Tour de Open Houses

Newly married and quickly outgrowing our single closet 500 square foot condo, my husband and I recently began looking for a house in Toronto.

Friends and family gently warned us that the real estate market in Toronto was “tough”, and that we may want to adjust our expectations. We listened politely, but remained firmly ensconced in our naïve, hopeful bubble: we had our expectations in check, thank you very much– a semi-detached was just fine. Plus, we had what we thought was a healthy budget.

We set up an initial meeting with a real estate agent, and over beers, peered down at a giant, dry erase map of downtown. She handed us a marker and suggested we circle the areas we were interested in. I drew careful circles around our dream list of preferred neighborhoods, reserving a heart for our favorite neighbourhood of all.

“So, the magic question”, she asked,”what is your budget?”

I relayed our amount confidently.

“Ok, so that rules out here” she said, proceeding to break my (literal and figurative) heart with the back of her hand. “You might be able to get a semi here,” “here, it’s not likely but we’ll give it a shot”.

“Don’t worry,” she reassured us, correctly reading the terror on my face, “we’ll find you something”. We left with a stack of pamphlets on home inspections, termites and standard terms and conditions, already convinced we couldn’t afford to live in Drake’s compost bin.

The next morning, we began receiving daily listings of houses in our selected areas. At first it was exciting; I would roll over in bed, pick up my phone and scour the listings like a little kid on Christmas morning. But quickly my enthusiasm began to fade.

“They want how much for this dilapidated shoe box?” I’d ask my husband, incredulously, “I think I see crime scene tape! Is that blood??”

Still, we soldiered on, and began what I call our weekly “Tour de Open Houses”

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that visiting open houses is basically an endurance sport. Each weekend morning began with making a list of 6-7 homes we wanted to check out. Some were on opposite ends of the city, and since we don’t have a car, to make them all within the 2-4pm open house window, we plotted our mission like a high stakes jewel heist.

Our initial strategy was to take the subway to the farthest destination, then physically run to the next house on the list. We soon realized that a) we are in horrible shape; and b) we were wasting precious time lacing up sneakers. Also, some of the agents didn’t take too kindly to us sweating all over their beautifully staged furniture.

So despite the frigid February weather, we switched to flip-flops (what’s a little frostbite if you find your dream home?) and Ubering between houses.  At one point we had our Uber driver wait outside each house in his cherry red Mazda 3 like a getaway car.

We had a checklist of must-haves (3 bedrooms, eat-in kitchen, parking, finished basement) and approached each house like a sting operation, scouring the rooms with maximum speed and efficiency.  At one point, my husband wanted to take a closer look at the shed in the backyard and I was like:

Of course, there were plenty of diversion tactics designed to lead us off course. Like when the agent at one open house was literally baking cookies. As soon as we walked in we were assaulted by the delicious smell. “Don’t fall for it- It’s a trick!” I hissed at my husband, who had already begun walking, zombie like, towards the plate of cookies on the counter. I grabbed his arm and pulled him back to me. “Can’t you see the smell is masking a tiny kitchen and already lifting floorboards?!”

I successfully sidestepped the wine and cheese at the next house (which for me was a MAJOR accomplishment), but ultimately succumbed to the fresh cannolis at the next (you guys, cannolis! From the bakery just down the street!).  We actually considered putting an offer on that place, until the fog of sugar and fat lifted and I realized it was directly across from a derelict gas station that appeared to be an illicit drug front operation.

Interpreting the adjectives realtors use is also like deciphering code.

  • “Cozy” = shoebox.
  • “Renovator’s Dream” = asbestos paradise.
  • “Recently updated” = cheap flip job where the doorknobs fall off in your hands.

I even saw one house described as “Artisinal”, which I thought was a term reserved for hipster restaurants and small-batch coffee producers.

We also learned to look past the cheesy staging furniture and decor, sidestepping the “Keep Calm and Carry On” pillows that assaulted our eyes at every turn. And we quickly got wise to the tricks designed to make the rooms look bigger- like the doll-sized furniture, and stripping all signs of life and clutter bare, absent a few, classic novels,  discarded casually on bedside tables as if to imply “You, too would read Tolstoy if you lived here”.

So, after nearly 6 months and almost 100 homes visited, where does all this hard-earned intel leave us?

Nowhere.

Although we have yet to achieve the pinnacle of home ownership, and are still engaging in a shoe turf war, at least we’ve narrowed down what we are looking for so much that we skip open houses and go directly to the source with our agent. Which, on the bright side, means I can now spend my Saturdays doing what’s really important: watching everything I PVR’d from the week and eating bottomless bowls of cereal.

