Monthly Archives: January 2012

a perfect day for tea

david’s tea has been open in uptown waterloo since the summer – and i have never been! it was high time to get myself in there -> and i knew just the person to introduce me to the wonders of this meeting spot right in my neighbourhood – my blog friend, angela!

angela, inside the tea shop!

so, angela and i made a date to visit david’s tea on saturday, after i was done work at the store. a blustery and wintery afternoon + hot tea + social time? sounds like a perfect match, no?!

david's tea is tucked in on willis way, in uptown

as great as it was to see angela again, i was also really looking forward to learning the ins and outs of the david’s tea operations. as noted on her blog, angela has frequented david’s many times, and really is a tea aficianado, so i was more than happy to let her show me around. just looking at the vast array of options was a tad overwhelming!

look at the options available!

david’s was positively hopping when angela and i arrived – the outdoor rink across the way has boosted traffic into the store. i’m glad to see that the tea shop is giving its neighbour, s’bux, a run for its money!

we were offered a free sample of the flavour of the day, upon our arrival:

i included the shot glass sampler on the top of the cannister - very cute, eh?!

“secret weapon” was just ok – it didn’t knock my socks off, or anything.

angela selected some of her favourites to purchase in the take-home size tins. [you can buy the teas by weight  – say, 50 g of x tea. then, when you bring the tin back, you’ll get a discount on your next purchase]. as angela made her picks, she told me about some of the flavours she has enjoyed, and others that are merely so-so. i sniffed away at the various types – everything from organic banana oolong to chocolate chili chai. several scents were appealing, a few…not so much. with some options, you could really smell the flavour very strongly while with others, it was hard to discern the notes.

the yellow and red labels are all caffeine-free

as my sit-down-and-chat tea, i went with the crème caramel rooibos that you see in the photo, above. i did add some of my own stevia, also. it was delicious!

the tea shop was a cosy, fun spot to visit:

we joked about the "product placement" of our cups for this photo!

angela and i enjoyed conversation on a diverse range of topics. while blog commenting is fun, personal get-togethers really are hard to top. and, hey! my get-together with angela was outing #5 for the 12 days of kiki project! [not bad, considering the 12 days of kiki is only 19 days old, eh?!]. when we left, the snow was still blowing and swirling, and darkness was falling, but i felt energized by our fun visit, and warmed by the hot and yummy tea.

are you a tea fan? if so, please share some favourite brands/flavours! that’s two rooibos teas in four days for me (i enjoyed a “regular” rooibois tea on wednesday with the brother, in toronto – i’d never had that type before, and now i’m decidedly a fan!).

joel and andrea’s excellent adventure

just in time for christmas, my cousin joel and andrea returned from australia. the purpose of their sojourn was so that andrea could attend teacher’s college. so, from february through december 2011, andrea and joel got to experience life as residents of australia’s sunshine coast.

(source)

it was so good to reconnect with andrea and joel at christmas-time!

christmas 2011 file photo: andrea and then joel are on the LEFT! (followed by my cousins alex, kate and fiance pete!

there is just never enough time to totally catch up – so, i asked andrea and joel if they would answer a series of six questions about their time in australia. in honour of the format of this year’s kikiproject, questions 1 through 6 involve 1 through 6 answers! enjoy!

~*~*~*~*~

1. what is ONE “life a-ha” realization that you had while in australia?

andrea: As a ‘go-go-go’ type of person, it was good for me to be immersed in a culture that embraced a slower-paced way of life.

joel: The idea that everything in life is open and you have the ability to control your path at all times. I found living abroad especially conducive to big thoughts like this. With everything around me being new, I found myself as optimistic and creative as ever. Exposing yourself to a host of new experiences though travel and living abroad is something that I would recommend to anyone!

~*~*~*~*~
2. please attach TWO photos and describe why you chose them and what is going on in the photo.
joel:
Photo #1: The first photo is with me and my surfboard on Alexandra Headland Beach, which was right in front of our apartment. The board was an Aussie version of a “Canadian Tire Special”. For months I thought it was in okay condition, and it was just my surfing skills that had plateaued. My thoughts changed when I tried another board that actually floated properly!
Photo #2: The second photo is of a kangaroo at the Australia Zoo. The University of the Sunshine Coast (where I worked for part of the year) was a protected area for kangaroos. On the paths between school buildings, whole families would just be hanging out under the trees. andrea:
Photo #1: In July (the middle of Australia’s winter), Joel and I rented a hippie van and took a road trip down the East Coast to Melbourne. The Sunshine Coast’s temperature doesn’t change drastically between seasons, and being the ignorant Canadians we are were, we didn’t realize how much colder it would be further south. As a result, while most people were wearing wool and down jackets, I was stuck making do with the warmest clothes I’d packed – an assortment of light cardigans and sundresses. Not ideal!

In an effort to save some money, Joel and I spent a number of nights parked in random parking lots and side streets rather than paying for campsites. This photo was taken in Canberra, the capital city of Australia at our favourite found ‘campsite’. It was also one of the coldest nights – I think it must have been hovering around 0*C that night!

Photo #2: The last big trip Joel and I took was by train to a relatively large Outback town called Longreach. This photo was taken by Joel from the train as we were rolling through one of the many Outback towns we passed through. I think it sums up the culture of the Outback nicely.

