30 December 2007

I Survived Christmas 2007!

The Christmas holidays are officially over and sadly it’s back to the grind today. Despite my best intentions to relax during my 12 days off, I am returning to work feeling more weary than when I started my vacation. To say that I’m exhausted would be an understatement, but despite the lack of sleep and blatant holiday overindulgence, I had a fabulous time with family and friends.

Christmas dinner was an immense success and I’m still reeling over the fact that everything turned out as well as it did. I am happy to report that earlier aspirations to “pimp my bird,” resulted in a new recipe that I’ll happily use again in the future. I opted for a homemade apple/pecan stuffing and apple-glaze gravy, both which turned out to be just the right degree of “tasty” without being too crazy. My only slight hiccup was the fact that I burnt myself badly on a hot casserole dish, rendering my hand virtually useless for most of Christmas day - not the best way to start off the preparation of a huge feast for eleven people. Thank the Lord that I have a husband who isn’t afraid to jump in, get messy and take orders from a VERY flustered drill sergeant / wife. Okay…so it wasn’t the most relaxing or enjoyable day for Daniel and I, but the end result was worth it when everyone was seated around the table, replete with yummy food and holiday cheer. We survived our first Christmas dinner, we lived to tell the tale and I will happily and readily pass the torch on to whoever wants the task next year!

Aside from Christmas dinner and many long hours in the kitchen, Daniel and I were fortunate to meet up with several friends over the holidays. It’s not often that we get to see the out-of-towners, so it’s nice to make the most of having everyone in the city at the same time. I had a lovely dinner at a restaurant with one of my bridesmaids, her hubby and their “baby-to-be” and we also had the opportunity to entertain some friends for dinner on their 1st wedding anniversary. When hubby was out at a poker night with the boys, I was also able to throw together an impromptu girls night with two of my old buddies from high school that I haven’t seen in ages. We had a fabulous time reminiscing and catching up on our lives. I was very glad to share some time with old friends, especially seeing as one of them is moving down South next week to pursue her Masters and live with her fiancé who is a classical pianist and professor at the University of Texas…some gals have all the luck, LOL!

This year we kept things relatively simple for New Year’s, with a spontaneous gathering of a few friends at our place for some drinks and games. Hubby managed to snag a new toy for the X-Box, called Rock Band. Although I’m not really one fore video games, even I will even readily admit that this is pretty awesome, not to mention an excellent party game. The name pretty much explains it all: the game comes with two guitars, a drum kit and a microphone that all plug into the gaming console. You form a band and play along to rock music by hitting notes that are displayed on the screen. We had a riot and couldn’t stop laughing at ourselves; of course the fact that we were fuelled by alcohol probably didn’t help. I’ve heard howling dogs sound more in tune. I did make sure to film the band in action, but I would never be mean enough to post it on YouTube…at least not yet! You never know when you’ll need incriminating evidence!

The final day of the holiday was spent nursing a painful migraine and wine-induced hangover, followed up with the O’Brien family New Year’s Day dinner at my parents’ house. I felt kind of bad for my mother because most of us around the table were still suffering the effects of the previous night. It made for a fairly lifeless crowd, be we soldiered on bravely and drank more wine to toast the new year. It’s a hard life, but someone has to do it!

So there you have it, the Cole’s Notes version of my Christmas holiday. Even the recap makes me feel exhausted!

I hope that everyone has a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. This year, I will endeavour to fulfill one of my resolutions by writing more and continuing to bore you all with my wacky antics…luck you! Happy 2008 and thanks for reading!

18 December 2007

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Only one week to go until the jolly fat man lands on my roof. Not sure how he and the reindeer are going to cope with all that snow buildup; something tells me they’ll manage in the end.

Not too much to report today. Ottawa is back in business and kudos to the cleanup crew who worked round the clock to make the roads safer. I must admit though, I do miss working in my pajamas!

Today I am leaving you with some holiday snaps taken over the weekend. With all that snow, I had to find some way to occupy my time…aside from the hours of cooking of course.

Enjoy and be sure to finish your shopping!

Domain of the messy cook

My homemade sugar cookie dough

Hope Santa remembers me

My festive table

Cozy and inviting

Oh Christmas tree

Our "love smores"

Counting down the days

Away in a manger

Hot head Santas from Guatemala


Ready for the oven

In all its shining glory

All aglow

17 December 2007

The calm after the storm

Actually, I suppose you could say that the scene on the streets of Ottawa was somewhat chaotic this morning. Yesterday’s record-breaking snowfall made rural roads and side streets virtually impassible. School busses are cancelled outright and the mayor was urging people to stay at home unless travel is absolutely necessary. Sadly, I didn’t heed the city warnings and I ventured off to the bus stop where I waited for thirty minutes in the –25ºC cold for a nonexistent bus. My patience and nerve shattered when I narrowly missed being struck by a swerving vehicle. Needless to say, I called it quits and decided to work from home today.

