Introducing TWO New Demipinte Series

As of today, I’ve been on maternity leave since October 2018. Our son was born in November 2018 and my husband wrapped up his paternity leave in January 2019. We’re now in April, which means I have been flying solo as a full-time homemaker for five months.

Not only do I spend my days raising our son, I also spend them doing chores. Anyone who knows me and/or who has lived with me will know that there are some chores that I really can’t stand doing. Ever since moving out of my parents’ house at 18 I’ve been something of an undomestic goddess: I am very good at making messes in the name of DIY projects and culinary adventures, but not so good at cleaning up right away.

But now that we have a human baby and two furbabies, those days of letting any of my chores pile up are long behind me. In the name of sanitary and sane living for our entire family, my mornings and evenings are ruled by a chore rotation that allows me to keep things orderly in the small spaces of time I have that aren’t devoted to the baby.

And on top of keeping a baby alive while keeping our home clean, I’ve also been put in charge of our finances. Up until now my husband has been our CFO, but we both decided that it was finally time for me to take the reins and learn how to properly manage a true grown-up budget. It’s not like I’ve never managed money – I managed my own when I was single and scraped by – but now as a married adult with a child managing money is an entirely different challenge. In addition to keeping our living expenses reasonable, we are working on paying off the last of our debt as well as finally starting to set aside proper savings.

As both the new family CFO and head of household maintenance, I’m constantly trying to keep our finances well in the black without us losing a comfortable and decent standard of living. In the last few months I’ve learned a lot and I know as we progress through my maternity leave and eventually back into me being a working mother I’ll keep learning.

But right now I feel like I’m ready to start sharing what I’ve learned so far with you!  In light of this, I’ll be breaking down my experiences into separate blog posts in two new Demipinte Series called Snazzy Shoestrings, which is all about how we’re living happily while cutting costs and reducing our expenses, and  Spending Smart for the Home On… for my personal insights on very specific items that we own versus more popular versions of the same thing.

Today I’ll be doing the two of them together, but going forward I might split them into separate posts especially if they don’t relate to one another.  However, this week the Snazzy Shoestrings subject works really well with the one for Spending Smart, so it just seemed right to launch them together in one post.

Now, before we begin I will say that some of these are things we’ve been doing ever since we first started dating and others are things we started when we became parents, but they’ve all saved us a fairly decent amount of money to date.  Also, I’m not sponsored by any brands or companies and I’m not earning any money off this blog at this point in time.

Alright.  Here we go!

 

Snazzy Shoestrings
Reducing Household Waste:  The Food Budget

We’re not a zero-waste family and at this point in time, becoming one is not a goal we have in mind. But what we are striving for is a reduction in our physical household waste so that we reduce financial waste, especially in our food budget.  We found a lot of waste in our groceries (overbuying food or forgetting about what we bought were our biggest pitfalls) and in eating out (we ordered take-out more in our son’s first year of life than we did in all of 2018 prior to his birth). We approached this challenge from a couple of different angles.

We keep a master list of core items and food staples for the rest of our regular meals at home and we only buy what we need of perishables. We revise this master list every few months and we shop for these at various markets and grocery stores so that we can take advantage of what fresh local produce is in season as well as any weekly sales or flyer deals, and depending on where we shop any given week we also have opportunities to use store rewards programs such as PC Optimum to trade in points we’ve collected on previous purchases for a monetary amount off a larger grocery bill.

We do have a Costco membership as well, since shopping at Costco can give you a really good bang for your buck if you do it right. Some of the few prepackaged foods we eat as well as many of our bulk food items and non-edible household essentials are priced better at Costco than other stores we have access to where we live, so we get them there while store-hopping around each week for everything else.

One thing we decided to invest in was a GoodFood subscription. Having the GoodFood subscription gives us new recipes to try without us overbuying items we normally don’t buy, and gives us a break from our usual menu without the price tag of eating out or having food delivered. Our plan is the basic box of three meals (two servings per meal) each week, which costs us $65 CAD. It’s still not as cheap as cooking entirely from scratch for those three meals, but it’s not as expensive as eating out whenever we’re tired of our staple, more basic home-cooked meals. What we really like about the GoodFood box is that we get exactly what we need for each meal, we’re sticking to our policy of eating produce that’s in season, we’re supporting local farmers, and all of the packaging can be recycled or reused.

By the way, we still do leave room in our budget for restaurant food, but by setting a hard limit on what we can spend on restaurant food every month we’ve managed to drastically reduce our expenditure on restaurants. What’s nice about our restaurant budget is that whatever we don’t spend on restaurants in one month gets carried over into the next month, so once in a while we can afford to go out somewhere really nice for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. In fact, the prospect of being able to have a special date somewhere really nice is such a motivator that sometimes we actually don’t eat out at all one month so that for the next month we have double our restaurant budget.  And we’re not above using Groupon vouchers from time to time, either.