~*~*~*~*~

3. what are THREE australian terms/phrases that you learned? (and please translate for us!)

andrea:
1.    ‘Sos’ (pronounced ‘saws’). Meaning: Sorry.
2.    ‘Have a squizz’. Meaning: Have a look.
3.    ‘Too easy’ The first time I heard this phrase was from a 7/11 cashier in response to my ‘thanks’ at the end of my transaction. Huh? “Too easy?” I later learned that it’s akin to saying “no worries” or “no problem”.
joel:
1. Fair Dinkum. Translation: truth or acknowledging that someone is speaking the truth.
2. Flat out like a lizard drinking. Translation: I’m busy.
3. Rock up. Translation: to turn up somewhere, to arrive
~*~*~*~*~
4. what are FOUR unique-to-australia foods or drinks that you tasted/tried, and what did you think of them?
joel:
1. Tim Tams. The classic Australian cookie. I fell in love with them… they were perfect for after dinner or sometimes for “afternoon tea” (snack at 3:00-4:00pm).
2. Cooper’s Pale Ale. This beer dominated a lot of my mental space while I was down there. It is bottle-fermented, so it had a nice flavourful fruity taste and full, cludy texture. Perfect to bring to the beach for sunset (a legal and socially acceptable manoeuvre there).
3. Goon. Wine in a box. Four litres was available for the low, low price of $10.
4. Meat Pies. A classic Aussie staple. It’s a small, round pastry packed with ground beef and potato. It’s a must-have item for any sporting event. Instead of hot dogs, people flock to the booths for meat pies.
andrea:
1. ‘Aussie’ pizza. A favourite of Aussies, this pizza features an egg cooked either on top of pizza toppings or underneath. Surprisingly, it’s hard to even tell that the egg’s there; it just adds a bit of moisture to the dry crust.
2. Vegemite. Vegemite is made from yeast extract, a by-product of beer manufacturing. Sound yummy? In my experience, this is best-enjoyed spread thinly on toast, on top of butter, not thickly directly onto toast. I learned that one the hard way.
3. Kangaroo. Once I got past the idea of eating the cute and cuddly creatures that populate my campus, I enjoyed kangaroo meat! Its texture is similar to beef, but it’s darker in colour and is more flavourful.
4. Capsicum (red bell pepper). Well, not technically a new food, but new name!
~*~*~*~*~
5. what are FIVE things that you missed from home while you were away?
andrea:
1. Fast, cheap, reliable Internet! Internet in Australia is very expensive: about $150 for 10GB.
2. Cars driving on the other side of the road. Being a pedestrian is dangerous business when you’re used to looking one way for oncoming traffic!
3. The Fall! Seeing friends’ and family’s pictures of beautiful fall landscapes during Thanksgiving (another holiday Australians don’t recognize) made me realize how fortunate we Canadians are to have four distinct seasons.
4. Friends and family, of course.
5. Did I mention that we missed fast, reliable Internet?
joel:
1. Family and Friends. Especially during the holidays.
2. Low-priced, high speed internet. We were paying WAY too much for a mobile broadband internet plan. The worst part was that it was very unreliable and was dependent on online traffic and weather. Whenever I was Skyping with somebody and a cloud passed over the apartment, the call was dropped.
3. The build-up to Christmas. It just isn’t the same when it is 30 degrees and Santa’s in board shorts.
4. Tim Horton’s coffee. It’s a taste that grows on you…
5. Morty‘s wings. Maybe the best in the world?
~*~*~*~*~
6. let’s pretend that i have two weeks to spend in australia. what are SIX places that i have to visit/spend time at/go see?
joel:
First of all, you gotta rent a van or RV! The country is huge but is designed for road trips… Plus everybody, especially Aussies, do it for travel. Along the way, see:
1. Melbourne: The most classic and traditional of the Australian cities. It’s a city known to take advantage of it’s leisure time as everyone takes time out of their day to visit a cafe or bar. It’s a huge sport city too: probably home to some of the most passionate fans in the world.
2. Canberra: An unexpected choice – the capital of Australia is famous for being boring with a horrible city atmosphere. It was a city pre-planned by a urban designer in the early 1900’s so there is a lack of intimate feel. Everything is spacious and laid out. That being said, with low-expectations, it surprised as one of our favourite destinations.
3. The Gold Coast: Perfect Aussie beach on steroids. Popular sub-tropical holiday destination for Aussies. The huge, sandy beaches and the beach-front skyscrapers of Surfer’s Paradise are a sight to see.
4. Sydney: The Opera House is as awesome as you’d think it would be. You get amazing views just flying in and out of the city…
5. Whitehaven Beach: The most pure white sand and immaculate aqua waters I have ever seen. Located on the Whitsunday Islands, you have to take a boat cruise to go see it.
6. The Outback. Anything in the Outback. The space. The fields full of kangaroos and emus. The red soil. It’s everything you’d imagine. Just remember an extra jerry can of gas… it’s an empty, desolate place.
andrea:
1. Melbourne: Melbourne (pronounced ‘Melbin’) was, by far, my favourite city in Australia. Melbourne is heavily influenced by its European origins. In contrast to the beach culture of the Sunshine Coast (where we lived), Melbourne’s café- and shop-lined streets create the feeling of being in Paris.
2. Cairns: Cairns (pronounced ‘Cans’) was the most northerly city we travelled to. Being the most northerly, it was the most tropical and home to many crocs and other dangerous creatures! We did not see any wild crocs, although, shortly after we returned to the Sunshine Coast, we saw on the news that a croc had been caught wandering the city streets. Apparently, not a very uncommon occurrence! http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/crocodile-caught-in-cairns-main-street/story-e6freoof-1226103197216
3. The Outback: Completely the opposite of everything that Cairns is, the Outback is dry, barren, desert and is largely inhabited. Fun to visit for a short time.
4. The Australian Zoo a.k.a. home of the Crocodile Hunter: If there’s one thing Aussies know how to do right, it’s how to treat their tourists. Joel and I had a wonderful day at The Australian Zoo: it was thoughtfully laid out, had plenty of washrooms and offered many informative shows. Despite living only 45 minutes away, we didn’t visit until shortly before we came home (the $50/each price of admission may have something to do with that!).

