A Wee Vacation

I’m cheating here. The Pie and I spent last week on vacation and I spent most of the weekend cleaning the house and visiting family and doing laundry so I don’t have a good DIY for you today. Instead, you get some photos of my trip. After spending the weekend with Chel in Toronto (more photos of my costume up on her site tomorrow), we spent a day in Niagara Falls before heading across the border to waste away the rest of the week in Cooperstown, NY. We had a fantastic and relaxing time, and here are a few of the things we did while we were gone.

Going on vacation in the off-season is great because there are fewer crowds and everything is cheaper. This is especially handy in Niagara Falls, where everything is a tourist attraction. We managed to skip most of the crowds, stay within a ten minute walk of the Falls, and see a few of the fall colours while we were at it.

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The town of Niagara Falls has many casinos and lots of touristy stuff in it, things the Pie and I tend to avoid, but if you’ve never been, you should definitely go take a peek at one of the seven natural wonders of the world. This is the “American side” of the Falls. In the winter the water freezes in great stalagmites on the rocks and it’s lit up at night.

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And this is the “Canadian side.” From this distance I was actually a little disappointed that they weren’t bigger.

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But then we got closer and I realized how big it really is, and how much water is pouring over the side at a crazy fast speed.

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If you’re not into the super touristy stuff, I would recommend visiting the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture and visiting the botanical gardens there, which are breathtaking.

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They have some absolutely stunning old knobbly trees.

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And a butterfly conservancy! I took so many pictures but here are a few:

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That’s Niagara, in the nutshell that we saw. I’ll do another post on Wednesday about Cooperstown because I really don’t want to not do it justice – it’s a great place!

My Adventures in Small Town USA

I’ve been traveling so much recently that I haven’t had a whole lot of time for making stuff around the house – I have no idea how I’m going to make Christmas presents this year … Anyway, two weeks ago, I went to Indiana for the first time. This time around, I didn’t get to spend any time in the capital city of Indianapolis, so hopefully I’ll get to go back sometime because I hear it’s nice. They certainly like their cars.

Just on the edge of the American Midwest and right on the cusp of the central/eastern time zone border, Indiana is flat, temperate, and quite pretty. The town I was staying in, Carmel, is a suburb of Indianapolis and is pretty much dead center in the middle of the state. The reason I stayed in Carmel is because the town I was working in, Sheridan, is too small to contain a hotel.

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Wikipedia says the population of Sheridan is nearly 3000, but when I was there it felt a lot closer to 300. It also felt like a movie set; being one of those quintessentially American small towns you see all over the silver screen.

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#smalltownusa

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I had to drive into the town every morning from the suburbs on tiny narrow roads with no shoulder to pull over and corn fields as far as you can see … except that it was so foggy in the mornings that I couldn’t see much past the first row of corn … and I had to take each road at 55mph so I wasn’t really looking … I would have liked to have stopped and taken a picture because it was so delightfully eerie, but safety wouldn’t allow it. In Sheridan, the movie set simply changed from horror film in the morning to all-American rom-com in the afternoon.

Sheridan’s an old town, and it’s full of some absolutely beautiful architecture:

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I got to work in an old bank for the week, and they kept the old vaults in place (“for locking up bad workers” they joked).

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And I was told that two years’ previous, there had been another beautiful old building just across the street, but that it had caught fire and actually collapsed into the building where I was working.

They were still fixing the brick work while I was there, which meant that no matter where I parked my white rental in the morning, by the afternoon it was a nice rosy pink.

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Carmel is a bit bigger, a little more quaint, and wayyyy more organized. I think it has the highest density of traffic circles (roundabouts for you non-Americans) in the US. I certainly went through about twenty of them every morning on my way to work. It’s a highly planned city and also highly suburbanized, so everything is very clean. Even the drainage ditches are pretty.

There are some interesting things about Carmel, specifically the Arts & Design District, which was where I stayed:

There’s a portion of sidewalk that was clearly laid during the fall because it’s full of leaf impressions like this one.

