reclaim

changing my name

As a single woman, I was ambivalent about keeping or changing my last name. People would ask and I’d shrug. My answers were varied and tepid, in the realm of the hypothetical (as marriage was). “Maybe I will… it depends on what my future husband prefers… perhaps if we have kids.” Shoulders raised, unsure — in full disclosure, uncaring.

I know women, professionally and personally, on both sides of the name-change game. I have mentors who stridently held onto their names, appalled that my generation gives them away without resistance. These women deem keeping our names a breed of feminist crusade, something totally worth a fight — or at very least, a well formed opinion.

I know women who changed their names without pause, as it was a given, their part in building a family, and something they always knew they’d do. A friend gifted her last name to her husband for his birthday before their first child was born. Some were critical of her act, and unnecessarily, I think. I’ve learned, with time, that acts we consider indefensible on the surface often make much more sense when fully unpacked and considered within another’s unique circumstances.

I envied all these women, with their black and white decisions. My ambivalence felt shameful. As it goes, I’m not an ambivalent feminist.

When I became engaged to Austin, I expected my position would become clearer. If not, well, I make a living in communications! My key message would solidify and I’d have a neatly wrapped up sound bite in response to this now-frequent question from friends and family and colleagues.

Shortly after our engagement, I sat at my childhood kitchen island enjoying coffee and conversation, and my dad asked (benignly) if I would be changing my name. “We’re a bi-national couple,” I answered. “Sharing a name will be easier when we travel together. Probably… yes?” I shrugged. So much for my on-point key message.

Austin didn’t care one way or another what I did with my surname. And that’s part of what made the decision difficult. This choice would have nothing to do with my husband’s beliefs or preferences, only my own. The times we discussed the matter, he would always respond that I should do what was right for me — professionally, personally and emotionally — and he would be supportive.

So it was my time to consider, and consider with care.

I built my professional identity with my name. Pontikis has served me through diplomas, through job titles, through cities, through google searches. I carry my personal history and my family’s narrative with my name. I am the first of four daughters and no sons. I bear a surname granted to an ancestor who saved his village by feeding them mice — pontiki — through a wartime occupation (a story of its own, that my family were not always Pontikis). We daughters will bring our names with us or leave them in the past; we will carry our nominal lineage into the future or give it away.

The answer seemed obvious.

Austin and I married just over a year ago. We were pronounced at the altar as Mr. and Mrs. Zwick, a passage in the ceremony I co-wrote with my husband for the wedding I co-planned with my husband. We sat at a head table where my place card was, nominally, a woman I would learn to know.

I signed our Christmas cards with my new moniker but kept our dual-name address stamp. I registered her a gmail account but resisted renewing my passport as her. I smiled politely as relatives greeted me as the new Mrs. but kept my email signature intact at work. Here: my not-so-neat divide — I would have double the name and double the fun!

Over time, with each self-made contradiction, I figured out that my name was not just worth keeping. It was the only way, for me.

By becoming a wife, I reclaimed my name.

I will never (I hope) contend that it’s an inherently feminist choice to keep or take our husbands’ names. The act is replete with both obvious and unspoken truths, cultural and professional norms and historical weight, some that I understand and others that I don’t. I do understand that there’s too much nuance and depth to other women’s circumstances for me to judge or begrudge or applaud their choices.

The act of marriage forced me to deal with this nominal (and powerful) part of my identity outside the realm of the hypothetical, in ways I never anticipated. It became real. I considered with care.

I realize, a year later, that staying Maria Pontikis is one of the heaviest decisions I have made in my 28 years, masquerading as ambivalence. For many women, the decision is clear. But maybe you’re marrying soon, or you will one day, and you still don’t know. That’s okay! Take comfort that you don’t have to decide now, or tomorrow, or even by the day you say “I do.” Take comfort that uncertainty is normal. Take comfort that you do not love your husband more or less, you are no more or less a family, and you are no more or less a feminist — whatever your choice.

Maybe, like me, you’ll sit on your binomial fence for some time and feel your way around, until your choice is defensible — to you. That’s what matters.

(Photo credit: Sarah Kivell of Every Little Wonder Photography)

meal planning for two

meal-planning-twoAustin and I do meal planning by fits and starts. Sometimes, we’re all over it, plotting out our week’s cooking on a regular basis. Sometimes, especially in the summer months, we’re more ad hoc about what we cook, inspired by what looks good at market or in our CSA basket. But we share the belief that we eat better and are more satisfied when we take (a little bit of) time to meal plan.

As we sat on the couch this morning plotting our week’s meals, I realized that this exercise we’ve developed through trial and error over time would be helpful to share. Meal planning only seems onerous. It takes us about 30 minutes each week and a trip to the grocer. Our approach is pretty straightforward and hands-off, guided by a few core principles.