joel at the australian zoo

5. The Great Barrier Reef: The GBR stretches from Cairns to the Whitsunday Islands. We were fortunate enough to snorkel both in Cairns and the Whitsundays and although we didn’t spot any sharks or turtles, the underwater world was beautiful and fascinating. Definitely a highlight for us.
6. The Sunshine Coast: We are thrilled with our choice to live in the Sunshine Coast region. Located an hour north of Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast provides visitors with the typical Aussie experience: laid-back lifestyle (shoppers wearing togs (swimming suits) with no shoes in grocery stores is a common sighting), and year-round beautiful weather.
~*~*~*~*~
thanks so much, andrea and joel, for your intro to australian culture! what an amazing life chapter for you both. i think we need to go for coffee so i can pummel each of you with more questions and beg for more stories!
~*~*~*~*~
have you ever traveled to australia? me = no. and to be honest, i do not know if or when i will ever get there in this lifetime. we shall see!
interestingly enough, right now my friends duncan and jillian are back in australia (duncan’s home land) while jillian attends teacher’s college!

20 ripped-off questions

there is no other way to put it – i am blatantly stealing today’s blogging idea from clean eating chelsey who answered these same twenty questions in her saturday post. i just typed off the top of my head and here’s what came out my fingers…

oh – but first! very important: one month ago today was christmas day! can you say “whoosh?!”

1) What is one of your favorite ways to spend a Saturday?

i work pretty much every saturday – and that is fun and fine. but my ideal saturday would be: wake up a bit later than usual; go for a run long run; paint my fingernails; go clothes shopping with mom; meet a friend for coffee; watch a movie and knit. (ok, all of that would involve pulling an erv-day!).

2) List your top three favorite TV shows.

jersey shore, real housewives of new york, seinfeld.

3) Would you rather be in pictures or take them?

be in them! i don’t mind having my picture taken!

4) Why do you blog?

i like to write; i like the creative freedom of sharing whatever i want; i like the conversations with comments/blog friends.

5) Share five websites that you visit regularly…

runner’s world forums (lurker); GOMI forum (lurker); the globe and mail (reader); runningmania (lurker); facebook (mostly lurker).

6) If you could have lunch with one person from your Twitter list who would it be?

i only follow 11 people – haha! i would pick the brother. we always have enjoyable conversation, and he is just a really cool guy.

7) List a few of your favorite snacks.

apple + peanut butter; protein bars; a bowl of many cereals.

8 ) Do you have a pet? If so, what kind?

no. i dislike animals, in general.

9) Which three material possessions would you struggle to live without?

my laptop; my blackberry; a working ipod.

10) What’s your favorite drink?

diet coke – that could not be typed out fast enough. but since it has been 17 tedious complete days since i last drank a drop, i will say carbonated water, although that is sorely lagging behind the joys of downing diet coke – but, at least it’s fizzy.

11) Do you enjoy cooking?

not at all.

12) Do you have children?

no – but i love and adore being aunti.

file photo: family christmas 2011

13) What are your favorite hobbies?

knitting; reading; talking; watching movies; doing cardio workouts.

14) Would you consider yourself to be shy or outgoing?

outgoing! although i was definitely shy until about my early 20’s. i’d say i’ve become more and more outgoing as the years have gone by. [i define “outgoing” as personable and chatty; i am NOT forward or in-your-face loud].

15) If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change?

i can be quite impatient!

16) Who is your favorite actor/actress?

i’ve george clooney’d you to pieces, so let’s go with jason bateman and meryl streep.

(source)

(source)

17) What’s the coolest thing you’ve done this week?

well, literally cool is walk outside! it’s winter! cool in terms of funky/neat…start a new knitting project – the mcc blanket. it’s cool because of the design and the yarn colours.

(source)

18) Do you live near your family or far from them?

very very near! mom and dad are in the condo building next door. g’ma is a five minute walk away. paul, sharon, cousins joel and alex are a 15 minute drive away. cousin kate and the brother/sil ana/the girls are one hour away (driving) in TO. i like this closeness!

19) List three of your talents.

perseverance; organizing; making smalltalk.

20) What is your greatest attribute?

my hope would be that when people think of my name, they think “she is a warm, friendly, caring person.”

~*~*~*~*~

your turn!! share one response, share all answers -> do whatever your time permits!

nowhere near 27 dresses!

this weekend, i made the time to watch the chick flick 27 dresses.

