Monday, February 26, 2007

i got all my sisters with me

This past weekend, a few of my friends and I headed two hours north to a lovely cottage in the woods for some relaxation and serious girlie time. I have this fantastic group of girlfriends who have a serious appreciation for the no spouse, no kids, girls only, absolutely no boys allowed, hang out time. Basically, we eat, we drink, we talk, we laugh and we have a great time.

Ann arranged for us to use this incredible cottage in the woods for the weekend. It was so great to see Ann, who moved away from the big city a couple of years ago to a beautiful farm about 2 hours away. Unfortunately, we just don't see her enough, so to spend a weekend with her is a delight.

In addition to soaking in the hot tub and just hanging out, we went snowshoeing in the woods. I had never snowshoed before and to do this felt truly Canadian! I took plenty of pictures on our trek and have posted them on my Flickr page. You'll notice that I'm a bit obsessed with the scenery, but can you blame me? It was a beautiful day.

So with this girls weekend in the past, I look forward to the next one in July at Elizabeth's cottage. Isn't it great to have something to look forward to? Thanks ladies!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

the world where you live

Last night, Elizabeth and I heard Al Gore speak at the University of Toronto. 24 hours later, I am still completely overwhelmed. The man is an amazing speaker. Funny, witty, honest and sincere all at the same time. The sheer amount of information he disseminated in two hours was incredible. We are screwing our planet severely and we have the power to fix it. Watch his movie. Listen to his words. Do your part. If we all do our part, we may still have a planet in 50 years. If we don't...

...everyone here knows how to cry...

Every summer, we spend a couple of weeks at the cottage. Steve's grandfather built a rustic cottage on a large, lakeside property outside of Ottawa many years ago. As a result, we always have a summer vacation spot. I often jokingly tell my unmarried friends that it's wise to marry into a family with a cottage. Truly, I am only half joking. I am very thankful for the cottage and love having somewhere to take a holiday that doesn't cost anymore than a week off at home.

Part of our cottage ritual is a trip to nearby Smiths Falls to visit the Canadian Hershey Chocolate Factory. Here you get to view part of the factory floor (my favourite is where they make the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups) and buy chocolate for cheap! Sadly, Hershey announced today that they will be closing the Smiths Falls plant. 400 people in a town of 9,000 will lose their jobs and an area institution will disappear. As a chocoholic, this makes me very sad, as much for my chocolate addiction as for the local economy. I worry about the effect that this will have on Smiths Falls and hope that they can recover.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

breakin' up the house

Steve and I had quite the musical weekend. In addition to catching the Barenaked Ladies on Friday night, we took in an excellent show by Colin James and the Little Big Band on Sunday night at Hamilton Place. I've seen Colin James doing his rock thing a few times and I'm a huge fan. He is an immensely talented singer, songwriter and guitarist. To see (and hear) him do the Little Big Band stuff live was fantastic! He captures the spirit of this great music perfectly. His band is fabulously talented and judging by the non-stop smiles on their faces, it's obvious that they were having a great time.

Opening for Colin, was the phenomenal Michael Kaeshammer. Holy crap can this guy play the piano! It was just him and a fantastic drummer but it sounded like there was a 10-piece band on stage. Sadly, they only played for half an hour. I could have easily listened to a full hour of him and then a 90 minute set from Colin. If you like the boogie-woogie, New Orleans, stride piano thing, check this guy out! He's just brilliant.

There was one unfortunate down side to our concert going experience that had absolutely nothing to do with the magic that was happening on stage. I'm always amazed by how people behave in public. In a public setting, most people seem to forget that there are other people around them. Let's talk specifically about the trailer-trash couple sitting next to me. Now they seemed nice enough but once the concert started so did the bizarre behaviour. Mr. Trailer seemed more interested in taking pictures then enjoying the music. Any time Colin came anywhere near us (which was quite often given the fact that we were in the 4th row), this guy was snapping away. Since he was using a digital camera, he immediately checked to make sure the photo was acceptable. At one point, Colin stood directly in front of us and played a wicked guitar solo. Mr. Trailer elbowed me and practically leaned over my lap to get a picture. I don't think he heard one note of the solo. And what the hell is he going to do with those pictures? He'll probably never look at them again. And even if he does, he won't remember how incredible the music was.