Despite my dislike for winter, I have to admit that I sometimes enjoy the community spirit that this kind of weather seems to evoke. There’s something wonderful about a pile of complete strangers working together to shovel driveways or push stuck cars out of the snow. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a new neighbourhood, but it seems as though people here are willing to drop whatever they’re doing to lend a hand. I watched a man this morning going from house to house cleaning off driveways with his snow blower, expecting nothing in return and helping out of the kindness of his heart…something you just don’t see often these days. Hubby and I always joke that it’s, “meet the neighbours time,” whenever a storm comes because we all inevitably end up meetings outside and lending a hand where needed.

However, despite the good vibes and the kindness of strangers, I really don’t relish the thought of having to deal with this amount of snow ever again. It’s technically not even winter yet and we already have more snow than we typically accumulate in the entire season. I can only hope that the next big storm will hold off until after the holidays, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Weather experts are calling for a long, snowy ride.

16 December 2007

Let it snow…and snow…and snow…

After last year’s mild winter and green Christmas, I found myself hoping and wishing for snow this season. I had more of a “light dusting,” in mind, but it seems as though Mother Nature decided to make me eat my words with what can only be referred to as a “major dump”.

It has been years since I’ve seen snow banks this high. It brings me back to my childhood days when we would visit my Grammy in New Brunswick. It was a beautiful winter wonderland for us as children but now, as an adult, I find myself grumbling a good deal more. No messing about while Mom and Dad would break their back shoveling, now hubby and I are the official cleanup crew.

With 60cm of snow in a 24 hour period, it would be insanity to leave the home unless absolutely necessary. As it stands, there is a 3-foot wall of snow blocking our front and back door. Quite wisely, we have battened down the hatches and are hibernating for the day. In a sense, it’s kind of nice not being able to rush around and run our usual million weekend errands. Instead I am still in my jammies, sipping tea and accomplishing a good deal of Christmas baking and cooking. In the past 48 hours, hubby and I have managed to make four batches of sugar cookies, two homemade tortières and a crockpot full of fragrant chicken paella. You should smell it in here!

It has been a good weekend…busy yet uncomplicated. In closing, I am posting various photos from today's adventures in snow removal. As you can see, I eventually abandoned all hope and decided to revert back to my childhood. I jumped in the snowbanks, making an utter fool of myself, while hubby looked on and shook his head. I'm positive that the neighbours must think that I'm an absolute nutcase...maybe they're not far from the truth....

Yikes...this is what I woke up to this morning:

View from the back of our house:

Not a bad view (when you're toasty warm inside)

Diggin my way out...there is a porch under there...

Attempting to climb Mount Tomka

Bad idea...very bad idea...

Making progress. I look like I'm about 6 years old here.

Victory is mine!

Enjoying the view from the summit

14 December 2007

Pimp my bird...

Christmas is coming and soon the grocery stores will be filled with customers frantically shopping for their huge and gluttonous festive dinners. Only a few months after Thanksgiving, I don’t exactly relish the thought of eating a huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Most people think I’m crazy, but I honestly find that the old tried and true holiday fare can get a little bland. If it were up to me, I’d eat curry at Christmas!

Being the ever-so-thoughtful gal that I am, this year I decided to host Christmas dinner for both sides of me and hubby’s family. I figured that I could muster cooking for 11 people in order to give others a relaxing holiday for a change. Besides, this would pretty much let me off the hook for a few years right? No problem really; I’m happy to do it.

When recently sifting through recipes, in passing I mentioned to my brother that I was considering NOT making a turkey this year. Between dividing Christmas dinners with multiple families, I figured that people might grow tired of the usual gobbler. However, my brother was quick to inform me that, "No turkey on Christmas day would be a monumental letdown for everyone,” which is very easy to say when you’re not the one cooking it. Needless to say, my dreams of a beautiful, spicy succulent roast fizzled at that moment and I resigned to the fact that I would have to tackle my arch nemesis once more – “Damn you, stupid bird!”

Now as a hostess, I must admit that I can sometimes be quite selfish in my selection of dishes. As a general rule, I typically won’t put my name on anything that I don’t care for. It’s not that I don’t like turkey; it’s quite tasty. What sometimes bothers me is its lack of zip. Perhaps I messed up my taste buds from too many spicy dishes lately, but I have a really hard time settling for generic flavours. I much rather my food hit me over the head and scream, “Hello!” In other words, I want something that leaves a bit of an impression…preferably a good one. I’m sorry but the “just add brown gravy for taste” no longer works for me.

