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


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Summer vacation, abbreviated

We had planned to take a week’s vacation the first week of June, but Jean’s work obligations necessitated changing those plans on relatively short notice. Fortunately, we hadn’t made any grand travel plans—it was just going to be a driving trip to parts of Ontario and Québec. But we had to scale it back.

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We started with a weekend in Timmins, where Jean went off on fishing trip with his brothers. He expected, I think, that it would be a fairly leisurely couple of days. Instead, it was early mornings and late nights of fishing, cleaning, filleting, and vacuum packing. “I was not prepared for that!” he confessed on his return.

But, now we do have some very nice Northern Ontario pickerel.

I, on the other hand, really did have a leisurely time. I flew up and stayed with my Dad, visited with a Timmins friend, had a dinner with my brother’s family (hosted by Dad), watched some Netflix…

We traveled back on Monday and Jean had to work the rest of the week. I decided to take Thursday off to go see Guys and Dolls in Stratford. I picked it mainly because it was the matinee that day—I didn’t know anything about it, really. But it proved a good choice. Deservedly well-reviewed, it was a fun musical with beautiful costumes and some absolutely stunning dance sequences. The songs were great, and included two that I knew: “If I Were a Bell” and “Luck Be a Lady Tonight”.

30-second look at Guys and Dolls

I had taken the train to Stratford (thereby learning you can take a train to Stratford) on what was an absolutely gorgeous day, and after the play Jean drove in to join me for dinner. We went to Bar Fifty-One, which is a new part of the Prune restaurant, a Stratford institution we’d never eaten at. I stuck with the bar menu, and was quite happy with my grilled asparagus with Parmesan appetizer and seafood pie entree. Jean tried the restaurant menu and was very impressed with the chicken liver mousse appetizer, but somewhat less so with his smoked Muscovy duck breast main.

For the following weekend, we’d had an Ottawa hotel booked, so we decided to keep that and book some flights to get there and back. I flew up earlier, with plans to tour Parliament and meet some friends for dinner. Neither of those plans quite worked out. The tours were sold out for the day, and I messed up my communication with my friends so they had the wrong Friday in their calendar. Still, it was a nice day there, and the meal at Play Food and Wines was delicious.

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Incredible gnocchi with edamame, shiitake, sunflower seeds, and truffle oil

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Pastry with chocolate cream filling and dulce de leche. Yum.

And Jean did arrive at the expected time. We took a walk, and enjoyed our funky, European-style Alt hotel.

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Ottawa has a lot of interesting street art

I did get my Parliamentary tour the next day, and it was pretty interesting. (It’s also the last year you can do so before the place closes for renovation for 10 years!) We saw the House of Commons, the Parliamentary Library, the Senate…

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Statue of the Queen who selected Ottawa as Canada’s capital, inside Parliament’s Centre Block

Ottawa was in full prep mode for Canada 150 celebrations on July 1, meaning a lot of construction and sections of museums down for renovation. We visited the Museum of Canadian History, where they had a pretty interesting exhibit on hockey—even for people not deeply into hockey—and another small one on the Canadian immigration experience. But the main gallery was inaccessible, so it did make the whole visit seem a bit “slight”.

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A rather cool statue in the Museum of Canadian History

We thought we had reservations at Whalesbone that evening, but they have this annoying phone-only system, and our two calls to them weren’t sufficient to hold it. We would have had to have make a third. We were still able to dine at the bar, and I have to say that the food was just delicious: Really fresh seafood with lovely, tasty sauces and sides. But not sure we’ll be back, given the difficulty of making a reservation (not as if they ever answer the phone…).

Sunday we went to the Market, where they had an Ignite 150 exhibit area highlighting different parts of Canada. Buskers were also on deck that day. That was fun. I also purchased a couple tops from one of the market vendors. And we went back to Play for a late lunch. It was really good again!

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Fig and prociutto appetizer on the right, cheese selection on the left

Then we did some more walking, shopping, and (mainly Jean) photography-ing on this warm but beautiful day. And our joint flight back to Toronto and even the drive back to Waterloo all went very well.

