Cultureguru's Weblog

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


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Advantages to spending Christmas in Timmins

Not everyone comes from an exciting home town, but home it is, and that’s where we typically head for Christmas. Of course, the biggest bonus is getting together with family, since we are now disbursed and rarely all in the same room. (“I really enjoy these leisurely McNair breakfasts, with conversation,” Jean commented, on about day 3. “Doesn’t really happen with my family.” Of course, other good things do happen with his family, I feel I should add!)

My brother and niece unwrapping gifts Christmas

Overall, it was a lovely Christmas, with most everyone up, no travel problems, delicious food, and no one with serious ill issues.

But I also realized there are other benefits to Christmas in Timmins.

Snow

Sometimes it’s only a little snow, sometimes it’s a ridiculous amount of snow, but there’s always snow in Timmins in December! If you live in some beautiful, sunny, and warm part of the world, not having snow at Christmas is not much of a tragedy, despite its traditional association with the season. But in southern Ontario, where we now live, no snow typically means gray, coo, dreary, drizzly weather. It’s just depressing. (And thanks to climate change, it’s what we can expect for one of two Christmases from now on.)

Me in a snowy landscape, full of natural Christmas trees

Taking care of (government) business

This one applies only to those living in Ontario, but… Are the lineups to take your driver’s test just too long in Toronto? Have you been putting off replacing your old red and white health card? If you said yes, then you’re probably related to me.

Having been discouraged by the Toronto crowds, on December 24, my nephew went to the Ministry of Transportation office in Timmins, and passed his driver’s test! Same day, his father went to Services Ontario and got himself a proper photo ID health card. In about five minutes.

Same province, fewer people, faster service!

Shopping!

Of course Southern Ontario has more stores, but is more always better? No running around to different LCBOs to get the wine you want; you just go to the only one there is and make do with what they have. And at the only men’s clothing store downtown, you might just discover, as Jean did, that custom-made shirts are much cheaper there, and that they’ll ship them to your house.

Grosbeaks

The blue jays, cardinals, and eagles we have around here are cool, but dig these red and yellow grosbeaks. (The pileated woodpecker also made an appearance.)

Wherever you were for Christmas, hope you made the best of it. In Timmins this year, that wasn’t hard.

 


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Camel camel camel

I’m probably late to this whole thing, but in case anyone else is too…

Earlier this year I’d written about the baffling and frequent ways that pricing on Amazon varies. My example was a blu-ray of a Queen+Adam Lambert concert. I’d described a price range of $145 to $48. And wondered if I should have waited even longer for a cheaper price.

Among all the Black Friday / Cyber Monday coverage this week, I read about the very handy camelcamelcamel.com website (this link will bring you to the Canadian site, but you can pick another country from there). Here you can paste in a URL of an Amazon item, and see just how much that item’s price has ranged in the last six months. Here’s what I got for that QAL blu-ray:

qal-super-sonic-pricing.png

Showing that not only had it at times been more than $145, I had indeed purchased it at a historic low price.

Clearly a handy tool if you’re wondering just how good a current Amazon sale price is. (Turns out I should have bought that toaster oven at $203 Friday; that’s just $4 above its historic low and now it’s at $230. Meh.)


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Gilt-y dining

Cork is a restaurant in Elora, Ontario that we enjoy going to. Elora is a bit of a hike, though, so we were happy to hear that the owners were opening a second restaurant in Kitchener: Gilt.

Gilt opened in late September, and we tried it out on November 1. It’s relatively small and has a contemporary look, with a bar area along with its tables. It was a little loud but not to the point of not being able to hear each other. Service was good–attentive and wel- informed about the menu items.

And that menu is all tasting plates; that is, tapas-style, appetizer-size dishes. The regular menu items are supplemented by three varying specials: from the sea, from land, and raw feature. The waiter recommended that we order two to four items per person.

So we got a variety. We liked that their oyster menu detailed exactly which were available, and let you select as many of each type as you want. (They do similarly with their cheese plate, though we didn’t try that.) We went three East Coast options, six oysters in total. Still on the seafood theme, we tried their raw ceviche tun special, and some cooked scallops.

To that we added brie and pear flatbreads (an item we’d enjoyed at Cork), duck confit steam buns, BC wild mushrooms, and peanut butter & jam foie gras! Except for the mushrooms, which seemed a bit underseasoned, we were happy with all items. Jean was impressed with their take on foie gras, the only issue being perhaps a bit too much salt topping.

They have a pretty good wine list, offering many by the large or small glass, 1/2 half liter, or full bottle. Given the variety of food, we got 1/2 liter of Sauvignon and a glass of Malbec to share.