Question of the Day: Have you bought a house? How was the process?

 

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10 Things That Happen When You Get Engaged

A few months ago, I got engaged.

Exciting for sure, but also a little bit terrifying.

Because with my shiny new accessory, I was thrust into the weird and wonderful world of wedding planning – a veritable parallel universe where words like “charmeuse” and “pave” abound, and everything is made from precious unicorn hair and costs $10 thousand dollars.

For a girl who has spent more time envisioning her ideal rap name  than her dream wedding (“DJ Breezy Beatz”, in case you were interested), this was completely overwhelming.

So to save you from the same shock I experienced, here are 10 things that happened to me- and will very likely happen to you- after getting engaged.

1. You Will Have To Use The Word “Fiancé

2. You Will Join The Pinterest Army

Even if you’ve never considered joining the visual bookmarking site; even if- to borrow a phrase from Lena Dunham- you think you’re “not that kind of girl”, within weeks of getting engaged, chances are you’ll be pinning your little heart out- perusing photos of elaborate centerpieces and DIY crocheted ring pillows until your eyes cross. You will feel a new-found sense of social media validation every time someone follows your carefully curated “Rustic-Modern-Victorian-Tropical-East-Meets-West Wedding” board. You will question what this says about you, but you won’t be able to stop. Before you know it you will be down a rabbit hole of mason jar snow globes and  mini lights; seriously contemplating giving your guests live Maltipoo puppies as wedding favors.

RESIST the urge, ladies.

3. You Will Watch Wedding Shows with a new-found purpose and enthusiasm.

Because staying in on Friday night to watch Say Yes To The Dress is no longer sad.. it’s productive.  (Ok, it’s actually still just sad).

4. You Lean More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Flowers

If you’re a horticultural rookie like I was, prepare to be SCHOOLED in the art of wedding flowers. Hydrangeas, Calla Lillies, Amarylis, Briar Rose, Gladiolus, Sage Moonblood.

(Ok, so at least two of those are actually celebrity baby names. But god help you if you can guess which ones).

By the time you’re finished visiting with florists and decorators you will feel like you’ve received an unofficial Bachelor’s Degree in botany. And, incidentally, the perfect name for the protagonist in that Victorian Romance Novel you’ve been working on.

5. You Will Discover “The Wedding Premium”

The bridal industry is one giant racket. Like the world’s suckiest magic, whenever you attach the word “wedding” to a good or service, the price skyrockets 300%.  No matter your budget, chances are you’re probably going to blow through it. Hope you like eating Campbell’s soup for every meal!

6.  You Will Become an Expert At Telling Your Proposal Story

Like an unofficial ToastMasters class, getting engaged teaches you the art of telling the same damn story 17,000 times over- condensed, edited, and maybe even hyperbolized to its pithy, climactic perfection. Which is great, because for a while, it’s all you’ll want to talk about.

But  no matter how amazing your story is, you will eventually begin to feel a simultaneous sense of dread and validation every time someone asks you about it. It’s how I imagine Tony Bennett must feel every time he gets on stage with Lady Gaga.

7. You Will Realize How Horrible and Sexist Most Wedding Publications Are.

Guys, I’m convinced the target audience for wedding magazines is solely Aspiring Disney Princesses and contestants on The Bachelor.  

With their glossy-paged depictions of elaborate, $100,000 celebrations, and articles like: How to Lose 6 Pounds in 6 Days!” and “Choosing the perfect scent for your big day!“, these publications seem to suggest that if you’re not absolutely losing your sh*t about your wedding 24 hours a day and dreaming of giant Kim-and-Kanye-inspired flower walls, well then my friend, you’re doing it wrong.

This is totally reasonable, right?

8.  You Will Surrender All Privacy

Wearing a ring on your left hand is like an unofficial beacon that screams “Please, come ask me detailed questions about my personal life!” Before you know it you will be awkwardly navigating questions with near complete strangers about whether you’re going to change your last name, when you are planning to have kids, and- in the case of your Great Aunt Martha- if you’re nervous for the “big night”.

9. You’re Going to Think You Lost Your Ring… Like All The Time

76% of brides-to-be suffer from (<— made up statistic) Hyper Ring Awareness- a manic, irrational condition where you constantly check your left hand to make sure you haven’t somehow lost your ring (Spoiler Alert- You didn’t. You’re just crazy.)

10. You Will Feel A Compelling Desire To Use The Bride Emoji Gratuitously

Fight this compulsion at all costs.

Question of the Day: If you’re engaged -any tips?

