Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fancy Free in Frederick

Last weekend Sean & I took a drive out to Frederick, Maryland's second largest city. It's a great little town, full of 19th century architecture, cool shops and tons of great restaurants.

We had a walk around their Carroll Creek Promenade, and came across the amazing Community Bridge. The plain concrete bridge was painted by a number of local artists in trompe l'oeil. The effect is so well done, you have to touch it to break the spell. There are dozens of hidden symbols within the paintings, see if you can find some! Here are a couple of pics:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Full House

I write this morning from an allergy induced stupor that just inspired me to open up a cookbook, mistaking it for a laptop, and start typing in it. Needless to say, the autosave function was not so great. And folks, this is me before medication.

The past month was a busy one, and also super awesome; my in-laws came to stay with us. All of them.

So for most people, the idea of having their in-laws stay with them, in their home, is the stuff of nightmares. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been a little worried. After all, since we used to live about 5000km apart, I'd only seen them on a handful of occasions. Plus, we'd invited the five of them to stay with us, in our 2 bedroom apartment.

All my worries melted away as soon as they arrived. It was so good to have family around and the apartment seemed to expand like a wizarding tent to contain us all comfortably. The week flew by much too fast as we enjoyed trips to the zoo & aquarium, science centre, fancy dinner out and family dinners in. Our nephew Sawyer was a pleasure to have around; he's so crazily well behaved and fun to do things with. Some of my favourite parts of the week were having a girls day out shopping with my sister-in-law & mother-in-law, and getting caught in a freaking monsoon at the zoo where everyone got soaked to the skin, jumped in puddles and laughed their asses off. Now that's family bonding.

We even got a couple of family pictures this week! Quite the feat as several of the subjects are notoriously camera shy.

I'm looking forward to our next family get together, which is only a few months away, and hope they'll all visit us again really soon!

The one not so good thing that transpired from the week was that our cat Max got really pissed off (pun intended) at having his kingdom invaded. He got his revenge by peeing behind our bed. I don't know when this happened (soo sorry Donny & Susan!) and if it affected our guests who might have been too polite to mention it, or if he waited until everyone was gone to let us know what he thought of us. Of course, to get back there to clean we have to remove the mattress and partially deconstruct the headboard and bed frame as it's too heavy to move. Next time, we'll have goldfish.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This is My Jam Song!!

As some of you may know, I am a huge jam fan. I don't eat it very often, but when I do I love thick, sticky, lumpy jams like my Grandma Betty used to make. 

My Grandma used to make awesome jams. I have wonderful memories of staying with my grandparents for the weekend, and when I woke up in the morning my Grandad would make oatmeal, and Grandma would make me toast. There was a little jam caddy that would be brought to the table, usually with either plum or apricot jam, and we'd enjoy breakfast together listening to classical music on the radio and watching rainbows dance across the table. The rainbows were made by a little table lamp with a crystal base that my Grandma would bring to the table every morning just for that purpose.

Until last fall, it had been 20 years since I'd tasted jam like my Grandmother's. Sean & I stole away to Salt Spring Island for a long weekend to partake in their apple festival. The weather was not great, but we stayed at a very comfortable little bed & breakfast (really, you should go there) and drove around to the various apple farms to sample their crops and buy apples & preserves. At one of these little farms, I bought a jar of plum jam from someone's great-aunt and it took me back to my childhood. I even composed a song in honour of the jam, which I will sing for you one day if you get me very, very drunk.

I stumbled upon a blog last week (The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking) with a foolproof Plum Lemon Jam recipe. Later that week at the farmers' market I came across the first of the plums; some tiny red ones little bigger than cherries. I already had some unwaxed apples from the organic grocer (for natural pectin), as well as sugar and lemons. It was serendipity. I picked up a canning kit on the way home and got busy! The aforementioned blog recommended Tigress in Jam's blog for instructions on hot water bath processing which were extremely helpful.

Things I learned from my first foray into canning:

Horrible mess.
  1. Pick bigger plums. I had a bitch of a time pitting ten thousand little MFing plums to get enough by weight for the recipe. Bigger plums!
  2. If using apple peels for pectin, peel the whole apple in one long curl. Otherwise, when the jam is done you're stuck picking through the dark purple goo trying to tell the difference between apple skins (bad) and plum skins (good). The answer; there is no difference. Oh well, this batch might be a bit chewy.
  3. Steam is hot and steam burns are ouchy. Wear oven mitts even when you don't think you need them.
  4. Keep a full, boiled kettle on hand in case you need to top up the canner.
  5. It's very easy to make a horrific mess, so plan your space accordingly, and have everything you need on hand.
  6. It's not that hard to do. Sure, my jam will not be winning any awards, but it won't be giving anyone botulism either!

