Thursday, December 31, 2009

Whirlwind Christmas

As I'm sure you are all aware, John and I couldn't get any vacation time for Christmas this year, so we crammed as much as we could into the four short days that we had!

We packed all of our stuff on the night of the 23rd. I worked on the 24th until 2 o'clock and as you would expect, it was very quiet as most people are not thinking about their insurance on Christmas Eve.

My friend Sherry, whom I met at work, is a holistic healer and she worked really hard to get me ready for my flight. I hadn't been on a plane in four years so I was very nervous! We did chakra exercises, pressure point massage and homeopathic medicine to help calm me down.

When I got home on Christmas Eve, it was pretty much time to go. First was the subway, down to Union Station. Next was the shuttle bus to take us to the ferry. The ferry took us out to the Toronto Island airport where we caught the plane.

We decided to fly Porter Air because their airport is so much closer to our home. The airport is small and cozy with lots of free snacks and drinks. We were on the plane before long but we had to wait over an hour on the tarmac. They had to keep de-icing the plane because the line for the runway was so long that they kept freezing. Each cycle took about half an hour. At one point I fell asleep. When I woke up about 45 minutes later, I thought we must be halfway to Halifax by now but in fact, we were still on the ground.

Eventually we made it up into the air. The flight was smooth and they served us little boxed lunches that were just adorable. When we made it to Halifax, Erin and Allan were there waiting to take us to Mom's.

When we got to Mom's everyone was happy to see us because it was the first time we'd been home since we left in July. Nannie and Grampie were there as well, I was so glad they came to Halifax to be with us at Christmas.

It was pretty late by the time we got there so we just wrapped a few presents, ate some ham and cheese sandwiches and then we were off to bed.

In the morning we got up around 8:30am. Erin and Allan showed up at 9:00am and we dug into the presents! Everyone got lots of nice things - Nannie's stocking was obscene it was so big! I hand made a lot of the gifts I gave this year and I think everyone liked them.

Once the dust had settled a bit, Grampie made breakfast while the rest of us got dressed and John helped Mom get the turkey in the oven. Christmas breakfast is my favorite breakfast of the year. Nobody fries an egg like Grampie. I don't know what he does but they are consistently the most amazing fried eggs I have ever eaten.

From there we made the trek out to Lake Echo to visit Dad's family. That was when I first noticed that it was a green Christmas. Apparently Halifax had snow earlier that week but there was very little on the ground for Christmas day.

At Dad's house we opened more presents and drank apple cider. Dad gave us the tour of the renovations he did to the basement. He put in room dividers that have built in bookshelves which I thought was pretty clever! I also got to see Erin's motorcycle, hiding in the garage. We drove back in to town with Dad to pick up Robbie at his dad's house. There was a bit of a Christmas mix-up as we had gotten him the same gift that his dad did. Luckily, video games are easy to exchange.

It wasn't long before we had to leave to return to Mom's house for dinner. When we walked in we could already smell the turkey! Heavenly. Mom's friend Steven had arrived while we were gone, so we did a round of introductions. We all took rounds in the kitchen helping out with the cooking, retreating to the living room to play with our new stuff when the kitchen got too crowded.

Dinner turned out wonderful. John did a great job with the turkey, Steven whipped the potatoes, Mom makes a mean gravy and I thoroughly botched the cheese sauce. John said he enjoyed the 'flavour lumps' in it.

After that we were so full that my memory of the rest of the evening is a hazy sort of fog. I call that a successful Christmas!

Saturday was Boxing Day so nothing was open. So what is there to on a freezing cold December day in Halifax? Well, in John's opinion it was a great day to hop into the Atlantic ocean!

There had been a bit of a mix-up when Allan rented scuba diving gear for John so it would be ready when he got there, so instead of a nice warm dry suit, John ended up with a wetsuit. I think most people would have been detered by this, but not John! No, instead he practiced all day Christmas by not wearing a coat so that he would be ready to really freeze on Boxing Day. He tells me he was in the ocean for over half an hour and when he got out, he couldn't feel anything below his knees and he was shaking so hard that it was difficult to get out of his suit. He's crazy, but I love him.

Meanwhile at Mom's house, we had a lazy morning. Nannie and Grampie headed back to Moncton. Erin came over around noon and we had the Boxing Day shopping itch, but nothing was open! So we decided to hit up Shoppers Drug Mart for discount chocolates and wrapping paper. It was my first time walking around the city since I'd been home so I was happy to get out of the condo.

We had so much fun! It was one my favorite moments from the trip. Mom got an amazing deal on an Elizabeth Arden gift set of her favorite perfume and scented lotions and soaps. Plus they had a huge Elizabeth Arden makeup set available for purchase on purchase. It got a little crazy after that but I walked out with a La Roche Posay gift set that included a full size bottle of my regular moisturizer, an Elizabeth Arden lip gloss, a box of Quality Street, a shiny pink wallet and some blue Christmas gift tags.

We stopped for Tim's on the way home and when we got back John was still out (he had gone to visit his grandmother after diving) so we all settled around the table and played with Mom's new makeup. The kit had two blushes, at least a dozen eyeshadows, two eyeliners, two lip liners, a mascara, three lipsticks, lipglosses, makeup brushes and I can't remember what else. We tried out all of it.

Erin and I put together the Christmas puzzle like we do every year. This year we finished it in 51 minutes, three minutes slower than last year.

When the boys got home, the four of us headed out to Chabaa Thai for the best mussaman curry in the city. I had forgotten how delicious it is, absolutely to die for and the pad Thai was just as good! I have yet to find Thai food that good in Toronto (although I expect that I just don't know where to look).

On Sunday the 27th, Erin was over at the crack of dawn. I stumbled out to the car in my half-asleep stupor and we made our annual pilgrimage to the Lush Boxing Day Sale at the MicMac Mall. When we got there I couldn't believe I almost hadn't wanted to bother this year. I love that sale! All of the holiday stuff and the soap was buy 1, get 2 free. I got two bottles of Snow Fairy, my favorite shower gel, 3 containers of shower jellies (champagne snow showers and strawberry santa), three emotibombs and three sugar scrubs. Using the gift card from I got from CJ and Robbie, I was out of pocket about $12. Awesome! Erin went for completely different stuff and instead got huge chunks of soap, bath bombs and bubble bars.

We wandered around the mall for a bit after that. Erin picked up a blouse at Eclipse, but nothing else really caught our attention so we left and headed to Dartmouth Crossing. The first stop was Michaels for discount yarn. We don't have a Michaels in Toronto so I was really excited to go. I got enough yarn to make a handbag, 6 dishcloths, a pair of gloves and two pairs of socks for John. I know, I'm such a nerd. Should keep me busy for most of the winter though!

We puttered around the electronics stores after that, Futureshop and Bestbuy, but all of the good stuff was gone (I think they had been open since 6am). We headed home after that, pleased with our discount hauls. The crowds started picking up when we left, I think we were home before 1pm.

For dinner, the four of us headed to Sushi Nami, another restaurant that John and I had wanted to visit while we were home. Honestly, the food was disappointing. The honey avocado salad and the grilled eggplant were lacking the sweetness I was looking forward to, the yam tempura was missing its crunch and John said his mackeral wasn't cut properly. We are choosing to give them the benefit of the doubt though, that maybe their regular chef was off for the holidays. I hope so, anyway. We will go back and give them another chance next time we are down.

Next we headed to our friend Cliff's apartment for a game of Rock Band before our brewery tour. Cliff used to be our across-the-hall neighbour and I have to say it felt very strange to walk into our old building and even back to our old floor knowing that we don't live there anymore.

We weren't there for long before it was time to walk up to the brewery. We were a few minutes late so there were already lots of people there by the time we got there. We had a great turnout, probably around 25 people or more. Luckily I brought a lot of snacks! Probably about 50 or 60 cookies, and Alisha brought a huge tub of homemade amaretto almond popcorn. There was enough time that I got to talk to almost everyone there for at least a few minutes. Not enough time to really get caught up with everyone though, we need a longer visit for that.

Afterwards we went back to Cliff and Justin's place for more Rock Band. I sang until I was hoarse. We stayed pretty late after that (I think I fell asleep while John stayed up talking with the guys) and then cabbed it home. I had a great night.

We slept in the next morning, then woke up at started packing. It was time to leave! Erin and Allan came over and picked us up and we headed for the airport, stopping for one last Haligonian treat along the way: donair sub for John and garlic fingers for me from Basha's. We ate them at the airport after we checked our luggage. They were so good!

We were expecting long lines because of the security threats over Christmas that everyone was talking about but there were really no lines at all. Everything ran smooth, the plane was on time and we were back in Toronto before we knew it!

We took all the modes of transportation in reverse this time: car, plane, boat, bus, train, finally arriving at our apartment. We only stopped for a couple of minutes before heading back out again. I wanted to go to the Futureshop here to look for a deal on external hard drives that had been sold out in Halifax (it was sold out here too but I was able to order it online, so it all worked out) and then we crossed the street to get some tacos for supper.