First Principles of Meal Planning

  1. Above all else, choose meals that use up any and all perishable items already in the fridge.
  2. Choose recipes with ingredients that can be repurposed into other recipes that week (e.g., if we’re buying tarragon, we’ll try to pick a couple recipes that use this herb).
  3. Don’t overplan. We reliably cook dinner 4-5 times per week. The other 2-3 nights, we’re in class, eating out or heating up some simple leftovers or something from the freezer. Knowing this, we typically plan 4 dinners, 1 soup to have for lunch/freeze and one ad hoc night with ingredients that won’t spoil if we don’t get to the meal.
  4. Designate one “cooking afternoon”. Depending on our schedule, this is reserved for Saturday or Sunday, and takes about 2-3 hours. We typically prepare a batch of soup and one other dish to have on hand, and make that night’s dinner at the same time. This is also where we’d do any canning, preserving or prep for staples like soup stock or beans to keep in the freezer.

Our Meal Planning Process

Inventory

Once a week (usually on Saturday morning as we sip coffee and wake up), we take inventory of items we need to use up in the fridge.

What this looks like in practice: I sit in the kitchen with my laptop, and Austin combs through the fridge calling out items and quantities (e.g., 3 small eggplant, half a bunch of parsley, a head of cauliflower) and I type these into a blank document. He also quickly sifts through the freezer, noting different cuts of meat we have on hand to defrost, if needed for a recipe. We also use this time to quickly reorganize and clean the fridge, tossing out any food that’s turned.

This week’s inventory (higher than usual because we had a double-CSA delivery after returning from vacation):

  • 2 heads cauliflower
  • 7 baby purple eggplant
  • 6 small Anaheim peppers (sweet)
  • 2 lbs fresh peas in shell
  • 1 large white acorn squash
  • 1/2 bunch each parsley, cilantro
  • Sweet potatoes, onions, carrots (not immediately perishable)

Research

We take our coffee and list, and sit side-by-side on the couch with our laptops. Under our list of ingredients to use up, I make a shopping list, then list the days of the week. I note days when we won’t be cooking because of other obligations, or lunches out with colleagues/friends where we don’t need to pack lunch.

From there, we pull up our go-to recipe sources. Austin often finds ideas on Reddit and Epicurious that he’ll keep open in tabs or email me through the week. I immediately go to my “kitchen” Pinterest boards (starting with savoury, soups and meals we’ve made) and scroll through for ideas. I have a rule that I only pin meals that we would actually cook (I always click through and read a recipe before pinning it), which greatly minimizes “aspirational pinning” of complicated recipes I would never in a million years attempt on an average weeknight.

We typically find a couple recipes from these sources. From there, we review our list to note specific ingredients still waiting for recipes. For example, for the head of cauliflower, I’ll type “cauliflower” into Pinterest search, restricting it to recipes I’ve pinned. Usually, we find something right away, but if not, I’ll broaden the search to all users and we’ll choose a good option. We’ll do the same on Epicurious, which aggregates the recipe archives of Bon Appetit and Gourmet.

Lastly, we pop open our wedding cookbook and other favourites (among them: Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and Gwenyth Paltrow’s It’s all Good) in case an old standby piques our interest.

Shopping List

With our 4-5 chosen recipes open in tabs, we sift through the ingredients lists and jot down needed ingredients on a shopping list. As a rule, we try to choose recipes that only require us to buy a couple supplementary items, to minimize bringing more into the kitchen. If a recipe is too complicated or requires too many ingredients not in our fridge/pantry, we often nix it and find something else.

Much like when we take inventory of the fridge, making a shopping list often involves me calling out ingredients to Austin as he checks our pantry and freezer to see if they’re on hand (e.g., rice vinegar? jalapeno peppers? ground beef? basmati rice?). I note anything we need, separating the list into produce/dairy case/pantry for an easy sweep of the store.

Here’s this week’s shopping list:

Pantry

  • Sichuan pepper paste
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • Oil-packed anchovies

Dairy Case

  • Sheep’s feta
  • Kalamata olives
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Parmesan cheese

Produce

  • Scallions
  • Lemons
  • Ginger
  • Garlic

You’ll note it’s a pretty contained list — just 11 items — because we’re working with many ingredients we already have on hand.

Sample Meal Plan

So, what does this meal plan look like in practice? Here’s what we’re cooking this week to give you a sense:

Saturday 

Sichuanese Chopped Celery with Beef with basmati rice

Chicken Stock (for tomorrow’s soup)

Sunday (cooking afternoon)

Cauliflower Chowder: for lunches/to freeze

Pasta with Slow Cooked Cauliflower and Anchovy: for lunches

Spicy Dr. Pepper Shredded Pork and Herbed Peas

Monday

Mezes night: Melitzanosalata with feta, olives and pita bread

Tuesday

Lasagne Stuffed Squash

Wednesday

Maria class/Austin teaching: leftovers/freezer dinner

Thursday

Ad hoc night: steak with roasted sweet potatoes

Friday

Dinner out with friends

For lunches, we’ll rotate between dinner leftovers, cauliflower chowder and pasta, which are kept in the fridge/freezer pre-portioned to grab as we leave for work in the morning.

