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Party Tricks

Amusing things to pass the time.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Guest Post: Many Paws Author Susan DeGarmo on “The Change”

Many Paws is a light-hearted, interactive pop-up book about menopause that readers can alter for themselves or to give as a gift to the wonderful women in their lives who might need a good laugh between hot flashes. Below is a guest post from altered book artist and author Susan DeGarmo.


When I was about 47 years old, I put some eggs on the stove to boil. I went downstairs to my office to grade papers and before I knew it, I heard explosions coming from my kitchen! I ran up and saw exploded boiled eggs sitting in a pan with no water. Exploding because I left them in there and totally forgot to take them out.

That year when I had my yearly check-up, I told my doctor I thought I was going crazy! I couldn’t remember the simplest things. I was starting to leak when I laughed, I sweated in bed, had hot flashes in the day, my eyesight was getting worse and my middle was spreading! She patted my hand and told me that I was going through the change. I couldn’t believe what she was saying! At 47 years old I started getting “old”. She handed me a paperback book that she said would help me understand what my body was doing.

That night I relaxed in the tub and picked up the book and began to read. The words were sweet and delicate. “You’re still a woman even though you can’t have babies anymore.”
I couldn’t take it! I tossed it in the trash.

My doctor wouldn’t give me anything to get rid of the symptoms. “It’s perfectly normal”, she said. So, every day became a new adventure with the symptoms of menopause. Thank God my family still loves me!

Since I couldn’t find a book that shared the in-your-face experiences of menopause and getting older with a bit of humor, I decided one day while teaching my altered book class at a local design college, I would make an altered book on the subject and it would be about my experience. Why did I come up with that idea? It was freezing cold outside, my head was beet red, sweat was dripping down my face and my students looked at me like I had a third eye! I just shrugged and pressed on.

I found an old book that had a by-line…the years of change. I took that book and altered it to create “ManyPaws, the Years of Change”. Each week I did a spread in the book.  Depending on what challenges I was going through, that is what I wrote about. We had a show-n-tell in the class every week to show off the work we did in our books. I showed mine to the students and there were lots of “yuck”, “my mom’s doing that”, and sometimes laughter. I wasn’t trying to appeal to them, just critiquing the pages.

At the end of the semester, we had an Altered Book Show. The students and myself would have our altered books on display for the faculty, staff , family and friends. Of course, my whole experience with menopause was there for the whole world to see. It wasn’t long before we heard laughter. Not only from the moms and older women of the college, but from their husbands! Oh no. I was totally embarrassed, but come to find out, they liked it! They started telling their stories and wanted a copy for themselves or to give to their girlfriends. So that’s how all of this started.

imageSusan DeGarmo is a truly creative spirit. Born and raised in Memphis Tennessee, Susan “was always makin’ something’ from nothin’,” according to her grandma. While teaching an altered book class at a local college, she had a hot flash and decided to create Many Paws.
Her book and greeting cards are available for sale on manypawsforwomen.com or Amazon.com

Friday, January 31, 2014

Rachael Ashe: Making By Hand

My friend Rachael Ashe presented at Creative Mornings a month ago on making things by hand and I found her presentation really inspiring. A few of the things that stood out for me:

1. iPhone photography has taken away the hands-on, tactile aspect of shooting images. We don’t have film, slides to advance, prints to handle. So maybe we should think about all the other ways that touch screens and digital tools have made us too “hands free”.

2. Build time in your schedule to make. Think about yourself as a maker. DO Things. Especially if it’s just for play.

3. Play and practice is how you refine your skills, and that can lead to paid work (if you’re interested in that sort of thing).

4. Say YES, I don’t know exactly how to do that but I’ll give it a go.

5. The first time you do anything, it will probably suck. Hooray!

Also, I like Rachael’s quiet sense of humour and little jokes in her presentation. I’m proud of my friend. I’m pleased that she overcame the nerve-wracking experience of speaking in front of an audience, and that she did a bang up job at preparing, practicing and presenting. 

Ease into your chair. The talk is 30 min then there’s 15 min of Q&A. Rachael hits her stride around the 8 min mark, but don’t skip ahead, just relax, get inspired, and then go make.