All this turkey apathy got me to thinking, if Exhibit can pimp "rides" (street lingo for ‘car’ by the way), then surely I can “pimp” my bird...right?

With only two weeks until Christmas, my goal is to settle on something that will satisfy traditionalists and modernists alike - conventional turkey goodness with a subtle hint of wow! Who knows, perhaps I will push the envelope and jazz up the other classics….now the wheels are truly starting to spin. Deck the halls with Malox and Tums…Jenny’s in the kitchen and it ain’t gonna be normal –ha!

Stay tuned for post Christmas blogging, with pictures of the feast to end all feasts!

13 December 2007

Queen of Crock…

Winter is here and there’s a definite chill in the air. Gone are the days of eating al fresco by the BBQ. with a chilled wine in hand and the warmth of the sun on my back. It’s damn cold…and with that comes a yearning for something warm and sustaining.

To be perfectly honest, when I received a crock-pot several Christmases ago from my mother, I wasn’t too sure what to make of it. I always equated slow-cookers to stews and basic hearty meat and potato type dishes…yummy, but hardly exciting for demanding taste buds. And so, in my ignorance, the crock-pot sat in its box in my basement for over a year. Every weekend my husband and I would look at one another and say, “we should really start using that crock-pot,” but we were both too lazy to drag it upstairs and sift through recipes.

Since joining weight watchers and subsequently changing my eating habits, I have taken a more active interest in cooking and meal planning. One day while visiting Chapters, I was browsing through the healthy living section and I saw a book on crock-pots staring me in the face. Feeling bold, I picked up the book and proceeded to drool as I flipped though countless pictures of exotic, spicy, and flavour-laden food. BINGO! This definitely wasn’t the old standard Irish stew (I can just hear my ancestors grumbling). With a renewed sense of interest in my old Christmas gift, I purchased the book and started my journey towards crock-pot addiction.

In our home, Sunday is now affectionately known as “Crock-Pot Sunday” (CPS). Every weekend, I will try a new recipe that I have found. From the traditional to the exotic, you can pretty much cook it all in a crock-pot: Cuban pork and sweet-potato stew, spicy chicken paella, sweet and sour curry, Moroccan lamb…all extremely healthy and diet friendly too! Sure I could probably make these things in the oven or on stovetop, but the crock-pot is actually much easier and the food just melts in your mouth. The other bonus is that I can leave my meals cooking away while I’m out running errands; just set the timer on the pot and let it do the rest. Some slow-cookers even have a ‘hold warm’ function that will activate automatically after the food has cooked - this has proved invaluable while entertaining as I can sit with guests and enjoy some appetizers without worrying about overcooking the main dish.

So there you have it, I am now officially hooked on the slow-cooking method. To the crock-pot adverse, I highly encourage giving it a second chance. Buy one now, and I guarantee it will become a regular fixture in your kitchen during the cooler months…and that’s no crock!

08 November 2007

The best investment you’ll ever make...yourself!

At some point in our lives, we will all hit an inevitable slump. Sometimes this arrives in the form of a mid-life crisis, or for some of this, we hit the brick wall much earlier in our lives.

We live in such a fast-paced world these days and it’s all too easy to get swept up in the rush. Work hours increase as does or dependency on technology and, worst of all, less time is spent truly focusing on our own wellbeing. Stop and think about it for a moment, if you can. When was the last time that you seriously asked yourself, “How am I doing?” I’m not referring to money, career aspirations or how much you own; I’m referring to your mental and physical self.

While a “self check” may sound simple, for many it can be a difficult and frightening task. Have you ever sensed that something wasn’t quite right in your life but were too afraid to actually confront the issue? Sometimes continuing in that downward spiral seems easier and more familiar. However, as I discovered more recently in my own life, apathy or avoidance will get you nowhere in the end.

Although I am relatively young, I feel as though I have already encountered my first brick wall. Despite being extremely happy with my new marriage and home, I cannot honestly tell you that I felt happy with myself. I was putting far too much time and effort into my work, my house and, while I’m ashamed to admit it, “keeping up with the Joneses”. For well over a year, I convinced myself that the superficial was far more important than my own well-being. Consequently, I started getting sick, gaining weight, and feeling generally despondent and miserable in my own body. I hid my “brick wall” very well, but I knew that I had reached a point where something had to change. I had to regain control of my body and my sanity…I needed to invest in myself.

For several years I have been an active member of an online forum for newly-wedded women and brides-to-be. Who knew that what started as fun source for planning my wedding, would eventually turn into a lifeline and reality check?