***

Working to reduce not only what we spend on food but also on actual food waste means overall we’re saving a fair amount every month in this budget category. Food you throw out, no matter how cheap it was, is still wasted money.

Are you also trying reduce your spending on your food budget without resorting to the eating habits of a broke college student?  How are you getting the most bang for your buck out of your groceries?  Let us know in the comments below!

***

And now for…

Spending Smart for the Home On…
…Carbonated Water

We stopped buying carbonated beverages a long time ago, including carbonated water , but we actually drink sparkling water pretty much every day.  And we drink a lot of it.

Instead of buying Perrier or San Pellegrino, we use a carbon dioxide (CO2) cylinder to get our fix of fizz. We actually opted for a rented CO2 tank over a SodaStream machine, which is widely recommended when you’re trying to consume less sugary soda but  also keeping up at home with your cravings for bubbles in order to reduce the cost of doing so.  For example, The Financial Diet channel on YouTube cites the SodaStream in a few of their videos as an appliance worth investing in to save you money in the long run.

Before we go any further and start talking about how much things cost, I’m going to point out now that nothing below factors in sales tax, which where we live (Quebec) works out to about 15%.  However, because here in Canada the listed price doesn’t include the tax when you’re shopping, I’m going to follow that model and give all the figures as pre-tax amounts.

Here’s a basic rundown of SodaStream prices, using figures in Canadian dollars from their Canadian website as well as prices from Canadian Tire:

  • Starter pack: Anywhere from $89.99 for the cheapest model at Canadian Tire to $199.00 for the most expensive one on the SodaStream site; starter pack includes machine and one cylinder of CO2
  • Accessories: As shown on the SodaStream site, accessories range from bottle caps at $3.79 for 2 to bottles from $9.99 for one 1L bottle to $19.99 for a 3-pack of 1L bottles; and fancier 1L glass carafes for $15.99
  • Flavour packs: Individual packs at $5.49 for Drops, $6.99 for Classic, $7.99 for Waters, and $9.99 for Organics, or a variety pack of 3 Fruit Drops flavours for $11.99
  • Spare/extra CO2 cylinder measuring 14.5oz (just under 1lb) of CO2 to create 60L of fizzy water: $35.99 at Canadian Tire or $39.99 from SodaStream’s website, then extra for the gas refill

Using our own realistic purchasing habits and reasonings as a guide for a SodaStream purchase, let’s say my husband and I made an initial purchase of the following SodaStream products:

  • cheapest starter pack:  $89.99
    (comes with a tank and a machine as do all the starter kits but it’s $30 cheaper than the next model up)
  • one glass carafe: $15.99
    (this is me being extra — it’s for when we’re having a nice meal with people and the table setting needs to look pretty and Instagram-worthy)
  • one two-pack of extra caps:  $3.79
    (since caps tend to get misplaced around here)
  • one spare cylinder:  $35.99
    (so we don’t have to rush immediately to the store for a refill every time a cylinder runs low, we can pop the next one in and wait to/forget to replace the first one for  a week)
  • one flavour pack:  $6.99
    (we actually don’t flavour our fizzy water, but I’ll be honest and say that if we were to buy a SodaStream we’d want to try at least one Classic flavour)

Even going for the cheapest starter pack possible, our hypothetical SodaStream system would cost us $152.75 for the initial purchase, pre-tax.

With a rented CO2 cylinder we’re still able to carbonate our own water at home. Our CO2 cylinder rental from a company here in Montreal called Air Liquide and it’s huge:  it’s 50lbs of CO2. We store it in the kitchen next to our water cooler.

If you’re wondering why we would bother with a gigantic, unwieldy thing full of carbon dioxide that takes up floor space instead of purchasing a machine that can sit elegantly on our counter and doesn’t look so scary, we’ll have to do some math.  Actually, a fair bit of it.  Here we go:

  • cylinder rental (50lbs cylinder for 1 year): $75.00
  • gas lock line & carbonator cap:  $30.99 
  • regulator:  $56.99
  • 3 reusable glass jugs that originally held 64L of beer each: Free
    (an old roommate of mine bought them for the beer, I kept them to reuse as serving jugs)
  • 1 each of empty 500mL, 1L, and 2L plastic soda bottles:  Free
    (we get these as we need them from our friends and family whenever they have empty ones — they have to be bottles that contained soda or other carbonated beverages in order to properly introduce the CO2 to the H2O)

Pre-tax total initial investment:  $162.98. That’s $10.23 more up front than the SodaStream system, but hang on a sec.  We’ve got some more math in terms of the cost for consuming fizzy water using both methods, but for the sake of simplicity I will not factor in SodaStream flavourings (and realistically for my husband and myself we’d either not finish the flavouring within a year because it’d get lost at the back of the fridge, or we’d just not bother buying more once it’s gone.) From here on out we’re talking just bubbly H2O.