Here's the finished product! I'm happy to relate that all the jars sealed, so they should last a little while... so long as I can show some restraint.

By the way, the author of one of the blogs I referred to has their own book!

The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking: Decorating, Dining, and the Gratifying Pleasures of Self-Sufficiency--on a Budget!

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Canuck in Uncle Sam's Backyard

Last night it rained so hard that it washed away the grass.

This is a strange land full of fireflies and alien insects, of trees and plants that look like they belong in a jungle far away. But I guess I am the one far away, and it is I who am out of place.

Last weekend we drove. Our destination was Sean's family in New Brunswick, Canada. We were driving home. We left here the evening of June 30th and arrived, appropriately enough, on Canada Day.

Despite my 5000 km trek across the continent, the drive was a challenge because it was 1300 kms in one leg, overnight. We drove through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine before crossing into New Brunswick.

An interesting anecdote; 30 minutes south of the border in Maine we stopped at a gas station for provisions and the clerk told me she'd been to Canada once, but she didn't know which state (province) she'd been in. I was thinking about this last night and wondering if we (Canadians, and everyone else in the world) paint Americans as ignorant because they are, or just because we don't really understand them (or like them- as a group, not individually). Is it ignorant to live just across an international border and not know anything about the other side, or it just a result of nationalistic navel gazing? Are we any better? I mean, I could probably name 40 of the 50 states before I moved here, and all of them now, but is this because I'm a well rounded, educated, informed citizen of the world (ahem, if i do say so myself), or is it a result of living within the sphere of dominance of a culturally pervasive Hegemon? I can't say I know anything about Mexico.

Education aside, (that's a whole other argument) I'm thinking that the differences in global awareness between Canadians and Americans is cultural. Americans are proud, extremely proud of who they are. They have remained more or less isolationist culturally, despite messing around in everyone else's business militarily and economically. While there are regional differences, as an outsider it's clear that Americans are patriots. They know where they came from, they know their own history (as they choose to remember it), and they know who they are. They are red, white & blue, apple pie & BBQ, thanks giving, God-fearing Americans. They don't apologize, but they do feel slightly sorry for anyone who is not American (so long as you stay in your own country). Maybe there's nothing wrong with that.

As a Canadian, I find all this flag waving a bit disturbing, but that is a product of my own cultural education.

In Canada, we're all really interested in our individual roots (mine are Scottish, English, Algonquin First Nations* by the way (*we think)). Many families spend generations in Canada and still identify with their home country. And we're more or less ok with that. We speak French and English, but you'll find signs in Chinese, Hindi, Punjabi and others in many of our bigger cities. We're still apologizing for the awful things our ancestors did to our First Nations peoples. We're not too worried about our own politics because we know that whoever gets elected, it won't make that big of a difference in what does or doesn't get done. When pressed to identify a 'typical Canadian food' to an outsider, a lot of us would cop out and say Kraft Dinner. We see Canada Day as a day off work, and not a whole lot more.

What binds us together as Canadians? Hockey, high taxes and health care would be my guess, paired with an strong sense of being 'un-american'. You'd probably have a different answer, and I guess that's my point. You can't really put a finger on what it is to be Canadian, but we still love our country.

We just shut up about it.

One of Sean's coworkers (also Canadian) told him when we got here that you'll never feel more Canadian than when you're living in the States. This is very true. Right now my biggest hurdle in accepting my new home is losing the chip on my shoulder about what 'They' don't know about 'Us', and instead focusing on letting go of my own prejudices about them. It'll never be home, but I want to learn to love it for what is is.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Blue Crab Killers

Last week we earned our ticket as Marylanders. And it only cost us $30. I'm speaking of our first experience with Maryland Blue Crabs, the official food down here. Everyone eats them, and you can get them absolutely anywhere, in one form or another. Within a five minute drive of where we live there are at least 3 places that sell nothing else but steamed blue crabs and crab cakes to go.

Blue crabs are smaller than Dungeness and instead of being served with butter and lemon, they are steamed with a hell of a lot of Old Bay seasoning and eaten as is. The result is a sticky, spicy, salty experience that is alot of work, but worth the picking.

We ordered a dozen mediums (that's what they recommended for two! they are quite small- about the size of a man's hand), bought a couple mallets (they don't use crackers) and dug in over a couple bottles of ginger beer. It was messy, fun and delicious, but we both concluded that we prefer the west coast's dungeness and find the seasoning a bit too salty. Next time we'll see if they'll steam them half seasoned for us.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Touring with Tara OR Beautiful Baltimore

What a month! May has had it's ups and downs, but since the ups were so awesome, that's where I'm going to start. We had our first house guest! My good friend, the gorgeous and super-fantastic Tara came for a visit! I can't tell you how nice it was to be able to hang out with a friend. Despite having been here almost 3 months now, I haven't really been out much. With Tara here, I had no excuse not to go out and see my city!