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25th wedding anniversary party: An inside look

I did write a more detailed account of our anniversary party in early May, and I posted it here:

25th wedding anniversary party: An inside look

In that article, you will discover:

  • The perils of using evites
  • The effect of heavy rain on travel plans
  • The tragedy of the missing chocolate mousse with ginger ice cream
  • The secret campaign my sister waged against me for years
  • My ongoing struggles with footwear
  • Why some people thought that Jean and I might be in a rock band (or that Jean likes to disguise himself as a rock star)

And more!

(Any commenting will have to be done back here, though, where WordPress helps me manage any spam-bots.)


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Wasn’t that a party

I’ll be writing in more detail later, but for now just wanted to report that our long-planned 25th wedding anniversary party went really well.

We drank.

The Macphie’s in the house

We dined.

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Smoked pork loin with sweet potato and sunflower seeds

We spoke.

Sister Michelle in fighting form, speaking sweetly

We joked.

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Jean’s eldest brother and sister, bringing the laughs

We danced.

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Let me teach you how to jive, and well

We reminisced.

Me and Mom on my wedding day

We had a time.

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More photos (still being updated)


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On goals, expectations, and what happens before 9 AM

Pocket, LinkedIn, and Google like to push self-improvement articles at me. The habits you need to adopt to succeed in your career. Change this about your outlook to become a happier person. 10 things these successful women do daily.

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Most of these articles, I ignore. Some I do click through to in genuine interest—often to end up disappointed. Others, I hate-read: Dive in with full knowledge that I’m going to strenuously disagree with the dispensed advice. For example, the ones that insistthat  for success, you must do activities x, y, and z early in the morning—no other time of day will do!—that I only read with scorn.

Like this gem from Benjamin B. Hardy, PhD: 8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 A.M. #3 on his list is “Hard Physical Activity”.

Of course regular exercise is a fine idea, but why before 8 A.M.? This is a recipe for failure for night people who can’t possibly get motivated to do physical activity at that time. I’ve been following a fitness regime for some 30 years now, but without engaging in a single exercise session before 10 A.M.

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This is about all I manage to do in the early morning (before 9 A.M.):

  • Get out of bed
  • Groom myself (bathe, brush teeth, style hair, makeup)
  • Dress myself
  • Feed the cats
  • Prepare and eat breakfast (including coffee, of course)
  • Charge my phone
  • Listen to CBC radio
  • Read (mostly news, from various sources)

And yet somehow (I can’t even explain this), this takes me some 2+ hours. I don’t see any of these activities as optional, but they don’t leave me with time to do much else at that particular time of day.

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I don’t even want to talk about his insane concept of taking cold showers. #TeamWarmWater

Then there are these general, life-affirming items:

  • Review your life vision
    and
  • Do at least one thing towards long-term goals

But, like, what if I don’t really have a life vision or any long-term goals?

Well, there are a billion self-improvement articles out there telling me why that’s a tragedy that will turn me into a sad failure.

So I must admit I found this one article by Jason Fried really refreshing: I’ve never had a goal

I can’t remember having a goal. An actual goal.

I do things, I try things, I build things, I want to make progress, I want to make things better for me, my company, my family, my neighborhood, etc. But I’ve never set a goal. It’s just not how I approach things.

A goal is something that goes away when you hit it. Once you’ve reached it, it’s gone. You could always set another one, but I just don’t function in steps like that.

I just worked at whatever I was working on and ended up wherever I am. I continue to approach work and life that same way today.

To which I say, yeah, that. I do things, but not toward a goal. I’m not exercising to lose 10 pounds, or to run a marathon, or to win a weightlifting competition. (This lack of goal always puzzled gym people I talked to. “What are your fitness goals?” “Just to stay healthy.” “Hmm, that’s not an option on my list here…”)

I try to blog regularly, but not to gain a certain number of followers, or to make money, and certainly not to change the world. I just like to do it, so try to make time. I’ll work on a piano piece if I like the song enough to want to play it smoothly, but not with the aim of performing it for anyone else.

Is that weird? It seems to be weird. But I don’t know. All this focusing your activities toward some future goal—doesn’t that make it harder to enjoy the present? And in the end, isn’t the present all we have?