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Bushes in abandoned parking lots blast country music in the dark. I’m not even kidding.

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The place is ever-expanding with more and more beautifully laid out and completely identical developments.

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There’s the world’s smallest children’s art museum.

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And a museum of doll houses (which was never open when I was free).

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And an absolutely delightful collection of odd and whimsical characters dotting the main street.

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Oh pardon me …

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If you happen to be somewhere around Hamilton County any time soon, pop in and say hi for me.

So I went to Atlanta in August

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Part of my job entails traveling around Canada and the United States to teach people how to use the custom software we make. I’m usually gone at least one week a month, sometimes two. Most of the time I end up in Toronto, for some reason (and other than hanging out with my squishee Chel I’m not a huge fan of the city). Or I end up in places that would be nice if I weren’t there at that particular time. Like when I went to Winnipeg. In February.

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Or Atlanta, in August. If you follow me on instagram you may have seen a daily photo diary I posted while I was there, but I thought I’d fill you in a bit more on the trip. If I’m traveling more, then I can’t be cooking and crafting so you’ll just have to get me as tour guide instead sometimes. 20150819_081822 Anyway, I went to Atlanta in the last week of August. I thought about posting this back then but I got busy and you know how stuff like this happens …

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If you’re not used to southern American climates, I wouldn’t recommend going to Atlanta in August. Every day I was there, it was 100% humidity with lows of about 29°C and highs of 35°C. I spent much of my day sweating while traveling between air-conditioned locations. And every night it rained. Like, FLOODED. I had to learn how to un-soak my shoes with my hotel hairdryer. Every night.

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But Atlanta (at least, the downtown area where I stayed), is a very interesting city. To give you a bit of background, all the architecture within the central city limits is all new. Atlanta, a railroad town, was invaded during the American Civil War in 1864 and they burned down EVERYTHING. So Atlantans don’t have a huge attachment to historical architecture, and the modernistic style that has taken over much of the downtown core makes me feel a little bit like I’m walking through some dystopian film set. I was working in the Capital Hill area so most of the buildings I passed every day looked like this.

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Atlanta 2015

I would hang out with Jimmy Carter in the mornings and check my email before going to work.

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I never notice all the big grandstanding touristy things. The stuff I notice when I travel is all little. Like this tiny mosaic embedded in a sidewalk.

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And the fact that all the shrubbery is holly. ALL OF IT. I’m used to just seeing this stuff at Christmas.

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This 9/11 tribute really struck me.

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I went to the Georgia Aquarium as well. I did think that some of the tanks looked a little small for the size and amount of animals in them, but the displays were cool.

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AND THEY HAVE WHALE SHARKS.

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You can also go behind the scenes and see how everything is maintained.

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When I left the aquarium it was absolutely pouring rain. Of course.

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I also visited the Coca-Cola Museum, which is neat. Coke was born in Atlanta, and you can learn all about the history of it in the place. You also get to sample Coke products from all over the world.

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And the gift shop is a little nuts.

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Of course when I left it was pouring rain. If you’re planning to do more than one touristy thing in Atlanta (I would have but I ran out of time), then I would recommend getting a CityPass. These attractions are expensive and this will save you a bit of cash.

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I also popped into Twin Smokers BBQ and had the absolute best bourbon milkshake of my life. I highly recommend. Plus they give you a carousel of the barbecue sauces of your choice.

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Everyone was so nice. I gave directions to another lady visiting the city (thank you Google Maps) and dinner recommendations to a Floridian tourist. At one point I was walking down the sketchy part of Peachtree on my way to work and I stopped to answer a text message. One of the habitants of the street asked me if I was okay and if I needed help, simply because I’d stopped walking. Even the rampant homeless population was nothing but cordial.

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Thanks for a great visit Atlanta!

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Traveling Light for Business: Smart Ladies’ Edition

Happy Canada Day!

