Cultureguru's Weblog

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


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Mocha: 15 October 2005 (?) to 17 October 2017

Mocha’s actual date of birth is a mystery. All we know of her origins is that she and her kittens were found in the backyard of our MP at the time. The Pet Patrol organization rescued her, had her spayed, and she was taken in by a foster family.  One day she was the featured cat for adoption at Pet Value, which is where Jean and I first met her.

No matter her actual age (and one vet we saw early on suspected she was a few years older than our other cats, based on the state of her teeth compared to theirs), she was always taken to be younger, because she was so tiny. Mocha never really stopped looking like a kitten. It was great, really. All the adorable-ness of kitten-hood without all the work of dealing with an actual baby cat.

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Mocha in 2006; apologies for the freaky eye which I don’t know how to fix in editing

Mocha at the pet store was the sweetest thing. You could pick her up and she’d just nestle into your arms and purr. I was smitten. Jean, meantime, was smitten with another, apparently shyer male cat that we met at a foster home. We resolved our differences by adopting both. Mocha and McSteamy took to each other immediately, finding comfort in proximity to each other. Their bond was to endure for a lifetime.

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McSteamy and Mocha had an enduring (though platonic) love affair

We soon learned, however, that Mocha’s pet store response was just her reaction to being in a strange, stressful environment: she seemed to feel her best option was to become as placid and sweet as possible. Once in a calm house, though, she reverted to nervous suspicion, and joined the shy McSteamy in hiding under furniture.

In fact, McSteamy was the quicker to warm to us, and within about two weeks had basically concluded we were the best people ever. Whereas Mocha spent months hiding behind cabinets and under furniture, taking advantage of her tiny size to limit contact as much as possible. I even called the Pet Patrol people seeking advice. Just give it time, they said. She will become a loving, affectionate pet.

They were right.

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Mocha “climbing mount Jean”, as I like to call it

She eventually stopped hiding, and especially took to Jean. I was the main feeder, which went a long way in putting me in the good graces of the other cats in the house, but Mocha was a nervous eater who seemed to view food as more of a necessary evil than a source of pleasure. So that wasn’t gaining me points with her.

In fact, at one point she seemed to view mainly as Jean competition, tending to take off in a bit of a huff when I deigned to join the two of them in their cuddle-fest. But, I did gain some advantage in not tending to take off for one- or two-week canoe trips. Facing the choice of no pets versus pets from me, she was all in for pets from me. And thereafter seemed to stop seeing me as competition, but more as an acceptable secondary source of affection.

You see, most cats will lie calmly and purr while you pet them, maybe flip around to get a belly rub, relax into sleep. But for Mocha, petting was a serious, intense business. She would rise up to meet your hand. She would rub her face on your face. It wasn’t enough to be pet; she needed, somehow, to pet back.

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For Mocha, petting is serious business

And the purr. My gosh, such a big sound from such a tiny cat. We even recorded it once:

And conversely, her mews were quiet to the point of inaudible: You’d only know she was trying to tell you something if you happened to be looking to see her open her mouth.

She had her own rituals, as cats do. In the morning, she liked to sharpen her nails on the corner of the bed (replaced with a scratching post when we got a new bed), then run around and jump on the bed for the first pets of the day.

She was fascinated by flushing toilets.

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“One day I will figure out this phenomenon”

After work (our work—cats don’t work), she loved to join Jean in his office to get the evening’s round of petting underway. This was not always conducive to Jean being able to accomplish whatever he was in his office to do: “Girl!” he’d exclaim. “Too intense!”

During TV time, her spot was the back of the couch, just behind our heads.

And at any time, she enjoyed windows, and sunlight (though had no interest in going outdoors), and even better if she could enjoy both with her best friend.

Fury Kid's looking cute

And the cat who once spent months in hiding became so comfortable in her home that even the presence of loud, strange repairmen wouldn’t daunt her. She’d just watch them with interest.

I was a little worried about her before going on vacation this fall. I’d like to suggest this was prescient of me, except that it’s a regular habit for me to worry about the cats before going on vacation. My particular worry focus this time was Mocha’s nasal congestion, even though this was a chronic problem of hers and the vet had already declared it didn’t seem to be serious. I resolved to get a second opinion on return from vacation, and watched her like a hawk before leaving. My conclusion was that she seemed to be happily going through all her usual activities and rituals, and that finally—after all these years—she seemed to really be enjoying her food.

The catsitter said that all went well while we were away (just for a week), but on our return, I noticed pretty quickly that something wasn’t right with Mocha. She moving her head strangely and batting at her mouth. She seemed to be having trouble swallowing water, of all things. On petting her, she seemed thinner than when we had left.

I brought her to the vet the first thing the next day, but the news was not good. She had a growth in her mouth that was, indeed, making it hard for her to eat and drink. There was no guarantee it could be treated, and even attempting to do so would likely require her to be fitted with a feeding tube. Instead, we went with the “trying to keep her comfortable” approach: She was rehydrated and sent home with liquid painkiller and a special, soft, high-calorie food that was easier to swallow (and apparently delicious, given that McSteamy and Zoe kept trying to steal it).

So Mocha’s last days were not terrible. She enjoyed the sun.

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She continued to marvel at modern plumbing.

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She got herself up in her window.

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She gave and got pets.

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She cuddled in front of the fire with her bestie.

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She died peacefully on October 17, surrounded by the people who loved her.


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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?

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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:

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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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Movie review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Yes, we were quite late to this one, but Canada Day weekend we finally took in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. We were both fans of the first one, and had heard generally positive reviews of the sequel, albeit with some debate as to which volume was better.

