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vine and the olive ratafia

If there’s one thing that I can appreciate about having a husband from Champagne, it’s that whenever we gather with family and friends there’s always a flute of bubbling champagne in my hand. But while that’s what you know of Champagne, there’s another the drink in the region you might never have heard of. 


But let’s give this all some context. In the beginning family dinners were exhausting. What felt like a thousand conversations were all taking place at once and I never seemed to catch much more than a couple tidbits. Something about politics, sports, maybe hunting and always one of the kids who wasn’t happy about something on their plate. Maybe you can imagine the headaches that would ensue? 

But family dinners have a fairly common rhythm around here.

First glass – that bubbling flute of champagne either white or rosé. Check!
Second glass – Whoa! Sweet! What!?
Third glass – a smooth, sultry glass of tawny red old, old (borderline too old) Bordeaux from his dads collection. More please!

This was something I could get my head around. I love wine, but you probably already knew that. While everyone was chatting, I was in my own bubble thinking about these different flavours. Except of course that second glass. At first I hated it. It’s not that the wine was bad, but I always thought sweet wines were just some way producers were covering up some fatal flaw instead of appreciating what was in front of me. 

Eventually I gave up this cynical outlook and I decided to just enjoy glass number 2. I’d like to say that I was open and ready but it didn’t happen so fast, and even at the beginning I couldn’t have repeated what we were sipping on, but over time I started to learn and one such sweet apéritif wine, specifically from Champagne is Ratafia.  

Ratafia is made from the ripened leftover grapes of Champagne which have been left to dry before being rehydrated with marc brandy and then the juice is fermented in oak barrels for a minimum of two years giving it this rich amber colour that is sure to grab your attention.

We were fortunate to have received a bottle recently, a gift from a producer, who was kind enough to share with us and I couldn’t wait to have a sip. 

You know when you walk past a flower shop and your nose is flooded with that intoxicating smell of fresh, floral goodness? Well let’s say it has a similar effect only what you smell is candied fruit, honey and oranges. When you finally take a sip it’s got this viscous quality, thick and similar to how caramel coats your mouth and you get a punch of juicy dried fruit and candied orange peels. Soon you’ll probably feel a little heat in your hands as it works through your body. It’s quite an experience and one you must try if you make a trip to Champagne. 

Just a note of caution – this drink is strong so while it might go down easy, you might want to use moderation. If you can, have your glass of Ratafia with a slice of foie gras! The good news is, with this, you can survive all those french conversations whirling around you! Hopefully you’ll be more open to this beverage than I was because it’s not to be missed! If you have tried it, or have another great specialty drink from another region I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

parc buttes chaumontIf you’re in North America,  it’s probably starting to get a little chilly out and I can almost bet you’ve been thinking about where you’ll go next. I know the feeling – we’ve been doing lots of it ourselves, though I had to remind Jérémie that Lapland only gets 2.5 hours of sun a day in winter so… maybe we could find a better time to go and that doesn’t even touch on the fact that we’re in full reno mode over here. Who’s got time for vacations!? We need a staycation!

Well I can’t say my recent jaunts to Paris have been about a staycation, but I’ve been wandering and enjoying everything it has to offer lately as much as I can. While I may have been living in France on and off since 2012, you might be surprised at how much I still have yet to explore. Of course, I’ve seen A LOT of this country, and I’m really grateful for it, but there is just so much that I’ve yet to see. 

Last week I visited Buttes Chaumont. I’ve only had it on my list for a few years now… You see, this park is a bit awkwardly situated (or so I think anyways) and so getting there by metro usually means a transfer or two which I just didn’t always feel like doing. Lazy? You betcha! Let’s be honest though, with so many things to see, I had other places I could more easily visit first. Anyways, you’re probably wondering why this place was important, or at least I hope you are.

