Cultureguru's Weblog

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


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Every purchase tells a story, don’t it

English mints

cofJean: Why are you buying those?

Me: (?) To eat.

Jean: But old people buy those.

Me: Why do you say that? Because my Dad buys them?

Jean: And my Grandmother. She always had a bowl of those out.

Me: Come to think of it, my Grandmother always had mints like these around, too.

Shit.

 

But would your Grandmother buy shoes like these?

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(Or allow shoes on the couch?)

So the mission here was to get another pair of comfy shoes that weren’t sandals (as it seemed, at the time, that Fall weather was coming). And I did succeed at that:cof

But then I saw these other shoes, and they were so cute.

The truth is, outside of ballroom dancing—which requires special dance shoes—I have few opportunities to wear heeled shoes. At work I do the stand-up desk thing, and you can’t do that in heels.

But still…. Pretty cute. And on sale!

I have managed to wear them to one party that was mostly a sit-down affair, and have worn them at work as well, for the sit-down parts of the day. For heeled shoes, they’re pretty comfortable: despite the point, they don’t squish the toes, and the back strap doesn’t dig in. And with so few occasions to actually wear them, they should last for years, right?

Anyone want to borrow a T-shirt?

t-shirts.jpg

It’s possible I have a T-shirt problem.

The above were all acquired this summer, in Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto, and right here in Waterloo. And it’s not as though I didn’t have any T-shirts to start with.

A double shot

We came home from one vacation to find that the drip coffeemaker was no longer working. A fuse or something, I guess—you’d press the button and nothing would happen. That was a Delonghi dual espresso / regular coffee maker that I’d received as a work gift. Only, the espresso part broke down within weeks. It looked impressive, but for years had supplied only regular coffee, and now couldn’t even do that.

Still, when we put it out with the trash, someone took it away within minutes. Good luck to them in trying to make it useful again.

Meanwhile, we were doing Bodum coffee, which is very good, but presented a timing issue. Jean is more of a morning person that I am. He’d get up and make enough coffee for both of us, but by the time I was up and ready to drink it, it was often more lukewarm than hot.

So when the New York Times ran an article on the best available coffee makers, I was interested. Especially in this one:

We started by tasting a single-origin coffee to determine which cheap machine was most acceptable to discerning coffee drinkers, then ran the panel a second time with preground Dunkin’ Donuts house blend from the corner store. The Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Coffee Maker (46201) swept both rounds of testing. It placed second to the Oxo [9-cup coffee maker, a $200 US coffee maker] in Round 1 and actually beat the Oxo during the Dunkin’ round.

That Hamilton Beach unit was more widely available in the US than in Canada, but Amazon could ship it to us from an outfit called Moto Liquidation that warned would be “like new” but “show signs of handling/unpacking and usages, boxes have damage.”

That proved pretty accurate—box was somewhat battered but unit looked new. Only the first day we tried it, we found that we only got about half the amount of coffee requested—the rest of the water spilled out all over the counter.

We contacted Moto Liqidation who said that we could either get a refund, or they would send us another coffeemaker. Either way, they said, we could keep the one we had. And hence:

coffee-maker.jpg

Unit 2 has a slight wobble, but not one that interferes with coffee making. And if any of the parts ever break or fail, well, we can pillage them from unit 1.

It does make really good coffee.

TV in the kitchen

I believe it’s not so unusual now, but when we got our kitchen renovated 15 or so years ago, our designer considered it very odd that we wanted space for a TV in there. Still, she penciled one in, above the stove top, plenty big enough for TVs of the time.

Fast forward, and the space is just barely big enough for the smallest of today’s TVs. And there’s absolutely nowhere else in the kitchen a TV could go (short of doing another renovation).

Furthermore, at some point I decided I also wanted the option of listening to music in the kitchen, and I don’t mean over headphones. So we got a Sonos Play 5, with the idea that when we bought a small digital TV to replace the old tube one, we could hook it up as the TV speaker.

But the Sonos 5 is large, and trying to find a spot for it near the TV was a challenge. Not just in having enough room, but also in the fact that anything near the stove top gets totally coated in disgusting grease, and I didn’t want that to happen to my nice speaker.

Then Sonos came out with a new speaker that was exactly what we needed. The Playbase is a wide, flat TV (and music) speaker that the TV is meant to sit on. It’s sized to exactly fit in the limited space we have available. The sound quality, by all accounts, incredible. The only problem? It’s a pricey sucker.