You see a lot of stuff out there on how to travel appropriately for business trips, but I find the majority of it seems to be geared towards the business MAN as opposed to the business WOMAN. Sure, there’s some stuff out there. But I thought I’d add my two cents to the mix, and tell you the things I’ve learned as I’ve adapted from being a sloppy student to a smart businesswoman traveling the continent. Some of you smart gentlemen out there might find some of these tips useful, too.

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Before I started this job I was no stranger to traveling across borders alone, and a lone female pretty much always attracts extra attention from border security. Once, on my way from Ottawa to Providence RI, I noticed that I was being tailed through the Newark airport by a genial security official. When I turned around to ask if I could help him, he asked me to follow him and I ended up in an interrogation room. The conversation was cordial, and everything was in order, but the nice security official told me that young females traveling alone tended to raise a few flags because it’s a less than usual circumstance and historically women have been used as mules for all sorts of weird stuff simply because they tend to look less suspicious. This was shortly after 9/11 mind you, and I haven’t been followed through an airport in a while. Anyway, in the intervening time I have picked up a few tips and tricks for traveling easily and lightly that you might find useful in your own travels, be they for business or pleasure.

Checked versus Carry-on Baggage

If you’re traveling for business, chances are you’re only going wherever you’re going for four days or less, and you’re probably going to be on a schedule. Plus if you travel often, your tolerance for sticking around airports waiting for suitcases and for paying extra cash to check your bags is pretty low. So I always vote to carry on all my luggage. When it comes to carry-on bags, there are a variety of available things out there that you can use, but a little roll-able suitcase will be your most versatile option. There’s debate as to the practicality of four wheels versus two wheels, but I opted for four, as being able to shove the suitcase in front of me in crowds is definitely a benefit I didn’t have with my old two-wheeled version. A caveat of the four-wheeled cases is that the wheels stick out more, which take up more space, and they’re more likely to get damaged when you check the bag (but of course we’re not checking our bag so we’re cool).

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When buying a new carry-on bag, do your research first. Check out the baggage size limitations for all the airlines on which you travel, and select a suitcase that will fit requirements for all of them. I brought a measuring tape with me when I bought this one from Swiss Gear and made sure that even with the wheels included it conformed to the smallest standards of all airlines. I also picked a case with soft sides to ensure that it could be crammed into tight spaces with a little extra force.

I also never carry a purse on board with me when I travel. I have to bring my laptop with me for work so that’s already two items on board including my suitcase. If I had to deal with a purse as well I would get totally frazzled, and I never understand it when I see ladies getting on planes carrying purses, suitcases, laptop bags, and then a series of shopping bags. I like to get to my seat as soon as possible, jam my stuff where it fits as quickly as I can (I always take advantage of sky-check or gate-checking if it’s available), and then I’m in my seat and out of the way so others can board the plane and we can leave on schedule. So all my travel documents, wallet, Kindle, etc., get shoved in my laptop bag. That way I only have two bags to worry about when getting myself around.

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I do bring a smaller bag for going out and about when I’m at my location. Usually it’s a small clutch like this one, or it’s a larger canvas purse that rolls up easily to fit into my suitcase. Once I reach my destination I decant some of my personal items out of the laptop bag and into the clutch or purse.

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Packing light, packing right

Here is where I think business women have the advantage over business men – our clothes tend to be smaller and are more often made out of stretchy materials that don’t wrinkle. That means that I can simply roll up all my favourite work dresses (always roll all your stuff – it takes up less space and prevents a number of wrinkles) and shove them into my suitcase and they’ll be ready to go, no worse for wear, when I arrive at my destination. Men’s dress shirts and suits tend to need to be carried in a separate garment bag and then ironed once the travel is done and that is way more work than I am willing to put into my clothing while on the road.