With a SodaStream, one cylinder is 14.5oz — which is a little under one pound, but for the sake of easier math let’s call it 1lb.  The 1lb SodaStream cylinder produces 60L of fizzy water, so if we drink 1L of carbonated water per day, it should take us 60 days, or roughly two months, before we need a new cylinder.  At Canadian Tire, we can exchange an old cylinder a new one is $19.99 ($16 off the original price of $35.99 for a brand-new one).  Even with two canisters we’d only be replacing one at a time, so instead of replacing one canister six times we’d be replacing two canisters three times each. In a year the refills for just the CO2 every two months or so would cost us $119.94, bringing the first year of owning a SodaStream to $272.69 before taxes.  

Now, for the CO2 cylinder system.  Going by the same math as SodaStream (1lb of C02 producing 60L of carbonated water), the 50lb tank gives 3000L of carbonated water.  We’d have to drink 3000L of carbonated water in a year to empty the tank so as to require a refill in the first year, which is ridiculous — but even though we don’t require a refill, it still costs us $75 a year as a rental.  Still, though, $75 a year is still $44.94 cheaper per annum than SodaStream refills.

To deplete the 50lbs tank entirely, we’d need to drink 1L of fizzy water every day for 8 years.  Without inflation (again, for the sake of simpler math) the rental cost per year would be $600. Under the same parameters our SodaStream refills, on the other hand, would total up to $959.42.  So, over 8 years in our home, a rented CO2 cylinder would be $359.42 less than a purchased SodaStream.

Here’s an extra little kicker:  the cost of $119.94 per annum for SodaStream refills assumes a steady, unchanging consumption of 1L of carbonated water every day for a year.  A household than consumes more than 1L of carbonated water per day will require more frequent cylinder replacements, driving the cost higher to own and use a SodaStream every year.  However, because a CO2 cylinder rental is a flat rate per year regardless of how much CO2 has been used in that year, consuming more carbonated water each day with a CO2 cylinder doesn’t end up costing more per year.  It might need to be refilled in 5 or 6 years instead of 8, but it still only costs $75 a year regardless of how much you consume that year.

And let’s say you’re a normal person who can drink flat water every day and only occasionally consumes carbonated water, but is thinking of investing in a SodaStream to enjoy homemade fizzy water a couple of times a week.  Here in Canada, 12L of Perrier at Costco (24 bottles of 500mL each) is $24.99.   Now let’s say your version of occasionally consuming carbonated water is 1L per week.  At that rate it’ll take you 12 weeks to get through that one case of Perrier.  Expand this to 1L per week for 52 weeks to go for an entire year this way, which means you’re consuming 4.5 cases of Perrier in a year.  Round that up to 5 cases for the sake of simple math, and that’s $124.95 for a year’s worth of bubbling water for you.

If you were to buy the SodaStream system as represented in my household’s simulation above at a cost of $152.75 to fulfill fizzy water consumption of 1L a week, you do not break dead even with your initial investment within one year and you would not even start on your extra cylinder.  A more realistic investment for somebody only consuming 1L of carbonated water a week would be just the starter kit, but if you go for the extra cylinder on the mere possibility that you might consume more carbonated water if you can make it yourself, that would cost you $125.98. 

While it’s a difference of only $1.03 it still means your Perrier habit costs less than the most basic SodaStream setup with an extra canister that you may or may not use.  If you cut out the extra cylinder for the dead-basic initial investment of $89.99, then you save $34.96 a year on carbonated water on 1L a week, and that is the only scenario in which a SodaStream works out to be cheaper than just buying Perrier at a consumption rate of 1L per week.

Still here?  Okay.  Let’s say you’re one of those people who’s looking at a basic SodaStream to replace consuming Perrier Slim cans once or twice a week.  Here in Canada a 10-pack of 250mL Perrier Slims is $4.95.  If you consume one can each week, it’ll take you 10 weeks and you’ll need 6 packs for an entire year, spending a whopping $29.70.  Consuming two cans a week will have you spending $59.40, which is $30.59 cheaper than the cheapest SodaStream without any extras.

BONUS ROUND:  Remember how I said above that none of my figures here account for Quebec’s 15% tax rate?  If you still feel like getting whacked across the face with figures, multiply all the totals I provided by 1.15 and you’ll get an even better idea of the cost of consuming bubbly water at home is around here!

The Rainy Road To Dublin

It’s been a week since I arrived home from two weeks abroad, and I’ve yet to write about the last leg of the journey:  Dublin.  Mea culpa. Being thrown back into normal life seems to have thrown me off-kilter slightly, but hopefully a week later I can still properly convey all those wonderful experiences packed into my last days in Ireland.

We only took one full day in Dublin, since we felt the hustle and bustle of a city under construction and 1916-centric tourism might be a bit too far from the relaxing finish we wanted to our two-week holiday (especially after Donegal and Galway).  Arriving on Monday afternoon from Galway after a rainy ride on the bus (and, indeed, a rainy week thus far in Ireland, which in September should be expected by anyone vaguely familiar with the Emerald Isle), Camille and I checked into our last Airbnb in Drumcondra, north of Dublin centre, before heading out on foot to Saint Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street.