(source)

nicole recently emailed me a spreadsheet [gosh, i love nicole’s organizational style!] which lists all of the dvd movies and tv shows that she owns – and i am welcome to borrow what i wish! i tell you, there are enough options to keep me in front of the tv at least through the rest of this year…and next year…and the next year…!

to keep things simple, i just started at the top of nicole’s list and chose 27 dresses because i didn’t see it when it came out in theatres (i do remember that it was playing at the cinema in aruba when i was there last march).

i do not own 27 dresses! not even close! i went up to my closet and counted:

dress #1:

purchased at "the embellished room" this summer; i have not even worn it yet!

dress #2:

purchased in florida, summer 2010, during my outlet mall visit! worn at nick and wanda's wedding reception

dress #3:

a christmas gift a few years ago from cousin kate. she totally knows my style; worn on umpteen occasions!

dress #4:

purchased at "damsels in this dress," on queen street east, toronto, march 2010, worn to jillian and duncan's wedding

…and then there is beach coverup dress #5…

purchased off the old navy clearance rack with my groupon, this past summer; worn to TO for aunti day the day it was 40+ degrees C!

[ok, that one we are counting as half a dress because it is technically not a dress but i have decreed it as such].

that makes for a grand total of 4.5 dresses in my wardrobe. i do 110% love each of the above-noted dresses, though – they are all*me.*

27 dresses was predictable, inoffensive, sweet, gently humourous…pretty much b-grade in terms of the acting/writing/editing, a standard-fare boy-girl film. i have no real complaints (actually, no strong reaction, one way or another). the funniest sequence was katherine heigl’s trying-on of her bridesmaids’ dresses – talk about a hideous collection! and i chuckled at the oft-repeated inclusion of the line, “and the best part is you’ll be able to wear this dress again!” how many times have we all heard that one?! this film was a nice choice for a winter evening’s entertainment.

how many dresses do you own? (guy readers, i assume i am excluding you, today!) skirts do not count! include only dresses! and beach cover ups.

how many times have you been a bridesmaid? me = three!

have you seen “27 dresses?” what is your **** (four star) review? i’ll go with ** (two stars) -> sweet, not terrible, not outstanding. a MUCH funnier bridesmaids-themed movie is….bridesmaids!

menu for a mid-winter’s eve

brrr! after a way-mild start to this week, our temps plunged on tuesday eve! over the span of a couple hours, the thermometer dropped from a high of seven degrees (celsius) to about minus six! then yesterday, the snow fell steadily – biggest snowfall yet this winter! (good news for a ski fanatic…which i am not!).

today i’m going to share with you the ideal january winter weekend meal. you know: it’s been a long week, you want nothing more than to cosy up at home, enjoy a warming dinner, then snuggle into the couch with a (knit) blanket covering you up and a delightful movie popped into the vcr queued up on the pvr. or, perhaps you’ve invited some dear friends over for conversation and socializing – the following selections would be appropriate for casual entertaining, also.

here is my proposal for your dinner:

  • borscht (cabbage soup)
  • raw veggies and salsa
  • tea biscuits
  • cherry crumb pudding

and the recipes!

borscht

this hearty soup is a part of my german-mennonite heritage. it seems that each village “back in the old country” had its own take on how to make the best borscht! our version does not include beets, although this root vegetable is a staple in many recipes. here is a modernized version of my family’s borscht:

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 T oil (optional)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 – 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 – 5.5 ounce cans tomato paste
  • 4 cups hot water (see below)
  • 2 tsp (or foil packages) beef bouillon (like OXO brand)
  • 3 T chopped parsley or dried flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 6-7 cups coarsely chopped cabbage (approx 1 small cabbage)

in a very large soup pot, sauté ground beef, onion, celery, and green pepper until redness is gone from the meat (if meat is really dry, add the 2 T oil). [note: break meat up with fingers before adding it to the pot, then chop at it all the time it is sautéing so taht you don’t have big chunks of meat]. add remaining ingredients EXCEPT cabbage and combine thoroughly. simmer uncovered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. add cabbage, combine and simmer COVERED for 1 more hour. note: if soup is too thick for your taste, add 1-2 cups hot water.

option: when serving the soup, dollop on a spoon of sour cream (or plain yogurt!). this was a favourite addition, when we were kids!

raw veggies and salsa

i would add a platter of cut-up veggies to add a rainbow of colour, some crunch and some more fibre (!) to this meal. set out a mild and a hot salsa for dipping – that will also add some heat to warm everyone’s hearts!

tea biscuits

now we’re going to jump over to the other side of my family tree, to my scottish heritage. my grandma c used to make tea biscuits pretty much every time we would go over for dinner, when we were little – she knew they were my favourite! these biscuits would make an excellent accompaniment to the soup and veggies. serve them hot!

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup milk

cut shortening into dry mixture until it is the consistency of coarse crumbs. make a well. add milk. stir quickly just until dough follows fork around bowl [doesn’t that just sound like a grandma’s practised hand!]. turn onto lightly floured surface (dough will be soft). knead gently with heel of hand about 15 strokes. roll or pat about 1/2 inch thick. dip cutter (a small drinking glass works fine!) in flour. cut dough straight down – no twisting. bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 450 degrees F for 12-15 minutes.

cherry crumb pudding

after the more time consuming and labour-intense soup and biscuit making, this dessert will come together in a flash! [the topping of cake mix + butter is outrageously delicious!].

