Saturday 29 June 2013

A Weekend in Almonte: Romantic Getaway


Last weekend, Alan and I decided to get out of the city for a couple days. Short on time and not wanting to travel too far, I suggested we hit a small town, and Almonte was first on my list. I’ve been there many times for Handmade Harvest, but haven’t really got to hang around for more than a couple hours; Alan hasn’t hung out in a small town ever, it turns out, so he was curious to see what we’d do there. I’ll kill the suspense right now: we had a marvelous time.


Almonte is about a half-hour outside of Ottawa. Historically, it was known for its textile manufacturing, which explains the lasting artisanal feel to the town even as it’s transitioned into the home of Ottawa’s more ambitious commuters. Most everything of interest to the tourist shopper is located along the main street, which is lined with old stone buildings and is right along the Mississippi River. It’s gorgeous, with Russian lilacs everywhere and the sound of the fast-moving rapids.

There are lots of adorable shops in Almonte, which means that every day can be like hitting the Handmade Harvest craft show. Colleen, one of the masterminds behind said craft show, has just rebranded her shop under the name CRUSH, where she carries all manner of perfect gifty type items like hand-grown moss terrariums and flashy vinyl handbags. Now I hear tell that she’s also carrying some fabulous shoe lines, including Fly Shoes, which I’ll be heading back to drool over soon. Doree’s Habit carries a variety of unique and adorable fashions, and when you get munchy there’s a bakery right next door.

Our favourite shop of the trip was the Tin Barn Market. The owner, Erin, has assembled a delightful mix of antique items mixed with beautiful newly-made items. I fell in love with an ancient barber’s chair, and seriously considered going home with a dozen tiny watchmaker’s vials.


There are a ton of antique stores along the main strip of the town, and that’s where we spent the majority of our time. I can’t get enough of all the neat and random things that people have kept for generations. From handmade doilies to 1950s formica kitchen sets, you can find just about anything to add an historical conversation piece to your abode. I got an ancient chrome grill off a long-gone fireplace, a cowboy shirt for Alan, and a book for MJ called ‘Cooking for Cher’.

We stayed at the Burnside Bed & Breakfast, an ancient stone mansion with teal tin roofs and incredible grounds covered in wildflowers and flowing rapids under a handmade cast-iron bridge. Our room was huge, with soaring ceilings, giant windows, and a four-poster bed. The ensuite has a claw-foot tub, but I was most enthralled with the enormous wood-burning fireplace in the dining room: big enough to put a twin bed in, if you were strangely so inclined. The owner Marilyn was a sweetheart, and we chatted over our omelettes in the morning about all sorts of things. Laying in bed, listening to the rain on the tin roof, I fell asleep easily—something rare for me.

We went out for a special dinner together, and settled on the Almonte Riverside Inn & Kitchen. The ARIK is set in another ancient stone house, this one much more in the middle of town, but still right on the water. The owner, Rob, has renovated the house with modern-style rooms (a change from the usual saturation of antiques and floral prints), and the food!!! Trisha the chef was fabulous, accommodating Alan’s nut allergy and my dairy intolerance without a hitch. She even made half of Alan’s appetizer dairy-free so I could partake.

Dinner started with an amuse-bouche of duck served over chutney on a delicious round of crustini. Alan chose a baguette toasted with baby asparagus and melted brie for his appetizer, and I enjoyed my brie-free half just as much because the seasoning and oil was mouth-watering. 

Rob shared that Trisha’s specialty is vegetarian food, so I ordered the roasted eggplant and sundried tomatoes on a bed of peppery wild rice and pureed cauliflower that was pleasantly seasoned with just the right amount of a curry flavour. Alan’s hand-rolled gnocchi was soft and flavourful, and the striploin on top melted in your mouth. I opted out of dessert, but Alan had four mini lemon-brown sugar cheesecakes that, from the bite I tasted, should be marketed as a viable replacement for sex.


From our room, to the window shopping, to the dinner at ARIK, we had a wonderful getaway without having to go very far. Whether you’ve got a few hours or a few days, grab a friend or sweetheart and head up to Almonte; it’s a great place to enjoy each other and enjoy the town.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Time off means more hotpants: my career reboot

Last week I got laid off. Or ‘restructured’, really. Basically, a workplace is sometimes a game of musical chairs, and when the music stops, there’s suddenly fewer chairs and too many people. It’s a normal part of the work experience of this generation. But it still sucks.

I packed up my unicorns, spare pairs of shoes, and three dozen post-it notes where I’ve written down interesting social media sites to explore. I threw everything in a box, went home, and eventually, went to bed.

