On a Photo Kick

I went down a rabbit hole today.

Today, without warning or premeditation, I suddenly decided that I ABSOLUTELY HAD to (finally) make baby photo albums for the boys.

You know. That thing I haven’t felt necessary until now was suddenly terribly urgent.

What Started It

I updated my Mac to the latest operating system. You’d think that would have very little to do with suddenly deciding to make a photo album, but it does!

Thankfully, not in a tragic way. My photos weren’t lost or anything (even though I did forget to do a backup before updating).

It was as simple as this: When I rebooted my computer after completing the update, for some reason the Photos app opened on its own.

And there, before my eyes was a selection of photos I haven’t seen in donkey’s years!

Well Then I Couldn’t Stop

There are SO MANY ALBUMS I NEED TO MAKE.

Photos from a trip to Greece with a dear friend (shoutout to my crazy Kiwi lady friend!), my brothers’ weddings in 2008, a trip to Ireland in 2009, my masters in the UK from 2010-2011…

(To my credit, I did make a photo album of photos of the Chico and me from our first year together, and of our wedding! So at least I’ve done that!)

Photos of our life in Montreal, Christmases, family vacations, our honeymoon, costume parties, festivals…

But I decided to narrow it down. When I saw the photos of the day our Bug was born (in January. In MONTREAL. It was HELLA COLD), I decided it was time.

Why It Matters

I love being surrounded by photos. Every so often, I’ll go to CVS or Target and print up a bunch. I’ll put some in frames, others in a photo album. Giving photos is one of my favorite holiday gifts. They’re always appreciated!

It matters to me to have printouts of photos of the people I love.

I want the boys to see our family and friends regularly. Even if we live far away, I want them to be familiar with their faces.

Also, I’m paranoid that for some reason, all digital copies of my photos will be lost. I’ve always saved my photos on an external hard drive. Now I have them stored there as well as paying for extra storage in the cloud.

But what’s the point of storing all these digital files if I’m never going to look at them? Hence the sudden and immediate NEED to print up a bunch of pictures.

How I Did It

I googled “best photo book printing websites” and after reading a bunch of different reviews, chose mixbook.com. I made two blank books (not using any template, though there are 500+ to choose from) and was able to design simple but beautiful books of our boys’ first years.

Amazon Prints is also supposed to be good, and a bit less expensive, though they don’t have as nice binding options as Mixbook.

(N.B.: If you sign up on mixbook you get 50% off your first order… So I got two books for the price of one.)

Our books are due to arrive at the end of October. The boys are super excited about their “baby books” (they were only moderately helpful in the process of designing them, but whatever), and I hope that little by little I’ll be able to put together a few more albums.

Honestly, it’s worth the time, effort and money. Nothing beats a good photo book for bringing back memories.

The Spice of Life

63. Spice: Write about flavors and tastes or a favorite spice of yours.

ThinkWritten.com

Sure, I have a favorite spice. And that spice is

Eyebrows.

Yes. I said eyebrows.

Good eyebrows are what add spice to a person’s face. And right now, big bushy eyebrows are in, for men as well as women!

(Thank goodness! Now these uncontrollable caterpillars on my forehead are actually desirable!)

A Versatile Accessory

Just think what you can do with bold eyebrows! I mean, look at this face:

Everything is right about those eyebrows. Colin Farrell‘s eyebrows suit every occasion.

An Expressive Accessory

Good use of the eyebrows can be devastatingly effective. Just take a look at Jamie Hector here, killing it with his eyebrow game:

And check out Oscar Isaac‘s pathos in this clip:

Would that be possible without those eyebrows?? No. It would not.

A Necessary Accessory

To me, a face without eyebrows is like an under-salted, under-spiced meal. Just… bland.

Now don’t get me wrong: eyebrows can be overdone. I don’t need them dancing all the way over your forehead (cough Jim Carrey I’m looking at you cough).

But big, strong eyebrows can be thoughtful:

Soulful:

They can be alluring:

They can be kinda frightening:

And also… hilarious:

So I’m just going to come out and say it:

I have a thing for eyebrows. Specifically on men.

Eyebrows are the spice of life.