Following four days of hearty full Irish breakfasts and pub grub on the West Coast, I dove with gusto into the Chinese vegetable stir-fry with tofu and shrimps alongside veggie noodles on our first night in Dublin.  Next morning, we parted ways in the city centre after breakfast at Murray’s on O’Connell Street, and I trotted off to the hallowed wooden doors of Trinity College to meet up with another old, dear friend and his wife.

Gary and Jenn welcomed me with open arms to Dublin, and we went on a grand adventure that lasted the entire day.  Starting with a visit to the Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity so I could pay homage to the biggest research project of my undergraduate degree, we spent the day talking, laughing, and enjoying fantastic company, food, and beer.

dubs03

The barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin, flanked with countless shelves groaning under the hallowed weight of old books of all shapes and sizes.

 

Though we did stop in at the fabled Foggy Dew, I didn’t actually touch a single drop of Guinness (*gasp*) whilst in Ireland — and that’s because I kept up in Ireland the trend I’d started in Sweden of drinking beers that aren’t readily available in Canada.  I did stick to darker beers though, from amber and brown ales to stouts and porters, and I don’t feel like I really missed out on a “proper” Guinness.  Guinness is everywhere in Montreal and my favourite pub serves the best pint of it in the city, so why try comparing when there are so many good ones to try that I won’t get at home?

dubs04

Kepler the stuffed German Shepherd poses with a pint of Buried At Sea, a complex and chocolaty stout from Galway Brewery. (@kep.the.shep on Instagram)

 

The final pint on this whirlwind tour of Irish beers was taken at The Black Sheep (61 Capel Street, Dublin Northside), rather late in the evening after a leisurely stroll up and down the Liffey. By the time we hugged goodnight and bid each other farewell at my Airbnb, I’d had a tour of Dublin City that most tourists don’t get.  It’s the kind where old friends who are practically family take you off the beaten paths of shopping districts and group tours visiting every historical site so that you can see their city.  Sure, you discover and experience new things together (excellent coffee in a boutique café or Mongolian food in the middle of the Temple Bar district, for example, or even a national treasure in Trinity College they haven’t gotten around to seeing yet) but for the most part you’ll circumvent the tourist traps and see a version of the city you won’t get on a bus tour.

But the best part of any trip that involves meeting up with lifelong friends is that not only do you arrive with a strong bond already there, you also leave with that bond reinforced to the point of it being a true bridge — a bridge that can be crossed in both directions, and a bridge that leads to a home on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  I left such a bridge between Montreal and Sweden, and now one between Montreal and Ireland joins it.

How truly wonderful it is to know that for me there’ll always be a road to Dublin that brings me over the Atlantic and the Liffey, right back to Gary and Jenn’s door.

dubs01

The Liffey at sunset, viewed from the Ha’penny Bridge…a beautiful end to a fantastic and full, rich day in the company of wonderful friends. 

‘Round the Salthill Prom

Once again, the only time I’ve found to write real posts is in transit — there’s not much else to do after a while when you’re only an hour in on a three-hour journey between one Irish city and the next.  We’re on our way to Dublin now, the last of five stops on our two-week journey through Sweden and Ireland.  I can’t believe how wonderful everything has been so far, and am excited to finally be in Dublin at the end of this adventure.

We’re leaving Galway today, and it was our longest stop in Ireland:  arriving on Friday afternoon, we then spent two full days in the small coastal city before boarding a bus this Monday morning at 10:30 to head onwards to the Republic’s capital. And what a lovely weekend it was, indeed.  Though we left Donegal in utterly miserable weather, it did clear up quite nicely by the time we got into Galway City on Friday afternoon and it lasted well into Saturday before the wind blew the clouds back in.  Sunday was full of blustery winds and clouds, although the rain didn’t come back until late last night.  So, weather-wise for the West Coast of Ireland, Galway was rather kind to us.

 

img_0017

Low tide below the Spanish Arches looking out onto Galway Bay.

If the Salthill looked anything like it did a couple of days ago when the girl from the song met the boy, I don’t blame him for falling madly in love with her right then and there.  I mean, look at it on a beautiful sunny morning:

img_0025

I do love Galway and am glad we took two full days in this small city.  Our B&B this time around did, naturally, include an Irish fry-up with black and white pudding — both of which proved that when done right, a breakfast pud can be quite tasty and highly enjoyable to eat. At any rate, we were always well-fed first thing in the morning and made ready for long hours of exploring.  And, for a city so small, there’s still lots to see and do.