Keeping Track

While the meal plan is never perfectly implemented (we’ll swap days, or get a craving for pizza, or just want to cook something else!) it gets us about 80% of the way to tasty meals from our kitchen. If a new dish we make is a success, it gets tacked to our shared meals we’ve made Pinterest board to recall for another time.

I’ve researched and read about many approaches to meal planning. We love this style of planning because it’s adaptable and uncomplicated for a family of two, and ensures we’re constantly trying new things in the kitchen. It doesn’t take a ton of time in our busy schedules, but ensures that two people who love to cook are spending time making tasty food, and that perishable goods don’t go to waste.

If you’re in a rut, or often ordering takeout after a day at work, I’d challenge you to spend just a month using our meal planning philosophy as a guide and starting point. It’s faster and healthier than takeout, can be adapted to any skill level, and in our experience, makes the kitchen an even more fun place to spend time together.

marriage, one year

our wedding day

One year ago, Austin and I were married in the middle of a vineyard on a sunshine and laughter filled fall afternoon, surrounded by the people we love.

One year later, I don’t purport to be an expert at marriage, or in a credible position to dispense advice. I do feel, however, that Austin and I are very good at our own particular marriage. I’ve spent some time thinking about why our marriage works so well. And because I love reading the insights others share about their relationships, it seemed useful to put my own in writing. With a heavy grain of salt — I offer some thoughts at one year of marriage to Austin about why it’s my favourite thing. And why, I think, our marriage has so much light.

No scorecards – I’m usually met with looks of disbelief (surely I’m lying) when I say Austin and I don’t fight. I believe people for not believing me, but we really don’t. In the three years we’ve shared a home, I can count disagreements on a hand or less, ones that we worked out over cups of tea and some conversation, and the benefit of time.

Now, I believe that husbands and wives can fight hard and have a healthy marriage, but I’m glad we don’t. The biggest contributor to no fights, I would contend, is no scorecards. We just do for one-another what needs to get done and never keep score. Austin vacuums and I do the laundry. Why? Because we’re better at those respective tasks. We cook together because it’s our time to be together. Some nights, I do the dishes, some nights Austin does, some nights together. Austin makes us breakfast and reconciles our budget each month. I handle our insurance and keep our toiletries stocked. Austin books the plane tickets and hotels, and I plan the itinerary. And on and on and on. But we’ve never uttered “it’s your turn” or “last time I did this.” It’s not in our vocabulary.

Giving thanks – As simple as that, we give thanks for one-another every single day. When we wake up, in texts and gchats and as we turn to go to sleep. We are always thanking one-another for who we are, what we do and how we handle each other with care and love. We take time to invest in giving that thanks each day, actively, intentionally. I sometimes chuckle that we married over Thanksgiving weekend, because thankfulness is first and foremost our marriage’s theme.

Creating adventures – I love the word adventure for all that it captures. And Austin and I are hardcore adventurers. By this, I mean we devote time each day to creating adventures in our life together, big and small. We’re two introverted people (Austin more moderate than me, no doubt) but we don’t sit on the couch. We love figuring out the next class we’ll attend, or dinner we’ll chase down, or tasting we’ll take part in, or plane tickets we’ll book. And we do this every day, not once in a while. I jokingly call Austin my “fun enforcer” because he’s always on the lookout for our next adventure. It’s a good quality to have in a husband.

Bragging about each other - My husband is the best person, plain and simple. I tell everyone this. People probably tire of us saying nice things about one-another, but as Austin’s wife, it’s my role to be his booster, the person who is most proud of his intelligence, his accomplishments, his dashing good looks, his hard work… I could go on. I wish others would brag about their spouses more! It feels great to listen to how much someone loves and appreciates their partner.

A default place of “yes” – Years ago, I heard the smart advice that in most areas of life, it’s better to come from a default place of “yes.” That is to say, to make it my first reaction to agree to something, versus saying no, whether it’s a project at work, a new challenge or a favour for a friend. There’s been a lot of talk lately, as we societally become so possessive of our time, that we need to say “no” more often. But I think this is silly, and selfish, advice. Especially in our marriage, saying “yes” first to each-other makes most sense. And when we have to say no, we do so with careful consideration, versus out of habit. “Can you pick up the dry cleaning on your way home?” Yes. “Would you like to go for a walk?” Yes. “Sit with me and review these interview questions?” Yes. You get it.

As someone who never assumed I would marry, let alone be married this early in my life, co-creating a marriage that is supportive, respectful and just totally fun is a gift. The sum is greater than its parts is cliche, but true. At Austin’s side I am a better version of myself — I am kinder, smarter, more inquisitive and easier. I am softer. I make my husband better, too, and this knowledge is empowering.