The park of Buttes Chaumont is a little to the north east. If you’ve got a trip to see Jim Morrison or Edith Piaf at Père Lachaise on your list then you’re in the right area to finish off with the park . I was reading a biography of Paris some time ago and I stumbled upon a piece of history that was rather gruesome. It’s not really the kind of thing I enjoy reading, but it certainly had my attention. Back in the 13th to 18th century, before even being within city limits, this site (though now they say “next to it” but maybe that’s creative re-marketing… but who can know?)  was believed to be where criminals were put on display nice up high after death or torture as a symbol both poignant and odorous, as they were apparently they were left for some time to…. decay… to remind the people to keep order.  Of course we all know France has a bit of a story in world history, but this was one tidbit I’d never heard about. It was also a major quarry which helped supply the massive building of Paris and in keeping with the stinky history also had a part which was a refuse dump. Just lovely right?  So let’s just say, this place wasn’t exactly known as an attractive place to go, that is, until Baron Haussmann decided in the mid 1800’s to convert it into the beautiful and attractive park it is today. He’s also responsible for the major renovations of the city creating the major boulevards and squares, adding arrondissements and the very uniform Haussmann styled apartments Paris is famous for, all in just 17 years! 

So this interesting history had me curious what it could look like now. Well I have to say, it’s probably one of the most comfortable parks in the city. Parisians aren’t usually so fond of you sitting or walking on the lawn but if you’ve got a nice day you’re going to find people truly enjoying this public space and you are more than welcome to put out a blanket and re-live a piece of art with “a luncheon on the grass.” (but please – be clothed)  The site is full of joggers, strollers, and folks talking about philosophy everywhere. It’s so relaxed and perfectly green and very hilly, which is a rare city treat! We took the opportunity to have a casual picnic lunch thanks to the little tapas restaurant, Rosa Bonheur, that is housed in the park (they also have events in the evenings from time to time that are known for being pretty fun.) Don’t be surprised that it’s not a lavish looking place, the tapas is wonderful! Just order a couple things, a bottle of wine and they’ll supply the bread!

In fact do the picnic first and then go walk it off. The most famous spot to visit is the temple of sibylle, modelled after one in Italy. and it overlooks the park but you’ll also get a great view of Sacré Coeur on Montmartre. 

Hope you’ll love it as much as I did!

If you’ve got some ideas of places I should visit in the city or would like to share a memory of your own, please leave it in the comments below.parc buttes chaumontparc buttes chaumontparc buttes chaumontparc buttes chaumontparc buttes chaumontparc buttes chaumont

  • November 17, 2016 - 05:57

    Lesley - I went for a bike ride with my friend Anna on the weekend and she told me she was pretty sure she saw you when she was in Paris last month. I asked her where it was and she said Buttes Chaumont so I think she must have been right! Small world! (She remembered you from our wedding 🙂 )ReplyCancel

    • November 17, 2016 - 13:53

      Christina - Oh crazy! That’s so unexpected. It might have been… Did she say much? Was I alone or with Jeremie? Eating our picnic? Too bad she didn’t say hi – though I might not have known her…ReplyCancel

inside my capsule wardrobe

That’s it folks! That is every pant, skirt, shirt and sweater that lived in my closet for the month of September and September is officially drawing to a close today. I know when I lay each piece out it looks like lots more but when you fold it all down, it’s nothing at all. Mull on that a little bit. How does it make you feel? Are you feeling a serge of closet envy? Terror? Curiosity? or were you perhaps thinking that you could fit all of that and more into a carry on suitcase? I’ll let you dwell in this a little but as for me… 

Week 3 and 4 were definitely a little harder than the first two. As I’d already rotated all the items in my closet I just had to admit that there were a couple things that weren’t working. The black skirt. I love a good pencil skirt and my attempt to have something dressy was a failure. Suddenly the skirt was too big, looked A-line and went against my wardrobe goals. I was uncomfortable. Always tugging at your clothing is a good sign something isn’t working and this was most certainly an item of clothing I was forever fiddling with to make work. I’d have rather added another jean to the mix or even a simple black dress. I also regretted not having a pair of heels. Considering I wore them almost every day for over 3 years and then didn’t have any to bust out felt a little sad. Jérémie and I have recently taken up a weekly salsa dancing class and I wouldn’t have minded pairing my jeans with a fun heel to feel more like I was putting on my dancing shoes. But hey, it’s the little things… right?

So where does this all leave me today?

