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.