Roma – Part 1

*Warning – Photo Heavy Post*

Buongiorno!

This post was turning into a bit of a beast, so I’ve split it into two posts. Stay tuned for Part Two where I’ll detail the cost of entry to the major sites, transportation, and other bits of information that will be helpful if you’re planning a similar trip in the future.

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I’ve never been an early bird, but this trip did turn me into one for the duration of the stay. We could thank jet lag for it initially, but we actually found it to be beneficial overall and maintained an earlier waking time throughout the trip.

You’re probably familiar with the old adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Well, we modified it a little this trip and it became a bit of a running joke:

When in Rome, take the stairs.

So many stairs. My calves have never looked better.

We didn’t realize this would be the case when we stopped at our first site of the trip, the Spanish Steps. It was somewhat early (7:45?), so save for a handful of Italians heading on their way to work, there was no one around.

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If you’ve ever toured the major sites in Rome, you’ll know that there’s almost NEVER no one at a tourist site. It was nice to be able to wander, read and snap pictures without tripping over crowds of people. Unfortunately the Fontana bella Barcaccia (fountain) in the Piazza at the base of the steps and the Trinita dei Monti (church) at the top of the stairs were both undergoing reconstructive work at the time.

Ditto for the Trevi Fountain. I was extremely disappointed, as it’s my favourite site the city. I suppose if it helps the fountain survive longer it’s for the best. I still chucked a coin in the little replacement fountain in hopes that I’ll come back again one day. May as well, the last coin worked ;)

The Boy has an architecture background, so the Pantheon was his #1 must see of the trip.

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We both thoroughly geeked out over the interior. Concrete is one of those materials that has been discovered, forgotten and rediscovered across the millennia. The Romans were one of the groups to discover concrete and really test the limits of its construction potential. The domed roof of the structure contains three different mixes of concrete, getting progressively lighter towards the top of the dome.  The coffers in the roof also lighten the structure. I know you probably didn’t come here to learn about building materials, but it’s seriously awe inspiring. The Romans had discovered and been working with concrete for less than 300 years, and yet this structure has survived over 2000 years of war and weather. What on earth are we doing wrong with our modern buildings? You’d think we would have learned a thing or two by now.

The Vatican city is one of those places that you can’t actually avoid the crowds. The museum doesn’t open to the public until 9:00am, and tourists have lined up around the block by then. You could join a tour to get in earlier, but you’ll be paying extra for it and you won’t be able to wander at your leisure. You still want to hit this place early though. Grab yourself a pastry, a latte, a book and line up at least an hour before it opens. You’ll have the benefit of smaller crowds first thing, as well as avoiding the Mediterranean heat bouncing off the city wall while you wait in line.

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One big thing to remember: DON’T RUSH STRAIGHT TO THE SISTINE CHAPEL! The Sistine Chapel is the exit from the Vatican Museum, and there is no way back into the museum once you enter the chapel. Wander, enjoy the sculptures and paintings, and take your time. There’s more than one painted ceiling to enjoy!

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After exiting the museum we opted to go up to the top of St. Peter’s Dome. This is the other reason why you want to do this earlier in the day: it gets hot in the dome’s staircase! It’s definitely worth it though. Viewing Rome from the top of St. Peter’s Dome is like viewing Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

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To be honest none of our photos captured the scale and grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica.  Even the photos on Google don’t do it justice. I really can’t explain it; you just have to see it.

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One of the things we noticed fairly quickly while we were there was the prevalence of Egyptian hieroglyphics throughout the city, especially on obelisks like the one in St. Peter’s Square, as well as this one in Piazza Navona. It makes sense when you consider that Egypt was once a Roman province, and that Roman building materials were sometimes imported from Egypt.

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There I go again talking about building materials…

We bought our tickets for the Colosseum from a ticket stand beside the Roman Forum the day before we intended to use it so that we could bypass the lines first thing in the morning. It’s a two day ticket that is good for one entry to the Colosseum AND one entry to the Roman Forum. The first day was technically the day we purchased the ticket, but we had planned to do the Colosseum  and the Roman Forum on the same day anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal.

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The Colosseum reminds me vaguely of a giant open air hockey arena (how’s that for Canadian?). It’s massive, and you can just imagine the roar of the crowds during its heyday, as violent as it was.

The Colosseum and the Roman Forum are right beside each other, making it a quick transition between sites.

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Looking from the road it’s hard to get a good sense of the scale of the site. It’s massive! It’s like another (ruined) city in and of itself. There’s placards all along the walking paths explaining different buildings and their historical significance, which helps paint a better picture of the ruins.

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I really enjoyed how they planted blue flowers in the old fountains to give you a better idea of what they would have looked like when they were functioning. There were some gorgeous courtyards in and around the Palatine Hill.

Some of the structures were original and still functional, while others survived only because they had been incorporated into other buildings centuries ago instead of being torn down.

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The Altare della Patria drew heavy criticism during its construction due to the fact that it destroyed and was built on top of a good portion of the ancient Capitoline Hill. While technically built in honour of the first king of Italy, the interior is used as a war monument, with the tomb of an unknown WWI soldier guarded out front.

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We felt bad for the soldiers. It was bloody hot outside, and they stand at attention in full sun during the middle of the day.

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I’m going to leave it at this for now. Somehow my 1/2 beast of a post still turned out to be a full beast. Hopefully you enjoyed the pictures! Stay tuned for Part Two :)

Back and Unpacked!

I had grand plans of making my first post back a photo heavy one, but given that I still haven’t uploaded any of my photos I think it’s safe to say that post will have to wait a couple more days. So, as promised, I figured I’d give you guys a recap on how I did travelling with a single carry-on bag.

Let’s say I nailed it-ish.

CLOTHING

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Quantity wise the amount of clothing that was packed was bang on perfect, but if I did the trip again I would have made a couple modifications to the clothing items I brought:

Natural Fibers Only During The Day

The dress and two out of three blouses are silk, while the coat, jeans and shorts are cotton. I’d pack those babies again in an instant.

The nude tank I wore under my blouse on the plane and the striped maxi skirt were both synthetic fibers. Those two items trapped sweat like nothing I’ve even encountered before. It was disgusting. I would wear my jeans and a cotton sweater in the blazing summer sun over those two items. If they had been natural fibers, even a natural/synthetic blend, it would have been so much better.

