Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Ici On Parle Français

Bonjour, mes amis. Hello from sunny Quebec. Hubby and I are spending a quiet week at a resort in the Laurentians. Not the glitzy, newer than new, kind of resort. L'Auberge du Lac Morency was originally built in the 1930s, and although the log lodge has been renovated, it still feels vintage. The condos retain that flavour as well, lots of wood beams, and floors. Kind of homey, and not too startlingly modern. We don't generally do "startlingly modern" at home or away. So, Lac Morency is our kind of place.  

An old "Ski the Laurentians" poster
Vintage "Ski the Laurentians" poster
There's a long history of outdoor fun in these parts.The shot below is from a "Ski in the Laurentians" poster used by CN Rail back in the day. In one establishment we saw lots of old photos of skiers on trains in the thirties and forties, their skis and poles bristling from racks behind the seats. Or shots of people removing their skies at the platform in Morin Heights, getting ready to catch the ski train back to Montreal. There are, of course, other winter sports besides skiing. Our resort organizes snowmobile treks and dogsled rides, but we'd rather ski. 

Skiing in the Laurentians back in the day
Vintage photo in the Café De La Gare. Once used to advertise CN Rail.
There are several downhill facilities near by, but Hubby and I gave up downhill skiing years ago. It's an expensive sport, with expensive equipment and long drives from home to ski hills. And when we finally arrive, the hills are usually crowded, and often too fast for me. I was a late starter; I took lessons in my thirties, and finally after a couple of years had a certain amount of confidence on the hills. But only on good days. Give me an icy run, with better and faster skiers whooshing around me, and I totally lose my nerve and have all I can do to get down the hill. We had some fun downhill ski trips to Vermont, or Quebec City... back in the day. But I don't miss it.

These days we prefer cross-country skiing. We can ski practically out our back door at home, for one thing. So skiing can be a two hour endeavour instead of gobbling up one's whole day. Plus we prefer quiet trails with no ski-lifts and few people. And you can't get better exercise than cross-country skiing. It's a good cardio workout, and it works all the major muscle groups, legs and arms.  This trip we've been skiing the trails in the linear park called "Le P'tit Train du Nord." Part of the Trans-Canada Trail, fashioned along abandoned railway beds with over 40 kilometres of groomed trials, this is a great facility. Perfect for us. 

ski trail at Piedmont, on Le P'tit Train du Nord
Perfect snow, perfect -8 C temps, and a mostly sunny day.
Skiers can access the trail in several villages or towns along the route. We've been sampling the trail from a different village each day. In some, the old rail station has been reborn as a shop, or a restaurant. One day, we stopped for coffee after our ski at the Café de la Gare, below, in Sainte-Adèle. Inside is all old wood and vintage pictures of skiers from long ago. Lovely. 

coffee shop at Sainte-Adele, on Le P'tit Train du Nord
Café De La Gare, trailside in Sainte- Adele
After three days of skiing, my knees needed a rest. Not to mention my arms. So, since we'd brought our skates, we drove to the little village of Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson to try their outdoor rink. We'd spied it on the way to the ski trail the day before. What a great place. Heated warm-up hut, washrooms, and rubber matting all the way down to the rink. The ice had been recently flooded, so it was smooth and glassy and practically empty. We skated for a while, then I sat on the side-lines, and filmed Hubby as he made a few more circuits. He cringed at the video I posted on Instagram: "Look how slow I'm going, Suz." He looked pretty good to me. But I guess playing hockey all those years gives him a different benchmark than me. Ha. 

Skating at the municipal rink on the lake at Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson
Skating in Sainte- Margeurite-du-Lac-Masson

the big chair on Lac Masson
Stu waving from the big, big chair on the rink on Lac Masson
Looks like Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson had its own mini-winter carnival the weekend before. They had ice sculptures, an ice castle, and a great ice slide for the kids. It's wonderful that small communities can still put on these events, and that families participate, instead of sitting at home watching netflicks. As kids we skated mostly on outdoor rinks. I remember clearly my first time skating at an indoor facility. The York Arena in Fredericton. It was so darned cold, the term "indoor" must have referred to the fact that it had a roof. But, we thought it was wonderful. There were change rooms (instead of a snow bank), and washrooms, and even a canteen. I still remember the smell of the hotdogs they sold, the taste of the hot chocolate, and the feel of burnt tongue after the first sip. So after our skating the other day, in the spirit of nostalgia, we ate lunch at the local casse croute, or take-out. Casse-Croute Arc-en-Ciel in Piedmont must be a local institution because it was packed. And the hot dog and French fries were worth the extra hour of skiing I'll have to do to burn them off. Ha. I passed on the hot chocolate, though.