The next morning I woke up with my regular alarm, because I’ve learned from past experience that when you’re off work, maintaining a normal routine is paramount. But I couldn’t pull myself out of bed. I lay there, hitting snooze, for almost an hour. Eventually my pug Mr Darcy climbed up on the bed—something that’s against house rules—and I didn’t stop him. It was my pity party, and I could invite whoever I wanted. So come on up, dog; sink into the sticky darkness of my angst. Mr Darcy belly-crawled up the bed ‘til he was right beside my face, did the typical doggy 360-spin in a circle, put his butt directly in my face, and farted loudly. With his resonating fraaaaap sound and face-melting stench, he’d clearly stated it was time to get up and put my big girl pants on. And open a window.

So far, I’m mostly glad I’ve had the time off. I’ve been catching up on a thousand tasks that I actually think would never have been completed without the extra time. This is why vacations should be taken in four-week increments: two weeks to catch up on life, and then two weeks to really rest.

I’m re-evaluating what I do with my career time. I am taking time to make new goals and consider options. I've got lots of irons in the fire, but I'm taking some time to decide what I'm doing. Consequently, I am alone a lot, so I’m also getting more eccentric by the hour. Yesterday I did the gardening wearing my sparkly green lycra roller derby short-shorts and a pilon-orange tank top, because who’s really around midday? (Turns out, lots of people are.) Last night I cleaned my room and folded laundry naked, because I couldn’t be bothered to find my pyjamas and again, living singly, no one is around for whom I’d need to suck in my gut or lower the lighting. Of course, the hot weather of June has resulted in a major fly problem in the house, so I ended up chasing a giant one around my room, attempting to smack it down with a magazine while it repeatedly—I kid you not—tried to dive-bomb my…lady garden. And then, because no one’s around to talk me down, I obsessed on the fact that I’m old and laid off, and flies are literally circling my reproductive organs.

I could literally end up in another country, without my GPS.

My salvation this week has been a new iPad. I had one at work, and she became my right-hand lady; so much so, in fact, that the day I was let go, I left work and parked to call my mom, got in the car to head to Alan’s place, and realized that I didn’t know how to get there because I always use Siri. I have shed more tears over the loss of my iPad than the loss of my actual job. So on Monday when Alan showed up with one, purchased with some of those airplane points, I was entirely unable to express the depth of my gratitude. Alan was indeed being sweet, but also pragmatic: if you’re going to invest all this time building a long-term relationship, there’s no point in losing the relationship when your girlfriend ends up accidentally driving to Missouri instead of Bank Street. Smart man.

So, armed with my usual freelance work, the dubious support of my dog, an iPad, and my sweet loved ones, I’m coping quite well and I’m frankly ready for something new in my field anyway. I’ll just have to be sure to switch out of the lycra hotpants before any interviews.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

The Girl, Crafted Newsletter: our launch and giveaway!


By popular demand by the newsletter nuts out there, I'm producing a newsletter for Girl, Crafted. It'll have recaps of some of the month's most popular blog posts, some additional exclusive info, and this time,  GIVEAWAY! Yay! The Comic Book Shoppe on Bank Street (our big supporter and headquarters of the Capital Geek Girls) has generously donated a $50 gift card for the newsletter contest. So go check out the newsletter here and participate. Contest closes August 5th 2013 at midnight.

We also launched our snazzy new banner look today. Rowrrr, we're sexy now!

Dessert Review: Totally Squared dessert squares

You’ve probably seen them around, if you’ve hit any of the local craft shows this season: Totally Squared has been making their presence known in person and on social media for the last many months. Given my recent dairy fast, I had to wait a while before trying their treats, but Vanessa, owner and baker from Totally Squared, supplied me with a giant variety pack to try. And that was a sure-fire way to win me over for life.

Totally Squared makes nothin’ but good old fashioned dessert squares—a wondrous change from the overpopulation of cupcakeries in the Ottawa baked goods market. I have a special spot in my heart for church bazaar-style squares, likely from the inordinate number of funerals I’ve been to (remarriages of my grandparents meant that I’ve had eight of them instead of the usual four); this may sound morbid but funerals have always been a happy memory for me, like family reunions and a dark sense of humour unique to a gathering of Irish Catholics. Pinwheel creamcheese sandwiches and dessert squares are some of my favourite things.

Taste testing day at Girl, Crafted is a good day!

In the variety pack provided by Vanessa, we got to try:

Lemon: a curd-like topping on a shortbread crust
Double Chocolate Caramel: a chocolate chip cookie base, caramel centre and chocolate ganache on top
Raspberry Coconut: a biscuit-like base (more cakey than shortbread-y) with a raspberry filling, and coconut butter-tarty goodness on top
Caramel square: the popular vote!