Several months ago, feeling quite discouraged by my slump and by an equally depressing post-cruise weight, I started browsing “health and fitness” forums. Low and behold, I was surprised to encounter an amazing network of women who were feeling the same as myself…many who were trying to surpass obstacles far larger than my own. By listening to these women, I felt inspired to begin my path to a healthier lifestyle.

I joined Weight Watchers, something that I had never believed in before. I have always equated these programs with fads, likely to fail in the end. As it turns out, I was wrong! The plan is simple – it’s not about dieting, it’s about being more aware of the foods and quantity that you do eat. It’s about “eating to live” and not “living to eat”. The change was easier than I thought. I eat when I’m hungry and I don’t consume as much as a full-grown man. WW taught me that, while I was eating very well, I was simply eating too much. I still have my indulgences, but they are more controlled. I don’t have wine every night any more…it turns out that is was only fueling the fire and acting as a “downer” for me. Now hubby and I split a bottle on the weekend and I see it as a treat rather than a household staple. No folks…I was not on the verge of alcoholism, I just loved a good glass or two ; P

Seeing as my eating habits were starting to change for the better, I felt a renewed confidence in myself; I also noticed a significant boost in my energy levels. While exercise has always been present in my life, it was one of those things that would sit by the wayside in favor of “more-important” activities. Not anymore! I now make a conscious effort to set aside exercise time everyday, whether it be walking into work rather than bussing, hopping on the elliptical for an hour or simply doing a few reps with free weights. I have also joined lunch hour aerobics and a strength training classes at work. By adding variety to my exercise, it actually becomes fun rather than monotonous. I no longer groan when I think of squats, I actually crave them…more than food itself.

Since confronting my “brick wall” three months ago, I have truly started to change both physically and emotionally. I’ve lost 14 lbs. and finally have a normal BMI, I have a renewed interest in work and life in general, and I feel FANTASTIC! More importantly, I feel like I’ve gained to upper hand and have started to take control of myself again.

Only three months into my “transformation”, some people may simply regard this as a passing phase. I however see this as a change of lifestyle. I am certain that life will throw more challenges and brick walls my way, but I am happy to know that I have the ability to overcome them. The answer is quite simple and I can’t believe it took me this long to figure it out - a slump exists simply because you allow it to do so.

21 September 2007

One year down and it’s only getting better…

This time last year, I was sitting at the spa with my mother having a manicure and pedicure done for my wedding. I recall that day with absolute clarity; I felt elated and absolutely relaxed. No nerves, no tears. Tomorrow, I would marry my best friend.

Almost one year later, I still get that same sense of glee when I think about my husband. Despite a hectic first year of marriage, it has been fun! We’re growing together, facing new challenges, and becoming closer with each passing day. I truly did luck out. I married a man who is my equal, my partner and truest confidant. Like anyone, we have our ups and down, but I really can’t complain; so far, my marriage has been an absolute joy.

These days I find myself feeling somewhat nostalgic. It’s difficult to comprehend how quickly time passes. In many ways I still see myself as a child, when in actuality life really is moving on. Marriage has changed me in some ways; it has made me more realistic, responsible and focused on the future. Marriage means having to act as a unit, being accountable not only to yourself but to your partner as well. Despite the fact it is only the two of us, we have formed our own family which will undoubtedly grow in a few years as we have children. The thought used to frighten me, but now I look forward to the future.

As my husband and I celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary, I look at life with increased enthusiasm. I can’t help but feel as though we’re just starting to crack the surface of a long and exciting story; we don’t know the full plot or the slate of challenges, but together I am confident that we will pull through and make this work.

23 July 2007

Back on track

It’s official, you heard it here…I’m still alive!

Regrettably I have broken the golden rule of successful blogging, “post often”.

To be perfectly honest, it seems as though I suffered from a horrible bout of writer’s block over the past several months - not the best situation for an aspiring writer and communications practionner.

Work has been keeping me so busy these days that I feel as though my mind is numb by the time I get home. Work, eat, clean, exercise sleep…work, eat, clean, exercise, sleep…rinse and repeat.

Perhaps I’m exaggerating slightly. Despite the typical weekday doldrums, life really hasn’t been all that bad. In late March, Daniel, myself, my brother and future sister-in-law went on a 9-day Southern Caribbean Cruise. The trip was blissfully self-indulgent…hedonism at its very best! We lived like kings and don’t regret it for a moment (except for those extra pounds gained at the chocolate buffet).

