April 18, 2011

Full disclosure: I am, by and large, a pragmatist. At least in the sense that I recognize that there are situations or circumstances that were not of my making and that are of a scale and level of entrenchment that, whether I think they are A Good Thing or not, the chances of me changing the system is, as they say “Somewhere between slim and nil, and Slim just left town.”

Which is why I am able to deal with the occasional pang of psychic discomfort resulting from the origins of the food I eat – principally related to products of animal origin, but also with regard to the costs to the environment and society from the mass production of all kinds of foods including fruits and vegetables.

So I am an omnivore, but not necessarily proud of it.  Let’s face it, the human race evolved to be omnivorous for a number of survival related reasons – opportunistic reasons, to be sure.  After all, if you can survive on different types of food which vary in availability, you may have an advantage over other creatures which are tied to a highly specific diet – call it the “sole source effect”, to fall back on my experience working with supply chains in business.  If you rely on a sole source of supply for a critical raw material or component used in producing your finished goods, and there’s an interruption to that source… it can get ugly pretty quickly.  Trust me on this.

In fact, the diet that K and I live on tends to include much less animal-source protein than for a lot of North Americans.  And since the time we lived in France – where a culture of using fresh, seasonal ingredients is supported by the existence of neighbourhood farm markets in urban areas, we’ve been eating seasonally as much as possible.

Fresh strawberries in January? Um, no thanks, we’ll wait until they’re in season and become plentiful, not to mention actually tasting like strawberries unlike the ones shipped a gazillion kilometres from a more hospitable climate to The Great White North that is Canada in the winter (or mid-April, sometimes… where we live, this past weekend was punctuated with near white-out conditions at times; fortunately, the snow that fell melted almost immediately on hitting the ground).

Another way we manage to eat locally grown produce in season is by belonging to a CSA (short for “Community Shared Agriculture” in Canada) – ours is the Ignatius Farm CSA, and the farm that it’s part of is certified organic, so the produce we get in our share of the harvest during the growing season is organically produced as well as being local.  A big plus is that you get to know the farmers and the interns (our CSA has a strong internship and education focus).  Supplementing what we get in our weekly share are the vegetables we grow in our rented organic garden plot – the community garden plots are also part of the Ignatius Farm.

Out of season, we have to buy produce from the supermarket – but even then, we try to choose based on what’s in season.

And then there’s the animal protein side of the ledger.  As I said, K and I eat less (probably a lot less) of it than most North Americans – a good 2/3 of our suppers are vegetarian (it’s probably an even higher proportion during the summer while we’re getting the CSA share), and for those meals that do include meat K usually only uses about 300 g (10-ish ounces) in preparing them.  And that’s shared between the two of us, generally with enough left over for me to have as a lunch – from what I’ve seen people put in their cart at the supermarket, I’d say a lot of them think that 300 g of meat would serve just one person and skimpily at that.

While it doesn’t make me especially happy knowing an animal gets killed in order to provide me with that meal, I also don’t dwell on it – that pragmatism thing, you know.  Short of becoming breathairian, I know that something, whether it’s animal or vegetable, has to die in order to provide me with food to sustain my life.  I didn’t make the rules, and so far I’m still pretty attached to the whole “living” thing which means I can, er, live with the knowledge and not lose sleep over it.

There you have it, a post to cover “O” as today’s letter for the A-Z Blogging Challenge.  Funny, all of a sudden, I feel hungry…


Lyon and Lisbon

April 14, 2011

I was very fortunate to have had a job (a while back) which resulted in being seconded to the company’s headquarters in Lyon, France for what ended up being a four year stay, while I was the IT Project Manager on a global software implementation project.

During our stay there, K and I were able to travel to quite a few places in Europe as the distances were relatively short (in comparison to getting to those places from Canada) and there were generally good options for getting to them: networks of excellent high-speed highways connecting major cities, high-speed trains lines and, for the longest trips, air travel, although most of our travelling was done either by car or train.

So Lyon is the first “L” for today’s A-Z Blogging Challenge post, and the second is Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) – one of the places we got to visit on a group trip from Lyon.  A bit of an explanation here: in France, companies over a certain size are required by employment laws (and boy, do they have employment laws in France – lots and lots of them, as befits the country that invented bureaucracy) to have a comité d’entreprise (CE) that is made up of elected representatives of the employees and is funded by the company, based on a percentage of the total payroll (um, to put it in Facebook relationship terms: It’s complicated).

One of the functions of the CE relates to running company subsidized social and cultural events for employees – including organizing group trips, usually planned around the many statutory holiday periods throughout the year.  One such trip that we were able to take advantage of was to the second “L” for today’s post: Lisbon, Portugal.

