My Bathroom Scale Ban

I used to hate the mall.

On the surface, it was just another way to separate myself from other teenage girls (I watch Die Hard! I wear shorts! I watch hockey! I can pretend to be funny!  [please love me?]).   My high school mall hatred was different, though.  It was more passionate.  Yes, I could find joy in Christmas lists and record store bargain bins. But “clothes shopping”?  The mall rat scene? The bad music, the money, the lights, the mirrors, mirrors, mirrors.

Even the idea made me kind of queasy.

I hated the mall because it was the home of destructive analysis.  In middle school, I learned it was a place for measuring yourself. The food court featured conversations about calories.  Conversations which eventually turned to numbers and sizes, then to vomiting techniques.  I sat and listened.  I ate more Taco Bell, silently trying to compensate for my friends who (proudly) weren’t eating.

Then I weighed myself, because that’s what they were doing.

I put an abhorrent amount of value in those numbers.  I cried when I saw them rise.  I didn’t know that growing teenagers gain weight, that it’s normal.  I didn’t know that girls with eating disorders were sick, that I shouldn’t measure myself against their reality.  That “being skinny” and “being fat” were stupid over-simplifications.

I didn’t know that.  I was thirteen.  But man, I hated that mall.

I don’t think much about my body anymore, not like that. My own personal body image just sorta…is, unless I have something to compare it to.  I’m pretty sure I look bloated when I feel bloated, and I look healthy when I feel healthy. I love the mirror some days, I hate it other days. Sometimes I care more than usual.  I have bad hair days and good hair days, wish-I-were-a-little-more moments, this-outfit-is-cute moments, and (this just in) I-am-way-too-busy-to-care moments.

But I have banned bathroom scales from my home.

There aren’t many rules in this apartment, but that one has stuck.

Let’s talk.
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Meet the Neighbors: A Guide to Canada for Americans

Dear Americans,

While living in your country, I have had the pleasure of sharing a laugh with…well, some of you. Not all of you.  Seems that you don’t know enough about Canada to make a joke about me without worrying that you’re totally offbase. Truthfully, I don’t know enough about your country, either. And so we just sit here politely, giggling about the weather.

(…though I have been known to chant “U-S-A!” at awkward times. So, there’s that.)

But the weather just isn’t that funny. I’m sorry. Ottawa is cold.  Washington DC is not as cold. We have both run out of amusing ways to express this. The romance is gone from our adorable “Oh goodness, how does one convert Celsius to Fahrenheit?” conversations.

Now, it would be unfair of me to assume that you are unfunny people. I’m sure you would be fantastic at making fun of Canadians…if you knew anything about us. Maybe you just need some ammunition?  Because honestly, if I hear one more person describe Toronto as “so pretty and clean and lovely and friendly” without cracking a SINGLE “centre of the universe” joke…

It’s not your fault, America. I’ll explain.

On Toronto.

I won’t write in detail about any other city or province, but I will take a moment to write about Toronto. I will write about Toronto because I grew up just an hour outside of it. Because I love the Blue Jays (baseball), I hate the Leafs (hockey), and have anecdotal reasoning to back both of those up.

I will also write about Toronto because DUDE, OTTAWA IS THE CAPITAL OF CANADA NOT TORONTO(!!!!).

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you. You didn’t know.

Let us treat this as a learning moment.

Toronto is the largest city in Canada. It’s serious metropolis–17 percent of the nation’s total population lives in or around T.O.  (ie the “Greater Toronto Area” or “GTA”).

Toronto is actually an alright city, save for the fact that it’s, well, city-ish (shocker).   If you don’t like cities, you won’t like Toronto.  If you do like cities, it will probably work for you.  Credit where credit is due, Old Toronto and Toronto Island are beautiful.  The Hockey Hall of Fame and the Royal Ontario Museum are neat.  Toronto Rock Lacrosse games are the best.

You may also be familiar with the CN Tower, a free-standing building known for being really big. It’s a tourist attraction. You can go up there, if you want. We all have at some point (read: ten-freaking-times).  I can’t say it’s that exciting, unless you decide to do it like this:

EdgeWalk-City-Side
They call this the “Edge Walk.” Toronto goes hard.

Here’s where the “center of the universe” thing comes in.

People make fun of Toronto for being egotistical.  Loud.  Bossy.  Overzealous. I don’t know how true any of it is, but essentially–when you’re making fun of Toronto, you’re making fun of this guy:

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Oh, and this guy:

.

For what it’s worth, most Torontonians I know have a few bones to pick with guys like this, too.

