Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grace's Birthday Part 2!

Sunday after church Jerusha had a bunch of us girls over for "Grace's Birthday Part 2". J wasn't able to join us at Niagara but she still wanted to do something to help Grace celebrate so she hosted a lovely luncheon. She had appetizers spread out on the table when we arrived and served a delicious Trinidadian meal. 

After lunch we played "Whoonu" and "Never Have I Ever" and enjoyed this fun cupcake creation. It was a lovely relaxing day. Have I mentioned how much I love all my friends here lately?

Star Wars

My friend Sharlaine moved from BC to Ontario just a few months before I did. She's five years younger than me so we weren't really close in BC but since moving we've developed a deeper friendship. It helps to have someone around who understands what you left behind and knows the same people you do. Sharlaine is a HUGE Star Wars fan. I like Star Wars but I honestly can't remember the last time I actually watched the original three movies. I know I have seen them, probably more than once, but it's easily been ten years or more. Before we moved we made plans to get together to have a Star Wars marathon. On Saturday we finally achieved that.
I worked in the morning and then headed over to Sharlaine's mid-afternoon. I got there around 5pm and we made pizza and settled in to watch the movies. Unfortunately we only made it through the second one (Episode V) before we were both dozing off so we called it a night. Still, it was fun to hang out and remember how much I really do like those movies.

I made little individual coffee flavoured cheese cakes decorated with a Star Wars themed kit from Williams Sonoma for dessert.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Good Timing

(I wrote this post on my Blackberry today while I was killing time. So if it's a bit choppy, that's why. Hopefully it's okay to read because it's about something rather exciting for me.) First a bit of background because I can't remember if I've blogged this before and if I have, I don't expect my readers to remember it. Rewind to first semester of first year. Following the advice of the history undergrad advisor I took a course called "North American Studies 101". The prof and I hit it off extremely well. Out of a class of 200, I participated a lot and often stayed after class to chat. She's also from BC and we found we had a lot in common. As I worked through my first year homesickness, I found I could often turn to her as proof that it would all turn out okay.  Our final exam was on December 22nd. As I was leaving we chatted a bit about our plans for the holidays (both of us were going back to BC) and she asked if I had heard of her NO202 course called "North American Narrative Place and Identity". I was aware of it but, because it was a second year course, I hadn't thought about it much. Well, she invited me to take it with her in the winter semester since the following year (my actual second year) she was scheduled to be on sabbatical and wouldn't be teaching it. It didn't take me long to realize that when a prof invites you to take a course, it's a good thing, so I enrolled. To keep the story short, it was one of my favourite classes ever. The paper I wrote was called "The Representation of the Senorita in Contemporary Country Music" and I got 93% on it (!). I got an A+ overall in that class (the only one I've received so far). So by the end of that year, because of her and how much I enjoyed North American Studies, I declared myself a double major in History and NAS.  So second year goes by. She was on sabbatical and I've taken three other NAS classes (none of which were taught by her anyway). As I was building my third year schedule I realized that the only course that I could take with her is a French course (she's cross listed as a prof in NAS and French). This is a course I was planning on taking for my French minor anyway. It's on Quebec Culture and can be double counted as credits for both French and NAS. But, it's IN FRENCH! I have to admit I was pretty nervous about having to participate and write in French. The content isn't too bad, I mean we study Quebec a lot in NAS, especially in contrast to English Canada and, when I was in Montreal I learned that history really is the same in French as in English (for the most part). Anyway, I talked to a few of my coworkers who have had this prof, in French, and asked what their experience was. In general it was a pretty favourable review but one of them did caution that she seems to pick favourites. This is criticism of her that I've heard before and I admit I laughed it off because we all know where I stand that way ;) the thing that concerned me was possibly losing that status over my less than stellar language skills. Keep in mind that I see her as someone who could be a fourth year seminar advisor and a very good contact for future opportunities so maintaining this status is important to me. I decided to be proactive and go talk to her before classes start in September. Just be really upfront and explain that while I am looking forward to this class, I have some concerns. I figured honesty is the best policy and that way I don't feel like I'm hiding anything and that I can go to her for extra assistance when I need it. Okay, now to the point of our story. So I'm psyching myself up to talk to her in September and guess who comes in to Starbucks on Monday? Just as I'm about to go on my lunch break too. I almost didn't recognize her since it's been a year since I saw her last but I recognized her voice. I said hi, welcome back, etc and we started chatting like no time had passed (except that we had a year of stuff to catch up on!) She ended up staying in the store while I had my lunch and we talked about everything. My experience with Explore and living in Quebec (she did the program 20 years ago), my trip out East, the 2011 playoff run (she's a huge Canucks fan), me going to Georgia, my review of the French profs I've had this year AND the WHOLE structure of this course that I'm taking with her. She was happy to hear that I am going to be in it and I was really upfront with my feelings. I told her why I'm nervous and she told me why, for what I want out of it, I shouldn't be. Apparently when this course was first designed there were only 30 seats. That allowed for a lot of interaction and participation and people wrote papers that were graded with feedback. Now the class has expanded to 80 seats with no marking support. 80 people means there's a wide range of language ability and it makes in class discussion difficult and grading papers a monumental task. She kind of apologized for that and said that from a "French language improvement point of view", the class would be a disappointment. It's mostly listening and reading. There will be weekly readings with short answer "homework" assignments which are mostly completion marks, two multiple choice mid-terms and a final that will require writing but not a lot and it will be graded on content rather than grammar. So for anyone looking to improve their speaking or writing skills (which I am not really) the class wouldn't be good. But for anyone looking to learn about culture (which I am) it will be fine. So there. I was prepared to worry for another three months and now I don't have to! Plus she has emailed me some of our readings so I can get a headstart on the more difficult ones. Talk about good timing and how everything works out for the best. I need to keep believing that!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Port Dover