Warning: I’m on a Rant

Many of the posts in this writing challenge series have been either fiction, or ficitonalized reality. Today’s prompt set me off on a rant about our actual current situation. It’s grumpy. It’s griping. It’s how I feel right now. The GIF of the naked dancing gnomes made me feel better.

22. Smoke, Fog, and Haze: Write about not being able to see ahead of you.

How can anyone see ahead of herself in the fog of this pandemic?

Our current living arrangement was supposed to be temporary. By this time, we were supposed to be house hunting and preparing to settle into our own home. It’s the first time as a family that we want to settle somewhere longer term, and here we are, unable to do so!

I must preface my rant by saying that we are extremely lucky. My Chico just so happened to be here in the States (legally!) when things started shutting down, and he has been able to remain here (also legally!) this whole time. We are together. We are healthy. We are lucky.

And yet…

Even before the pandemic, the United States (the country of which I am a citizen, just in case that wasn’t clear), made it damnably difficult to get my spouse into the country.

As anyone who has experience with these things will know, the U.S. immigration process is one of the most opaque and exasperating in the world. It is really, really hard to come to the States. The pandemic has made it worse.

This is not our first move. We’ve moved to Canada, to Germany, and to Spain before this. The process to bring our family to the U.S. has been hands down the most stressful, the most complicated and the most convoluted immigration process of all.

The process of moving the spouse of a U.S. citizen to the United States (I emphasize this so the absurdity of it can really sink in) has taken us more than one year. And we’re still not done. We’re not even sure if we’re half-way done.

Talk about fog!

Each time we think we’re a step closer, we learn of another step we have to complete.

We are constantly anxious about what the next phase is, as it’s never quite clear how we have to move forward. Not to mention further barriers thrown up in the meantime by He of the orange face and fake hair Who Shall Not be Named.

And also thanks to He Who Shall Not be Named, I now have to prove that I can support my immigrant husband financially. I have to demonstrate that I have at least $100,000 in assets and must undertake to REIMBURSE THE GOVERNMENT should he ever require government assistance (unemployment, Medicaid, etc.).

I’m a homemaker. My assets are my husband’s assets—we share everything. But can shared assets count? We don’t know. We may have to take another step to ensure they do.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment, shall we? If you can’t see how deeply disturbing that is, then you need an empathy transplant, stat.

What about the U.S. citizens who cannot be financial sponsors for their immigrant spouses? How are they supposed to live here?

The downright xenophobic nature of the immigration process makes me feel unwelcome in my own country. And frankly? This pandemic is showing such huge cracks in the laughable social support system that compared to other places we’ve lived, THIS looks like the “shithole country.”

Doubts and Questions

It makes our future hazy. It fills my dreams with smoke and fog. It makes me wonder, do I really want us to move our family here? We can go other places. Why put ourselves through the stress and pain of moving here?

I cannot see clearly the path ahead. I am stumbling through the murk, trying to move forward.

But I am so thankful that I am not alone. The best man I know is stumbling forward with me.

Election 2016: Get Out and Vote!

November 8th isn’t really Election 2016 Day; it’s the Election Deadline.

Something like 37 States have allowed early voting, and NPR analysts estimate that up to one third of votes will be cast before November 8th.

It also feels like the final submission date for all the crazy that has been this election cycle. I listen to NPR out of Boston (WGBH) for my US news, and it seems like the insanity has been building up to a fever pitch. As a result, I’m convinced that Election 2016 Fatigue Syndrome is a thing.

Fighting Election 2016 Fatigue Syndrome

Here is my handy-dandy guide to fighting Election 2016 Fatigue Syndrome. It’s super simple. There’s just one step:

vote

If you can’t stand the tension, and you’re sick of the coverage, get it all over with early and vote now.

If you’re registered to vote, and you can vote early, do it.

If you’re registered to vote, but you can’t vote early, get out and do it on Tuesday November 8th.

If you can’t stand the sight of Hillary or Donald, and you’re sick to death of their bickering, get out and vote to shut at least one of them up.

If you can’t bring yourself to vote for either one of the major party candidates, vote anyway. Vote for someone else. Write someone in if you can. But vote.

Vote.

VOTE.

VOTE!!!!