Even more fascinating was his companion, who we will call Mrs. Trailer. At one point during the concert, she left her seat with a CD and Sharpie in hand and worked her way up to the stage. She opened the CD case, placed it on the stage next to one of the speakers and placed the marker on top. I looked over at Steve who gave me the "WTF" look. Did this woman honestly thing that Colin would stop, mid-concert, to sign her freakin' CD?!? She patiently waited by the side of the stage for about half an hour. Either he didn't notice that the CD was there or he skillfully avoided it, but eventually, Mrs. Trailer gave up. She collected her CD and Sharpie and returned to her seat where she loudly talked at Mr. Trailer for about 5 minutes before finally shutting her trap and allowing the rest of us to enjoy the music.

Honestly, who are these people?!?

Luckily, these weirdos did not ruin our enjoyment of the show. We had a fantastic time and will definitely see Colin James again. But I do wish people would realize that they are not the only ones who paid to see the show.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

sound of your voice, part 2

Back to the concert. Sadly, we missed the opening act, Tomi Swick. I've heard some of his music and really enjoy it so I hope to see him in the future. But since it was a work day and Christine and Stewart were coming in from 100 kms away and I was in possession of the tickets, making it to the venue for the opening act didn't happen. When we did arrive, we found the halls filled not only with the traditional merchandise tables, but displays for various pro-environment agencies such as the WWF Canada and Bullfrog Power. BNL has hooked up with a great initiative, Reverb. This non-profit organization founded in 2004 "seeks to raise awareness and support for the environment through building upon the powerful connection between musicians and their fans." Other artists who have got on board with Reverb include the Dave Matthews Band, Alanis Morissette and the incredible Bonnie Raitt. Not only is the band trying to inform its fans of what they can do for the environment, they are doing good themselves. To see what the Barenaked Ladies are doing to lessen the negative impact of touring on the environment, check out Barenaked Planet.

Just before the ladies took the stage, a short video promoting David Suzuki's "If You Were Prime Minister" tour, was flashed onto the big screens. With this tour, Suzuki is trying to send a clear message to the federal government that Canadians give a crap about the environment and want our political leaders to do something about it now! And if that wasn't enough, the man himself, David Suzuki appeared on the stage, encouraging the audience to let Ottawa know how important the environment is to Canadians. I was lucky to hear Stephen Lewis speak last November and will be hearing Al Gore later this week. Add David Suzuki on top of that and I couldn't be happier. Imagine the world we would be living in if these forward thinking, inspirational people were running our countries. If only they would run for Prime Minster of Canada or President of the U.S.A.....oh, never mind.

So for a band that's been around for almost 20 years, the Barenaked Ladies are doing exactly what we should expect. Growing, changing, evolving, but always entertaining. They may have grown more politically minded over the years (although, if you were really listening, those traits were always there) they are still and always will be, incredible songwriters and musicians. They are older, wiser, have spouses and children, and are more outward in showing their social awareness and responsibility. All of this is reflected in their latest album and vibe of their current tour. They seem content with their place in the world, musically, personally and as citizens of the planet. They have definitely found the sound of their voice and it's beautiful!

sound of your voice, part 1

On Friday night, Steve and I and our friends, Christine (my best friend since high school) and Stewart (her darling husband) went to the Barenaked Ladies concert at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. I've had the pleasure of seeing the Ladies four times now, most memorably on the Stunt tour when we sat front row at Massey Hall. One of my favourite bands in my most favourite music venue in Toronto. Priceless!

Last night's concert was unlike any BNL show I have ever attended. The vibe was totally different. Mellower, although they had just as much energy as at past shows. More mature, even though they were just a funny as ever. So what's changed?

A lot.

