Category Archives: Shopping

Pumpkin Spice Madness!

Is it just me, or has the United States gone nuts with pumpkin spice EVERYTHING?  In Juarez, I did most of my grocery shopping in El Paso and in Ottawa I did most of my grocery shopping there, but did go down to shop in upstate New York from time to time.  And, even though I did most of my Ottawa grocery shopping in Ottawa, Canadian grocery stores aren’t that different than U.S. grocery stores.  So, I haven’t really felt disconnected from the American shopping experience.

However, one of the things that really stands out to me now that I’m back in DC and doing all of my grocery shopping here is the proliferation of pumpkin spice everything.  I’m familiar with and enjoy Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice drinks and have seen other pumpkin spice foods, but this year it seems like I can’t walk two feet in the grocery store without encountering something else pumpkin spice.  Thus far, I’ve seen pumpkin spice flavored cookies, M&Ms, PopTarts, coffee, coffee creamer, tea, yogurt, ice cream, peanut butter, and goodness knows what all else.  It’s everywhere!

So, is it just me or have the grocery stores gone especially pumpkin spice crazy this year?

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Filed under Autumn, FSI, Observation of the Day, Shopping, Washington DC


Good Friday and Easter Monday are federal holidays in Canada, so I had a four day weekend and decided to go crazy and head to Toronto to do some sightseeing.  I’ve been a couple of times for work, but those were really short trips with limited time to do any sightseeing.  It’s finally really started to act like spring and it was a beautiful weekend.  I had a great time wandering around. 🙂

I went to the CN Tower, which is a giant radio/TV tower that you can tour, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Steam Whistle Brewery, Kensington Market, Chinatown, and some general wandering around and shopping.  I’d intended to meet a friend at the new aquarium near the CN Tower, but when we went, the line was awful and it was packed so we made a change of plans and checked out the Steam Whistle Brewery instead.  I think we made the right choice. 🙂

So, without further ado, here are some pictures from my wanderings.

Toronto's CN Tower

Toronto’s CN Tower

CBC's English Language Programming Headquarters

CBC’s English Language Programming Headquarters

Friendly Mountie Moose at the CN Tower

Friendly Mountie Moose at the CN Tower

Lake Ontario from the CN Tower

Lake Ontario from the CN Tower

Downtown Toronto from the CN Tower

Downtown Toronto from the CN Tower

Hudson's Bay Company

Hudson’s Bay Company

Hudson's Bay Company is known for their point blankets with blue, yellow, red, and green stripes.

Hudson’s Bay Company is known for their point blankets with blue, yellow, red, and green stripes.

Ontario Provincial Parliament

Ontario Provincial Parliament

Totem Pole at the Royal Ontario Museum

Totem Pole at the Royal Ontario Museum

Dinosaur at the Royal Ontario Museum

Dinosaur at the Royal Ontario Museum

Steamwhistle Brewery

Steamwhistle Brewery

Street signs in Toronto's Chinatown

Street signs in Toronto’s Chinatown

Canada and China meet in the Lucky Moose Food Mart in Toronto's Chinatown

Canada and China meet in the Lucky Moose Food Mart in Toronto’s Chinatown

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Filed under Canada, Ottawa, Pictures, Shopping, Spring, Toronto, Travel, Vacation

Ice Ice Baby

Lately, the weather has been hovering around freezing which has resulted in temperatures a little bit above freezing during the day and below freezing overnight.  The resulting melting and re-freezing has turned some sidewalks in to virtual ice skating rinks and, though I’d deftly avoided a few close calls over the last week or so, it was only a matter of time until I fell victim to their iciness.

This afternoon, I decided to walk to the grocery store to get a few things and as I was walking, one second I was upright, the next second I was on my hands and knees halfway in a slush puddle, my purse also halfway in the slush puddle.  I’m sure I looked thoroughly ridiculous.  I certainly felt thoroughly ridiculous.  I’m still not sure exactly what happened or how I fell, but both of my upper shins and one of my elbows are sore to the touch so we’ll see whether I get any pretty, colorful bruises.

Is it summer yet?