 

You No Vote? You No Kvetch.

Voting is a privilege and a responsibility.

We are privileged to be able to vote. It is our responsibility to get off our lazy butts and do it. There are people elsewhere in the world quite literally dying for the right to vote. Don’t take it for granted.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the major party candidates. You still have a responsibility to vote, either along party lines, or according to your conscience.

If you don’t get out and vote, you have no right to complain about who wins. I don’t buy the, “I didn’t vote out of protest” line. That’s (pardon me) bull cookies. Protest by voting. Rebel by voting.

Just vote.

Why Is It So Important to Vote in 2016?

It’s always important to vote. Not just for president, but midterm elections are important, too.

It seems particularly important in 2016, because one of the major party candidates is an immature, bat-shit crazy, racist, sexist, unhinged, Twitter-trigger happy, wall-building, conspiracy-theorist, repugnant demagogue.

We need to keep this man out of the White House, and prevent hate and fear from taking over our country.

For a great anti-Trump propaganda project, check out @trumplemonde on Instagram, and download the DIY kit for printing up posters and stickers here on DropBox.

Why #ImWithHer

I’ve never been a big Hillary Clinton fan. I don’t like the dynastic trend of recent presidencies (Bush Sr. & Bush Jr., now potentially Mr. Clinton & Mrs. Clinton). I don’t like her economic neoliberal ideas. Historically, she has been much friendlier to big businesses than to working Americans. I lean much more towards Bernie Sanders’ socialistic ideimwithheras. Having grown up and lived most of my life in Europe, it’s only natural.

But Hillary Clinton has experience. She knows her stuff. On social issues, she reflects my values. She has worked successfully across the aisle. I don’t know if she’ll be able to break the deadlock that is polarized American politics, but I firmly believe she has a better shot than any other candidate.

Gary Johnson is, by his own admission, not ready to be president. Admittedly I don’t know much about Jill Stein, except that she is an anti-vaccine physician. That gives me enough pause right there to keep me from voting for her.

I Voted. Please Do the Same.

I sent in my Massachusetts absentee ballot weeks ago. Please join me and vote, too.

losing_faith_in_social_media

Losing Faith in Social Media

Up until now, I’ve been billing myself as a social media specialist. I’ve worked as a social media manager, and I’ve done some consulting work in social media for small businesses.

But the truth is, I am losing faith in social media.

Lately, I’ve felt that social media is used far too much for marketing; it’s turned into an echo chamber (especially Facebook); and its value for providing engaging content has dwindled.

Social Media Marketing

I have written about social media marketing on this very blog. It has been, after all, my métier! But while I practiced social media marketing in my professional life, I find myself being put off by it in my personal life.

Ads are everywhere.

Every time I log into Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram now, I am faced with ads. This, of course, is completely to be expected! How else are these platforms going to make money to develop for their users? But what irks me is the way advertising is done.

Facebook right-hand column ads are notoriously bad. Twitter “promoted tweets” are hardly better. Instagram’s sponsored images are, at least, a little less annoying, since the images are usually nice. But for the most part, the ads are tacky, tasteless, and irrelevant–or worse, tastelessly relevant (one particularly badly timed ad for baby clothes showed up after I had had a miscarriage).

To be fair, that’s mostly because the people advertising have no idea what they’re doing, or how to target their ads. It’s no wonder management are constantly doubting the ROI potential of social media advertising.

Most brands get it wrong.

Then there are the brands that pay so that their content shows up in my newsfeed. There are very few brands that inspire enough enthusiasm for consumers to actively engage with them. Nike and others are the exception to the rule.

For the most part, the promos, Facebook contests, and “relaxed language” that brands try to use in social media fall very flat. It’s artificial, forced, and awkward. All things that are poison to social media users.

The Echo Chamber

This mainly applies to Facebook, due to their filtering practices. As soon as you like one or two baby pictures, wedding announcements, or articles of a feminist nature, that is all that you see in your newsfeed.

Just because I got married, had a kid, and have feminist sympathies, does not mean that I want to see only wedding shots, baby photos and articles about why the heating in my workplace is inherently sexist.