The trip was organized around the long weekend of Pentecost (lundi de Pentecôte) in May 2002 and we had a wonderful time there.  The Portuguese people were welcoming and friendly, and as many of them speak French (the two languages have many similarities due to their both being Romance languages) it often made communicating easier (er, that’s because K and I both know French – OK, she’s more fluent than I since she studied French literature in university but je me débrouille pas mal).

We were already accustomed to good food from living in Lyon, regarded (by some, anyway, and definitely by the Lyonnais) as the gastronomic capital of France, but Lisbon delivered its fair share of gustatory treats, including pastéis and ginjinha.

There were wonderful sights to see as well: azulejos tilework was everywhere, we made the obligatory visit to the remains of the Roman temple of Évora, and took a leisurely tour of the city on a chartered old fashioned tram (the modern ones are quaintly old fashioned in their own way).  And then there was the sea and seafaring – an integral part of life in Lisbon and Portugal throughout its history.  Pictures are worth more than words, though, so here are a few we took on that trip:

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Would I go back to Lyon or Lisbon, either to visit or to live there?  In a heartbeat… 🙂

Assorted headlines that caught my eye this morning

October 10, 2009

I was perusing the BBC News website this morning and these headlines caught my eye:

  1. What happened to global warming?
  2. Marge gracing Playboy mag cover
  3. ‘Scary’ climate message from past
  4. McDo: A love-‘ate relationship?
  1. Empirical evidence indicates global temperature is currently trending down, not up as predicted by climate models.  Personally, I think that just indicates the unreliability of the models, not that human activities don’t affect the climate.  In my opinion, there are still plenty of reasons, global warming debate aside, for reducing CO2 output and other forms of pollution.
  2. What can I say… sort of makes sense in an age of virtual reality, I suppose.  Not that centrefold models have ever been that connected to reality.
  3. In a similar vein to 1. there appears to be new evidence that connects atmospheric CO2 levels in the distant past that are similar to the levels we are rapidly attaining to increased global temperatures and melting of polar icecaps followed by a consequent rise in the sea-level (with disastrous consequences for populations living in low lying coastal areas or on islands).  I am still cautious about the cause-and-effect conclusion that’s implied — I have to wonder if the events are correlated but not necessarily causal, or at least not in the simplistic manner alluded to.  Again, though, I still believe there are plenty of good reasons for doing a much better job of looking after our environment, regardless of whether the science here is bang-on or not.
  4. Ah, La Belle France.  If you’ve been reading my bons mots for a while, you will know that I spent some time living in France — I was seconded, by the Canadian subsidiary I was working for at the time, to their head office in Lyon, France as the project manager of a global IT implementation project involving a project team with members from the company’s sites in France, Canada and the US.  In the end, K and I lived there for four years, spanning the turn of the millennium — in fact, we arrived in France just a few months after José Bové lead a protest (referred to in the BBC News article) against globalization of the food industry and its impact on French food, culture and farmers.  During our stay in France, we did eat in McDo (pronounced “Mack-Doh” by the French) from time to time, particularly when travelling within France (we ended up seeing more of France than many French people ever do, we were told by the people we got to know there) — the food, if uninspired, was at least a known and predictable source of reasonably priced nourishment, accompanied by (most of the time, anyway) a decent set of toilets and air-conditioning, items which were probably more valuable than the food to us on a hot, humid summer day of touring around an unfamiliar city or town we were visiting.  So during that time we saw a lot of this shift in the attitude of the French that the BBC News article describes, and I can completely believe that the opening of a McDo in the underground shopping concourse linked to the Louvre was a non-event for the French media and population in general.  We did eventually stop eating at McDo, although not for reasons of globalization of the food industry — one of the perks of working in France was the “Comité d’Entreprise” or CE (here’s a Google translation of the French text for non-Francophones), which among other things often organizes subsidized events for the company’s employees, including trips scheduled during holiday periods.  The CE had planned a trip to Egypt in 2003 and we were all signed up for it, looking forward to the trip with great anticipation (we had previously gone to Tunisia on a CE arranged trip and had a wonderful time) as visiting Egypt from Canada was something we would not likely be able to afford later on.  And then… Dubbya decides to invade Iraq.  Due to concerns for the security of employees, travel to the area at the time was prohibited by the company and the CE duly cancelled the trip… merde.  We have not (to the best of my recollection) set foot in a McDo, anywhere, since then.

Of course, YMMV — read the articles and form your own opinion, dear readers.

Been there, seen that

December 14, 2008

Another headline from the BBC News feed caught my eye, this time only because of my “French Connection” — having lived and worked in France for 4 years while at previous job, I have a continued interest in things to do with France (and French-speaking cultures elsewhere, comme notre Belle Province de Québec).