Monday, May 21st was Victoria Day. I worked a six hour shift at Starbucks (time and a half baby! ;)) but I was done by 1pm so I made plans to meet up with Jess in the little town of Port Dover on Lake Erie. It's about the same distance from my place to Port Dover as it is from hers and there's no real convenient place to meet up so we just met there. It worked well though because Jess had the whole day off so she was able to go out early. I got there around 3pm and joined her on the patch of beach that she had staked out. This picture was taken later in the evening when the beach had cleared off. It was BUSY, which makes sense since it's the "official start of summer" and probably the nicest May Day we've had in a long time.

We both brought snacks but we got fish and chips for dinner anyway. I had the perch and she had halibut. Food eaten outside always tastes better and this was no exception.

The line for food was crazy long. Can you see Jess (in the grey cap) and Chili in line?

We both had books so we just sat and enjoyed the nice weather. We read a bit, chatted and did a lot of people watching. It was a wonderfully relaxing way to welcome summer. I hope we can have a lot more days like this.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Niagara Falls

This is my friend Grace. She turned 25 on Friday. She was having a hard time with that number. I think we all have issues with some number or another. For me it was 23. 25 was actually pretty fun. Anyway, since she needed a distraction, a group of us decided to go to Niagara Falls for the night. There were seven of us total so we got two hotel rooms just a few blocks from the falls. We carpooled down and arrived about an hour and a half before our dinner reservations. I had anticipated the early arrival and packed a selection of cheese and crackers which I served as an appetizer on the slate cheese board that I bought Grace as a present. (I bought the same one for her brother and sister-in-law's wedding last year and she's been coveting it ever since ;))

