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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Movie reviews: Philomena and Beginners

***½ Philomena (November 2013) – Theatre

PHilomena posterJudi Dench, Steve Coogan. A cynical reporter agrees to help the elderly Philomena locate her son, who was taken from her by the church when she was a teenager.

She says: A rather delightful movie about a pretty appalling subject. The interaction between the cynical, worldly, atheist reporter Martin and the sentimental, parochial, and still-Christian Philomena is wonderful. Especially those moments when you—along with Martin—realize that Philomena is not as naive as you might think.

Their journey together to discover what happened to Philomena’s son after he was taken from her from the convent she was sent to as pregnant teenager is full of twists that I didn’t see coming. It’s all based on a true story, and it doesn’t cast the Irish Catholic church in a particularly good light.

He says: It was terrible what happened to her! It all made me so angry!

But it was nice that I wasn’t bored by the movie.

**½ Beginners (November 2011) – Rental

Beginners posterEwan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent. After meeting a woman he connects with, artist Oliver thinks back on his Dad’s last few years of life as an out gay man.

She says: This movie plays with time a lot, flashing back to Oliver’s last few months with his Dad, who was dying of cancer but determined to live to the full to the end; to the period before when his Dad first came out as a gay man, after the death of Oliver’s mother; and to key moments of his childhood. In present time, Oliver is trying to negotiate a new relationship with the unpredictable but insightful Anna. Both Oliver and Anna have a history of failed relationships, of not being able to see them through. Oliver uses the memories of his Dad’s life as a lesson in how to change.

So, it’s a pretty arty. But the performances are great, the actors have good chemistry, and I enjoyed the journey.

He says: I didn’t understand that movie. Not my thing.


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We’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather

Compared with people spending Christmas in unheated, unlit homes or stuck in airports, I can’t really complain about our Christmas travel.

We had more time this year, and therefore decided to drive north, figuring we could then adjust our own itinerary as weather demanded rather than be dependent on the airline’s.

We left the weekend of the ice storm, after the smaller Friday night one ended, before the bigger Saturday one started. The roads weren’t fantastic at the start of that trip, and some bits were quite foggy. So it was slow, but we didn’t really have any problems. Eventually we drove out of the storm zone and were driving on bare pavement. We even got a bit of sun.

We decided to lay over in North Bay despite their predicted 25 cm of snow the next day. The usual 4.5 hour drive took us 6 hours, so it was nice to have a break. We also quite enjoyed our first dinner at Churchill’s, a restaurant listed in Where to Eat in Canada. It’s an older place with a warm atmosphere and an impressive wine list. We enjoyed a bottle of Malbec with appetizers of gnochi and asparagus, and calamari and tomato, both excellent. For mains I had the roast duck with potatoes and salad, while Jean had wagu (a type of beef) ribs. I found the duck a little overdone, but everything else was good. For dessert, I had three tastings of creme brulee (coconut, chocolate and sambuca, and maple), while Jean had a Greek-style dessert.

Dessert at Churchill's

Dessert at Churchill’s

The next day it was back on the road, indeed in snow. It was fairly blowy not long after taking off, but it gradually lessened as we moved north, and finally ended completely. Back to driving on pavement.

Timmins was cold this year. Highs of -20C, maybe -18C most of the time we were there. Dropping to -30 something overnight. Nevertheless, we did get out to do stuff. We went snow shoeing one day; by far the worst part was putting on the snowshoes in the windy parking lot. Once on the trails, it was actually fine. (Of course, we were well bundled up.) We went for a decent length walk the next day, and survived.

It finally warmed up some on Christmas day, to -11 or so—balmy! But with the hustle and bustle of visitors that day, I barely got outside.

Mostly anyway, we were spending time with family indoors, at somebody’s house or another’s. Always nice to celebrate together.

Me at Christmas

Not sure my family wants their photos posted here, so won’t, but here’s me…

Part of the indoor entertainment at my parents’ is watching the activity at the outdoor bird feeder. Northern birds have such nice colors! Jean spent one morning gathering pictures of them. I wish I could remember all of their names, as Dad reported them to me. (Even when it comes to birds, I’m bad with names.)

Woodpecker preparing to eat

This large woodpecker is too big to just perch on the edge of the feeder

Woodpecker at feeder

So he (or she) has to hang on from underneath, balance with the tail, and reach in for the peanuts

Blue jay at feeder

This smaller bird (blue jay?) has it easier

Bird flying to feeder

Action shot! Love this one

(Our drive back was largely unremarkable, weather-wise. One brief bit of blowing snow, and that’s all.)