Looking at my Facebook feed, you’d think that breastfeeding mothers are being expelled from dining establishments all across North America. I can tell you that I’ve been breastfeeding in public on a regular basis for more than nine months (and in more than five countries!) and no one has ever asked me to cover myself up or nurse my child elsewhere.

The algorithm of boredom

It seems like Facebook is targeting content at me based on what its algorithms think will delight, incense, outrage, move, and otherwise scintillate me.

On the contrary, I now find Facebook extremely boring. It’s a sad, uninteresting person who only wants to hear their own ideas and opinions shouted back at them. There is no back and forth, no debate (I don’t count people hurling insults at each other and spewing vitriol as debate), and very little room for thoughtful interaction.

I’d much rather have a face-to-face conversation over a coffee, than kill even 5 minutes on Facebook.

So what does that make me?

I’ve called myself a social media specialist. I’ve maneuvered myself into this niche of online content marketing. And yet I find it boring.

The one social media platform I enjoy spending any time on is Instagram, and that’s because my closest loved ones are there. I keep my profile private, and share moments of joy from my daily life with those I love best.

But other than that, I’m over Facebook, Twitter, and the lot. So what do I do now? Career change? I can’t very well market myself as a social media expert when I spend very little of my own time there.

Well for the moment, I cannot be said to have a career. I’ll just have to continue writing (which I do like), trying to read broad and varied content, and keeping up my knitting, which is a great way to meet new, and interesting people.

Is there any way I can make meeting people through crafts my career? Any ideas?

womens_halloween_costume_ideas

Oh Great, It’s Sexy Halloween Costume Time

Hooray! Halloween is coming! That means an over-abundance of candy, lots of carved jack-o-lanterns and, of course, Halloween costumes of extremely questionable taste.

Case In Point

One year, I wanted to dress up as the Queen of Hearts for Halloween. The idea I had in mind looked something like this:

Real_Queen_of_Hearts

You know: the Queen of Hearts character from Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Pretty awesome, right?

Well, when I searched online for inspiration and materials to prepare this costume, here’s what I found:

Sassy_Queen_of_hearts

This specimen was labeled as “Sassy Queen of Hearts.” Okay… It looks NOTHING like the actual Disney Queen of Hearts, but whatever.

To my dismay, though, this was not the most provocative version of the Queen of Hearts costume. Oh no. A bit further down the Google search results page, I found this:

Sexy_Queen_of_Hearts

Excuse me, WHAT? What does THIS have to do with the first image? I guess the yellow and the stripes vaguely recall elements of her Majesty’s wardrobe, but the rest? I mean, is this for SERIOUS??

Finally, unable to assemble the parts necessary for the real costume, and disgusted by what I was finding available for purchase for the Queen of Hearts, I settled for dressing as one of her minions:

alice_in_wonderland_Halloween_costume
I know, I’m pretty darn cute.

 

The experience left a bitter taste in my mouth, though. And I asked myself…

Why Does Everything Have to be “Sexy”?!

I realize that some people like to use Halloween as an excuse to dress in a way in which they’d never normally dress. Suddenly, usually modest ladies are breaking out the mini-skirts, form-fitting spandex and/or leather, and plunging necklines (please note that the original Queen of Hearts doesn’t even have CLEAVAGE).

What gives?! Why does “dressing up for Halloween” also mean “dressing like a street-walking prostitute”?

A simple Google search of “women’s halloween costume ideas” comes up with images like the following:

womens_halloween_costume_ideas
How do they trick-or-treat in those heels?!

Okay, I get it: if you’re proud of your body and want an opportunity to show it off a bit more than you would normally, perhaps a slightly suggestive Halloween costume is a solution.

But what happened to creativity?! What happened to coming up with the best costume idea? And why, oh why, do women feel more pressure to look “sexy” on Halloween than to come up with the best costume?

Bring Back the Good Halloween Costume Ideas

I don’t know if I’m living in a fantasy world where once upon a time the most important thing about a Halloween costume was how creative it was, but I say, bring that time back.

To me, the whole fun of dressing up for Halloween is planning the perfect outfit. One year, a friend threw a cross-dressing Halloween party; everyone had to go dressed as someone of the opposite sex. I won’t include photos or go too far into the details (this is a family blog, after all–I think), but I will say that I dressed as a flasher. No, it wasn’t sexy. It was simply brilliant and hilarious. It was the night of my greatest triumph.