Grace is a very girly girl so we decided to use her birthday as an opportunity to get dressed up. Our dinner reservations were at the Keg so we all pulled out our fancy dresses and did our hair. We got lots of looks but the "Happy 25th Birthday" balloon that we made Grace carry explained a lot :)
After dinner we changed into more comfortable shoes and then set out on a scavenger hunt that Sharlaine created. (Note the feather boa and blinking crown for Grace ;)) We broke into two teams and had to find 25 things such as: ONE famous person (a picture or a statue), a person with TWO tattoos, THREE people drinking coffee, etc. And of course get a picture of a team member with each person. It was a lot of fun. We only gave ourselves 45 minutes so there was a lot of running involved. My team won but only because we managed to get a group picture with TWENTY people looking at the camera (in Tim Hortons, we just kind of shouted and everyone looked LOL)
Saturday morning we slept in, had our own continental breakfast in the hotel (I brought fruit, one of the other girls brought homemade biscuits, and we had the leftover cheese) and then we headed out to see the falls. Even though Grace was born and raised in Ontario this is the first time she had actually been to the falls (other than crossing the border). She's been lots of other places. England, France, BC and on two cruises but sometimes the things in your own back yard are just as hard to get to.
It was a fabulous day for sightseeing. It was the holiday weekend so it was a little busy but not as bad as it will be later in the summer. It was sunny and warm with a slight breeze so when we did get hit with the spray from the falls it was refreshing more than annoying. The mist at the Canadian Falls was there but it wasn't really all that bad.
The first time I visited Niagara Falls was during my trip to Ontario at Easter in 2000. We drove down on Good Friday and had to be back for an evening church service so we didn't have a lot of time. It was a cold overcast day as well so it wasn't all that enjoyable. Aside from the brief stop I made on the American side of the falls in December 2010 I haven't been back. Maybe it's all in my head but I swear the falls look different from when I was there in 2000. I feel like I can tell that they have receded. It's really interesting to see.
Grace, Sharlaine and I decided to take the Maid of the Mist. Again, I did ride it twelve years ago but this time we were able to go SO much closer! Right up to the base of the Canadian Falls. It was awesome!!! Well worth the money it costs.
These are the American Falls as seen from the Maid of the Mist.
I didn't actually realize the bird was there until I uploaded this picture. I like it. There are tons of birds all around the falls and they are interesting to watch too.
After the boat ride the three of us joined up with the rest of the group and we visited a few of the shops in Niagara. The Hershey and Coke stores were favourites. This picture was taken in a hotel lobby by a friendly guy with an accent. That's me at the bottom, Susannah, Sharlaine, Elizabeth, Grace, Rachel and Esther. Just some of my awesome friends in Ontario :) 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Grandma & Grandpa

Today would have been my maternal grandparents sixtieth wedding anniversary. Unfortunately Grandma passed away just after their 45th and as I mentioned in my last post, Grandpa passed away this last Christmas (December 28th to be specific). They had an incredibly rich life though. They met in Germany where they were both working on a farm after the war. The married on May 18, 1952 at the Lutheran Church in Beedenbostel, Germany which is just outside of Gockenholz where the farm was. In 1953 the emigrated to Canada along with my grandmother's parents, three brothers and sister. The landed at Saint John, New Brunswick and took the train to Raymond, Alberta. There they all worked on a sugar beet farm for a few years to pay back the fees that the Lutheran Church had paid to sponsor them to come to Canada. From there they moved up to just outside of Edmonton and lived on a farm and then in town for the rest of their lives. They had five children. Two boys, two girls and fifteen years later, another boy. My mom was the youngest girl. Because my family moved from Alberta to BC when I was three I didn't have daily contact with my grandparents but we'd visit several times a year and often for a longer stretch during the summer so I did have a good relationship with them. It's hard to believe they're both gone now and that Grandma has been gone for half my life. I still miss her every day. I was given her wedding ring when she passed away. It's just a simple gold band with Grandpa's initials and the date of their wedding engraved inside (HB Mai 52) I wear it every single day and rarely take it off. Today means that it is at least sixty years old as well. It's a reminder of their quiet love and simple endurance. I treasure it more than anything and am honored to wear it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I know a lot of people and I consider a lot of people friends. Some people are particularly special though. One year ago today I met one of those people. One year ago today I arrived in Chicoutimi, Quebec and when I got to my host family's home, I realized that there would be two other students living there with me. What I didn't know was how much and how deeply one of them would impact my life and in how short of a time. I met a lot of people during my time in Quebec but Ashley Gibson and I formed the deepest bond of all. As someone who only had brothers and who hadn't had much success with roommates, I never knew the intimacy that could develop when you live with someone, especially when you are sharing the experience of the Explore Program. It is very intense and without Ashley and the other friends I made, I don't think I would have made it though.

Ashley and I initially connected because we were so close in age (she only had six months on me). Our other housemate, Museb was much younger and good was a good sport about taking on the role of "little brother". In the five weeks that I was in Chicoutimi Ashley and I were pretty much always by each others sides. She was in a different classroom but we often ate lunch together and sought each other out at break times and for group events. Most evenings we either had dinner at the school or with our host family and then she and I (and sometimes Museb) would go out. I spent more time in pubs and bars in that time than all the rest of
my life combined (well...it felt like it anyway ;)) But really, that's what we did. Ashley drank, I drove, we were a fabulous pair. Then on weekends we'd go exploring. It was generally someone different in the back seat. Victoria joined us a few times, Beth, Vita, Steve, Adam, Connor, the list goes on but it was always, ALWAYS, Ashley and I together in the front. We covered the Saguenay Region in the sun, rain and fog and sampled every cheese curd, ice cream and beer (for her) that we could find. It was around the fourth week that I had to go out quickly. I was driving away from the house when I realized "this is the first time I've been alone in my car since I arrived!!!"

