Friday, June 26, 2009

Yummy Recipe Alert!

My folks have been up visiting this week, and it's been great! Mum flew up on Tuesday night, and then my dad, because he's a crazy person, drove the 1492 km (he counted) and arrived Wednesday night. Just in time for a heat wave and a garbage strike :)

I love it when they come visit, which doesn't happen nearly often enough. If you've been reading this blog for very long, you know that one of the things that bothers me most about living in Toronto is that my family is so very far away, so it means so much to be able to share this little bit of life with them. Unfortunately I couldn't take any time off work, for various reasons, but I have been able to leave early each day, and then there's the weekend to look forward to.

Yesterday when I came home after work, I discovered these on the kitchen counter:

One major benefit of having Mum come to visit! These are rhubarb biscuits, and they're the yummiest thing I've had in quite a while. And because she's a sweetie, Mum gave me the recipe :)

Mum's Rhubarb Biscuits

2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup milk

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening until it's about the size of small peas. Stir in the milk, and then roll the dough out into a roughly rectangular shape (approx. 12" long). Spread entire surface with butter, being sure to get the edges too.

3 cups rhubarb, very finely chopped
3/4 cup white sugar
3 Tbsp. flour

Combine the rhubarb, sugar and flour in a bowl. Sprinkle mixture over biscuit, and roll it up. Using a sharp knife, cut it into 1" thick slices and place in a 9x13" pan.

1 cup brown sugar
2 cups boiling water

Stir sugar and water together until dissolved, and then pour it over the pan of biscuits. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Passive Agressiveness

As a self-confessed passive agressive, I can completely commiserate with the people who wrote the notes on my new favourite website, Passive Agressive Notes. For example:

Okay, so that's one's not so much passive agressive as funny, but if you're looking for a chuckle you should really check it out.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Paris: Part 3

Okay, we're almost through - just a couple more days of photos to go! It's actually been kind of fun to relive the trip this way :)

Our third day in Paris was dedicated to 2 things: 1) Finding tickets to some kind of play/opera/show, and 2) the Louvre. We got up bright and early and started by looking around for a tourist bureau, since they tend to have information on all the happenings in the theatre world. Did you know that there is only one tourist bureau in Paris? And that it has virtually no useful information in it? We ended up traveling to every theatre icon on our map of Paris to see what was showing there, which actually turned out to be a good way to see more of the city. By noon, we'd found a play that TC wanted to attend so we bought the tickets, had some lunch, and made our way back to the Louvre.

If it isn't already there, make sure that visiting the Louvre is on your list of things to do before you die! Incredibly amazing, beautiful and overwhelming.

Even the courtyard when you first walk through the gates is beautiful, but then so is the rest of Paris, so I should have expected it. I know there are mixed opinions about the glass pyramid, which is where you enter the Louvre, but I quite like it. It's one of the few examples I've seen where modern architecture complements, and even adds to the existing structures, unlike the horrific ROM here in Toronto.

We were impressed by how efficiently the entry is run - it took no time to get our tickets and a map, and once we'd figured out what we wanted to see (because there's far too much to see everything in one visit) we set off. First up...

...the Cour Marly, a massive indoor courtyard filled with very impressive French sculpture. It was a really beautiful space, and one of the quietest sections of the museum.

This is the Code of Hammurabi, which is one of the most ancient examples of written law. We had studied about it in university, so it was quite exciting to actually see it. Can you imagine how long it took to carve all of that into the stone?

Here we have a statue of Ramses II, who is believed by some to have been the Pharoah of "Let my people go" fame.

Picture this guy, along with 35 of his friends, staring down at you from the top of a 21m high cedar beam as you entered the audience hall of Darius I of Persia. (Remember the king in the story of Daniel and the lions' den? That's him.) Methinks it might have been a little intimidating, yes?

We realized as we were climbing these stairs that they've obviously had a lot of visitors at the Louvre over the years! I wonder how long it will be before they wear through?

My favourite part was the section containing Roman sculpture. Before leaving for France, TC and I had just finished watching the BBC mini-series I, Claudius, which traces the history of the Roman imperial family from the perspective of Claudius, the emporer between Caligula and Nero. It's really quite excellent - I highly recommend it! Anyway, we were walking through the collection and lo and behold, there were the busts and statues of all the characters we'd been watching! Working clockwise from the top left, that's Claudius himself, Marcus Aurelius (who wasn't in the mini-series, but is the famous Stoic philosopher-emporer), Tiberius, and Livia (who did have a head, but the collage maker cut it off for some reason).