So, on October 12 — our anniversary — our Thanksgiving (and every day), I give thanks for Austin and the ways he’s broadened and deepened my worldview, and my appreciation for life’s adventures, big and small. I clink glasses to many more years of learning from him, and getting even better at our marriage.

(Photo credit: Every Little Wonder Photography)

retrospective | september

Because I enjoy a good retrospective — a look-back at the cooking, writing, events, dining, people and travel that comprised the month that was. Here’s the September 2014 edition.

IMG_7306

Cooking

As the weather turned colder (and then warmer!) into September, lots of great things came out of our kitchen. We pulled our wedding cookbook off the shelf to revisit two favourites: Crunchy Thai Quinoa Salad and Moroccan Stuffed Tomatoes. We made our best soup of the year, taking advantage of the summer’s candy-like corn and pairing it with sweet but briny scallops. And of course, we drew out barbecue season as long as possible before we put on the cover for the cold months (though, this Indian Summer had us relishing the last rays of warm sunshine…).

minimalistpackingparisfall

Writing

In September 2014, I wrote four posts — about my obsessive ways (with cider and other pursuits alike) and shared my thoughts about growing up as the new school year began. I also started a series on Minimalist Packing, to take a deep dive into packing smartly for travel, which I’ll expand upon in the months ahead as I pack for some diverse trips!

Grown-up

Twenty-eight, by all manner of measurement, is still very young. But it’s also happily inside of adult, with many adult milestones behind me, and many still ahead of me. I hear a lot (too much!) that life gets harder as you get older. The responsibilities pile on, time speeds up, the occasions to grieve come with greater frequency, our days become much less ours, the mundane of the grind is the norm. All this is true. But what doesn’t come with this diagnosis is how much better equipped we are to handle both the petty grievances and crushing blows, and to embrace more deeply and appreciate the beauty and luck and wonder we experience.

Cider

I have a thousand favourite memories from that weekend. One is the morning after our wedding, filling a rental truck with said leftover cider jugs and flower arrangements, and driving through Windsor, new husband and wife, and dropping them off to everyone we knew. Thanksgiving Fairies, we called ourselves. “Decorate your table and keep the vase!” we’d scrawl on notes. “Have some cider with your pumpkin pie!” We’d drop the flowers and jugs on stoops and sprint: our post-wedding nicky nicky nine doors experiment.

Somm

So last night, I went back to school. I donned my little backpack and packed my notebook and pens and walked to campus. I stepped into the sommelier lab for my first class in a very long process: the (I’m told) gruelling, fascinating, soul-crushing, wonderful road toward becoming a certified sommelier, and maybe, one day, years from now, if I’m obsessive enough, a Master.

Minimalist Packing: Paris in the Fall 

As someone who loves fashion but keeps a fairly minimalist wardrobe, I can pack a streamlined suitcase without too much trouble. My husband and I have a “no checked bags” rule, which also limits what we bring on vacation. When people hear I don’t ever check bags, they often are surprised. What do I pack? Where do I put my shoes? What about liquids?

sommelier lab

Events & Dining

My incredible husband spent the summer months into September preparing for, writing and defending his comprehensive exams and is now officially a PhD Candidate. Can I take a moment to brag about Austin? I’ve never seen anyone so level under pressure, so well prepared and so capable of knocking out 50 pages of solid writing over five days. To quote his supervisor: “You had passed before you even walked off that elevator” [for his oral defense]. He’s amazing and I’m a proud wife!

Speaking of school — I returned! After much consideration, I’ve started the process of becoming certified as a sommelier (part time, of course, as I love my day job). I’ve relished delving deeper into a subject that I’m already so interested in, and am enjoying becoming a more informed consumer of (both purchasing and drinking!) wine. Expect more updates in this space as I progress through my training.

Early in the month, Austin and I spent a meandering afternoon at the Cabbagetown Festival. We even met some lovely folks from Democrats Abroad who had fun chatting with Austin about voter registration. Yay for American ex-pats!  Events like the festival remind me why I love our warm little community so much, and why I’m so glad we decided to move back to my first Toronto neighbourhood.

While in Stratford mid-month, we had a stellar pre-theatre meal at The Prune — including a silken chicken liver mousse with Armagnac prunes that is in contention for one of my best restaurant bites of 2014. I was really impressed by Stratford’s calibre of restaurants, and already have a list started for our next visit.

Maria at F'Amelia

People

At the start of the month, I said goodbye to an amazing employee — she was one of my first solo hires when I became a new manager! I will miss her dearly but am stoked at her massive promotion. I’ve said it before, but I’m lucky to have such a smart and devoted team.

