes by and suddenly it’s 4:30 am and you’re wondering when you last ate and why you’re so dehydrated and tired. Like a triathlon, I need people at regular intervals handing me cups of water.
Ok, enough metaphors for today. You know what’s good about paperback books, you can hold them in one hand. What’s hard, turning pages with one hand. I’m currently reading Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory. It’s great.
Do you know about the Canadian not-for-profit organization called The Shoebox Project? I’m going to participate this year. The idea is that you fill a shoebox with small gifts and non-essential items, which are then distributed to women in shelters during the holidays.
This is the first time The Shoebox Project has a Vancouver initiative. And, my friend Kate has written a good blog post on how to participate. The goal for Vancouver is 100 shoeboxes to share with the Downtown Eastside Women’s Shelter and the Vancouver Rape Relief Centre.
I’m in apartment declutter mode so I certainly have a empty shoebox to fill. Plus, it doesn’t take much time, it’s fun to give during the holidays, and the dollar value is $50 so it doesn’t cost very much. If $50 sounds steep, why not buddy up then it’s only $25 for each of you.
Since the shoebox needs to have new items, if you’re a local business and have appropriate items for the shoeboxes, then please consider donating items. It doesn’t have to be for all 100 boxes, see Kate’s post for details on that.
Here’s a list of what should go in the box (approximately $50 in value):
Body or hand lotions
Makeup: mascara, lipstick and nail polish. (Please no concealers or foundations)
Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss
Chocolates, cookies, candies
Mitts, hat, scarf
Bus or subway tokens / phone card
Gift certificates (McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s, Shoppers Drug Mart, Wal-Mart, Cineplex). Please include the receipt!
* And don’t wrap the box, it has to be opened and inspected.
My declutter mode has also sussed out some cool sparkles and other decorative items I can put inside the box for padding. Off to package up my shoebox gift.
Drop off location open until Monday, December 17th:
Vancouver: 2305 McLean Drive (Mon to Fri: 8AM to 6PM; Sat: 11AM to 6PM)
Barcelona was my favourite city on our trip. Not only did we have an amazing penthouse apartment while we were there, but we were also in the heart of everything. We were a few blocks away from La Rambla (the huge main pedestrian thoroughfare), steps from the Paral-lel subway station, and walking distance to Barceloneta.
Barcelona felt like a city you could explore on foot whereas Paris was worth visiting via the Hop on Hop off bus. I have a ton of favourite moments from our four days (Sunday, May 27 to Thursday, May 31).
360 View from Our Flat
Walking La Rambla
Catalan Architecture: A great mix of old and new buildings
Gaudi’s influence is everywhere. Mosaic rooftops, nature-inspired benches and street tiles, magical perspectives
Usually built in a spiral pattern with seafood in the centre and radiating out to fruit drinks, dried fruit and nuts and chocolates.
Our last honeymoon celebration was drinking a bottle of sparkling wine left for us by our host with a lunch picnic we gathered from Boqueria market.
Pentacost Celebrations in Barceloneta
Can Maño: tiny fish shop
Cascada Fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella
Statue of Columbus. The new world is over there.
Catedral de Barcelona
And, of course, the Gaudi architecture was my absolute favourite. I’ll have to do a post on that specifically.
This post is a bit out of order because I haven’t told you yet about our amazing bike trip along the Canal du Midi with Darren and Julie. But I’m longingly thinking of Barcelona this morning so I thought I’d share how we got there.
Friday, May 25
Friday is flower market day in Beziers so Julie, James and I set off in the morning for the market and a coffee.
Just after lunch we headed out for Casa Pairal in Collioure, which is a small beach resort town along the Mediterrean.
After our first swim of the year in the ocean, we had a lovely dinner at a restaurant Julie recommended. The chef was Japanese and each dish was a delightful morsel, wonderfully presented.
Walking around Collioure at night was warm and reminded me of hot summer evenings in Manitoba.
The next morning we had a swim, breakfast in the garden, where we enjoyed croissants, jam, fruit, ham and eggs. Then we set off for Figueres, Spain.
Figueres is the home of the Dali Museum, which was our afternoon stop. What a place!
The main entrance and building itself is remarkable with huge Mother Goose eggs and golden sculptures. Then inside the front entrance is a look into the atrium.
The most remarkable thing about Dali’s work is the number of different medium he experimented with, plus the number of different senses he put into play with moving parts, optical illusions, sound, scent and I’m sure taste was in there somewhere.
Post museum visit, we had a quick bite to eat then were on the road to Mataro, which is about 30 minutes outside Barcelona. Although there are three city beaches in Barcelona, I’d read that Mataro was more spectacular.
The Ibis hotel where we stayed is on the edge of the action, the far edge. There was a big street festival going on during our first night and also a circus so we wandered through the streets into the downtown looking for a place to have dinner.
The funny thing for North Americans in France and Spain is finding somewhere that will feed you between 6 and 9 pm. Most restaurants are closed or don’t do dinner service until 8:30 or 9. We did find a butcher shop with a lunch menu and back garden who was also serving tapas and drinks.