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My Real-Life Elizabeth Taylor Moment

A couple of months ago, I turned 29. I didn’t make a big fuss about it because, who celebrates turning 29? It’s one year closer to 30 and, let’s be honest: 

 I figured I’d just pour myself a big glass of red wine, slather my face with anti-wrinkle cream and spend the day flipping through old Facebook photos, lamenting the dewy, uncorrupted skin of BreezyK past. 

My boyfriend however, had other plans for me.  He suggested we both take the day off work and hang out, which sounded good to me, because shameless self-pity isn’t really my best “office look”. 

I knew we had dinner reservations at 9pm, so I figured we would just kick until then. We were watching old SNL reruns when he turned to me and said “I have a surprise for you, but you have to pack an overnight bag”.

 “What is this, a Bachelor Fantasy Date?” I asked “Where are we going? And (more importantly) “how much time do I have to get ready?” 

 

“You’ll see” he said, “Just pack something to wear to dinner tonight, and some comfy clothes. We’re leaving in an hour”

Suspiciously, I began to pack. I am a notorious overpacker at the best of times, but with few parameters, this reached new extremes. I literally packed everything I own; including my passport (in case we were going to Paris), 6 pairs of socks (in case it got cold in Paris), and two different hair straighteners (in case one didn’t match the Parisian outlets).

“Whoa, it’s not like we’re going to Paris,” he said, correctly reading my crazy. “We’re staying at the Drake Hotel overnight.”

The Drake, if you’re not familiar, is a boutique hotel, restaurant, concert venue and general Toronto institution. I’ve been there many times to eat and drink, and have often said, “wouldn’t it be cool to stay here for a night?”

So I was really disappointed it wasn’t Paris pumped we were going there! (No really, I was. I don’t even look good in berets anyway.)

 Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, so the concierge offered us complimentary cocktails at the hotel Bar. We sipped our Moscow mules and pretended we were fabulous people who regularly drink cocktails in hotel lobbies at 3pm.  

“Sorry for the wait,” said the concierge after we had finished, “we upgraded you to our nicest suite, and were just getting it ready. Looks like you have just enough time to change before your couples massage”.

Couples massage?

 

Our room had a very retro, mid-century modern feel with low light, teak wood furniture, and a big, sprawling chaise lounge. A bottle of champagne was chilling on ice. He must have mentioned it’s my birthday, I thought, adding two points to the mental tally I was already beginning to lose track of.

After our massages, he suggested we start getting ready for dinner early. “That way we’ll have time to drink champagne before we leave”, he said.

I was like,

 

He changed into his suit and I began the arduous process of getting ready. Two hours An hour later, with my smokey eye perfected, I emerged from the bathroom in my plush Drake Hotel monogrammed bathrobe. “I think I’m just going to wear this while we have our champagne,” I announced. “Then I can sit on that chaise in my robe and get lipstick on my champagne glass. It will be a very Elizabeth Taylor moment”.

Ok so she’s wearing a ball gown here. Whatever, you get the idea.

“Ok,” he responded, not missing a beat. After knowing me for nearly 5 years, he is used to my delusions of grandeur.

I sauntered over to the chaise lounge, folded my legs up under me in my best “White Diamonds Commercial” impression, and held out my champagne flute in front of me.

He smiled and poured us both a glass, raising his for a toast.

“Cheers,” he said, “I am so happy to be spending your birthday with you this year”.  

“Cheers!” I responded, clinking my glass against his and proceeding to down half of it in one fell swoop.

“Wait,” he said, “I’m not done yet”.

Something about the way he said it stopped me dead in my tracks. I slowly lowered the glass from my lips, dribblig the offending champagne back in. 

He reached behind the champagne bucket, and pulled out a jewelry box. Before I knew it, was down on one knee. He said a few sweet things, all of which I’m sure were carefully planned but now are a complete blur, before hitting the punchline:

“Will you marry me?” 

And how did I respond? Did I jump up and down? Cry beautiful, heartfelt, mascara-stained tears as Liz Taylor undoubtedly would have done? 

Nope.

I laughed.

And laughed.

And laughed. To say I was surprised was an understatement.  After about 30 seconds of solid giggling, I caught a glimpse of his face, which was registering pure terror, and I realized I still hadn’t actually SAID anything.

“Oh my god yes!!” I responded “Yes of course!! Sorry, it’s not funny, I’m just happy!”

 We decided to keep it just between us for the night, and to let our friends and families know the next morning. We went for a lovely dinner where we were so distracted by the enormity of what had just happened that we could hardly enjoy the delicious food. Just a note to newly engaged couples- TELL EVERYONE. Seriously, MILK that sh*t. We stupidly didn’t mention it until after our meal was over and had paid, and the chef literally ran out of the restaurant after us saying “Why didn’t you tell us! We would have given you free champagne and treats!”