[All Sonos Playbase reviews, summarized: Woah, that sounds awesome. … Wait, you want how much for it?]

So I kept dawdling on it til the the September long weekend, when I just decided to go for it.

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The only available TV spot in the kitchen is… not wide, and at risk of grease

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A better view of the Sonos playbase. The other little box is the Rogers digital adapter.

The new TV took two tries, as the first one had a cracked screen. Figuring out just how to get the cable through was trickier than expected (tip: even it’s a digital TV, you still need a digital adapter to decipher the channels).

But the Sonos was problem-free in hooking into our network of other Sonos units. And it does sound great. And having the Chromecast on the TV opens up new viewing and listening possibilities:  Netflix, YouTube, Spotify (even if not paying for Premium), SoundCloud app.

(The neighbourhood scavengers, by the way, had no interest in the tube TV beyond the power cord. But no worries, we properly e-cycled it.)

As for the grease, we’re trying to minimize its effects by using the back burners more. It’s making that back corner kind of gross, but so far so good on keeping the speaker clean.

So I was happy. Until the following Tuesday (i.e. the next business day) when Sonos decided it was time to offer me 15% off a new Playbase. As long as I hadn’t already bought one, of course…

Bah. Good thing I saved money with the on-sale shoes and the cheap coffee maker, eh?


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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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Adam Lambert live in Berlin

Dig if you will the picture…

A steamy, packed room of 1500 people pressed close together, singing, dancing, screaming. Stripping down as it gets hotter. On stage, an unbearably handsome singer, framed by two gorgeous dancers, playing music with an insistent, irresistible dance beat. Effortlessly hitting notes that don’t seem humanely possible, moving sensually, singing lyrics of want and desire. Keep me on a leash tonight. Lay me down in darkness. My one and own, I want to get you alone.

Sexiest. Concert. Ever.

BERLIN UNOFFICIAL POSTER augenpoesie


Standing rooms shows… I didn’t even know they were still a thing until this Adam Lambert Original High tour. For some reason he did no Canadian dates, and every venue I considered travelling to was no assigned seating / standing room. I hadn’t been to that type of show in decades.

It’s not my favourite thing, I gotta say. If the entry is well-managed and the fans reasonable, they can be alright, even fun. But if not, they are squishy, scary, unpleasant nightmare.

So when VIP “early entry” tickets when on sale, I was willing to quadruple my concert ticket costs for a chance to be among the first group to get in without having to wait in line.

The slightly nerve-wracking thing is you don’t get details of how exactly that’s going to work until you get an email “24 to 48 hours before your event”. It did nothing for my stress level that said email actually arrived more like 23 hours before my event.


VIPing: What we had to do was rudely walk past the people who’d been lining up all day, and head into the box office area ahead of them. There we were divided into two groups: Those who increased their ticket costs even more, such that they could also meet Adam Lambert before the show (those ladies were giddy), and those of us who just didn’t want to wait in line.

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One of the Berlin meet and greeters with some dude

As that group went off for their pictures, we were allowed to enter the venue—warned to not run, push, or pass one another. “There’s no need anyway,” the coordinator said. “Because you’re all going to be in the front row.”

Uh? It actually hadn’t dawned on me to that point that we were small enough in number that indeed, we would be in the front row. (There were more “meet and greet” people, actually, and some of them ended up in the second row!)

But for me (and Jean), there was to be no visual obstruction whatsoever all night long. And we had a barrier to lean on. And it was less hot because of the lack of sticky bodies in front of us. It was awesome!

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Crappy phone picture of me in the front row


The opening act, who started promptly at 8:00, were a German band named Eveline, led by an attractive blonde woman singer. They were pretty good—pop, dance style, good singer. She did all her speaking in German, and all her singing in English.

They finished around 8:30, and then we had a wait somewhere in neighbourhood of 45, 50 minutes, which got kind of long, really.

But right from the opening chords, all was forgiven.


For the benefit of those not steeped in all things Lambert:

  • Yes, he has a full band—guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums. And two dancers / backup singers. And a pretty awesome light show.
  • Though he does a few covers, the focus is squarely on “his” music, from his three albums.
  • The show is in three parts: The “darker” songs, the ballads, and the dance party. He wears a different outfit for each.