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I always wear sneakers when I’m doing the actual travel – I’ve done my fair share of racing through airports to make connections or adjust to gate changes and I know that doing it in heels is a recipe for disaster (I also have the slightly pessimistic view that if I survive a plane crash I’m better able to negotiate the crash site and surrounding wilderness in comfy shoes). This also means that I can pack a pair or two of flats in my suitcase and they take up barely any space at all.

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One thing I do recommend if you’re staying anywhere for more than one night is to unpack your clothes and hang them up or put them in the drawers made available in your hotel room. For one thing, it helps to air them out and let out any wrinkles they have from sitting in your suitcase, and it keeps them from mingling with any of your dirty clothes. Plus it beats waking up late in the morning and having to rummage through your case to find what you want.

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Know your needs

Everyone is different, but we all have certain things that we aren’t comfortable doing without while traveling. Because I like to be prepared for every eventuality, and because I don’t want to run the risk of having to search a strange city at a late hour for some necessity, I tend to over-pack when it comes to my toiletries. I have a sizable toiletry case here that fits snugly in the bottom of my case because it’s rectangular. I keep a whole double set of toiletries in here that are separate from my toiletries at home, so that when I have to travel on short notice I don’t run the risk of forgetting what I need. I also have small travel containers full of acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Tums, etc. – anything I can anticipate needing at any time.

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I also bring along my own shampoo and conditioner, because with my sensitive skin I can’t trust that I won’t react badly to the complimentary items the hotel supplies. When I do this I run the risk of dealing with leaked shampoo all over my other stuff due to pressure changes when flying or rough handling of my bags. So that’s why I use GoToobs, which I’ve had for a million years and I take them every where I go. These flexible tubes are made of silicone and have a tight seal so they never leak. They’re also really easy to clean out at the end of a trip. I highly recommend them.

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I travel enough that I spend a decent amount of time sealed inside air-conditioned hotel rooms and more often than not the air is super dry after being recycled so many times. I don’t have a picture of this but I like to travel with one of my two travel humidifiers, which also fit nicely in my suitcase and require a standard bottle of water to function. I have this one from Bell + Howell and this one from Air-o-Swiss and they’re both great.

Another essential for me is my Kindle.  The Pie bought this for me for Christmas the first year we were married so it’s an old-school version but for me it’s the best thing ever. I read very quickly and will easily go through three or four novels in a four-day trip. Rather than haul all those heavy and space-taking books all over the continent it’s easier for me to carry my Kindle with its thousand books. The bonus is that it charges with the same cable as my cell phone so that saves me some space as well.

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The final item that I often bring with me but don’t always use is a bathing suit. Most (though not all) of the hotels I stay in have pools, and I absolutely love to swim. And especially when I’m traveling in [arts of cities where perhaps it’s not the smartest idea for a lone female to go out wandering about in the evening, the pool is always a good option to get a daily dose of exercise in a safe and secure manner.

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As long as you keep your on-the-road practices simple and practical you should be just fine. Safe and happy travels!

I do not know this Instant Gram of which you speak.

I did it. I did the thing. Trav and Chel have been harassing me independently for a while to do the whole social media photo-majig and finally when I was last in Toronto with Chel I let her browbeat me into signing up.

And so.

Now you can follow me in this instantly-gramming extravaganza. Both allythebell and alidoesit were taken. So I’m now alidoesit.herself.

But it doesn’t matter. I’m on there. Follow me and things. You can see the link in the sidebar to your left.

This is the first picture I posted:

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Jelly

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Ali Does NYC – On the Cheap

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Today is the tenth anniversary of the Pie’s and my first date. What did we do on that date? Well, we ended up going for a walk. A really long one. And that’s kind of what has characterized the past decade together: we get places, on foot, and we like it that way. We lived for five years in Newfoundland with no car, so really it was our only option for a long time. When we travel, which we do occasionally, we prefer to get around the places we visit on our own steam.