The cardigan was synthetic, but because it was for in the evening when things cooled down it didn’t suffer from the whole perspiration issue.

The light blue blouse was also synthetic, but it was light and airy on its own. The flyaway style required the tank underneath it to be appropriate in breezy weather though. It also suffered from another issue:

No Solid Light Colours

I don’t know what the deal was over there, but it seemed like sweat and sunscreen combined with dust in the air leaving my light blouse with disgusting marks around the neck and underarms that hand washing just wouldn’t solve. I don’t know what the deal was, because I don’t have that issue to the same extent at home. If I was only doing a short trip where it was only worn once it wouldn’t be an issue. Heck, even if there was a pattern on it that distracted your eye from the residual stains after hand washing it would be less of an issue. Sadly, between the stains and needing to wear the tank top underneath this blouse didn’t get worn nearly as much as it could have.

Only One Long Item During the Summer

We watched the weather forecast leading up to the trip, and it was exactly what we expected. Hot. If the maxi skirt breathed better, it could have easily been the sole long item on the trip. Either that or just the jeans. I would have swapped the other long item out for a knee length skirt, another dress, or a longer pair of shorts for wandering around in the city. Any of those options would have worked beautifully.

Do Bring Thick Socks

I’m glad I took Isabelle’s recommendation of packing a pair of socks for the flights, as they were a godsend. Unfortunately I didn’t put a ton of thought into it, and grabbed the first pair in my drawer. They were a little on the thin side. If I was to do it over I’d definitely pack a cozier pair.

Two Bras and Lots of Underwear

I’ve been putting off buying new bras for some time. It’s not a money issue anymore (fortunately), it’s just a general avoidance thing. I used to go home from bra shopping in tears when I was younger (woo-hoo uncommon size), so it doesn’t place too highly on my to-do list even now that I’ve found a shop that does sell my size.

Anyway, I was down to my last two bras. The day before we left the underwire busted through the side of one, leaving me with a single bra.

Fuck you Murphy.

I tried bra shopping while I was on vacation with somewhat disastrous results. I don’t know how I managed to keep a straight face with the shop girls handing me B cup bras, and then handing me a B cup with a larger band because “it will have a bigger cup”. I haven’t been a B cup since the 7th grade. Possibly the 6th.

Anyway, I had planned on packing one and wearing the other on the plane. Pack two bras. Also, if you want to pack enough underwear to see yourself through the entire trip, go for it. Yes, trips can be done with two pairs of underwear, but if it’s going to be that time of the month and you’d rather mechanically washed underwear, just do it. They don’t take up that much space.

We lucked out with our apartment in Santorini. We had a balcony with a clothes line on it, so we were able to wash and dry our clothes reasonably quickly. It took a bit longer for things to dry in Rome because the rooms were air conditioned and we were hanging the clothes up inside.

I completely forgot the pashmina I had planned to bring at home, and realized it on the way to the airport. Fortunately I didn’t miss it too badly. Both of our long haul flights had blankets in economy class, so it wasn’t too chilly on those flights.

TOILETRIES

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On the toiletry side of things I was pretty close as well, with a few notable exceptions:

Concealer

I took one of the two out before we left, and I may as well have just taken them both out. I didn’t use this once.

Roll-On Perfume

Took it out before we left. Didn’t miss it at all.

Tinted Lip Balms

I had originally packed three and then whittled it down to two. I took a light matte pink colour and a bright red, and used both alternately.

Sunscreen

I actually managed to get a small container of sunscreen in the bag along with the facial sunscreen. We still picked up another container of sunscreen on Santorini, along with some after sun lotion, and fortunately I didn’t find it to be prohibitively expensive.

Face Cloth

Two points for Isabelle! She made the comment that I should pack a face cloth for the European hotels, and she was right. We stayed at four different hotels and an apartment over the course of our trip, and none of them had face cloths. I did without for the first part of the trip, and picked up a little piece of sea sponge from a shop in Santorini later on.

Tylenol

Sarahn commented on including painkillers in my packing list, which was a good call. I had them out ready to go, and then completely forgot to put them in my bag before we left. Big oops. I came down with a sinus/chest infection at the end of the trip (ugh), and ended up buying some Tylenol to keep my fever down until we made it home.

Everything else in my toiletry list was used, and I’ll probably refer back to it for future packing lists.

OTHER ITEMS

I was mildly concerned that I was hauling around an umbrella for no good reason this trip. Then, on the very last day of the trip, it rained on us almost the entire time we were in the Roman Forum. I wasn’t big on the idea of buying an umbrella and throwing it out, so thumbs up for packing an umbrella!

In one way I’m glad I didn’t pack my phone during this trip, because I realized exactly how ingrained it had become in my life. I’m always reading things on it to pass the time, which I suppose you could say has made me less in touch with my surroundings, and more uncomfortable with sitting idly. It’s a habit that needs some work, so I’m glad that I did. That being said, if I had taken my phone with me I could have used it to read the 200+ blog posts I had to catch up on while being stuck on the tarmac in both Rome and Toronto. Let’s just say it was a long flight home.

DIMENSIONS

I saw multiple baggage sizers with scales built in while on this trip, but I wasn’t once asked to put my bag in one. Doesn’t that just figure, eh? Eva was right.

Overall, my bag was a great size for the trip. I just slung it over my shoulder and wandered off to wherever we had to go. The boy, who was a little wary at the whole concept of packing this light, brought a carry on sized roller bag (that was fun on cobblestones, lol). After the second or third trip through the airports though, he seemed pretty much sold. We saw groups of people lugging around multiple bags that appeared to easily weigh as much as they did. For the life of us we couldn’t figure out what they were packing in their bags! Sure, the odd person may have been a RTW traveler who needed more than just a carryon, but when you see entire families with two massive bags per person, that’s probably not what’s up. Maybe they were moving? Travelling by carryon is definitely the way to go in my books though.

Breezing through security rather than waiting in massive lineups to check bags?

Priceless

Being able to move through crowds quickly because you don’t need to wait for a suitcase sized gap to open up?

Priceless

Never being left stranded without your belongings because you’re carrying everything with you?

Again, priceless.

The only time we checked a bag was on the way home, and that was only because we were bringing home a couple bottles of wine that wouldn’t have made it through security.

So that’s that! Overall I’m really happy with this packing list. I’ll probably refer back to it again on my next warm weather trip (honeymoon anyone?)