This is my favourite presentation this year. Last year it was Tori Holmes talking about being the youngest woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean. I still think about that presentation and how to turn the impossible into the possible. A theme that carries through in Rachael’s talk.

Shop for Rachael Ashe’s work on Etsy.

Follow her on Facebook, where you can also sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, January 03, 2014

2013 by the Photos

January: Birthday Parties & New Year’s


February, 16: Finlay

March: Beautiful Spring


April: Getting Cuter


May: Upgraded to the Tableware


June: Scott & Amanda’s Wedding


July: Harrison Hot Springs with Friends Rachael, Boris, Andrea & Mark for Rachael’s art show


August: Sooke with Chad & Gillian


September: James’ Birthday Boat Ride


October: Jailbird


November: Birthdays!


December: First Christmas



Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent — The Chemistry of Cookies

And then there’s The Food Lab: The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

The long and shortening of it:

Butter: keeps cookies tender because it inhibits the formation of gluten (flour + water from the eggs). The more butter, the more tender the cookie, and the more it spreads as it bakes.
Ideal ratio: 1 part butter to 1 part sugar to .8 part flour
Don’t go for shortening
Melted butter = denser cookies, whereas creamed butter = cakier cookies

Eggs: “By keeping the total mass of egg added to a dough the same but altering the proportion of white to yolk, you can achieve a variety of textures. Two whites and a yolk, for instance, produces the more open structure of the top cookie in the photo above, while three yolks and no whites produces the denser, fudgier texture of the cookie on the bottom.”
Extra egg whites = taller cookies; extra egg yolks = fudgier cookies
Ideal ratio: 1 yolk to 1 white (oh, they way eggs come naturally)

Sugar: Blend only the white sugar with the eggs to give a jump start on caramelization then add brown sugar later with the melted butter.

Chocolate: Hand-chopped chocolate = most intense flavour and interesting texture.

“Here’s what we’re working with so far: White sugar is beaten into whole eggs until it dissolves. Butter is browned and chilled with an ice cube to add back lost moisture and hasten its cooling, before being beaten into the egg mixture, along with brown sugar and. Flour and baking soda are folded in very gently, along with chocolate.”

Salt & Vanilla: Salt is essential to balance the flavour of caramelized sugars, and a good amount of vanilla is a must. Press coarse salt to the cookie tops when they first come out of the oven.

Cooler oven = wide cookies, hotter oven = compact cookies That said, caramelization occurs at 356 degrees so if your recipe calls for the oven to be set at 350 degrees, you’re out of luck. Crank up the heat.

Let the dough rest overnight for superior flavour

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Advent — Night Light

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.

Source: http://kevron2001.deviantart.com/art/Night-light-345379702


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween

My little jailbird is out at a halloween party today.


No problem getting the cuffs off.


For Milk Rustlin’


Also wanted for stealing candy from monkeys.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Smell of Money—Bank of Canada Says No Maple Scent Added to $100 Bills


Last January, I wrote about the new Bank of Canada polymer $100 bill smelling like maple. It’s been fun to take part in the dispute and myth busting conversations but the Bank of Canada confirmed recently that they have not added scent to the bills.

The topic is making the rounds again and I was asked, as a “nose who knows,” to weigh in on whether the money has a scent. The story started here with Dean Beeby’s Canadian Press article “Are new bank notes maple syrup scented? Bank of Canada sets record straight”.

Then it was picked up by Robin Gill at Global TV. Watch the Global TV segment here.

Shannon Paterson at CTV News was on the story too and interviewed me.

Watch the CTV segment here.

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.

The smell of money
Read my original post on the Smell of Money.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Long-Form Reading

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.

The Referendum By TIM KREIDER in the New York Times from September 17, 2009

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.]

Read the full article: The Referendum By Tim Kreider


Saturday, April 06, 2013

Finlay: Week 1-7

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.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

4 Hours vs. 4 Days of Finn

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.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Welcome Home Finlay John Sherrett

So I had this big project due Feb 19 and managed to deliver early. The project code name was Flash Wolfe.


Finlay John Sherrett
February 16, 2013
10:05 am
53.5 cm long
3128 grams (oh yes, it’s the metric system in Canada—6 lbs 14 oz)
9/10 Apgars (means he was 100% awesome, did we have any doubt?)

