Tuesday, April 21, 2009

U.S. Expat Registration

Registering with the local U.S. consulate is a task every expatriate should do. I have been thinking and forgetting to do so for months now. It came to mind last night and I made a point to pull up the U.S. State Dept. website and complete their information request on behalf of myself and my partner, Eric. Visit the website if you haven't. There are several legitimate reasons to shout out to your government where beyond the U.S. border you are traveling or residing and for what duration.

All of this had me thinking about the protections granted the citizens of Rome when traveling. Apparently one needed only to announce that they were a Roman citizen when traveling to guarantee their own safety. No one dare cause a citizen of the Empire (Republic?) harm least a legion of Roman soldiers arrive to raze the hamlet or teach proper respect to the offending kingdom. Or so the story goes.

While not expecting an army sent to defend me or inflict punitive damages on those who dare to offend, the consulate is indeed there to help with unexpected and possibly serious concerns. They have even listed on the website the most commonly presented expat life challenges recognized as their usual day at the office.

So if you are an expat and haven't yet introduced yourself to your local consulate, consider doing so. Once you have completed the original series of information requests, there will be a box at the bottom which reads "add a foreign address" or something like that. If you are living outside the U.S. this would be the place to state where and for how long. One person can do this for all fellow travelers and/or relatives residing with them. Detailed passport information will be required.

Relationship status information is done by way of pull-down boxes.  They need to be updated as four states now allow same-gender marriage. While the U.S. federal government may not, as yet, recognize such marriages, I invite anyone concerned, straight or gay, to use the "comment" sections provided to question the state department's lack of comprehensive relationship categories. 


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saturday at Niagara Falls

 A wonderful Saturday at Niagara Falls, Ontario with our friends, Tom and Emilio. Like a dolt, I, having had thought of our camera the entire morning before our drive south to the falls, completely forgot to bring it. Thanks to Tom and Emilio for allowing me to publish the photos they shot with us. I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on the experience, be it vicarious or not. 
We all had a great time. It was the first time to the falls for Eric and myself. Shocking, I know. I have to say I had built it up in my head. I was expecting so much more. The falls were impressive. So much water...
...but the atmosphere was very, very cheesy. Cheez Mosai, actually - as my friend, Roger would say. I felt like I was in Las Vegas again. And I thought there would be more to it than an afternoon. Alas, there was not. 
So glad we went. We had a wonderful afternoon with our friends, Emilio and Tom.
We all shared an incredibly expensive lunch, a great walk and view of the falls from several vantage points...
...a great cup of gelato at a local shop, and, of course, many laughs.
Obviously a good afternoon, eh?
It is difficult to believe that there is quite a bit more water they could allow to fall. So much of it is diverted away from the falls to create electricity at the hydro plant.
Imagine if it was ALL allowed to rush over the falls as in times past? 

Friday, April 17, 2009

No Meat - Two Month Update

Give or take a day or two, it is two months since I officially and notoriously stopped eating meat. I had two "setbacks" during the first couple of weeks where I ate fish at home that I had already purchased and didn't want to waste. There was another moment involving fish at a dining experience at the restaurant Scaramouche here in Toronto. One of Eric's co-workers treated us to a meal there. We had checked the on-line sample menu and had been satisfied there would be one or two vegetarian options to choose from. There either wasn't one available that night or it wasn't appetizing. I can't even remember. Either way we weren't going to make a fuss and insult our host. We both chose fish dishes. Other than these exceptions I haven't eaten any flesh in two months.

Cooking has been a challenge. There is a learning curve. Thankfully my knowledge on the subject was not zero. I didn't begin this endeavour clueless. In High School I devoured (no pun intended) a book entitled, "Diet for a Small Planet" by Francis Moore LappĂ© which my mother had bought, read and placed on one of our bookshelves. I even bought and read it again later in my life. I currently don't have a copy but for anyone interested, it's a very comprehensively written book on vegetarian living in regard to health, environment and animal cruelty. Since that time I've read several other books, done a bit of research on my own and spent a significant amount of time over the years eating (and watching them cook) with several vegetarians friends. However helpful all that prior exposure has been, actually cooking vegetarian for oneself (and one's partner) regularly, on a daily basis is another matter completely. I don't know where I am on that learning curve, but my confidence level is high. 

How am I doing? Who knows. I feel great. Before my dietary change I had to remind myself to eat. Really. I knew I had to eat because I would get quiet or cranky, usually at two or three in the afternoon. I am much more enthusiastic about food now. And I look at food differently. I am constantly considering what nutrition a food item will add to a meal I am preparing. And I eat until I am full. Many small meals. Whenever. And I am very slowly losing a bit of weight. I had weird hunger pangs a couple of times the first month that I attribute to adjusting to a much lighter diet. They screamed, "EAT" and I felt them throughout my entire body. At the time I was eating a lot, too. I don't seem so ravenous any longer. My digestion seems to be normal again. Before I deleted meat from my diet I used to have "low blood sugar" moments on a daily basis. I still have similar moments but not as often and the lack of focus that typically accompanied them is gone. My partner no longer has to take my hand and lead me to food. Or remind me to eat. Oh, and I smell different. Sweeter perhaps. And I am more "regular" and the consistency has changed for the better. I have to laugh because I know you probably didn't need to read that. Consider it the drama of the changes I've noticed. Ha. I am also lifting weights regularly and doing a bit of cardio. My weight is slowly going down and my fat as percentage of body weight is also lowering slightly. More work needed to be done there but it's a start.

I truly believe that vegetarian eating could be unhealthy. Thought has to be used to avoid certain pitfalls. Processed food is one, reliance on dairy is another. I am very careful not to load up on dairy, especially cheese. As mentioned in a previous post, I am not a milk drinker. Yuck. I do like yogurt but don't go near the industrial kind found in most grocery stores. There is a wonderful Greek yogurt my sister-in-law introduced me to that is very good and well made but (un)fortunately for me one can not purchase it (yet?) in Canada. I am trying very hard to choose foods low in simple sugars. I am very conscious about how much extra fat such as oil and butter I add to meals during preparation. When "necessary" I use Canola or Extra virgin, cold pressed, organic, unfiltered olive oil. I think I've used four tablespoons of butter in two months. Current dietary wisdom is stating that protein combining isn't necessary, but I still try to cook a bean and grain together when possible. And/or a pulse such as lentils. I am very aware of the colors of my vegetables and try to eat a variety every day (vegetables and colors). There are other guidelines but you get the idea.

I used to whine when my partner mentioned food shopping. I hated it. I love going now because I am excited about the food. Needless to say I don't shop very often at the local supermarket. It's all about organic, real, and (whenever available) locally produced food. Toronto has at least one food co-op, the Big Carrot, which is located on Danforth Ave. We also have a Whole Foods Market. Neither in my neighborhood, unfortunately. As an aside, I decided one of my life goals is to one day be able to shop in WFM without being concerned about offensively high prices. Great products but they don't call it "whole paycheck" for nothing. Ours is located in Bloor-Yorkville, go figure. I still find I can selectively shop there without emptying my wallet. Toronto also has a chain store called Noah's in various locations. I am not sure if I am more offended by the prices at Noahs or the patrons who actually pay them. The one in my neighborhood has lousy produce and is small. And expensive. There should be no doubts - I reject Noahs. My excursions for food are fun because I am much more aware of what is available now. And I make it a point to regularly learn to cook something I don't normally. An example would be beets. Not difficult. So I am trying and adding new foods to our diet.

And I think this needs to be stated. Designing, preparing and cooking is not difficult or time intensive with a bit of thought beforehand. I think most people would be amazed. The internet is of great help when deciding what to make and how. Recipes are ubiquitous and, for the most part, free. If you are interested, check out Vegetarian Times, Epicurious, Food Network, and Cooking light, among others. Choose a food stuff you want to eat or learn to cook and do a search on one of these sites until you find an agreeable recipe. And then cook...or go to the market and cook it the next day. You will be amazed at the awesome meals you can create.

One downside is eating out. It's not as difficult as some make it seem but it also takes some thought beforehand. Locally, here in Toronto, I am slowly learning where to go or, at least, what to look for. Even in Las Vegas, where Eric and I just stayed for seven days, we were able to find very satisfying eateries amongst all the fast food and burger joints. Most of the higher end cafes and casino restaurants have vegetarian options, it's just that one doesn't necessarily want to spend that type of money for every meal. We found a couple of buffets that were absolutely loaded with vegetarian food. The only real concern would be that the food was higher in fat content than that I would have made at home. But doesn't everyone have this problem on a vacation? Don't we all come home a bit heavier after a holiday? If I ever go Vegan I don't know what I'll do for food outside the home...but I have no serious concerns currently.

So what food choices are we making? And why? Who taught us to eat the way we do (or did) and how did they come to eat that way? Who makes these decisions? You? Your parents? The food companies? Lobbyists? What factors went into your food decision(s)? Or has there really been any thought at all outside of what taste good? Hmmmm. I am learning (more) about food. I am learning more about the consequences of my food decisions on me, animals and the environment. I am not being forced. I do not feel deprived. I am eating a more varied diet than I had been. My diet and my exercise routine are reinforcing each other in a positive way. And I feel good. I can't say I miss eating meat. I don't. But Eric and I did order pizza last week and admit I was craving pepperoni...greasy and crispy on the edges from being cooked (come on, you know)...the moment passed and was (almost) forgotten. The Vegetarian pizza we ate was delicious.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Red Rock Canyon

Here are some more pictures of Red Rock Canyon. The details and scale are much more impressive when viewed on larger size pictures so choose the one you like and make a worthy click on it. Unfortunately Eric was still hard at work at his conference when I took my excursion and did not accompany me. 

In these shots, just above and below, the Gorn was waiting to get me around one of the rocks. Clearly I was too quick for him and lived to see another day. Too busy surviving, I forgot to take his picture. Many apologies. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Travel: Las Vegas

Eric and I spent a week in Las Vegas, Nevada. I had the pleasure of making the entire seven days a holiday. Eric had a work conference for all but an extended weekend - we tacked on a couple of extra days so Eric could enjoy himself a bit. We did as most do; gambled and casino crawled. We saw a show. We walked around aimlessly. I had quite a bit of time without Eric. I spent one afternoon at Red Rock Canyon where there is a thirteen mile loop drive with several scenic view parking stops. Not too exciting but something other than gambling to do. 
Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas NV
We didn't stay on the strip. The conference was being held at the Red Rock Resort and Spa which is on the very far Western edge of town, about twenty five minutes from Las Vegas Blvd. and all the glitz and to-do. We rented a car which I got most use of. The weather was rather chilly. I should have brought a light jacket or a hoodie. My bad. Though the resort had a very nice pool it wasn't much use. Despite some good sun there was too much wind and chill. 

We hit many of the casinos including: Bellagio, Caesar's Palace, The Winn, Luxor, several others the names of which I can't remember. Several again which were smaller and less impressive. Gambling isn't my or Eric's thing, but we did enough of that. We both won some money. And lost some money. The good news is we managed not to spend a good portion of money which was otherwise destined to be gambled away. More money for our upcoming San Francisco/Bay Area trip, I suppose. 

Eric's sister and brother flew in from San Francisco to join us for a couple days after Eric's conference was over. They roomed on the strip. We all had a good time.

A week in Vegas is too long. Three full days is good. Even four might be pushing the limit. Some casinos are better than others. I decided I prefer those that are set back off of the street. Those that are flush with the sidewalk seemed older, dirtier, tighter. The fountains at the Bellagio were a highlight. "Singing in the Rain" played over the speakers during a short sprinkle. The fountain show is impressive. I also enjoyed "The Fremont Street Experience" - two street blocks covered overhead with an LCD screen. Replete with casinos such as The Golden Nugget, shops and restaurants, Fremont St. is in the old Vegas downtown and is almost more enjoyable than the strip. Vegas has a monorail which the four of us took to the Stratosphere, an observation tower at the North end of the strip complete with "amusement" rides over a thousand feet in the air. While Eric and his siblings chose to be frightened to death by being catapulted and hung over the city, I opted out of the insanity. Unfortunately I was denied "Star Trek: The Experience." Apparently the attraction closed at the Hilton and is soon to reopen somewhere near Fremont St. Bummer. My inner geek is so disappointed. :-(

I think that about covers it all. I didn't take many pictures and will post the best ones when I have a moment. We're both looking forward to the trip to San Francisco in May. Ten days to hang with friends and family in The Bay Area. I can't wait!

Thursday, April 2, 2009


...or traveling. Either way I am very excited because I am going to be visiting both Las Vegas and The Bay Area/San Francisco in the near future. Eric has conferences in both cities (Vegas and San Jose, actually) - one in April, the other in May. Thanks to frequent flyer miles and other fortuitous circumstances, the costs associated with my accompanying him will be minimal. Vegas will be a typical vacation for me. I'll be able to sit by a pool read, drink, gamble (a little-I am not a big gambler), see a show...you know, the usual. And as all who read this blog know, Eric and I met and lived for many years in San Francisco, where we both have family and friends - so there will be no lack of familiarity, fun, frolic, re-connecting and activities. My Eric has conference work to do in both cities. We've made sure there is extra time for his enjoyment after his obligations are completed. 

...oh, and Eric was recently promoted. Three cheers!

Anyway, it's all very exciting. We very much like our lives here in Toronto but can't help missing the San Francisco Bay area and our family and friends that live there.  Something to look forward to!