More baseball! My gosh, I’ve been to so many baseball games this season. I don’t mind (see: easily bribed with hotdogs and a pint) but it’s still a bit novel. It gave us the opportunity to see friends Heather and Matt, and to visit with Andrew who was here to visit from Kingston. Matt and Austin also ran another race — the Toronto Railpath Run — as Austin trains for his first half marathon later this fall.

Max was in Toronto to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with his family, so he and I enjoyed some bubbly and delicious food on the terrace at La Societe. I can’t wait to have him back in the city for good once he’s completed law school next year.

Austin at The Prune

Travel

We had an impromptu day-trip mid-month to Stratford to unwind with good food and theatre. We ate some fantastic meals (see: aforementioned chicken liver mousse) and our weight in cheese, and saw King Lear with Colm Feore back on the Stratford stage.

Soon we’ll be à Paris to celebrate our first year of marriage. I’ve felt like a combinatorics master-slash-juggler these past few weeks (and have been so thankful for my French) as I craft the right balance of restaurant reservations for our visit. After Paris, we have a stop in Reykjavik to poke around the city, eat at some inspired Icelandic restaurants and see the Northern Lights at their peak.

Past Retrospectives

August 2014

July 2014

June 2014

May 2014

minimalist packing | paris in the fall

minimalistpackingparisfall

As someone who loves fashion but keeps a fairly minimalist wardrobe, I can pack a streamlined suitcase without too much trouble. My husband and I have a “no checked bags” rule, which also limits what we bring on vacation. When people hear I don’t ever check bags, they often are surprised. What do I pack? Where do I put my shoes? What about liquids?

I’ve started the Minimalist Packing Series to provide a detailed look at how I pack for a range of travel circumstances. I hope to take some of the mystery out of packing a light suitcase, while feeling comfortable and chic while traveling. First up, we look at packing for a fall week in Paris, which helps us to unpack dressing for cool-temperature travel. 

The Equipment

bags

To start, let’s talk about a crucial part of packing well: the basic equipment, which comprises my suitcase, carry on bag and purse. I chose these pieces for durability and functionality, and also because they look good.

Suitcase

Austin and I use matching hardside luggage. Our exact model is no longer available, but it’s similar to the Heys Triton Elite 30″ model. We love hardside luggage because it is very lightweight, durable and easy to pop into an overhead bin without struggle. The suitcase is dual-sided and zips in the middle, allowing clothes to be packed in one side and shoes and other bulkier necessities in the other. The hard shell wipes clean, so it looks presentable even after almost three years of regular — about monthly — use. The wheels on these cases are awesome, with a smooth glide, which helps when we’re running through the airport to catch a flight (this never happens…). We store the two pieces of luggage stacked in a corner of a standard closet, but they would also slide under a bed frame.

An aside: I often see frequent flyers advocate for carrying a large duffel or weekender bag (this model comes up again and again) instead of a rolling suitcase. I even used one for years. I strongly recommend against this for air travel! Duffels are great for a road trip, but a pain to carry long distances, through airport terminals and on public transit, unless you have Gaston arms. If you choose a suitcase with sturdy four-direction wheels, it will roll without stick over most tricky surfaces — ours have survived many a potholed street and cobblestone path.

Carry-On

I use a simple Jansport for Madewell compact backpack (now on sale!) as my carry on. It’s just the right size to fit a water bottle, scarf, book, liquids bag, phone charger, headphones and other in-flight essentials. I love the easy-access front pocket to stow a pen, our passports and boarding passes, my wallet, and cell phone. Once we’re at our destination, I use my purse 90% of the time, but for day excursions, I’ll sometimes pop on this backpack. It’s tiny and looks chic, but is still durable and waterproof for rainy situations. It also keeps my hands free.

Garment Bag (optional)

This only comes on about half our trips, but for occasions when we know we’ll be fine dining or at a semi-formal event, we bring a single garment bag to store my dress and Austin’s suit or jacket. We’ve never had issues bringing this through security, and always hang it on the plane. A tip: the flight attendant will hold your garment bag in a coat closet at the front of the plane as you board. If that’s not available, I hang our garment bag on the hooks behind the seats at the very back of first class — there’s one on each side of the aisle.

Purse

When travelling (and most days, really), I carry the Marc by Marc Jacobs Percy Turnlock cross-body bag. I bought this little purse back in 2009 for a multiple-week solo trip to New York City, and it’s probably one of my best accessory investments to date. The leather has aged beautifully, and it’s just the right size to hold my wallet, keys, lip balm, sunglasses and cell phone when we’re out exploring. It also hugs close to my body, which makes me feel secure in crowded places like bazaars and markets. I pack my purse flat and empty in my suitcase and take it out when we reach our destination.

These three bags form my essentials for 90% of trips. Austin travels with an identical suitcase, and a slightly larger backpack from L.L.Bean.