Other greatest hits include dressing as a laundry basket (truly terrifying) and as the woman from “Psycho” who gets stabbed in the shower.

psycho_halloween_costume
See? A potentially “sexy” costume idea made simply brilliant (and appropriately warm for Northern England on the 31st of October).

Dressing “Sexy” Is a Cop Out

Frankly, if you have no more creative ideas than to prance around in your underwear on October 31st, then you have missed the spirit of Halloween.

Halloween is a family holiday. Yes, there are often “grown ups only” parties, but the whole trick-or-treating thing and dressing up is all about fun for the kids.

Plus, what kind of example are we ladies giving to young girls who want to dress up for Halloween? With all these sexy firewomen, sexy policewomen, sexy nuns (yes, NUNS), etc., what message are we sending to girls?

We’re basically telling them that Halloween is about dressing in skimpy outfits to try and attract as much (I would argue negative) male attention as possible.

No. Just, no.

Go Out and Get Creative

Halloween is about fun, creativity, and having a good laugh. If you want to dress in a sexy Halloween costume, go ahead. But at least make it inventive. This year, make an effort to come up with a brilliant Halloween costume idea. After all, having the best and most creative–not the sexiest–costume is what usually gets you the prize.

And just for a giggle, here’s this:

The Guilt of a Stay-at-Home (Expectant) Mom

Mom_guiltYou’ve heard it before: working moms feel guilty they’re not spending enough time with their kids. But did you know that stay at home moms share that guilt? And what about stay at home EXPECTANT moms? Yeah. The guilt of a stay at home mom is pervasive.

I finished a contract position, went on holiday, and came back pregnant. Parental leave in Canada can last for up to a year. By the time I was showing, I knew that no would-be employer would be willing to hire me only to have to find a replacement for me six months later.

And you know what? I was okay with that.

I was alright with taking some time to figure things out, do a little training on my own at home, some freelance work, and get ready to welcome this little person into our lives.

It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

That’s when guilt strikes.

It’s like being a woman is a black and white thing. You’re a mother or you’re not. You’re working or you’re not. You’re staying at home with the kids or you’re not.

No matter what decision we make, we’re judged for it. We’re judged by society, by other women, and, most devastatingly, by ourselves.

“I should be at work. I should be contributing. I should be saving money. I should be a productive member of society. I shouldn’t leach off my Chico…”

“I have a master’s degree. I should be using it.”

Those are the kinds of thoughts that enter my head some days. The days when my to-do list seems too long. Somehow I manage to spend hours doing something else entirely, and I ask myself how on earth I managed to get anything done while I was working.

Then I remember the money my parents paid for my university education, and the money I invested in my master’s degree. Has that all been wasted? Why did I take an MA if it wasn’t to use it in a profession? What am I doing with my mind, my talents, and my time?

So what am I doing? Am I just lazy?

No. I’m not lying around all day eating bonbons (though, I have to confess, I have been baking a bit more since being unemployed…).

SAHMHow to get out of the funk

When I’m on the verge of tears because I’m feeling like a total waste of space, it’s time to sit down and think about what I AM doing, rather than what I’m NOT doing.

I am: Learning new skills like knitting and sewing.

I am: Reading incredible books in three different languages.

I am: Keeping up-to-date on current events, news in my industry, and listening, watching and reading news analysis from various media sources.

I am: Making an effort to keep writing, no matter how sporadically, and keep that creative muscle in shape.

It may not sound like much, and if I’m honest I’m still judging myself pretty harshly for being so seemingly idle (and for still hiring a cleaning lady).

You gotta let go of the guilt.

If I don’t let go of it now, it will eat me up when this baby arrives. Because if I feel unproductive now, just wait until all I have time to do is change diapers, feed, and devote all my attention to a tiny little person. You can bet we’ll be caught without any milk in the fridge on a regular basis when that happens.

This image isn't entirely relevant, but I loved it.
This image isn’t entirely relevant, but I loved it.