We were reasonably full after that, and ready to skip dessert, until they described the house specialty, nitro ice cream. For this, you get to go back to the kitchen and watch them make the ice cream with liquid nitrogen. It’s kind of fun. And the results are very delicious!

We took no photos during dinner, but afterward we went to check out the Kitchener Nightshift, a sort of nuit blanche event with outdoor installations and many stores and restaurants open until 2:00 AM. It was unfortunately a somewhat chilly night for it, though many participants had hot beverages on offer. We found this Gloss installation interesting, though feared the models might be chilly:

Gloss installation at Kitchener Nightshift

We later went into the Gloss store for the first time, and I emerged with a nifty new lace top.


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Shopping spree in Orillia!

Last week’s vacation was mostly about visiting family and friends up north. But instead of just barreling our way straight through, we stopped in various Ontario towns on the way and back. Like in Orillia.

“Why Orillia?” That has been a common question.

First visited on a rock concert pilgrimage (Roger Daltrey performed at the Casino there in 2009), we just found we liked the town. Nice beaches, decent restaurants, good shopping.

Shopping?”

OK, maybe we are the only people in the world who go to downtown Orillia for shopping. But let me tell you, we did a fine job boosting that town’s economy on our two days there.

First stop was this discount clothing store which sometimes has interesting items, for men and women. Jean didn’t have much luck for himself, this time. fortunately, he’s able—in limited doses!—to amuse himself finding things for me to try on.

I tried on more than I bought. But one Jean find that I came home with was this brown crochet sweater, as I’m forever looking for something to wear over sleeveless dresses and such that don’t ruin the whole line of the outfit.

brown-sweater

This should do the trick

We had gorgeous, hot weather in Orillia, but the rest of the vacation became rather cool, especially for August, so this sweater got some use  on this trip. And some compliments.

Also acquired was this blue top, which looked a little odd on the hanger (my pick; Jean was dubious), but quite nice on a person.

blue-top

Nice blurry photo by me. 🙂

Jean did better at the Walking on a Cloud shoe store (he likes shoes almost as much as socks. No, seriously.). And although I didn’t feel I really needed more shoes, apparently I can’t resist a Rieker. I had just bought these really cute navy blue Rieker sandals before vacation (with heels!); they are now joined by these little sparkly runners:

Red purse and shoes

These are photographed with a red purse I also got at the first clothing store. I haven’t used it yet, though, because I’m still sporting this one (a local purchase) for the time being:

Colorful purse

Cute, huh?

Another stop was our favorite kitchen store. Yes, we have a favorite Orillia kitchen store, as we told the confused clerk: “We come here every two years to replenish our pots!”

No photos, because, well, pots and pans, but we literally did buy a pot and a pan (both high-end; not your Canadian Tire job-y), plus sundry kitchen gadgets.

We then popped into a big warehouse-style discount store—of the sort we never go to in our own home town—because we were looking for cables that would help our tablets talk to the hotel TV. We bought that, but while there, we thought, hey, why not get that rug we’ve been meaning to get for ages, for the front of the fireplace?

So right, not an expensive rug. But it’s frankly mostly for the cats to sleep on (and potentially sharpen their nails on), and definitely better-looking than the towels we previously put there for them, so that’s OK. Zoë gave the new addition her stamp of approval almost as soon as we put it down at home:

Zoe the cat and fireplace

And by the way, we finally got our fireplace brick and frame finished.

And we also acquired various prosaic mats that we hope will help keep the litter residue in better check.

Worst thing? After dropping all this cash downtown, Orillia had the nerve  to give us a parking ticket! Even after getting it, I was like, “Parking meter? Where is there is a parking meter?” But there was one… It was just well back from the sidewalk, very easy to miss.

But Orillia, we still like you. We were able to get to the beach and swim both days, for the first time this summer. We also found some nice walking trails. The restaurants were somewhat disappointing this time, though not to the extent that any of the meals were actually bad. Just unimaginative.

Just make your parking meters more visible, already. 🙂


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On sitting less

So back in June were another spat of articles, like this one at CNN.com, saying that sitting for many hours a day was bad for you. Even if you exercise.

It is somewhat amazing how non-helpful these articles are.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends mixing noncomputer-related tasks into the workday…

The article says. As if that was actually possible in every job.

Like mine, for instance. What’s a break from my computer work? Well, meetings. The vast majority of which are, in fact, sit-down and not stand-up meetings. Also, I do like to sometimes be retro and work with pen and paper instead of monitor and keyboard. But you can’t write on paper while walking around, either. It pretty much also requires sitting at a desk.

Basically, if I’m not working at a computer, attending a meeting, or writing on paper, I’m not doing my job.

So 2 or 3 years ago now, I implemented the only solution I could see other than changing careers: I bought equipment to raise both my monitors and my keyboard off my desk, so I can work at the computer, standing up.