This region is home to the world-famous Claddagh Ring — the heart, crown, and hands symbolizing love, loyalty, and friendship — and, as such, Galway City is full of souvenir shops selling this particular ware as well as numerous family-owned jewellery shops where the rings are still hand-crafted in small batches of each family’s distinct designs.  My travel partner got hers up at Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold  and I found mine down at Claddagh & Celtic.  Wherever you do decide to get yours, one of these is probably your best bet for a fair price for hand-crafted silver and gold; other stores ranging from tourist shops to high-end jewellers didn’t seem to have quite the same caliber of quality for the prices listed, and either shop we went to you’ll be treated to the more intimate experience of meeting the crafters who make it their business, literally, to keep a strong Galway tradition alive and authentic.

If bookshops of the world are your thing, Charlie Byrne’s is your best bet.  With stock ranging from antique (World Book 1865, full set) to hot bestsellers from last week’s New York Times, and covering every topic, genre, and area of interest you can imagine, Charlie Byrne’s offers bookworms from all over a haven from tourist traps and large crowds.  Floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall shelves groan with knowledge and wonder and endless hours of potential.  This is where I found a beautiful green leather-bound edition of the works of Tennyson for the princely sum of €4.  Given more time, money, and room in my luggage I would have bought more. Way more.

As with any tourist stop in Ireland, Galway is full of pubs and restaurants. We took two dinners at The Daíl Bar for our Ireland pub-grub-and-pint fix, and one dinner at Eastern Tandoori to break up Isles meat-and-stodge with the aromatic spices and tender meats of Indian cuisine.  Both are equally enjoyable (the seafood chowder at the Daíl is amazing and chock-full of sea-fresh fare, while classic dishes like balti and patala at Eastern Tandoori are flavourful masterpieces that serve as a lovely departure from pub f00d).  On a longer trip with a deeper pocketbook, there are many other places dubbed “foodie stops” for you to try, and so if you do go to Galway City I’d highly encourage you to look up the restaurants online and try a few new ones for yourself as well.

On Sunday after Mass at the Galway Cathedral I had “alone time” in the city, and I had vague romantic notions of going down to the Salthill and finding a large rock on the beach upon which to perch and write some postcards and more entries in my travel journal.  However, the wind literally blew all those fancies out of my head as soon as I hit the Salthill, and I made a valiant effort indeed in walking as far as I did on the beach before making a hasty retreat back into town towards hot tea — and, because bracing oneself against gales off the sea actually does use up a lot of energy, a nice lunch.

My travel companion has been to Galway before and already knew some of its delicious secrets — in the case of Cupán Tae, quite literally – and I’m happy that she was eager to share them with me. In the case of this cosy, shabby-chic tea house facing the bay, I was so enamoured after one round of hot tea and fruit scones that after coming back form the Salthill on Sunday afternoon I beelined straight for the shop to enjoy another full pot of tea, a scone sandwich, and a slice of carrot cake during a long, leisurely lunch. Heaven on Earth does exist if you look hard enough, and I’m rather convinced that a corner of it is to be found at Cupán Tae.

img_0022

A pot of Emerald Isle brew (black tea with notes of whiskey and cocoa, followed by a creamy vanilla finish) and fruit scones for round one at Cupán Tae.

img_0040

Ham-and-cheese sandwich served with greens, red onion, and tomato on a savoury rosemary scone — perfect for lunch with a pot of Dreamy Creamy Galway bend (black tea with roasted coffee beans and jasmine flowers, with a creamy-smooth and aromatic finish).

img_0041

What else do you do when you’ve finished your lunch but still have half a pot of tea left?  Indulging in a slice of homemade carrot cake was a perfect way to finish my solo experience at Cupán Tae.  It came highly recommended by one of the serves who hailed it as her favourite slice in the whole shop, and I’m inclined to agree with her.  www.cupantae.eu for more info and to order online, if you can’t wait to get there in person, and @cupantaegalway for social media.

All in all, Galway was good to us — so good, in fact, that it will definitely be a permanent stop on all future tours of the Emerald Isle I’ll be taking in the future.  As we head into Dublin for the final stretch of our journey, I’m leaving Galway with many fond memories and the added bonus of seeing this small city in the September sunshine.

 

“…for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

Leonardo, writing in Italy on the subject of man taking flight, was still right:  once you’ve been somewhere and found more of yourself and your heart outside of wherever you call “home,” you’ll always want to go back.

And so it is with Sweden.  A few days now into Ireland and I’m still catching up with photo editing and journalling, and therefore still stuck on Sweden particularly in terms of my writing.  My heart is happy to be on the Emerald Isle at long last, but it’s also already yearning to beat once again in time with Swedens’s old, wise heart.  Luckily for me, my other half is looking forward to coming along next time, and I’ll only be too happy to oblige and indulge his own curiosities by bringing him back to places in Stockholm and Falun that I found and fell in love with on my own.

After returning to Stockholm from our weekend “at home” in Falun, we spent much of our time once again in Gamla Stan as well as Djugården Island, the former to revisit some of the more interesting and peculiar shops we’d discovered on our first outing as well as to visit the Kungligastottet (the Royal Palace) and the latter to see the Vasa Museum. We were blessed once more with beautiful weather and countless more discoveries and little marvels along the way.