No matter what decision you make when it comes to raising your children (or, in my case, making your children), the important thing is to make it freely and with understanding. Read about other women’s experiences and ask yourself how you would feel in their situations.

Understand what you’re getting into, and then take steps to make sure that you continue to push yourself in ways, no matter how small, that will keep your body and your mind open and in shape.

And when people raise their eyebrows after you’ve answered the “What do you do?” question? Well, what can I say? Haters gonna hate. Own it. And tell yourself that in some, small way, they’re probably jealous of you.

Give yourself an intellectual challenge.

The pitfall about staying at home is the lethargy and inactivity you can slip into (unless, of course, you are an exceptionally motivated person). Keep yourself engaged. Keep writing, keep reading, keep listening and searching. Go out and meet people, or learn something new.

Whatever it is, do it to ward off the guilt. Because our children, especially our daughters, need to grow up free from the unreasonable expectations of perfection that society puts on us that cause this guilt.

And most of all because all any of us can really do is our best.

l_avenue_du_plateau

Brunch in Montreal: L’Avenue

I’m no food critic. If it’s meaty, flavorful and not under-salted, I’ll usually like it.

However, there’s so much more about a restaurant or café than just its food, and since I’m an opinionated lady, I thought I’d share my thoughts on some food joints around Montreal. You’re welcome.

Brunch is for Hipsters

Brunch in Montreal is an institution. Starting at about 11am on Saturday and Sunday mornings, you’ll see lines start to form outside of popular brunch locations, most of which are located in the Plateau or in Mile End.

Usually, the people in these lines are dressed in the following manner:

  • Skinny jeanl_avenue_du_plateaus (required)
  • Glasses (also required)
  • Fashionably tousled hair that probably took at least half an hour to perfect (yup, required)
  • Slouchy top, sweater and/or jacket (you guessed it…)
  • Old-school Converse sneakers (I’ll stop saying “required” here, so if I say nothing just assume it is)
  • Slouchy handbag, backpack, satchel or messenger bag
  • Facial hair on the men (optional for women)
  • Bored expression (or at least look hungover to show off how cool your previous evening was)
  • Visible tattoos and/or piercings
  • Smartphone

As we waited in line for brunch at L’Avenue (922 Avenue Mont-Royal Est, 514-523-8780), I doubt Chico noticed how out of place we looked as non-hipsters. I couldn’t help but think that if I tried to wear skinny jeans like those I’d more closely resemble the sausage links being served for brunch than any of these fashionable people.

Moving on…

On Restaurant Décor

I realize that restaurants are often trying to achieve a specific look and feel when it comes to their décor. Some are more successful than others, and I think L’Avenue did a good job of making you feel like you were in Grand Central Hipster Station.

Bikes and motorcycles decorate the walls and hang from the ceilings. One bike had a wine bottle in its water holder, which really appealed to Chico. It was pretty cute.

The strangely-attired mannequins and the graffiti on the wall I could have done without, but I liked the bikes.

The tables were well-spaced. It didn’t feel too crowded, but it felt busy and buzzing, which I really like in a brunch place. A tall bar runs the length of the first section of the restaurant, making it a little hard to squeeze past rushing waiters as you enter and exit the place, but once you were seated it was really comfortable.

L’Avenue’s Menu

The menu is your basic brunch fare, split into breakfasts, omelets, burgers, etc. It was pretty extensive and quite varied, with options for all levels of hunger and fat content. They also had a great fresh juice menu.

Chico wanted to order a burger, but unfortunately on the weekends they only serve brunch or breakfast food. I went for a bagel sandwich and he went for an omelet.

It was a nice touch that they first served a fresh fruit skewer as a starter. It made you feel like you were starting off the meal on a healthy note. Ha. Yeah, right.

The Food

First, the omelet: it was about the size of a small Spanish tortilla de patata. In other words, it was HUGE. It probably contained at least four eggs. It was well stuffed with goat cheese, veggies and deliciousness. Chico was impressed and delighted, though not even he could finish it.

My bagel sandwich (tomato, scrambled egg, mayonnaise and cheese) was very tasty. The eggs were lovely, and I actually kind of liked the fact that they used what looked like Kraft cheese slices.