The first movie was a fun discovery. This one had to meet the expectations raised by that one. It tries to do so in a big hurry, with an amazing opening action sequence that is soon interspersed with a musical interlude featuring a dancing Baby Groot. Shameless, but I loved it anyway.

The whole movie continues along in similar fashion, with more action, more humour, more classic rock, more cute Baby Groot.

But its real strength are its full complement of flawed but lovable characters, who are dealing with various family issues in this one. Peter has a chance to reconnect with the father who abandoned him as a child. Gamora has taken her troublesome sister hostage. Rocket ponders on the consequences of his prickly approach to his teammates (other than Baby Groot). Drax mourns his lost wife and daughter while bonding with a new acquaintance, Mantis.

First one better? Sequel better? I don’t know. I just think the two would make a nice double bill.


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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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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”

 


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Holidays

The Timmins evacuees arrived and departed in waves: first to get there were Jean and I, the evening of December 22; then my older sister, Joanne, followed shortly by my younger sister Michelle and her family, on December 24. Boxing Day was the first departure, by Jo; then Jean and I drove back on December 27; then Michelle’s family flew back the following day. Some small departure delays due to weather and a bit of a close call getting through the very crowded luggage drop-off at Pearson were the extent of the travel issues.

The influx of people made gave my Dad some stress in keeping us all fed and finding everyone a place to sleep, but it all worked out. It helps that Dad’s a very good cook, and yes, we all pitched in with grocery shopping, baking, food prepping, and cleaning up. Michelle and Jackson kindly volunteered to sleep on couches the two busiest nights, so no one had to check into a hotel.

Big Guy!

Even Santa was helping with the food

The 23rd we had a great visit with our Timmins friends (all two!) and Christmas Eve offered a succession of family Réveillons.

Only the Kid's can get this exited about Christmas

Lefebvre great-nieces excited for Santa

Santa!

Père Noël appreciates the adulation

The little gift exchange theme this year was “ornaments”. Jean’s made the biggest splash: He Etsy’d his own ornaments starting with old photos of his siblings, converted into luggage tags then ribbon’ed by hand. My contribution of ornaments made by Peruvian artisans landed well with Jean’s sister, who had just returned from a trip there. Jean ended up with these rather cool bird ones.

The facets' of Christmas!

New ornaments for our tree

Christmas morning at McNair’s we did the stealing game again. This was after much email discussion, during which we’d decided that each person would get an age-appropriate gift. Of course, the kids don’t really do their own shopping for this.

My brother, for whom there is time like the last minute, was copied on all emails but didn’t really dig into them until about Christmas Eve, when he was off to do his shopping. He checked with Michelle: “I have to buy gifts for my own kids?” he asked. “Really?”

Yes, really.

This didn’t really work out with Sarah-Simone, though, who—even after “her” present was available—simply couldn’t resist going to the pile of presents to try again after some adult  kindly “stole” the present she had. Even though, as she pointed out, most of the presents “sucked” for a 10-year-old.

Her package :)

Another gift not entirely suitable to its recipient…

Things eventually got sorted through final trades.

The Stealing Game :)

Or in my case, earlier, by stealing this fine wine collection from my brother

Jean ended up with the item I had contributed, a coffee infuser. It’s not fast, but it does make a nice smooth brew!

We also got out for some snow shoeing on this gorgeous winter day.

Winter Wonderland!

Jean and my brother-in-law went again on the less-pleasant Boxing Day, coming back with a harvest of chaga tea (which looks like dirt mounds, but you clean it and brew it and it’s apparently full of anti-oxidants. Pretty mild-tasting.)

Slaying the dragon and making off with the Chaga!

Slaying the dragon

The days between Christmas and New Year’s, Jean worked while I sat around and ate bonbons.

Not really. (Well, maybe a few bonbons.)

New Year’s Eve, we returned to The Berlin, one year after first going, for their four-course dinner. City buses are free that night, so we decided to travel that way. We did the whole route-planning thing on the transit website, and found the perfect trip. As long as all buses were exactly on time.

However, the first one was three minutes late, meaning we missed our transfer by about two minutes. And faced a 28-minute wait, 30 minutes before our reservation.

Fortunately, seeing our expression, the bus driver asked where we wanted to go, then helped us get there. Her route had another stop with a downtown connection. We had very little wait for that bus, and we were arrived at the restaurant just five minutes late, so all good.

New Year's Eve Menu

We sat in view of the kitchen for the first time, which was pretty interesting. (And not only because chef Jonathan Gushu is kind of a babe.)

The Kitchen Crew

It was busy night there, of course, but everything we had was just delicious, and the wine pairings were creative and uniformly excellent. Service was a bit scattered at times—running off with menus before actually finding out what we wanted each course, for example (“I can’t believe I did that”, he said)—but generally they have their timing down now. (We just have to accept it’s not as luxuriously paced as Verses used to be.)

Eying my Roe!

Amazing starter

As appetizers, I had the lobster ravioli and Jean the terrine.

Terrine - Pulled Pork and Foie Gras mmmmmmmmm!

To cleanse the palate, they gave us a pineapple sorbet in sparking wine.

Pinnaple Granite in some bubbly :)

Then it was duck all around, with a really interesting Italian wine, that not everyone got (we’re special 🙂 ).

Duck Breast and Ragout, with Honey Mushrooms and Heart Nuts served with a great pairing wine from the Canary Islands

And Jean concluded with the pear dessert, I the hazelnut nougatine (with a vermouth). We also received a touch more dessert for the road.

Hazelnut Nougatine!

We took a taxi home. 🙂