This tour’s been going on for a while now, so the band was tight. They seemed to really be having a good time this night—it was all very high energy, and the pacing seemed perfect. I honestly enjoyed the whole show, but I’ll note some particular highlights.

As I’ve already said, I had a great, close view of the stage all night, but I wasn’t right in the centre. Fortunately, Adam was kind of enough to regularly stroll (or dance) over to my end of the stage and stand right in front of me. He first did so at the beginning of Ghost Town. Lordy, he’s attractive in person. Every time he came near I was particularly mesmerized by those gorgeous, greenish eyes.

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Instagram photo by Franke G., https://www.instagram.com/xx_frauke_xx/, taken at the Berlin show


For the purposes of maybe getting surprised, or at least avoiding disappointment, I had somewhat backed off on paying as much attention to Adam’s shows that preceded my own. However, I still caught the fact that in Hamburg, the show two days before Berlin, they had omitted the medley that included the song Runnin’.

There’s no reason to expect him to play Runnin’. It was never a single—heck, it was never even a regular album track, but just a bonus on the deluxe edition of his second album. Nevertheless, it’s such a fantastic song, it’s been discovered, just racking up the YouTube views, despite its not obviously not having a proper video accompaniment.

So I was very relieved that it made its return to the set in Berlin.

Runnin’/Chokehold/Sleepwalker live in Berlin (video)

Lucy, by contrast, is not one of my favourite Adam Lambert song, Brian May (Queen)’s presence on guitar notwithstanding. It’s the lyrics I don’t care for, mainly, as they come across as bit male judgmental about the titular Lucy. (Now, I’m no way suggesting that Adam is sexist. Only that this song is. A bit.)

As done live, though, it was saved for me by the dance moves. No, not Adam’s, but Holly Hyman’s, whose interpretation read, to me, as really powerful and defiant. She actually made me like the song for the first time. Which is cool.

Lucy live in Berlin

And at the end of it, Adam did this, while standing right in front of me.

GIF LUCY B Berlin maggy97 lilybop

Adam is not overly chatty in concert, preferring to letting his singing do the talking. Still, we got a “Hello Berlin” pretty early on, following the tidbit I didn’t know, that he had lived in Berlin for three months. “It wasn’t long, but it gave me a taste.

“And it tasted nasty.”

In the ballad portion of the evening, we got the longest talking sequence. Adam’s message here is that we should try focusing more on our commonalities than differences. “There’s one thing that everyone in this audience all has in common.” Pause. “ME!” Hee!


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Photo by Anja Josef Salvat, https://www.instagram.com/anijsf/

Now seems a good time to address what you might be wondering: Given our excellent sight lines, why am I cribbing pictures from other folks instead of featuring wonderful, original Jean photography?

That would be because security took away our camera. Which was very frustrating, as there had been no advance warning that a small camera would be an issue. Even more frustrating? They didn’t seem to take away anybody else’s camera! (Do Germans just like to pick on Canadians?) As my budget cell phone was useless for taking photos, we have none. Which still irritates me every time I think about it.

adam-beauty

Another beautiful Berlin photo by Franke G., who clearly didn’t get her camera confiscated

That said… When you are attending the Sexiest Concert Ever with your sweetie, it’s actually not a terrible thing that his hands and face are free… To fondle something other than a camera…


Ahem. Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Adam’s vocals are a thing of wonder: this is not a singer who backs away from the high notes while live. And no auto-tune, either.And the terrific The Original High was quite the showcase for that. He Sings So High in this song.

The big note at the 3:00 minute mark of this video

I also found out later we were very lucky to have David Bowie’s Let’s Dance included in the set, as that’s another number they haven’t been doing so much lately. It was a terrific version. That then led into the super-hot trio of dance songs, “Lay Me Down”, “Shady”, and “Fever”. We especially enjoyed dancer Terrance Spencer’s moves during this sequence.

The audience by now was a sweaty, frenzied mess, but the band wasn’t done with us. They launched into “If I Had You,”—not the weird, reggae version presented earlier on the tour, but the irresistible original. The entire place was hopping to it in unison! So fun!

The encore was Trespassing, which happens to be a favourite of both mine and Jean’s. And got some more talking, including Adam presenting his lucky glitter mushroom (???).

mushrooms

“Want to hear some Queen?” he asked, and on the affirmative, we got some “Another One Bites the Dust”. And a crazy-notes Adam Lambert singalong. (“Some of you are acting too cool to sing. I see you!”) And he concluded with more “Trespassing.”