 

 


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One wedding and a funeral

“Welcome to your day of mixed emotions,” said my uncle. As happens occasionally in life, I was attending both a funeral, and a wedding, in one day.

The two events weren’t as different as one might have thought.

* Both began with a ceremony that took place place in a Catholic church.
* Perhaps unexpectedly, really both ceremonies featured a mix of laughter, tears, solemnity, and smiles.
* Attendees to both wore their Sunday best (though it was a Saturday).
* A meal followed both. (Though only the wedding featured an open bar and DJ dancing.)

And both ended up being at least partly on the theme of the importance of a good marriage (pray, eat, love, I guess). My cousins gave a loving and eloquent eulogy to their father, that included these words:

“My father had a message to men that he wanted to pass along. Don’t be too proud to tell your wife how much her love and care means to you. Don’t wait to express yourself.”

And my niece, whose wedding party included two stepsisters along with her biological sister, included this tribute to her new in-laws:

“And thank you for serving as a great example of a successful marriage. Because while my parents passed along a lot of values to me, the value of marriage wasn’t one of them.”

In the famous words of Kelso, “Ooh, burn.”


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Movie reviews: Blue Jasmine and Adore

*** Blue Jasmine ((July 2013) – Theatre

Blue Jasmine posterCate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin. Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine has to go live with her working-class sister Ginger after her wealthy husband is arrested for fraud.

She says: At first I thought Jasmine would be this annoying character to spend two hours with, but she develops layers as we witness her current plight and flash back to what brought her here. That the two sisters are so different is explained by each of them having been adopted, which works. It’s interesting to see past secrets revealed as Jasmine desperately tries to adjust to no longer being ultra-rich. By the end, we still didn’t know quite what will become of her. But we care…

What did you think of the movie?

He says: It wasn’t bad.

Adore movie poster** Adore (September 2013) – Theatre

Naomi Watts, Robin Wright. Two 40ish women, best friends, become lovers with each other’s sons, which gets complicated.

She says: This was billed as “porn with good acting”, but I dunno. I think porn would have a lot more sex and fewer scenes after characters looking angsty as dramatic music plays.

The acting was indeed fine, and everyone involved was quite attractive and thus appealing to look at, and the ocean-side setting was pretty. I don’t have a problem with the age difference, and the fact that there was a “son swap” was merely weird, not disturbing, but the movie made it clear that the women had known these boys since they were little babies. That made their later relationship kind of ookey, and you had to ignore that part to enjoy the storyline at all.

He says: I had too much trouble ignoring that part. The movie wasn’t boring. That’s the best I can say about it.


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Movie reviews: The Sapphires and My Idiot Brother

Both these movies are comedic, and built around family dynamics.

The Sapphires poster***½ The Saphhires (March 2013) – Theatre

Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailmen, Jessica Mauboy. A group of singing Australian aboriginal sisters are discovered by British talent scout who encourages them to sing R&B, and gets them a gig in Vietnam.

She says: The setting of this movie in the 60s give it a certain cool factor (oh, the fashion!) and the location of Vietnam gives it real thrills at times (oh, the bombs!). But the core is three sisters and their once-estranged cousin dealing with the legacy of racism that has left them scarred, but also able to access and convey the pain and fight in R&B music, just as their new British manager insists.

Loosely based on a true story, the movie features love stories, great musical interludes, and a lot of comedy with a good dash of drama. It’s an independent film that’s well worth seeking out.

He says: OK, now I’m glad you brought me to the movies! That was really enjoyable. I’m not sure which sister was my favorite character, but that Julie sure had quite the voice.

Our Idiot Brother movie poster*** Our Idiot Brother (August 2011) – Rental

Paul Rudd, Zoe Deschanel, Emily Mortimer. Ned is a good guy, but his innate trust of others sometimes lands him in trouble, even jail. His sisters take turns housing him in his time of need, and find him disrupting their lives.

She says: Ned is not really an idiot, but the fact he insists on trusting other people despite getting burned does put him in contrast with his three sisters’ approach to life. This is a strong cast, and it’s fun watching them interact as Ned’s natural openness tears open information they would prefer be kept secret. It’s not a wildly inventive movie, but there are worse ways to spend your time.

He says: Entertaining enough, though some of the situations got kind of uncomfortable. (And sometimes he was a bit of an idiot.)


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Tell me, who are you? (My parents encounter Pete Townshend)

My parents went to see the Stratford production of Tommy last week. I was wondering what they’d think of it, given its somewhat dark subject matter and the fact that they aren’t especially fans of The Who’s music.

But they came back with good reviews of the effects-laden production. Mom reported that director Des McAnuff had been at this preview performance, promising the audience that he would paper over any glitches as needed, but I guess none were apparent, anyway.