What makes a true Torontonian is hard to identify (so far, all can pinpoint is that they seem to yell “Say word!” when they are enthused). Immigrants make up almost half of the city’s population, so it’s a VERY diverse place.

But folded into that diversity are dudes like Rob Ford. And since some of you still don’t believe me when I say that Toronto is (really, really) not the capital of Canada…

We must continue making fun of them.

On Shopping and Eating in Canada.

Firstly, all packaging in Canadaland has text in both French and English. This means that while less than 20% of Canadians speak both official languages, most still possess some level of “cereal box bilingualism.”

Cereal box bilingualism, lesson one: "Crouncharifique"

(Cereal box bilingualism, lesson one: “Cruncharific” = “Crouncharifique.” I assume this can also be found in the dictionary.)

There are a few things on Canadian grocery store shelves that  ‘Murica lacks.  These are real foods, by the way. Would I lie to you about something as serious as ketchup chips?

Yeah, ketchup chips.

Canada gets awfully fancy with it’s potato chip flavours.  In equally fancy fashion, we also spell the word “flavours” with a “u”.

To be fair, those Fries n’ Gravy chips on the right are only available in Atlantic Canada.  The East Coast knows what’s up.

Yes, things are a little different in the Canadian snack aisle.

canada chips

Growing up in Canada, my Halloween stash also looked quite a bit different than its American counterpart.  Here are some examples, presented to you via slightly disturbing fan videos.  Thanks, YouTube.

Coffee Crisp:

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Aero Bar:

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Big Turk:

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(Chocolate) Smarties:

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Kinder Surprise (this is a commercial, but it is more disturbing than any fan video could possibly be):

.

Canada also has a few restaurant chains you may not be familiar with. The Cara restaurant family and Tim Hortons can easily take responsibility for  at least 80% of the teenage employment in my hometown–including mine.  Growing up, I spent time working at both a Swiss Chalet (a Cara restaurant that basically only serves chicken) and a Timmy’s (the staple coffee-and-donut place which fuels the Canadian people).

Some states actually have these now, too, but it's still a Canadian thang.
Some states actually have these now, too, but it’s still a Canadian thang.

This brings me to a very important lesson–How to order coffee at Tim Hortons:

Regular: One cream, one sugar
Double Double: Two creams, two sugars.
Triple triple: Three creams, three sugars.
Timbits: Donut holes

Got it?

Alright, I suppose we should learn about drinking in Canada.  In Ontario, all our beer comes from a very creatively named place called “The Beer Store.” I previously though the government ran and regulated this place, but a reader informed me that it is “owned by a company that is comprised of 49% labatt, 49% molson, and 2% sleeman.”  (Thanks, Korbyn!)

beer-store-1
Yes, actually.

Meanwhile, the only store which can sell liquor (and other kinds of alcohol) in Ontario is the equally creatively named “Liquor Control Board of Ontario” or “LCBO.”

(Probably not the easiest store name to market, but it’s not like they have any competition.)

LCBO

Beer drinking is a big part of Canadian culture. So is hockey, coffee, and making fun of American beer.  Because Canadian beer is better. And if you question that…

>

JUST KIDDING.

(…kind of.)

Ultimately, what you should know that 1) If you’re ever looking for a pint in Canadaland, I’d say Alexander Keith’s is a solid choice; and 2) A “two-four” isn’t a hardware term–it’s a 24 pack.

[Proof from the hyper-Canadian comedy of “Bob & Doug MacKenzie”]

If you’re looking for real “Canadian cuisine,” the only options I can think of off the top of my head are poutine (fries topped with cheese curds and gravy), peameal bacon (aka Canadian bacon), and anything drenched in maple syrup.  That said, it’s a really big country. Regional foods are definitely worth checking out.

Oh, also, I should warn you about this:

bagged

I have no further explanation for that, except that it’s legit.  As an Ontario kid, I grew up with it, so it seems totally normal to me. If you’re trying to figure out how the heck that works, a quick google image search will clear up the mystery for you.

Otherwise, here’s a hint:

snippetYou’re welcome.

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On Politix.

Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy.  That means the Queen is our “Head of State,” but that we have an elected, multi-party Parliament that really runs the show. We also have an appointed Senate designed to double check everything done by the elected representatives (ie “the house of sober second thought”).

“You mean, kinda like Britain?” Sure.
“You mean, kinda like ‘Murica?” I guess.
“You mean, kinda like Australia?” Maybe?

The Queen is on our money, and has a representative that does her symbolic business in Canada, but Parliament really does all the “work”

…or doesn’t, if you’re feeling cynical.