And what did Jean think? Jean… Actually had a really good time! He’s a people watcher, and he found Adam’s audience mix fascinating. He enjoyed watching me and the other adult woman around regress into teenagers. And he got into it. He danced a bit. He snapped his fingers. He pretended to sing so Adam wouldn’t pick on him.

(But for the record, he still prefers the Queen + Adam Lambert show, because that’s more his music. And also, we had seats for that one.)


Set list:

Anger / Darkness

  1. Evil in the Night
  2. For Your Entertainment
  3. Ghost Town
  4. Welcome to the Show
  5. Runnin’
  6. Chokehold
  7. Sleepwalker
  8. Underground
  9. Rumors
  10. Lucy

Love and longing

  1. After Hours
  2. Mad World
  3. Whataya Want from Me
  4. Another Lonely Night

Party!

  1. The Light
  2. The Original High
  3. Never Close Our Eyes
  4. Let’s Dance
  5. Lay Me Down
  6. Shady
  7. Fever
  8. If I Had You
  9. Trespassing
  10. Another One Bites the Dust
  11. Trespassing (Reprise)

Ratings

Show: A+

I can’t think of a way they could have improved it.

Audience: A

Included a number of uber-fans I actually recognized from their tweets and blogs. And whether uber or not, it was very striking how everyone could and did sing along, with every song, not just “the hits.” They basically screamed instead of clapped to show appreciation. Lively, lively. Only lose + due to some veteran meet and greeters who (I heard) were overly stoic in the front row, which is just a waste. (This did not seem a problem with our VIP half.)

VIP experience: A

Very well-organized check-in and admission procedure, and made this such a great experience for me. Even the included merchandise was better than I expected: Quite a nice poster, and I hadn’t realized it would be signed! (Not that we need two, but…)

They only lose their + for the latish email that basically had the wrong time: It said to be there for 7:00, which made no sense, since that was general admission time. Fortunately, everyone figured that out and was there for the actual required time, between 6:15 and 6:30. Still…

Venue – Huxleys Neue Welt: D.

Apart from my camera problems, I later read on Twitter that this place didn’t have a scanner for electronic tickets! Meaning that anyone with those (like me) had to get out of the line they had likely been standing in for hours to go to an office and switch their eTicket for a “real” ticket. What the…? I also heard they weren’t very good at managing the general admission entry, which can be nightmarish, and I saw the security was really aggressive about removing items like balloons and glow sticks—even though fans had asked in advance and been assured those were fine!

So, I’d definitely see Adam Lambert in concert again, but never at Huxleys.

Links

My compiled Original High Berlin YouTube playlist

Berlin concert roundup

Full show audio:

A footnote about my feet

So before I knew I’d have VIP, I was trying to figure out how to improve my chances of actually seeing something at this show despite being short, and finally concluded that only shoes with wedge heels would work. So I got these:

wedge

Which added, like, 3 inches to my height. Not realizing I’d be ending up in the front row, I wore them.

So I can tell you that for 5.5 hours of straight standing, those suckers were surprisingly comfortable. And though not needed in the front row, they were kind of handy for looking over people’s head at the merchandise table after.

However… During the short walk to the train station, my feet basically had a nervous breakdown. I felt like I would die if I didn’t get off  my feet. Thankfully, the train station wasn’t far, it had a bench, and I was able to find a seat on the train. So I survived the journey back to the hotel room.

So if you try the wedge shoe approach to seeing something at standing room concerts, remember: To survive, you will have to get off your feet every five hours or so. You’re welcome.

 


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And a happy new year

With Verses closed, we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do New Year’s Eve. We finally went with just a dinner at Marisol. And that was fine—food and service were good, as always—but it just wasn’t particularly special. Except for a salmon carpaccio starter and roast duck on duck confit main—both very good—it was just the regular menu.

But at least I got to wear a new dress.

Purple dress

Next year we might see if Haisai does anything for New Year’s. We did stop there on the drive up to Timmins, and meals there are always special!

Dessert at Haisai

The intriguing desserts at Haisai. (They tasted good, too.)

Yesterday the weather turned frightful with a winter storm, so it seemed a good day to do our new year’s cooking thing. We decided to return to some past fave items.