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But that’s threatening to make this into some sort of life advice column, and the world doesn’t need more of those. If you need goals, set goals. Review your life vision to your heart’s content. Do it at 6 AM if that floats your boat.

Me, I’m considering this other article by Jason Fried, Living without expectations. Unlike my apparently natural ability to work on things without any particular goal in mind, I don’t relate to this at all. I am not good at not having expectations of things. I can’t seem to help picturing future events in a certain way.

And yet, I think he has a point that having high expectations of how something will be is a recipe for disappointment. The movie was just fine, but because it didn’t quite live up to that great review, you can’t appreciate it. It might an attitude worth trying to cultivate, though that hardly seems easy.

For instance,  maybe I did actually get something of value from Dr. Hardy’s article—his point about getting 7+ hours sleep. It was bolstered by this Popular Science article on How many hours of sleep do you actually need? To which the answer, for almost everyone, is 8 hours, ideally. Those people who think they can manage on only 6 hours or so? They just don’t realize that fatigue is affecting their performance, but testing proves it:

The less sleep you get each night, the less cognitively aware you are the next day, the day after, and every day after that. Simple.

I was never deluded enough to think I could manage on only 5 to 6 hours sleep, but I definitely tend to delay bed time in order to fit in more evening activities, then end up dragging my butt in morning. So I’m seeing if I can curtail that a bit. Try to head to bed 15 minutes earlier than before, set the alarm 10 minutes later (and chuck you, 8 tiny ways to make your life better, and your asinine advice to set it 30 minutes earlier).

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Yep, even sleep can be turned into a life-improving, goal-setting exercise

Results so far are mixed. Some days I literally don’t get home in time to make the new 15 minutes earlier bed time. And going to bed does not always equal sleeping; some nights are restless, leaving me still dozing past the new alarm time. (The Popular Science article suggests an afternoon nap to fix that, but I’ve never been a good napper, and I don’t if work would approve of that sort of coffee break.)

Still, it seems worth continuing the experiment, to see what happens. I have no particular expectations.


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Roundup: Riverdale, Lala Land, Malcolm Gladwell, and more

I haven’t done anything major of late, but I’m still keeping busy with a number of minor items, such as…

Watching Riverdale

A very buzzy show right now, playing on CW in the US and on Netflix in Canada. Beforehand, I liked the idea of a dark, Twin Peaks-y take on Archie Comics, and I’ve been generally happy with the results. The tone is still somewhat uneven—sometimes exaggerated Gothic, sometimes gritty realism—and Jean does tend to roll his eyes at the drama, drama of some scenes. But we’re both pretty entertained by it, overall.

Doesn’t hurt that he took an instant shine to Betty, while I am seriously crushing on Jughead… On Jughead, yeah. This is not like the comics! Sure, Archie is handsome, but also a jock and a bit bland, and Kevin is cute, but not  in that Adam Lambert way. But Jughead is a writer, he’s sensitive, he’s moral, he’s troubled (poor and bullied; alcoholic father)—and also, so pretty!

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[SPOILERY] There’s been considerable Internet discussion about whether the Jughead character would be asexual / aromantic as in the comics, so I was curious how that would play out. I can’t say I’m personally disappointed with the decision, but it is certainly a missed opportunity to do something groundbreaking.

Finding a movie Jean likes

Back in December we went to see Office Christmas Party, an over-the-top, light comedy we both found kind of fun. But then we followed withe Loving and Moonlight. These are both quality films that I enjoyed. But they are also slow-paced, character-driven dramas, and Jean was somewhat bored by both. So I took a pass on going to Fences and Manchester by the Sea with him—I’ll catch up on those myself.

The Lego Batman Movie seemed like it should be a good bet, though, right? And while it was not quite as good as the original Lego Movie, I was still very entertained by it. But while Jean wasn’t exactly bored, he was just kind of meh on this one. He just didn’t catch all the digs at the Batman lore that made the movie so clever.

And Lala Land? (“Did you know this is a musical?” he asked, walking in. Umm…)

But hey Mikey, he liked it! (Me too. It’s fun, and beautifully filmed.)

Fretting about details of a party we’re hosting

Usually late at night, when I should be falling asleep.