The next day, I read that not only had McAnuff been in attendance, but Mr. Pete Townshend himself had appeared to take a curtain call that night.

When I asked my parents about it later, Dad said, “You know, I wondered if that guy on stage at the end was Pete Townshend!”

“He asked me if that’s who it was,” confirmed Mom. “I said, ‘How the heck would I know?’’’

“He sure got a lot of applause, though,” she added. “So we just applauded, too.”

So that was kind of funny. (And a generational note that, in fact, my parents are much closer in age to Mr. Townshend than I am. But they are on the older side of him, and I am on the younger, and in popular music, that’s usually a big divide.)

Pete Townshend seems to be making a bit of the rounds of Canadian media, appearing on Q with Jian Ghomeshi yesterday (as were McAnuff and some of the cast), and having a big interview in the Toronto Star today. Townshend’s own review of the Tommy revival is as follows:

They’re an extraordinary company. They certainly know how to rock. The technology is great. The show looks great. I’m in a sense still reeling from the impact of it. It’s quite a journey.

I have my own tickets to the show for July, and I’m quite looking forward to it, even though I won’t be getting any rock star appearances, as The Who will be touring Europe at that point.


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Movie review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi poster***1/2 Jiro Dreams of Sushi (July 2012) – Rental

Japanese documentary about the 85-year-old chef at the best sushi restaurant in the world.

She says: Jiro Ono works to perfect the art of making sushi. That’s all he’s done his adult life, and that’s all he wants to continue to do. This documentary tells his story, shows some of his food preparation techniques, and reveals the challenging situations his two sons are in, having followed their father into the same profession. The oldest is 50 and still waiting to be master chef, as his father has no intention of retiring. The younger has opened a companion restaurant.

The sushi really does look amazing and you get very hungry watching this, while knowing that anything called sushi that you get around here is not going to compare. Tuna is very much prized ingredient by the chef, and I wondered if they would touch on the over-fishing issue; they did, and in a way that made these types of chefs appear to not be the problem. (They are conscious of the issue, buy only what they need, when they need it, and with the small restaurant always to capacity and serving some of the world’s best food, nothing is wasted.)

Not that much happens in this film, and yet it’s fascinating—at least to a foodie, I suppose.

He says: We have no idea what real sushi is. And we’ll probably never find out.


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eReading

Not sure what it was, but this year in the wider family, three of us—including me—got eReaders. Specially, various of us gave the other’s Kobos, based on the recommendation of the one person in the family who already had an eReader.

Kobo eReader

Now, I already have an Android tablet, which I had already been using to read ebooks. (Or, ebook, really, since I’ve read only one on it so far, with two more on deck.) I wondered if it would tire out my eyes to read on the tablet, but didn’t find that to be the case. Still, I was interested in the plain, eInk eReader because:

  • It’s not backlit (bad for sleep, so they say), but does have a built-in book light, making it better for reading in bed.
  • It can be read in the sun, which tablets can’t.
  • It’s quite a bit smaller and lighter than my tablet—which makes it (to me) not nearly as suitable for magazine and newspaper layouts—but much better to hold for reading a book.
  • The battery life is dramatically longer than a tablet’s. (It also seemed to charge very quickly in the first place.)

In my few days of experimentation, I found that while it doesn’t come with any books, you can wirelessly connect to the Kobo store and buy some. What I had more trouble wrapping my mind around was how you could do anything else with it—like add ebooks from other sources. (I mean legal ones, like from Google Play.)

I’m just so used to the tablet, you see, which is truly a standalone device (at least, Android ones are). I can load pretty much anything I want to right onto my tablet; no need to tether it to a PC and drag things on there. Whereas with the browser-less Kobo, I eventually figured out, you really have to connect it to a computer to do anything other than buy from the Kobo store. In fact, I actually have three desktop apps installed for this thing now: the Kobo one, Adobe Digital Editions—required for at least some of the books from Google Play, and in case I want to borrow ebooks from the library—and one called Calibre, which helps with finding and loading legal unlocked ebooks.

But enough about the technical stuff. How is it for reading?

Maidenhead coverMy sister had downloaded two books within an hour of charging her Kobo. I, on the other hand, took about a day to decide what to buy first. Since they say Shades of Grey is partly responsible for the rise of eReader popularity, I got—no, not that book, since I don’t want to read badly written erotica inspired by freakin’ Twilight—but Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger, which is often touted as a better-written alternative to the Grey trilogy.