 When we arrived back at the hotel, a long line was snaked outside of the Drake for their annual Halloween costume bash. We walked right to the front with our room card, and told the bouncer we were guests of the hotel. “Of course,” he said, lifting the velvet rope.

 “You know,” he said, once we were back in our room, “with our reservation, we have access to everything in the hotel, including the party. I think we should go- but we need some costumes.

 …….. Good thing I brought some!” to my utter disbelief, he pulled two costumes out of his seemingly endless bag of tricks- for him, a Mountie, for me, a Chef. (which was a relief, because I worried for a split second I was going to be The Pioneer Woman).

 Laughing, we switched into our costumes and made our way downstairs where we danced to 90’s hits and partied with kids too young to remember them. Although I had never imagined the night I got engaged to end like this, it was, strangely, perfect.

 So, in the end I guess I did get my Elizabeth Taylor moment-just not quite the way I had planned it.

meLiz

Question of the Day: Are you engaged? Tell me your proposal story!

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7 Slang Words I Learned in 2014 (And How To Use Them)

At the ripe old age of 29, I am slowly coming to the realization that I may no longer be “hip”.

Evidence of this includes:

  • my growing reluctance to stay awake past 10pm
  • unfamiliarity with the majority of award show performers (Ariana who now?)
  • increased disillusion with music festivals and all other non-seated events
  • the fact that I used the word “hip” in quotations in the preceding sentence.

Perhaps the biggest, and most troubling sign, however, is my complete and utter hopelessness when it comes to today’s slang. This was made clear to me recently when a friend described an online date she went on as “a total catfish”.  Say what? “You went on a date with a sea creature??” I asked, imagining the two of them at a fancy restaurant, plates full of plankton.   

“Uh, no” she said looking at me like I had three heads “it means when someone pretends to be someone they’re not online… like the MTV show?”

I wish I could say that was the only time this happened – but alas, over the past year, there have been a number of times I’ve been left with a blank stare, scrambling to urbandictionary.com to break the code, like a less-cool, worse-cheekboned Alan Turing. 

Because I love you and don’t want you to suffer the same fate, I’ve compiled a list of the top 6 slang words I learned in 2014, together with definitions, and how to use each in a sentence so you can be just like the cool kids.

1. Salty

Bitter; angry; used to connote a general bad attitude.

E.g. “She was salty when she discovered Real Housewives of Miami had been cancelled” 

2. Basic

Common; unsophisticated; transparent; generally unoriginal

e.g. “Homegirl bought a year’s supply of Pumpkin Spice Latte Mix. She’s so basic” 

3. Sharewithal

An inherent understanding of what to share on social media, when, and on what platform.

E.g. “Did you see that terrible status Alyssa posted on Facebook? Girl has ZERO sharewithal” 

4. Webisode

Overly dramatic

E.g. “Sorry for being such a webisode last night, I had way too much Pinot Grigio” 

5. Bae 

I’m sure most of you know  this one now that Pharrell has sung it to death, but did you guys know it is actually an ACRONYM? It stands for “Before Anyone Else” and can be used to describe your significant other, bestie, something incredibly cool etc.

E.g. “Nutella is, and always will be my bae” 

6. Turnt Up

Getting loose/wild; crazy partying

E.g. “I drank TWO glasses of wine while watching Extreme Weightloss Last Night. Sh*t was turnt UP”

7. Swerve

To Dodge or dismiss someone.

E.g.

My Friend: “Do you want to do a juice cleanse with me?”

Me: “SWERVE, b*tch!”

Question of the Day: What Slang Words have you learned recently?

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Brow So Hard

You may recall that a while back, I was the victim of a horrific crime against brow-manity.

lady4

You can read all about it here, but in case you find that too traumatizing, here’s the cole’s notes version: some b*tch named Tina at The World’s Worst Salon waxed half my eyebrows off and burned me like a blank CD.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Anyhoo, it’s been nearly four months since that fateful day, and with the help of countless dollars’ worth of miracle growth products a little patience, regular exfoliating and nightly prayers to Saint Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, my eyebrows are FINALLY starting to grow back.  

The only problem is, now that I’ve been burned once before (quite literally), I’m a bit gun-shy. I’ve been scared sh*tless to let anyone else touch my brows lest I suffer the same fate.

And let me tell you- four months of regrowth ain’t pretty. My brows began to slowly take over my face like misshapen, wayward caterpillars.

When she heard my harrowing tale of woe, a friend recommended that I check out the Brow House in Yorkville, a salon dedicated exclusively to eyebrow maintenance in Toronto’s most chi-chi neighbourhood.