Before my adventures with Tara, I'll admit I didn't hold Baltimore in very high esteem. I'd heard that there were nice bits, but I assumed it was like this crappy old bench- once shiny, now worn, patched and beat-up . Well, there are definitely parts like that, but together, Tara and I found the charm in Charm City.

We started out in the Mount Vernon neighbourhood. Right off, the architecture blew us away. Above is an example of any old street in this area. What got me was the attention to detail, and the creativity that went in to making these buildings. Not only were they built to to last, they were also built to captivate.

Each building, if you took the time to look, had something special to offer. Some had elaborate leaded glass work, others had decorated pillars or the original (painstakingly restored) carved wood doors. This fellow caught my eye when I was looking for the source of a birds' call.

Another cool feature we noticed on our stroll were these boot scrapers- some plain, some shaped like griffins and other beasts. They were all over the place, and I can only assume that they are the original ones from before the roads were paved. Who knows how old they might be, as the city of Baltimore was founded in 1729.

Based on what I've seen so far, Baltimore is a city of churches and monuments. They're everywhere. Some are modest, others magnificent. I won't bore you with every picture we took that day, but here are a few of my favourites.

Above and below is the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, built in 1843. It sits at the very edge of a large and extremely confusing traffic circle. Seriously, it has multiple traffic lights- some to let you into the circle, others to stop you while you're in it. I pledge here and now never to brave it by car, as I fear for my sanity (and for others' safety).

I amused myself imagining that these are the doors that let the sinners in. I tried the door, but it was locked (what does that say about me, I wonder). Actually, as far as we could tell, none of the churches were open to the public. Such a shame as the interiors must be breathtaking.

Here is Baltimore's Washington Monument. Smaller than the one in DC, but us Baltimoreans will have you know ours was the first. I'll also venture to say ours is better looking. So there, DC. To the left of the monument is a statue of La Fayette, whose army of Frenchmen came to the aid of the Americans during the American Revolution.

My favourite building of the day was the First and Franklin Street Presbyterian Church (on the corner of Park Ave & Madison St... weird, eh?) built in 1847. The style is tudor-gothic, and pictures don't do it justice. If you look closely just above and to the right of the rosary window, you'll see a tree that has taken root. Below are a couple more shots from different angles closer up.

Around the side of the church is an impressive display of prayer ribbons. Buddhists have something similar called prayer flags. They write a prayer, or draw a mandala on a piece of bright cloth and hang it up. The idea is that every time the wind catches the flag, the prayer is blown away to heaven.

These ribbons each represent a prayer. The blue ones are for peace and reconciliation. The green ones for for the Iraqi people who have died during the wars in Iraq. The gold ones are for the families of American soldiers lost in Iraq. The darker gold are for the families of American soldiers lost in Afghanistan. The red ones are for the Afghani people who have died during the war in Afghanistan.

Our first thought was that there should be more blue ribbons.

Now library lovers, prepare yourselves for one of the most amazing sights in Baltimore; The Peabody Institute Library.

George Peabody donated $300,000 to get things started, and the Peabody Institute opened to the public in 1878. When we were there, there were several groups of people studying, but despite this the hush was enormous.

To end my post, I'll leave you with a picture of the Mayfair; a derelict theatre next to the economy lot where we parked. For your reading pleasure, (and to satisfy our curiosity) we chatted up the lot attendant for some background information. Built in 1880, it was in nearly continuous use for 100 years. During it's life it was a gymnasium, skating rink, auditorium, theatre, and cinema. For the past 30 years it's stood empty, and over time the windows were broken and the roof caved in. The Mayfair is the last old theatre on a street that was once all theatres. Proof that, for better or worse, we can't hold on to all the treasures of our past.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Potting Plants and Playing Nice

One of my recent dalliances with domesticity has been to start up a little garden on our deck. I've done this before, but a combination of a north-facing apartment in a cool climate and my own inattention yielded post apocalyptic-like results. Remember Ursula the Sea-witch in Disney's 'The Little Mermaid'? How she turned all those poor mer-folk into shriveled up little weed-people? Well, that's typically what my gardens look like after a month or so. This time though... this time will be different. At least I hope it will, because those herbs ain't cheap.