Ice sculptures at Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson
The ice castle at Sainte-Margeurite-du-Lac-Masson
And just because Hubby and I are burning a lot of calories this week what with all that exercise, don't be fooled, we're not suffering. We're eating well. Very well. We brought provisions from home. Dinner on our first night was my homemade tourtière, with a green salad, my homemade dressing (really simple, just Sicilian lemon balsamic vinegar, and basil olive oil), and Hubby's homemade mustard pickles. You can't have tourtière without pickles. Hubby makes his from an old recipe of my Mum's called "Lady Ashburnham pickles." I love them. And so do many New Brunswickers. Apparently Lady Ashburnham was a Fredericton telephone operator when she met and fell in love with the fifth son of an English earl who'd been banished to the colonies and wasn't supposed to inherit the title, but did. You can read the story yourself, here, if you're interested. 
Homemade Tourtière and fixings
Our dinner brought from home for our first night in our cosy condo
And tonight we're dining in style at the lodge. They have a wonderful table d'hôte. Lots of local favourites, presented in creative ways. The lodge smokes its own salmon, for instance. Yum. So I'll actually be putting on make-up tonight for the first time since we arrived. And appearing in public without my toque. No joke... I have had a serious case of hat head for five straight days. 

Besides all the skiing and skating and eating, we've been reading, and binge watching season two of the Australian television series Rake. Oh my goodness. This is the best series we've seen in years. The "rake" is Cleaver Greene, played by Richard Roxburgh, a dissipated but brilliant Sydney lawyer, and the plots involve the scrapes he and his friends and enemies get into. Lots of government corruption, and bad guys getting their just desserts, eventually, most of the time. So funny, such clever writing. Sometimes we pause the video just to make sure the other person has caught the funny line. We saw season one years ago, but it wasn't until a blog reader mentioned it in a comment that I thought to see if I could find season two. If you don't mind the odd profanity, sometimes lots of profanity, and the occasional glimpse of nudity, you should try it. We roared laughing when at the end of one episode when things did not go his way, Cleaver tossed off the line: "Such is life" with a cheeky grin. Legend has it that "Such is life" were the dying words of the much beloved Aussie bandit Ned Kelly. Now that really is clever. And I felt really smart because I caught the reference. Ha. But only because we immersed ourselves in Aussie culture and history before we visited the first time in 2003. So we know a fair bit about Ned Kelly.  I'll tell you about our Ned Kelly adventure one day. It's pretty funny. 

skier passing us on the trail near Piedmont
More perfect snow, perfect temperatures, and perfect skiing
Now, I must go and get ready for dinner. Hope I can get my eye-liner on straight. I'm kind of out of practice. And what with the wine and the three course meal tonight.... I mean... smoked salmon candies marinated in maple syrup, with horseradish crème fraîche, and watercress... and that's just for starters ... sigh... we'll have to hit the ski trail hard tomorrow. 

Really hard. 

You should see the dessert menu.

So, while we've been skiing and eating and practicing our very bad French here in "La Belle Province" ... what have you been up to my friends?

Two Traveling Texans

Linking up with Thursday Favourites at Katherine's Corner  and Saturday Share at Not Dressed as Lamb

Friday, 26 January 2018

Old Friends and New

Psychologists agree, the secret to healthy aging is maintaining strong social contacts. Making new friends, and keeping the old. Same with our wardrobe, don't you think?

A healthy, workable wardrobe means that we acquire a few new pieces each season and the rest is comprised of wearable, older pieces which we still love. And, I might add, which still fit, and are in good condition. We welcome the new, and take good care of the old. 

woman in black leggings, charcoal sweater, checkered tee and burgundy scarf
Smile, smile, big smile.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Our Curated Lives

I've been thinking about social media for the past day or so. About the carefully curated persona we present to the world through Facebook or Instagram. I mean "curated" like I curate my closet, in the sense that the images and details are "chosen, organized and presented" very deliberately, to achieve a certain end. Some social media users get slammed for over-curating their content, for presenting only those pictures which depict their lives as perfect when, of course, they aren't perfect at all. On the other hand social media users are often criticised for not being selective enough, for posting overly personal moments, and events, that should be kept private. Think of all the future fifty year-olds who are going to regret those high school party shots shared on Facebook. 

So where should we draw the line, do you think, on what we share and what we keep private? To answer my own question, I guess our own need for privacy and our own level of comfort in talking about ourselves will dictate where we draw that line. As well as our sense of good taste, and maybe even our knowledge that whatever we say on-line is very difficult to take back or erase. We are the curators of our own public image. Whether that image is shared with a few friends and family, or made public on the world wide web.

And I've been thinking that despite the fact that social media is relatively new, the idea of choosing what we share with the world is not. Haven't we always chosen what we share of ourselves and our lives with others? Haven't our lives always been "curated?" Whether it's the photos we have in our wedding album, the details on our work resumé, or the difference between what we tell our co-workers about our vacation versus what we tell our best friend. 

woman and man with their arms about each other, smiling.
My cousin Mark and me after my brother Terry's funeral in September. 

Friday, 19 January 2018

When Inspiration Gets Bossy

When I was younger, a lot younger, way back in high school, I used to lie in bed before it was time to get up in the morning and dream of a perfect outfit for the day. I'd close my eyes and conjure up what I felt like that morning, who I wanted to be that day, and what outfit I'd need to wear to achieve that persona. Of course, the problem was that I frequently didn't own the items I needed to become my perfect self that day. 