“Huh,” said Jean, when I reported this. “I don’t think about that at all.”

But he definitely helps me work on whatever aspect I’m most recently fretting about.

I guess that makes us a good partnership. Though I do envy his ability to just assume that things will be fine and work out.

Learning from Malcolm Gladwell

Revisionist History is a podcast series, available on iTunes and Google Play.

Each week, over the course of 10 weeks, Revisionist History will go back and reinterpret something from the past. An event. A person. An idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.

I’ve listened to 8 out of 10 so far, and find them all fascinating. Like:

  • The Lady Vanishes, on how one woman (or African-American, or gay person) achieving breakthrough success doesn’t necessarily pave the way for more.
  • Thanks to The Big Man Can’t Shoot, I now understand that my very disinterest in looking athletic (a hopeless endeavour, anyway; I am simply not athletic) made me a basketball free-throw champion. (It was literally the only thing I was ever better than anyone else at in gym class.)
  • Hallelujah explains the creative process and unlikely series of fortunate events that turned Leonard Cohen’s original un-listenable song into the iconic tune it is today. (Though I think KD Lang should also have earned a shout-out in this piece.) And as a bonus, introduced me to a new Elvis Costello tune.

Listening to women

I’ve always been a feminist, of course, but the US election has made it all feel more acute. My Twitter feed has been feeling gender unbalanced, so I’ve been seeking out more women’s voices:

  • @robyndoolittle, who’s been working on an important series for the Globe and Mail on how many sexual assault cases in Canada are labelled unfounded. (The first: Unfounded: Why police dismiss 1 in 5 sexual assault claims as baseless)
  • @AKimCampbell, first woman Prime Minister of Canada, and also a really hilarious person. (And very active retweeter, but I’ve learned you can follow a person’s tweets but not their retweets.)
  • @kashanacauley, humorist and now writer at The Daily Show.
  • @tagaq, wherein singer Tanya Tagaq provides an interesting, First Nations perspective on the day’s issues.

I’ve also been listening to more music by women. This has led Spotify, who previously recommended me a whole lot of dance club music (thanks to following Adam Lambert, and perhaps enforced by a bout of listening to show tunes) to conclude, well, maybe I would enjoy some Indigo Girls and Melissa Ethridge as well.

I kind of do like their music, though, so it’s all good. And also, the songs by these strong women:


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Round-number birthday

Last weekend was when the first digit of my age increased. It wasn’t so traumatic. Maybe because I’m not that given to self-reflection anyway. Maybe because I made sure it was a pretty busy weekend.

Friday night we went to see Shaping Sound: Behind the Curtain at Centre in the Square. Shaping Sound is Travis Wall’s (from So You Think You Can Dance) dance company. The show presents a continuing, 90-minute story (with intermission). It starts with a whole lot of text—in the form of surtitles showing the story that Ttavis’s character is typing out—and not much movement. So many characters are presented, I was a bit worried: How was I going to follow all this and keep track of everyone?

But as it progresses, the dancing increases, and the narrative becomes increasingly fragmented: Literally, as the surtitles become just parts of sentences, and finally just a few letters. And you realize this isn’t a plot you’re meant to follow linearly. This is an emotional journey. This is the mind coming to terms. With coming out, among other things.

Shaping Sound preview from Ellen

I thought it was pretty great. Jean said I got way more out of it than he did. But he still enjoyed the time in the lovely member’s lounge, as we always do.

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Jean lounging, pre-show

My friends got wind of my round-numbered birthday this year and offered to take me out, which was really sweet. Especially as they selected the finest restaurant in the area, Langdon Hall. We were there on the Saturday night, and though nobody had the multi-course chef’s menu, we still managed to stay there for four hours and barely realized it. That’s some fine conversation!

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The ladies at Langdon Hall

The food didn’t suck, either. The amuse was a pork roulade. We were offered a choice of bread, and the gluten-intolerant were given a separate, very fresh alternative bread.

As an appetizer, several of us had the light and delicious crab with apple and sorrel sauce.

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Appetizing appetizer

As the main course, lamb was a popular choice, but I went with the venison with cabbage and foraged mushrooms.

