Wednesday, July 29, 2015

One Must Have Goals

I had mentioned that I’d be posting more from Australia.  Well, we all know how that worked out.   If you’re up & close and personal with me on a regular basis, you’re probably not surprised at my lack of blogging.  My track record on returning calls & emails runs on the slow side. 

Anyway, Australia has always been one of my places – it’s an American West Coast lifestyle with European infrastructure.  As with any good adventure, the country left a couple of permanent physical marks on me including a new piercing and a new hair color.  Thank you, Southern Sun!

A lot has happened since my adventure Down Under, the biggest news being my new day job! Hooray! People are now calling me Peggy Olsen which I totally dig.  My new employers promised I wouldn’t be at work until 9p most nights.  So far, they’ve upheld their word which I really appreciate.  With all my newfound free time, I’ll probably be updating my blog a lot more.  One must have goals, right?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Are you coming to this school or what?

There's always been something about Australia for me...maybe it was the music? Maybe it was "Facts of Life Down Under"?  I am not sure when or where the seed was sowed but it's just one of the places I've always dreamt of seeing.  When I filled out my SAT application in high school, I realized that the University of Sydney would take the scores as part of their application.  After that, I always wondered, "What if...".  Although looking back, I am not sure I could've handled going away & not coming home for a long time.  Being 10,000 miles away from home doesn't lend itself to any quick visits. But, still...

In 2003, I was able to make here for the first time & it surpassed my expectations.  Melbourne reminded me of Boston & Sydney was more like Los Angeles.  At the time, the whole country really felt like it was at the end of the earth.  I can't articulate the feeling beyond you're in a country the size of the US with the population of New York spread out across it while being thousands of miles from any world hub.  While the internet was around, it still felt a little isolated.  However, that isolation (and some of the social/political events of the late 80s/early 90s) gave way to amazing art, music, food, & fashion.  I was in love.

In 2010, I was approached about working in a vineyard in Victoria...but I still wasn't ready to take the plunge.

Finally, last year, I earned a sabbatical at work.  So, here was another chance to find out what it would be like IF I did take that opportunity to come here.  This time, I jumped on it. I got a cheap flight, rented an apartment, & packed my bag.

Here I am...and I've never been so glad to be anywhere. First, it's 80 degrees & summer here. Second, it's changed SO much!  With globalization & their robust economy, Australia feels so much more connected to the world.  "Murial's Wedding" & "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" celebrated their 20th birthday last year.  Stephen Elliot, the director of "Priscilla" said you could never make those films again. They really spoke to the isolation people felt at the time & how they'd do anything to get out of wherever they were.  Sydney still has it's unique character but it's much more global.

I am on my 5th day took me 3 nights before I woke up feeling ok.  Waking up after the 4th night, I felt great.  This morning, after my fifth night, I feel like I've always been here.  In my fog, I've been able to basically walk the entire city & most of the inner suburbs.  Today, I was definitely "myself" inasmuch as I picked up some great interesting wines to prepare for my WSET.  I've made a list of music I'd like to pick up...most of the unique stuff is from New Zealand...which may still have that isolated feel Australia had 10+ years ago?

AND - most importantly, I closed the loop on my first opportunity to come here. I didn't realize my apartment is within walking distance from the University of Sydney campus.  So, I bought this ferocious lion t-shirt from the "Uni Store". If anybody asks me if I went to the University of Sydney, I can finally say, "Technically, yes...".

P.S. Doesn't the lion look like he's saying, "Are you coming to this school or what?"

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pomme Frites

I love fried potatoes. There. I said it.

French fries seem to be a popular snack in a few European countries & in Quebec...but in the US?  Not so much - which is a total drag if you ask me.  I am guessing with the resurgence of whole food eating, having a treat of fresh potatoes cooked in real fat once in a while has become permissible, if not downright trendy.

A few months ago, I heard about the Walloons Food Truck & have been waiting for them to start rolling.   Today, I realized they were going to be out & about in an area where I may be finding myself.  Success!!! I was able to catch up with them before they closed up.

Phil ordered poutine & I had a regular cornet with maple mayo - which tasted like the maple cured bacon my mum used to get in the 70s.  Both were SOOOOOOO delicious.  The portions were just right.  The frites were crisp & tasty and not heavy at all.  The best part? They totally validated my existence on social media:

That's me on the Twitters!!! I am the Emperor of Japan!!!

Do yourself a favor & check out their fritekot.  It's a lot of happiness for $5!