So, the headline was: A curiously French complaint

And having lived there and dealing with the French medical system, I can attest to the truth of what the article’s author has written about the propensity to dole out pills and potions at the drop of a chapeau.

To be fair, though, both K and I did receive excellent medical care while there — we had a wonderful physician, Dr. C-A Pigeot, as well as excellent para-medical practitioners (a chiropractor and an osteopath, in particular).

As well, in addition to jambes lourdes or “heavy legs” being a common and largely French condition, the French also seem to have a near-pathological aversion to drafts or courants d’air, to which all sorts of maladies are attributed.

Ah, well… vive la différence.


January 26, 2008

You know how we’ve become accustomed, in North America at least (where working in a retail service position is generally viewed as something you do until you get a real job — more about this below), to being served at “big box” stores by mindless drones with no real product knowledge or experience…

And yet… the unexpected sometimes happens. Twice now we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the knowledge and hands-on experience of the staff of the Michaels® crafts store in Waterloo.

Once was when K (aside: the link is to her new blog “42.1“; wabi sabi has been retired from active blogging duty, although it’s still on-line if you’re looking for her earlier knitting posts — she’s consolidated her on-line knitting presence at the shownotes blog of her Purl Diving podcast) and I were shopping for a stamp-pad to make Christmas cards. To make a long story short, the woman working there had been doing stamping for a good decade or two and provided us with very helpful guidance on which brand and type of stamp-pad would work best for the cards we were using — a heavy, textured stock in a dark red. She explained the pros and cons of the different ones they carry and said which one she preferred, and why — longevity, quality of the impression and so on.

Then, today, K was in search of some Japanese seed beads, size 6 and 8, which are on the requirements list for a beaded knitting workshop she’s attending next weekend. First, we tried the specialty bead store in Waterloo — no luck. They did have some seed beads, but much smaller than the sizes K needs.

The clerk was pleasant enough, but wasn’t experienced enough to suggest alternatives they might have other than to point out the section where there might be something that would work. Now, they do have a lot of beads… which is admittedly A Good Thing for a bead store, but makes finding just the right one a bit like the proverbial needle in a haystack endeavour.

The best she could suggest was to call back Monday and speak to the owner, who knows about beads and might be able to help. Riiight.

So, off to Michaels… but K didn’t hold out much hope of finding anything remotely like what she needed at a big box store. Still, it turned out they had some seed beads, and what’s more — they had, once again, a staff member who actually knew about beads and beading. She was able to at least find us some that should be suitable for one of the projects on the agenda for the workshop.

On top of that, she recommended a couple of bead stores in the area — well, actually, three, including the one in Waterloo that we had just come from, which we mentioned — that might be able to help us out with the other, slightly smaller size bead. We will likely try out at least one of them to see if anything suitable can be found in time.

Now, perhaps the store management at Michaels might not be too keen about staff referring customers to a competitor (albeit a small one), but in this case, we did buy some beads from them, and based on our experiences there with staff that actually know something about the products they sell, we’ll definitely be back for other purchases. In my mind, that’s a pretty good payoff for them.

Now, of course, Your Mileage May Vary and I can’t say that every Michaels will have the same quality of staff, but it’s at least encouraging to know that big box does not always equal the death of decent service.

Oh, and about the earlier observation about service jobs being looked down upon in North America (and with some justification… can you say “D’ya want fries with that?”), it’s in contrast with what we experienced when we lived in France for several years (and had the opportunity to travel a bit throughout Europe, as well). There, service jobs, at least the ones where you don’t ask “Voulez-vous des frites avec ça ?“, are still respected and reasonably well compensated. As a result, you get people doing these jobs who enjoy it, who are knowledgeable about the field and are proud to serve you professionally.

Miss that, a lot. Ah, well — small finds like the staff at Michaels keep the flame alive…


October 21, 2007


Kimi‘s the World Champion! Finally… (or should that be finn-ally?)

I’ve been a fan of “The Iceman” since before he was called that — when I attended the French Formula 1 Grand Prix at Magny-Cours in 2001, while living in France (a story for another time), the souvenirs I bought were the event’s official program and a Red Bull Sauber Petronas cap with Kimi’s signature. OK, so it’s not signed by him personally, just embroidered on the brim with his signature (and car number, with the Finnish flag and stylized Kimi logo on the back) — here, have a look:

Front view of Kimi Räikkönen hat from his season with the Red Bull Sauber Petronas Formula 1 team.


Back view of Kimi Räikkönen hat from his season with the Red Bull Sauber Petronas Formula 1 team.