Aside from the usual suspects (tarragon plus several varieties of thyme, mint, oregano, sage & basil) I'm trying my hand at tomatoes. (*cough, again*) This time I'm growing them from seed, and only growing cherry varieties, with which I've had better luck in the past. Today they finally sprouted!! Yes, I know I'm starting late, but things have been busy, kay?

One kind I have growing is Sungold, which are the scrumptious orange gems we had on Salt Spring Island last fall. Sean's pretty excited. Mr. 'I hate vegetables' actually said that these tomatoes were the best thing he'd ever eaten. EVAR!!! With any luck, we'll be up to our eyeballs in tomatoes this summer, so anyone want to come for a visit?

Speaking of visits... drum roll please... Just 9 more days until the arrival of our first house guest from home- Tara!! Stay tuned for details.

We have a pretty full weekend planned, which may or may not include a gathering at Sean's boss's house. This is where the 'playing nice' comes in.

While I relish the opportunity to converse with people other than myself and the cats (haven't been doing much of the people meeting just yet), especially since from the sound of things, there may be some pretty cool people to meet, we may have a problem.

Those of you that know me understand that if you ask me a straight question, I will give you a straight answer, often before considering the repercussions. In other words, when you ask "How do I look in this colour?" I will honestly reply; "Terrible. Blue is NOT your colour. Makes you look like a figure from a wax museum. And better stay away from the white too- you KNOW you'll just spill something down your front."

So yeah, not big on the tact. Or the white lies. I personally prefer the direct, sugar-free approach and I'm (slightly) aware this sometimes makes me come across as... well, a bitch. I'm supremely lucky to have friends and family who love me anyway.

I am capable of playing nice, so long as I concentrate and don't drink too much. That is the plan. However, I really dread those questions like;

"So, how do you like living in Maryland?"

The answer is too complex for polite company. Or for first impressions. I guess what I'm saying is I'll be spending my Friday night coming up with a list of questions people might ask me, and then rehearsing the corresponding good girl answers. Help me Grilled Cheesus.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I'm Afraid of Baltimore... I'm Afraid of Baltimore...

Today Sean had the day off, so we decided to make our first trip into the big city.

Things did not go as planned.

First off, on Friday Sean mentioned to a coworker our plans for exploring the city. The coworker made one of those half restrained 'ouch' faces when he heard we'd planned to walk around, and delicately suggested we keep an eye on our surroundings as neighbourhoods can be very different from one street to the next.

As we first entered the city, we drove by nice green parks, college campuses and tidy row houses. The very next street over, the row houses had ply board for windows, chain link over the doors and people outside actively stealing cars as we drove by at 11 am on a Monday. This is when I started singing my 'I'm afraid of Baltimore' song, and rocking in my seat.

The rest of the drive was more of the same; a couple of nice streets that you could see yourself living on, then a couple of streets that looked like Vancouver's downtown east side, if you threw some guns into the mix. Ok, I didn't see any guns, but then again, if I had, would I be blogging right now? I don't know.

Today we'd decided to explore the neighbourhoods of Hampden & Homewood on the North Western side of Baltimore. We'd mainly decided on this because we had dinner reservations nearby at arguably the best restaurant in the city, and figured we could find more than enough to do in the area for a day.

Everything was closed. Every museum, art gallery, cool specialty shop, historical landmark- hell, even Baltimore's Washington Monument is closed Mondays. As it happens, everything in the County is closed on Sundays, and everything in the City is closed Mondays.

What an spectacular mix of bad luck and poor planning.

We stopped at Hampden's iconic Cafe Hon to regroup and have some lunch. This is the cafe made famous by the 'Hon's' of the area's signature rockabilly hybrid look & attitude. Apparently, in the summer months it's not uncommon to see droves of tattooed ladies in 50's dresses with wicked beehives, often sporting props (in the cafe there was a pic of a lady who had a tin of Old Bay- Baltimore's favourite seasoning- in her hive.). The cafe's atmosphere was fun, but the food was horrible and overpriced- not a good combination. While picking at our lunches, we combed through our guidebook to find that pretty much anything we'd want to see elsewhere in Baltimore... was also closed on Mondays. The only things open were the aquarium and the zoo, and we weren't really in the mood. We thought about walking around the inner harbour- a very touristy area that would definitely have shops open, but we weren't feeling very confident in our ability to stay on the good streets, and decided to leave our wandering until we could learn more about the city.

So... we went to Ikea.

Anticlimactic isn't it? Well, we needed a couple things that we couldn't order online (namely a coffee table and a full-length mirror) and it was only a 20 minute drive (45 minutes from home). Say what you like about Ikea, but I love it. Sure, I'd rather buy my furniture at a boutique, or from a craftsman, but not only can we not really afford it, but we have no idea where we are going to be in 5 years. Ikea furniture is easy to customize, and if you can't take it with you, then you're $200 in the hole and not $2000.