I noticed though that my packing lists have only been for warm weather locals. Maybe I’ll do up a cold weather one if The Boy and I go skiing again this winter.

What do you guys think?

My Bags Are Packed, I’m Ready To Go…

The countdown to Europe is on, and you can consider me officially excited!

Being the list maker that I am, I started a packing list for this trip almost two months ago. We’re going for two weeks, and I’d like to do the entire trip in a carry on bag. This would be considerably easier if it wasn’t for the fact that we have a total of 6 flights on 4 different airlines, all of which have their own carry on sizes and weights. In order to do it all in one bag, that bag has to be able to fit the smallest dimension of each carry on restriction. That meant my bag had to be smaller than 55cm x 35cm x 20cm (21.7″ x 13.8″ x 7.9″), and had to weigh less than 7kg (15.4 lbs). If you’re in North America you’ll find out very quickly that those dimensions are smaller than pretty much every carry on sold on the continent. After I sold my house I ended up splurging on a large business tote that fit the bill, so I had the dimensions covered. The biggest struggle for me was going to be the weight.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, and The Boy tells me that one of the budget airlines we’re flying with is borrowing a plane from another airline for one of our flights. The other airline’s weight restriction is 5kg (11 lbs).

o.O

I have no idea whether or not they’ll use the weight restriction of the borrowed airline when we’re boarding, so I’m playing it safe and keeping my weight under 5kg.

Nothing like a good challenge right before a vacation, am I right?

These are the bags I’m taking with me. Please forgive the massive colour shifts between pictures, I’m still getting the hang of my fiance’s camera.

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Most of the flights only allow for one piece of carry on baggage, not one carry on and one personal item like they do in North America. The darker purse is designed to fold up and snap together, so it will be inside the larger bag for the flights, and will be my day to day purse when we’re on the ground.

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This is the entirety of my toiletries for the trip, though I’m thinking of cutting it down some more.

  • Eye shadow sticks in khaki and rose gold – The khaki pulls grey on me, so it works well as a liner as well.
  • Waterproof tubing mascara in black
  • Two concealers (that I’m thinking of taking out)
  • Multi-purpose oil for face/hair/body
  • Roll on perfume (might take this out too)
  • Travel container of oil cleanser
  • Sample size container of a soap style cleanser
  • Sample size container of heavy duty moisturizer (in case of sun burn)
  • One medicated chapstick
  • Three tinted lip balms (I’m considering taking one out)
  • Facial sunscreen
  • Antiperspirant
  • Eyelash curler
  • Comb
  • Two grippy headbands (may only take one)
  • Toothbrush and travel sized toothpaste (toothpaste not shown)
  • Nail clippers, nail file and tweezers
  • Small bobby pins, large bobby pins and hair ties (may take fewer than what’s shown)
  • Emergency tampons, just in case
  • Two razors (I don’t want to deal with razor burn towards the end of the trip if one gets dull)

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All of the toiletries (minus the comb) fit in two bags. I have a stash of Transport Canada approved liquids bags, so I save myself the hassle at the airport and pack everything in them at home. As you can see I have room to spare.

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Clothing wise, this is what I have on the go:

  • One short black/red/white floral print dress
  • One long black and white striped maxi skirt
  • One royal blue sleeveless blouse
  • One light aqua sleeveless blouse
  • One pair printed shorts
  • 7 pairs of underwear and one bra in a mesh laundry bag

The maxi skirt has a wide band that I roll down on it. The Boy pointed out that I could wear it as a midi dress with the band at the bust line (he said dress, I added the midi, got to give him credit for being observant though). I wouldn’t wear it by itself that way, but it will make for a good beach coverup over my bikini.

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I was forewarned by some friends that the hot springs in Santorini will stain your clothes, so don’t take a light coloured bathing suit. I swapped out my light blue go-to bikini in favour of a black one, and picked up a pair of cheap black flip flops to wear on the rocks and on the black sand. I’ve also packed a large empty ziplock bag for wet/dirty clothes.

 

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In terms of odds and ends I’m packing small guidebooks with phrases, a moleskin notebook (with pen, not shown), my wallet and a compact umbrella.

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The Boy is bringing his DSLR, so I’m packing a smaller camera for excursions. The charger and European cord I already had from my last trip abroad.

This is what I’m wearing on the flight:

  • Orangey-red blouse
  • Grey long sleeved cardigan
  • Light weight olive green coat
  • Bootcut blue jeans
  • Brown ballet flats with Dr. Scholls knee pain inserts (just in case)
  • Red pashmina (not shown)
  • Sunglasses (not shown)
  • Ear buds for listening to music and watching movies on the plane (not shown)
  • Another pair of underwear and a bra (obviously, but it never gets counted in clothing packing counts)
  • Puppy not included

I know it probably doesn’t seem like I’m taking much in terms of clothes. That being said, without using the cardigan or coat (which are really more for flights and in the evening), I can make 10 distinctly different outfits just by swapping different tops and bottoms. For a 14 day trip, I’d say that’s pretty good. My plan is to rinse the clothes out at the end of the day and hanging them up to dry, so they shouldn’t get too stinky on me. If I find they do get stinky, I’ll take them to a laundromat. I’m going to Europe, not the middle of the Amazon ;)

I was looking for a post on Save.Spend.Splurge. that shows how I got that outfit count, when I stumbled across her essentials packing list from a couple years ago. I had completely forgotten about it, but I’m amused at how close my total clothing count was to her 2+ week recommendations.

:D

This is the total count so far:

Clothes Toiletries Other
1 Light Coat Facial Sunscreen 1 Packable Purse
1 Cardigan Multipurpose Oil 1 Pair Sunglasses
1 Pair Jeans Cleansing Oil Camera
1 Maxi Skirt Trial Face Wash Battery Charger
1 Dress Trial Heavy Moisturizer European Charging Cord
1 Pair Shorts Toothbrush Italian Guidebook
3 Light Blouses Travel Toothpaste Greek Guidebook
1 Bikini Antiperspirant Notebook & Pen
7 Pairs Underwear 2 Headbands Umbrella
2 Bras Large Bobby Pins Ziplock Bag
1 Scarf Small Bobby Pins Ear Buds
1 Pair Ballet Flats Hair Ties Wallet
1 Pair Flip Flops Tampons Passport
2 Razors
Perfume Rollerball
Comb
Nail Clippers
Nail File
Tweezers
1 Chapstick
3 Tinted Lip Balms
2 Eyeshadow Sticks
Mascara
2 Concealers
Eyelash Curler

I’m considering taking some of the toiletries out, but otherwise this list is pretty much set. Actually I just realized I should add some bandaids, dental floss and safety pins. Okay, it’s a work in progress.