I’m happy to say I did it! After so many years, I managed to have one mindful month about my clothing and that is exactly what I wanted. I can’t see myself ditching the plan altogether though I do think that having a small amount of clothing in rotation is a great way to see how you REALLY feel about something. I have some other items of clothing that I like but I’m not sure if they’d pass the test of being in such heavy rotation. Does this mean you can’t own things you don’t intend to wear all the time? Of course not, but limiting them is probably a good strategy. I want to have a few fun things to draw on once in a while but having too many creates a huge closet and a lot more decisions and hassle and I’ve got enough of that, thank you. I have realized that while I love the capsule wardrobe I wouldn’t limit myself quite as much as this in the future. Having a minimal wardrobe is in fact a dream and having good staples is key. Accessories are what make your wardrobe cinch together so that’s where I’d rather play a little and even at that you don’t need much! Also, capsule wardrobes are more than just a month they are seasons and years. The goal is to have staples in the best quality you can afford so that they last many years and you’re not always trying to catch up with trends (though this is where accessories could be your best friend) but you can’t get there if you don’t first know what’s working and not. 

I’m glad that I don’t actually have to leave all my dresses to collect dust in the back of my closet and those few items like a nice blazer or a heel with a pop of colour can still be added when I finally find the ones that works for my body type and goals. Little by little I will have a much more cohesive collection of clothes that feel like me. I would encourage anybody to try this even just for a month but take photos and analyze. It’s a telling process. 

If you were following along this month or if you were secretly dwindling down your closet please leave me a comment below and let me know how this all worked out for you and what you learned. I love hearing what you have to say.

september capsule wardrobe experiment

september capsule wardrobe experimentseptember capsule wardrobe experiment

september capsule wardrobe experiment

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september capsule wardrobe

Escape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteWhen you’re planning a family vacation you are faced with particular challenges. Planning for a couple or friends vacation is like a breeze. You can go anywhere, do anything and you don’t have to worry so much about entertaining anyone, but with kids… it’s different. Kids shouldn’t rule the decisions (and they generally don’t) but if you don’t consider them, they’ll rule your entire vacation.

Because we were planning for three we had a few must-haves on our list. #1: A kids club. No kids club = we’re not going. If you have one kid you know exactly what I’m talking about.  One kid means that you’re likely to be called on a lot to be the entertainment if there aren’t other kids around so we weren’t budging on this one, we needed some quiet vacation time too. #2: meals. Maybe not all meals but some because after a busy year with lots of changes, this was a great opportunity to kick back and we were looking forward to as little planning as possible this time around. Finally #3: Water. Lots and lots of swimming possibilities so we couldn’t get bored with a little side of snorkeling.

Lucky for us we found exactly what we needed and we were fortunate it also so happened to be in Crete, somewhere neither of us have ever been before.  Escape to Crete

Escape to CreteSo why will we be going back? Here’s why…Escape to CreteEscape to Crete

  1. The people:

You could not find a nicer bunch of people if you tried! A little Kaliméra to say good morning and efcharistó to say thank you will charm just about every Greek person you’ll encounter. The language is pretty hard for us foreigners so the efforts go a long way and they’re very open and kind. It didn’t matter if we were at the hotel or out in town everyone was helpful and they were always willing to give extra service without being asked, which we just weren’t used to.

Escape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to Crete      2. The scenery:

It is dry here! So dry. It’s a wonder anything survives but somehow it does and there is something so beautiful about the deep red ochres against the greeny-grey olive trees and succulents. I’m convinced just about every house had their own cluster of olive trees and I was certainly jealous. I found the change of colour scheme to be incredibly attractive and so very inspiring. All this set against the beautiful blue ocean. Come on! …and the sunsets? You know how they say sunsets in the prairies are beautiful? Okay I hear you. They are. But my goodness were these ever beautiful. I didn’t go out of my way to take any photos (just this one quick one at dinner – so it doesn’t really count) because for us it became a nightly event as a family so we all just watched in awe as it would set over the ocean every night. Don’t just take my word for it. Go see for yourself and grab a glass of something while you’re at it.

Escape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to Crete      3. The villages:

Their villages are small and often unassuming, in fact I was kinda worried at first, but they ended up really surprising me as they were so packed with charm and character once you stepped in. We expected to encounter more tourists and sure you’ll find some, but mostly you just felt the rhythm of Greek life and a very peaceful atmosphere. It seemed to me that about every restaurant was in some little alleyway or tucked in a corner full of colours and the aromas… YUM!  You’ll also find fishing is alive and well and watching the men and women who look like they are part of the landscape was incredible. You felt immediately taken. Also if you want to do a little shopping – I assure you your Euro’s are going much further than in France.