It was cold as we walked there but when we actually started to eat, it turned into a full fledged blizzard! We put our hoods up and our heads down headed out ducking into the nearest subway entrance as soon as we could. We took the underground tunnels back from there. The convenience of it made me happy to be back in Toronto.

When we got home this time we settled in for real. We made hot drinks, curled up on the couch and opened our presents from each other. It was really nice.

The next day, it was back to work! We were only open until 5pm though so I was back home early. John's brother Allan and his friend Amanda arrived shortly after. John made supper, after which we exchanged gifts as well as opening a few gifts from Santa that had mysteriously appeared under the tree. Santa had left us some pretty cool toys; remote controlled cars that drive on the wall and a Zhuzhu pet.

The next morning I felt awful. I had been getting sick for about two days at this point and I was just a wreck that morning. I kept waking up in the night because I couldn't breathe, I was so stuffed up, and I felt like there was a battle waging war inside me causing me to alternate between a fever and chills.

I was determined to go to work though because earlier I had asked for these days as vacation and I know how bad it looks to ask for vacation, have it refused and then call in sick those same days. Somehow I managed to pull it together but I only made it through half a day before giving in and going home sick. I spent the afternoon curled up in bed with a box of Kleenex and a bag of Halls Centres (they are so wonderful) and tried to sleep. In the evening, Allan cooked us dinner so I ventured out to the couch and stayed there until it was time to go to bed.

Today is New Years Eve and I'm feeling a little better although I'm still not back to my full self. I'm not sure what we're up to tonight but we have enough liquor to supply an army, so I'm sure we'll think of something. We've been invited to a party but I'm not sure I feel well enough to venture out. We'll see. I'll save it for the next post.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter Extravaganza!!

Yesterday morning I was fast asleep, when when I was awakened by the sound of "Jacki, Jacki! Today is the Winter Extravaganza!! Wake up!"

I opened my eyes to see John peering down at me. "Huh?" I said in my groggy state.

"Extravaganza! We're having an extravaganza today!"

So I rolled out of bed to find out what he was talking about.

One of the things I love about John is that he is a planner. I can just lay back and relax and he'll make sure we have lots of fun things to do. On this particular Saturday as it turns out, he had thought of so many fun things to do that he decided it was worthy of a dramatic title and that is how the Winter Extravaganza came to be.

Originally the plan was to go skating, see Avatar in Imax 3D, go for Korean barbecue and then watch the fireworks/laser show downtown. Definitely a full day! But I had fruit cakes to make! So we decided to cut out the movie and leave the house a little bit later.

I got to work making the pineapple Christmas cake. It only takes a few minutes to throw together but it takes almost two hours to bake, so we had time for a leisurely breakfast of egg sandwiches and an episode of One Tree Hill before it was time to go.

Since we were going downtown anyway, I really wanted to see what the crowds at the Eaton Centre look like on the last shopping weekend before Christmas, so we got off at Dundas station on our way to the rink (the mall is so big it hits two subway stations!), check out the crowd:

I love it! And there's something Zen-like in the feeling you get watching other people scurrying around to get their last minute shopping done, when you've already finished all of your shopping weeks ago. The Christmas tree you see there is for Ferrero Rocher, and the small tree in front of it was made entirely out of the little chocolates.

Then, just for you Aunt Debbie, I made sure we got some shots of the Swarovski tree! Here it is from far away so you can see how big it is.
Mom, you'll be happy to know that it spins. I'm afraid we weren't able to capture the sparkle of it but here is a picture to show you how densly packed the crystal ornaments are on this massive tree.

and here is a close up of the ornaments. They were all snowflakes (my favorite!) or long crystal drops. All in all there must have been thousands of crystal ornaments on the tree!
From the mall, we headed down to City Hall where there is a free skating rink! Anyone can go and it doesn't cost anything, but if you need a skate rental like we did, it's $9 each. We waited in a long, chilly line for our skates and then found a spot to sit down and put them on. Here they are, getting the rink ready for us:And here it is full of people:
Once we got our skates on and got onto the ice, I was amused to find out that for once I was better at something than John! At first he wobbled around on his skates but after a few trips around the rink he was picking up speed and looking more stable! I don't think I've been skating since high school so I was pretty happy to find out that I still remember how to do it. It was a lot of fun and it was a great way to warm up!

From there we headed to the Korean grill on Queen Street W. It was absolutely packed, so we took that as a good sign!

It's an all you can eat place with a grill in the center of each table. For about $16 per person, you get all you can eat chicken, pork, ribs, chinese sausage (yum!), beef, white fish fillet, salmon, squid, ox tongue (!!!), another organ meat that I can't remember and veggies including cucumber, lettuce, green pepper, onion and pineapple. Plus you get an assortment of appetizers (sesame bean sprouts, daikon radish pickles, some kind of bean salad, spicy fried tofu and kimchi), soup, rice and tea. And you fry it all at the table! Check out the spread:
I have always wanted to try Korean barbecue, and I was not disappointed! I had lots of fun cooking my food at the table. My favorites were the beef and the barbecue sausage. I wasn't brave enough to try the organs, and my attempt at cooking the fish was pretty terrible (I over cooked it so it all fell apart and into the grill, lol) but I did manage to grill up some yummy pineapple and onion slices. John was much better than me at it, I think because he is the one that does all of the barbecuing.

You could tell that the restaurant pays attention to details. The portion sizes were almost the perfect amount that we almost finished everything and didn't have to ask for anything extra. The tea was smooth and not at all bitter (a pet peeve of mine in Asian restaurants), they used chicken thigh meat instead of breast meat so that it wouldn't dry out on the grill and I had a glass of fresh watermelon juice that was to die for! It seriously tasted like summer in a glass (very welcome on Winter Extravaganza day!). I need to learn how to make it!

We were done much earlier than expected, still hours away from the fireworks, so we decided to try and squeeze in a movie after all. We headed to the Scotiabank theatre for the Imax and I waited in the lobby while John went to get us tickets. After about ten minutes of waiting in line, he came and found me to tell me that when he asked for the tickets the woman at the counter actually laughed at him. Apparently they are sold out until Monday. Who knew it would be that popular?

At that point we were pretty chilly, and the fireworks were still a while away, so I was starting to feel Winter Extravaganza'd out. We decided to call it quits and hopped on Subway to head back home, stopping only for some Starbucks peppermint mochas along the way. When we got home, we curled up on the couch for a bit with hot drinks to warm up. It was still early so I baked a few more fruitcakes (this time Nana's recipe) and we stayed up to watch SNL.

All in all, I had a wonderful day. It was my first day to really enjoy the winter side of Toronto and I had a great time and a great person to spend it with!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cookie Exchange!

On Wednesday I headed into work early for the cookie exchange. Check out my haul:

I brought the peanut butter balls, everything else was brought by members of the training department.

All in all, everything was good but nothing really jumped out at me as amazing. The Skor bit cookies got eaten up the fastest and I thought the lime flavoured shortbreads were a neat idea. I also liked the tiny rum balls (which is funny because I don't usually like rum balls). We also swapped recipes but I think the only one I would make again is the Portuguese biscuits. I'm really impressed by their texture, it's exactly like the cookies you get in the blue tin at Christmas.

It was definitely a fun experience though, and I hope to do another one next year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Couple of Christmas Pictures

I snapped some pictures this morning to show off our holiday spirit!

Here is the Christmas tree:If you look closely (you can click on it to enlarge the picture) you might even spot a little hedgehog hiding between the branches.

I know that it's strange to have a Christmas tree decorated all in pink with presents underneath it wrapped all in silver and blue, but I'm am just so in love with this combination that I don't care at all! Besides, I'm sure I will get to see a traditional Christmas tree when I get home to Mom's house.

And just for fun, here's a picture of how I painted my nails this week:

It might be too bright to see, but I used two different patterns of snowflakes, one in light blue and one in dark blue. I love how it turned out!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

12 More days....

We are in full fledged Christmas mode!

It started last weekend with the cookies. Oh, the cookies! My friend Sherry from work came over last Saturday to help me decorate the snowflake sugar cookies. Last year I only made 40 and they didn't last long, so this year I decided to step it up to a hundred. The turned out way prettier than last year and we got them done in way less time! So I think I'm getting more efficient with this which is a very good thing.

After that, I was feeling like I was on a roll so I made 118 peanut butter balls and 40 marzipan covered cherries. Whew! All of the baking I had planned for the weekend done in one day!

But the next day, I couldn't stop! I made a double batch of lebekuchen (my favorite!) and a double batch of hazelnut apricot thumbprints. Then I had to stop because nothing else on my list was freezable so it was too soon to start on it.

The next challenge was getting it all into my tiny freezer. The short version is that we took a whole chicken out to thaw and John and I had to finish a quart of mint chocolate chip ice cream that was there. But I got them all in!

On Monday morning I finished up some Christmas shopping. Tuesday, we put the tree up and on Wednesday we decorated. It looks gorgeous as usual! I love my tacky artificial tree covered in pink and white sparkly decorations (and one lone scuba diver ornament). Thursday was more Christmas shopping and on Friday I did most of the wrapping.