  • 1 – 19 ounce/540 ml tin of cherry pie filling
  • 1 – 250 gram size white or yellow cake mix
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, cut into thin slices (easier to do if cold from fridge)

put cherry pie filling into oblong baking pan (approx 11 – 7 inches) and spread evenly. sprinkle and spread DRY cake mix evenly over the filling. cover top with butter slices. bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes (but watch carefully after 25 minutes so that the top does not get burnt!).

please share YOUR idea of the perfect mid-winter menu! and what are the origins of your recipes? my winter picks are definitely different than what i would propose for a mid-SUMMER eve menu…but family classics would still reign supreme for the hot months, too!

a day late and a book short

for the past couple of months, blog friend zo has participated in top ten tuesday.

(source)

on this weekday, bloggers are invited to list their favourite selections on a top ten book-related subject, hosted by the blog the broke and the bookish.

i love lists and i love books! i have come to anticipate with glee zo’s tuesday blog entries because it’s fun to see the topic of the week, and to peruse zo’s picks.

well, i no longer blog on tuesdays, so i’m off by a day! to play off the expression a day late and a dollar short, today i have for you: top ten tuesday nine wednesday.

according to the broke and the bookish blog, this week’s/yesterday’s category for the top ten list is:

top ten books i’d recommend to someone who doesn’t read x

(an example: if you adore classics, you could recommend ten classics for someone who typically does not read this genre).

[sidenote: there have been over 80 top ten lists proposed by the broke and the bookish, thus far! see the complete list here!].

initially, it was challenging to decide on my category. i pondered female protagonists, multi-generational family sagas, male writers who write in the first person voice but feature a woman as their lead character (ok, that one is way too wordy, and does anyone seriously avoid a book of that nature??)…in the end, i decided to go with:

the top ten books i’d recommend to someone who doesn’t read

canadian fiction published since the year 2000

ok! that’s still super-awkward! but we’ll work with it. to be solidly patriotic, canada has a lot of talented fiction writers. limiting my choices to just nine oeuvres is no easy task. but, let’s go!

[click on the title if you would like the link to amazon for more details].

1. good to a fault – marina endicott (2008) fabulous

2. a perfect night to go to china – david gilmour (2005) haunting and so sad

3. tempting faith dinapoli – lisa gabriele (2003) quirky, little-known coming-of-age tale that deserves recognition

4. late nights on air – elizabeth hay (2007) very enjoyable, great characters

5. the other side of the bridge – mary lawson (2006) memorable

6. the way the crow flies – ann-marie macdonald (2004) this is the #1 title on this list; phenomenal story

7. unless – carol shields (2002) you can never go wrong with a ms shields novel

8. a complicated kindness – miriam toews (2004) outstandingly quirky and endearing

9. clara callan – richard b wright (2002) you would never guess it was written by a man

as i was reviewing my coil-bound notebook where i log my reading (and rate the books on the **** [four star] system), i realized there are equally at least nine selections to warn you against picking up. red flag! red flag! if you find yourself handling one of the following titles of canadian fiction published since the year 2000, back away! with so many terrific options available, i cannot in good faith recommend these ten nine reads:

1. star – pamela anderson (2004) yes, that would be this pamela anderson

(source)

and she should stick to running on beaches. yikes!

2. oryx & crake – margaret atwood (2004) there are much better atwoods out there

3. the gum thief - douglas coupland (2008) i expected more from mr coupland, given his creative reputation

4. the book of negroes – laurence hill (2007) didn’t match the hype; saccharine

5. the fourth hand – john irving (2001) go read a prayer for owen meanie, instead

6. no great mischief – alistair macleod (2001) grey and depressing

7. the continuity girl – leah mclaren (2006) ms mclaren is one of my fave globe columnists; this is very badly done chic lit

8. alligator – lisa moore (2006) incomprehensible

9. the flying troutmans – miriam toews (2008) disjointed; stick with a complicated kindness

how familiar are you with canadian fiction writers? who have you read? i am right now in the middle of irma voth by miriam toews, and sadly, i cannot recommend this novel at all. irma is past quirky, heading right into messed up/weird. we have not connected. i am only persevering because i have read miriam toews’ other two novels.

any suggestions for me that would be **** (four star) reads of canadian fiction published since the year 2000?! i am eager to move on from irma!!!

you really need a birthday WEEK!

a week ago today it was my birthday!! [haha, no worries – i am not going to remind you every monday for the next year as to how many weeks it has been since the celebration of my birth – that kind of tracking is appropriate only for newborn babies!].

here are some select highlights of Birthday Week 2012:

the official birthday portrait, taken on january 9th:

@ 42 years young!

birthday nails!

sparkle glitz is perfect for a week of festing!

[thank you, gina, for the very kiki birthday present! and, gina, your source was correct: the sparkles do stand out wonderfully against black nail polish!].

birthday blue skies

is it really mid-january?!!