“They put me on a ‘brow plan’,” she told me “I love my eyebrows now”.

A brow plan? Well if that isn’t exactly the type of ridiculous, first world sh*t I live for, then I don’t know what is.  Sign me up!

I booked a “consultation” on Saturday afternoon, right between my hair and nail appointments (the struggle is real), and spent the rest of the week with visions of full brows dancing in my head.

The salon is tucked-away in a brownstone walk-up on a quiet Yorkville street. Inside, it is is minimalist and chic: all white with a few, well-spaced red salon chairs, mirrors, and a coffee table stacked with aspirational lifestyle magazines.

I was introduced to my “brow artist”, Natalia.

“How can I help you today?” she asked.

I proceeded to recount my traumatic experience.  “That is horrifying” she said, taking my hand and looking in my eyes seriously. “I am so sorry you have gone through that. You have come to the right place. ”

She proceeded to explain that, despite their current Anthony Davis status, my brows were actually in OK shape.  She drew a line on my face to show me where my brows should be, and said that for the most part, they were growing back nicely. After a couple more months, my arches would be good as new.

As she waxed away the stray hairs, she told me about the Brow House philosophy. “We take a lot of factors into consideration when providing a brow recommendation,” she explained, “your hair texture, color, face shape. If you have a round face, you will need longer, more arched brows to balance it out. For a longer face, we recommend flat brows with a low arch”.

I nodded enthusiastically, amazed by this brave new world of brow theory.

Like me, the ladies at the Brow House are firm believers in the “full brow lifestyle”.

“Have you ever considered getting a tint?” she asked. “That way you won’t have to fill them in every day?”

I was skeptical. What if I looked like one of those old ladies who colored in her eyebrows with a Maybeline eyeliner?

lady3

“No no, it will be subtle” she promised. Reluctantly, I consented, and held my breath as she coloured in my brows with a miniscule paint pot.

The result was, just as she had promised, natural and awesome.

“I feel like a whole new person!” I squealed, taking in my (arguably incrementally) changed appearance in the mirror.

I paid my bill (yikes) and booked another appointment in four weeks. Hook, line and sinker.

Exhibit A: Awkward After Pic I made Colin take of me in front of the microwave.

 

The price of beauty apparently knows no bounds, but god damn if I just bought me some good lookin’ brows.

Question of the Day:  What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for beauty?

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Iron Lady

Last week I achieved yet another domestic milestone: I finally learned how to iron.

Side note: I should really start a spinoff blog called “The Domestication of BreezyK”. At this rate, I will have completely morphed into the Pioneer Woman by 2016.

Other homemaking pursuits I have recently tackled (besides assembling shoe-racks and making everything that can ever be made out of pumpkin):

  • De-seeding pomegranates088
  • Making delicious grilled cheese sandwiches (Ok, so I really just ate this. )093

Pressing the extra water out of tofu

094

Wearing Aprons (like a BOSS)

143

But I digress.

When it comes to household tasks, ironing, has long been my Waterloo. I have never been able to master it- mostly because I haven’t tried. Just the look of the thing makes me want to run screaming in the other direction and curl up in the fetal position.

This is what you use it for, right?

I think I inherited my resistance to this menacing metal appliance from my mother, who loathed ironing as well. Presumably in an act of defiance, she never taught her 5 children how to use one. This wasn’t really a problem for me growing up, since all I wore were t-shirts and jeans anyway, but it really began rearing its ugly head once I finished school and got a job at a law firm.

Suddenly I was immersed in a world of suits, silk blouses, and relentless pleats.  So how did I get by without looking like this all the time, you might ask?

I dug deep into my arsenal of iron-avoidance techniques, which include:

1. Putting things in the dryer on low heat for a few minutes

I know this is bad behavior for a couple of reasons.

  • most of these clothes are “dry-clean only” (whatever that means)
  • it uses a crap-load of energy. Every time I do it I can literally feel David Suzuki’s disapproving glare.

2. Hanging stuff in the bathroom while I shower

Again, this is not without its issues:

  • it doesn’t really get all of the wrinkles out unless you take a 45 minute, scalding hot shower
  • results in damp clothing, which you have to wait at least 20 minutes to put on

3.  Blowing on the wrinkles with a hairdryer

  • surprisingly effective, yet time-consuming

4.  Just letting stuff hang there for a while

  • In my experience with extreme laziness, if you just leave things alone for long enough, they tend to take care of themselves

5. Using my hair straightener

  • a sad but true confession – I once used my hair straightener to iron out wrinkles on a shirt in a pinch.
  • FYI- since most straighteners are like, 300 times hotter than the typical iron- I wouldn’t recommend this at home.