So I'm almost ready! One more present to buy, cakes to make next weekend and that's it! I'm excited to come home!

Work has been challenging. I feel like the two months of training didn't really prepare me for the actual work, but my team has been very supportive in making this a smooth transition for me. I've been doing lots of job shadowing and supervised work, so I'm learning a little more each day. It's been pretty exhausting mentally though, to have to learn so much so quickly. I've been feeling pretty drained at the end of the day and I suspect that's part of why I've been baking so much. I'm looking forward to the day when I can go to work, do my job confidently and effectively and then go home.

One of the girls at work organized a cookie exchange for later this week, which is something I've always wanted to do! The concept is that everyone brings 36 cookies, and you give 4 cookies and the recipe to each person so everyone goes home with 36 new cookies in 9 different flavours. Fun! I'm bringing peanut butter balls.

Other than that, we've been taking it pretty easy around here. We got our first snowfall this week. It stayed for two days and then the rain melted it. I've been totally hooked on One Tree Hill. Does anyone else watch this? Yup, life is pretty exciting here in the big city.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stuck in an Elevator and a New Health Card

Now that I'm on a shift that doesn't have me at work during all of the business hours of the day, I decided it was time to hit up a government office and and get my health card. John was amazing enough to set everything up for me so that all I had to do was go in, skip the line, show them my birth certificate and that's it.

I got lost on the way there. I wandered around Yonge & Sheppard for about twenty minutes before I finally figured out where I was trying to go. I talked to the receptionist and she gave me a priority ticket to go to the front of the line (did you know government offices even have these? I didn't). I got up to the counter and filled out the application. She asked for proof of my address and I gave it to her. She asked to see my birth certificate and I gave it to her. She asked for something with my signature and I gave her my driver's license. She looked at it and in a patronizing tone said, "We don't recognize out of province licenses."

So I asked "What do you need then?"

She said "Do you have a Visa or a Mastercard?"

Yes, the government of Ontario places greater credibility on a piece of plastic issued by a private company, signed without a witness and at most a hologram to prevent counterfeiting than a government issued piece of identification. Figure that one out.

Anyway, the point is that I got my health card. So that's one more thing I can check off my list.

Today's excitement occured when I left the apartment to go pick up my watch which was out being cleaned. The doors on one of the elevators in the building has been acting weird for the past day or so, opening really slow and then closing just as slowly. When it stopped on my floor to take me downstairs, it opened really slow, but when I hit the button for the floor it closed right away, so I'm thinking "Great!".

Then the floor indicators shut down, the elevator doesn't move and the door won't open.

My first thought was "How long does it have to be like this before I'm officially considered to be stuck?"

My next thought was "How come I'm always too lazy to charge my cell phone and bring it with me?" followed by a wistful regret that this experience wouldn't make me change my ways.

By the time I'd had those two thoughts I decided it was appropriately long enough to call the emergency phone. It rang twice, then I heard "Your call will be answered by the next available representative" and then it hung up on me. After doing that four times, I gave up on it and started ringing the alarm.

Then the elevator started moving. But it was moving so slowly, I couldn't tell if I was going up or going down. I started yelling, hoping that there would be someone on one of the floors that could hear me. Once or twice I thought I maybe heard someone but I couldn't be sure because the walls of the elevator are so thick and well insulated.

So I yelled and rang the siren for a little bit. I was feeling pretty good about my calm under pressure. My heart rate was up a bit, but I wasn't panicked or anything.

After about 10 minutes someone knocked on the door. I yelled "Can you help me? I'm stuck in here." because for all I knew it was just some random person who has no idea how to rescue someone from an elevator (myself, for example).

Next I heard the strain of metal and then saw a little gap starting to form as someone pried the door open. On the other side was an older gentleman who didn't speak a word of English, so I still don't know if he was actually someone sent to help me or just a random passerby. I thanked him profusely and emerged from the elevator to find myself on the very bottom floor in one of the lower parking garages.

And then I got on with my day! Although I was a bit squeamish about elevators for the rest of the day.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Finished Training!

It feels like I've been at my job for a long time, but in actuality, I just finished training today. I think that means I've been there seven weeks. Tomorrow I start the real work. I've already met my boss though and he said that he's going to buddy me up with one of the more advanced analysts to watch my every move for the first week or so and hold my hand. So hopefully it will be a smooth transition. He seems nice and laid back, I think it's going to be a good work environment.

Starting my job for real also means that I will be working the night shift, 12pm to 8pm. And at the same time, John is starting his early shift (8:30am or 9am, I'm not sure which). So we're going to have to figure out how to make our schedules mesh. Tonight I made him lunch before bed so it will be ready for him in the morning, and I intend to make supper (lasagna) before work tomorrow at the same time that I pack my lunch, so it's ready when John gets home. Hopefully he gets his studying done in the evening so that by the time I get home we can hang out. We'll figure it out, I am sure.

The weekend was busy but fun. On Friday I went to see the new Twilight movie. It was pretty terrible (there were scenes when the whole the whole theatre full of Twi-hards actually burst out laughing, it was so cheesy) but I still really enjoyed it. I love a good terrible movie.

Saturday was our stay at home day. I did housework and some sewing while John studied. Today was the first day of his RIBO training, so he's pretty much out of commission for the next two weeks.

On Sunday we got up bright and early. We headed to Wal-mart to pick up a couple of Christmas gifts and then over to Chinatown for produce. I'm not sure what we're going to do when the weather gets cold and all of the outdoor fruit and vegetable stands are closed, I'm growing pretty dependent on them. When we got home, we dropped off our stuff and headed to a Dim Sum restaurant next door that I had been wanting to try. The food was absolutely amazing. Everything was in much smaller serving sizes than we expected, but it each bite was delectable. We had the best fried rice I've ever tasted in my life, deep fried taro dumplings, chicken curry and lotus stuffed pastries, peking duck pancakes, mango pudding shaped like a fish and hot sweet almond soup. And unlike any other dim sum experience I've had, it was hardly greasy at all. I loved it. I will definitely be going back.

In the afternoon I gave my sister a call and we chatted for a bit. I baked a mac & cheese casserole for dinner and so that I would have something to pack for lunches and we spent the evening watching cartoons, as usual. All in all, a good weekend.

My Christmas spirit is in full force now. I've got almost all of my shopping done, and the baking starts this weekend. My friend from work is going to come over and help me. The first weekend in December is the perfect time to bake freezable things like cookies in my opinion! I'm feeling really good about it, we'll get the tree up in the next couple of days. I'm so glad we didn't have to leave it behind in Halifax, for a while there I really thought we would. I only wish there were more hours in the day so I could find the time to practice carols on the piano.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Starting to get into the Christmas Spirit

We had a fun weekend. We actually left the apartment to do more than just grocery shop!

Friday night we just laid low, made snacks and watched a movie on TV. John fell asleep around 9:00pm if memory serves me correctly. I stayed up to watch Vampire Diaries.

Saturday morning, we made omelets for breakfast and spent the morning lazing around. I worked on a sewing project and John played video games. In the afternoon we went to see the movie 2012. What a great movie!! I love movies that show the graphic depiction of the planet being destroyed and this is the best one I've seen yet! It has taken the place of The Day After Tomorrow as my favorite destruction-of-Earth film of all time. They showed the world being blown apart in ways I couldn't even imagine. The effects were incredible and the story was great!

I know what you're thinking. "But Jacki, why were you sewing this weekend? What about the socks you were supposedly knitting?"

I finished them! Check it out!
I'm so proud of them, they turned out awesome!! They fit perfectly, the heel is reinforced, the top is ribbed, the yarn is so soft and the seam at the toe lines up exactly right. I can't wait to make my next pair but I need to see how they hold up in the dryer first to make sure that these are the right size (i.e, I may need to make the next ones bigger if these ones shrink). They're labour intensive to be sure, but I had a lot of fun making them. Once I got the hang of knitting with four tiny little needles, the rest was easy.

Okay, now that I've bored any boy who might be reading, here is the secret part of today's post: John said he was going out for drinks with Brandon tonight so I snuck away to the mall to do a little Christmas shopping. Have I mentioned that I can go to the Eaton Centre from my apartment without once stepping outdoors? It was my first time there since University and I forgot how gorgeous the domed ceilings are from the inside. And this time there were giant sparkling star decorations hanging from the ceiling for Christmas. It was beautiful! And Aunt Debbie, I wish you could have seen the Christmas tree in the middle of the mall! It was was at least 50 feet tall with what must have been thousands of lights. And to top it all off, the tree was absolutely covered in Swarovski crystal snowflake ornaments! It wouldn't surprise me to find out there were ten thousand of them. I can't even begin to describe how it sparkled, it was like nothing I'd ever seen. It was absolutely incredible.