It was a nailbiter of a finish (er, Finnish?), even after the race.  This has been one of the most controversial F1 seasons in a long time, and it stayed true to form right to the end — there was a post-race investigation into the temperature of the fuel (there’s a rule limiting the fuel temperature to be not less than 10°C below the ambient temperature) put into several of the cars (one of the Williams and both of the BMW Sauber cars) during pit-stops that could have changed the whole outcome of the driver’s championship had the race stewards decided the infraction warranted penalties that would have moved Lewis Hamilton up in the results and given him enough points to win the championship.

Cooler 😉 heads prevailed in the end and Kimi’s championship crown was confirmed after all! Yesss!

The Good, The Bad and The Miscellaneous

May 10, 2007

The Good

Yesterday evening, we (me and my wife, K, that is) were in The Big Smoke for a book launch party that K had been invited to. She’s known Amy, the book’s author (she’s also Editor/Publisher of the on-line knitting magazine, for some time so to show support we schlepped into town to help her celebrate.

Book Launch party for “No Sheep For You”

The book’s title, No Sheep For You, alludes to Amy’s allergy to wool and fabrics made from it — as a knitter, this has a somewhat limiting effect… The book is filled with information about substituting alternative fibres in hand knit garments — the characteristics of each type of fibre and the yarns made from them mean that it’s not always a straightforward substitution as adjustments need to be made to accommodate the differences in order to make a satisfactory finished garment.

The book has actually been out for a while now, but Amy wanted to have the launch party outside of Lettuce Knit, a local yarn shop that she frequents and which holds weekly “stitch ‘n bitch” knitting get-togethers. Weather was therefore a determining factor, and it’s finally becoming seasonable enough in these parts that she was able to schedule the party with reasonable confidence that there wouldn’t be snow…

It was a great party, and Amy deserves lots of congratulations (and success) for all her hard work in putting together the book and — here’s a picture of the get-together, with arrows to point out K and Amy:

K and Amy at the book launch party

During the party, I did wander off while everyone knitted and chatted, exploring old familiar stomping grounds: Kensington Market, Spadina Ave (including walking by the El Mo, where I had seen George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers perform an amazing set many moons ago), up through the campus of the ol’ Alma Mater and on into Yorkville.

Which leads to…

The Bad

Walking back to Amy’s book launch party from Yorkville, I passed along Cumberland St, where there are a number of chi-chi re$taurant$ and boutique$. Now Cumberland is a no parking zone, but I came across a Mercedes-Benz AMG SL55 AMG folding-roof convertible (I can tell you exactly what kind of car it was because it had the “V8 Kompressor” logo on the side of the front fender — I am an admitted, life-long gear-head, and didn’t need to look at the trunk lid for the model badge to identify it) parked at the curb in front of one of those aforementioned restos. It had a handicapped-parking permit on the dashboard.

Now, I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the owner/driver, or perhaps their passenger, were legitimately entitled to be issued the permit by the authorities — but it certainly made me go “hmmm…” and wonder if there had been some monetary influence involved in getting the necessary medical certificate required to obtain said permit.

Then, a short distance down the street: another fancy-schmancy car parked in the no parking zone, also with a handicapped permit. If memory serves me correctly, this one was a Bimmer, a 6-series if I’m not mistaken — I wasn’t paying as much attention at this point (being distracted by my thinking about the possibility that fraudulently obtained permits were being used to abuse a privilege that should be reserved for those who truly need it), so I can’t say with authority whether it was the vanilla version or the M6 überwagen with the V10, or even whether it was a coupé or cabriolet.

So, while it’s possible that both of these were legitimate applications of the handicapped parking privilege, the circumstances — two very expen$ive cars parked in front of expen$ive restos on an up-scale street in a trendy neighbourhood…. well, let’s say that I’m leaning heavily towards believing that everything was not exactly on the up-and-up.

The Miscellaneous

There were a couple of other items from yesterday’s foray into T.O. that were interesting (well, at least to me — Your Mileage May Vary) that I will mention here:

While driving in to the city, we came across a pixelboard displaying the following news item:

Toronto the good?  Guess it depends on what you like…

Which was immediately followed by:

What to do while in town…

An unfortuitous (or perhaps intentional 😉 ) — but amusing — juxtaposition…

The other miscellany: while walking along Yorkville Ave, I noted on the hoarding in front of a construction project a sign reading something like “Funding provided by BNP Paribas (Canada)“.

Why did this seemingly mundane sign catch my eye? Well, BNP Paribas is a French bank that I am familiar with from my time living/working in France — but I had no idea that they had a presence in Canada.

Certainly not an earth-shattering observation, just one of those connectedness things that strikes you at odd occasions and in odd places.