…and snow-free terrain:

our mild winter continues...i have not enjoyed too many green birthdays, over the years!

birthday lesson: i cannot tell you how touched i was by all of the blog and facebook comments, emails, paper cards, text and blackberry messages, and personal well-wishes that i received on my birthday. i appreciated each and every one. i realized two things: 1) i am going to wish every facebook friend happy birthday from now on, regardless of how well i know them. (in the past, i have hesitated to reach out to contacts i don’t know all that well – from now on, it matters not). 2) you can’t wish somebody happy birthday too much! a card + an email + a facebook post, for example?? yup! it’s ok to wish somebody happy birthday via a variety of media, multiple times!

birthday tv! hehe, the producers of jersey shore timed the premier of season five perfectly! it aired on thursday, january 5th. i finally had a chance to watch it online on tuesday (since i was done early at the toyota shop). this is my favourite crap tv reality show, and i look forward to following the kids, back at the shore, over the next several weeks!

(source)

birthday family time!

aunti wednesday +! (we missed sil ana who was traveling!)

birthday coffees!

@ coffee culture with vfbf joanne on thursday! (also "12 days of kiki" coffee outing #1!)

@ symposium with cathie on saturday! (also "12 days of kiki" coffee outing #2!)

celebrity birthday twin!

guess what i found out just on monday? kate middleton and i share a birthday!

(source)

i had no clue about this until i randomly happened across this article, kate middleton quietly turns 30 in last monday’s globe and mail. neato! [now i really DO have to gift her that baby blanket, should she and wills become pregnant!].

do you know of any celebrities who share your birthday? i know of no one else who also was birthed on january 9th and is famous. actually, i don’t know anyone PERIOD whose birthday is january 9th!

what was the best birthday and the worst birthday that you can remember? interesting that kate turned 30 on monday -> for some reason, that was the most traumatic age for me. i distinctly remember breaking down in tears several times on that bday (??). the best? i’ll go with my 16th birthday because i passed my beginner’s driver’s license that very day (the first day i could take the test). i remember feeling so proud and excited! dad took me to take the test, and after gave me my very own key for the family car, on a “mutual life” keychain.

[housekeeping matter: i have updated the 12 days of kiki, project #12 -> instead of stating that i will plan twelve coffee outings, i’ve changed the term to social get-togethers. this way, options are open to more interpretations!

housekeeping matter #2: question: how will you, dear reader, know whether i cheat on any of the 12 days of kiki projects? specifically, i am thinking of the no gum and no pop challenges. answer: you won’t, haha! i’m sticking to the honour system – you’ll have to trust that i play by my rules. just so you know, i have a reward already planned for when i successfully complete this year’s kikiproject – that dangling carrot is all the motivation i need!].

little worrywart

on tuesday, i had to take the rav in for an oil change and an extended “physical,” if you will. i was kinda irked that my free tuesday morning and early aft would be eaten up with this task – when i took the rav in the for an oil change back in june, i had been warned that the next appt would be a long one – four hours! they weren’t kidding! so at least i had tons of time to prep myself, mentally.

heffner’s does provide shuttle transport, if you so desire, but i figured i might as well stay at the service centre and put in my time rather than trot back and forth between waterloo and kitchener. this toyota dealer is just a short hop away from fairview park mall [it turned out to be a < 15 minute walk away], and since heffner’s offers lots of free amenities for its customers (see the link above, there, to review the full list), i figured i could amuse myself for the four hour block of time.

a couple of things were weighing on my mind about this service appt, and what if scenarios kept running through my brain: what if the appointment takes longer than anticipated and i am super-rushed getting to work? what if the technicians find a major problem that is going to cost mega-$ to fix? what am i going to do while i am W.A.I.T.I.N.G.?…

i don’t consider myself a chronic worrier. but, every once in a while a situation presents itself where i turn a molehill into a mountain – and this car appointment was one of them.

the other issue is that i am just not a patient person when it comes to waiting. i dislike waiting for a movie to start, for a plane flight, for the grocery check-out…if i’m ready, i wanna go now! (at least i recognize this shortcoming!).

anyway – the good thing about having ruminated about the potential negative what if’s was that everything turned out way better than i thought!

after depositing the rav in the service bay, slightly before my 9:30 a.m. appointment time, i collected my complimentary coffee, cookie and newspaper:

all set up!

then, i set out for the mall. how do you fill as much time as possible? you try on…

bras!

and jeans!

unfortunately, i struck out big time in trying to outfit both my upper and lower stories. but at least i occupied myself til 11:30 a.m.!

prior to my rav appointment, i eventually remembered a dr phil trick on how to combat fretting: imagine the worst possible outcomes you can, and then either brainstorm how you will deal with them, or envision how they are truly unlikely to happen. when i was in la senza, heffner’s did call to advise that they had found a couple of things which should be fixed…luckily, i had anticipated this phone call and FYI, so i was very calm about agreeing to the added expense. thanks, dr phil!

just as i was leaving the mall, heffner’s called again to say that the rav was ready to be picked up. how awesome – almost two hours ahead of schedule!

in the end, the final bill was not so bad at all – in fact, right in the ball park range of what i had anticipated. and now ravvie is set til july when it’ll be time for a regular oil change.

afterwards, i felt a bit silly for the mental energy i had expended in worrying prematurely. for future situations which are outside my comfort zone, instead of working myself up, i’m going to stick with the strategy of planning for the worst, imagining solutions, and being prepared. lesson learned!

on a scale of 1-10, how patient are you? me = two. it’s an inherited trait from dad!