As we drive now through a rainy Irish countryside to make more memories and gain new experiences of the world, images of “my” Stockholm keep a firm hold on the pieces of my heart that I found there.  I say “my” Stockholm for the way it was when I first walked upon its venerable stones will never be that way again; I will return to this northern city more knowledgeable of its ways and privy to some of its secrets, and I’m sure I will always find something new to love there — but it will be like coming back to a familiar friend who has also grown and changed in the interim, and therefore Stockholm as she showed herself to me when I first met her will always be uniquely mine.

img_0042

View of Strandvägen from Djurgårdsbron, the bridge that takes you from Stockholm proper into Djurgården.

img_0049

Stockholm, you are beautiful! 

 

img_0050

One of the quirkier shops in Gamla Stan. We don’t know its name or how anyone manages to find something to buy in here or how it’s still open. It’s as if everyone in Sweden came with a box from the attic and dumped it out in this shop.

img_0048

One of my favourite window displays ever, in any city I’ve ever been in!  A candy shop called Polkagris Kokeri in Gamlastsan (Lilla Nygatan 10) combines old books, vintage luggage, and greenery with their home-made candies and confections to create an eye-catching, whimsical, and utterly beautiful display.  @gamlastanpolkagriskokeri on Instagram for photos, and http://www.gamlastanpolkagriskokeri.se for more info.

A full, rich day

We slept in on Friday morning — a well-earned lie-in, because ever since Wednesday evening we’d been on the move from YUL through CDG to ARL, not to mention getting into Danderyd via Stockholm (roundabout, to say the least).  Our first Airbnb booking for Sweden turned out to be a studio apartment renovated from a basement mudroom off the garage of a quaint yellow family home.  Danderyd, being a rather affluent Swedish suburb, offered us quite a scenic walk from our rental to the Tunnelbana in Mörby Centrum.   Getting between Central Stockholm and Danderyd was much easier on Friday compared to navigating the system on Thursday, and on Friday once we hit Central Stockholm we walked down from the station into Gamla Stan.

Oh, Gamla Stan!  I love the “old town” of cities, and make it a point not only to visit my own in MTL often but to also explore those of the few other places I’ve been to during my shorter travels.  There’s something exhilarating about being in such an old place: older than any city I’ve ever walked in, as its earliest strata is somewhere in the 13th Century while most of what’s visible now dates from the 16th and 17th.  As Elizabeth Kostova wrote in The Historian,  For the first time, I had been struck by the excitement of the traveler who looks history in her subtle face.”  

IMG_0015

These #leadinglines in #Stockholm, #Sweden that I found in #GamlaStan along #Skeppsbrokajen show my first steps on roads older than anything I’ve ever known back home in Canada, maybe even including Canada itself… A loving reminder from this #venerable #city to a #young #traveler:  to trust the journey, to bloom where she is planted, to always remember that the #curiosity of a hungry mind and a wild heart can only be satisfied by actually going out there and doing something to gain #knowledge.  

 

As this was our first full day in the environs of Stockholm before heading into central Sweden for the weekend, we were quite pleased that the weather blessed us with lots of sunshine and a bit of a breeze for our hours-long stroll through Gamla Stan.  After numerous times reminding each other that “we have time – we’re on vacation” my companion and I finally let go of any vague notions of an actual itinerary and just wandered through narrow cobbled streets, popping in and out of stores as we pleased and even picking up a few things on the way.

After walking down and seeing about six or seven “cafés” we clued in that around here, it seems that the word is used to describe a place that serves coffee as well as real bistro menus, we finally settled on stopping at an actual “just coffee” shop.  We had our first official Swedish fika at a café at Stora Nygatan 6 — Naturbageriet Sattva — where you can find organic pastries (including gluten-free, sugar-free, and even a few vegan options), pretty good coffee and tea, and a cosy table for two inside or out.  We opted for outside, enjoying coffees and a cinnamon roll as we chatted and people-watched during a long, long fika.  I myself had nearly forgotten the pleasures afforded by long coffees with old friends, and by the time we were ready to hit the stones once more I felt refreshed and bright.

IMG_0021

A little ways down the road, we stumbled upon a boutique selling household linen products that proudly bore the phrase, “Made in Sweden.”  Knowing my BigSis is back home planning her future nest with her fiancé, I had to stop in and take a closer look at what was afforded at HAPPYsthlm, Stora Nygatan 36. I ended up buying her two tea towels, both made from a lightweight pure cotton, one of which in a navy-blue and bright tomato-red print of birds and florals that seems to be one of the shop’s signature designs.  Not only was it on household linens of all sizes, but also on other products inside including various forms of stationery and ready-to-frame prints.