After 3 hours of Ikea we were tired and hungry. We headed back to Hampden for dinner at Woodberry Kitchen.

Dinner erased all evils.

WK is an extremely popular restaurant here, featuring local & seasonal meat and produce. It takes more that 2 months to get a weekend reservation (if you don't mind eating at 8:15pm). If you want prime hours, I have no idea how far in advance you'd have to book. Fortunately for us, Mondays are not quite as bad, and I was able to get a res for an early dinner only 3 weeks in advance.

The location is really cool; a re-purposed factory or warehouse. The walls are the original brick, and the ceiling is super high- maybe 4 regular stories. The kitchen is open, and even on a Monday we could see the Chef/Owner Spike Gjerde hard at work by the brick wood burning oven. There was a very impressive 2-story...? what the hell would you call it? Well it's function was to hold cords of wood for the stove, but it was big and beautiful and imposing. The place was decorated with old tools, but not overdone or cheesy. Just enough to give you something cool to notice. Behind me were giant floor to ceiling leaded glass windows letting in lots of light.

The food was simple, but (almost) perfectly executed. We started with brick oven roasted asparagus with a chopped egg & tarragon dressing. I can't explain to you how amazing asparagus is when you roast it in a freaking million degree oven. I roast it all the time at home, and grill it too, but it doesn't nearly compare to the results they got at WK. The flavour was rich and nutty, and tips were so crispy they almost disintegrated on your tongue. My only complaint was there was a bit too much pepper for my liking, which overpowered the tarragon in the dressing. Still, a very nice dish. Our meal came with complimentary water service (this means they bring you your choice of flat or sparkling water, and refill your glass for you whenever needed- usually something you have to pay for.) and 3 kinds of house made bread- an italian with sesame seeds (my favourite- the seeds get so nice and toasty! Yum!), a spelt and a boston brown. The bread was just the thing to sop up a little of that chopped egg dressing- such a simple but delicious sauce, I'm definitely doing that at home soon.

For supper Sean had Mac & Cheese (after talking all afternoon about eating more pig, he went with the pasta because it had been a long day, and it's one of his best comfort foods) from the 'Meatless Monday' special menu, and I had Scallops with ramps, hen of the woods mushrooms, radishes, pork belly and tarragon mayonnaise. Sean loved his Mac & Cheese made with aged gouda and a golden crispy breadcrumb topping. But...


They really were. I've never had them so perfectly caramelized, or expertly cooked. They were a 10. (I'd give them an 11, but that would be ridiculous.) The outside was so crisp, and the inside soft, supple and sweet. The ramps were silky and smothered in butter. The radishes and mushrooms were lightly cooked, and lightly seasoned so they could speak for themselves and balance out the more powerful flavours of the pork and the ramps. I loved the tarragon mayonnaise; the perfect compliment to all the dish's components.


I got a really good laugh when I gave a taste of my scallops to Sean, who typically does not like seafood. I've been wanting to make a scallop recipe at home, and I hoped that the best scallops I've ever had might convince Sean he's missing something. He chewed thoughtfully, and then likened them to 'Sea Gelatin'.  Not in an entirely bad way though, so maybe there is hope.

For dessert, Sean had a wonderful parfait of malt flavoured ice cream, peanut caramel, and homemade marshmallow cream- they even bruleed the top. I had a couple bites, and it was marvelous. I could have had dessert (the dinner portions were small), but to be honest, nothing appealed to me and I was in a bit of a snit. I was cranky because several of the desserts featured cranberries, which I didn't think was appropriate since they are way out of season. I don't know why it ticked me off so much (even I could tell I was having an unreasonable reaction), but Sean suggested it was because subconsciously the thought of cranberries made me homesick. I think I'll go with that. Don't worry, I behaved myself- no plate throwing or filibustering- just no dessert :(

The best part- only a 25 minute drive from home, and free valet parking. We used to drive all the way to Seattle for a meal of this calibre (and we won't even talk about the price of parking). I look forward to going again... maybe we can get another reservation... September perhaps?

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Lot.

So what have I been up to?

Well, the answer comes in two parts; A Whole Lot, and A Lot of Nothing.

A Whole Lot:

Two weekends ago, Sean and I attended the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival in Timonium, MD. This is a weekend long event that showcases 60 beers, 40 bourbons and A WHOLE LOT OF BBQ. That's right, folks.

Now, I know what you're thinking, over the past year we've all but given up alcohol, and have cut back our meat consumption to 2-3 servings (and sometimes less) per week. What can I say? We fell off a whole lot of wagons that weekend (and felt it the next day).