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Rich and delicious main

For wine, we shared a bottle of a 2005 French burgundy (I think that was the grape), and I was very impressed at the staff’s ability to dole it out in tiny increments among the five of us so that it more-or-less lasted through the two first courses. (Though Sherry and I, who didn’t have to drive, did have another glass of a Syrah of completely different style.)

Dessert ran the gamut of options at the table, but I couldn’t resist the dark chocolate with coconut, cilantro, and lime.

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Possibly the meal highlight

And Sunday? Well, here’s the thing. Before this friend outing was arranged, I saw that Langdon Hall was having March specials, whereby if you booked a meal (supper / breakfast) and accommodation package, they gave you a $100 credit to use. March 5 was one of the nights the special was in vogue, meaning that Sunday… I returned to Langdon Hall. This time with Jean.

We first drove past the place, though, to go for a walk along the nearby river. It was a nice sunny day, albeit cooler than it had been, and we did get some nice views. On the way back, I got a call from my 87-year-old aunt. She used my home number, but I thereby confirmed that the VOIP app (this is new to us) worked in my being able to pick up home calls on my cell phone. It was good to talk to her.

Then we went to check into our room.

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Very tall bed!

I’d say the difference between Langdon Hall and other reasonably nice places we’ve stayed in are in the details, such as:

  • The little bag of welcome snacks were freshly baked cookies with fresh raspberries.
  • The in-room coffee maker makes espresso.
  • The complimentary bottles of water include sparkling.
  • The fireplace is a real one, not gas, and already set up with a firestarter, paper, and wood (though you can ask for help if that’s still too intimidating for you). It was nice having it going, but did leave everything in the room with a “burning fireplace” smell. Not unpleasant, but kind of odd.
  • When we went out for dinner, they came in and “turned down” our room, leaving a chocolate on the pillow. (Haven’t had that since the Alaska cruise.)
  • Bathrobes are provided (had that before) in men’s and women’s sizes (never had that before).
  • TV channels included HBO and TMN. I did take advantage to watch John Oliver interview the Dalai Lama.
  • Bathroom had both a full tub and a full shower—separate.
  • Privacy fence outside the window meant we could keep the curtains open longer.

And dinner was very fine again! Though somehow it didn’t take Jean and I four hours to get through it on the quieter Sunday night.

As on the Saturday, we discussed wine options with the sommelier—given that there are a crazy number of options here. Jean got him excited, though, by asking about the possibility of a Grüner Veltliner wine with the scallops. We thereby found out that it’s actually a quite versatile, food-friendly wine, but because of the richness of the scallops, the sommelier suggested something else, and since we were clearly “adventurous”, ran off to the wine cellar to figure out what (though we dampened his enthusiasm a bit by giving him our wine budget).

We ended up with a German pinot blanc that was quite enjoyable. It tasted semi-dry even though it was not, which made it quite fine on its own as well as with the scallops.

The dinner menu was the same, of course, but they brought out a different amuse, this time a nice, light crab mousse. The breads were also different—really nice raisin hazelnut option this night.

Cathy's Birthday Dinner at Langdon Hall

As appetizers, I went with the borscht en gelee with trout roe, which was quite fine as long as you’re good with beets and “popping” fish eggs, which I am. Jean had the sweetbreads with those delicious foraged mushrooms.

Cathy's Birthday Dinner at Langdon Hall

The afore-mentioned main course of scallops and cauliflower, which we both ordered

For dessert, Jean was all about the cheese, while I resisted the chocolate this time and tried the honey mousse with peanut butter sable and chocolate fudge (OK, I guess I didn’t resist the chocolate at all).

Breakfast the next day consisted of one “kitchen selection” plus access to their nice buffet of fruit, smoothies, pastries, and such like. I had the fried duck egg with pork belly. The duck egg was bigger than a chicken egg, but tasted much the same. Jean enjoyed the soft scrambled eggs with crab and trout roe. (Yes, they’re very big on crab there.)

And then we both had the rest of the day off work, which was nice in itself.


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Anniversary playlist

Wedding anniversary celebrations aren’t until later in the year, but since one has to plan ahead for those things, it’s consuming some mind-space now. One detail I’ve pondered is whether we can play our own music during dinner in the restaurant space we’ve rented. I’m guessing no, but if we could, I wouldn’t have to spend time creating the playlist.