Cranberry Walnut: shortbread base, buttertart-like filling studded with walnuts and tart cranberries
White Chocolate Cranberry Blondie: all the chewiness of a brownie with white chocolate, dried cranberries and a hit of lemon
Traditional Brownie w/ Chocolate Topping: no more to say, except this is more of a cakey brownie
Butter Tart: a classic made into a square
Rocky Road: graham crumb base layered with almonds, coconut chocoate and marshmallow
Magic: a ginger cookies crumb base layered with peanuts, chocolate and coconut
Red Velvet Cheesecake Swirl Brownie: it's brownie, red velvety cheesecakey goodness all in one....
Peanut Butter Nanaimo: our base has this is a classic for the peanut butter and chocolate lover. We use a ganache topping to cut the richness of this square.
Caramel: gooey caramel on a shortbread base.

Totally Squared does a twist on some of the traditional flavours—for instance, their lemon bar is about 1/3 lemon curd, the rest being crust and sometimes a white chocolate topping. For traditionalists like my dad, this was a bit of a letdown, but it was tasty in its own right. I enlisted four helpers for tasting, as this was a lot of sugar to consume and I’m always up for second opinions, and consequently, we had some consensus as well as some disagreement. Generally it was agreed that we wished the crusts were thinner on some of the gooey-middled squares, like the butter tart square; mind you, if you’re a crust lover, Totally Squared’s crust textures are fantastic.

Rocky Road: irresistable.
The winner for all-round favourite was the caramel. The flavours were sweet and buttery, and the thicker crust was helpful in reducing how overpoweringly sweet a caramel like this can be. While we felt that in general, the flavours in most of the squares could have used more POW!, I couldn’t put down the Rocky Road and the classic brownie just called for ice cream.

Totally Squared just got themselves an industrial kitchen, so be prepared to see them spreading far and wide. If you’re looking for something that tastes homemade—just a good ol’ dessert square, like Mom used to make (and then served at your grandpa’s funeral)—you’ve come to the right place!

Friday 21 June 2013

He Said, She Heard: the minefield of complimenting

JORDAN: [Pulling on an oversized hoodie to keep warm at the movies] I am dressing for warmth, not attractiveness tonight. We've reached that level.

ALAN: No problem. Sounds good.

JORDAN: Yeah, so I look like a slob, but I hate being cold at the movies.

ALAN: Yep, you hate that.

JORDAN: And it's still a nice hoodie, even though it's huge.

ALAN: 'Kay, let's get going.


JORDAN: You didn't say I look nice after I said I look like a slob.

ALAN: Errr...what?

JORDAN: You're supposed to tell me I don't look like a slob after I say I do.

ALAN: Well, that's because when I do, you tell me I'm ridiculous and you tell me again you look like crap. So I stopped saying anything.

JORDAN: No no no no nonono. You don't get to stop. You still have to say it. I can't believe I have to explain this to you. You've been around the block more than a few times.

ALAN: [Panicked, blank stare, realizing there's no right reply here.]

JORDAN: Sigh. Clearly you're only proficient in the pleasure department of courtship, not the rest of the 'dealing with women' department.

ALAN: [Prideful grin] Yeah, that's it.

Monday 17 June 2013

DIY tie: how to geek out with a half-windsor


Last week, Alan and I attended a wedding with a superhero theme. Guests were invited to participate in the

theme, and I can't say no to a good theme party, so I got down to work. My own outfit could take me pages to explain--the arduous process of finding a suitable garment with which to work, the alterations, the thematic jewellery, and even a rather complicated one-strapped bra--but Alan's ensemble was much more subtle and simpler for the less diehard themer. We made him a tie.

Here's how you can make one for yourself:


1 tie
1 silver Sharpie oil paint marker
1 sheet cardstock
1 X-acto style knife
1 bottle silver fabric paint

It's pretty simple, if you've ever done a stencil. But the trick was that I wanted the edges sharper than you can usually get with a stencil. So here we go:

1. Choose your image. For Alan, we did the Indigo Lantern, one of the Green Lantern's brethren (for those who may not know). You can trace the design onto your cardstock using carbon paper, or you can wing it like I did; or, if your printer isn't being an ass, you can print it onto the cardstock.

2.Cut out the image. Because of the circle in the middle, I almost had some trouble, but the pins are step 3. Using an X-acto blade is a thousand times easier than scissors when you're dealing with cardstock.