 

After lunching on a park bench across from the Riddarhuset, we took a roundabout route back down Stora Nygatan to Skeppsbrokajen, circling up around the eastern side of Gamla Stan past the Royal Palace.  Crossing over Strömbron, we strolled through the Kungsträdgården where my knowledge of Swedish kings (gained from the odd mixture of the Sabaton album Carolus Rex and my own mother’s hobby of studying world royalties) came in rather handy.

IMG_0013

Karl XII / Charles XII of Sweden — also known as Carolus Rex.  He ruled from 1697 to 1718, from the age of 15 until death by bullet to the head.  To this day it’s unclear whether enemy or friendly fire ended his reign, during which he was known for his moral austerity and brilliant campaigning on the battlefield.  A staunch believer in the Divine Right, his death marked the end of autocratic rule in Sweden and was followed swiftly by the Age of Liberty. 

Nearly 20 000 steps later, we made it back to Danderyd where we passed the evening editing photos, discussing further all the sights we had seen, and planning out our next day’s worth of travelling.  In fact, I’m tucked safely into my seat on the train towards Falun, where we’ll arrive soon to spend the weekend with an old, dear friend of mine who I’ve known for literally half my life but have never yet met.  I’m excited beyond words to finally make a face-to-face connection with him, as over the years he’s been a loyal and kind soul through my most difficult experiences.

So far this vacation has been so much more than just “time away” from both of my jobs.  It’s been about discovering more of my truest and best self, about finally turning dreams into reality, and about bringing the best of what I’ve already experienced in life with me to get the most out of what’s new.  It might be rather rainy and  chilly right now outside the train window, but my heart is warm and cosy.  This trip has been everything I wanted it to be, and more besides, and that bodes well for the remainder.

Good thing, too, as I’m flying home from Dublin on the 14th!

***

For all the latest on this 2016 Sweden and Ireland adventure, follow my Instagram page @demipinte — and if you want to see it all from the whimsical view of a plush-toy German Shepherd that my boyfriend gave me for the trip, go to Instagram as well to follow @kep.the.shep !  

Hej från Sverige!

Earlier this year when I realized it had been six years since I last had an actual vacation that was longer than four or five days off work, I decided to take a full two weeks off Job1 and a full three off Job2 to get the hell outta Dodge for a while and talked one of my best friends into skipping town with me.

Kep002

And now here I am now in Sweden; next week, I’ll be in Ireland.

Getting across the Atlantic was no trouble at all.  The overnight flight from Montreal to Paris was a breeze, because I’m one of those special people who can fall asleep within an hour if they play no active role whatsoever in the process of moving the vehicle in question forward.  I fell asleep somewhere between Newfoundland and Iceland on a plane flying in complete darkness, and then woke up halfway over England with bright sunshine streaming into the cabin and a flight attendant pulling up alongside my row with coffee and banana bread.

Getting through Charles-de-Gaulle was a production and a half, though all was well in the end with the reward of a cappuccino and a tartelette-aux-pommes  at the gate while we waited for our SAS flight to Arlanda.  Once in the air, I again slept for most of the flight, waking up just in time to see our plane break through the cloud cover and catch my first glimpse of Sweden through the tiny window.  Seeing all that green space, broken by tawny patches of fields and glossy swathes of blue-grey water, made my heart soar ever higher as we got closer to the ground.

My first footsteps on Swedish ground were on the airport’s tarmac as I came off the exit ramp of the small SAS bird and crossed into the Arlanda terminal.  A few hours later, walking back with my companion from the grocery store to our cosy Airbnb rental, my Fitbit buzzed on my wrist to tell me I’d completed my daily goal of 12 000 steps (which might just indicate how much we had to walk even in spite of being stuck in airplanes for 10 hours today).

It’s so exhilarating to finally be travelling after so many years of hoping and dreaming and scraping together enough to get here.  I’m so excited to finally be meeting friends who I’ve known for half my life in both Sweden and Ireland, yet never yet met with in person.  Funnily enough, when we were waiting to leave YUL yesterday, I saw on my “On This Day” Facebook feed that exactly three years before, I had pulled the following fortune out of a fortune cookie after eating dumplings with the very same friend with whom I’m travelling now:

FortuneCookie

 

I’m glad I was finally able to make good on the promise I made to myself that day:  that before I left my 20s, I would make this dream vacation reality.  And so, hey från Sverige and stay tuned for updates as we go through Stockholm, Danderyd, and Falun this next week!

***

For all the latest on this 2016 Sweden and Ireland adventure, follow my Instagram page @demipinte — and if you want to see it all from the whimsical view of a plush-toy German Shepherd that my boyfriend gave me for the trip, go to Instagram as well to follow @kep.the.shep !  

The Food of Love

Most of my defining moments happened around the family dinner table, mainly because my parents raised my siblings and me on a steady diet of hearty home-cooked meals eaten as a single family unit every night of the week.  The family dinner table was where I learned life skills like the art of conversation, proper mealtime etiquette, and how to appreciate every morsel of food put in front of me — especially when I did not like it.  It was also where I learned how to value the time and effort of others, and how to give back to them in kind.