The Considerations

The clothing I pack, of course, depends on my destination. What I pack for a beach holiday looks different from fall in a colder climate. What I pack also depends on the weather, cultural customs at my destination and the events I’ll be participating in when I get there.

For this trip, I need to pack for six days in Paris, France and two in Reykjavik, Iceland. Fall/winter clothes in colder climates do take up a fair bit more space than say, tropical beach wear, but a minimalist suitcase is still completely possible.

Weather

The first thing I do before considering what to pack is to check the 14-day weather trend for my destination.

Paris in early-October hovers between 50-70 degrees F (10-20 degrees C). Sometimes it’s rainy. Luckily for us, it looks like we’ll have a pretty clear week. This is still quite the temperature range, which means layering pieces are key — think boots, tees, sweaters, jeans and a light jacket for cooler nights.

Reykjavik in mid-October hovers between 45-50 degrees F (7-10 degrees C). This is at the low end of the Paris forecast, but given we’ll only be there for a couple days, it can be mitigated through a good wind-breaking coat, scarf and mittens, using pieces from my Paris wardrobe. Since we’ll be doing some night walking (the Northern Lights are at their peak in October!) bundling up for warmth is important.

Activities & Formality Level

In Paris, we’ll primarily be strolling the arrondissements (formality: chic and comfortable) — this means easy layers and sturdy shoes. We have a couple Michelin-level dinners planned, which require semi-formal options for both Austin and me. For less formal dinners, I can draw from my casual wear, ensuring I pack a couple blouses and nice trousers.

In Reykjavik, we’ll primarily be out in the open, in a place known for its windshield — this means wind-breaking clothes and layers, boots, plus a hat and gloves to face the cold. We have one semi-formal dinner out, allowing us to re-purpose options from Paris. I’ll also pack a bathing suit for Iceland’s famous baths.

The Packing

Once I’ve figured out weather and activities, it’s time to pack!

Clothes & Shoes

Here’s what I’m packing for just over one week, accounting for a handful of days that will involve a wardrobe change based on our activities. The colour palette is neutral and complementary to ensure I can mix things up with ease, without having to pack actual outfits.

long-sleeve-tops

white embroidered button-down (similar) | gingham button-down | cream silk blouse (similar) | chambray shirt

I pack four long-sleeve button-downs for layering while looking put together. The gingham and chambray are casual and suited to daytime exploring, while the embroidered button-down and silk blouse can be dressed up for evenings out.

layering pieces

basic white tanksoft grey sweatshirtunstructured black blazer | Breton stripe long-sleeve tee (similar) | coated charcoal jacket | striped tee (similar) | forest green sweater (similar) | basic grey tankpiped tee

I pack a variety of layering tops to ensure I stay comfortable and warm: two slouchy tanks and tees, Breton stripes in two lengths, a soft sweatshirt and sweater to layer, an unstructured black blazer to throw over most pieces, and a wind-breaking and water resistant jacket for cooler weather.

pants dresses

dark grey skinny jeans | Breton striped dress (similar) | dark wash skinny jeans (similar) | silk patterned dress | slim black trousers (similar)

I pack three pairs of pants — slim fitting jeans in two washes (grey, dark denim) and one dressier pair of slacks. I choose pants with good “bounce back” properties (a small quantity of lycra or spandex in the blend) so I can wear them a few times without washing, while ensuring they don’t stretch out and look sloppy. I pack a day dress — easy stripes and soft fabric for comfort — and a nicer silk dress that I can wear to a fancier meal.

shoes

cognac booties (similar) | black leather D’Orsay flats | black leather flat booties (similar)

The shoes I pack are dictated by our rough itinerary. Three pairs is on the high end for me, but these shoes are interchangeable and suited to walking long distances. (I’m okay with a cute walking shoe, but never sneakers!) The flats are broken in and comfortable for warmer days when bare feet don’t bother. Both boots are extremely supportive and will keep my feet warm on cooler/rainy days.

I wear one pair of shoes (for this trip, the black leather D’orsay flats) and pack the other pairs in cotton shoe bags, to ensure my luggage stays clean. They get packed opposite my clothing in my suitcase, alongside my toiletry bag.

Jewelry

jewelry

silver anodized posts | gold moons necklace | gold bars necklace (similar) | tiger eye brass studs

I wear pretty minimal jewelry — usually just a pair of earrings or a more extravagant necklace. I’ll pack a couple of each to interchange and I use soft felt bags to keep everything safe.  I pack my jewelry in my backpack that I carry on the plane. Apart from my engagement ring and wedding band, I don’t travel with expensive pieces.

Other accessories — scarves, belts, hats, a small umbrella — get packed alongside my clothes (for soft items) or alongside my shoes (for sturdier items). I try not to pack too many of these, though, as they quickly suck up space in, and add weight to, my luggage. I pack my bathing suit and a thin Turkish towel in a gallon-size Ziploc bag so as not to get anything wet in my bag after use.