Escape to Crete      4. The beaches:

Don’t be fooled, the water can be rough! So rough in fact that for the first few days we actually couldn’t go in with the red flags flying. The weather, however, didn’t keep us from going out on the breakwaters and in the path of the ocean spray which would drench you at first hit. Many shrieks of joy ensued. Once the ocean calmed we were happy to float about on mattresses and try and see what was swimming below the surface of the water. The average water temperature was 28C, you can’t go wrong! As a warning though, many beaches are quite rocky and you may see a sea anemone here and there so sport some fashionable water shoes if you want to be comfortable or at very least, safe. Also – don’t skip the sunscreen and the hats. The UV is incredibly high, it’ll fool you if you aren’t one step ahead.

Escape to CreteEscape to Crete      5. Ease of getting around:

Getting around Greece was easy. We tested the local bus system to go to a town an hour away and it was simple, cheap and it was lightly air conditioned so we were all pretty relaxed by the time we arrived in Rhythmno. Taxi’s also have a lot of fixed rates so there are no surprises and are easy to find. Say you want to go a little further, well you can hop on a boat and easily find yourself in Santorini and that doesn’t sound too bad to me either. It is, after all, on my bucket list.

Escape to Crete      6. The possibilities:

Let’s be honest this was us getting our toes wet, next time we hope we’ll rent a car and really get out an explore! We’ve been advised it’s a great idea to get a 4×4 in order to go inland where some of the best sights are not to mention all the places we already wanted to check out along the shores. The gorge of Samaria is probably number 1 on my list. It’s a 16km hike down towards the Libyan sea ending with what are known as the Iron Gates and another beautiful beach. While we might have wanted to do it this time around, we knew it wouldn’t be possible with an 8 year old. Another thing on our list of to-do’s is WINE! Greece is putting itself back on the wine map after having carried a bad reputation for many years. They’re very inexpensive and what we tried was so vastly different from what we’re used to which was a nice change. When we go back we’ll definitely be hitting up a vineyard or two and we’re sure to do a little Greek mythology refresher beforehand because there’s lots to take in.

Hope you feel inspired to see for yourself!Escape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to CreteEscape to Crete

september capsule wardrobe experiment

It’s week two but it feels like I’ve been doing this for so much longer somehow. It still remains mostly easy though I have had moments where I’ve panicked because the weather, as anticipated, is nothing like I expected. It’s been in the 30’s all week and I’m hot so living in Sandals has been helpful but not having shorts is hard. I knew this might happen. I have been falling back on my yellow capris a lot and that has also been helpful. As was the case last week I’ve been enjoying my weekends for family/project time but I did manage to get a quick photo on Saturday (day 10.) Not a great one by any standards but instead of worrying about lighting etc I took one shot and left it at that. The three of us had biked a significant distance in the blazing heat to the top of this plateau where there was a beautiful lookout and I think I speak for Jeremie and I when I say we were more interested in our two cold beer and making sandwiches on our picnic than about taking a photo all hot and sweaty. It was just fine by me!

Things of note – I’ve decided that I LOVE my carrot pants. They’re so light and comfortable and I could wear them every day. I never thought I’d say that about a pair of pleated pants. If you haven’t tried a pair I recommend  you do. They’re versatile and pretty flattering both worn dressed up or down. Versatility for the win! Also, I bought these high waisted jeans when I went shopping with my mom in July and I have to say, they’re really growing on me. I was worried about high waisted anything as I’ve complained about stomach aches for years when things are sitting so high and I won’t say it’s perfect… but they’re pretty stretchy and actually not so tight on my stomach so I’m willing to accept a little change. I might also add that pants that don’t reveal my bum when I bend over in my 30’s is also greatly welcomed. 

Well I hope you guys are well into contemplating your own wardrobes. I’m curious to know what happens after this experiment is all over. Do I drastically overhaul my wardrobe and make a huge donation to a thrift shop? What will it feel like to bring everything back in? Maybe I won’t be able to go back to a regular wardrobe. I’ve bought a new sewing machine, perhaps I’ll have to tailor everything to be just-so. As usual I’d love your thoughts below!

september capsule wardrobe experimentseptember capsule wardrobe experimentseptember capsule wardrobe experimentseptember capsule wardrobe experiment

september capsule wardrobe experiment