I wouldn't have had it any other way. We shared so much in such a short time

I saw Ashley twice after Quebec. Once on July 8th when I was passing through Toronto and managed to meet up with her for dinner (I met her mom that night too) and once on August 31st when we met up for lunch at a restaurant just down the street from her house. Once school started our lives both got so busy it was hard to coordinate our schedules. Even so we BBM'd frequently and stayed in touch on Facebook. Over Christmas we made plans to get together for her birthday on January 6th. My return was delayed by the death of my grandfather and her party was postponed due to the death of her grandmother. A few days after our last exchange which was "I'll let you know when we reschedule" I received a phone call from Ashley's mother telling me that Ashley had died. As far as I know her death was caused by a bad mix of new prescription drugs and just like that her young life was ended. She had just had her 32nd birthday. I did make it up to Collingwood for the funeral. That was one of the hardest drives I've ever had to make but it was also therapeutic in it's own way. It seemed like a long drive was a good way to pay homage to someone who I got to know so well in my car. I still miss her like crazy and think of her often. I've lost other friends and acquaintances but never one whom I was so close with. Even if she was only in my life for a little over seven months.

Friday, May 11, 2012

My $8.80 Gamble

So, as a follow up to my previous post, I present My $8.80 Gamble. This is the dry goods I bought at the bulk foods store as a result of reading Pinterest. (clockwise from top left) Dry kidney beans, dry pinto beans, bulgur, flour, couscous, dry black (turtle) beans and cornmeal. The flour and cornmeal aren't really a gamble, I've used them before and I was low. The beans, bulgur and couscous however, were. I have used beans before but only ever the canned kind. I even called my mom and asked why she never used dry beans. They are SOOOOO much cheaper! And, in the spirit of "real food" don't have any additives like salt. Her response was mostly that it just took too much planning to get them, soak them, cook them, and THEN include them in a recipe. It's much easier to just open a can and dump them in your pot. Fair enough but I'm finding that all the prep that goes in to cooking, especially clean cooking, is part of the fun of it. It's kind of a game for me. Now, I realize that I'm one person and if a dish I'm planning isn't ready I can just have cereal for dinner. It's different when you're feeding a family. I get that. But still, it seems worth it to me. So the black beans were for a delicious Black Bean Salad that I'm already craving again. The kidney beans, pinto beans and bulgur were for a vegetarian chili. It took me almost a week to prep it. Tuesday I started soaking the beans, Wednesday I cooked them on the stove. Thursday I soaked the bulgur and would have made the chili but it was a GORGEOUS day and just not chili weather. Friday I finally made it. Vegetarian chili is initially a little different to get used to because it doesn't have that hearty meaty taste but I added extra chili powder so it's still got kick and it's very satisfying. Plus, removing the meat makes it much healthier which is the point. I made cornbread muffins to go with it. Lastly I used the rest of the pinto beans for Easy Slow Cooker Refried Beans. My landlord has a slow cooker which she stores downstairs and has given us permission to use. This was my first time using a slow cooker, ever. I like refried beans as a base for my version of Mexican food (basically just a tortilla with beans and lots and lots of veggies on top). This recipe was easy. The only thing I would do in the future is be sure to only let them cook for eight hours. I left them in for closer to nine and all the water was gone. They're a bit dry but I just add water before reheating and they're perfectly fine. The good news is that even though I've eaten over a third of it already (in wraps, pitas, etc) I still have a ton so I won't even be trying it again for a long time. 

So there, that's my report on the cooking adventures that eight dollars and eighty cents bought me. And I haven't even use the couscous yet! I have some plans for that though. I'll let you know how it goes. And who knows, maybe I'll inspire someone else to use dry goods. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

How Pinterest Changed My Life

That sounds dramatic but stay with me here. I'm online every day and accessing certain websites via my phone all day. Before Pinterest the websites I visited were very limited. Facebook, ScrapShare, my school's website, Hotmail, the bank, and a couple of radio stations. There were a handful of blogs that I visited as well but I mostly read those through the updates sent to my email. I was aware of Pinterest but avoided it like the plague because it seemed to all consuming. I finally broke down back in March or so and asked a friend for an invite. As predicted, it was immediately addicting but I found that I didn't only repin things, I actually clicked the links and visited the websites. And I made the stuff I found! So Pinterest has opened up a whole new world of websites to me (ones that I never ever would have visited on my own) and it's inspired a new passion for cooking. I have a separate board for some of the Recipes I've Tried if you're interested.