Monday, September 15, 2014

Such is life for a animal lover

Until yesterday, the cats outnumbered the people at the Evil Lair.  Carl, the big fluffy tuxedo cat, hadn't been doing well for the better part of 2 months.  Looking back, he wasn't the healthiest pet I've ever owned.  After years of multiple procedures, medications, & additional care, Phil & I had a tough discussion last Sunday about how much more we should do.  We took him to the vet one last time on Tuesday & she was very compassionate about the whole thing.

Our vet is Dr. Palmer & she works at VCA City Cats in Arlington, MA.  VCA City Cats is great for us inasmuch as it's T accessible; has ample parking; is not terribly expensive; is linked up with the 24 hour vet hospital in Woburn (for late night emergencies); has convenient hours; & has a really cool/efficient/knowledgeable/dedicated staff.  Carl was one of those cats who often needed the chain gloves (:-|) but he liked Dr. Palmer & her staff. She is a bit of a cat whisperer.

Dr. Palmer recommended a vet who makes house calls - Dr. Johnson from Lincoln Veterinary Services. If Carl needed another consult or if we decided it was his time, she could help us.  As the week progressed, Carl was declining quickly.  Yesterday (Sunday), we decided not to wait any longer.    Our options were to wait until the vet office opened on Monday; go to the emergency vet; or call Dr. Johnson.   We decided to call Dr. Johnson & she was available within a few hours. She was AMAZING with the whole thing.

Side note: while we passing the afternoon waiting for Dr. Johnson, our dear friend, BGR, texted me, asking if we were up to anything devious.  Phil had been pretty upset all day - Carl is technically his cat & he made the decision.  As soon as he saw BGR's text, he started laughing, "I just hired a cat hit woman to take out my cat. Does that count as devious?".

I won't get into the details but I was unsure what to expect from the whole thing.  When I made the call, I didn't have the presence of mind to ask a lot of "operational" questions.  That's actually why I am writing this blog post - maybe somebody will stumble upon it & perhaps it will be helpful? Basically, she came to the house with her doctor bag & examined Carl.  She validated our decision & explained the procedure (3 shots). In the end, she was at our house for under an hour.  She wrapped him in one of my sweaters that he liked to sleep on & took him with her. The procedure cost $400 & she takes cash, checks, or credit cards.  Luckily, I've not had to price this out before but I *think* this was a fair rate - especially since it was a weekend & it made things a lot easier for both us & Carl one last time.

I love animals so much but this is the real downside - you rarely outlive your pets.  Oddly, while I am sad about Carl's passing, in some ways, it's a relief.  He had been sick for so long.  I can see the 2 other cats are definitely relieved...I was not expecting that.

Aside from the vet recommendations, I have a couple of other cat recommendations that have worked well for us:

Bench & Field Cat Treats - Our cats are somewhat picky & prefer to hover around the dinner table for scraps vs. eating their own food.  These are the only cat treats they like.

Target Brand Unscented Cat Litter - It's no worse - and quite frankly, no better - than any other cat litter on the market. We've tried ALL of them.   For $6, it's the best deal in town.

Cat Box Mat - I got a really cheap shower mat that looks like this; cut it in thirds; & placed a third in front of the cat box.  The webbing seems to trap any extra litter as the cats step out of the box.  It's been super helpful with keeping the area clean.

Hypno Mice - I have NO clue what's in these...but one cat carries this toy around in his mouth like it's an actual mouse he caught.  Ridiculous & hilarious.

As always, if you have any cat recommendations, I am all (pointy cat) ears in the comments.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Music Movies

Last night (Saturday), exciting person that I am, made myself a big salad & turned on tv.  JACKPOT!!! Never Tear Us Apart, the INXS miniseries was on Showtime.   INXS was band I've always loved. If "Kick" came out today, it would not sound out of place.  Aside from the music, they had a really charismatic lead singer who had a whole load of lady drama.  While the miniseries didn't get into the whole J.D. Fortune/Terence Trent D'Arby era of the band, their early history is more than enough fodder for 3 hours of engrossing entertainment.

One thing that strikes me about music movies - most of the time, the actors don't actually look like the musicians. However, all you really need is some strategically worn accessories and everybody knows who you are.  In this case, the guy who played Michael Hutchence had long curly black hair & a lot of flowy shirts.  The guy who played Bono appeared to be short with a goatee, military style hat, & red sunglasses.  In The Runaways, Kristen Stewart wore a pink blazer when she was "solo" Joan Jett.   Problem solved!

Anyway, watching the miniseries made me want to compile of list of my favorite music movies.  Here goes:

1. The Runaways - Based on Cherie Currie's book, "Neon Angel". Floria Sigismondi put a lot of thought into how she wanted the movie to look, i.e. very shiny for the Japan scenes, etc.. This is one of my favorite overall movies.

2. Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life - This could also be put on my favorite movies made from graphic novels list. While it's based on a comic book (Hello, Brigitte Bardot!), it's a live action, irreverent take on Serge's life.  It did leave out his infamous appearance on the talk show with Whitney Houston but it was outstanding.

3. La Vie en Rose - Edith Piaf's music was very reflective of her life - very sad, lots of highs & lows, with the backdrop of Parisian cabaret.

4. 24 Hour Party People - Rise & fall of the Manchester scene in the 80s.  This is a movie where most of the actors didn't look like the musicians but they all had defining haircuts & accessories.  They did an especially good job giving the Ryder brothers bowl cuts & boxy sweaters.

5. Hillary & Jackie - File under: Family secrets are stranger than any fiction

1. Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon - In the early 2000s, I had multiple tickets to see this band & they never showed for any of the concerts.  After watching this, honestly, I am surprised they were even functional enough to form a band.  It was an accomplishment to transcend their upbringing & get it together.

2. Anvil: The Story of Anvil - This is what happens when you never stop chasing your dreams.

3. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart - Behind the scenes look at Wilco's recording process and a peek into how bizarro being signed to a major label can be.

4. Lemmy - He seems like such a nice, regular guy!

5. Dig - Comparative documentary of the Dandy Warhols & Brian Jonestown Massacre.  How do the fates decide who gets the buzz & the attention in the moment?

Matt Phipps, our afternoon DJ, recommended the Big Star documentary to me.  I need to put in my Netflix queue. If you have any recommendations, please post them in the comments!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Housewarming Gifts

Last year, a very dear friend of mine recommended the book, Happy Money. So, now I've been recommending it to anyone who will listen.  The basic tenet of the book is that money inherently doesn't make you happy but how you use it does.  Buying experiences is often more fulfilling than buying things. Spending money on others also brings deep satisfaction.

Randomly, many people I know have been moving into new digs lately.  I've found myself at a bit of a housewarming gift giving crossroad.  What do you buy for people who not only have as much as they care to have but also value experiences over things? And, what about your natural inclination to use your money to make somebody else happy?

Of course, there's always wine & fancy food treats...those do a good job on the "experience" piece. What if you find that special "something" that is equal parts experience & stuff? Now, that's special!

Here are recent gifts that I've given as housewarming prezzies:

1. Yoshitomo Nara Ashtray - Remember when all good hostess sets came with a fancy ashtray? I don't know anyone who smokes anymore...but it's so ridiculous & can double as a candy dish.

2. Alessi Mandarin Juicer - I am such a fan of Alessi & Koziol - functional art!!! Plus, you can squeeze juice for your sweetie.

3. Renova Paper Products - Black toilet paper is an unbelievable conversation starter.  There are only certain friends who would really dig a few rolls of chartreuse paper towels.  So, this isn't a gift for everyone BUT for the right person, it's downright amazing - and practical!

I've found great gifts at Uncommon GoodsBliss Home, & Finn Style (oh Finn Style, I love you & your Marimekko & your Iittala & your Fazer bars).  If you have any great recommendations for gifts, please share them in the comments!

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Since I've not blogged in yonks, I am trying to get caught up...

A while ago, Phil & I made an impromptu trip to Montreal.  Growing up in New England, going to Montreal seems to be a rite of passage where when you turn 18. Everybody piles into a car & heads towards the land of legal drinking, strip clubs, & casinos...sort of like New Orleans for the Northeast set.

I was not one of those 18 year olds so I didn't actually see Montreal until I was in my mid-20s.  I really love it there - not necessarily for the vices but more because it's a real outlier in a lot of ways.  It's fiercely French in its own way amidst a majority English speaking population - and it doesn't care.  It's mellow, local, artsy, & intellectual with loads of nice people. Also, most of the infrastructure hasn't been updated since the 1967 World Expo which gives it a real industrial, mid-century vibe (swoon!).  If you're looking for a low key, easy vacation & you like a lot of art/small local businesses/DIY vibe, I cannot recommend Montreal enough.

It's about 5 hours by car from Boston, i.e. about 1 tank of gas.  Right now, with the exchange rate not being great, I recommend getting any refills in Vermont.  Gas in Canada is much more expensive by ounce/ml & you purchase it in litres.

Bring your passport.  You can get in with the card or just a license still...but going through customs will be quicker if they can just scan your passport.

Montreal is a walkable city & their subway is super efficient.  Put your car in a garage & leave it there for the duration of your vacation.  You can get street parking but they're uber efficient with ticketing & towing.  So, $20 a day is worth not having to worry or deal with any hassles.