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To be honest, we make terrible tourists. We avoid the flashy souvenir meccas and the ideal place to take that perfect selfie. Mostly, we just wander around and make snide comments to each other about the weird people (usually other tourists) that we see. On the plus side, this ends up saving us a bunch of money that we can then spend on eating local food. Which is a much better experience, for us, than enduring a crowd to purchase some tchotchke item.

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So when we went to visit my brother and his family in New York City in the first week of September, we did it our way (*Sinatra reference, sorry). We calculated that the most cost efficient and shortest travel distance was to drive from Ottawa to Syracuse (crossing the Canada/USA border at Hill Island), then take the Amtrak Empire Service route from Syracuse to Penn Station in NYC. Long term parking at the Syracuse train station is $7 a day so it was only $49 total for a week. Had we driven all the way to Manhattan, our parking costs would have been more like $60-$75 a DAY. The Empire Service route is really pretty because it follows the Hudson River all the way down to pretty much where it empties into the ocean. You pass all sorts of pretty little towns, amazingly constructed bridges, odd empty lighthouses along the river, and even a ruined castle.

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Ando’s family currently lives in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and about a block away one of their friends runs an Airbnb, so we got to stay at her place for free and it was extra convenient. It’s a good example of those studio apartments for which NYC is famous, and we were so grateful that our lovely new friend let us stay there.

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We also got a little snippet view out the window of the East River.

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And if you go that extra distance this is the whole of the East River.

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The block and a half walk from where we were staying to my brother’s place is the classic picture of what you expect in New York, with assorted brownstone buildings, dripping air conditioners, and wrought-iron railings.

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One of the first things we did upon our arrival in the city was purchase a 7-day unlimited ride MetroCard, which cost us $30 each and meant we could travel as much as we wanted on any bus or train in the city. And it was probably the smartest money we spent on that whole trip, because we used public transit ALL THE TIME (when we weren’t hoofing it, that is). New York City is a big place with a crapload of boroughs and it takes a long time to get anywhere. Fortunately the New York Metro Transit Authority (MTA) is really easy to figure out and we had the subway system pretty much down pat after about a day.

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If you’re a baseball fan, then New York is a great place to be, because they have TWO professional teams in the city. Of course, if you want Yankees tickets you’ll have to donate a kidney to afford good seats, but if you’re a diehard supporter of the much-less-successful New York Mets, then being a fan is a little less hard on your wallet (because they’re terrible so seats are cheap). Teedz got the Pie tickets for his birthday, so Teedz, Ando, Tego, the Pie, and myself all trooped off to Queens to see what all the fuss was about.

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We sat in foul ball territory in the blazing sun, enjoying Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and ice cold lemonade. It must’ve been at least 35°C/95°F in those seats. We all got extremely tanned, and that was just the beginning of the hottest week that NYC had experienced all year. I spent much of the game watching the clouds pass overhead and wishing a few of them would stick around and prevent me from being burned to a crisp.

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Just as the Mets game was ending (and after they had, surprisingly, and despite several huge errors, actually WON the game), the skies opened up and it poured rain. There was much thunder and lightning as well.

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All of the fans taking public transport hid out under the nearby highway, with NYPD officers yelling at those who attempted to jaywalk. We were soon joined by fans of the US Open, which was going on right next door. Teedz and Tego made many jokes about how this was a good opening for Sharknado 3.

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Finally our bus came and we took a short ride to Flushing, which is just one train stop over from CitiField and the last one on that particular line. Flushing is basically a giant Chinatown and we grabbed twelve crabs for only $12 and took the train back to Manhattan to eat our spoils. The 77th Street subway stop kind of became our home away from home for the next week, as we ended up here all the time.

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Labour Day Monday dawned hot and sticky, so we elected for a beach day at Coney Island. On the subway through Brooklyn I caught a nice glimpse of Manhattan from the other side, complete with Brooklyn Bridge. You can see the tiny Statue of Liberty just to the left of the large part of the Bridge in the centre of the photo.

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Coney Island was totally nuts.