What I didn’t like was the construction. The bagel was really small (and not particularly flavorful–and they didn’t give you a choice of bagel), and it was piled high with the contents of the sandwich. It was cut in half with one brave, lone toothpick holding it all together, but it was impossible to eat with one’s digits. Thoughtfully, the place settings included a good serrated knife, which made it easy to slice it.

God’s Own Homefries

What made the entire meal worth it were the homefries. I’m not exaggerating when I say they were divine. The seasoning balanced perfectly with the sweetness of the potatoes (I’m pretty sure they were russet). They were cooked to perfection: the ideal balance between crispy and squishy.

I’m pretty sure they tasted so good because of the fat they must have been cooked in, but they weren’t overly greasy. They were lovely.

Final Verdict

The food is good (and partially divine) as well as well-priced. The fruit juice was enormous and tasty. I liked the fruit skewers, though the portion sizes are pretty insane.

The service was friendly and efficient and the ambiance was bustling but not too loud for a nice one-on-one conversation.

All-in-all, I’d give this spot a 4.5 out of 5.

Oh, and the bathrooms were seriously trippy.

A Day at the Botanical Gardens

We’re experiencing an Indian summer here in Montreal. Since it was such a beautiful day, I decided to spent it out of doors. And since I’m not watching the series ending of “Breaking Bad” tonight, I’m going to write about it!

I feel like I owe Montreal a bit of an apology after my last post. So, by way of saying I’m sorry, here is an ode to this gorgeous city on a beautiful, warm, sunny Sunday at the end of September.

Brunch

Montrealers LOVE their brunch. It’s as if as the churches emptied, the brunch spots filled up. It’s pretty much a religious institution on Sunday mornings. Hangover cure? Perhaps. In any case, delicious.

This morning, my dear friend Marjorie invited me to join her at the pub Le Pourvoyeur, right next to Jean Talon market. Their smoked trout bagel was scrumptious and came with a hearty side-serving of home-cut French fries and a salad that was, thankfully, not over dressed. Perfect.

Brunch was followed by a stroll through the market. It is probably one of my favorite places in Montreal to people watch.

Chillies & Garlic at Marché Jean Talon
Chillies & garlic hanging out at the Marché.

Botanical Gardens

After our brunch, my lovely friend Taija invited us to join her at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. Last year, Chico and I went to the butterfly show at the Montreal botanical gardens, but we never saw the actual gardens. So we went along with Taija to the international Mosaïcultures show.

This weekend was the last weekend of the show, so in case you missed it, here are some of my favorite highlights.

Wooden horse
A wooden mare and foal

Don’t be fooled by the lack of people in these photos. It’s only by some miracle that I managed to get any shots with all the crowds jostling by!

Easter Island
These guys looked like a tribute to Easter Island

Some topiaries were of modest size. Others, not so much:

Lady and Bird
This was an entire layout with the birds and the lady hugging one to her.

The displays got more spectacular as we walked on. This was a particular favorite:

Ent Topiary
Treebeard??

I loved this guy! He looks like an Ent from The Lord of the Rings! This whole section of the gardens was called the spirit of the woods, and this guy was pretty much the king.

But then, we came upon Gaia.

Mother Earth
The most splendid of them all.

It was so crowded and the sun was behind her, so it was hard to get a good shot. But Gaia, or Mother Earth, was composed of this head and two hand seemingly coming up from the ground. A giant eagle ate out of one hand and deer were running out of the other. A stream ran past her and giant horses were frozen in a gallop along it, while giant bison grazed across the path from her. It really was something.

Tree of Birds
The Tree of Birds.

The Tree of Birds was also something to be seen.

Lemurs in a line looking livid.
Lemurs in a line looking livid.

The giant petrified-looking lemurs were pretty hilarious.

Sadly, like I said this was the last weekend to get to the Mosaïcultures show. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It certainly beats what I had planned to do: stay at home and do laundry.

The day ended off with a relaxing evening at home and some delicious spiced carrot and red lentil soup (I recommend you switch coconut milk for regular milk–it makes it even richer and tastier).

***

With the Indian summer weather and activities like these going on, it’s no wonder that the city has felt alive all weekend. On Saturday night, well after midnight, Montreal was still wide awake with people coming and going here and there. I could hear laughter and singing under my window.