3. Pin the stencil. I pinned it onto the tie where I wanted it by putting the tie on top of a cardboard box, and stabbing pins straight down through the stencil, the tie, and the box. This also meant the circle in the middle of my stencil wouldn't shift.

4. Use your Sharpie. I like the Sharpie because I basically just drew repeated tiny lines inwards onto the tie from the edges of the stencil. Because of the level of control I had, I was able to get a pretty sharp edge. Be careful, though: there's oil in those oil paint markers (duh), so if you haven't prepped the marker with lots of shaking and dabbing (follow the instructions on the pen) you may have oil run onto the tie.

5. Bring on the paint. This is where I say, "Do as I say, not as I do". I didn't get fabric paint because I didn't have time. Consequently, my tie is a bit stiff where the paint is on it. Fabric paint is designed to be more flexible. Anyway, I just took off the stencil and painted over the Sharpie and any blank inside spaces. I like using a brush with soft but short bristles.
If you choose a paint colour lighter than your fabric, you
may want to do a layer of white first.

6. Let dry and wear. That's it. Simple and inexpensive, especially if you already have a tie. I happen to find this great silk one at a discount store, but this technique should work on just about anything.

If you wanted to do something more intricate where you didn't need a stencil, you can just paint a pretty picture right on the tie with fabric paint. Or, use a self-adhesive stencil paper and try your hand at spray paint--just remember to do short bursts and lay the tie flat to do it. You don't want the paint being wet and running behind the stencil.

Be creative! Use this technique on a pair of satin shoes, a skirt hem, or even a cotton tee. The sky's the limit and the distressed sort of look will become part of the design. Enjoy yourself. Remember, it's just crafts.

BONUS: HOW TO TIE A TIE with Stroked Ego!

We visited Stroked Ego this spring and they showed us a really easy tie knot. Try it out:

Monday 10 June 2013

Dating bliss: when boys can't navigate a conversation with a woman

Men: Hung by the tongue

Here's an example of why dating is soooo much fun. 

ALAN: I'm excited at the prospect of living together someday.

JORDAN: Yeah? 

ALAN: Yeah. I know there'll be some big fights, but I think it'll be good.

JORDAN: ....Um, why would there be fights?

ALAN: [pauses, blanches] Errr...I don't know. There just would be some.

JORDAN: No, clearly you had something in mind. What are you expecting us to fight about?

ALAN: Um,, cleaning products.

JORDAN: Cleaning products.

ALAN: Yeah. Like, maybe I have some that aren't as eco-friendly as you like, but I like them.
WHAT JORDAN HEARD: I don't like your cleaning products, nor do I care about the environment.

JORDAN: You like them...?

ALAN: Yeah, I like the way they work.
WHAT JORDAN HEARD: I think your house smells bad and is unhygienic because your cleaning products suck. You are a sucky housekeeper and one of those hippy nuts who think lemon juice can be used to clean up even the worst murder scene.

JORDAN: I see.

[long pause]

JORDAN: Well. I can tell you, there won't be any giant stashes of junk food in my house when we live together.

ALAN: ....Yes, that will be an adjustment for all of us.

WHAT JORDAN WANTED TO SAY: Good. And by the way, it won't be an adjustment for one of us. And also, I'm apparently already going to have to adjust to your asthma-inducing chemical cleaners and your hideous brown couch that you've already told me you'll never give up. 

JORDAN: Yes. A positive adjustment, given what you're all used to, and how you're all feeling.

ALAN: Yep. It's going to be hard to find things the kids will like.
WHAT JORDAN HEARD: You're going to have to nag me to get me to stop bringing junk food home.

JORDAN: You know what we'll do? We'll stock the house with healthy things, and the kids will eat it, or they won't eat. Because that's the way the REST of us were raised. And none of us died.

ALAN: ....Yep.

Later, I relayed this interchange to my bestie MJ, without the 'what Jordan heard' parts, just the out-loud interchange.

WHAT MJ SAID: What the hell? What's wrong with your cleaning products? I saw you using furniture stripper last week that melted your gloves! It's not like you're out there trying to use lemon juice on everything!

Thank the heavens for best girl friends, who remind you there's intelligent life on earth. Girls who affirm that you were not, in fact, laying devious word-traps through which another human couldn't possibly traverse...nay, clearly, if another woman can navigate the land-mined terrain of your conversation, wincing and ducking at all the right spots, the man-species should also be able to keep up.

Post-script later that evening:

JORDAN: [counting out on a calendar] Geezus, Alan. My cycle's not due for another week.

ALAN: Okay...?

JORDAN: You're driving me so nuts, I thought I was PMS'ing. That's bad, man. 