The other part of how Pinterest "changed my life" is more directly credited to a website I found because of Pinterest. 100 Days of Real Food doesn't really say anything different than anyone else but it's presented in a way that just makes sense. Initially, as a student on a very, VERY limited budget, I was drawn to Lisa's 100 Days on a Budget. If she can feed a family of four healthy, filling "real food" on $125 a week, then surely I can do it on even less than that. Especially since I have a ton of staples in the cupboard already. I read all the entries for the 100 Days on a Budget and then moved on to the Original 100 Day Pledge. Lisa follows Michael Pollan's mantra from his book "In Defense of Food" "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I haven't read the book yet myself but I plan to this summer. This plan just makes sense and in the twoish months since I discovered Lisa's blog, I have started making these changes. For the first couple of weeks to say I had "changed" was laughable because I was still eating the food I had on hand. All the processed frozen things in my freezer and boxed items in my pantry. Over time the change was reflected in my shopping habits. The best part about how Lisa presents her suggestions is that is empowering. Instead of feeling deprived because I "can't" eat certain things, the difference is that now I "can" but I CHOSE not to. For a stubborn person like me who HATES to be told what I SHOULD do (should is my most hated word ever) being given the choice of eating crap or eating whole, clean, real food, is liberating.

So this discovery of a website (with recipes) that focus on "real" food along with the eye catching pictures from Pinterest, have combined to really, finally, change how I think about food. And the best part? It's FUN! I look forward to each meal I prepare now. What a concept. :)

Monday, May 07, 2012

Wonderful Weekend

Saturday night my Uncle Doug (dad's younger brother) his wife LaRae arrived in Ontario. We met up for dinner in Burlington where they were staying before heading to Niagara. It was wonderful to see them (they're the first family that has "visited" since I moved here!) We had a nice dinner and then went for ice cream. The whole time we caught up on each other's lives, discussed all the family weddings scheduled for this year (my two brothers, their son, and one other cousin/nephew). We also reminisced about family history and discussed the genealogy research I've been doing out here.

Since I was already in Burlington I had made plans to stay over night with my friend Jess. I got to her place just before 10pm. We chatted a bit and then went to bed and slept in on Sunday. It was the first Sunday of the month so we had a late service (7pm) which meant we had the whole day to do whatever we wanted to. We started with breakfast and then went for a walk along a section of the Bruce Trail. It was a perfect day for a walk. Sunny and warm with a slight breeze that keep it just right. We walked along a creek and then up a hill and looped back around to the parking lot. The whole thing took just over an hour.

Next we drove into Oakville and went shopping in their downtown district. This was my first time visiting there and we weren't looking for anything in particular so it was just nice to poke around in the shops. Jess bought a beautiful linen skirt and we shared some meringues from a bakery while sitting in a park and watching all the little kids run around on the grass.

Once we were done shopping we went back to her place, had an amazing dinner of fish, new potatoes and salad and then got ready for church. Nothing about the day was particularly spectacular (except for the weather) but it was incredibly relaxing and wonderful. This week I am doing a lot of closing shifts at work so I am going to enjoy having my days to myself.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Back Online!

I know no one here has probably missed me since I'm blogging so infrequently these days but I was offline for the early part of this week. Not totally because I do have access on my phone but something got messed up on my computer so I couldn't get online. I finally broke down and it took it into the tech shop at school where one of my Starbucks regulars ran a "network system restore" and now it's all happy again. So how did I survive for three days without regular internet access? And why did it take me that long to decided to fix it? Two words: Downton Abbey. I borrowed the first two seasons from a friend of mine...well, a week ago today and I finished watching them last night. It's SOOOOOO GOOD! It's been a long...no, scratch that. I don't think I've EVER been this addicted to a tv show! I had heard good reviews of the show and when I heard she had it, I was excited to see what all the hype was about. I'm happy to report that it was just as good as it was made out to be. It's really what I needed following exams. Just some mindless entertainment. I also have the last few seasons of Road to Avonlea (I started watching that last summer after I got back from PEI) and I'll borrow "Larkrise to Candleford" from this same friend soon. I may rewatch Downton before I give it back though. It's that good!