And yes, for those of you wondering, I did make it all the way to the grocery store and back.  Next time, I’m sending the diplocat for groceries.  Cats always land on their feet, right? 😉

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Filed under Canada, Diplocat, Ottawa, Shopping, Snow, Texpat, Winter

Sweet, sweet nectar of the Texpats

From time to time, I make the drive down to go shopping in New York.  Groceries are usually cheaper in New York and there are a few things that I haven’t been able to find here in Canada, though admittedly many U.S. grocery products are available here.

However, I had not been able to find Shiner beer in Watertown or Ogdensburg, NY, the two towns where I tend to shop.  After checking several places in both towns not too long after I got here and not having any luck, I did some research and discovered that Shiner didn’t have a distributor in New York.  Alas!  Then, I saw news that Shiner was coming to New York and got all excited.  However, disappointment struck again when I learned that their distributor only operated in New York City and surrounding areas.  So, imagine my surprise when I wandered in to a grocery store just across the border and saw this glorious sight:



It was amazing.  I am not a huge beer drinker, but Shiner is just one of those things that reminds me of home and is nice to have available when I get a craving every now and then.  It’s nice to know that I don’t have to stock up when I drive further south in to Shiner-land or to hoard it and ration it when I bring it back since it’s now easily accessible.

Happy Shiner Day to me!

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Filed under Canada, Home, Homesick, New York, Ogdensburg, Ottawa, Shiner, Shopping, Texas, Texpat

Mont Tremblant

Last weekend, I went to Mont Tremblant and met up with a friend who’s now posted in Montreal.  It was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, so the resort area was really packed, but we had some fun wandering around a couple of the lakes in the area, shopping, etc.

Fall is in full swing in this part of Canada and the foliage was just beautiful.  The drive up there from Ottawa was mostly two lane roads through cute little towns, and despite my GPS not being able to find the road I was driving on (and it was not a new road!), the drive up there and back was very enjoyable.  I wish I could have taken some pictures while I was driving, but that would have been a bad idea, especially given my recent luck with raccoons. 😉 (I got my car fixed by the way, but that’s another whole story).

The most exciting thing of the weekend had to be finding a Mexican restaurant that actually tasted like Mexican food from Mexico.  I’ve been to a few Mexican restaurants in Ottawa and they’re not bad, but just don’t taste at all like the food I was used to in Mexico or the Tex-Mex food that I know from home.  This place, however, was amazing and tasted like the real thing I remember from my time in Ciudad Juarez.

I didn’t take a picture of the delicious Mexican food, but without further ado, here are a few pics from the weekend.













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Filed under Canada, Mont Tremblant, Ottawa, Pictures, Quebec, Shopping, Travel, Vacation

Home Leave Adventures

Home leave has been really great!  I’ve spent a lot of time catching up with friends and family in the Austin area, Houston, and Los Angeles.

I went to Houston for a long weekend and got to see several friends from when I did a co-op there.  They’ve been really great friends and it was great to catch up, see how they’re doing, and hang out.  I even got to see some of when NASA was unloading the mock space shuttle they’re getting from the barge it was on.  Super cool!  Of course, the Shuttlebration made for some crazy traffic, but it was so worth it to catch up with my friends there. 😀

A couple of weeks later, I went to California to visit a couple of friends from high school.  It was also really great to catch up with them since I hadn’t seen either of them in about a year and a half.  While my friend was at work, I went to the California Science Center and the LA Museum of Natural History.  They were both super interesting and continuing with the shuttle theme, the California Science Center will eventually be the home of one of the retired space shuttles.  During the weekend, we also went to the Getty Center and spent hours wandering around taking in all of the amazing artwork they have there. I also did crazy things like reading in a park since the weather was so nice and it was a nice area.  It was so nice to walk around a real city and be able to enjoy simple things like just being outside without being afraid.

I’ve also done a ton of shopping on home leave.  I’ve bought a new car, new gadgets, and I’ve bought a bunch of clothes because I was tired of some of what I had and because one of the side effects of not leaving my house much other than to go to and from work was gaining weight, so a lot of stuff doesn’t fit or doesn’t fit well.  That’s an issue that I plan to work on in Ottawa, but in the mean time, I need clothes that fit.  So, I’ve been doing my part to support the American economy while on home leave. 🙂

That’s most of what I’ve been up to lately.  I have some more things planned while I’m on home leave, so I’m sure I’ll post another update about the rest of home leave soon.