Delivered by Dr Nancy Mitenko
Doula Debra Woods
Pediatrician Dr Baunigard (might not be the right spelling)

Disney version is that mom, dad and baby are doing well and came home today!


(more to come — with mom later)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Shoebox Project


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.

Want more info? Check out Kate’s post above or the Shoebox Project’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheShoeboxProjectCanada

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
Brush, comb
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)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Honeymoon: Barcelona

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

View from our flat

View from our flat

Laundry day

View from our flat

Walking La Rambla

La Rambla

Catalan Architecture: A great mix of old and new buildings


Barcelona, near Catalunya

Near the Cathedral, Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

Cultural building near the Cathedral

Gaudi’s influence is everywhere. Mosaic rooftops, nature-inspired benches and street tiles, magical perspectives

Gaudi architecture

Gaudi benches

Fantastic markets

Mercat de boqueria


Usually built in a spiral pattern with seafood in the centre and radiating out to fruit drinks, dried fruit and nuts and chocolates.

Mercat Boqueria

Mercat Boqueria

Mercat Boqueria

Mercat Boqueria

Mercat Boqueria

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.


People Everywhere

Catalunya square, just off La Rambla > Catalunya


Pentacost Celebrations in Barceloneta

Pentecost - Second Easter

Can Maño: tiny fish shop

Can Maño


Outdoor Picasso

Frisos del Col-legi d'Arquitectes

Cascada Fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella

The Cascada fountain

Statue of Columbus. The new world is over there.


Catedral de Barcelona

Catedral de Barcelona

And, of course, the Gaudi architecture was my absolute favourite. I’ll have to do a post on that specifically.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Honeymoon: Argeliers to Barcelona

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.

Market day

Flower Market in Beziers

Just after lunch we headed out for Casa Pairal in Collioure, which is a small beach resort town along the Mediterrean.

Casa Pairal

Water walk

Collioure, France


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.

Collioure, France

Collioure, France

Delicious wine

Walking around Collioure at night was warm and reminded me of hot summer evenings in Manitoba.

Collioure, France

Collioure at night

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.

Collioure at sunset


Casa Pairal in Collioure, FR

Casa Pairal

Look, the Med

Leaving France > Spain

Leaving France > Spain

Entering Spain

Entering 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.

Dali Museum

Dali Museum

Dali Museum, Figueres

Entrance to Dali Museum

Entrance to Dali Museum

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.

Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres, ES

Dali Museum, Figueres

Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres, ES

Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres, ES

Mae West room

Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres, ES

Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres, ES

Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres, ES

Dali perfume

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.

Mataro, ES

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.

Mataro, ES

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.

in Mataro. Great tapas in the butcher's garden.

in Mataro. Great tapas in the butcher's garden.

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.

in Mataro. Great tapas in the butcher's garden.

in Mataro. Great tapas in the butcher's garden.

in Mataro. Great tapas in the butcher's garden.
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.


James working out


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.


Arriving in Barcelona

Sweet Barcelona apartment

James enjoying our Barcelona flat

Sweet Barcelona apartment

Sweet Barcelona apartment

Sweet Barcelona apartment

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Honeymoon: Chateauneuf de pape

May 14 & 15

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.

Door knocker
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.

Bastide des Princes, near Chateauneuf du pape

Bastide des Princes, near Chateauneuf du pape

Bastide des Princes, near Chateauneuf du pape

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!

Bastide des Princes

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.

Vines near Bastide des Princes
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.

Loop drive from Chateauneuf du pape


Vaison-la-Romaine (maybe)

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.

Vaison-la-Romaine or Séguret (maybe)

Vaison-la-Romaine or Séguret (maybe)

Vaison-la-Romaine or Séguret (maybe)


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.

Route de Vaison to Suzette

Route de Vaison to Suzette
That night we had dinner in the restaurant, which was magical and my favourite meal of our entire trip.

Nighttime at Bastide des Princes, near Chateauneuf du pape

We started with a glass of sparkling wine, then moved on to this bottle of red, which I’d happily have again and again.

Bastide des Princes amazing dinner

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.

Bastides des Princes - appetizer with scallop, salmon, asperagus

Bastide des Princes amazing dinner

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.

Bastides des Prince -- master chef dessert

Bastide des Princes

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.