The starter was a tuna carpaccio with avocado quenelle, which we’d first made last year. This was the fastest, easiest item we prepared, but quite good, with its dressing of good olive oil and lime juice, And the Stratus 2010 white we had with it was complex and amazing.

Tuna starter with Stratus white

The main course took the main amount of time to prepare: Duck confit and mashed potato ravioli with white truffle sauce (first attempted in 2009). You have to prepare the mashed potatoes, and chop up and heat all the duck meat, then combine all that and stuff it into about 60 sets of wonton noodles… Fortunately, it really does taste amazing in the end.Duck ravioli and squash salad

We served that with a roasted butternut squash salad with pears and stilton, which was a new recipe. We followed the recipe except for cutting the squash a little thinner than we were supposed to (that was an accident, saved by less cooking time), using mixed greens instead of escarole (what is escarole?), and using “speck”—double smoked bacon we’d acquired from Michael Stadtlander’s farm after visiting Haisai—instead of regular bacon. It was very tasty, even when we forgot the dressing!

And the GSM wine we selected stood up well to all the strong flavors.

Dessert was chocolate souffle (from 2010). This year we got smart and only baked the two we planned to eat this night, since souffle really doesn’t hold up well to being a leftover. We served that with a raspberry wine that was less sweet than expected, but still a classic pairing for chocolate.

Chocolate souffle

And, I took the opportunity to wear another new dress. (I may have a dress problem.)

Black dress


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Dress for the weather

It’s past 8:00 pm and it’s still over 30C, and humid. It’s been like this for days. It’s officially a heat wave.

I must admit I don’t suffer that terribly during these. Fact is, I leave my air-conditioned house for my air-conditioned car, then drive to my air-conditioned office.

But also, I’ve been wearing dresses all week.

People, there is no better hot-weather garment in the world than the dress. Naturally, I do not mean the uncomfortable, bedazzled type of dress one might wear, say, when getting married.

Pink wedding dress

Not this kind of dress! (Also, hadn’t realized that “pink wedding dress” was a thing.)

I mean the plainer, looser type of garment that rests on your shoulders and just flows down from there, making a natural breeze as you walk.

T-shirt dress

OK, this one might not make a breeze when you walk. But you get the idea. It’s a very simple dress.

Obviously, the dress must be worn without any hose. Nylons would absolutely ruin the whole thing, in every way. No longer comfortable, no longer cool.

But just the dress, with some little sandals (and some undergarments, one assumes, but that’s really your business) is the next best thing you can wear in the heat. There’s a reason people in warm climes wear robes.

Buddhist man in robes

So pity the poor men-folk among us, who must make do with shorts–if their workplace even allows those, that is. Shorts are just not as good. They are a recipe for sweaty inner thighs. Who wants that?

The ability to wear dresses in summer is one of the very few advantages our society offers women over men.

And yet, I observe, not that many women take advantage.

Some, I suppose, may fear the air conditioning– that this outfit so perfect for the 33C degree, 40C humidex weather outside will only leave them shivering with cold while inside. A not unfounded fear (I actually sometimes bring in a sweater (!) just in case).

But an awful lot more, I think, either don’t realize how comfortable a dress can be (maybe they haven’t worn one since the prom?) or simply don’t feel comfortable in such a feminine garment. It’s undeniable that there’s nothing much more girly than a dress—even a simple dress—and girly just doesn’t sit well on every woman.

Fortunately, I am a lipstick feminist, totally in touch with my girly side.  (And no fan of sweaty thighs.)


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In the dresses

I did occasion to wear a couple of the newly purchased dresses recently. First this one, to a dinner at Verses (photo taken after, faded makeup and all):

Wearing black, red, and pink dress

Dinner there was great, of course. First time with their new winter menu.

And actually, I also wore that dress to work one day, with camisole underneath, to cover up the cleave…

The purple one I did wear to a Christmas party, as planned. I was the only one in that colour! (Red seems popular this year. Black always is, of course.)

Thing is, the only photo I have showing the entire dress, I don’t really like. So instead, here’s a couple of just the top of the dress. You’ll have to just imagine the rest of it.

Photo with Mr. B

(Her I’m with someone Jean works with. An important someone.)

Dining in dress

The blue one has yet to have an outing, but I’m sure its day will come.