it’s friday the 13th! on a scale of 1-10, how superstitious are you? me = four. i’ll walk under ladders and don’t avoid black cats. my superstition runs more to the type that if x has worked for me in the past (ie i had a really good run wearing this top and these shoes, after eating this food) then i’ll keep repeating that combination. then, eventually, the luck changes and i ditch that belief!

canada’s worst customer service

so, do you recall my tales of woe back in the fall (here, here, here…) about my stupid silv-ah ipod shuffle? to give a pictionary-ish summary, the story goes: dead ipod -> future shop -> apple store -> make an appointment -> apple store -> out of stock -> apple store -> replacement ipod -> dancing and singing in joy. unfortunately, we now continue the saga…

the week before christmas, silv-ah suddenly quit mid-katy perry. when i plugged him in to my laptop, he refused to play nice and reconnect to itunes, either. well, if you think i was going anywhere NEAR the apple store the week before christmas, you can think again. i just pulled out dad’s beastly ipod (which i still like better, anyway) and made do.

on sunday, i went up to the apple store at my pre-booked appointment time. child genius-dude eric/aaron/andy met me and schmoozed quite nicely. he examined silv-ah and said he had corroded. eric/aaron/andy fiddled with his handheld to find me a new shuffle. of course! the store had none in stock. well, he’d order one in for me, and when it arrived, it’d be mine for the low, low price of $49.99. hold your horses, charlie eric/aaron/andy! $49.99???

yes – apparently it is MY fault that silv-ah bit the dust after five weeks of song-playing. i pleaded my case to get a free replacement to no avail. i almost laughed out loud, despite my frustration, when eric/aaron/andy kept repeating that “it really upset him” to deliver this news to me. yea, i’m sure you’re right broken up, buddy!

now get this! so i get home, and i plug in silv-ah just to see what would happen. he connected to my laptop, i kid you not! so who knows where this story is going next. i will rely on dad’s borrowed beast and silv-ah (when he’s co-operative) as long as i can.

…and this is now the perfect segue to today’s main feature about customer service!

~*~*~*~*~

if i ever want a part-time gig with occasional hours, i think “mystery shopper” would be right up my alley (much better than “catering assistant,” for example!). i love shopping, i work in retail -> both sides of the coin are covered. plus, it’d be fun to peruse the aisles with an undercover motive…kind of like being a detective, but with no danger involved!

last week, i noticed that the cbc tv show marketplace was going to do an episode entitled “canada’s worst customer service.” that topic sure piqued my interest, and i was jazzed to check it out! i watched the show over the weekend (thanks to the parents’ pvr!).

(source)

marketplace covered a vast amount of content in their hour-long episode – everything from the results of trying to return a defective product to how long it took companies to reply to twittered complaints. if you’re interested in more info, click here for the link to the online show.

i enjoyed the broadcast, but it also frustrated me because i don’t think you can fairly critique a cross-canada major retailer by picking out isolated situations and sales associates.

as a starting point, marketplace solicited a survey asking canadians to name the retailer with the worst customer service. the *winners*? walmart, zellers, and crappy canadian tire (for years, my pet name for ct has been crappy tire). thanks to hidden cameras and microphones on volunteer shoppers, the producers demonstrated how all three stores fell short in customer service, helpfulness of the staff, and store cleanliness. no surprise, to my mind.

here’s my beef with the angle of this show: if i choose to shop at any of these three giant retail operations, i should expect that the money i am saving is because the retailer is cutting corners with staff training and development and available associates on the sales floor. want personal attention? visit the independents or smaller retail stores.

in the end, the very worst offender was…zellers. i agree that i have no recollection of ever receiving exemplary help at this store. but, i’ll reiterate that friendly knowledgeable sales staff is not what drives me to shop at this money-saving department store. [and as it was wryly noted on the show, zellers are being turned into target stores, beginning next year…].

coming from the retail perspective, i feel sympathy for walmart, zellers and canadian tire because spotlighting one or two isolated incidents does not provide a fair overview of country-wide store operations.

as a personal example, let’s highlight canadian tire. i have always been amazed because whenever i shop there, if i ask, “where would i find x item, please?” the sales associates, without fail, promptly reply with the correct aisle number – it’s uncanny! also, when i returned a knapsack with a broken zipper, without my receipt, i received a replacement bag at no cost, no questions asked.

(source)

getting back to the marketplace show, i really enjoyed the responses from random people on the street about what annoys them most when shopping. some answers: being ignored; uninformed, untrained and disinterested sales associates; long check-out line-ups; sales associates who point out where to find a product instead of walking the customer directly to the item.

in the end, the show revealed that the store that canadians voted for BEST customer service was…walmart! it’s not surprising that this store could be on both the best and worst lists…i think the stat mentioned was that walmart has over a million customers per day at its canadian locations!

do you think that superior customer service and low prices are mutually exclusive? i often hear from customers that they come to see us at the store because they will receive correct information and personal attention. yes, sportchek may offer very low prices – but good luck trying to find helpful staff and answers to your running footwear questions! as another example, if i shop at lululemon for workout wear, i do expect better service than if i am at old navy.

to whom would YOU award a “worst customer service” *award*?! me = future shop and the apple store!!! both places frustrate me to no end – as you are well aware!!

meet the NEW 1970kikiproject!

happy monday to you!

i am excited to unveil the third edition of the 1970 kiki project!