There are plenty of options.  We stayed at Le Relais Lyonnais, which is a great, small budget hotel.  It's in the middle of the student quarter (kind of like staying at the cheap end of Newbury Street). It's not posh or quiet but well located.  If I needed a hotel again, I'd stay there.  Although, we agreed that next we'd probably rent an apartment so we can cook.

At this point, I don't really do too much vacations here are really all about nipping away & hiding for a few days.  However, here are some highlights I've enjoyed:
Hiking up Mont Royal - Montreal's namesake, gorgeous city views
Old Town - It's a cross between Faneuil Hall, the Freedom Trail, & Fort Point Channel - historic & repurposed - with shops, restaurants, & museums.
Musee d'art contemporain - Modern art museum with a really cool gift shop.
Botanical Gardens & Insectarium - I love that it's called "Space for life" in French.  You won't see vastly different things here since we share the same basic climate but it's still cool.
Scandinavian Spa - If you're looking to relax, this is THE place.  Aside from the traditional spa services, they have a thermal pool & waterfall, pine sauna, & steam room.  They offer discounted day passes during the week.  Woo hoo!!!

Montreal is a great city.  The "doing your own thing" really comes into play here. I recommend the following:
Marche Jean Talon - We visited almost all the public markets & this was the biggest & best.  Most everything was local & organic.  It was half wholesale, half consumer with loads of prepared food stalls (local sausages, fish, bakeries, ice cream, etc.). We got an amazing flat of mixed local berries with edible flowers...I didn't know you could eat orchids (taste like bland celery)
Depanneur Le Pick-Up - This is a refurbished convenience store/lunch counter within walking distance from Marche Jean Talon.  The line snakes through the store but it moves quickly.  There's only 2 people cooking & prepping so it can take a while to get your food.  If you don't get takeaway, there's table service...but the tables are in front, on the side, in the back. Often, the servers are walking around looking for people.  It works fine but I can see how some impatient people wouldn't be having it.
La Banquise - 30+ kinds of poutine in a place that took some cues from Howard Johnsons circa 1974. I.LOVE.IT. AND - it has a giant poster of one my most favoritest movies ever - C.R.A.Z.Y. - signed by the director.  A quick note - it's cash only & even though we had table service, we had to pay as soon as we ordered. Also, it's open all night.
Buvette Chez Simone - Wine bar with an expansive list.  When you sit down, they give you paper & a pencil to check off which "snacks" you'd like with your wine.  These weren't just snacks - these were full on US appetizer sizes of things.  The food was fresh & amazing - we would've gone twice if we stayed longer.
Jewish Neighborhood Nibbles:
Willensky's - go once, go more if you like baloney!
Fairmount Bagel - Montreal bagels are good - they're not as glossy on the outside/chewy on the inside like a lot of US bagels.  They're also a little sweeter.
KemCoba Gelato - This place had a line out the door - with good reason.  A small dish will give you 2 scoops if you don't opt for the soft serve.
Chocolats Andree - Locally made chocolates.  The shop is in a row house & the case is in the small living room. They have a limited, seasonal selection each day - all the pieces are really small but you can tell it's a true labor of love.

And...drumroll, please...
Joe Beef, Liverpool House, & Le Vin Papillion
It's everything you've ever heard. Seriously.  I read an interview with one of the owners where he was talking about the liqueur, Chartreuse.  He described it as a "green monster penis - cool to have but you can't do anything with it".  I can't quite articulate my thoughts but that quote pretty much sums up the restaurants - irreverent, over the top, & "I'm going to do whatever I want & it's going to be awesome.".
If you go...I recommend the following - go to Liverpool House first when it's still light out.  It's more casual and a bit easier to maneuver.  The menu is written on a chalkboard on the wall in all 3 places.  Liverpool House had the shortest menu & the tables were more spaced out. It was easy to stand up; read the menu; and not feel like you were disturbing somebody's dinner.  Once you get the hang of that, go to Joe Beef.  The menu there is much more expansive - it goes around the whole restaurant (2 rooms). The light is low; the tables are close together; & servers are dodging you, the tables, & each other.  I advise dispatching one person from your party to go take photos of all the walls with his/her phone & then, show them to everybody else at the table.  The food is SO good. Be prepared for big portions of farm food - lots of meat, veggies, & dairy.  I ended up with leftovers that gave me 4 more meals from both places.

Last but not least - french fries from anywhere (except fast food chains).  Those fresh Quebecois potatoes are unparalleled!

If I missed anything, please comment below!