If you're reading this and you're single: look what you're missing out on. Oodles of fun.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Anime North '13: the cosplayer's pilgrimage

Cuddling my own giant Stitch! He looks SO
happy! (Thanks for posing, Bruce.)


At the end of May, I attended my first-ever Anime North. Anime North, in Toronto, is a convention for all things anime-related-- Japanese-made animation, which usually has a sci-fi component, and is often way more edgy than anything animated we make over here in North America. You may be familiar with Pokemon or Sailor Moon, for example, but there are gorey productions like Vampire Hunter D and Ninja Scroll which wouldn't be safe choices for your ten year-old. Anyway, this was my first time going, and I had no idea what to expect.

What a pageant. 

I don't think I'd be exaggerating to say that at least 70% of the visitors were dressed up in costume. Funky spiked and coloured wigs were the norm all day long, with costumes ranging from the pre-made kind to the intricately DIY'd designs that show the world just how much adoration the wearer has for the character. 

What I enjoyed the most about the con was how friendly everyone was. These people are so excited about their fandom that it puts most mainstream geeks to shame; and what makes that fun is that everyone is up for a chat. Numerous times throughout the weekend, I heard visitors say, "Well, it's only once a year I get to buy this stuff/wear this stuff/see these people," and it hit me that this is pretty much Anime Christmas for the 20,000 people who attend. 

A huge thank you to Toni Weri for her contribution of all these wonderful photos. 

There's lots there that I didn't understand. I'm not a big animation nerd at the best of times, so I'm unfamiliar with the majority of the characters. The whole 'Furry' phenomenon baffles me, and I'm not sure how sticking cat ears onto a sexy outfit makes it a costume, unless there's a genre of zoomorphic anime that I don't know about. But I could appreciate all the costumes, the neat merchandise for purchase, and the incredible artists selling prints in Artist's Alley. 

For three days, the Toronto Congress Centre turned into a magical land where a jeans-and-tee-shirt kid like myself was the odd man out; where lines fifty people deep at Tim Hortons were composed entirely of technicolour woodland creatures; where casual picnic lunches were enjoyed by bands of ninjas with styrofoam swords. 

And yes, even I came home with a treasure: a knock-off Tokidoki gym bag that makes my heart sing every time I look at it. 

Overall, even if I just go for the people-watching, I think I'll be back to Anime North. 

Monday 3 June 2013

Mr Darcy Eats My Treats

Saturday morning, I had to be up at an ungodly hour of the morning to arrive for setup at the SoCapOtt conference I helped to organize. When my alarm went off at 5:00am, I dragged myself into the bathroom, turned on the shower, and started waking up.

Mr Darcy, world's cutest goblin. Or ugliest dog.
My fur baby.

It was only when I got out of the shower that I realized my geriatric pug, Mr Darcy, was nowhere in sight. As our usual morning routine involves him bogarting the bathmat and me kicking him with a wet foot until he skulks off, it was unusual not to see him. And when he's not in eyesight, Mr Darcy is usually  into trouble--namely, he's usually eating something he shouldn't be. I remembered that I'd emptied the kitchen garbage into a plastic bag last night but had forgotten to put it outside; with a sigh, I resolved myself to go see the mess my dog would have created, and get started on the cleaning.

But when I stepped into my bedroom to get changed, I discovered Mr Darcy. He hadn't found the kitchen garbage, but he *had* found my bar of expensive dark chocolate from the night before. I'd accidentally melted it in my car during the afternoon, and had put it on my nightstand to harden again. Now there was only an empty cardboard wrappper, 

I ran forward, yelling, and he skittered away, wildly gnashing his teeth because the melted bar had bonded on a molecular level with the thin aluminum foil wrapping. He'd managed to get the chocolate down his throat, but now the tinfoil had lined his teeth like fillings, giving him that horrid metallic flavour in his mouth and that unliveable metal-on-teeth tingling sensation that I know you can picture as you read this.

I know exactly how this felt because at 5am, when my alarm first went, off, I had been starving and had
Mr Darcy the pug regrets nothing after eating the chocolate bar.
Mr Darcy regrets nothing.
blearily reached over, snapped off a square of that same chocolate bar, chewed it, and spent the next ten minutes in the bathroom gagging on the tinfoil shrapnel stuck to the back of my tongue. 

I may not look  like my pet, but we do have some similarities.

(He's fine, by the way. A tummy ache, yes, but that evening he was back in the garbage, eating any leftover tinfoil he could find.)

(Yes, I need to get a garbage bin with a lid.)

(No, it won't slow him down.)

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