Category Archives: Reviews

These posts give you the low-down on products and services that help you with your goals

“Fries, eh?” – Trying poutine (Canadian fries)

Poutine, photo credit Guilhem Vellut via Flickr, used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 Attribution license

Photo credit: Guilhem Vellut via Flickr, used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 license

I love French fries, so I’m pretty excited about trying poutine, which people tell me is fries with gravy and cheese. Sort of like the concept of nachos, but with fries, and from Canada. That’s what I hear anyway.

We’re at a bar at a ski resort in Idaho (but not to ski, story for another time). The Winter Olympics (hosted in Canada) are playing on the TV, and we sit with it in view. The server comes by and tells us they’re having some specials in honor of the Olympics, and hands us a piece of paper with several items, including poutine.

Okay, the description doesn’t sound that great (because I prefer ketchup or Ranch on my fries, not gravy and cheese), but it’s unique and something that I haven’t tried yet. So… one order of poutine for the table, please!

When it arrives, I pull out one of the fries hanging over the edge, and it comes out with a bit of gravy and some melted cheese. That looks promising, I think, because it reminds me of other melty-cheese foods I like.

But, when I taste it, I’m not sure if I like it.

I’m not sure why it’s weirding me out so much. Mashed potatoes have gravy, and baked potatoes have cheese. I love both. But this is different somehow. Maybe the fried taste with the gravy?

The second fry has more gravy and I like it much less. This poutine adventure isn’t as great as I’d thought it would be. That’s sort of disappointing.

But with the three of us, we eat most of them, until the rest are a soggy mess at the bottom, wallowing in the gravy (actually, those aren’t that bad, they’re more like mashed potatoes, but by now I’m pretty full, and this is a very salty food).

Still, the most memorable thing about poutine is yet to come:

When we get the bill, the poutine is listed as, “Fries, eh?” 

Makes me smile every time I think of it! 🙂

So, while I’m grateful for the opportunity to try a new (to me) food, it’s probably the top way to ruin good French fries. But maybe it’s because I didn’t eat them in Canada. Either way, I’d be open to trying again, at least once. At least the receipt made it worth this first experience!

Have you eaten poutine? Do you like it? 

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Resource: Get more done with Focusmate

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The light next to my laptop camera reminds me that for the next 75 minutes, I’m focusing on my one priority task: writing this post. I can hear the sound of a keyboard coming from my headphones so I know that U., my match for this Focusmate session, is also working diligently on her task.

From time to time, one of us will type another task in the chat box, signaling our progress (completed the first task, on to the next) and giving ourselves some accountability.

At the end of the session, we quickly check in with each other: How’d it go for you? Some sessions are better than others, but all are better than zero accountability and no focus.

Trying to make progress on your projects can be difficult with the scream of social media and that constant to-do list. No matter how much you want to do something, sometimes it’s just hard to stay on track.

What if you could have a virtual coworker, sitting across the desk from you, while you each work on your own projects? They’d be a reminder that you’re supposed to be working on your one priority for that session, while they’d be working on their own task.

Focusmate.com is an online coworking community for just that. I joined at the beginning of the week and it’s really helped me do more than I would’ve without it. That means I’ll have fewer things I have to get done during the holidays, so I have more time to spend with family and on whatever I want.

You can either create your own listing for your available dates/times (always listed on the board in Eastern time, but able to be created in any time zone), or book one that someone else created.

You get email confirmation and it gets added to your calendar. At the designated time, you hop on a video call with the other person via the link given in the email calendar reminder. The session starts with briefly telling each other what the project or task is that you’ll be working on, and then typing it in the chat box. Then you leave the camera and mic on (unless it’s noisy in your background) and just work.

Sounds creepy. I get it, why would you want to have someone watch while you work?

It’s not like that. They’re working too. If you’re both doing it right, the only thing you’re doing is working. And typing in the chat box to tell your partner what one task you’re working on. And then your next task. Because you’ll get more done when working like this. Trust me, I’ve tried it.

Sound good, but aren’t sure if it will work for you? What if this isn’t enough accountability? I wondered about that too. Despite agreeing to follow the code of conduct, which includes, among other things, “Consciously set aside distractions (e.g. close Facebook, put your phone away),” there’s nothing actually preventing you from going on social media.

Here are some ideas of what you can do to give yourself additional accountability and motivation to focus:

  • Combine it with a program or app like Cold Turkey for PC or Self Control for Mac, which you can program to not allow you to access whatever sites you don’t want to access for a certain time.
  • Remember that the other person is expecting you to be working, and at the end of the session you’ll probably do a check in, and it would really be embarrassing if you didn’t have any progress to report.
  • Think of it as a competition. Try to get more tasks done than the other person.

Focusmate could work for almost anything on your to-do list (more than work/employment-based tasks). In addition to expected tasks, people have used it for getting ready/packing for trips, planning, finishing frustrating things like paying bills or making customer service calls (if there’s noise in the background or you’re on a call, let the other person know in the chat box that you’re going to mute your computer microphone so you don’t distract them).

Here are some things I can think of to use it for:

  • Planning bucket list adventures
  • Planning trips/Researching things to do or see
  • Finding the cheapest plane tickets
  • Paying bills/taxes or getting caught up on emails
  • Writing those thank you notes or postcards that you keep meaning to send
  • Writing blog posts
  • Making a scrapbook or photo album of those pictures from that one trip
  • Packing for an upcoming trip
  • Getting more done at work so you can go home early and do the things you want to do
  • Studying a language (mute your mic to practice, this isn’t a language exchange)
  • Doing homework for that really cool online class that you signed up for but rarely make time to participate in
  • Creating a budget to save money for your adventures…

The list is never ending!

Give Focusmate.com a try and find out if you like it. Right now it’s free to join. Maybe we’ll end up having a chance to be coworkers!

Review: Hotel Hotel Hostel in Seattle

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Hostels are interesting places. They can be kind of hit and miss because a good hostel experience is made of a certain combination of the location, structure and decoration of the space, common areas, activities offered, amenities, and the random mix of whoever happens to be there at the time.

Hotel Hotel Hostel is a smaller international travelers’ hostel in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, and it seems like it falls on the positive end of the range of possibilities.

Because I’m a local (Washington residents aren’t allowed to stay because like all travelers’ hostels, they focus on providing space for visitors), I can’t get first-hand experience of what it’s like to stay here, but I was able to tour the place and I feel comfortable recommending it based on that experience (because if I was from out of town, I’d definitely consider staying here!).

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