If you didn’t notice it already, I did say “Future Sister-In-Law”. As suspected, my brother popped the big question during the cruise. I don’t know who was happier, the future newlyweds or me?!? As we sat down to our first dinner on the ship, Lindsay coyly flashed her ring (which I have aptly named, Mr. Sparkle) and I had to contain myself from jumping up and down and screaming. We had a great celebration that night with a visit to the Champagne bar. It was a wonderful way to start off a memorable holiday.

Aside form cruising and living the good life, I also had the opportunity to travel to Halifax in May. Sadly, the bulk of my visit was spent attending scientific lectures in a hotel conference room for my initiative’s Annual General Meeting (a large undertaking for me), however I did have the opportunity to visit the Casino on the waterfront for dinner and took a nice stroll along Citadel Hill. Being back in the Maritimes felt very nostalgic; it made me think of countless childhood vacations and all the summers I spent with my grandmother. I love the East Coast and despite being an Ottawa native, I still feel very much at home by the sea. I smell retirement, do you?

With travel aside, this summer has been relatively busy. Daniel and I had the opportunity to attend two weddings in June. Almost everyone in our immediate group of friends has tied the knot. I must admit, it was nice only having two weddings this year. Last year felt like a marathon, with a grand total of seven weddings (including our own), preceded by three weddings the year before. Next year is gearing up to be enjoyable, with only my brother’s wedding in September. For now, it seems like the “baby-train” is well in motion for several couples. Very exciting times, however I don’t plan on joining that circle just yet. After all, I can barely even find time to write...I imagine that a child would be vastly more complicated! Even with my mother’s cajoling (she’s a baby nurse, folks), I am content to wait a while longer.

And now, for your amusement, some photos from the cruise:

The NCL Pearl

At the wine bar, of course!

Tahitian Pool, pre-annoying teenagers!

Spinnaker Lounge, ulta hip

All in the family, in bed at Bliss Nightclub

Summer Palace Dining Room

Welcome to Rousseau, Dominica

Beautiful bay in St. Lucia

Friendly fisherman in Anse-La-Raye

Les Deux Pitons, St. Lucia

Shoppers paradise in Antigua

beautiful beach

View from Fort James, Antigua

Hidden courtyard at Nelson's Dockyard

The Pearl

The effects of too much rum

Best pool loungers EVER!

A touching farewell show in th Stardust Theatre

With Captain Sveres Svodnes

02 March 2007

Policing: Giving credit where it's due

So seldom do we hear about positive stories surrounding the police – the everyday heroes who save lives, provide comfort to citizens and ensure our security. For some strange reason, the media and many people in society are hell bent on tainting their image by any means possible. A quick glance over a year’s news coverage will most likely yield more articles pertaining to negatives such as police corruption or abuse of power. While these problems many sometimes exist, they are not the core of what policing is all about. For the majority, police officers are everyday unsung heroes; they are brave men and women who risk their own lives to keep society out of harm’s way. These are people who command our respect, and yet so many are quick to criticize their actions.

I did not intend to write this blog as a rant, but rather as a wakeup call to society. The message is quite simple…

Policing exists for the benefit of society and security. Police officers are commissioned to uphold the law. Laws were created to protect the civil liberties of society, not to suppress us.
Police are not out to get you, they are out to help you.

If you have ever had a run-in with the law, chances are you were doing something illegal or questionable. It’s not about race, power or victimization; it’s about right and wrong. In general, if you abide the law you should have nothing to worry about. Police only become involved when something or someone is believed to pose a threat to society or to themselves. For the most part, police officers are just men and women doing their best to serve society. I find it very unfortunate that their good deeds, which far surpass any negative stories, go unnoticed.

Fortunately, I was able to witness a small measure of recognition last evening at the Ottawa Community Police Awards, where both officers and civilians were acknowledged for their valour and outstanding contributions to society. These are the positive stories that the public never gets to hear about; this is the tue essence of policing.

I watched with pride as my own brother received a certificate of merit for saving the life of a suicidal man. Several months ago, he responded to a call where a young man was standing on the ledge of a bridge, poised to jump. After a very lengthy conversation with the distraught man, he was able to convince him that his life was worth living. Somehow, he said the right words to pull this man out of his despair and encourage him to give life a second chance.

I would like to encourage society to support their local police forces and to think twice before they condemn officers. Police truly deserve more recognition for their hard work. For every negative story you hear in the news, you can rest assured that there are many more positives that go unmentioned.

Sadly, last night’s award ceremony didn’t even make the front page of the City section in the local paper - just a small 1/4 page blurb at the back.

09 February 2007

Overcoming your fears: Setting the wheels in motion

For most adolescents, driving a car is an absolute dream! It is you first official step towards freedom and adulthood. I remember former classmates back in high school counting the days until their sixteenth birthday, that “magic” day when children suddenly become mature enough to get behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. Unlike most of my friends, I wasn’t too eager to take the leap.