I didn't stay long because I knew what I was there for. Next time I go though, I would love to take an afternoon to explore it. The Sears alone is 5 floors! I hopped on a subway and headed back home. I sneaked into the apartment, happy to see I had beaten John home and stashed the goods in my secret hiding spot. Success! Okay, back to talking about the weekend.

As Saturday night rolled around, I lamented that I had no orange juice to mix with my vodka until I remembered that I had a whole bunch of limes in the fridge from the time they were 8/$1 in Chinatown. So I decided to try my hand at homemade limeade. Oh. Em. Gee. It was awesome! I just mixed the juice of 6 limes, 1/2 cup of sugar and 4 cups of water. It was super strong, and super sour. Adding the vodka watered it down a bit and the sourness was so overpowering that it completely eclipsed the taste of the vodka. This stuff is so smooth, it's deadly! I loved it.

Around 9pm we went out in search of a place to watch the UFC fights. I wanted to hit up a sports bar called Main Event but John suggested we try a place called Philthy McNasty's because they have a better setup of TVs.

So we that's where we went. At first it was pretty cool. There was a big screen TV right in front of us, a smaller TV built into the booth and the pizza was great. But around 11:30, the night crowd started moving in. Before we knew it, we found ourselves in the middle of a Saturday night pickup bar. There were lots of scantily clad girls, they started playing dance music - think The Palace. We laughed it off and stayed for the rest of the fights, but I think we won't going back. We lucked out in that the fights were really good this week. It was the return of Tito Ortiz and he didn't disappoint! It's been a few months since John and I have had a fight night out on the town, so we had both been looking forward to it and we had a lot of fun.

On Sunday we made our weekly pilgrimage to Chinatown for produce. This week limes happened to be 15/$1 so it looks like I will be making more limeade! Seriously, they barely fit in the fridge. Other great deals included 10lbs of potatoes for $1.59 and quarts of strawberries for 66 cents. I don't think I will ever get tired of watching them ring this stuff in! Although now I have to figure out what to do with 3 quarts of strawberries. Last week I made strawberry cheesecake tarts. This week I'm not sure. Coffee cake maybe? Anyone have any suggestions?

When we got home, John's friend Marc happened to be in our area, so he stopped by for a visit. He and John had a good chat over tea while I baked bread, peeled pomegranates and roasted chestnuts. I love puttering around the kitchen on a Sunday. I'd take it over housework any day of the week.

Sunday night was cartoons as usual, followed by early to bed to get a head start on the week.

Ooh, I forgot to mention that John brought home his RIBO books on Friday so that he can spend the next couple of weeks studying for his exam. I love it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Still Having Fun!

I've been a bit lazy about posting. Time goes so fast!!

Our Christmas flights have been booked! We pretty much couldn't get any time off at all. So our visit will be super short, but it's better than nothing! We will arrive in Halifax late on Christmas Eve, stay the weekend and return early on Monday. Back to work Tuesday. I work untill 2pm on Christmas Eve, so we couldn't get home any earlier. All of my vacation requests got denied. Basically, if you want Christmas off, it has to be booked in January. This is what I figured would happen though, starting a job in October. So although it is not ideal, we are grateful for the time we do have and look forward to seeing our loved ones!

John is still loving his job. He comes home with big smiles every day. I'm still in training until the end of the month. It's pretty dull, but it's a stable routine at least. I'm definitely getting a better grasp on all of the insurance concepts and am remembering the little details better as well. So all is well there.

We found the most amazing Mexican restaurant last weekend. Erin and Alan, you must come visit so we can take you there! We went there to celebrate John's new job. Everything was from scratch, even the sour cream! And the flavours had both strong and subtle elements and were amazingly combined and balanced. I think it was the best meal we've had since we arrived in Toronto. (Do you know it's been almost 4 months we've been here?!?)

We also found a Vietnamese place where the prices are low, the portions are ridiculously big and the food is amazing! It was my first time trying pho and I fell in love. It was so good! The broth was light but so tasty, with scallions, Thai basil and other flavours I couldn't identify. And I think it was only $5 for a bowl that was more than I could finish.

That same afternoon, we went down to Dundas & Yonge and watched the Christmas parade for a few hours. It was awesome to see it in person rather than on TV for once. Plus we scored some candy canes. The crazy part is that it was so warm I took my sweater off and just wore my t-shirt. Kind of strange for a Christmas event! We probably watched it for an hour and a half before heading out, so we didn't see Santa, but it was still a good time.

Yesterday the subway was shut down south of our stop. Insanity!!! Apparently a contractor had been digging for one reason or another and accidently dug right into a subway tunnel! So rocks fell onto the track, and they weren't sure how stable everything was, so they had to shut it down. People were already upset because subway prices have just gone up ($3 a ride!) and I guess that when the service was shut down, they flipped out. I wasn't there myself but one of the girls at work said she was actually shoved into a train. Crazy. I guess there were three hundred thousand people stranded at Bloor and Yonge (the major intersection of the subway). I guess on this one street corner they were lined up right around the block waiting for shuttles.

So I am feeling quite fortunate to work on the same block that I live (not to mention the $120 I save each month by not buying a metropass). And John works in the North, so although delayed, he at least was able to get home on the subway.

I hear that the Olympic torch was carried across the bridge yesterday! I am sad to have missed this a once in a lifetime opportunity in Halifax. It seems like whenever I leave, that's precisely when the excitement happens.

John's brother Allan came to stay with us for most of the week. We have a pretty good deal: I made him cookies and he made dinner for us last night (mmm, porkchops). And I came home to a kitchen that had mysteriously been cleaned during the day. So that's a great kind of houseguest to have! John managed to get today off work so they could hang out.

That is the news around here for now! I'm going to go enjoy my first glass of eggnog of the season!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday, Monday

I have a basket of guavas in my apartment.

I know this because the gorgeous, fresh scent of them greets me the moment I walk in. The aroma is incredible and the smell is so strong it permeates everything. So I've decided that guavas are the new potpourri.

We hit up Chinatown for produce this weekend and among other things, guavas were $3/dozen. I haven't figured out what to do with them though. They're sort of like tomatoes in that it's pretty much impossible to get at the flesh without eating a few seeds. The difference is that the seeds are hard and not particularly edible. So I'm thinking there must be some trick to it, but I haven't figured it out just yet. But honestly, I'm just happy to smell them, I don't really care if we eat them.

We didn't get up to much this weekend.

Friday night was popcorn and V for Vendetta on TV. I love that movie.

I was super productive on Saturday. I did all my laundry, baked bread, finished knitting my first sock, sewed pillow covers to match the drapes, made sauce out of all the leftover overripe raspberries, planned out the next week's meals \ and cleaned the apartment from top to bottom. I'm still figuring out the whole work/life balance thing so a lot gets put off to the weekend.

On Sunday we decided to head down to the St. Lawrence market for some stewing beef but when we got there it was closed. Apparently they shut down Sundays and Mondays. So instead we headed back up to Chinatown for more produce, dumplings and pastries. The best finds were pineapples for $1, Spanish onions 5/$1, and peppers for 20 cents each. We paid closer attention to the prices this time and the best guess we can come up with is that they take the price of everything, subtract $5 and then don't charge tax. It's the only way we can explain how we go up with $17 worth of ridiculously cheap produce and when they ring it in, it's $11.

We stopped for BOGO blizzards at the Chinatown Dairy Queen and then headed home to drop off our groceries. Then we headed back out for a walk around our neighbourhood to see if we could find a little butcher somewhere. We headed up Yonge and then back down Mount Pleasant, but all we found was an organic butcher which was too pricey for us.

But we had a nice walk in the 17 degree weather. I commented to John that Autumn feels like a season here whereas in Halifax it felt like a week. It actually makes sense here to buy transition weather clothes because there's lots of time to wear them. Today it was 19 degrees!

I'm also in love with the squirrels here. I loved them when I lived in Waterloo and then I totally forgot about them when I moved back home. They're black and as big as cats with the fluffiest tails! And they're friendlier than regular squirrels and not as afraid of humans.

By the time we got home, I was pretty tired so we just made some snacks and watched cartoons for the rest of the night.

John was up at 5am this morning, excitd for his first day of work. I packed him a bento and we parted ways. Turns out he didn't need it though, they took him out for lunch. When he came home tonight he was super excited about his new company. He said the people are wonderful and that for it only being his first day, he's already seeing lots of ways that he can contribute to the company's success. It makes me so happy to see him so enthusiastic about it.

So life is good. I feel like we're pretty far off the track that we planned for ourselves when we were in Halifax planning to come here, but I'm really happy with the track we're on. I'm starting to be able to see how our lives are going to shape up six months down the road which is the furthest I've been able to guess at yet.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

John Got a New Job!

John is not very good at being unemployed. He didn't spend a single day in his pyjamas. He didn't beat a single video game. He didn't watch any soap operas or gain any weight. I never found empty boxes of bonbons on the coffee table.

Although he was great for making dinner every night and taking care of all the apartment stuff. So I guess he was good at that part of being unemployed.

But he wasn't good enough at it to stay unemployed. He's been doing interviews since the first day he was off work and yesterday he was offered a new job!