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But I got a decent picture of the Pie as he hid his pale redhead skin under the umbrella.

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The carnies are now gone but the remnants of the olden times still remain. Even the people fishing off the pier have been doing so for decades.

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Plus these kites were pretty nifty.

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We left the beach just as the thunder was rolling in and decided in a fit of grownup bravery to ride the Cyclone ($9 each with free bag check), a wooden roller coaster built in 1927. Teedz was a good sport and went along with it even though she’s terrified of these things. The Pie and I sat in the very front car, and it was truly terrifying to approach those apexes and not be able to see the rest of the track in front of you. I may have a few additional gray hairs after that adventure.

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The Tuesday we were in Manhattan was the hottest day the city had reported in well over a year. It was humid as could be and well into the 40s Celsius (over 100 Fahrenheit). And this is the day that the Pie and I chose to trudge all over Manhattan. Because that’s how we roll. Fortunately, the middle of Central Park was not too far away from where we were staying, so we started there.

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It was cool to look at the iconic landmarks in the Park that often appear in movies.

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The Pie was particularly taken with the super nice baseball diamonds within the Park.

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From there we trudged down Broadway to Times Square. One thing I have learned about Manhattan is that if you want to find anything, the chances are really good that you will find it on Broadway. Everything is on Broadway. It’s a very long street.

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Anyway, Times Square was nuts. We went into the three-storey M&M store but didn’t buy anything because we don’t like M&Ms.

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Nuts.

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Naked Cowboy!

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Buzz Lightyear, some reporter, Mickey Mouse, and Spider-Man!

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This Minnie Mouse accosted me asking for a hug after I took this picture. I may have run away.

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Even the NYPD gets their share of neon lights in Times Square.

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As we continued to trudge we ducked into Bryant Park for free WiFi and a chance to sit in the shade for a few minutes. It also gave us a view of the Empire State Building, which you can see from pretty much everywhere.

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In Bryant Park you can sign up to play ping pong on your lunch hour for free.

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We didn’t intend to see all those famous and important buildings on purpose, but as we trudged along Broadway, we ran into them all. The New York Public Library (FROM GHOSTBUSTERS MY FAVOURITE). We ducked in here as well for air conditioning and WiFi. It’s lovely.

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Its iconic lion statues.

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The Chrysler Building. Because it’s my favourite.

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The Flatiron Building. Very skinny.

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After this we were completely exhausted and looking for a way out. Fortunately the 14th Street Union Square station will pretty much take you anywhere you want to go.

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On the Wednesday we decided to visit the 9/11 Memorial. As we approached the area, we were blinded by the light reflecting off the new World Trade Center tower. Say what you will about American imperialism and capitalism and all that, but this building was like a giant middle finger aimed at those who would dare to crush the American spirit. It was quite brilliant.

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The memorial itself is absolutely beautiful. The museum was too crowded for us that day, so we walked between the footprints of the two buildings and read the names etched into the borders. Volunteers at the memorial place white roses on top of the names of those who would be celebrating birthdays on a particular day, which is sweet.

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This may be one of our favourite spots in the city, because despite the crowds and the heat it felt so tranquil.

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We filled our water bottles at a fountain on the grounds. The water tasted like freedom (or was just really good considering how hot it was).

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That night the Pie went to a Street Fighter thing in Brooklyn so Teedz and Tego and I went out to dinner with an acquaintance of mine from long ago. We had some delightful and affordable Indian food in Murray Hill, affectionately nicknamed Curry Hill for its abundance of Indian cuisine.

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On the way back we got to see the Chrysler Building at night.

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And the UN, though they take all the flags down at dusk. Boo.

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As the days progressed and the Pie and I got more and more tired, we went less far in our travels. On the Thursday we hit up the High Line, an old subway track turned into pedestrian path. It was very crowded and pretty touristy (and I had to shove aside a few European tourists who were shoving me right back to get through) but it was nice to see the city from a different angle.

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I really like the odd mix of new and old.