By age 18, I finally decided that it would be a good idea to bite the bullet and apply for my learner’s permit. I’m still not entirely sure whether my decision was prompted by a desire to drive or the necessity of having a valid photo I.D. to get into bars...my priorities were questionable at the time.

I remember the thrill of receiving my G1 (Ontario learner’s permit) in the mail. I finally had a licence...but now what? With some encouragement from my parents, I enrolled in Driver’s Ed classes. While other students had taken to driving like ducks to water, my mood was less than apathetic. Truth be told, I didn’t much enjoy driving.

I passed Driver’s Ed, despite my terrible habit of speeding. Looking back, I probably should have failed the in-car sessions. My driving instructor urged me to book a road test with the Ministry of Transportation and not to wait too long. Following her suggestion, I booked a G1 exit test but never received a date confirmation from the Ministry. This is where things started to fall apart.

Instead of following up, I stopped driving. I lost my nerve. I started to have doubts and fears. I started to think about my mother, who lost her left leg at age 25 to an impaired driver. I have no idea why these thoughts only started to occur to me at that point. I was perfectly capable of driving and taking the test…perhaps I was just looking for an out.

For the past eight years, driving has been a bone of contention for me. I knew that I was doing myself a great disservice by letting my licence lapse. Despite my extreme embarrassment, I still couldn’t get myself back on track. Not only was this a huge letdown to myself, I know it also bothered my family. This was the first time I ever truly failed at something. A usual go-getter, I think my reluctance to drive shocked a lot of people.

For years I have had to ask others to play chauffeur. I’ve never been able to return the numerous favours to friends. I’ve never been able to be Designated Driver, while others got to have fun for a change. It’s a terrible feeling. Constantly being at the mercy of others is not a fun way to live. You no longer feel self-sufficient; you become the odd man out.

In only one month, I will be turning age 26. I am a newly married woman, a homeowner and hopefully a mother in a few years. On one hand, I seem like quite the grownup but I still feel as though I’m missing the final piece to a puzzle. It’s finally hit me; I no longer want to live this way; it’s time to face my fears.

Today I applied for my G1 learner’s permit….again. I swallowed my pride and redid the written test that I took back when I was 18. Once again, I passed the test with flying colours. The only difference this time is that I actually feel excited to get behind the wheel of a car - my car - the car my husband and I purchased with both our salaries.

Having my learner’s permit again, is a huge weight off my shoulders. I’m bound and determined to get my full licence this time. Driving will open up a whole window of freedom for me, I will be able to run errands without depending on my husband, my children will be able to depend on me and I will be able to see my family more…the possibilities are endless. To bad it took my so long to come to this realization.

There are a lot on non-drivers out there who may not agree with my viewpoint. Driving is a valid fear for many of us, but not learning is a frustrating dilemma. Sometimes life is about trying things outside of our comfort zone. I may never be a great driver, but I want to be able to get behind that wheel when needed.

I have not written this article to offend or upset non-drivers; if anything I can totally empathize. Hopefully I can inspire others to face their fear. I don’t think it is right to dictate a specific age or time for people to start driving. It is a decision that must be made by the driver him/herself. Never let anyone pressure you. Only you can decide when or if it’s time to get your wheels in motion…pardon the pun.

18 January 2007

Sexy Salad

Last night I truly managed to surprise myself. In honour of my father-in-law’s 50th Birthday, I decided to branch out and try a new recipe for dinner. While this may not sound exceptional to most people, it is a huge step on the domesticity front for me. I am renowned for buying recipe books and wistfully sighing over descriptions of exciting food, but I always end up making the same old faithful dishes.

While my father-in-law is a meat & potatoes kind of man, I really wanted to try something different…something that could only be described as a culinary work of art. I was determined to create a salad so glorious, that even the most hardened Lachanophobic would drool with anticipation. Enter what I like to call, the “Sexy Salad”

The wonderful thing about salad is that you really can spice it up as much as you like. All you need is some leafy greens for your canvas and the rest of the masterpiece is entirely up to you. Last night’s salad was inspired by a recipe that I once saw on the show “Take Home Chef” on TLC. I recall a program where the chef prepared a beautiful salad with pears and a sweet raspberry dressing. Curious, I conducted one of my much-cherished “Google searches” and found a whole slue of wonderful recipes. After a quick browse, I settled on this little gem….