This is Jon Stewart-esque Canadian comedian Rick Mercer explaining it much better than I could:

 

Canada is a multi-party system. Right now we have Federal representatives from five different political parties: The Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party. Translation: We have one right-wing party, three left-wing parties…and one party that wants Quebec to separate from Canada.

After living with some very Republican roommates here in DC, it’s worth noting that by American standards, our right-wing party isn’t all that “Conservative”–though it’s arguably moving in that direction. Canada runs a bit differently than the US; We have socialized health care, no capital punishment, and legal gay marriage.  We also spend a lot of time translating stuff into French.

Oh, and that appointed Senate? Yeah. It’s pretty controversial.

I hope that clears up a few things about Canada for you. I tried to respond to the FAQ as much as I could, but let me know if there’s anything I missed/didn’t explain very clearly.

(Well, except bagged milk. You’re gonna need to look into that one on your own.)

Partying Hard and Loving Harder: How hanging out can help the community

On Saturday morning, I woke up to snow on the ground. My feelings about this were mixed, as always, but two things were fully certain: 1) I needed to celebrate this; 2) My Facebook friends get WAY too worked up over precipitation.

In my own overzealous logic, I decided that this snowfall called for an urgent, impromptu pre-Christmas party. Where? My place. When? NOW. The decorations are coming out, ladies and gentlemen.

I searched high and low for the perfect cheese fondu and hors d’oeuvres to compliment this fluorescent…thing from the 80s. It was a serious, serious mission.
Also a serious, serious mission.

This got me thinking. As crazy as the work/school side of December is, we all know that it is ultimately a friends & family time of year. We’re going to hang out. We’re going to eat, drink, and be merry. So why not do the kind of partying that makes a positive impact in the community?

Turns out, there are several incredible ways to do just that–all it takes is a little creativity and pre-planning. Here are some of my favourites:

Hosting for Hope. If Chatelaine magazine and Homesense get together to advocate something, I take note. That’s how I learned of Hosting for Hope, a program which invites people to throw beautiful seasonal get-togethers (awesome) while supporting local shelters for battered women (double awesome). If you plan on hosting a holiday party, why not sign up? A $50 donation through Hosting for Hope will get you a $25 Homesense gift card, and after asking guests to donate in lieu of a hostess gift–tada! Your party just made a huge difference in someone’s life. Triple awesome.

The Mitten Tree. The church I attend, Mackay United, has been collecting mittens and scarves for un-mittened/un-scarved folks in the community with a mitten tree. When I mentioned it to a friend of mine who knits, she suggested we get together to make some warm clothing to donate. I’ll pass her idea on as a challenge to you: if you know how to knit, and your friends know how to knit, then just skip the lame coffee date and have a knitting date instead.When you’re done, you can donate your creations to organizations that keep people warm.

Blood Donation Party. I actually know someone who did this every year, and it worked out quite nicely. Before throwing a holiday party to see old friends, he invited people to come to the blood donor clinic. This was a tradition, the same time every year, so people could count on making the appointments together (with some new faces every year, of course!). Those who were able to give blood could catch up with each other while they joined together to give the gift of life.

Christmas Hampers Project. Centretown United makes hampers to provide necessities for less fortunate families in Ottawa, “Because some holiday wish lists are more basic than others.” Apply to adopt a hamper by November 30th, or get some friends together to donate your time. The project needs volunteers for packing hampers from December 17th-20th and delivering them on the 21st. Get more information here.

Food Bank Events. The holidays are a big time of year for the Food Banks around the country. There are several different events in support of the Ottawa Food Bank that you can check out for a night out this season, like the Hintonburg Public House Holiday Fundraiser or the Santa’s Souper Singers concert. Food bank events for the city are listed here.

Spread Some Joy. One of my best Christmas memories is of visiting a local senior’s home with my girl guide troupe, armed only with homemade cookies and badly sung Christmas carol renditions. Homes like St. Patrick’s Home of Ottawa are often looking for people to come in and keep residents entertained and smiling. If you and a friend like playing board games or cards anyways, why not bring your hobby to a retirement home? Who better to include in good times than our senior citizens?

Running on Empties. December 15th marks the 25th annual Running on Empties fundraiser! The Christmas Exchange program will have volunteers posted outside of every beer store until 5:30. You can sign up to be one of these volunteers, or take a moment to bring in those empty bottles (say, the ones left over from your Hosting for Hope party!) to help them reach this year’s $20,000 goal!

Alright readers–now it’s your turn to let me know what you plan on doing to hang out/help out this year! Any of these ideas strike your interest? Anything I’ve missed? Keep the conversation going in the comments, on my page at www.facebook.com/Shaunanagins, or Follow my blog with Bloglovin. When it comes to partying hard and loving even harder, there are never too many great ideas.