Between my beginner Spanish, the waiter’s Catelan and some show and tell, I was able to order us some amazing tapas. My favourites were these little fried sausages and breaded balls of meat.
There are a ton of unique tasting proscuitto.
Sunday, May 27
Since it was our last day on the road before hitting Barcelona, where we stayed put for 4 nights, James and I went for some beach time in the morning, had a terrible breakfast/lunch in the fast-food joint of our hotel, then made our way into Barcelona.
We dropped our car off at the airport and took the Aerobus into the city, jumped on a subway and arrived at our totally sweet penthouse apartment.
We found a great inn near Orange called Bastide des Princes that is run by a master chef and his wife. We’d hoped to stay two nights but they only had availability for one night so we decided to take it anyway.
The door knocker
The inn is along a lovely country road and in the middle of fields. It’s charming to say the least, just like the owners.
While James and I were having a small picnic in the garden, Annie came out and let us know that the couple set to arrive the following day had some misfortune and were no longer able to come so if we still wanted the room for two nights, she’d be happy to accommodate us. Hooray!
This was wonderful news for us because the kitchen is closed on Monday, which meant that if we weren’t staying the extra night on Tuesday, we’d be unable to enjoy the fantastic creations of her husband. The menu is set each day depending on what is fresh and available in the garden and from the market.
Check out these old vines.
For our first night we asked them to recommend a good foodie place for us to have dinner, and we had a fantastic recommendation, which did require a bit of scouting! Fido can thank Google maps for that $50 data checkin.
I’ll have to update this post with the name of the other restaurant when I find the business card because it was James’ favourite meal.
The following day we borrowed a map from our hosts and did another excellent loop drive, where we stopped and wandered through several little villages.
In Vaison-la-Romaine or Séguret (maybe), we walked up to some ruins at the top of a hill and enjoyed a beautiful view of the countryside.
The route from Vaison to Suzette is a little climb, which means that the viewpoints are even more frequent and spectacular than the loop route near Grasse. In addition there are caves for wine tasting everywhere, and everything tastes amazing.
That night we had dinner in the restaurant, which was magical and my favourite meal of our entire trip.
We started with a glass of sparkling wine, then moved on to this bottle of red, which I’d happily have again and again.
I really should have taken a photo of each course because the next dish was always trumping the last. This is my favourite way to eat, small plates throughout the evening with a great bottle(s) of wine.
I can still taste this dessert. The fruite mousse was delightful, but the white chocolate cheesecake with the whipped mint-chocolate hardened around it was the ultimate taste combo for me.
It was sad to leave our little kitchen breakfast table the next morning, but also happy because we were on our way to see Darren and Julie in Argeliers.
On Saturday, May 12th James and I flew from Amsterdam to Nice. Our plan was to have lunch in Nice and wander around then drive to Grasse, where we had rented a little cottage. We left the Amsterdam flat at 5 am so by the time we arrived in Nice, we really just wanted to get to Grasse and have a nap. So we decided to forego our lunch plans and arrived in Grasse in the early afternoon.
We were a bit lost. It was analog maps and the compass on my iPhone guiding us, especially since the French are pretty relaxed when it comes to signage. At one point we stopped at a McDonald’s that was advertising free wifi in order to get our barings. It ended up that the McDonald’s was on a roundabout and our guesthouse was straight across that very roundabout.
We stayed at Mas des Romarins, which is walking distance from two perfumeries and 45-60 minutes walk from the town of Grasse.
After a nice little nap, we ventured out into the warm afternoon and trekked uphill to the town. Right at the top of the hill is Molinard, a little history of perfume museum with old bottles and photos and a small factory tour below. We wandered around there, then stopped at a creperie for a bite to eat.
The town was a quaint little village with windy streets and little stalls selling lavender and rose products. Overall I was disappointed in Grasse because I was hoping for more insights into the perfume industry and I was keen to see the rose fields where Channel grows their special stock. Alas, the internet (in French and English) was not helpful in getting us sorted out.
We did do one of the tours though, just to look around.
Thankfully I discovered a loop road and we planned our adventure for the following day.
Sunday, May 13
After a lovely breakfast we drove off to Valbonne, which is a typical Provence town.
There was a huge garage-sale event happening in one of the parking lots so we walked around there, then stopped at a butcher and vegetable stand to collect some lunch items.
Then we took to the road, driving passed Chateauneuf-Grasse to Gourdon. The road was absolutely spectacular and Gourdon is tucked up at the top of a mountain.
In Gourdon James stumbled upon a confectioner who was only too happy to chat us up about his son’s visit to America, French politics, the art of making nougat and the perfume fields around Gourdon.
Since it was afternoon, the roses would be already picked, but after having a sip of orange blossom liquor from their private stock, we decided to see one of the fields anyway.
It’s not really that hard to find beautiful roses.
In May, the orange blossoms are scenting the air more so than the roses.
From Gourdon we travelled eastward to Tourres-sur-Loup and Vence. We stopped at the Florian confectionery and visited La Colle-sur-Loup where there village was celebrating Rose Festival. Then it was back to Valbonne for a nice dinner.