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Filed under Austin, California, Home Leave, Houston, Los Angeles, NASA, Shopping, Texas, Travel, Vacation

Car buying in the Foreign Service

So, one of the things I decided to do over home leave is to buy a different car.  My current car is ok and still in pretty good shape, but it’s getting up there in years and I wanted a car that had more space for hauling things and people and that had some features that would help in the winter weather in Ottawa.

However, like so many things, buying a car in the Foreign Service is a bit more complicated.  First, I have no idea where I’m going after Canada and what kind of car would be appropriate there.  The roads might be narrow or they might barely exist.  They might drive on the same side of the road as we do in the USA or they might drive on the other side.  It might be easy to get a certain model serviced or it might not.  Gas might be a few cents a gallon in Venezuela, but $10/gallon in Europe.  So, since conditions vary so widely that makes it difficult to know what kind of car will work where.  That large 4WD SUV might be great in an African post where roads are not great but be a huge pain in a large Asian city where roads are not super wide and they drive on the other side of the road. That snazzy German sports car might be great in Europe but be a carjacking waiting to happen at some posts or be swallowed by the potholes in other posts.

As if the varying conditions weren’t tricky enough, many countries add import restrictions in to the mix.  A country might not allow cars over a certain age, like 5 years or even older than the current model year.  They may not allow you to bring a car that’s built for the other side of the road.  They might restrict the color of the car if it’s similar to emergency vehicles.  I’ve even heard of restrictions on window tinting.

Then, while not necessarily a requirement, you have to ask yourself if you want to stand out with a car that’s clearly “not from around here” and is not available on the local market.  From a safety perspective, it’s generally better not to draw too much attention to yourself, so getting something that’s available locally in the country where you’re going can be helpful.  It’s also easier to get your car serviced or repaired if it’s available locally.  If they have to order a new bumper from the USA, it’s going to take a lot longer and probably be a lot more expensive.

So, the process is a little complicated and there’s a lot to consider.  At the end of the day, there’s no guarantee that I could take any car I buy now to my next overseas post after Ottawa, but I wanted to get a car that would give me the option of taking it if the host country doesn’t prohibit it for some reason like driving on the other side of the road.  So, I started out looking for a small SUV that is available in a lot of countries thinking that it could serve me well in Canada and also be appropriate for not so great roads if I go to a post without good roads after Canada but also not be too big for narrow roads in some other posts.

However, on a bit of a whim, I test drove a hatchback car and decided that folding down the seats would give me the space that I need when I buy or transport something large and the car-like driving and better gas mileage really appealed to me especially since gas is about $4.50/gallon in Ottawa.  So, I settled on a hatchback that’s available in lots of countries, gets really good safety and reliability ratings, and that has some good winter weather features like heated seats and defrosting mirrors! 🙂

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Filed under Austin, Canada, FS Life, Home Leave, Ottawa, Shopping, Texas

Home SWEET Home

I just got back from spending an absolutely wonderful, fabulous, <insert other superlatives here> week at home in Texas.  I caught up on sleep, spent time with my parents, went to Austin, spoke about the Foreign Service with new students at my alma mater, shopped, visited some excellent friends in Houston, shopped some more, went to a minor league baseball game, ate good food, shopped a little bit more, and just generally enjoyed being in a much less stressful environment.  A lot of the time, I don’t realize just how much the work and the security environment here stresses me out until I get away for a few days and can just feel the stress melt away.  So, it was great to be home.

It was also extra-special awesome to get to go to Houston and catch up with a few friends that I made when I worked as a co-op (kind of like an intern) in Houston while I was in grad school.  These friends really made my semester there great and if the Foreign Service hadn’t worked out for me, I probably would have tried to go back there full time after finishing grad school, mainly because the people there were so nice and fun to work with and hang out with.  So, it was really awesome that they made time for me and we could hang out and catch up a bit while I was home.

Anyhoo, for the sake of my bank account, it’s probably best that I’m home now and away from the excellent Austin-area outlet malls, but it was really, really great to be home.

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Filed under Austin, Ciudad Juarez, Houston, Mexico, NASA, Shopping, Texas, Travel, Vacation