There are a few things that are notably, and intentionally, missing from my packing list:

A cell phone, laptop, e-reader, or anything else electronic in nature

I’ll be honest, I managed to get around Europe in 2002 and 2008, the majority of the time without speaking the language, without the assistance of electronics. Yes, I ran into the typical “Oh shoot, where am I?” from time to time, but I don’t believe having a cell phone would have saved me from that, and honestly it’s part of the fun. Being present and observant is a necessary part of learning about your surroundings, and I don’t want the crutch available of whipping out google every time I encounter something difficult. I want to use my head.

That and I’m on vacation, which for me means unplugging. I’d rather be enjoying the trip that having my nose stuck in my phone answering texts about how the trip is going. I’ll update instagram with a bunch of #latergrams when I get back.

If I was going for a month or longer I might reconsider this category. The last time I was there was for a 3 week trip, and this one is only for two weeks, so I don’t foresee it being an issue.

Shampoo, conditioner, and heat styling products

I have thick, frizzy/curly hair that tends to be on the dry side. In general, I only wash my hair every ~5 days or so on average. I could wash it more frequently, but I find it stays healthier this way and it honestly doesn’t need it. We’re staying in hotels this trip, not hostels, so I’m betting that there will be a mini bottle of shampoo and conditioner in the room I can use if need be. If it dries my hair out, I’ll use the Caudelie oil on the ends. If it makes my hair greasy, I’ll wash it more frequently or take a dunk in the ocean. My hair will be up anyway, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. As for the styling tools, we’re going to be near the water and in areas of high humidity. That means by the time I finish straightening my hair, the under layers are going to be frizzed out. I’m not fighting that battle. I’d rather save some room (and weight) in my bag for a souvenir (dress? sandals?) than haul around styling tools and power convertors. Air dry, pin up and go.

Large volumes of sunscreen

I’m not checking my bag, so I can’t bring all of my sunscreen from home. I’ve heard that sunscreen is more expensive there, specifically in Santorini, but to be honest it’s not exactly what I’d call cheap here either. I’m just picking up a small bottle from the pharmacy after each flight. Unless we’re talking $50 for a small bottle of sunscreen, I don’t see this being something I’m going to lose sleep over. Between The Boy and I we should go through enough sunscreen in each location to warrant full bottles.

All said and done, with everything listed packed in my bag, the bag weighs 4.8kg (10.5 lbs), which puts me under the 5kg limit of the borrowed plane’s airline! If I find myself picking something up in Rome before our flight to Santorini on the discounted airline, I’ll put the camera and the small guidebooks in the pockets of my jacket to save the weight. After that I have 2kg (4.4 lbs) of wiggle room to work with for souvenirs :)

I’ll let you know how it goes!

What do you think? What would you add or remove? Am I missing anything blatantly obvious?

A Belated Canada Day Gift – Maple Whisky Bacon Jam

Or, alternately, an early Happy Independence Day gift to our friends to the south. Your pick.

Getting out and socializing during the week is a bit of a rare treat given my preference for evening shifts, but I’ve been working during the day for the last little bit. Taking advantage of this, the Boy and I met up with some friends for dinner at The Next Act last week. They serve pub food that’s a bit more interesting than your standard burger with cheese.

One of their burgers, the PB&J (peanut butter and jam) featured crunchy peanut butter and bacon jam. The guys at the table looked somewhat bewildered. What on earth is bacon jam?

It’s a mouthgasm, that’s what it is.

I’d seen bacon jam on sites like foodgawker before numerous times, but I’d honestly never tried my hand at making it. Given that The Boy had recently been introduced to the concept, I figured now was as good a time as ever.

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After picking up a kilogram of bacon and an onion, I got down to the business of slicing and dicing. Fortunately I realized a whole kilogram was going to be too much for one batch before I finished cutting it all up.

And then the temptation began.

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There was too much bacon and onion to cook it all up at once, so I swapped batches back and forth. Brown bacon, scrape up bits with onion, brown bacon, scrape up bits with onion…

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It smelled so good in the house.

Once I was done cooking the bacon and onion, the whole batch went back into the pan.

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Maple syrup, whisky, apple cider vinegar and a little bacon grease got cozy with the bacon onion mix, at which point I turned the heat down to low and walked away for a couple hours.

Seriously, I went and dyed my hair. With 3 inch roots I was painfully overdue, and I finally had a chance to do it.

Then I snuggled The Boy while he played video games.

Then I futzed around a little bit.

About two and a half hours later I came back to this sticky, gooey concoction.

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Bacon chutney.

I wanted to eat it by the spoonful.

I may have done that once or twice actually.

I could have left it like that, but I decided to give it a little whirl through the food processor for good measure.

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NOW it’s bacon jam!

:D

That night I sandwiched gobs of it between slices of sharp cheddar cheese and made grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. The appearance of bacon jam grilled cheese does not lend itself nicely to photography, so I’m going to leave that one to your imagination. I’m just going to say it tasted amazing. The Boy agreed. Bacon jam for the win.

It came out sweeter than I was expecting it to. If you like your jam a little less on the sweet side you could probably cut the maple syrup in half, but it’s not necessary. This would be awesome on waffles. Or burgers. Or apple slices. Or toast. Or fingers.

You get the drill.

Maple Whiskey Bacon Jam

Ingredients

  • 1/2 kg bacon, diced (~1lb, little over)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (not pancake syrup! Birch syrup would probably be alright though)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup whiskey
  • 1 Tbsp bacon fat

Directions

  1. In a large skillet, brown the bacon. In batches if needed. Drain fat and set bacon aside.
  2. Soften onions, scraping up brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
  3. Add drained bacon back to pan with onions.
  4. Add liquids to pan with the bacon and onions. Cook over low heat until most of the liquids have evaporated.
  5. Let cool.
  6. Puree in food processor. (optional)
  7. Serve with, well, anything!

Makes ~1 1/2 cups. I’d give you a more accurate measurement, but that would mean I’d have to stop eating it while I’m making it.