the idea for this year’s challenge was a long time in the planning. i started brainstorming back in the summer. as i explained to you here, i batted about several ideas for what to do this year to celebrate my 42nd birthday (yikes, did i really just type that?!). then, one day just before christmas, i had the eureka moment i had been waiting for. i can thank my december theme of all christmas all the time and the classic christmas tune “the 12 days of christmas” for leading me in the right direction. so without further ado…

this year’s project is entitled

the 12 days of kiki

from january 9th, 2012 to january 8th, 2013, i will complete twelve challenges. [sidenote: i realize that “days” is not entirely the correct word to use for this year’s project. more appropriate terminology would be challenges, projects, even stations…but none of those nouns rolls off the tongue as happily as DAYS. “the 12 days of kiki” just makes me laugh. so, since it’s my blog, my project, DAYS it is!].

i kept returning to the theme of twelve when determining what goals to pursue this year: here we are in 2012, and there are twelve months in this year – the vibe just seems perfect.

here are the details:

the 12 days of kiki

1. record at least one positive thing every day in my gratitude journal excel spreadsheet. the item noted will be either something for which i am thankful, something kind i did for someone else, or something nice/serendipitous that happened to me. [this is my third year of keeping this type of chronicle, as you read about here].

2. babysit little e and cutie c two times so that the brother and sil ana can enjoy a significant date or special event. over the course of last year’s outing-of-the-month project, it naturally evolved that many a wednesday, the brother and ana could slip out while i stayed with the girls after school and into the early eve. i loved this time of togetherness with the little ones! i envision a similar routine continuing during this coming year; however, i would love to plan in advance for two occasions where the babysitting is for a lengthier period of time, and the parents can truly take a few hours to themselves.

3. blog three times per week (monday-wednesday-friday). the first year of this blog, i posted with no rhyme or reason as to frequency. this past year, i blogged every day. i have realized that i like having a schedule…but i do wish to moderate the amount of time spent composing blog posts. monday-wednesday-friday feels like a very happy solution.

4. run four (point two) km…times ten. i don’t think you need to be a rocket scientist to see where i am going with this mathematical equation…although, it is open to interpretation! as of this moment, i have plan a, plan a1, plan a2, plan a3…in mind; more details to come as i narrow my options!

5. eat five wildly decadent and delicious desserts. we’re not talking a measly tim horton’s donut here, kids! what i am envisioning is pure scrumptiousness. as an example, i have already determined that a bowl of fro-yo heaped with at least four toppings is going to be one of my five choices!

6. finish a minimum of six knitting projects. right now, i just have one knitting project on the go: a baby blanket. i started it in september, and i am at the mid-way point. so yea, it’s a time-consuming endeavour.  i deduced that six projects is entirely possible – if i make something for little e and cutie c, the blanket to donate to the mcc quilt auction, a christmas gift and one more *something*… there’s my six!

7. read seven books, and hopefully more. i started irma voth last week, so that will be book number one. a 2012 goal is to do more reading. the works can be either fiction or non-fiction. i’m not going to make my reading choices based on the number of pages involved…but if the end of the year is in sight and i am sorely short, then you can expect to see some nancy drew short, fluffy novels in the mix!

8. perform eight random acts of kindness. i would like to thank angela for giving me the idea to include r.a.o.k.s in this year’s project. i like the concept of doing something nice, unexpectedly. an example that i really liked from angela was to brush the snow off of near-by cars after a stormy deluge – that’s the type of action i am imagining.

9. watch nine different and new-to-me tv shows (either online, on dvd, or on tv). there are so many shows that i have heard good things about, but have never seen (modern family, the big bang theory, dexter, for example). of course, with the plethora of crap tv shows available online, thanks to the slice network and mtv.ca, i could complete this goal without ever leaving the comforts of my laptop!

10. refrain from chewing gum for ten months. i used to chew a lot of gum. then i quit, just like that, last spring. in times of stress and anxiety, i tend to pop gum into my mouth. it’s not necessary, and i don’t really miss it when i don’t have it. this goal will just reinforce that i don’t need to return to this habit in times of pressure. (yogic breathing, hmmm?).

11. abstain from drinking diet pop (any pop) for eleven months. oooh, ya. this is a biggie! i love diet pop. but deep in my heart, i know i am better off without it. instead of thinking negatively that i can’t have diet coke, i am thinking positively: i can have all the coffee + stevia that i want! i can have refreshing carbonated water! i can have pop in eleven months if i want! please wish me luck!

12. meet with at least twelve different friends for a coffee outing. i’d like to thank my childhood friend (and sometimes blog commenter), juanita for this idea. i will aim for one different friend outing per month. really my goal is to see how many friends i can connect with, in person, this year.

so, there you have it! some of the 12 days make me jump for joy in gleeful anticipation, and some sound like jail sentences steep challenges. (i leave it to you to deduce which is which!). but, deep in my heart, i know that achieving each goal is something that my authentic self wants to do.

i plan on summarizing the status of the 12 days of kiki at the end of each month. and achievements of significance will receive their own blog post.

as always, thanks for reading, and i look forward to the next twelve months of blogging!

if you would like to review the past two years of the 1970kikiproject, please click below:

the first edition!

the second edition!

[just as i did for the first  two editions, i’ll be turning today’s blog post into a page for easy reference].

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers