Sharon and Jacques' Excellent Blog

Our travels and comments on life

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Saltwater Pool to Natural Pond Conversion

June 11th, 2013 · No Comments

Sometime in the last year or two we decided that our saltwater pool had become a pain to keep up, was sorely needing an upgrade, and was costing us about $600 a swim based on the little we used it.  My significant other wanted to fill it in and be done with it.  I on the other hand, really loved the look of water in my yard.  We had to come up with a solution.

After much research I figured that putting marbelite on the pool would run us about $15,000 and last 10 years, repainting the concrete would cost about $7,000 and last 5 years, and filling it in would just be the end of our marriage.

Ever resourceful, I started to think about what the pool could be used for and how we would find enjoyment in it.  Our yard is very naturalized with lots of big trees, and critters like deer, racoons, ducks, coyotes and a whole myriad of rodents with good publicity (squirrels and chipmunks).  Since we try and do what we can by keeping these creatures around, and our birdfeeder is the best bistro in town – I thought about changing our pool to a pond.  Hubby thought this was a great idea since he could toss fish in and do a bit of fishing off the deck.

I noticed that many places in Europe seemed to go this route, but there was no one in the Toronto area who seemed to do this regularly.  One call to our landscape architect Lisa Mactaggart of Arium Design Group, and suddenly I was inundated with info.  Lisa did our landscape plan about 12 years ago when we moved in.  Little by little we have been implementing her vision.  This was never in the plan – but her enthusiasm and research had us thinking we could do this.

Lisa introduced us to Jean-Marc Daigle and Simon Ackles-Dold of Genus-Loci.  The conversation began as we met and discussed the possibility.  It seemed at first to be a real challenge – but Jean-Marc and Simon really wanted to take the time to do their own research and think things through.  Over the winter we would get periodic emails as they kept looking at not only design, but also what would thrive in our climate.  In some respects, I thought they did not think we would go through with it.  I thought they would be too hesitant to take on the project.  Sometimes a leap of faith by both parties has you meeting exactly where you want to be.

In the early Spring after about 6 months, Jean-Marc and Simon came back with a plan, a budget and the confidence to apply all their traditional pond expertise in a non traditional application.  With a contract signed, work began very quickly.

The guys decided to use the existing pool equipment to filter the water, along with an additional biofilter, a nutrient scrubber and an ionizer.  With this configuration we decided that we did not want the maintenance of fish and their “output”, so that idea was put on the backburner.

The big problem was of course the concrete pool itself.  This was solved by engaging Barry Pitman and his team at Ontario Protective Coatings.  Barry prepped the pool and sprayed a black, fast setting liquid liner to seal the concrete.  I was amazed at how tidy the kept the job site and how in less than 3 hours, the pool looked fantastic.  Barry told me that his work in Central America had him spraying pools all the time.  As I looked at the pool I had a moment of thinking “I could stop right here and be really pleased with the outcome”.  Marbelite?  Paint?  Liners?  Forget it – this stuff is magic!

Then came the mechanical.  Our wonderful electrician Tom King stepped in and rejigged the pool house.  He removed the almost dead heater, and provided electrical for the new equipment and the low voltage LED light for the fountain.

Also rounding out the team was Ted from Blue Hawaii Pools.  Ted reorganized all the filtration pipes and made sure that the old salt conversion system was disengaged.  We also moved the old pool jet up a couple of feet and added an exterior drain pipe to make winterizing the system easier. 

The next day, Genus-Loci started the actual build.  Douglas fir walls in the shallow end contained the aquatic plantings.  The walls were filled with sand and a stone, and a little flagstone path was created so you could walk from the shallow end into the deep.  The plants include horsetails, pond lilies and submergent aquatics.  The Indiana Sandstone fountain was also secured in place. 

Our home is very modern, in the Brutalism Style.  It is certainly not for everyone.  One of the things we have always tried to do is to respect the architecture of the house.  So creating a natural pond that actually looked like a natural pond would really not do.  Genus-Loci really understood that point, and ensured that every element was not only natural and blending into the forested landscape, but had a simple elegance and aesthetic that we as homeowners appreciate.

In two short weeks, the project was completed with no major headaches or hiccups.  Overall it was extremely well managed and Simon or Jean-Marc were constantly on-site.  To be truthful, because the work site was so clean, I could hardly tell they were even working except for the progress I would see every day.

From our perspective, this project was an resounding success.  It encapsulates our vision and we cannot wait to see the plantings grow and thrive over the coming months.  There is no question that most people thought we were crazy to undertake such a project – many did not see the logic in transforming a pool.  However, the end result is something we will truly enjoy more with little maintenance and possibility of still jumping in and cooling off.  Only this time, we will likely be joined by a pair of ducks or a few tadpoles.

Genus-Loci has great photos at http://www.genus-loci.ca/MississaugaPool.

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Veritas Restaurant – Review

April 27th, 2012 · No Comments

Veritas – Truth

Forgive me as I am not a food writer, but merely a grazer at the buffet of life who is often asked for restaurant recommends as I am fortunate enough to be able to travel hither and beyond with a sense in intrepid adventure and bohemian experimentation when it comes to food.  From the street carts of Bangkok to the stall markets of Iquitos to the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris – I revel in the opportunity to eat and cook with abandon.  So what you get is my opinion based on my palette, not as an expert or as a chef – so set your expectations accordingly!

 

Ah dear friends, in my ongoing quest to live what I love I had the sheer delight and pleasure to discover the amazing talents of Chef Charlotte Langley who was recently transplanted from The Whalebones Oyster House in Ottawa.  Initially Chef Charlotte was headed to Café Belong in the Brickworks, so a couple of weeks ago we headed off there for dinner, only to discover that Chef/Owner Brad Long pushed Charlotte from that nest to run the kitchen at Veritas.  We made a reservation while waiting for our appetizers at Café Belong – which I gather is somewhat unorthodox but hey – a desired experience will not be overlooked!

I was looking forward to an evening of food and merriment with wonderful friends who have a similar appreciation for fine food and exotic travel – not to mention a passion for photography that matches that of my beloved.

We arrived at 6 pm to an empty restaurant with the barman and server swiftly attending to us.  I thought in my mind this was a good start and was delighted that the same level of attentive service continued even when the place was stuffed to the gills.  The atmosphere has a cool chic vibe, without feeling overdone or intimidating.

The wine list had a selection of mostly local as well a couple of foreign wines – and my ever favourite Niagara choices from Tawes and Cave Spring.  I love local Niagara wines and have a particular delight in the Ontario Riesling with its scrumptious grapefruit finish.  I am appreciating our reds more and more and a year in my life is not complete without several winery visits.  As we perused the menu we immediately hit on the Chef’s Gamble – a quirky homage to a Chef’s choice menu that is meant to surprise and delight.  The entire table must participate and at $70 a plate it was indeed a gamble.

As we enjoyed our wine and conversation, and the restaurant slowly filled with warmth and patrons escaping the chilly evening air, our first plate arrived.  We were delighted by “Breakfast for Dinner” – a plate with a perfectly cooked egg, a sausage role, and a piece of pork belly with garnishes of sprigs of tender onions and potatoes fried in duck fat.  Every mouthful had its own distinct flavour and each morsel tasted like it was supposed to.  Imagine an unadulterated egg that oozed yolk and tasted like egg.  Nothing is drowned in sauces or fused with cloying flavours.  What you see is what you get.

Plate two arrived and we were presented with beef tartare and venison carpaccio with truffle.  Cooked ricotta and grainy hot mustard decorated the plate.  At first blush I thought the beef was sliced beets which I adore – until I was informed otherwise.  The ricotta was cooked, which was done as a result of one of the diners not liking uncooked cheese.  My preference is for uncooked ricotta, but I think that this was an interesting twist for us.  The smell of the truffle from the carpaccio penetrated my nose and made a lovely complement to the venison.  The hot mustard literally jump starts the tongue.  Fantastic.

Plate three was for me the pinnacle as we see why Charlotte excels at her seafood skills.  Tender scallops cooked to perfection with a slight carmelization on the edges and a maple accompaniment, along with crispy pork schnitzel, a slice of pork crowned with a caramelized apple on a foundation of apple butter.  This to me was an homage to Eastern Canada, a blend of maple, apples, scallops and pork that had me savouring every bite.  Seriously this was the most phenomenal dish I have ever had and I would rate the food in the top 5 food experiences of my life.  The distinct flavours and the juxtaposition of textures created an incredible experience.  Our dinner companion described it as a symphony where one could pick out the magic of the individual instruments as they approached their solos, but the orchestration of it all together married in a delight of the senses (ok I took a bit of poetic license there).

Plate four had a dessert of Sour Cherry Sorbet and a chocolate pate with three liqueurs.  Ever a lover of chocolate and any kind of ice cream/sorbet I dug in.  I would say that this was not my favourite dish, as I found the liqueurs a bit overpowering and the chocolate not quite rich enough.  However, I was in the minority as everyone else enjoyed it thoroughly.  What can I say, I am not a fan of booze in my desserts as I have flashbacks of English trifle as a kid complete with liquor soaked ladyfingers and custard.

We thought we were done – until we were presented with small plates and knives – et voila – a cheese plate.  Not any cheese plate, but one with gutsy flavoured cheeses to pique the mouth.  Tiger Blue, emmental and La Sauvagine cheese.  As I was entering into a heady food coma it suddenly occurred to me that I should write some of this down to blog later.  So the hyperlinks and references are the best I can do.  Like I said – I am not a pro!

The overall philosophy of locally sourced, organic and artisanal food comes through with every plate.  The skill executed by Chef Charlotte truly makes each plate sing.  She kindly visited our table a number of times to check on how we were enjoying the meal.  Her personal style comes through in her sheer delight of her guests enjoying the fruits of her labour.  Chef Long was also in the house, and spent a few minutes listening to our feedback and was no doubt thrilled that we reinforced his instinct to bring Charlotte to Toronto – a shrewd move on his part that will unfailingly enchant diners here.

Charlotte mentioned that she was pleased to be in Toronto and was settling in.  As hugs were exchanged she quipped that there was not enough hugging in the big smoke.  To that I say, come on my friends; let’s make her feel more than welcome here.  She hugs us with her food – find a way to show her some love right back!

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La Source, Grenada

April 15th, 2012 · No Comments

La Source – Grenada

We recently went to La Source All Inclusive in Grenada for a 1 week holiday to relax, scuba dive and generally enjoy the beach.  I thought I would pass on my review of the place for those who are interested in where we go and what we do – and know the critical eye we bring to the place.

While we often do crazy trips, every year we add 1 or 2 all inclusive adults only resorts in the Caribbean where we don’t have to think too much.  We chose Grenada frankly because it was a place we had never been.

We travelled with Air Canada via a direct flight of about 5 ½ hours.  The Grenada airport is quite small, and given the population of about 100,000 people, seems more than enough.  The big plus is that La Source is about 5 minutes from the airport and the jet noise is insignificant.  La Source was also booked through Air Canada and was advertised with the following:

What’s included

Meal plan type: All-inclusive

  • Breakfast daily (buffet)
  • Lunch daily (buffet, à la carte)
  • Dinner daily (buffet, à la carte)

Beverages

  • Domestic alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages by the glass
  • Unlimited international alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages by the glass
  • Afternoon tea

Non-motorized water sports

  • Snorkelling
  • Kayaking
  • Windsurfing
  • Hobie Cat sailing
  • Scuba diving – Certified guests receive three free dives (per person, per week)

Land sports

  • Tennis
    • Day and night
  • Badminton
  • Table tennis
  • Volleyball (beach and pool)
  • Bicycles
  • Aerobics
  • Aquacize
  • Yoga, tai chi, meditation, stretching classes
  • Archery, fencing

Spa Treatments

  • One spa treatment per day excluding day of arrival and day of departure.

Entertainment

  • Daily activities
  • Nightly entertainment

Other

  • Minimum age at resort is 16 years

 

Note that the minimum age at the resort is 16 – however, we found out that they also allow 12 years and up depending on the time of year.  Given that it was British school break, there were quite a few kids under the age of 16 – with parents providing them with alcohol.

The resort itself is small which we were looking forward to.  The rooms themselves are not “luxury” compared to Secrets or many Sandals for example.  They were simply serviceable and lacked any character.  We paid extra for an ocean view which was nice, but the room itself was not an upgrade when we took a look at the others.  The bath products are also not luxury as they come from Bath and Body, but again were serviceable and replenished.  Fresh beach towels were put in the room daily, which was nice.  The bed was comfortable though rather high and I needed a boost to be able to get into it (I am 5 foot 2).  There is a mini fridge but this does not mean a mini bar.  The fridge has two water bottles in it which you fill yourself.  There are no drinks or anything in the fridge as it is meant for personal medications and the like.  This bumps it down in luxury for me.

The beach is also quite small, though it does have a breakwater which gives you a nice little lagoon.  However, your stroll along the beach would be about 3 minutes in length and then the rock juts out on either side and you cannot go any further.  There were lots of seats and shade in both the pool area and beach area, and the staff came around with drinks on a regular basis.  There were a few hawkers with their souvenirs, but overall they were not a great nuisance.  At the end of the beach was the watersports with a couple of CATs in solid condition.  The dive shop is run by Aquanauts, a reputable dive company on the island.  There is no boat jetty so to get to the dive boat you have to wade out in chest high water to hop on, but this is not really a challenge.  The diving is mediocre overall compared to other places in the world.  But if you are limited in your dive experience (ie not Fiji etc) then overall you may find this to be just fine.  There are not a great deal of big fish on the reefs, they tend to the smaller size as well as very few schools.  There is an underwater marine park which is kind of neat and can also be snorkelled.  The equipment provided by the dive shop is all in excellent condition, and the divemasters are well versed and safety conscious.  I took my own mask and wetsuit, but the wetsuits are also supplied as well as all the gear.  You can pop over to the Atlantic side to dive Shark Reef (they get you there by taxi then a 10 minute boat ride).  It is much rougher on the Atlantic side and if you wish to avoid feeding the fishes your breakfast, then I recommend gravol before you go.

Included in the package are the spa treatments which was one of our reasons to go.  I will point out that the treatments are relaxation NOT therapeutic.  What do I mean?  The back massage for example consists on the therapist pouring copious amounts of oil on your back and rubbing it.  There is no notion of human physiology and the musculature to ensure that you are massaged.  Now if you upgrade (ie pay extra) and book a proper massage – then that is a different story.  I had the Zen massage and Jacques had the reflexology and the deep tissue massage and we found those fantastic.  I would say pass on the seaweed wrap and upgrade to something better.  Guys may also want to avoid the facial and get something else and we did not hear anything good about that for the men.  The women’s facials were it and miss.  Our British spa snob called her therapist Ms. Slapiton as that is all that seemed to happen.  I would also mention that for the back massage they also do a bit of a head massage.  For me that consisted of hair pulling which I tolerated for about 3 minutes thinking “this is new” then just told them to stop.  Also keep in mind that there is no regard for female/female or male/male therapists.  So if you have a preference be sure and let them know at the beginning.

On to the food…

I would say that overall the food was well prepared with a few exceptions.  We found that the breakfast buffet was the same every day with no variations.  I would have liked to see some smoked fish and perhaps more fruit choice.

There are 4 restaurants on property though all are not open at the same time and one requires reservations (1 per stay).  The buffet is for breakfast and lunch.  The lunches there are pretty good and have some nice varieties.  The Garden Restaurant is for dinner and was one of my pet peeves.  Of the 7 mains on the menu, three had “supplements” ranging from $16 to $35 US.  The other 4 choices were typically a veggie dish, two fish, and a meat.  There was never any shellfish on the menu (including shrimps) unless you paid a premium.  Rather disappointing.  Portions are “spa size”.  The food as Oscar’s was generally very good for lunch when it was a beach bar, to dinner when it had reservations.  Again, there were at least 3 supplemental – but at least the rest of the menu was balanced.  The last restaurant was the Deli which was open for lunch.  It had some odd paninis, sashimi and sushi.  Avoid the sushi.  They are not using sushi rice so you get a few hard, cold disks of congealed rice.  They do have great fruit smoothies though.  Overall the food is ok but needs a bit of variety and more punch.  I would also say that if you like your food on the medium to medium rare side, be sure to specify as they cook the food to 10 minutes past done.  By the way there is no room service which really does not put this in the luxury category for me.

Air Canada rates this as a 4.5 star – I would rate it as a 3.5 star.  For similar price points and a true adult all inclusive I think there are better out there.

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Plugging into Meditation

February 24th, 2012 · 5 Comments

Today is a miserable day.  The weather is grey with sleet and rain coming down, and a bone chilling cold that demands flannel PJs, a roaring fire and a hot cup of tea.  It is also meditation lesson day and I did not want dear Monica to have to roust herself from her home cocoon to teach me my next lesson.  Frankly I was concerned about her safety on the roads.

So being ever resourceful we decided that we would try this next lesson via Skype.  It seemed a bit incongruent to use technology in such a practice, given that in my mind I think this should be as stripped down as possible.  However, Monica’s safety overrode any attachment I put on technology and we gave it a try.