Yesterday, he greeted me outside of my work when I got off tonight, dressed in a suit from yet another interview. He said that while he was at said interview, one of the companies he's been interviewing with for weeks called and left a voicemail that he got the job. Then today he got his letter of offer and he starts working Monday!

The short version is that he will be managing a team of insurance agents and he has to write the same exam that I just did (MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA). For the long version, you'll have to give me a call (or have me call you) as John is not always cool with me posting all the details of his life on the internet.

So we are very happy to have that all figured out because it we've been on a pretty tight budget for the past couple of months and we're eager to get back out there and experience more of what Toronto has to offer. For the first time in over a year, we're back to being DINKS (a fun acronym for dual-income, no kids).

I'm still puttering along in training, so no change there. I'm learning lots though! I start actually working on Dec 1st. Mom, you'll be glad to know I put in my request for vacation for Christmas yesterday, although I haven't heard anything back yet.

This evening when I got home, I found that John had invented a new type of soup/casserole that is so delicious! It has a million ingredients, the highlights being hominy, tomatoes, chicken and cheddar cheese. It turns out the hominy is not actually a bean, it's kernels of corn that have have the outer peel removed. And it turns out I love it! It tastes like corn, but it has the texture of a bean and it's really filling You would use it as the main starch in a meal. I love trying new ingredients!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

An Evening with Friends and Eating for Cheap

For the first time in four weeks, I got to actually leave my apartment this weekend! No studying!

I got off work at 6:00pm on Friday and we headed straight over to Marc and Alisha's place over on St. Clair West. It was the first time we've been over there since Marc was back in Toronto, and they were having us over for dinner.

Alisha is a wonderful cook. She made baked and breaded chicken breasts stuffed with cheese, garlic and onions and topped with raspberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes with walnuts and steamed asparagus with pecans. It was so delicious and there was so much food I almost couldn't finish it all. I brought some cupcakes leftover from the ones I made for work, although no one had room for them until much later in the evening.

After dinner, Marc made lychee martinis for Alisha and I, the boys found some beer and we had a nice evening just hanging out, chatting and getting caught up . We had such a nice time that we decided we should do dinner together more often, maybe a couple of times a month.

One of the nice things about Toronto is that the transit runs really late, so you don't have to feel like Cinderella, running home before the clock strikes twelve. I think we left around 12:30 or 1:00 and went straight to bed when we got home.

We slept in late on Saturday and dawdled away the morning. John made egg sandwiches and I played some Pikmin on the Wii. We spent most of the afternoon going for a walk up north towards Lawrence street.

The weather was nice and warm so we didn't need coats. John somehow knew about some parks up there so we went exploring. We found some paths and even a couple of streams. We found one park that was sort of nature-y wilderness and one that was neatly manicured with cement walkways. The leaves on the trees are almost finished turning so it was just beautiful. The ground was completely covered with layers of fallen leaves. We saw lots of people out walking their dogs and that made us want one (although that's obviously not practical while we're in a one bedroom apartment). It felt as rural as anywhere in Dartmouth, it was hard to believe we were in the heart of Toronto. After a few hours, we were getting tired so we stopped into a little market for some ginger beer and came back home.

We didn't end up going out for Halloween. There were a few parties going on but I don't think either of us was really feeling like getting dressed up. Instead, we stayed in and ate hot beef sandwiches and watched the original Dracula. I quite enjoyed it, although I must say vampires have come a long way since then.

The clocks fell back an hour last night so although we slept in a bit this morning, technically we were up bright and early according to the clocks.

We needed groceries but we decided that rather than hit up the Metro, we would venture out into the city in search of better prices. We did amazingly well I think.

The first stop was Dufferin station where we hit up Wal-Mart for discount Halloween candy. It was pretty picked over, but we did pick up some sour peaches and swedish berries for 91 cents a bag. From there we headed across the street to La Tortillarie where you can get homemade corn tortillas that they make fresh daily for $1.75 per half kilo. We use them to make amazing tacos, or enchiladas, nacho chips, etc. John also picked up a can of hominy because he saw a recipe for hominy soup that he wants to try. I think it's a some kind of bean, but I'm not actually sure.

Next we hit up Chinatown. The first stop was the Ding Dong bakery where we went a little overboard. I can't help it though, I love it so much! We got barbecue pork buns, barbecue pork pastries, wintermelon pastries, egg tarts, coconut and red bean mochi, something called Japanese pumpkin cake that looks like a Swiss roll, and two pizza style buns that we ate while we shopped. Their mochi is so incredibly fresh and sticky that it's almost impossible to peel off the wrapper. It's so good, I think they actually use coconut milk in the mochi itself. Eighteen items and everything came to less than $12, taxes in. Ridiculous.

Then we hit the fruit stands. We bought:
  • 3 little pomegranates and 1 huge one
  • 3 half pints of rasberries
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 lotus root
  • 1 broccoli crown
  • a pound of chestnuts
  • a bundle of asparagus
  • 6 tomatoes
  • 7 plums
  • 3 persimmons
  • a bunch of bananas
for $13. Seriously. Containers of raspberries were 3/$1 and they look great. Chestnuts were $0.99/lb. Bananas were $0.29/lb.

We walked past a Chinese herb shop so I popped in and found blooming tea balls that were 3/$2. Usually I see these for $2.50 each so I picked up a couple. They're basically loose tea leaves that are shaped into a ball and they bloom into a flower when you put them in the hot water.

The big splurge of the day was when we found a shop that makes homemade dumplings. They had a huge list of combinations but I just stuck with my favorite, pork and Chinese cabbage. $10 for 3 dozen, but the truth is, it would cost me $8 or $9 to make a batch of about 60 dumplings from scratch and it takes two hours, so it was worth the price to me.

So when all was said and done, we ended up with all of this:
for under $40.

Not bad I think.

We have some whole chickens in the freezer, so I think we're going to thaw one of those out and pick up some ground beef and we'll be set for the week! I think I'm actually going to pack bento lunches this week since we have all the stuff for them.

I'm so in love with the fact that you can get homemade, quality foods for such low prices if you know where to look. And I know we're only going to find more great places to shop the longer we live here.

And in other news, any of you who remember Michelle Chouinard will be happy to hear that she had her baby. Joseph Pierre Ferguson was born healthy into the world on October 26th. Congratulations Michelle!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Passed!

Okay, the craziness is over, things should be back to normal now.

On Monday I got up at the crack of dawn and headed downtown to write my RIBO exam. I will say that I felt pretty important to have business on Bay Street to attend to. That was a Toronto first for me. I headed to a floor high up in the Simpson Tower and wrote my exam in a board room of about 30 people.

As is typical for me, I was the first one finished so I had no one to talk to afterward to compare answers with. So I hopped on the subway and went home to have lunch with John before going back to work. When I returned to the office, everyone was freaking. No one (including me) felt like they had even passed, let alone done well. Almost all of the questions had been unlike anything we'd seen in class.

So we spent the next couple of days on tenterhooks and finally this afternoon we all headed back to Bay Street to get our marks back. I got at 92%. So I guess I had nothing to worry about after all. Actually, everyone in my class passed, although some only just barely. And no one did better than me! So I'm now a licensed insurance broker for the province of Ontario. Neat! I get a membership card and everything. Only six weeks to go until I actually start working. I made some cupcakes tonight (pineapple and coconut flavoured) to bring into class tomorrow since we all did so well.

That's all I've been up to for a week. But hopefully now that the pressure is off we can get back to having some semblance of a life again. Although we did make it to a movie last night. We saw Zombieland. I didn't think I would like it because I think zombies are lame, but it was actually one of the cutest movies I've seen in a long time. Woody Harrelson was great.

John's been keeping busy as well. He's on his third round of interviews with two different companies and he's been sending out resumes every single day. I'm not sure what he's going to end up doing yet. All I know is that I'm quickly growing accustomed to having someone else do the cooking and cleaning!

It feels like he and I have gone through many changes in our work/home dynamic. We started both as coworkers, then to me being the stay-at-home and him working, and now he is the stay-at-home and I'm the worker. And hopefully soon we'll both be working. But we've adapted to these changes so easily and I believe that is because I trust him to do everything he can to take care of me and he trusts me to do everything I can to take care of him. We're a solid team and I am grateful every day to have someone I can depend on absolutely. And who will make me snacks several times daily for two weeks solid when I have an exam to study for.

I found out my work throws a big Halloween party, but I don't think we'll be going because we don't have costumes (because we thought we had nowhere to go). But it does feel nice to be part of a company that does that sort of thing.

That's about it around here. We've been total homebodies. The leaves are just starting to turn and it's quite beautiful. Yesterday it was warm enough that I didn't need a coat, but that has been the exception these past two weeks.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Recap + Our First Turkey Together

I haven't forgotten about you all!

I can't even tell you how much studying I have done this week. It's consumed my entire week. I get up at 7:00am, get ready for work, study until 8:30am and head to work. After work, I go straight to studying. Most nights I take an hour off to watch House or Glee or something, continue studying until 11:00pm, chill for half an hour and go to bed.