We attended the festival on the Friday night, for the 'Full Hog Pig Pickin'. Upon entering the fairgrounds, we were given a  miniature beer glass (6 oz) and a 'beer bra' to hang it around your neck while you are eating/chatting/dancing/stumbling around. We also got a meal ticket for a pulled pork dinner.

We started with a couple beer tastings (generous 4-6 oz pours), then decided we had best eat some food, or our night would be a short one. In the BBQ arena were 6 food tents operated by 6 different local catering companies. Vegetarians may want to look away.

Each station had it's own take on a pulled pork dinner; some did sandwiches, others biscuits, and some just let the meat speak for itself. Sides were very southern (we are after all in the 'South') such as cole slaw, potato salad, collard greens and black beans. One place took a more imaginative approach with dishes like jerk pork biscuits, and espresso smoked chicken (they also had a sweet potato & bacon bread pudding, which I had much later that night, and it might have been the beer & bourbon, but it felt like the best thing I'd ever put in my mouth.) Every tent had it's own pig done in their signature fashion. That's a whole lot of pig. You could safely say we 'pigged out'.

Back to the booze. At the start of the evening, we meandered through the warehouse, tasted the interesting brews, discussed their merits, and people watched. It looked a little like this:

Those people aren't us, by the way. I couldn't get Sean to wear the hat. After an hour or so (or possibly less...) there was less meandering and more weaving going on. The talking got louder and was making less sense. Where before I might have been heard saying something like "Very hoppy, with a nice citrus finish", now it was more like "Mmmm beer. Good. More!" and trying really hard not to burp in public. At least, not too loud. It looked a little like this:

Not too long after this, we'd sampled most of the 60 beers and had moved on to the bourbon. I don't think we tried much of it, but then it doesn't really take much, does it? It looked a little like this:

Being responsible non-citizens, we had taken a cab to the fest (unlike the majority of attendees, unfortunately), so when it came time to leave we called for a taxi. Dispatch explained that it was a very busy night, and it would be at least AN HOUR AND A HALF before they could get a car out to us. Hearing this, we made the fateful decision to walk home. After all, it's only 4 miles. 

Well, ladies and gentlemen, 4 miles is about 6.4 kms, which while normally not an unreasonable distance to walk, turns into a fucking marathon when you are full of pig and drunk as a skunk. It took us and hour and a half to do it, but we got home safe and sound. I didn't get up until 1pm the next day. Good times.

Another thing I did recently was get a Maryland State drivers license! I must say, what a freaking ordeal. It took me 2 tries, 3 visits to government offices and a total of 4 hours of waiting for my number to be called, but it's done. In case you ever find yourself needing to get one, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Go to the Social Security office and apply for a SSN card (like a SIN) even though you don't qualify, so that they can give you a piece of paper stamped 'DENIED'. (Very important step- I missed it the first time)
  2. Take your 'Denied' paper, Passport, old Drivers' License and two official proofs of address (very hard to get without an SSN as most companies won't list you on an account without one) to the DMV- called a MVO here.
  3. Wait in line for a very long time to see the desk clerk. She will look at your documentation quizzically and ask you if Canada is part of the USA. You will chuckle like a polite Canadian thinking it was a (bad) joke. She will look at you like you have shit for brains while waiting for you to give her an answer. You will reply, "Um... No. No it isn't." She will give you a number. I kid you not. I wish I was, but I'm sooo not.
  4. Sit in a waiting room listening to crying babies, millions of disembodied cell phone sounds and drunk people talking about the cars they stole over the weekend. Sit there for an hour. 
  5. When your number is called, give your documents to a clerk who has never issued a Drivers License to a Canadian before. After a brief poll, nobody in the entire office has ever even seen a Canadian before and has no idea how to process your documents. Start wishing you had a mickey in your purse. Or a gun.
  6. After your info is entered into the system, you get another number. Sit for another 20 minutes.
  7. tha.......fried chicken...mah word!.......hangin Try to nod at appropriate intervals, and maybe toss in a 'Yes M'am'. Now pay the $27 licensing fee. You're done!
That wasn't too hard, was it? True story, I swear to you.

Last weekend we planned an outing to the town of Westminster. 

We basically cracked the guidebook and pointed. It was supposed to be a quaint little town, with a couple neat museums and places to see. We set off Sunday morning on a nice 45 minute drive. When we got there, we popped in to the Visitors Center. The 'nice' old lady asked us why we would be out on a Sunday and what we expected to be able to see. We told her we were open to suggestions, and she suggested we stop by the convenience store, as it might just be open. We went back out to the car, where I tried to burn the building down using just my heathen mind, but I needed some newspaper to help the flame along and I was fresh out. Instead, I took this picture of the `haunted`pub next door. Which was closed. We learned not to travel on Sundays.