6.  Putting stuff under my mattress

  • I did this with dress pants one, and it worked ok, but it sort of kept me up all night, because I was convinced I could feel them underneath me like the Princess and the Pea.

    The struggle is real.

As you can see, all of these methods work with varying degrees of accuracy and effectiveness. You would think with the great lengths I have gone to develop ironing substitutes, I could simply invest the time to learn how to iron. But you would be underestimating my pig-headedness.

So basically, instead of this:

I typically look more like this:

Don’t be distracted by the cute puppy, people. There are 300 more words to go

Anyway- after nearly 29 years of successfully avoiding the iron, last week I was  finally forced to confront my biggest domestic fear head on.

We were rushing to get ready for a wedding, when my boyfriend suddenly said, “Hey babe, would you mind ironing this shirt for me?”

I paused. “Um, why don’t I just write on the card instead?”

“I’ve already done that.” he replied, “It would be a big help if you could iron this”  handing me his dress shirt.

I nervously took the shirt from him with two fingers, like a hot potato when I knew the music was about to stop. I immediately began scanning the room for the nearest exit.

“Wait, do you not now how to iron?” he asked, correctly reading my evasiveness.

“But what do you do instead?”

I quickly ran through the list above. The expression on his face was a mix of pure horror and disbelief.

“Ok, well, if that’s working for you.” he said, turning to do the task himself.

“No wait,” I said, swallowing every ounce of my pride. “I want to learn. It’s time”

He led me through a quick ironing tutorial, explaining the different techniques and settings (did I mention I’m dating Danny Tanner?) . Then, he watched as I practiced on an old t-shirt for a few minutes. And guys, I gotta say- it wasn’t that hard. 

In fact, I’m kind of a ringer.

I’d like to say that since then, I’ve been an ironing machine; pressing my jeans and undershirts like a true square; but I must admit that I’ve largely reverted back to my multitude of avoidance tactics. I don’t know, maybe I enjoy the arbitrary sense of suspense it all adds to my life or something. In any event, I don’t run screaming when I see the iron anymore, and that’s gotta count for something.

Question of the Day: What household task do you avoid the most?

 

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The Boot Camp Diaries

In an effort to ditch the baby weight, I recently started taking boot camp classes.

The classes take place in one of those industrial, open-space gyms that I thought only existed in my nightmares, and are a mixture of crossfit and pure, unadulterated hell.

Nestled above a Chinese restaurant on one of Toronto’s busiest strips, the gym is a large, windowless box with concrete walls and little ambiance. Across the rubber-padded floor rest various, increasingly imaginative torture devices- from giant tires, to sledgehammers, to dangling gymnastic rings. A thick strip of astro turf runs inexplicably, terrifyingly, down the middle. 

The central radio unleashes a steady onslaught of adult-contemporary hits, and a single metal fan provides the only, pitiful source of ventilation. Near the front of the room is a chalkboard, listing each day’s unique menu of misery. Exercise terms like “Power Cleans” “Weighted Jacks” and“ “Inchworms”  taunt you like creatively-named death sentences, exacerbated by the insane numbers of repetitions scrawled in the margins. 

Needless to say- the combined effect is my own, personal torture chamber.

My general philosophy

Alas- this baby belly isn’t going to eradicate itself, so twice a week at 7 am, Stephen- a fiery welterweight with seemingly boundless energy- leads us through an hour of cruel and unusual punishment while I internally weep and say silent prayers to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

A typical workout consists of three “rounds”, and although they vary each day, it’s a pretty safe bet that each will contain some combination of the following exercises:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Push-Ups
  • Pull-Ups
  • Lifting heavy sh*t
  • Some form of Crawling or jumping;
  • generally wanting to die; and- the WORST:
  • BURPEES.

My boyfriend and I (yes, he’s in on this too. Misery loves company, people) have been going for a few weeks now, and we’re starting to recognize a regular cast of characters. There’s the overly-opinionated middle-aged lady who unreasonably believes everyone is “stealing her free weights”, the tatted-up gay couple who are impossibly ripped (and impossibly cute), and a few former university athletes who boastingly sport the swag of their respective alma matters.

And then there’s us. While we’ve run a few 10ks and consider ourselves reasonably fit (mistaken pregnancy notwithstanding), we certainly weren’t prepared for this type of workout. After our first class, we both couldn’t move for nearly a week. (Although, I do consider the time we spent massaging one another’s calves and writhing in pain while watching Diners Drive –Ins and Dives a true bonding experience.)  