I'm not complaining. It's only for two weeks and I'm learning a lot so it's all good. But it does mean that I've had to drop a few of my fun things, one of which was blogging. But here I am at 9:30pm on a Sunday night and I'm finally done my studying for the weekend, so I thought it would be a good time to get caught up.

Last weekend was Thanksgiving and it was the first time I've ever hosted my own turkey dinner. My mom is pretty dependable when it comes to making Thanksgiving dinner, so I've never needed to do it myself.

Well, although I did miss spending Thanksgiving with my family at home, I think John and I made the best of what we have here. We put on an amazing spread and had a wonderful time with friends and our Ontario family.

John and I cooked all day. I made some turkey cupcakes first of all. Here's a picture of them: John actually found two kinds of candy corn for me, orange for the noses and red for the tails. The cupcakes themselves are root beer flavoured! I was so proud of them. I used a combination of root beer flavouring (you can buy it in little bottles, like vanilla) and actual root beer to get the flavour to come through.

I also made pumpkin squares. I don't like to make pies because I have no pastry skills and we were expecting too many people for a pie anyway (there were supposed to be eight of us), so I pulled out my 9" x 13" pan, started with a layer of oatmeal crumble (like the bottom of an apple crisp), topped it with pumpkin pie filling (canned pumpkin, evaporated milk and spices) and threw it in the oven.

John was in charge of the turkey. We got the biggest one we could find, it was 7.5 kg. He had all these secret turkey cooking tricks that I thought he was just making up, but the end result was the juiciest turkey I've ever tasted, so they must have done something!

I wanted stovetop stuffing, but he wanted to make his own so we compromised and made both (although the stovetop had to wait until hot turkey sandwiches the next day). I love any compromise that results in more food. He made a couscous dressing with onion, apple and cranberries. He thought it came out soggy (because couscous takes 5 minutes to cook, not 5 hours) but I thought it was perfect, I loved it.

For veggies we only made broccoli with cheese sauce. John has a no-cheese-whiz rule, so I did a roux-> cream sauce -> cheese sauce sort of thing. It turned out perfect. The secret is I used three cups of cheese to one cup of milk!

For starches we made a huge pot of mashed potatoes and John put together some whiskey sweet potatoes. I don't care for whiskey so I didn't expect to like them, but they were awesome. They were nice and sweet and didn't taste like whiskey at all.

Throw in a couple of cans of cranberry sauce and a couple of bottles of wine and you've got a meal!

Here is our beautiful turkey:
And here are John and Mark during the carving. I meant to take a picture of us all at the table with all of the food, but we were so hungry that we totally forgot!It was me, John, Mark (John's best friend), Mohammed (a friend of John's who just moved to Toronto from Halifax as well), and Judy and Allan (they stayed for the weekend with us). There was another couple that was supposed to join us but they were no call/no show.

It felt wonderful to know that we have friends and family here and that we could all be together and feel at home away from home. And John and I truly love to feed people, and we were thankful for the opportunity to do just that.

Everyone raved about the food. There was lots of everything left over. Most of us were too stuffed for dessert, but for the people who had room, I brought out pumpkin squares with whipped cream and they were very well received. No one had room for cupcakes!

After dinner, we took turns washing dishes. Everyone stuck around because we still had beer to get through. Check out our mini keg:

John wants to make it a Thanksgiving tradition of course!

We sat around with full bellies and played a board game that Allan brought, and then we watched Gladiator which was on TV. Everyone left with a tray of turkey cupcakes and I put together a little snack pack for Mark's fiancee Alisha, since she couldn't make it because she had to work.

It was a fabulous first Thanksgiving in Toronto! Lots of food and lots of friends and I hope to do it again next year!

Sadly it only lasted a day though, and on Sunday I was back to studying. My week was kind of a write off, but John had a productive week. I told him to take a few days to relax, but he just jumped straight into job interviews. I think he had at least three last week and he has another one tomorrow. I'm not sure whether any of those will pan out or not, one was definitely a bust (another one where he got there and found out the job was not as described). But I think there's value just in getting out there and checking out the different types of businesses if for no other reason than to get a feel for what kind of environment you want to work in and what's available.

I really don't want him to rush into any old job just because it's there. This city is big enough and there are so many opportunities here that I know there's a good fit for him out there and it will come along when the time is right. I hope that he is able to find a job for himself as good as the job he helped me find, and I believe he will.

This weekend was really quiet. Mainly studying, and we finally got the curtains up. I had to shorten the curtains from the old apartment, but on the bright side I have enough fabric left over to make pillow covers and curtain ties, although I didn't have time to make them this weekend.

I made some cupcakes to bring to work tomorrow. Cherry cupcakes with almond frosting, one of my favorites. Hopefully they like them! And I found some time yesterday to bake some bread. It's my second batch since we moved here. Slowly we are getting all of our routines back!

So all is well here, I'm just really busy. I'll be studying all this week as well and then my exam is next Monday. I think that if I keep working as hard as I have been, I'll be just fine.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

First Day at my New Job

Today was my first day!

I was up at 6:30am and ready for a work a half an hour before it was time to go. Did I mention that I love not having a commute?

When I got there, I met the other people in my class (my training class is tiny!) and we were welcomed with breakfast! We had a bunch of presentations, took a tour of the area and did some studying. I have to say, the environment felt so positive and welcoming, I really enjoyed myself. And there was a steady supply of green tea.

So much studying though! I spent the last two days studying for about 6 or 7 hours a day. Then again tonight I spent 5 more hours at it. And I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface. We've been assigned about 80 pages of dense reading each night, plus assignments and tests. I try to read through everything twice to really cement it in my head, but with only 24 hours in a day, it's not always possible.

I don't mind though. It's fun to play student again, I get a kick out of being a keener, and it's only for two weeks anyway. After that I write my exam and we start the normal training. And the material is interesting enough, although sometimes after a few pages I find myself reading the same sentence over and over.

The other thing I will mention is that John's last day of work is tomorrow. He decided to leave his job as it wasn't a good fit for him, so he's taking a few weeks to figure out what he wants to do next. We were just waiting to make sure I got this job before that happened. He's not as comfortable putting his life's details on the world wide web for everyone to read as I am, so feel free to give me a call or I can call any of you guys if you would like to hear more.

Ooh, I almost forgot. I think we're doing a turkey dinner this year! I think that's a big milestone for us, we're really grown-ups now! I'm in charge of desserts, I think I'm going to make pumpkin pie squares and turkey cupcakes. Hopefully we have at least five people coming to join us, but not everyone has confirmed yet. I'm really excited!

Monday, October 5, 2009

I Got the Job!!

Yay! The bank called me to day to let me know that I have a job! I have to go in tomorrow to pick up my text books so that I can start studying before my training starts on Thursday. Apparently there are so many of them that the recommend I bring a "sturdy backpack".

So that is good news. And I'm actually genuinely excited to be going back to work. I'm looking forward to this job. I haven't felt this way since I've been unemployed, like I actually want to go back to work. But I feel like this is going to be a really good thing.

The weekend was pretty quiet. It rained Friday night so we didn't end up playing capture the flag. On Saturday we headed down to the St. Lawrence Farmer's market (this time it was open!). We got all kinds of produce, some gorgeous baby back ribs and a pork shoulder. I also picked up a bottle of cherry extract (I had never seen this before!) that I think will be great in frosting. We had lunch there. I had a delicious crepe stuffed with chicken, greens, scallions and hoisin sauce and John had a gigantic sandwich.

We headed back home via Chinatown because I wanted to go hunting for mooncakes. Sadly, however, everywhere we went was sold out as it was the last day of the mooncake festival. Next year I will have to go earlier!

But it wasn't a total waste because we found a fruit stand selling pomegranates 5 for $1. Can you believe that? Twenty cents for a pomegranate! When we got home, I removed all of the seeds while we watched Gladiator on TV. It took ages, but now we have an amazing hoard of pomegranate seeds and it only cost us a dollar.

We were tired from all of the walking, so we stayed home that night. On Sunday, John made raspberry waffles for breakfast. They were to die for!

We only left the apartment once all day, to hit up the grocery store for a few things to make dinner. We cooked up half of the ribs using this recipe from the show Chuck's Day Off. What an amazing way to cook ribs! The short version is that they're seared and then oven braised for 2.5 hours. The long version is a list of a zillion different flavors that are all combined to make the best ribs I've ever tasted. Here's a picture of it before we put it in the oven to braise:

Oh yes, those are apple slices that you see!

We also boiled up some of the corn we got at the market. It was probably the best corn I have ever tasted. And we panko breaded and fried some tomato slices, but they didn't turn out as good as I'd hoped.

And that was the weekend. Just lots of food and relaxation. Works for me!