The dinner table of my childhood still stands in my mother’s home today and is a stately piece carved from narra wood, the national tree of the Philippines, that my parents shipped over from the Philippines to Canada when we emigrated in 1992.  I find it rather poignant and highly suitable that a Filipino family gathered daily around a table made from our homeland’s national tree, especially considering that everyone who’s taken a seat around it has helped build and strengthen the bridge between the old world and the new.

No matter where they started, family discussions always ended around the dinner table.  Get-togethers with friends and extended family also inevitably ended there, particularly during the summer months when the conversations of day-long barbecues outlasted the last encore of crickets.  Holidays never really saw us leaving it, except of course to clear away empty serving dishes and dirty plates only to return with more food and clean flatware. We ate around it as a family in both immediate and extended forms, adding not one but two leaves on countless occasions to accommodate more guests.  As a baby my nephew crawled on it in between mealtimes, we older folks standing on all sides to keep him from zooming off its polished top; as a toddler, he crawled and then ran under it before whacking his head one day on the edge.  Our dogs sat beneath it as we ate, often indulging in morsels that fell (or were surreptitiously held) under it.  We presented new friends and partners to one another around it, the “others” sizing “us” up against the yardsticks which we ourselves had measured our own progress as sociable human beings.  ((And, when not in use for its original function, my mother used it to sew clothes and curtains and sheets while we put together school projects.))

Nowadays, eating out is a slightly more frequent occurrence than it used to be during my youth and I don’t get many chances to join my mother and BigSis (and now, her boyfriend) around any table, but the family dinner is still integral to our relationship.  More recently than my BigSis, I too have started bringing my own new boyfriend along to dinner, and seeing his face around our table along with the faces of those who know me and love me best warms my heart immensely.

Last week we all went out to Junior, a Filipino restaurant on Rue Notre-Dame .  It was a grand occasion, mostly because MiddleSis and Nephew are in town as well.  As a kid I grew up desperately wanting to eat the North American fare that my classmates and neighbour-kids always tucked into instead of the dishes of islands I couldn’t even remember, but these days my more matured palate can’t get enough of the flavours and textures packed into Filipino food. I love the crisp saltiness of lechon kawali mixing with the tangy sweetness of Mang Tomas sauce; the heat and crunch of a sizzling sisig tempered only slightly by mayo and white rice; the limey zing of a fried bangus served whole, minus the needle-sharp bones of course.  Even the alarmingly sweetness and chewiness of sticky suman dipped into matamis na bao or the cold crunch of shaved ice mixed with ice cream, evaporated milk, sweet beans, young coconut flesh, fruit jellies, and jackfruit – in other words, halo-halo – seem to hit the spot on my cravings so much more accurately than North American desserts these days.

What  I loved most about this latest outing to Junior was that my new boyfriend – an Xth generation Quebecois from Sherbrooke whose Irish, French, and German roots stretch back a few centuries – is a good eater who thoroughly enjoyed the best of my homeland’s cuisine.  Of course it helps immensely that Junior is hands-down the best Filipino food you can get in the city, but even the greatest  and tastiest dishes can be lost on an unappreciative palate. I’ve witnessed it before with past boyfriends:  the polite smile with a barely-discernible trace of apprehension or even dismay at what’s on the Filipino table; the thinly-veiled suspicion of any meat that isn’t instantly recognizable as beef, pork, chicken, or fish; the staunch refusal to even try one mouthful of something new.  That is definitely not the case with this one, which in my book makes him a true keeper.

My family is somewhat leery of picky eaters, and not without good reason. Clearly, since I’ve just spent a few hundred words on the subject, our family dinner is a sacred and precious ritual, and those we invite to partake in food, drink, and company are not only invited to witness them but are indeed being welcomed into our family’s most intimate and telling moments.

But for me, having grown up with one foot in Canada and one occasionally still on the boat back to the Philippines, it means the world to have a non-Filipino partner with whom I can share my cultural roots on every level – especially when it comes to the weird food I have grown to love and re-adopt as “my own.”

The story of my family was written around that narra table; the story of the Philippines, by Spain’s use of the islands as a gateway to the New World.  In both cases food played a huge role in the shaping of such narratives, the exploration and development of which appeal to me as both an amateur writer and as an enthusiastic food-lover.  I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky and rather blessed to have grown up at a table that always had homemade meals upon it, especially from a cuisine that like the table itself was brought over from the home islands to the True North, Strong and Free more than twenty years ago.  And I certainly can’t help but feel extremely proud to share that table now, in all its laden groaning glory, with a person who will add his own words – his own chapter of the story – to that warm and loving narrative.

Shakespeare called music the food of love, but in this family the food of love is the food itself as well as the company we keep when we partake of it around our narra table.