Special thanks to Sam Polzin for providing the photography in this post. Look forward to seeing some more of her work in weeks to come!

Foodie Gift Idea for the New Mom

“And so it begins!”

It has started, my friends. I had my first-ever trek to the maternity ward to visit a post-C section friend. My former manager Melannie just gave birth to an amazing baby boy, and my sidekick Caitlin and I were beyond excited to head down to Ottawa General and welcome him into the world.

Babies, you guys. Oh man. My ovaries pretty much exploded.

(Also…does anyone else get REALLY nervous when holding a baby? I mean, sometimes I can throw enough PR spin on my clumsiness to make it charming, but I don’t think there is anything “charming” about dropping a newborn. Holding the kid was amazing [recall: ovaries exploding] but also completely and totally terrifying. Yet another “how do nurses do this?! They must be wizards.” moment.)

The reason I write about this for a Home-style post is to share the gift that Caitlin and I came up with for this lovely momma.

Melannie is a foodie hailing from the East coast, so it wasn’t surprising that she openly missed some of the foods that are unsafe for baby-carrying. Think about it: seafood, cured meats, cheeses, alcohol, eggs…it’s all a no-can-do for the cautious pregnant woman. And for the cautious foodie pregnant woman, that makes for a pretty long nine months.

….actually, I think the whole “carrying another human being around in your stomach” thing also makes for a long nine months, but for the sake of this post: THINK OF THE CHEESE!!

So Caitlin and I set to work on a gift basket of foods that she had avoided for so long, but could now enjoy post-pregnancy.

Here are all the foods Melannie had to avoid during her pregnancy:

Certain cheeses, like feta, goat, camembert, and brie, can carry listeria. Not great for baby.
Pregnant women are supposed to avoid raw or soft-boiled eggs. Also, we had to get quail eggs because…they’re a thing you can get.
I don’t think a pregnant women is supposed to eat this dude, either…
…so we picked up a sample. Sort of.

Of course, we grabbed some celebratory wine and Guinness, the ever-classic Momma’s milk.

There were two major challenges in the making of this gift:

1) How do we openly discuss which foods to NOT give a pregnant woman, then purchase said foods, without looking like we are trying to damage a pregnant woman?

2) How do we wrap this stuff up in the middle of the mall, armed with only ribbon and cello from the dollar store?

(The answer to #2 is by being as awkward and resourceful as humanly possible. Fun fact: cursing out quail eggs DOES in fact make you look like a crazy person.)

Photo creds to Caitlin here, who documented me wrestling with the gift basket game.
Using keys for scissor works. Or at least, it works…well enough. Ish.
This is what dealing with well enough-ish cut cellophane looks like.

But in the end, of course, we had an awesome foodie gift basket and were set to welcome a new little man into the world…and make sure his momma didn’t have to go one more day without some good Guinness and salmon!

Happy birthday, newbie!

Pick-Your-Path Lunching (is awesome).

Recently, I read a tweet claiming that there are more Subway sandwich shops than McDonalds(es?) in Canada.  I was surprised by this, but upon Googling it found that it was actually old news–Subway has been ahead for awhile.

Why not, right? The lunchtime Subway line on campus is rivaled only by coffee shops in the morning.  From where currently sit, I’m about a 10 minute walk from four (yes, FOUR) highly popular Subways. The reason I know this, of course, is because I frequent them. I frequent ALL of them.

The appeal is simple: The food is affordable. It’s quick.  It’s addictingly good. It’s a lot less guilt-inducing than other fast food options. Most importantly, though, it’s highly customizable. Companies in almost every sector have realized that, courtesy of the 21st century, people want and expect to pick their own path.  Heightened sense of individuality-cum-entitlement? Check .  Welcome to the iWorld, folks. iDig the iWorld (sorry, iWill stop writing like that now…), but us first world kids are undoubtedly spoiled by all this access to options.

Subway definitely knows what’s up: It’s a sandwich. It’s a GOOD sandwich.  Most of all, though, it’s YOUR good sandwich. Subway, along with many other companies that are really rocking it right now (Freshii, for example), know how to appeal to our semi-newfound “BTCHPLZ, I DO WHAT I WAAANT” mindset.  Clearly, combining choice with cold cuts SELLS.