I also applied for school this weekend, so my application is in for Fall of 2010. Nice and early this time. I hit a bit of a snag though, in that they don't want to transfer over my transcripts to my new application. I spoke to someone today who eventually said her supervisor would transfer it over sometime in the next few days. So I'll keep an eye on it. Hopefully everything will be fine.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Quiet Week and a Disturbing Breakfast

I haven't been posting much because not a whole lot has been going on this week. I'm still waiting to hear back as to whether or not I got that job but my references are reporting that they've been contacted, so I think that is a good sign.

The temperature is starting to drop a bit (it's sweater weather but not quite coat weather) and it's been rainy a few days, so I would say that Fall is underway. Rather than close the windows though, I've been letting the apartment cool down a bit so that I have an excuse to wear socks and sweaters. I've missed them!

It's also been an excuse to use the oven! On Wednesday, I made my first batch of homemade bread since we moved to Ontario. It turned out perfect, I'm actually eating peanut butter toast as I type this. I made chocolate chip cookies yesterday as well but they did not turn out great as I'm still figuring out my oven. Apparently at 325 degrees it's too cold to cook anything but at 350 it bakes cookies too fast. That's as much as I've figured out.

The most traumatic event of the week occurred on Sunday morning as we were making breakfast. John heated up the frying pan for the eggs and when it was nice and hot, cracked them in. One of the eggs contained bloody chicken fetus. Yup, it was fertilized. The image of that bloody mess sizzling on the stove is one I will never forget. I am so fortunate to have a brave man in the house to take care of these types of things while I freak out in another room. It took me five days before I was ready to crack an egg again.

I called the Metro head office (since it was their house brand of eggs) to complain. They were totally nonplussed about it, apparently not concerned about how this has shaken my trust in Ontario bred livestock and the inspection processes they use (apparently ever egg undergoes a light test so that the fertilized ones can be removed). I lived in Nova Scotia for 26 years and in that whole time saw two eggs with the tiniest of blood spots. I've been here not two months and I've already experienced a horrific interruption to breakfast. I don't like those odds.

So they sent us a $5 gift certificate in the mail. And that's how I came to acquire the peanut butter that is on my toast.

That's about it around here. We've stayed in every night this week because John hasn't been feeling well. He caught some sort of bug I think, although I think he's feeling better today. He wants to head downtown tonight because there's a big game of Capture the Flag tonight at King & Bay Street. Apparently thousands of people take part in it and you get a glow stick necklace to show which team you're on. The flags are blocks apart and you can run around by foot, bicycle, skateboard or even take the subway to get the flag back to your base. So I think that's the plan for tonight.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Somehow I Managed To Do It Again!

When I lived in Halifax, I had the sweetest deal going. I had a sweet, downtown apartment which was connected to lots of stores and my work via pedway. I could stay inside all winter if I wanted to (although I love playing in the snow too much to actually do that). No time was wasted commuting, life was perfect.

It was hard to give up. But I wanted to come to Toronto so badly that I was willing to settle. I was willing to commute to work up to an hour each way and to live in a tiny place if it kept the rent low.

But my amazing boyfriend found me an amazing apartment in heart of where I want to be. It's attached to more shops than were in Scotia Square Mall and they're even closer than the pedway was! The apartment itself is a little bigger than our old one. All my stuff actually fits in the kitchen. Everything is perfect.

So I wasn't expecting to luck out any more than that.

But of course, this is John we're talking about.

Knowing I was looking for work, he would send me job postings to apply for every single day. And one of those happened to be at the bank where I've been interviewing all week.

Well, they offered me the job! (Pending credit, criminal and reference checks of course). From what I can tell, the job is going to be something I enjoy doing, in a positive work environment, for more money than I used to make. And the entrance to my building is quite literally six steps from my door to the outside. Unbelievable. Not even across the street, or through a pedway, or two doors down. Just take the elevator to the bottom floor, head outside, six steps and you're there.

Now before you think I am completely spoiled, I must concede that I will be spending the first two months in training which is half a block away.

Life is good. And I am so grateful to have John's love and support as I work through this whole not-going-to-school thing and put together my plan B.

So I guess my point is that it was easier than I expected to build a life in Toronto better than the one I had in Halifax (minus friends and family of course) and in such a short time. I start on October 8th.

And my other point is that I think all of my friends and family should join me here in Toronto because it's great :)

Allan and Judy left this afternoon. We had a great two days with them. We didn't go out much, just to karaoke on Wednesday and puttered around the shops on Thursday. But I got to do lots of cooking. My chili on Wednesday turned out great (it's the first time I've ever made it) and last night I made some potato and leek soup and some chicken drumsticks. And Allan made an apple pie! I was thrilled because I never make pie and it was a particularly delicious pie.

So I think John and I are going to take it easy tonight and just enjoy being home alone. He hasn't yet revealed to me the plans for the weekend.

I also want to share with you my latest favorite thing. Konad Nail Stamping! I even took a picture of the manicure I did today, just for you guys!

Houndstooth! How hilarious is that? I honestly burst out laughing every time I look at my nails. It's so easy to do too, you just stamp it on your nails and then clean up the edges. I'm a big fan of things that look impressive but are super simple. I've been painting my nails every two days since I got this stuff because it's so fun.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Job Hunt Continues

We had a quiet weekend. John had been working a trade show for the three days prior and I think standing all day did a number on his back, so he was content to just relax for Friday and Saturday.

On Sunday though, I needed to get out of the apartment, I was getting a little cabin fever-y. We decided to hit up the Saint Lawrence market downtown. When we got there, there was a flea market going on across the street so we puttered through there for quite a while. Aunt Debbie, you would have loved it, there was so much jewelry! There was costume jewelry and quite a lot of fine jewelry as well, some of it quite high end. There were people selling all kinds of antiques and even a woman selling furs.

When we finally got to the actual market, it was closed. I'm not sure why a farmers market that is open all week would be closed on a Sunday, but it is what it is. So we headed off to see if we could find some brunch. Not a block away, we found a french restaurant that was serving just that called Le Papillon.

I ordered the eggs benedict and John ordered a tortiere. The eggs were good but the tortiere was amazing. The crust was flaky and golden and the filling was a combination of I think beef, veal and pork. It was so rich and decadent. I was so surprised because I though I didn't like tortiere. The dessert menu was huge, so of course I needed to order. I ordered the profiteroles and John ordered some kind of toffee sponge cake. Omg, they were the biggest desserts ever! Mine had two huge cream puffs, two massive scoops of homemade ice cream and lots of chocolate and whipped cream. John had a giant piece of cake absolutely drenched in a rich and delicious caramel. They were yummy, but too sweet and much too large of servings. I didn't even make it halfway through mine before I was sugared out.

Feeling heavy and full, we ventured back outside. With nothing to do now that the market was closed, we decided that it was a good day to see how long it would take us to walk home from downtown, so we headed to Yonge Street and started walking.

I really enjoyed our walk because I got to see all of the different areas along downtown, each of which has a very distinct personality. All in all, it took us a bit over an hour to get home, so I would approximate the distance as being the same as from my Brunswick Street apartment to the Halifax Shopping Centre. By the time we made it home we had sore feet, but we still weren't hungry. I don't think I ate again for the rest of the day.

So far this week, I have been a cooking, cleaning and interviewing machine. I spent Monday and Tuesday finishing up the unpacking and organizing. Now there is not much left in boxes and almost everything has a place. It's looking good. I will eventually post pictures.

On Monday, I spent the afternoon interviewing with the bank insurance company. I did a behavioural interview and a computer scenario test. It took about four hours but I think I did quite well. When I got home, I had another hour of web-based personality testing to do. My mind was mush by the end of it.

This morning I had a phone interview with another insurance company and they want to bring me in on Friday for an in person interview. It's a further commute than the first company though.

Then this afternoon I went back to the first company for a second interview. This time it was in a different building which turned out to be right outside my apartment building. Amazing. I couldn't have planned it better in my dreams.

I think that interview went well also because afterwards they got me to shadow someone else doing the job I would be doing for an hour. It actually looks really good, like a job I would enjoy doing. The atmosphere in the office feels both comfortable and professional. So I'm feeling optomistic. All there is to do now is wait for someone from HR to call and offer me a job which could happen any time within the next two weeks (I would start on Oct. 8th if I get it). So cross your fingers for me!

But I am still going to go to the interview on Friday, just to keep my options open.

I spent the rest of the afternoon cooking. I made chili, cornbread and peach cobbler because we are having company tonight! Allan, John's brother, and Judy are coming to spend two days with us again. I'm looking forward to seeing them.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Yesterday's Job Hunt

Well, one thing I must say about Toronto is that it takes no time to find a job. When I was looking for my last job I went from resume send out to two job offers in 12 hours. This time was no different.

I had been sending out resumes and applying for jobs online periodically throughout the week. On Thursday I started calling companies, so for Friday I had two interviews booked.

On Friday morning I headed to a small sales firm at Bloor & Spadina for my first interview. I immediately fell in love with the company. The overall feel of the office was laid back and everyone seemed happy. There was music in the air and the manager that I spoke to was extremely casual in his language (He used phrases I can't even type here, they are so off colour. I was actually shocked to hear him use them with someone on a first meeting). But despite all of that, the atmosphere was professional as well.