The band's latest release, Barenaked Ladies Are Me, takes them back to their independent roots. That's right boys and girls, no record company involved! The guys set up their own record label and took full control over their work. Instead of the standard 10-12 song disc, they released a 29 song set. Not only did they put these tunes out on physical CDs, they offered them for download and threw them on a USB drive (adorably titled "Barenaked on a Stick") that included some fun extras. It's important to mention that if you decided to go old school and purchase the physical CDs, you were only able to purchase half of the songs when they came out in the fall of 2006. You had to wait until early February 2007 to get the rest. Obviously the guys were encouraging their fans to use one of the new media methods. Well it worked for me. Up until this release, I owned every Barenaked Ladies recording in a physical format, including the groundbreaking yellow tape. Something about being able to look at my lovely pile of CDs and cassettes and say that I had all of BNL's recordings made me all warm and fuzzy. But when it came time to purchase Barenaked Ladies Are Me, it was a no-brainer. I wanted all of the songs and I wanted them now! My stack of CDs did not grow taller and I didn't miss that awesome feeling of tearing off the plastic and eagerly listening to each track while dissecting the lyrics and liner notes. I so thought I would miss that experience, but I didn't. I guess when it comes down to it, the other stuff doesn't matter. It's all about the music and how you connect to it.

play that funky music

This guy makes the flute cool. And before any of you get offended, I was once a serious flute player. I may have stuck with it if I had thought of this!

trim up the town with goowho gums and bizilbix and wums...

"I am indeed a cat, and this indeed is a hat."

Happy Birthday to a classic! Click here to send your own birthday greeting and support a great cause.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

get out of my dreams...

Check her out!My beautiful new car! After work yesterday, I hopped on the subway to Scarborough to East Court Ford to pick up my brand new 2007 Ford Focus! Steve and I have struggled with being a one car family for more than 3 years now. It hasn't really been a big deal for Steve because he almost always has the car. I can easily take public transit to work but my darling husband, due to distance, cannot. So naturally, he always has the car. Now if we were still living in Toronto, having one car between the two of us would not be a big deal. Toronto has a fantastic (yet grossly underfunded) transit system in the TTC. Out in the 'burbs we got squat! I have attempted to take the bus in Burlington a couple of times. What a nightmare! Between the wacky schedules and convoluted routes, it's simply not practical. So when Steve is off somewhere with the car, I am virtually stranded at home.

Money has been the main factor in our being a single car couple. At one point, we had two cars that were completely paid off. Well they died within the same year and two car payments was simply not an option. We settled on a Honda Element and have loved it! For us, this vehicle has been the perfect combination of fun and practical. But after a little research, we realized we could get two automobiles from Ford for almost the same monthly payment. If we could keep the Element and get another car we would. But for monetary reasons, it was really a no-brainer. Soon our beloved Element will be replaced by a Ford Ranger pick-up for Steve. Although I'm sad to be parting with the "Ellie", the freedom of having my own wheels is euphoric.

The only aspect of this whole transaction that troubles me is the environmental one. I have some serious guilt about acquiring a second car. Ideally, I would have loved to get a couple of hybrids, but it's just not economically feasible for us at this point. I am also totally intrigued by the biodiesel vehicle. Again, not doable for us right now. The only reason I can really justify the purchase of a second car is because of how little I will actually use it. Since the Focus rates very well for fuel economy and I'll primarily be using the car for short distances, I'll probably fill up once every 3 weeks. I'll still take transit or carpool with Steve to get to work. In the grand scheme of things, my car usage will be relatively insignificant.

So if I've been slowly making changes to lessen my personal impact on the environment. Does getting a car make me hypocritical?

Friday, February 9, 2007

a case of you

Steve and I recently discover some excellent, less expensive wines. Here's a quick overview.

We love finding a good "ten-buck chuck." This is our most recent find. The LCBO is currently promoting Latin American wines and the 2005 Vina TaraPaca Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile is on for $8.70, down from it's usual, inexpensive $9.50. This one has great berry & oak flavours and nice tannins. I think it would be fabulous with a big bowl of beef chili.

We subscribe to the Saturday Globe and Mail. One of the first things I do, is read Beppi Crosariol's wine column in the Style section. I have never been disappointed with his recommendations. The man knows his stuff. So when he recommended the 2005 Negroamaro MezzoMondo that sells for only $8.45 at the LCBO, I had to try it. This little gem from Italy is full of rich cherry flavours and is incredibly smooth for its price. Perfect with a gourmet take-out pizza!

We had an open house during the Christmas holidays. A lot of friends came with a bottle of wine in hand. Although I don't want or expect people to bring a gift, I secretly love this for the sole purpose of discovering new wines. Our dear friend Sarah turned us on to the 2005 Bin 15a Shiraz from France. This stuff rocks! For only $11.30 at the LCBO, this rich, peppery, fruity Shiraz is freakin' awesome! I would drink this with absolutely anything. And you gotta love the artsy label!