To his credit, Stephen, has been incredibly patient and encouraging with both of us; explaining each exercise and instructing on proper form. He’s also been a terrific cheerleader- especially with me.

Guys, I am not exaggerating when I say I am the WORST at boot camp. I am invariably the last one finished each round, and that’s even AFTER modifying all of the exercises. (Don’t look at me like that. I’d like to see YOUr a$$ do a real pull-up).

Given I am competitive in nature and generally think I am the best at everything, being confronted with my own inadequacy is somewhat devastating. It would be OK if I thought I was getting better, but I honestly feel like I might be regressing. Every week I seem weaker and weaker. I’m like the Benjamin Button of exercise.

The other day in class, I was sitting on a giant tire lamenting my inadequacy, when Stephen came over to me. “How you doing?” he  asked “good?”

“Yeah…” I responded quietly

“It’s ok to take breaks. Don’t worry about what they’re doing,” he said, pointing to my fellow boot camp members, “don’t compare yourself to them. Just think about you. If they’re not taking breaks, they’re not working hard enough. I think you’re doing great”. 

It felt like I had somehow been transported into a scene from a motivational sports movie. Like Mr. Miyagi to the Karate Kid- Stephen had inspired me to get up and flip that tire once more- this time with the heart of a champion.

The whole thing was sort of emotional.

Anyhow- I still suck at boot camp, but now when I want to give up, instead of doing this:

I just listen to Stephen’s voice back in my head saying:

… and if that fails, I just close my eyes and think about pizza.

Mmmm. Pizza.

Question of the Day: What is the most challenging workout you’ve ever done?

Back In The Old Country…

When it comes to comfort food, you really can’t go wrong with good old-fashioned, cheesy, delicious pierogies.

These pierogi mascots should be the mascots of my life.

Which is why I was pumped to attend the annual Polish Festival a few weekends ago here in Toronto. Pierogies + beer tents + POLKA = a guaranteed good time. 

The festival took place along Roncesvalles avenue, a mostly commercial strip between College and Queen streets, and it was bumping. Food trucks, cotton candy, bouncy castles- you name it. Only thing was, it wasn’t very Polish…. at all.

I mean, don’t get me wrong there was one (Grammy nominated) Polka band busting out tunes… right next to the Fillipino adobo cart.

And there was one pierogi stand, but the lines were so long that we eventually gave up and hit up a nearby Cuban place.

The real fun for me anyway was checking out all of the permanent retailers along the strip. Roncesvalles is an up-and-coming Toronto hot spot, and a number of cool new boutiques and restaurants have opened up there over the past few years. The neighborhood still retains a lot of its old-school charm though, and there are still a number of Eastern-European small businesses holding it down amongst the hipster-fication.

Like the Old Country Gift Shop:

When I first walked by, I was struck by the vintage-looking sign, and the eccentric display in the front window – a veritable hodge podge of stuff. There was a mannequin modelling a pearl necklace, an array of various deodorants, a selection of power tools, and a large display of Ritter Sport chocolate bars.

Needless to say, I was intrigued

I walked inside, and with the sound of the jingling bell was transported back in time nearly 50 years. I felt like Marty McFly, only without the cool DeLoreon.

Along the yellowed, gondola shelving sat everything from specialty jams, to vintage cutlery, to a comprehensive collection of mint condition Ty beanie babies.

At the 1960’s style cash register stood two spunky older ladies with white bouffants, extolling the virtues of a blown-glass ash tray to what I assumed was a regular customer.

These foxy ladies I later learned, were Karin and Helga, German (again, not Polish) sisters who grew up in the store and have worked there for nearly 50 years. Turns out the Old Country Gift Shop is family-owned, and has been serving the customers of Roncesvalles with their random treasures since 1962.

Obviously, things haven’t changed much since then.  the walls are lined with what looks like the original wallpaper, and the floor is covered in a well-worn, checkerboard-patterned linoleum.

Sort of like this. She knows.

The nostalgia in the air is palpable- each shelf dusted with memories of days- and times- gone by. As I made my way to the back of the store, I spotted a wide assortment of Octoberfest aprons, and an entire section of unopened, pristine VHS tapes. I wondered who the audience for this collection might be, but then I got distracted by the large, menacing chunk of the Berlin wall.

And did I mention the chocolate? So much chocolate. One entire wall filled with bars of the good stuff from Germany, France, and Switzerland. Brands I had never heard of, and thought only existed in my dreams.

Sorry for doing this to you.

Obviously I couldn’t leave without a taste, so I picked up the Mozart Kugeln chocolate ball- a pistachio, nougat and marzipan sphere of Viennese deliciousness.