Drifting off to sleep with the sounds of merry-makers and a breeze ruffling the curtains reminded me of why, despite the bad and ugly parts of life in Montreal, I really do like it here.

Life in Montreal: The Ugly

This is the final installment in my three-part series about life in Montreal: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. You can read the Good here and the Bad here. Today, it’s the Ugly.

The Ugly

I’d like to preface this post with a positive note, as what follows will be my observations of the ugliest aspects of life in Montreal. Though I will be kvetching in this article, life in Montreal is and has been wonderful. Listening to CBC radio every morning has helped to feel like I know the city, and overall I really like living here.

Healthcare

Life in Montreal: The Ugly
An illustration of the enormous problems Quebec has with care for the elderly (see translation below).

Quebec, like all of Canada, has a public health care system. Basic medical needs are covered and most employers offer additional coverage through private insurance companies.

While the idea of public health care sounds great, it has its drawbacks.

One estimate in 2010 was that across the province there was a shortage of more than 1,100 GPs. Family doctors in Quebec earn less than specialists and less than their colleagues in other provinces. So, logically, most medical students choose to specialize in a particular field or to leave the province.

Finding a family doctor is not as simple as picking up the phone and making an appointment. You have to call Santé Québec and leave your information in a voicemail message. That launches the process, but it can still take months for you to be assigned a doctor and more to get an appointment.

And don’t be fooled: “family” doctor doesn’t mean that the entire family will be treated by one doctor. That’s just a common phrase here for a GP.

Hospital Waiting Room
This is what the waiting room looks like at Hôpital Notre-Dame.

The worst thing that can happen to you in Montreal is a minor emergency (like a sprained ankle or a urinary tract infection). Unless you’re lucky enough to have a family doctor whose clinic accepts emergency cases on a day-to-day basis, you are guaranteed a wait of over 8 hours at an emergency room.

It makes you stop and ask yourself, “Does this sprain really need a brace or can I suck it up?” Not comforting.

Xenophobia

It might seem a bit strong to call it that, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Last month, it was leaked that the Parti Québecois (currently in power in a minority government and lead by Pauline Marois) would be unveiling a proposed Charter of Quebec Values.

This charter of values would essentially ban the wearing of overt and ostentatious religious symbols by public sector employees. Remember, Quebec has public health and education systems, so that means any hospital or daycare, school or university employee.

Quebec is also a destination for many immigrants from north Africa, and Montreal especially has a large population of muslim Quebecers who hail from Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria and other places.

Protesters in Montreal
Source: CBC.ca

In the proposed Charter, which has been officially unveiled (HA you’ll get what I did there in a minute), the Parti Québecois outlines what counts as overt and ostentatious. Small crosses (like the one I wear around my neck), earrings and rings showing religious symbols are acceptable. However, large crosses, yarmulkes, the hijab and turbans would all be banned. (Get it? Unveiled? LOL!)

Basically, this is a not-so-veiled (there I go again with the puns) ban on visible minority religious symbols. The crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly would stay, because it is apparently not a religious symbol, but part of Quebec’s heritage.

Since the basic tenants of the Charter were revealed, incidents of racist and xenophobic behavior have seemed to increase, according to the CBC. Now I may disagree with the principle of wearing the hijab, but that doesn’t mean that I want to deny your right to cover your head if you feel so inclined. Apparently, Pauline Marois disagrees. People like this guy, are with her (note: that link is in French).

Conclusion

I am lucky enough to be in good health and to belong to a majority religion here in Montreal. For people who don’t, though, life in Montreal is, or could be about to get, ugly. I can see the beautiful, fun and good sides of this city, but I could easily understand someone who struggles to.

***

A translation of the text in the image above (thanks to Facebook friend Stéphanie who posted the pic):

Let’s put old people in prisons. They’ll get one shower a day, video surveillance in case of problems, three meals a day, access to a library, computers, TVs, a gym, cable, satellite TV…

Let’s put criminals in retirement homes. They’ll get cold meals and lights out at 8pm, one bath a week, they’ll live in a smaller room and they’ll pay $2,000 per month!!

This is injustice, this message must be shared!