It was completely weird at first, but I’m used to it now, as is everyone I work with—none of whom have followed my lead, mind you. I did get a lot of queries about in the first few months. But my company won’t pay for it unless you have a doctor’s note that you need it, and I’m not sure doctors write those based on CNN articles stating that sitting 6+ hours a day reduces your life span by 20%.

And it wasn’t cheap. I needed three pieces of equipment, all of which I acquired from http://www.ergocanada.com: An LCD arm to hold two monitors (yes, I get two 21″ monitors at work), an arm extender to make the monitors high enough, and another arm to raise the keyboard tray. All together, that cost around $750—more than people typically want to spend on equipment for their work desks.

(Also, though, I think a lot of people really enjoy sitting down.)

So, I was no trendsetter.

But once I had invested in sufficient pairs of comfy (yet cute) shoes to avoid foot pain, I did find some health benefits that I didn’t have to wait decades for: reduced hip pain, reduced lower back pain, and a slight loosening of my clothes, which might be due to the fact that you burn more calories standing than sitting.

Woman at stand-up desk

Completely impractical shoes for working at a stand-up desk. Also, I think her monitor is too low.

In fact, I liked it enough that I decided to go for the same with the home computer. Well, not exactly the same. I wasn’t about to spend another $750. But my husband found this Visidec dual-monitor arm for more like $120. Like my one at work, this monitor arm was also too short on its own, but he was handy enough to just mount it in a solid piece of wood sitting on my desk, raising the monitors to standing height.

For the keyboard and mouse? Raised via a cardboard box, with a board on it that allows the mouse to slide easily. Hey, it’s home. Doesn’t have to look “professional”.

Another advantage my fancy work monitor arm has—besides looking good—is that it is extremely easy to lower and raise (as is the keyboard tray). So I can, in fact, still sit down to work at the computer, which I do for a bit each day. (I aim for 6.5 hours standing of the 8-hour work day.)

The home Visidec is possible to lower and raise, but not nearly as easily. It takes two people. So instead I intend to just leave that one in the standing position. I have replaced my desk chair with a bar stool, so I can sit on that should I weary of standing.

So, guess I’m OK now, til they come out with the unhelpful articles about the health hazards of standing for too long each day…


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RIP Collage Video

I’m so old that my first exercise video was not even audio-visual: It was sound-only. An LP.

And it was ridiculous. Of course, the instructor (you may have heard of her—Jane Fonda?) tried to clearly explain what moves to do, but that just didn’t always work. What some of the moves were meant to be remain a mystery to me to this day. (But no, I don’t still have the album…)

So the advent of exercise classes on VHS home tapes were a clear improvement. Not all the moves were easy to do, but at least you could always tell what they were.

Exercise video coversAnd as is true in general, the exercise DVDs were an improvement over those. No more rewinding and fast-forwarding. More content could be put on each disk. Easier to pick and choose to do partial or combination workouts.

I love working out to videos. Nothing’s more convenient, you never have to worry about the weather, and unless you’re buying a crazy number of them, it’s way cheaper than a gym memberships. You get something of the illusion of working out with someone else, and even that illusion is more motivating than working out on your own. And the variety available—aerobics, strength, flexibility, or a combination of all. Short, long, or in between. Dancey or athletic. Easy-going, intermediate, or tough.

Whatever your mood today: There’s a home workout for that.

And so it really pains me to see Collage Video go out of business. They sold nothing but fitness videos (along with a few fitness accessories). And they did it better than anyone else.

They broke down each video by all the factors that home fitness die-hards care about: instructor, length, level, workout type, body part focus. They included video samples so you could assess whether a new instructor or style seemed appealing. They had fantastic forums and review comments. They rated the videos themselves, highlighting some as favorites.

But ultimately, they could not battle the price pressure from the likes of Amazon, nor the general decline in the DVD format.

So when I decided I could use some more workouts with a lower-body focus, I did what I always do: I picked up the latest Collage Video catalog and picked out about five that I thought would do.

Only now I cannot order them from the Collage Video website.

Amazon? It had exactly one of them in stock. OK, so I probably didn’t need all five, but I wanted at least one more. I went a-huntin’, and finally located a site that offered one of them as a download. I can burn that to DVD or play it from the computer (which is connected to my TV), so that’s fine. Only, I needed this rubber band thingie for that workout. Collage would have sent it to me with the DVD. With the download… Not so much. So more research for that, resulting in a trip to Walmart to purchase that.

Walmart!

I’m not sure this is progress. I know streaming is the thing now, but the best option there seems to be Gaiam TV, at $10 (US) a month. Not a crazy price, but then, I don’t think I was spending $120+ yearly on exercise videos before…