We visited some of the more famous exhibits as well, but as you can see in the picture above, they were quite crowded, which made it difficult to actually see whatever it was. That's as close as we were able to get to the Mona Lisa (it's behind the guy with the white shirt's head) without elbowing through the lot.

And, of course, the inverted pyramid of Davinci Code fame. I wonder how many of these people actually think the remains of Mary Magdelene are hidden below? Whatever else it may symbolize, I thought there was a nice symmetry in ending our visit to the Louvre here, since it began in the upper pyramid.

We were rather tuckered and culturally overloaded by the end of the day, but it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Paris: Part 2

On a much lighter note, I finally had time to post the pics from day 2 in Paris, which also happened to be my 29th birthday :) After having breakfast at the salon du the right next to our hotel, and being highly amused by the cheeky little birds that sat on our table and took the food out of our hands, we set out to hit the major tourist attractions. First up:

L'Arc de Triomphe. It's a truly amazing monument - much larger than I had pictured it in my head. With our metro passes, we were eligible for discounted tickets to go up inside the Arc, so we decided that this would be the place we'd get our view of Paris from above. One thing we didn't consider was that there was no elevator. Just lots and lots of winding stairs. Fortunately, there are two stopping-off places on the way up - one is a display area with explanations of the various features of the Arc, and the second a gift shop - so we could take a breather. It was well worth the climb, though.

Isn't that gorgeous? The Arc is in the middle of a huge rotary, which didn't appear to have any kind of lines or guides. We had a great deal of fun watching the drivers go all over the place. One little green mini-cooper must have driven around the Arc five or six times before it figured out how to get where it wanted to go :)

We made it back down in one piece, and went for a walk up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, where we had lunch at a little outdoor cafe, and then headed off to that most famous of Parisian landmarks:

The Eiffel Tower. That's me, standing at the Eiffel Tower, on my birthday. Pretty awesome. We didn't bother going up, since the line was the length of two or three soccer fields, but it really is a remarkable structure. The pictures don't really convey the sheer massiveness of it - I've always thought it looked almost dainty, but up close it seemed much sturdier and more substantial.

Our next stop:

The Opéra Garnier. This is the opera house that inspired the Phantom of the Opera. Sorry for the poor quality of the pictures, but the lighting in the place was really bizarre, and our poor little camera couldn't handle it :) The picture above is the grand staircase (obviously) leading into the auditorium.

This is the foyer. Walking through the building, we were both completely overwhelmed by the sheer opulence of the place. Everything about it was showy and grand, which I suppose was it's purpose. Who wants to go to a shabby opera house?

When we came out, there was a full brass band on the front steps of the opera house doing their thing. Not a Salvation Army type brass band, more like a swing band. They were really good, so we stopped (along with about 100 other people) and sat on the steps to listen for a while. Then we headed back across the Seine to...

...the Jardin du Luxembourg. What a beautiful garden! One of my favourite things about it was that it was full of statues like the one above, many of various influential women in France's history. Queens, saints, noblewomen - but all women. This one is Catherine de Medici.

There were also a couple of beautiful water features. This one is the Medici fountain, but in the middle of the garden was a large pond-ish affair, where kids were sailing little boats.

After all the running around we'd been doing, we were pooped! Or at least I was - TC could keep going forever if he put his mind to it. Anyhoo, we decided to head back to the vicinity of our hotel to have dinner, which was a 2+ hour affair. They really take their food seriously - no rushing it! By the time we were done, we were ready to call it a day.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I wrote this post back in April, mainly because I needed somewhere to express some thoughts, but I couldn't publish it yet as it contained some things that we weren't quite ready to make public. We're finally at the point where it can be shared, though, so here it is.

TC and I are infertile. We've been trying for more than two years now to have a baby, with no success whatsoever. It's been a hard process, though a learning one. At first we were so ignorant of everything that was involved (besides the obvious), but when it seemed like things weren't happening very quickly, I went out and learned as much as I could about what needs to happen to conceive and what the best ways are to ensure that the necessary stars align. All to no avail.

We went to the doctor and did all the testing only to discover that there's nothing wrong with either of us as far as they can tell. And yet every month I suffer through symptoms that could be caused by either PMS or early pregnancy, only to discover once again that I'm not pregnant.