Many years ago I made Jean a mixed CD sort of thing (back when one still did that sort of thing) of songs that reminded me of him / us. Since then I’ve continued to add to it when so inspired. (That being one of those things I do—maintain lists of stuff.)

Since it might not actually get played, I thought I would at least share it:

Anniversary playlist (Google music)

The list reflects different stages of our relationship.

In the beginning

Songs like Bob Geldof’s “Dazzled by You” and Alanis Morissette’s “Head over Feet” cover the wonder of new relationships. But I think the one that best captures our specific “I now see you in a different way” encounter at a dance bar is Madonna’s “Crazy for You”.

“We’re so close but still a world away / What I’m dying to say / Is that I’m crazy for you”

(Young love. It’s so wonderfully sappy.)

As for our first date, this is best summed up by a recent addition—“Satisfied” from Hamilton. It really captures that amazing rush when a conversation clicks so well.

“So so so— / So this is what it feels like to match wits / With someone at your level! … The feeling of freedom, of seein’ the light / It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite! You see it, right? … Ev’rything we said in total agreement, it’s / A dream and it’s a bit of a dance / A bit of a posture, it’s a bit of a stance. He’s a / Bit of a flirt, but I’m ‘a give it a chance”

(… Even though it didn’t actually work out for Alexander and Angelika. They’ll never be satisfied.)

Let’s not rush things

We were kind of young when we met. We dated for two years before moving in together, and another two before marrying. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “The One” definitely captures that “everything is fine, but don’t rush me” feeling of the earlier years.

“If you want to / You can stay the night / I don’t want to be the one, the one / It’s too much pressure”

We’re one, but we’re not the same

We are rather different personalities, and that required some adjustment, as expressed in, yes, U2’s “One” (though I think that might actually be about a relationship with God) as well Joe Jackson’s “Breaking Us in Two” and even Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise” (really a divorce song).

“You don’t do the things that I do / You want to do things I can’t do”

Secure in love

But there’s a lot more of these types of songs, among them “Automatic” by Prince, “Don’t Get Me Wrong” by The Pretenders, “You Make Loving Fun” by Fleetwood Mac, “As Sure as I Am” by Crowded House, “Je savoure ton amour” by Swing, and the beautiful “Lost Together” by Blue Rodeo.

“I want all the world to know / That your love’s all I need”

Which doesn’t mean it’s boring

Come to think of it, maybe “Automatic” by Prince belongs in this category, but Sade is truly the queen of the naughty but lovely love song.

Your Love Is King: “You’re making me dance… Inside

It’s been a long time but it’s still great

“Still the One” by Shania Twain should be the ultimate of these songs, but it’s kind of ruined by knowing how her marriage to “Mutt” Lange actually ended up. Similar issue with Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are”, written for the wife he left he left for Christie Brinkley (and which didn’t even make the list).

But those Beatles guys were really into their wives. (The second wives, anyway, in most cases.) Paul McCartney wrote “Maybe I’m Amazed” about Linda. John Lennon has a bunch of great Yoko-inspired songs: “Woman”, “Grow Old with Me”, and my favourite, “Out the Blue”. And Sting, though he’s a bit intellectual about it, also has the lovely (and presumably Trudie-inspired) “Straight to My Heart”.

The actual ultimate of these, I think, is “You’re My Best Friend”, by Queen’s John Deacon, who to this day still with wife #1.

“You’re the best friend / That I ever had / I been with you such a long time / You’re my sunshine … You make me live”

Unconditional love

The problem with this playlist is that a lot of the songs do make me uncomfortably emotional, none more so than “Everything” by Alanis Morissette.

“And you’re still here”. Jesus, it kills me every time.

Distinctly unsentimental

Still, it’s not just as an emotional breather that songs like Tim Minchin’s “Confessions (in three parts”, the “Bones Theme” by Crystal Method, and Spirit of the West’s “Home for a Rest” are included as well. But I’ll leave you to ponder just why they’re included.

“I’ve been gone for a week / I’ve been drunk since I left”