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From there we wandered through the Meatpacking District and looked at all the fancy things in stores we couldn’t afford. Of course the Empire State Building was waving at us.

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And the Chrysler Building.

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I took a picture of this window as we walked past the central post office, just because I liked the metalwork. After I did, a million tourists behind us stopped and stared up at the window and snapped pictures, trying to figure out what was so important about it.

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We ended up at Grand Central Station. We’d been through the underground part of it countless times at this point, but we wanted to see the rest of it. It was definitely one of our favourite spots.

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Just like the 9/11 Memorial, this place was a busy hub of activity, but it also gave you such a sense of space that you can’t really get elsewhere in the city, and that made it peaceful.

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Friday we mostly just ran around with Ando and Teedz. We went to the Chelsea Market which was kind of neat, but again pretty touristy. Krystopf and his family were stopping through NYC on their way to Europe, so we got to spend the evening with them and we managed to capture one of the few photos of myself and my brothers all in the same room that wasn’t taken at a wedding. We are all dorks. But we’re dorks as a family, and that’s what matters.

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The next time we go we will probably go in the winter, so we’ll skate at Rockefeller Center and go to all the crazy toy stores and do all those sorts of things. I’ll keep you posted!

A-Camping We Will Go: In the Woods

This weekend we are going camping for the first time since we were in Gros Morne in 2011.  The Pie and I have always loved camping – we find it so relaxing to have that forced disconnect from the bustle of urban living, where your only concern is how to fill the time between meals.

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Now, we camp with our car, and a bunch of stuff (see picture). While we *could* concern ourselves with weight allowances and space and shove everything we own into a backpack full of tiny expensive camping equipment, we choose not to. Camping for us is a holiday, not an exercise in survival. Still, even with the ability to shove everything you own in a car to keep it warm and dry you still have to do a certain amount of forward-thinking, and this year I wanted to carry that organization over into our meal planning.

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Normally we pick up groceries on the way to the campsite and kind of wing our meals throughout our stay. This leaves us at the end with a lot of bizarre leftovers: squashed, soggy hamburger buns, marshmallows melted into their plastic bag, huge jars of condiments, and cheese with elements of pine needle in it. We end up throwing most of it out, and we also get really sick of hot dogs by the end of our trip.

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This time I vowed things would be different, and that we would come out of it with as little waste as possible, while still enjoying high-quality meals.  It meant, however, that I had to plan – though if you know me by now, you know that this is where I excel, and I have the collection of wee containers to prove it.   So here I’m introducing a new category today: In the Woods, in homage to the great dishes I have already produced in the middle of nowhere.  Starting Monday, and for the next several posts after that, you’ll be able to feast your eyes on the fruits of my planning.  And if you’re not a huge fan of the great outdoors, all of these recipes can be made at home, too!

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My Busy Weekend: an Update

I did not bake for you this weekend.  Nor did I create some magical crafty confabulation.  Nope.  Sorry.  Instead, the Pie and I ran around town doing errands, then we busied ourselves around the house putting up pictures and knife racks and important stuff like that. We’re exhausted. So is Gren.

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So I’m just gonna give you a wee précis of what I got up to this weekend, which will eventually lead to further posts.  Really, it’s all for the greater good.

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Friday I picked up some gorgeous iris buds from my mother’s house, which then promptly bloomed overnight and gave me these gorgeous blossoms.

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She also gave me several pots of planted herbs, which I added to my meagre collection on the balcony. There’s sage, two kinds of basil, chives, dill, lavender …

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… parsley, garlic chives, thyme …

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… mint, oregano …

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… rosemary, and even a tomato.

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And after carefully watering and keeping the dog at bay, my wee grass seeds are finally starting to sprout!

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Saturday, we hit up the Great Glebe Garage Sale, which is a pretty big deal in town, but ended up being a complete zoo.

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There was an elf, as well as a guy dressed like a cow.