Roasted Pear Salad

1 cup port
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (prodotto di Modena, Italia..yay!)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pears
mixed greens (I used fresh spinach and endive)
pomegranate seeds
gorgonzola cheese

Place pears on baking sheets and broil until golden brown (approx. 3-5 minutes). Set aside to cool

In a saucepan, bring port to a boil – continue to simmer until liquid reduces to ½
Set aside and cool completely.

In a blender, add cooled port, balsamic vinegar, garlic, Dijon, and shallots. Purée until smooth. Refrigerate dressing once complete.

Arrange greens on a plate and garnish with roasted pears, pomegranate seeds, walnuts and crumbled gorgonzola cheese. Add cooled dressing.

This salad is truly a sight to behold and taste. Because certain items were not available at my local grocer, I had to make a few moderations to the recipe. Rather than pomegranate, I used fresh cranberry. Unfortunately, I could not find any gorgonzola cheese; instead I opted for some thinly cubed mozzarella. I still think that blue cheese would be better however hubby is not a fan.

If you want to fancy things up a bit, try roasting the walnuts in a pan for a few minutes; this really brings out the flavour! I doubled the recipe in order to serve 6 people, and I still ended up with some spare dressing – Score!

The rest of the meal also went off without a hitch: mesquite pork loin, steamed asparagus, mash potatoes (for the boys), and yummy rutabaga. As if that wasn’t enough food, we topped things off with some Bailey’s cheesecake and a healthy dose of wine.

Speaking of wine, if you are looking for some insight or suggestions on your next special bottle, be sure to check out my NEW wine blog, “Wine made easy”. Aside from writing, wine has quickly become my other passion in life. While I cannot proclaim myself a wine expert (at least not yet) I am studying and “sampling” as many different varieties as I can possibly afford. I’m a wino with a cause!

Bon appétit and cheers!

17 January 2007

Manners…a thing of the past?

What is it with people these days? Have we really become completely lost in our own self interest? I thought I had more hope for society, but my bus ride into work this morning has convinced me otherwise.

Typically, I try to catch an express route in the morning but luck was not on my side. Instead, I was stuck onboard the city’s main East-West bus which I usually try to avoid like the plague.

Despite boarding at the beginning of the route, the seats filled up instantly. Luckily, I was able to score myself a spot at the middle of the long articulated bus. Needles to say, I was happy to find a seat…at 5’2” standing on a crowded bus can be a real issue…especially when claustrophobia kicks in…fun times!

No more than 2 minutes after the bus rolled away, I noticed a mother and her little boy standing in the aisle near the front. Immediately, maternal instinct (who knew?) kicked in as I saw the scared little tyke wobbling around on unsteady legs. Incredulously, I watched as people deliberately ignored the stumbling child and weary mother. Young students, perfectly capable of standing, feigned sleep, while men, the so-called chivalrous sex, buried their noses deeper into the morning paper.

When it became obvious that nobody was willing to help, I stood from my seat and flagged down the mother. She thanked me profusely as her little boy scrambled to the seat. When did such a simple gesture become so demanding? When did common courtesy become a rarity? When did we become so selfish that we would put our own comfort above the safety of a child?

What a sad world we live in!

10 January 2007

Down for the count...almost

I am proud to say that both Daniel and I survived our first night of boxing 101. At the end of last night’s class, being able to stand even felt like a giant accomplishment.

It turns out that the instructor and I have a different perception of the word “beginner”. While we did learn some basic moves and combos, I was surprised to have gloves on within the first 5 minutes of the class. Things move fast, but I guess that’s to be expected in boxing.

The majority of our first class was spent practicing a series of different punches: left jab, right cross, left hook. These are recurring moves that we will need to know for sparring in the future. Dan and I took turns practicing our punches, alternating between the gloves and the blocking / focus pads. It was fairly intimidating being on the receiving end of Dan’s punches – this is where the whole male vs. female strength issue is totally validated. Dan wasn’t even hitting my pads with full force, and I could still feel myself being moved backwards. Meanwhile, my pitiful left jab isn’t strong enough to move tissue paper on a windy day. However, I do think that he felt some kick from my right arm…definitely something to work on!

Minus the aching muscles and shoulder blades, I think I’m really going to enjoy boxing. Daniel and I are excited to purchase our own gloves this week, so that we can practice at home. Luckily we already have some equipment from Dan’s jujitsu days so keeping up to par shouldn’t be too costly.

Irish dancing is on tonight’s agenda. I look forward to getting my feet stomping again as I was on a month-long hiatus throughout the holidays. Thank God Irish dancing doesn’t involve the upper body, otherwise I’d have a major issue on my hands…pardon the pun.

TTFN! Only 78 days until we leave for sunny Miami and our Caribbean cruise!