 As for the 'Whole lot of Nothing' portion of this post, it starts and ends with two words and a roman numeral. Dragon Age II.

Yes, my favourite (or second favourite? I don't know, Fable might be first...) game franchise came out with a sequel and it is awesome. I'd put off buying it because I knew once I started playing, I wouldn't stop until I was done. And I didn't. And I'm on my second play through. My first run took 20 or so hours and was fantastic. I rushed it though because the story was so good I just wanted to know what happened next. 

I know many of you don't get video games, and I understand that. I was once a non-believer. But then I fell in love with a guy who makes video games, and he showed me that they're not all about shooting things and blowing up cars. Some games are so well designed that the worlds they inhabit have their own history and myths. Playing can be like immersing yourself is a really good book, but being able to make decisions that will affect how characters interact with you, and even how the game ends. You can be an altruistic hero, or a money hungry bastard. Or anything in between. Anyways, I guess my point is that the last couple weeks I've played an awful lot of Dragon Age. And maybe not so much of anything very productive.

This weekend we get a long weekend, even though it's not a holiday. Sean's company used to be (up until 2 weeks ago) headquartered in Massachusetts, where Monday is Patriot's day. Now, both offices in RI & MD get fake holidays. Yippee!

As we've learned nothing is open on Sundays down here in the US of A, on Monday we're heading in to Baltimore for the first time. On the docket is a trip to Druid Hill Park, and dinner at the famous Woodberry Kitchen. Who knows what else we'll get up to. Looking forward to it.

And back from popular demand, I leave you with pictures of our cats. Because that's what people with no kids do.

Leo sez ROAR!

Max gets cuddles.

Leo helps Sean install a curtain rod.

Max watches TV.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Weekend (late post)

This weekend I bought stuff from Amish people. That was kind of cool.

There's this place nearby called the Pennsylvania Dutch Market. It took me awhile to decide if these people are really Amish, or just dressed that way, but I've come to the conclusion that nobody would wear their hair like that just for a job. From what I can gather, though it is run by Amish, most of the goods being sold are bought wholesale from elsewhere. Either that, or the Amish have started raising their meat in feedlots & with antibiotics, and slapping 'made in China' tags on thier knick-knacks. Still, it's a neat place, and they make a lot of fresh baking every morning, and soft pretzels which are chewy, salty and amazingly delicious. Writing that made me realize I've skipped lunch!

After the market we swung by the local garden center and picked up some herbs to plant in a window box. I don't have them planted yet, and so far the boys have not tried to eat them, so all's well. Pretty lazy weekend.

Our furniture (the first batch, at least) will be arriving on Wednesday! Yay! It's been like living in a studio apartment, so I'm really looking forward to gettting the bedroom set up... even if it does mean a few days of putting things together.

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Think My Next Door Neighbour is John Cena

I'm not a wrestling fan...

But I know who John Cena is...

And I think he lives next door.

Let me start at the beginning. You know my neighbour in 6d? Well, I heard his dog whimpering in the stairwell, so I crept to the door like the nosy neighbour that I am, and peeked through the viewer...

And there he was, John Cena. At least, it looked like him. But the stairwell was a little dim. Still, I'm going with my gut. I'm also not going to be complaining about the noise anytime soon.

Wake Up Call

As I think I've mentioned, our apartment is bordered on 3 sides by a forested area, and we get a lot of birds. The cats LOVE sitting in the window sills and watching them. The loudest are the cardinals, and being bright red, they're easy to spot. I'd never seen one before moving here, so I thought I'd share this with you! The video isn't mine- I've been trying to catch a pic of them for days without any luck.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ooom-pa-pa- Ooom-pa-pa, Boom-Boom-Boom, Weeeyow-Wow- Clang- Olé!

I'd planned on doing a post with a few pictures of the outside of our building, and the community, but that will have to wait. Right now, I need to vent about our neighbours.

The building consists of three outside doors, each letting in to a foyer with mailboxes. There are six steps down to the two garden-level apartments, six steps up to two middle level units, and another two small flights up to two more units. So, six units per door, eighteen per building (well ours at least; many of the other buildings are bigger).

We have a mid-level end unit, so we really only have three neighbours to worry about, the people below us, above us and to the left of us. Let me tell you, it's more than enough.