Unmentionables

In addition to the above, I pack an appropriate amount of panties, bras, tights and socks for the trip, plus a pair of flip flops for wearing around the apartment/hotel and pyjamas appropriate to the weather. I also pack a thin and lightweight robe to wear while I get ready for the day.

On the Plane

I try to balance style and comfort on a flight. A few tricks keep me comfortable and happy:

1) Slip on shoes and socks in my bag: I always travel in shoes I can slip on and off easily through security and on the plane. Even though Austin and I have NEXUS/Global Entry, which means we often don’t go through full security, I hate the hassle of removing my shoes. I pack soft ankle socks to keep my feet warm once I’m on board.

2) Glasses: I pack my contacts and wear glasses when I fly so I can easily slip them off for a nap.

3) Zero makeup: For long-haul flights, I wash off every trace of makeup and slather on a heavy moisturizer. I also pack a little “spa kit” with some thermal water, eye cream, moisturizer and face wipes. Early into the flight (usually right after beverage service), I throw on a movie and give myself a mini-facial. I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s garnered a strange look or two, but what have you! Flying takes a toll on the skin.

Aside: I keep a few herbal teabags — peppermint, chamomile, calendula — in my carry on to have as options for late-night flights.

4) Easy layers: My travel clothes are pretty standard: a tee or tank and the sweatshirt from my layering options above and sturdy leggings or soft pants with a relaxed waistband. I pack a scarf in case I get chilly, which can double as a little pillow. Depending on the weather at my departure city, I’ll either wear my jacket or pack it at the top of my suitcase pile for easy access at my destination.

Toiletries

Toiletries are one reason we ladies often check a bag, to save dealing with fluid restrictions on planes. I minimize the hassle of checking my bag with some simple tricks:

1) Decant: I decant my face washes and moisturizer into empty and clean contact lens cases. Over time, I’ve learned that one contact lens case (both sides) holds about a week of product.

2) Have my liquids pre-packed: I keep my TSA liquids bag stocked at all times with shampoo, conditioner, soap, contact lens solution, toothpaste, mouthwash and hairspray.

3) Have my non-liquids pre-packed: I keep a small toiletry bag stocked at all times with Q-tips, antiperspirant, nail clippers, a razor, cotton pads, bobby pins and hair ties.

4) Streamline my makeup: For travel makeup, I abide by the less is more rule. I pack my absolute favourites of each item (foundation, blush, eyeshadow, balm, mascara) and leave the rest at home. I have a dedicated travel bag for my favourite brushes (I pack a powder brush, blush brush, eyeshadow brush and eyebrow spooly) to keep them clean and separated.

What about packing…

Souvenirs?

We don’t buy them! I understand the temptation, but we usually are satisfied just bringing home our memories and photos. Occasionally, I’ll scoop up an article of clothing that I can’t purchase easily in North America, or a beautiful food product, but given global shipping these days, I’d rather not have to cart stuff home on my person.

Dirty clothes?

Dirty clothes… are dirty. They hold sweat, debris and skin cells we’ve shed, so they take up more room in a suitcase than clean clothes. I always account for this when I pack, leaving a bit of room in my clean suitcase. We pack two lightweight bags to stow our dirty clothes as we use them, kept separate from our clean ones.

A computer?

Nope! We’re on vacation. While I totally understand and support why someone might travel with a tablet or computer for business purposes, passive internet use doesn’t factor into our vacation time.

All that other stuff?!

Band-Aids, Tums, Imodium… the list could go on forever, and these items take up room in my limited luggage space. I remind myself that in most cases, I am visiting a country with easy access to incidentals at a local pharmacy or grocery. Plus, it’s fun to try new-to-me shampoo or moisturizer, should I run out while away.

To conclude…

Packing is something that gets simpler the more you do it. It’s worth your peace of mind and time to pack smartly and avoid consuming precious vacation time with repacking, shlepping luggage around and waiting for checked bags. In the next instalment of this series, I’ll revisit Minimalist Packing for a tropical destination: while the clothes are fewer and sunscreen reigns, many of the same foundational concepts apply.

(Lead image source)

somm

rusty shed vineyard

I have an obsessive personality.

When I was in university, it was not enough to get straight As. I had to be at the top of my class. When I stumbled upon a Mormon blogger many years ago, so fascinated by her unwavering faith through a horrific tragedy, I had to learn everything (me, an atheist) there was to know about Mormonism. Though my friends and colleagues all wear them, I couldn’t sport a Fitbit because it would impede my healthy living, both mental and physical — I know I’d become obsessive to the point of destruction about tracking and counting and exceeding my goals.

It’s a curious thing because I never have been, nor am I, a competitive person with others. But I am hyper-competitive with myself and obsessive in my pursuit of anything that grabs my attention for more than a moment.