Once we passed the one year mark, I used to get really down for the first few days after I realized we weren't going to be parents yet. It would hurt to see someone going by with their small children, not that I begrudged anyone their ability to have children. I just couldn't help but watch them and long for one of my own.

People would ask us when we planned on having kids, not realizing the hurt they were causing by reminding us of our infertility, or the choice they were forcing us to make between lying to be polite ("Not yet, maybe later, we're not ready yet, ha ha ha...") and being brutally honest ("We've been trying for a while now, but can't seem to conceive, thanks for bringing up something that's none of your damn business..."). We've always opted to be polite, even if it meant lying, mainly because we realized that everyone who asked meant well - they just didn't know better.

Our close friends and family knew. We'd told them that we were trying, not long after we first started, and most of them are terrific. But not all of them. I think one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do was keep my mouth shut through that seemingly interminable Christmas visit to my in-laws, where no effort was spared to make us aware of the fact that they wanted grandchildren and could we please hurry up and fix whatever we were doing wrong. If we hadn't been able to vent to some of our closest friends, who lived nearby, I don't know what we would have done.

I've come to terms with the fact that we seem to be unable to conceive, though no one can tell us why. I didn't realize this before, but apparently 1/3 of all cases of infertility are unexplainable. Medical science in its current state cannot always diagnose the problem. We are part of that third. Not that that has made it any easier. In fact, it makes it harder, since there is nothing we can pin it on, no scapegoat for our childless existence, nothing we can try to fix.

There are other options, I know. We decided early on in our relationship that if we weren't able to have children, our first choice would be adoption. There are too many children without families in the world for us to justify the expense of all the different fertility treatments that are available. I was ready to start looking into adoption almost a year ago, but TC wasn't.

Many of his favourite books contain themes about family and the intangible connections of blood. In the small community that he comes from, you are judged largely by the family you're a part of. Someone will do something, good or bad, and the general commentary will be along the lines of, "Well, that's what you can expect from a Smith - his uncle/brother/cousin/grandfather/etc. was just the same way." Your blood determines who you are, how you behave, what you become. He worried about not being able to really connect or understand any child that wasn't his own flesh and blood.

I had considered this reality as well, but in a different context. I come from a family replete with adoptions, and my adopted relatives have never been treated any differently, or even talked about as being anything other than family, which is what they are as far as we are all concerned. Which isn't to say that I couldn't understand where my husband was coming from, or that I thought his concern wasn't valid. It was an issue that I'd had to work through as well, it was just taking him longer to do so.

It also took him longer to accept the reality of our infertility. Throughout this whole process, he's been content to let me do all the research. He's just not that interested in learning more about it, and that's okay. Just because I felt the need to understand everything inside and out didn't mean he had to, and it didn't mean he wasn't working through it all in his own way.

After almost two and a half years, though, we're finally on the same page and have started looking into adoption, with plans to start the process in the summer.

Well, summer is now here, and the process has begun. And it's completely over-whelming. We're in the very beginning stages, which means lots and lots of paperwork. That's one of the reasons it's taking me so long to post our France pics :)

We have a stack of forms an inch thick to fill out, plus getting police and child welfare checks done from everywhere we've lived since we were 18, and being finger-printed to make sure we're not connected to any unsolved crimes, and collecting references from people to confirm we're not wackos, and medical reports so they know we won't keel over next month - I could keep going! I'm glad the system takes such care to protect the children it's responsible for, but I wish there was some way we could just tell them that we're healthy, non-crazy people and have them believe us :)

It's going to be a long process, taking anywhere from 6 months to several years before having a child placed with us, but at least we've started. And you can probably expect to see a few more posts about it before we're through!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Paris: Part 1

Okay - on to the Paris pics! We left Nancy very early in the morning...

TC is going to love me for posting that one :) After a 2-hour train ride, the purchase of week-long metro passes and a trip on the subway, we arrived without too much ado at our hotel. It's the building on the right, just before the blue awning.

The awning, by the way, was for a little salon du the, and the yellow awning right across the street was for a book store. Could we have been any more ideally located? Methinks not! The hotel was right in the Latin Quarter, which is a wonderful spot, though pretty touristy. Lots of little windy streets to explore and get lost in. And at night, the place is party central (though we aren't partiers, we thoroughly enjoyed watching those who were).