09 January 2007

Goddess of the gloves

Just when I thought my extracurricular activities couldn’t get any more random, I’ve decided to sign myself up for a beginner’s boxing class. No…I’m not talking about that sissy cardio kickboxing stuff; this is the real deal – gloves, mouth guard, sparring…the whole shebang.

I can just imagine the collective gasp from readers right now. You are probably wondering why I would subject myself to such brutality. My answer is simple…Why not?

Even as a child, I was fascinated by boxing. I’m not sure where this interest developed; perhaps it stems from the infamous “black box” that my father setup in our family living room, allowing us to watch the major championship fights live from Vegas. I was dazzled by the male heavyweights and inspired by women contenders who defied the conventional norms of the sport. I cheered for the likes of Holyfield and De La Hoya, and developed a strong hated for the boorish conduct of Tyson. I’ll never forget watching the infamous “ear incident” in a Holyfield vs. Tyson match with my father. I was disgusted and transfixed all at the same time.

Over the years, I haven’t had to opportunity to follow boxing much - Ottawa isn’t exactly a mecca for this type of sport. There is a regional boxing club which I once considered joining with fleeting interest, however my schedule never permitted me to pursue the matter further. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my local gym has contracted out to provide boxing instruction - score!

Tonight should be interesting as it is my first class in boxing 101. To make matters more interesting, hubby will also be joining me. Relationship coaches often recommend that married couples should find a common activity to share in order to foster their romance….something tells me that they probably don’t have this on their recommended list! I can already picture the competitiveness issue; neither of us are gracious winners or losers. Just yesterday I “trashed” Dan at Wii boxing...luckily we are still on speaking terms today.
So there you have it, yet another random activity to add to my life. A boxer / Irish dancer - a strange brew indeed!

Wish me luck, hopefully my pretty face won’t get too marred over the next 2 months.

04 January 2007

'Twas the Season

It’s official; I survived 2006! The holidays almost killed me but I thankfully managed to pull through. What I had hoped would be a relaxing break, turned out to be utterly busy and exhausting – I suppose it was an appropriate way to end off a chaotic year…

Being newlyweds, Daniel and I were faced with the difficult task of trying to divide our time evenly with both our families throughout the holidays. While we did have to deal with this back when we were dating, being married truly does add an extra level of complexity. Being the wonderful “unit” that we now are, we are expected to appear side-by-side at all family functions. It sometimes feels as though we are the main attraction…some sort of freakish double-feature at a circus.

All in all, I think we handled the holidays rather well. The 24th and boxing day was spent with the in-laws and Christmas day and January 1st was spent with my family. All the days in between were spent running around. In the span of 11 days, we only managed to sneak in three meals “alone” at home...two of which were takeout. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly the romantic week I originally had in mind. Thus is the life of newlyweds …but at least I didn’t have to cook many meals right?

The colossal year of weddings, ended off in fine style. Dan and I traveled to Guelph on December 29th to attend a friend’s wedding. It was a fun-filled weekend as Dan played the role of best man…lots of partying was involved. I knew barely a sole at the rehearsal dinner but left Guelph two days later feeling as though I knew everyone. Some things never change, those Engineers are still a wild bunch! Amusingly, I had already met some of the guys in the wedding party…although under some fairly embarrassing circumstances…

Rewind to University back in 2000: I was a very eager little communications Frosh, trying to earn scavenger hunt points for my faculty. One of my main objectives was to infiltrate the Engineering pub crawl in attempt to steal a much coveted hardhat from a poor unsuspecting male. Armed with three of my girlfriends, we brazenly lied and flirted our way into the party. After several hours of drinking, dancing and making an utter ass of myself, my friend snatched a hardhat and we tried to escape the pub unscathed. The guys were having none of it; they were already on to our little scheme. We ran out of the pub with several engineers in hot pursuit. To my horror, two of the engineers that I flirted with mercilessly to get into the pub were at the wedding. I don’t think they recognized me, but silly me had to open my mouth. My introduction went something like this, “Hi my name is Jenn! I think we already met several years ago. You tried to throw me out of an engineering pub. I was the drunken Frosh who was gyrating around one of your buddies on the dance floor….” Thank God I’ve grown up…somewhat…

So there you have it, a busy and interesting holiday season for Daniel and I. Once again, my relentless celebrating, lack of sleep and overindulgence has left me sick as a dog.

Bring on the Kleenex, the Vicks, and the cough syrup….bring on 2007!

And now for your amusement, here is my favourite Christmas gift ever! Allow me to introduce Seamus, the Leprechaun cookie jar - the perfect amount of kitsch, functionality and Irishness. Many thanks to “Bruiser”, the world’s best shopper!

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