As I'm writing this, it's 3pm, and next door has had their music on super loud, on and off, for the past 17 hrs. We've never seen our neighbour in 6d. I have no idea who he or she is, but they like to party. And not just on the weekend, apparently. Things will be peaceful, the sun shining, the birds singing, and then the BOOM-BOOM-BOOM starts. The cats are terrified and go hide and I try to ignore it. It was loud enough last night (between 11pm & 4am) to be annoying, but now the noise seems to be permeating the entire apartment. I could wear headphones, but that's not the point.

You may think the walls are thin, but they aren't. Not overly anyway. We hear the downstairs neighbours at mealtimes, mainly because there's a family of at least a dozen Mexicans living in there, and they're happy, passionate people. The kids are always making happy kid sounds, and there's never any angry yelling. They're loud, but at least they're a good loud.

The only noise we hear from the upstairs neighbour is the occasional creaking of the floor boards in the middle of the night. (Thank goodness!!)

A while ago, I'd had enough. I`d been moving/unpacking things all morning, and I was taking a break to have lunch and watch a show. I couldn't hear the dialogue for the BOOM-BOOM-BOOM coming from next door. So I did something I never do. I put on a CD of my own, specially chosen to mix horribly with the din next-door (Florence & the Machine for anyone interested)... and I turned up the volume...

For one song. I just couldn't do it; it's so rude and inconsiderate. Funny thing is, it also worked (temporarily anyway) because the person in 6d left!

Unfortunately, if only half worked. When 6d left, I turned off my music and through the hum of silence and bruised eardrums I could hear more noise. Downstairs is playing what I can only describe as some sort of hybrid Latin-Oom-pa-pa music. Presumably to drown out the rest of us.

Earphones it is.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Setting up House

So, I'm home. My new home, that is, in Baltimore County Maryland. I'm still a little bit amazed that I drove across the continent last week. Still settling in.

The apartment is... well, I'm still undecided. The bones are good, but it's clear shortcuts have been taken over the years, and it's not as quiet as we'd hoped. I'll blog more about neighbours later, but lets just say it turns into a Mexican Karaoke Disco around here on weekends. It's not as bad as it sounds though, because it means we don't have to worry too much about the noise we make. Besides, some of those karaoke singers aren't half bad. (but most of them are ALL bad)

When I first got here, I could tell that Sean had done a lot of unpacking and assembling. The living room was basically unpacked, as was the kitchen.

The kitchen is large for a rental apartment (big enough to fit a 4-top kitchen table), but it has about one quarter of the kitchen storage I'm used to, and very limited counter space. I opened the cupboards, and Sean has them well organized, but they're already full... and there's a lot more to go.

Then, I saw the bedrooms. Yikes. These are some of the empty boxes (Sean broke them down shortly after this was taken and we took them out to recycling).

These are just a few of the boxes waiting to be unpacked. Sean's been hard at work, but the truth is, we've run out of places to put things. You may have noticed there's not a lot of furniture... very observant to you. Let me show you some of what we have.

Our media center where we watch TV & movies, play Xbox 360, listen to music and relax.

My office, where I email, surf the web, and blog.

Our bed, where we sleep. (Don't worry- it folds out!) Also the dining room (chairs which double as tv trays not shown) 

Alright, it's not quite as bad as that. We have a kitchen table which is currently being employed as a computer desk & breakfast nook. We have some cabinets and bookshelves. But that's pretty much it. We didn't bring a whole lot with us, because we weren't sure what was going to fit, and it was going to be cheaper to buy new furniture than it was to ship the old (much of which were hand-me-downs and didn't owe us anything).

So what did we do this weekend? Quite a bit. We ordered a butt-load of furniture for one; bed, mattress, chest of drawers, night tables, desk, more bookshelves, etc. This will be the first shipment of several as we paint and get an idea of what we want to do with the space. We've decided to take the second bedroom as ours because it's quieter, and use the master bedroom (which is almost twice as big) as a media room. It'll have a desk with the computers, a sofabed and tv. We'll see what else we can fit in there.

For those of you counting, that means we're going to have 2 guest beds... enough to accommodate a whole family... *hint* hint* Quinns, Brayfords and Kings! We already have some friends who have made plans to come and visit and I can't wait to have them here!!

We also got some phone lines (land & cell) set up, so if you don't already have our numbers, and you want them, let me know!

The rest of the weekend was quiet because we both needed it to be. We did some grocery shopping, a little housework and just spent time together. Nice to be able to do after so long!

Finally, a big thank-you to everyone who followed me across the country, leaving encouraging comments and emails!! It felt good connecting with home every night and sharing my adventures. I'm going to continue blogging both the amazing and the monotonous parts of life here in 'Bawlmer'. I hope you all stick around for the ride and keep in touch! Leave me a note in comments if there's something you'd like me to write about!