One of the many, many bridges that cross the Seine. I've seen lots of pictures of Paris, and watched plenty of movies set in that city, but to be completely honest, they're no comparison at all to the real thing. I'm not sure I can adequately describe it. Everywhere you look, it's beautiful. Seriously - everywhere.

Since it was only a 5 minute walk from our hotel, after we checked in and dropped off our luggage, we headed onto the Ile de la Cite and went to Notre Dame.

The pictures don't do it justice, but it's breath-taking. The inside was a little less so, mainly because it was so crowded, but it was still an awe inspiring experience. Afterward, we sat in the shadow of Notre Dame and shared a sandwich that we'd bought from a little vendor across the street. Have I mentioned yet that the food in France is amazing? Even the sandwiches - I don't know what they do differently, but they're yummy!

The only thing on TC's must-see list was this bookstore: Shakespeare & Co. It's an English bookstore in the heart of Paris, and has a rather famous history.

And a raven. This is one of the 16 pictures TC took of the store (no lie). Have I mentioned that my husband is a bibliophile? And apparently a shutterbug as well!

This is me while he was running around taking pictures. The entire upper level of the store is a reading area, filled with books that aren't for sale but can be read while you're there. It's actually quite lovely. I started reading David Copperfield, which we then found a used copy of downstairs and bought so that I could continue reading it.

Oh, there was one other thing on TC's must-see list: Cafe Procope, which is the oldest restaurant in Paris. We never did eat there, as it was kind of pricey, but apparently lots of famous people have. I mean historically famous, like Robespierre, not Paris Hilton famous. (Quick aside - why is she famous anyway? I've never understood that.)

That's pretty much it for day one in Paris, but there's still more to come!

Yay - it's summer!

What a lovely weekend! It was the first one that has felt like a summer weekend, which is my favourite kind :) We were able to get outside and enjoy the warm sunshine, attend a friend's baptism, as well the birthday party for our little friend H who turns 2 today, and still manage to get some stuff done around the house.

One of the first things we did was to give TC a haircut. We recently purchased a razor for $30 so that I can cut his hair at home rather than having him go to the hairdresser every 3 weeks. The end result:

Not too bad for a first attempt, I think (though he doesn't really look all that enthused about it, does he?). We have determined that next time I'll leave it longer on the top, and I need to go a little easier around the ears, but all in all we were very pleased. And in two more cuts, we'll have paid for the razor :)

I also made some yummy apple-cinnamon muffins. I'd post the recipe, but I don't have it with me right now. It's from this book, though, which I have mixed feelings about recommending. It supposedly has 250 muffin recipes, but I've noticed that some of the recipes are actually identical. For example, there are 2 banana chocolate chip muffin recipes - one called Banana Chocolate Chip, and the other Chocolate Chip and Banana. The difference in the recipes? One uses metric measurements and the other imperial. All of the recipes that I've tried from the book have been very good, but I don't like to support that kind of sneakiness.

On Saturday morning, we went for a walk and came home with this little guy from our local florist. I have no idea what he is, but isn't he adorable? I wanted a little plant to have on my desk at work, but needed something that doesn't require a whole lot of sunlight, so the florist recommended him. I'm really hoping I manage not to kill him.

We also picked up this hanging geranium, at TC's request, to put in our sunporch. I love the bright, cheery red - geraniums are such happy looking flowers, don't you think?

Last but not least, we stopped at our local hardware store to pick up some magnetic tape so that I could finish making these fridge magnets. Aren't they cute? They're a birthday gift for my future sister-in-law, and since she lives in a different province I had the extra challenge of finding a gift that met my gift-giving resolution requirements and could be sent through the mail. These fit the bill rather nicely, I think :)

That's pretty much the weekend in review. I'm hoping to get the rest of our France pics up this week, but my land we took a lot of pictures in Paris! I don't want to subject you to 30 pictures of Notre Dame from every possible angle, so it's taking me a little while to sort through and select the highlights. They'll be coming soon!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How do you argue with that?

There are very few things that annoy me more than absolute statements: "You always do that" or "That never happens." I know that when people say such things, it's usually an exaggeration for the sake of making a point. I've even been known to do it myself on occasion. But it still bugs the crap out of me, because in the back of my head I know that it's rarely true. Exceptions exist.

My darling husband is no stranger to the absolute statement, which has often been the cause of some rather lively discussions between the two of us. Last night, however, he really outdid himself. And I quote:

"It's not like we always never think of it that way."

All I could do was laugh.