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We didn’t buy anything, though we were tempted by this tea cart. It was overpriced for what it was so we left it alone.

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There were some odd juxtapositions of things, like this ornate knife next to a box of Q-Tips.

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I liked the way this family laid out their clothes for sale.

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And if I had a giant grand front hall I would have put something like this in it.

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Though probably not something like this.

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I caught this from a distance, hence the blur: a flamingo with a wig.

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Suffice to say that our house-related chaos is dying down, as evidenced by the relative organization of our living room. I promise to have something more exciting for you soon!

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Raspberry White Chocolate Cookies

 

Sorry for the late post, folks! I made a typo in the schedule before I left for Toronto and set this to air on Tuesday instead of Monday.  My bad!Raspberry White Chocolate Cookies 11

My first bake in the new house!  It’s still chaos, but we keep working and having evening engagements, and then we spent our first weekend of true occupancy in the house going to Toronto, so it’s a slow process.  Next weekend the Pie is back in Toronto and I’m helping the lovely Cait with her move, so who knows when we’ll have everything sorted?

But in preparation for Toronto, I wanted to clear the fridge of some lovely raspberries before they went bad.  I also hauled a package of white chocolate chips out of a box, so the idea was born.  I figured they’d make a handy host gift for my great-uncle in the Big Smoke, with whom we were staying.

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Preheat your oven to 325°F (I know, it’s a low temperature, but you don’t want the raspberries to burn) and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Start with 1/2 cup room temperature butter, and cream that together with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar until all pale and fluffy.

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Go ahead and crack in 2 large eggs, one at a time, and beat until they’re fully combined.  Add in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract while you’re at it as well.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour (I used a mixture of 1 1/2 cups cake flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour  because I wanted to use up what I had and I figured the cake flour would make a puffier cookie) with 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.  

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Slowly add the flour to the butter and eggs and mix until smooth and fully combined.

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Gently stir in about 1 cup white chocolate chips and 1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries (I say “about” because I totally didn’t measure this part).  The raspberries will smush up but you want to be careful that they don’t get totally annihilated.  This might be an easier job with frozen raspberries, but this is what I got so this is what I’m usin’.

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Scoop up heaping tablespoonsful of the dough and plop it onto your prepared baking sheets.

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Bake for 10-15 minutes (this depends on your oven, the size of your cookie, fresh/frozen/dried raspberries, or even if you’ve had that second cup of coffee this morning), rotating halfway through for even baking.

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Haul the cookies out when they are just set in the centre and leave them on the sheets for another 3-5 minutes, to let them cook completely.

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When they’ve calmed down a bit you can transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Then you can eat them all in their cakey, gooey, fruity goodness!

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Our New ‘Hood: Walking the Farm

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You might not know this, but there is a giant farm smack dab in the middle of the City of Ottawa.  And our new place is right across the street, so it’s become Gren’s new stomping grounds on his morning walk.

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This is the Central Experimental Farm, a government-run combination research facility, recreational area, and national historic site.  Ostensibly, it belongs to the Canadian department of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

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There used to be an Experimental Farm in every province in Canada at one point; due to budget cuts and demands on space, there are only a few left.  The flashy heritage/tourist stuff, and the baby cows and things are all on the opposite side of the farm, and it’s a little bit of a long walk for Gren’s short legs, but he loves wandering between the different fields.

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He also loves rolling in all sorts of objectionable materials on the verges.  I suspect it’s mostly goose poop.

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Dogs must be leashed in this place (they don’t want them mucking about with their farming experiments) but Gren has adapted quickly to his Flexi lead.

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I used to walk through the other side of the Farm every day to get to Carleton University. You can see Dunton Tower, part of the school campus, in the distance:

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Looking back the way we came, you can see the gray Ag buildings across the street from the farm.

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The day I walked through and took these shots they were just getting ready to seed some of the fields on this side, so there were people and equipment everywhere.  I’m excited to watch it change as planting season begins!

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