Over time, I’ve come to appreciate this quality in my personality. Constantly striving, I figure, is preferable to approaching things in a half-done manner. I’ve learned that by reining in my obsessions and focusing them, it’s a pretty useful trait to have. When I care about something — people, goals, assignments, hobbies — I am all in.

It’s no surprise, then, the reaction I had about a year ago when I watched the documentary, Somm, about four oenology students studying to become Master Sommeliers, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world. At a particularly incredible moment in the film, one of the potential Masters blindly rhymes off, with seeming ease, the country of origin, region, appellation, vintage, varietal and producer of a wine — with just a sip and smell guiding him.

I turned to Austin and said: “I could do that.” I then grabbed my computer and googled “Canada female master sommelier”. As it goes, I’d be the second Canadian woman to earn this title, of 25 women total, in a hypothetical world when I embarked on a pursuit so crazy.

Since then, I’ve had a nagging desire. The obsessive part of me kept whispering: sommelier, sommelier, sommelier. I love wine. I love learning about wine. I grew up in a family that allowed simple table wine with Sunday dinner and parents who encouraged our responsible exploration of alcohol. My ongoing pursuit of fine dining has led me to many elaborate paired tasting menus, featuring wines way (way) outside of my budget. Austin and I always have a good time in LCBO tutored tastings, gaining both foundational knowledge and an appreciation of niche areas of oenology. And we spend half a dozen weekends each year in Ontario’s wine country, stocking up on our favourite wines (I am a steadfast Ontario wine booster — but that’s a conversation for another post). All this was no longer enough.

They say the more you know about something the more you realize how shockingly little you know about it. Compared to the average person assessing a wine list in a restaurant, I know a lot. I can speak intelligibly to a waiter so he understands my preferences. I can walk up to a tasting bar at a vineyard and hold my own in a conversation. I can stand in a wine store before racks of bottles and make an informed purchase. Compared to what’s out there to know about wine, though, I still have near-infinite knowledge to amass.

So last night, I went back to school. I donned my little backpack and packed my notebook and pens and walked to campus. I stepped into the sommelier lab for my first class in a very long process: the (I’m told) gruelling, fascinating, soul-crushing, wonderful road toward becoming a certified sommelier, and maybe, one day, years from now, if I’m obsessive enough, a Master.

I’m terrified, I’m excited, and I’m brimming with that feeling I get only when I happen upon something that spikes my obsessiveness, makes me insatiable to know more, and propels me to be the very best. I love the possibility of how very little I know and how much I’m about to learn.

(Photo, my own: the beautiful rusty shed vineyard at Flat Rock Cellars)

cider

Yes, I was the woman on the phone with my neighbourhood Food Basics yesterday at 8 AM, asking the produce guy if they were yet stocking apple cider for the season. I must have been really excited, or the produce guy was really friendly, because he chortled, lo, he was just putting out his first shipment, and could he save me a jug, my dear?

Austin, seeing my tousled-hair and pyjama-ed state, once again wins husband-of-the-year for putting on pants and walking to the grocer to retrieve said cider.

I’m an apple cider junkie. Pumpkin Spice may rule our collective autumn, but not mine. I like my cider cold, hot, spiked, in doughnuts, with a cinnamon stick, as braising liquid, turned into sorbet or vinegar, in candle form…

When I was little, without fail, we kicked off every fall with a trip to the apple orchard. It’s a tradition that continues today in my family. We’d pluck more apples from the trees than we could possibly eat — fat Mutsus for mom, symmetrical Red Delicious for dad (never refrigerated!) and sweet-tart McIntosh for us girls, shining the apples on our jeans and tasting for quality control right in the orchard. The sticky juice dribbled over our chins and onto our hands. Mom doled out baby wipes to keep things under control.

Heck, we were married in October for (amongst other reasons) the apple cider. My dear stepdad Mike can attest to this, having carefully transported 12 four-litre jugs of the liquid gold from my best Essex County apple orchard to our wedding venue the day before we married. “Are you sure people are gonna drink all this?” he asked. (The answer, it goes, was no. It seems our per-person cider consumption calculations were slightly off, and skewed towards our own.)

I have a thousand favourite memories from that weekend. One is the morning after our wedding, filling a rental truck with said leftover cider jugs and flower arrangements, and driving through Windsor, new husband and wife, and dropping them off to everyone we knew. Thanksgiving Fairies, we called ourselves. “Decorate your table and keep the vase!” we’d scrawl on notes. “Have some cider with your pumpkin pie!” We’d drop the flowers and jugs on stoops and sprint: our post-wedding nicky nicky nine doors experiment.

By October’s end, I’ll be cidered out for another year. I’ll forget about my fondness, as the season gives way to winter’s eggnog and spring’s snap peas and summer’s tomatoes, and other harbingers of the seasons. Until then, our fridge has a steady supply and the market is not too far, should our stores run low.

(Photo: me at Thiessen Orchards, the day before our wedding)