It sells to me, at least. Subway and Freshii are easily two of my favourite lunch spots. Recently, I’ve found myself drawn to other businesses running from that same formula: serving a simple favourite with lots of options on top.  I’ll chat about specific places around downtown Ottawa, but almost every city will have at least one place specializing in…

Gourmet Grilled Cheese. Recently, a little place called Melt opened up at 399 Dalhousie. I went for the first time last week with my friend Rebecca, who shared my opinion that a sandwich shop dedicated to grilled cheese is “such a GREAT idea!”  She was very impressed with her “Herbivore” sandwich, while I was psyched to pack a grilled cheese full of onions, mushrooms, red peppers, and prosciutto. The taste was okay, though a bit too buttery (that one kinda comes with the territory) and slightly dry (“I’m thinking this needs some ketchup”).  All in all, though, this is such a cool concept that we will definitely be stopping back in.

Oh, and Gourmet Grilled Cheese? It’s TOTALLY a thing.  It’s huge in Toronto (because everything awesome is huge in Toronto), while Vancouver has a popular grilled cheese truck. “Say Cheese” in New York even hosts “cooking parties” for kids’ birthdays. Yup. Totally a thing.

Poutine. When I first moved to Ottawa, Smoke’s Poutinerie literally became something to write home about.  A place open until 3 am that puts onions/mushrooms/bacon/sausage on a poutine? Sold. Game over. Cue my first year of University–and, of course, the first meal I presented to any out-of-town visitors when they came to the capital.

Smoke’s Poutinerie has since exploded across the country, so I can no longer claim it as a reason people should really (really…REALLY) come visit Ottawa. I never actually could–Smoke’s started in Toronto,  a city which now boasts a monstrous SIX locations. There’s probably a location in your city, too, so I suggest you go. Now.  My favourite dish so far is the “Nacho Grande”; Chili and guacamole make for one hell of a poutine.

Burgers. Okay, we all know this one. Harvey’s, right? Personalizing burgers is their game. And I agree with that, I do. I don’t seek to de-throne the fast food joint responsible for any and all bacon-covered veggie burger cravings (if you haven’t done this, you really should. Both the burger and the irony are delicious).  I do, however, wish to point out that there are some other major players taking burgers and their toppings to another level.

Enter the “gourmet burger bistro.” When I first heard of The Works, I was immediately enthralled.  Initially, I was drawn to the restaurant atmosphere: picnic tables, drinks served from measuring cups, salt & pepper shakers crafted from lightbulbs…cool stuff everywhere.  The menu fits that “cool stuff” category too, with six patty choices and over 70 topping combinations.  Topping burgers with anything from peppercorns to pineapple to peanut butter, The Worked has earned itself a local reputation of being the pinnacle of everything a burger joint should be.  That might sound over-the-top, but I’ll stand by it. I’m a really big fan.

I should backtrack a bit, though: The Works’ reputation is no longer local.  It recently expanded to Guelph, Toronto, Waterloo, Kingston, London, Peterborough and Oakville…basically, yet ANOTHER of my Ottawa selling points is no longer exclusive to the city.  On the bright side, there are a lot of happy people in Waterloo.

Mexican Food. Sorry, I know I should be more specific here.  Basically, I’m talking about tacos, burritos, quesadillas…stuff that, strangely, Ottawa really knows how to serve up.  Specifically, stuff that Corazón De Maíz in the Byward Market really knows how to serve up.  The owners are known for providing some of the best customer service around, and they always offer GREAT suggestions as to what to put into a taco. Ultimately, in true pick-your-path fashion,  it’s still your call. My mind was blown when I was first offered pork as a meat option alongside the traditional beef/chicken deal, and it continues to be blown every time I go there.

I know other cities have great, independently-owned vendors in their market(s) serving up traditional fare, and I think it’s always worth supporting those companies (bonus points: the food is almost always fantastic).  As for Corazón De Maíz?  Well, this is one place that I can definitely claim for Ottawa…at least for now!

Pitas. One of my closest high school friends used to work at a small pita shop outside of Kitchener’s Stanley Park mall. I have more memories of Mega Pita than I do of even my own teenage work places.  So many late nights were spent waiting for my friend to get off work as I “helped,” mopping/sliding across the floors. I once rushed a cheap dollar store fan to her while she sweated in the non-air conditioned kitchen, and we shared it as I kept her company on a boring and blistering hot Sunday. I even called the Mega Pita owner “The Boss,” a title I denied even my own high school bosses. As far as I’m concerned, that guy is still “The Boss.”  He will always be.  He is ESPECIALLY the boss because  his business is the reason my friend can make a damned good pita. He is also the reason why I continue to frequent pita spots like Byward Market’s Pita Pit–that is, when I’m not at Subway.

How about you? What’s your favourite “I DO WHAT I WAAANT”-friendly spot? Anything I missed? I’m pretty sure I could live off those five foods for months (re: last summer. Sorry, mom.) but if any other central dishes are getting amped up, I would love to give it a shot!