We chatted for a bit and I got the feeling that the job would be a harder sale than I am used to, the leads were pretty cool, but that the pay would be higher as a result. He offered me the job on the spot and I told him that I would think about it and call him back. I seriously considered his offer. The pros were that the pay would be good and it seemed like a pleasant work environment. The cons were that I wasn't sure how I would handle selling so hard, I think that takes a certain type of personality. I also was worried that spending time in this type of job would result in me getting sort of 'stuck' in sales and it would be harder to get out with my next job. Although maybe this isn't something I should worry about if my next job is going to be pastry chef anyway?

So I headed home, grabbed some lunch and headed to my next interview. I was excited about this one because it was less than a block from my apartment. The company was an insurance firm and my first impression is that it was a very professional atmosphere. The walls were lined with awards and plaques and everything was brightly lit. About thirty seconds into the interview, we determined that I was not a good fit for the job. In other words, the position required a car. The interviewer was like "Didn't I tell you that over the phone? I'm sure I did." No, I would remember that.

But the recruiter apparently has a sort of deal with another recruiter at another company where they trade applicants who don't fit at their respective companies. So she was like, "Do you want to work for a bank? I'll call my guy, he can probably find a spot for you". She called him while I was sitting there and left him a voicemail, gave me his card and I thanked her and left. So no job, but at least I came out with a lead.

I went home and called John to see if he thought I should accept the first offer, but he didn't answer his cell. While I waited for him to call back I got a call from another company for whom I'd applied online (although I don't really remember applying).

This time it was the insurance division of a major bank. They wanted to do a phone interview. After chatting with the recruiter for a few minutes we were both feeling pretty positive about the match up. The position they're filling pays well, offers good benefits, has advancement opportunities and provides training for skills that would be transferable to other jobs. And the best part is that it's on my street corner! The only downside is that I wold be working until 8pm at night, but John expects that he will be working later over the coming months anyway as he deals with more clients in western time zones so it probably isn't actually that bad.

Apparently the recruiting process is pretty complex, so she said it would take at minimum to the end of next week to complete it and that if I was sucessful, the job would start on October 8th. The manager from the first job I was offered said their training starts on Monday. So I had to make a decision. I called him to let him know I wouldn't be coming in on Monday but he wasn't available. The receptionist took down my contact info but not my message but he never called me back. So I guess he has no idea if I'll be there on Monday, but I won't be.

Over the next few hours I got an email from another company requesting a phone interview. I emailed them back with a time for them to call me. I got another email from the Investors Group asking me to come in for an information session. I wrote them back to say no thank you. I had actually already heard their pitch when I was in Halifax and like real estate, it's definitely not the kind of job that you take to make a lot of cash in your first year.

So the day ended with one job offer, and three good leads. Not too shabby. I feel much better now about my decision to leave my job earlier this month. I think that most of the people I spoke to on Friday had jobs better suited to what I want to be doing and they all paid better than the job I was in at the end of August. Things are looking up!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Not Much Going On

Sorry I haven't posted much lately, it's been pretty quiet around here. I've just been puttering around, organizing the apartment and job hunting while John's been working at trade shows (he gets all dressed up for them, I love it).

I finished the bag I started making at the craft cafe last week, it turned out awesome. Here it is before felting; big, floppy and ugly. I think it might be the biggest thing I've ever knit but it actually only took a couple of days because it was a simple pattern.

A few spins through the hot cycle later and it's a perfect little fuzzy bag. I let it dry filled with as many books as it could hold to give it a nice rectangular shape. I really like the effect of the felting. It gives the bag a thicker, heavier and more sturdy feel. It doesn't look knit at all anymore.

I lined the inside of the bag with matching satin. I decided to make it a knitting bag since it's just about the right size to hold a couple of rolls of yarn and some needles, so on the inside there are three little pockets for things like scissors and stitch holders.
On the opposite side I put pockets to hold two pairs of needles and a snap-top pocket for stitch markers. Don't mind my hand getting in the picture. I had no pink thread so I did all of the sewing in grey thread to provide contrast. It made me really focus on making my sewing neat, so I think that's a good thing.
Next I think I'm going to try to knit a pair of socks. I find that if I don't choose projects where I learn some new techniques each time, I get pretty bored. So I always try something new. And sometimes it turns out great and sometimes it doesn't.

I've got two job interviews today, both for sales positions. I'm not sure that either of them are going to end up being good fits for me, to be honest. But I feel like at this point I'm not in a position to say no to work that pays well, so I'm trying to go into this with an open mind and look for the positive. I will keep you all posted as to how they turn out.

Monday, September 14, 2009

4 Moves in 40 Days

That's it.

We're finally done moving.

I can finally unpack. For realsies.

Here's a recap, in case you've lost count.

Move #1: Halifax to Toronto
Move #2: Moving from one floor to another in our building (necessary due to some administrative errors from the rental office)
Move #3: Getting all of our stuff out of the new apartment so that they can refinish the floors
Move #4: Getting all our stuff back in

Yeah, my biceps are huge now from all the lifting.

Now here's the long version.

On Thursday night, we moved everything out. All that was left on Friday as I waited for the floor guy was a couch cushion to sit on and my laptop. He showed up around noon, so I had to leave. We had to be out of the apartment for 24 hours in order to give the varnish time to dry.

Overnight stuff in tow, I decided to spend my day on Queen Street West, investigating the fabric and bead shops. I had visited the fabric shops before, but the bead shops were brand new to me. There are about five of them in the two block span and they carry a huge range of junk beads, gemstone beads, freshwater pearls, swarovski crystal beads, silver plated and gold plated findings, and sterling silver findings. Some of them specialize in specific types of beads like cloissone or wood beads. And they range everywhere from 99 cents up to $3,o00 a strand. If you're wondering what kinds of beads you can get for $3,000, they were huge, gorgeous, clear raw aquamarines. If that's too rich for you, can get large, faceted citrines or raw kunzites for a mere $1,700 a strand, lol. I didn't end up buying anything because I didn't have any projects in mind, but they were certainly fun to look at!

It was only about 2:30pm by that time and I couldn't meet John until 6, so I headed West down the street to The Knit Cafe. I had never been there before, but it's a lovely little shop. On one wall there are all sorts of original knit patterns that you can choose from. I chose a felted bag because I've never tried felting before. Each pattern tells you what supplies you need which you pick up on another wall. From there you go to the from cash to pay and to order your tea and snacks, and then settle down at the central table for some knitting.

So I hung out for a bit, chatting with the other people in the store, sipping my green tea and knitting away. Felting basically means that you use wool yarn, knit something big and floppy, and then throw it in the washing machine on a hot cycle. Wool shrinks in hot water, so the result is a small, stiff project that has a fuzzy sort of finish. It actually barely looks like it was knit, more like it was made of felt that's been sewed together. I'm still at the knitting stage, but I'll let you know how it turns out. I had a lovely afternoon.

I rode the subway from there all the way to Finch station where I met John. It was my first time on the subway downtown during rush hour. What a zoo! From there we headed back to St. Clair West station and caught a streetcar to Alisha's house, where we would be spending the night.

Alisha is an amazing hostess. She made us a delicious beef stir fry with basamati rice for supper and then we spent the evening chilling in the living room, telling stories and having a few drinks. It was lots of fun. In the morning she made us some of her delicious open faced breakfast sandwiches and we left at 10:30 because she had to get to a wedding.

It was too early for us to go back to the apartment so we headed across the street to the library. John took out a million books (he needed some fiction to read on his long commute to work) while I posted on my blog using a library computer. After that, we decided to catch a noon showing of the movie 9, the new Tim Burton film. John found it visually appealing (I found it ugly, lol) but we both agreed that the plot was full of holes and the ending wasn't very good. After that, we finally headed home.

The floors looked pretty good, they had replaced all of the missing tiles and sanded away most of the water damage. We set to work getting all of our furniture back which took most of the afternoon. We put together John's new desk that we had bought about a month back and set up a cute little office space for the two of us. For supper, we ordered some pizza and we just relaxed for the evening.

On Sunday we took it easy in the morning and made some incredible breakfast sandwiches. We watched The Patriot, which was on TV, and did some more unpacking. We headed to the Sobeys for the first time (normally we shop at the Metro) to get our groceries for the week. It was a bit disappointing. The Sobeys was much smaller inside than it appeared from the outside and the prices were no better than the Metro. So it wasn't really worth the extra walk. But we got what we needed and headed home, stopping at The Golden Griddle for lunch. I had a blueberry waffle and John had a bowl of chili. The food quality was pretty much exactly what you would expect from a 24-hour waffle place, I was happy.

I headed home with the groceries and John headed out to find a haircut. He came home with a new style, longer on top than he usually gets. It looks good. He went out after that to meet a friend for drinks who has just moved here from Halifax. I stayed home and watched the finale of King of the Hill. I like how they ended it. John got home around midnight and we headed to bed shortly after.

Despite being homeless briefly, it was a fun weekend.