As I left the store and re-entered the world of 2014, I couldn’t get the gift shop out of my mind. Not only did I want to go back every day to revel in its weirdness, I also wanted to be best friends with Karin and Helga; to find out what inspires them, and makes them tick. While I may never fully understand the Old Country Gift shop, it’s still nice to know that places like it exist.

Question of the Day: Been to Any Cool Stores lately?

The Most Interesting Man In New York

A few months ago, my boyfriend and I took a trip to New York City for his 30th birthday.

 At least that was the “official” reason. In reality, the sole purpose of the trip was to eat as much delicious food as humanly possible.

 We ventured deep into Brooklyn for the best pizza I’ve ever eaten:

983
Seriously. DiFara. Go.

… schlepped all the way to Harlem for delicious, Obama-approved fried chicken at Red Rooster, and put away our fair share of bagels,

1000

New York Cheesecake, and delicious, sugary street nuts.

Mmmm. street nuts.

The pièce de résistance , however, was the special birthday dinner at Babbo, Mario Batali’s restaurant in Greenwich village. 

This was a big deal for us. Not only was it the first time either of us had set foot in a Michelin-starred restaurant, it was also owned by a famous TV chef.

I mean, when the dude gets away with wearing this outfit 24/7:  

 

you know he’s a boss.

The maître d led us to our table upstairs in a quiet corner of the restaurant, and introduced us to our server for the evening, Paul.

Paul was about 6’2, with sandy blond hair and electric blue eyes. He wasn’t what you’d call “fat”; more “pleasantly plump”, with a pot-belly suggesting more than a few indulgent staff meals. With laugh lines crinkling around his eyes and a broad smile that just wouldn’t quit, he looked sort of like Bradley Cooper’s less successful, lesser known older brother. I pegged him at about 35.   

“Welcome to Babbo!” he bellowed, barely containing his enthusiasm. “Will you be enjoying the tasting menu today?”

Startled, we looked at each other, then at our menus. “There are two choices,” he continued; “the Chef’s menu, or the 7-course pasta tasting menu”

A pasta tasting menu? 

“We’ll have that one” I said, instinctively “Great Choice!” he shouted “You can never have too much pasta. And will you be having the wine pairings?”

Even though I am no wine connoisseur and knew the value of such an expensive add-on would be wasted on me, something about his eager, hopeful eyes made it virtually impossible to say no. Plus, he already thought I was a good chooser- I didn’t want to let him down.  

“Sure,” I responded, trying to quiet the chinging dollar signs in my brain.

As the evening unfolded, it became clear that Paul was quite the entertainer. Every course was accompanied by a well-timed story or joke, and his award-winning smile never ceased. Plus, his knowledge of food and wine seemed infallible. He described our mushroom ravioli in exquisite detail, even citing the origins of decorative floral garnish. (Hilsbury Farms, West Haven, Connecticut. Organic, obviously.)  Our second course wine pairing, a Casina Ebreo, was “unctuous” with a “cacophony of aromas”, and our Italian Montefalco Rosso “confident” and “playful” with some “nice legs” on her.”  

If anything, Paul’s descriptions were a bit overzealous; as evidenced by his explanation of our fourth-course pairing.

“This is a 2008 Terredora di Paolo,” he explained, “the summer of record high temperatures in Italy, where hundreds died from the heat. The heat, however, was excellent for the grapes, and produced some extremely fine wines”.

“So it wasn’t all for naught,” said my boyfriend, jokingly

“It certainly wasn’t” replied Paul, deadpan.

The real kicker, however, was when he described our fifth course pairing, an Italian Tabborini, as having “hints of potting soil”.

Both of us looked down at our napkins, trying not to burst into hysterical laughter. “He must be an actor”, I said after he had left, “because he has got to be making this shizz up”. 

I was sort of joking, but once I had the idea in my head, I couldn’t let it go. As I’ve learned from my visits there, everyone in New York has an angle- and everyone has to pay the bills. Maybe he was a struggling stage actor, trying to crack the big-time with his heartfelt, groundbreaking one-man show. Maybe he had his sights set on Days of Our Lives, auditioning to be the next possessed, resurrected evil-genius heart-throb. Or maybe he was angling for his own reality show, having amassed legions of social media followers with his clever and relatable series of YouTube videos on what men are really thinking. 

 I had intended to ask him, but after my seventh pasta course and seventh glass of wine, formulating any kind of coherent thought became impossible. So I guess I’ll never know the true story behind Paul, the server-sommelier-Broadway/soap/reality star; but I do know I enjoyed his performance that night.

Question of the Day: Ever had an extremely colorful server?

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