The Florian confectionery had a lovely garden with roses and orange blossoms.
In Colle sur Loup is where we encountered the Rose Festival with traditional dancing, sweets and roses bushes of every kind for sale.
Monday, May 14
Our host Claire made us a lovely breakfast in the garden and chatted to us about the jasmine growing and orange blossoms. By the time we left we had a small flower and herb garden of clippings in our car, which made for a fragrant journey to Chateauneuf-du-pape.
We also stopped at a few of the perfume factories to poke around. They are rather touristy but it was still fun to see the old stills.
Wednesday, May 9 James and I boarded the train in Paris. The Mobilism conference was on in Amsterdam and we were going. Technically James was going and I was to amuse myself. I did have a great set of recommendations from friends so I was nonplussed about it.
First, train travel in the EU is spectacular. We travelled 300 km per hour and zipped along the French countryside, fired our way through Belgium and bingo-bango arrived in Amsterdam in just over 3 hours. No borders, no “security theatre” as James likes to say, and no drama.
The Dutch enjoyed our company from May 9-12 then we flew off to Nice, France.
So about that Amsterdam visit.
May 9: We walked around Amsterdam that afternoon and evening. Amsterdam’s downtown streets radiate out in a stoke with the cross streets alternating with canals. It’s really quite a lovely city.
I was interested in going to Amsterdam but it wasn’t on my original list of honeymoon plans so I’m glad it was blissful.
The weather was a bit better than Paris, which had been grey and then cold and rainy. At least Amsterdam’s air was refreshing and everything was green and blue as opposed to beige in Paris. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Paris. But Amsterdam felt wonderful.
One of my wishes was to have great Indonesian food in Amsterdam. I’d been to Indonesia and enjoyed Dutch chocolate sprinkles on my food so I figured that Amsterdam would have brought back the best of Indonesia. Indeed they did!
We had a delicious dinner at Kantjil & de Tijger. Our choice was a rijsttafel, which is a number of dishes to share. Our palates enjoyed 13 dishes.
I was feeling much better after my Parisienne broth and dry bread diet but still not 100%. Thankfully our apartment in Amsterdam made it worth it to stay indoors and relax. We had an upstairs flat in one of the canal houses on Keizersgracht (#684). The front-half of the entire floor.
This meant a beautiful view out the front of the canal from our sitting room.
A nice table for breakfast.
A day bed. A full-size bedroom with a small washer/dryer tucked away in a closet.
A super cute kitchen. And a small bathroom off the back of the kitchen.
Totally lovely. And Maud, our landlady, brought me fresh bread and breadfast foods. I quite happily read my book and lazed away my afternoons.
There is a ton of style in Amsterdam and great touches with the clothes and interior design. We even noticed a ton of graphic designers and ad/marketing agencies. Perhaps Boxcar Marketing needs a European office?
During the adventurous parts of my days, I went to the Anne Frank house. I think many people forget that Anne was from Amsterdam. It was sad to see the tiny attic rooms and to think about those families hiding there and being afraid. It choked me up to see Anne’s walls still with some of her movie star postcards plastered to the wall. Most affecting were the pencil marks charting Anne and her sister’s heights. Anne was my height. Taller than I’d imagined, especially because she was so young.
At the end of the tour is a video series. One is of a neighbourhood girl who knew Anne and saw her in the concentration camp when Anne believed she’d lost everyone. She didn’t know that her father was still alive. The neighbour believed that if Anne had known then perhaps she would have fought to continue. The other was Otto Frank talking about Anne and how close they were, yet he never suspected she had these thoughts that she was recording in her diary. He knew she had a diary because she made him promise not to look at it and to lock it up in his safe every night. One of his striking comments was that they got along well and reading the diary made him feel like this was not the Anne he knew. He ended with a caution to parents that you never really know your children, regardless of how close you feel to them. I wonder if the discrepancy between the Anne he knew and the Anne in the diary made it easier for him to edit and publish the book.
After my tragic exploration of Anne’s quarters I sought out the sunshine of Vodelpark. I did think of renting a bicycle because they are everywhere in Amsterdam, but walking meant I could look more closely at things and enjoy my time ambling around vs. watching for traffic.
On our last night, James was finally free from the conference and we walked around the streets again and settled in at Cafe George for a delicious dinner.
Macaron Day (Jour du Macaron) is celebrated on March 20 and I will be nibbling on macarons from French Made.
Macaron Day celebrates my favourite dessert. The sweet meringue goodness of macarons, in particular passionfruit, is the way to my heart (take note husband). My favourite macarons are from MacarOn Cafe in New York and I was very excited to get their little macaron book for Christmas.
Macaron is a French confection that was started by Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé in association with the Relais Desserts in 1995 and Macaron Day is celebrated around the world, including Toronto and New York City, and now Vancouver. Today’s the day to visit Thierry Cafe and French Made.
I spent a couple of evenings reorganizing our bookshelves at home to be colour coordinated and organized by genre. Apparently so did crazedadman (read that one more time craze dad man). Not only did he organize his own shelves, he then thought to get his wife and a ton of volunteers involved in making this stop-motion video of animated books.