Still, I'd get as close as I could with what was on offer in my closet. Once conceived, the picture in my head of my best self drove me on; nothing else would do; even a pale imitation was better than abandoning the idea altogether. Sometimes, if I was very lucky, I'd make a successful foray into the closets of my older sisters. A few times I even absconded with items of my mother's. Inspiration can be downright bossy, you know. A bit of a control freak, even. 

three models in long coats
 On the left two Max Mara coats, Fall and Winter 2017 from On the right Asos coat from Lolariostyle on IG.
Years later, at almost sixty-two, I'm still a bit like that. Still dreaming of outfits; still unable to get them out of my head once they've lodged there. Still sometimes unable to measure up to the often tyrannical dictates of inspiration. When I was a kid, I had only myself and my imagination to blame. Now... well... I blame Pinterest. At least partly. 

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

When Do Two Become One?

I've been reading an amazing book this week. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Strout is a beautiful writer, so skilful with words and images. Her work puts me in mind of Alice Munro, and of another Canadian writer, David Adams Richards. I love how all three of these writers make me feel as if I'm crawling right inside the lives of their characters. Characters who are not obvious heroes, who are not necessarily beautiful or exciting, but who are living ordinary, often difficult, lives with dignity and honour. 

Yesterday, I plunked myself down amidst the muddle and mess of our renovations to have a cup of tea and a short read. I was struck by a scene in Olive Kitteridge where Olive's son, Christopher, gets married to a woman he's known for only six weeks. During the ceremony, Olive feels a sense of disquiet, of fear for her son. Of course she wants him to find happiness, to not be lonely, but still, she's wary of her new daughter-in-law, and worries "at the way the bride was smiling up at Christopher, as though she actually knew him. Because did she know what he looked like in first grade when he had a nosebleed in Miss Lampley's class? Did she see him when he was a pale, slightly pudgy child, his skin broken out in hives because he was afraid to take a spelling test? No...." 

This scene had me musing all afternoon. As Hubby and I worked to put our house to rights, I thought about marriage. About that old cliché of two becoming one. About the idea and the reality of matrimony, holy or otherwise. How two people who probably, as Olive points out, know little about each other commit to each other for life. Supposedly. And how the marriage ceremony itself does little to unify a couple, to make two people become one. 

Climb every mountain together? Yukon, 2006
That scene in Olive Kitteridge had me thinking the rest of the day about my own marriage. How well Hubby and I thought we knew each other when we got married, after having dated for a year, and lived together for another three. How much we've discovered about each other in the almost twenty-nine years since then. And what has made us more unified as a couple, what has helped us to become if not exactly "one," then certainly more "one" than we were on our wedding day. Ha. 

Friday, 12 January 2018

New Year; New Stuff

Ah, yes. Winter in Manotick. Everything is lovely and clean, pristine and peaceful. Bucolic, even. Especially after a snowfall. Especially in the bush. I love when it snows just after New Years. Making everything look, well... new year new. That's my theme today, actually. New stuff. 

chickadee on a snowy branch
We saw lots of chickadees today while we were skiing.

Monday, 8 January 2018

I Need a Good Book

I really, really need a good book. Not just a good book, but a great one. A big bitey, juicy, descriptive, character-driven book. One that will captivate me in the first chapter, transport me to wherever it is set, and make me forget all about the world... kind of book. 

Not necessarily a serious book, but a seriously interesting one. A book like The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, or A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, or The Children Act by Ian McEwen. A new Penelope Lively, maybe. Or the aptly named masterpiece, Euphoria, which Lily King wrote a few years ago. These books conjured up reader's euphoria, for me. The feeling you get after reading only a few pages when you know that you're going to be able to dive into the book, learn some really cool stuff, love and/or love to hate the characters, and feel as if you've been on a trip to a far away land. Yeah. That's what I need right now.

cover of Lily King's Euphoria cover of Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Is It Possible To Be An Ethical Shopper?

It's the dead of winter here in Ottawa, the dead time between New Year's and the return of normal life. Back in the day, I would fill this weirdly unreal time (between the craziness of Christmas, and the start of the school term) with marking. After Christmas, when boxing week sales made me not want to venture downtown, and Hubby was mesmerized by hockey on television (World Junior Hockey tournament, Spengler Cup, plus the regular NHL games) I'd allot a few hours a day to marking the major essays that my senior students had submitted on the last day before the break. And when school started again, I'd have that Herculean task all done and dusted instead of hanging over my head.  

So what do I do now, when the chaos of post Christmas traffic, crowded restaurants and stores, not to mention all that hockey on TV, keeps me in limbo? I do my closet inventory. Naturally. Nothing like a good stock-taking to start the year off right. This year, I'm asking myself if I'm any closer to being an ethical shopper. And, if I'm honest, if it's even possible to be an ethical shopper.

woman in sweater and jeans holding a pen and a small notebook
Consulting my little book of lists