And due to our trip home taking much longer than expected (I won’t get into why), I have already read the whole thing. So I can confirm the Kobo Glo worked quite well. I had to read mostly in the dark, and the built-in book light was effective. I did not have to futz around with font sizes and zooming; it just worked. Navigating through the pages was simple, and I appreciated that it always gave me an idea where I was up to in the book (which my tablet doesn’t, at least not as visibly).

As for the book itself, it was incredibly engaging. I would warn that it is an erotic novel involving a teenage girl obsessed with a Rastafarian man twice her age who has a somewhat violent girlfriend, so it’s likely not everyone’s cup of tea. But it is very well-written, stimulating to both mind and other body parts. And Jean liked it, too, so it’s not just a woman thing.

Only bummer is, having given Maidenhead a good rating, what do you think Kobo’s big recommendation for me is now? Hint: It rhymes with Braids of Day…


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Pre-Christmas

My husband and I generally have our own little Christmas celebration the weekend before the actual day, when we join in the craziness of celebrating with the large extended family. This year my husband was on call that weekend, so we had to work around that, but that’s quite a bit easier when you’re only dealing with two people.

The exchanging of “stuff”

Aiming to give each other anything major as Christmas gifts seemed sort of ridiculous as we’re currently honing in new TV and sound system already. This not long after getting the new computer, some clothes… You get the idea. So we just did “stocking stuffer” kind of things, which, as Jean said, is way more fun! The amusement of each having bought each the same wine accessory… The silly but cute gadgets from those catalogs… Chocolates and wine (which needs to be replenished constantly, anyway)… The fact he actually listened when I said I needed a new closet thingie for storing my jewelry in…

Bra on jewelry holder

So, the black thing in this photo is a dress-shaped thingie with a hanger top that has loops in the back for hanging necklaces, and pouches in front for holding earrings and bracelets and such. It will be perfect, but it’s empty at the moment (since I just got it), and therefore seemed in need of some adornment. That takes the form of a VSC bra, which—though I ordered it myself, for myself—was still something of a Christmas surprise.

First, it arrived in record time, despite my not having paid for fast shipping. (Thanks, Canada Post.) Second, I bought it mainly because I thought my current strapless wasn’t pretty enough to wear under a dress. (Which basically makes no sense, since the point of a strapless is that no one sees it. But never mind that.) The pleasant surprise was that it was even prettier than I’d expected, with its little sparkles and lacing details. I almost felt it should be seen. So here it is! (I ignored Jean’s suggestion that I model it. This isn’t that kind of blog.)

Pre-Christmas dinn-ah

I went for pretty simple-to-prepare, traditional-ish food, in quantities suitable for two.

Rock cornish hen with cranberries and mixed vegetables

This was Rock Cornish hens, prepared by sticking a mustard/rosemary paste under the skin, then baking it at 425. This produced nice crisp skin (which the diet recipe said to discard, but I poo-pooed that suggestion) and tasty, moist meat. The “gravy” was a mix of the juice with red wine, chicken broth, and seasoning.

I served this with mixed roasted vegetables—red potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots—in olive oil, white wine, and seasoning, baked at the same temperature as the meat, and a homemade cranberry sauce (cranberries, apple cider, sugar). As Jean had to limit all alcohol while on duty, we served it with a nice but not spectacular Cotes du Rhone.

Dessert stayed on the homey theme: A cinnamon apple crisp, with raisins, served with vanilla yogurt and port.

Humble crumble


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Bad year to skip the flu shot

Jean managed to stay up for over 12 hours straight today!

Normally this wouldn’t be worthy of note, but for the past three days, sleeping has been his favorite activity—over eating, computers, everything.

At first I had misdiagnosed his lethargy, sniffles, and moaning as a particularly bad cold, but the missed work day on Monday, the third day he spent mostly in bed, convinced me it was actually the flu. I suppose the signs of fever (too cold, then too hot) and the reports of sore muscles should have been a clue, also.

Not that it particularly matters, as the treatment for both is about the same: Rest. Fluids. Tylenol. Citrus.

He finally seems to be somewhat on the mend today, though not exactly feeling well yet, but gotta say, this past weekend didn’t look like it was much fun for him.

And yes, for the first time in many years, he didn’t get the flu shot. To be fair, he did try to get it one day, but the timing didn’t quite work out, and then he dropped the pursuit. Unfortunately, per KW Record, turns out that this year, “Waterloo Region has 103 confirmed flu cases, the highest number in the province at about a quarter of the Ontario total.”

As for me? Well, I did get my flu shot, and long enough ago that it should have full effect. So knock wood and all that, as I know the shot doesn’t offer guaranteed protection, but so far so good. I feel fine.

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