Enjoy!

Bring It On 30

Well, my 20’s are officially coming to a close. I’m alright with that.

There seems to be a lot of stress and pressure associated with reaching the end of this decade, most of which is socially if not self-imposed. Have I met all of the goals I set out to accomplish in this decade? Am I successful in my prestigious, high paying career? Am I in peak physical condition? Have I achieved enough of the correct degrees from the right schools? Do I have an attractive mate, 2.5 perfect children and a dog that fetches my slippers? Have I reached enlightenment through my extensive global travels and lengthy discussions with Himalayan monks? Am I a Himalayan monk? Why not?

I look terrible in orange, that’s why not.

Did I achieve everything I set out to do when I was 20? No, not really. Who is to say that I should have though? Who is to say that I knew so much about where my life was going when I was 20 that by not meeting those goals it makes me a failure now? I’m not the same person now as I was then; it would be unrealistic to expect my aspirations wouldn’t change as well.

I’m not fretting entering my 30’s, because I feel like my 20’s was a decade well spent. I traveled. I educated myself. I bought and sold real estate. I invested. I loved and had my heart torn to pieces. I was reckless yet calculated. I learned what I like and what I don’t like. I checked a couple items off my bucket list. I did stupid things and made a ton of mistakes, which gave me just as many opportunities to learn.

So, to recognize the end of a decade, I figured I’d share with you a (likely incomplete) list of things I’ve learned in the last 10 years:

  1. Doing something new is always scarier in your head than it is in reality.
  2. Social injustices are not likely to be eradicated in your lifetime. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work towards making the world a better place, it just means you need to find a better outlet for your frustration than seething silently.
  3. Pretending to be something you’re not is the surest way to ensure relationship is going to fail. What if the trait you’re faking is the one that attracted him in the first place? If you can’t tell a hockey puck from a basketball, what makes you think the relationship is going to succeed after he finds out you’re not the sports loving girl you pretend to be? Don’t change yourself for anyone. If he doesn’t like you, so what? It just means he’s not for you. It’s better to figure it out before you start dating than down the road during a break up.
  4. You’re going to make mistakes. Learn from them and then move on.
  5. Businesses exist to make money. Nothing is free. If they are offering you something for “free”, figure out how it is they’re actually getting you to pay for it.
  6. Banks are businesses too. Remember that.
  7. You’re going to wear a lot of clothes that look ridiculous in hind sight. That’s okay. You may decide that ridiculous is your thing. Alternately, you may decide that jeans and t-shirts are your thing. That’s okay too.
  8. Moisturizer and sunscreen! Use them! Seriously!
  9. The only person who can change your life is you. Don’t spend your life on the sidelines waiting for someone else to give you permission to do something.
  10. You’re influenced by your parent’s relationship more than you realize. Open your eyes. Recognize which behaviours you want to emulate, and which you don’t. Nurture the positive and replace the negative.
  11. Remember how insecure you were about your body as a teenager and how much you berated yourself? Thinking back, do you remember how awesome you looked as a teenager? Why do you think anything has changed? 10 years from now you’re going to look back on yourself and think “damn, I didn’t know how good I had it”. Stop beating yourself up already and just accept that you look good. Move on.
  12. If you’re in a job you know isn’t right for you, and you aren’t learning anything there, DON’T STAY!
  13. You’re not eating organic because it’s more nutritious, you’re eating organic because it contains fewer chemicals. If the only option you have is conventional produce, eat the damn produce! Conventional vegetables are by far still better than no vegetables at all. Just wash them first. Pesticides taste like crap.
  14. It’s impossible to start a trend when you’re busy following them.
  15. The vast majority of people are inherently good, and want to do good, but bad people do exist. There is a difference between hurting someone by accident, and hurting them intentionally.  If you find yourself faced with a bad person, no matter the capacity, remove them from your life. Don’t feel bad about it. Same goes for toxic friendships. No one has time for that crap.
  16. Consider the source of your knowledge. It takes less effort to read something that is in line with your current beliefs, but it doesn’t help you develop intellectually as a person. Question assumptions. Especially your own.
  17. Issues are easier to tackle when they’re small – house cleaning, debt, weeding, laundry, losing weight, you name it…
  18. You don’t need to eat the entire chocolate bar. One piece is enough. The inability to use self-restraint isn’t a fact of life, it’s a choice you make. Enough with the excuses already.
  19. The belief that you are inferior is self-imposed. Others may will try to make you feel that way, but it is up to you to decide whether or not their boorish behavior has an effect on you.
  20. Other people’s problems aren’t your problem. By all means, try to help others if you can, but understand that it’s not an obligation. Some problems pass from person to person. Some problems require professional help. If helping someone with an emotional problem is causing emotional damage to you, that is not helping them. That is allowing the problem to perpetuate. Sometimes the belief that you have an obligation to help is what allows damaging patterns to continue. You have a choice to leave a conversation. It doesn’t matter if it’s a close friend, a family member, or a coworker, if the conversation is damaging to you, you leave. The resulting backlash, no matter how strong, will be less damaging in the long run.
  21. The good ones aren’t all gone; they just take their dear sweet time showing up. In fact, when you’re in the process of breaking it off with yet another asshole, Mr. Right is probably in the process of being cheated on by Ms. Wrong. He’ll show up eventually, so in the meantime go out, live life and do interesting things.
  22. Your body is talking to you. Listen to it.
  23. One of the most humbling things you can learn is exactly how much you don’t know. You’ll make the connection rather quickly afterwards that arrogance is strongly linked with ignorance.
  24. It doesn’t matter what you’re going through or how alienated you feel, chances are you know someone who is going through the exact same thing.
  25. If I’m willing to spend $15 on a pizza, why am I not willing to spend $15 on a basket of fruit? It’s the same amount of money for a larger volume of food.
  26. The fact that a thick skin makes working easier does not automatically make thin skin a bad thing by default. A thick skin allows you to work in an emotionally difficult environment. A thin skin shows you where the areas for improvement in the work environment are.
  27. All those articles telling you to start a workout routine when you’re young? Listen to them. You may think you’re too busy right now, but life doesn’t slow down. Start the habit young.
  28. Also, thinking about working out is not the same as actually doing it. No matter how tiring it is.
  29. Get it in writing. I don’t care what it is, get it in writing.
  30. The money that pays for your snacks is the same money that pays for experiences. You make enough money to do the things you want to do, you’re just not spending it with intention.