I managed to get my laptop set up in my meditation/dressing/library/guest room with Skype video running smoothly.  Given that I live with technology guy, everything worked beautifully.  Monica called in and we were ready to go.

In my personal practice I have been working on trying to sit longer and with more ease.  What I have been noticing in my “outside” life is that I am adjusting to my life circumstances and thinking about things in a slightly different way.  That small change in perspective is allowing me an interesting clarity that is not based in reaction, but a holistic view of my path.  This is an interesting nuance for me.  I find that one of the reasons I treasure time off in exotic places so much is that it puts me in a non-comfort zone that forces me to adapt.  The places are often unknown and culturally shocking, my typical way of being in the world cannot be relied upon.  My eyes look differently, my ears hear unknown sounds, my taste buds are assaulted, and my cultural norms in North America are often completely out of place.  Every sense including my sense of well-being is tested.

Since I am in a very new place now, that of the unemployed and searching for my next great contribution, who I am is being tested as well.  Meditation is adjusting not only how I see the world, but how I see myself.  Part of it is focus – but frankly focus has never been a problem for me.  Part of it is also presence in the moment – and that is more fleeting.  We constantly make decisions in our lives, and generally to resolve an immediate need.

Monica used the rocks in a jar analogy which is one I have always loved.  I realize that the jar (me) has most recently been changed to a degree.  The big rocks going in to fill that jar are the things that are the most important to me and how I want to spend my time.  One of those big rocks (job) is missing at the moment, but truly important rocks continue to remain (husband, family, friends, home).  Smaller rocks fill some of the spaces between the larger rocks (volunteer work, consulting) to a greater degree at the moment as I have the time and space to do a bit more.  And in between that is the sands of every day life.  Is the jar filled yet?  Not really as there is still room for water.  For me this is what binds everything together and creates a synchronicity and connectedness within the jar.  So everything has shifted a bit.

This week we talked about sensations and tried a meditation of awareness of sensations, specifically pain.  There is physical as well as mental pain that we all deal with.  I concentrated on a bit of physical pain and found that the meditation was a way to dissipate the energy and focus on the sensation of pain to an energy of being.  A small shift that takes the attention elsewhere.

From there, we moved into a silent meditation of just being.  Monica was silent and I focused on my breath.  All in all we did a full 50 minutes which is the longest I have been able to go.  I must say that the last 10 minutes were extremely difficult.  I was losing my place as it were, trying to not allow other things to pop into my head.  But this is in essence the practice.  Acknowledge and push away to get back to presence.

Did technology impact the success of this lesson?  I found that using Skype was a terrific way to continue to connect with Monica and learn from her, without the concern for her safety in the weather.  As I think on this further, it also means that she can touch more people who are interested in this practice regardless of distance.

So fill your jars with only that which is important and meaningful for you, and allow some fluidity in your life to connect you to the present.  The journey continues…

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The Road to Meditation – Are we there yet?

February 9th, 2012 · 1 Comment

So it has been about three weeks of meditation and training and I thought I would give an update.  I am amazed at how far I have managed to come.  Away from judgement, away from hamsters in the brain, away from “am I doing this right?”.  I am learning, albeit slowly, that there is no incorrect way of meditating.  I was really concerned I was not getting it.  I was having all these thoughts in my head about how I was listening, feeling drowsy, desperately trying not to scratch my nose or check the time, trying to ignore the meow of the cat or the chirp of the birds.  I am told that I am to acknowledge the thought and just let it be.  That took a while to be OK with.

Now I find that 20 minutes seems to pass in no time, and that I am more relaxed yet focused at the same time.  There are feelings of body tingles near the end that are energizing and pleasant.  My body, while initially feels to be uncomfortable, eventually moves into a space of just being.  I listen to the words being spoken during the meditation and seem to become entranced by them.  There are moments when I feel I have just lost a bit of time – and when I pick up the thread of the speech think that I missed a few minutes.  It is an interesting feeling.

Am I more relaxed or more focused or less stressed.  I am not sure about that yet.  Certainly there are moments of joy that seem to pop up more and more often – but I am not sure if that is a side effect of meditation or the circumstances of my life at the moment.  Then again, does it truly matter where those pops come from as long as they are abundant?  All in all it is worth an ongoing exploration.  After all, for me this is a road not travelled.

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