We recently had a couple of friends over for a yummy steak frites dinner. Geoff brought this fantastic French wine. The 2004 Chateau Timberlay Bordeaux was absolutely delightful and a perfect complement to our medium rare strip loin steaks. If you like the taste of bell peppers and smoke in your wine, you have to give this a try. At $15.20 a bottle, it's a bit more than I would spend for a mid-week chugger, but a nice treat for the end of a tough work week.

So there's my amateur wine round up for this time. If you get a chance to try any of these wines, let me know what you think.

let the music play

A few days ago, Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. posted this piece of brilliance on the Apple website.

You're the man Steve! Down With DRM's!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

under a blanket of blue

A little over a year ago, I really got into knitting. I taught myself how to knit back in high school and really enjoyed it but I just got too busy with other things. I'm really glad that I picked up the needles again. It's become a huge stress relief outlet for me. And it's been really fun to knit stuff for other people. I'm giddy whenever I hear "did you make this?!?" after presenting a knitted gift to someone. I love that people still appreciate something that is made by hand. And I totally dig the "tis better to give than to receive" vibe. Of course, I love receiving gifts, who doesn't? But that warm fuzzy feeling you get when someone truly appreciates the effort and thought that went into the gift you gave them, whether homemade or not, is truly magical.

Everyone I know seems to be having a baby these days, so I've been knitting baby blankets like mad. Here's the latest one.

The pattern, made from soft and cozy Lion Brand Homespun yarn (one of my favourites) is dead simple and super fast to knit. It fits my knitting pattern criteria perfectly. I must be able to knit while enjoying red wine. If the pattern is so complicated that my imbibing could cause a major knitting catastrophe, it's no good to me. Also, it must be a fast project. I have a short attention span. If I can't finish it in a reasonable amount of time (dependent on the size of the item of course), I simply lose interest. Case in point, this cozy blanket that took me over a year to make. Whenever I got tired of it, I started another project, or two, or three...

My patient husband Steve was promised this blanket before Christmas 2005. He finally got it about a week ago. It's far from perfect - I made a lot of mistakes on this one while learning techniques that I had never attempted before. But hopefully, it was worth the wait.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

ice, ice baby

This past weekend my wine club, the After Eight Wine Club, trekked out to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the annual Niagara Ice Wine Festival. Now before you jump to conclusions, we are not wine snobs. We are a bunch of people who enjoy wine and want to learn more about it. We are not "experts" who sit around with our pinkies in the air sipping only the best $1,000 Bordeaux. We're just a bunch or friends who get together once a month, taste some wine, talk about it a bit, but mostly, just have a good time.

So one of our club members, Kim, has a friend, Del, who is the Director of Hospitality at Jackson-Triggs Niagara Winery. Del gave us an excellent tour of the winery and treated us to some fabulous wine. After giving us a concise background into the company history, he took us through the facility, explaining the wine making process and how Jackson-Triggs were pioneers in the Ontario wine industry. We then sampled some excellent wines! If you're a fan of whites, you must try the Delaine Vineyard 2004 Riesling. If you'd rather have a red, the Delaine Vineyard 2004 Syrah is fabulous. And yes, we did have some ice wine. It was the Ice Wine Festival after all! We sampled the Proprietors' Grand Reserve 2004 Cabernet Franc Icewine. Yes, I said Cabernet Franc Icewine. Ice wines are generally made from white wine grapes. This wine is as good as its Vidal and Riesling counterparts.

Here's pic of the tanks at Jackson-Triggs.

We then headed down the road to Inniskillin Winery. We were greeted by Vivian (good name!) who gave us some insight into the ice wine production process and treated us to 3 of their renowned ice wines. My favourite was the 2003 Olympic Series Vidal Icewine.

The barn at Inniskillin...

Next, we headed into Niagara-on-the-Lake and stopped into the Wine Country Vintners for a lesson in how to taste ice wine and enjoy samples of some other great wines from Hillebrand and Peller Estates Wineries. Then, we headed off to the pub at the Olde Angel Inn for a hearty, delicious meal.

If you have the opportunity to visit the area, I highly recommend a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We take all of our out of town guests here and everyone loves it! It's a quaint town with great shops and beautiful scenery. And the abundance of wine doesn't hurt either.