Tell me, what did you learn in your twenties? What were the biggest lessons for you?

Banana Blender Muffins

Finally! A go to throw together recipe that uses up my inexcusable build up of frozen bananas and doesn’t involve a ton of clean up!

The hardest part about going gluten free for me was the sudden, jarring change in breakfast. I was (and kinda still am) a carboholic. I loved scones, croissants, muffins, bagels, little pastries… you name it, I ate it!

And then I didn’t. Life kinda sucked.

Well, no, life didn’t suck. Breakfast did though.

Spending my childhood growing up in a bakery, I only did what was natural: I looked for recipes.

Sorghum flour? Xanthan gum? Erythritol? WFT is this crap?

Generally speaking if I can’t pronounce a food I don’t eat it. I generally don’t have issues with pronunciation either. Okay, I can pronounce Sorghum, but I can’t think of a single natural food off the top of my head that starts with an X.

Top that off with the fact that I’m a lazy baker and have no interest in cleaning every bowl/cup/spoon in my house every time I make something. You want me to use 6 different flours of differing volumes with three different leavening agents and four different liquids? Oh, and the recipe is going to fail if the weather doesn’t cooperate? Well I want you to go take a long walk off a short bridge, how about that?

Needless to say, my baking was reduced to the occasional flourless chocolate cake, and breakfast continued to suck.

About a month ago I had a strong craving for muffins and banana bread. So, I cobbled together a recipe and gave it a shot. They were dense, eggy bricks, but they were eggy bricks with potential!

The second time around, they were excessively moist gooey banana bricks.

Third time’s the charm, and three is the magic number for these guys! Three bananas, three eggs, and I only have to use my 1/3 measuring cup. Laziness for the win!

These muffins puff up and crack on top while they’re in the oven, but they flatten back down again when they’re done baking. They kind of remind me of muffin tops more so than a full muffin, so I don’t mind eating two (or three) of them at a time for breakfast. They’re moist and dense rather than being fluffy and springy like a cupcake, but if you’re looking for a portion controlled, clean eating version of banana bread, this could be the ticket.

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I meant to throw walnuts on top of this batch, but I forgot them until after the pan was already in the oven.

*shrug*

Banana Bread Blender Muffins (Makes 12)

Ingredients

3 overripe bananas

3 large eggs

2/3 cup oatmeal (I use Only Oats quick oats, which are certified gluten free)

2/3 cup ground almonds

1 Tbsp liquid sweetener such as honey or maple syrup (optional)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

Chopped walnuts to top (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius)

Line a 12 count muffin tin with paper liners. I’m sure greasing the tin would work just as well, but I’ve never tried it with this recipe, so I can’t vouch for it personally.

Combine bananas, eggs, vanilla and liquid sweetener of your choice in a blender, and puree until smooth. Add oats, and puree until flakes are thoroughly combined and ground into small pieces (this isn’t an exact science, just eyeball it). Add ground almonds and cinnamon, and puree until combined.

Pour batter into muffin tin, distributing evenly. Top batter with walnuts if you’re using them, and press lightly into batter.

Bake muffins for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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That’s it! It takes less than 10 minutes to get them into the oven (I’m slow, okay?). Clean up involves throwing my blender and single measuring cup into the dishwasher. The smaller quantities I usually just eyeball, but I measured them this time because I like you guys. I keep them in the fridge just because they have a high moisture content even after baking. They might last longer than four days, but I can’t vouch for it because they’ve never stayed in the house longer than that.

I think I’ll try throwing blueberries in the next batch for my fiancé, and possibly chocolate chips in the next batch after that. Let me know what you guys think! Tell me what you guys added to yours!

Ciao! In a Good Way!

Ciao a tutti! Indovinate un po? Sto imparando l’italiano!

Okay, I needed google translate to help me for that, but the underlying message is the same. I’m learning Italian!

Given that I had put improving my Danish and French on my 30 before 30 list last year, and that hasn’t happened quite to the degree I intended it too, it probably seems like nonsense to pick up another language, but I promise you it’s not.

Why am I learning Italian? I’m going to Italy! *happy dance* Greece as well actually, but I figured I’d work on learning the language with a familiar alphabet before I tackle the language with a new alphabet. Not that I’m completely unfamiliar with Greek, I’m just more used to seeing deltas and lambdas in a mathematical sense rather than a linguistic one.

Does anyone else speak multiple languages? What do you speak? How do you learn languages when you pick up a new one?

The people who bought my house take possession next week, and the sale didn’t go quite as smoothly as I would have liked (gonna need to pick up a box of hair dye to cover my increasingly grey hair). It’s frustrating, and I’m trying to think about other things, which is why I haven’t written about it yet. It’ll be a drop in the bucket at the end of the day, but in the meantime I’m pissy. So, in an attempt to stress less and not think about it, I’ve gone headlong into vacation preparation mode! The trip has actually been in the works for months now; we’re just finally closing in on it.

I’m fully aware that I will not be fluent in Italian by the time the plane hits the tarmac, but if I can get myself to comfortable tourist I’ll be happy. I’ve been using the duolingo app on my phone for the past few days, as well as flipping through a phrase book and watching Italian cartoons on Youtube (They speak slower! And they’re subtitled!)

I’ve also been figuring out how I’m going to get through Italy on a gluten free diet. This is the land of pasta and pizza after all! I was concerned at first to be honest, but after looking it up online I realized I was being foolish. Assuming I would have a hard time in Italy would be to assume that Italy doesn’t have celiacs. Of course they do! Italians are actually quite proactive in that regard. Granted what I’ve picked up so far has been from blogs rather than government websites, but apparently Italians are tested for the disease as children, and are provided a stipend for gluten free groceries if they are found to have the issue. Packaging is legally required to state if it an item has gluten in it or not, and many restaurants provide gluten free pasta and bread options. I even found a bakery that makes gluten free pastries for with your morning coffee! For a country that has such a strong food culture, it would be unreasonable to expect that Italian celiacs would be content with eating dry, tasteless, crumbly stand-ins for regular wheat bread or a gluey, sticky mess for pasta. If I come back not fitting into my (now ordered) wedding dress, you’ll know why.

To further occupy myself, I’ve been working on a packing list. Save.Spend.Splurge has a good starting point in case you’re interested. I’m planning on doing the trip entirely in a carry-on bag. I did the same thing for a trip to Hawaii little over a year ago, so I know it’s possible, but this one will be a little more challenging. Hawaii was a week long, but it was in February, so I had to carry some heavier clothes for my return to cold weather. This trip is in the middle of the scorching July heat in both our destinations, as well as at home, but it’s also two weeks long. Additionally, we’re flying on 4 different airlines, most of which have differing carryon restrictions. In order to meet all of the restrictions, my bag needs to be no larger than 55cmx35cmx20cm (21.6”x13.7”x7.8”), and it must weigh less than 8kg total (17.6lb). I think my biggest issues will be the 20cm dimension, which is smaller than your average North American carry on, and the 8kg weight limit. If I have to check my bag on the way home that’s fine, but for the bulk of the trip I want to carry it with me, so I’m putting on my thinking cap and wrapping my noodle around it.

This will be my second trip to Rome (third to Italy), so I have an idea of what to expect, but my last trip to the capital was 12 years ago, so I’m sure some things have changed. This will be The Boy’s first trip outside of North America. I think he’s excited to be going on vacation.  At least, that’s what I’m getting out of his daily count down and sudden interest in documentaries on ancient Rome.

Has anyone been there recently? Any restaurant and/or activity suggestions for us?

I’m getting excited.

Setting the Stage

Selling my house has been a little bittersweet to be honest.

I’ve been in love with interior design my entire adult life. Buying my own house meant I got to put my own personal stamp on a living space in a way I hadn’t really done before. Unfortunately I moved out of the house little over 4 years after I bought it, before it was even finished. I never got to live in it as a finished space. Sure, I styled a couple rooms to make them more livable even though they weren’t finished, but it was never really quite the same. Staging my house was a close to styling it as I ever got.

The number one thing I read about home staging, which is quite possibly the hardest thing to do, is that you need to depersonalize it. As much as you love your care bear collection, or movie posters, or shot glasses, or whatever it is you’re into, you need to create a space that a buyer can see themselves living in. I had a little bit of an advantage in this regard, as the majority of my stuff had already been moved and unpacked at my fiancé’s house. All I had left at my place for the most part was major furniture and cleaning supplies. Oh, and my living room photo collage. That one stayed for the time being.

Before any furniture was moved or spruced up, I had to clean the house top to bottom. Floors mopped, windows washed, sinks scrubbed, garbage bins sanitized, cabinet tops cleaned, window slats washed, oven hood degreased, porch swept, you name it. It doesn’t matter how pretty you style a place, if the house is dirty, it’ll show.

Along with giving the whole house a scrub down, I also had to replace light bulbs. Lots and lots of light bulbs… You never realize how many are burned out until you have to go through every room and replace them. Low wattage light bulbs were replaced with higher wattage to make the rooms appear brighter. I replaced my fluorescent bulbs with incandescent bulbs in the basement for the same reason. I realize they make brighter fluorescent bulbs now than in the past, but I was also trying to keep the cost to myself in mind.

Once that was done, I could actually get to the styling part!

The house itself was done with dark wood flooring, light beige/grey tile, with walls in light grey, white and black. Most of my furniture was dark brown and/or wood tones. The challenge was to make the house bright and welcoming, without making the dark furniture look too heavy next to the light walls on a dark floor.

Colour Scheme

I had read that yellow was the most inviting colour when it came to home décor, and given that it works well with both grey and wood tones, I originally wanted to go that direction. Unfortunately, yellow appears to have been last year’s colour, so there really wasn’t much in stores aside from a rusty yellow colour that just didn’t work. It wasn’t quite the bright pop of colour I was looking for.

In the end I decided to switch to green as my accent colour. It works nicely with grey, black and white, as well as brown and wood tones (just look at any forest). Not only that, but it would help distract from the fact that the ground was still kinda brown outside and the trees hadn’t started budding yet.

Given that a well staged house is more likely to bring in top dollar, and everything in the house would eventually move to our current house, I didn’t have a problem spending a little money picking up some décor to stage the place.

Damn you money, why do you show up in every post?

Before hitting the stores, I selected a handful of items that had been moved to my fiance’s house and brought them back to my place. These included:

  • A white duvet cover
  • White pillow cases
  • A silver alarm clock
  • A scented candle in a decorative jar
  • A wooden wine crate
  • A curated selection of books and magazines
  • A white coffee mug
  • A reasonably fluffy white bath towel
  • A white bath mat
  • A boot tray
  • A couple glass vases
  • A bottle of San Pellegrino water
  • My Christmas cactus
  • A silver pencil holder
  • My bright green rubber boots

After trips to Target, Crate and Barrel, Home Depot and a florist shop, I had the remaining items needed to stage the place:

  • A grey and green throw pillow
  • An assortment of smaller glass vases
  • A wooden breakfast tray
  • Green and white dish towels
  • White dish clothes
  • Bright green liquid dish soap and hand soap (yeah, I went there)
  • Two fluffy white and grey hand towels and a matching face cloth
  • Neutral placemats
  • Green and blue gingham cloth napkins
  • A white plastic planting container
  • Succulents, yellow tulips, a couple white hyacinth and a couple white nito stems
  • Solar walkway lights (for night viewings)
  • A door mat

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Then I got to work.

I wanted the bedroom to be relaxing, so I dressed the bed entirely in white, with the grey and green throw pillow in between the two main pillows to break it up a bit. The alarm clock was placed on a night stand by itself. Originally I wanted to place a bud vase on either night stand, but after an unfortunate accident that involved smashing one of my brand new (thankfully cheap) vases, that was no longer an option. I placed the breakfast tray on the bed facing the doorway, with the remaining bud vase full of nito stems, the coffee mug, and a healthy living magazine on it. The power of suggestion anyone?

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The two spare bedrooms were left empty, as I didn’t have adequate furniture to style them.

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I wanted the bathrooms to feel somewhat spa-like. The black and white shower curtain in the main bathroom worked with the grey walls already, so I just closed it (after washing the tub). I hung the white bath towel up on towel rod, and placed the new hand towels and face cloth on the counters. I threw my used bars of soap in a box, and replaced them with the green liquid hand soap. Then I put a bud vase with a stem of hyacinth in both bathrooms, and put the scented candle on the back of the toilet tank beside the tub.

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In the living room I had to try to balance the brown couches and brown coffee table against the black and white walls. A large part of why I left the photo collage up was to break up the wide span of white that ran the risk of looking sterile with nothing on it. That being said, having dark floors, dark furniture and a black wall ran the risk of looking too dark.

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I moved an open legged wooden desk in front of the black wall to try and break it up a bit. The desk chair I had at the house was a) ugly and b) dark and imposing, so I took the chair out of the house entirely and left the desk standing on its own. It still seemed a little dark, so I put a light wooden wine crate under the desk. On the desk I placed my Christmas cactus in its white pot, a silver pencil holder with a couple pens, and a stack of “intelligent looking” books. In the wine crate I placed a couple magazines. On the large brown couch I laid a light green throw blanket over one arm, and a light floral throw pillow at the other end. The dark coffee table was already standing on a light coloured rug, so I topped it with the white planter full of green succulents and a couple more leading magazines (a Dwell magazine and a Money Sense issue relating to making yourself wealthy). In a darker corner nook I placed a vase full of yellow tulips to brighten it up while breaking up the white wall. The green bottle of San Pellegrino was laid sideways on the shelf underneath.

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In the kitchen I placed one of the green and white tea towels on the oven handle, and the other beside the sink. I also stacked a pile of white dish cloths on the window ledge beside the kitchen sink, and again replaced my kinda grungy soap collection with a bottle of bright green dish soap. I placed the (slightly oversized – oops) place mats on the table along with the green and blue napkins. I had originally planned on putting a little display of flowers there as well, but there wasn’t really any way of putting it there without making it look more cluttered due to the oversized place mats. I also meant to leave a Fine Cooking magazine on the kitchen counter, but I forgot that at home.

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The solar lights were placed on either side of the walkway, the door mat was placed at the front door, the boot tray was placed in the entryway with my green boots on it and that was pretty much it. Everything else was moved out.

I realize some of the rooms probably look pretty sparsely decorated and like the furniture is too small. One advantage to keeping a light hand when it came to styling the house is that the rooms all looked very large. I figure that’s a bigger selling feature than anything I could move into the rooms.

I’m sure some people may not see the point in staging a home, but given that I had my first offer within 24 hours of it being listed, I’m going to say it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to do. I’d do it as a side gig if I had any idea where to start. It was fun, and it was nice to be able to see the years of work pay off and become an inviting, welcoming looking home. It’s a far, FAR cry from the trashed state I bought the place in. Really, it was as much for me as it was for selling the house.

I realized half way through writing this post that the colours I used to stage my house are also my wedding colours. And the colours I would like to use in a nursery. Suffice it to say this may not be the last time these colours are seen on the blog.

Have you ever staged a house? What did you do in your place? What colour scheme do you gravitate towards?

Oh Hi

Long time no see.

I’m sure it’s probably kind of hard to tell what’s going on when I just drop off the face of the earth and don’t write anything, but I’ve been really struggling on what direction to take this blog. Namely, I couldn’t find a nice happy medium in which I could write a personal finance blog without disclosing what I’m doing with my finances. Given that “My” finances are going to very shortly become “Our” finances, and my fiancé isn’t comfortable with the same level of personal disclosure on the internet as I am, this poses an issue to the continuation of my blog in its current form. I’m not in debt (anymore), so the standard debt blogger formats and subjects really don’t apply. I’m not a highly knowledgeable investor, so I don’t have a lot in the way of investing subjects I can write about without disclosing what I’m doing with my/our personal accounts. I’m definitely not going to start pumping out generic What is an RRSP/How to start and Emergency Fund/Insurance 101 type articles either. There’s already more than enough of that out there on the internet.

I was stumped. For a week or so I seriously considered shutting it down and starting a blog in a completely different genre. Probably food related.

The problem with it is that I’ve already done that before. I stopped writing at Digging Out and Up and started Tales from the Trenches to do exactly what I was thinking about doing again: stop writing just about money, and start writing about everything else. The problem is that I fell back into old habits and started viewing this blog as a personal finance blog. It’s not a personal finance blog, it’s a personal blog.

I do some frugal things without competing to be the world’s most frugal person. I splurge. I save. I cook. I eat out. I buy clothes. I donate clothes. I putz around with eye shadow in the bathroom, play tug of war with our dog, have coffee with friends, dye my hair, cheer on my fiancé while he plays hockey, buy flowers and everything else in between. This blog was supposed to be about showing how life after debt is normal, and that the world doesn’t have to revolve around money. And yet here I am again.

*huff*

So, I’m not shutting the blog down. I’m just getting back to what this blog was supposed to be about. Everything.

So, to give you guys an update on what’s been going on in the month or so since I last wrote, here’s the quick and dirty:

  • We finished the house renos! (Photos pending)
  • I put my years of interior design reading to use and staged it.
  • I contacted a realtor
  • Three days later the house was up on MLS
  • I received an offer on the house 24 hours later
  • I received another offer a little while later, which will be effective if the first one falls through
  • I will know tomorrow night whether or not the first offer is going through
  • I had a glass of wine that knocked my socks off (Botter at Famoso with a Verde pizza)
  • I donated my old clunker car to the Kidney Foundation.
  • We booked our wedding ceremony and reception venues! (On Pi Day!!)
  • I went wedding dress shopping with the moms (mine and his) while they were in town.
  • I may have picked a dress. It matches my mom’s veil :)
  • We started a wedding registry, but currently have nothing on it.
  • I decided that after a year of dragging my feet I’m picking up a DSLR camera as soon as the house sale goes through. Yay better blog photos!
  • I’m working on a recipe for gluten free banana blender muffins. I’m making another batch tomorrow, if they turn out I’ll post the recipe here. With cell phone photos.

So, that’s what’s new on my end. Unfortunately, since I won’t be posting my numbers online anymore, I’ll have to bow out of J.Money’s Financial Blogger’s Net Worth list :( I can tell you as of the time of writing this that my net worth has actually leapfrogged the two bloggers above me on the list, and if my house sale goes through tomorrow I’ll leapfrog the next two after that as well. Even if I’m not posting the numbers, I’m still going to be watching that list and setting my sights on the guy above me. I’ve got my eye on you Debt Discipline ;)

I’m curious to see where things sit once we actually combine our finances.

So, that’s what’s going on in my neck of the woods. Sorry for the information blackout. What’s new with you guys?